Econstudentlog

Code Complete (I)

Here’s what I wrote about the book elsewhere not long ago: “I recently started reading the book Code Complete by Steve McConnell. I’ve only read the first 100 pages so far (Kindle estimate of time remaining: 27 hours… – then again, it is ‎960 pages..) but I can already confidently say at this point that if you’re a software developer or programmer or similar, or plan to be, then you’ll want to read this book – it’s awesome. (…and even just reading the first 50 pages of this book would probably make you a better programmer, even if you read no more than that…)”

I enjoy reading it and I learn something new on many of the pages here, or perhaps get a new angle on a topic I have familiarity with – I’ve already come across multiple important insights that I’d really wish I’d have known about when involved in projects in the past, and I’m trying to share some of these learnings also with my coworkers. It’s just a good book. The fact that it’s already almost 20 years old of course means that there isn’t a great deal of coverage about, say, the topics touched upon in the lecture below this post, but a lot of this stuff is about fundamentals, concepts, and tradeoffs, which means that this aspect actually matters probably significantly less than you’d think. Not all suggestions made are the sort of suggestions I feel tempted to immediately follow/implement in my daily work, but most of them at the very least makes you think a bit more about the choices you might be making, often subconsciously – and as the quotes below should incidentally serve to illustrate it’s not just a book about coding.

I have added some sample quotes from the chapters I’ve read so far below.

“Construction is a large part of software development. Depending on the size of the project, construction typically takes 30 to 80 percent of the total time spent on a project. […] Construction is the central activity in software development. Requirements and architecture are done before construction so that you can do construction effectively. System testing (in the strict sense of independent testing) is done after construction to verify that construction has been done correctly. […] With a focus on construction, the individual programmer’s productivity can improve enormously. A classic study by Sackman, Erikson, and Grant showed that the productivity of individual programmers varied by a factor of 10 to 20 during construction (1968). Since their study, their results have been confirmed by numerous other studies (Curtis 1981, Mills 1983, Curtis et al. 1986, Card 1987, Valett and McGarry 1989, DeMarco and Lister 1999, Boehm et al. 2000). This book helps all programmers learn techniques that are already used by the best programmers.”

“As much as 90 percent of the development effort on a typical software system comes after its initial release, with two-thirds being typical (Pigoski, 1997).”
“It generally doesn’t make sense to code things you can buy ready-made.”
“Choosing the right tool for each problem is one key to being an effective programmer.”
“Good architecture makes construction easy. Bad architecture makes construction almost impossible.”
“Good software architecture is largely machine- and language-independent.”
“Part of a programmer’s job is to educate bosses and coworkers about the software-development process, including the importance of adequate preparation before programming begins.”

“Both building construction and software construction benefit from appropriate levels of planning. If you build software in the wrong order, it’s hard to code, hard to test, and hard to debug. It can take longer to complete, or the project can fall apart because everyone’s work is too complex and therefore too confusing when it’s all combined. Careful planning doesn’t necessarily mean exhaustive planning or over-planning. You can plan out the structural supports and decide later whether to put in hardwood floors or carpeting, what color to paint the walls, what roofing material to use, and so on. A well-planned project improves your ability to change your mind later about details. The more experience you have with the kind of software you’re building, the more details you can take for granted. You just want to be sure that you plan enough so that lack of planning doesn’t create major problems later.”

“The overarching goal of preparation is risk reduction: a good project planner clears major risks out of the way as early as possible so that the bulk of the project can proceed as smoothly as possible. By far the most common project risks in software development are poor requirements and poor project planning […] You might think that all professional programmers know about the importance of preparation and check that the prerequisites have been satisfied before jumping into construction. Unfortunately, that isn’t so. A common cause of incomplete preparation is that the developers who are assigned to work on the upstream activities do not have the expertise to carry out their assignments. The skills needed to plan a project, create a compelling business case, develop comprehensive and accurate requirements, and create high-quality architectures are far from trivial, but most developers have not received training in how to perform these activities. […] Some programmers do know how to perform upstream activities, but they don’t prepare because they can’t resist the urge to begin coding as soon as possible. […] It takes only a few large programs to learn that you can avoid a lot of stress by planning ahead. Let your own experience be your guide. A final reason that programmers don’t prepare is that managers are notoriously unsympathetic to programmers who spend time on construction prerequisites.”

“One of the key ideas in effective programming is that preparation is important. It makes sense that before you start working on a big project, you should plan the project. Big projects require more planning; small projects require less. […] Researchers at Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Hughes Aircraft, TRW, and other organizations have found that purging an error by the beginning of construction allows rework to be done 10 to 100 times less expensively than when it’s done in the last part of the process, during system test or after release […]. In general, the principle is to find an error as close as possible to the time at which it was introduced. The longer the defect stays in the software food chain, the more damage it causes further down the chain. Since requirements are done first, requirements defects have the potential to be in the system longer and to be more expensive. Defects inserted into the software upstream also tend to have broader effects than those inserted further downstream. That also makes early defects more expensive. […] for example, an architecture defect that costs $1000 to fix when the architecture is being created can cost $15,000 to fix during system test. […] The cost to fix a defect rises dramatically as the time from when it’s introduced to when it’s detected increases. This remains true whether the project is highly sequential (doing 100 percent of requirements and design up front) or highly iterative (doing 5 percent of requirements and design up front). […] Dozens of companies have found that simply focusing on correcting defects earlier rather than later in a project can cut development costs and schedules by factors of two or more […]. This is a healthy incentive to find and fix your problems as early as you can.”

“Accommodating changes is one of the most challenging aspects of good program design. The goal is to isolate unstable areas so that the effect of a change will be limited to one routine, class, or package. […] Business rules tend to be the source of frequent software changes. […] Business systems projects tend to benefit from highly iterative approaches, in which planning, requirements, and architecture are interleaved with construction, system testing, and quality-assurance activities. […] Iterative approaches tend to reduce the impact of inadequate upstream work, but they don’t eliminate it. […] Iterative approaches are usually a better option for many reasons, but an iterative approach that ignores prerequisites can end up costing significantly more than a sequential project that pays close attention to prerequisites. […] One common rule of thumb is to plan to specify about 80 percent of the requirements up front, allocate time for additional requirements to be specified later, and then practice systematic change control to accept only the most valuable new requirements as the project progresses. Another alternative is to specify only the most important 20 percent of the requirements up front and plan to develop the rest of the software in small increments, specifying additional requirements and designs as you go. […] One key to successful construction is understanding the degree to which prerequisites have been completed and adjusting your approach accordingly […] The extent to which prerequisites need to be satisfied up front will vary with the project type […], project formality, technical environment, staff capabilities, and project business goals. […] Software being what it is, iterative approaches are useful much more often than sequential approaches are. […] Some projects do too much up front; they doggedly adhere to requirements and plans that have been invalidated by down-stream discoveries, and that can also impede progress during construction.”

“[D]ata from numerous organizations indicates that on large projects an error in requirements detected during the architecture stage is typically 3 times as expensive to correct as it would be if it were detected during the requirements stage. If detected during coding, it’s 5–10 times as expensive; during system test, 10 times; and post-release, a whopping 10–100 times as expensive as it would be if it were detected during requirements development. On smaller projects with lower administrative costs, the multiplier post-release is closer to 5–10 than 100 (Boehm and Turner 2004). […] Specifying requirements adequately is a key to project success, perhaps even more important than effective construction techniques. […] Stable requirements are the holy grail of software development. With stable requirements, a project can proceed from architecture to design to coding to testing in a way that’s orderly, predictable, and calm. […] It’s fine to hope that once your customer has accepted a requirements document, no changes will be needed. On a typical project, however, the customer can’t reliably describe what is needed before the code is written. The problem isn’t that the customers are a lower life form. Just as the more you work with the project, the better you understand it, the more they work with it, the better they understand it. The development process helps customers better understand their own needs, and this is a major source of requirements changes […]. A plan to follow the requirements rigidly is actually a plan not to respond to your customer. How much change is typical? Studies at IBM and other companies have found that the average project experiences about a 25 percent change in requirements during development […], which accounts for 70 to 85 percent of the rework on a typical project […] Make sure everyone knows the cost of requirements changes. […] say, “Gee, that sounds like a great idea. Since it’s not in the requirements document, I’ll work up a revised schedule and cost estimate so that you can decide whether you want to do it now or later.” The words “schedule” and “cost” are more sobering than coffee and a cold shower […] Set up a change-control procedure. […] Having a built-in procedure for controlling changes makes everyone happy. You’re happy because you know that you’ll have to work with changes only at specific times. Your customers are happy because they know that you have a plan for handling their input.””Use development approaches that accommodate changes. Some development approaches maximize your ability to respond to changing requirements. An evolutionary prototyping approach helps you explore a system’s requirements before you send your forces in to build it. Evolutionary delivery is an approach that delivers the system in stages. You can build a little, get a little feedback from your users, adjust your design a little, make a few changes, and build a little more. The key is using short development cycles so that you can respond to your users quickly. […] Keep your eye on the business case for the project. Many requirements issues disappear before your eyes when you refer back to the business reason for doing the project. Requirements that seemed like good ideas when considered as “features” can seem like terrible ideas when you evaluate the “incremental business value.””

“The amount of time to spend on problem definition, requirements, and software architecture varies according to the needs of your project. Generally, a well-run project devotes about 10 to 20 percent of its effort and about 20 to 30 percent of its schedule to requirements, architecture, and up-front planning […]. These figures don’t include time for detailed design—that’s part of construction. […] If requirements are unstable and you’re working on a small, informal project, you’ll probably need to resolve requirements issues yourself. Allow time for defining the requirements well enough that their volatility will have a minimal impact on construction. If the requirements are unstable on any project — formal or informal — treat requirements work as its own project. Estimate the time for the rest of the project after you’ve finished the requirements. This is a sensible approach since no one can reasonably expect you to estimate your schedule before you know what you’re building. It’s as if you were a contractor called to work on a house. Your customer says, “What will it cost to do the work?” You reasonably ask, “What do you want me to do?” Your customer says, “I can’t tell you, but how much will it cost?” You reasonably thank the customer for wasting your time and go home.”

“When software-project surveys report causes of project failure, they rarely identify technical reasons as the primary causes of project failure. Projects fail most often because of poor requirements, poor planning, or poor management. But when projects do fail for reasons that are primarily technical, the reason is often uncontrolled complexity. The software is allowed to grow so complex that no one really knows what it does. When a project reaches the point at which no one completely understands the impact that code changes in one area will have on other areas, progress grinds to a halt. […] Managing complexity is the most important technical topic in software development. In my view, it’s so important that Software’s Primary Technical Imperative has to be managing complexity. […] The goal is to minimize the amount of a program you have to think about at any one time. […] The goal of all software-design techniques is to break a complicated problem into simple pieces. The more independent the subsystems are, the more you make it safe to focus on one bit of complexity at a time. Carefully defined objects separate concerns so that you can focus on one thing at a time. Packages provide the same benefit at a higher level of aggregation. Keeping routines short helps reduce your mental workload. Writing programs in terms of the problem domain, rather than in terms of low-level implementation details, and working at the highest level of abstraction reduce the load on your brain. The bottom line is that programmers who compensate for inherent human limitations write code that’s easier for themselves and others to understand and that has fewer errors. […] Once you understand that all other technical goals in software are secondary to managing complexity, many design considerations become straightforward.”

November 23, 2021 Posted by | Books, Computer science | Leave a comment

Books 2021

Last year I failed to track my reading throughout the year on goodreads, but this year I’m managing reasonably well. However it still takes time and work to track/log this stuff here on the blog, so I figured it’d make sense to create a standard book list now – I’ll try to keep this list updated throughout the year.

1. Thinking in Systems: A Primer (2, nf. Chelsea Green Publishing). Goodreads review here.

2. Open Access (3, nf. MIT Press)

3. The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense (nf., Regnery Publishing).

4. Algorithms To Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions (5, nf. William Collins). Blog coverage here. I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads.

5. How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide (nf., Da Capo Lifelong Books). Goodreads review here.

6. Spaceflight: A Concise History (3, nf. MIT Press)

7. Information and the Modern Corporation (2, nf. MIT Press)

8. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (5, nf. Penguin Books). I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads.

9. Understanding Beliefs (2, nf. MIT Press)

10. The Holy Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press)

11. The Habsburg Empire: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press)

12. Night Watch (5, f. Terry Pratchett). This book is on my list of favorite books on goodreads for a reason. A wonderful book, in my opinion perhaps the best book Terry Pratchett ever wrote.

13. Interesting Times (4, f. Terry Pratchett).

14. Moving Pictures (3, f. Terry Pratchett).

15. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (5, nf. Yale University Press). I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads.

16. Machine Translation (3, nf. MIT University Press).

17. Clinical Psychology: A Very Short Introduction (1, nf. Oxford University Press). Goodreads review here.

18. Handbook on the Neuropsychology of Aging and Dementia (5, nf. Springer). Short goodreads review here. I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads).

19. Human Anatomy: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press)

20. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (3, nf. Yale University Press). Quotes from the book are included in this blog-post.

21. Ancient Warfare (2, nf. Oxford University Press)

22. Not Born Yesterday: The Science of Who We Trust and What We Believe (3, nf. Princeton University Press)

23. Exit, voice, and loyalty (4, nf.). Quotes from the book are included in this blog-post.

24. The Napoleonic Wars: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press).

25. Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty: From Theory to Practice (3, nf. Springer).

26. Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification (5, nf. Harvard University Press). Goodreads review here. I added this book to my list of favorite books on goodreads. Some quotes from the book are included in this blog-post.

27. Data Pipelines Pocket Reference: Moving and Processing Data for Analytics (3, nf. O’Reilly Media).

28. The Adventures of Sally (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

29. The Inimitable Jeeves (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

30. Blandings Castle …and Elsewhere (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

31. Summer Lightning (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

32. Thank You, Jeeves (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

33. The Code of the Woosters (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

34. Right Ho, Jeeves (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

35. A Damsel in Distress (3, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

36. Carry On, Jeeves (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

37. Very Good, Jeeves! (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

38. Hot Water (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

39. Volcanoes: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

40. Jeeves in the Offing (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

41. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

42. Leave It to Psmith (5, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

43. Psmith in the City (3, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

44. Psmith, Journalist (3, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

45. Data Science on AWS: Implementing End-to-End, Continuous AI and Machine Learning Pipelines (nf. O’Reilly Media). Long, code-heavy, not an easy read. Very short goodreads review here.

46. Plague: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press). Very short goodreads review here.

47. Lord Edgeware Dies (5, f). Agatha Christie.

48. Enzymes: A Very Short Introduction (5, nf. Oxford University Press). Short goodreads review here.

49. After the Funeral (4, f). Agatha Christie.

50. Soft Matter: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

51. Poirot Investigates (f). Agatha Christie. A mixed bag.

52. Systems Biology: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

53. Biogeography: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

54. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (2, f). Agatha Christie.

55. Forests: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press).

56. Cat Among the Pigeons (2, f). Agatha Christie. Old goodreads review here, written after I first read this book – after finishing the book this year I downgraded the goodreads rating from 3 stars to 2.

57. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (4,f). Agatha Christie.

58. The A.B.C. Murders (f). Agatha Christie.

59. Death in the Clouds (4, f). Agatha Christie.

60. Assessment and Treatment of Older Adults: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals (2, nf. American Psychological Association).

