Leyendo - Reading...

Una serie de acotaciones al margen a medida que voy leyendo algunos libros... A series of annotations whilst reading interesting books... A collection of notes on books about science, SciFi, history, others topics... Una colección de notas sobre libros de ciencia, ciencia-ficción, historia, otros...

31 December 2018

Countdown to the Flyby of Ultima Thule (2104 MU69)

This January 1st UTC the #NewHorizons probe is going to execute the daring #UltimaThule flyby. The mission website has a nice time table of all the events and where to watch it!

All times are in EST, which is the local time of the mission control. For keeping track in my time zone and my family and most of my friends here a time table in some other time zones: Paris and Buenos Aires!

Only few hours left for flyby!

11 August 2018

Your Listmania Lists - An Update

Your Listmania Lists - An Update

Amazon has updated the list feature and create a new type of list:

  • Your Idea List
And in the process Amazon nicely migrated your old Listmania lists to these new category!

My old link to my lists is now gone!

So the tips in this old post are outdated and here a short update!

How to find and create (old)Listmania / now (new)Idea Lists?

  • login into your Amazon account
  • then go to Your Account
  • you will see an horizontal bar with “Your Amazon.com Your Browsing History Improve Your Recommendations Your Profile Learn More”
  • Click on Your Profile
  • Page down and in the left column you will see a box titled Idea Lists, click there:
  • and voila, your lists are there now:

Second navigation way

  • login into your Amazon account and
  • select from the menu item See more
  • in the next page click on the Tab Your Idea Lists and then again, there they are!
Amazon migrated all your previous lists to here, and they have new links. Here my lists with updated links:

18 March 2018

The Natural Curiosity of Kids

When you have kids you realize one thing. Well, you realize many things. But one of those many things stroke me as very particular: they are curious. Not just curious: super curious. Everything grabs their attention and they make questions: Why? Why? and Why?

For any other parent, nothing new under the Sun. But…

Also they have a very straightforward logic. If you tell them that there are cows in the sky, and then tell them to look up into the clouds: they will chuckle: "daddy, these are clouds, no cows" - “that's right, but do they look like... cows? maybe? "ah! yes, that's funny, yes!"

Something that many kids realized is that there are a lot of things, living things: plants, slugs, spiders, snails, cats, cows, butterflies, dogs, birds, chickens, whales (wow!), tigers and lions (do they look like cats?), and crabs, and fishes (look at this clown fish?), and what's that floating nearby and transparent? (a Jelly fish), and, and...

And some day they realize that there a LOT of living things: some jump, other fly, another swims, they are big and small, some look like something else, things that do not move still are living things: do not cut that tree! That’s interesting: they can figure out living things if they move, sting, run, walk, make noise, or in the case of plants, because they growth. What about lichens, and fungui, which are harder to identify as living organisms, but still: kids can figure out.

As a tip it helps a lot to go outdoors, walk and watch to help them make a clear picture. Underwater creatures could be little harder to identify, or figure out if they are a "plant" or an "animal" (hint: almost everything underwater is an animal, even when it looks like a terrestrial "plant"). For sea creatures a walk on the shore, tip toe over the rocks near the reef and looking between the rocks will be a first step into the underwater world. Snorkeling and diving (when the kids have the minimum age to do it) is a journey into a different and strange world. It is just a layer: above/under, and the differences so vast!

How many? a thousand? a million? hundred millions? That's the next question! It opens many fronts, one that an "ant" is not one "ant": there are an estimated number of 22000 different ants! And 12500 "ants" have been classified. That's a far cry from the "red" and "black" ants that you can point in a typical garden! Wow!

And some day they realize that there a LOT of living things: some jump, other fly, another swims, they are big and small, some look like something else, things that do not move still are living things: do not cut that tree!

Yes, that's an amazing world out there, and all happening in a small planet! Never ever kill the kids pleasure and ability for curiosity and getting surprised!

The answer is eight millions and seven hundred thousands! Yes, 8.7 million, or 8.700.000 different type of things: from now on we will call this groups species.

KingdomNumber of Species% described

The more and the more they see different living things, on TV mostly, in the wild if they are lucky; the most amazed they became.

The most interesting thing in their straightforward logic is that they can differentiate between living things: stuff that behaves and has intentions; from inanimate things (I can throw a rock in the lake, but the rock is not willing to go to the bottom, it just sinks); to design things (a car do not want to run faster, is the driver accelerating the car) and from things that do not exist (they learn about Santa Claus, and then they realize Santa is just a nice story).

And someday they will ask you: "Why are so many living things?"

Nice question, good question indeed.

