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Atheen "Atheen" (Mpls, MN United States)

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Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
by Steven Johnson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.09
48 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing. Full of lots of provocative concepts., July 15 2004
Emergence: the Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software by Steven Johnson is a compelling argument for higher order emergence from aggregates of lower order units. Like Stuart Kaufman's works on self organizing criticality-though a lot more easily understood than the latter- Johnson's discourse points out that order can be produced from apparent chaos when "rules" are in place and when some critical number of individuals interact with one another following these rules.
Probably one of the more interesting living systems the author discusses is the slime mold, that unique creature whose cells can act autonomously as individuals or collectively as a unified whole. I'd heard of this phenomenon before, but at that time no underlying cause was given. Johnson notes that their inherently human hierarchical point of view had led researchers to look for pacemaker cells that dictated when, where, and under what conditions cells would form a collective. After years of looking, it became obvious that either no such cells existed or they were very subtly distinguished from the others. According to the author, recent research suggests a more bottom up organization, with individual cells making local decisions about the need to collectivize and using pheromone trails to attract others to them.
Interesting too were the descriptions of emergent systems arising unconsciously from human interactions. The reader interested in modern social problems might benefit from the author's discussion of current top down changes in city organization and urban design. The anthropologist or student of mind/brain research might find his discussion of the rise in human awareness and the concept of self through so-called "mind reading" of interest.
For myself, as a student of history, I enjoyed some of his perspectives on the rise of cities, "Cities have a latent purpose as well [as a manifest purpose] to function as information storage and retrieval devices....Ideas and goods flow readily within these clusters, leading to productive cross-pollination, ensuring that good ideas don't die out in rural isolation....And the extraordinary thing again is that this learning emerges without anyone even being aware of it (p. 108-109)."
The changes that have occurred because of the feedback systems of the internet and the cable industry are also intriguing. Although like many people I've surfed the website, received my "suggestions" for potential purchases, expressed my likes and dislikes of the various books I've read, voted for reviewers whose critiques have help my decisions, and in short become part of a community of similarly minded people, I've not thought about the overall impact that this type of system creates as it spreads to other situations. Johnson makes some very interesting points regarding a bottom up movement in politics and the media and the loss of control by hierarchies. Unconnected, the individual makes little difference, but connected to others of like mind by way of the internet and feed back loops, the collective has power to change a great deal.
Probably the most important point Johnson makes is that much of what arises from this higher order emergence is unpredictable. It might be "good" or "bad" from the point of view of a single unit. As with evolution-one of those situations where this type of action is seen-other types of emergence depend upon random decisions and actions of large numbers of individual units, be they ants, software Sims characters, or cities. One can predict that at some critical number of units the system will go through a "phase transition," suddenly becoming something else. Just what else and what impact that change will have on any one individual is impossible to predict.
Intriguing. Full of lots of provocative concepts.

Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy
Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy
by Miyamoto Musashi
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Like poetry it suggests more than it says, July 11 2004
Okay, so I really have no clue as to what compelled me to buy this book. I hate to admit it but it looked "pretty" and it looked "historical," so I got it. I also love the Japanese film classics starring Toshirô Mifune as the ultimate samurai warrior. Many of them illustrate a combination of charm, sophistication, humor, even comedy, with violence, ruthlessness, and arrogance. The comparative lack of graphic bloodiness tends to focus the viewer on the human dynamics and art of the situation, and while some of these classics have been translated by the Hollywood film industry for Western tastes, what transpires still has a "foreign" feel. One sees the action and senses that something going on here is different, uncomfortable. Upon reading a few paragraphs of the Book of Five Rings : The Classic Guide to Strategy, I understood why.
For one thing, I had not understood that the character in the samurai collection that Mifune had been portraying had actually been an historic individual living in a unique period of Japanese history. Why I should have been surprised, I don't know, since the exploits of the likes of Pat Garret, Wyatt Earp, and Doc Holiday became the basis for a good deal of 19th and 20th Century pulp fiction, TV series, and movies in the United States. In fact, the period in Japanese history that the translator describes sounds not unlike the "Wild West." The sod busters and the ranchers have made their peace, leaving hundreds of gunmen unemployed. The lucky ones find work as lawmen while the unlucky wander the country looking to enhance their reputations by lethal confrontations to see who's "fastest on the draw." The winner may ultimately find a job as a peace keeper; the loser finds a spot on boot hill. In the case of the American western, the contestants use guns; in the case of the Japanese samurai, they use swords and other equipment. Still there seems something more to it. The something more, I think, is a philosophy, a school, an etiquette, even an art that leaves the Western mind a little uncomfortable.
With some of the techniques of sword work and battle strategy, I think that as Musashi himself informs the reader, it is very difficult to "write" how to do a mechanical task. One can only convey the "feeling" that performing such a task has for the expert writer on the subject. In modern times this facet of the learning process is overcome by photo illustrations, but even then only to a very limited extent. As the author points out, there is no substitute for experience with the process and practice, practice, practice. Even the very limited experience I acquired years ago when I took fencing lessons helped me picture more clearly some of the moves the author described.
Part of the difficulty in connecting with the author's experience as he performs the various actions of sword fighting may be that this book is a translation from the Japanese, was originally written in an older version of the language, and embodied an ancient version of the culture itself, one that is no longer available even to modern Japanese let alone a Western translator. A warrior of Musashi's time may well have connected far better with the similes he uses than a modern person. The unique benefit of this fact, however, is that a great deal can be read into the work. Part of this is the author's intention, but part of it is due to the very ambiguity of the work. Just as the author himself suggests, the reader who does not concentrate on the words but allows the mind to float over them makes all sorts of interesting discoveries. For instance a book on dealing with problem people suggested a technique much like Musashi's "To Know the Times," essentially to match the rhythm and intensity of the subject until one can gain control of that rhythm to de-escalate it. His "To Become the Enemy" immediately brought to my mind the individual characters of Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and his opponent George McClelland. As Musashi suggested, the enemy always feels he is outnumbered which means that a few may defeat many if they are trained in The Way. Or as Lee is reputed to have said before a battle, "The Army of the Potomac is a very good one, unfortunately General McClelland brought himself along." Lee understood The Way. He knew that McClelland's personality, or lack of The Way, produced vast armies of the enemy in his mind.
In all a very interesting and surprising book, one I expect to read again and again to mine for concepts. For a slender 95 pages, the author, like a good poet, has packed each word with a maximum of information because they encapsulate concepts and principles.

The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science
The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science
by Charles Officer
Edition: Hardcover
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Hard to give it a number., July 10 2004
I don't quite know what to say about this book. The Big One is a difficult book to put a number rating on really. For one thing I'm not quite sure for whom it was written. It strikes me as a "publish-or-perish" kind of production. I enjoyed the book, but only because I enjoy anything on geology. This said, I will point out the merits of the book from the point of various populations of readers.
The average adult with only the very meagerest background, if any, in geology and natural sciences might well enjoy the book-certainly the title and the cover blurb are designed to hook in such a reader-but he/she might be better served by spending the money on a more general title, the focus of which is learning the basics of these sciences. Certainly there are a wide number of such books out there, many of them textbooks for survey courses at the general college level. Just searching Amazon's own list, I turned up thousands of them.
The authors' stated goal was to describe the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812, and the first few chapters do an admirable job of it. Unfortunately they tend to get off the track with their discussion of basic geology and don't return to their main topic until the end of the book where they speculate on the effects of a similar event in the future. I had the distinct feeling that they had only a slender amount to say about New Madrid and padded the volume out with a discussion of basic geology for the beginner. I certainly can't imagine a professional geologist reading the book when most of the information contained in it can be found with more precision and detail in professional journals.
Of their aim to demonstrate that the New Madrid quakes provided the impetus to the development of seismology and geology as disciplines, I'm not certain they achieved their goal.
While many people were interested in this event and a number of witnesses attempted to quantify as well as describe it, I'm not certain that this qualifies as any more than a minor branch root of these fields, an interesting aside. Again, if one has an interest in the history of geology, one can find other books that will give a broader and more connected narrative of the personalities and development of this field.
The primary population to whom I'd wholeheartedly recommend The Big One is to libraries that provide books on scientific topics for young people. For advanced students of middle/junior high or interested senior high, the book would be a splendid introduction to the topics of seismology and the geosciences as professions through the intriguing narrative these specific earthquakes and their effects on the people in the area. The book is especially good because it also discusses quackery in earthquake prediction and describes specifically what can and cannot be known about seismic events. It also defines geological terms that have come into the more ill-defined vernacular of journalism and tend to mislead. Furthermore, it describes how such irresponsible journalism can produce public panic that can needlessly cost millions of dollars, while debate about the expense of building codes illustrates how government and science work to protect affected regions. Young people trained to look beyond the headlines for solid information and who pay attention to the particulars of debates over codes, etc. are more likely to be sensible and responsible citizens.

