This is the third book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
Once again the wizards are up to no good. This time King Mendenbar's magic sword has disappeThis is the third book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
Once again the wizards are up to no good. This time King Mendenbar's magic sword has disappeared. A familiar cast of characters set off to retrieve it.
This story is told from the perspective of the witch, Morwen. Her interactions with her (many) cats are amusing. They can all talk to her (and each other) and have a range of amusing personalities. Ultimately, however, this book left me flat. We know these characters pretty well at this point, and we've seen their various personality quirks play off each other many times in the previous books. The quest includes some interesting adventures, but ultimately the book feels like variations on a well-worn theme.
My daughter (age 8 when she first read it) loved it....more
This is probably my favorite bread baking book. Reinhart does an excellent job of explaining the general process and presents a wide range of recipes.This is probably my favorite bread baking book. Reinhart does an excellent job of explaining the general process and presents a wide range of recipes. Just about everything I've baked out of this has been a success. The foccacia is the best I've ever made. My daughter adores the cinnamon rolls and Lavash crackers. ...more
As a follow up to The Lightning Thief, my daughter read me this book. More fun with Percy Jackson and his friends. As with The Lightning Thief the strAs a follow up to The Lightning Thief, my daughter read me this book. More fun with Percy Jackson and his friends. As with The Lightning Thief the strength of this book Riordan's sense of humor and the clever ways he plays with and re-interprets the characters and events of Greek mythology. ...more
I came to the Inspector Morse novels by a round-about route. We visited my in-laws over Labor Day weekend, and on Sunday evening wound up watching a bI came to the Inspector Morse novels by a round-about route. We visited my in-laws over Labor Day weekend, and on Sunday evening wound up watching a bit of TV. Usually I do my best to ignore the television---engrossing myself in a crossword or a good book. But this particular evening a show called Inspector Lewis was on. At first I didn't pay too much attention but I wound up getting sucked in. It had interesting characters, and the setting---in and around Oxford, England was a familiar blend of the urban and the academic. The final plot twists were a bit of a stretch, but overall, the show was enjoyable---high praise from someone who usually does his best to ignore the television!
Over the next few Sundays, Jackie and I watched additional episodes of Inspactor Lewis until PBS's Mystery! rotated off to some other series of whodunits. Being curious, I did a bit of poking around on the web and discovered that Inspector Lewis was a spin-off of an earlier PBS/BBC series called Inspector Morse, where the Lewis character appeared as Sgt. Lewis. Furthermore Inspector Morse was based an a series of mystery novels by Colin Dexter, the first of which was Last Bus to Woodstock. A quick trip to the library, and I had another book to read...
Overall, this was a pleasant read, with a well-crafted mystery and good writing. It is firmly in the "hardboiled" school of detective fiction, presenting a gritty and ugly picture of humanity, focusing in particular on the sexual foibles of nearly every character---having affairs, buying pornography, engaged to people they don't love, looking for no-strings-attached sex, and so on. Morse, himself, is unlucky in love, drinks a lot, and is generally painted as a brilliant intuitive detective who is leading an unhappy life. While I think this was a pretty good book in the abstract, the bleak world view it presented wasn't really my cup of tea.
An odd aspect of reading this book was how old it made me feel. Characters rely on regular telephones, and even the postal service to communicate with each other! Facts have to be gathered via legwork; there is no internet. Reports are typed, and papers left at the office can't be retrieved electronically. Women are still pretty much confined to traditional gender stereo-typed roles---housewife, secretary, barmaid, and nurse. This is clearly a relic of an earlier age. Yet it was written in 1975---when I was ten years old---reminding me that I, too, am a relic of a different age.