Like any other question, do not dodge it, do not dismiss it. All their questions are good, and many of them difficult ones. Do not make up an story, neither tell an untrue one. If you do not know, better admit it, and it is the great opportunity to discover together with them about what we know (and what yet we do not know)


17 March 2018

Why are so many things?

Darwin Day Logo
It was Darwin's Day! Last February 12th!
A good Day to start writing a lit bit more focused on these topics I like, such as:

  • Biology
  • Evolution
  • and many other things, which are not related to Biology - so keeping the things here in the same topic

It will be a story in three parts:

  • Why are so many things? The natural curiosity of kids
  • About classifying things: if you like collecting stuff, you will like this exercise
  • About change, heredity and populations: On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection
And another article on Creationism, more specifically about people that hold creationists belief. This is a thorn topic, at least for me, and however the post is written, and already went under 3 or 4 review, it needs more editing...

[Editor's Note: Creationism has the same impact in the author as the Moon Hoax: why? why do people has these beliefs?]

17 February 2017

It was Darwin Day! Sunday 12th February 2017

Reading Darwin

This last Sunday February 12th was Darwin's Day!!! Important day! and what are we celebrating that day?

Remembering the birthday of Charles Darwin the same February 12th in 1809: 207 years ago!

Darwin Persona from https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/
with [no] permission from the Darwin Correspondence Project
Importantly, the day celebrates the publication of one of the most transformative books and thoughts in the history of science: Darwin's On the Origin of Species (or more completely, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life).

Darwin Origin

Like Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which compared the two astronomic systems until that day: the Ptolemaic system and the heliocentric Copernican system, Darwin's Origin has been a game changer in the perception we have of ourselves in nature, or a paradigm shift.

The biggest change, in my humble opinion, is about switching one more time Homo sapiens importance in the natural order. Although particular, the humankind and its members we are just another species of animal.

We are a social animal, which is not a particular trait, we can communicate, also in another group, but we have a complex machinery language driven by an intentional stance, which spawns several thousands languages) and keeps evolving actual ones; we can foresee future events, or at least we do our bets effort trying to predict our best next actions. We think and write about ourselves and we ask questions like "why are we here". However from the big perspective, we are another animal roaming the surface of this small speck in the vastness of space... maybe for a few hundreds thousands of years...

Why is Darwin's Day so important?

I like to quote here the main concepts by the Darwin's Day dot org. It is about celebration:

  • Perpetual Curiosity
  • Intellectual Bravery
  • Hunger for Truth

Freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds, which follows from the advance of science

Quote: "The mission of International Darwin Day is to inspire people throughout the globe to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, scientific thinking, and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin"

More from darwinday.org website:

"Vision International Darwin Day will inspire people throughout the globe to reflect and act on the principles of intellectual bravery, perpetual curiosity, scientific thinking, and hunger for truth as embodied in Charles Darwin. It will be a day of celebration, activism, and international cooperation for the advancement of science, education, and human well-being.

Local and state governments will close in commemoration of the Day, and organizations and businesses will celebrate by engaging in community outreach centered around science as a tool for the betterment of humanity.

Darwin Day will be observed by the United Nations and its members as an opportunity for international partnerships through the common language of science for the common good of all.

On the Origin of the Celebration Ever since Charles Darwin published his radically insightful book, On the Origin of Species, Darwin has been the focus of commemorations and tributes by scientists, artists, scholars, and freethinkers throughout the world. From the early gatherings after his death at his own Downe House, to bicentennial events all over the globe, celebrating science and humanity within our various cultures internationally has been a resonant and transcendent pursuit.

In 1909, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, large celebrations honoring Darwin’s contributions to science and humanity were held in Cambridge, New York and New Zealand. The University of Chicago commemorated the 100th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1959 with a series of notable events from November 24 through the 28th. The 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth saw an entire season of BBC programming on Charles Darwin himself as well as evolution and natural selection. Salem State University has successfully held an annual Darwin Festival since 1980."

My take why it is so important and interesting

It is about a question or many questions that everybody ask themselves or their parents:

  • why are so many things?
  • where were we come from?
  • what are we?
  • what is the origin of life?
  • are other intelligent being things out there?
  • and here on Earth?
  • And many other interesting questions...

The way to answer this in a factual way started with the ancient Greeks. Or at least many agree on that point. You can call it philosophy or naturalism, or science starting in the 1600's or something around that. In any case, it is a very simple method:

  • ask questions
  • think about possible answers
  • hypothesis
  • try to think about ways to test your possible answers
  • make sure you test in many different and independent ways
  • double blind tests and
  • if the results coincide with your hypothesis, and if it can make good predictions
  • Iterate

If future tests, or field findings coincide, you are in the good path... if the results do not coincide with the hypothesis, go to back and think about new possible answers.

