Saturday, December 8, 2012

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

If you know his name, all I have to say is "He's got another book out."  This is the author of "Fooled by Randomness" and "The Black Swan."

I'm not finished with Antifragile yet, but I can tell you that it's a rant.  The good thing about it is that it's his third book. He doesn't have to prove anything and he lets his hair down and just blasts at anything he doesn't like.  And that makes it rather fun.

Despite the fact that he seems to have met Stuart Kauffman, he doesn't seem to realize that 'antifragility' is pretty similar in concept to self-organization and self-assembly.  Self-assembly requires an energy source like the buffeting of random inputs that he describes.  Everything he talks about that is antifragile is really self-organizing--that's how it retains its recognizable shape in a turbulent environment.

Really this manuscript should have been passed through the Santa Fe Institute crowd (not that they've produced anything notable since Langton's Ant), but that would have cut the legs out from under it.

One thing I like about Taleb is that he's the complete reverse of many of the authors whose books I've read about markets.  I've read entirely too many (planning to read more) books by academics about the stock market.  Taleb is a stock market technician who made good, now bailed out of that field and using his one toolbox on the rest of the world.  And he hates intellectuals and philosophers who don't have any experience in the areas that they talk about.  Of course.

I have the feeling that I'd find him quite charming in person, but this book makes me want to shake him and yell "Get over yourself!"

Monday, August 20, 2012

not without some Pitiliness....

Jorge Luis Borges on maps:

On Exactitude in Science . . . In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Suarez Miranda,Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV,Cap. XLV, Lerida, 1658
From Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, Translated by Andrew Hurley Copyright Penguin 1999 .

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"Bitter Seeds" and "The Coldest War" by Ian Tregillis

If you love literature, get these books.  The second one is just out in hardcover and is totally worth the hardcover price.  If you like monsters
versus wizards, you will find that here, but be prepared for
spectacular prose.  Warning, there's a third volume that the publisher
has scheduled for mid-2013.  These are self-contained novels with
endings, though. Not like a lot of what one sees.

Speaking as a writer, I tell you that this is a writer who can handle
exquisitely everything that he assays here.  That's rare.  As a species we tend to put our best foot forward.  I'm not sure this guy has a less-best foot at all.

Imagine a 19th century literary novelist with the delicacy of a
Nabokov, the sledgehammer of a Jennifer Levin, and the effortless
style of a Chandler or a Salinger.  Maybe not so effortless.
He's so good that it's a bit effort intensive at least on my part
as a reader.  He will make you think.  He will make you question
what is right.

He's got the epic stage of World War II.  He's got a classic
British spy novel with a madman worthy of Mary Shelley.  He's got
the handful of dregs, the final generation, of English warlocks
forced out of hiding by a minor aristocrat whose grandfather was
a warlock.  They are all that stand between civlization and the
monsters.  They are a handful of old men.

Initially innocent evil supermen created (with suitable horror) as weapons
by the Nazis.  English warlocks who really should (and did) know
better than to....

The idea of the Enochian language is a favorite of mine and it is a
thread that Tregillis weaves through the books.  I first learned
of it when I was collecting unusual fonts.  Need I say "John Dee?"

Spoilers Below

He has situations such as: We took X course of action, which was
morally wrong, but appeared the lesser of two evils.  It may have
been the lesser, but it has failed, and the consequences have
come home. What do we do now?

And this: The enemy precognitive (seer) has defected to us.  We know
the enemy's been getting increasingly unhappy with this person.  What
do we do?  The precognition has been proved.  Can we take *any*
course of action, given that we know that the precog exists, that is
not a part of some unknowable plan on the part of the precog?  Is it,
ummm, *okay* that our actions appear to lead ultimately to something
that the hostile and possibly insane precog wants?  "Ah, damn it!.
This is where the precog *learns* fact Y from us and transmits it
back...."  So it's a full classical time-travel story, too.  I find
classical time travel stories are like intricate mechanical puzzles
where everything depends on everything else.  If you're honest and
know what you're doing.

I think you'll have a lot of fun with these books.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Big Move

On May 29th, we're going to watch a team of movers load all our stuff
from the apartment and our self-storage locker.  On the 30th we're
going to drive our two cars, three cats, six birds and an uncountable
number of computers from Philadelphia, PA to Oneida, NY.  On the 31st,
our stuff will be delivered to our new apartment, where we will have a
lot more space for about 2/3 the rent we are paying here.

Oneida is upstate, between Syracuse and Utica. It has the virtue of
being on I90.  Yes, it is the ancestral home of Oneida silverware, the
Oneida "People of the Standing Stone" Native Americans, and the Oneida
religious community founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848.  It's a
pretty place, very rural, but not remote.  The residents complain
about traffic when there are more than two vehicles in sight.

The relocation (and its funding) are for Jen's new job as a primary
care physician.  It comes with relocation expenses, substantial
payment of her medical school debt, and eligibility for the New York
State Underserved Area medical loan repayment program.  She's already
spent a week up there learning the ropes and even seeing patients on
her own.  She went straight from med school into research and from
there into the pharmaceutical industry, so this is a major career
change for her.  She got very tired of being the person who had to
tell the marketing people "No, that research study does NOT let you
make that claim!"  Supposedly it's hard to get a medical licence in
New York, but they were the first state to licence her after she took
the national exam.

I will continue to work on my trading and develop software for Limelight Networks.  They cache and optimize video delivery for video-heavy web sites.