July 2013 Media Thread

by ArisKatsaris1 min read1st Jul 201352 comments


Personal Blog

This is the monthly thread for posting media of various types that you've found that you enjoy. 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 think there should be a thread for a particular genre of media, 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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"We also have lawyers in Muggle Britain, and they'd think your lawyers are cute."

It's a funny line, but is it plausible? Is it just that wizard law is less complex?

From Chapter 79:

Harry nodded, his mouth set. "Exactly what sort of penalty is Hermione facing? Snapped wand and expulsion -"

"No," Severus said. "Nothing that light. Are you willfully misunderstanding, Potter? She is facing the Wizengamot. There is no set penalty. There is only the vote."

Harry Potter murmured, "The rule of law, in complex times, has proved itself deficient; we much prefer the rule of men, it's vastly more efficient... There's no constraining legal rules at all, then?"

Light glinted off the old wizard's half-moon glasses; he spoke carefully, and not without anger. "Legally, Harry, we are dealing with a blood debt from Hermione Granger to the House of Malfoy. The Lord of Malfoy proposes a repayment of that debt, and then the Wizengamot votes on his proposal. That is all."

I read this as implying that Magical Britain doesn't actually have a codified legal system. (Although it seems like a waste of the Wizengamot's time to vote on all crimes; perhaps there's some commitee that the delegate minor crimes to?).

Short Online Texts Thread

SEP has a new article up on Analogy and Analogical Reasoning.

Herbert Simon, the anti-­Philosopher.

I have previously taken some flack for being rather dismissive toward most of mainstream philosophy, and for treating AI as "real philosophy." Eliezer has an even stronger position of this type, and has taken flack for it as well.

But as this article explains, this is actually pretty normal among AI folk. Here's the abstract:

Most practitioners consider AI a technical disciple aimed at the production of “smarter” artifacts. Skepticism for the high-minded ambitions of classical philosophy runs high... AI arose in a self-conscious opposition to the methods of classical philosophy, and turned toward the sciences in order to find both a methodological canon and concrete tools for its analyses... [AI] saw itself as a "new philosophy" and indeed as an anti-philosophy that aimed at recovering the goals and scope of the millennia-old attempts toward an exhaustive account of man and his place in the cosmos, while replacing arm-chair speculations with a radically new kind of empirical approach. The claim will be illustrated and defended with reference to the development of the work of Herbert Simon.

Online Videos Thread

Fanfiction Thread

Nonfiction Books Thread

Awwww, how nice. The section about Luke_2011 in God in Proof is rather flattering:

While I was in Los Angeles attending William Lane Craig’s classes at Biola, I got in touch with Luke Muehlhauser, the author of one of my favorite [blogs about arguments over the existence of God], Common Sense Atheism. He suggested that we meet at Peet’s Coffee in the food court of the Glendale Galleria, a gaudy shopping mall. A few minutes ahead of schedule, I got a text message: I have arrived. I’m the only 6’6” guy with spiky black hair. -Luke. It was true; I had no problem finding him. He was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt decorated with a florid graphic, like you’d buy on a boardwalk. We got our coffees and sat down at a table to talk.

Luke and I were the same age — twenty-six — and, without ever having studied it formally, he knew way more philosophy. He grew up in small-town Minnesota, a devoted Christian and the son of a pastor, always pushing himself toward as much holiness as he could manage. In college he studied counseling psychology but became disenchanted with it and dropped out of school before graduating. That was when his faith began to slip. He started learning about the historical Jesus in order to know his savior better, but what he found had the opposite effect. In came doubts, and they wouldn’t go away. He turned to the apologetics industry in order to buttress his belief in God, but discovering the arguments of David Hume helped clinch it. The blog he kept then, What God Taught Me Today, is still online as a record of his last days as a Christian. He says he finally became an atheist on January 11, 2007. “I feel like I’ve been born again, again,” he wrote a few days later. But it wasn’t easy. There was a big task ahead of him.

Luke left Minnesota and moved to L.A., where, when we met, he was making a living setting up computer networks for businesses. But he did that as little as possible — around thirty-five hours a week, and less if he could manage. His real work was the self-education-in-public that was happening on his website. Day to day, Luke was building a worldview. The big priorities at first were answering, in detail, the best theistic arguments he could find. He also needed to develop a compelling moral theory consistent with his atheism. Since launching Common Sense Atheism in late 2008, Luke has posted podcast interviews with philosophers, extended book reviews, and bibliographies of academic articles, linked to PDFs when possible. His readership became large and loyal; it’s not uncommon for more than a hundred comments to appear on a post. Many of the readers are philosophy graduate students and professors, and lots more are apologetic hobbyists on either side of the big divide.

