Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Book List:

Well, once again I've successfully made my goal of reading 50 books in the year. (Check out last year's list of books.) This year, of course, I also wrote a book and also had a newborn baby, so it was an especially hectic task to try to get all of the reading in. Still, I was able to read 51 books and listen to 51 audiobooks, which was a pretty good achievement from my standpoint.

The books are listed in roughly chronological order throughout the year. As you'll notice, many of the early books are clearly part of my research for String Theory for Dummies (and some were obvious attempts to give my brain a rest while researching/writing the book).
  1. The Art of Persuasion: A National Review Rhetoric for Writers by Linda Bridges and William F. Rickenbacker
  2. Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card
  3. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Darwin Awards - Next Evolution: Chlorinating the Gene Pool by Wendy Northcutt
  5. The Wraparound Universe by Jean-Pierre Luminet
  6. Reinventing Gravity: A Physicist Goes Beyond Einstein by John W. Moffat
  7. Anathem by Neal Stephensen (audiobook)
  8. The Sunflower by Richard Paul Evans (audiobook)
  9. Faster Than the Speed of Light by Joao Magueijo
  10. Time Traveler: One Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality by Dr. Ronald Mallet
  11. The Gift by Richard Paul Evans (audiobook)
  12. Finding Noel by Richard Paul Evans (audiobook)
  13. Grace by Richard Paul Evans (audiobook)
  14. Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington: Understanding Political Doublespeak Through Philosophy and Jokes by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein (audiobook)
  15. The Bro Code by Barney Stinson (audiobook)
  16. New Theories of Everything by John D. Barrow
  17. The New Time Travelers: A Journey to the Frontiers of Physics by David Toomey
  18. Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos by Seth Lloyd
  19. A Lion Among Men by Gregory Macguire (audiobook)
  20. Justice League: Batman: The Stone King by Alan Grant (audiobook)
  21. Justice League: The Flash: Stop Motion by Mark Schultz (audiobook)
  22. Justice League: Infinity Crisis by Greg Cox (audiobook)
  23. Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald
  24. Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar ... Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein
  25. Giving Up the Gun: Japan's Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879 by Noel Perrin
  26. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook)
  27. WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer
  28. Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid by Dr. Denis Leary
  29. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L. Friedman (audiobook)
  30. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  31. The Numerati by Stephen Baker (audiobook)
  32. The Shack by William Paul Young
  33. Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman
  34. What to Expect When Your Wife is Expanding by Thomas Hill
  35. Millenium Falcon by James Luceno (audiobook)
  36. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (audiobook)
  37. Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist by Michael J. Fox (audiobook)
  38. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  39. Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  40. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama (audiobook)
  41. Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (audiobook)
  42. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson, Ph.D., with Lou Aronica
  43. The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World by Tim Harford (audiobook)
  44. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook)
  45. Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination by Daniel B. Smith
  46. Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto by Mark Helprin
  47. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow (audiobook)
  48. A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nassar (audiobook)
  49. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks (audiobook)
  50. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy by Lawrence Lessig
  51. The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed by Bart D. Ehrman (audiobook)
  52. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (audiobook)
  53. Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation by Daniel Gross
  54. God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question - Why We Suffer by Bart d. Ehrman (audiobook)
  55. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (audiobook)
  56. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetiteby David A. Kessler, M.D. (audiobook)
  57. Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible by David Plotz
  58. George’s Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy & Stephen Hawking
  59. American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century by Tony Blankley (audiobook)
  60. Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse by Peter D. Schiff with John Downes (audiobook)
  61. Valley of Day-Glo by Nick DiChario
  62. Rich Like Them: My Door-to-Door Search for the Secrets of Wealth in America’s Richest Neighborhoods by Ryan D’Agostino (audiobook)
  63. Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl (audiobook)
  64. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs (abridged audiobook)
  65. Margseguro by Edward Willett
  66. Michael Polanyi by Mark T. Mitchell
  67. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford
  68. The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person Alive by A.J. Jacobs (audiobook)
  69. Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley (audiobook)
  70. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko (audiobook)
  71. Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull
  72. George's Cosmic Treasure Hunt by Lucy & Stephen Hawking
  73. The Little Book of Bull Moves in a Bear Market: How to Keep Your Portfolio Up When the Market is Down by Peter Schiff (audiobook)
  74. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow (audiobook)
  75. Successful Intelligence: How Practical and Creative Intelligence Determine Success in Life by Robert J. Sternberg
  76. Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 Weapons for Selling Your Work by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, & Michael Larsen
  77. Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson (audiobook)
  78. Interworld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves (audiobook)
  79. Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future by Chris Mooney & Sheril Kirshenbaum
  80. The Millionaire Mind by Thomas J. Stanley (audiobook)
  81. Publicize Your Book: An Insider’s Guide to Getting Your Book the Attention It Deserves by Jacqueline Deval
  82. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (abridged audiobook)
  83. Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull (audiobook)
  84. Gamer Fantastic edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Kerrie Hughes
  85. Intelligent Design edited by Denise Little
  86. The State of Jones by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer (abridged audiobook)
  87. Sun of Suns: Book 1 of Virga by Karl Schroeder (audiobook)
  88. No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Colin Beavan (audiobook)
  89. End the Fed by Ron Paul (audiobook)
  90. Terra Insegura by Edward Willett
  91. Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is Bankrolling the Taliban and al Qaeda by Gretchen Peters (audiobook)
  92. The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever by David M. Friedman (audiobook)
  93. The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life by Alison Gopnik
  94. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (audiobook)
  95. Dead to Me by Anton Strout
  96. Why Does E=mc2: (And Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw
  97. Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them) by Bart Ehrman
  98. Singing in the Pain: A Biblical Look at How to Deal with Suffering and Tragedy by Walter Weaver, Jr.
  99. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
  100. The Predictioneer’s Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
  101. The Blessed Life by Robert Morris
  102. Serenity Found edited by Jane Espenson
Among my top recommendations would have to be:
  • WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer
  • Grace by Richard Paul Evans (bring tissues)
  • Serenity Found (and its predecessor Finding Serenity) - for Firefly/Serenity fans, of course
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (for anyone whose job doesn't let them use their brain as much as they should)
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, for young adult reading
  • For Ender fans, Ender in Exile is a great addition to the series.
As much as I've truly enjoyed this goal, I think I'm going to drop it for 2010. I'll still read quite a bit, but my fixation on reaching the number 50 just isn't consistently feasible when working full time, promoting my book, trying to write more, and maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends.

