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Finished the free edition of Focus by Leo Babauta (2/5). Leo writes Zen Habits a blog about simplicity and creativity for those of us living in this modern, hectic world. The blog is great, and I dip into it from time to time when I need a refresher on simplicity.

The book has all of the merits of the blog: the content is clear and concise, the writing good, and the advice useful without being accusing. However, while the style and the content are both good, the chapters read as lengthy blog posts rather than a book -- information is repeated across chapters, and there is no overarching narrative thread. (That said, it seems like a lot of books from traditional publishers have that sort of feel these days.)

Focus wasn't a great book, but it was a good reminder of techniques for achieving greater focus and creativity.
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Finished 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman (3/5).

Books in the self help genre tend to promise quick fixes grounded in little evidence (and, not uncommonly, contradicting actual evidence). Psychological literature sometimes has validated advice, but much of it, not surprisingly, requires a large investment of time and effort. Wiseman wanted to share the scientifically validated but easy to apply tips that people could use to improve their lives.

The number of quick tips which have evidence behind them are few and lack the miraculous impact self help books promise. In this single volume, Wiseman covers many of the stable topic of self help -- happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity, attraction, stress, relationships, decision making, parenting, and personality. It works out to only about 30 pages per topic (compare that to the shelves of self help books on each topic).

You can read the book if you want more background, but here's a taste[1]:
  • Listing things you are grateful for or things that have gone well increases happiness
  • Acts of kindness, even small ones, increase happiness. Donate, give blood, buy a surprise gift.
  • Placing a mirror in front of people when they are choosing food reduces consumption of unhealthy food
  • Plants in the office seem to boost creativity. Possibly by reducing stress and improving moods
  • Write about your deepest feelings about your relationships to increase the odds of the relationship lasting. Writing tends to remind people of all the good things about the relationship.
  • People lie less over recorded communication media (like email). 
  • When speaking, liars tend to have less detail, use more ummms and aaahs, and use less self reference words (I, me, my)
  • Praise a child's effort, not their ability. 
  • Visualize yourself working through the process of achieving your goal rather than the actual success. Visualization from a third person perspective seems to be more effective.
Some criticisms: The first is specific to the quality of this as an audio book. Many of the "In 59 seconds" summaries at the end of each chapter involve forms or checklists. These make for tedious listening, and it's not very useful to just have them in audio. It would have been nice for the audio book to come with supplementary material for all of these forms.

I don't know if it's the author or the research community, but the chapters on relationships and attraction seem to exude a subtle sexism. Almost all of the tips and studies mentioned describe men as active agents and woman as passive agents. This active/passive division was not the conclusion of some study (and, therefore, worth considering even if I don't like the result). Rather, they were baked into the setup of the studies. For example, a couple of studies focused on how various factors such as a man's confidence or a woman's breast size affected behavior in a night club (results were not surprising). In each of these studies, regardless of what was being varied, the researchers decided to use a setup where men were always the approachers and woman the approached. This was, to put it mildly, annoying.

Finally, this is a book that you should read for its content, not the quality of its writing. It's not bad, but it can be formulaic.

Since I tend to prefer books categorized as "psychology" over those categorized as "self help", many of these tips were not new to me. However, if you want a concise look at the science of improving your life, this book fulfills that goal.

[1] Dear Amazon/Audible, when I buy the audio version of a book, it would be really nice if I were allowed full text capabilities on the
Search Inside version when it exists. Pretty please?
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Finished Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (2/5) [1].

Sometimes, you can read a book and see how other people like it without eing terribly fond of it yourself. This was my experience with Foucault's Pendulum.

I think it was partially structural. I tend to get less enjoyment from books that start at the climax and then spend a lot of time looking back to how that climate was reached. I also tend to like a good dose of story in my fiction, and the story was spread thin here.

Overall, not a bad read, but not really my thing.
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Finished Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf (2/5).

The premise of this book is a charming one: many of the founding fathers, particularly Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and Washington, were avid gardeners. What lessons can their passion teach us?

These individuals do, indeed, have lessons to teach us, but, it seems, not quite a book's worth. These founding fathers embraced an ideal which held up the independent, innovative, beauty loving farmer as the ideal citizen (indeed, for Jefferson, this was the only type of citizen that a republic can be built upon). However, they never quite seem to grapple with the problem that the unification of these traits presupposes an education and resources not available to all.

