Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, October 2011
Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.
- Cristopher Moore and Stephan Mertens, The Nature of Computation [book website]
- This is, simply put, the best-written book on the theory of computation I
have ever read; one of the best-written mathematical books I have ever read,
period. I am horribly biased in its favor, of course — Cris is a
collaborator, and, even more, an old friend — but from beginning to end,
and all the 900+ pages in between, this was lucid, insightful, just rigorous
enough, alive to how technical problems relate to larger issues, and above all,
passionate and human. (There were many pages where I could hear Cris,
full of enthusiasm for the latest puzzle to catch his attention and wanting to
share.) I will try to write a proper review later, but in the meanwhile, let
me recommend this most strongly to anyone who remembers a little calculus and
how vectors add, and finds this blog at all interesting, whether you think you
care about computational complexity or not.
- Update: Eleven months later, here it
is: Intellects Vast and Warm
- Ariana Franklin, The Serpent's Tale and Grave Goods
- Mind candy; historical forensic mysteries in medieval England.
Entertaining, though the heroine is rather too much a product of the
Enlightenment to be believable for the period.
- Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas, The
Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham: A Savage Journey into the Heart of
the American Nightmare
- Mind candy. A homage to both Hunter S. Thompson and H. P. Lovecraft,
soul-destroying horror that was Richard M. Nixon. They do a good job at
capturing not just Thompson's stylistic tics, but also his real themes, and
melding them with both the squamous eldritch horrors and political satire.
- Scott Westerfeld, Behemoth and Goliath
- A pair of delusional and emotionally mangled child soldiers trace a circle
of blood around the world. In an appalling lapse of taste on the part of the
publisher, marketed as mind candy for teenagers.
- Nick Bostrom and Milan M. Cirkovic (eds.), Global Catastrophic Risks
- An edited collection ranging over wrangling about "what counts as a global
catastrophic risk to humanity?", a survey of such risks, some more fanciful
than others, and general reflections on what our attitudes and policies towards
them should be. Edited collections usually have a high variance, but it's
perhaps appropriate that the distribution here is rather more weighted towards
the extremes than your usual volume of academic papers. (Compare, for
instance, the contribution by J. J. Hughes to the two chapters by Yudkowsky,
and don't get me started on Richard Posner, Robin Hanson, or Bryan Caplan.)
Even making appropriate allowances for this, it's full of fascinating
information, and it's a very worthwhile effort to think through these
- Disclaimer: Dr. Cirkovic is an on-line acquaintance, and, in a
somewhat odd turn of events, I critiqued drafts of pretty much every chapter of
the manuscript. Not all of my suggestions were
followed, which was probably for the best, but to some extent I had a hand
in making this.
- Emmanuel Farjoun and Moshé Machover, Laws of Chaos: A Probabilistic Approach to Political Economy
- My brief notes grew out of control: A Marxian
- Taylor Anderson, Firestorm
- Mind candy. "What these lemurs need is a boat-load of vintage
honkeys", continued At some point,
the guilty pleasure of the series will no doubt pall, but not yet, not least
because there are real setbacks for Our Heroes, and because the villains are
becoming actual characters.
- — Sequel.
Sagara, Cast in Ruin
- Mind candy. While I found this really quite unreasonably enjoyable, I can't
help thinking that it would be a Good Thing for the series if at some point
Kaylin had to try to understand the conflict from the Shadow's perspective.
What does it want to break out of the dungeon dimensions (to use a
- (There is also an essay to be written about just how urban this
fantasy series is, and how its vision of the city reflects a sort of
early-21st-century multiculturalism which is quite different from the way that,
say, Leiber imagined Lankhmar. But I will leave that for someone else.)
- (Previously, subsequently.)
- John M. Chambers, Software for Data Analysis: Programming with R (errata)
- The best thing I have encountered on real programming in R, and on
why the language is the way it is. It's really quite elegant, even inspiring,
but probably works best after some day-to-day acquaintance with R, and with
general ideas of programming. Coming to it after the other books on R is like
spending a long time reading about the comparative properties of different
sorts of cement, and the specifications for various pipes, and then stumbling
into a discussion of architecture. It's important that the walls
stand up and the toilets flush, yes, but there needs to be a design, too,
and that's where this comes in.
- — An optional book for Introduction to
Statistical Computing; if I've done my job, by the end of th semester some
of The Kids will be able to appreciate it.
- W. John Braun and
J. Murdoch, A
First Course in Statistical Programming with R
solutions, errata, etc.)
- This is, indeed, a very first course in programming and in R, assuming no
previous programming knowledge whatsoever. (In principle, it doesn't even
assume prior use of a terminal, but that transition seems, empirically, bigger
than they anticipate, and makes me remember In the Beginning was the
Command Line more fondly than before.) Required
for Introduction to Statistical Computing,
where the first half or so of the course closely follows chapters 1--4 (the
language, essential commands for numerical manipulation, graphics, writing and
debugging functions). Later chapters cover distributions, random variables and
simulation; numerical linear algebra; and optimization. I would have liked
coverage of functions-as-objects, and of data manipulation, but we're providing
that ourselves. It has the three great virtues of being short, selecting the
most important points, and being adapted to the meanest understanding.
- Paul Teetor, R Cookbook
- Best thought of as a reverse index to R's help: instead of "how does this
command work, and what can I do with it?", it answers "what commands do I need
to do this?". Not suitable as an introduction to the language, but
a handy reference. Required for Introduction
to Statistical Computing.
Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur;
Enigmas of Chance;
Scientifiction and Fantastica;
The Dismal Science;
Kith and Kin;
The Beloved Republic;
The Natural Science of the Human Species;
Posted at October 31, 2011 23:59 | permanent link