Category Archives: Books

What do we need men for? Including Donald Trump?

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My FBFF E. Jean Carroll has a new book coming out, What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal. You’ve heard about her, and the book, and related matters because Donald Trump’s apparent first degree rape of Ms. Carroll, several years ago, is in the news today, and for a story about Trump to vie for bigness among all the other stories, let alone being noticed at all, it must be amazing. Continue reading What do we need men for? Including Donald Trump?


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Best Children’s Book on Human Evolution

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Aside from evolutionary theory itself, the teaching of Human evolution involves physiology and reproductive biology, behavioral biology, genetics, and the fossil record itself with details of a concomitant history.

And finally, there is a children’s book that addresses the latter, in amazing detail!

There are very few good (or even bad) children’s books about evolution, and far fewer about human evolution. And when a children’s book touches on human evolution, it is usually just about Neanderthals.

When We Became Humans: The Story of Our Evolution by Michael Bright with illustrations by Hannah Bailey is a very good book on human evolution. The book is over 60 pages long in large format, and my copy is cloth bound. The production quality of the book is outstanding. (That is generally the case with this publisher.)

I am am impressed with this title, and I strongly recommend it for anyone looking for a book for a kid of a certain age to read, or a younger kid to get read to.

What is that certain age? I’m thinking 10 plus or minus 2, depending on the kid. The publishers say 8-11. So somewhere around there. A 10 year old who absorbs the material in this book will do OK on an intro college human evolution midterm that focuses on the fossil and archaeological record. Or at least, the child will be able to effectively challenge the professor in a grade grubbing situation.

When We Became Humans: The Story of Our Evolution covers primate evolution, key moments in hominin history, bipedalism, early tools, brain evolution, the origin of fire (nice to see my research embodied as fact in an actual children’s book!), Homo erectus and Neanderthals, modern humans, foragers, early agriculture, holicene history, language, art, early burial, and other things such as hobbits.

There are only four places where I would take issue with the facts as presented here. The root hypothesis for the human-chimp split is left out, I would discuss early tools differently, the author embraces the scavenging hypothesis too kindly, and the great global diversity and overall craziness of the agricultural transition is glossed in favor (mostly) of the old Fertile Crescent story, which is not wrong, just limited. Given that this book presnets roughly 165 facts or perspectives, me disagreeing with this small number is rather remarkable.

The art is great, the typefaces well chosen, the layout is artful and foregrounds the aforementioned are and the facts.

You can preorder this book now; it will be out mid July.


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Books On The Energy Transition

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Be informed, have a look.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken.

This is a great resource for understanding the diverse strategies available to decarbonize. There is a flaw, and I think it is a fairly significant one. Drawdown ranks the different strategies, so you can see what (seemingly) should be done first. But the ranking is highly susceptible to how the data are organized. For example, on shore vs. off shore wind, if combined, would probably rise to the top of the heap, but separately, are merely in the top several. Also, these things change quickly over time in part because we do some of these things, inevitably moving them lower in ranking. So don’t take the ranking too seriously.

Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal.

I mention this book because I hope it can help the free market doe what it never actually does. The energy business is not, never was, and can’t really be a free market, so expecting market forces to do much useful is roughly the same as expecting the actual second coming of the messiah. Won’t happen. This book is not an ode to those market forces, though, but rather, a third stab (I think), and a thoughtful one, at a complex problem.

Related, of interest: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk. “Funk visits the front lines of the melt, the drought, and the deluge to make a human accounting of the booming business of global warming. By letting climate change continue unchecked, we are choosing to adapt to a warming world. Containing the resulting surge will be big business; some will benefit, but much of the planet will suffer. McKenzie Funk has investigated both sides, and what he has found will shock us all. ”

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy by Hal Harvey, Rovbbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman. ” A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well.”


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Michael Wolf on Trump Under Siege

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Michael Wolf’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, was the first widely distributed and read book about the Trump White House. It was good (despite some complaints about it). He has a new book that I’ve not read but thought you might want to know about.

Siege: Trump Under Fire

Michael Wolff, author of the bombshell bestseller Fire and Fury, once again takes us inside the Trump presidency to reveal a White House under siege.

With Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff defined the first phase of the Trump administration; now, in Siege, he has written an equally essential and explosive book about a presidency that is under fire from almost every side. A stunningly fresh narrative that begins just as Trump’s second year as president is getting underway and ends with the delivery of the Mueller report, Siege reveals an administration that is perpetually beleaguered by investigations and a president who is increasingly volatile, erratic, and exposed.


