August 2012 Media Thread

by RobertLumley1 min read1st Aug 201256 comments


Personal Blog


This is the monthly thread for posting media of various types that you've found that you enjoy. I find that exposure to LW ideas makes me less likely to enjoy some entertainment media that is otherwise quite popular, and finding media recommended by LWers is a good way to mitigate this. Post what you're reading, listening to, watching, and your opinion of it. Post recommendations to blogs. Post whatever media you feel like discussing! To see previous recommendations, check out the older threads.


  • Please avoid downvoting recommendations just because you don't personally like the recommended material; remember that liking is a two-place word. If you can point out a specific flaw in a person's recommendation, consider posting a comment to that effect.
  • If you want to post something that (you know) has been recommended before, but have another recommendation to add, please link to the original, so that the reader has both recommendations.
  • Please use the comment trees for genres. There is a meta thread for comments about future threads.
  • If you have a thread to add, such as a video game thread or an Anime thread, please post it to the Other Media thread for now, and add a poll to the Meta thread asking if it should be a thread every month.


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Non Fiction Books Thread

The Checklist Manifesto lives up to its reputation as being interesting and a practical look at a very useful tool. Previously recommended

Some of the books I read recently:

  • We Are Anonymous - entertaining though necessarily a bit dumbed-down discussion of the Anonymous/LulzSec hacks. In this genre, I prefered The Hacker Crackdown or Mitnick's Ghost in the wires, but it was interesting to see where the 'Anonymous' hackers came from, where they succeeded, and how they got caught.
  • Miller's Spent - sex, evolution and consumer behavior which was recommend to me here, and discusses EvoPsy / consumerism. Overall, an interesting book, until the last few chapters where the author unsuccesfully attempts to show how to overcome consumerism.
  • Linden's The Accidental Mind was a particularly insightful pop-sci discussion of how our brain works, with an emphasis on how buggy/imperfect it is, and how the brain works around that.
  • Some other books that I liked: Shell's Bargaining for advantage (pretty good book about, well, bargaining, which presents the subject in a structured, non-BS way). If finally read Cialdini's Influence (it was a bit anecdotical for my taste, but it's a pretty good overview of the little tricks people use to influence others)

I personally found the research in Influence rather lacking and thought Cialdini speculated too much. But chapter 3 of the book is dead on.

Read Brain Rules after seeing a quote from it in one of the rationality quote threads. I thought it was hit-or-miss with some real quality parts, but some parts seemed too vague to act on. The author shies away from quoting studies directly and point you to his website for more details (which I have not checked out). I would have liked more empirical evidence, even if it is only summarized. When he does include such material, it tended to be quite good. I tended to skip over his physiological descriptions since I found them too metaphorical and of little relevance to the rest of the material.

The author takes his own advice very seriously in this book, which makes me more confident in his opinions. But one of these points is that people's attention lasts only 10 minutes and so there has to be a 'hook' quite frequently. So very predictably through the book are personal anecdotes, sports stories, and the like which would be OK but they often have only the thinnest connection to the material at hand and feel forced. One good benefit of the 'take your own advice' approach is that each chapter ends with a brief summary which usually does a good job of reiterating the most interesting points.

The author also includes digressions into the real of "what if?" where he postulates a superior world where we take these rules seriously. If viewed as genuine suggestions, they almost universally seem impractical and so far from the current state that they would never catch on. In retrospect, I think the better way to view these are as illustrations meant to reiterate the points of the chapter and give concrete examples to the mind that we can remember more easily - again, following the author's own advice to some effect. (As an example, the author says we should give each student a treadmill because in the ancestral environment people routinely walked 10 miles a day. But anyone who has used a treadmill knows that even if you could fit 20 into a typical classroom, the noise would force the teacher to shout all day. Yet the example serves its purpose through sticking in my mind rather than being realistic.)

My favorite fact from the book: a research went to a 40 minute-old baby and stuck out his tongue and waited. After a little bit, the baby stuck out its tongue to. Wow! A really simple experiment, and very interesting conclusions - babies instinctively know what tongues look like, how to move their tongue, and to mimic others without any practice.

