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Archive of posts filed under the Literature category.

“The algorithm is named after Hamiltonian dynamics, a model of physics that is used to construct the steps of the computation, and Monte Carlo, the town in Monaco that is associated with casinos and random algorithms more generally.”

I love writing textbooks; you get to explain the things that otherwise never get spelled out.

Storytelling: What’s it good for?

A story can be an effective way to send a message. Anna Clemens explains: Why are stories so powerful? To answer this, we have to go back at least 100,000 years. This is when humans started to speak. For the following roughly 94,000 years, we could only use spoken words to communicate. Stories helped us […]

Becker on Bohm on the important role of stories in science

Tyler Matta writes: During your talk last week, you spoke about the role of stories in scientific theory. On page 104 of What Is Real: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics, Adam Becker talks about stories and scientific theory in relation to alternative conceptions of quantum theory, particularly between Bohm’s pilot-wave interpretation […]

A parable regarding changing standards on the presentation of statistical evidence

Now, the P-value Sneetches Had tables with stars. The Bayesian Sneetches Had none upon thars. Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small. You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all. But, because they had stars, all the P-value Sneetches Would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the Beaches. […]

In which I demonstrate my ignorance of world literature

Fred Buchanan, a student at Saint Anselm’s Abbey School, writes: I’m writing a paper on the influence of Jorge Luis Borges in academia, in particular his work “The Garden of Forking Paths”. I noticed that a large number of papers from a wide array of academic fields include references to this work. Your paper, “The […]

The evolution of pace in popular movies

James Cutting writes: Movies have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Several of these changes in popular English-language filmmaking practice are reflected in patterns of film style as distributed over the length of movies. In particular, arrangements of shot durations, motion, and luminance have altered and come to reflect aspects of the narrative form. […]

Hey! There are mathematicians out there who’ve never read Proofs and Refutations. Whassup with that??

I ran into a colleague the other day who’d never read Proofs and Refutations (full title: Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery). He’d never even heard of it!

Tom Wolfe

I’m a big Tom Wolfe fan. My favorites are The Painted Word and From Bauhaus to Our House, and I have no patience for the boosters (oh, sorry, “experts”) of modern art of the all-black-painting variety or modern architecture of the can’t-find-the-front-door variety who can’t handle Wolfe’s criticism. I also enjoyed Bonfire of the Vanities, […]

“35. What differentiates solitary confinement, county jail and house arrest” and 70 others

Thomas Perneger points us to this amusing quiz on statistics terminology: Lots more where that came from.

“Imaginary gardens with real data”

“Statistics” by Marianne Moore, almost I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle. Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers that there is in it after all, a place for the genuine. Hands that can grasp, eyes that can dilate, hair that can rise if […] A souped-up Arxiv with pre- and post-publication review

Harry Crane writes: I’m writing to call your attention to a new peer review and publication platform, called RESEARCHERS.ONE, that I have recently launched with Ryan Martin. The platform can be found at Given past discussions I’ve seen on your website, I think this new platform might interest you and your readers. We’d also […]

Robert Heinlein vs. Lawrence Summers

Thomas Ball writes: In this article about Nabokov and the influence of John Dunne’s theories on him (and others in the period l’entre deux guerres) you can see intimations of Borges’ story The Garden of Forking Paths…. The article in question is by Nicholson Baker. Nicholson Baker! It’s great to see that he’s still writing. […]

Where that title came from

I could not think of a good title for this post. My first try was “An institutional model for the persistence of false belief, but I don’t think it’s helpful to describe scientific paradigms as ‘true’ or ‘false.’ Also, boo on cheap laughs at the expense of academia,” and later attempts were even worse. At […]

BD reviews

I read BD’s (bandes dessinées or, as we say in English, graphic literature or picture storybooks) to keep up with my French. Regular books are too difficult for me. When it comes to BDs, some of the classic kids strips and albums are charming, but the ones for adults, which are more like Hollywood movies, […]

Francis Spufford writes just like our very own Dan Simpson and he also knows about the Australia paradox!

Golden Hill was just great—a book that truly lived up to its reviews—so when I was in the bookstore the other day and saw this book of Spufford’s collected nonfiction, I snapped it up. I was reading the chapter on Red Plenty (a book that I’ve not yet read), I was struck by how similar […]

In my role as professional singer and ham

Pryor unhooks the deer’s skull from the wall above his still-curled-up companion. Examines it. Not a good specimen –the back half of the lower jaw’s missing, a gap that, with the open cranial cavity, makes room enough for Pryor’s head. He puts it on. – Will Eaves, Murmur So as we roll into the last […]

Wolfram Markdown, also called Computational Essay

I was reading Stephen Wolfram’s blog and came across this post: People are used to producing prose—and sometimes pictures—to express themselves. But in the modern age of computation, something new has become possible that I’d like to call the computational essay. I [Wolfram] have been working on building the technology to support computational essays for […]

X spotted in L’Aimant, par Lucas Harari

I have a long post in preparation with lots of B.D. reviews, but in the meantime I wanted to flag this one right now because (a) the book was excellent, with a solid story and beautiful art and design, and (b) one of the characters looks just like Christian Robert, in an appropriate mountainous setting. […]

The Manager’s Path (book recommendation for new managers)

I (Bob) was visiting Matt Hoffman (of NUTS fame) at Google in California a few weeks ago, and he recommended the following book: Camille Fournier. 2017. The Manager’s Path. O’Reilly. It’s ordered from being an employee, to being a tech lead, to managing a small team, to managing teams of teams, and I stopped there. […]

David Bellos’s book on translation

Seeing as linguistics is on the agenda, I thought I’d mention this excellent book I just finished, “Is That a Fish in Your Ear,” by David Bellos. Bellos is a translator and scholar of French literature, and in his book he covers all sorts of topics. Nothing deep, but, as a non-expert on the topic, […]