The second lesson, and the one that resonates as a more relevant legacy today, was a pragmatic environmentalism. Although not environmentalists in the modern sense, these founding fathers saw the importance of the environment to both the economy and spirit of the United States. They were interested in reducing the use of fertility destroying farming techniques, finding new and useful plans in the American wilds, and collecting species for the sheer love of their beauty and grandeur.

The passages and sources which elaborate these views are scattered amidst sometimes tedious descriptions of minutia. Fort hose who like reading descriptions of gardens, this may be interesting. I was left bored.

Overall, it was a pleasant read, but not really worth more than half its length.
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Finished Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) (4/5) and Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (2/5) both by Bart Ehrman.

The first thing to know about Bart Ehrman is that you should ignore the titles of his books. I don't know if he comes up with him or if it is his publishers, but I do know that the titles are meant to grab eyeballs. The books are much less sensationalistic than the titles or the publisher's blurbs -- Ehrman mostly covers academically mainstream, vanilla views of the Biblical as a historical and literary text. These books, like pretty much anything that looks at the Bible as a historical and literary work, are going to be unpleasant for literalists.

The second thing to know about Ehrman is that he is one of those authors whose books cover the same topic repeatedly from different perspectives. Thus, you probably only need to read one Ehrman book to get the general gist of what he has to say. The other books give more depth for those interested in that.

Misquoting Jesus covers how a disparate set of writing came to be the Christian scriptures. It discusses the canonization of the books of the New Testament and how those texts have been altered through the years. Contrary to what it might seem, these alterations, mostly unintentional scribal errors or attempts to "fix" a text that was believed to have been corrupted by an earlier scribe, are extremely valuable. Like genetic variations within and across species, textual variants can be used to determine what the original text was most likely like. The downside of this book, for me, is that it went into a lot of depth of the story of the analysis itself -- how different variant texts were found and dated, who did the foundational work in this area, etc. This is not bad, but it was more depth than I felt I needed on the single aspect of textual variants.

Jesus, Interrupted has a wider scope. It covers all the highlights from Misquoting Jesus as well as covering questions of authorship, historicity, and the much richer views of the Biblical texts that arise if each text is allowed to speak with its own voice instead of being forced to synthesize with the other texts.

Jesus, Interrupted is a strictly better book than Misquoting Jesus. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining more background on the Bible. In addition to having better content than Miquoting Jesus, Jesus Interrupted has a better style. One particularly nice improvement is that in this book, Ehrman started using a method that encourages more discovery by the reader. Instead of saying, for example, that certain passages are incompatible, Ehrman encourages the reader to place the two passages side-by-side and compare them. It's a fun technique.
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Finished The True Patriot (website[1]) by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer (4/5).

This slim volume -- the authors call it a pamphlet -- has as its goal to show that true patriotism is progressive, and the left has just as much claim to the term as the right.

This premise is intentionally provocative, but the content itself is reasonable and well thought out. The authors define their own view of what a progressive, morally founded patriotism would look like and, while I can quibble with the details, their vision far exceeds the milk sop that comes from the too-flexible seeming members of the left or the for-show morality common on the right.

I encourage you to read it for yourself. It's available free online[2], or if you prefer physical books, the printed version is an aesthetically pleasing physical item.

[1] http://truepat.org/
[2] http://truepat.org/book/read
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Finished The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture by Christian Smith (2/5 for presentation, 4/5 for the main point).

There is a fine balance between supporting your point and belaboring it. In this book, Smith makes a very important case against what he calls biblicism, but nearly everything you need to get the core point can be found in the introduction and the conclusion. The rest of the book expands the points made there, but not in a way that enlightens. But the core insight of the book is one of those valuable "ah hah!" ideas that is worth pondering for anyone who cares about how the Bible is read[1].

Rather than try to summarize the book, I'll link to a couple other reviews[2][3]. This quote from [3] nicely summarizes Smith's key point:

"What is biblicism? Concisely, it is a theory (often unstated) about the nature, purpose, and function of the bible. Its ruling idea is that the meaning of the bible is clear and transparent to open-minded readers. The implication of this idea is that when people sit down to read the bible a broad consensus can be reached about the will of God for any number of issues or topics, from gender roles to the plan of salvation to social ethics to the end times to church organization.