For THOSE WRITING PAPERS on geology, seismology, history, journalism, political science, and urban planning. One might look at how the mythology of the New Madrid quakes grew from the actual events. What human needs were met by this mythology? What kind of distortion do you think may have occurred and why? One might look at how interpretation of published accounts has allowed geologists to fine tune their evaluation of the New Madrid earthquakes and how they fit into plate tectonics. Why did some earlier researchers feel some of the accounts were due to hysteria, while even later researchers believed them to be true. What kinds of things were each looking at? What data did each use to evaluate the narratives? One might look at how governments like that of Peru got almost unavoidably carried away by the quake quackery. Were the responses of these foreign governments any different from the responses of local governments in the US as described by the book? What human issues underline the similarities and differences in these responses? What suggestions, if any, would you make to avoid panic? To what extent is journalism responsible for promoting this type of panic? How might it be held accountable? Can it be held accountable? One might look at the issues of building codes in earthquake prone areas. Do you think that California and the New Madrid area should have similar codes? Why? If not, how should they differ?

Real Eve
Real Eve
by Steven Oppenheimer
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from CDN$ 34.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eve as gene flow, July 6 2004
This review is from: Real Eve (Hardcover)
I found reading The Real Eve a little difficult to stick to, getting lost occasionally among all the letters identifying this group and that group. Hanging in there, though, was worth it. Most of the literature I've read recently has accepted the theory that species H. sapiens and its immediate Homo ancestors originated in and spread from Africa. Although other scenarios have been proposed from time to time, the Mitochondrial Eve study topped off the debate so that it is now taken almost as a given. What was less contentious throughout most of the discussion is the route by which the various species of our dynasty took to arrive in Europe, which was usually through the Levant to Europe and Asia. In The Real Eve Dr. Oppenheimer gives very cogent reasons for believing otherwise.
Following genetic studies conducted recently by a variety of researchers including himself, the author puts together for the reader an intriguing tale of a southern exodus across the Red Sea to Yemen and from there to coastal Asia, where the Beachcombers as he describes the culture, spread from India to the Americas and when climate permitted to the Levant and Europe. What makes his theory so forceful is the interwoven elements of genetics, archaeology, paleontology, geography and paleoclimatology with which he creates it.
What I found most fascinating was Dr. Oppenheimer's critique of the American adversarial style of archaeological and anthropological studies. His description of an entrenched elder generation vigorously fending off the encroachment of an energetic younger generation that is trying to make a name for itself by overturning respected theories is not far off the mark. Reputation means academic power and control of grants and tenure. With cut backs in government finance of education and research, these plums are harder to come by than they were, and he-and it's usually been a "he" in these situations-who controls the department controls the future of the fledgling wannabes. I saw this type of professional skirmish in action myself while studying history some time ago. The reader can see it in action by simply following the course of the debate over the peopling of the Americas that has occurred in the literature of the past 50 years. Dr. Oppenheimer gives a blunt overview of it in his book.
What is most admirable about the discussion-despite its confusion for the lay person-is the fact that the author tends to stick with genes rather than individuals. Other authors try to depict individuals like Oppenheimer's Nasreen or Cane as people to capture the reader's imagination. While this is entertaining, it also creates the false idea that "A" Nasreen lived and breathed when in fact a particular gene sequence rather than a person is what is being followed. Human beings are masses of genetic sequences which we reshuffle with each generation. I found myself getting caught up in this mystique of an individual Eve when I first started reading literature on the subject, and it took a while to get the concept clear of personalities. I think the sense of gene flow is more apparent in this work than in others I've read.

Campion: The Complete Second Season
Campion: The Complete Second Season
DVD ~ Various
Price: CDN$ 63.88
16 used & new from CDN$ 42.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely place to visit., July 5 2004
Although I enjoyed reading all of Margery Allingham's Albert Campion series, I wasn't sure if I'd like the film series. Sometimes the characters and ambience that are in your mind as you read are so different from those presented by putting them into three dimensional reality. I needn't have hesitated, however, since Peter Davidson's Campion and Brian Glover's Lugg are just as I imagined them. While the latter would be a fairly simple character to enact, the former is by no means easily captured. The Campion in the stories is a complex character, slightly foppish and light hearted, like Lord Peter Whimsey, yet no ones fool. Davidson gives the character just the right blend of wittiness, intellect, and affability.
Each of the stories in the collection are a treat for anyone interested in period settings, and the 1920s and 1930s are among the more enjoyable. The architecture, furniture, automobiles, clothing, make-up, and hairstyles encapsulate the era beautifully. The mysteries themselves are quite clever and entertaining. A lovely visit to a pleasant time and place and interesting people.
Of this foursome I enjoyed Flowers for the Judge, about a murder in a publishing house, the most enjoyable, with Sweet Danger the dearest of the set. Dancers in Mourning seemed to wander a little like it was having trouble finding its solution, and Mystery Mile seemed a little too contrived and melodramatic. Still all four are worth watching more than once just to spend time with the characters.

