recommended books for the holidays

a picture is worth a blog entry of words, so here is the picture of a pile of books i recommend for this month. all of these would make excellent christmas/new year gifts.

good books to read


recently noted quotes

once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back. -- carl sagan ["the demon-haunted world"]

there is no way an ideology can escape the human conflict between egoism and altruism. -- martin gardner

dear luck: my mind very well prepared. what's keeping you? -- anon

science is useful. at some point, someone discovered that the Earth is round. -- jean-marc fournier [quebec justice minister]

verbal distinctions should be valued, since they stand for mental -- intellectual -- distinctions. -- jorge luis borges

nasa finds it difficult to manage things well. -- henry spencer

pretty much everything on the web uses those two things: C and UNIX -- rob pike

say unto others what you would have them say unto you, only way louder. -- naomi klein

Honor Steve Jobs: resolve to do something insanely great. -- peter norvig 

plato is not your go-to guy for kindness though, I have to tell you. -- i_am_ozma

but seriously, they’re trying to use a water pistol to stop a charging rhino. -- paul krugman [on fed]

except for the TV show "the big bang theory", popular culture gets science wrong. we all know that. -- rob pike

never attribute to design what you can easily explain as witless hacking.

in politics, ignorance is the gift that keeps giving. bliss is what happens after many doses.

jpeg. just say "no". which as everyone knows is the lossy compressed version of "NNOOOOoooooo...."


ceci n'est pas xkcd

kid and I are big fans of xkcd. looking at the strip, and thinking about the stick figures kids typically draw, i just had to cartoon this...


time travel notes: langford's complete critical assembly

[reblogged from my old blog at sun microsystems]

lately i have been enjoying david langford's witty and sharp white dwarf SF reviews between 1983-91, collected in the complete critical assembly [cosmos books, 2002]. it is a reader's time travel: nearly every review mentions SF books i still have on my shelves or in my overflow boxes. first piece, march 83 review includes asimov's foundation's edge and heinlein's friday both of which i had read that year. [never wanted to re-read them since]