"The first part of Smith's book is engaged in blowing up this idea. Empirically speaking, the bible does not produce consensus. Empirically speaking, what we find, to use Smith's phrase, is 'pervasive interpretive pluralism.' Even among biblicists themselves consensus cannot be reached. For example, Smith points us to books like the Four Views series from InterVarsity Press. Surf over to that link and look at the titles of the series. Four (and sometimes five!) views on just about every topic in Christianity. What does that say when conservative evangelicals, who hold that the bible is both clear and authoritative, can't agree?

"Thus, Smith concludes that biblicism is a wrongheaded way of approaching the bible. Biblicism doesn't deliver on what it promises: consensus and clarity about 'the will of God.'"

[1] I can hear you saying, "Wait Erika, aren't you an atheist?" Yes I am, but I still care about how the Bible is read. First, how believers read the Bible impacts society and at large. Second, it's hard not to be interested in something when you spent a year intimately engaged with it (http://oneyearskeptic.blogspot.com/).
[2] http://rachelheldevans.com/biblicism-christian-smith-bible-impossibleand see the rest of the series about that book on Rachel's blog
[3] http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-bible-made-impossible-is-impossible.html
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Finished Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong (3/5)

This is yet another book that is good but disappointing because it did not live up to my expectations.

I am a big fan of Karen Armstrong. Although she is selective in what she chooses to focus on in her writing, she is still, in my opinion, one of the best religious historians when it comes to writing books that are readable, compassionate, intellectually challenging, and jam packed with information.

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life is, quite intentionally, a very different type of book. It is supposed to be a guide to implementing the ideas in the Charter for Compassion [2] championed by Armstrong. However, Armstrong, the religious historian, seems to have a difficult time communicating the practical.

The book is full of great elements that just don't quite add up to a coherent text. In ~200 pages, Armstrong tries to cover a survey of compassion in different religious traditions, a philosophical discussion of what compassion is and why it is necessary, and a practical plan for increasing the compassion in your life. These threads all get jumbled up, and that makes it hard to pull the value from that book.

In what is both disappointing and supportive of the book's overall value, a lot of the problems were merely organizational. A strong editor who encouraged the use of things like section breaks and parallel structure could have transformed this from an average book to a great book.

All that said, the real value of this book is in practice, not intellectual assent. Armstrong's steps, if applied with appropriate effort, do seem like they would result in a more compassionate self.

The steps do not stand on their own, but for completeness I will list them anyway. Note that some of the steps are sequential while others are not -- this was one of my organizational quibbles with the book (also, the very names of the steps show how much the book could have been improved by an editor with an eye for structure and consistency). The steps: (1) learn about compassion, (2) look at your own world, (3) compassion for yourself, (4) empathy, (5) mindfulness, (6) action, (7) how little we know, (8) how should we speak to one another?, (9) concern for everybody, (10) knowledge, (11) recognition, (12) love your enemies.

And now, it's time to go apply some compassion!

[1] http://charterforcompassion.org/share/the-charter
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 Finished Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert C. Martin (3/5)

I wanted to love this book, but instead I just sort of liked it. This book is a member of the extensive genre of books on how to write clean code. It sits alongside books like Code Complete by Steve McConnell[1] and many others. Where Clean Code promised to differentiate itself was in the use of three case studies -- about a third of the book -- showing Martin's code cleanup techniques in action. 

However, I was disappointed by that section. As someone who codes and reviews code professionally, the case studies were not particularly enlightening. As seems obvious in retrospect, watching someone clean-up code in fairly straightforward ways is not interesting if you do and see that everyday. What I really wanted was a book on being a better code reviewer with advice on how to spot areas for improvement and convince others of the value of those improvements.

The examples could be useful for someone who isn't in a code-review-heavy environment. Martin does a reasonably good job of taking code that may seem reasonable on the surface and improving its readabilty. That said, his comments indicate that he often has a higher opinion of the cleanliness of his end result than I do. 

As for the general advice and discussion of how to make clean code, I agree with a lot of his tips and disagree with others. Code cleanliness is an area where the core of just-plain-good ideas is surrounded by a nimbus of sometimes contradictory standards that people pick and choose from. The details of what you choose from the nimbus generally does not matter so much as consistency. (Of course, the real trouble occurs when people don't agree on what belongs in the core and what belongs in the nimbus.)

