Only Nate Silver could get me to read a book about probability and statistics on my day off. I appreciate his clarity and his agile use of examples. HOnly Nate Silver could get me to read a book about probability and statistics on my day off. I appreciate his clarity and his agile use of examples. He walks through Bayes's Theorem by calculating the probability that your spouse is cheating on you given that you find a strange pair of underwear in your dresser drawer (29%). In a long chapter on poker -- he played professionally -- he patiently explains Texas hold 'em, hand rankings and probabilities, and what you can know at each stage of play about your opponent's hand. Very lucid.
Covers Kasparov and Deep Blue matchup in minute detail. Baseball, political punditry, weather forecasting, climate change, professional gambling, search relevance tuning -- this book lays open up a probabilistic world.
Tons of material in here -- notes, graphs, great writing, & good quotes:
"All models are wrong, but some are useful." George E.P. Box....more
In the 30s, Stalin sent a "petite Bolshevik", Anasta Mikoyan, to tour the U.S. and bring back intelligence on American food production. Mikoyan was amIn the 30s, Stalin sent a "petite Bolshevik", Anasta Mikoyan, to tour the U.S. and bring back intelligence on American food production. Mikoyan was amazed by popcorn, corrugated cardboard, self-service cafeterias, mechanized cow milking, and Macy's display windows.
"Perhaps what struck Mikoyan most was the American guy at a stainless-steel griddle who swiftly cooked a curious-looking kotleta, which he inserted into a split white bun, then flourished with pickles and dabs of red sauce. 'For a busy man it is very convenient,' marveled Mikoyan. Didn't Soviet workers deserve this cheap, filling snack on their parades, their outings to Parks of Culture and Relaxation?
Mikoyan plunked down Stalin-approved scarce hard currency for twenty-two million hamburger grills, with the capacity to turn out two million orders a day. Burger production launched in select major cities, to some acclaim. But World War II intervened; the bun got lost in the shuffle. Soviet food planning settled instead for a take-out kotleta, unsandwiched."
One can only wonder if glasnost could have come decades sooner had they not omitted the bun.
This is a fascinating memoir of family and food through several decades of Soviet life. The author gives us the child's perspective of these tumultuous times, so it's a happier account than an adult's might be. Life in the USSR changed so quickly, transformed each decade it seems. From feast to famine and back again -- enough to give you culinary whiplash.
Enjoyable and informative, for cooks and modern Russian history buffs alike....more
A dark tale set in dark, frozen Iceland in the middle of the 19th century, concerning the true life of Agnes, a woman convicted of murder and executedA dark tale set in dark, frozen Iceland in the middle of the 19th century, concerning the true life of Agnes, a woman convicted of murder and executed for it. This was the last execution in Iceland -- a beheading, in the countryside, by a local farmer selected for the task and supplied with the axe by Danish authorities.
The book's writing is restrained, well suited to the lives depicted, which unfold on cold remote farms. Anyone seeking a detailed description of annual sheep slaughtering will find it here.
This is a first novel for Hannah Kent. Well done....more
Everything necessary for a blockbuster movie is here -- action and pursuit from DC to the hot Australian desert, a mega-weapon, a teenaged heroine traEverything necessary for a blockbuster movie is here -- action and pursuit from DC to the hot Australian desert, a mega-weapon, a teenaged heroine trained to resist the machine, a love story, a little unresolved mystery at the end. I usually abandon sci-fi after a few pages of lousy dialog, but this was pretty good. ...more
Originally letters to her children. Fashioned into a book after Lydia Kirk's return from her stint as Ambassadress posted to Moscow just as the Cold WOriginally letters to her children. Fashioned into a book after Lydia Kirk's return from her stint as Ambassadress posted to Moscow just as the Cold War is beginning, 1949-51. Her husband (Admiral) Alan Kirk, dealt mainly with Gromyko. The family had four "Little Men" -- minders -- with them at all times. The Soviets went out of their way to make life for foreign delegations miserable.The "satellites" were all present -- the Czechs, Poles, Bulgarians -- but they were all part of the big snub of The Western democracies, Since there was little actual communication going on between the governments, the social interaction became the diplomacy. Mrs. Kirk ran Spaso, the U.S. Ambassador's residence, and was den mother to the rest of the US delegation. The delegation appeared to consist of ambitious and well-connected young men, and a few of our "prettiest girls" to make things gay. (It was still the 50's then. ) She writes what she knows -- the household, the servant problem, the streets, the clothes, the food, the landscape. She found Moscow very grim and clearly worked hard to endure it with grace. It's historic and personal and well written -- she got a capsule review for it in Foreign Affairs when it came out in '52.
