Yada yada yada books yada

I’m adding this woman’s blog to my List O’ Blogs.

When I was a kid, I used to borrow Garfield books from my friend Tricia and take them to the pool with us. After we’d scored good chairs and marked them clearly with our unicorn towels, she’d say, “Come on, let’s get in the water now,” and I’d be like, sure, yeah, definitely, just five more pages and I’ll meet you there. And then half an hour later she’d splash me to get my attention, and my first response was rage that she’d gotten her own Garfield book wet. WHAT IF IT HAD SMUDGED! This was nine-year old Sarah Brown: too busy reading about a horribly unfunny cat to join your game of Marco Polo. Sometimes I am late to work because I read my shampoo bottle in the shower. Why? Because it is there. There are words on it. The same words as yesterday morning, but that really can’t be helped. If I don’t read them, who will?

We had a bottle of green shampoo called Drama Clean in our shower for a long time last year, and it had half of a joke on it. To get the other half of the joke, you had to buy the matching conditioner. I stared at that every morning for months, reading and re-reading it.

I don’t remember what the joke was.

Book Log – Avoiding Prison and Other Noble Vacation Goals: Adventures in Love and Danger

Avoiding Prison and Other Noble Vacation Goals: Adventures in Love and Danger by Wendy Dale

I really liked this book.

One of the folks I was requesting a book from on PaperBackSwap.com had this on their posted books list, and as the title was funny, I added it to the request on a whim. It’s a first book, so my expectations weren’t very high. I was pleasantly surprised.

Ms. Dale has had an interesting third decade of life, a large swath of which involves prisons in Costa Rica. Having been the responsible eldest daughter of her eccentric family growing up, taking care of the house and putting herself through college, she reaches 25 and makes a conscious grab for some irresponsibility of youth. As it happens, she ends up taking on way more responsibility than most 25 year olds, or 45 year olds for that matter.

Her story is interesting and her writing is very witty with none of that first-time-writer unevenness (perhaps because her career has been writing jobs of various sorts). One of the author quotes on the book reads “Mix David Sedaris, Lucille Ball, and a fifth of tequila in a blender… you get Wendy Dale.” That’s roughly accurate. A better description for Atlanta locals would be “Put Hollis Gillespie in Costa Rica with somewhat less cursing… you get Wendy Dale.”

Book Log – The Stupidest Angel

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore

Moore manages to pull characters from his other books Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Practical Demonkeeping, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and Island of the Sequined Love Nun in this silly book about a really dumb angel sent to Earth to do the annual Christmas Miracle.

All of Moore’s books fall under my category of Brain Candy. This is no exception.

It is also short. And has Zombies.

Which reminds me that I bought World War Z when I was in Omaha, NE, but I haven’t seen it since… Hmmmm…

Book Log – What Are The Odds? Chance in Everyday Life

What Are The Odds? Chance in Everyday Life by Mike Orkin

My friend J_ from high school recommended this book, and then gave me a copy when he was in town last. He had brought it up when we were discussing coincidence versus omens on our high school drama alumni message board a while back.

It’s a slim book with not much math to it. It covers some basic probability, some long odds stuff like lotteries, and then delves into 4 chapters on gambling (where I learned the rules of craps). The last three chapters are on game theory, such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and then attempts to apply game theory to the conflict between NATO and Yugoslavia.

Aside from the rules of craps, I didn’t pick up much new from this book, though I appreciate going over covered grounds in a fresh way. The language is very accessible even to the non mathematically minded.

I come away from the book wondering if the point of the book was to discuss probability theory, or to pull people in with probability theory and then explain what NATO did wrong in Yugoslavia. The last chapter of the book has language that deviates from the more specifically analytical tone of the earlier parts, and basically boils down to “NATO didn’t consider the long term consequences”, which is associated with the game theory strategies, sure, but without a more extensive overall analysis of the choices it just feels like preaching.

The book was published in January, 2000 (apparently now out of print). The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia had ended 6 months before. It seems like Mike Orkin got riled up by the NATO bombing and whipped out a quick book in his discipline so he could add his two cents to the debate.

So, there are probably better probability books out there.

But that didn’t stop me from being in a probability frame of mind when terracinque brought up relative genetic similarity in siblings and parent/children. With some refresher genetics research, I learned that siblings share anywhere between 0% and 100% of their genes. So, it is theoretically possible that you could have no chromosomes in common with your sibling, meaning for each chromosome pair in both parents, you inherited the opposite one than your theoretical sibling.

terracinque countered that “[t]he chance of two siblings with the same parents sharing zero genes must be so close to zero that I will state with confidence that it has never happened in the entire history of Mammalia.” With my mind fresh from probability reading, I did the math:

We can calculate the odds… according to this “tour of the basics” of genetics (http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/basics/tour/), each parent has 2 sets of 23 chromosomes, call them A and B, of which they received one from his/her dad, one from his/her mom.

But when they contribute one half their chromosomes to their child, they can take a little from column A, a little from column B to put together a 23 chromosome set.

