Tag Archives: Book

Trump Isn’t the American Reality

Lately — since, oh, sometime in early November 2016 — I’ve been reading history, especially US history and especially centered on national history and presidents. Why? Because Donald Trump is not the American reality. Other things are the American Reality. They are not all good things, some are bad, but many are good. And with Trump, it is all bad, very very bad. Reading about Lincoln, Grant, JFK, Roosevelt, Johnson, and all those other famous white guys at this moment in time is one of several ways of coping with the hopefully temporary end of American civilization. This is only one thing I’m doing to cope, but it is one of the things.

Meanwhile, Chris Matthews has been doing something similar but different. Instead of reading about famous executive-level Americans who were good, he wrote a book about one. Last night, on the Rachel Maddow show, Matthews literally said that he wrote this book because “Trump isn’t the American reality.”

And so we have, coming out just now, “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” by Chris Matthews.

I vaguely remember the assassination of JFK. And I remember the assassination of MLK. But Bobby was my Senator, and he was part of the political community in which I grew up. When he was killed, my father, who had been watching the TF, following the primaries, came and dragged me out of bed so I could watch that part of history. It was an event that helped determine who I am today. It was an event that helped me to become of the the millions of Americans who ultimately will not put up with Donald Trump, and who will spend the rest of our days fighting Republicans because of what they have done to this country.

I have not read the book, but I’m going to. Here is the blurb:

A revealing new portrait of Robert F. Kennedy that gets closer to the man than any book before, by bestselling author Chris Matthews, an esteemed Kennedy expert and anchor of MSNBC’s Hardball.

With his bestselling biography Jack Kennedy, Chris Matthews shared a new look of one of America’s most beloved Presidents and the patriotic spirit that defined him. Now, with Bobby Kennedy, Matthews returns with a gripping, in-depth, behind-the-scenes portrait of one of the great figures of the American twentieth century.

Overlooked by his father, and overshadowed by his war-hero brother, Bobby Kennedy was the perpetual underdog. When he had the chance to become a naval officer like Jack, Bobby turned it down, choosing instead to join the Navy as a common sailor. It was a life changing experience that led him to connect with voters from all walks of life: young or old, black or white, rich or poor. They were the people who turned out for him in his 1968 campaign. RFK would prove himself to be the rarest of politicians—both a pragmatist who knew how to get the job done and an unwavering idealist who could inspire millions.

Drawing on extensive research and interviews, Matthews pulls back the curtain on the public and private worlds of Robert Francis Kennedy. He shines a light on all the important moments of his life, from his early years and his start in politics to his crucial role as attorney general in his brother’s administration and his tragic run for president. This definitive book brings Bobby Kennedy to life like never before and is destined to become a political classic.

The Animal Connection

You know of Pat Shipman at the very least because of her recent and, dare I say, highly controversial and excellent book The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction. If you’ve not read it, do so. But, in the mean time, another book she wrote in the same area, The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human, is now available on Kindle for two bucks.

Why do humans all over the world take in and nurture other animals? This behavior might seem maladaptive—after all, every mouthful given to another species is one that you cannot eat—but in this heartening new study, acclaimed anthropologist Pat Shipman reveals that our propensity to domesticate and care for other animals is in fact among our species’ greatest strengths. For the last 2.6 million years, Shipman explains, humans who coexisted with animals enjoyed definite adaptive and cultural advantages. To illustrate this point, Shipman gives us a tour of the milestones in human civilization-from agriculture to art and even language—and describes how we reached each stage through our unique relationship with other animals. The Animal Connection reaffirms our love of animals as something both innate and distinctly human, revealing that the process of domestication not only changed animals but had a resounding impact on us as well.

E.O. Wilson’s Anthill

Anthill: A Novel

Winner of the 2010 Heartland Prize, Anthill follows the thrilling adventures of a modern-day Huck Finn, enthralled with the “strange, beautiful, and elegant” world of his native Nokobee County. But as developers begin to threaten the endangered marshlands around which he lives, the book’s hero decides to take decisive action. Edward O. Wilson—the world’s greatest living biologist—elegantly balances glimpses of science with the gripping saga of a boy determined to save the world from its most savage ecological predator: man himself.