The book definitely was not a bad read, but it did not fit my needs.

[1] Still my favorite in the genre.http://erikars.dreamwidth.org/269612.html

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Finished Test Driven Development: By Example [1] by Kent Beck (2/5)

This is one of those books that I would have rated more highly a few years ago. TDD is not a particularly complicated concept and, these days, it's not particularly new either. Thus, the explanations I've come across online[2] and the one book I've read on the topic[3] have been quite sufficient exposure, making reading another book on the topic superfluous.

That said, Beck's book was, in my opinion, better than Test-Driven Development: A Practical Guide by David Astels. Astels' book is not bad, but it's over 500 pages long, and TDD just isn't really that complicated. Beck's book, at ~200 pages of fairly spacious typesetting, is much more proportional to the complexity of the topic (websites are even shorter, but I prefer to read books, especially when they are available from the library at work).

In short, if you are interested in learning about TDD -- and I think it's an approach all programmer should learn about and apply judiciously but not religiously -- I recommend reading about it on the internet and then, if you're a book person or want to see a more extended example, read Beck's book.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Test-Driven-Development-Kent-Beck/dp/0321146530
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Test-driven_development andhttp://www.agiledata.org/essays/tdd.html
[3] http://erikars.dreamwidth.org/360140.html
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Finished Silas Marner by George Elliot (4/5)

George Elliot is one of those authors I ought to have read, but I never got around to it. The downside, is that I am just now realizing what I have been missing for years. The upside, is now I have a new author I enjoy whose works all have free Kindle downloads!

Silas Marner is the tale of a weaver who learns to love through a series of events set off by the interrelated actions of the members of his small community. The story is simple, at least on the surface, but the characters have a depth that makes you feel like you know them. Overall, a good read.
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Finished At the Back of the North Wind [1] by George MacDonald (3/5)

George MacDonald's fairy tales are a bit weird. One of his more well known novels, The Princess and the Goblin is standard fairy tale fare, but as you range further afield in his tales, the plots get more disjointed (in the "this is interesting -- let's insert it as a dream sequence!" sense) and the tone more moralizing.

That said, At the Back of the North Wind is a delightful tale of a young boy whose unique perspective on the world allows him to take adventures with the North Wind as she moves throughout the world. His perspective and his adventures affect all the people around him.

Also, it's public domain, so the Kindle download is free!
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Finished The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins (3/5)

The audio version of this book is read by Richard Dawkins and some other Lalla Ward. This is mainly relevant because it meant that I got to spend 5 hours listening to British accents. =)

The book itself was good. Each chapter poses a question, gives some answers provided by traditional myths, and then talks about the real scientific answer. I'll lay out up front, that yes, Dawkins does use the Bible for some of his examples of myths, but except to the biblical literalists (especially of the Creationist variety), these are the parts that are generally taken to have a mythical element.

Also, while I'm on the disclaimers, this book focuses on where Dawkins does best -- explaining science in a manner accessible to the lay reader -- but it does veer just a little into rantiness in one of the later chapters.

Moving along, the questions and answers presented in this book should be broadly familiar to anyone who had an retained a decent science education, but there was the occasional moment of "so that's how it works!" illumination. For me, one such moment was the explanation of why the angle of the earth relative to the sun makes such a difference in perceived temperature [1]. From an educational standpoint, I think that this would be a really great book to get for a high school student or even an advanced middle school student.

[1] When the sun hits the earth at a shallower angle, the same amount of solar energy is spread over a wider area, so the energy received per square inch is decreased.
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So I'm kind of 5 books behind on book summaries, so you'll kind of be seeing lots of book summaries over the next few days. Most of them shouldn't be as long as the last one though.

Finished The Right Color by Eve Ashcraft (2/5). This is a fairly shallow book that has some useful tips about using color in the home. As some of the Amazon reviewers have pointed out, the book reads something like an advertisement for the author's paint line. This is mainly due to the fact that about a quarter of the pages are devoted to brief descriptions and large swatches of colors from the authors (quite attractive) color line.

Despite all that, I am glad that I read the book. If, like me, you are rather intimidated by color, it is useful to see examples of color combinations chosen by someone who has an eye for color, and it cannot be denied that Eve Ashcroft has an eye for color (although perhaps not amazing enough to justify her self-congratulatory introduction). Although I came away from the book with very little increase in my knowledge of how to choose "The Right Color", I did come away feeling that color could be exciting and dramatic without being overwhelming.

