Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book 11: It really made me think about how I really think.

When I was a junior in college I took a Logic class. I really liked it, even if it was on a level of abstraction that I have trouble dealing with -- not quite as abstract as pure math, but getting there.

Not much in life is logical, really, and not much of what people think is logical, either, in the purest sense of the word.  Logic is the philosophical study of valid reasoning, and almost nobody engages in valid reasoning about anything, it seems sometimes. We engage in reasoning all the time, but whether the way we do so is actually logical is open to question.

I don't often get a chance to think in such abstract ideas, anymore. That's one of the few good things about college life: the time and ability to think and engage in abstractions. As a lawyer, I argue all the time, but it's rarely about abstract notions; lawsuits are glued to the concrete: they are made up of people who did things, and the facts of a lawsuit matter as much as, if not far more than, the rules by which the lawsuit is governed. And then, when I do get a chance to discuss abstract concepts and how they relate to a given situation, the result is almost always disappointing. When people grapple with abstract concepts applied to real life, we muck it up and take away the clean symbolism that I loved so much about logic, the if this then that type of reasoning.

I deal with this every day in court -- I have to argue for judges to make rulings in vague areas of law with little guidance; much of what I practice is relatively obscure, little-used laws and regulations, and even more of it deals with ambiguous, hard-to-define concepts: equity, unconscionability, public policy. I spent a few hours the other day helping write a brief on whether a laptop is a place -- such that a person could expect privacy in it.

Real life is Silly Putty, bendy and stretchy and picking up things it glances up against; logic is a clean white piece of paper under a glass case.  So it's nice sometimes to step away from arguing what a place might be in the law, and just think about how we argue.

An Illustrated Book Of Bad Arguments let me do just that over the past day and a half. This book was a Valentine's gift from Sweetie; I took (most of) the day off from work on Friday to celebrate an early Valentine's, as spending time together is a lot easier when the boys are in school. We saw Deadpool and ate burgers for lunch and hung out a bit and then went out for dinner that night; we were going to go someplace fancy but by the time we got there, the wait was an hour, so we went to Perkins. I wholeheartedly support any restaurant that serves breakfast around the clock.)(The Perkins is pretty near our house and we go there most of the few times we go out to eat.  Sweetie likes to go there, she says, "because it's never very busy." I like to point out that the very reason she likes it is why it might not be there forever.)

The book itself is very short, but packs a lot of thinking into it. I read it in bits and pieces over the whole day, because each page is worth thinking about for a while, to see if I do these things and to recognize them in others.  The book sets out various ways that people engage in bad -- i.e., illogical, invalid -- arguments, with each example written in just a few paragraphs and in language that's easy to understand.

Then there are illustrations that help drive home the point of each invalid type of argument.

Some of the invalid arguments I was already familiar with: straw man and slippery slope are things that come up in my practice a lot -- many times my opponents argue that a court doing whatever it is I ask them to do would present a slippery slope, an argument I hate; the essence of the slippery slope argument is that one thing leads to another and another and that there will be no stopping if you let the first event happen. I think that's silly, and frequently am critical of courts or legislators that engage in such argument.  The fact that men can marry other men does not automatically mean that we will allow men to marry their endtables; society has had the ability to put on the brakes in numerous tricky areas.

Straw men are harder to spot and thus more effective: take an argument that sounds similar to what your opponent is suggesting, but which is ridiculous, and then defeat that ridiculous argument. So when I argue that, say, a car dealer should pay damages for defrauding my client, my opponent is likely to say something like So any car dealer who says anything about the merits of the car is going to get sued? That's a ridiculous argument, and not one I made. Of course it would be absurd to sue every salesman who in any way pointed out a merit of the thing he was selling. But that's not what I was arguing; I was saying that this salesman who said this, false thing, should pay damages.  It's hard to argue that someone who lied shouldn't be sued, but far easier to argue that it's not fair to sue everyone who says anything.

Other arguments I hadn't thought about but recognized them once I'd read. My favorite was the No True Scotsman -- the act of redefining your group once an example has invalidated your thesis.  No lawyer would ever make outrageous statements to the press about a case before trial. "That guy said his client is so innocent that Jesus is his character witness." No ETHICAL lawyer would... etc.  People do that all the time -- especially with the that's the exception that proves the rule argument, where someone confronted with an example of something that contradicts what they've just said simply says oh well that contradiction proves my point.

