Archive for book review

waste tide

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2021 by xi'an

I presumably bought this book upon a suggestion made by the Amazon AI. It sounded quite original and interesting. And translated by Ken Liu. I had not seen the above cover, but it would have only helped. (And reminded me of the daunting and bittersweet Tales from the Loop.)

“None of this, of course, existed in the digital world. In their place were highly abstract algorithms and programs that turned the complicated messy world into a set of mathematical models and topological spaces. Like a real spiderweb, the web would be deformed by any insect that got caught into it, and the rate at which such deformation evolved exceeded the rate at which information might be transmitted under the restricted-bitrate regulations. In this world, the shortest path between two points was no longer the straight line.”

Waste Tide is immensely puzzling and definitely interesting. A Chinese form of Neuromancer…. With further links to the Windup Girl. The location of the novel is a near-future island in Guiyu, China. Where the World electric waste ends up, to be processed and recycled by “waste people”. Who are despised by the original inhabitants of the island. And exploited by clans and American companies. Several of the main characters find themselves torn between several cultures, but these characters often sound a bit too caricaturesque. Just like the take-over of a “waste girl” by a residual AI is somewhat clumsy. Far from the constructs of Neuromancer or Windup Girl.

Another interesting side of the book is the translation by Ken Liu, who also translated The Three Body Problem. As well as published short stories of his own. The preface warns about the multiple languages co-existing in China, beyond the most well-known Cantonese and Mandarin and the book includes footnotes about the proper pronunciation of some words.

handbook of mixture analysis [review]

Posted in Books, R, Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2021 by xi'an

“In my opinion, the editors have done an excellent job when selecting the contents of the handbook and putting the different chapters together. For instance, this can be appreciated by the fact that, despite the large number of authors and contributions, all chapters have kept the same notation. Furthermore, in addition to a sound description of the underlying theory and methods, several chapters include information about how to fit the presented models using the R programming language. However, I missed pointers to repositories to download the code and datasets for some of the examples used in the book. To sum up, this is an excellent reference book on mixture models.” Virgilio Gómez-Rubio, JRSS A, 2021

poems that solve puzzles [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2021 by xi'an

Upon request, I received this book from Oxford University Press for review. Poems that Solve Puzzles is a nice title and its cover is quite to my linking (for once!). The author is Chris Bleakley, Head of the School of Computer Science at UCD.

“This book is for people that know algorithms are important, but have no idea what they are.”

These is the first sentence of the book and hence I am clearly falling outside the intended audience. When I asked OUP for a review copy, I was more thinking in terms of Robert Sedgewick’s Algorithms, whose first edition still sits on my shelves and which I read from first to last page when it appeared [and was part of my wife’s booklist]. This was (and is) indeed a fantastic book to learn how to build and optimise algorithms and I gain a lot from it (despite remaining a poor programmer!).

Back to poems, this one reads much more like an history of computer science for newbies than a deep entry into the “science of algorithms”, with imho too little on the algorithms themselves and their connections with computer languages and too much emphasis on the pomp and circumstances of computer science (like so-and-so got the ACM A.M. Turing Award in 19… and  retired in 19…). Beside the antique algorithms for finding primes, approximating π, and computing the (fast) Fourier transform (incl. John Tukey), the story moves quickly to the difference engine of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, then to Turing’s machine, and artificial intelligence with the first checkers codes, which already included some learning aspects. Some sections on the ENIAC, John von Neumann and Stan Ulam, with the invention of Monte Carlo methods (but no word on MCMC). A bit of complexity theory (P versus NP) and then Internet, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix… Finishing with neural networks (then and now), the unavoidable AlphaGo, and the incoming cryptocurrencies and quantum computers. All this makes for pleasant (if unsurprising) reading and could possibly captivate a young reader for whom computers are more than a gaming console or a more senior reader who so far stayed wary and away of computers. But I would have enjoyed much more a low-tech discussion on the construction, validation and optimisation of algorithms, namely a much soft(ware) version, as it would have made it much more distinct from the existing offer on the history of computer science.

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version of it will eventually appear in my Books Review section in CHANCE.]

an elegant book [review]

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , on December 28, 2020 by xi'an

“Handbook of Mixture Analysis is an elegant book on the mixture models. It covers not only statistical foundations but also extensions and applications of mixture models. The book consists of 19 chapters (each chapter is an independent paper), and collectively, these chapters weave into an elegant web of mixture models” Yen-Chi Chen (U. Washington)

The trouble with peace [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on December 26, 2020 by xi'an

This is the second volume of Joe Abercombie‘s The Age of Madness trilogy, which takes place (as usual) in a renaissance-like universe, except it now comes with Da Vinci’s like industrial innovations starting to disrupt its medieval social order (and the role of magic, almost gone) and making this admittedly ugly cover relevant. (Just like the rich quotes and titles from his previous books, Abercrombie is demonstrating a serious grasp of literature, since the title comes from a line of Bertold Brecht: “You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.”)

“Enemies are like furniture, aren’t they? Better chosen for oneself than inherited.”

This book is just as good as the previous one, if a bit slow in building its climactic battle and somewhat predictable. The characters are as formidable as previously, if facing steep odds and declines of fortune, with hilarious scenes and dialogues (as always with Abercrombie), including some pastiches of Trumpian talks. And a more serious take on the standards of the genre, with workers becoming a revolutionary force ready to overthrown the antiquated power structure. Looking forward the last volume, planned to be published a year from now.