Tag Archives: 2 stars

Book: Information

Information: The New Language of Science
Info about info. That’s all there is.

Never really takes off.
272 pages, ★

Information lacks relevance throughout. I was asking, “What’s the point of this book?” somewhere around the middle. I only finished this book because I was in a hospital waiting room and found it slightly more entertaining than watching kindergarten programmes on the overhead TV.

I lost interest completely at this point:

“Imagine twisting the beads on your team’s necklace and watching the corresponding beads on the other team’s necklace twist in the opposite direction. Now imagine shattering that necklace and asking them what order the beads were in by asking them to re-twist them. Of course, the only beads whose directions can’t be communicated are the ones attached to the clasp. That’s basically Quantum Theory.”

Paraphrased from page two-hundred-and-something

This drivel disappoints me. I expect PopSci (that’s Popular Science) to bridge the gap between theory and application, thus bringing researchers closer to the public. Unfortunately, this book pushes them further apart.

This is a shame, because there’s some fascinating research being done in the field of Information Theory:

  • Enigma machines (WW2)
  • earthquake prediction
  • election fraud
  • stock market fluctuations
  • gambling cheats
  • evolution of religion
  • music analysis
  • and more…

This book fails to communicate all of this amazing stuff.

Information needs to be edited by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki to make it relevant and fun. I sincerely hope that this book isn’t the “new language of science” as its subtitle claims. ★

Book: Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization

Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization
Also available in red. Hardback.

Too technical for me. Sci-fi fans probably understand this better than I do.
320 pages, ★★

Sorry. This is probably an excellent book, but my elementary understanding of Babylonian culture prevents me from appreciating it fully.

I learned three small things from this book. First, amidst a deluge of alien-sounding names, I recognised what looked like a section on a natural history of the Fertile Crescent. It was so-named by one scientist, who shaded the region that received more than 200 mm of rainfall each year. (And that area was crescent-shaped.)

Second, I learned how Babylon pioneered the construction of cities, states, social classes, division of labour and organised religion (it sounds like Babylon in many ways resembled modern society). We have a lot to thank them for.

Third, I learned how the “fight of ideas” has happened throughout history. People probably even opposed early agriculture because it rendered hierarchies in traditional hunting communities useless (the opponents of agriculture were probably the ones who personally had less to gain from it). Agriculture developed nonetheless.

Long-standing fans of sci-fi, or those who studied “Class Civ” in school, might be able to grasp this book better than I can. Babylon and I give each other two stars. I hope you learn more from this book than I did. ★★

Book: Color Management: A Comprehensive Guide for Graphic Designers

Color Management A Comprehensive Guide for Graphic Designers
My local library stocked the red version, but blue, purple and white versions also exist. (And maybe more.)

Look, but don’t read.
224 pages,

I didn’t enjoy reading this book. It’s nice to look at, though.

Color Management‘s strength is that it’s beautifully-produced. It’s a fine example of how to make a stunning design portfolio with near-perfect color palettes and suitable font choices for your audience. It describes the process of creating color palettes, and the science of choosing fonts, but the English isn’t good enough to educate me—it merely looks good on the page.

The font is small and printed on a colored background. The page layout is confusing. Whole paragraphs are unnecessary. Some facts are repeated, and others are wrong. (On page 177, it tells us that 32-bit color allows for 16.8 million colors on your palette—in fact, it allows for 4.3 billion. Even I know that.)

The science of design is useful for road signs, billboards, packaging, pamphlets—things I’m not going to spend more than a few seconds looking at; but design overkill” in this book is distracting. Anything that’s going to be looked at for hours needs to have good content, not just a good first impression. The over-emphasis on first impressions makes my eyes wonder aimlessly around each page. Where should I start reading now? There’s too much colourful text, and the top two thirds and the bottom third of each page contain separate content.

Reading Color Management is rather like simultaneously reading a two-tier news ticker on TV (while also paying attention to the pictures on the rest of the screen). If that were possible, it still wouldn’t be fun.

I’d prefer my graphic design textbook to be mostly plain text, followed by illustrations and examples that fill whole pages. Please don’t make the whole book look like a series of advertisements. They’ve squeezed theory into an example-shaped mould, and failed to educate.