(In reality, the exception proves the rule actually means that if there is an exception that exists, then the corresponding rule must also exist. So if you see a sign that says "Swimming on this beach is allowed from 10 to 2," you might infer that there is a rule against swimming elsewhere, or at other times: the exception to the unknown rule helps show that a rule exists.)

Some of the examples helped back up a few pet peeves of mine -- take the Fermi Paradox, an argument that drives me batty. The Fermi Paradox says that based on what we know about the universe, there should be many stars out there with intelligent life orbiting them; since we have never seen such signs, Fermi said, a paradox exists: The universe should be teeming with intelligent life, but appears not to be.

That argument is so specious it makes my teeth hurt, and An Illustrated Book Of Bad Arguments helps show, logically, why it's so bad.  The Fermi Paradox uses an Appeal To Ignorance, suggesting that the lack of proof something doesn't exist is proof that the thing does exist .  Since there is no proof, Fermi said, that other stars don't easily form life-supporting planets, they must exist. But an absence of proof cannot form proof itself.

The argument is also a Hasty Generalization: such a logical flaw occurs when you take evidence from limited sources and apply it to a larger group: Everyone on the bus thinks Trump is a bonehead, so he's got no chance of getting elected.  In Fermi's case, he had as a sample the extremely miniscule ability we've had to survey only a tiny portion of space, as well as our still-very-limited knowledge of how life can form and exhibit intelligence; he also is aware of only one type of lifeform that has demonstrated a capacity for, and willingness to, communicate with other planets; but from that one sample he concludes that all other intelligent life in the universe must want to explore space and communicate with other lifeforms. Consider how rare it is that an organism wants to voluntarily interact with another species on our planet -- do wild animals frequently come up to your door to ask your opinion on things? Why would you assume that all organisms want to act like humans?

That's the kind of thing reading this book does: it gives you a greater understanding of the sorts of underlying metalaws that make up our society; learning how to argue (or how not to, in this case) helps you understand the structure of a discussion, and more critically appraise it. I plan on keeping the book on my desk and re-reading it frequently.

You can actually read the entire book online for free here if you'd like. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Book 10: Authors be referencin', I be dreading the eventual demise of all that is good and right in the the world, brought low by this terrible book.

For the first time in a long time, I have hate read a book.

It's hard to know where to begin with the many many things I disliked about Armada: The Novel, so I'm going to just list them as quickly as I can.

1. You can't kill off a character 3 or 4 or a jillion times to create sympathy.
2. If you're going to do a remake add something to it for God's sake.
3. We get it you like pop culture and also you want to create artificial feelings of nostalgia/kinship.
4. Maybe you should've named the book "I Pre-Sold The Movie And Videogame Rights"
5. There's a twist! No wait there's TWO twists! No wait there's a hundred twists!
6. Gross.
7. F*** Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

*phew* That'll do for starters.  I wanted to like Armada: The Franchise Builder, because Ready Player One, Ernest Cline's first book, had turned out to be a pleasant surprise. But much like those Disney cartoons that get rolled out quickly to take advantage of a hot market -- The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2?-- Armada: The Cash-In was mostly a bunch of dreck foisted off on readers.

Having made my list, let me stick to that order and meander around just how terrible this book is.  To begin with, I'll discuss the fake ways of jerking someone's emotions around that Cline resorts to. SPOILERS ABOUND here, but nothing you won't see coming a million miles away anyway, so don't worry.

The book is about a kid -- I honestly don't remember his name; I'm pretty sure they said what it was, but that's how cardboard and forgettable the main character is-- whose dad "died" when he was 1, and the kid has been growing up missing him and listening to a mixtape his dad left behind and also watching all his dad's old VHS tapes of movies that he left behind too. But mostly missing him. Dad died! OMG! But then the kid finds out his dad WASN'T dead after all he was just living on the dark side of the moon ready to defend Earth from aliens (Seriously.) So the kid reunites with his dad, only to have to take part in an alien battle over Antarctica (this is way dumber even than it sounds) with Dad and a couple of great videogamers. (Seriously.) In this battle, Dad decides that he has to kamikaze his starfighter into an alien Whatchamajigger that defuses drones or something -- where the book isn't videogame technobabble it's just pure nonsense that tries hard to sound like science -- and the kid gets all torn apart when dad crashes his plane into the Thingamajig. OMG Dad's dead and I only just met him!

