The second amendment — along with all the ideas and proposals that surround it — is a contentions issue in America today. For a lot of single-issue vo...moreThe second amendment — along with all the ideas and proposals that surround it — is a contentions issue in America today. For a lot of single-issue voters, it is the single most important issue. As the gun manufacturers, enthusiasts, and the NRA flex their muscles, we’ve seen that they can use the Amendment to turn elections and control policy.
Growing up in America’s South, it’s always been axiomatic that the second amendment granted a personal and inviolable right for a private citizen to possess, carry, and use firearms. It has always been a little less clear if that right could ever have any restrictions placed upon it at all — usually a theoretical restriction might be allowed, but the one under discussion is always a bridge too far.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that a case could be made that the Founders did not intend the second amendment to confer an individual right, and indeed that this interpretation is largely the creation of relatively recent efforts to implant the idea into our collective consciousness — popular, legislative, and judicial.
Given my background, this is a fairly startling idea. Waldman, however, managers to argue that case competently and, with some caveats, has me convinced.
These caveats are fairly large, however, and are worth noting. First, and most obviously, Waldman is clearly approaching this issue from the stance that guns could (and should) be regulated sensibly. As such, he is no doubt biased to make the case that the second amendment protections for an individual are not nearly as strong as his political opponents assert.
Second, the impetus for Waldman writing this book was the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2008 that the second amendment does indeed confer the individual right that Waldman argues against. Since the Court is the ultimate arbiter of what the Constitution does or does not mean, Waldman is simply factually incorrect: the second amendment says that private citizens have broad rights to possess firearms. Waldman’s book thus becomes an interesting historical discussion about the changing interpretations of our founding document through the years. But its principle thesis, in a legal sense, is wrong.
I was going to say that I would like to see a good conservative rebuttal to Waldman’s premise. But it turns out that Justice Scalia has already written that rebuttal — and it is authoritative.
So instead of proving a point, Waldman’s book can instead be looked at as illuminating a path. If, as he asserts, a large contingent of special interests can rewrite history and create a right where there was none, perhaps a similar group can use similar methods to rewrite our society’s understanding of the second amendment once again. It’s a compelling idea: a revolution composed elections and books and academic papers. And, like the revolution that Waldman chronicles, it may be achieved without a single shot fired at the opposition. (less)
There is a reason that much sci-fi (and most space opera) assumes easy access to faster-than-light travel. The universe is so vast that simply using p...moreThere is a reason that much sci-fi (and most space opera) assumes easy access to faster-than-light travel. The universe is so vast that simply using physics-as-we-know-it ends up trapping the story on one planet -- or, at best, one solar system.
Neptune's Brood goes the other way though, and asks "What kind of interstellar society can exist in our universe?" It answers questions like "How do they travel?", "How do they communicate?", and -- most importantly -- "How does money work?".
Economics lies at the heart of this book and I love it. By tying the story so closely with finance, Stross gives us a book that takes an extremely long view. The main impetus for the plot took place thousands of years ago and finally catches up with the characters' present due to the amount of time it takes for money to travel between the stars.
This book is full of great economic ideas like new types of money (fast, medium, and slow), privateer insurance companies, "assault auditors", and "the FTL scam". But it also has plenty of the more pedestrian sci-fi style of ideas like re-manufactured bodies, galactic colonization, and mer-people.
Most surprisingly, this book had a lot of words I didn't know. I have a fairly large vocabulary so it's both surprising and enticing to have to access my Kindle's dictionary as often as I did here. I regret now not keeping a list of the new words I was learning.
I loved this book and was excited by every page turn. In some ways, it makes me sad because it was so close to rating 5-stars. But it includes a few too many confusing action scenes (mostly chases, to be honest) that I found myself skimming over to get back to the meat. That probably says more about the market the book was written for than anything.
I believe that this is the second book that Stross has set in this universe and now I'm eager to go read the first. Anyone who likes sci-fi would be well advised to pick this one up for it has easily earned its Hugo nomination this year.(less)
We've been using Scrum at work for several years now -- and we've had a lot of success with it. But recently, the team I'm on has started to notice th...moreWe've been using Scrum at work for several years now -- and we've had a lot of success with it. But recently, the team I'm on has started to notice that (for various and unnecessary reasons), our workload is not as amenable to Scrum as it used to be. So we're starting to talk about looking for something else and Kanban is the most obvious starting point.
Skimming Wikipedia had given me a rough idea of what Kanban was, but this book filled in the details in a breezy, entertaining, and enjoyable-to-read fashion. It uses comic illustrations and interactions between a fictional team who's trying out Kanban to highlight the sort of situations that come up when using Kanban and how to deal with them.
