EppsNet Archive: Books

Free Advice on Free Advice

5 Feb 2016 /
Shoulder pain

Today a colleague offered to fix the pain in my shoulder. “Sounds like a problem with the connective tissue,” he said. “I can push it back into place.”

“No,” I said. “No no no no no no no.”

“Why not? Are you homophobic?”

“Not wanting you to touch my shoulder is not homophobic.” Also this guy is not gay.

“You don’t trust me?”

“I was trying to think of a nice way to say that.”

“I have a gift for this. I’ve helped a lot of people.”

“You might be able to fix it. Probably you could. On the other hand, you might, just perhaps, push on it the wrong way and I lose the use of my left arm. Not worth the risk.”

He then recommended that I go to a health food store and buy some red something-or-other algae to use as an anti-inflammatory.

Which I’m not going to do . . . If someone recommends a movie I should see, I might check that out. Even if it turns out to be terrible, which it usually does, I’ve only lost a few bucks and a couple hours of time. Same with a restaurant. Or a book.

But on medical matters, when someone says “You should go to a health food store and buy some of this product and eat it,” I’m not going to do that because if I do that, and I die . . . because the recommender didn’t know anything about my health condition, medical history, medications I might be taking, didn’t know anything about chemistry, biology, pharmacology . . . I’m dead and the person who told me to do that is scratching his head going, “Hmmmm, that never happened before. Maybe I should have gone to medical school to actually learn something.”


The Savvy Clinician

8 Jan 2016 /

It’s a little hard to read the subtitle on the book cover but — “Savvy”?! I don’t think I want to work with clinicians who consider themselves “savvy.”

Being “savvy” sounds like a poor substitute for actually knowing something. I’m not fully informed but I’m “savvy.” I’m “with it.” I’m “in the know.”


2015: The Year in Books

30 Dec 2015 /

These are the books I read in 2015, roughly in the order listed. The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.

Books of the Year: Hotel World by Ali Smith (fiction) and Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton (non-fiction).

Honorable Mention: Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Disgrace, Lament for a Maker, Nothing.


EppsNet Book Reviews: Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

22 Dec 2015 /

Carol Dweck’s research is part of a tradition in psychology that shows the power of people’s beliefs. These may be beliefs that we’re aware of or unaware of but they strongly affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it. This tradition also shows how changing people’s beliefs can have profound effects.

Dweck’s insight into fixed mindset (bad) vs. growth mindset (good) is powerful but there’s really not enough to it to sustain a book-length exposition without a lot of repetition and illustrational anecdotes, the problem with which is 1) they tend to be overly simple tales of triumph and failure with clearly identified causes; and 2) they ignore the inevitability of regression.

For example, two of the people Dweck identifies as exemplars of the growth mindset are Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez. Mindset was published in 2006, after which Woods’s career imploded in the wake of extramarital affairs with 100 or so women, and Rodriguez was suspended from baseball for cheating.

Among the companies singled out as possessing a growth mindset is Circuit City, which announced in January 2009 that it was going out of business.

Don’t get me wrong here, I think Dweck’s work is insightful and illuminating, I just don’t think it works well as a book. For a shorter introduction, try, for example, “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids,” recently published in Scientific American.

Rating: 3-stars


Huckleberry Finn Banned Again

21 Dec 2015 /
Huck and Jim on the raft

A Pennsylvania high school has removed Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its 11th-grade curriculum after complaints from students who said they were made “uncomfortable” by the novel.

The school’s principal defended the decision to remove the book from the curriculum. “I do not believe that we’re censoring,” he said. “I really do believe that this is an opportunity for the school to step forward and listen to the students.”

He went on to add, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Because if suppression of material you deem objectionable is not censoring, what is?

As Kurt Vonnegut used to say, “Have somebody read the First Amendment to the United States Constitution out loud to you, you God damned fool!”


Cashing In

12 Dec 2015 /
Joseph Heller

When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.

— Joseph Heller, Catch-22

EppsNet Book Reviews: Humans of New York: Stories

26 Nov 2015 /

I can’t say enough good things about this book. If you’re not one of the 16 million people following the Humans of New York Facebook page, take a look there to see what the concept is all about.

This book would make a great gift for anyone on your holiday gift list who knows how to read. If you’re on my holiday gift list, you’re getting this book. I wish I could give a copy to every person on Earth.

Rating: 5-stars


Happiness is Not . . .

17 Nov 2015 /
portrait of Leo Tolstoy

Happiness does not consist of the gratification of your wishes. Anna Karenina, for example, is quite illuminating on this point. Try reading a book once in a while, you’ll pick up on a lot of universal errors like that.


