The Man Who would be Queen

The Man Who Would be Queen: The Science of Gender – Bending and Transsexualism (2003) by Michael Bailey is a fascinating book that looks at sexuality and transgenderism from the scientific viewpoint. It’s a highly controversial book that has seen Bailey viciously targeted because many people don’t like the theories it puts forward for political reasons.

Bailey starts the book with the story of Danny, a boy who as a two year old liked to dress in women’s clothing and play with dolls. Bailey says that by looking at Danny’s behaviour he believes that he has a good idea of how Danny will turn out as an adult.

He then also talks about surgically altering children with ambiguous genitalia and attempting to make them into one gender or another. This frequently goes wrong and inflicts huge pain on the subjects. Bailey uses this to point out that gender and sexuality are very much driven by genetics.

Bailey goes on to look at how genetics influence homosexuality and the way twin studies and other studies have show how genetics again drives this. This part of the book also frequently says that ‘this group believes X, this other group believes not X and Y’ and overall I believe X or Y. It’s a really nice and honest way to write about unclear scientific issues and it’s great to see.

The book then shifts to transsexualism and Bailey puts forward the controversial idea that is attributed to Ray Blanchard that there are two types of transsexualism, homosexual transsexualism performed on very effeminate homosexuals who at a young age wish to become women in large part to attract men and what Bailey terms autogynephilic transsexuals who are heterosexual transsexuals who are aroused by having a female body and who love the female body.

Bailey puts forward considerable evidence for this theory including case studies and more work from Blanchard. It’s hard to dismiss and a really interesting idea.

The book is pleasantly short and is really fascinating. For anyone who wants to know what the controversy is about it’s definitely worth a read.

 

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How to make a spaceship

How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race and the Birth of Private Space Flight (2016) by Julian Guthrie is all about the creation of the X-Prize, the groups that entered, the people involved and the group who won.

Peter Diamandis established Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) while studying molecular genetics at MIT. He then went to Harvard Medical School to get an MD but still pursed his space dreams. He paused his medical studies to get a Master’s in Aeronautics then finished his medical degree but then started to pursue his space dreams full time. In 1994 Diamandis started the X-Prize Foundation after reading The Spirit of St Louis. The X-Prize set up a prize of $10 M for the first company to make repeated journeys into space. He then spent years chasing funding and pushing the idea.

He met members of the Lindbergh family including Eric, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh who overcame early onset arthritis to reply his grandfather’s famous flight. This flight also helped foster interest and funding for the X-Prize.

Burt Rutan, the legendary aircraft designer and founder of Scaled Composites became interested in the prize and with funding from Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen started developing a craft.

Other competitors included John Carmack, the lead programmer for ID Software who created Doom & Quake and various competitors from the UK, Argentina and Romania.

It’s a good story, but the book doesn’t really hang together that well as narrative non-fiction. It’s about a third too long. There are also a few too many characters and the book meanders a bit.

Still, the fundamental story is interesting and it’s remarkable how Diamandis created a prize that really has helped kick start new efforts into space. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos were both attracted to the prize and it has helped them create their own space efforts. We still don’t quite have regular space tourism, but with SpaceX in particular it seems that new impetus has been given to new efforts into space and the X-Prize and SEDS seem to have really helped give this a push.

Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights

Evangeline and the Mysterious Lights (2017) by Madeleine D’Este is the fourth book in the Evangeline series of magical steam punk Melbourne books.  This time around Evangeline is confronted by mysterious lights streaking over Melbourne that have to be explained.

In this novella more of Evangeline’s character is revealed with more of her back story being explained. In addition there’s more adventures with her father with the lights.

It’s highly entertaining and a nicely different fictional colonial version of Melbourne. For anyone who has enjoyed the other Evangeline books this one is definitely worth a read.

 

Extra Lives

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (2010) by Tom Bissell is another book where a successful, serious writer and critic looks at video games.