I may pick up one or two later books in the series to see how Dexter and his characters develop over time, but I probably won't read the entire series. ...more
It appears that I will be the technical lead on a new software project---a project that will be substantially larger than the typical research projectIt appears that I will be the technical lead on a new software project---a project that will be substantially larger than the typical research projects I've worked on. So I'm planning to revisit some of my books on managing software projects, including this title. I just hope I don't need to re-read Death March!...more
I've been playing flamenco guitar (off and on) and listening to flamenco music for roughly thirty years. I love flamenco singing (cante), but I don'tI've been playing flamenco guitar (off and on) and listening to flamenco music for roughly thirty years. I love flamenco singing (cante), but I don't speak a word of Spanish, so I can't follow the words. And Flamenco CDs never seem to include printed copies of the lyrics. So I've pretty much been flying blind all these years, hearing and feeling the emotional impact of the song, without knowing what it was about (except in the most general terms).
This thin volume is just what I've been looking for. It is a collection of flamenco verses presented in both Spanish and English translation. The book focuses on cante jondo, the deeper and more emotional style of flamenco. Most of the verses are soleas and siguiriyas.
The author, Kirkland, is a poet experienced in translating Spanish verse. So the English versions are quite readable---not the stilted awkward prose you sometimes get when verse is translated too literally. Quotations from flamenco aficionados are intermingled among the verses, and the book includes a short history of Flamenco and a brief description of the verse styles. ...more
This book looks at the history and development of twelve major international cities via the infrastructure built underneath them. There is a brief intThis book looks at the history and development of twelve major international cities via the infrastructure built underneath them. There is a brief introduction and conclusion, but the bulk of the book is the chapters for each of these cities---New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Mexico City, Cairo, Beijing, Tokyo, and Sydney.
I'm pretty much the target audience for this book---I'm a life-long city-dweller, I like to read and think about how cities work, and I am interested in the kinds of engineering challenges involved in building subways, sewers and the like. Also I read and enjoyed Alex Marshall's earlier book, How Cities Work.
Despite all it had going for it, the book was a bit of a disappointment. Or maybe I was expecting and hoping for too much. I expected a more general discussion of how cities develop their underground infrastructure, illustrated by examples from various cities. Instead, the book is primarily twelve separate essays on each of the twelve different cities. There is interesting stuff in each city's description, whether it is historical information about the cities, unique features, or ongoing challenges. But the book gets repetitive. Despite the differences between the cities, the bulk of the discussion of each city focuses on three topics: the subway system, getting water into the city, and getting sewage out of the city. This was fascinating for the first city (also the city where I grew up), interesting for the next few, and made my eyes glaze over by the time I reached Sydney at the end of the book.
Note: This is the second book I've finished in 2011---the same number as my wife. This won't last. By tomorrow she will have finished a third (and maybe a fourth!), and I'll spend the rest of the year watching her book count fly past mine. But tonight, we're equal!...more
This book provides lively look at several aspects of modern English from a linguist's perspective.
The book starts with a few chapters discussing theThis book provides lively look at several aspects of modern English from a linguist's perspective.
The book starts with a few chapters discussing the myriad ways that languages and dialects change over time. McWhorter shows that languages are not static and immutable, rather they are constantly evolving over time, like a lava lamp, to use one of McWhorter's favorite metaphors. These opening chapters are pretty much a shortened version of McWhorter's more recent book, The Power of Babel.
Through most of the remaining chapters, McWhorter discusses different aspects of modern English through the lens of language change. There are discussions of a lot of (sometimes) controversial rules that some "authorities" try to propagate, with McWhorter arguing that these rules are generally pointless. It's hopeless to try to preserve old bits when the language has moved past them (e.g., "whom"). Likewise it's pointless to fight against new evolutions in language ("hopefully" and the use of "they" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun).
More interesting for me was the chapter on Shakespearean English. McWhorter describes how often Shakespeare uses language that is, essentially, foreign to the modern audience. Mostly this is a matter of word meanings and idioms. But McWhorter argues that many of us have to work so hard to understand a Shakespeare play (in the theater) and miss so much of its meaning that we really should be performing Shakespeare in translation---translation into modern English.
