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Read The checklist manifesto

A small, low cost, autonomy-preserving intervention that yields dramatic improvements in a desired outcome. Where have I heard this before?

Gawande describes his discovery of the checklist, its benefits, and the difficulties to design a good one so that it is actually used. With Gawande being a general surgeon the book is rather focused on his medical work. Though his narrative also adds insights from airline pilots – who has not heard of the pre-flight checklist? – and construction, and, superficially, finance.

The obvious benefits of catching small oversights with a checklist that even, no, especially trained and experienced professionals often commit seem surprisingly dramatic in medicine. Yet, I was more impressed with a, for a lack of better expression, nudge that was/is implemented with the help of a checklist and not with the direct impact of the checklist itself: Actors (i. e. the surgical team, the different specialist builders) are made to talk to each other (and learn each others’ names) and share responsibility. Indeed, responsibility and therefore decision power is redistributed from the top to the bottom. That, I believe, is a major driver for the success of groups.

Bottom line: The checklist manifesto is not a gripping thriller, it is not intended to entertain. Similar to a checklist it may seem a bit dry. And maybe there is even too much detail when Gawanda writes about his personal experiences with patients. It is interesting, though. Eye-opening even. And yes, I would like to have more checklists (or reliable, written rules and procedures that would serve as checklists) for my own work – sometimes, for the administrative parts.

Read: Medusa

The nice thing about Cussler novels is that you get exactly what you paid for (The novels are pretty cheap). There are rarely (bad) surprises. And even though the characters from the NUMA series are generated from the same template as the characters from the older Pitt series I prefer the newer, slightly fresher ones.

The plot follows the usual archetype. Despite there being no surprises, or maybe because of it, the novels offers some good hours of quiet relaxation. No active thinking needed. The books has served its purpose.

Read: We the Living

Interesting and disturbing because of its historic context, Ayn Rand’s We the Living is utterly unremarkable.

The depiction of early Soviet Russia is not unique and seems exaggerated: After all, Rand, as many others, was able to leave. Nevertheless, the background of the story, the disturbing depiction of the living conditions and abuse in early Soviet Russia is the most powerful and interesting part of the novel.

The characters remain a bit “flat” – even though there is some change it is not really a development. Most of them are unrelatable and not credible. I did not like the protagonist and so I developed some sympathy for only one character: Andrei, the tragic communist.

The plot is not overly original. Girl meets boy, falls in love. Meets other boy, he falls in love. Girl chooses the wrong boy. Bad things happen. One dies, the other leaves. She finds a tragic and very unlucky accidental death herself.

Finally, the book was hard to read. I wanted to know how it all ends so I ploughed through it. The world has not become a better place because of it.

Me on Twitter

…generated with the code from Mike Croucher on github and some post-processing of the png with graphicsmagick and pngcrush.

Update 25.11.2015

And after debugging the source – too much was deleted from the tweets (everything after an URL, everything after the first mention of another twitter user) – the whole thing looks like this:

Read: Counterfactuals and Causal Inference

Counterfactuals and Causal Inference is a very practical book that discusses the different approaches to identify causal effects (in non-experimental and experimental data) at a very abstract level. Depending on the reader this may be a good or not so good thing. I had to expend substantial effort to work through the text and I fear that even though I understand directed acyclical graphs I have not developed any intuition in their application that would help me in my applied modelling. Often, the text remains at a too abstract level.

What the text is missing is an even more practical guide with more concrete applied problems and their solutions. Yet, the text is good. It’s not a handbook for a quick how to do it. It’s not a textbook for undergraduates. It’s a critical survey of the state of the art of statistical approaches for the identification of causal effects. It’s a valuable reminder that the regression approach is no magic bullet.

That being said, the text raises the important question of identification and alerted me that some effects that we estimate and report may not be the effects that we would like them to be. I guess I will have to be even more careful when I interpret regressions in the future.

Addendum: I have read the first edition that I had for already some years sitting on my to-read shelf. I just discovered that there is a 2nd, revised edition available.

Read: Foundations and Fundamental Concepts of Mathematics

While Eves’ Foundations and Fundamental Concepts of Mathematics is certainly a bit outdated by now – it is 1997 reprint of a textbook originally published in 1990 – it was still fun and interesting to read.

The books offers a nice historical overview of fundamental concepts of mathematics (hence the title) that includes not just the historical background but a solid introduction of each concept itself. Of course, solid means here that the introduction just provides as much depth as is needed to understand what it is all about. As such the different chapters may whet one’s appetite for more on the respective topic. Just when it gets interesting the text stops. It has to. Otherwise, Eves would not be able to cover as much as he does.

Sometimes maybe, the little detail that is given can also already seem a bit too much. Getting to a theorem 48 in just one chapter shows that Eves is certainly not just skipping over details when he feels the reader may benefit from a rigorous presentation of the material.