So, for a 0% matching sibling set, each child must have gotten A where the other got B in each instance of 46 chromosomes. (As a by-product of this requirement, our theoretical siblings must not be of the same gender… both brothers means they share the father’s Y, both sisters means they share the father’s X)

So, with a 50/50 chance of getting the opposite chromosome on any given pair as a given sibling, I believe the odds are (0.5)^46, or 1.42e-14, or 1.42e-12%, or 1 in 70.4 trillion for humans1. If I’m remembering my probability calculations correctly. So, not likely, even with all the siblings in history.

The kangaroo (and marsupials in general), however, may be a different story. Wikipedia says 12 chromosomes (6 pairs), another source I saw said 14 (7 pairs). So, the worst case odds become (0.5)^14, or 0.006% or 1 in 16,384.

Which is why you see so much squabbling in kangaroo families.

Out of curiosity, I looked up how many humans there have been, because due to the law of very large numbers, even the highly improbable becomes probable when you have a lot of chances (otherwise, no one would ever win the lottery). According to this analysis, 106,456,367,669 humans have been born between 50,000 B.C. and 2002. If we assume that all those people had a sibling, that makes roughly 53 billion sibling pairs. So, with a 1 in 70.4 trillion chance, 53 billion tries probably isn’t enough to make the improbable probable.


1 Also roughly the odds that Marty McFly would still be the same Marty McFly after he messed up his parent’s meeting.

The Pitter Patter of ElectricRocket

I was walking by a coworker’s cube, not having said anything, when this coworker calls my name from behind her closed door.

How did she know it was me walking by her cube? She claims she can identify me by the particular rhythm of my footsteps.

There are 2 or three people whom she claims to be able to do this with.

Which means I walk weird. Apparently.

Book Log – The Cobweb

The Cobweb by Stephen Bury (AKA Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George (AKA George F. Jewsbury))

The Cobweb is the second of two books written by Stephen Bury, which is the pseudonym of Neal Stephenson and his uncle, J. Frederick George, which is actually a pseudonym for his real uncle, George Jewsbury. The other novel was Interface.

Strangely, in my log of Interface, I go fairly easy on the book. In fact, I was greatly disappointed in it for its huge, unbelieavable plot holes. I felt that the The Big U, Stephenson’s first novel and one he reportedly cringes at, was better. I blamed his uncle, J. Frederick George, for the poor plotting, since everything else prior to Interface was just plain good (Zodiac, Snow Crash).

But Stephenson and Jewsbury must have figured out how to work together, because The Cobweb is a much better read, and tighter in the plotting. Essentially a political detective story,The Cobweb concerns a small town Deputy Sheriff who stumbles upon a mystery that has global repercussions, including effecting his wife who is serving as a nurse in Operation Desert Shield/Storm. President Bush the First has a few scenes, where he is portrayed as a sympathetic character greatly concerned about the human impact of his actions. This characteristic is viewed as a flaw by his underlings.

The title comes from a political tactic where you block someone’s actions by bogging them down in bureaucratic busy work, appointing them to special pointless committees and whatnot: “cobwebbing”.

My only disappointment was a deus ex machina at the last moment which could have been easily avoided.

Also, how believable is it that this Deputy could solve an international conspiracy while taking care of a 6 month old alone? Please. I can’t even get to the bathroom unless steakums is around.

Book Log – The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

curt_holman‘s read-bag review piqued my interest in this book, primarily due to my casual interest in circa 1900 technology and entrepreneurship.

Here’s Curt’s synopsis of the subject: “This lively history text follows narratives on two tracks, primarily (but not exclusively) based in Chicago. Track One depicts the tumultuous planning, construction, implementation and aftermath of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 (technically the “World Columbian Exposition”), primarily from the point of view of chief architect Daniel Burnham. Track Two recounts the horrific practices of H.H. Holmes, a charismatic doctor, landlord, pharmacist, fraud and serial killer.”

The catch is that I’ve little interest in (and somewhat of an aversion to) crime stories, which the second track definitively is. So I was jerked between being fascinated in a good way and repulsed in a bad way as the story jumped between the tracks. I considered just reading the story of the fair, but the book is well written and engaging enough that skipping sections felt wrong. Kind of like seeing candy in a bowl and being unable to stop eating until you get that sick feeling once the bowl is empty.

But aside from the sugar-crash, it’s a good read. I learned a few things about good old Chicago’s history, which I miss just a little bit more than the other cities I’ve lived in.

Book Log – The Man With Two Left Feet

The Man With Two Left Feet by P.G. Wodehouse

Another Wodehouse collection of short stories available from Project Gutenberg.

Quote from a Jeeves and Wooster story, Extricating Young Gussie.

New York is a large city conveniently situated on the edge of America, so that you step off the liner right on to it without an effort. You can’t lose your way. You go out of a barn and down some stairs, and there you are, right in among it.

What’s odd about this Jeeves and Wooster story is that Jeeves plays almost no part in it, aside from a few “yes, sir”s and “What suit would you like to wear?” As such, it really isn’t a Jeeves and Wooster story except in name. It’s as if Wodehouse had the idea for a story but couldn’t be bothered to invent some new characters to tell it. Odd, that.

Otherwise, standard issue Wodehouse.