Monday, April 28, 2008

odds and ends... 

...consisting of book reviews I wrote some time ago but never posted. The next several entries will consist of be such reviews.

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward 

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward
Benoit Mandelbrot & Richard L. Hudson
Basic Books
328 pages
August 2004

4 out of 5 stars

Finance is chaotic and thus difficult to predict. Obvious, right?

Not according to centuries of financial theory. Benoit Mandelbrot, the inventor of chaos theory, challenges traditional financial thinking about prediction, risk, and even description in a book that's both revolutionary to the theorist and accessible to the layperson. There's not a single equation, only a few graphs, and a very limited number of Greek letters. Mandelbrot and co-writer Richard Hudson, the editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe, explain modern financial theory from its history through its current applications in business school and on Wall Street and make their case against it. Mandelbrot presents chaos theory as a possible though underdeveloped alternative.

Louis Bachelier founded modern financial theory. He assumed prices, and price changes, were independent and based on a normal distribution (the bell curve). In other words, the amount a stock rises or falls today has nothing to do with its rise or fall yesterday, and if you graphed all the rises and falls over a month or a year, there would be lots of small changes and not a lot of large changes. These assumptions are common in all statistics. They simplify the math; sometimes they're necessary to make the math even possible.

Does this matter? Mandelbrot simplifies the positivist reaction to innacuracies in the formulae by saying, "If so [if the answers are accurate], then stop arguing about it." But he goes on, "Alas, by that measure..., the standard tools of finance often fail" (p 100). However, financial data shows they aren't true. They don't accurately describe or predict data. Modern financial theory does not predict risk accurately. It does not tell investors how to invest. It is worse than useless.

Mandelbrot presents his chaos theory as a possible way to interpret and predict financial data. Currently, he has shown a remarkable ability to simulate financial data - he offers four charts of price data, two real, one created by traditional theory with independence of change and normal distribution of price differences, and one created by his own formula (p 17). The one created by traditional theory is obviously fake, even to the naked eye of the uninitiated. The other three are effectively indistinguishable in terms of realism.

Chaos theory is the theory that everything affects everything else. A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil affects the wind, and New York City sees thunderstorms instead of sunshine. Often cause and effect are so complex as to be effectively untraceable. Chaos measures roughness and turbulence. Geometry, algebra, and their applications in financial theory assume a "smoothness" that doesn't seem to exist in nature. Nature is rough and uneven. Mandelbrot calls for a theory to take this roughness into account as chaos theory has taken roughness into account for geometry. Mountains are not smooth pyramids; they have a rough texture. The increase in price of a stock is not a smooth line; it is jagged and rough. The data is different, but the mathematics are the same.

Prices do not move by chance; they react to themselves and to events outside of the market. Mandelbrot calls for a better set of statistics that do not require independent, normally distributed data.

He also calls for more research and for a fraction of the federal funding that goes to understand the financial markets to be spent to explore possible applications of chaos theory.

This is not a "get rich" book; his only financial advice is to stick with index funds - even the highest-paid financial analysts can't reliably beat the market. He provides a wonderful and brief introduction to chaos theory for those unfamiliar with it. He assumes nothing from his readers but interest and an open mind. He closes his book with a summary of "10 Heresies" of finance (p 225), ten applications of chaos theory that serve to remind the reader what she has just learned: that markets are turbulent, that markets are risky, that prices leap instead of moving steadily. All in all, this is a well-written, well-researched book that anyone interested in math or finance will be able to understand. A fascinating, though slow, read, this book should change the way we look at financial theory in the years to come.

© 2004 by Janine Peterson for curledup.com.

Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering 

Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering
Henry Petroski
304 pages
September 2005

3 out of 5 stars

The book Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering by Henry Petroski describes the history of engineering through the evolution of bigger and longer bridges, taller buildings, and the constant conflict between aesthetics and function. Petroski the writer, a professor of civil engineering and of history at Duke University, returns to his roots of engineering. The man who has written on everything from the design of the bookshelf to the design of the pencil returns to more traditional engineering topics. Despite the title, more than half the book is taken up with bridges. The rest is a hodgepodge of dams and so forth.

