Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

It’s not just the quiet

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Reading - passtime of a lot of introvertsJust finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. As an introvert reading a book about introverts, it’s a bit like the cats watching cats meme.

I found myself nodding at many parts. Others not so much – like the idea that introverts need a lot of time to make a decision, cuz no. Cain does a good job of blending research in neuroscience, psychology and field trips to find out more about how introverts have been perceived and welcomed (or not) in history, and makes sure to offer us up some “famous introverts” to soothe our need to be recognized (Bill Gates, Woz, Al Gore, Rosa Parks, Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt…).

Parks’ story is one she comes back to several times, as a woman of “quiet courage” – turns out she had a run-in with the same bus driver she dealt with on the famous day, and she backed off that time. However, she had been a long-standing worker in civil rights in her own way–she wasn’t a leader, but she was strong in her beliefs. On the day when she said “no”, she was tired and believed she should keep her seat. All the stuff that came afterward was primarily the work of the extroverts–like King.

I liked also that Cain twigged to the fact that in this cult of personality we call modern Americas, where we all “think different”, conformity is higher than ever – everything is about groupthink, groupwork and being “outgoing”, against study after study that shows working and thinking on one’s own actually results in more creativity, and more productive results.

In the business world, Cain cites several studies that put the idea that “brainstorming” works, and that open plan offices are conducive to better ideas and more productivity on their ass. Want to help people to be more productive, at least give them a mix of hidey-holes and places to interact. Open-plan workers have higher stress levels, higher turnover and lower productivity. Of course, the people who think all this stuff is good for business have come through what is now generations of kids who have been forced into group work for most of their school career, and who were ostracized and called out by teachers for being too quiet, or anti-social.

This was, in fact, what my entire “enrichment” education was in the 70′s and 80′s – if we weren’t brainstorming, we were assigned to teams to do some project. Never mind that I’m pretty sure the better part of the kids in enrichment were introverts, and looked on our time to do independent study as a “relief” from all of that forced interaction.

There’s some evidence that shows that introverts are physically more sensitive to stimulation – which makes sense. That baby who cries when there’s a loud noise or a fast-moving object? More likely to be introverted and not the excitable extrovert you might expect. The extrovert needs more stimulation to have the right levels of chemicals going in their brains.

There is such a thing as what I would call “situational extrovertism”–where introverts can be social, or direct, or charming even. But when we are done, we need to decompress. I have no problem speaking in front of large crowds, for example, but I need to do mental rehearsing beforehand, and I need several days afterward with no social engagements to “top up” my reserves.

Another good strategy for me is working at home – where I can control the amount of stimulation, and work through different projects as I choose to without interaction. Since a third to a half of the population is introverted, it’s yet another way that telecommuting can actually result in more productivity–except that it’s much more likely that the extroverts are running the show.

Cain offers up some ideas for how introverts and extroverts can get along, and why it’s a great combination when they work together–which I totally agree with. For me, having extroverts on my team and as my immediate boss is a way for me to exert influence without having to do all of the small talk myself, and I really hate small talk.

A good read if you aren’t aware of why Sally or Joe don’t want to go out every night like you do, or if you are Sally or Joe and you want to read about your tribe.


Or maybe “quirky”

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

The other night, Melle and I attended a lecture by Robert Wittman at KW|AG in support of his book Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures. Wittman is a pretty jovial speaker for a FBI guy and he did a great job of getting in plugs for the gallery, the local police services, and his book, of course.

You could hear the collective gasp of horror when he showed us a priceless wooden tea caddy from the Penn family that was unceremoniously dumped in the river and lost when the “mastermind” asswipe who stole it got nervous and told his girlfriend to dump the goods.

Before I got there, I was playing TV ping-pong between Buffy “Pangs” and the Brier (that’s curling, folks) and was really torn on which thing was more exciting even though I’ve seen “Pangs” about 10 times now. “A bear. You made a bear!” “I didn’t mean to!” Seriously, if you aren’t laughing at that, you are a cold, cold person. Plus, Canadian curling championship which is chess on ice and you won’t tell me different.

It was a 10/10 entertainment experience in one night. If I could have worked in the Perimeter lecture as well, it would be an 11.

Upon sharing my delight at the TV choices, Melle said she worries about me sometimes, but I know she means that in the best possible way ;)

Though if I’m looking at the dating pool, this may be a telling sign as to why I’m single. Not *everyone* would think Buffy, curling and stories about art theft and recovery, with a wishful thought towards a physics lecture makes a good evening, but I think it makes me interesting. Or something like that…


Thursday, January 5th, 2012

I’ve seen Ritchie’s Sherlock (Game of Shadows) and Moffat’s latest Sherlock (A Scandal in Belgravia) in the past couple of weeks. Of course, Ritchie’s Sherlock isn’t really Sherlock; it’s an action movie with cool slow-mo that happens to have the same character names as Sherlock.

