The Cartoon Introduction to Calculus

How did calculus come to be? Why? Who was involved? What does this have to do with pineapples (page 84)? These and other questions are integral to this book, which is not derivative of any other I have read. Okay, enough puns. Let’s get to the facts.

The Cartoon Introduction to Calculus is my favorite calculus book ever. Written by Grady Klein and Yoran Bauman, Ph.D., the book is informative, interesting, and insanely funny. That is not an easy task considering the subject matter. I got a C in calculus as a university freshman, and although I understand the topic better today, I really wish this book had existed at the time.

All the important topics are covered. The reader begins by being introduced to the history of calculus with both Leibniz and Newton and the questions they were exploring that lead each to “invent” or “discover” (pick your own side, I’m not taking one) the mathematics involved. We learn about The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, limits, derivatives, how this is useful in applications like economics, all the way to integrals and how they are used in physics. I sincerely wish the practical applications had been made this clear to me when I first encountered the subject!

There are other books out there that do a pretty good job of presenting this material clearly and well, such as one I reviewed ten years ago. What makes this book stand out is the writing and illustration. It is funny, and that is disarming. Bauman, who is billed as “The World’s First and Only Stand-Up Economist” and Klein, a previous work of whose I reviewed six years ago, pair up to write an easy-to-read, interesting, laughter-producing, intelligent guide to a tough topic for many. I’m impressed.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

The Game is Rigged

The game is rigged. We all know it. So what?

The art is learning how to navigate within the structure for your own benefit. All it takes is a change in your perspective.

Care about others a little bit less; care about yourself a little bit more.

Selfishness rules the world. Dog eat dog and all that rot. It is kill or be killed; take or be taken.

I get out of bed and stumble toward the kitchen.

How can I face another day of constant warfare? I need coffee. Food. Maybe something stronger.

I glance at the stove and the sink and am reminded of tasks not done. Blurgh, no clean dishes, no clean pans. No eggs for me.

I hear my alarm. What was it I was supposed to be doing? Oh, yeah. A heavy sigh pushes my body a little closer to the floor. I trudge to the bathroom for a quick brush of the teeth and hair. Time to head out.

I exit the flat. The dingy hallway closes in on me. I am reminded again of my status. Dog eat dog; I chant my new mantra, trying to convince myself. I must get out of here. This life is killing me.

I see the sign on the elevator. Out of order. Again. It has worked exactly two days in the last month. I stumble down six flights of stairs.

The lobby lights are dim. Only one working bulb in the entire room. The trash by the mailboxes remains from last week. Not my responsibility. I try to convince myself. I cleaned up the lobby every week this year. I am starting over. Time for some other dog to be devoured. I’m done.

I exit the building. The streets are dark. I hate having to leave so early. The bus will arrive at my stop soon. Only two bus changes today. That is better than my old place, but it still takes too long to get to work.

Brr. Dirty snow consumes the sidewalk, except on the narrow path created by my neighbors’ feet. No one shovels in the slums. No one cares. No one issues citations. The law doesn’t apply here, unless they want to crush someone.

Six blocks go by. Only one more and I will reach the bus stop. No building here to block the wind. A shiver overtakes me. I need a new coat. Sigh. I need to make rent.

I check my phone: 6:00 am. The bus should arrive in 5 minutes. I look around. No one else is here. That is odd. I check the posted schedule. Unchanged. Is it a holiday? No. WTF.

6:05. No bus. 6:10. I will miss my connections. Still no one else at the stop. Finally, someone strolls by. Do you know what is going on? Bus strike today?! I can’t afford a taxi. I don’t have a car. No one is able to give me a ride. No work today. Pay rent or buy food? The game is rigged.

Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated Guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals

How do you make decisions? Do you know? Some of us use market norms while some use social norms. These and other topics are covered in today’s review.

Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals by Dan Ariely and illustrated by Matt R. Trower aims to help readers learn to consider the reasons why some decisions are better than others.

To achieve the book’s goals of explaining how social sciences and behavioral economics overlap and differ we are presented with a narrative. The narrator, Adam, faces a continuous and confusing set of choices he must make. How will he decide which option to choose in each of these moments? Assisting the narrative are colorful and well-done illustrations.

The author submits that decision making is often a subconscious balancing act between competing norms. We have economics to consider. We also have what is acceptable or appropriate in society. It is not always obvious how to balance these two.

To help explain how we deal with them in Western society, Ariely gives Adam two fairies, the market fairy and the social fairy. Good decision making often requires us to identify and evaluate the forces at work around us, and these characters help Adam do just that. In the process, we as readers are given some thoughts and skills to consider and adapt.