However, for those with only one job, I recommend it as a great goal to try for at least one year (but don't try to do it if you're planning to have a newborn in the house!).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Nature of Property - Copyright #2:

Some months ago, I spoke about two books I read on copyright. The book Digital Barbarism by Mark Helprin makes the strongly pro-copyright case andRemix by Lawrence Lessig makes the case in favor of loosening copyright laws. I intended to quickly get back to the topic of very different view of intellectual property presented by these two authors, but it took a bit longer than I anticipate. Still, better late than never, and it's given me the further chance to read Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson, which adds further dimension to the discussion.

In the Helprin book, he makes a comparison to when he was a teenager and stole an ear of corn from a cornfield, because he was hungry. He was (rightly, as he says) harangued by the farmer for having stolen his ear of corn and the point is made that if everyone came along and took corn, the farmer would have none to sell and would go destitute.

The analogy is that many young people (and some older ones) today consider it perfectly fine to get music, videos, or even books online for free, often in ways that are not legitimately authorized by the creators of the content and from which they do not profit. When they argue that it's only a minor theft, he invokes his analogy with the ear of corn.

However, the fundamental problem with this is that it's a false analogy, and there are logical flaws on both the supply and demand side of the equation when equating it to modern publishing.

First, on the supply side:
The farmer clearly has a finite quantity of corn. The author, however, does not have any limit on how many times he can replicate his written work (especially in the digital age - obviously, logistical limitations exist on how many hardcopies can be printed). So for the analogy to work, we have to modify the situation so that the farmer has worked hard to create a field of corn, but that field now contains an infinite amount of corn. Taking a single ear of corn does not actually diminish the amount of corn remaining in the field to be potentially sold at some later date.

Next, on the demand side:
The farmer in the story invokes a "slippery slope" argument to condemn Helprin for the theft of the corn. If Helprin were the only person to ever take an ear of corn, there'd obviously be no problem. The concern is that other people will pick up on this trend and begin stealing as well, and the farmer will lose all his corn and be destitute.