Of the two, I much prefer Moffat’s. But I do like the chemistry between Downie and Law and the steampunk bits and bobs in Ritchie’s. Also, Stephen Fry as Mycroft is awesome and he and Downie are totally believable batshit brilliant brothers and Jarred Harris is a better Moriarity. The Irene Adlers are very different. McAdams is more vulnerable and more sweet, but then again she’s not a full-on dominatrix, so I guess I give the edge to Lara Pulver. Both have some awesome comic moments.

Moffat’s high tech contemporary Sherlock really works for me, and the music totally reminds of Firefly which can only mean good things. Though Michael Price is not Greg Edmonson, he’s known for a few other little things (think hobbits).

One wonders what the hell Conan Doyle would be thinking about all this re-imagining.

Book meme: sci-fi/fantasy

Friday, August 12th, 2011

Top NPR 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books

From the NPR annual reader survey. As per usual on these things, bold what you’ve read and italicize what read partially/did not finish. I didn’t do as well on this one as other lists, probably because some fantasy series get on my nerves…

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin

6. 1984, by George Orwell

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick

22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury

28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett

61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore

74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson

96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Mind candy

Sunday, April 17th, 2011

Yes, I may be a nerd, but it was with eager anticipation that I tackled James Gleick’s latest, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. As with Chaos, Gleick displays a mastery and a passion for the history of ideas while creating new connections himself. Thinkers great and small come to life, and he has a real knack for surfacing exactly the right quote or life detail in whatever thought he’s following.

Gleick starts (and ends) with Shannon – that odd man from Bell Labs whose information theory is one of the most important developments of thought in the 20th Century, and who starred in Chaos as well. Shannon was a practical man for all that. Whatsoever you understand about information, interference, bits and bobs, data, bits and bytes, or memes, Shannon had a hand in it. He was that badass.

There were so many moments where I smirked, paused, felt my neurons firing in a most pleasing manner. While it’s impossible to summarize, the book really makes it easy to see how fundamental information is at every level of understanding–mathematics, computers, language, genetics and even the basic units of the universe can be understood through this filter.

I started putting little pieces of paper whenever something struck me as interesting or entertaining, and ended up with quite a few. Here’s a selection:

  • Humans going from oral to writing cultures think differently. Literate and slightly literate people think differently, primarily because the slightly literate are without the facility to use symbolism or form symbolic relationships. There was a  study in the 1930′s where the slightly literate group couldn’t fathom geometric shapes–had no words for them. Given a circle, they think moon, literally. You can’t unthink writing. It changes you.
  • Alphabetizing stuff, like “dictionary” items and texts occurred in ancient Alexandria (250 BCE), but got lost along the way in favour of categories of function or some other topical system. Friar Johannes Balbus of Genoa was so sure alphabetic was HIS novel idea in the 13th Century, he felt the need to *really* explain it: “I will discuss amo before bibo because a is the first letter of amo and b is the first letter of bibo…”. Just so.
  • True story. The telegraph is directly responsible for weather forecasts. For the first time, information was receivable immediately, including simple weather reports for corn speculators (Nottingham, no rain but dull and cold). Weather started to be something that was connected across geography instead of a local surprise. Then in 1854, the English government set up a Meteorological Office manned by Admiral Robert FitzRoy (former captain of The Beagle) with lots of cool stuff like barometers and gave the same instruments to ports who telegraphed in their local readings. FitzRoy began to publish his “forecasts” in The Times by 1860. No one knows if he favoured plaid sport coats and loud ties.
  • wmietg (when may I expect the goods?): Alfred Vail would have loved the cell phone. The telegraph was cool, but using it could be expensive and it didn’t take long for enterprising reporters and business name to create meta-language (“encoding”) where full thoughts could be expressed with fewer letters. Vail offered up some suggestions that wouldn’t be out of place today if we primarily texted about stocks and our health, instead of kittehs and naughty proposals. Everything old is new again.
  • One of Shannon’s great insights has to do with circuits and Boolean logic (and you can find out about Boole and how he figured out the logic too). Connecting electricity to logic seemed a bit weird, but Shannon figured out that a relay passing electricity from one circuit to the next is not electricity–it’s a “fact” of whether that circuit is open or closed. And the state of each circuit may impact the state of the next circuit. Make a leap for yourself from there to binary descriptions of this flow, and you’re firmly in the digital age.
  • Shannon and Norbert Wiener (name of the day) were part of a sort of think tank in the 1940s that included the likes of Margaret Mead. One of the key concepts Shannon and Wiener discussed was what entropy measured. For Wiener, it was a measure of disorder and for Shannon it was a measure of uncertainty. What they came to realize was it was the same thing. Ingenious when applied to language–given a string of text, like a sentence, the more you can predict the next letter (based on your understanding of the language and likely words) the less information is conveyed with each subsequent letter. If you can guess the next letter with confidence, then it’s redundant. Hmmm, so if we are pleasantly surprised by a turn of phrase or a witticism, perhaps we are enjoying its entropy.
  • Alan Turing, of the Turing machine and the Turing test of intelligence, was arrested in 1952 for the crime of homosexuality and forced to submit to estrogen injections by the British Government. He took his own life in 1954.
  • Memes, a word coined by a very young Richard Dawkins, are more than funny videos on the Interwebs. Tracing how art or phraseology gets memed is fascinating – we understand “Survival of the fakest” because we can refer to “Survival of the fittest” and everything that it represents. The Mona Lisa or a painting of George Washington have a life of their own. We don’t know what the orignal people looked like, but we know what they look like now.

