Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Golden Ratio

Have you ever heard of the Golden Number? The Divine Proportion? Nature's greatest secret, the deepest mystery on earth, and the world's most astonishing number? No? Well, it might be the second most hyped number after Pi, and it's the subject of such things as this website, this video, and this book. If you believe these sources, then the Golden Number (or Phi) is a mysterious value with strange properties that appears in random places and dictates the rules of all of human civilization and perhaps all of the entire universe as well.

Then, there's The Golden Ratio, a book about Phi which tries to dispel some of the mystique around it. Not all of the mystique, but some of it. It addresses both the mathematical properties of Phi (like its connection with Fibonacci numbers) and the more wiggly properties of Phi (like its use in art as a standard for beauty). I think it does a good job of remaining mostly impartial, denying claims which are probably not true (like that the egyptians built the pyramids using Phi) and verifying claims that are true (such as Phi's prevalence in art after Luca's book The Divine Proportion).

So, if you're looking at all the hype and thinking to yourself wait but no that's not how the universe works, then you might want to give The Golden Ratio a read. And, if you're totally a Phi fanatic, you might want to read it too, just to see what the fuss is about. And, if you've never even heard of this number before, then you can go read something else. I hear Leviathan Wakes is pretty cool.

P.S. One problem is that it doesn't quite explain all of the mathematics in an intuitive way. If only someone were to do that, possibly in some sort of visual episodic format. Alas, that will likely never happen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Caliban's War

Caliban's War is the second book in the Expanse series. It's still the future, and everything is mostly fine as long as you don't think about Venus so don't think about Venus. The three superpowers (Earth, Mars, and the Belt) are eyeing each other nervously. As long as nobody rocks the boat, and Venus stays quiet, it looks like things will go back to normal soon.

Bobbie Draper is working on Ganymede, a moon where scientists do farming. She's in the Martian military, and her job is to stare at the Earth military while farming happens. Because, seriously, who would attack a farm moon? Then a lanky humanoid with huge hands and a huge head rips through both teams and violently explodes. Bobbie is the only survivor. Now, she's got one thing on her mind: revenge. And also I think she has PTSD.

But, she wasn't the only person on Ganymede. There was also Praxidike Meng, or "Prax," one of the aforementioned farm scientists. Now his science farm has been destroyed, along with most of his life's work. At least he still has his daughter, Amy or somethingMei, who was kidnapped shortly before the monster appeared so okay maybe he doesn't have his daughter. Still, he has a slim hope of finding her, so that's what he'll do.

Back on Earth, Chrisjen Avasarala is hard at work as a politician trying to keep the solar system falling apart. Then this whole Ganymede business happens, and things start really getting bad. Also, Venus seems to be acting up a bit. Try not to think about it. Anyways, she's got to put all the pieces together and figure out who done the monster, and also make some friends.

And James Holden is still there, with his crew, trying to deal with things as best he can. He messes up slightly less in this one. I think he's learning.

So, to be honest, I liked the original book better than this one. First of all, Leviathan Wakes straight-up had more action, and I like my boom boom bang. Second, I feel like only having two main characters, rather than the four in Caliban's War, kept things simpler and more predictable, which I felt was a good thing. There's no character order in Caliban's War, so it sometimes just flips between two characters without addressing the other two, which lessens a bit the feeling of everything is going wrong everywhere.

Still, Caliban's War is a good book, and the new characters are all nice. If you liked Leviathan Wakes, you'll probably like it. Yep, that's my big final rating: "If you liked the first one, you might want to continue the series." Don't I feel smart.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Math for Mystics

Math for Mystics is not really a book about math. It's written by Renna Shesso, a shamanic practitioner and priestess of wicca. It's about how to use vaguely mathy things when performing magical rituals and such.

As I have literally no experience in such things, I'm not sure how "good" the book is at what it does. The chapter on individual numbers was pretty cool, as was the chapter on magic squares and the one on days of the week. Unfortunately, I am almost certain to never use any of this in real life, so... I don't know what else to say.

If you're a wiccan or a druid and you want some... tips? I guess? Then buy Math for Mystics. You have my solemn word that it involves no serious mathematics. Otherwise, you can read, like, anything else.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Golden Section

The Golden Section, by Scott Olsen, is not worth your time. It's a book about Phi, the Golden Ratio, (1+√5)/2, 1.618033989ish, the "deepest mystery on earth." It explains none of the many properties of Phi that it presents, in the hopes of selling you on the mystery. Very little of what Olsen says is technically wrong, but it still leaves my with a kind of snake-oil salesman feeling. Of course, it does have pretty pictures, and it's over quick, so that's something. It also has a nice iridescent title.

If you want a small book full of pretty pictures and snake oil, along with some references to actual mathematics, then The Golden Section will do nicely. If you don't want that, then try anything else.