Quote: "Test ideas by experiment and observation, build on those ideas that pass the test, reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours"
This method is powerful, and it has been the basis of everything that today amaze us: flying, going to the moon, flying to the Kuiper Belt, your TV/PS4/Wii/etc, vaccines, GMOs, etc. Just named it, you liked or not. It is all product of our ingenuity and building a web of interconnected facts and theories that support one to the other.

You cannot denied Evolution, without denying Geology. And if you deny it, you are at odds every time you start your car. Just think about that.


Resources Darwin 2017 - Virtual Issue []
What is evolution? Charles Darwin's brilliant idea explained
What is Evolution?
What is Evolution - PBS Library
Evolution Explained
What is the Evidence for Evolution? []
Video: What is the Evidence for Evolution?
Why Evolution is True?
Evolution FAQ

And for a No to alternative lies, please check TalkOrigins anytime you do not know something

29 January 2017

Reading Challenge 2016

After migrating all my book stats to Goodreads, back again!

I joined the Goodreads reading challenge of 2016!

Here is the full list (disclaimer: if you click through and buy it at Amazon.com you will contribute to my account there, Thanks in Advance!):

  • The Enterprise Cloud: Best Practices for Transforming Legacy IT
  • Breaking the Spell
  • 37 Things One Architect Knows About IT Transformation
  • Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft
  • Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience
  • How to Make a Zombie: The Real Life (and Death) Science of Reanimation and Mind Control
  • Getting Started with AWS
  • To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918
  • The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land
  • Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar
  • Evolutionary Writings: Including the Autobiographies
  • Believing Bullshit: How Not to Get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole
  • The 7 Rules of Sales Engineering: 7 Rules every Sales Engineer should know.
  • The Martian
  • Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
  • Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World
  • ¿Cómo, esto también es matemática?
  • The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
  • Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

Let’s go for a quick summary

And it will take more than a year to write a full review of them

A comprehensive review of cloud technologies. With good advice based on experience you walk through all the different type of cloud technology and the challenges as CIO to deploy or implement them.

A second look at this fantastic book by Dennet. Exploring how to engage in a respectful and rational dialog with believers. Topics to address: is religion part of the domain of science? meaning can it be studied as a natural phenomenon? What would imply? Is it worth it? What could be the implications of not doing it? Are any other ideas that can be as toxic like religion? Interesting enough Dennet says that he is not writing any more on the debate if god exists or not. He does not see the return on doing that. And also it is a close topic: it does not exist (period), and the issues of proving and burden is on the religious people. But most people he talked about has the opinion that proving if god exist or not is missing the point. And he explore the idea of religion, the belief on belief from that angle.

Once a while you read a book for your professional career, doesn’t it? Here is one I strongly recommend if you are an IT consultant, leaning towards more to technical details rather than the functional side. It will help both domains however. Gregor Hohpe has undeniable experience implementing different projects, and he is a trailblazer of course. And he rants  & rave about it: he hates all the buzzwords (like being a trailblazer) and he prefers a down to earth approach to doing IT. It is a very personal book, and one that if you have hold the title of IT Architect or similar (solution architect, solution engineer, etc) the book will trigger a lot of deja vu. Also it will be an inspiring source for your next assignment. And if you have been looking at changing jobs, maybe it will help you to try once more…

Hard science fiction of the good one, with topics updated. A series of short stories inspired by latest developments in science. Exploring again were science can lead us. An anthology based/inspired on research done at the Microsoft Lab. You can see which are the topics that picked up the interest of the writers: quantum computing, AI, neural networks... Interesting enough nano technology was not there.

Overwhelmed by news articles on the brain and main? (“Your Brain’s Capacity Is 10 Times Greater Than Anyone Realized”, Finding Genetic Links To Happiness And Depression”, Facebook's Effect On How The Brain Manages Relationships”, Why People Shut Down When Their Political Beliefs Are Challenged”, How to Become a Superager’”, etc, etc). Then this book is a good antidote to read carefully about brain and mind in the news. And be aware of the increasingly growing number of oil snake sellers using whatever they can jump into to lure you into buying the latest therapy, pill, app or exercise to increase your brain powers….

Another on the history of neuroscience. Full of fun and gory anecdotes it will teach you something on how science is done, and think about what really makes us humans…

If you want to start figuring out what services you may use, this is a handy reference to read and have.