Bissell faces the problem that other similar books such as Bit by Bit, How to talk About Videogames and other books like this face in that specific games are written about while the general and diverse nature of games is also addressed.

Bissell writes really well, he writes about what he found in Fallout 3, Resident Evil, Left for Dead, Gears of War, going to the DICE awards, Braid, Mass Effect, Far Cry and Grand Theft Auto (GTA). The chapter on GTA compares Bissell’s addiction to games to his sometime enthusiasm for Cocaine.There is also an interview with Peter Molyneaux and a discussion of Fable 2 in the book.

Bissell looks at how games tell stories, how the mechanics of the game often conflicts with stories and the power that games have to get people to play them. The book also has quite a few amusing quips.

Extra Lives does work as a book of serious game criticism. It’s fun to read and for anyone who enjoys reading the New Yorker and playing games it’s going to be a pretty solid, fairly amusing book.

 

Depopulation

Depopulation: An Investor’s Guide to Value in the Twenty-First Century (2015) by Phillip Auerswald and Joon Yun is a semi-interesting book about a really important topic that gets far less attention than it should.

There are many books that deal with AI and how it could possibly end all our jobs. However, there is zero data that this is actually happening. AI has made ads marginally better and can recognize snapshots on Facebook. Which is amazing, but the real impact has been fairly small. However, Japan is shrinking by about the population of Canberra every year and this is the only book I’ve seen on this trend.

Almost every single developed country has a birth rate below replacement. The only large group of countries with high birth rates are really poor countries in Africa and once they too become richer, say approaching 10K GDP at PPP per year which they are on track to do by mid-century it’s highly likely birth rates will fall there too.

This book looks at how birth rates are falling and then makes some suggestions as to where investment will be good. The author’s suggest companies with good returns rather than high growth prospects.

The book has some interesting statistics and is not terrible, but it does far less than can be done with a really interesting subject. Looking at Japan and the many places where populations are declining now, such as East Germany, deserves better treatment and should be more interesting.

 

Forewarned

Forewarned: A Skeptic’s Guide to Prediction (2017) by Paul Godwin looks at when predictions are likely to be good, when they are likely to be bad and how to make better predictions and forecasts.

The book covers similar material to other books like Tetlock’s Expert Political Opinion. There are also lots of references to the work of Kahneman and Tversky. Taleb is also referred to frequently.

There is a discussion of how scenario planning can be useful and how companies have used it successfully.

The book isn’t bad. If you’ve read lot of similar things much of the material will be familiar but there should be something new for most people in the book.

Bit by Bit

Bit by Bit: How Games Transformed our World (2017) by Andrew Ervin is a take on video games by a serious writer and critic. Ervin has written a number of books that have been well received as serious literature. In this book he’s writing about something he is clearly passionate about and reflects on his game playing past and the history of computer games. He is also someone who is familiar with how serious art critics have addressed art in writing. If you read the New Yorker and play games, this book could well be for you.

The book mixes Ervin’s life and a history of games. Ervin selects Adventure, Pong and a number of Nintendo games as significant and writes about how they were developed and the impact that they have had. He writes like someone who takes things seriously and writes in a manner that shows how he regards various items like old game consoles like some would regard relics.

He also visits a museum to see a game done as serious art and writes about a number of games. The book has lots of good points in it as Ervin reflects on how sport wouldn’t be seen as an art but is the subject of quite a bit of serious writing. Ervin also addresses the issues of sexism and violence in games and trots out fairly pedestrian left wing views on the subject.

Ervin certainly writes well about an appreciation for games. I feel sorry for friends and family who don’t really appreciate what a fantastic medium games are. It’s like feeling sorry for people who don’t particularly like music. But this is a hard thing to convey.

Bit by Bit is interesting but it’s not really satisfying. Games are clearly an important artifact of our age and one where essentially the whole history of the form is still within memory. Ervin writes well but something is lacking in the book that makes it a really compelling exploration of games and their impact.