Robert Heinlein's Friday was also enthusiastically greeted, largely because it came as such a relief after his unreadably awful The Number of the Beast.
i could not agree more. NOTB is beyond awful, and it has a special place in my memory because it is the only book that i have ever thrown in the garbage, a place rarely so well deserved. even going back to pulp through recycling is too good for this.
june 83 review includes stanislaw lem's more tales of pirx the pilot which i have re-read a couple of times since. lem is a genius, and i wish some of his other writing would show up in english. [for example, his 2003 dilemmas has yet to be translated. peter swirski had mentioned that there was interest in translating summa but i do not know if there is a translation underway.] july 83 review includes amazing randi's the truth about uri geller, flim-flam, and this line:
Even if inclined towards the loony, i mean the uncritical viewpoint, you should consult these books for the devil's advocate arguments. They are important. In a world where an ounce of sensationalism sells better than a ton of rationality any day, they are very important.
two decades later, we are in a lot worse situation, but at least flim-flam is still in print.
jan 84 review includes lem's masterpiece his master's voice, and douglas adams and john lloyd's the meaning of liff. i have been meaning to go back to HMV, and liff of course have been re-released.
massachusetts: those items or particles which people are searching for when they look into their hankies after blowing their noses.
may 84 review includes the robots of dawn, a good but not great followup to asimov's great caves of steel and the naked sun. [i treasure my original pbk copies of these two now because of the cover art as well]
A considerable improvement on the terminally flatulent foundation's edge, it recaptures the feel of those two robotic puzzles which most critics regard as asimov's best books.
feb 84 review mentions herbert and ransom's the lazarus effect as enjoyable, good average SF, neither unputdownable nor unpickupable. langford says jesus incident [previous book] is fairly awful. i do not know. the first book was destination: void which i liked enough to read twice in one year, and i did pick up the late sequels. for whatever reason [awfulness sense?], i could never get into jesus incident so both books in sequence remain unread to this day, in one of the back rows of my double-packed sf shelves. sigh. this reminds me: some of herbert's non-dune sf, eg. saratoga barrier, dosadi experiment etc. have been re-released by TOR. [never mind links. i would visit my local sf bookstore for these, eg. Incomparable bakka in toronto.]
july 84 review has gardner's wheels, life and other mathematical amusements and dewdney's planiverse. i think i had a copy of the first one and second one was always in the list of books i would pick up if i ever find it remaindered. [i also keep waiting for a definitive gardner encyclopedia of all his sciam columns. i have his wonderful colossal book of mathematics and his lesser known but very thoughtful the whys af a philosophical scrivener - thanks henry]
aug 84 review mentions deadeye dick, my introduction to kurt vonnegut, even though usual starting points seem to be sirens of titan, cat's cradle or bluebeard. after the shooting incident (hence deadeye) i just could not put it down.
kurt vonnegut's deadeye dick makes it as near-sf by including the neutron-bombing of a US city, but is chiefly a straight tragicomedy of power, responsibility and the awful things we do to each other.
[i absolutely detest those "V" cover designs of dell's reissued vonnegut trade pbks. literary giants should not be handed off to unimaginative amateurs. an undergrad can program a robot to design better.] sep 84 reviews pohl's heechee rendezvous which i think is still (after all these years) in one of my to be read someday boxes. of course pohl's gateway and beyond the blue event horizon were favorites, so i am not sure why i never got around to reading the last book in the trilogy. langford also reviews james p. hogan's voyage from yesteryear which i read at least a couple of times.
background is presented in stodgy lectures, most readers will skip the one on physics occupying most of chapter 24. solid and quite worthy stuff, but practically devoid of characterization.
oct 84 reviews get into some of the best sf reading for me in those days: benford's across the sea of suns, [the sequel to in the ocean of night] and his against infinity. benford is one of my scientist/writer heroes; i think by now i have everything he has ever published, including the recent reissues of the galactic center series in preparation for another (last?) book in that series. [i first came across benford through his collaboration with brin in the heart of the comet and picked up all his other books]
gregory benford's across the sea of suns is a fat, impressive demonstration that one can do ultra-'hard' sf with every rivet placed just so, and still write well.
indeed, every benford book is just such a demonstration.
[to be continued]


meme of four [revised edition]

four jobs you've had in your life: cartographic draftsman [northway survey company], cartoonist/graphics designer, systems administrator, programmer

four movies you could watch over and over: galaxy quest, tampopo, incredibles, ladies man [brilliant work by lewis in front and behind the camera. lewis/buddy lester hat sequence leaves me in stitches every time]

four places you've lived: ankara, bursa, istanbul, toronto

four tv shows you love(d) to watch: house, firefly, chef! [lenny henry], big bang theory

four places you've been on vacation: mexico, new brunswick, bodrum, northern cape.

four websites you visit daily: dpreview, cbcnews, bythom, ars technica.

four of your favorite foods: tom yum soup, eggs [in any form], russian salad, circassian chicken [i am amazed that food network has a recipe]

four places you'd rather be: provance, tuscany, barcelona, montreal


wile e. coyote and road runner rules

from chuck jones's eloquent and funny "chuck amuck: the life and times of an animated cartoonist":

rule 1: the road runner cannot harm the coyote except by going "beep-beep!"

rule 2: no outside force can harm the coyote - only his ineptitude or the failure of the acme products.

rule 3: the coyote could stop anytime - if he were not a fanatic. (repeat: "a fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim" -- george santayana)

rule 4: no dialogue ever, except "beep-beep!"

rule 5: the road runner must stay on the road - otherwise, logically, he would not be called road runner.

rule 6: all action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters - the southwest american desert.

rule 7: all materials, tools weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the acme corporation.

rule 8: whenever possible, make gravity the coyote's greatest enemy.

rule 9: the coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.