However, the problem in both Helprin's argument and the farmer's is that they assume that this trend will continue ad nauseum, and in the case of online digital content it's clear that not everyone is going to just take. Some people are going to give back to the content creator, if the opportunity exists.

Put them both together...
Now, if you remove both of the logical flaws, then here' s the new correct analogy:

A farmer works hard to create a field which contains an infinite amount of corn, and he asks people to pay for the corn.

In this case, if someone comes along and takes an ear of corn, it's not nearly as clear that the farmer has lost anything of value, nor is it clear that the theft has left him any closer to bankruptcy than he was earlier. The guy probably wouldn't have paid for it anyway, he just would have kept on walking. You can feel moral outrage that the person didn't pay for the corn, but the farmer's future prospects are exactly the same as they were prior to the person taking the ear of corn.

The other side of the argument:
Obviously, though, if people are stealing his corn, then the farmer can begin implementing strategies to benefit from this theft. He can build a fence and walk the perimeter with a gun, but this might alienate some of the legitimate customers, who don't want a lot of hassle in accessing their corn.

So, we have to consider the analogy instead to be a case where the farmer puts up signs that say things like, "If you're going to take some corn, please donate what you can" or "Get free corn if you sign up for my monthly newsletter ALL ABOUT CORN!" Some people will take free corn, but his farm will be incredibly popular, and many of those people would (presumably) pay for the corn ... or he'd end up with a very large database of corn enthusiasts, which he could leverage to the authors of a corn recipe book or something.

The point of all of this is that the fact that the farmer's supply of corn is, once the initial work has been created, now infinite changes the dynamics of the situation. This isn't true of corn, but it is precisely true of written works.

Helprin is right that intellectual property is a form of property, but he is wrong in equating it precisely with physical property, because it doesn't have the same limiting features. He can argue all day about the importance of copyright (which is important), but he should do so with a full awareness that any argument which doesn't recognize the distinction will be dismissed entirely by the other side (rightly) as largely irrelevant to the case at hand.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Authors@Google Features Heroes and Philosophy:

One of the authors in the essay collection Heroes and Philosophy: Buy the Book, Save the World edited by David Kyle Johnson has been lucky enough to appear on Authors@Google. Tyler Shores discusses the rich philosophical aspects of the television series Heroes and why it lends itself so much to philosophical discussions, and why these concepts are important to people who are not just philosophers. It's a great talk ... and, if I say so myself, a great book!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Exodus 1 - 5:

On with my reading of the Bible, and now I'm into the beginning of Exodus. Not a lot to say here, although the story is much more mundane compared to most of Genesis. My major experience with Exodus until now has been the DreamWorks animated film Prince of Egypt, a fine film but, it turns out, not entirely biblically accurate:

  • Unlike Prince of Egypt, Moses' murder of an Egyptian is entirely premeditated in the Bible. "[Moses] saw an Egyptian beaing a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." (Exodus 2:11-12)
  • After Moses flees Egypt he settles in the land of Midian, where he meets a priest of Midian with 7 daughters, one of whom (Zipporah) he marries. However, when we're introduced to the priest of Midian his name is Reuel (Exodus 2:18) but shortly thereafter he is referred to as Jethro (Exodus 3:1).
  • When encountering the burning bush, Moses continually tries to get out of his mandate to go back and bring the Israelites out of bondage. He's taught some magic tricks to prove to the Israelites that he's for real - he can turn a stick into a snake and back into a stick (this was in Prince of Egypt) and he can turn his hand leperous and non-leperous at will (this was not).
  • One of his most interesting protests is the declaration that he's not a good speaker, at which point God says that he'll let his brother, Aaron, speak for him. I've actually heard about Moses not being a good speaker, but I heard that he was a stutterer, is probably from his statement that "I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
  • Exodus 5 ends with things not going well, and the Israelites are not pleased with Moses and Aaron. After asking for time in the wilderness to worship their God, Pharoah makes things even harder on them, and the Israelites blame Moses for it - "The Lord look upon you and judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us." (Exodus 5: 21). This "don't rock the boat, because you're making things worse" mentality reminds me a bit of people who protested against slavery or against early activities in the civil rights movement. This must have been the sort of mentality that Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he railed against white moderate ministers who believed in the cause of equality but didn't act on it:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

-- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"