Then, HONESTLY, it TURNS OUT DAD EJECTED AT THE LAST SECOND hooray he's alive! Only his pod is missing and sunk in the ocean and kid is again despondent and going to let his own starfighter sink in the water. BUT WAIT DAD'S POD IS RIGHT BELOW HIS JET. (Seriously.) Kid grabs him with robot arms and is going to save him but OH NO DAD'S EYES ARE CLOSED AND HIS FACE IS BLOODY AND PALE AGAINST THE GLASS HE'S DEAD AGAIN oh no sorry he's got a pulse.

This goes on for a while, including later in the book where Dad "dies" like three times invading his own base. At the very end, when kid is looking at a statue of dad I expected it to come alive and then die again.

The entire book is made up of cheap emotional ploys like that. People fall instantly in love, turn out to be superloyal for no reason, turn on each other as traitors and then turn out to be okay, get enraged at the drop of the hat and then are hugging, and then in one gross scene everyone starts having sex just before the aliens invade. SERIOUSLY.  It's like Cline was rolling a dice every page to pick an emotion his characters would feel, and then cramming it in somehow.

Which brings me to point 3, skipping point 2 for a second.  I mentioned dice. So does Cline, who manages to reference dice, including 10-sided and 20-sided dice, at random intervals. He also mentions D&D and I think a few other RPGs. Plus he references most popular videogames from 1977 on. Plus he makes reference to every single scifi or fantasy movie in the last forty years, numerous times.  Not just numerous times. A NAUSEATING number of times. In one paragraph near the end, as the characters are getting ready to battle, one of the characters says May the Force be with us. Then another one comes up with Theoden's battle cry from Lord of The Rings (I had to look it up.) Then another says some battle cry from They Live. In ONE paragraph. This is what the entire book is like. Seemingly every line is directly ripped off/quoted/referenced to some movie or book or role-playing game, to the point where the ones that didn't immediately ring a bell felt suspect. It was like reading a mashup of every book ever written. At one point the characters debate a kind of weapon that was in the Dune movie but not the book -- and then discuss that, too. It felt like a challenge: How many scifi movies can you name on a single page?

There's really no reason for that level of excess.  A reference or two here or there is fine, especially if your main character is obsessed with the 80s or something.  Too much of it feels forced and this level of it just becomes annoying. It's not only a cheap way to try to create a feeling in people, but eventually it makes the entire book feel like a lame version of Trivial Pursuit,

Then again, the book is a lame version of every other story like this already.  (This is point #2, now, about remakes.)  Ready Player One took the standard man goes into videogame storyline and made it feel a bit fresher because the characters were likeable, the puzzles were interesting, and the concept of an artificial reality was so well fleshed out. It was nostalgic yet fun at the same time, and it was it's own creation -- sort of the way Cheap Trick did such a great job on Don't Be Cruel.

I always hold up that song as the ideal remake: faithful to the original concept but putting the band's own spin on it.

I don't mind remakes, sequels, similar stories, whatever, so long as they're good and add something. The Harry Potter books told the same story, really, as The Magicians, which told the same story really as the Narnia books, but each brought their own flair to it.  So I enjoyed all three.

Armada: The Waste Of Time so directly rips off The Last Starfighter that it might as well be called The Last Starfighter 2: Electric Boogaloo.  The basic plot is: there are two video games that mimic an alien invasion, and they are superpopular. Turns out the videogames are actually trainers for people to learn to really fight aliens, and the best of them get to be in the Earth Defense Army or something -- including the kid who tells the story, and he's like number 5 in the entire world -- with only his dad and three other actual army guys ahead of him.

