March 31, 2011

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, March 2011

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.
Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque and Stephen King, American Vampire
Comic-book mind-candy. Very nice art and a promising story which would have been better if sentiment had been more ruthlessly repressed.
Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler, Mysterius the Unfathomable
Comic-book mind-candy. I will never look at Dr. Seuss in quite the same way again.
Colin de la Higuera, Grammatical Inference: Learning Automata and Grammars
The best, and perhaps even the only, available textbook on grammatical inference. Unlike statistical language modeling, where we just aim at getting good probability estimates and the like, and where students are well-served by books like Charniak and Manning and Schutze, the goal here is, more ambitiously, to recover the language as such, or perhaps even a particular grammatical representation of the language. (Probabilistic finite state machines, on which de la Higuera has written some important papers, are however discussed at some length.) While this goes back almost as far as the study of formal languages as such, this is the best attempt I've seen at drawing the various scattered literatures together into a graspable shape. In principle the book is self-contained, given basic competence in computer science (not programming!), but some acquaintance with formal languages and automata, at the Lewis and Papadimitriou or Hopcroft and Ullman level would be a good idea.
There are an annoying number of typos, which unfortunately I did not note as I went along. Despite them, I now find myself entertaining fantasies of teaching a seminar on grammatical inference.
Disclaimer: I reviewed a partial draft manuscript for the publisher in 2007, and they sent me a free copy of the book when it came out.
Jennifer Crusie, Maybe This Time
Picked up on Jo Walton's recommendation Enjoyable, though I had more trouble accepting the romance working as depicted than I did accepting the ghosts.
Sara Creasy, Song of Scarabaeus
Mind-candy. I like the idea of terraforming by using retroviruses to re-work the planet's native metabolic pathways, but the time-scale seems unduly compressed.
Chad Orzel, How to Teach Physics to Your Dog
If you like "Many Worlds, Many Treats", you will like this; and I dare say if not, then not. As one would guess from the blog post, this is very nice popular science writing: clear, correct, gently funny, and informed by Orzel's experience as an experimental physicist. (Speaking as a recovering theoretical physicist, I appreciate this.) I even learned from it: quantum "teleportation" experiments had never made a lot of sense to me before. ("State duplication" might be a better name...) Strongly recommended, even for cat people.
Disclaimer: Chad's an occasional correspondent.
[With abundant thanks to "Uncle Jan" for this!]
Lauren Willig, The Orchid Affair
Kat Richardson, Labyrinth
Sarah Graves, The Face at the Window
Mind-candy in long-running series. [[Back-linkage]] Both the Graves and the Richardson are a lot darker than previous installments.
Edited to add: Sequel to The Orchid Affair.
Shaun O'Boyle, Modern Ruins: Portraits of Place in the Mid-Atlantic Region
Photographs, almost entirely in monochrome, of abandoned industrial and institutional edifices in Pennsylvania and New York. Short essays by others on the historical context introduces each section of photographs --- which are the main source of interest here. These get their interest, I think, from the contrast between the composition and the content. The latter is, of course, abandonment and decay: these are places from which the world has moved on, and O'Boyle shows them as they peel, rust and crumble. But the composition containing them is elegant and geometrical; many of them bring to mind Renaissance studies in perspective and ideal form, especially with their vertical grids. The human figure is totally absent. (Unlike some Renaissance studies in perspective and grids.) What now-lost civilization, one is left wondering, built these enigmatic structures scattered across eastern North America? Surely not the degraded and disorganized people found wandering in their shadows...
(The introduction by Geoff Manaugh is recycled BLDGBLOG entries, which is not a bad thing unless one's been re-reading Manaugh.)
Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's "early reviewers" program.
W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk [Free Gutenberg versions]
What could I possibly add to all that has been said about this book already?

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; The Pleasures of Detection; The Beloved Republic; Enigmas of Chance; Physics

Posted at March 31, 2011 23:59 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth