Archive for June, 2005

Jun 30 2005

Eastern Standard Tribe

Published by under Books

by Cory Doctorow
This was a quick one. Small pages, simple story. A few clever ideas and situations, but not really satisfying. I’d read a review when it came out and decided not to read it (I wasn’t thrilled by his earlier “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”). Recently, I read it was up for some best science fiction of the year price so I gave it a shot. Not a good year for science fiction books, I guess. Some good writing, but at best it rates an OK.

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Jun 26 2005


Published by under Books

by Richard Powers. (Same author as my prior post.)
I enjoyed this one as well. I still like the writing style and the subject matter which is very topical. This one is on a very different topic from Galatgea 2.2. Two intertwined stories. The first is a description of the history of a lifelike American soap company from its founding in the early 19th century to the late 1990’s. An historical novel which may sound uninteresting, but its not. It is essentially a slightly fictional history of industrial/cultural development in the US peppered with observations and comments. The second story is that of a woman living in a town dominated by a facility owned by that same soap/chemical company. The woman contracts and is eventually killed by a cancer which may or may not have been caused by chemicals from the facility. Hence displaying a downside of the same industrial/cultural evolution that’s being described. Nicely blended story. Chapters alternate. A lot of the business history was familiar to me. The description of the development of the cancer and its treatment seemed very believable to me. I’m not sure they are “accurate”, but the description is compelling. This description may make the book sound like a combination of boredom and depression, but its not!

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Jun 14 2005

Galatea 2.2

Published by under Books

by Richard Powers.
Described on the flap as a reinvention of the Pygmalion story, but that does not do the book justice. I’t more a riff on the idea of consciousness and what it takes to achieve a human like self awareness. Lots of ideas float around concerning language, intelligence, human communications, and awareness.
On the surface, its the story of a novelist spending a year as the resident humanist in a scientific research lab. He gets sucked into training a neural net into learning how to pass a masters exam in English literature. Interwoven is the story of his life from when he dropped out of graduate school till his return to the U at this lab.
I enjoyed this one and plan to look into a few of Power’s other books as a result. It is not a book that “you can’t put down” but is satisfying to read. A serious mix of writing about technology and humanity.
Incidentally, Galatea is never mentioned in the book, as I recall. A quick trip to the dictionary indicates it is an alternative name given to Pygmalion in Greek mythology.

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Jun 05 2005

What’s Going On In There

Published by under Books

By Lise Eliot PHD.

Accurately subtitled “How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years Of Life”. which is all that it is about. The author is a mother and an academic neuroscientist and the strength of the book is her ability to relate observable behavioral deveopments with both parts of the brain and the brain’s development over time. And, that brain development takes a long time. More than the five years covered in this book. It is a readable book intended for a general audience of parents and is not at all a textbook.

Fascinating how the brain develops billions of cells and quadrillions of connections early on and then prunes them down to eliminate unused and unneeded pathways. An amazingly complex process. Amazing that it works as well as it does.

Lots of discussion of nature/nurture (i.e. genetics/environment) and the conclusion there is the obvious they both matter and maybe they each account for about half. Too hard to discriminate for a hard answer to appear. Also much discusssion of “average” gender differences; they are real but within the range of variability of either gender.
Sometimes it gets a little slow and tedious and some sections just didn’t interest me (e.g. all the possible situations that can cause various birth defects), but a good read. Not a gripper but very informative.

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Jun 04 2005

A Beautiful Mind

Published by under Books

by Sylvia Nasar.

Many people have heard about this story as it was a best seller as well as a popular movie. I have saw the movie when it was playing in theater and enjoyed it. The book is different, but a very readable yet somewhat disturbing story. It tells quite a saga of John Nash from an extremely obnoxious young genius, to a nearly homeless, schizophrenic nobody, and back to a functional mathematician and person who won a Nobel Prize for his early work. While Nash sounds like a total sod when young, he was brilliant and parts of the math community as well as his (ex & future) wife (one person) stood by and supported him through a long period os schizophrenia.

The movie glossed over a lot of his unpleasantness when young, dreamed up the schizophrenic incidents, and generally put too happy a face on the story. Both the movie and the book are worth seeing/reading, but they tell different stories. Presumably, the book is closer to the “truth”.

The first third of the book which describes his brilliant early work and many of the people he associated with or crossed paths with may bore some, but I found it particularly interseting since I had heard of and in some cases read about the work of many of them when in graduate school.

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