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Make Your Own Pixel Art

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First, what is “pixel art?”

Is that just art that is rendered in raster? Not exactly. Pixel art is the sort of art you draw for digital cartoons or similar things. The skills and tools of making pixel art would apply to designing icons or logos used in electronic products as well.

To demonstrate what pixel art is, I’m including a few examples from the newly published Make Your Own Pixel Art: Create Graphics for Games, Animations, and More! by Jennifer Dawe and Matthew Humphries.

This book will give you an introduction to the tricks of the trade of making technologically simply but artistically potent drawings, including ways to animate them.

The non-OpenSource (boo) software that is used throughout the book is not expensive and is easy to use, and yes, OpenSource alternatives are suggested and briefly discussed. The book relies on Aseprite and Pro Motion, with GraphcsGale (Windows only, boo) being a free alternative.

Techniques covered include shading, texture, proper use of color, motion and animation, and making things look sentient. Apparently, you can make money doing this sort of thing! This book is probably a good investment, at the very least to see if you have the talent and interest.

Author Jennifer Dawe is an animator and character designer who has been a professional pixel artist for the past 15 years. Author Matthew Humphries is Senior Editor at PCMag.com and a professional game designer.


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Little Myth on the Prairie

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I have been slowly and steadily working on a project that involves an old topic of interest: the dynamic changes in society, economy, and settlement pattern as Euro-Americans ensnared the middle and western parts of the continent in their material and political net of civilization, sometimes known as the Westward Expansion. And for this reason, I came across a book, a NYT Book Review “Best Ten” for 2017, of interest, that happens also to be on sale cheap in Kindle format.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser.

As pointed out in a review by Patricia Nelson Limerick, the exploitation and eastward shipping, for profit, of bison hides and precious metals (and everything in between) was not the only gig in the west. The story itself, the stories of pioneering, gun fighting, Indian, er, relations, and everything else, collected in situ and refined through the myth-mills of the publishing industry, amounted to a significant and valuable commodity. One of the most productive ore lodes of daring narrative in the plains and midwest was the one tapped by Laura Ingalls Wilder via the Little House series, and other tales. Also, her daughter was in on it.

Prairie Fires pulls back the switch-grass curtain. To quote from PNL’s review:

Rendering this biography as effective at racking nerves as it is at provoking thought, the story of Wilder’s emergence as a major sculptor of American identity pushes far past the usual boundaries of probability and plausibility. For anyone who has drifted into thinking of Wilder’s “Little House” books as relics of a distant and irrelevant past, reading “Prairie Fires” will provide a lasting cure. Just as effectively, for readers with a pre-existing condition of enthusiasm for western American history and literature, this book will refresh and revitalize interpretations that may be ready for some rattling. Meanwhile, “Little House” devotees will appreciate the extraordinary care and energy Fraser brings to uncovering the details of a life that has been expertly veiled by myth. Perhaps most valuable, “Prairie Fires” demonstrates a style of exploration and deliberation that offers a welcome point of orientation for all Americans dismayed by the embattled state of truth in these days of polarization.

-Patricia Nelson Limerick, review, The New York Times

Check it out!


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Tolkien, The Movie

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I’ve been reading Huxley (9) LOTR. The other day we got through Gandalf’s long soliloquy on his problems in Isengard, and Huxley went more or less off to sleep. Later, I heard him singing from the bedroom, “Frodo and Bilbo sitting in a tree … K I S S I N G.”

Anyway, vaguely apropos of that, there is this:

Should be interesting and, of course, highly controversial, as are all things LOTR.


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The Umbrella Academy

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How can you not love a TV series where the most together character in the room is a chimpanzee that can talk.

I recommend the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy, and I hope Netflix does not do to this what they did to the Marvel shows they recently created, which was to sell them to a different pay to stream network that I do not subscribe to.

The Umbrella Academy is based on a set of graphic novels. There are multiple versions, but this is a suggested in-order set to look at if it interests you.

Number 1: The Apocalypse Suite, which includes numbers 1 through 5,thought this volume goes through number 6 and has other material in it:

The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1

Number 2: Dallas. Yes, there is a Kennedy connection.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas

Number 3: Hotel Oblivion.

The Umbrella Academy Volume 3: Hotel Oblivion


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Book Note: Preet Bharara Doing Justice

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This is available for pre-order and it is probably going to be great. I’ve not seen it, but Bharara was a highly accomplished SDNY prosecutor and here he is writing about that role. This isn’t about the Trump Crime Family prosecutions and investigations, as so many books these days are, but this may be an important book to read to understand the bigger picture. Thought you’d like to know about it.

