Monday, December 31, 2018

A Short History of Nearly Everything

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson starts with the beginning of the universe and works his way down. He laments the poor stats of science textbooks. They often have a few diagrams that attract you to the possibilities of learning, then let you down with very poor text. In this work, he tries to provide an accessible "history" of the world. It starts with the big bang, works through how the universe, suns and planets were formed, then goes down to describe life on earth. From here, it goes through the initial history of organisms, the evolution to different species, and the many extinction events that have taken place and the new species that have come to fill voids. The narrative follows a dual chronology approach. The author discusses key events in rough chronology that the occurred. Within the discussion of the events, he discusses the way that our knowledge of the events has unraveled, with special attention to the key figures in the discovery process. In many of the cases the "first discoverer" is disregarded by society, and only comes to light after somebody else has popularized and attached his name to the discovery (it is almost always a he). The earth has often been much hotter than it is today. (We are in part of a long term ice age.) However, global warming has a lot of uncertainties that could make matters worse. The book ends with a look at homo sapien and how he has come on the scene, with both the ability to both understand and destroy the world.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Emperor's Soul

The Emperor's Soul sounded familiar when I started reading it. It turned out that I had read it before in Brandon Sanderson's Arcanum Unbounded story collection. However, I had not written about the interesting thought behind it. In this exploits, we follow the exploits of a master forger. She uses "soul stamps" to help forge things (both living and inanimate) into something else. The target appearance must be somewhere in the realm of plausibility. A rock could be another type of rock if that type could have logically been mined instead of this one. Works of art tend to be fairly easy. A simple painting could have easily be painted as a master work of art. However, the forger would have to have an intimate understanding of the work of art to properly forge it. These can be extended further to change people. A possible fork in a life can be used to create a "soul stone" that gives a person an alternate life. It poses interesting chances to relive "missed opportunities".

Sunday, December 23, 2018

My Plain Jane

Similar to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, My Plain Jane takes the story of Jane Eyre and spins it on its head. Here, Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre both exist in the same world. A Victorian "ghostbuster" society is trying to rationalize its existence and recruite Jane Eyre to its membership. However, Jane likes her ghost friend and doesn't want to join. There are also the advances from Rochester as well as other shenanigans going on. With this and the Eyre Affair, I've now read two books in the Jane Eyre universe that have left me totally confused as to what the actual book is about. Maybe I should try to read the original. This one, however, is rollicking good fun.
It presents the actual novel as a story that was inspired by Charlotte Bronte's experience with the real Jane Eyre. Charlotte and Jane are friends in this novel. Other historical and fictional characters also have various roles. I can make some educated guesses as to who is from the novel and who is from the author's life, but some could have just as well been created solely for this novel. The understanding doesn't really matter. (Though it could make things more interesting.) There are various cases of good ghosts, bad ghosts, and ghosts just meandering around. The bad guy ends up being super bad, but there are plenty of twists and turns, with just about everyone being a possible "bad guy". The book is a great "ghost mystery comedy" on its own.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too)

The author divides people into four categories: Obliger, Upholder, Rebel, Questioner. I can see myself being a little bit of each, but probably reside more in the questioner category. These are just aspects of people's lives and how they "get things done". The tendencies can be used together with other different types of frameworks. Each of the tendencies has certain advantages and disadvantages. Most of these are "inbuilt", so there is not much sense in trying to change. However, it can be useful to know your tendency to help cope. A rebel will want to be in control, and will be reluctant to respond to requests to do something. Yet, they may do something just to be contrary, or they might do it to avoid being stuck doing something else. An obliger has trouble doing things for themselves, but if somebody else is depending on them, they are likely to do it. A Questioner must understand why something needs to be done. Good reasons can help them to do things. An upholder will follow the rules and do things for themselves because they are needed. Some types can work well together, while others are more challenging. Understanding people's tendencies can help you to work better with them.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think

