Saturday, March 23, 2019

Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of ThinkingSurfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking by Douglas R. Hofstadter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are two or three different books in this book, but by all apparent surfaces, it is all a single, exhaustive tome on ANALOGY.

As I read it, I was struck by how vast and careful his analysis was and how I would have REALLY loved this as a teen, being fascinated by all the variances, categories, and richness of analogies. They are a source of amusement, creativity, vast and widespread accidents, a mode and end of consciousness, and an integral aspect of math and science. What is an equal sign but an analogy? And let's not forget Einstein making thought experiments that later became provable.

Analogy is in every word we use, constraining and freeing our understanding of the world as well as tumbling it into a mass of contradictions. Only logic and careful analysis can free it, but the source of all our greatest creativity comes from it.

As a kid, and perhaps unused to all the varieties of analogy and hungry for such a careful and well-thought-out stream of reasoning, I probably would have given this a full 5 stars just for is sheer chutzpah.

As an adult, I think it went on WAY TOO LONG.

Once the great and rather obvious arguments had been made, fought over, and survived the logic grinder, I was perfectly happy to throw it on the grill and garnish my the buns of my life with thrilling mustard, spicy onions, wholesome lettuce, and timely tomatoes.

I could easily see this book fueling the understanding of our cognition or developing Artificial Intelligence. I can see it becoming a monumental if a rather pedantic tribute to obviousness. But it is obvious only because we're in the heart of it.

Or rather, I might recommend this book to aliens trying to understand us humans. Or AIs from other stars trying to get a good grip on our alien psychology.

For the general lay-reader, DESPITE it being always lightly humorous and clear, I cannot recommend this... except, perhaps, in small doses while sitting on the toilet.

But am I happy I read it? Yes. I can say I'm a complete convert to the line of logic. It aligns to my own reasoning very well. But was it often boring AF? Yes. It was that, too.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the VoidPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Roach is a funny woman. I guess that's what you get when no subject is taboo and she has the charm to pull it all off. :)

What does she pull off? A full, scientifically accurate look at the little stuff in life. Astronauts living in space was rather more the focus. That's okay. We're not quite ready to go to Mars. But at least we're ready to drink our pee! Yay!

Seriously though, beyond the last quarter of the book being devoted to floating poo in a very fun and educational way, the whole book is a serious work of scholarship, investigation, and interview. We can throw out a lot of the myths and add a whole lot of true facts to our bags thanks to this non-fiction.

I honestly had a great time reading it. And since this is my second Mary Roach, I think I may be plunging ahead to read more. :) Yay!

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Ancestral Night (White Space, #1)Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had some really good fun with this book. The transhumanist elements, from all the various augs for the mind, body, and all the relevant lock-ins required to pilot, communicate, or engineer spacecraft is something I always tend to enjoy. It's realistic. After all, our bodies are such weak meat sacks. :)

In this case, our MC is got at from several directions all at once. Memory, behavior modification, social and political nastiness, all the way up to full and voluntary body control for the Space Opera elements.

The alien artifact, and I use the term lightly, adds a beautiful element to the rest, knocking the tale out of what really started feeling like a Becky Chambers novel right out of that orbit and into a straight adventure including a chase, more political horrors, the ghost of genocide, and tons of lies to work through with all the aliens and the "pirates".

I really enjoyed it. The ideas and the tech and the characters were all fascinating.

Unfortunately, there were a few parts that dragged, made me lost interest for a bit, before surprising me that I was enjoying myself again. BUT MOSTLY, the novel is one of the very best Space Operas I've seen for a while. With these caveats. It does the pushing of the envelope much better than most, and that's what I like to see even more than a character-heavy tale. But make no mistake, the characters are king, here. :)

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Chaos: Making a New ScienceChaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm totally in love with this book. Like, totally.

Why? Because it GETS ME, MAN.

Just kidding. I'm not anthropomorphizing a breakthrough in science. Although, if I was, I'd DEFINITELY be cuddling with this stream of seemingly random information that keeps repeating in regular ways, forming order from seeming chaos.

Give me a seed and I will make you a universe. Or one hell of a trippy fractal.

I think I'll leave butterflies out of this.

Small changes affect great extrapolations.