Petroski writes at a level that failed to engage me, a lay-engineer. I love his previous books, on bookshelves and pencils. But this book is more technical, drops more names, and seems to need more prior knowledge in engineering to properly understand the great feats he describes. He makes a valiant attempt to show, not tell, by describing the immense thickness of the steel coils necessary for some of the suspension bridges. His descriptions of the different kinds of bridges, from suspension bridges to floating bridges, will engage the mind of the curious amateur as Petroski lays out the problems of deep water, ecology, potential water damage to the bridge itself, and aesthetics. He has a way also of focusing on the beauty of the engineered objects even as he describes the politicking necessary to get them built.

He has a short chapter on how the World Trade Center fell. He has another short chapter on the Three Gorges Dam in China, focusing mainly on his personal visit to the site and a little on the archeological and social loss that some people complain about.

Altogether, this is not one of his best books. Though his writing is clear and his analyses thorough, the book focuses more on bridges than the broad title suggests and focuses more on the history of engineering than on the future. In my mind, it lacks the general interest of his previous books. Engineering fans and Petroski fans will enjoy his latest book, but the new or less engaged reader would be better served reading one of his other books.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Janine Peterson, 2005

Our Wedding Scrapbook: The Perfect Keepsake Book for the Special Moments, Celebrations, and Romance of Your Wedding 

Our Wedding Scrapbook: The Perfect Keepsake Book for the Special Moments, Celebrations, and Romance of Your Wedding
Darcy Miller
Spiral edition
64 pages
January 2005

4 out of 5 stars

Our Wedding Scrapbook, written and illustrated by Darcy Miller, is a beautiful clothbound binder whose pages are edged with prompts to help you and your significant other create a keepsake book of your wedding. The handwriting in place of typing for prompts like “How we met” and “Our first date” make this book feel very casual and easy to complete. There are plenty of mostly blank pages – the page facing the “How we met” page says at the top “Our favorite things: places, songs, things we laughed about, movies, nicknames for each other, trips...” and leaves almost the whole page blank. Suggestions for items to scrap are typed vertically next to the spine and are difficult to see unless you are looking for them.

This book by its nature is limited. It includes a “family tree” that requests the names of the bride’s and groom’s parents and grandparents. I know many couples who would have difficulty filling out this tree, thinking about biological parents, step-parents, grandparents who remarried, and so forth. The Rehearsal Dinner page requests a list of guests but only provides about eight square inches of writing space.

At the other extreme, two pages cover “Planning the Wedding,” a drawn-out event I, even as I plan my wedding, would not have thought to document. Prompts include “Easiest and hardest decisions” and “Funny moments and mishaps.” The book contains a fill-in list of wedding gifts with over 230 places for names and gifts, if you can write small enough. There is no similar list for shower gifts, and in fact the book only allows for one shower (perhaps most brides have only one shower, but with relatives across the continent, I am facing the prospect of up to four).

The book beckons you to glue copies of your wedding invitation, shower invitation, RSVP card, as so forth. A summary of the wedding day begins with space for a description of the weather and includes space for the name of the president, world events, popular songs, and popular TV shows. Then the book gives a schedule of the wedding day for the bride and the groom, divided into half-hour increments. This seemed curious to me, as this book is clearly meant as a remembrance and not as a planner. The rest of the pages are devoted to the wedding, with one whole page devoted to the bouquet (“place photo of bouquet or place envelope containing pressed flowers and swatch of ribbon from bouquet”). The book provides places to list special songs, the menu, and a description (and photo) of the wedding cake.

The book winds down with several pages devoted to the honeymoon. The last pages highlight life as a married couple and contain a list to be filled in with the first 60 years to anniversary gifts to each other.

Scrapbooking aficionados will notice that nowhere does this book claim to be acid of lignin free. I think it’s safe to assume, then, that it is not. Archivists, take note. This book will be falling apart by the 50th anniversary, if not before. You will need tape, glue, of photo corners to attach anything to this book.