a photographer's notes to self

  • make images every day. there is no such thing as *best light* or *best weather* or *best mood* for photography. no excuses.
  • take it slowly. it takes a while to start seeing things differently.
  • stay in one place, and keep making images, until you are really ready to move. which is often later than you think.
  • remember your tripod. amongst other things, it helps you slow down and pay attention.
  • stop editing on the spot. allow for lucky accidents to get past that tiny display and impatience.
  • don't peek. pretend you have no time for a pause to look at the last image. perhaps you will miss an amazing event if you keep checking the histogram. look at the light, tones, focus and expose carefully instead of taking your eyes off your subject every five seconds.
  • revisit places. this afternoon, different light, different wind, different mood, different emotions and head space,  different eyes, different images.
  • enjoy constraints. see that 50mm f/1.8 lens sitting on the shelf? use it [and nothing else] for a whole week, and zoom with your feet instead of the lens.


basho's crow haiku: 16 translations

Here are the 16 translations of basho's famous crow haiku i found in my library. earlier translations attempt to keep the 17 syllable form in english while others have fewer syllables. [many authors now agree that english haiku needs only about ten to twelve syllables to have nearly the same duration and rhythm as a japanese haiku, which is based on onji sound units]

kareeda | ni | karasu | no | tomarikeri | aki | no | kure
bare-branch | on | crow | 's | is-perched | autumn | 's | evening

On a bare branch
A crow is perched -
Autumn evening.
         Makoto Ueda [1]

On a withered bough
A crow alone is perching;
Autumn evening now.
         Kenneth Yasuda [2]

On a withered branch
a crow has settled...
autumn nightfall.
         Harold G. Henderson [3]

on a dead branch
the crow settles -
autumn evening
         Bruce Ross [4]

On the dead limb
squats a crow -
autumn night.
         Lucien Stryk [5]

On a withered branch
A crow is perched,
In the autumn evening.
         R. H. Blyth [6]

on a bare branch
a crow has alighted...
autumn nightfall.
         Makoto Ueda [7]

on a bare branch
a crow lands
autumn dusk
         Jane Reichhold [8]

A crow
has settled on a bare branch -
autumn evening.
         Robert Hass [9]

on dead branches crows remain
perched at autumn's end
         Hiroaki Sato [10]

on a barren branch
a raven has perched -
autumn dusk
         William J. Higginson [11]

a solitary
crow on a bare branch -
autumn evening
         Sam Hamill [12]

on a leafless branch
a crow comes to nest -
autumn nightfall
         Haruo Shirane [13]

on a withered branch
a crow has settled -
autumn evening.
         David Landis Barnhill [14]

on a leafless branch
a crow -
autumn dusk.
         Takafumi Saito and William R. Nelson [15]

on a withered branch
a crow is perched
an autumn evening.
         Robert Aitken [16]


[1] Ueda, Makoto
Basho and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary
Stanford University Press, 1995.

[2] Yasuda, Kenneth
Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature and History
Tuttle Publishing, 2002.

[3] Henderson, Harold G.
An Introduction to Haiku: An Anthology of Poems and Poets
From Basho to Shiki

Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958.

[4] Ross, Bruce (ed).
Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku
Charles E. Tuttle Company, Vermont, 1993.

[5] Stryk, Lucien
On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho
University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[6] Blyth, Reginald Horace,
Hokuseido Press, 1997.

[7] Ueda, Makoto
Matsuo Basho
Kodansha America, 1983.

[8] Reichhold, Jane
Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands on Guide
Kodansha International, 2003.

[9] Hass, Robert
The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson & Issa
Ecco press, 1994.

[10] Sato, Hiroaki

[11] Higginson, William J. with Penny Harter
The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku
McGraw-Hill, 1985.

[12] Hamill, Sam
The Sound of Water: Haiku by Basho, Buson, Issa and Other Poets
Shambhala Publications, 1995.

[13] Shirane, Haruo
Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory and the Poetry of Basho
Stanford University Press, 1998.

[14] Barnhill, David Landis
Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
State University of New York Press, 2004.