I bring this up now because the Kindle version is, at the moment, two bucks! A tiny price to pay for a big novel about tiny ants.

Ubuntu and Linux Books

Ubuntu is a form of Linux. Most references on Linux will be applicable to Ubuntu, but each distribution of Linus has its own features, so if you are going to use a specific operating system (Ubuntu vs. Fedora, for example) you will be happier with a book about that distribution.

This is a selection of what I regard as the best books for the purpose, but if you are reading this post in late 2017 or later, and you click through to a particular book, do look around for more recent editions. Also, check out the book reviews on my other blog, which will include all sorts of science books, some politics, and a good number of computer related books.

For books on programming (in various languages, for kids and adults) check out this post.

Linux: General books

Two years old but still good:

How Linux Works: What Every Superuser Should Know

Unlike some operating systems, Linux doesn’t try to hide the important bits from you—it gives you full control of your computer. But to truly master Linux, you need to understand its internals, like how the system boots, how networking works, and what the kernel actually does.

In this completely revised second edition of the perennial best seller How Linux Works, author Brian Ward makes the concepts behind Linux internals accessible to anyone curious about the inner workings of the operating system. Inside, you’ll find the kind of knowledge that normally comes from years of experience doing things the hard way. You’ll learn:

  • How Linux boots, from boot loaders to init implementations (systemd, Upstart, and System V)
  • How the kernel manages devices, device drivers, and processes
  • How networking, interfaces, firewalls, and servers work
  • How development tools work and relate to shared libraries
  • How to write effective shell scripts
  • You’ll also explore the kernel and examine key system tasks inside user space, including system calls, input and output, and filesystems. With its combination of background, theory, real-world examples, and patient explanations, How Linux Works will teach you what you need to know to solve pesky problems and take control of your operating system.

    Yes, this is good: Linux For Dummies, 9th Edition

    Eight previous top-selling editions of Linux For Dummies can’t be wrong. If you’ve been wanting to migrate to Linux, this book is the best way to get there. Written in easy-to-follow, everyday terms, Linux For Dummies 9th Edition gets you started by concentrating on two distributions of Linux that beginners love: the Ubuntu LiveCD distribution and the gOS Linux distribution, which comes pre-installed on Everex computers. The book also covers the full Fedora distribution.

    Ubuntu Linux

    Ubuntu Unleashed 2017 Edition (Includes Content Update Program): Covering 16.10, 17.04, 17.10 (12th Edition)

    … unique and advanced information for everyone who wants to make the most of the Ubuntu Linux operating system. This new edition has been thoroughly updated by a long-time Ubuntu community leader to reflect the exciting new Ubuntu 16.04 LTS release with forthcoming online updates for 16.10, 17.04, and 17.10 when they are released.

    Former Ubuntu Forum administrator Matthew Helmke covers all you need to know about Ubuntu 16.04 installation, configuration, productivity, multimedia, development, system administration, server operations, networking, virtualization, security, DevOps, and more—including intermediate-to-advanced techniques you won’t find in any other book.

    Helmke presents up-to-the-minute introductions to Ubuntu’s key productivity and Web development tools, programming languages, hardware support, and more. You’ll find new or improved coverage of navigation via Unity Dash, wireless networking, VPNs, software repositories, new NoSQL database options, virtualization and cloud services, new programming languages and development tools, monitoring, troubleshooting, and more.

    Other Linux Distributions

    Not at all current, but of historical interest and probably available used: The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques and A Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (7th Edition).


