In this book, researcher and online game lover Nick Yee sets out to explore how the barriers between our online and offline personas tend to blend. DrIn this book, researcher and online game lover Nick Yee sets out to explore how the barriers between our online and offline personas tend to blend. Drawing on scientific research done by himself and his colleagues, Yee explores how the assumptions, prejudices, habits, and modes of thought that drive our offline behavior also influence us in massively multiplayer online games. He also looks at the flipside: the influence those games have on how we think and behave even after we step away from them.
What I appreciate about Yee's book is that his arguments are soundly rooted in research and science from fields like psychology, sociology, and communications study. Arguments are put forth and backed up. Yee also liberally uses blocks of quoted text from "The Deadalus Project," a long-term survey of massively multiplayer online game players that provided anecdotes and research questions for much of his work. There's a lot of interesting stuff here both for psychologists and for gamers. For example, I liked the chapter on how cognitive biases held over from real life drive supersitious and rituals in video games like doing a little dance before opening a World of Warcraft treasure chest in hopes of getting better loot. Or how the science of stereotyping interacts with people's treatment of suspected Chinese gold farmers. It's nice to see someone talking about the research that's happening in these realms, and Yee is in the special position of speaking to research that he himself did.
So Yee delivers on his promise, but I can't help feel that the scope of the book is a little limited. Owing in large part to the makeup of people participaint in the Daedalus Project, the book is really just about MMORPGs in general and World of Warcraft and Everquest in specific. There's no discussion of other gaming juggernauts like the Call of Duty games, Minecraft, or The Sims, even though it seems like a lot of the same principles would apply. For example, in one chapter on how recent MMO game design favors players being able to solo a game without asking other players for help or information, Yee could have strengthened his thesis by pointing to the success of recent games like Rust and Day Z, which while they are not MMORPGs they do harken back to the hardcore days of Everquest and Ulitma Online in all the important ways that he discusses. And in other chapter Yee talks specifically about how virtual reality could be used to introduce new gameplay mechanics like controlling two avatars at once, and I found myself muttering "You mean like in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons?" to my Kindle. Though this might also be due to the fact that the writing and publishing schedule for books makes such references too contemporary to include, the fact remains that Yee never steps outside the bounds of MMORPGs even when it would strengthen his arguments to do so.
Still, if you're willing to focus on that area, it's a good book --very readable, very relatable, and very interesting in many places....more
I think we've all come across someone clutching their figurative pearls and proclaiming that Twitter is ruining communication, or texting is wreckingI think we've all come across someone clutching their figurative pearls and proclaiming that Twitter is ruining communication, or texting is wrecking youngsters' spelling, or YouTube is stunting people's attention spans. In this book, Clive Thompson provides a nice counterpoint to all this: technology is making us better. Through several chapters Thompson explores topics like how awesome it is to have external memory banks and search tools, or how online collaboration leads us not only to provide better answers, but to tackle tougher questions than we could on our own. Or how while tweeting about what you ate for lunch seems mundane, all those status updates blend together to a kind of ambient awareness that allows us to know people better and communicate with them more frequently and effectively. Or how a camera in every cell phone and easy to use blogging software allows citizens and protesters to keep their governments in check (or vice versa, unfortunately).
What I like about the book, besides how timely it is, is how positive Thompason is without downplaying the criticisms and downsides of new technology. Yes, a lot of this seems mundane, but Thompson is skilled at peeling that away and showing you, for example, that while creating LOLCats and mashups is silly, it leads to the same kind of computer literacy and checked assumptions that allowed readers to detect digitally manipulated photos of Irania missle tests. Thompson can pick out the forest for the trees in ways that really makes you appreciate the age we live in. And the one we're heading for....more
I've always liked characters that were smarter than they were strong, and had to use guile, cunning, and bravado to get out of tight situations. ScottI've always liked characters that were smarter than they were strong, and had to use guile, cunning, and bravado to get out of tight situations. Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series seems custom made to fit this preference. It follows the exploits of Locke Lamora and Jeann Tannin, two characters cut from the dashing rogue archetype, as they bounce from scheme to scheme and predicament to predicament. Locke is the face man, a quick witted improviser able to flutter between appallingly stubborn and charming as the case requires. Jeann is the muscle of the pair, but also its heart and no less accomplished a liar and con man.
The Republic of Thieves actually features two stories --three if you count the theatrical play that Locke and Jeann take part in as part of one of their exploits. The first story is a flashback to the early days when the Gentlemen Bastards were still in training and several of them enjoyed a non-murdered status. The second deals with the aftermath of the previous book, where Locke and Jeann are hired to rig an election. Both stories deal with Locke's would-be romantic relationship with fellow rogue Sabetha.