War books have a one side view mostly. If you are occidental there is a bias on who were the good and the bad guys during those times. And also you think that everybody agreed on going to war and defend freedom and liberty. During the UK of WWI not all were in favor of it. This book tells a particular and individual story of some of the main characters that were against the war and why. For some a very narrow slice and also tendentious view, yet a good point on the useless of any war and the lack of empathy on the ones who decide to go to war and who run the wars… 

Thomas Asbridge clearly added to my list of historians to read, when you are not a scholar. This book is a masterpiece on telling the origin of the crusades, the characters, looking at all sides, and helping to make sense of that important and particular point in history. At the end you realized how overload is the term this is a crusade…” or this is going to be a crusade…”, …make our own crusade…”

Populism, melodrama, representation, play with the masses and the different powers. A masterpiece to understand the transformation of a republic into an empire. Sometimes shockingly similar to today politician tactics. Also a reminder of how virtues and morals change with times, but something is always present: virtues only can come from the past! A typical argument for the ones maintaining status quo to held power.

A curated and selected parts of Darwin’s writings. From his voyage to the scholar papers, a good cut on Darwin’s minds. I will not start here in your path to learn Evolution, but for sure I’ll have the book in the to read list.

A very precise manual on the techniques used to obscure meaning. What is it an intellectual black hole? Which are the usual techniques to lure you into one? One by one Stephen Law dissects each tool of the snake oil sales people of emotions and woo: priests, gurus and all of the same sort. With clear definitions and examples the author explains what you have to look around and listen when the alarms sound off: you are approaching an intellectual black hole. From religion to homeopathy , and from new age to ideologies, Stephen Law is very careful in position that the main problem is about the methods: that should put you in alert. He keeps the door open that however improbable, yes, last night you saw an alien, but most likely it was an illusion and because it is so unlike that we have been visited by aliens, better you have good arguments and proof. But if you use the techniques explained here: well my friend , your position does not hold. Period. Pilling up anecdotes , going nuclear, moving goal posts, see it fits, brainwashing, all in detail. Your survival guide in the fight for reasonable ideas: to carry out there in the jungle of religions, gurus, new age woo, post modernism relativism and all the others you will come along.

For your professional career, if you are a pre sales in IT, or have to sell your project to someone else. It gets the basics that in the rush of your daily job you tend to forget. For consultants starting their career a good summary of what are the main important points in technical sales. For experience consultants a book to review and tell yourself: I'm skipping this, need to go back to the core. Last piece of advice: overconfidence is your worst enemy.

Funny science fiction. It will not be a classic. The movie follows it closely easily. Your adolescents kids will love it, but make sure you read it during summer vacation before lending it to them.

Another for your professional career? No, not really. It is clearly pseudo management science, or pseudo self-help book. There is clearly one message: do not procrastinate, and just do know what you can do tomorrow. Read this instead: Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

Excellent account of atheism thinking from the classic and pre classic times. You think it twice and it makes a lot of sense: the Greeks who by sheer power of mental analysis came with the idea of atoms, naturalistic philosophy, of course arrived to the obvious conclusion, and were atheists. The end of the book, at the end of Roman imperial times (west Empire) just lines up with the end of the classic times, the end of the Empire and plus thousand years until the enlightment brought back the atheist ideas back in the western world. The books deserves a continuation: how the ideas kept under during medieval and theocratic times and how they appeared again in the 1600's. And what about the rest of the world? Similar ideas?

In the series of Paenza on Mathematics. A great list of books to re train yourself, find the ludic aspect of math, and find good examples to play with your kids.

Pinker takes great care and excellent writing to pass a clear message: today the world is much better than in any other previous point of humankind’s history”. To go for it, I strongly recommend to take the statistically approach and think in populations, and not to concentrate on individual stories. Pinker convinced me, I agree with him, but his message can have strong emotions in you. The message of the book is not naive: the WWI and WWII are the worst calamities in history and Pinker is clear: a misstep and WWWIII can wipe us”, but we have to admit that the Enlightenment has been a strong intelectual, scientific and philosophical influence in crafting entities, agencies and policies to make the different people live together in a better place. Yet, nothing is safe.

Great book: a real adventure! The writing is super good: cinematic and old style. Amazing story. At the turn of every page you ask yourself: no way these people were able to do it! However they did it. How the crew of the Endurance was able to survive alone and rescue themselves is just a thrilling story. Shackleton spirit and skills as a captain in that particular situation, un-matched. Luckily this story not used by the self-help troupe or management pseudo gurus:  clearly a difficult one to pass including to make a movie. This is why it is more interesting to read this account. Normal people enduring difficult times.

15 January 2017

Dennet's Breaking the Spell - Chapter Two review

Chapter 2 opens with a question: Can science study religion?

Like all opening question the answer is a yes. However Dennet as a philosopher goes into a discussion of science and it's limits and if religion falls into its domain of study.

