Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yet more reading

Somebody in the comments wondered how I have time to read so much.. Part of it is simply that reading is my only real hobby (scuba? Sure - one week a year. Reading? 51 weeks a year). So I literally spend my time either in front of my computer or reading - and I don't waste it on commuting.

Another part obviously ends up being that I'm just a fast reader. Oh, I know people who read faster, but if it's some easily read sci-fi or fantasy, I'll read at a pace of 100-150 pages per hour, and you simply cannot distract me while I'm reading. Try to talk to me, and I won't hear a word.

So most books I finish in a single sitting, and weekends I might read two books in a day. The more sciency books I read take longer, but that may explain why I probably average about three books per week, and sometimes do many more - especially during the later parts of the merge window when things aren't as hectic on the kernel front.

Anyway, the haul over the last couple of weeks has been mostly random stuff (Fire Upon the Deep by Vernon Vinge, Golden Torc by Simon Green, Turn Coat by Jim Butcher, The Laurentine Spy by Emily Gee). Don't ask me what the common thread is, because there is none. Some were randomly picked up from the book store in desperation over not having anything at all to read, others were things I'd read the authors before. I enjoyed them all, in different ways.

On the non-fluff front, I read Phantoms int he Brain by V.S. Ramachandran, based on a recommendation in the comments of the last reading post. I have to say, it is a better book than The Brain that Changes Itself (the one that triggered the recommendation), but at the same time I was also a bit disappointed with it.

Why? All the chapters on different disorders were absolutely fascinating, but then the last chapter just stood out as a big disappointment. It seems that any time that people start discussing "qualia" and guessing about what consciousness is, otherwise sane and coherent people end up being just confused and crazy (example: Roger Penrose). Ramachandran avoids the outright crazy, but chapter 12 ended up being a big disappointment to an otherwise engrossing book for me. But even that disappointing chapter had interesting content in it.

So, highly recommended, despite the small nagging feeling that the last chapter really could have been so much better. Most of the book is about the fascinating ways the brain fails at what it's supposed to do, and what it teaches us about how people really function.

The other non-fluff book was Bart Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted", a kind of follow-up to the earlier Misquoting Jesus that I read some time ago. Bible study is actually fairly interesting, although in many ways I always thought the Old Testament was way more interesting. Ehrman, of course, concentrates pretty much exclusively on just the New Testament, with just passing mention of OT issues as they relate to NT issues. The book was also the inspiration for the current kernel naming ("Man-Eating Seals of Antiquity"), since it fit perfectly with my pattern of nonsensical animal-related naming scheme.

Recommended. Not nearly as engrossing as Phantoms, but an interesting read none-the-less.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial day BBQ

I've always liked the demotivational posters from a lot more than those inane motivational ones. And this one obviously hits close to home.

So what do our neighbors bring with them when we invite them for a BBQ? Yup.

Do my friends know me or what? Of course, my favourite is probably the one that says something like "The point of your life may be just to act as a warning to others", but that one doesn't have penguins.

The downside to actually finally having the physical thing, of course, is that I'm not much for hanging things up. So it will probably end up propped up in my office somewhere, adding to the general messiness.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More reading..

So in between testing -rc5 on all the machines I can find (and in the process being a total PITA when I find just configuration idiocies and a random "my wireless doesn't work - oh, wait, yes it does"), I've been reading more.

And yes, I finished off the Soldier Son trilogy. And yes, Nevare was fat and stupid and whiny, up until the last chapter. Oh well. Not unexpected.

On the positive front, there's "Why Evolution is True" by Jerry A Coyne.

I'm not quite sure who this book is for (the people denying evolution certainly don't have enough braincells or background to read it), but I suspect that if you're sitting on the fence, and want to educate yourself, but have been talking too much to people who tell you that evolution can't be true because [ insert some odd reason here] then this might be the book for you.

It's a pretty good read, with a lot of examples from different areas. It made me think that I'll be really happy to give this book to the kids when they are ready for it, which is probably not for a few years, but still..

Currently reading "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Norman Doidge. I have no idea where that book came from, but Tove claims I bought it. So it must be so. I clearly buy too many books, and some of them get forgotten and then found again. It's like a mild case of Alzheimer's - every day is a new adventure.