P.S. Man, if only someone would make like a cool series of videos explaining the properties of Phi so that it would seem less mysterious and people wouldn't fall for the snake oil. That would be neat.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse book 1)

Space. The final frontier. Humanity, insatiable in its quest for exploration, tosses itself into the void between worlds, strapped to tin cans with high explosives. What could possibly go wrong? Well, James S. A. Corey (who is actually two people or something) aims to find out in Leviathan Wakes, the first book of a (planned) nine-book series.

Meet James Holden, executive officer on a freighter which brings ice between planets. The solar system is a big place, after all, and people still need water. Unfortunately, when responding to a mysterious distress beacon, the freighter is nuked and almost all of Holden's friends are killed. It's not pretty.

Let's see if Josephus Miller is doing any better. He's a detective on Ceres station, born and raised in the Belt. He's running into some trouble because his partner, Havelock, is from Earth, which means that Belters don't like him so much. Still, everything should be fine, as long as some Earther doesn't inadvertently start a war because someone nuked his freighter and almost all of his friends were killed. But what are the chances of that, am I right?

So, yeah, now a war is brewing. The Earth and Mars are looking at each other all shifty, and the Outer Planets Alliance which claims to represent the belt is making everyone a bit antsy. Also, there's that thing from the introduction which hasn't shown up in a while. Hope that's not important. Now Holden is on a mission to find out who killed his ship, and Miller is on a mission to find a lost girl named Julie, and... well, things get a bit hectic.

Leviathan Wakes is a bangin' book. It's got killer pacing, and characters that are interesting and fun to be with. The world seems real and realistic, even with the crazier things that show up. The tension and the stakes keep getting ramped up, with more and more people being dragged in, and then you remember the title is "Leviathan Wakes" and get really worried. To make things even more intense, we follow Holden and Miller in alternating chapters, so there's almost always a cliffhanger after each chapter even if you don't stop reading, which I think is a really cool way to do things.

If you like high-stakes space drama mystery action, or if you want to become lost in a world which might be about to lose itself, or if you want to get to know interesting characters which could all die at any moment, then you should read Leviathan Wakes. And probably the rest of The Expanse.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Irrationals

The Irrationals is not good. Don't read it. Okay fellas thanks for your time it's been fun I'll see you in the next review goodbye.

Still here? Huh. Strange. Well, I suppose I could give a bit more information. The Irrationals is written by Julian Havil, and is about the history of irrational numbers (the ones that aren't fractions). If you're not already a huge math person, you will definitely dislike The Irrationals, due to the sheer volume of proofs. Book is like 40% history and 60% proofs. And they've got some serious proofs in there, with elementary calculus and contradictions and the like.

If that was all The Irrationals was, it would be a fine book. A history of the idea of irrationality, including the first proofs that Pi and e are irrational, a proof that Phi is the "most irrational," and other neat goodies, along with some descriptions of what was happening at the time these proofs were discovered. It would be a book meant for math nerds, and as a math nerd I would have enjoyed it. Unfortunately, The Irrationals has another problem that is almost certainly a dealbreaker.

Sometimes, the book is just wrong. It's not that Havil is stating falsehoods, it's that there's sometimes just typos in important places. When reading The Irrationals, you not only have to understand the poorly-explained proofs, you also have to fix mistakes in the proofs so that they make sense. I think anyone who wasn't procrastinating on their review of All The Birds In The Sky would have a hard time getting to the end. I made a list of some of the more serious mistakes I saw, which I'll put in this document, but it'll still be a rough time. Unless you're some kind of math masochist (mathochist?), I recommend staying away from The Irrationals.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Scythe

It's the future. Everything is great. An incredibly powerful AI known only as the Thunderhead has taken over the world, and is hell-bent on making life good for everyone. There's no more war, no more poverty, no more disease, and no more death. With one exception.

The Scythes (pronounced SKITH-ees) are an organization of people who are tasked with keeping the population in check by killing ("gleaning") people. They are the most revered and feared members of society. Citra and Rowan are two of the minority of people who outwardly disapproves of the Scythes, which sucks for them, because a wise old Scythe named Faraday has appointed them as apprentices.

Now, Citra and Rowan have to compete with each other to see who gets to become a Scythe. Except, neither one actually wants the job. But they both kinda do. It's good fun. Also, there's this whole thing with these Scythes who are holding "mass gleanings," which are exactly as terrible as they sound. I hope those guys don't cause any trouble.

Neal Shusterman's Scythe is a pretty fun book. The story is a whirlwind, with mysteries that had me genuinely second-guessing myself throughout the book. Seeing the separate journeys of Citra and Rowan as they learn how to kill is cool. It's apparently the first book in a trilogy, but the ending is actually really satisfying, so it can stand entirely on its own. Scythe also pokes at some really interesting issues about death and longevity and utopia. If you like a bit of action, a bit of mystery, and a lot of murder, then you should pick up Scythe.