The final three chapters of the book are devoted to a discussion of Black English. The book was originally published shortly after the 1996-7 controversy over the teaching of Ebonics in the Oakland schools. And in many ways it is largely a vehicle for McWhorter to make his argument about this issue. McWhorter pokes holes in many linguistic misconceptions surrounding the debate and offers his views on the pedagogical challenges of teaching kids a new dialect at school and discusses the larger hurdles facing Black English speakers in American schools.
All in all, this was an entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking book. Some of the sections on Black English feel a bit dated, as they are focused on rebutting arguments that were put forth 15+ years ago. But even so, it was still a good read.
In reading the book, I was disappointed that McWhorter didn't draw some connection between his chapters on the folly of prescriptive rules in grammar and usage and his chapters on Black English. It seems to me that both of these issues touch on the topic of how language is used as a marker of class and status. McWhorter rightly argues against people who disparage Black English as linguistically inferior to Standard English. At the same time, he acknowledges the value in teaching everyone to speak Standard English. While the prescriptivist rules about split infinitives and "hopefully" may not have a solid linguistic basis, I would argue that they are examples of the same issues that come up with Black English. Failure to follow these rules can be viewed as an indication of inferior education, intelligence, and social background---just as many people treat Black English. Thus, to the extent that these rules are followed to sound like the educated and elite, it doesn't matter whether they have a sound linguistic basis.
On a completely different note, I found the cover photo on the hardcover edition of the book puzzling. It is a black-and-white shot of a city street in the late afternoon, with long shadows throwing everything into relief. Obviously this ties in with the title of the book, The Word on the Street. What's funny about it is that somebody obviously wanted to emphasize the canyon-like effect of looking down a city street and stretched the picture to make it longer and narrower. The result, however, is that all of the cars and trucks on the street are oddly out of proportion.
A fascinating history of some of the early congressional debates about slavery. For the most part these were debates about whether it would even be peA fascinating history of some of the early congressional debates about slavery. For the most part these were debates about whether it would even be permissible to discuss the "peculiar institution" of the South in the U.S. House of Representatives. Miller makes excellent use of the original records of these debates and does a good job portraying the debates in terms of the concerns of the participants, people who had no foreknowledge that this issue would ultimately lead to the American Civil War. The book also provides a larger-than-life look at the last stage of the career of John Quincy Adams, the only former U.S. President to serve in the House of Representatives....more
Recently I ate lunch with a work friend who loves math. In fact, I think she's just moonlighting as a computer programmer until she can figure out howRecently I ate lunch with a work friend who loves math. In fact, I think she's just moonlighting as a computer programmer until she can figure out how to do math full time. That morning she had pointed me to Vi Hart's amazing math doodle videos and, not surprisingly, we wound up talking about them and how they do a brilliant job of making math fun and interesting. From there, our conversation touched on the various formative experiences the two of us had in learning about math as kids, our experiences with teaching or tutoring people in math, and the (many) woes of math education in the United States.
Somewhere during the course of the conversation I remembered this book, which I originally read more than ten years ago. I remembered i as being a fascinating comparison of how math is taught in the US, Germany, and Japan, and recommended it to my friend as a way to get a broader look at math education in the US, and at what other countries are doing differently and better. My original plan was to bring the book to work the next day and give it to her, but when I pulled it off the bookshelf I started re-reading. So it took a bit longer to get it to her.
This foundation for this book is a comparison of math education in the US, Germany, and Japan. A group of researchers took a random sample of schools in each country and went into them and video-taped an 8th grade math class from each school. By comparing what the saw in dozens of classes in each country, the researchers analyzed the differences in teaching styles between them.
