Category Archives: Book review

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes – review

Nonsense: The Power of Not KnowingNonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had this on my List because I requested it for an advanced read a couple of years ago – wasn’t selected – and decided to jump off a couple of other parallel tracks now to check it out.

It’s been my experience that lot of books like this could be reduced to a three page tract. Not so this one, but it could have been cut at least in half. I found the connection of too many of the stories – and there are a lot of stories – to the purported points rather tenuous. State a conclusion, stretch something to seemingly fit, conclude that it fits!

The short of it is that I don’t buy his premise and he didn’t convince me. People need closure (right now) to resolve ambiguity because…humans can’t handle ambiguity, so they cope? The Branch Davidian debacle happened because the FBI agents in charge couldn’t resolve David Koresh’s change in mind? Please.

From my notes, one part apparently irritated more than the rest. In recounting a study done in the 1980s and 1990s, Holmes said researchers asked people to simulate how juries work, half without explicit direction on a case study, and half with detailed legal analysis. The players were asked after expressing their views to reach a shared verdict with a study stooge who was to disagree with them. The kicker was for some people there was a distracting noisy printer in the background…:

For participants who received no expert advice, the irritating printer made them more likely to change their relatively uncertain minds and agree with the confederate. It also significantly sped up that process. When the participants who didn’t read the legal analysis were arguing in a quiet room, the average time it took for the pairs to agree was 5 minutes and 40 seconds. With the printer going, the time fell to about 3 minutes 50 seconds. Subjects resolved ambiguity faster.

As Mona Lisa Vito would say, “That’s a bull **** question.” Any irritation is going to induce people to hurry up a decision, ambiguous or not, to get out of there.

As to the need for closure (right now) bit, by my self scoring on a set of 15 questions devised by psychologists Arne Roets and Alain Van Hiel, I am way below average. That means I don’t smooth over anomalies or get all worked up over discrepancies. Depends, but more true than not.

By the way, comparisons to Malcolm Gladwell are not a good thing. In my opinion, of course.

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The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems … and Create More by Luke Dormehl – mini review

The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems … and Create MoreThe Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems … and Create More by Luke Dormehl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Seems like a lifetime ago, but there used to be a computer language called ALGOL…short for Algorithm Language (language names meant something back then). And mearly a lifetime ago, programmers – that’s what coders where called, in the day – had to develop algorithms to generate pseudo-random numbers, quickly sort lists, compile programs (code) into the most efficient space given memory and operations per second limitations. This is not about those kinds of algorithms.

What Dormehl does do is pull together – using at least one external reference, be it book or article, per page, and more than a smattering of pop culture drops – what big and little data mining are doing for and to your world. Online dating? Matching algorithms. Shopping? Please. Some Big Brothers aren’t even trying to hide – surely you’ve noticed that if you hop over to social media after searching on Amazon that coincidentally, precisely what you were just searching for is right there! And less obvious, you feed is what BB thinks it should be sending you…not necessarily what you would be actually interested in.

I don’t use a Kindle, or the Kindle app, to read ebooks because I don’t like the interface. But I also don’t want Amazon trying to figure out how much time I spend reading a page, or whether I even bother with the Introduction. I have no allusions that CrApple is not sending my data to their payers, but theirs is not the only app I use.

Where we need to worry, other than being herded to buy what they want us to buy, is whether entities and agencies are relying on these revolving, and artificially tweaked algorithms to make decisions that affect our lives and rights. Get tagged on a “no fly” list? The burden of proof is on the innocent.

Good stuff that could have been lightened with less lightening. Use foot or end notes…it’s okay, and gratuitous pop refs in an attempt to moisture the topics are distracting. Trust that your readers are a bit sharper than a news channel viewer.

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As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling by Anne Serling – review

As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod SerlingAs I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling by Anne Serling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think as I get older, these types of biographies, and autobiographies… mean more; they reach deeper – have an effect a younger me wouldn’t see or understand. This is a testament – not just as daughter Anne knew him, but as so many who knew him, knew him. Rod Serling was never one-dimensional. Nor was he limited by that “fifth dimension” he invented, but too few people know of him as anything other than “that Twilight Zone guy”. I knew of some things, thanks to an off and on obsession with the show that found me my first copy of The Twilight Zone Companion (which, quite obviously from the title, focused on the series and not Serling, per se), but this an intimate share from one of the few closest to him. Uplifting, enlightening, private, …heart-wrenching – he died at age 50 when she was only 20 – there is a wealth of words here from letters and more. That should be no surprise as he was perhaps more than anything, a writer. Well, Ms. Serling does a wonderful job proving that assessment quite wrong. Rephrasing, he was perhaps known as more than anything else, as a writer. And more’s the pity, until this emerged. Continue reading

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard – review, of sorts

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz ChickensBelieve Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got an advance read of this through First to Read and I’m happy for the opportunity.

Charming, vulnerable, human, humanitarian. Obviously quite funny, but as with his stand-up comedy, subtle. I think anyone expecting an autobiography of such a complex man… um, transgender…to mimic his standup will be disappointed. It’s a story of a life, and of how Mr. Izzard came to live that life. Continue reading