about.me Follow me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter

Read: How Learning Works

“Research based principles for smart teaching”: sounds great. The authors even start with a quote from Herbert Simon. And yes, the authors’ advice is research based.

The “bridge” between learning research and practice, however, is a rather superficial one. The research is mostly discussed in a way I would do it if the referee asks to add an additional reference. It’s mentioned without assessing its merits, its contribution, what was done well, and what was not. X found that in context Y, full stop.

Nevertheless, the advice seems sound, at least reasonable. Only one chapter seems a bit lopsided. “Student Development and Course Climate” is a bit too much “cuddle pedagogy”, advocating for a soft, making everyone feel comfortable approach. I, and I guess others too, think a little discomfort goes hand in hand with a necessary challenge. Without a little challenge students would not see that they can still improve, that there is more to learn.

The most helpful part of the book is, however, the appendix. Here are examples of rubrics, peer review question templates, learnings objectives, self-assessment tests, and an exam wrapper. Nothing original, yet, all apt to give inspiration for applying this and that in one’s own course.

Read: The Power of Less

Recommended by Tim Harford in the context of another recommendation on the general theme “there is too much stuff, we need to simplify”, I picked up a copy of The Power of Less by Babauta.

The main message is: Don’t multitask. Focus one the few important things, do them first.

The book, however, is not for everyone. While the advice is (generally) sound it does not apply to everyone in all the different context that Babauta discusses. Though, this is not really a blemish. What I did not like was the rather repetitive nature of the various chapters.

Read: Seeds of Earth

British Science Fiction / Space Opera is a genre of its own, isn’t it? With Seeds of Earth Michael Cobley has earned his place among much more known authors of the genre.

There was nothing really that I did not like. Yes, he switches the perspective and plot line with every new chapter what I often cannot stand as it just disguises a lack of plot and clear thought. Yet, here, there is structure. Here, it works quite well.

And there is certainly enough “plot.” The story is well planned and there was even a plot twist that I did not anticipate. It’s nice to be surprised. I think this indicates the quality of the writing. Too often everything is too obvious.

Maybe the aliens aren’t alien enough and there are humans everywhere. Yet, like so many successful and good (two different things) science fictions authors he anticipates social and technological developments – or at least the fear of them

My only sorrow is that there are another three tomes in the series (at the moment). How likely is it that Cobley can keep up the pace and is able to entertain that well?

Read: How not to be wrong

With “How not to be wrong” being about mathematical thinking I was a bit surprised about how much of it was about statistics. And even though it (may) lack(s) the depth of critique of the (ab)use of statistics that can be found in the works of Ziliak and McCloskey or Gigerenzer it is a very good popular treatment of the topic. Worth the read.

A particular additional added value is – in my opinion – the reminder that most things in the real world are not linear. Linearity is just an approximation, valid for only (very) small ranges. I agree with Ellenberg, we – I – forget this too often.

The only thing that I did not like was the sports references (I can condone idiosyncratic tastes in music). The book includes lots of footnotes and endnotes with references. So many, and so many recent ones that I, indeed, found a few new sources that I added to my to-read list. That is rare.

Read: Inferno

It is interesting that I would unwittingly pick up two novels in a row with a plot motivated by the malthusian catastrophe. Since one was a science fiction and the other is rather a mystery novel they can be hardly compared. The moral dilemma caused by the problem (of overpopulation) and the proposed solution are (even) less satisfactorily discussed by Brown. He does neither reveal whether he considers the malthusian catastrophe a present thread (I do not) nor does he (openly) hint at his own position regarding the villains solution.

Yet, the villain is somehow de-demonized. Hence, maybe, Brown hints at his position after all.

After about two-thirds of the Novel the protagonist learns about several layers of deception that he had to experience during the past few hours. The reader learns he was deceived as well. The mystery of the novel is thus the result of being fooled by the authors. There is no intricate web of clues, no chance that the reader cold solve the mystery. Brown just deceives his readers. Honestly, I was quite annoyed.

The bottom line is, Inferno and Brown disappoint on more than just one level.

Read: The End Specialist

Drew Magary’s The End Specialist (or the USA version The Postmortal) is interesting for (at least) two reasons. The first is, of course, the idea to explore the consequences on an individual and societal level of finding a cure for aging. (Was Malthus right, will we suffer horribly from population growth after all?) The second is the literary style of writing such explorations in the form of a personal (b)log, giving the particular perspective of a single individuum.

While I feel that Magary does not take full advantage of the blog approach, it allows for leaving many gaps (in the time sequence of the story, the protagonist’s development, and the details of his fictitious world) that otherwise would be perceived negatively.

The bit parts remain absolutely undeveloped, the political and economic ramifications of the elimination of natural death are not spelled out in greater detail, only minor bits and pieces that have an immediate effect on the protagonist are made explicit. Hence, The End Specialist may disappoint a little on the exploration of the individual and societal consequences of the end of death expectation that the reader may have had before reading the novel. Other science fiction novels do a much better job on this end.

Yet, The End Specialist’s moral is clear. “The cure for death must never … be legalized.” At least as long as we all have to stay on earth.

Pages