He questions why religion has evaded scientific study. Part of the blame is in the social dynamics: no one likes to be hanging around second rate professionals, and studying religion is surrounded by an aura of "low prestige, backbiting, and dubious results that currently envelops the topic of religion" (pages 33 - 34).

Clearly organizations like Templeton do not help and maybe it is a way to put a soft fence around a good, objective and rational study of science. Also questions that are raised suspiciously between family members and friends. People just let it go, including when everybody agreed in its atheism, or prefer not to insult "cultural sensitives". Dennet puts it succinctly "since we know from the outset that many people think such research violates a taboo, or at least meddles impertinently in matters best left private, it is not surprising that few good researchers, in any discipline, want to touch the topic" (page 34). How convenient for religion in general!

Categorically Dennet states that "the question is not whether good science of religion as a natural phenomenon is possible: it is."

And he launches his next question "the question is whether we should do it" (page 34)

What could happen if something that you do as part of your group it is deemed to be unhealthy, Or wrong? Would you stop doing it right away? Which will be your first reaction? Anger, defensive outrageous cries, or just saying "this is the way it is. It always have been like this".

Dennet makes a parallelism with music. If studies reveal that music is bad, what would be your reaction? Good example as several extreme forms of religious belief, up to some extent most of the Abrahamic religions condemn music and enjoying it at all or in some degree. Also music has been studied in different disciplines including evolutionary biology. In some way it should be some biological explanation and in some cases and evolutionary basis (not all traits and behaviors should have it, they can be co-opted also). We like it or not most of our behavioral traits they have a big genetic influence, whilst culture has rocketed the Homo sapiens in a fast forward line of changes.

Most people enjoy music and believe that it is good: we go to concerts, stream it, learnt and add to the school's curricula as well.

If studies show that music is bad, will concerned parents stop playing it to their kids including when they are in the womb?

There is a range of other possibilities: music is not bad at all, but it's scientific study could destroy the speak it has on humans, rendering music as a non-sense maybe dull or boring activity. Like for a grown up kid playing with her toys could mean: the magic is gone and you do not want to play anymore.

Dennet goes strong in this: show me he evidence. "In spite of all warnings over the centuries, I have been unable to come up with a case of some valuable phenomenon that has actually been destroyed, or even seriously damaged, by scientific scrutiny" (page 45)

We can all feel relieved : music is here to stay and our understanding of it enhances our appreciation rather than destroying the enchantment. In the worst scenario those parents worrying so much about their future kids intelligence maybe they could play any music they like instead of sticking to some oil snake salesman product and kill themselves to boredom with the likes such as Baby Bach: if you like classic just go for the interpretations you most admire, if you like rock just rock&roll your babies!

Dennet continues with another taboo. So big that until just a few years ago there was no scientific research and anyone attempting it was considered a second class scientist in he best case: sex. Clearly we know much more, still we have a lot to understand but no one can say that "knowing" destroyed the pleasure of it.

Or not. Lot of research is how sex is used in power driven and abusive interactions. The more we know, the better, isn't it?

More the benefits derived by its scientific study overwhelm any wrong deduction: from a social and political and individual level. Ironically the biggest religions keep their outdated and moralistic attitudes against sex, however all the data telling the contrary. And we know that all about sex is not good, and neither is bad. And still we do not know a lot, so we keep studying it.

There are other issues about trying to stop scientific inquiry: the genius is out of the bottle, and it is very difficult bear to impossible to keep this knowledge from spreading.

This strong sentiment against scientific scrutiny of human activities it is not only seen dangerous by religion advocates. It is a widespread sentiment that run in all cultures, and percolates to pop culture. I think of Mary Shelley's Frankestein to Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas: from trying to understand what's life to figure out Christmas. In one extreme knowing is Pandora box releasing terrible things on us, in the other is science dissecting a cherished human value and rendering it obsolete or dull. Like proving god, the burden is on the people trying to say that knowledge can be dangerous or kill core human aspects. The question to them: what's core to human nature? Do we know if do not study it?

If religion is like Santa Claus, it will be regarded as a child story. If it is like music or sex we will have a better understanding and enjoy it and benefit from it at a different level. And most important it will influence policies and costumes in our societies that could prove important for our own survival.

Dennet states at the end of the chapter the moral dilemma: what if religion is what keep us humans moral? Prevent us of wrongdoings and evil? If it's effect disappears like the Santa Claus myth, is it not a dangerous path to follow? (he elaborates from page 49 until the end of the chapter, page 53)

Dennet agan is clear about it "religion is not out-of-bonds to science, in spite of propaganda to the contrary from a variety of sources. Moreover, scientific inquiry is needed to inform out most momentous political decisions. There is risk and even pain involved, but it would be irresponsible to use that as an excuse for ignorance" (page 53)

Books and References

From the fantastic and super informative blog Probably Overthinking It by Allen Downey, take a careful read on:

11 January 2017

Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennet - On Chapter 1 and the book

Daniel Dennet writes in Breaking the Spell a compelling introduction in a very open way and trying not to preach to the (atheist) chores, or his usual readers. He aims at reaching in a honest and brave dialog the religious mind people.