Fiction Books Thread

"Labyrinths" by Borges is a good read. And it's only, y'know, 50 years old. Not LW-related even a little, except by analogy in the vocabulary department. It's fun, interesting, and "culturally uplifting."

Upvoted so hard.

Borges is pretty much my favorite writer of fiction. When I first read him, I frequently experienced a genuine sense of wonder that fiction hadn't ever evoked in me before (and hasn't really since, although Blindsight, Italo Calvino, The Book of the New Sun and some of Nabokov came close).

I recommend picking up his Collected Fictions. All his short stories, very well translated. Beautiful beautiful stuff.

If you haven't read much other Italo Calvino, "Invisible Cities" is really, really, really great.

Borges and Calvino are 2 of my favorite authors, and Invisible Cities is my favorite Calvino collection. (And, as seems inevitable for me, I wrote some Calvino fanfiction.)

Seconded. All of Borges is a good read, but "Labyrinths" is the best place to start for non-Spanish speakers. And while there is nothing in Borges about concrete LW-topics like cognitive biases, or futurism, it is full of the geeky fun, the play of abstract concepts and ideas, that I think most LW-ers enjoy. Think of it as Hofstadter, but with math and AI replaced by philosophy and literature.

Labyrinths is THE best "idea book" I know, where the author has interesting, important ideas, and presents them both quickly and artistically. I confuse this book with Ficciones a lot, but that doesn't matter, as you should read them both.

I love Borges's essays as well. At least as far as ideas go, they're even better than the stories.

Read "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester and am torn between liking it and not. It was recommended as a 'must read' for anyone who liked HPMOR by someone on r/hpmor. It really has no rationality in it to speak of - the character spends more time punching his way through problems then out-thinking them. There's a couple cool sequences where the character pushes himself to learn in harsh environments, but that's about it. At several points through the book I was severely tempted to put it down and not finish but at other times I was quite caught up in it. It reminds me somewhat of Ayn Rand's works in that the author has decided their character is going to be really good at things and so spends a fair amount of time telling the reader how awesome their character is. It seems to have worked though, given that the version I read has a gushing intro from Neil Gaimman about how gripping and powerful the main character is. I wasn't convinced.

I reread "Dune" by Frank Herbert. It's even better than I remembered and has some fun rationalist themes (though without enough details in those themes to make it comparable to HPMOR). I tried reading the second book years ago and got tired half-way through. I might try again.

I also read some of Oscar Wilde. I was a little disappointed in "The Importance of Being Earnest", probably due to my having read P.G. Wodehouse who has pretty similar story lines. I was expecting by his reputation more cleverness in the story. That said, his writing is quite entertaining and I found myself laughing out loud several times.

I have to say, as a more-or-less lifelongish fan of Oscar Wilde (first read "The Happy Prince" when I was eight or nine), that the ending to Ernest is especially weak. I like the way he builds his house of cards in that play, and I like the dialogue, but (and I think I probably speak for a lot of Wilde fans here), the way he knocks the cards down really isn't all that clever or funny. For a smarter Wilde play, see "A Woman of No Importance", although his best works are his childrens' stories, "The Picture of Dorian Grey", and "Ballad of Reading Gaol" (although it is not, in fact, the case that "Every man kills the thing he loves".)

(Also I should mention that I recently reread "The Code of the Woosters" and laughed myself inside-out.)

Well stated about The Importance of Being Ernest. Thanks for the other suggestions!

(There's also a wonderful BBC version of several of the Jeeves and Wooster stories staring Hugh Laurie and Steven Fry which I would highly recommend.)

"The Way of Cross and Dragon" by George RR Martin has some relevant themes.

You can either read it in the anthology "Dreamsongs," or just click here

Excerpt (mildly spoilery):

"We Liars, like all other religions, have several truths we take on faith. Faith is always required. There are some things that cannot be proved. We believe that life is worth living. That is an article of faith. The purpose of life is to live, to resist death, perhaps to defy entropy."