Kaffe Fassett's Pattern Library: Over 190 Creative Knitwear Designs
Kaffe Fassett's Pattern Library: Over 190 Creative Knitwear Designs
by Kaffe Fassett
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from CDN$ 35.15

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible resource, June 29 2004
My mother got me started knitting when I was five years old. Admittedly my first scarves were trapezoidal marvels as I lost or split stitches, but I've enjoyed the hobby ever since. Kaffe Fassett's book of designs is an incredible resource. Not only are there useful designs for the knitter, but needlepoint, cross-stitch and other enthusiasts of handwork will also find wonderful ideas for their artwork. I used a pattern of flowers taken from the book to design a decorative band for the front of an otherwise very plain swing coat sweater, and I have yarn now for a similar sweater using another, broader floral pattern for the lower edge of another garment. Really, if you're tired of the routine, this book--an eye pleaser just as something to look at--will give you tons of ideas for your own designs.

Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve
Haunted Castle on Hallows Eve
by Mary Pope Osborne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.95
50 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hooray for the Osbornes, June 29 2004
For some reason I've gotten into reading children's books. Maybe only a nostalgia for lost youth or something, but I have found some very enjoyable entertainment in some of those I've read recently that were not available when I was a kid myself. The Magic Tree House series is just such.
I picked up Haunted Castle on Hallow's Eve as my introduction to Miss Osborne's work and was thoroughly delighted with it. Simple and direct, it is instructive without being pedantic, and introduces new words in contexts where their meanings are apparent-or explains them when they aren't. The story hangs together well, introducing the protagonists and some of their past exploits sufficiently to engage the reader no matter where in the series one starts.
I think that some of the better children's stories are written to capture the attention of adults as well. If an adult can read them, or reread them as an adult, and not lose interest in the narrative, the book is a good one. Children have as complex a gift for understanding plot and theme as adults do. I think years of television have made them better at it than they were when I was a kid. It's not the structure or complexity of the tale that loses them so much as the reading vocabulary. Language and relationships are probably "hotwired" into humans. The written word is something else again! The Haunted Castle on Hallow's Eve was interesting enough to keep the reader involved with the story and working through the new vocabulary.
One of the most significant things about the author's work is her background in history, literature, and culture. As she explains in the final pages of the book, she put her tale together from many sources, including English history, Welsh and Irish poetry and Celtic mythology and folk beliefs. In looking over the titles of her other stories, I see that she and her husband have been able to weave into their children's adventure stories information about historical topics of a wide variety making learning something fun to do. I say hooray for the Osbornes. I expect to read some of their other books and share them with others.

Great Influenza
Great Influenza
by John Barry
Edition: Hardcover
42 used & new from CDN$ 4.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Just the flu, June 27 2004
This review is from: Great Influenza (Hardcover)
Wow. The Great Influenza sort of blew me away. Like most people I've heard of the 1918 influenza, but also like most I've never actually read anything on the epidemic. My first introduction to the topic came as a young nurse working on a neurology ward where Parkinson's Disease was diagnosed and treated. At the time it was believed to have arisen as a late neurological response to that infection. For all I know they may still think so. During the swine flu epidemic and the controversy over whether the vaccine had caused a rise in the incidence of Guillian Barre, the so-called French polio, the 1918 flu was frequently mentioned. After reading Mr. Barry's book I can certainly see why.
What amazes me most about the pandemic of 1918 is not its virulence so much as its repercussions. It definitely occurred during the most inopportune time, almost proving Murphey's law that if anything can go wrong it will and at the worst possible time. Probably one of the most significant outcomes of the flu seems to have been the effect it had on the peace terms. One is left to wonder if Wilson had not been affected by the flu in so damaging a way and at so crucial a time, whether World War II could have been avoided. Moreover much is made of the nihilism of the 1920s, that lost generation between the two world wars. The young of the era seemed to have gone through a loss of innocence that is often attributed to the effects of the WWI experience and the death of the overconfident 19th century way of life. It seems to me that far more damage to the confidence of young adults was due to the effects of the influenza epidemic. Certainly Barry's discussion makes the character of the 1920s and 1930s much clearer to me.
The differential effect of the flu on the various age groups, suggests much about the effect of the virus on the immune system. Having had to manage patients with ARDS in ICU, most of them very young people like those in 1918, I can hardly imagine what it might have been like to be a nurse during a time prior to mechanical ventilation and sophisticated drug therapy. We lose ARDS patients with an unpleasant frequency even now. In 1918 I don't know how one could have helped even a single patient survive it. It had to have been appallingly painful to the staff, overworked as they were, even ill themselves as some were, to watch a patient die that way especially as the author points out again and again because so many of these patients were in the prime of life and had so much to live for yet. I certainly know what its effect has been on me over the years.
Although the author attempts to reassure the reader that although we may have another similar pandemic, the outcome will be less devastating because of our modern medical facilities and experience, I can't help but think of the Titanic! It couldn't sink, you know, because it was the product of the most modern and up to date technology of its time. Maybe MRSA (methacillin resistant staph aureus) and VRE (vanco resistant enterococci) will be our armageddon!
A serious and fascinating book. One every health care worker should read.