61. Evil Under the Sun (4, f). Agatha Christie.

62. Cards on the Table (5, f). Agatha Christie.

63. Synthetic biology (3, nf.) Oxford University Press.

64. Five Little Pigs (4, f). Agatha Christie.

65. Data Governance: The Definitive Guide: People, Processes, and Tools to Operationalize Data Trustworthiness (3, nf. O’Reilly Media). Work-related.

66. Endless Night (3, f). Agatha Christie. Goodreads review here.

June 26, 2021 Posted by | Books, Personal | Leave a comment

Quotes

  1. “Originally, I set out to understand why the state has always seemed to be the enemy of “people who move around,” to put it crudely. […] Nomads and pastoralists (such as Berbers and Bedouins), hunter-gatherers, Gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, runaway slaves, and serfs have always been a thorn in the side of states. Efforts to permanently settle these mobile peoples (sedentarization) seemed to be a perennial state project—perennial, in part, because it so seldom succeeded. The more I examined these efforts at sedentarization, the more I came to see them as a state’s attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion. Having begun to think in these terms, I began to see legibility as a central problem in statecraft. […] much of early modern European statecraft seemed […] devoted to rationalizing and standardizing what was a social hieroglyph into a legible and administratively more convenient format. The social simplifications thus introduced not only permitted a more finely tuned system of taxation and conscription but also greatly enhanced state capacity. […] These state simplifications, the basic givens of modern statecraft, were, I began to realize, rather like abridged maps. They did not successfully represent the actual activity of the society they depicted, nor were they intended to; they represented only that slice of it that interested the official observer. They were, moreover, not just maps. Rather, they were maps that, when allied with state power, would enable much of the reality they depicted to be remade. Thus a state cadastral map created to designate taxable property-holders does not merely describe a system of land tenure; it creates such a system through its ability to give its categories the force of law.” (James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, pp.1-2)
  2. “No cynicism or mendacity need be involved. It is perfectly natural for leaders and generals to exaggerate their influence on events; that is the way the world looks from where they sit, and it is rarely in the interest of their subordinates to contradict their picture.” (-ll-, p.160)
  3. “Old-growth forests, polycropping, and agriculture with open-pollinated landraces may not be as productive, in the short run, as single-species forests and fields or identical hybrids. But they are demonstrably more stable, more self-sufficient, and less vulnerable to epidemics and environmental stress, needing far less in the way of external infusions to keep them on track. Every time we replace “natural capital” (such as wild fish stocks or old-growth forests) with what might be called “cultivated natural capital” (such as fish farms or tree plantations), we gain in ease of appropriation and in immediate productivity, but at the cost of more maintenance expenses and less “redundancy, resiliency, and stability.”[14] If the environmental challenges faced by such systems are both modest and predictable, then a certain simplification might also be relatively stable.[15] Other things being equal, however, the less diverse the cultivated natural capital, the more vulnerable and nonsustainable it becomes. The problem is that in most economic systems, the external costs (in water or air pollution, for example, or the exhaustion of nonrenewable resources, including a reduction in biodiversity) accumulate long before the activity becomes unprofitable in a narrow profit-and-loss sense.
    A roughly similar case can be made, I think, for human institutions — a case that contrasts the fragility of rigid, single-purpose, centralized institutions to the adaptability of more flexible, multipurpose, decentralized social forms. As long as the task environment of an institution remains repetitive, stable, and predictable, a set of fixed routines may prove exceptionally efficient. In most economies and in human affairs generally, this is seldom the case, and such routines are likely to be counterproductive once the environment changes appreciably.” (-ll-, pp. 353-354)
  4. “If the facts — that is, the behavior of living human beings — are recalcitrant to […] an experiment, the experimenter becomes annoyed and tries to alter the facts to fit the theory, which, in practice, means a kind of vivisection of societies until they become what the theory originally declared that the experiment should have caused them to be. (Isaiah Berlin, “On Political Judgment”)
  5. “Before a disaster strikes, all your preparation looks like waste. After a disaster strikes, it looks like you didn’t do enough. Every time.” (‘Coagulopath’, here)
  6. “The effort an interested party makes to put its case before the decisionmaker will be in proportion to the advantage to be gained from a favorable outcome multiplied by the probability of influencing the decision.” (Edward Banfeld, quote from Albert Otto Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Harvard University Press)
  7. The argument to be presented [in this book] starts with the firm producing saleable outputs for customers; but it will be found to be largely — and, at times, principally — applicable to organizations (such as voluntary associations, trade unions, or political parties) that provide services to their members without direct monetary counterpart. The performance of a firm or an organization is assumed to be subject to deterioration for unspecified, random causes which are neither so compelling nor so durable as to prevent a return to previous performance levels, provided managers direct their attention and energy to that task. The deterioration in performance is reflected most typically and generally, that is, for both firms and other organizations, in an absolute or comparative deterioration of the quality of the product or service provided.1 Management then finds out about its failings via two alternative routes: (1) Some customers stop buying the firm’s products or some members leave the organization: this is the exit option. As a result, revenues drop, membership declines, and management is impelled to search for ways and means to correct whatever faults have led to exit. (2) The firm’s customers or the organization’s members express their dissatisfaction directly to management or to some other authority to which management is subordinate or through general protest addressed to anyone who cares to listen: this is the voice option.” (ibid.)
  8. “Voice has the function of alerting a firm or organization to its failings, but it must then give management, old or new, some time to respond to the pressures that have been brought to bear on it. […] In the case of any one particular firm or organization and its deterioration, either exit or voice will ordinarily have the role of the dominant reaction mode. The subsidiary mode is then likely to show up in such limited volume that it will never become destructive for the simple reason that, if deterioration proceeds, the job of destruction is accomplished single-handedly by the dominant mode. In the case of normally competitive business firms, for example, exit is clearly the dominant reaction to deterioration and voice is a badly underdeveloped mechanism; it is difficult to conceive of a situation in which there would be too much of it.” (-ll-)
  9. “The reluctance to exit in spite of disagreement with the organization of which one is a member is the hallmark of loyalist behavior. When loyalty is present exit abruptly changes character: the applauded rational behavior of the alert consumer shifting to a better buy becomes disgraceful defection, desertion, and treason. Loyalist behavior […] can be understood in terms of a generalized concept of penalty for exit. The penalty may be directly imposed, but in most cases it is internalized. The individual feels that leaving a certain group carries a high price with it, even though no specific sanction is imposed by the group. In both cases, the decision to remain a member and not to exit in the face of a superior alternative would thus appear to follow from a perfectly rational balancing of prospective private benefits against private costs.” (-ll-)
  10. “The preference that [an] individual ends up conveying to others is what I will call his public preference. It is distinct from his private preference, which is what he would express in the absence of social pressures. By definition, preference falsification is the selection of a public preference that differs from one’s private preference. […] It is public opinion, rather than private opinion, that undergirds political power. Private opinion may be highly unfavorable to a regime, policy, or institution without generating a public outcry for change. The communist regimes of Eastern Europe survived for decades even though they were widely despised. They remained in power as long as public opinion remained overwhelmingly in their favor, collapsing instantly when street crowds mustered the courage to rise against them.” (Timur Kuran, Private Truths, Public Lies, Harvard University Press).
  11. “Even in democratic societies, where the right to think, speak, and act freely enjoys official protection, and where tolerance is a prized virtue, unorthodox views can evoke enormous hostility. In the United States, for instance, to defend the sterilization of poor women or the legalization of importing ivory would be to raise doubts about one’s civility and morality, if not one’s sanity. […] strictly enforced, freedom of speech does not insulate people’s reputations from their expressed opinions. Precisely because people who express different opinions do get treated differently, individuals normally tailor their expressions to the prevailing social pressures. Their adjustments vary greatly in social impact. At one extreme are harmless, and possibly beneficial, acts of politeness, as when one tells a friend wearing a garish shirt that he has good taste. At the other are acts of spinelessness on issues of general concern, as when a politician endorses a protectionist measure that he recognizes as harmful to most of his constituents. The pressures generating such acts of insincerity need not originate from the government. Preference falsification is compatible with all political systems, from the most unyielding dictatorship to the most libertarian democracy.” (-ll-)
  12. “How will the individual choose what preference to convey? Three distinct considerations may enter his calculations: the satisfaction he is likely to obtain from society’s decision, the rewards and punishments associated with his chosen preference, and finally, the benefits he derives from truthful self-expression. If large numbers of individuals are expressing preferences on the issue, the individual’s capacity to influence the collective decision is likely to be negligible. In this case he will consider society’s decision to be essentially fixed, basing his own preference declaration only on the second and third considerations. Ordinarily, these offer a tradeoff between the benefits of self-expression and those of being perceived as someone with the right preference. Where the latter benefits dominate, our individual will engage in preference falsification.” (-ll-)
  13. “Issues of political importance present individuals with tradeoffs between outer and inner peace. Frequently, therefore, these matters force people to choose between their reputations and their individualities. There are contexts, of course, in which such tradeoffs are dealt with by remaining silent […]. Silence has two possible advantages and two disadvantages. On the positive side, it spares one the penalty of taking a position offensive to others, and it may lessen the inner cost of preference falsification. On the negative side, one gives up available rewards, and one’s private preference remains hidden. On some controversial issues, the sum of these various payoffs may exceed the net payoff to expressing some preference. Certain contexts present yet another option: abandoning the decision-making group that is presenting one with difficult choices. This option, “exit,” is sometimes exercised by group members unhappy with the way things are going, yet powerless to effect change. […] For all practical purposes, exit is not always a viable option. Often our choices are limited to expressing some preference or remaining silent.” (-ll-)
  14. “In a polarized political environment, individuals may not be able to position themselves on neutral ground even if they try. Each side may perceive a declaration of neutrality or moderation as collaboration with the enemy, leaving moderates exposed to attacks from two directions at once.” (-ll-)
  15. “[C]ontinuities [in societal/organizational structures] arise from obstacles to implementing change. One impediment, explored in Albert Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, consists of individual decisions to “exit”: menacing elements of the status quo survive as people capable of making a difference opt to abandon the relevant decision-making group.2 Another such mechanism lies at the heart of Mancur Olson’s book on patterns of economic growth, The Rise and Decline of Nations: unpopular choices persist because the many who support change are less well organized than the few who are opposed.3 Here I argue that preference falsification is a complementary, yet more elementary, reason for the persistence of unwanted social choices. Hirschman’s exit is a form of public identification with change, as is his “voice,” which he defines as vocal protest. Preference falsification is often cheaper than escape, and it avoids the risks inherent in public protest. Frequently, therefore, it is the initial response of people who become disenchanted with the status quo.” (-ll-)
  16. “Public opinion can be divided yet heavily favor the status quo, with the few public dissenters being treated as deviants, opportunists, or villains. If millions have misgivings about a policy but only hundreds will speak up, one can sensibly infer that discussion on the policy is not free.” (-ll-)
  17. “…heuristics are most likely to be used under one or more of the following conditions: we do not have time to think carefully about an issue; we are too overloaded with information to process it fully; the issues at stake are unimportant; we have little other information on which to base a decision; and a given heuristic comes quickly to mind.” (-ll-)
  18. “What most people outside of analytics often fail to appreciate is that to generate what is seen, there’s a complex machinery that is unseen. For every dashboard and insight that a data analyst generates and for each predictive model developed by a data scientist, there are data pipelines working behind the scenes. It’s not uncommon for a single dashboard, or even a single metric, to be derived from data originating in multiple source systems. In addition, data pipelines do more than just extract data from sources and load them into simple database tables or flat files for analysts to use. Raw data is refined along the way to clean, structure, normalize, combine, aggregate, and at times anonymize or otherwise secure it. […] In addition, pipelines are not just built — they are monitored, maintained, and extended. Data engineers are tasked with not just delivering data once, but building pipelines and supporting infrastructure that deliver and process it reliably, securely, and on time.” (Data Pipelines Pocket Reference, James Densmore, O’Reilly Media)
  19. “The S in IoT stands for security.” (‘Windowsteak’, here)
  20. “Do not seek for information of which you cannot make use.” (Anna C. Brackett)

June 26, 2021 Posted by | Anthropology, Books, culture, Data, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Quotes

i. “‘Intuition’ comes first. Reasoning comes second.” (Llewelyn & Doorn, Clinical Psychology: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press)

ii. “We tend to cope with difficulties in ways that are familiar to us — acting in ways that were helpful to us in the past, even if these ways are now ineffective or destructive.” (-ll-)

iii. “We all thrive when given attention, and being encouraged and praised is more effective at changing our behaviour than being punished. The best way to increase the frequency of a behaviour is to reward it.” (-ll-)

iv. “You can’t make people change if they don’t want to, but you can support and encourage them to make changes.” (-ll-)

v. “You shall know a word by the company it keeps” (John Rupert Firth, as quoted in Thierry Poibeau’s Machine Translation, MIT Press).

vi. “The basic narrative of sedentism and agriculture has long survived the mythology that originally supplied its charter. From Thomas Hobbes to John Locke to Giambattista Vico to Lewis Henry Morgan to Friedrich Engels to Herbert Spencer to Oswald Spengler to social Darwinist accounts of social evolution in general, the sequence of progress from hunting and gathering to nomadism to agriculture (and from band to village to town to city) was settled doctrine. Such views nearly mimicked Julius Caesar’s evolutionary scheme from households to kindreds to tribes to peoples to the state (a people living under laws), wherein Rome was the apex […]. Though they vary in details, such accounts record the march of civilization conveyed by most pedagogical routines and imprinted on the brains of schoolgirls and schoolboys throughout the world. The move from one mode of subsistence to the next is seen as sharp and definitive. No one, once shown the techniques of agriculture, would dream of remaining a nomad or forager. Each step is presumed to represent an epoch-making leap in mankind’s well-being: more leisure, better nutrition, longer life expectancy, and, at long last, a settled life that promoted the household arts and the development of civilization. Dislodging this narrative from the world’s imagination is well nigh impossible; the twelve-step recovery program required to accomplish that beggars the imagination. I nevertheless make a small start here. It turns out that the greater part of what we might call the standard narrative has had to be abandoned once confronted with accumulating archaeological evidence.” (James C. Scott, Against the Grain, Yale University Press)

vii. “Thanks to hominids, much of the world’s flora and fauna consist of fire-adapted species (pyrophytes) that have been encouraged by burning. The effects of anthropogenic fire are so massive that they might be judged, in an evenhanded account of the human impact on the natural world, to overwhelm crop and livestock domestications.” (-ll-)

viii. “Most discussions of plant domestication and permanent settlement […] assume without further ado that early peoples could not wait to settle down in one spot. Such an assumption is an unwarranted reading back from the standard discourses of agrarian states stigmatizing mobile populations as primitive. […] Nor should the terms “pastoralist,” “agriculturalist,” “hunter,” or “forager,” at least in their essentialist meanings, be taken for granted. They are better understood as defining a spectrum of subsistence activities, not separate peoples […] A family or village whose crops had failed might turn wholly or in part to herding; pastoralists who had lost their flocks might turn to planting. Whole areas during a drought or wetter period might radically shift their subsistence strategy. To treat those engaged in these different activities as essentially different peoples inhabiting different life worlds is again to read back the much later stigmatization of pastoralists by agrarian states to an era where it makes no sense.” (-ll-)

ix. “Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire” (Voltaire, on the Holy Roman Empire, as quoted in Joachim Whaley’s The Holy Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press)

x. “We don’t outgrow difficult conversations or get promoted past them. The best workplaces and most effective organizations have them. The family down the street that everyone thinks is perfect has them. Loving couples and lifelong friends have them. In fact, we can make a reasonable argument that engaging (well) in difficult conversations is a sign of health in a relationship. Relationships that deal productively with the inevitable stresses of life are more durable; people who are willing and able to “stick through the hard parts” emerge with a stronger sense of trust in each other and the relationship, because now they have a track record of having worked through something hard and seen that the relationship survived.” (Stone et al., Difficult Conversations, Penguin Publishing Group)

xi. “[D]ifficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values. […] They are not about what is true, they are about what is important. […] Interpretations and judgments are important to explore. In contrast, the quest to determine who is right and who is wrong is a dead end. […] When competent, sensible people do something stupid, the smartest move is to try to figure out, first, what kept them from seeing it coming and, second, how to prevent the problem from happening again. Talking about blame distracts us from exploring why things went wrong and how we might correct them going forward.” (-ll-)

xii. “[W]e each have different stories about what is going on in the world. […] In the normal course of things, we don’t notice the ways in which our story of the world is different from other people’s. But difficult conversations arise at precisely those points where important parts of our story collide with another person’s story. We assume the collision is because of how the other person is; they assume it’s because of how we are. But really the collision is a result of our stories simply being different, with neither of us realizing it. […] To get anywhere in a disagreement, we need to understand the other person’s story well enough to see how their conclusions make sense within it. And we need to help them understand the story in which our conclusions make sense. Understanding each other’s stories from the inside won’t necessarily “solve” the problem, but […] it’s an essential first step.” (-ll-)

xiii. “I am really nervous about the word “deserve”. In some cosmic sense nobody “deserves” anything – try to tell the universe you don’t deserve to grow old and die, then watch it laugh at [you] as you die anyway.” (Scott Alexander)

xiv. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard)

xv. “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” (Lao Tzu)

xvi. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” (Chomsky)

xvii. “If we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” (-ll-)

xviii. “I weigh the man, not his title; ’tis not the king’s stamp can make the metal better.” (William Wycherley)

xix. “Money is the fruit of evil as often as the root of it.” (Henry Fielding)

xx. “To whom nothing is given, of him can nothing be required.” (-ll-)