"Billions of people pray for peace, and I wouldn't be surprised of most of them believe with all their hearts that he best path to follow to peace throughout the world is a path that runs through their particular religious institution (...) indeed many people think that the best hope for humankind is that we can bring together all the religions of the world in a mutually respectful conversation and ultimate agreement on how to treat each other. They may be right, but they don't know" (page 16)

The first chapter is a carefully built argument that we truly do not know what are the effects of religion. At both individual and social level.

The argument goes both ways: to the ones that we believe religion is a source of problems, to a great majority that believe humans can not go without religion.

Dennet brings the point forwards that there is an asymmetry: atheists welcome the objective examination of their views (and willing to change if found wrong), but religious people often bristle at the impertinence, lack of respect, sacrilege at the suggestion of putting their beliefs under scrutiny.  (page 17)

And I have to add that it brings suspicion to their claim the simple reason that there are different and contradictory beliefs systems worldwide! A quick check put the number in the several thousands (more than 4000). It does not help that diversity to favor the argument of one true religion (or system of belief).

To bring the religious people to a rational analysis of their beliefs, first they should explain why there are so many religions!

For Dennet the opposition to analyze religions objectively and rationally it is an spell that must be broken. He emphasizes that it must be addressed now. When now was 2006! Ten years later this statement is still un-answered and critical as ever as much and much more religious ideas are entrenched as sacred and beyond any criticism. If there is something that express the most dangerous side of religious belief (my opinion, not Dennet's) it is the level of care that atheist, non religious or brights have to go in order to have a conversation with religious people.

Religion's belief is an off-topic most of the time. Including between friends. Dennet anticipates that his book will be offensive, repulsive at the level of people abandoning it. He anticipates a roller coaster of emotions. Most of the religious people he interviewed researching for the book admitted never talked to anyone like him: an atheist a non believer.

He mentions that these topics are delicate, about embarrassing communications and whatever his efforts to treat the matter with kindness and respect, he is sure that he will outrage some readers (religious people of course).

He ask those potential readers to soldier the effort to read his book and consider carefully and rationally in which points they disagree and why.

If you think that this is exaggerated, just read the news were people gets attacked because they are blasphemous, something that spread from religious countries to secular countries.

The self censorship of many newspapers not publishing the first page of the Charlie Hedbo magazine after the hideous attack to their offices it is a clear sign of this problem.

Dennet will explore in following chapters more about how ideas (memes) that build their own ideas to protect themselves can be dangerous. Religion belief, as a meme/idea, self-protect with circles of convoluted logic. And with other ideas that reject a priori any logical analysis.

How many times an atheist is confronted with incredulity and being asked things like: you do not believe? How comes you are a good person? (and some others: http://www.alternet.org/belief/9-questions-atheists-might-find-insulting-and-answers)

Other ideas to help fence the main idea (belief on belief) are things like all religions are the same, and the basic behavior of separating people from one belief from another and particular atheists.

If you need one more argument, here a short story:

With names and relationships edited, for the reasons stated above (!)

This is the story of two friends: one is very religious, or comes from a very religious family; the other the family does not care about the topic and they do not have any religious affiliation: nones. [Dennet will go on his book more about the topic if children should be indoctrinated with their parent's religion]. The religious kid is sent every summer to a camp in UK. A religious based summer camp. They invited the other kid and the family said "yes, go if you want".

The 2 kids had a great week, and the activities were super well organized. The people were professional and know what they were doing, and they were super nice.

Most of the activities are what you expect from a summer camp in the outdoors: hiking, games, songs, organizing the camp, etc. And the 2 kids had a fantastic time together.

Being a religious based camp of course there is religion: only 5% of the activities were about talking on religion  (christian based Church of England). Several questions our daughter asked to us about that. And this little gem.

One day in the summer camp, they talked about hell, and that people that do not believe go to hell automatically [express application form I would say]. The religious friend concerned about her non-religious friend asked to the nice people that if she prays every night for her best friends to not go to hell, that will prevent them for going to hell? And they answered "No, no way. They will go to Hell regardless".

How can you do that to a kid??? The non-religious kid had no issue (yes, hell is as real as Santa Claus and the North Pole for her, which is true), but her friend: she believes, she has best friends that are not believers in her particular religion, they will go to hell, that she thinks is a real place, and praying to her loving-good god, will not save her best friends. How you can psychologically torture a kid with that?