What he does best is explicate arguments clearly, fairly, and respectfully. Sometimes he deals with the familiar ones of Plantinga and Craig, and sometimes he helps promote lesser-known thinkers. He’s willing to criticize atheists as much as theists. “Irrationality and non-rationality are not religious conditions,” Luke told me. “They’re part of the human condition.” They’re also what he wants to minimize as much as possible in himself. He’s intent on being wrong as little as possible...

We talked for two breathless hours over our coffees — shop talk about philosophy of religion, mostly — and by then I thought that out of politeness I should let him go. I thanked him for the conversation and began to gather my things. But as I got up to leave, he said, “I wouldn’t mind talking more if you want.”

I thought about it for a second, looked at him, saw he was serious, and took off my jacket. I only stipulated that we walk while we talked. And so we did, for five more hours after that, about exalted things, among the mall’s chain stores and loiterers, stopping only for a snack of jalapeño-covered Wetzel’s pretzels and iced tea. We talked and talked through one proof after another — their strengths and weaknesses, what they mean, and what we know about the people who thought of them...

As the “virtuous atheist” of The Hague was said to be, Luke is earnest, gracious, and curious. He listens hard and well, then asks generous questions that make one want to open up and tell all. They’re questions through and through, but they feel like compliments. His eyes squint as he thinks.

Now that he had found a purpose in philosophy, he regretted having dropped out of college, because it meant he couldn’t apply to graduate school and become a professor. But he said he could just as easily move to some cheap, faraway basement in the desert and keep on doing his research over the Internet. Already, anyway, he had accomplished what not many PhD’s can claim; he had the attention and respect of some top people in his field. He was having long, in-depth conversations with them on his podcasts. William Lane Craig has even used Luke’s material in class. Yet the more Luke was getting settled in his new worldview, the less interested he was in religion. He was writing and thinking more and more about things like artificial intelligence, meta-ethics, and neuroscience...

After the sun had set in the skylights overhead, the last two hours of our conversation turned a little torturous. We had been talking about these ideas and proofs and consequences in the abstract, and we had agreed on most things. But now he wanted to know more about what I believe, and where I stand, and what conclusions I had come to. What was the content of my Catholicism? This was what I dreaded. I could talk about God as love, as community, or as a presence beyond being. I could tell him about the nun I know with the secret ministry to transgender folks, or teach him the tune to a hymn I like to sing before bed— these are the content of my faith. But he would only ask what that means in terms of proofs. I could defer to unknowing and mystery, but he kept pushing me for clarity— gently, but pushing. I tried one tack, and my wind would die, and I’d try again. And the wind would die. That was the best I could do. He stood several inches taller than me to begin with, but I was starting to feel especially small.

Finally, seven hours after we began, night long since fallen and the mall nearly deserted, we made our way to the parking structure and said good-bye. I sat for a while in the car I was borrowing from a friend, a new and newly cleaned Civic, and I wrote down as much as I could remember of what had gone between us. As I wrote I couldn’t escape a feeling of being a living contradiction, and of sadness...

[Luke] had helped hold down the winged words I might otherwise get away with, before the wax they’re made of could melt in the sun. The unexamined life is not worth living, nor the unexamined God worth believing. I remain, thank God, no less than ever a question to myself, and God remains a question for me.

Richard Rhodes - "Dark Sun: The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb"

The title says it all - a book about the development of hydrogen bomb, in both its American and its Russian incarnation. The book is the sequel to The Making of the Atomic Bomb (which is really great).

The book roughly starts where its predecessor ended, and tells the story of the main characters in the Manhattan project, and how they started work on the Next Big Thing -- the hydrogen bomb, as invented by Ulam/Teller. The book is a bit less about the science and more about the politics of the H-bomb project, but still there are quite a few details - though the DIY-crowd might need some more...

The book also details the Russian parallel development, first of their own atom-bomb and then also the h-bomb, and how they were much helped by espionage, in particular from Klaus Fuchs, who came off very lightly, and ended his days in the DDR.

