The Fredric Brown Megapack: 33 Classic Stories

The Fredric Brown Megapack: 33 Classic Stories (2013) by Fredric Brown is a collection of what are allegedly the best short stories by Fredric Brown. Fredric Brown was a prolific science fiction author from The Golden Age of Science Fiction and a master of super short stories with a twist.

The short stories presented are well done and loads of fun. They are full of clever ideas and twists. Apparently Neil Gaiman, Phillip K Dick, Robert Heinlein and Stephen King were all fans of Brown, after reading some of his short stories it’s apparent why.

Moral Combat

Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong (2017) by Partrick Markey and Christopher Ferguson is book by two psychologists about the real effects of video games on people.

The book looks at the history of the demonisation of games, pointing out that it is the latest in a long line of demonising new media that has included the bible, novels, music and comic books at least. The history of demonising games that have violent themes is also looked at from Death race to Mortal Combat to Doom. There is also an interesting presentation of how the American Psychological Association put together a consensus policy on video games. Essentially august Psychologists reviewed their own work and declared the issue beyond further debate. By carefully selecting the people who wrote the policy they determined the outcome. The limits of their own work is not discussed.

Markey and Ferguson nicely put forward the best argument that violent games almost certainly have a small effect on increasing violence and quite likely a sizable one on reducing violence, namely that as game sales have exploded violent crime has plummeted. Given that video games absorb a lot of time of the group, young males, that commits the most crime it’s a reasonable supposition to suggest that games, even violent ones, have reduced violence.

The authors also look at mass shootings that often elicit highly emotional responses. They point out that in recent large mass shootings when looking at the people who have carried them out they appear to play computer games, which are quite social today, less than the general population.

For real problems that video games very probably do contribute to they point out that video game ‘addiction’ is very mild and the usual consequence is simply spending a lot of time in a hobby. For the contribution that games make to inactivity and obesity the authors point out to studies that increased activity but made a tiny contribution to weight loss and that the reason we get fat is dominated by eating too much unhealthy food.

Nicely the authors also turn to the alleged benefits of computer games such as increased dexterity, cognitive ability and various things and they are just as skeptical as they were about the problems ascribed to games. Basically games are a reasonably mentally stimulating hobby that is as good for the brain as crosswords, playing chess and various other similar activities.

Moral Combat is a well written, fun, easy to understand book that really does a very solid job of debunking the damage that games are alleged to cause. It’s well worth a read for anyone who is worried about what their children or spouse or friends are doing to themselves by playing games.

 

 

 

The Evolution of Everything

The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge (2016) by Matt Ridley is an impressive enunciation of how many, many things evolve in a bottom up way rather than a directed and planned manner.

Ridley starts by generalising evolution and then applies the idea to the Universe, Morality, Life, Genes, Culture, the Economy, Technology, the Mind, Personality, Education, Population, Leadership, Government, Religion, Money and the Internet. Ridley’s generalised evolution is that things improve with trial and error and rarely with planning.

The book makes great points in many areas, particularly the point that many people who accept biological evolution when confronted with the economy wonder who the great planner is and how things can be improved while ignoring that the economy has improved largely without a plan and direction. On top of this the repeated disasters of fully planned economies are often brushed aside by saying that this time things will be done by a wiser plan. Ridley has an interesting chapter on Money where he points out the strengths of distributed currency issuance against central banks. He makes his points well there.

Some of the chapters on other subjects push the metaphor too far but tend to make interesting points along the way.

For anyone who wants an overview of why people think that plans don’t work Ridley has written a great text. For anyone who has wondered how the world advances even though it’s apparent that management and politicians are often clueless it also provides a good explanation of how progress is possible. It oversells the thesis but makes an interesting case quite well.

Stories of Your Life and Others

Stories of Your Life and Others (2010) by Ted Chiang is a very strong collection of science fiction short stories. Almost all the stories in the collection have won prizes which is remarkable. The film Arrival is based on one of the stories.

Chiang doesn’t write a lot, this is apparently the majority of his writing for over a decade,  but what he does write is very creative and very well done. This collection is very impressive.

This is very good work, it’s highly recommended for anyone who likes really creative fiction. It’s like Borges. The stories are really clever and the writing is excellent.

 

The Eighties: A Bitchen Time To Be a Teenager!

The Eighties: A Bitchen Time To Be a Teenager! (2012) by Tom Harvey is a memoir of growing up in the 1980s with enough pop culture references to keep anyone who remember the era happy.

Harvey recounts the story of him growing up and living through his teenage years in the 1980s and moving around. There’s some real tragedy in the book that seems to have not affected Harvey greatly in his life, instead he seems to have come through his life really well. The book is surprisingly interesting. Harvey manages to make his life interesting and keeps the pace moving well. The book is also pretty funny in parts.

Not a bad read for anyone who is feeling nostalgic and wants an interesting life story to accompany remembrances of safety dances past.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (2016) by Mark Manson is a self-help book with a clever title. It’s not terrible, indeed the first and last bits are really quite good.

Manson makes the point that we really have to not care about a lot of things to actually be able to care for a few things that matter to us. And he makes the point quite well with some sweary language. Having done this the book really sags and drags though until near the end where it perks up a little.

It’s strange to see that there are so many really positive reviews for this book. It’s not bad, but it’s far from great. Perhaps Manson’s blog is pretty popular and he’s had people who like him from there review it.

The Wealth of Humans

The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century (2016) by Ryan Avent looks at how the author, who works for The Economist, thinks how work will change in the twenty first century. Avent, who works at for The Economist, thinks that many manual jobs may well be replaced by AI.

Avent, while recounting how he works at The Economist, thinks about how other people work when working at jobs that are not at The Economist. Avent got a powerful lesson as a young man, before working at The Economist, when his father made him do chores in the yard. Possibly it was at this point that he realised he wanted to work at The Economist.

The book ponders automation and income distribution. It is actually a bit surprising that someone who does work The Economist, thinks that redistributing income is something that can be wisely and easily done and should definitely be done. The Economist used to be the magazine of classical Liberalism, Avent seems more of an American style Liberal.

Have I mentioned that Avent works at The Economist?

The question of how work is going to change in the twenty first century is important, difficult and interesting. The reduction of jobs in manufacturing, the possible automation of many or even most jobs is really something that is worth pondering. However, the first place to start would be by looking at how work changed in the twentieth century. There are useful numbers looking at how manufacturing and farming employment changed in particular. Also the huge changes in family size and women working are really important. These sorts of shifts and the somewhat surprising fact that unemployment hasn’t already shot up is something that a book that looks at twenty first century employment should be carefully considering.

The lack of ‘Rosie the robot’ type robots that have been imagined for over 50 years is also something to ponder. Avent amusingly suggests that iRobot is looking at making robot lawn mowers, he is unaware that Husqvarna have been making them for twenty years but that most people don’t have one because of their high costs. Most people don’t have a Roomba either. The lack of rapid improvement in Robotics (Kuka’s law?) should be mentioned as much as the massive improvements in semi-conductors and communications.

The book isn’t bad. Avent writes very well as would be expected for someone who works at The Economist. But his view is myopic, The Economist is a very unusual workplace and it provides a poor lens with which to look at how work might evolve. He makes some good points that low wage growth might be in part be driven by pressure to find any job due to automation already cutting into work’s role. Also his analysis of how business culture is incredibly important and hard to transplant is insightful. However, the book lacks more of a numeric and historic base to look at how work may evolve and is let down by this.