Specific tips from the book that I found useful:
  • Dark grey / black can make for interesting interior window frames; these colors can actually distract from the landscape less than white.
  • Lighting should be part of your color plan.
  • Rooms can be seen from other rooms. This is an opportunity to layer colors.
    • In particular, you might paint a small, transitory space, such as a pantry or entry, a bolder color than rooms you spend more time in since your eyes catch them in passing.
    • Connecting spaces such as halls and stairways should connect the colors at either end.
  • Utility rooms can be livened up with a cheerful color.
  • If you want a punch of color without painting the whole room, try painting inside a closet or the inside / back of bookshelves or painting the ceiling.
  • Use color to distinguish or blend architectural features such a lowered soffit or a column. I particularly like the idea of painting a lowered soffit a different color.
  • Keep a catalog of all the colors you use in a home including name, brand, date, paint chips, room, finish, method of application, and contractor. 
  • Keep a touch-up kit for all of the colors in your home. This should include small mason jars of paint with the brand, color number and name, finish, room, and date. Store in a cool dry place. Use a q-tip to do touch-ups.
Specific things that I want to remember:
  • Satin black could be an interesting choice for our stairs
  • I am currently leaning toward teal blues, wine reds, and greys for a unifying color scheme. Comparables in Ashcroft's line are, from darker to lighter:
    • Teal blues: tide, marine, glass
    • Wine reds: pomegranate, tulip
    • Greys: wool, urn, chalk, mouse (?)

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Finished Your Green Home: A Guide to Planning a Healthy, Environmentally Friendly New Home by Alex Wilson (3/5). This is a must read for anyone building a home (it could also be useful for renovations, but it focuses on construction). It describes what a green home is and best practices for making a home green. This book deserves a better score than 3/5, and it would have given it one if I had read it a year ago; however, one year into building my own green home, I was already familiar with most of the material presented.

When you think of a green home, you might think of the visible things: solar power, low VOC paints, energy efficient appliances, green roof, etc. These things do make a home greener, but the largest environmental impacts of a home are energy and material use. A huge house that leaks energy isn't going to be very green no matter how many green features are slapped onto it. A truly green home is so much more. 

Before I go into details, a caveat. As Wilson emphasizes, a home doesn't need to have all these features to be considered green. A home should take into account as many features as is practical. Every house is, in many ways, bad for the environment. A green house is simply a house that is less bad for the environment, and any amount of less bad is valuable.

The first thing to consider is where and how much to build. Infill development is going to be greener than developing pristine land. Smaller homes are, due to their smaller energy and material use, inherently greener than larger homes. Homes in walkable communities are greener than homes that require you to frequently drive longer distances. 

Having decided where to build, the next most important thing is to build an energy efficient home that minimizes material use. There is an alignment in goals here. Material minimizing framing techniques, such as advance framing, use less wood, and less wood in walls generally means greater thermal efficiency. 

An energy efficient home should be well insulated and air tight (with a mechanical air exchange system). Windows should be efficient and placed so as to provide appropriate solar gain -- in the Pacific Northwest, as in many moderate climates, appropriate means getting as much sun as possible in the winter while trying to minimize solar gain in the summer. Of course, energy efficiency also means choosing efficient appliances, lighting, etc.

Energy efficiency is the single most important thing that can be done to make a house green. A "boring" traditional home with standard appliances, materials, etc., will run circles around a super modern house with all sorts of cool green features if the traditional home is energy efficient and the modern home is not. Over the lifetime of a home, energy efficiency trumps everything.

However, water is becoming an increasingly precious resource, and Wilson indicates that water conservation is soon going to be a big thing in green home construction. Water conservation techniques involve using efficient appliances and landscaping that does not require a lot of additional water. Wilson also mentions greywater, rainwater harvesting, and storm water management.

One of my favorite water conservation features is one that is invisible but increases comfort: decreasing the amount of time that people have to wait for hot water. When hot water has to push cold water out of pipes, the cold water is wasted. Adding to the problem, the hot water remaining in the pipes after use will cool and waste energy. This waste can be reduced by insulating pipes, circulating hot water (on demand is more energy efficient than constant circulation), or, for low flow faucets, having narrower pipes go directly from the water heater to the faucet.