In particular, this book heavily emphasizes the idea that Kanban isn't a system or process so much as it is a set of principles and rough guidelines. Because it's not itself a process, you can implement Kanban on top of whatever process you're currently using -- something I've not managed to glean before.
My one criticism of this book as that all of the examples are far too neat. In the real world, I'd expect you to run into far more gray areas that aren't handled quite as easily the ones the book's imaginary team faces. In particular, I'd have liked to see some examples for adding Kanban to an existing Scrum workflow -- the authors point out that this is possible several times, but never really get into what that means. Too often, they just shrug their shoulders and say "It depends".
I guess that's what consultants are for. But if you'd rather do some reading instead of (or before) paying those consultants, this book is probably not bad place to start!(less)
In my office, we spend a lot of time in the database. As such, we tend to become fairly adept at analyzing data with SQL: join some tables on interest...moreIn my office, we spend a lot of time in the database. As such, we tend to become fairly adept at analyzing data with SQL: join some tables on interesting columns, group by other interesting columns, sprinkle in some aggregates, and pretty soon you have yourself a table of answers.
The relatively new windowing functions added in SQL Server 2012 let you do even fancier analysis (at the risk needing to understand some new syntax).
Yet, sometimes, a raw table of SQL results just isn't enough. You might want to have access to some interesting statistical functions like the standard deviation or variance. You might want to correlate your data with other data available via a web service or just create a nice looking chart.
In these cases, SQL may not be the best choice. In recent years, Python has become an extremely popular language for doing data analysis. With libraries like pandas, numpy, and matplotlib, Python has rapidly become an extremely credible challenger to established special-purpose envrionments like R and SAS. Combined with these libraries, the dynamic ease-of-use of Python becomes perfect for the sort of data analysis tasks we find sometimes find ourselves trying to approach.
This book is an excellent introduction to the subject. It's written by the creator and lead developer on the pandas project, which provides the table-like data structures that make this sort of thing so comfortable for us SQL developers.
By focusing on data analysis, McKinney assumes no real knowledge of Python programming and even provides a "Python Language Essentials" at the back of the book. Assuming that you're already a competent programmer in Java, C#, VB.Net, or some other procedural language, you can easily pick up the basics of Python just by working through the examples in the book.
And that's highly recommended because the examples are a lot of fun! It's fun to grab stock data from Yahoo, run it through some computations, and then graph the result. McKinney strongly encourages the use of the IPyton shell and I echo that (especially the use of the notebook). It adds a strong sense of interaction to the standard Python REPL -- indeed, it feels a lot like tweaking queries and hitting F5 in SQL Server Management Studio. IPython notebooks are now easily my favorite way to experiment with new programming methods.
Working through this book is a great way to spend a weekend. And when you're done, you'll be able to dazzle your designers and product owners when they ask for data about something. Instead of making them squint at a grid of SQL results, you can hand them charts and graphs that will make it look like you spent hours in Excel. (less)
I don't run across much literary fiction when perusing the SF/F aisles. There's something about genre fiction that tends to attract simpler writing st...moreI don't run across much literary fiction when perusing the SF/F aisles. There's something about genre fiction that tends to attract simpler writing styles with punchy plots. And that's not a bad thing: I like punchy plots and engaging writing.
But sometimes it's nice to have something a little meatier too. And if that meatier book finds itself in a genre where it has a bunch of conventions to play with, that's all the better.
This book satisfies the desire for literary fiction. And it has some fantasy elements -- it exists in a made-up world with made-up geography and made-up languages and customs and there's a hint of magic -- but it's only barely a fantasy book. The magic is mostly spiritualism and is enough to let it appear on SF award lists, but it should appeal to folks who don't necessarily like ogres and trolls and wizards.
In place of a strong plot, it is instead a love letter to books and the written word with a simple plot placed around that. The main character does things (though, mostly, is carried along as things happen to him) but the book isn't really about that. Instead, the book is really about the stories and songs that he hears as he moves through the world.
The language is, in places, beautiful. But that's also where I find fault with the book: often, the writing feels like it's trying to hard and goes over the line into the hard-to-understand.
I think this is a good book. I think it's an important book. I think SF needs more books like this alongside the Old Man's Wars and Wheel of Times. I hope that Sofia Samatar writes more genre books because I'd like to read them. (less)
I can't abide futurism. The best science fiction postulates an imaginary future society with imaginary future technologies and explores the present th...moreI can't abide futurism. The best science fiction postulates an imaginary future society with imaginary future technologies and explores the present through a fantastical lens. Futurism, on the other hand, postulates that imaginary future because "why not?".