March 26, 2021 Posted by | Archaeology, Books, History, Psychology, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Algorithms to live by…

“…algorithms are not confined to mathematics alone. When you cook bread from a recipe, you’re following an algorithm. When you knit a sweater from a pattern, you’re following an algorithm. When you put a sharp edge on a piece of flint by executing a precise sequence of strikes with the end of an antler—a key step in making fine stone tools—you’re following an algorithm. Algorithms have been a part of human technology ever since the Stone Age.

* * *

In this book, we explore the idea of human algorithm design—searching for better solutions to the challenges people encounter every day. Applying the lens of computer science to everyday life has consequences at many scales. Most immediately, it offers us practical, concrete suggestions for how to solve specific problems. Optimal stopping tells us when to look and when to leap. The explore/exploit tradeoff tells us how to find the balance between trying new things and enjoying our favorites. Sorting theory tells us how (and whether) to arrange our offices. Caching theory tells us how to fill our closets. Scheduling theory tells us how to fill our time. At the next level, computer science gives us a vocabulary for understanding the deeper principles at play in each of these domains. As Carl Sagan put it, “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” Even in cases where life is too messy for us to expect a strict numerical analysis or a ready answer, using intuitions and concepts honed on the simpler forms of these problems offers us a way to understand the key issues and make progress. […] tackling real-world tasks requires being comfortable with chance, trading off time with accuracy, and using approximations.”

I recall Zach Weinersmith recommending the book, and I seem to recall him mentioning when he did so that he’d put off reading it ‘because it sounded like a self-help book’ (paraphrasing). I’m not actually sure how to categorize it but I do know that I really enjoyed it; I gave it five stars on goodreads and added it to my list of favourite books.

The book covers a variety of decision problems and tradeoffs which people face in their every day lives, as well as strategies for how to approach such problems and identify good solutions (if they exist). The explore/exploit tradeoff so often implicitly present (e.g.: ‘when to look for a new restaurant, vs. picking one you are already familiar with’, or perhaps: ‘when to spend time with friends you already know, vs. spending time trying to find new (/better?) friends?’), optimal stopping rules (‘at which point do you stop looking for a romantic partner and decide that ‘this one is the one’?’ – this is perhaps a well-known problem with a well-known solution, but had you considered that you might use the same analytical framework for questions such as: ‘when to stop looking for a better parking spot and just accept that this one is probably the best one you’ll be able to find?’?), sorting problems (good and bad ways of sorting, why sort, when is sorting even necessary/required?, etc.), scheduling theory (how to handle task management in a good way, so that you optimize over a given constraint set – some examples from this part are included in the quotes below), satisficing vs optimizing (heuristics, ‘when less is more’, etc.), etc. The book is mainly a computer science book, but it is also to some extent an implicitly interdisciplinary work covering material from a variety of other areas such as statistics, game theory, behavioral economics and psychology. There is a major focus throughout on providing insights which are actionable and can actually be used by the reader, e.g. through the translation of identified solutions to heuristics which might be applied in every day life. The book is more pop-science-like than any book I’d have liked to read 10 years ago, and there are too many personal anecdotes for my taste included, but in some sense this never felt like a major issue while I was reading; a lot of interesting ideas and topics are covered, and the amount of fluff is within acceptable limits – a related point is also that the ‘fluff’ is also part of what makes the book relevant, because the authors really focus on tradeoffs and problems which really are highly relevant to some potentially key aspects of most people’s lives, including their own.

Below I have added some sample quotes from the book. If you like the quotes you’ll like the book, it’s full of this kind of stuff. I definitely recommend it to anyone remotely interested in decision theory and related topics.

“…one of the deepest truths of machine learning is that, in fact, it’s not always better to use a more complex model, one that takes a greater number of factors into account. And the issue is not just that the extra factors might offer diminishing returns—performing better than a simpler model, but not enough to justify the added complexity. Rather, they might make our predictions dramatically worse. […] overfitting poses a danger every time we’re dealing with noise or mismeasurement – and we almost always are. […] Many prediction algorithms […] start out by searching for the single most important factor rather than jumping to a multi-factor model. Only after finding that first factor do they look for the next most important factor to add to the model, then the next, and so on. Their models can therefore be kept from becoming overly complex simply by stopping the process short, before overfitting has had a chance to creep in. […] This kind of setup — where more time means more complexity — characterizes a lot of human endeavors. Giving yourself more time to decide about something does not necessarily mean that you’ll make a better decision. But it does guarantee that you’ll end up considering more factors, more hypotheticals, more pros and cons, and thus risk overfitting. […] The effectiveness of regularization in all kinds of machine-learning tasks suggests that we can make better decisions by deliberately thinking and doing less. If the factors we come up with first are likely to be the most important ones, then beyond a certain point thinking more about a problem is not only going to be a waste of time and effort — it will lead us to worse solutions. […] sometimes it’s not a matter of choosing between being rational and going with our first instinct. Going with our first instinct can be the rational solution. The more complex, unstable, and uncertain the decision, the more rational an approach that is.” (…for more on these topics I recommend Gigerenzer)

“If you’re concerned with minimizing maximum lateness, then the best strategy is to start with the task due soonest and work your way toward the task due last. This strategy, known as Earliest Due Date, is fairly intuitive. […] Sometimes due dates aren’t our primary concern and we just want to get stuff done: as much stuff, as quickly as possible. It turns out that translating this seemingly simple desire into an explicit scheduling metric is harder than it sounds. One approach is to take an outsider’s perspective. We’ve noted that in single-machine scheduling, nothing we do can change how long it will take us to finish all of our tasks — but if each task, for instance, represents a waiting client, then there is a way to take up as little of their collective time as possible. Imagine starting on Monday morning with a four-day project and a one-day project on your agenda. If you deliver the bigger project on Thursday afternoon (4 days elapsed) and then the small one on Friday afternoon (5 days elapsed), the clients will have waited a total of 4 + 5 = 9 days. If you reverse the order, however, you can finish the small project on Monday and the big one on Friday, with the clients waiting a total of only 1 + 5 = 6 days. It’s a full workweek for you either way, but now you’ve saved your clients three days of their combined time. Scheduling theorists call this metric the “sum of completion times.” Minimizing the sum of completion times leads to a very simple optimal algorithm called Shortest Processing Time: always do the quickest task you can. Even if you don’t have impatient clients hanging on every job, Shortest Processing Time gets things done.”

“Of course, not all unfinished business is created equal. […] In scheduling, this difference of importance is captured in a variable known as weight. […] The optimal strategy for [minimizing weighted completion time] is a simple modification of Shortest Processing Time: divide the weight of each task by how long it will take to finish, and then work in order from the highest resulting importance-per-unit-time [..] to the lowest. […] this strategy … offers a nice rule of thumb: only prioritize a task that takes twice as long if it’s twice as important.”

“So far we have considered only factors that make scheduling harder. But there is one twist that can make it easier: being able to stop one task partway through and switch to another. This property, “preemption,” turns out to change the game dramatically. Minimizing maximum lateness … or the sum of completion times … both cross the line into intractability if some tasks can’t be started until a particular time. But they return to having efficient solutions once preemption is allowed. In both cases, the classic strategies — Earliest Due Date and Shortest Processing Time, respectively — remain the best, with a fairly straightforward modification. When a task’s starting time comes, compare that task to the one currently under way. If you’re working by Earliest Due Date and the new task is due even sooner than the current one, switch gears; otherwise stay the course. Likewise, if you’re working by Shortest Processing Time, and the new task can be finished faster than the current one, pause to take care of it first; otherwise, continue with what you were doing.”

“…even if you don’t know when tasks will begin, Earliest Due Date and Shortest Processing Time are still optimal strategies, able to guarantee you (on average) the best possible performance in the face of uncertainty. If assignments get tossed on your desk at unpredictable moments, the optimal strategy for minimizing maximum lateness is still the preemptive version of Earliest Due Date—switching to the job that just came up if it’s due sooner than the one you’re currently doing, and otherwise ignoring it. Similarly, the preemptive version of Shortest Processing Time—compare the time left to finish the current task to the time it would take to complete the new one—is still optimal for minimizing the sum of completion times. In fact, the weighted version of Shortest Processing Time is a pretty good candidate for best general-purpose scheduling strategy in the face of uncertainty. It offers a simple prescription for time management: each time a new piece of work comes in, divide its importance by the amount of time it will take to complete. If that figure is higher than for the task you’re currently doing, switch to the new one; otherwise stick with the current task. This algorithm is the closest thing that scheduling theory has to a skeleton key or Swiss Army knife, the optimal strategy not just for one flavor of problem but for many. Under certain assumptions it minimizes not just the sum of weighted completion times, as we might expect, but also the sum of the weights of the late jobs and the sum of the weighted lateness of those jobs.”

“…preemption isn’t free. Every time you switch tasks, you pay a price, known in computer science as a context switch. When a computer processor shifts its attention away from a given program, there’s always a certain amount of necessary overhead. […] It’s metawork. Every context switch is wasted time. Humans clearly have context-switching costs too. […] Part of what makes real-time scheduling so complex and interesting is that it is fundamentally a negotiation between two principles that aren’t fully compatible. These two principles are called responsiveness and throughput: how quickly you can respond to things, and how much you can get done overall. […] Establishing a minimum amount of time to spend on any one task helps to prevent a commitment to responsiveness from obliterating throughput […] The moral is that you should try to stay on a single task as long as possible without decreasing your responsiveness below the minimum acceptable limit. Decide how responsive you need to be — and then, if you want to get things done, be no more responsive than that. If you find yourself doing a lot of context switching because you’re tackling a heterogeneous collection of short tasks, you can also employ another idea from computer science: “interrupt coalescing.” If you have five credit card bills, for instance, don’t pay them as they arrive; take care of them all in one go when the fifth bill comes.”

February 10, 2021 Posted by | Books, Computer science, Economics, Game theory, Psychology | Leave a comment

Words

Amaurosis. Metanoia. Adit. Scansion. Gavage. Psephology. Sphaleron. Axonotmesis. Galena. Pingo. Girdling. Snag (ecology). Apophenia. Cenote. Neurotmesis. Acerose. Perseverant. Elapid. Aorist. Kana.

Intaglio. Hiragana. Palinal. Cathemerality. Calque. Numinous. Geas. Afforestation. Crumhorn. Senicide. Catenane. Extispicy/haruspex. Cataplerosis. Ophiolite. Diglossia. Hagiographer. Stylometry. Ossifrage. Pleuston/Neuston. Praline.

Saponification. Culet. Myiasis. Epithalamium. Thigmonasty. Stultiloquy. Thigmotropism. Aerospike. Calabash. Pandanus. Dumbwaiter. Doula. Hypocaust. Cynophobia. Flashover. Backdraft. Pyrolysis. Slat. Phugoid. Toxophily.

Irredentism. Crutching. Threnody. Petroglyph. Protologism. Aileron. Bunding. Phylactery. Guyot. Coupure. Barbette. Apophasis. Fissiparous. Marl. Syrinx. Bocage. Camouflet. Mulesing. Trypophobia. Berm.

