Review: You and Your Research

You and Your Research
You and Your Research by Richard Hamming
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I happened onto this by a chance link from Mr Tyler Cowen, and I have to say I’m very happy I did.

This little gem of a text is littered with worthwhile thoughts and good suggestions on how to improve on one’s research — but there is absolutely no reason why the same cannot be applied in any other fields. It’s the meaning behind Mr Hamming’s words here rather than the topical application of them which is more important. He also highlights a number of very good practices along with a lot of (fun) anecdotal history that illustrates his points so much better than a drier delivery might have.

I would absolutely recommend this to everyone.

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Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

Since I could not think of much else to comment on right now (too many thoughts and too few anchors, if that makes sense), I decided to comment on the recently posted list by Amazon on 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.

I have said this before, but I generally abhor lists of these kinds. They are not constructive, nor are they helpful when choosing a book for tomorrow’s reading. They are simply lists of things a person is meant to achieve because someone (in this case, Amazon) says so. This list has been created by similarly random rules (and even if somehow democratic, I am not certain that would create a more representative or better list of books).

Now, probably on one fine day in the distant future, I will make a list of this sort myself, but before that day I would rather recommend books I know to people on an individual basis. I think this is a better approach since people’s personal approaches to topics also detail that different books apply to different people. And people don’t need to read a hundred books aimed at everyone. They need to find and read and enjoy the five (ten?fifteen?) aimed at them. So maybe that should be our next goal?

Back to the topic at hand. What do I think of this list? It is certainly an interesting one. I have not read the majority of books there… I have read eight, I think. Closer inspection might bring that number to ten, but the two are not firm enough in my mind that I would say I have read them.

Of these eight, not all are what I consider good books (‘On the Road’, while maybe good in a practical sense is truly bad in a technical one). In my opinion, some of the listed are not the best books by the writer (‘The Silmarillion’ is of a higher quality of writing than ‘The Lord of the Rings’), and some others are very ‘compulsory’ (‘Lolita’, ‘Catch-22’, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’). That does not necessarily mean they are good or bad, but rather that they feature in nearly every list. In many ways, ‘Ulysses’ (which Amazon has ignored) is part of lists largely for the reason that people think they should have read it. And people really don’t need to read things they don’t like when there is plenty of what they would like out there.

A list, if I were to compile one, would probably include more science fiction titles but I cannot pinpoint the ones I would choose. Also, probably more German and Japanese writers as well (and I do not think I would ignore Borges) as they do generally seem to be underrated by the Western (well, Anglo-American) populations. But, it would be a list as every other list and have its great built-in weaknesses.

And that leads me to conclude that as little as I like lists, their probably benefit has been achieved if they have managed to make one more person who was not reading before to pick up a book. Either from that list of a hundred, or from their own bookshelf, or from a friend they know. Let us all go and read!

On How Mr Asimov Was Correct

I am sure that Isaac Asimov was right about a number of things, and not the least amongst these is his portrayal of General Bel Riose. Previously, it has been widely know that it can find proof in Belisarius but I saw a similar instance in the Chinese histories. Namely, while reading ‘The Tatar Whirlwind’ I found note of a Ming General, Yuan Chonghuan.

This Yuan Chonghuan was executed by the Ming Emperor when the Jurchen enemies started rumours of how the General would betray the Emperor. While none of his previous actions had done anything to substantiate these rumours, the Emperor feared for his life and position — and that fear quickly allowed General Yuan to see the last sunrise of his life.

Belisarius, as we well know, was not executed but rather retired from public life after becoming too prominent for Justinianus to like him. In any case, the situation is practically the same.

There are certainly a number of other commanders who can fit into this category, but rather than look for more of the same, I’ll present a metaphor that I found in the chapter in ‘The Tatar Whirlwind’:

“Since antiquity, have there been instances in which military men have been able to perform meritorious service while there have been powerful officials at court?”
— Ryotaro Shiba, ‘The Tatar Whirlwind’, p. 443

How close and similar is this to Mr Asimov’s in-universe explanation to why the Empire’s Bel Riose would not defeat the Foundation:

“Look at the situation. A weak general could never have endangered us, obviously. A strong general during the time of a weak Emperor would never have endangered us, either; for he would have turned his arms towards a much more fruitful target. … It was the success of Riose that was suspicious. So he was recalled, and accused, condemned, murdered. ”
— I. Asimov, ‘Foundation and Empire’, p. 85

In other words, what Mr Asimov wrote in the ‘Foundation and Empire’ has a number of parallels in history, and they all substantiate what he thought of. Surely, that was the case before I knew of Yuan Chenghuan, but I was personally rather pleased at finding another example of the same.

The logic behind the actions has clearly stayed the same, but the feeling that I had when I read that part in ‘The Tatar Whirlwind’ was… of literature making its way into life. And I knew well that General Yuan had lived a three centuries before Mr Asimov. Yet, it all was more alive: Bel Riose and Yuan Chenghuan breathed anew, if only for a second in my mind.

Those two could probably talk of so many things…

LOTRProject, E. Johansson

I found a very interesting site relating to a collection of information on J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. This site can be found here, and I would suggest anyone who takes a liking to the writer’s books to take a look over there.

To sum up a number of features on that site, there is a timeline that works alongside a map of the events starting with the beginning of the world and going as far into the Fourth Age as we can. We also have a genealogy of a number of the different races which is interesting to look at. Plus, there are humorous posts on the blog — an example of which you can see below. Can you guess what Gandalf’s Venn diagram looks like? =)

There is also a statistical analysis of the books of Mr Tolkien. This is interesting to me mainly for the creative ‘sentiment analysis’. I’ve heard of this technique before although I don’t think I’ve seen mention of it being applied to books in the past. Let’s just say that the next time I will read ‘The Hobbit’, I will try to look out to see in what light anything is portrayed.

There are a number of other interesting graphs that amused and surprised me, and there will hopefully be more things coming up in the future, so that I will certainly try to keep an eye on this site.

Click on this to be taken to the original location.
Boromir’s View of Middle-Earth: A Venn Diagram, by Emil Johansson

“On the Quality of E-Books”

Since there are probably people here who do not follow my main blog (which is these days updated less frequently than this one on my literary adventures), I dare to post this link here to bring this issue to the attention of more people.

“On the Quality of E-Books”

This post concerns itself with the low quality of proofreading that is evident in many digital books that I have recently bought, and I sincerely do hope that some sort of turnaround is possible so that we would be paying for a finished product instead of something that has been pitifully digitalized into an error-written title.

That is my hope, at least. We’ll see what (if anything) happens in the future on this front.

But I hope it is not too much to hope for the best…

Essays on Gaming

I found yesterday from a link at RockPaperShotgun two essays which were very interesting to me. Their main field was to look into social gaming, and how it entraps people, and furthermore how much of the industry is entirely based on that idea.

While long, they are certainly worth a read.

The first one can be found here, and speaks of the general trend in social gaming.

The second one at here is a more in-depth review on The Sims Social.

I will finish by just adding that I have never felt the wish to play any additional games on Facebook. Much as said there, Facebook itself feels like a game some of the time. I also feel that they would just spend my time without providing the (wonderful) immersion some proper games do (or rather, that proper games do more easily).

 

‘Live Not By Lies’, A. Solzhenitsyn

This is an interesting essay by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and I would recommend people to read it.

You can find an English version here, or an Estonian one here, or probably ones in other languages that you prefer elsewhere.

What I like about it is the general idea of honesty and truthfulness, although I do have to say that we cannot possibly apply it in as many cases as he wished we would. Yet, that is not to say we cannot try..

But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.