As briefly as I have been covering the book's contents, I am going to even more briefly mention that Wilson covers renewable energy, green materials and products, and minimizing indoor pollution (e.g., from paint, mold, etc.). He also has a chapter on the cost of green building an d a great chapter on minimizing construction waste through a combination of reducing waste and recycling; given the amount of materials that go into a house, this is a vital part of making a house green. 

As I said, this is a really good book, and one that you should read if you ever are looking into building a green home. My learning curve would have been much less steep if I had had this book a year ago. As Wilson makes clear, a lot of the features that make a home more green also make it more comfortable and cheaper to live in (but not to build). Even if you don't want to build an explicitly green home, you could still get a lot of good ideas from this book.
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Jeff and I are moving which means lots of free stuff!
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Finished Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes (3/5). This short book gives a fairly thorough overview of the history of Christmas. If you have any of the annual articles about Christmas and its history, you'll likely have heard some (but not all!) of what Forbes mentions. Forbes does a good job of showing how Christmas, even though a Christian holiday, has always co-existed, often uneasily, with non-religious celebrations. 

Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was that Christmas as we know it is just as manufactured a holiday as modern Valentine's day. Before the mid-19th century, Christmas was a religious holiday that some people observed and others did not -- Forbes compared it to Epiphany. In the US, many Protestants intentionally deemphasized Christmas. As a secular holiday, Christmas was, in large part, a big party for adults with only minor emphasis on gifts and family. Most of the trappings of a "traditional" Christmas were missing or much smaller scale.

However, between the mid-19th century a movement started to intentionally transform the holiday into a family and gift oriented one, and by the early 20th century, the holiday had taken on more or less the form we recognize today. But even that transformation was not that radical -- Christmas has been, like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up and shedding traditions throughout its whole hisotyr.

Definitely an interesting read for those interested in the history of Christmas.
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Finished The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (3/5). This book contains interesting ideas presented in a sometimes ranty, sometime repetitive, and sometimes rambly manner. Overall, I enjoyed it, but I would not necessarily recommend it.

Taleb's topic of discussion was the black swan: those events that are not amenable to statistical modeling, at least not the common sort of statistical modeling that assumes that the domain being modeled has gaussian properties. They are highly unpredictable, high impact events, especially those that everyone, after the fact, thinks were perfectly predictable, Taleb spends much the book defining the black swan (and a good portion of it going on about why he likes or dislikes particular intellectuals). Beyond the definition, he comes back time and again to two points.

First, black swans are often just a matter of perception. A particular prediction may seem "safe" because the risks are assumed to be so unlikely that they can be ignored. When that "so unlikely" scenario occurs, it's occurrence is a black swan to those who assumed it would never happen. But to those who did not discount the risk so readily, it's what Taleb calls a grey swan -- still unpredictable, but not completely out of the blue.

Second, in a world riddled with black swans, a world that is not nearly as tidy and predictable as people would like to see it, what is the best strategy for dealing with risk? To answer this question, it helps to observe that black swans are often asymmetric: either the the maximum positive or maximum negative impact swamps the other. People who are trying to play it safe often try to avoid things with a large positive upside -- those are the things we traditionally call risky -- and instead inadvertently end up relying on those things with a large but invisible negative downside.

Taleb recommends switching this mentality: Be on the lookout for negative risks that are being waved away as too unlikely and avoid those things. Instead, put more resources into the higher risk, higher reward scenarios. In other words, don't look for moderate risk bets -- in practice they may be hidden high risk bets. Instead, split yourself between super safe bets (which, in reality are still riskier than you would expect) and bets with high risk and big potential payoff. You'll actually end up more moderate on average than taking the bets that seem moderate but really are not.

I don't know if that's a good strategy, but it's certainly an intriguing one to think about. And that really sums up my feelings about this book: I'm not sure if it's good, but it was intriguing.

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Finished Twelve Kingdoms: Skies of Dawn by Fuyumi Ono (3/5). If you've seen the Twelve Kingdoms anime series and wondered what in the world was going on in the last story arc, then you should read this book. Beyond that, I don't have much to say. This was an enjoyable piece of fiction. The editing of the Tokyo Pop translation left some things to be desired (e.g., sometimes characters went by multiple names and the wrong name was  used), but not so much to significantly impact my enjoyment of the story.

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Erika RS

May 2012

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