January 17, 2021 Posted by | Books, Language | Leave a comment

Quotes

  • “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” (Eugène Ionesco)
  • “Where would be the merit if heroes were never afraid?” (Alphonse Daudet)
  • “In wartime a man is called a hero. It doesn’t make him any braver, and he runs for his life. But at least it’s a hero who is running away.” (Jean Giraudoux)
  • “Love is worth whatever it costs.” (Françoise Sagan)
  • “It is healthier to see the good points of others than to analyze our own bad ones.” (-ll-)
  • “When a man has dreamed of winning something by a colossal stroke of luck, he is prone to neglect petty but more practical ways of attaining it.” (-ll-)
  • “I find war detestable but those who praise it without participating in it even more so.” (Romain Rolland)
  • “There is something sadder to lose than life – the reason for living; Sadder than to lose one’s possessions is to lose one’s hope.” (Paul Claudel)
  • “This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.” (Douglas Adams)
  • “The Englishman of 1750 was closer in material things to Caesar’s legionnaires than to his own great-grandchildren.” (Walter Scheidel, Escape from Rome (The Princeton Economic History of the Western World, Princeton University Press))
  • “In the Western world, […] mature male stature rose by five inches between the late eighteenth and the late twentieth centuries.” (-ll-)
  • People exaggerate both happiness and unhappiness; we are never so fortunate nor so unfortunate as people say we are. (/On amplifie également le malheur et le bonheur, nous ne sommes jamais ni si malheureux, ni si heureux qu’on le dit.) (Honoré de Balzac)
  • “When women love, they forgive everything, even our crimes; when they do not love, they cannot forgive anything, not even our virtues.” (/Lorsque les femmes nous aiment, elles nous pardonnent tout, même nos crimes; lorsqu’elles ne nous aiment pas, elles ne nous pardonnent rien, pas même nos vertus!) (-ll-)
  • “Those who spend too fast never grow rich.” (/Qui dépense trop n’est jamais riche) (-ll-)
  • “Numerical results of mathematical problems can be tested by comparing them to observed numbers, or to a commonsense estimate of observable numbers. […] Yet every teacher knows that students achieve incredible things in this respect. Some students are not disturbed at all when they find 16,130 ft. for the length of the boat and 8 years, 2 months for the age of the captain who is, by the way, known to be a grandfather. Such neglect of the obvious does not show necessarily stupidity but rather indifference toward artificial problems. […] [A] teacher of mathematics has a great opportunity. If he fills his allotted time with drilling his students in routine operations he kills their interest, hampers their intellectual development, and misuses his opportunity. But if he challenges the curiosity of his students by setting them problems proportionate to their knowledge, and helps them to solve their problems with stimulating questions, he may give them a taste for, and some means of, independent thinking.” (George Pólya, How to Solve It. Princeton University Press)
  • “If you can’t solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can’t solve. Find it.” (-ll-)
  • “No idea is really bad, unless we are uncritical. What is really bad is to have no idea at all. […] in theoretical matters, the best of ideas is hurt by uncritical acceptance and thrives on critical examination.” (-ll-)
  • “Let us sum up. Recollecting formerly solved problems with the same or a similar unknown (formerly proved theorems with the same or a similar conclusion) we have a good chance to start in the right direction and we may conceive a plan of the solution. In simple cases, which are the most frequent in less advanced classes, the most elementary problems with the same unknown (theorems with the same conclusion) are usually sufficient. Trying to recollect problems with the same unknown is an obvious and common-sense device […]. It is rather surprising that such a simple and useful device is not more widely known […] neither students nor teachers of mathematics can afford to ignore the proper use of the suggestion: Look at the unknown! And try to think of a familiar problem having the same or a similar unknown.” (-ll-)
  • “Speaking and thinking are closely connected, the use of words assists the mind. […] choosing a suitable notation may contribute essentially to understanding the problem. […] A good notation should be unambiguous, pregnant, easy to remember; it should avoid harmful second meanings, and take advantage of useful second meanings; the order and connection of signs should suggest the order and connection of things. […] we should choose our notation carefully, and have some good reason for our choice. […] Not only the most hopeless boys in the class but also quite intelligent students may have an aversion for algebra. There is always something arbitrary and artificial about notation; to learn a new notation is a burden for the memory. The intelligent student refuses to assume the burden if he does not see any compensation for it. The intelligent student is justified in his aversion for algebra if he is not given ample opportunity to convince himself by his own experience that the language of mathematical symbols assists the mind. To help him to such experience is an important task of the teacher, one of his most important tasks.” (-ll-)
  • Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. […] To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. Some pedants are poor fools; they never did understand the rule which they apply so conscientiously and so indiscriminately. Some pedants are quite successful; they understood their rule, at least in the beginning (before they became pedants), and chose a good one that fits in many cases and fails only occasionally. To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.” (-ll-)
  • “L’amour est un tyran qui n’épargne personne.” (/Love is a tyrant, sparing none.) (Pierre Corneille)
  • “To conquer without risk is to triumph without glory.” (-ll-)
  • “Il faut bonne mémoire après qu’on a menti.” (/It takes a good memory to keep up a lie.) (-ll-)
  • “The immune system functions so well that most of the time we do not notice it is actually working at all. However, it is continuously active, preventing severe infection from the micro-organisms which colonize our skin and our gut, and suppressing the chronic virus infections most of us picked up as infants. […] There are [even] data to suggest that mate choice (including in humans) can be driven by olfactory signals derived from […] MHC molecules — such that those with divergent MHC types are chosen, hence maximizing the number of different MHC molecules available to the offspring.” (Paul Klenerman – The Immune System: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press)
  • “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” (Victor Hugo)
  • “Being a husband is a whole-time job. That is why so many husbands fail. They can’t give their entire attention to it.” (Arnold Bennett)
  • “Journalists say a thing that they know isn’t true, in the hope that if they keep on saying it long enough it will be true.” (-ll-) (They are wrong, and people should really stop taking those people seriouslysee part ii. here)
  • “Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.” (W. Somerset Maugham)
  • “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.” (-ll-)
  • “Unfortunately, theories that explain everything often explain very little.” (William Bynum. The History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction (p. 76). Oxford University Press)
  • “Whatever the system of medical care, in Western societies, third-party arrangements are the norm in hospital payments, so large are the bills. The costs of building, heating, lighting, maintaining, equipping, and staffing these complex institutions have been an increasing concern for the past century. The guaranteeing body has been variously the state, the municipality, a religious organization, an insurance company, a charitable group, individual governors, a rich benefactor, or a combination of these. […] the drive for efficiency, and the adoption of business models, characterizes almost all modern hospitals. […] While developed nations can take the surveillance and regulations of public health for granted, or be incensed when they fail, […] the problems encountered in poorer parts of the world would not have surprised Edwin Chadwick or other advocates in 19th-century Europe. Issues of child and maternal mortality, epidemic diseases, poverty, and poor sanitation are still with us.” (Ibid., pp. 127-128, 136)
  • “I used to watch a lot of news and commentary until one day I tried to tally up what I had learned during a month of it and found the quantity of facts could fit on a postage stamp.” (Zach Weiner)
  • Eppur si muove…” (Galileo Galilei)
  • “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.” (Alejandro Jodorowsky)

October 16, 2020 Posted by | Books, History, Immunology, Mathematics, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Books 2019

Here’s a goodreads link.

I won’t spend a lot of effort on this list – the main point of these lists in earlier years was to keep track of blogposts I wrote about books I’d read because I tended to blog quite a bit, and I realized that it was useful to have lists like these to refer to when looking for stuff I knew I’d read about in the past (I mainly use goodreads, not this blog, to keep track of the books themselves); but these days I blog very little and so there’s not actually a lot to keep track of.

I read 106 books and 34,925 pages in 2019, according to the list goodreads auto-generates each year.

This is not really ‘correct’, but it’s close. One of the books included in goodreads’ list I did not finish, and such books I don’t like to include in this kind of count (…there were actually two other books I also did not finish and decided to shelve this year, but neither of these books were added to the auto-generated list on goodreads; I’m still unclear as to how these algorithms work..). On the other hand the page count provided by goodreads is almost certainly too low, rather than too high, for two reasons: The first is that the longest book I read, The Complete Saki, did not have a page count on either goodreads or Kindle, meaning that no pages were logged for that book; however a paperback version of the book also added to goodreads actually has 960 pages. Two full novels are included in that book and they take up less than a third of the space – this also means, of course, that the supposedly longest book I read on the goodreads list is not actually the longest book I read. A second reason is that I did read a few hundred pages of two of the books I did not finish (…and ‘too many‘ of the third one which was included on the list, even if the pages were not counted), and the page count of partially read books are not logged on goodreads, so these were not included in the count. In August or September I figured I might try for 100 pages per day on average for the year, and given these considerations I think I got quite close, if perhaps not quite there. The other (soft) goal I had was 100 books, which I certainly managed – the final count was very close to two books per week, which is apparently the level I’m at currently, given the sort of books I read. Although blogging is very low on my list of priorities these days this did not mean I stopped reading as well; work takes a lot of time – more time than it did in 2018 – and the cognitive demands of my job have been increasing steadily during the last year, and so the time and resources I have left when I have time off I’d rather spend on reading than on blogging, certainly in part because reading material X is much less demanding than is blogging material X. It should also be quite obvious from the list that I in some periods of the year really did not have the mental surplus to engage in cognitively demanding activities outside of work. I feel proud of the work I did during some of those weeks, but I certainly can’t feel proud about my leisure reading habits during those weeks.

I read 16 non-fiction books, 5 ‘miscellaneous’ books and 84 fiction books to completion last year. I don’t read as much non-fiction as I’d like (…almost nothing compared to what I was reading five years ago), and I think I’ll probably create targeted personal goals for myself in this area this year to improve on that one, at least a little. However most of the non-fiction books I read this year were actually books with a significant amount of content, and I don’t mind trading off books for pages if the books I actually do read are well worth reading. I also need to be realistic, I’m not going to read a technical book from cover to cover during a week where my brain keeps jumping back to e.g. a current database configuration issue – less will have to do. And reading more is not necessarily a desirable outcome, a factor I’m trying to take into account when deciding how to spend my time; I’ve made an effort this year – successfully I believe, at least to some degree – to deliberately prioritize non-book activities like social events where possible, and I had more opportunities for doing so this year than I did last year.

The book count for this year dropped a lot compared to previous years, but if you look at the page count instead the drop is nowhere near as significant – the books I read this year were significantly longer, on average, than those I’ve read in previous years; last year I read 150 books and ~115 pages per day.

I only irregularly added books to goodreads during the year, which means that the books on the list will often not have been added in exactly the right order. This might mean for example that book 3 in a series comes before book 1 on the list, even if I read book 1 first. Frankly I don’t care about this, certainly not enough to try to recreate the list as it would have looked like if books had been added in a more timely manner.

Quite a few of the books on the list are books which I’ve read before; I decided not to add any links to old goodreads reviews in such cases, even if in one or two cases I did update a review after having reread the book this year. I also only added the current ratings of the books, not the ratings I’d given the books in the past.

As usual ‘f’ = fiction, ‘m’ = miscellaneous, ‘nf’ = non-fiction; the numbers in parentheses indicate my goodreads ratings of the books (from 1-5).

1. Medicine in the English Middle Ages (3, nf. Princeton University Press).

2. Olympiad (3, f). Tom Holt. Very short goodreads review here.

3. The Walled Orchard (4, f). Tom Holt. Goodreads review here.

4. A song for Nero (4, f). Tom Holt.

5. Unkempt Thoughts (3, m). Stanisław Jerzy Lec.

6. Alexander at the World’s End (5, f). Tom Holt. Short goodreads review here.

7. Meadowland (3, f). Tom Holt.

8. Brief Cases (4, f). Jim Butcher. Goodreads review here.

9. The Princess Bride (4, f). William Goldman.

10. Practical Demonkeeping (2, f). Christopher Moore.

11. The Tartar Steppe (f). Dino Buzatti.

12. Cognitive Neuroscience: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

13. The Stupidest Angel (3, f). Christopher Moore.

14. The Complete Saki: 144 Collected Novels and Short Stories (4, f). Short goodreads review here.

15. The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove (2, f). Christopher Moore.

16. Wilt (5, f). Tom Sharpe.

17. Angels in the Moonlight (2, f). Caimh McDonnell.

18. Last Orders (2, f). Caimh McDonnell.

19. You suck (2, f). Christopher Moore.

20. The Wilt Alternative (4, f). Tom Sharpe.

21. Wilt On High (4, f). Tom Sharpe.

22. A Man With One of Those Faces (3, f). Caimh McDonnell.

23. Bite Me (1, f). Christopher Moore.

24. Coyote Blue (2, f). Christopher Moore.

25. The Day That Never Comes (2, f). Caimh McDonnell.

26. Bloodsucking Fiends (2, f). Christopher Moore.

27. How to Attract the Wombat (4, m). Will Cuppy.

28. Wilt in Nowhere (f). Tom Sharpe.

29. My Ten Years in a Quandary and How They Grew (2, f). Robert Benchley. Goodreads review here.

30. Genomics: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

31. How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes (4, m). Will Cuppy.

32. Jill the Reckless (2, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

33. The Complete McAuslan (4, f). George MacDonald Fraser.

34. The Hot Rock (4, f). Donald E. Westlake.

35. Bank Shot (4, f). Donald E. Westlake.

36. Nobody’s Perfect (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

37. Jimmy The Kid (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

38. Good Behavior (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

39. Why Me? (4, f). Donald E. Westlake.

40. Drowned Hopes (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

41. Don’t Ask (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

42. What’s The Worst That Could Happen? (4, f). Donald E. Westlake.

43. The Road To Ruin (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

44. The Fugitive Pigeon (4, f). Donald E. Westlake.

45. Bad News (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

46. Viruses: A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press). Blog coverage here.

47. Watch Your Back! (4, f). Donald E. Westlake.

48. What’s So Funny? (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

49. Get Real (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

50. The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (5, nf.). Goodreads review here. Blog coverage here and here.

51. Cops and Robbers (2, f). Donald E. Westlake.

52. God Save the Mark (4, f). Donald E. Westlake.

53. The Spy in the Ointment (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

54. High Adventure (3, f). Donald E. Westlake.

55. And Then There Were None (4, f). Agatha Christie.

56. The Eyre Affair (5, f). Jasper Fforde.

57. Galahad at Blandings (5, f). P.G. Wodehouse.

58. The Fourth Bear (5, f). Jasper Fforde.

59. Lost in a Good Book (5, f). Jasper Fforde.

60. In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition) (4, nf. Oxford University Press). I really should have given this one 5 stars simply in order to motivate other people to read it, but I didn’t quite feel like it really deserved it; even so, this is the best book on the topic of religion I’ve read. If people in general understood religion and human belief systems as well as Scott Atran does, then the world would be a very different place indeed.

61. The Big Over Easy (5, f). Jasper Fforde.

62. The Well of Lost Plots (4, f). Jasper Fforde.

63. Intelligence: All That Matters (3, nf. Hodder & Stoughton).

64. First Among Sequels (3, f). Jasper Fforde.

65. Something Rotten (4, f). Jasper Fforde.

66. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (4, f). Jasper Fforde.

67. The Woman Who Died a lot (4, f). Jasper Fforde.

68. The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter (5, nf. Princeton University Press). Goodreads review here (…a quote: “This is without a doubt the best book I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.”). I added this book to my list of favourite books on goodreads.

69. Bowling Alone (3, nf. Simon & Schuster). Goodreads review here.

70. Dyslexia: A Very Short Introduction (2, nf. Oxford University Press). Blog coverage here.

71. Thief of Time (f). Terry Pratchett.

72. Dead Cert (4, f). Dick Francis.

73. Rat Race (4, f). Dick Francis.

74. Smokescreen (3, f). Dick Francis.

75. Nerve (3, f). Dick Francis.

76. Odds Against (4, f). Dick Francis.

77. For Kicks (3, f). Dick Francis.

78. High Stakes (4, f). Dick Francis.

79. Forfeit (2, f). Dick Francis.

80. Whip Hand (2, f). Dick Francis.

81. Data Science for Business (2, nf. O’Reilly Media). Blog coverage here.

82. Break In (3, f). Dick Francis.

83. Bolt (4, f). Dick Francis.

84. The Edge (5, f). Dick Francis.

85. Straight (3, f). Dick Francis.

86. Driving Force (3, f). Dick Francis.

87. The Cloven Viscount (2, f). Italo Calvino.

88. Zuleika Dobson (2, f). Max Beerbohm. Short goodreads review here.

89. Dangling Man (2, f). Saul Bellow.

90. The Small Bachelor (4, f). P. G. Wodehouse.

91. The Nonexistent Knight (2, f). Italo Calvino.

92. A Pale View of Hills (5, f). Kazuo Ishiguro. Very short goodreads review here. This book was really powerful, I was very tempted to add it to my list of favourite books on goodreads.

93. An Artist of the Floating World (2, f). Kazuo Ishiguro. Goodreads review here.

94. Fire & Blood (5, f). George R. R. Martin.

95. I, Robot (3, f). Isaac Asimov.

96. Matter, A Very Short Introduction (3, nf. Oxford University Press).

97. Alteryx Inspire: Tips and Tricks 2019, London (nf. Publisher unclear, pdf-book written by Alteryx developers).

98. Lords and Ladies (4, f). Terry Pratchett.

99. A Lot Like Christmas (2, f). Connie Willis.

100. The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall (2, nf. Basic Books)

101. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold (4, m). Stephen Fry.

102. Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes (2, nf. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Goodreads review here.

103. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (2, nf. Oxford University Press).

104. Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures (5, m). Stephen Fry. Very short goodreads review here.

105. Nation (4, f). Terry Pratchett.

Books I did not finish and which I don’t think I’ll finish next year:

The Anatomy of Melancholy (1, m). Robert Burton. Goodreads review here.

The Major Works of Samuel Johnson (3, f). “A mixed bag, not really worth reading from cover to cover in my opinion.” (from my goodreads review)

The Life of Samuel Johnson (m). James Boswell.

 

 

January 4, 2020 Posted by | Books, Personal | Leave a comment

Quotes

In recent months I have been reading both The Major Works of Samuel Johnson and The Life of Samuel Johnson, but to some extent I have neglected to keep track of my quotes; the Samuel Johnson quotes below are almost certainly all of them from one of those books, but which one of them? I don’t know, and I frankly don’t see any plausible scenario in which I would be justified spending the time and effort figuring it out (…I do however feel confident stating that most of the quotes below are from The Major Works…).

i. “Many complain of neglect who never tried to attract regard.” (Samuel Johnson)

ii. “It ought to be the first endeavour of a writer to distinguish nature from custom, or that which is established because it is right from that which is right only because it is established” (-ll-)

iii. “To fix the thoughts by writing, and subject them to frequent examinations and reviews, is the best method of enabling the mind to detect its own sophisms, and keep it on guard against the fallacies which it practises on others: in conversation we naturally diffuse our thoughts, and in writing we contract them; method is the excellence of writing, and unconstraint the grace of conversation. To read, write, and converse in due proportions is, therefore, the business of a man of letters.” (-ll-)

iv. “It were to be wished that they who devote their lives to study would at once believe nothing too great for their attainment, and consider nothing as too little for their regard” (-ll-)

v. “Nothing has so much exposed men of learning to contempt and ridicule as their ignorance of things which are known to all but themselves.” (-ll-)

vi. “He that can only converse upon questions about which only a small part of mankind has knowledge sufficient to make them curious must lose his days in unsocial silence, and live in the crowd of life without a companion.” (-ll-)

vii.“No degree of knowledge attainable by man is able to set him above the want of hourly assistance, or to extinguish the desire of fond endearments, and tender officiousness; and therefore no one should think it unnecessary to learn those arts by which friendship may be gained. Kindness is preserved by a constant reciprocation of benefits or interchange of pleasures; but such benefits can only be bestowed as others are capable to receive, and such pleasures only imparted as others are qualified to enjoy.

By this descent from the pinnacles of art no honour will be lost; for the condescensions of learning are always overpaid by gratitude.” (-ll-)

viii. “…the world cannot reward those qualities which are concealed from it” (-ll-)

ix. “…if we make the praise or blame of others the rule of our conduct, we shall be distracted by a boundless variety of irreconcilable judgments, be held in perpetual suspense between contrary impulses, and consult forever without determination.” (-ll-)

x. “… marriage is the strictest tie of perpetual friendship” (-ll-)

xi. “There is no doubt that being human is incredibly difficult and cannot be mastered in one lifetime.” (Terry Pratchett)

xii. “It’s difficult to say just where a marriage goes wrong, because the accepted reason often isn’t the real one.” (Dick Francis, Odds Against)

xiii. “Success depends on three things: who says it, what he says, how he says it; and of these three things, what he says is the least important.” (John Morley)

xiv. “Windbags can be right. Aphorists can be wrong. It is a tough world.” (James Fenton)

xv. “Here we must begin with the most fundamental fact about the impact of television on Americans: Nothing else in the twentieth century so rapidly and profoundly affected our leisure. In 1950 barely 10 percent of American homes had television sets, but by 1959, 90 percent did, probably the fastest diffusion of a technological innovation ever recorded. […] Time diaries show that husbands and wives spend three or four times as much time watching television together as they spend talking to each other, and six to seven times as much as they spend in community activities outside the home.” (Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone)

xvi. “We have changed the environment more quickly than we know how to change ourselves.” (Walter Lippmann, ibid.)

xvii. “If a lover is wretched who invokes kisses of which he knows not the flavor, a thousand times more wretched is he who has had a taste of the flavor and then had it denied him.” (Italo Calvino, The Nonexistent Knight)

xviii. “Where there is no bread, there is no philosophy.” (Avram Davidson, The Phoenix and the Mirror)

xi. “No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.” (Cesare Pavese)

xx. “For the two or three years before she finally left us, Keiko had retreated into that bedroom, shutting us out of her life. She rarely came out, although I would sometimes hear her moving around the house after we had all gone to bed. I surmised that she spent her time reading magazines and listening to her radio. She had no friends, and the rest of us were forbidden entry into her room. At mealtimes I would leave her plate in the kitchen and she would come down to get it, then shut herself in again. […] I had to coax her to put out her laundry, and in this at least we reached an understanding: every few weeks I would find a bag of washing outside her door, which I would wash and return. In the end, the rest of us grew used to her ways, and when by some impulse Keiko ventured down into our living room, we would all feel a great tension. Invariably, these excursions would end with her fighting, with Niki or with my husband, and then she would be back in her room. I never saw Keiko’s room in Manchester, the room in which she died. It may seem morbid of a mother to have such thoughts, but on hearing of her suicide, the first thought that ran through my mind — before I registered even the shock — was to wonder how long she had been there like that before they had found her. She had lived amidst her own family without being seen for days on end; little hope she would be discovered quickly in a strange city where no one knew her. Later, the coroner said she had been there “for several days”. It was the landlady who had opened the door, thinking Keiko had left without paying the rent. I have found myself continually bringing to mind that picture — of my daughter hanging in her room for days on end. The horror of that image has never diminished, but it has long ceased to be a morbid matter; as with a wound on one’s own body, it is possible to develop an intimacy with the most disturbing of things.” (Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of Hills)

November 23, 2019 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Data science (I?)

I’m not sure if I’ll actually blog this book in detail – I might, later on, but for now I’ll just cover it extremely lazily, by adding links to topics covered which I figured I wanted to include in this post.

The book is ‘okay’ – it’ll both allow (relatively) non-technical (management) people to at least begin to understand what sort of tasks the more technical guys are spending time on (and how to prioritize regarding critical resources, and engage with the nerds!), and it might also give the data guys a few more tools that they’ll be able to use when confronted with a specific issue. I really liked the book’s emphasis on conceptualizing data as a strategic asset. On the other hand I imagine some parts of the book will often be close to painful to read for people who have spent at least a few semesters dealing with stats-related topics in the past: This is the sort of book which is also at least in part written for people who might not be completely clear on what a statistical hypothesis test is, which discusses text mining without at any point in the coverage even mentioning the existence of regular expressions, and which discusses causal evaluation without mentioning topics like IV estimation.

Although there are some major gaps in the coverage the level of coverage is however not really all that bad; I hope to refer to at least some of the more technical material included in the book in my work in the future, but it’s not clear at this point how relevant this stuff’ll actually end up being long-term.

Links (…in random order, I did not have the book in front of me as I was writing this post so this is just a collection of links/topics I could recall being potentially worth including here):

Training, validation, and test sets
Cross-validation (statistics)
Statistical classification
Tree model
Decision tree pruning
Random forest
Naive Bayes classifier
Bigram
n-gram
Data mining
Zipf’s law (not covered, but relevant to some parts of the coverage)
Nearest neighbor search
K-nearest_neighbors_algorithm
Cluster analysis
Jaccard index
Bias–variance tradeoff
Hierarchical clustering
Dendrogram
Boosting (machine learning)
Ensemble learning
Feature (machine learning)
Feature selection
Curse of dimensionality
Regularization (mathematics)
Overfitting
Association rule learning
Labeled data
Dimensionality reduction
Supervised_learning/Unsupervised learning
Model selection
Rubin causal model (not covered, but relevant to some parts of the coverage)
Regression discontinuity design (-ll-)
Lift (data mining)
Receiver operating characteristic
Stepwise regression
Grid search (hyperparameter optimization).

October 4, 2019 Posted by | Books, Mathematics, Statistics | Leave a comment

Dyslexia (I)

A few years back I started out on another publication edited by the same author, the Wiley-Blackwell publication The Science of Reading: A Handbook. That book is dense and in the end I decided it wasn’t worth it to finish it – but I also learned from reading it that Snowling, the author of this book, probably knows her stuff. This book only covers a limited range of the literature on reading, but an interesting one.

I have added some quotes and links from the first chapters of the book below.

“Literacy difficulties, when they are not caused by lack of education, are known as dyslexia. Dyslexia can be defined as a problem with learning which primarily affects the development of reading accuracy and fluency and spelling skills. Dyslexia frequently occurs together with other difficulties, such as problems in attention, organization, and motor skills (movement) but these are not in and of themselves indicators of dyslexia. […] at the core of the problem is a difficulty in decoding words for reading and encoding them for spelling. Fluency in these processes is never achieved. […] children with specific reading difficulties show a poor response to reading instruction […] ‘response to intervention’ has been proposed as a better way of identifying likely dyslexic difficulties than measured reading skills. […] To this day, there is tension between the medical model of ‘dyslexia’ and the understanding of ‘specific learning difficulties’ in educational circles. The nub of the problem for the concept of dyslexia is that, unlike measles or chicken pox, it is not a disorder with a clear diagnostic profile. Rather, reading skills are distributed normally in the population […] dyslexia is like high blood pressure, there is no precise cut-off between high blood pressure and ‘normal’ blood pressure, but if high blood pressure remains untreated, the risk of complications is high. Hence, a diagnosis of ‘hypertension’ is warranted […] this book will show that there is remarkable agreement among researchers regarding the risk factors for poor reading and a growing number of evidence-based interventions: dyslexia definitely exists and we can do a great deal to ameliorate its effects”.

“An obvious though not often acknowledged fact is that literacy builds on a foundation of spoken language—indeed, an assumption of all education systems is that, when a child starts school, their spoken language is sufficient to support reading development. […] many children start school with considerable knowledge about books: they know that print runs from left to right (at least if you are reading English) and that you read from the front to the back of the book; and they are familiar with at least some letter names or sounds. At a basic level, reading involves translating printed symbols into pronunciations—a task referred to as decoding, which requires mapping across modalities from vision (written forms) to audition (spoken sounds). Beyond knowing letters, the beginning reader has to discover how printed words relate to spoken words and a major aim of reading instruction is to help the learner to ‘crack’ this code. To decode in English (and other alphabetic languages) requires learning about ‘grapheme–phoneme’ correspondences—literally the way in which letters or letter combinations relate to the speech sounds of spoken words: this is not a trivial task. When children use language naturally, they have only implicit knowledge of the words they use and they do not pay attention to their sounds; but this is precisely what they need to do in order to learn to decode. Indeed, they have to become ‘aware’ that words can be broken down into constituent parts like the syllable […] and that, in turn, syllables can be segmented into phonemes […]. Phonemes are the smallest sounds which differentiate words; for example, ‘pit’ and ‘bit’ differ by a single phoneme [b]-[p] (in fact, both are referred to as ‘stop consonants’ and they differ only by a single phonemic feature, namely the timing of the voicing onset of the consonant). In the English writing system, phonemes are the units which are coded in the grapheme-correspondences that make up the orthographic code.”

“The term ‘phoneme awareness‘ refers to the ability to reflect on and manipulate the speech sounds in words. It is a metalinguistic skill (a skill requiring conscious control of language) which develops after the ability to segment words into syllables and into rhyming parts […]. There has been controversy over whether phoneme awareness is a cause or a consequence of learning to read. […] In general, letters are easier to learn (being concrete) than phoneme awareness is to acquire (being an abstract skill). […] The acquisition of ‘phoneme awareness’ is a critical step in the development of decoding skills. A typical reader who possesses both letter knowledge and phoneme awareness can readily ‘sound out’ letters and blend the sounds together to read words or even meaningless but pronounceable letter strings (nonwords); conversely, they can split up words (segment them) into sounds for spelling. When these building blocks are in place, a child has developed ‘alphabetic competence’ and the task of becoming a reader can begin properly. […[ Another factor which is important in promoting reading fluency is the size of a child’s vocabulary. […] children with poor oral language skills, specifically limited semantic knowledge of words, [have e.g. been shown to have] particular difficulty in reading irregular words. […] Essentially, reading is a ‘big data’ problem—the task of learning involves extracting the statistical relationships between spelling (orthography) and sound (phonology) and using these to develop an algorithm for reading which is continually refined as further words are encountered.”

“It is commonly believed that spelling is simply the reverse of reading. It is not. As a consequence, learning to read does not always bring with it spelling proficiency. One reason is that the correspondences between letters and sounds used for reading (grapheme–phoneme correspondences) are not just the same as the sound-to-letter rules used for writing (phoneme–grapheme correspondences). Indeed, in English, the correspondences used in reading are generally more consistent than those used in spelling […] many of the early spelling errors children make replicate errors observed in speech development […] Children with dyslexia often struggle to spell words phonetically […] The relationship between phoneme awareness and letter knowledge at age 4 and phonological accuracy of spelling attempts at age 5 has been studied longitudinally with the aim of understanding individual differences in children’s spelling skills. As expected, these two components of alphabetic knowledge predicted the phonological accuracy of children’s early spelling. In turn, children’s phonological spelling accuracy along with their reading skill at this early stage predicted their spelling proficiency after three years in school. The findings suggest that the ability to transcode phonologically provides a foundation for the development of orthographic representations for spelling but this alone is not enough—information acquired from reading experience is required to ensure spellings are conventionally correct. […] for spelling as for reading, practice is important.”

“Irrespective of the language, reading involves mapping between the visual symbols of words and their phonological forms. What differs between languages is the nature of the symbols and the phonological units. Indeed, the mappings which need to be created are at different levels of ‘grain size’ in different languages (fine-grained in alphabets which connect letters and sounds like German or Italian, and more coarse-grained in logographic systems like Chinese that map between characters and syllabic units). Languages also differ in the complexity of their morphology and how this maps to the orthography. Among the alphabetic languages, English is the least regular, particularly for spelling; the most regular is Finnish with a completely transparent system of mappings between letters and phonemes […]. The term ‘orthographic depth’ is used to describe the level of regularity which is observed between languages — English is opaque (or deep), followed by Danish and French which also contain many irregularities, while Spanish and Italian rank among the more regular, transparent (or shallow) orthographies. Over the years, there has been much discussion as to whether children learning to read English have a particularly tough task and there is frequent speculation that dyslexia is more prevalent in English than in other languages. There is no evidence that this is the case. But what is clear is that it takes longer to become a fluent reader of English than of a more transparent language […] There are reasons other than orthographic consistency which make languages easier or harder to learn. One of these is the number of symbols in the writing system: the European languages have fewer than 35 while others have as many as 2,500. For readers of languages with extensive symbolic systems like Chinese, which has more than 2,000 characters, learning can be expected to continue through the middle and high school years. The visual-spatial complexity of the symbols may add further to the burden of learning. […] when there are more symbols in a writing system, the learning demands increase. […] Languages also differ importantly in the ways they represent phonology and meaning.”

“Given the many differences between languages and writing systems, there is remarkable similarity between the predictors of individual differences in reading across languages. The ELDEL study showed that for children reading alphabetic languages there are three significant predictors of growth in reading in the early years of schooling. These are letter knowledge, phoneme awareness, and rapid naming (a test in which the names of colours or objects have to be produced as quickly as possible in response to a random array of such items). Researchers have shown that a similar set of skills predict reading in Chinese […] However, there are also additional predictors that are language-specific. […] visual memory and visuo-spatial skills are stronger predictors of learning to read in a visually complex writing system, such as Chinese or Kannada, than they are for English. Moreover, there is emerging evidence of reciprocal relations – that learning to read in a complex orthography hones visuo-spatial abilities just as phoneme awareness improves as English children learn to read.”