All in all, I found this book was exactly what it claimed to be. It’s a Martha Stewart publication, so I was a bit surprised by how much freedom one has in completing the book. However (and this is my gripe about every bridal scrapbook I’ve seen), it is difficult to adapt this book to an unorthodox wedding, or a wedding with more than one shower, or a wedding whose colors clash with the cream colored paper and doodled dresses and flowers. The book is exactly what it claims to be, and for the traditional bride who wants to try scrapbooking for the first time, this book gives just the right about of guidance, but many brides will find it difficult to fit their wedding into a “traditional” wedding scrapbook.

© 2005 by Janine Peterson for curledup.com.

Founding Mothers 

Review mentioned here.

Founding Mothers
The Women Who Raised Our Nation
By Cokie Roberts

Publisher: William Morrow / HarperCollins
Release Date: April 13, 2004
ISBN: 0060090251
Format Reviewed: Hardcover
Genre: Nonfiction / Historical (Colonial America and American Revolution)
Reviewed: 2004
Reviewer: Janine Peterson
Copyright MyShelf.com

Cokie Roberts’ book presents a fascinating perspective of the women before and during the American Revolution. The book presents interwoven biographies of many women including Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Abigail Adams, and Martha Washington. The stories are presented in chronological order, and Roberts paints a convincing and lifelike portrait of each woman by explaining the historical context. Some women display traces of modern feminism, some are content to let the men shine, and some act behind the scenes to work their influence through the men. Roberts quotes extensively from letters the women wrote to each other and to the men of the time and from essays and plays some women published. Well researched, well documented, and with a clear subject, this book is a great reference and a surprisingly original study of a much-studied time period. The book contains a valuable “Who’s Who” list linking the women to their more famous husbands, brothers, and sons as well as an appendix of recipes from the women’s own kitchens.

However, the author seems unaware of who her audience is. Much of the history is so specific to the American women that it assumes a basic-to-moderate understanding of the day-to-day history of the American Revolution. My history was a bit rusty, but I was certainly able to follow the narrative and research elsewhere details that intrigued me. However, the author breaks this historical tone with interjections like “Phew!” and “Wow!” that are more appropriate to beach reading than a historical analysis. Either presentation would work – the author knows her history well enough to write a great historical reference, and the topic is fascinating enough to make for great beach reading, the changes in tone as she attempted both were jarring.

All in all, Roberts has written a book that is informative and interesting to read. Her difficulties in setting a tone are overshadowed by the depth of her research and understanding.

The Secret Histories 

Review mentioned here.

The Secret Histories
By John S. Friedman

It’s no secret anymore that the twentieth century was full of secrets, some valid some invalid. John S. Friedman has collected excerpts from books on some of these secrets from World War II through Abu Ghraib. He includes the original exposes on the My Lai massacre, the use of LSD by the CIA, IBM’s role in the Holocaust, the FBI’s investigations of Martin Luther King, the tobacco hearings, and Exxon Valdez, among others. So many of these stories are common knowledge that it’s almost a surprise that, according to the introduction by James Carroll, the government and media worked to prevent these stories from being received by the general public. And the public still tries to keep secrets from itself, he claims, citing the smoker who knows cigarettes cause cancer but believes one more puff won’t hurt. Friedman acknowledges that governments have always had secrets, but only with the modern democracy has the number of secrets increased dramatically. He quotes a claim that if every newspaper devoted every page to printing all the classified documents the US government created the day before, there would be no room for other news. But despite the desire for secrecy, journalists dig to reveal these secrets. Each of these stories was groundbreaking when first told. Some journalists were exiled from their countries. Some were ignored. But these stories are known now. He begins the book with the relatively uncontroversial story of the Ultra department of code breakers during World War II. He excerpts a chapter from Edwin Black’s book IBM and the Holocaust, including the unfortunate statement "I want the full story understood in context. Skipping around in this book will only lead to flawed and erroneous conclusions. So if you intend to skim, or rely on selected sections, please do not read the book at all" (21). But the rest of Friedman’s excerpts seem to hold up on their own, and they serve as introductions into pieces of history, for example the Korean War or the J. Edgar Hoover FBI, that the average reader may know little about. Hopefully, this collection of excerpts will serve as a springboard into reading the complete books. The topics are worth it, and Friedman’s introduction is a fascinating read. (Review by Janine Peterson)

The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice 

Book review mentioned here.

