Monday, April 30, 2018

Time Travel: A History

Time Travel is a rambling exploration of the history of time travel. It bounces around from treatments of time travel in literature to scientific papers on theoretical physics. Treating time as a 4th dimension came in vogue. However, in our world, we have only been able to move forward. Being able to move backwards seems like a logical possibility. However, why haven't we seen changes in our history? Perhaps the world is in our "best possible world". Or maybe it is just not possible to travel in time. Or perhaps it is just too hard for us to comprehend. Science Fiction stories have explored a number of possible paradoxes that could result from time travel. (What would happen if somebody went back and met themselves? Or what if they killed their ancestors or prevented them from meeting?) The book rambles around to include a history of science fiction with some significant authors (such as H.G. Wells and Heinlein.) It also looks at the treatments by physicists such as Einstein as well as the philosophy of time travel. We also explore the history of "time". (Does the consideration of the "past" separate man from other animals?) There are many interesting parts. However, there is little overwhelming thesis other than "this all has to do with movement through time."

Monday, April 16, 2018


A young boy works with his dad in maintenance at an exotic and very posh hotel. The owner amassed a huge fortune and felt it was important to make all sorts of wacky inventions. In the course of the book, the boy goes through a quest where he learns more and more about the hotel and eventually discovers who is sabotaging it and what the future will be. He also finds a new friend and prepares himself for future leadership roles. The hotel turns out to be a kid's dreams with rooms ranging from "life size pinball machine" to a recreation of central park (along with many "secret" rooms in between. Ducks are also very important. The story is devoid of extreme drama and engaging for young readers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Fooled By Randomness

Fooled By Randomness explores the importance of random events in life and society. On the outset, the author states that he wanted this book to be fun to write, and tried to avoid too many citations. He does cite some literature, but more often he helps provide alternate explanations for results. For example, many studies have tried to tease out what makes successful businessmen. Intelligence is not seen as super important. However, the propensity to take risks does stand out. However, if you looked at bankrupt businessmen, you may see similar results, likely with an even higher "risk taker" rating. The highly successful may appear to be average because they are. They just happened to get lucky. The finance world tends to revere the young, successful traders. However, finding the next "big shot" is essentially a crap-shoot. One person may take risks and get lucky. However, many others will not have the same luck. An older trader is probably your best bet, because they have managed to survive for a long time without imploding.
It is very hard for us to separate out the "random luck" from "skill". Today CEOs get paid enormous salaries to lead companies. However, do they really bring anything to the table? It is difficult to precisely quantify the value that they add. It could be that they just happen to be charismatic and happened to be heading a well-run company. Lower level individual contributors tend to produce results that are much more easily quantified. But as you move up the management chain, randomness plays a larger and larger roll. Even companies as a whole benefit enormously from randomness. Microsoft became a mega software company because IBM used DOS and IBM's architecture became the dominant in the industry. A lot of dice rolls went their way and resulted in a mega company. How much of Bill Gates' fortune is due to luck and how much due to skill? His net worth may be a million times that of some contemporary programmers with equivalent talents. (This also brings in to place network and building effects. Due to "randomness", early success may lead to greater future opportunities that can help develop different skills in the future.)
Even when we know the role of randomness, we are still likely to "fall for it." This can sometimes result in self-defeating behavior, as the mental benefit from a gain less than the harm from a similar loss. It takes skill to avoid "distractions" of randomness and live our lives in the best way possible.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World

The Logic of Life is an economics book in the vein of Freakonomics. It provides logical explanations of seemingly illogical behaviors by people. In many cases, psychological studies tease out logical behavior from seemingly illogical outcomes.
One example was the discussion of racism. "Bigoted racism" would be expected to weed itself out of the business world. If businesses that turn down the best candidates merely because of external characters, would suffer and falter. (A simple example could be seen in basketball where all white teams became at a significant disadvantage compared to integrated teams.) However, "rational racism" is much more difficult to remove because it does provide some "stereotypical" advantage. On average members of certain groups will do better, therefore companies are more likely to hire those in the group. Those in the "out group" still suffer, but companies that practice it are still successful, thus making it more difficult to remove. These groups can also self-reinforce their standing. A Catalan who studies computer science rather than Catalan may be shunned by his community for attempted to do something outside the community. This leads to fewer people being willing to study and succeed and thus an overall reputation of community being inferior. Once the group is deemed inferior, a logical company would prefer the stereotypically better group, and thus perpetuate the inferiority.
Similarly, devolution of areas to isolated ghettos can be explained by a logical behavior. A perfectly integrated community may be functioning well. Each resident likes to have a certain number of similar people nearby, and that balance is properly met. However, if one resident moves out and is replaced by a "different" person, that could upset the balance. Now one person feels they are too different, and move out, this starts the chain reaction which results in the community dominated by a single group.
There are a number of additional examples in other areas of logical explanations for something that seems illogical on the surface. Groups can do strange things when they are composed of individuals doing "logical" things.