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review 2018-08-25 21:02
Coding Projects in Python
Coding Projects in Python - DK Publishing

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

Actually, I finished reading this book quite a while ago, as a quick read, and was planning on going through it a second time at a different pace in order to fully use it—namely, to teach myself Python. I thought (and I still think I was right) that I’d then be able to review it properly. Unfortunately, between work and studying for both network certifications and uni, I don’t really have enough time to add programming to my timetable, so this will have to wait.

I made it to 25% of the book, in terms of following its teachings. From what I’ve experienced here, while I wouldn’t recommend it to younger children, it looks to me like it’d be an appropriate place to start for kids around 10-12. And older kids as well, of course. Or even adults. Because we’re ‘adults’ doesn’t mean that the colourful pictures will magically alter our ability to follow instructions to develop programs in Python.

The lessons were easy to understand and to put in practice. There were a few typos, but since I had an advanced copy, hopefully they’re gone from the printed version. (I could find my way around them, it was a matter of logics, but I’m not sure if a child would? Or maybe they would, who knows! Also, it’s good training in debugging, and this is never a waste.)

I wish I could give a deeper review. Maybe at a later time, once I can pick it up again.

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review 2018-08-23 21:01
Physics and Computer Science for Laymen: "The Emperor's New Mind" by Roger Penrose
The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Popular Science) - Martin Gardner,Roger Penrose


Penrose certainly has a generous idea of his readers' mathematical ability. It's a kind of running joke among Penrose-fans: he always starts his books by saying you'll find it tough going if you haven't got a 12th Year (in Portugal)/GCSE (in the UK) in math, but that he'll explain it as he goes if you haven't. Twenty pages later you're on Gödel and conformable geometry. He doesn't do it deliberately; he really does believe his books are popular science. How can you not love him? I purchased an on-line kindle edition of this book back last year via Amazon and it was more about bringing myself up to date (I read it for the first time in 1991 when the book came out), although such things are never truly current due to Theories being debated and tested for very many years within Scientific Realms. Roger Penrose's books are as stated often inclusive of more mathematical devises than many books aimed at more laymen realms, so I often regard them as perhaps Bridging that gap between Solid Science Headaches and Laymen 'I read an article and am a common law know-all expert'.

 

 

If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-07-30 19:58
21 Lessons for the 21st Century
21 Lessons for the 21st Century - Yuval Noah Harari

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I read Harari’s two other books (“Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”), and quite liked them, so when this one was available, I couldn’t help but request it. It did turn out to be an interesting read as well, dealing with current problems that we just can’t ignore: global warming, terrorism, the rise of harmful ideologies, etc. It’s definitely not seen through rose-tinted glasses, and it’s a good thing, for it’s time people in general wake up and—to paraphrase one of the many things I tend to agree with here—stop voting with their feet. (Between the USA and Brexit Country, let’s be honest: obviously too many of us don’t use their brains when they vote.)

I especially liked the part about the narratives humans in general tend to construct (nationalism and religions, for instance, being built on such narratives)—possibly because it’s a kind of point of view I’ve been holding myself as well, and because (as usual, it seems), the “narratives of sacrifice” hit regular people the most. Another favourite of mine is the part played by algorithms and “Big Data”, for in itself, I find this kind of evolution both fascinating and scary: in the future, will we really let algorithms decide most aspects of our lives, and isn’t it already happening? (But then, aren’t we also constructs whose functioning is based on biological algorithms anyway? Hmm. So many questions.)

I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this book, and to be fair, there was too much matter to cram everything in one volume, so some of it felt a little hurried and too superficial. I’ll nevertheless recommend it as an introduction to the topics it deals with, because it’s a good eye-opener, and it invites to a lot of introspection, questioning and thinking, which is not a bad thing.

