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.