The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice
Alex Kershaw
Da Capo Press
288 pages
May 2004

5 of 5 stars

I knew immediately it was going to be a tragedy. The summary on the back of the book reports that the small town of Bedford, Virginia, lost 19 boys on D-Day alone and three more before World War Two ended. The book begins as the boys are sailing to Normandy. One man is looking for his brother, to wish him luck.

The boys of Bedford were largely farmers who joined the National Guard during the Depression to earn an extra dollar a week to help feed their families. Kershaw has researched and documented this book extensively, and much of his detail comes from interviews with veterans and family members of the Bedford soldiers. As I read, I noticed which soldiers he interviewed and which soldiers he only describes through interviews with veterans and family members. It's no secret which boys die.

About two thirds of the book takes place before D-Day. The vivid description of life at home, the endless drills, the cramped ship to England, and life in Britain bring to life parts of World War Two that I had never seen. The Bedford Boys, whether through luck or through political intervention, were stationed in England for a year before seeing combat for the first time on Omaha Beach. They write letters home, dance with British girls, and learn to drink British beer. Some have children back home they've never seen. Some married in the last weeks before they were shipped out. Some fall in love with British girls. Photographs show them with parents, wives, and brothers.

Then, suddenly, the boys land on Omaha beach. Kershaw talks about the overall battle enough to explain the extent of the carnage - for example, weather prohibited air and sea support that could have taken out German machine gun nests and made craters on the beach for Allied soldiers to take cover in; the decision to invade anyway probably killed many Allied soldiers. The boys die quickly, often within minutes of landing, and Kershaw describes the gore in detail without being gratuitous. Some boys drown, pulled down by the weight of flak jackets and radios; some are gunned down on the open beach; some are miraculously saved by brave medics who aid the wounded despite intense machinegun fire.

I loved this book. I laughed, I cried, and I have so much respect for the boys who fought in Normandy. They may be heroes, but they still are just boys - one of the soldiers survives D-Day, sees friends killed, loses a brother, and returns to the States only to have a restaurant refuse to serve him beer because he is too young. Anyone interested in the human side of war will want to read this book.

© 2004 by Janine Peterson for curledup.com.

U.S. Armed Forces Arsenal: A Guide to Modern Combat Hardware 

Book review mentioned here.

U.S. Armed Forces Arsenal: A Guide to Modern Combat Hardware
Samuel A. Southworth
Da Capo Press
240 pages
March 2004

2 of 5 stars

The worst thing about this book is the fun, engaging style. The conversational style contains slang, idioms, and occasional swear words in a humorous context. It is fun to read. The black and white photographs of military men and weaponry are beautiful. The book is well-organized, and author Southworth devotes a chapter to each type of weapon, including small arms, machine guns, bombs/missiles/rockets, artillery, tanks, helicopters, tanks, and ships. His editorializing ranges from entertaining to marginally offensive (depending on your opinion of the U.S. military), and it is a nice diversion from the sometimes-dry facts about various weaponry. He also tends toward editorializing against corporations that provide the American military with weaponry, not to mention that many military officers retire and then go to work for these companies. He attempts to provide a history of the weapons in use today; this history is certainly fascinating, though I cannot vouch to its accuracy.

That's the key problem with this book - the accuracy. I consider myself above average (for an American) in my understanding of history; however, I don't understand his allusion to the importance of British cannon at Crecy (p 71) or the importance of grapeshot and canister during the battle of Gettysburg (p 78). But as a firearms enthusiast, I know just enough about firearms from a civilian perspective to know that his writing on small arms and pistols contains several deceptions, oversights, and oversimplifications; this makes me skeptical of the rest of his research. I cannot trust the rest of his book. This is frustrating - I want to believe, as his writing is engaging. But I do not trust him, and since nothing is documented, I refuse to believe anything he says.