The book starts with the actual research, describing sample classes from the three countries and then generalizing about the differences in lesson content and style between them. Since the authors are academics, this section also includes information about their methodology---how they tried to ensure that they videotaped a random set of classes, how they encoded the types of behavior and activity they saw in the videos, etc. Personally, I found this interesting---I like understanding how people in other fields do research---but I can imagine that this could be pretty dry for other readers.
But that is only the first part of the book, and although it was, for me, the most interesting part, it is really just the groundwork for the authors' primary argument. The authors describe the system of lesson study used in Japan. This is an ongoing process where each year teachers select a small number of topics to investigate. These may be very broad and abstract topics, such as, "How do we help students see both sides in an historical debate?" or very narrow, such as, "How do we help students start to understand the concept of 'borrowing' in subtraction?" The teachers meet regularly to discuss the topic, and typically prepare a new "lesson" which they try out in the classroom. They then write-up their results as a way of sharing their ideas and experience with peer teachers.
The authors argue that by having the teachers involved in this ongoing introspection about what works and what doesn't work in the classroom, the teachers themselves become more invested in finding (and using) better methods of teaching, thus leading to a continuing improvement in the quality of education. And they make a strong case for bringing something similar to American education. They identify some of the cultural and bureaucratic obstacles and suggest ways to overcome them.
As an engineer I was quite sympathetic to the argument in favor of lesson study. I, too, believe that the way you make any system better (whether hardware, software, or people) is to always be on the lookout for areas where there is room for improvement and then to figure out how to make them better. What is particularly appealing is that this general approach does not preclude any of the other ideas that people have come up with for improving education. It merely provides a vehicle for teachers to learn about them, reflect on what will work in their classroom, and discuss how to adapt ideas they believe in to their own lessons. ...more
This is another fun language book by McWhorter. This volume is organized around looking at all the ways that languages change and evolve over time. McThis is another fun language book by McWhorter. This volume is organized around looking at all the ways that languages change and evolve over time. McWhorter describes a rich variety of changes that languages and dialects can undergo. We've all heard and read about how languages can change in pronunciation over time, and how word meanings can evolve. But that is only the start of McWhorter's entertaining and informative tour through the evolution of language.
Complex language features---such as inflection or the use of tone---come and go over time, and McWhorter provides some fascinating insights into how and why this type of change happens. He also describes a variety of other complexities that arise in the world's languages, but are generally unfamiliar to folks like me who are mostly only familiar with Romance or Indo-European languages.
There is a large (and interesting) section of the book devoted to pidgins and creoles. Creoles are essentially new languages that spring into being when people who use a much simpler pidgin are compelled to rely almost exclusively on that pidgin for communication of a long period of time. The resulting Creole is a true language with a grammar and vocabulary that provide sufficient expressiveness for the full range of human communications. McWhorter argues that since Creoles are less evolved, the common features across creole languages are probably a good indication of the types of features that would have been present in the earliest human language.
Another interesting aspect of the book was the contrasting of more isolated, regional languages and more wide-spread languages such as English, Hindi, Chinese, or Arabic. The truly bizarre and hard to grasp linguistic complexities are much more likely to be found in the more isolated languages, where most if not all speakers learn the language natively as children. Once a language gets big enough that many people are learning it as a second language, those rough edges get softened over time. Thus, for example, Swahili, a language adopted by many adults as a second language, is generally considered the "easiest" of the Bantu languages.
There are many other interesting aspects of language evolution in this book. How do languages change when the mix with each other, whether due to migration, trade, or conquest? What happens when a language starts getting written down? How do languages change as they die out? Do we have any hope of reconstructing the original human language?
The book is full of interesting examples English and other languages readers may know, such as French, German, and Russian, and from languages readers are unlikely to have heard of, such as Ngan'gityemerri, an Aborigine language from northern Australia. And McWhorter tells his story with enthusiasm and a pleasant sprinkling of personal anecdotes and asides, both relevant (such as his personal experience grappling with different German dialects) and merely entertaining (such as his musings on the quality of art in turn-of-the-century comic strips)....more