Overall, slightly (only slightly!) less interesting than its predecessor, still a great read. Well-researched and detailed, but also very interesting -- esp. if you're interested in politics.

Just came across the book Behavior Modification in Applied Settings, which I don't think has been mentioned on Less Wrong previously. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but it looks like it could be useful for those of us interested in boosting productivity and personal effectiveness.

Jon Ronson - "The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry "

Some light reading about psychopaths (!) --how are people diagnosed to be psychopaths (often using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist), can this 1% of the population be cured (apparently, to a large extent the answer is "no"). In between, the author solves some kind of mystery, discusses some fun therapies from the 70s, and chats with some psychopaths-or-not, and the famous Rosenhan experiment makes an appearance.

Once more, the stereotype of psychiatry as an, at best, proto-scientific field is evoked. Not a bad book, good for a light read on a long flight.

Tychomancy: Inferring Probability from Causal Structure by Michael Strevens (a philosophy professor at NYU). From the blurb:

Maxwell's deduction of the probability distribution over the velocity of gas molecules—"one of the most important passages in physics" (Truesdell)—presents a riddle: a physical discovery of the first importance was made in a single inferential leap without any apparent recourse to empirical evidence.

Tychomancy proposes that Maxwell's derivation was not made a priori; rather, he inferred his distribution from non-probabilistic facts about the dynamics of intermolecular collisions. Further, the inference is of the same sort as everyday reasoning about the physical probabilities attached to such canonical chance setups as tossed coins or rolled dice. The structure of this reasoning is investigated and some simple rules for inferring physical probabilities from symmetries and other causally relevant properties of physical systems are proposed.

Not only physics but evolutionary biology and population ecology, the science of measurement error, and climate modeling have benefited enormously from the same kind of reasoning, the book goes on to argue. Inferences from dynamics to probability are so "obvious" to us, however, that their methodological importance has been largely overlooked.

There is also a brief chapter summary here.

Would you recommend it?

Logic: The Drill by Nicholas J.J. Smith and John Cusbert.

Free 300 page PDF that contains a variety of solved exercises from propositional and predicate logic. Description from the authors:

One obvious use of this work is as a solutions manual for readers of Logic: The Laws of Truth—but it should also be of use to readers of other logic books. Students of logic need a large number of worked examples and exercise problems with solutions: the more the better. This volume should help to meet that need.

Fiction Books Thread

I've been reading A Song of Ice and Fire a.k.a. the source material for HBO's Game of Thrones. It lives up to the hype both in terms of quality and character deaths.

I was going to post something similar!

If you haven't yet jumped onto the GoT bandwagon, you should consider doing so. As a data point, I did not want to get into A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones mainly because so many people were into it (I know, silly; another reason was that I have high expectations for fiction that will take up much of my time), so if that describes you, I highly recommend giving it a shot.

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Read through it once yesterday (it's short), will do again today and tomorrow. It seems good. It's also very nice and very loving, but I expect that of Gaiman.

Despite authorial disclaimers, it's particularly interesting if you know something about how Scientology claims the world works. In that context, it comes across as a personal exorcism.

Not really books but meta-books: I was recently introduced to Calibre, which was a revelation for me and which I now use to organize all of my books. Previously it had been very hard for me to keep track of what books I had and what books I was reading and that sort of thing. Courtesy of Calibre, here is a list of fiction books I've read recently:

  • Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Has some interesting social criticism.

  • Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. I really like the idea of the Primer but the book also basically has as a theme that strong AI is impossible, which was less cool.

  • Diane Duane's Young Wizards series #3 and #4. I read #1 and #2 as a kid and never got around to the rest of the series, so I wanted to fix that. They're shorter than I remember and Duane bandies around terms like entropy without really understanding them, which always annoys me in an author.

  • Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. This is probably one of the better children's books in existence, but it may not hold an adult's attention. If you haven't read any Gaiman before, American Gods is probably a better introduction.

  • Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series #1, #2, and #3. I think I started reading these because Eliezer mentioned them here. I wasn't really expecting all the sex and religion but I ended up finding it quite interesting. These books were hard to put down. They're also quite long: I felt like in each book somewhere between two and three books' worth of stuff happens.

Calibre is the most useful software with the worst interface ever. I use Sumatra PDF when on a Windows box or the epub reader addon for Firefox.