Anyway, I got sidetracked there a bit: the book started out like some crazy persons rant against the "establishment", and I was sure I could not possibly have bought it, and Tove had decided that it was time to get me to read some odd new-age literature. But once you get past the preface, and get over the point where Norman claims that brain plasticity is somehow a radical new thing, the book actually is quite interesting.

Ok, so I'm only about two-thirds through, and parts of it really do seem to be a bit too overly excited and over-hyped (and read as a commercial for some of the things mentioned), but I've been enjoying it. I suspect there are much more balanced accounts out there, but with the caveat that you should probably read this book with a healthy dose of critical thinking, it's been a good read.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reading: Evil Genes

.. by Barbara Oakley.

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed in the lack of any actual science (it starts out much more promising than it then ends up being).

But that disappointment is balanced by the fact that it was actually a fun read, mostly because you end up trying to match some of the traits being discussed to yourself, your crazy relatives, your psychotic co-workers etc.

So I'd say that it ended up having not a lot about genes, and a lot of armchair psychology of people Barbara never actually met (apart from her sister). But I'll still have to give it a thumbs up just for being entertaining.

The merge window is calming down, so I've been reading other things too, but they've been eminently forgettable. I'm now steeling myself to begin "Renegade's Magic", the third installment of Robin Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy. The two first ones were big disappointments, and I had already decided that I'm not even going to bother finishing the trilogy, but I guess I can't.

Here's to hoping Nevare turns out to be less of a fat whining idiot in the third book. But I'm not really holding my breath.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Peeve of the day

Ok, so I have lots of pet peeves, and if I wanted to blog them all I'd have no time for anything else (and a lot more blog posts than the occasional one), but this one struck me the other day.

I was at the optometrist with Patricia, who is near-sighted like me. Or rather - not like me, since I've had lasik, and since she's more nearsighted than I ever was. She's blind as a bat without glasses or contacts, in other words.

Also like me, she's allergic to pollen. She gets itchy, watery eyes. So at the optometrist, when they ask about whether she's had problems with her eyes, the allergies come up. And what do you know, they have eye-drops for that.

Ok, not surprising. But what I do find surprising is the kind of eye-drops they have. This is a doctor's office, you'd expect them to be professional. But their eye-drops are homeopathic, and the doctor talks them up as not having any harsh medication in them. Well, duh! They're saline solution.

So I sit there quietly, and don't call him out for being a quack, because real doctors do actually prescribe placebos, and maybe he does know better. And there's also no question that plain saline solution isn't a fine thing to use when your eyes are itchy.

So afterwards, I spend some time afterwards talking to Patricia about placebos and homeopathy and quackery, in my never-ending hope that my kids won't grow up to be morons. But it's been a few days, and quite frankly, it still disturbs me. I've not had any other issues with that optometrist, but I'm seriously wondering if this is worth switching eye doctors over.

Do I want somebody who sells snake-oil (ok, so he gave a free sample, and no way would I have paid for it anyway) looking at my kids eyes? Even if it's harmless and even beneficial?

I'd much rather have seen free samples of "sterile saline solution". And oh yes, please feel free to make a big deal out of the "sterile" part, and feel free to talk about how it is "all natural" and free of Tetrahydrozoline or other chemicals.

But this piece-of-crap saline solution talked about the magical homeopathic "active ingredients" (non-existent and bogus), and while it did list the "inactive ingredients" (ie water and sodium chloride - aka "saline solution"), it was basically a huge advert for teaching people bad science and paying extra for it.

And I'm not crazy. I'm not going to make my own saline solution to save money. I'll happily pay extra for "sterile". I'll pay extra for nice prepared droppers in tiny sizes, even if it means you pay actual money for just tiny amounts of water with some table salt in it (no iodine - get the "kosher" salt if you want to make your own, and use distilled water). I'll happily pay for the convenience of having somebody else prepare saline solution of the proper strength and in a convenient package.

And the funny thing is, I don't mind it when I see the same thing at the checkout counter in the organic grocery store I prefer to go to. I go there because quite frankly, the average meat department in something like a Safeway or Albertsons leaves a lot to be desired. And hey, it's an organic store, so I kind of expect it to then cater to the ignorant and the crack-pots too.

But at the doctors' office?