Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Sub-title: The Tempest Re-Told

This book is part of a series of novels by modern day authors re-telling the stories of Shakespeare.  I haven't been a fan of Atwood's books for awhile, after a long time ago enjoying The Handmaid's Tale.  I could not get through this and quit after about fifty pages. Life is short!


Published: 2016  Read: partially March 2017  Genre: Fiction

The Master Algorithm - Pedro Domingos


I recently began reading on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) because I’d read where Bill Gates (Microsoft) identified it as one of the three most important career areas of the future.

I was struck by the potential application of AI to the research of genetic genealogy, not for the scientists, but for the genealogist.  The math and science of AI is way, way over my head yet the book's review sparked my curiosity to dive in.

Quotes and notes:
This definition set me on the right track to reading the book.
"...machine learning is about prediction: predicting what we want, the result of our action, how to achieve our goals, how the world will change."  

And this quote gave me a frame of reference.
"The psychologist Don Norman coined the term conceptual model to refer to the rough knowledge of a technology we need to have in order to use it effectively.  This book provide you with a conceptual model of machine learning."

The author addresses 5 Schools of Thought in machine learning (ML) each with a different emphasis and scientific basis:
1) Symbolists - view learning as the inverse of deduction; philosophy, psychology and logic
2) Connectionists - reverse engineer the brain; neuroscience and physics
3) Evolutionaries - simulate evolution on the computer; genetics and evolutionary biology
4) Bayesians - learning as a form of probabilistic inference; statistics
5) Analogizers - learn by extrapolating from similarity judgments; psychology and mathematical optimization.

"Machine learning is the scientific method on steroids - it can test hypotheses in a fraction of a second."  

Reading this made me wonder if ML could incorporate the rules of evidence and decide if a fact or relationship is proven in the genealogical meaning of proof.

"Today, the main limitation of computers compared to brains is energy consumption: your brain uses only about as much power a a small light bulb, while Watson's (IBM's ML) supply could light up a whole office building."
It was comforting to realize our brains are still a much more powerful computer!

The author's explanation of S curves - gradually then suddenly, output increases as a function of input- made me wonder if there is an S curve for DNA inheritance?

"Psychologists have found that personality boils down to five dimensions - extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience -which they can infer from your tweets and blog posts."
That quote made me think twice about what I blog about!

In all, this was a fascinating read and a peak into the future of computing.

Published:  2015  Read: March 2017  Genre: Science

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Presidents Club - Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

Sub-title: Inside the world's most exclusive fraternity

A great read to start off the New Year!  One of my book clubs chose this and there was some grumbling because of the length.  I almost put it aside and then plunged in over many evenings.

The book begins with the relationship between Truman and Hoover, then moves onto Eisenhower and follows through all the Presidents up to Barack Obama as of 2012.  One tip--make a list of the presidents in order as a crib sheet because the authors skip around events in the different president's terms and it got a bit confusing.

I found every bit of it fascinating.  As one book club member noted, these are all imperfect, flawed men who care deeply about our country, its people and its future.  They also are concerned with their individual legacy and most importantly, the continuity of the presidency.  I was surprised at the amount of support and cooperation they shared in and out of office.  I developed a greater respect for, of all people, Richard Nixon, who spent his entire life until his dying days contributing to the presidency.

I hope they do a sequel a couple of more presidents in the future.


Published:  2012  Read: January 2017  Genre: History


Memory Man - David Baldacci

I read this to review it for one of my book clubs.  I don't like mysteries and I really don't like pulp fiction.  It's formulaic writing; plug in lots of violence, a disturbed hero and a few fawning females to pursue the bad guys in an implausible crime.

The plot is about an ex-football player who was hit so hard in a play he now has perfect memory of everything, especially the murder of his wife and child.  He had been a police detective so when a high school massacre happens, he gets involved only to find out it is linked to his family's murders.

Only convinced me to continue to skip this genre.

Published:  2015   Read: February 2017  Genre: Pulp fiction