    Using the Linux Command Line and bash shell

    The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction

    You’ve experienced the shiny, point-and-click surface of your Linux computer—now dive below and explore its depths with the power of the command line. The Linux Command Line takes you from your very first terminal keystrokes to writing full programs in Bash, the most popular Linux shell. Along the way you’ll learn the timeless skills handed down by generations of gray-bearded, mouse-shunning gurus: file navigation, environment configuration, command chaining, pattern matching with regular expressions, and more. In addition to that practical knowledge, author William Shotts reveals the philosophy behind these tools and the rich heritage that your desktop Linux machine has inherited from Unix supercomputers of yore. As you make your way through the book’s short, easily-digestible chapters, you’ll learn how to: Create and delete files, directories, and symlinks Administer your system, including networking, package installation, and process management Use standard input and output, redirection, and pipelines Edit files with Vi, the world’s most popular text editor Write shell scripts to automate common or boring tasks Slice and dice text files with cut, paste, grep, patch, and sed Once you overcome your initial “shell shock,” you’ll find that the command line is a natural and expressive way to communicate with your computer. Just don’t be surprised if your mouse starts to gather dust.

    Linux Pocket Guide: Essential Commands

    If you use Linux in your day-to-day work, this popular pocket guide is the perfect on-the-job reference. The third edition features new commands for processing image files and audio files, running and killing programs, reading and modifying the system clipboard, and manipulating PDF files, as well as other commands requested by readers. You’ll also find powerful command-line idioms you might not be familiar with, such as process substitution and piping into bash.

    Linux Pocket Guide provides an organized learning path to help you gain mastery of the most useful and important commands. Whether you’re a novice who needs to get up to speed on Linux or an experienced user who wants a concise and functional reference, this guide provides quick answers.

    Wicked Cool Shell Scripts: 101 Scripts for Linux, OS X, and UNIX Systems

    Shell scripts are an efficient way to interact with your machine and manage your files and system operations. With just a few lines of code, your computer will do exactly what you want it to do. But you can also use shell scripts for many other essential (and not-so-essential) tasks.

    This second edition of Wicked Cool Shell Scripts offers a collection of useful, customizable, and fun shell scripts for solving common problems and personalizing your computing environment. Each chapter contains ready-to-use scripts and explanations of how they work, why you’d want to use them, and suggestions for changing and expanding them. You’ll find a mix of classic favorites, like a disk backup utility that keeps your files safe when your system crashes, a password manager, a weather tracker, and several games, as well as 23 brand-new scripts…

    Tiny Lego Wonders: Art you can make and break

    I remember watching, decades ago, a short film with Picasso. There was a glass wall that you could not see, and Picasso was standing behind it, dressed like a French Artist and holding painting equipment. He then proceeded to draw lines on the glass. Each line had a particular orientation and shape. He put just a couple of lines on the glass, and in so doing, created a great work of art. If I recall correctly, he made a few of them. Years later, visiting Picasso’s home in Paris, I saw a bicycle handlebar thad had been broken and welded roughly back together again. Two pieces of metal, each with a particular size and shape, made into a great work of art.

    Just a few pieces make three different cars, with a fair amount of detail.
    Just a few pieces make three different cars, with a fair amount of detail.

    Anybody can do that, right? Draw a couple of lines and call it art? Stick a couple of pieces of metal together and call it art? Or like those modern artists, spill some paint on the floor, frame it, and call it art?

    Well, yes. You can call it art. But it won’t be art. It will be drek.

    Track not included in design.  A minimal brick interurban commuter system.
    Track not included in design. A minimal brick interurban commuter system.

    And, sadly, that is also what happens when the average person takes four or five pieces of LEGO and sticks them together. You get drek. Nothing. Nada.

    But, if you are an artist, you may have a sense of form, color, shape, etc. and when you stick a few pieces of LEGO together, you might get a form that is arguably artistic. Many artists are quite capable of working in a media unfamiliar, in this case LEGO bricks, to produce something, maybe something quite nice. Try it. If you know any artists, give them a handful of LEGO bricks and see what they can do.

    Instructions are as detailed as needed to get the job done, as per usual.
    Instructions are as detailed as needed to get the job done, as per usual.

    And, it turns out there is a subset of artists who are experts on LEGO — this is their medium — and who can take a handful of LEGO bricks and put them together, and get …. Tiny LEGO Wonders: Build 40 Surprisingly Realistic Mini-Models!.