He oversimplifies, assumes, and deceives when discussing firearms. He does not define firearm caliber, perhaps assuming that a reader will know he difference between a .45 and a .22. (To his credit, though, he does explain that a "6-pounder" cannon means a cannon that shoots a 6-pound ball). He spells out the common caliber 30.06 as "thirty aught six" instead of the correct "thirty ought six." When he discusses the comparative advantages of guns firing different kinds of ammunition, he only considers the size and weight of ammunition. Police officers have observed criminals shot once, twice, three times by a small .22 round without stopping. A more powerful .45 round does enough damage to a human body that the threat is more likely to be stopped. The issue of stopping power should be an issue to a soldier, just as the weight of the ammunition should be.

He states, "I am a civilian writing for civilians," (p vii), yet he assumes his readers know what "NCO" (p 23) stands for. Only tangentially does he address the discrepancy between the "assault weapon" of the 1993 Clinton Gun Ban and the "assault weapon" of the military. The former are semi-automatic, meaning they fire one bullet per trigger pull; the latter are automatic, meaning they continue to fire bullets as long as the soldier holds the trigger. He describes certain .50 caliber rifle bullets as "armor-piercing rounds" (p 36) but does not specify whether he means the armor soldier wear or the armor on tanks; any firearm enthusiast will know that most rifle bullets penetrate personal body armor and will assume that the author means tank armor. But will the average reader?

His description of military snipers takes a tangent into the current event news story of the so-called "DC Snipers" - though most military men would scoff at called such untrained criminals "snipers". His description of the Star Wars program deteriorates into scathing editorializing.

On the whole, this book was a quick, entertaining read with great photographs, even though I wouldn't trust any of the content. He makes statements I felt to be deceptive; his editorializing sometimes interferes with the facts of the weapons he describes; and he does not cite his facts. That the book was so fun to read only exacerbates my qualms with his facts. I cannot recommend this book as anything more than entertaining but fictional beach reading.

© 2004 by Janine Peterson for Curled Up With a Good Book

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Most popular books (to steal) 

1. Charles Bukowski

2. Jim Thompson

3. Philip K. Dick

4. William S. Burroughs

5. Any Graphic Novel

Read the whole article. The author works in an independent bookstore, and he writes about the problem of shoplifters.

Most used bookstores try to avoid buying unread-looking books from the list above, but they do always sell, and so any crook who figures out how to roll a spine can turn a profit pretty easily. The list of popular books is surprisingly static, although newer artists have earned their place in the pantheon with Hunter S. Thompson and the Beats: Palahniuk, Murakami, and Danielewski have become hugely popular antisellers in the last five years. I've had hundreds of dollars of graphic novels—Sandman, Preacher, The Dark Knight Returns—lifted from right under my nose all at once. Science fiction and fantasy are high in demand, too: The coin of the realm is now, and has always been, the fiction that young white men read, and self-satisfied young white men, the kind who love to stick it to the man, are the majority of book shoplifters.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Her Best Shot 

Laura Browder tries to keep her biases out of her review of guns and public opinion of women in her book Her Best Shot. She is only partially successful. It is only at the end that she makes her view explicit, stating that she does not want to enter the discussion of “the safety, or lack thereof, of guns” and that numbers can be found for both sides (232), but following this with claims of “a great deal of evidence” about how women are more likely to be vicims of guns than protect themselves with them, that children are in grave danger of guns in the home, and that violence in America is positively correlated with gun ownership. She is “appalled” (232) that 85% of the children who see her children’s pediatricians live in homes with guns, in her town in southern Virginia, but doesn’t explain why. She exaggerates the popularity of the NRA with gun extremists (19) while ignoring the role of the NRA in promoting equality of legal firearm ownership for all races.

In most of her book, she does examine the symbolism of the armed American woman, and the armed black woman. She begins with women in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War before continuing through history to popularization of trap shooting among women, the journey West, and 1930’s outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde. She discusses racial tension, the Black Panther women, radical leftist women of the 1960s and 70s, and finally armed women on the far right in the 1980s and 90s. She concludes with a chapter on armed women today and the relationship between feminism, family values, and the use of firearms in self-defense. She makes some fascinating observations on the evolution of the armed mother. This icon began as the Prairie Madonna, evolved to the female Black Panther member, later to the radical leftist, and is now somewhat ambiguous and contradictory. Women and minorities throughout her study claim use of the firearm as a tool of self-defense from wild animals, other races, the state, and even the police. In the process, however, they wrestle with losing or embracing their femininity, with varying success. Calamity Jane, for example, is not seen as feminine, whereas Annie Oakley is.