Nature tends to win out over nurture when it comes to raising children. So, why are we so stressed out over the job we do parenting? Why do working moms of today spend more time with kids than stay at home moms from the 60s? In trying to focus on children instead of ourselves, we often hurt the children. Modern parents have grabbed too much responsibility for themselves, and it doesn't really matter. Children are most likely to turn out like their biological parents, regardless of how they are raised. Many twin and adoption studies show that genetics plays a significant role in adult behavior. Nurture, alas, provides some short term advantages, but little advantage for adults. These studies were mostly done with first world, middle class parents. Nurture can benefit those that are an extreme poverty. But for most middle class families, it wont make much of a difference. Alas, the book does spend a long time drilling down every facet of genetic determinism. I got the point on the first few examples, and did not need every last study. The economic and societal benefits are presented almost as afterthoughts. Our world needs children to support the elderly. Most of the improvements come through inventions. More people means we have a greater likelihood of more inventions. The "ills" of overpopulation are mostly caused by excessive consumption of resources. Don't reduce the people. Instead, reduce the excessive consumption. In the end, the author does not suggest that everyone should be a Dugger, but that we are capable of adequately raising more kids than we think we can.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mincemeat: The Education of an Italian Chef

I often think of Chef's as being elite, skilled professionals. They have the talent of picking out the right ingredients, preparing them properly and presenting a beautiful meal. A chef at a small mom and pop diner or an elite restaurant is exercising creative juices in an edible art. I have thought of them as being apart from the other restaurant staff, which is primarily low-wage workers (often including illegal immigrants and short-termers aspiring to do something else.) Mincement, however, portrays a different view. Chef's are the "boss" of the kitchen, but they often integrate themselves with the depravity. It is not unusual for them to be paid under the table. Fake resumes and the like are not unheard of. Experience is valuable, but as long as a chef can feed people, they can have a job. The restaurant business is not a stable one. Most restaurants are run by small scale entrepreneurs. Some know how to run a business. Many do not. The employees are used to turn over. They live a life that is filled with vices. (And these are the people feeding us?) The author lived and worked in Italy, though his experiences sound like they could have taken place anywhere.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Storm Front: Dresden Files Book 1

Harry Dresden is a wizard and a private investigator in Chicago. He is recruited to help solve crimes. Lots of stuff happens. The end. I felt I was just powering through this book. Seemed like an interesting premise, but I could not get into it. I also had trouble with the narration on the audiobook. The narrator's voice seemed to oscillate in volume and be difficult to understand at times.

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts - Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Adult behavior change can be very difficult. Often we go into change as optimists. However, an "improbable" event of some sort is likely to occur that helps derail us from our desired change. We also encounter various triggers that can help or hurt our prospects for change. OFten the problem we ha is that we don't follow our own boss (ourself.) We have things we want to do, but then do not follow through. There was one example of a group of high ranking executives at dinner. Somebody said that anytime somebody talked poorly (rude, mean, etc.), they had to pay $20 that would go to charity. They ended up with a lot of charity. The only person who did not have to pay was a man who had a little note written down to remember to behave himself. Similarly, little reminders can help us. Sometimes, they can be small things, like an hourly reminder to be happy when guests are over. This can make the drag of showing people the same thing again a happy experience. You are doing it not out of obligation, but as a means to have a positive, happy friendship. Other times, they are items that you want to fulfill on a longer term basis. You score yourself on how well you have done on these goals and continue to work to improve. Once it is second nature, you can drop the goals.
The book does not have any "quick fix" solutions, but instead encourages you to acknowledge challenges and continue remind yourself to work to improve.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Red Pencil

The Red Pencil is a children's book set in war torn Africa. It is told from the point of view of a young girl who suffers through much as a young child, yet doesn't really realize how bad things are. Becoming literate and using a red pencil become highlights of her life. The book "trys hard" to give us a feel for the refugee children in a state of conflict. It almost succeeds.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation

Fascinate talks about the 7 triggers that fascinate people. People tend to have one that is the primary one that they use and one that they do not use. Using a different trigger can help make something more fascinating. However, it can also be a negative if it is too far apart. The triggers include Power, Passion, Mystique, Prestige, Alarm, Rebellion and Trust. (Though in this edition, Lust and Vice were used instead of Passion and Rebellion. Almost seems to be a turn away from the "fascinating.) Different attempts to make more money can often backfire in reducing the rarity of items. Negative publicity can often usefully inspire people to seek out something. A lot of marketing and media today seems to be based on fascinating, even if it does not seem to be explicitly doing it.
The book contains some applications for individuals, but is primarily focused on business and marketing.