When I had a BlackBerry, though, I did find Calibre's command-line interface stunningly useful, 'cos the only ebook reader for BB is old stray copies of MobiReader, and ebook-convert is just the thing to convert epub to mobi.

Calibre really annoyed me every time I tried it - it seemed intent on moving my whole collection to another folder and the interface was horribly unintuitive. I'd really like a better program with similar functionality, but alas, I haven't been able to find anything so far.

I really like the idea of the Primer but the book also basically has as a theme that strong AI is impossible, which was less cool.

I felt that book was half "yep, I can see things going that way, interesting" and half "no, stop, things don't work that way."

This is probably one of the better children's books in existence, but it may not hold an adult's attention.

Have you read The Jungle Books, which it was (in some ways) styled after? I found Kipling's significantly better.

[-][anonymous]8y 2

After years of looking, I finally found a copy of Day Watch and Twilight Watch that match the paperback edition of Night Watch that I got accidentally years and years ago.

In brief: Night Watch, Day Watch, and Twilight Watch are the first three of a currently-five-part series by Sergei Lukyanenko. He's -- more or less -- the greatest currently living Russian fantasy novelist. It's urban fantasy; I've been describing it as a much better version of Beautiful Creatures set in modern-day Moscow.

It follows the standard "Masquerade" style supernatural plot line: there are Others that live alongside humans, but never reveal themselves. Light Others tend to protect humans; Dark Others tend to manipulate them for their own purposes. To prevent all-out war, the two sides signed a treaty establishing the Night Watch (composed of Light Others who police the Dark) and the Day Watch (which does the opposite). The delicate nature of the balance inspires lots of political plotting and backstabbing of an order not seen in contemporary fantasy -- I'd say it's even better than A Song of Ice and Fire as far as political intrigue goes.

The series follows Anton, a middle-ranking magician of the Night Watch with some reservations about the group's motivations. Day Watch takes place in the aftermath of the climax of Night Watch and develops his romance with the great enchantress Svetlana, who is much more powerful than Anton. This causes a great deal of drama. Day Watch also introduces the mysterious Inquisition, who serve as the executive and judicial branches of the treaty.

Twlight Watch then follows Anton and Svetlana as they try to fulfill the destiny revealed at the end of Night Watch. It quickly spirals into a chase after a long-lost witch and her long-forgotten artifact that can potentially destroy the balance altogether.

Lukyanenko's style revolves around a densely written main plot -- he's not as big a fan of B-plots as most fantasy authors. He's written Anton as a character that likes to listen to music, and so many lyrics are lifted from Russian pop and rock, but because Anton is listening to them in the context of being in the Night Watch, he interprets them in non-standard ways. The books are also quintessentially Russian: characters use diminutive names frequently; vodka and kvass are both on the menu; and Anton has staunch opinions about Russian politics....

I'd regard Night Watch by itself as a 9/10 book, no question. Day Watch was even better, but not perfect. Twilight Watch was, in comparison, disappointing, but still somewhere above a 7/10. The first two books were turned into films (first Russian-made, but I think another version of Night Watch was made in the US), but I'm told that they diverge substantially from the plot and end up being pale imitators, in the way so many book-to-movie adaptations go.

I don't read very much fiction, but recently I've read

  • The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan - book two of his Orthogonal series, where he imagines life in a universe with different spacetime symmetries, where the velocity of light is a function of its wavelength. In this instalment, alien scientists on a generation ship try to discover the secrets of matter, and of their own biology, which will allow them to return home. There is a lot of focus on the scientific method and the character of physical law, and the treatment of the (made up) physics is much, much more rigorous and principled than earlier physics-centric Egan books like Schilds Ladder, Diaspora, or the dreadful Distress

  • Neuropath by Scott Bakker - a disturbing psychological thriller that explores a radical reductionistic view of the mind and consciousness. If you still think that consciousness is a some sort of unique, special phenomenon, an inevitable byproduct of intelligence, than this book may be for you.

I recently picked up the (presumably) final collection of Isaac Asimov's Black Widowers Tales, The Return of the Black Widowers. There are some great stories in here including:

  • The Acquisitive Chuckle
  • The Obvious Factor
  • Northwestward
  • The Haunted Cabin

In the latter (originally published in 1990) I was amused to find this section:

The five other Widowers at the table, rationalists all, scrambled to their feet and, the order for silence forgotten, yammer their indignation. DaRienzi kept his seat and smiled.