..."We also believe that happiness is a good, something to be sought after.".... "The Liars believe in no afterlife, no God. We see the universe as it is, Father Damien, and these naked truths are cruel ones. We who believe in life, and treasure it, will die. Afterward there will be nothing, eternal emptiness, blackness, nonexistence. In our living there has been no purpose, no poetry, no meaning. Nor do our deaths possess these qualities. When we are gone, the universe will not long remember us, and shortly it will be as if we had never lived at all. Our worlds and our universe will not long outlive us. Ultimately entropy will consume all, and our puny efforts cannot stay that awful end. It will be gone. It has never been. It has never mattered. The universe itself is doomed, transitory, and certainly it is uncaring."

[-][anonymous]9y 0

Not really new, but I found China Miéville's Perdido Street Station really good. It's a mix of steampunk, fantasy and horror, and Miéville is a magician with words. He also looks at the motivations of all the actors, good and bad (and human, non-human).

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Not really new, but I found China Miéville's Perdido Street Station really good. It's a mix of steampunk, fantasy and horror, and Miéville is a magician with words. He also looks at the motivations of all the actors, good and bad (and human, non-human).

I've read a good few of Miéville's novels - I found Perdido Street Station to be the weakest in terms of prose though I guess that could be cause it was only his second novel, or it deliberately homages Lovecraft (whose prose I'm not keen on either) in its style.

Still a wonderful book though.

I haven't read any of his other books -- is there any you could recommend? Maybe one of the recent ones, like Embassy Town and Railsee?

I think I'm three behind on his books at this stage, not even counting his children's book... but the other books set in Bas-Lag (the Perdido Street Station world) are very good. The Scar is probably my favourite of the three. Iron Council is also pretty good - among other thing, it's a clever pastiche of a number of different kinds of story - but a lot of people get turned off by how heavily political it is. (Miéville is very very Marxist, as far as I know.) It didn't bother me too much.

The City and the City is very good. I've heard it described as a police mystery by Kafka (I've not read Kafka, but I've heard this a few times). It's set in contemporary Earth, rather than a fantasy setting. His short story collection is also good - there's one Bas-Lag story, and a few horrors. I started Embassytown and it seemed promising.

The main issue with Miéville is he adds a lot of concepts and doesn't explain them clearly until well into the book, if he even outright explains them at all - that works to the book's advantage sometimes but I found it a little tough in Embassytown.

Huh, that means I've read only half his adult books! Better catch up!

Oh, thanks a lot for the information! I'll check those out!

[-][anonymous]9y 2

I finished reading 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami.

My first reaction upon finishing the book was, "Well, if his previous work wasn't enough to merit a Nobel Prize, this one isn't going to help."

Good things: Murakami is still the only currently living master of magical realism, and this could be his last major work. The most charitable interpretation of the book is that it is the culmination of all of his work on loneliness and alienation. It takes very traditional Western magical elements like the fae, doppleganger, and immaculate conception, and weaves them in with traditional Japanese cultural elements like NHK fee collectors, filial piety, and the hikikomori. The title's connection with Orwell's 1984 is subtle and mostly well-done.

Bad things: Too often do characters say or think that something that was clearly arranged by the author happened "by coincidence"; in general the writing is somewhat lazy. No explanation is given as to why, e.g., a policewoman in '84 would know who Marshall McLuhan is. Egregious abuse of Occam's razor (by name) in the third part to mask the author feeding the plot-so-far into the mind of a character he needlessly recycled from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

I've been meaning to start reading book one. May I ask what version you reviewed?

[-][anonymous]9y 0

The United States' single volume.

Murakami is still the only currently living master of magical realism

Salman Rushdie. Salman Rushdie Salman Rushdie Salman Rushdie. Salman Rushdie.

[-][anonymous]9y -1

Even after a couple months, this comment still puzzles me.

Yes, Rushdie is arguably a master of magical realism, but the original comment heavily implied that I don't think so. What good is repeating his name a couple times, then?

I find this very interesting. My model of most LWers doesn't like Murakami very much. I read Kafka on the Shore for an English class, and it was OK, but I wouldn't exactly say it was in line with much of LW philosophically.

