Seven Pillars

Wisdom hath built her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.  –Proverbs 9:1

I just finished Stephen Stigler’s The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom, and I’m daunted–and embarrassed that I waited so long to read it.  Stigler gives us a structure and taxonomy to statistical thinking* that gives us the “big picture” of statistics.

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Quite a difference from the descriptives-to-inference-to-models approach that most textbook authors follow.  This is making me rethink how I approach my introductory courses, especially those for statistics majors.  I’m starting with a baby step: adding the (inexpensive, paperbound) book as a required reading in my statistical research methods class.

*the 7 pillars: aggregation, information, likelihood, intercomparison, regression, design, and residual (and that’s just the table of contents!)

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Deus ex Machina, on steroids

…is the tagline I’d use to describe Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds’ The Medusa Chronicles, the startling sequel to Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “A Meeting with Medusa.”

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Baxter and Reynolds are up to their usual tricks of piling wonder atop wonder in their usual over-the-top scenarios, while cleverly maintaining Clarke’s style and tone, AND sneaking in episodes strongly reminiscent of 2001, A Space Odyssey.  An added bonus is the introduction of a “new physics” based on the Mach Principle, which is still puzzling serious researchers today.

…local physical laws must be shaped by the large-scale structures of the universe.  And it is meaningless to talk of the behaviour of an object in isolation, without relation to the rest of the universe.  This was 90’s insight.  From that beginning, 90, and a group of others, developed a new kind of physics–from first principles, based only on observation and philosophy.  (The Medusa Chronicles, p. 99)

The Vinyl Detective

If you’re a fan of British TV sci-fi, you’ve probably seen several episodes of Dr Who written by Andrew Cartmel.  Now he’s gone full geek at right angles with a new mystery series, The Vinyl Detective.  Our unlikely hero is a jazz aficionado who ekes out a living buying and selling rare vinyl recordings, and lives in that peculiar subculture of collectors and traders who haunt thrift shops, estate auctions, and jumble sales.  Having dwelt there for a few years myself, Cartmel’s characters and places ring pitch perfect, with plenty of arcane background knowledge–both real and fictional–to back up the stories.

First outing is Written in Dead Wax,  which establishes the major characters

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and the sequel, The Run-Out Groove proves that the first novel wasn’t a fluke.

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The third effort, Victory Disk, is expected in May 2018.  Don’t miss it.

Time for some Doubleplus Ungood Badthink

The Brat Pack of science fiction has concocted a cynical ploy to disturb the genre’s Purity of Essence; they’re giving away e-books.

Wrongthink

I wasn’t too sure about this until I read John Scalzi’s pithy recommendation. “This is bullshit” exactly sums up my opinion of his latest strawman social-justice snoozer Locked In.  So he’s become my anti-oracle.

You Crosstalk too much

I s-o-o-o wanted to enjoy Connie Willis’ latest book, Crosstalk, and I settled down in great anticipation to read her latest screwball comedy.  The characters and situations are familiar to Willis fans who liked To Say Nothing of the Dog, “Blue Moon”, or the underappreciated Bellwether.  There’s even one of Willis’ hilarious lists, this time D. B. Schwartz’ Rules for Lying, peppered throughout the book:

  • Stick to one story (p. 78)
  • Never say any more than you absolutely have to (p. 77)
  • Have a cover story ready in case people start asking questions (p. 108)
  • Keep your stories straight (p. 129)
  • Don’t look guilty (p. 130)

As well as some insights on the practice, such as”Any sentence beginning with ‘of course’ was automatically a lie…”, and a great quote from one of her faves

It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar.  — Jerome K. Jerome, The Idler’s Club

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Having said all that, the book is not fabulous.  The heroine lets everyone from her nine-year-old niece to her mendacious fiance jerk her around, and her acceptance as a center of obsessive phoning, texting, and Facebooking exposes her as a lightweight.  Everyone with the exception of the (obvious) hero, the aforementioned D. B. Schwarz, is a child of (mainly female) white privilege*, screeching at each other about Princess Problems.  The story is overlong, too long to be concluded with the sort of feminist Deus ex Machina resolution that leaves everyone (except the fiance) living sappily ever after.

Coming after the conclusion of her four-novel plus love letter to the rapidly-being-overrun people of Great Britain (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, and All Clear), Crosstalk is a big letdown.  If you haven’t read any Willis, start with Bellwether or Doomsday Book, not this clinker.

*Willis is a softcore SJW, whose post-election stance is “I’m OK, you Trumpers are messed up.”  Oh, and I don’t live in a bubble.  Con safos, chica.

Glamour from the 20th Century

Recently finished Virginia Postrel’s The Power of Glamour, and finally understood what all the fuss has been about.

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Although people often equate them, glamour is not the same as beauty, sylishness, luxury, celebrity, or sex appeal….Glamour is, rather, a form of nonverbal rhetoric, which moves and persuades not through words but through images, concepts, and totems….By binding image and desire, glamour gives us pleasure, even as it heightens our yearning.  It leads us to feel that the life we dream of exists, and to desire it even more. (p. 6)

After reading the whole thing, I’ve concluded that America has entered the Century of Anti-Glamour.

Which doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate it, or are not susceptible to it. Just look at this catalog of old posters going up for auction.  Here’s an example

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Tip from SF GateDon’t ask me how I found this, even I don’t believe the tortured route I took.

Update:  Did I say anti-glamour?  It didn’t take long to get a great example with this Yoga Pants Parade.

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Once seen, this cannon be un-seen.

Update (23 Jan 17):  Glamour is back!  On steroids!  What woman wouldn’t want to look like Melania?

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The Invention of Nature

I’m neck deep in Andrea Wulf‘s biography of Alexander von Humboldt, and it’s absolutely riveting.  Von Humboldt was some kind of scientific maniac, who caught the interest of everyone from Goethe to Thomas Jefferson to Simon Bolivar.  Von Humboldt was arguably the first naturalist to think ecologically, as well as one of the earliest abolitionists.  He didn’t get to go everywhere, and he didn’t get to meet everyone, but damn close.

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