Avalon raised his hands and thundered, "Silence! I don't say I accepted the supernatural is an explanation. I merely say I was forced to consider it. I don't believe in supernatural influences, but even my own firmest beliefs cannot be accepted by myself as unshakable and invulnerable. Do you mind pursuing rationality thus far?"

The Black Widowers Tales are right at the top of my 2ndhand bookshop foraging list, although I seem to only find copies of the one volume I've already read. Still not sure how I would justify my existence, but they sure are a great read.

I just blew through six or seven of Ted Chiang's short stories, and when I finished "Hell Is the Absence of God" I had to stop. I was physically shaking, my knees went weak and I was reduced to gasping and making inarticulate sounds for the next several minutes. I don't know if that was a fluke, but I would really like it if someone would point to similarly horrifying stories or books.

There's a good one that begins, "A basilisk, a shoggoth, and a cenobite walk into a bar together", but I can't figure out the rest of it.

Television and Movies Thread

Not really music but meta-music: I recently learned that Spotify lets you organize playlists into folders, which I didn't know before. Previously I'd been very hesitant to make too many playlists because I didn't want them to become disorganized, but now I've made a whole bunch of playlists containing music I just hadn't been listening to because I didn't have a system for reminding myself that it existed.

Just so this comment contains an actual music recommendation, Pentatonix is a lovely a cappella group.

For the EDM fans out there, some semi-pony themed dubstep/progressive house/electro music: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCj5ceb5aLKALh-g6vhAcpxw

Kanye West's Yeezus is an absolute masterpiece. It's like the black Kid A. Highly recommended.

I thought it was terrible.

I find it tough to explain stuff like this. I just thought it was crap, and didn't understand an ounce of the hype or adoration. There may be nothing deeper to it than I just didn't enjoy it.

Fair enough, I guess. Out of curiosity, did you like MBDTF?

For the record I loved all of MBDTF, and thought Yeezus was awful (bar Blood on the Leaves and Bound 2). I can't quantify my dislike particularly, beyond noting that to me Kanye is great as a great producer. His voice can be pretty annoying, and his lyrics dodgy. Usually his production is enough to make me overlook it. I thought the production on Yeezus was all over the place, so I didn't have much to distract me from not liking his voice or lyrics, and in fact was bad enough that I rated the sound of the album as something that dragged it down instead of the usual propping it up.

I definitely agree that the lyrics on Yeezus don't stand on their own, but I absolutely loved the sound of the album. To each his own, I guess.

I really liked about half of it, and thought the other half was meh.

Kanye West is an extremely talented musician, so even when he sucks I find it interesting.

Edit: Playing Yeezus now ... yeah, this is entirely disappointing compared to MBDTF and I'm thinking "what happened?" I realise he's going from deliberate maximalism to deliberate minimalism, but nevertheless ... He's also under the delusion he's as good at words as he is at music.

Nanda Collection by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, which is mostly hyperactive and annoying with a paucity of actually good songs. Yasutaka, this is not as good as the previous one. I want a new Capsule album for this.

Playing the complete-except-the-first-three-albums-nobody-wants-to-know-about Kraftwerk catalogue. Amazingly elegant music.

Podcasts Thread

Other Media Thread

Deadly Rooms of Death is the hardest and best puzzle game I have ever played. I very strongly recommend it. Until July 6, you can get all 4 DROD games for 3 dollars (normally 80) http://www.indiegala.com/summerdream#.UdR38udDv5J If you enjoy challenging games that make you think, you should take a look at this sometime in the next 3 days when you can still get the 96% off.

PS: I liked this game so much, I bought 10 copies of this bundle (at a bulk price of 1.40 each), just so I can give them out to friends I meet in the future who like puzzle games.

I really enjoyed the browser game BROFORCE. Warning, it's very violent. Protip, you can complete the first few levels by just walking.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Unity 3D => Browser-based, but Win/Mac only :(

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Is it acceptable to post a "someone else recommended this book, but I did not find it compelling because of these reasons" on the current thread instead of the thread on which the recommendation was originally made?

My personal preference would be to keep the discussion in the original thread with the original recommender; but perhaps include a link to one's reply here. (eg '- I read Bar; it was the best book ever and I'm now founding a business based on it\n- I also read Foo but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as $RECOMMENDER did; see [my reply] to them for reasons why not.')