Thursday, 16 August 2018

Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, Kenneth Cukier

A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think


Written in 2013/4, this was the first major book about the topic, with two authors explaining what big data is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards. 

As is usual with predictions, some are eerie in their accuracy, others we laugh at for the "obvious" errors, but all were brave, and most were fascinating.

The book posed questions about choices consumers make -relating to colours and preferences that didn't appeal to me that much. Also the fears and concerns around the 'Minority Report' methods of using data (i.e. predicting crimes that haven't yet occurred and making arrests based on that data) seem a bit silly and far-fetched now.

Some of the hype around what the big thing around big data is has dated. Calling it a 'revolution', for example,  

But it's also interesting to see the kind of comments that have stood the test of time - time only being 4 or so short years in this case. 

Getting our heads around the concept of usefulness and application - "The technical tools for handling data have already changed dramatically, but our methods and mindsets have been slower to adapt.” 

Some of the usefulnesses of the data sources available - “Amazon monitors our shopping preferences and Google our browsing habits, while Twitter knows what’s on our minds.” 

Skills necessary to utilize the power of the 'revolution' - “the “data scientist,” which combines the skills of the statistician, software programmer, infographics designer, and storyteller.” 

There were also many historical comparisons - how statisticians used data in the past, based on theory, probability and assumptions around distributions, and how this changes when the scope of sampling is so much larger. This quote captures it best.

“In some ways, we haven’t yet fully appreciated our new freedom to collect and use larger pools of data. Most of our experience and the design of our institutions have presumed that the availability of information is limited. We reckoned we could only collect a little information, and so that’s usually what we did. It became self-fulfilling. We even developed elaborate techniques to use as little data as possible. One aim of statistics, after all, is to confirm the richest finding using the smallest amount of data. In effect, we codified our practice of stunting the quantity of information we used in our norms, processes, and incentive structures.” 

An enjoyable lesson from the first game-changers that I found fascinating.

4 stars

ISBN:9780544002692

You may also enjoy Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz



Wednesday, 15 August 2018

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson



Harry Ackerson is just about to graduate. After losing his mother to cancer as a teenager, he is hopeful that is father and stepmother will make it to the ceremony. Alice calls - they're not going to make it. Bill Ackerson has had an accident and died - can Harry come to Maine instead?

So it begins. Harry realises that he hardly knows Alice at all, but now they must be family to one another - or must they. In parallel, we jump back to Alice's past and find out more about her mother, her strange childhood and unique past. In alternate chapters, Harry is wondering if his father's death was an accident, and just who Grace McGowan is after she showed up at the funeral.

Peter Swanson is a master of the twist, and there are some good ones here. He also loves to pose interesting questions (like "ever thought of killing your spouse?" in The Kind Worth Killing) to his readers. Here the questions are "how much do you lie?" "to others?" and worse - "to yourself?"

It's dark, and won't be everyone's cup of tea. There are some sexual encounters that readers may be uncomfortable with, and towards the end, the body count escalates, but I enjoyed the intensity and tension, which was well crafted, and in my binge of unputdownable and twisty crime novels, this one ticked more than one box for me. 

Thoroughly enjoyed it.

5 stars

ISBN: 9780571327188

You may also enjoy The Kind Worth Killing or Her Every Fear by the same author, or what about The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham?

More books.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron


 Julia Cameron has a reputation for "unblocking"artists - writers, painters, and the creative soul.  This book has been republished for its 25th anniversary. And you know what? She is really very encouraging and even inspiring. Each chapter sets out to embrace some creative aspect of your personality and to defeat the bogeymen that threaten to overwhelm you - from your inner critic to those parents who told you you'd never make a living doing what you love. It's all good stuff.

But, I have to confess. I'm never going to do the exercises in this book. Ever. There are about 15 at the end of every chapter, and in theory, if you read a chapter a week, that's do-able. But you know what, I think I've memorised them now, but still not done them. It's not that they're difficult, and I think they're also kind of the point of the whole book, but no, probably only ever going to think about doing them.