Browder makes obvious, simple factual errors. Her description of the mythic Prairie Madonna, an image of the western pioneer woman, includes mention of the Madonna of the Trail statue. Her claim that, of “the twelve statues, [only] five featured women carrying rifles” (77) lacks citation and erroneous. There is no organization called “Sisters for the Second Amendment” (219). The magazine “Women’s Outlook” (221-229), published by the NRA, ceased publication in 2006 (the year the book was published – I can believe the book went to press before this). Her claims that regulation of firearms represent a desire for more regulation of public safety and protection of women (230) and her description of armed self-defense as “vigilante libertarian feminism” ignores the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that the police have no legal obligation to protect women who have restraining orders against their murderers (/Town of Castle Rock, Colo. v. Gonzales/, 545 U.S. 748 (2005)). The “machine guns” (ix) she hears are likely mere automatic weapons, as machine guns are so expensive, physically heavy, and so regulated as to be extremely rare among the general public.

In short, this book makes for an interesting look at the iconography of the armed female from the perspective of one female academic who is openly uncomfortable with firearms. I question some of her scholarship, though the errors that I caught were not enough to ruin a fun, popular history of women and firearms.

Access Denied 

Access Denied, edited by Ronald Diebert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonothan Zittrain, is a reference book rather than a cover-to-cover read, though the Internet or freedom enthusiast could easily read cover-to-cover. The book is an amalgam of writings by legal scholars, IT professionals, academics, and government intelligence agents from around the world. This collaboration is groundbreaking not only in its scope but its topic - Access Denied examines how Internet filtering has created multiple Internets, each accessed by the residents of different countries according to what governments decide its residents should see and the technical capabilities of those governments to enforce their dictates.

The book is certainly biased toward the freedom of information that American and many other Western countries experience on the Internet. Researchers come from the OpenNet Initiative, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Oxford, University of Toronto, and Stanford.

The first half of the book consists of essays about global Internet filtering. One provides an excellent explanation of the measurements the collaborators used to study filtering methods, motives, targets, and techniques. Another essay addresses the “why” of Internet filtering. Different countries censor different information and for different reasons, political, social, and moral. One essay explains the technical details of controlling the Internet, a system that tends to automatically route around attempts at censorship. International policy towards the internet differ, and corporate interests and private citizens’ legitimate privacy concerns only complicate the attempts to document regulation of the IT systems, equipment, and individual Internet users. Standardization seems a distant dream.

The second half of the book begins with regional overviews, or Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, the United States and Canada, and so forth. What follow are four or five page summaries of forty countries, including Afghanistan, China, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe, are dense with information and thorough endnotes, while beginning with an easy to read summary abstract. A graph for each country presents information “at a glance” about the nature and type of filtering. Another graph presents key data like PDP and the number of Internet users, while a background section provides a brief history of the country and overview of the current political and social climate. The rest of each regional overview describes the presence of the Internet in the respective county, the legal and regulatory frameworks, and the results of the OpenNet Initiative’s testing.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sweet Valley High sux. Babysitters' Club forever! 

I read some Sweet Valley books, back when I was a tween, but each book was a cliffhanger, and I read too fast. They weren't worth the frustration.

The books chronicle a pair of beautiful, blond twins in junior high, one bookish, one popular. They've been relaunched, apparently.

The twins have gone from a “perfect size 6″ to a “perfect size 4.” Gawker says "Random House [is] Proudly Promoting Eating Disorders" and posts a letter from Random House to journalists about "updates" to the series, like the change in the girls' clothing size and vehicle choice.

Jessica at Feministing is upset about the resizing. Julian Sanchez wonders if the resizing just make readers more properly visualize the girls, given how sizing may have changed from the '80s to today.

I wonder who'll get upset that the twins are now driving an SUV.