If you do not see the slippery slope down to violence at the very end...

If you have never felt like talking about religion was problematic means that you are religious. As an atheist you know that you have to be sensitive and not talk about it, including in open societies. Or, not ironically, you are member of the main religion in your country. If you are a minority again you know that you cannot touch those topics.

Dennet wishes that religious people reading his book "will learn something and then may be able to teach us all something " (page 22).

A great and optimistic thought. It gets downsized when from personal experience that not even with a close and very religious friend you can touch these topics without risking your friendship.

In page 23 he makes this point painfully clear "They think that they should be closed-minded when it comes to certain topics. They know that they share the planet with others who disagree with them, but they don't want to enter into dialogue with those others. They want to discredit, suppress, or even kill those others".Strong disclaimers for the first pages of a book!"So what, then, is the point of religion?" ask Dennet at the end of the chapter 1.

Books and references:

28 April 2016

Where are your Amazon Listmania lists?

Amazon Listmania List are gone already for a long time. I cannot evaluate how many people complained about it however it could be an interesting research project: are really cloud based companies listening to their customers? Of course that if you search for "Amazon Listmania list how to find" you'll get quite a lot of hits, but you cannot extrapolate that Amazon is not "listening" to its customers and have good reasons to deprecate the feature (a.k.a: how can Amazon can increase their revenue by putting its efforts in another more valuable feature?).

You can have several readings, economical and political, of previous paragraph but it is not the idea of this post.

Back on track: here a nice way to find yours (or other user's), and here another one.

I went back to mine and I realized last time that I have when I told a colleague at work "hum there is a good book about that, let me find it". In the moment I could not remind the title, I did a search and not getting the expected results, but I remembered that I have that book as an item in one of my lists. Finally I found it thanks to an old email in gmail with the link to them!

First things Firsts!
Here is the link to my Amazon Listmania Lists! (If you like a book, buy it from my link - Thanks in advance!).

Nice Lists, eh? However if you want to follow the links they did not work! (see entry below, now they work)
[Until March 2016 the links were not working, now, April 2016, they are working again - planning to write another entry on how to find the updated link to your lists - but like many other things in the cloud, Amazon finally updated the links in the "front" page and now you can follow the link to the Lists: Listmania's are back! Or partially: they are frozen: you cannot create new ones, or update your existing ones. New feature is Wish Lists]
This blog entry that should have taken 30 minutes to write finally ended in 1-2 hours of looking around how to recover the lists! Below the correct links to the full view lists.

The topics I went through them are more or less:
  • Science fiction
  • Biology and Darwinism
  •  Some Business

Science Fiction
There are several lists for science-fiction. The original idea came from a friend’s question: “I need to buy a present. What about a science fiction book? What would you recommend?”. These lists try to answer that question based on other questions:
  • Recommendations to first readers of SF: as a fan reader of science fiction since 8 years old (starting with Jules Verne 20000 and then Asimov robot and foundation stories, I have to think hard about these. When I “started" reading other books and I went back to some of my must-read science fiction books... Hum, depending on who is the intended recipient of the book, it can backfire the good intention! So I did my best here.
  • SF Ironic and Humor: if these selection will make you laugh or your day happier certainly depends on you, but Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker is certainly funny (I strongly recommend the audio version read by Stephen Fry)
  • Intro to SF - Cyberpunk: a whole category which the "classic" is Gibson's Neuromancer. I loved when young, hated later. I admit he made mainstream several ideas, however you will not find his books here (though I love the phrase "burning chrome” taken from homonymous Gibon’s book). Which books are here? Two Neal Stephenson's, and I strongly recommend Snow Crash and Diamond Age, both really! And John Varley's Steel Beach. This author is a pearl: with an style reminiscent of Heinlein, and exploring the most fringes topics. Not in the list, but if I could update it I would add The Persistence of Vision: amazing, get you to think, short stories... (I highly recommend Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
  • Intro to SF - Classic and Hard SF: you cannot say that you have read sci-fi if you cannot tell the arguments of any book from the master trio: Asimov-Clarke-Heinlein. If started late, liked the other books, and keep going on sci-fi you have to pick one of any from this list
  • Intro to SF - Exploring the Inner Space: and here came the sixties and the 70's, flower power, new age, self help and the last season of Mad Men... These are the books of that time. There was a change on the narrator and a clear improvement on creating "real" characters: the argument was secondary... Or not? Sturgeon, Dick, LeGuin and Alfred Bester... What if our species was hermaphrodite and naturally we could change sex - like many other species of animals, common in reptiles and fishes?
  • Intro to SF - Adventure: yeah also there are space ships, lasers, and mouse and cat races. Not for any reason there is a whole genre of movies called Space Opera. Some good entertainment here for sunny sunsets at the beach
  • Intro to SF - Politics: sci-fi for me was always about setting up some hypothesis and then exploring the consequences. Some authors worked around "today" conceptions, made an outrageous claim and then make you think. Only one way to run economic policies?  Here they are those strange thoughts. I always defended the idea that reading sci-fi as a topic in school will help to create more open and tolerant societies. War? Colonize Mars? Economics and the master piece on politics Dune (before Game of Thrones, and so actual today)
  • Intro to SF - Fantasy: no, Harry Potter is not sci-fi, and I think no one will disagree. However they share a fundamental characteristic: even if magic is magic they are internally coherent and consistent. This list is a summary of these books that are consistent, do not invoke super natural entities, however they are not based on "science" (the irony is that hyperdrive engines, positronic robots, psicohistory, warp drive, teletransporters are not science... Hard to tell, out of scope of this blog). And Borges? Yes, his Fictions is a masterpiece of SF! Written before that label was created.