A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning
A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning
by Lemony Snicket
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 14.78
179 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful story, June 27 2004
I had a hard time getting into this book, although the title of the series intrigued me enough to try it again and I have to admit to a certain captivation. The series is almost like a cliff-hanger movie, with the characters facing an impossible and unpleasant predicament which they resolve only to find themselves faced with an uncertain future.
A Bad Beginning introduces the readers to the central characters, the three Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny. They are utterly charming and seem designed against stereotype. Violet, unlike the stereotype for girls, is mathematically and mechanically inclined; she's the inventor of the three. Klaus, unlike the stereotype for boys, is a great reader; he can learn anything from books and becomes a problem solver. Sunny, well she's just Sunny, an adorable infant given to bitting things.
While the author goes to great lengths to inform the reader that the orphans have a hard time of it, the actual tale is not particularly upsetting or threatening. Like Harry Potter, the Baudelaire children have lost their parents and are raised by family that is not necessarily pleasant. In the latter case this is the mysterious, threatening, greedy Count Olaf. While the book makes an effort to point out that not all of life goes smoothly, that it really is sometimes a series of unfortunate events, it emphasizes that these are problems to be solved, things from which we learn. It also teaches that resources are available for problem solving, things like books, reliable adults, even siblings.
Also like the Potter series, The Series of Unfortunate Events exhibits enough plot structure, complex vocabulary, and sophisticated wit to appeal to adults as well as children.
One of the things I particularly like about the book is that the author provides a number of words and idiomatic expressions the meanings of which are explained partially by context and partially by outright definition. He neither avoids using advanced vocabulary nor assumes that the reader will always figure out the words alone. He acts as a teacher/parent who helps the learning process along.
A vary charming book. I look forward to reading some of the others.

Little Women
Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Sort of a girls' Tom Sawyer, June 27 2004
This review is from: Little Women (Paperback)
I read Little Women along with other childhood staples like The Bobbsy Twins, Beverly Gray, Nancy Drew, and Laura Engles Wilder's Little House series when I was in third grade and loved them. Lately I've come across an entire selection of classic literature in the Barnes-Nobel Collectors Library among which Little Women was offered. It was so easily carried in a pocket, I decided to buy it. I was not disappointed. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are as delightful as ever. Although I enjoyed re-reading the book in this format, I found that there were many typos and many misused words, so for student/young person's use, I'd purchase a more carefully edited book like the one above. Also, for those of you who, as I, are also familiar with the story through the many film versions, make certain that the book you purchase includes the later story of the girls as they grow to adulthood and marry. The small collector's library edition did not include it, and I was rather disappointed.
The story contains a fair number of moral lessons dealt with in a typical, heavy handed 19th Century manner, but some of the points are not out of place even today. To those of you who might have difficulty over the frequent Christian references or with the role of women in society, I suggest that you sit down with your child and explain your family's position on the subject of religion and point out that the references are part of the history and culture of the time-it's Civil War period, 19th Century-and that people of that period would not have found the ideas unusual or unacceptable.
As many may know already, Louisa May Alcott was the second of four daughters of the controversial educator and transcendentalist, Amos Bronson Alcott, who believed that children should be actively involved with their learning and who founded several schools which failed to survive. She spent her younger years in Concord where the family was friends with various writers, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. As an adult she joined Clara Barton as a nurse during the Civil War, a career cut short by typhoid contacted in the field and from the treatment of which (mercury poisoning) she never fully recovered. Her best known works are of the March family and their domestic adventures, all loosely based upon experiences in her own family. Her book Little Women is sort of a girls' Tom Sawyer.

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