I don't really care. What I do care about, though, is that there are now COMIC BOOK versions of the Babysitters' Club books that I loved so much. Instead of reprinting the books, the publishers are printing comic books. (Or graphic novels, if you prefer, but I think they're short enough to be called comic books.) (Check the first BSC books on Amazon, if you doubt me. I refuse to link.)

Now, I love graphic novels. When they're the original medium. What I'm bitching about is the arbitrary change of medium that can't help but affect the story-telling. The books were great to begin with! Why change the medium? Adding lots of color, subtracting lots of words, making the pages bigger, and retelling the SAME STORIES?

Reprint the book, don't turn the same story into a graphic novel.

Girls who grew up on the Babysitters' Club want their kids to have the same pleasure, not this lame pseudo-book. At least I would, if I had kids.

I'm grumpy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A butterfly stops flapping is wings, and a man passes away 

Dr. Edward Lorenz passed away. The world's lost another great man. He was the founder of chaos theory. He invented the theory of the butterfly effect, that a butterfly flapping its wings in New York can cause thunderstorms in Beijing.

He studied weather systems. While working on a particular weather model on a compter, he intended to run the same model with the same set of input data (numbers that represented baromentric pressure, temperature, wind speed, and so on). He truncated the last digits, to tyoe faster. So instead of entering 8.3333. for example. he entered 8.33. He didn't expect it would make a difference. No one back then would have. But there was a difference, and a difference that became more pronounced as the model displayed its results for each day. So day 1 showed little between the first run and the second, but day 15 was dramatically different. Sunshine instead of thunderstorms - that kind of different.

Little differences in a complex system can lead to huge differences over time. He called that theory chaos theory.

The only obituary I've read so far (because I'm away from home and don't have time to surf for more) is the Washington Post. Registration is required, but you can always use bugmenot.com.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Locked and Loaded 

Read this book on a whim. It’s marketed as something that it isn’t. So I was disappointed.

The book’s a fine collection of lesbian erotica spanning the centuries, from high-sea pirate stories to sci-fi fantasy. The sex is well written, and the characters are well-defined, believable, confident, sexy, and powerful. So if you like this kind of stuff, you’ll love this book.

But I was expecting stories that explore the image of a woman with a gun. As a supporter of the Second Amendment Sisters and the Pink Pistols, pro-gun groups for women and homosexuals, I was hoping for stories that explored what happens during a male/female power struggle when strength is removed from the equation, and fights can be decided on with agility, timing, and breath control. I was even prepared for some nonsense about guns as phallic symbols, while hoping most of the authors would acknowledge, like Freud, that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” The cover image had me especially worried about the phallic imagery, given the unsafe gun handling (Any NRA member worth her salt would be cracking up at the ridiculousness of that photograph).

In the end, what I got was a so-so collection of short stories that spanned various genres and time periods, offered realistic lesbian characters and erotica, but avoided the gun issue the book marketed and sold itself on.

And people complain about the *gun* industry’s false advertising.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt. 

What I think children should definitely learn about.

If a child can read and understand this graph, then she has mastered data analysis, literacy, numeracy, and applied history.

"Losses of the French Army in the Russian Campaign"

Yes, the graph's in French. I couldn't find it quickly in the 'net in English with a high enough resolution. Check Tufte's page for the graph in English if you want a copy for your wall (I really need to get mine framed...)

This graph, for those who haven't seen it, represents the journey of Napoleon into and out of Russia, 1812-1813. It displays his location in space, location of major rivers and landmarks, his number of troops (thickness of the line and the corresponding numbers), and the temperature (the bottom line graph), as he journeys out (in tan) and back (in black).


The Meme rules:

Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for kids to learn about.

Give your picture a short title.

Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt.”

Link back to this blog entry. I found the meme at History is Elementary.

Include links to 5 (or more) folks in your professional learning network.


I'm not a teacher (yet. Sometimes I dream of teaching at a college level, homeschooling, or formally tutoring. Now my tutoring is limited to teaching very curious cousins and nephews about math, writing, and music as the subjects arise.)

So my links will be to non-teachers, a variety of people I find extremely educated. They may or may not be inclined to carry on the meme. I make no promises.


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