I Think We Are Kidding Ourselves

7 Sep 2015 /

More people have ascended bodily into heaven than shipped great software on time.Jim McCarthy

Ascension

On the other hand, the number of people on LinkedIn claiming to have a demonstrated ability to lead software projects to successful completion, on time and on budget, as well as the number of companies seeking to hire such people, is infinite.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


Time is Money

13 Aug 2015 /

Short histories

Amazon sent me some book recommendations, including A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and A Really Short History of Nearly Everything by the same author. The second book costs five dollars more. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Maybe condensing a short history into a really short history saves me some time and I have to pay more for that. Time is money . . . in this case, five dollars.


More Words and Phrases I’m Sick Unto Death Of: Before You Die

30 Jul 2015 /

50 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 100 Things You Need to Eat Before You Die, 1000 Places You Must See Before You Die, etc., etc., et goddamn cetera.

Why not simply say 50 Books You Must Read, 100 Things You Need to Eat or 1000 Places You Must See? We all understand that we won’t be reading, eating or seeing things AFTER we die. Why do you have to introduce death into the equation?


Hey Guys, I Wrote a Book!

27 Jul 2015 /

It’s called Thus Spoke the Programmer: A Fictional Memoir. (Don’t be put off by the title if you’re not a programmer. It’s guaranteed to delight both technical and non-technical readers alike. :) )

If you’re interested in having a look at it, you have a couple of options:

  1. Leanpub, a PWYW (pay what you want) platform, which means if you want to read the book for free, you can download it and read it for free.
  2. Amazon, available in paperback or Kindle format (not free).

All Joy Wants Eternity

26 Jul 2015 /

O man, take care!
What does the deep midnight declare?
“I was asleep—
From a deep dream I woke and swear:—
The world is deep,
Deeper than day had been aware.
Deep is its woe—
Joy—deeper yet than agony:
Woe implores: Go!
But all joy wants eternity—
Wants deep, wants deep eternity.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Letting Go

3 May 2015 /

Let go of grief. Let go of joy. Let go of hope. Let go of fear. Let go of history. Let go of coming and going. Let go of culture. Let go of waiting. Let go of letting go.

— Rudolph Wurlitzer, Hard Travel to Sacred Places

A Lesson From the Godfather

29 Apr 2015 /

“There are men in this world,” he said, “who go about demanding to be killed. You must have noticed them. They quarrel in gambling games, they jump out of their automobiles in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender, they humiliate and bully people whose capabilities they do not know. I have seen a man, a fool, deliberately infuriate a group of dangerous men, and he himself without any resources. These are people who wander through the world shouting, ‘Kill me. Kill me.’ And there is always someone ready to oblige them. We read about it in the newspapers every day.”

— Mario Puzo, The Godfather

See You in Hell

26 Apr 2015 /
Satan

Satan

[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

Greetings from the underworld!

I see that Pope Francis put a bee in Turkey’s bonnet a couple of weeks ago by calling the mass killing of Armenians in 1915 a genocide. According to the Turks, the Vatican should look to its own history before casting stones. Tu quoque!

On that note, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Biography was just awarded to David I. Kertzer for The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. Historically, popes have been far more circumspect in condemning genocide and other atrocities when committed by countries willing to aggrandize the Church (or when committed by the Church itself!)

See you in Hell, clerics of all stripes . . .

Clerics


Learn How to Get a Man From a Woman With 14 Husbands

9 Apr 2015 /

Woman Married 14 Men

Bobbi Ann House

My first thought was that this woman should write a book. There are a lot of books out there about how to get a man, how to get a husband . . . how does one assess the credibility of the advice?

Normally a woman who’s markedly overweight and doesn’t have a single attractive feature can’t even get a date, let alone alone a husband, and yet this woman’s had 14 of them! How does she do it?! Who wouldn’t like to know her secret? I would!

Paste her grinning mug on the cover — the woman with 14 husbands! — and the book sells itself. Her upcoming jail term should give her plenty of time to write it.


EppsNet Book Reviews: Hotel World by Ali Smith

18 Mar 2015 /

Happy is what you realize you are a fraction of a second before it’s too late.

Hotel World takes place in and around a hotel in London, hence the title, but Hotel World is also a metaphor for life: people check in and people check out.

It’s about remembering to live, remembering that you won’t live forever . . . it’s about love, not romantic love, but a mother’s love for her daughter, sisters’ love for each other . . . and it’s about how close people come to really understanding one another, which is not very close at all.

Rating: 5-stars


Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”


EppsNet Book Reviews: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

18 Feb 2015 /

Kudos to Francis Ford Coppola for making one of the most renowned films of all time out of this pedestrian soap opera.

Rating: 2 stars


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