Futurism is little more than making extravagant predictions while hand-waving away the very real technical issues that stand between the present and that predicted future. In my field of computer programming, we often tell stories of "the sufficiently advanced compiler": a theoretically-possible program that be able to understand what we mean when we write computer programs and not just what we say and will use that understanding to rewrite programs to be faster and more correct than we could ever manage on our own.
It should be needless to say that this sufficiently advanced compiler does not really exist, even though the only thing standing in its way is sufficiently clever engineering. It turns out that sufficiently clever engineering is really hard.
Similarly, futurism pretends that all of their fantastical technical advances are just a matter of that same kind of sufficiently clever engineering. "This is theoretically possible, therefore we're guaranteed to figure it out, and I don't need to worry about the how because it's just engineering." is the song of the futurist -- and once they've established that one or two fantastic technologies are inevitable they can pile advancement on top of advancement on it until you end up with future predictions that are barely distinguished from fairy tales.
It is, or (at least) should be, obvious that this book is a work of futurism. It has the word "future" in the title and everything. But, I'd hoped that Dr. Kaku's experiences with actual physics would drive him to ground the work in the reasonable if not the possible.
Unfortunately, Dr. Kaku is extremely excitable. Excitability certainly has its place in science. I like my popular scientists to exude a sense of and wonder, but I'm also pleased when they can barely keep themselves from jumping up and down because science is just so cool. Unfortunately, Kaku quickly moves from excitement to breathlessness as moves without pause from wonder to wonder that neuroscience is making possible.
Well, might make possible.
Well, might show is theoretically possible.
It's an engineering problem. Let's assume it's real and see what happens next.
And so on and so forth.
At one level, it's exhausting. He never slows down to let you marvel at the mysteries of the brain or the Herculean efforts that researchers are making in order to unlock them. At another level, it's extremely frustrating as he completely sacrifices the near-term in favor of looking centuries ahead. By focusing solely on the far-future potential (beaming consciousness around the solar system? Really?), he's giving short-shrift to the work-a-day scientists who are relentlessly plugging away at the enigmas that are in front of them today.
But then again, I suppose: what should I expect from a theoretical physicist?
Dr. Kaku's prowess as a theoretical physicist may also lead into the second most problematic part of this book (aside from my distaste for futurism in general): "I'm not an expert in this, but...".
The most glaring example of this is when Kaku admits that he does't know what he's talking about but decides to try to define "consciousness" anyway. That's the entire second chapter of the book, "Consciousness - A Physicist's Viewpoint". Instead of being embarrassed about trying to define something that the actual experts in the field have struggled with, he instead builds large portions of the book on top of this scaffolding.
Indeed, he seems quite proud of his definition. He gives it a name, "the space-time theory of consciousness" and refers to it by name again and again. I have my doubts about his theory of consciousness.
I don't think it's entirely wrong, but I also don't think it's entirely useful. I was also put off by the way he pokes fun at the homunculus argument (which more-or-less posits that there's a "little person" in the brain driving our bodies) and then almost immediately names an imaginary "CEO" as the consciousness in his definition. I've read the entire book and I can't really tell you the difference between Kaku's CEO and the discredited homunculus.
If all you're going to do is reduce the idea down to an ineffable "CEO", what's the point? And how can you build so much of your book on this topic?
Finally, Dr. Kaku's insistence that so many wonderful things ("reverse-engineering the brain", making full brain copies, beaming our consciousness to the stars on beams of light, controlling robots with our brain as if they were our bodies, etc.) are only a century out (two centuries out at most) seems perfectly analogous to the claims that useful fusion reactors are only fifty years away -- claims that have been made continuously for over fifty years.
A scientist's skepticism should require him to justify these claims with far more than he even attempts.
Ultimately, I found this book extremely unsatisfying. The interesting work being done today would make a fascinating book, but Kaku races past them to instead dive into limp science fiction which offers neither the technical rigor of the best "hard" sci-fi nor the reflection of our own society offered by "soft" sci-fi.
I can only recommend it as a reminder to not read non-fiction books with the word "future" in the title. They rarely go well. (less)
This book does not lend itself to an effusive review.
It's fine, really. It has an interesting premise. The occasional-flashback story structure is us...moreThis book does not lend itself to an effusive review.
It's fine, really. It has an interesting premise. The occasional-flashback story structure is useful for building to the climax. The characters are more-or-less likable.
It could be so much more than it is, though. The prose is, at best, workmanlike: it gets the job done but is utterly forgettable, sentence after sentence.
The setting could could have propelled the story to greatness: a look at at pre-20th century New York's immigrant communities and class system through the eyes of two total outsiders. But it's not to be. There's almost no difference between the Jewish characters and the Syrian characters except that one group drinks tea and schannps while the other drinks coffee and araq.
