EppsNet Archive: Books

Teaching Computer Science: Those Who Don’t Like to Read

16 Dec 2014 /

Students with books

I recommended a couple of books that I’ve read recently and liked — Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman — to the class in case anyone was looking for a book to read over winter break or maybe as a holiday gift.

“What if you don’t like to read?” someone asked.

“Well, in that case you can spend your entire life inside your own head and never know or care what life looks like to other people.”

In hindsight, it occurred to me that I could have suggested audio books for people who don’t like to read, but . . . woulda coulda shoulda, you know what I’m saying?


The Hedgehog and the Fox

6 Dec 2014 /

Stuffed hedgehogs outside a store in Athens

Hedgehogs “know one big thing” and have a theory about the world: they account for particular events within a coherent framework, bristle with impatience toward those who don’t see things their way, and are confident in their forecasts. They are also especially reluctant to admit error. For hedgehogs, a failed prediction is almost always “off only on timing” or “very nearly right.” They are opinionated and clear, which is exactly what television producers love to see on programs. Two hedgehogs on different sides of an issue, each attacking the idiotic ideas of the adversary, make for a good show.

Foxes, by contrast, are complex thinkers. They don’t believe that one big thing drives the march of history . . . Instead the foxes recognize that reality emerges from the interactions of many different agents and forces, including blind luck, often producing large and unpredictable outcomes. . . . They are less likely than hedgehogs to be invited to participate in television debates.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Art is Not a Brassiere

10 Nov 2014 /

Do not imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence. Art is not a brassière. At least, not in the English sense. But do not forget that brassière is the French for life jacket.

— Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Whatever the Party Holds to Be the Truth

8 Nov 2014 /

“I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.”

— George Orwell, 1984

It’s Election Season in Irvine

26 Oct 2014 /

It’s election season . . . campaign signs dot the Irvine landscape.

As I drove to lunch with co-workers, one of them pointed out a sign for Ira Glasky, who’s running for school board or city council or something.

“He’s probably trying to cash in on the name recognition of Ira Glass,” he said.

“Who’s Ira Glass?” I asked, and he told me but I’ve since forgotten. A person on the radio, I think.

If I were a campaign manager, I wouldn’t be advising my clients to coattail on the popularity of people no one’s heard of.

“Maybe he’s trying to play into the popularity of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930s crime novel The Glass Key,” I suggested.

Another Irvine candidate, Lynn Schott, is in a local women’s networking group that my wife belongs to. I offered her a free campaign slogan — “Lynn-sanity!” — but she’s not using it.


Blondes

24 Oct 2014 /

Raymond Chandler

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn’t care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Room and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can’t lay a finger on her because in the first place you don’t want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

— Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

50 Years of Solving Crossword Puzzles Finally Paid Off

23 Oct 2014 /
Crossword puzzle

I’ve solved a lot of crossword puzzles in my life with no benefit accruing to me other than personal enjoyment — until now!

Steven Landsburg, economist and author, published a crossword puzzle contest last month with free books going to the top three solvers. The puzzle was a cryptic crossword, which is typically more difficult than a “regular” crossword. This particular crossword was extremely difficult. No one was able to solve it correctly.

The winning entrant had three errors, second place had four errors, and two entrants, including me, tied for third with five errors. If you think that five errors in one crossword puzzle is not very good and doesn’t deserve a prize, you should take a look at the puzzle.


I Don’t Much Care for Coincidences

19 Oct 2014 /

I don’t much care for coincidences. There’s something spooky about them: you sense momentarily what it must be like to live in an ordered, God-run universe, with Himself looking over your shoulder and helpfully dropping coarse hints about a cosmic plan. I prefer to feel that things are chaotic, free-wheeling, permanently as well as temporarily crazy — to feel the certainty of human ignorance, brutality and folly.

— Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

Nobody Reads Books Anymore

11 Oct 2014 /

Me and Mark Twain


A Glimpse of Antiquity

10 Sep 2014 /
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Yes, those are World Books and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. No, this is not an archaeological dig. It’s a furniture store we visited over the weekend.

When I was growing up, our family, like many American families at that time, had a set of World Book encyclopedias, so I knew they existed but I haven’t actually seen one in decades.