Plus, Gleick quotes heavily from Jorge Luis Borges, and that’s just A+ in my book.

Some quotable quotes:

  • “What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life’, it is information.” –Richard Dawkins
  • Regarding telephone operators in the 1880s: “The action of stretching her arms up above her head, and to the right and left of her, … turns thin and weedy girls into strong ones.” — Every Woman’s Encyclopedia (big strong woman who got paid same or less as a teenage boy, mind you)

This stuff doesn’t begin to give you all of the mind candy available in this book. I strongly recommend you read it for yourself.

In hindsight…

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Just read Armageddon Science: The Science of Mass Destruction by Brian Clegg. Lots of apocalypse pROn, as expected, including chemical warfare, nanobots, climate change, meteors and volcanoes. The good news is that Clegg does a pretty good job of revealing the odds in our favour. Important to note that this book was released in 2010.

Because in the chapter about natural disasters, he talks a bit about earthquakes and tsunamis:

Earthquakes can have a double impact on human beings. First there is direct damage, most often caused by falling buildings. But also an earthquake in the sea can cause a tusnami…

And in some earthquake-prone areas, like Japan, a huge amount of effort has been put into constructing buildings that can withstand high levels of seismic activity without collapsing and crushing those within.

Some countries have done what they can to minimize the impact of tsunamis. Japan, for example, has built special coastal walls…

Very weird to read in March, 2011.

Best damn things I saw all week

Friday, March 18th, 2011


Considering this is from the 1930′s, it’s two scoops of awesome. He’s cooler than the coolest man in the world…

Hot Pants Homo by Percy Fenster
via Picture is Unrelated


If ever you are having a bad day:

a) Think about Japan and get over yourself.

b) Find some Lorii.

Via Melle

Via Melle

BBC Top 100 Book Meme

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Instructions: Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt. (Via Book Nerd)

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (all)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien JSB
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel
52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Not sure I agree with all of the choices, though. Freakin’ Dan Brown??

Quotable – airport books

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

“One woman’s airport bookstore,” Tipsy scowled, “is another woman’s beautifully paneled library.”
Windward Passage, Jim Nisbet

On the way back from Scotland, I was in need of some additional reading material, so I bought Alison Weir’s examination of the fall of Anne Boleyn. Melle commented later that I don’t really get the principle of airport book shopping.

And then the 200-lb dog took some Ambien

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

What were you doing last night? Me? I was at a book reading/signing with Christopher Moore!

First, the venue was a church. And he spoke from the pulpit. And if that was delicious irony enough, he was mad with the quips about securing himself with the sash thingy in case of sudden rapture.

The reading wasn’t so much reading as some very funny stories about life on a book tour (the last time he spoke in a church, a young earnest man mistook his Ambien-induced brain fart for an epiphany), being Canada after a long time (though he finds the man being threatened by a boat full of monkeys on the back of our $20 to be a bit odd) and the awesomeness of his neuticals.

My BB camera sucks and it ran out of memory before I could get a picture with the man himself, but we got a great shot of Melle. And check this out:

This is a Bite Me poster, above an altar

The altar says "Do in remembrance of me" heh.

The absolute beauty of that. Really.