A very palatable way of learning about the English colonial towns on Cape Cod in the mid-1700s. Much of the plot revolves around property law and theA very palatable way of learning about the English colonial towns on Cape Cod in the mid-1700s. Much of the plot revolves around property law and the customs of inheritance in these settler families. The prevailing assumption was that a widow would live under the protection of a male relative -- such as a son in law. The interaction between the settlers and the dwindling ranks of Native Americans was part of the story; also whaling, daily household chores, and the town grapevine. Enjoyable and informative....more
Russian, aristrocratic, rich, and multilingual, she manages to get a job in German government offices during the war. She's in Berlin for bombings andRussian, aristrocratic, rich, and multilingual, she manages to get a job in German government offices during the war. She's in Berlin for bombings and at royal weddings in the great houses and castles in Europe in the same week. The German foreign office seems a bit lax; she makes little attempt to hide her connections with their enemies and her contempt for her superiors.
It turns out that Richard Russo's expert depictions of factory towns are based on his life in Gloversville, NY, where he grew up in a single Mom/ 2 grIt turns out that Richard Russo's expert depictions of factory towns are based on his life in Gloversville, NY, where he grew up in a single Mom/ 2 grandparents two-family house. This is really the story of life with mother. She is a pretty together-seeming woman during Richard's childhood. She attends to his education, dresses up for her job at GE Schenectady (important to her that she is not in a factory or married to an actual glover), and is able to provide for her son with a little help from extended family. Richard graduates from high school and heads out to Arizona for college. Mom decides to quit her job and move with him. (I'm reminded of Michael moving into George Michael's dorm room in Arrested Development.) So things get a little strange, then more and more strange. Mom moves many, many times, for many reason, and is downwardly mobile until Richard's writing takes off and he is able to discreetly support her in better circumstances. He is a most devoted son; few people would put up with her increasingly erratic behavior, After she is gone, he realizes that her behavior might have been OCD (a younger family member is diagnosed). Living with her required infinite patience, in any case. Gloversville is really well described....more
The story has a central contrivance, the miracle of a live baby washed up on the shores of a lighthouse island, which sort of irked me. Living in isolThe story has a central contrivance, the miracle of a live baby washed up on the shores of a lighthouse island, which sort of irked me. Living in isolation could be a strong part of the story, but the writer comes nowhere near Sarah Orne Jewett in that regard. The moral profundities didn't seem that profound, just sad. ...more
Preposterous, funny, and clever. A conventional Englishman bank manager gets increasingly entwined with his aunt and characters from her past, findingPreposterous, funny, and clever. A conventional Englishman bank manager gets increasingly entwined with his aunt and characters from her past, finding happiness at last as a black marketeer in Paraguay. Of course.
"Are you really a Roman Catholic?" I asked my aunt with interest. She replied promptly and seriously, "Yes, my dear, only I just don't believe in all the things they believe in." ...more
I am a sucker for history told through examination of the quotidian: cod, salt, houses -- now trees. The arc of this story is pretty simple: first weI am a sucker for history told through examination of the quotidian: cod, salt, houses -- now trees. The arc of this story is pretty simple: first we Americans cut down all the trees we could find, then we learned to grow them.
In fact the country was settled in part because of the wood supply it represented to the Old World, and western expansion especially was driven by the need for timber. Railroads were primarily wooden -- the cross ties, the cars, the fuel, even the iron wheels (which were forged using charcoal because it gave them specific physical properties). And it wasn't just eccentric Howard Hughes who envisioned a wooden plane. During WWI, planes were made of Sitka spruce and forests were protected as military assets.
The iconic American log cabin was introduced by Swedish settlers in Delaware. The colonists protested British rule with Liberty Trees, some of which were tall mast pines meant for the King's Navy. Forest management was a French innovation and only took root here in the late 19th century.
Johnny Appleseed, John Muir, Calvert Vaux, Frederick Olmstead, Frederick Weyerhauser, and William Levitt (Levittown) are all here, as is Paul Bunyan (who was an entirely commercial construct. Dang).
This book made me sad that chestnuts and elms are almost extinct, and worried that hemlocks may suffer the same fate in my lifetime. I do feel sorry for the hapless Donald Currey who, in 1964, with the permission of the U.S. Forest Service, cut down a bristlecone pine that was "the most ancient tree ever discovered -- an organism already wizened when Columbus reached Hispaniola, middle-aged when Caesar ruled Rome, and starting life when Sumerians created mankind's first written language."...more
Last week someone interviewed in the NYT book pages suggested that President Obama read some Barbara Pym, i.e. something clever and relaxing I guess.Last week someone interviewed in the NYT book pages suggested that President Obama read some Barbara Pym, i.e. something clever and relaxing I guess. So in solidarity I returned to London of the 1950s and Excellent Women.
Our narrator Mildred, ethical and honest, recounts a year or so in the life of a small Anglican congregation, the excellent women who keep the church running (via jumble sales), her downstairs neighbors (who share her bathroom), and a few desiccated anthropologists who write and deliver papers about matriarchal kinship groups.
These are women of fortitude who aren't mated up. Mildred is frustrated and repressed, as is her friend Dora, as is the clergy widow, the adventurous academic -- all trying to get by in postwar London. It is a sympathetic portrait, funnier on second reading....more