Book Report: Saturn's Children

This sci-fi book, dedicated to Heinlein, features an android female sexbot who-- Hey, wait, come back! You're thinking that the book is going to be some awful misogynistic piece of crap. But it's not (albeit in the opinion of me, a patriarchal male oppressor). The book takes place after the human race has died out, leaving behind many, many robots. Some of these robots, e.g., miners, still have a purpose in life. The sexbots, on the other hand, have not had it so easy--they had to find something else to do. This book has farce, intrigue, and a lemur. Check it out.

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Book Report: Happiness (Lessons from a New Science)

Yesterday, I was walking in the Mission district and ran into Janak R. Janak just finished up an internship at my place of employment; soon he will go back to UCB. He asked, "Do you live around here?" I said, "No, but I come here to buy neckties." He said, "That's right--you wore a necktie yesterday. And again before--So was yesterday your last tie and now you need a new one?"

He was right. But because he was a true scientist, he tested his hypothesis--he asked. We like tests, we like confirmation.

Which is why I gave up on Happiness. As a society, we're figuring out that money can't buy happiness. We're learning more about how happiness works. Maybe we can start re-tooling society so that people can set smarter goals. So how can you find out more about what really makes us happy? Certainly not by reading Happiness (Lessons from a New Science). At least not from reading the first half or so. I read the first half or so. The book didn't tell me much about happiness. Mostly it made me grumpy. Did you know that people who win Oscars tend to live four years longer than people who are merely nominated? You could claim that this means that winners are happier and that this Oscarly longevity proves that happiness leads to healthiness. Or you could figure that Oscar judges might tend to vote for healthier people, who probably tend to look better.

Reading this book, I kept saying "correlation is not causation". I gave up on Happiness. I will choose my own path, test my own hypotheses.

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Book Report: Against the Gods (the Remarkable Story of Risk)

Last night, I went out to a musical performance dealie. It was TV on the Radio. I'd heard their most recent album, and it seemed OK but not great. But Rob Pfile wanted to go see the show. Rob has pretty good taste, so I went to see the show too. Wow, they're good live. I'm glad I went despite my earlier misgivings. Sometimes risk is rewarded. Oh, right, that was my point. I read a book about the history of risk.

Specifically, it's a book about the history of math, probability, statistics, actuarial science, and thinking about risk. The math part--the early history when the whole idea of probability hadn't really emerged--wasn't much fun because it was a bunch of material that I halfway knew already. But the later chapters contained more things that I didn't know. If the idea of a history of statistics doesn't appeal to you, you probably won't like this book. I liked it. I'm not sure how much of it I retained, though.

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Book Report: Parallel Distributed Processing

Based on the title, I hoped that this heavy two-volume set of books containing a number of articles would teach me a lot about how to write programs that run on several machines at once. After reading a couple of sections and skimming further, I figured out that these articles are about what we nowadays call "neural nets". Maybe these are great articles about neural nets, but that's not what I wanted to read about. I stopped.

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