[15] Saito, Takafumi and Nelson, William R.
1020 haiku in translation: the heart of basho, buson and issa
Booksurge press, 2006.

[16] Aitken, Robert
the river of heaven: the haiku of basho, buson, issa and shiki
Counterpoint, 2010.



thom hogan puts it beautifully.
Data is a great and powerful thing. Collect the right data and interpret it well, and you can make very intelligent decisions. Collect the right data and interpret it incorrectly and you can make very dumb decisions. Collect the wrong data, well, you were just dumb to start with.


recently noted quotes

every ten years, collective wisdom degrades by half. -- nassim nicholas taleb's corollary to moore's law

the question to be asked at the end of each day is, "how long will you delay to be wise?" -- the good book [a.c. grayling]

Who’s to say that the tone-mapped creations of today will not be the bell-bottom jeans of tomorrow? -- guy tal

i'm sorry, but we can't send a search-and-rescue team into plato's cave. -- xkcd

a great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. – Saul Bellow

light is the best disinfectant. -- Louis Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice

my personal thing is, I don't want to step in the same river more than twice.-- sting

context determines appropriate tone, reader. no use fighting it. -- bill stott [write to the point]

in the realm of belief we are all hostages to fortune. -- michael philips [undercover philosopher]

remember: think different. that's why your macbook has the same hoary old architecture in ye old generic wintel box ... -- tenfourfox

human intuition is useless both in predicting randomness and in recognizing it. -- james gleick

[in front of a deer head] I'm confused. are we investigating a murder or preparing lunch for the palin family? -- mr nigel-murray [bones]

asked the kid where his protractor is. "how do you draw a circle? by hand?" he says "there is an authenticity to a hand drawn circle"

[kid helping me to meditate] let your thoughts blow away like the summer wind. [he includes the wind sound]

if aliens were ever to visit, NOW would be a good time! -- eren yigit


history, disconnected

in another blog, a long time ago, i had written this.
a pleasant surprise: google maps now have detailed aerial photographs of istanbul that include a part of my family history. the 11-storey building at the center of this image, named after my grandfather, is the third structure occupying that spot starting with my grandparents' family home. [where there are buildings now, there used to be pine trees, a windmill, and enough green space for sheep to graze in...]

the space of these structures aside, only two things have survived: a grape wine my grandfather had planted now covers a little gazebo [cannot be seen at this angle] next to the parking area at the back. the fig tree he planted in front somehow re-grew after it was chopped down during the last construction.

in a few days, this part of our history will be disconnected for me and my brother. there is sadness, but the realist in me reminds me that this is the price to pay when building a new life in another country.


on photography and geometry

For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. -- Henri Cartier-Bresson [found on steve mccurry's blog entry]


quote of the day

we cannot afford as a polity to create classes of privileged speakers and press agencies, and underclasses of networked information producers whose products we take into the public sphere when convenient, but whom we treat as susceptible to suppression when their publications become less palatable. -- yochai benkler [forthcoming a free irresponsible Press: wikileaks and the battle over the soul of the networked fourth estate]


a random sample of napster, 2001.

a decade ago this month, i was sampling napster library content.

not what you are thinking. only the symbolic content.

this was a project for a research organization studying music trends among peer-to-peer file sharers. original napster had an interesting feature: it allowed users to view the entire library of someone who shared content. the rest is easy: i wrote a napster client to sample shared libraries. this client ramped into random sampling like this:
start with a set of seed search words
randomly pick from many responders [which changed rapidly]
get their entire library, save aside
use random picks from these libraries to seed a new search

I sampled napster for four days, at its peak, and obtained 2647 unique libraries. [i dropped a very small number of duplicates]

here is the entire library data, unmodified, except all usernames were blanked out. you are welcome to do whatever you want with it, so long as you let me know of your research and analysis results, and give due credit.


ps: if you like to get this data with revision control: hg clone https://bitbucket.org/plan9/napdata


re-zoning [haiku]

winter sunset -
a hawk lands
on rezoning sign.
[oz/2010. all rights reserved.]