I liked Republic of Thieves as well as the other books, even if the flashbacks to the earlier stories seemed a little odd given that we know things turned out for some of those characters. The relationship between Locke and Sabetha is THE topic of both stories, and it's interesting to see what Lynch does with contrasting the young, uncertain teenage Locke and the more accomplished and perhaps jaded Locke of "present" day. I did roll my eyes a lot and silently urged the two characters to just walk away from each other since Sabetha is frequently a over demanding and prickly ass while Locke is similarly a fawning and narrow minded bastard when around her. But the set dressing of everything else about Lynch's world was enough to keep me interested: the faux Italian Renaissance setting, the mystery of the bondsmagi, the schemes within schemes, Lynch's colorful dialog and imaginative swearing, and most importantly the characters of Locke and Jeann themselves. I look forward to the next installment....more
Imagine a book that's simultaneously about bloggers rising to the level of legitimate news reporters, a star-crossed presidential campaign, and a zombImagine a book that's simultaneously about bloggers rising to the level of legitimate news reporters, a star-crossed presidential campaign, and a zombie apocalypse. That's pretty much Feed by Mira Grant, which you have to admit is a title that works on multiple levels.
The book tells the story of blogger Georgette Mason, her brother Shawn, and their accomplices as they cover the 2040 U.S. presidential campaign while navigating a zombie infestation that is old news if still dangerous. There is a conspiracy, there are zombies, and there are tragedies, but none of that is the books' strength. What I liked most about Feed was Grant's world building and how different it is than most post-zombie apocalypse fiction. The zombies are just a fact of life at this point, and a lot of the book's appeal comes from seeing what that might mean in terms of the technology (hotel elevators require clean blood tests to open), social structures (crowd make everyone really nervous), and government involvement (reporters are required by law to carry guns at all times). The book is also self aware about its zombie genre, to the point where characters reference the X of the Dead movies as survial guides and the three main characters' names --Georgette, Shawn, and Buffy-- are knowing nods towards horror luminaries. Grant works in hints and even exposition dumps about this stuff in all the time, and it's fun to read. (Though I do have to admit that towards the end I was pretty sick of hearing about blood test to check for infection every other paragraph.)
Unfortunately just about everything else about the book was merely okay. The writing doesn't really pop and is rarely clever or interesting in and of itself. Georgette as a main character is really bland, and her supporting cast is only mildly better. They are mostly stereotypes: Georgette is like Edward R. Murrow turned blogger, Shawn is Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin with zombies instead of wild animals, and Buffy is the group's quartermaster and tech head. Sure that SOUNDS interesting, but the characters never rise beyond those starting points. I was also disappointed that the mastermind villain behind the group's woes turned out to be cartoonish and possessed of motivations that were so thin they were practically nonexistent.
So while I appreciate it as a new take on the old zombie idea, Feed feels flat and I'm not in a rush to read the rest of the series. ...more
Hey, like post-apocalyptic sci-fi books where the reader learns about the mysterious nature of the world and what happened there at the same rate as tHey, like post-apocalyptic sci-fi books where the reader learns about the mysterious nature of the world and what happened there at the same rate as the protagonists? You'll probably like the Wool Omnibus.
Author Hugh Howey self-published this set of five novellas that fit nicely into one longer tale, and it has finally gotten the attention it deserves. It's definitely a good read that zips by, and raises some interesting big questions about how people are willing to believe whatever they're shown and the destructive power --and potential-- of true knowledge. My only complaints are that the story seemed to kind of spread out to fill the available space in the later sections when Howey probably felt that he had more words and more trust from his readers to work with, and that the main main character Juliette seemed a little too capable --almost to the point of being a Mary Sue but not quite. I found the supporting cast much more relatable.
But as I said, a good read and I plan on reading more of Howey's work....more
Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons spin out their widely known "invisible gorilla" experiment on inattentional blindness into an entire book, withChristopher Chabris and Daniel Simons spin out their widely known "invisible gorilla" experiment on inattentional blindness into an entire book, with each chapter exploring the psychology behind one of six everyday illusions.
This includes stuff like overconfidence, cause vs. correlation, errors in memories, and others. And as with most books in this vein, they mix newspaper headlines and anecdotes with scientific psychological research. What I probably appreciated most about the book was how the authors used the lessons to debunk various commonly held but erroneous beliefs: the Mozart effect (playing classical music makes babies smarter), Jim Collins's "Good to Great" claptrap about business success, Malcom Gladwell's approach to "thin slicing" the decision making process in his book Blink, how weather affects arthritis, and more. There are just six chapters on everyday illusions, but they provide simple lessons that are applicable across a wide variety of common situations....more
I actually purchased this book because of its gimmicky cover. Written in words that are the same color as the green background, but a bit shinier so yI actually purchased this book because of its gimmicky cover. Written in words that are the same color as the green background, but a bit shinier so you can see them if you tilt the book just right, the cover also says "Pssst... Hey there. Yes: You, sexy. Buy this book now. You know you want it." Given the subject matter, that made me smile.