Another interesting way of reading this book was to listen on Audible. Narrated by the author (which I always appreciate), this is a great way to up your motivation - and it's way better than some of the podcasts I've downloaded for the same purpose. A chapter a day, or a week. But if any of you have done the exercises - even a few, please do let me know - I'll be in awe.

Very encouraging and highly enthusiastic. As another reviewer put it - "A book to cheer you on when you feel like you can only look longingly at your passion (writing, painting, drawing...) because the dog needs a walk and the kids need a bath, and you've bills to pay so you've just come home from a job that took you from the house and back to it without a glimpse of the sun."

ISBN: 9781585421466

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Ten of the Best #129


Good morning all the peoples. It's been a week full of stuff. And here's the best of it from your timelines - all together in one place for you to enjoy.

This from the NYT - SA needs to end corruption, but are SA's leaders part of the problem. Yup. Read and weep.



It's Woman's Day in SA, meaning there's a great ranty blog from Helen Moffett. This one's a letter, to Cyril.



Evita on the march too.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Friday Books - Fools and Mortals

I'm so glad it's nearly the weekend. More time for reading, and sharing books.

At Book Beginningshosted by Rose City Reader, you share the first line, and  a few thoughts about the book.



 Here's the beginning of the book I'm featuring today.



It's 1590, London, and the players are playing for the Queen. The story is told from the perspective of Richard Shakespeare, William's younger (and more handsome) brother. I loved this foray into the Elizabethan era in Bernard Cornwall's Fools and Mortals.




At Freda's Voice, you'll find the Friday56, where the excerpt comes from page 56 or 56% in your Kindle.

Here's page 56 of Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwall.



Since ladies weren't given parts - they were the seamstresses mainly, the men played the women, which led to some interesting comments.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George



A small town with a university - Ludlow - so no surprises that the first significant scene is some students in a pub, discussing life, sneaking upstairs for a tumble in the hay and drinking too much. But we are drawn in quickly to the goings on, especially the tensions and the angst between them.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Isabelle Ardery and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, after a reported suicide in a police holding cell. The body belongs to Ian Druitt, a deacon in the C of E, loved by all, and with no apparent reason for taking his life. So why send DCS Ardery (who is drinking her way through this) and DS Havers (who is always in trouble) to conclude the investigation in as short a time as possible? Why indeed? And what does the whole thing have to do with the MP who asked Scotland yard to be involved?

This is book number 20 in the Inspector Lynley series, but if you haven't got the energy to read 1 through 19, dive right in, like I did. That's not completely true, I have read a few of the earlier ones, but not all, and I would recommend starting with A Great Deliverance, the very first. It sets the scene and is a work of art.

As is this. Elizabeth George deftly weaves a modern tale into an old-fashioned environment. She gets humanity - how and why we lie to each other, our brokenness and attempts at noble emotions like love and trust, and the secrets we would die (or kill others) to keep. And to relieve the tension, there are moments of laugh out loud at DS Havers' comments and antics, and some pure joy in moments.

It is a tome at nearly 700 pages, so difficult to hold in bed, but I thought it worth the weight - as it turns out, we need every bit of that detail for this intricate tale.

ISBN: 9781444786620 

5 stars

You may also enjoy A Great Deliverance or Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George,or what about Jo Spain's With Our Blessing?

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens- Davidowitz

Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are - that's a really annoying subtitle, isn't it? Because if you're anything like me, you probably try not to reveal everything about yourself - certainly not who you really are - on the internet. But have you ever done a Google search? Ever worried that the search will reveal more about you than your Facebook profile picture? You should have.

"Everybody Lies offers fascinating, surprising, and sometimes laugh-out-loud insights into everything from economics to ethics to sports to race to sex, gender and more, all drawn from the world of big data. What percentage of white voters didn’t vote for Barack Obama because he’s black? Does where you go to school affect how successful you are in life? Do parents secretly favor boy children over girls? Do violent films affect the crime rate? Can you beat the stock market? How regularly do we lie about our sex lives and who’s more self-conscious about sex, men or women?"
It's not only about Google. There are countless data sources - more found everyday, that can be trawled by powerful algorithms, interrogated without fear or favour to reveal interesting patterns and observations about human behaviour and what causes it.