Biology and Darwinism
  • Anti-Creationism: based on today sensitivities I should change the name. But I can't , Amazon unsupported that feature. However let's be clear: this is a precise title. Period. Evolution is True, and anything differently is an attack on good science and good education. Understanding Evolution is hard and deniers have became sophisticated. However most of the attacks are based on creationist's ignorance (and yours and mine), miss-readings or miss-understandings and finally plain lies. If you do not want to get stumped on the basic attacks (why there is no mid animal cross of a duck and a crocodile), to some a little bit more subtle (entropy, information theory, complexity), this list will help you find the reference, why they are wrong and how to answer back (if you want or need)
  • Darwin Basic - Origins: Biology and the Origin of Species is an interesting question, … not for you? so this list is not for you, fine. But if you are in the group that like these type of questions, nothing better to understand Evolution. Best place to start is Darwin itself. And other books more modern that include the latest advances, and others that help to “see” what Darwin figured out.
  • Darwin’s Dangerous and Outrageous Books: if you are not aware that one of the biggest and longest lasting impacts on our way to see ourselves, changes in other areas like philosophy or psychology, economics, ethics, etc come from Darwin’s insights and following the logical conclusion, where have you been? or reading? Here a good list of books to get you started!

Computers and IT
These lists are the most outdated, but still some books hold. Computer Science is science and a new mobile app is not going to change that.  But take them with care and with a look at the last edition date!
  • Datawarehouses: still a lot of ROLAP, MOLAP, OLAP, etc. There are some firsts here, with basic concepts that are still valid. I will include some of them, or their concepts in any BI 101 university course, or if you are mentoring a young team of developers, architects, software engineers or analysts. Yeah, I know, the latest cool and tip of the wave theories and developments are not here (big data, map reduction, columnar databases, and free schema models are not here: it needs an update)
  • A Tour About Ciphers: this list is not outdated, unless of course you are a real expert on this field. If you like history and some basic clues on cryptography: all books here hold the line. Latest developments you should go into latest web blogs or sites. The theory/foundations/algorithms hold still… (not there yet, but if some math genius find a way to get around NP problems, adn factor “quickly” prime numbers a lot of this will be as “history”)
  • Data Mining Books: like the data warehouse list take it with care, looking at the Edition dates. Some good concepts also, that I would include as an starter (and to read exercise) in a college course...

  • Bizz Books: I will keep few here. Not sure, but if there is something that its volatility is closer to food diets, are biz books… Next list on Economics. However I would like to rescue one title (the culprit of me writing all these): “Information Rules”. I didn't read lately, but it was not a fashionable book, if I remember well. Worth trying...
  • CRM Essentials: same as previous. Gurues, in any field, have the same transcendence than transcendental guru's… Is there any book I will read again? Yes, there are few, however no book here and any other I know/heard about explain why after 20 years of talking of CRM and the customer at the center of everything, still is a hot topic!

Gmail tip - now an Evernote tip
In the research hours I need I finally ended using several tools:
  • Google searches for you, however searching for your Amazon name + listmania + lists + “the name of a list”, does not bring back your lists, even paging up to the 5 page, then jumping in 2, 3, 4 until you are in page 15+
  • But Google brought several other entries of people that experience same frustration
  • Finally the best was to recover the link was searching Google’s style in my Gmail account: it happened that years ago I sent the links to this or the other friend: great! (the link finally didn’t worked, but it was an start)
  • And today I’m using more and more Evernote, and nothing better after recovering the good links of all my lists to Clip those pages to my Evernote!