“Children differ in the rate at which they learn to read and spell and children with dyslexia are typically the slowest to do so, assuming standard instruction for all. Indeed, it is clear from the outset that they have more difficulty in learning letters (by name or by sound) than their peers. As we have seen, letter knowledge is a crucial component of alphabetic competence and also offers a way into spelling. So for the dyslexic child with poor letter knowledge, learning to read and spell is compromised from the outset. In addition, there is a great deal of evidence that children with dyslexia have problems with phonological aspects of language from an early age and specifically, acquiring phonological awareness. […] The result is usually a significant problem in decoding—in fact, poor decoding is the hallmark of dyslexia, the signature of which is a nonword reading deficit. In the absence of remediation, this decoding difficulty persists and for many reading becomes something to be avoided. […] the most common pattern of reading deficit in dyslexia is an inability to read ‘new’ or unfamiliar words in the face of better developed word-reading skills — sometimes referred to as ‘phonological dyslexia’. […] Spelling poses a significant challenge to children with dyslexia. This seems inevitable, given their problems with phoneme awareness and decoding. The early spelling attempts of children with dyslexia are typically not phonetic in the way that their peers’ attempts are; rather, they are often difficult to decipher and best described as bizarre. […] errors continue to reflect profound difficulties in representing the sounds of words […] most people with dyslexia continue to show poor spelling through development and there is a very high correlation between (poor) spelling in the teenage years and (poor) spelling in middle age. […] While poor decoding can be a barrier to reading comprehension, many children and adults with dyslexia can read with adequate understanding when this is required but it takes them considerable time to do so, and they tend to avoid writing when it is possible to do so.”

Links:

Phonics.
History of dyslexia research. Samuel Orton. Rudolf Berlin. Anna Gillingham. Orton-Gillingham(-Stillman) approach. Thomas Richard Miles.
Seidenberg & McClelland’s triangle model.
“The Simple View of Reading”.
The lexical quality hypothesis (Perfetti & Hart). Matthew effect.
ELDEL project.
Diacritical mark.
Hiragana.
Phonetic radicals.
Morphogram.

September 15, 2019 Posted by | Books, Language, Psychology | Leave a comment

Words

Many of the words below I encountered while reading the books One of our Thursdays is missing, The secret of our success, Bowling alone, Thief of Time, and The Major Works of Samuel Johnson.

Damson. Greengage. Ingle. Marchioness. Tuberose. Flue. Titushky. Cowling. Soteriology. Piazza. Rake-off. Rusk. Babbittry. Aeolipile. SpallationLeister. Weir. Puffin. Omnipercipient. Shiv.

Vociferation. Ebriety. Playbill. Surtout. Outvie. Copiousness. Animadvert. Vendible. Silvicolous. Leveret. Novitiate. Commodious. Appellative. Preterite. Apostasize. Commixture. Sepulture. Desiccative. Siccity. Philology.

Incivism. Prorogation. Metonym. Apologue. Altricial(ity). Palilalia. Macaroon. Compositionality. Alloparental. Pizzle. Cholo. Epizeuxis. Cursorial. Misprision. Terrestriality. Pranny. Epistrophe. Analepsis. Corvid. Zorbing.

Polyptoton. Antanaclasis. Kern. Scrumtrulescent. Cotillion. Confute. Pinner. Declension. Piscatory. Jointure. Vulnerary. Subtilize. Sublunary. Ebullition. Affright. Exorbitance. Impost. Judicature. Fulminate. Cogency.

September 7, 2019 Posted by | Books, Language | Leave a comment

Quotes

i. “The advantage of living is not measured by length, but by use; some men have lived long, and lived little; attend to it while you are in it. It lies in your will, not in the number of years, for you to have lived enough.” (Michel de Montaigne)

ii. “All of the days go toward death and the last one arrives there.” (-ll-)

iii. “Nothing is so firmly believed as that which we least know.” (-ll-) (Variant: “Men are most apt to believe what they least understand.”)

iv. “The plague of man is boasting of his knowledge.” (-ll-)

v. “Saying is one thing and doing is another.” (-ll-)

vi. “Let no man be ashamed to speak what he is not ashamed to think.” (-ll-)

vii. “Few men have been admired by their own households.” (-ll-)

viii. “There is no wish more natural than the wish to know.” (-ll-)

ix. “It is not without good reason said, that he who has not a good memory should never take upon him the trade of lying.” (-ll-)

x. “Religion abhors the competition for truth. Science can’t live without it.” (Scott Atran, In gods we trust)

xi. “Imagination and intelligence enter into our existence in the part of servants of the primary instincts.” (Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (1950)), as quoted in Scott Atran’s In Gods we trust)

xii. “…yes, we are smart, but not because we stand on the shoulders of giants or are giants ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of a very large pyramid of hobbits. The hobbits do get a bit taller as the pyramid ascends, but it’s still the number of hobbits, not the height of particular hobbits, that’s allowing us to see farther.” (Joseph Heinrich, The Secret of Our Success)

xiii. “Underlying these failures is the assumption that we, as humans, all perceive the world similarly, want the same things, pursue these things based on our beliefs (the “facts” about the world), and process new information and experience in the same way. We already know all these assumptions are wrong. […] Different societies possess quite different social norms, institutions, languages, and technologies, and consequently they possess different ways of reasoning, mental heuristics, motivations, and emotional reactions. […] Culture, social norms, and institutions all shape our brains, biology, and hormones, as well as our perceptions, motivations, and judgments. We can’t pick our underlying cultural perceptions and motivations any more than we can suddenly speak a new language.” (-ll-)

xiv. “One of the debates in this literature involves opposing “innate” and “learned” in explaining our abilities and behaviors. [However,] much behavior is both 100% innate and 100% learned. For example, humans have clearly evolved to walk on two legs, and it’s one of our species’ behavioral signatures. Yet we also clearly learn to walk. […] showing that something is learned only tells us about the developmental process but not about whether it was favored by natural selection acting on genes.” (-ll-)

xv. “People always talk about the body as a beautiful well-oiled machine. But sometimes the body communicates with itself by messages written with radioactive ink on asbestos-laced paper, in the hopes that it’s killing itself slightly more slowly than it’s killing anyone who tries to send it fake messages. Honestly it is a miracle anybody manages to stay alive at all.” (Scott Alexander)

xvi. “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” (André Gide)

xvii. “No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.” (William James, Principles of Psychology)

xviii. “It is the duty of every man to endeavour that something may be added by his industry to the hereditary aggregate of knowledge and happiness. To add much can indeed be the lot of few, but to add something, however little, every one may hope” (Samuel Johnson, The Major Works of Samuel Johnson)

xix. ” …we should always wish to preserve the dignity of virtue by adorning her with graces which wickedness cannot assume.” (-ll-)

xx. “Let pain deserved without complaint be borne.” (“Leniter ex merito quicquid patiare ferendum est”) (Ovid, as quoted in -ll-)

 

August 20, 2019 Posted by | Anthropology, Books, culture, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Words

Many of the words below are words I encountered while reading the books Lost in a good book, The Eyre Affair, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, and The Complete Saki: 144 Collected Novels and Short Stories.

Ergotropic. Trophotropic. Abreaction. Nomological. Triskaidekaphobia. Casuistry. Nonsequitous. Amontillado. Contrail. Nacelle. Potluck. Sizar. Herpetology. Phenology. Fustigate. Tintinnabula. Phoropter. Vexillology. Quondam. Onomastic.

Glossolalia. Scrupulosity. Proclaim. Pablum. Ochlocracy. Probate. Anacyclosis. Anastylosis. Diphyodonty. Pakicetus. Gymnure. Sojourner. Rescission. Illocution. Sylvatic. Diabolist. Lariat. Carcinization. Champerty. Barratry.

Pannus. Vitiate. Svengali. Brevet. Scud. Vermicelli. Couplet. Offertory. Rognon. Mangold. Dissentient. Heller. Desultory. Crinkle. Whitsuntide. Syce. Variegation. Novelette. Wassail. Kith.

Astrakhan. Satrap. Halva. Precipitancy. Hie. Lambkin. Toque. Wapiti. Spiraea. Pleasaunce. Berberis. Goodly. Estaminet. Lyddite. Acclamation. Burgh. Wharfage. Tamarin. Chaffer. Catafalque.

July 22, 2019 Posted by | Books, Language | Leave a comment

The pleasure of finding things out (II)

Here’s my first post about the book. In this post I have included a few more quotes from the last half of the book.

“Are physical theories going to keep getting more abstract and mathematical? Could there be today a theorist like Faraday in the early nineteenth century, not mathematically sophisticated but with a very powerful intuition about physics?
Feynman: I’d say the odds are strongly against it. For one thing, you need the math just to understand what’s been done so far. Beyond that, the behavior of subnuclear systems is so strange compared to the ones the brain evolved to deal with that the analysis has to be very abstract: To understand ice, you have to understand things that are themselves very unlike ice. Faraday’s models were mechanical – springs and wires and tense bands in space – and his images were from basic geometry. I think we’ve understood all we can from that point of view; what we’ve found in this century is different enough, obscure enough, that further progress will require a lot of math.”

“There’s a tendency to pomposity in all this, to make it all deep and profound. My son is taking a course in philosophy, and last night we were looking at something by Spinoza – and there was the most childish reasoning! There were all these Attributes, and Substances, all this meaningless chewing around, and we started to laugh. Now, how could we do that? Here’s this great Dutch philosopher, and we’re laughing at him. It’s because there was no excuse for it! In that same period there was Newton, there was Harvey studying the circulation of the blood, there were people with methods of analysis by which progress was being made! You can take every one of Spinoza’s propositions, and take the contrary propositions, and look at the world – and you can’t tell which is right. Sure, people were awed because he had the courage to take on these great questions, but it doesn’t do any good to have the courage if you can’t get anywhere with the question. […] It isn’t the philosophy that gets me, it’s the pomposity. If they’d just laugh at themselves! If they’d just say, “I think it’s like this, but von Leipzig thought it was like that, and he had a good shot at it, too.” If they’d explain that this is their best guess … But so few of them do”.

“The lesson you learn as you grow older in physics is that what we can do is a very small fraction of what there is. Our theories are really very limited.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.”

“When I was an undergraduate I worked with Professor Wheeler* as a research assistant, and we had worked out together a new theory about how light worked, how the interaction between atoms in different places worked; and it was at that time an apparently interesting theory. So Professor Wigner†, who was in charge of the seminars there [at Princeton], suggested that we give a seminar on it, and Professor Wheeler said that since I was a young man and hadn’t given seminars before, it would be a good opportunity to learn how to do it. So this was the first technical talk that I ever gave. I started to prepare the thing. Then Wigner came to me and said that he thought the work was important enough that he’d made special invitations to the seminar to Professor Pauli, who was a great professor of physics visiting from Zurich; to Professor von Neumann, the world’s greatest mathematician; to Henry Norris Russell, the famous astronomer; and to Albert Einstein, who was living near there. I must have turned absolutely white or something because he said to me, “Now don’t get nervous about it, don’t be worried about it. First of all, if Professor Russell falls asleep, don’t feel bad, because he always falls asleep at lectures. When Professor Pauli nods as you go along, don’t feel good, because he always nods, he has palsy,” and so on. That kind of calmed me down a bit”.

“Well, for the problem of understanding the hadrons and the muons and so on, I can see at the present time no practical applications at all, or virtually none. In the past many people have said that they could see no applications and then later they found applications. Many people would promise under those circumstances that something’s bound to be useful. However, to be honest – I mean he looks foolish; saying there will never be anything useful is obviously a foolish thing to do. So I’m going to be foolish and say these damn things will never have any application, as far as I can tell. I’m too dumb to see it. All right? So why do you do it? Applications aren’t the only thing in the world. It’s interesting in understanding what the world is made of. It’s the same interest, the curiosity of man that makes him build telescopes. What is the use of discovering the age of the universe? Or what are these quasars that are exploding at long distances? I mean what’s the use of all that astronomy? There isn’t any. Nonetheless, it’s interesting. So it’s the same kind of exploration of our world that I’m following and it’s curiosity that I’m satisfying. If human curiosity represents a need, the attempt to satisfy curiosity, then this is practical in the sense that it is that. That’s the way I would look at it at the present time. I would not put out any promise that it would be practical in some economic sense.”

“To science we also bring, besides the experiment, a tremendous amount of human intellectual attempt at generalization. So it’s not merely a collection of all those things which just happen to be true in experiments. It’s not just a collection of facts […] all the principles must be as wide as possible, must be as general as possible, and still be in complete accord with experiment, that’s the challenge. […] Evey one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth. It is necessary, I believe, to accept this idea, not only for science, but also for other things; it is of great value to acknowledge ignorance. It is a fact that when we make decisions in our life, we don’t necessarily know that we are making them correctly; we only think that we are doing the best we can – and that is what we should do.”

“In this age of specialization, men who thoroughly know one field are often incompetent to discuss another.”

“I believe that moral questions are outside of the scientific realm. […] The typical human problem, and one whose answer religion aims to supply, is always of the following form: Should I do this? Should we do this? […] To answer this question we can resolve it into two parts: First – If I do this, what will happen? – and second – Do I want that to happen? What would come of it of value – of good? Now a question of the form: If I do this, what will happen? is strictly scientific. […] The technique of it, fundamentally, is: Try it and see. Then you put together a large amount of information from such experiences. All scientists will agree that a question – any question, philosophical or other – which cannot be put into the form that can be tested by experiment (or, in simple terms, that cannot be put into the form: If I do this, what will happen?) is not a scientific question; it is outside the realm of science.”

June 26, 2019 Posted by | Astronomy, Books, Mathematics, Philosophy, Physics, Quotes/aphorisms, Science | Leave a comment

The pleasure of finding things out (I?)

As I put it in my goodreads review of the book, “I felt in good company while reading this book“. Some of the ideas in the book are by now well known, for example some of the interview snippets also included in the book have been added to youtube and have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people (I added a couple of them to my ‘about’ page some years ago, and they’re still there, these are enjoyable videos to watch and they have aged well!) (the overlap between the book’s text and the sound recordings available is not 100 % for this material, but it’s close enough that I assume these were the same interviews). Others ideas and pieces I would assume to be less well known, for example Feynman’s encounter with Uri Geller in the latter’s hotel room, where he was investigating the latter’s supposed abilities related to mind reading and key bending..

I have added some sample quotes from the book below. It’s a good book, recommended.

“My interest in science is to simply find out about the world, and the more I find out the better it is, like, to find out. […] You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about […] I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is so far as I can tell. It doesn’t frighten me.”

“Some people look at the activity of the brain in action and see that in many respects it surpasses the computer of today, and in many other respects the computer surpasses ourselves. This inspires people to design machines that can do more. What often happens is that an engineer has an idea of how the brain works (in his opinion) and then designs a machine that behaves that way. This new machine may in fact work very well. But, I must warn you that that does not tell us anything about how the brain actually works, nor is it necessary to ever really know that, in order to make a computer very capable. It is not necessary to understand the way birds flap their wings and how the feathers are designed in order to make a flying machine. It is not necessary to understand the lever system in the legs of a cheetah – an animal that runs fast – in order to make an automobile with wheels that goes very fast. It is therefore not necessary to imitate the behavior of Nature in detail in order to engineer a device which can in many respects surpass Nature’s abilities.”