Our physics generators in video games relies on this. So do aeronautical research, weather forecasts, stock market prediction, presidential elections and the resulting public outrage, and the fluid dynamics of my creamer swirling in my coffee. Not to mention galaxy formation, fingerprints, shells, coastlines, or the thing that made the little dinos get the upper hand in those movies. :)

Truly, though, this book does a great job at explaining and giving us the unusual history of the science that brought pure mathematics out of the clouds and back into the real world, dealing with our observable reality. Newton was okay for some things but all these new equations describe just HOW little uncertainties can create huge chaotic messes... and still be reduced back to first causes. :)

Neat, huh? I'm totally stoked by these bad boys. Of course, we're all, yeah, we use those equations all the time now and it's old hat, but not so long ago, they were totally in left field and none of the big boys wanted to play with them.

So, yeah, it's like a total paradigm shift, man. I'm FEEL'N it.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Quakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating EarthquakeQuakeland: On the Road to America's Next Devastating Earthquake by Kathryn Miles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This attempts to be a catch-all on everything earthquakes, going through money loss, eyewitness reports, and a pretty substantial expose on dams. As an opener, I suppose it could have had a few more exciting starts... but later on, when we got into the historical accounts of earthquakes, I think it got better.

Especially when we got to fracking.

Later, when we got into the real science of seismology, I really began to enjoy it. I was looking for real science, after all, but, of course, there's plenty about this that still seems to encourage con men. "I will predict! For a low, low cost of..." :)

I hope, one of these days, some REAL money will be poured into the field so we have real data.

This book was okay. Not the best, but it isn't bad.

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A Night Without Stars (Commonwealth Universe, #7)A Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another SF epic by Hamilton and it sure as hell doesn't disappoint. At all.

I admit I like the Commonwealth novels best. I LOVE getting back in touch with Nigel and Paula and many others. It helps that everyone has lifespans counted in the span of thousands of years, of course, but it also means that after all these re-lifers, uploads, post-mortals, and re-bodied characters can go through a ton of change over the years.

Hamilton has one hell of a fascinating timeline going on here. And this latest one is right up there with all the rest. 250 years after this particular world was kicked from the Void, the remaining humans are busy doing the same old crap as usual. Disenfranchising ourselves. The technological minorities are hounded by the reactionaries, but if that doesn't give us enough to enjoy, the world is in constant flux with Fallers. Shapeshifter aliens that only have one goal in mind: eradication of all other life. It's a simple equation for them.

The whole novel is fun from start to finish, including a mysterious fast-growing baby handed to a local astronaut who is told that the fate of the world is in his hands, an intractable official, a Captain from the non-technological ruling class out to hunt him down, and TWO delightful big returns to the characters from the previous novels.

One, and I won't spoil it, was a FREAKING DELIGHT once the secret got revealed. :)

Is this another big book by Hamilton? Yep. But it's fantastic the way that all the Void books are fantastic. High Tech, but now, without the inclusion of psionics from the Void and a distrust of all things High Tech, a few of these characters are freaking uber-powerful despite the Fallers. :) It's fun. :)

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Monday, March 18, 2019

How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite SpaceHow the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space by Janna Levin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this little primer on physics was perfectly delightful. I've never seen anyone explain physics in quite this way before, but it was absolutely charming. The biggest points (for me) were on the topology of the universe. Geometry trumps General Relativity. For, as we know, neither General Relativity or Quantum Physics can describe the actual shape of the universe. No predictive power at all.

But then, even Einstein said there would have to be yet another comprehensive paradigm shift.

I personally like to think that all science will always have to do successive paradigm shifts as if it, too, followed the Marxian axiom. It means there will never be an end to learning, and THAT is something gorgeous to behold. :)

ANYWAY, back to this book. Levin's prose takes the highly unusual tack of posing as letters to her mom, being awesomely personal and revealing while also illustrating just how much she loves the science she does. The mix, far from being awkward, turns the whole struggle and acquisition of knowledge into an end that we can all admire greatly. It also makes it REAL in a way I rarely see in these kinds of non-fiction books. Or perhaps it's not all that rare, because I do get a very awesome sense of the people for whom the science is everything, but in her case, I just feel love, sympathy, and shared joy.

This is not your standard boilerplate introductory pop-sci text. Rather, it is a personal and gorgeous love-note to the ideas that shine so bright, always asking more questions, demanding more sacrifices, and, in the end, revealing even more of the universe.

Totes respect.

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