That's not just the plot of The Last Starfighter but Iron Eagle and a bunch of other movies, which might not be so bad if Cline -- through the narrator -- didn't say as much, and also if Cline had in any way improved on the plot or made it seem fresh or interesting. He doesn't. He just goes through the exact motions you expect the thing to go through, hitting points A, B, and C on the outline of this story. It's a paint-by-numbers novel that would have been boring except that I hated it so much. My reading was fueled by rage.

 This book could've been written by a computer, and reads like it was: feed in a basic plot, hook the computer up to a couple websites, and it will spit this book back out.  So why follow up a good-not-great surprise hit like Ready Player One with basic drone hackwork like this? I could guess that Cline maybe got a bit lucky and wrote over his skill level on Ready Player One, or I could guess instead that Cline is simply cashing in, the way Steve Carell made Evan, Almightyi: not because it was good, but because he was hot right then and wanted to get paid.  The movie rights to Armada: The Quick Buck were sold before any part of the book was written; Universal bought them based on a 20-page proposal. This book feels like it was written simply to meet a contractual expectation, and that's because it was.  To give you an idea of how low Cline was aiming, before the book was even written the Armada: The Direct To Video Movie rights were assigned to the director who had made Battleship.

That was point 2 melding into point 4. So by this point, you're probably asking what Sweetie asked me all week, too: Why are you reading this? I would sit and drink my coffee in the morning and then start ranting about whatever piece of hack drivel I'd just read.  I told her: I was hate reading it, and I was, but only... ONLY... to find out what the twist was.

Like I said, on nearly every page Cline telegraphs the twist in the book.  It might as well have been called "M. Night Shymalan Presents Armada: Bruce Willis Is Dead All Along," for all the subtlety this book has. Every page is laden with foreboding that would make a Twilight Zone episode complain about how obvious the twists were.

The twists that are telegraphed include: the obvious fact that the videogames are training people or testing people for something; that the kid's boss at the videogame shop is obviously a front for something; that the kid's dad is still alive; that the kid is going to be instrumental in helping fight off the invasion; that Earth really does have a moon base.  All of these might as well have been chapter headings.  Cline obviously gauged his readers' intelligence at around -2.  But there's a big twist coming at the end of the book, one that is hinted at about every three pages or so and then directly addressed once a chapter, and I was reading solely to find out what the twist was.

Here are my guesses along the way for what the big twist was:

1. The kid is a clone of his dad being raised by his own mom/former wife.
2. The kid's dad is actually the alien leader they're getting ready to fight.
3. The KID is actually the alien leader they are getting ready to fight.
4. The kid was knocked out and this is all a dream. (SERIOUSLY, there are hints that this is what's going on.)
5. All of humanity is actually a big videogame.
6. At the end the aliens would reference Wargames and say The only winning move is not to play.

The big twist, then, turned out to be a lamer version of number 6.  In the end -- spoilers, if anyone is still planning on hate-reading this themselves-- the aliens didn't really want to fight. They wanted to test humanity to see if humanity was ready to join the universe.

That's already a South Park episode and it was a lot funnier there.  But that's the twist: the aliens put a giant swastika on Europa and goaded Richard Nixon into dropping a nuke into Europa's oceans, then declared war on humanity to see if humanity would fight back or try to make peace.  The aliens then keep escalating the war (while making sure that humans get hold of their alien tech to use) in order ot see if the humans will try to wipe them out or will make peace.  When the kid and his dad figure it out and manage to beat the entire alien army and the entire human army and then make peace, humanity is accepted into the universe, and humanity just sort of shrugs off the 30,000,000 or so people that were killed by the aliens in getting to that point.

That's the plot, and the twist: Some aliens used one of the most horrifying symbols in human history to goad humanity into attacking, then declared war on us when we did, all to see if we would fight back or surrender, and by surrendering -- by deciding not to play, a la Wargames -- we won.


Oh and is a sequel in the works? YOU BET: at the end the kid decides he's had enough of war and aliens and goes back to work at the videogame shop, and cancer is cured and we have fusion energy and everything's great, and then on like the second-last page the kid says oh wait I think I want to be an ambassador to the aliens and see if I can maybe figure out why they did this weird trick and maybe get an adventure or something. Armada 2: The Rearmada-ing I'm sure is being dribbled out by some brain-dead laptop in a Starbucks in Texas while Ernest Cline swims in his room full of coins like Scrooge McDuck.