Put this book on a corporate guest table. Then when you’ve arrived early for your all-important appointment, browse through this mindless eye-candy before going in. In those situations, nobody really reads the text anyway. It looks good, though. ★★

Book: Presentation Skills for Students

Presentation Skills for Students

If monkey see, monkey do, then don’t read this book.
139 pages, ★

I learn by seeing and doing. I copy. Therefore, if a teacher uses a bullet lists on a PowerPoint presentation to tell me how to deliver an eloquent, engaging speech, then I’m really not going to learn. Actually, all I’d learn is how not to speak.

Presentation Skills for Students is a written embodiment of the PowerPoint bullet-list culture that most of us detest. This book tells me to speak up, project my voice, choose suitable fonts, colours and graphics, blah blah blah, but doesn’t deliver the information in a way that I find in any way engaging: it’s littered with dull, bulleted lists and emphasises theory over practice, which ironically contradicts the book’s purpose—to train good speakers.

Watch Obama’s speeches if you want to improve your speaking skills. Here’s an excellent one below. Learn from the best!

If you still insist on learning the theory, then watch this TED video as well, called “Talk Nerdy To Me”.

Presentation Skills for Students reminds me of the Fight Club corporate meeting scene with Microsoft (or in the film, a generic company), where the protagonist’s boss tinkers with the colours of his slides—and the leader replies, “efficiency is key, people”. The best part is that the author, not the character, is being ironic. Presentation Skills for Students is an equally pointless display of procrastination. Watch Obama instead. ★★

Book: The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
If McDonald’s® sold books, they’d sell this one. It’s fat, greasy, bitesize, objectionable and tasteless.

Fast, bite-sized and tasteless.
560 pages, ★

Critics were right to call The Time Traveler’s Wife “sexy” in their reviews. It’s “sexy” because it’s absolutely overloaded with sex: sex in the form of extra-marital affairs (which could possibly be excused by time travel), sex in the form of Henry f*cking Clare, and—mostly—sex in the form of Clare f*cking Henry. Sex and time travel are the only two aspects of this book that will stick in my mind.

The story is very simple: Henry and Clare meet, get married, and then attempt to have a baby. The book is written as an amalgamation of their two diaries, with the date and each character’s ages written at the top of each entry. The difference between Henry and Clare’s ages is a little disturbing (30 and 22 in “real time”, or 36 and 6 during an episode of “time travel”).

But time travel in this book is scientifically flawed. On page 322, we discover that this ability is the result of four very authentic-sounding genes: per4, timeless1, Clock and  an ‘unnamed gene’, and the book’s sleeve describes Henry’s time travel as “periodical genetic clock reset”. But by plotting their ages onto a chart, we notice two strange phenomena:

Time Travelers Wife Ages Chart
Henry and Clare’s ages from The Time Traveler’s Wife plotted against time. People who don’t time-travel age in a straight line. Two adjacent dots indicate two of the characters co-existing (and sometimes interacting).

First, Henry’s time travel can’t be due to “genetic clock reset” because he almost always travels backwards in time, not forwards.

Second, look at the uppermost orange dot on the chart. This shows that the end of the novel, Clare, too, travels back in time.

So what’s going on? The author tells us at one point that Henry is schizophrenic and all his time-travel is a hallucination. But if that were true, then he’d be able to hallucinate about the past but not step into the future and change it. It also doesn’t explain Clare’s diary entries from the future—unless the whole book is a hallucination. Either way, I no longer care. ★★

Book: An Introduction to Modern China History (1840–1949)

I like to reading the English. Do you?

Tragic period of Chinese history made funny by terrible English and production.
191 pages, ★★

An Introduction to Modern China History is riddled with errors, some of which are funny. Fonts and text colours change haphazardly, which indicates careless copy-and-paste jobs from external sources. Fixed-width symbols are used instead of Roman numerals, and the book suffers greatly from bad grammar, repetition and missing punctuation throughout. Historical references are sometimes questionable, too: answers.com and blogspot.com are each cited several times. I would have a field day proofreading this book.

Grave historical mistakes are also made. Confucius most certainly did not “invent” Confucianism, and the Taiping Rebellion did not occur in 1950.

The intended audience is explained in the book’s opening sentence: “Generally speaking, this book is provided to the overseas students who study in Jinan University.” The majority of overseas students in Jinan University probably won’t even open this book.

The second sentence is utter nonsense: “As a book of history, the basic historic events should be the most important material of the book”. Delete.

As a proofreader, terrible English prevented me from taking this book seriously. I learned little. Read Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 instead. ★★