Here are some quotes.
“People frequently lie—to themselves and to others. In 2008, Americans told surveys that they no longer cared about race. Eight years later, they elected as president Donald J. Trump, a man who retweeted a false claim that black people are responsible for the majority of murders of white Americans, defended his supporters for roughing up a Black Lives Matters protester at one of his rallies, and hesitated in repudiating support from a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The same hidden racism that hurt Barack Obama helped Donald Trump.” 
“Netflix learned a similar lesson early on in its life cycle: don’t trust what people tell you; trust what they do.” 
“Many people underreport embarrassing behaviors and thoughts on surveys. They want to look good, even though most surveys are anonymous. This is called social desirability bias.” 
“Big Data allows us to finally see what people really want and really do, not what they say they want and say they do. Providing honest data is the second power of Big Data.”
“Terms used in loan applications by people most likely to default :- 'God', 'promise', 'will pay', 'thank you', 'hospital' " ”. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating peep into the underworld of our thought life, our choices, our preferences and how they stack up. The book is broad - covering porn, racism and economics without judgement, but you can skip the parts you're not interested in. 

An accessible and entertaining view of life as we don't know it yet.

4 stars
ISBN: 9780062390851

You may also enjoy Irresistible by Adam Alter.

More books.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Run with the Stars

Good morning running buddies.
Since I'm exercising from a different geographical location this morning - in the heart of the midlands, where it feels like an intake of breath will drop my body temperature by a few degrees, and I kid you not, we had to crack the ice on the milk for our morning tea - I spared a thought for those of you usually up with the sparrows and running under a starlit sky, everyday.

In some ways its absolutely gorgeous - the cold, the dark, the fresh, the newness of the day.
And then as you get going and the outside becomes a part of your inside - and it's cold out there, but that's ok, because you're going and you're strong and you'll warm up soon.
Suddenly when you're warm, you feel like you could go forever, never stopping. Not even for traffic, because there is none.
And too soon it's all over, and you need to hurry inside before you cool down too much, and the warmth of the water hitting your skin is the best part of your day.
Now I want to do that before first light tomorrow, don't you?
And I've got just the song for us as we go.
'Cause you're a sky, 'cause you're a sky full of stars

I'm gonna give you my heart
'Cause you're a sky, 'cause you're a sky full of stars
'Cause you light up the path
'Cause you're a sky, you're a sky full of stars

Such a heavenly view
You're such a heavenly view
There aren't many lyrics to this great Coldplay song, but they're perfect for us.


Enjoy your workout, wherever you are and whatever you do.

Last week's Monday Motivation - No excuses


Sunday, 5 August 2018

The Lord and His Prayer - NT Wright



This little book on The Lord and His prayer breaks up one of the most oft sung and prayed pieces of the Bible into its clauses and phrases and unpacks them, in the context of Christianity.

In a way that is theologically sound (I checked with an expert 😉) and that is easy to understand. So do try not to be put off by the less-than-awe-inspiring cover. Here, this quote may help:

“This prayer doesn't pretend that pain and hunger aren't real. Some religions say that; Jesus didn't. This prayer doesn't use the greatness and majesty of God to belittle the human plight. Some religions do that; Jesus didn't. This prayer starts by addressing God intimately and lovingly, as `Father' - and by bowing before his greatness and majesty. If you can hold those two together, you're already on the way to understanding what Christianity is all about.”

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will return to it more than once.


ISBN: 9780802843203

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Ten of the Best #128

Hello everyone. Welcome to the round up of the best social media feeds ever - that's because they're from your timelines. I just put them together in one place. Enjoy, click on the images to read, and use that back button to come back for more.

Here's an article for you. Why selfies are linked to narcissism, mental problems, and in one case may have led to suicide. Followed by sixteen examples of selfies people take. Because that's not going to encourage those who do this stuff to take some more 🙈. Read at your own peril.


Guess what the dumbest office management fad of all-time is? Work-from-home? No. Endless meetings? No. Hot desking? Not that either. It's open plan. Imagine that.