 That leaves just 6 and 7 to wrap up.  6 was Gross. I mentioned the other day how Cline threw in a paragraph where the kid admits having the Oedipal hots for his mom, and we've already been told how his mom thinks he's the spitting image of his dad at the age his dad died, so I was figuring we were maybe one chapter away from me having to go to confession just for reading the book, but Cline swung away from that. He did have everyone in the moon base start having sex while the kid and his dad were in an abandoned area talking about how the aliens were actually maybe not trying to kill the humans, and then he mentions that in between waves of the invasion the kid tried to call his dad only to get no answer and then dad finally picks up the videophone and basically says he was just having sex with the kid's mom and the kid is all yeah who could blame him.  I'm no prude but every time sex came up, it was just squeegy in this book. It was like Cline was under orders to include something about sex so he tried to do it in weird ways.  It wasn't quite as bad as Stephen King's orgy of 12 year olds in a sewer in It but it was still weirdly out of place and strangely presented.

Point 7 is F*** Neil De Grasse Tyson. He makes an appearance here at the end on some science council or something. Neil De Grasse Tyson one of the most annoying people alive today. Putting him in here was the basest form of sucking up to a guy who should be roundly ignored for being such a douche. Putting Neil De Grasse Tyson into something kills it for me. If I had won the 1.5 billion Powerball a few weeks ago but had to collect the money from Neil De Grasse Tyson, I would think seriously about turning down the prize, and I would never quite enjoy the money. That was like the final insult in this book: Neil De Grasse Tyson turning up to spit on the hollow corpse of my previous enjoyment of Cline's writing.

AVOID this book. If you see it, throw garlic or holy water at it or something. I'm just sad I stuck it out because now it will probably be in my mind for the rest of my life. I will forget pleasant sunny days with the boys, nights watching the stars with Sweetie, delicious meals; my mind will lose track of so much beauty and so much light and so much love -- but I know this colossal farce of a book will somehow lodge itself in my mind, to torment me in the small hours of my old age, popping up with is ridiculous premise and Potemkin plot, its lame one-liners and sad, sorry attempts at pop culture relevance through simple name-checking of better, smarter books and movies. The terrible weight of the hours I spent reading this book will drag my once-bright soul down to the Styxian waters of despair, leaving me to turn my tormented face to the sky and howl with rage at the cruelties of fate -- a fate I brought on myself by reading this book.

I wonder if I need to notify OSHA about this (I Get Paid For Doing This)

This my home office:

And while it's a great place to work, it faces south. This means that in winter, the sun is low on the horizon and there are no trees to block the glare. Since my window doesn't have blinds (and since blinds would block out all the sun entirely and I would be working in a dark cavern all day), I use a picture of Frankenstein Mr Bunches made. Periodically I have to stop what I'm doing, stand up, and move the picture a bit to the right in order to keep blocking the sun.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Yeah but I did waste a lot of time looking for my paper screwdriver.

I had to put together the new bedframes we bought for Mr F and Mr Bunches last week, and the instruction manual completely accurately gauged the general handiness/intelligence of people, like me, who would be trying to assemble these things.

They told what tools you would need to do the job,including a screwdriver and hammer, and included diagrams of each in case you weren't entirely sure what those were...

And then, in case you were still a little unsure, they noted of the hammer diagram:

So that you didn't spend all your time searching your toolbox for your miniature hammer.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I like this joke a lot and nobody ever actually reads anything on Twitter so I'm just posting it here too

Alex Cavanaugh posted:

So I said

Also shirts like these are all now ironic, I think?

To anyone who's ever said "Muffins are just cake!"

... I had a Jelly Doughnut Muffin this morning:

Monday, February 08, 2016

Book 9: What makes a good teacher? Probably a good student.

Writing nonfiction is kind of like trying to be a good teacher. I know this because I in fact frequently write nonfiction, in the form of seminar materials, my law blog, and now a book about debt collector secrets. It's harder than most people might think, to be a good teacher. For one thing, you've got to know ridiculous amounts of stuff about the subject you are teaching. For another, you've got to be able to present it in an interesting way.