Reader’s Digest Condensed Books are a relic from a time when many Americans still liked to think of themselves as the kind of people who read books but didn’t want to actually read a whole, entire book. Reader’s Digest stripped out all the boring passages about clouds and such that people don’t read and compressed four or five books into the size of one.

Today, of course, no one reads books at all, with or without the cloud passages, so Reader’s Digest Condensed Books have joined World Book encyclopedias in the dustbin of history.


Programmers Don’t Play Polo

16 Aug 2014 /

On the product page for a book on software development principles, Amazon showed me this:

Customers also viewed ...

The product on the right — is that a bug in the cross-selling algorithm? I’ve worked in software development for about 30 years and have never met one person interested in the game of polo . . .


Books, Writers, Bookstores, Libraries

27 Jul 2014 /

The Smartest Kids in the World

12 Jul 2014 /

Via Philip Greenspun:

Amanda Ripley identifies the following major problems with American schools:

  • people who are poorly educated are hired as schoolteachers
  • teachers have limited autonomy (partly as a result of their low level of knowledge and ability)
  • schools have multiple missions, only one of which is education, which leads to a loss of focus
  • teachers and administrators dwell on student and family backgrounds so as to build up a catalog of excuses for poor educational outcomes
  • parents are complacent regarding the low expectations set for their children

Elite Daily: Why Readers, Scientifically, Are The Best People To Fall In Love With

Posted by on 11 Jul 2014

Climate Change is Making People More Stupid

11 Jul 2014 /

(HealthDay News) — Add another possible woe to the growing list of consequences of climate change: Kidney stones.

A new study of American cities suggests that rising temperatures may increase the number of people who develop the painful urinary obstructions.

You have to read all the way down to the second-to-last sentence of the article to find this:

The study uncovered a connection between higher temperatures and risk of kidney stones, but didn’t prove cause-and-effect.

The article implies cause and effect only to fess up right at the end and admit that there is no cause and effect. In the absence of cause and effect, what exactly is the point?

In the epilogue of War and Peace, a peasant notices a “connection” between smoke and locomotives and infers cause and effect: the smoke causes the locomotive to move. The point being that it’s easy to infer causality from “connections” in ways that have no grounding in reality.

In other climate news, the Wall Street Journal reports that researchers have, for the first time, counted all the world’s Adélie penguins — a sprightly seabird considered a bellwether of climate change — and discovered that millions of them are thriving in and around Antarctica.

Rather than declining as feared due to warming temperatures that altered their habitats in some areas, the Adélie population generally is on the rise.

Adelie penguins


Ten Steps to Being Fat, Lonely and Broke

7 Jul 2014 /

Some behaviors come naturally while others require more effort. For example, there are dozens of bestsellers on finding love, losing weight and creating wealth but no market for books like Ten Steps to Being Fat, Lonely and Broke.


Not Enough Information?

6 Jul 2014 /

Bertrand Russell declared that, in case he met God, he would say to Him, “Sir, you did not give us enough information.” I would add to that, “All the same, Sir, I’m not persuaded that we did the best we could with the information we had. Toward the end there, anyway, we had tons of information.”

— Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

A Pug Story

30 Jun 2014 /

Lightning Epps

Hi everybody! It’s me, Lightning!

My owner read me a story by Isaac Babel:

And Mimka arrived too, curled up on the sofa and fell asleep at once. She was a terrible sleepy-head, but a wonderful dog, good-hearted, sensible, small and pretty. Mimka was a pug-dog. Her coat was light in colour. Even in old age she never grew fat or flabby, never put on weight, but remained shapely and slender. She lived with us a long time, from birth to death, the whole of her fifteen years’ doggy life, and loved us — quite plainly, and most of all Grandmother, who was stern and without mercy to anyone. What friends they were, silent and secretive, I shall tell another time. It is a very good, touching and tender story.

Actually that was only part of the story but the rest was kind of boring and I don’t really remember it.

— Lightning paw


Two Mediocrities Are Not Better Than One

23 Jun 2014 /

Effective executives rarely suffer from the delusion that two mediocrities achieve as much as one good man. They have learned that, as a rule, two mediocrities achieve even less than one mediocrity — they just get in each other’s way.

— Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest

22 Jun 2014 /

I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied — not even I. On the other hand, I’ve never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to “justify” and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs; or when I’ve tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved it.

— Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

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