“These ideas and techniques [of scientific investigation] , of course, you all know. I’ll just review them […] The first is the matter of judging evidence – well, the first thing really is, before you begin you must not know the answer. So you begin by being uncertain as to what the answer is. This is very, very important […] The question of doubt and uncertainty is what is necessary to begin; for if you already know the answer there is no need to gather any evidence about it. […] We absolutely must leave room for doubt or there is no progress and there is no learning. There is no learning without having to pose a question. And a question requires doubt. […] Authority may be a hint as to what the truth is, but it is not the source of information. As long as it’s possible, we should disregard authority whenever the observations disagree with it. […] Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

“If we look away from the science and look at the world around us, we find out something rather pitiful: that the environment that we live in is so actively, intensely unscientific. Galileo could say: “I noticed that Jupiter was a ball with moons and not a god in the sky. Tell me, what happened to the astrologers?” Well, they print their results in the newspapers, in the United States at least, in every daily paper every day. Why do we still have astrologers? […] There is always some crazy stuff. There is an infinite amount of crazy stuff, […] the environment is actively, intensely unscientific. There is talk about telepathy still, although it’s dying out. There is faith-healing galore, all over. There is a whole religion of faith-healing. There’s a miracle at Lourdes where healing goes on. Now, it might be true that astrology is right. It might be true that if you go to the dentist on the day that Mars is at right angles to Venus, that it is better than if you go on a different day. It might be true that you can be cured by the miracle of Lourdes. But if it is true it ought to be investigated. Why? To improve it. If it is true then maybe we can find out if the stars do influence life; that we could make the system more powerful by investigating statistically, scientifically judging the evidence objectively, more carefully. If the healing process works at Lourdes, the question is how far from the site of the miracle can the person, who is ill, stand? Have they in fact made a mistake and the back row is really not working? Or is it working so well that there is plenty of room for more people to be arranged near the place of the miracle? Or is it possible, as it is with the saints which have recently been created in the United States–there is a saint who cured leukemia apparently indirectly – that ribbons that are touched to the sheet of the sick person (the ribbon having previously touched some relic of the saint) increase the cure of leukemia–the question is, is it gradually being diluted? You may laugh, but if you believe in the truth of the healing, then you are responsible to investigate it, to improve its efficiency and to make it satisfactory instead of cheating. For example, it may turn out that after a hundred touches it doesn’t work anymore. Now it’s also possible that the results of this investigation have other consequences, namely, that nothing is there.”

“I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy – and when he talks about a nonscientific matter, he will sound as naive as anyone untrained in the matter.”

“If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

“I would like to say a word or two […] about words and definitions, because it is necessary to learn the words. It is not science. That doesn’t mean just because it is not science that we don’t have to teach the words. We are not talking about what to teach; we are talking about what science is. It is not science to know how to change centigrade to Fahrenheit. It’s necessary, but it is not exactly science. […] I finally figured out a way to test whether you have taught an idea or you have only taught a definition. Test it this way: You say, “Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language.”

“My father dealt a little bit with energy and used the term after I got a little bit of the idea about it. […] He would say, “It [a toy dog] moves because the sun is shining,” […]. I would say “No. What has that to do with the sun shining? It moved because I wound up the springs.” “And why, my friend, are you able to move to wind up this spring?” “I eat.” “What, my friend, do you eat?” “I eat plants.” “And how do they grow?” “They grow because the sun is shining.” […] The only objection in this particular case was that this was the first lesson. It must certainly come later, telling you what energy is, but not to such a simple question as “What makes a [toy] dog move?” A child should be given a child’s answer. “Open it up; let’s look at it.””

“Now the point of this is that the result of observation, even if I were unable to come to the ultimate conclusion, was a wonderful piece of gold, with a marvelous result. It was something marvelous. Suppose I were told to observe, to make a list, to write down, to do this, to look, and when I wrote my list down, it was filed with 130 other lists in the back of a notebook. I would learn that the result of observation is relatively dull, that nothing much comes of it. I think it is very important – at least it was to me – that if you are going to teach people to make observations, you should show that something wonderful can come from them. […] [During my life] every once in a while there was the gold of a new understanding that I had learned to expect when I was a kid, the result of observation. For I did not learn that observation was not worthwhile. […] The world looks so different after learning science. For example, the trees are made of air, primarily. When they are burned, they go back to air, and in the flaming heat is released the flaming heat of the sun which was bound in to convert the air into trees, and in the ash is the small remnant of the part which did not come from air, that came from the solid earth, instead. These are beautiful things, and the content of science is wonderfully full of them. They are very inspiring, and they can be used to inspire others.”

“Physicists are trying to find out how nature behaves; they may talk carelessly about some “ultimate particle” because that’s the way nature looks at a given moment, but . . . Suppose people are exploring a new continent, OK? They see water coming along the ground, they’ve seen that before, and they call it “rivers.” So they say they’re exploring to find the headwaters, they go upriver, and sure enough, there they are, it’s all going very well. But lo and behold, when they get up far enough they find the whole system’s different: There’s a great big lake, or springs, or the rivers run in a circle. You might say, “Aha! They’ve failed!” but not at all! The real reason they were doing it was to explore the land. If it turned out not to be headwaters, they might be slightly embarrassed at their carelessness in explaining themselves, but no more than that. As long as it looks like the way things are built is wheels within wheels, then you’re looking for the innermost wheel – but it might not be that way, in which case you’re looking for whatever the hell it is that you find!”

 

June 20, 2019 Posted by | Books, Physics, Science | Leave a comment

Viruses

This book is not great, but it’s also not bad – I ended up giving it three stars on goodreads, being much closer to 2 stars than 4. It’s a decent introduction to the field of virology, but not more than that. Below some quotes and links related to the book’s coverage.

“[I]t was not until the invention of the electron microscope in 1939 that viruses were first visualized and their structure elucidated, showing them to be a unique class of microbes. Viruses are not cells but particles. They consist of a protein coat which surrounds and protects their genetic material, or, as the famous immunologist Sir Peter Medawar (1915–87) termed it, ‘a piece of bad news wrapped up in protein’. The whole structure is called a virion and the outer coat is called the capsid. Capsids come in various shapes and sizes, each characteristic of the virus family to which it belongs. They are built up of protein subunits called capsomeres and it is the arrangement of these around the central genetic material that determines the shape of the virion. For example, pox viruses are brick-shaped, herpes viruses are icosahedral (twenty-sided spheres), the rabies virus is bullet-shaped, and the tobacco mosaic virus is long and thin like a rod […]. Some viruses have an outer layer surrounding the capsid called an envelope. […] Most viruses are too small to be seen under a light microscope. In general, they are around 100 to 500 times smaller than bacteria, varying in size from 20 to 300 nanometres in diameter […] Inside the virus capsid is its genetic material, or genome, which is either RNA or DNA depending on the type of virus […] Viruses usually have between 4 and 200 genes […] Cells of free-living organisms, including bacteria, contain a variety of organelles essential for life such as ribosomes that manufacture proteins, mitochondria, or other structures that generate energy, and complex membranes for transporting molecules within the cell, and also across the cell wall. Viruses, not being cells, have none of these and are therefore inert until they infect a living cell. Then they hijack a cell’s organelles and use what they need, often killing the cell in the process. Thus viruses are obliged to obtain essential components from other living things to complete their life cycle and are therefore called obligate parasites.”

“Plant viruses either enter cells through a break in the cell wall or are injected by a sap-sucking insect vector like aphids. They then spread very efficiently from cell to cell via plasmodesmata, pores that transport molecules between cells. In contrast, animal viruses infect cells by binding to specific cell surface receptor molecules. […] Once a virus has bound to its cellular receptor, the capsid penetrates the cell and its genome (DNA or RNA) is released into the cell cytoplasm. The main ‘aim’ of a virus is to reproduce successfully, and to do this its genetic material must download the information it carries. Mostly, this will take place in the cell’s nucleus where the virus can access the molecules it needs to begin manufacturing its own proteins. Some large viruses, like pox viruses, carry genes for the enzymes they need to make their proteins and so are more self-sufficient and can complete the whole life cycle in the cytoplasm. Once inside a cell, DNA viruses simply masquerade as pieces of cellular DNA, and their genes are transcribed and translated using as much of the cell’s machinery as they require. […] Because viruses have a high mutation rate, significant evolutionary change, estimated at around 1 per cent per year for HIV, can be measured over a short timescale. […] RNA viruses have no proof-reading system so they have a higher mutation rate than DNA viruses. […] By constantly evolving, […] viruses appear to have honed their skills for spreading from one host to another to reach an amazing degree of sophistication. For instance, the common cold virus (rhinovirus), while infecting cells lining the nasal cavities, tickles nerve endings to cause sneezing. During these ‘explosions’, huge clouds of virus-carrying mucus droplets are forcefully ejected, then float in the air until inhaled by other susceptible hosts. Similarly, by wiping out sheets of cells lining the intestine, rotavirus prevents the absorption of fluids from the gut cavity. This causes severe diarrhea and vomiting that effectively extrudes the virus’s offspring back into the environment to reach new hosts. Other highly successful viruses hitch a ride from one host to another with insects. […] As a virus’s generation time is so much shorter than ours, the evolution of genetic resistance to a new human virus is painfully slow, and constantly leaves viruses with the advantage.”

“The phytoplankton is a group of organisms that uses solar energy and carbon dioxide to generate energy by photosynthesis. As a by-product of this reaction, they produce almost half of the world’s oxygen and are therefore of vital importance to the chemical stability of the planet. Phytoplankton forms the base of the whole marine food-web, being grazed upon by zooplankton and young marine animals which in turn fall prey to fish and higher marine carnivores. By infecting and killing plankton microbes, marine viruses control the dynamics of all these essential populations and their interactions. For example, the common and rather beautiful phytoplankton Emiliania huxleyi regularly undergoes blooms that turn the ocean surface an opaque blue over areas so vast that they can be detected from space by satellites. These blooms disappear as quickly as they arise, and this boom-and-bust cycle is orchestrated by the viruses in the community that specifically infect E. huxleyi. Because they can produce thousands of offspring from every infected cell, virus numbers amplify in a matter of hours and so act as a rapid-response team, killing most of the bloom microbes in just a few days. […] Overall, marine viruses kill an estimated 20-40 per cent of marine bacteria every day, and as the major killer of marine microbes, they profoundly affect the carbon cycle by the so-called ‘viral shunt‘.”

“By the end of 2015 WHO reported 36.7 million people living with HIV globally, 70 per cent of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the first identification of HIV-induced acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) approximately 78 million people have been infected with HIV, causing around 35 million deaths […] Antiviral drugs are key in curtailing HIV spread and are being rolled out worldwide, with present coverage of around 46 per cent of those in need. […] The HIVs are most closely related to primate retroviruses called simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) and it is now clear that these HIV-like viruses have jumped from primates to humans in central Africa on several occasions in the past giving rise to human infections with HIV-1 types M, N, O, and P as well as HIV-2. Yet only one of these viruses, HIV-1 type M, has succeeded in spreading globally. The ancestor of this virus has been traced to a subspecies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes), among whom it can cause an AIDS-like disease. Since these animals are hunted for bush meat, it is most likely that human infection occurred by blood contamination during the killing and butchering process. This event probably took place in south-east Cameroon where chimpanzees carrying an SIV most closely related to HIV-1 type M live.”

Flu viruses are paramyxoviruses with an RNA genome with eight genes that are segmented, meaning that instead of being a continuous RNA chain, each gene forms a separate strand. The H (haemaglutinin) and N (neuraminidase) genes are the most important in stimulating protective host immunity. There are sixteen different H and nine different N genes, all of which can be found in all combinations in bird flu viruses. Because these genes are separate RNA strands, on occasions they become mixed up, or recombined. So if two flu A viruses with different H and/or N genes infect a single cell, the offspring will carry varying combinations of genes from the two parent viruses. Most of these viruses will be unable to infect humans, but occasionally a new virus strain is produced that can jump directly to humans and cause a pandemic. […] The emergence of almost all recent novel flu viruses has been traced to China where they circulate freely among animals kept in cramped conditions in farms and live bird markets. […] once established in humans their spread has been much enhanced by travel, particularly air travel that can take a virus inside a traveller across the globe before they even realize they are infected. […] With over a billion people worldwide boarding international flights every year, novel viruses have an efficient mechanism for rapid spread.”

“Once an acute emerging virus such as a new strain of flu is successfully established in a population, it generally settles into a mode of cyclical epidemics during which many susceptible people are infected and become immune to further attack. When most are immune, the virus moves on, only returning when a new susceptible population has emerged, which generally consists of those born since the last epidemic. Before vaccination programmes became widespread, young children suffered from a series of well-recognized infectious diseases called the ‘childhood infections’. These included measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, all caused by viruses […] following the introduction of vaccine programmes these have become a rarity, particularly in the developed world. […] Of the three viruses, measles is the most infectious and produces the severest disease. It killed millions of children each year before vaccination was introduced in the mid-20th century. Even today, this virus kills over 70,000 children annually in countries with low vaccine coverage. […] In developing countries, measles kills 1-5 per cent of those it infects”.

Smallpox virus is in a class of its own as the world’s worst killer virus. It first infected humans at least 5,000 years ago and killed around 300 million in the 20th century alone. The virus killed up to 30 per cent of those it infected, scarring and blinding many of the survivors. […] Worldwide, eradication of smallpox was declared in 1980.”

“Viruses spread between hosts in many different ways, but those that cause acute epidemics generally utilize fast and efficient methods, such as the airborne or faecal-oral routes. […] Broadly speaking, virus infections are distinguished by the organs they affect, with airborne viruses mainly causing respiratory illnesses, […] and those transmitted by faecal-oral contamination causing intestinal upsets, with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. There are literally thousands of viruses capable of causing human epidemics […] worldwide, acute respiratory infections, mostly viral, cause an estimated four million deaths a year in children under 5. […] Most people get two or three colds a year, suggesting that the immune system, which is so good at protecting us against a second attack of measles, mumps, or rubella, is defeated by the common cold virus. But this is not the case. In fact, there are so many viruses that cause the typical symptoms of blocked nose, headache, malaise, sore throat, sneezing, coughing, and sometimes fever, that even if we live for a hundred years, we will not experience them all. The common cold virus, or rhinovirus, alone has over one hundred different types, and there are many other viruses that infect the cells lining the nose and throat and cause similar symptoms, often with subtle variations. […] Viruses that target the gut are just as diverse as respiratory viruses […] Rotaviruses are a major cause of gastroenteritis globally, particularly targeting children under 5. The disease varies in severity […] rotaviruses cause over 600,000 infant deaths a year worldwide […] Noroviruses are the second most common cause of viral gastroenteritis after rotaviruses, producing a milder disease of shorter duration. These viruses account for around 23 million cases of gastroenteritis every year […] Many virus families such as rotaviruses that rely on faecal-oral transmission and cause gastroenteritis in humans produce the same symptoms in animals, resulting in great economic loss to the farming industry. […] over the centuries, Rinderpest virus, the cause of cattle plague, has probably been responsible for more loss and hardship than any other. […] Rinderpest is classically described by the three Ds: discharge, diarrhoea, and death, the latter being caused by fluid loss with rapid dehydration. The disease kills around 90 per cent of animals infected. Rinderpest used to be a major problem in Europe and Asia, and when it was introduced into Africa in the late 19th century it killed over 90 per cent of cattle, with devastating economic loss. The Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme was set up in the 1980s aiming to use the effective vaccine to rid the world of the virus by 2010. This was successful, and in October 2010 the disease was officially declared eradicated, the first animal disease and second infectious disease ever to be eliminated.”