The book itself covers how all kinds of mental processes are governed by subconscious mechanisms in our minds: memory, decision-making, emotions, impressions of others, impressions of ourselves, etc. Like good popular science books, the lessons are delivered in the context of scientific studies and research, but woven in with various news stories, biographies, and personal anecdotes to provide a real-world grounding. I like Mlodinow's style quite a bit, as he comes close to what I think is the ideal mix of fun and academic credibility that I think these kinds of books should have. In one chapter on self-delusion, for example, he recounts the story of the "Three Christs of Ypsilanti" --three patients at a mental hospital who all constructed elaborate narratives to maintain the belief that they were each Jesus Christ. Mlodinow dry notes that "at least two of them had to be wrong."
While not particularly light reading, I'd recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the hidden, under the surface mechanisms that drive our every day thoughts, feelings, opinions, and behaviors. It's extremely eye opening and several of the lessons will probably stick with you....more
Most of this book is pretty much what you would expect from the subtitle: a history of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and the people whoMost of this book is pretty much what you would expect from the subtitle: a history of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and the people who created it, with an eye towards how pop culture entertainment borrowed many of its fundamental concepts from the game. David Ewalt actually layers on three stories, though, and the effect is pretty compelling even if you only have a passing interest in the topic.
The first layer is the history of the game itself, including its prehistory in the tabletop wargaming community, its origins as a Castle Blackwell adventure created by Dave Arneson and the role-playing game that Gary Gygax developed on top of all that. This flows seamlessly into the business biography of D&D publisher TSR, including its ups, downs, mismanagement, and successes up until the current day.
The second layer to the book is author Ewalt's own personal history with the game, starting with his childhood memories and then turning to how he became infatuated all over again in the course of conducting "research" for this book. It feels authentic, and I can certainly appreciate the perspective of a near middle age man who struggles with interests that are compelling but a bit on the fringe of acceptable by most mainstream standards.
The third layer, which is used sparingly, is an adventure log by Ewalt's character in one of his homebrew D&D campaigns. This is used early on to illustrate game concepts when the book is still in "explaining D&D" mode, but then further employed later on to draw dramatic parallels to the events of the first two layers. The tale of one game character's death and resurrection, for example, coincides with the story of how TSR finally succumbed to its marketplace-inflicted wounds but was reborn as a Wizards of the Coast property.
The only complaint I have about the book is that the history of Gygax and TSR ends kind of abruptly, only to be replaced with what seems like a thinly veiled advertisement for D&D version 5 and some sundry experiences Ewalt has LARPing and going to more conventions. As a result the pacing of the book feels weird, but I'm not sure how it could have been fixed; sometimes history doesn't follow a very good narrative structure.
I did enjoy the book overall, though, and would recommend it especially if you're interested in the history of the game and its creators. It's well researched, entertaining, and accessible to anyone who might even consider reading it....more
In Gulp, Mary Roach explores "adventures in the alimentary canal" which is to say the digestive track from beginning to end. She begins the book withIn Gulp, Mary Roach explores "adventures in the alimentary canal" which is to say the digestive track from beginning to end. She begins the book with chapters on smelling and tasting, where she visits not only an olive oil tasting class, but also a lab where they try to make dog food more appealing --but not SO appealing that dogs eat too fast. From there she moves down the throat and into the stomach, making liberal use of the word "fistulated" and describes one unfortunate man who had a hole in his side that went directly into his stomach, which allowed doctors to tie food to strings and insert it directly in there to study gastric juices. She then goes on to talk about the intestines and finally --yes, there is no avoiding it with this book's topic-- the colon and anus. The book ends with a chapter on, and I swear to god this is true, "fecal transplants. That is a thing that real doctors do. FECAL TRANSPLANTS. Taking one person's poop, blending it up, and putting it up another person's butt using a device that looks like those drink dispensing machines with all the buttons that bartenders use.
Again, what I love about Mary Roach is that while she certainly sits in front of Google and PubMed on certain days, she also puts herself out there and visits people in their workplaces where they do this stuff. She watched dogs taste test dry dog food. She sniffed reverse engineered farts out of glass jars. She stuck her hand up to shoulder into a living cow's stomach. Hemmingway ran the bulls, but he has nothing on Mary Roach....more
The Broken God Machine is a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi story that gets the right mix of big ideas, epic stakes, and intimate characterization. Young hunThe Broken God Machine is a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi story that gets the right mix of big ideas, epic stakes, and intimate characterization. Young hunter-in-the-making Pehr finds himself on an inadvertent hero's journey, on which he finds out about his planet's unfortunate past and a future that's going to be a lot worse unless he intervenes.
It's hard to say much more without spoiling things, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Buecheler paces things quickly in most spots, slowing down occasionally to make sure we remember that there are actual characters involved. It's briskly paced and not needlessly long (not to mention affordable) so it makes for a nice read....more
McRaney has come a long way as a writer since his first book, which read more or less like he printed out his blog entries. You Are Now Less Dumb hasMcRaney has come a long way as a writer since his first book, which read more or less like he printed out his blog entries. You Are Now Less Dumb has chapters are much meatier with more complex, more developed ideas about how psychology applies to everyday life. The writing is also more fun, more clever, and better crafted....more