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law

Preet Bharara has spent much of his life examining our legal system, pushing to make it better, and prosecuting those looking to subvert it. Bharara believes in our system and knows it must be protected, but to do so, we must also acknowledge and allow for flaws in the system and in human nature.
The book is divided into four sections: Inquiry, Accusation, Judgment and Punishment. He shows why each step of this process is crucial to the legal system, but he also shows how we all need to think about each stage of the process to achieve truth and justice in our daily lives.
Bharara uses anecdotes and case histories from his legal career–the successes as well as the failures–to illustrate the realities of the legal system, and the consequences of taking action (and in some cases, not taking action, which can be just as essential when trying to achieve a just result).
Much of what Bharara discusses is inspiring–it gives us hope that rational and objective fact-based thinking, combined with compassion, can truly lead us on a path toward truth and justice. Some of what he writes about will be controversial and cause much discussion. Ultimately, it is a thought-provoking, entertaining book about the need to find the humanity in our legal system–and in our society.

By the way, for those who enjoyed this movie and/or book, Preet Bharara is the real life person of one of the key characters in it.


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JK Rowling Book Cheap

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Cormoran Strike is author Robert Galbraith’s fictional character, a UK Military Police veteran now eking out a living as a private eye. He works with an assistant who some would mistakenly regard as totally out of her league in the hard boiled noir world of private detecting. (But they would be wrong.) Each of the stories about Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott is set in a different subworld of Great Britain, including London’s version of Hollywood, and the world of writers and agents. The stories are fiendishly clever, the bad guys cleverly fiendish, and the protagonists compelling and disarming. I very strongly recommend reading all of them.

Author Robert Galbraith is, of course, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series and a few other books.

At this moment, the first of the books is on sale cheap (just under 4 bucks) in Kindle form. You should read The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike Book 1).

Then, not on sale at this time but for your information, read:

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike Book 2)

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike Book 3)

Lethal White (A Cormoran Strike Novel)


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A Guide To Using Command Line Tools

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There are a lot of books out there to help you learn command line tools, and of course, they mostly cover the same things because there is a fixed number of things you need to learn to get started down this interesting and powerful path.

Small, Sharp, Software Tools: Harness the Combinatoric Power of Command-Line Tools and Utilities by Brian P. Hogan is the latest iteration (not quite in press yet but any second now) of one such book.

I really like Hogan’s book. Here’s what you need to know about it.

First, and this will only matter to some but is important, the book does cover using CLI tools across platforms (Linux, Mac, Windows) in the sense that it helps get you set up to use the bash command line system on all three.

Second, this book is does a much better than average job as a tutorial, rather than just as a reference manual, than most other books I’ve seen. You can work from start to finish, with zero knowledge at the start, follow the examples (using the provided files that you are guided to download using command line tools!) and become proficient very comfortably and reasonably quickly. The topic are organized in such a way that you can probably skip chapters that interest you less (but don’t skip the first few).

Third, the book does give interesting esoteric details here and there, but the author seems not compelled to obsessively fill your brain with entirely useless knowledge such as how many arguments the POSIX standard hypothetically allows on a command line (is it 512 or 640? No one seems to remember) as some other books do.

I found Small, Sharp, Software Tools a very comfortable, straight forward, well organized, accurate read from Pragmatic.


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Math Adventures with Python

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Complex numbers, working with oscillations (trigonometry), using Turtles to draw, some basic algebra, my favorite, Cellular Automata, and more, are covered in Math Adventures with Python: An Illustrated Guide to Exploring Math with Code by Peter Farrell. Farrell is a math and computer science teacher who is interested in math education and using technology in learning. Continue reading Math Adventures with Python


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Serious Python Programming

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Julien Danjou’s Serious Python: Black-Belt Advice on Deployment, Scalability, Testing, and More is serious.

This book takes Python programming well beyond casual programming, and beyond the use of Python as a glorified scripting language to access statistical or graphics tools, etc. This is level one or even level two material. If you are writing software to distribute to others, handling time zones, want to optimize code, or experiment with different programming paradigms (i.e. functional programming, generating code, etc.) then you will find Serious Python informative and interesting. Multi-threading, optimization, scaling, methods and decorators, and integration with relational databases are also covered. (A decorator is a function that “decorates,” or changes or expands, a function without motifying i.) The material is carefully and richly explored, and the writing is clear and concise. Continue reading Serious Python Programming


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