    Tiny LEGO Wonders: Build 40 Surprisingly Realistic Mini-Models! demonstrates 40 different minature models.

    TinyLEGOWonders_coverThere are cars, planes, ships, trains, etc. There is a Space Shuttle, and France’s TGV train. There is even a cement mixer.

    The models and designs are very generalizable, so if you have a reasonable collection of LEGO bricks, you can use that collection and this book to construct quite a few miniature models of your own, even if you don’t have the exact pieces.

    The author is Mattia Zamboni, who has written other books on LEGO, and has been a “LEGO Ambassador” since 2015. His day job is to build robots at the University of Applied Science and Arts of Souther Switzerland.

    Here is the table of contents of this fine book:

    Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 12.58.01 PM

    Picasso:

    The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Driving Us Crazy!

    The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by climate scientist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles is now available for pre-order. I’ve not gotten my review copy of it yet, but it looks fantastic.

    From the publisher:

    The award winning climate scientist Michael E. Mann and the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Tom Toles have fought at the frontlines of climate denialism for most of their careers. They have witnessed the manipulation of the media by business and political interests and the unconscionable play to partisanship on issues that affect the well-being of millions. The lessons they have learned have been invaluable, inspiring this brilliant, colorful escape hatch from the madhouse of the climate wars.

    Through satire, “The Madhouse Effect” portrays the intellectual pretzels into which denialists must twist logic to explain away the clear evidence that man-made activity has changed our climate. Toles’s cartoons collapse counter-scientific strategies into their biased components, helping readers see how to best strike at these fallacies. Mann’s expert skills at science communication aim to restore sanity to a debate that continues to rage against widely acknowledged scientific consensus. The synergy of these two commonsense crusaders enlivens the gloom and doom of so many climate-themed books–and may even convert a few of the faithful to the right side of science.

    The Story Of Life in 25 Fossils by Don Prothero: Review

    This is a review of The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution.

    Don Prothero
    Don Prothero
    Fossils are cool. Why? Two very big and complex reasons. First, fossils allow us to reconstruct species that don’t exist any more. This is usually done by studying species that do exist, and using the information we glean from living things to interpret the details of the fossil species, giving it life. Second, fossils tell us about evolutionary change, both by showing us what evolutionary events happened that we would not be able to see in living species, and by showing us change. In order to understand the evolutionary history of life on our planet, we need to look at a lot of different fossil species, to develop histories of change and adaptation.

    (OK, there may be more than two reasons fossils are cool. Feel free to add your fossil are cool ideas in the comments section below. Please to not say “to grind them up to make aphrodisiacs.”)

    So, what if you had to describe the history of life by focusing on a small number of fossils? And, why would you do that? Last year, Paul Taylor and Aaron O’Dea did this with 100 fossils in A History of Life in 100 Fossils. I’ve looked through that book, and it is nice. But here I’m going to review a somewhat more recent book, just out, by Don Prothero, which has at least as much information in it but by focusing on a smaller number of cases: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution.

    Several of the fossils Prothero chose to illustrate the story of life represent major events or changes in the planet’s evolutionary history and diversification. For example, the nature of the earliest life forms is represented by the stramotlite, which is really fossil scum. Others illustrate key transitions within major groups such as the origin of hard body parts, or the major divisions of animals, such as the origin of the amphibians. Others are exemplars chosen because they are spectacular and/or because they are touchstones to understanding very different times in the past, or important categories of living and extinct forms. These examples include the extremes, as well as good exemplars of the “diversity in adaptations to size, ecological niche, and habitat.” Generally, the chosen representatives are fossils with good preservation, detailed study, and in general, piles of information.

    Prothero also provides rich detail about discovery, early interpretations, and the role of specific fossils (or extinct species) in the history of thought about evolution. In some ways this may be the most interesting parts of the discussion of several of the fossils. And, the book is chock full of excellent and interesting illustrations.

    Lester Park Stromatolite. (Photograph by G. Laden.)
    Lester Park Stromatolite. (Photograph by G. Laden.)
    As a result, the chosen 25 are somewhat biased towards the more spectacular, and intentionally, towards those extinct forms that people tend to gravitate towards because they are either very interesting or very spectacular (generally, both). It would probably be difficult to develop a panoply of species that ignore the dinosaurs, but the history of life on Earth could probably have been written without humans, as long as “providing a viable existential threat to all known life forms” was not on your list of key attributes to do cover, but Prothero takes on human ancestors, and covers more than one, because most of the book’s readers are likely to be humans.

    There are far more than 25 life forms in The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution, because the author makes use of a much richer body of information than just the key chapter-titling form.

    Also, Prothero is a world renowned expert on certain fossil groups, found among the mammals. Well, actually, a lot of fossil groups. And, his expertise is applied richly here, with the selection of a disproportionate share of mammals.

    The author writes excellent, readable prose, and vigorously makes connections between evolutionary questions and evolutionary data. It is hard to say if this book supplants or enhances his earlier major monograph for the public on evolution, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters. Either way, you can safely assume the more recent volume is more up to date in areas where research has been active.

    I’m thinking of getting a copy of this book for the local school’s library, as a gift.


    A selection of other books by Donald Prothero:

    A new coffee table book with horses and men with beards.

    Unbranded is the story of four guys and a small herd of mustangs who traveled three thousand miles across the American west. From author Ben Masters web site:

    Ben Masters is the “mastermind” of Unbranded. In 2010, he and two friends completed a 2,000-mile ride along the Continental Divide. They were broke at the time and adopted some $125 mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management to supplement their string of quarter horses. They were surprised to find the mustangs outperformed the domestic horses. Intrigued, Masters looked into the wild horse controversy and found a sad and complex situation: 50,000 unwanted wild horses and burros living in government-leased pens and pastures and in need of permanent homes. He decided to do something about it. The Unbranded idea was born.

    Masters recruited riders Jonny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover, and Ben Thamer to join him on his quest and brought Director Phillip Baribeau on board to guide the film’s production. Masters then inspired and persuaded organizations and individuals from around the world to join the Unbranded mission, which resulted in a successful Kickstarter campaign and crucial funding for the project. During the ride, Masters was charged with the mapping and logistics for sixteen horses, four Aggies, and three alternating cameramen traveling through unpredictable terrain with changing landowners, agencies, and restrictions.

    A native Texan, Masters graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in wildlife biology. During college, he attended classes in the spring, led horseback rides in Yellowstone during the summer, guided Wyoming elk hunts in the fall, and managed the Jacalon Ranch in South Texas over the winter. Masters, who is CEO of Fin & Fur Films, LLC, is an accomplished photographer, an experienced horse trainer and packer, a dedicated conservationist, and main author of the book Unbranded.

    If you are into horses, or the American west, it is a great story. Even better, if you know someone who is, this is a great gift book because it is a well produced, coffee-table class book.

    Is Python The New Basic? ("Python For Kids")

    My first computer language was PL/1, but soon after I learned, among other languages, Basic, and I really liked Basic and I still do. Basic is linear, and I think in linear constructs when I do any kind of computer program. This is probably, in part, because user interfaces are the last thing I want to deal with. I want a series of numbers to be treated in a certain way, or a set of formulas to generate a database. The most non-linear I tend to get is multidimensional arrays, and that’s still linear.

    Python is potentially, and in practice, very different, and is essentially used as an object-oriented language. Yet at the same time it can be used in any other way, to reproduce pretty much any sort of programming paradigm. People thought of Basic as not very readable, but in fact, it was in its more advanced form if you programmed right. Python is said to enforce readability, if by readability we mean enforced indentation. People are still free to ruin readability in a number of other ways. But most importantly, Python holds a very important feature in common with Basic: It is interpreted. In other words, at any point in time while you are writing your Python program, you can “run” it and see how it is going.

    The biggest difference between a language like Basic even at its high water mark some years ago, and Python is that Phython has plenty of modules for use do do all sorts of cool things. I’m not sure if the Python library is the biggest and vastest and most amazingest of all, but it probably is. So, if you are going to pick a programming language with paradigmatic flexibility, reasonable readability, and a powerful and diverse library of functionality, the Python is probably the way to go.

    And therefore, you should teach it to your children. And this is where Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming by Jason Briggs comes in.

    Officially…

    Python for Kids is a lighthearted introduction to the Python programming language, full of fun examples and color illustrations. Jason Briggs begins with the basics of how to install Python and write simple commands. In bite-sized chapters, he explains essential programming concepts. And by the end of the book, kids have built simple games and created cool drawings with Python’s graphics library, Turtle. Each chapter closes with offbeat exercises that challenge the reader to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test.

    The first thing that you need to know is this: If your computer has any sort of development environment set up on it, the instructions for installing Python provided in this book may be problematic or at least slightly difficult. I recommend using this book an an installation that is virtualized or simply a different computer than you otherwise develop on, not just so that your kid does not accidentally delete, or worse, alter and publish, your pet projects. Part of the process of modern programming, after all, is learning about the development environment.

    There are a handful of good “learn to program in python” books out there and this one is similar; it is hard to know at which point someone using the book will pass from “Oh, I see, that’s easy” to “Huh?” which usually occurs a chapter or two after the person stopped paying attention to details. Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming does a good job of avoiding this problem by including a complete and rather extensive project, a game called the “Mr Sick Man Game” (which should be read “Mr. Stick-man game” and not “Mr. Stick… Mangame!”) There are plenty of other projects and individual programs that the book guides the reader through prior to the mangum stick opus. The book uses the “Turtle” module, based on LOGO, for much of this work. as well as the tkinter TH GUI toolkit interface. So if you don’t want your children near those modules, look for a different book, just in case you are involved in some sort of emacs-vim style code war.

    Python for Kids is not available at this time but will be shipped in December, so this is a viable stocking stuffer option.

    ADDDED: Have a look at this post on teaching your kid math using programming, via Python.

    Wonderful Life with the Elements

    Have ever really thought about the elements? Have you ever really asked questions about them? If you are some kind of scientist or science geek, you probably know a lot about them, and that could even be a disadvantage for you, in a sense. For instance, if you learned early on that elements were formed at certain points in time and in certain places (the big bang or later in stars, for most atoms) then the following question may not have occurred to you: “What happens when a bunch of Carbon atoms get old. Do they fall apart?” Also, a sense of purity may be something you understand but others with less knowledge may not fully grasp. Breathing in “balloon gas” (which has some helium in it) can make your voice sound funny. Totally emptying out your lungs of all air and then filling them full with pure helium could cause you to be dead. Purity matters.

    Every now and then you come across a book that takes the Periodic Table and transforms it into a learning experience about chemistry and stuff that can be really interesting. Wonderful Life with the Elements: The Periodic Table Personified is the latest effort I’m aware of to do that. This smallish, square book (read: Stocking Stuffer for your nerdy spouse or child) by Japanese artist Bunpei Yorifuji seems to follow a recent trend in books to be very quirky, perhaps to compete with on-line methods of accessing information. One method of getting chemistry across to people is to redo the iconography or the spatial metaphors of the Periodic Table. In this case, the elements are depicted as drawings of people who have various characteristics. You can look at a drawing and using what you know (using rather complex keys) infer stuff about the elements from the individual’s body, face, and clothing. A person standing there in their underwear may indicate an element useful in human nutrition. A person who appears to be dressed up in a robot suit is a human-made element, one that generally does not exist in nature, and so on.

    Hair or hat styles relate to elemental families, and faces vary on the bases of the element’s subatomic characteristics. The elements are standing on things that suggest stuff about their uses. So, for instance, you might have this:

    Gold

    Gold has a big long beard indicating that it was discovered in ancient times. The figure representing gold and gold itself are a bit hefty of mass. Gold sports the hair style of a transition metal, and appears to be wearing Carharts, suggesting a multiplicity of purposes. There is quite a bit more information than this in this one figure.

    The book comes with a nifty, full size fold out periodic table that I’m tempted to razor out and hang on my wall.