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review 2018-06-16 21:11
I Still Dream
I Still Dream - James Smythe

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

Although I didn’t adore this book, I found it to be an interesting take on artificial intelligence; on what contributes to developing an AI; on the trials and errors involved, and on how the best intentions can be tainted by poor execution, like what happens with SCION. Because, to paraphrase what Laura says about it in the novel, if you teach a child to fight and retaliate, what does it teach them about life and how to react to whatever comes their way?

The story had its ebb and flow, sometimes a little too slow to my liking, but always intriguing. I usually don’t mind when a story jumps from one time period to another, and/or doesn’t always rely on the same narrator, as long as I can follow it. And here, I didn’t have any trouble following, even when the first person narrator didn’t introduce themselves at first (like what happens with Charlie or Cesar). This approach lets the author play with more than just Laura’s take on both Organon and SCION—which was good, since it’s easily apparent that Organon is built upon all that Laura poured into it, and having only Laura’s POV would have felt, to me, slightly… constricting?

My opinion about the plot remains mixed, though, in that the novel seems to hover between being character-driven and being story-driven, while not fully achieving either. I liked the take on developing artificial intelligence—I don’t know much about coding, and I wouldn’t know how to even start about something so huge, and it felt plausible to me. On the other hand, I kept thinking that I wanted the character development part to go a little further than it did, because I felt that there remained some invisible barrier between me and the characters.

This said, I still got to see enough about Laura and the beings (whether the people or the AIs) surrounding her to get a fairly good idea of the characters, too, and of their struggles through life, especially when it came to dementia and similar memory- and recognition-related troubles. So, I definitely wouldn’t say either that the book was a failure in that regard.

Perhaps the one part that really disappointed me was the last chapter, which dragged on making the same point several times. I think it would’ve been more powerful had it been much shorter.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend the book, for the way it puts AI creation and destruction in parallel with the growing up and the decaying of human minds. (Also, listening to ‘Cloudbusting’ while reading it doesn’t hurt.)

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review 2018-05-07 19:44
Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future
Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future - Ashlee Vance

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

An interesting read for me, considering I never went in depth into what Musk has accomplished (to be fair, I came to this book because I find Tesla cars sexy and thought ‘well, why not read this, at least I’ll know more about the man’).

I’m kind of sitting on the fence about this book. I liked learning about how Musk’s companies came to be, the problems encountered along the way, how things were at times one inch from just failing, but worked out in the end, out of both luck and determination. In a way, it’s a positive ‘lesson’: that sometimes things fail, but it shouldn’t prevent you from fighting for them and taking risks, because they just may succeed as well.

I also appreciated that the author interviewed other people, employees, ex-employees, friends, ex-partners, etc., and that he made them part of the whole: people without whom Tesla Motors or SpaceX wOuld’ve never been able to take off, engineers and mechanics and designers whose role was absolutely not negligible. Since a large part of the book was focused on these companies, acknowledging more than just one actor was a good thing to do.

I would’ve d liked it to go more in depth about how exactly things worked out, when it comes to the science/engineering part. Elon Musk seems like he knows his stuff, too, and has learnt over the years what he didn’t know and made him shoot for impossible deadlines at first (now I guess they’re just improbable, hah), and… I don’t know, I expected something more detailed in that regard. Maybe less of the business aspect, and more about the engineering the way Elon Musk himself goes about it?

Also, for a biography, I think it didn’t go to the bottom of things either when it comes to the man, and lacks a certain detachment. Musk doesn’t come off as a very empathetic person, to say the least, and while objectively I understand his drive, humanely the way he treats his employees is, well, not great at all. So I would’ve been interested in seeing more reflecting about this: coming from him, but also coming from the biographer. There -is- something wrong in the way all these visionary projects have come to be, and it was pretty much glossed over. (In short, was the harshness really needed, does innovation has to come to such a price, and would things have tanked with just a bit more empathy?)

This was instructive, and I kind of liked it, so 3 stars… But while I know more about Tesla Motors, SolarCity and SpaceX, I don’t feel like I know -that- much more about Musk himself now.

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