I've read some of his short stories and thought they were meh. They had a few interesting points, but didn't really connect.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

Meh. I don't particularly care what LWers in general like. They have the poor taste to tend to enjoy HPMoR.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

I haven't read HPMoR before, so I'm genuinely curious about your reasons for disliking it. I would appreciate it if you could enlighten me -- I usually seek out critical reviews before I read favourable ones.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

First, I don't think highly of the original story, and I imagine this predisposed me to not liking fanfiction based on it.

While I enjoy EY's other fiction -- in particular, Three Worlds Collide, and the short beisutsukai stuff -- HPMoR doesn't have the same punch. It's a bit like Atlas Shrugged in that he tries to sum up the entirety of LW philosophy in fictional form, and the result is a text that drags on and on with little thematic unity. I enjoyed parts of the Ender's Game chapters, for instance, because they were more or less on topic the whole time.

All in all, I would rather reread "Shinji and Warhammer 40k", "To the Stars", or other really good fanfiction than bother rereading HPMoR.

Other Media Thread <- Freefall, a sci-fi webcomic largely revolving around Asimovian AI

If you happen to be in Brooklyn, tonight, or at Pi-Con in two weeks, you should catch 2010: Our Hideous Future, The Musical. It's all about UFAI. And it's pretty funny.

[-][anonymous]9y 0

An awesome video for a kickstarter real time strategy titled Planetary Annihilation.

I want.

Thomas Bergersen is just wonderful. Also, I've been listening to a lot of Miles Davis (I'm always listening to a lot of Miles Davis, but I haven't posted in one of these threads before). I especially recommend In a Silent Way.

Movies and Television Thread

Not quite a movie - short clip, but well done (though unnecessarily dystopic, IMO) futurism: Sight

The fantastic hyper-rational dialogue-based British spy TV drama Sandbaggers.

Summer Wars is one of if not the best anime movie I have seen. While its not a hyper-rational movie the plot is kicked off largely as a result of people making realistic bad decisions which is nice to see. Also it has na hSNV as a major antagonist and the portrayal is more realistic that in most movies (which is not the same as actually realistic).

Out of curiosity, how many anime movies have you seen? :)

I don't remember the exact number, but somewhere in the double digits.

[-][anonymous]9y 5

For future media threads, can you take out the phrase "which I was apparently too dumb to do" from the OP? Repeatedly reading the the self-depreciation is disconcerting.

Haha, yeah, sure. I hadn't really thought about it, I'd just been copy pasting. I'll remove it now, so I don't forget next time.

Could/Should we have a "Lecture/Talks/Discussion" thread for videos/audio/transcripts of talks and discussions? "Other media" sounds too broad and this could be big enough to merit it's own thread. Documentary movies are another item that could go under this (or stay under Movies and TV).

I love reading and have enjoyed some of the recommendations I found on LW; however, I'm sure the collective knowledge of interesting books in the LW-community is much bigger than the few book seen in the Media Thread or in the wiki. Moreover, there doesn't seem to be a place to find the, say, top-5 most higly rated books in some subject, or the top-5 of must-read books of the last 12 months.

If someone knows how we could start something like this on LW, your advice would be highly appreciated!

I'm also interested. There's a list compiled by Lukeprog et al. about the best textbooks in every subject, but that's just textbooks.

Perhaps opening a thread asking peeps to post a few books would be useful? I'd ask for one or two books for each of...

  • Favorite

  • Most influential (towards your life, your thinking, idk)

  • Most fun

  • Best outside of a genre that you normally read

  • and others. maybe.

I think the textbook-list was a nice idea, but in the ended didn't really work that well, since too few people were involved, and, as you say, it's only textbooks -- not my normal digest of books.

So as my own little contribution, I'll try to add a few books every time the Media Thread comes up; hopefully more people will do that. Let's fight against Sturgeon's Law!

For specific subjects, try searching the site for "The Best Books in Every Subject" - a list of academic books highly rated by LWers.

Do anime movies belong in other or movies? I assume the latter, but wanted to check.

I don't know... I guess movies? I don't think it really matters that much.