Monday, June 17, 2019

What I'm Reading Now

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-DavidowitzI forget which blog I saw this recommended on, but boy, were they right. Stephens-Davidowitz used to be a data scientist for for Google; now he writes for the New York Times. This is book is both readable (occasionally hilarious) and enlightening. Stephens-Davidowitz does research into what "big data" can tell us that "small data" can't. "Small data" includes thinks like polls and surveys. Even the largest of these, as he points out, can only capture a few thousand respondents. Big data can give us billions.  Big data is things like the records the IRS keeps, google searches, and searches done on porn sites. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

One example of how small data went wrong is the polling that showed, in 2016, that Trump would lose the election. At the same time that the polls were showing Trump would lose, Stephens-Davidowitz was tracking certain google searches (racist google searches, mostly) which showed Trump would probably win. (People lie to polls. They don't lie to Google.)

Very much worth reading.

K.J. Parker, Devices and Desires, Evil for Evil

I recently discovered K.J. Parker, as regular readers will recall. These are two more of his books, the first two books in the Engineer Trilogy. They're about an engineer, obviously, but also about the politics, rulers, and citizens of several kingdom. As I told my kid, these books are like Game of Thrones, except good, and without all the gratuitous rape and violence. (There is some violence, but it's mostly off the page, and it's never used salaciously.)

These are great big fat books, 700 or 800 pages long, and they're mostly about duty, politics, and war, with only tiny slices of romance. No sex, now that I think about it. That is odd.

Lots about engineering, though.

Anyway, if that's the sort of book you like, you'll like these. I'm waiting for the third one to arrive now.

Connie Willis, The Doomsday Book

This is one of my 100 favorite books, and I re-read it, along with all of Willis's other work, every two or three years.

It's about time travel, and also epidemics, and also academics. Hits all my sweet spots, in other words.

Also, Willis is a wonderful writer. Every time I read this book, I stay up all night to finish it.

Dr. Skull points out that there is no sex in this one either, or in most of Willis. The odd part here is that I never noticed that. I won't say Willis never writes about sex, because she wrote the truly horrific "All My Darling Daughters," which upset Orson Scott Card to no end. But usually her characters are teachers, or mentors, and their students, and any romantic interest is unrequited.

This one and Passage are my two favorite books by Willis. Those of you who prefer more romance might try To Say Nothing of the Dog first.

"Fire Watch" is the first short story I ever read by Willis. Lucky you, it's available online!


Nicoleandmaggie said...

All my darling daughters also upset me to no end. Still does. I have a huge collection of her short stories and have been stopped partly because of that one.

For those who prefer less disturbing fare, agree with to say nothing of the dog which is one of the best books ever written ever. But also: Bellweather and Crosstalk.

delagar said...

"All My Darling Daughters" is such a disturbing story. Very off-brand for Willis, though!

I love Bellwether too! I still check out book from our library sometimes just because I suspect they haven't been checked out in a while. :)