“At present, 1.8 million virus-associated cancers are diagnosed worldwide annually. This accounts for 18 per cent of all cancers, but since these human tumour viruses were only identified fairly recently, it is probable that there are several more out there waiting to be discovered. […] Primary liver cancer is a major global health problem, being one of the ten most common cancers worldwide, with over 250,000 cases diagnosed every year and only 5 per cent of sufferers surviving five years. The tumour is more common in men than women and is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia where the incidence reaches over 30 per 100,000 population per year, compared to fewer than 5 per 100,000 in the USA and Europe. Up to 80 per cent of these tumours are caused by a hepatitis virus, the remainder being related to liver damage from toxic agents such as alcohol. […] hepatitis B and C viruses cause liver cancer. […] a large study carried out on 22,000 men in Taiwan in the 1990s showed that those persistently infected with HBV were over 200 times more likely than non-carriers to develop liver cancer, and that over half the deaths in this group were due to liver cancer or cirrhosis. […] A vaccine against HBV is available, and its use has already caused a decline in HBV-related liver cancer in Taiwan, where a vaccination programme was implemented in the 1980s”.

“Most persistent viruses have evolved to cause mild or even asymptomatic infections, since a life-threatening disease would not only be detrimental to the host but also deprive the virus of its home. Indeed, some viruses apparently cause no ill effects at all, and have been discovered only by chance. One example is TTV, a tiny DNA virus found in 1997 during the search for the cause of hepatitis and named after the initials (TT) of the patient from whom it was first isolated. We now know that TTV, and its relative TTV-like mini virus, represent a whole spectrum of similar viruses that are carried by almost all humans, non-human primates, and a variety of other vertebrates, but so far they have not been associated with any disease. With modern, highly sensitive molecular techniques for identifying non-pathogenic viruses, we can expect to find more of these silent passengers in the future. […] Historically, diagnosis and treatment of virus infections have lagged far behind those of bacterial diseases and are only now catching up. […] Diagnostic laboratories are still unable to find a culprit virus in many so-called ‘viral’ meningitis, encephalitis, and respiratory infections. This strongly suggests that there are many pathogenic viruses waiting to be discovered”.

“There is no doubt that although vaccines are expensive to prepare and test, they are the safest, easiest, and most cost-effective way of controlling infectious diseases worldwide.”

Virology. Virus. RNA virus. DNA virus. Retrovirus. Reverse transcriptase. Integrase. Provirus.
Germ theory of disease.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Louis Pasteur. Robert Koch. Adolf Mayer. Dmitri Ivanovsky. Martinus Beijerinck.
Tobacco mosaic virus.
Mimivirus.
Viral evolution – origins.
White spot syndrome.
Fibropapillomatosis.
Acyrthosiphon pisum.
Vibrio_cholerae#Genome (Vibrio cholerae are bacteria, but viruses play a very important role here regarding the toxin-producing genes – “Only cholera bacteria infected with the toxigenic phage are pathogenic to humans”).
Yellow fever.
Dengue fever.
CCR5.
Immune system. Cytokine. Interferon. Macrophage. Lymphocyte. Antigen. CD4++ T cells. CD8+ T-cell. Antibody. Regulatory T cell. Autoimmunity.
Zoonoses.
Arbovirus. Coronavirus. SARS-CoV. MERS-CoV. Ebolavirus. Henipavirus. Influenza virus. H5N1. HPAI. H7N9. Foot-and-mouth disease. Monkeypox virus. Chikungunya virus. Schmallenberg virus. Zika virus. Rift valley fever. Bluetongue disease. Arthrogryposis. West Nile fever. Chickenpox. Polio. Bocavirus.
Sylvatic cycle.
Nosocomial infections.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.
Herpesviridae. CMV. Herpes simplex virus. Epstein–Barr virus. Human herpesvirus 6. Human betaherpesvirus 7. Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV). Varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Infectious mononucleosis. Hepatitis. Rous sarcoma virus. Human T-lymphotropic virus. Adult t cell leukemia. HPV. Cervical cancer.
Oncovirus. Myc.
Variolation. Edward Jenner. Mary Wortley Montagu. Benjamin Jesty. James Phipps. Joseph Meister. Jonas Salk. Albert Sabin.
Marek’s disease. Rabies. Post-exposure prophylaxis.
Vaccine.
Aciclovir. Oseltamivir.
PCR.

 

June 10, 2019 Posted by | Biology, Books, Cancer/oncology, Immunology, Infectious disease, Medicine, Microbiology, Molecular biology | Leave a comment

Quotes

i. “Everyone knows that he and his friends and the people he knows will die sooner or later, and after a while the thought recedes to the back of your mind, being a problem that must be faced when the time comes. But you feel that you at least have a right to some notice of such an event, to give you time to prepare your mind for it.” (Tom Holt, The Walled Orchard)

ii. “He was speaking tremendously well, even I could tell that; but he didn’t actually seem to be saying anything.” (-ll-)

iii. “As we walked we saw another column of smoke coming up from a sheltered little combe below us, but this time we didn’t try and interfere. ‘Callicrates,’ I said as we hurried along. ‘Do the Spartans always do things like that? I haven’t heard any stories about it.’ ‘Only the last year or so,’ Callicrates said, ‘ever since we started doing that sort of thing in Messenia when we go raiding there.’ I was horrified. ‘You mean we started it,’ I said. ‘We’re in the wrong.’ ‘What do you mean, in the wrong?’ Callicrates replied. ‘It’s a war, things like that happen. And they only happen when people are stupid enough to hang around when the enemy are approaching.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘Are you trying to say it was their fault they got killed?’ I asked. Callicrates stopped walking and looked at me. ‘Don’t you understand anything?’ he said. ‘It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way things are. Why does everything have to be somebody’s fault all the time?’” (-ll-)

iv. “I hate posterity – it’s so fond of having the last word” (Saki, The Complete Saki: 144 Collected Novels and Short Stories)

v. “The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened.” (-ll-)

vi. “In the minds of those who come after us we may be remembered for qualities and successes which we quite left out of the reckoning.” (-ll-)

vii. “Lost dignity is not a possession which can be restored at a moment’s notice” (-ll-)

viii. “My mother is thinking of getting married.” “Again!” “It’s the first time.” “Of course, you ought to know. I was under the impression that she’d been married once or twice at least.” “Three times, to be mathematically exact. I meant that it was the first time she’d thought about getting married; the other times she did it without thinking.” (-ll-)

ix. “It is the tragedy of human endeavour that it works so often unseen and unguessed.” (-ll-)

x. ““Tell me a story,” said the Baroness […] “What sort of story?” […] “One just true enough to be interesting and not true enough to be tiresome[”]”. (-ll-)

xi. “It is the golden rule of all religions that no one should really live up to their precepts; when a man observes the principles of his religion too exactly he is in immediate danger of founding a new sect.” (-ll-)

xii. “Given how evolution operates on populations subjected to different selective pressures it seems one would have to invoke divine intervention for human intelligence to be unvaried completely across the board. Everything else varies; variation in intelligence would be expected.” (‘Young’, from this westhunt comment thread)

xiii. “As long as there have been cells on Earth there have been viruses infecting them.” (John M. Archibald, Genomics, A Very Short Introduction)

xiv. “Giraffes are so tall because their ancestors ate the top branches of trees. The shorter Giraffes could not reach the top branches and died off. Why the shorter Giraffes did not eat the tops of shorter trees seems very strange. Perhaps it never occurred to them.1 When standing beside a mimosa the Giraffe is indistinguishable from the tree except that he has four legs and a head and a tail. Some hunters will stalk a mimosa tree for days without getting results. Others take to stalking apple trees. […] The herd is governed by an experienced male who is governed by several experienced females.” (Will Cuppy, How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes)

xv. “The Screech Owl makes a most amusing pet. The bird flies at visitors and buries its talons in their scalps, sometimes causing them to break a leg in their headlong flight, to the accompaniment of gales of laughter from the owners. After a mass meeting of neighbors, the bird sometimes disappears as suddenly as it came. The owners often disappear, too.” (-ll-)

xvi. “The Man-eating Tiger is old and decrepit. He has lost his strength and vigor and we should feel sorry for him. Young normal Tigers do not eat people. If eaten by a Tiger you may rest assured that he was abnormal. Once in a while a normal Tiger will eat somebody but he doesn’t mean anything by it.” (-ll-)

xvii. “During my labors I found time for my first intensive study of Aristotle, whose “History of Animals” provided me with a footnote or two. The more one peruses this author, and ponders upon him, the more one realizes the wide range, the almost universal scope of his misinformation.” (-ll-)

xviii. “Sometimes you have to give weight to a principle to keep it from being taken away in a storm.” (Jim Butcher, Brief Cases)

xix. “Harry told me once that you can always tell when you’re about to rationalize your way to a bad decision. It’s when you start using phrases such as It would be wrong, but … His advice was to leave the conjunction out of the sentence: It would be wrong. Period.” (-ll-)

xx. “He met his day in the shower, washing his hair with shampoo that was guaranteed to have never been put in a bunny’s eyes and from which ten percent of the profits went to save the whales. He lathered his face with shaving cream free of chlorofluorocarbons, thereby saving the ozone layer. He breakfasted on fertile eggs laid by sexually satisfied chickens that were allowed to range while listening to Brahms, and muffins made with pesticide-free grain, so no eagle-egg shells were weakened by his thoughtless consumption. He scrambled the eggs in margarine free of tropical oils, thus preserving the rain forest, and he added milk from a carton made of recycled paper and shipped from a small family farm. By the time he finished his second cup of coffee, which would presumably help to educate the children of a poor peasant farmer named Juan Valdez, Sam was on the verge of congratulating himself for single-handedly saving the planet just by getting up in the morning.” (Christopher Moore, Coyote Blue)

May 6, 2019 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Words

The words below were mainly words I encountered while reading the books Artificial intelligence, a very short introduction,
Cognitive Neuroscience, -ll-, and The Complete Saki: 144 Collected Novels and Short Stories (…the post only contains words from the first half – this book is very long (…and highly recommended)).

Clapotis. Aedile. Proventriculus. Sortition. Fug. Ecumenical. Credal. Obstreperous. Officiant. Oneirology. Unadulterated. Risible. Onomasti komodein. Recusancy. Saltire. Anent. Propaedeutic. Patristic. Plectrum. Voxel.

Cark. Deimatic. Phasmid. Peptonize. Tomtit. Maffick. Hartebeest. Preceptress. Pavonicide. Halma. Quatrain. Epigrammatic. Missal. Chaffinch. Psalmody. Bittern. Vergeress. Snaffle. Quagga. Heretofore.

Jacquerie. Plaguy. Cajolery. Madder. Picquet. Potage. Votive. Dissention. Begird. Medlar. Whirligig. Recessional. Lory. Ditty. Alarum. Skewbald. Burg. Convolvulus. Stotting. Entr’acte.

Counterfoil. Bandicoot. Tercentenary. Schipperke. Jangle. Serry. Snuggery. Benignant. Jonquil. Wyandot. Francolin. Lanner. Aspic. Paddock. Sloe. Malmaison. Umber. Drake. Pullet. Borzoi.

March 23, 2019 Posted by | Books, Language | Leave a comment

Quotes

Many of the quotes below are from Stanislaw Jerzy Lec’s book Unkempt Thoughts.

i. “Aristotle’s remark about wit in general, that it is “educated insolence,” frequently applies to the aphorism in particular. […] Dozens of the greater ones dispense life’s bitter rather than its sweet. They are moralists whose barbs do not spur us on to the higher morality. We read them not to improve ourselves but to feel the pleasure that comes of recognizing how unimproved (or, still more gratifying, how unimprovable) are all the other fellows.” (Clifton Fadiman)

ii. “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.” (W. Somerset Maugham)

iii. “The solar system has no anxiety about its reputation.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

iv. “In love, as in war, a fortress that parleys is half taken.” (Marguerite de Valois)

v. “He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.” (George Savile).

vi. “You will always find some Eskimos ready to instruct the Congolese on how to cope with heat waves.” (Stanislaw Jerzy Lec)

vii. “Some hide truth because they fear it, others hide truth because they want to save it for the right occasion. Both truths are exactly the same.” (-ll-)

viii. “You have to climb to reach a deep thought.” (-ll-)

ix. “Never open the door to those who open them even without your permission.” (-ll-)

x. “In some lands exile is the greatest punishment; in others, the greatest humanitarians should fight for it.” (-ll-)

xi. “He who has a good memory can forget more, more easily.” (-ll-)

xii. “Some people’s thoughts are so shallow they don’t even reach their heads.” (-ll-)

xiii. “When gossip grows old it becomes myth.” (-ll-)

xiv. “It is unhealthy to live. He who lives, dies.” (-ll-)

xv. “If Newton’s Principia were published today, it would have 4 stars on Amazon. There would be one cluster of 5 star reviews by people saying it had revolutionized their thinking, and another cluster of 1 star reviews by people complaining it was pointless and hard to read.” (Paul Graham)

xvi. “I find I have a splendid appetite for the kindness of those I respect.” (Patrick O’Brian. The Thirteen Gun Salute)

xvii. “Man may sympathize with the underdog, but he wants to side with the winner.” (Erle Stanley Gardner. The Case of the Sulky Girl)

xviii. “Everyone is so proud of their own insignificant little boundaries. Scrupulously they vow, I would never do that! And perhaps they wouldn’t. More likely, they’ll never have to.” (John O’Brien, Leaving Las Vegas)

xix. “In this bundle, he said, I have a very powerful magical object. […] if you know how to use it, it will take you anywhere you wish to go in the twinkling of an eye; it will carry you from Spain to India in a heartbeat, or show you the heart of Asia or the deserts of Africa. It can even take you to where you can see the dead and listen to them talking to you.’ […] As it happens,’ he went on, ‘I have with me just such an object. Look.’ And he dived about inside the sleeve of his robe and pulled out a bronze tube about the size of a cucumber. ‘That’s remarkable,’ I said, wondering what he was looking to achieve. Obviously whatever the thing in the tube was, it couldn’t do all those things he’d said; he’d offer to give me a demonstration, it wouldn’t work, and we’d have a major loss of face and a serious diplomatic incident on our hands. Why me, I thought? But the ambassador just smiled and said, ‘Would you like to see it?’ Well, I couldn’t say no; so he pulled off the lid and started fishing about inside the tube with his fingers. […] ‘Here we are,’ the ambassador said, and he pulled out the contents of the tube; and of course you’re way ahead of me, and you guessed quite some time ago that what he’d got in there wasn’t some scrap of magical cloth but a plain, ordinary book.” (Tom Holt, Meadowland)

xx. “You will meet someone that will make you laugh, will put your stomach in knots every time they talk to you, will make you smile every time their name pops up on your phone, and whose smile you’ll see every night as you fall asleep and every morning as you wake up because it has such a calming and comforting effect on you.

All they’ll have met is someone they kinda like to talk to and see every now and again.” (‘Closer67’, here)

February 3, 2019 Posted by | Books, Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment