Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable "slow read" for me, as it touched on so many areas I find myself interested in these days. Of course, there is the bird angle - as a lover of all things avian, it is disturbing but necessary to understand the history of the slaughter of so many beautiful birds resulting from the demand based on frivolous human wishes, whether it be collecting or millinery. The fact that in this day the demand for exotic bird feathers exists, from of all places fishing-fly enthusiasts, provides the backdrop for this enthralling true-life crime tale. The author takes us back to help us understand the competitive battle between Wallace and Darwin, back in the mid-1800s. These are just a few of the interesting subjects covered by Kirk Johnson in The Feather Thief. One of the book's blurbs suggested parallels with The Orchid Thief, a book I also loved, but I wouldn't look for too many similarities, as this book stands on its own unique elements.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: The Library Book

The Library Book The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Skillfully and even artfully written, very informative and at times poignant, I loved The Library Book. The future of the library is on display, and living in a community where we are debating a new library, this is a very timely book. Over the past few years I have been a much more active user of our libraries, both in person and online, and as a result Orlean's stories are all that much more meaningful. I loved The Orchid Thief, and The Library Book did not disappoint.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Review: Horrorstör

Horrorstör Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great Halloween-season read! Recommended by Amazon for an October special, I bought in with both hardcopy (thanks to my local library) and ebook. While I almost always prefer reading on Kindle (devices and apps) the traditional paperbook offers much better views of the graphics, which enhance the story. While not really qualifying as a member of the Nordic Noir category, the whole sendup of Ikea is a major feature of the book.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Google+ shutting down - "Google what is shutting down?"

I remember the launch - a place to share this blog and not much else!
As much as I tried to like it back when it started, Google+ just never got into my social media routine. It was a place to share a new post from Jim Lyons Observations (which shares Blogger, a Google platform, as a common host), and that was about it. No big loss!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: Measure What Matters

Measure What Matters Measure What Matters by John Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With John Doerr and I sharing much the same era of the technology industry, his part-memoir, part-advice book was a great read for me. Going back to his Intel days and admiration of Andrew Grove really hit home - I read Grove's book and admired him, and quoted him, during my early HP days. Later in his career, Doerr has been a tremendous influence on Google and their development as a tech power, and I found his stories very interesting reading. The OKR technique, which he reviews in businesses big and small, is a winner, and I was able to use it as a "what if" on my current job and see the failings that result from not having such a system. Part of the book for me was an audio experience - my second this year - and I really enjoyed hearing the voices of the subjects, rather than just reading a dry pages of an interview.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Is the importance of "prescience" fading away?

A screenshot from my Google search for the definition of "prescience" - this expanded version includes an Ngram analysis
Having been interested and/or employed in the world of forecasting for much of my career, I feel I have only recently discovered a great word that relates. That is the noun "prescience", which along with its adjective form "prescient", generally describes seeing into the future (see the top of the screenshot above for definition details). The search I captured came about the other day, as I was using the word in nothing more elaborate than a tweet, wanting to make sure I had the meaning just right. What was included is the graph on the bottom of the screenshot gave me some unexpected alarm!

Except for a minor uptick in the past few years it's a two-century downtrend, as displayed by the Ngram viewer, which tracks vocabulary frequency as used in the English-language books Google has scanned as part of Google Books. I had to wonder - does the shape of the graph add evidence to the societal trend of rejecting logic and science, and thus an eye to the future? (A quick interpretation of the word "prescience" as printed on a page or screen may lead to thinking the word is an expression of the world before science, i.e. "pre-science", but I will treat that as a coincidence, while sure there is an etymological explanation.) But with the trend with the word's usage, are we witnessing the downplaying the value of visions of the future?

I decided a little research was called for. I was in the middle of reading Bad Blood and that saga surely shows the value of a vision can be overdone. Elizabeth Hughes' idea that in the near future a drop of blood from a finger stick could be used for myriad blood tests was easy to see, but impossible to execute, at least in the recently ended lifespan of her company, Theranos. Going back farther, I tried to remember who mocked "the vision thing" and it turned out it was during the successful 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush. I even remember as a quite young kid that a prescient (there I go) aunt forecasting someday soon that our drive down Interstate 5 would be accessible only by attaching your personal vehicle (car) to a rail, to be safely and quickly pulled along.

While that 50-plus-year-old forecast about hooking passenger cars to rails could be seen as "foreknowledge" of the upcoming autonomous car revolution, it could also be interpreted as missing the mark. With "prescience" trending down ("foreknowledge" too), what about that adjective form, "prescient" that I just found the need to use in the previous paragraph? Well, it's doing all right - as can be seen from the Ngram graph just below. Leading to the conclusion that my quick analysis about the status of the importance of vision into the future might just be all about how and what words are used to describe it.