That latter part, I think, can't be overlooked.  I think a lot about how I was really a poor student throughout most of my schooling, until I got to law school. When I was younger (so much younger than today) I would blame my teachers for gaps in my education and/or the fact that I hadn't become a scientist or whatever. If they'd made it more interesting, I thought, I'd have learned more. That's only partially true. Teachers can't be blamed for students who don't try, and I was a student who never really tried until late in the game. It was easy enough for me to get good grades without working at it, so why work at it?

So I bear some of the blame for not learning, but not too much because, after all, I was ages 5-17, and between the ages of 5 and 17 people are basically morons. Even the smartest of us was as dumb as a box of hammers at 17, technically speaking. Whatever you might have known and however intelligent you might be, you didn't know much of anything about the world, people, what life could be like, and most importantly, what good an education was.

We waste education on the young, really. We throw all kinds of things at them in all the wrong ways, forcing kids to sit still and listen much of the time, making them read terrible awful boring things (I have seen what the kids have been assigned, for two decades, to read. OH GOD IT'S TERRIBLE.) We thrown memorization at them and concepts taken out of context and we rarely make learning fun or interesting or relevant.

Everytime a kid says, or said, What are we ever going to use this for? that was the kid, the teacher, and our whole system failing. I can distinctly remember sitting in math class, one of the classes where I had to really fight just to understand it (I passed college algebra by simply memorizing things), bored and confused and struggling to understand the basics. Yet when I used to go jogging, I would help distract myself from how hard it was by trying to calculate how many extra laps I would have to do to go the same distance on the innermost, rather than outermost, lap. I've read a bunch of books about math and related subjects since college, and enjoyed them all.

The problem was, I was being taught very specific kinds of math without any context whatsoever, and not being taught basic concepts or thoughts. It worked the same way with foreign languages, history, almost everything: here are some things you definitely have to know, school said, so memorize them.

I bring this all up because book 9 -- I figured it was time I got around to the subject-- is Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik. (You probably guessed that from the picture up there.)  It's a nonfiction book that explores material science by taking all the materials shown in a picture of the author having a cup of tea.  From that basic conceit, the author walks readers through boiled-down explanations of glass, carbon, concrete, chocolate, porcelain, and more. He explains, briefly and without a lot of mumbo-jumbo how these things came into existence, how they work, some of the more esoteric applications of them, and then how they helped shape society, and us.  There are interesting tidbits, like the section on concrete curing itself of cracks, or what the difference is between bone china and porcelain (basically: where they are made).

The book isn't dumbed down in any way, but it's accessible: Miodownik explains things clearly but you have to pay attention and think about things to understand and get a lot out of it -- and yet, most readers probably won't mind learning.  I got the book on audiobook a week ago and have been listening to it while I take Mr F for his rides, and then finished it up today in the car on a four-hour round trip.  Which means I have voluntarily taken about 10 hours worth of science class in the past week, and enjoyed it, and learned something in doing it.

What's most helpful about the book is that it doesn't get bogged down in the details, but teaches you just enough of the specifics to help you understand the larger concepts.  For example, I learned why it is that nanomachines can assemble themselves, while cars can't (gravity is not really a force on microscopic scales, while electromagnetic forces are, so gravity can't pull the nanomachines apart.) SEE? I learned why there are different kinds of chocolate and what happens if you heat a diamond up until it becomes red hot (it evaporates) as well as why that happens. Along the way, Miodownik sneaks in a bit of quantum mechanics, some astronomy, and more.  It's fascinating.

Miodownik as a writer is not particularly engaging; there was a rather lengthy section on plastics and celluloid written as a mock screenplay that I found kind of annoying in its concept -- but the information was overall presented in a format that allowed me to work past minor annoyances or distractions and still learn.