Similarly, the opportunity to have a meditation on the nature of free-will is squandered by just shrugging it away. The nature of western theology is winked at but unexplored.
The book even proposes multiple (possibly conflicting) magic systems without really delving into it.
So, maybe all that's fine. It's clearly intended to be a fairy-tale and fairy-tales are free to leave all of that sort of thing behind. But this is a fairy-tale without the wonder. And when you've stripped out the complexities and questions and wonders of life, history, and magic -- you're not left with much.
This book is largely competent and it's a not-unenjoyable way to pass a few hours. But -- with cookie-cutter characters, cardboard settings, and a disdain of complexity -- it never really rises up to be anything else.
I wouldn't try to stop anyone from reading it, but nor would I recommend it in our world that's overflowing with fantasy books. (less)
Ancillary Justice is a gorgeous book. The rhythm and style of the language gets into your skull in the same way that the best "literary" fiction does....moreAncillary Justice is a gorgeous book. The rhythm and style of the language gets into your skull in the same way that the best "literary" fiction does. There's no fault to be found with the writing: it's beautiful in that effortless sort of way that belies the amount of work that Leckie must have put into it.
And the ideas! The best sci-fi is always full of incredible, world-shattering ideas: and Ancillary Justice delivers wholeheartedly -- without letting the ideas get in the way of the plot, which is the downfall of so many lesser works.
And her writing goes farther: she truly makes you feel what it must be like to be a single consciousness split over multiple selves, in a way I've never experienced before. It's so transparent and well done that it's breathtaking at first.
The ending is unfortunately flawed (in ways I won't spoil), but not to the point that it can detract from everything that came before it.
This is Leckie's first novel, which is tremendously exciting. I can't wait to see what she gives us next. (less)
I was non-existent to being in diapers during the days of this story, so I can't speak to the historical accuracy or the even just the feels of the ti...moreI was non-existent to being in diapers during the days of this story, so I can't speak to the historical accuracy or the even just the feels of the time. But my parents had an Atari 2600 and this book accurately captures the wonder caused the little colored boxes that would appear on their big wooden console television when it was plugged in.
As a professional programmer, I was particularly fascinated by the technical details of this little machine. In my world, displays are driven by framebuffers and backed by rectangular arrays of RAM. The idea of lighting up a point on the screen is, at its heart, synonymous with writing some bytes to the correct memory location. Turning the bytes in RAM into glowing points on the screen is handled by dedicated hardware that is mostly abstracted away for today's programmer.
But the 2600 doesn't have anything like that. It was designed in concert with the display hardware of its day: an electron beam that scans back and forth, back and forth. To draw on the screen, the programmer has to carefully turn the beam on and off timed precisely with each cycle of the CPU.
I am an Apple fan. I believe that the best software is written in concert with the hardware it will be running on so that each can take advantage of the other. The 2600 completely embodies that philosophy: its software is completely harmonized with the way that television and video signals worked at the time. So much so, that it's basically impossible to completely emulate the experience on modern displays. Our screens just don't allow for pixels bleeding in to one another or for phosphors to slowly dim once the beam has been turned off.
There's more to this story, of course. The way that most games were written by a single developer who owned every aspect of it (from concept to playability to music and art) is an interesting contrast to today's multi-million dollar development teams. The rivalry between Atari and Activision, whose original logo is still recognizable to all gamers today, is of note. And, of course, there's the way that women's struggle to gain respect in the industry is basically mirrored in today's software industry.
This book checked several boxes for me: as a modern programmer who enjoys history, I enjoyed reading the accounts of this pivotal project. As a lover of quality products, I enjoyed reading about the development of this seminal consumer offering. And as a gamer, I loved the nostalgic look at the console I first started growing up with.
And ultimately, as a reader, I enjoyed a well-written account of days of long ago. (less)
If you follow the topics I follow: Apple, Google, iOS, Android, "mobile", the Internet, computers, etc., then you have probably seen bits from this bo...moreIf you follow the topics I follow: Apple, Google, iOS, Android, "mobile", the Internet, computers, etc., then you have probably seen bits from this book.
The fight between Apple and Google, two commercial titans whose tendrils thread throughout our modern lives, captures the imaginations of many. Thus, excepts from Dogfight have been printed in both the tech and the popular press.
It was well worth it. This is an excellent book that recounts some important events from recent history. In a very real sense, the iPhone changed the nature of consumer electronics and made the Internet a pervasive part of almost everyone's lives. Seeing how it happened, both technically and in a business sense, is entertaining and rewarding.(less)