Guest Post

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't

Good Morning Everyone!  Today I have something special in the form of a guest post from my good friend Tom! Check it out:

The Signal and the Noise

Summary:

A non-fiction semi-manifesto by Nate Silver, famous founder of FiveThirtyEight and "statistical savant". Silver takes the reader on a journey through a brief history of human knowledge and information (from the printing press to the digital age), and how the "noise" is increasing exponentially over the past few centuries. The book then ventures into a detailed description, one per chapter, of multiple prediction fields. 

The subjects include areas of successful prediction (elections, weather, sports betting... for some), areas still struggling to master prediction (earthquakes, economics, financial market...for most), and finally delves into critical topics and the use of Bayes theorem as a guiding principle for areas such as global warming, epidemics/pandemics, and foreign conflicts/wars. Silver leaves the reader with guiding principles for navigating the digital age - for the sake of spoilers those are omitted from this review. (Summary and book cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This book is excellent - I will be reading it again. While the chapters covering the complex topics above are very detailed, Silver covers it in a palatable fashion. The book reads much like a conversation, just with someone who is remarkably intelligent. It is as much about data and numbers as it is about figuring out how the world works - and that doing so is very difficult.

Silver uses a line early on about being a fox versus a hedgehog.  To elaborate, a fox changes its approach based on outcomes and new information, whereas a hedgehog sticks to one thing. If there is one thing you can take away from this book, it is to never allow yourself to be "stuck in your ways". 

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Nerds! I say that with pride. Also anyone who believes that the bounty of information in the digital age can be used to produce better outcomes for society, but that navigating this gargantuan quantity of available content and data requires more cagey thinking and processing.

About the Guest Poster

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Name: Tom Moran

Why did you choose this book?

Silver's book triggered a shift in my philosophy about life, work, learning, and surviving in the information age. His "be a fox" (life strategy, not looks) mentality advocates using new information properly - consider the context, account for the info properly given the context, but don't overreact or disregard because it doesn't align with what you view as true. He identifies the trouble with many studies whose claims are not repeatable, the amazing prediction science involved in weather, climate change, politics, sports betting, and the troubles of predictions in areas such as economics, finance, earthquakes, among others. In short, Nate Silver is a rock star and it's worth getting greater insight into his view of the world. 

 What are your favorite books?

  • "The Signal and The Noise”
  • “Night, Man's Search for Meaning”
  • “Crashing Through”
  • “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” (read in 2007, well before the film added "127 Hours" to the title)
  • “The Tipping Point”
  • “Born to Run”
  • “The Checklist Manifesto”
  • “Flash Boys”
  • “Moneyball”
  • “Hatchet”

What are you reading now or what do you plan to read next?

Just finished “Nickel and Dimed”, moving on to “Devil in the White City”, and “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate”. 

Thank you Tom for the great guest post!  You read a lot more non-fiction/business than I do so this has inspired me to add some variety to my "To Be Read" list!

Longitude

Hello Everyone,

Today's I have something a little special in the form of a guest post by my dad!

Longitude

Summary:

Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that "the longitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day--and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

The scientific establishment of Europe--from Galileo to Sir Issac Newton--had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution--a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land. Longitude is a dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest and Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking, and opens a new window on our world. (Summary and book cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

I listened to an audiobook version of this book years ago and decided I would enjoy the print edition. I never bought it, but my daughter, host of this website, unknowingly gave me the 10th anniversary edition for Christmas. I immediately re-read it. 

Today if you want to know your location, you can pull out your phone and learn it within a few feet. Until the advent of GPS in 1995 (initially only for military use), the ships and aircraft of the world out of sight of land used substantially the same methods as were made possible by the invention of an accurate clock for use at sea by a self-trained carpenter in the late 18th century, John Harrison. Oversimplifying, for each second of time your navigation clock is off, your location will be off one quarter mile at the equator. (I confess my bias; I once trained in celestial navigation.) When Harrison accomplished what most of the scientists of the day thought was impossible and claimed the English prize worth approximately one million dollars today, he was met with denial. While he was ultimately awarded the cash, the full benefits of his achievement were not recognized until after his death. How many scientific discoveries today by outsiders are met by denial in the scientific establishment? This is the story of the resolution of the biggest enigma of the 17th and 18th centuries, the determination of longitude.  

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone with interest in the science, history and politics of knowing where they are in this earth.

ABOUT THE GUEST POSTER

John Gaither.jpg

Name: John Gaither

Why did you choose this book?

I listened to an audiobook version of this book years ago and decided I  would enjoy the print edition. I never bought it, but my daughter, host of this website, unknowingly gave me the 10th anniversary edition for Christmas.  I immediately re-read it.

What is your favorite book(s)?

This is a surprisingly tough question.  In recent years, it would be a tie between "The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building the Brooklyn Bridge" by David McCullough  and "Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation" by John Gertner, but on a day-to-day basis, I am likely to be reading the latest Prey or Virgil Flowers mystery by John Sanford. I keep coming back to "The Complete Sherlock Holmes" by Arthur Conan Doyle because it is so comfortable to dip into when I can't make up my mind on what to read.  Reflecting into the past, I enjoyed all of the Robert Heinlein novels, particularly "Glory Road", which is sort of out of step with the rest of his work.  Interestingly, my daughter, host of this website, started reading Heinlein 40 years later, totally independent of me.  

What are you reading now or what do you plan to read next?

Now: "The Carnage Account" by Ben Lieberman

Next:  "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution" by Walter Isaacson

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts dad and for Aaron recommending the book!

Lirael (Abhorsen #2)

Hello Everyone,

Today's I have something a little special in the form of a guest post by my long-time friend Megan Novak!

Summary: 

Lirael

Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Now, two years past the time when she should have received the Sight that is the Clayr's birthright, she feels alone, abandoned, unsure of who she is. Nevertheless, the fate of the Old Kingdom lies in her hands. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog, Lirael must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil.

In this sequel to Sabriel, winner of the Aurealis Award for Excellence in Australian Science Fiction, New York Times best-selling author Garth Nix weaves a spellbinding tale of discovery, destiny, and danger. (Summary and book cover courtesy of goodreads.com

Review:

I enjoyed the second book in the Abhorsen series, but not as much as the first and third.  Nix spends a significant amount of time developing the characters of Lirael and Sameth, and the book does not have quite as much action as the other two in the series (although there is some).  I felt that Sabriel and Abhorsen flowed a bit more smoothly, where at times in Lirael I grew tired of the character development and itched for the storyline to move on.

Overall, I enjoyed the read! One of my favorite aspects of Garth Nix’s writing is the way in which the magical world is presented realistically, in a way that seems like it just might be feasible.  Much of the information presented is helpful for further understanding the world of the Old Kingdom, and the themes of fate, destiny, and the juxtaposition of an old magical world next to a new modern one is thought provoking.

Warning: Some graphic horror imagery.

Rating: 4 stars! 

Who Should Read It?  Fans of fiction in a magical but not outlandish setting will enjoy this read, as well as fans of the Abhorsen series

Want to read the whole series?

About the Guest Poster

Novak_Picture.jpg

Name: Megan Novak

Why did you choose this book?

Because I enjoyed Sabriel immensely and was eager to read the second book in the series!

What is your favorite book(s)?

Impossible to choose, but the two books I read over and over are "Alice in Wonderland" and "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn".  (*Marisa adds to "To Read" list...*)

What are you reading now or what do you plan to read next?

Right now I am reading "Shift: by author Hugh Howey, Silo series #2.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts Megan!  It has been fun to re-discover this series through your eyes! I will be looking forward to more book thoughts in the future.