I had a few really good teachers as a student. I can remember the ones who were good as opposed to interesting. Some teachers were funny but terrible teachers. Others were smart but terrible teachers. The best ones were the ones who found a way to connect with students and get them to see why the material was engaging. I had an English teacher who so loved Charles Dickens that I can still see him acting out the role of Aged P in Great Expectations, but he also explained the larger themes running through Dickens so we could understand the story on a different level.  My criminal law professor called on me repeatedly because he knew I thought about the stuff a lot and that I disagreed with him on some things -- so he wanted to draw me out.  Those are two that spring to mind. Neither of them was particularly entertaining. They just understood that simply having cool information -- Charles Dickens' stories, criminal statutes -- wasn't enough, and being an entertainer wasn't enough. Teachers (and nonfiction writers) have to find a way to make people care about the subject, and to make the subject inviting.

In Stuff Matters, Miodownik does that. He takes a supercomplicated subject and opens the door by focusing not on esoteric applications, or the mathematical formulae that prove something, or the technical details (you won't learn how to make chocolate yourself), but by picking out things from everyday life -- a teacup, paper-- and showing how the basic thing came into existence, and what its existence means for the rest of society. I never thought about how the fact that paper being bound into a book made learning, and teaching, far easier than paper in a scroll, as it had been prior to binding. (The answer: with books in pages, you can mark a place and easily jump back and forth, so people like preachers could find passages in a bible more easily-- the precursor, as Miodownik explains, to "random access memory" for computers.)  That's the kind of stuff the book teaches.

I'm never going to be a materials scientist. But if I'd read this book at 15, or had a class that was like it, I might have given it some thought. It's an introduction not just to materials science, but to why we have to learn this stuff: if you know how paper is made you know why it took so long for us to make it and what it means that we can make it, as well as then how pens work (the ink bleeds into the paper, which is why pens can't be erased so easily, which then made me wonder about erasable pens, and how they work, so after I finished the book I went and looked it up, and found out I was wrong in my theory.)(My theory was that the ink doesn't bleed into the paper right away, but in reality erasable pens have ink that disappears when heated by the friction of the eraser.)

SEE? It not only taught me a bunch but made me wonder about something else, form a hypothesis, and then check it out. It taught me science.

Anyway, that's enough blather. I'm a bit disjointed because I did, after all, drive four hours to and from a thing today. The book is really a very interesting book; not the greatest nonfiction book I've read recently (that honor goes to What If? by Randall Munroe) but still one that should be added to your list if you have even the most cursory interest in science.


I'm working my way through Armada by Ernest Cline and as I reached Chapter 4 I thought the worst thing about it was that it repeatedly had the character believe he was hallucinating the strange events that happened at the start of the book -- a hacky cliche that should be retired -- but then I came to this paragraph:

My mother was also ridiculously beautiful. I know people are supposed to say things like that about their mothers, but in my case it happened to be a fact. Few young men know the Oedipal torment of growing up with an insanely hot, perpetually single mom.

Pretty much everybody over 16 is in then I guess.

I was watching Gone In 60 Seconds, and there came a part where Nicolas Cage's little brother wanted in on the heist. He had to give reasons why each guy should be in. One guy was good with electronics, one guy could hack Department of Motor Vehicles computers, and then there was this gy:

WAIT WHAT? That's all it takes? Literally everybody can be a gangster?

Sunday, February 07, 2016

This Lego Female Ghostbusters Set Would Only Seem Truly Complete If It Came With A Slobby Lego Minifigure Male Complaining That It Ruined His Childhood

Photo from Gizmodo, which to its creditDID just call them "ghostbusters."
I'm not one of those people who think something can 'ruin my childhood' by being remade in a crappy way. If you like the original, watch the original. If you want to see how Megan Fox and Ryan Reynolds look as The Godfather and Sonny Corleone, then that's your right (?)(I'm a little unclear on whether that's actually in the Constitution.)

So while I definitely don't side with the bros who complain that women in Ghostbusters uniforms will destroy society retroactively or whatever, I'm also a bit unclear on why everyone insists on referring to the team as the Female Ghostbusters. I mean, isn't that just one step up from Waitress vs Waiter? We don't refer to Bill Murray as "a male Ghostbuster." I think society won't truly be equal until we can just call someone a ghostbuster without designating whether they are a ghostbuster or a female ghostbuster.

That, and we should stop cops from freely gunning down black kids, and while we're at it, stop  letting billionaires get rich at the expense of everything else. I'd have mentioned those first but I think the whole just be a Ghostbuster thing is at least doable.