Anyone with a weakness in either of these two departments, economics or social sciences, will benefit from this book, along with anyone with strengths but who aren’t sure how to balance the two perspectives. I am especially looking forward to seeing the reaction of my Autistic son and how the book may influence him when he reads it.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight

On July 20, 1969, humans first walked on the moon. It was an amazing achievement, even by today’s standards 50 years later.

Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight is not the first book by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm that I have reviewed. In fact I have reviewed two others previously. As with each of those, this book is well-researched, historically valuable, and filled with illustrations that enhance the text.

In this book, we learn the history of the moon landing, starting years back with the beginnings of astronomy and studies and beliefs about the moon, through early rocket science and the war years, all the way to the successful Apollo 11 landing and safe return home.

The story is told using multiple voices, which I especially appreciate. While the Apollo project history is frequently shown and told through the voice of participants, such as famous astronauts, there is also a narrator for historic contextual moments and scenes. Moving the story along through a series of vignettes and flashbacks is both interesting and also allows important background knowledge to be brought in at just the right moment for it to have its greatest impact.

As with all of his work that I have reviewed, Fetter-Vorm’s artwork is splendid, appropriate to the moment, and beneficial. I especially liked the way he moves between color and grey scale images for impact when showing scenes of “present moments” passing through the Apollo 11 developments and contextual history.

This is one worth picking up for anyone even slightly interested in space.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Astronomy for Kids

I have an eight year old who knows more about the solar system than most adults I know. He is fascinated by stars, planets, asteroids, comets, and anything else you can think of in space. How cool that I was able to give him this book.

Astronomy for Kids: How to Explore Outer Space with Binoculars, a Telescope, or Just Your Eyes! is a wonderfully laid out, fascinating, and intellectually stimulating introduction to becoming an astronomer, whether amateur or eventually a professional. The stated (and in my opinion achieved) goal is to help kids find and name objects in the night sky while teaching cool and fun facts about them.

The book starts with useful basics like “don’t look at the sun” and why some objects are only visible during a certain time of the year or from a specific hemisphere. From there we move to going outside at various times of the year and finding constellations and other objects with just the naked eye. Then, with binoculars. Next, using a telescope. The book is filled with clear and colorful illustrations and diagrams making it very easy for any reader to understand what is being described in the text and what they are looking for in the sky.

My eight year old is really enjoying this book and I’m sure your kids will, too.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

The Manga Guide to Cryptography

This “Manga Guide to…” series is fantastic. This is another solid entry worthy of your time and attention, provided the subject matter is of interest for any reason. While none of the entries in the series could or is intended to replace a textbook, they are all fantastic supplementary materials to any study of the academic topics covered.

The Manga Guide to Cryptography tackles all of the main points you would expect of an academic introduction to the topic. It does so with clarity, with precision, and surrounds the academic details with an enjoyable narrative that makes the information much easier to absorb. In fact, I would go so far as to say the story makes the subject matter move from difficult, but interesting, to enjoyable. This is done by giving a context to the subject matter that the reader can relate to.

Ruka Maguro is the younger sister of Jun Meguro, who is a police inspector. She tags along with him as he investigates a case of art theft from a supposedly secure museum. As information security is discussed during the investigation they are joined by Rio Yoneda, a news reporter, who points out the flaws in the first cryptographic cipher being used to protect the location of the now-stolen masterpiece. This is all in the first five pages.

From here, the story develops (I won’t spoil the plot any further). Along the way, the book covers the foundations of encryption and classic ciphers, various algorithms such as symmetric-key and public-key and multiple implementations and details for each, and finally a number of practical applications of encryption. The book will not teach you how to become an elite hacker (1337 hax0r, either), but will give you a solid introduction to a wide breadth of foundation information in the topic. It does so with enough clarity and precision to help you understand what the various ciphers, algorithms, and implementations are and how they are currently or previously used along with enough understanding to help you do further research on any that interest you deeply.

This book won’t replace a textbook and doing your homework, but it has a very strong chance of helping you overcome the fear and intimidation that are often associated with these complex topics. Like the other titles in this series, I recommend this book highly.

It seems that the publisher now prevents hotlinking of images. I don’t blame them, but that is why there is only one link to the book (in my first reference to the title) and not two (one from an image of the cover).
Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy.

Cracking Codes with Python

Cracking Codes with Python: An Introduction to Building and Breaking Ciphers has two goals. The book aims to teach the novice how to program in Python while also providing a good foundation in ciphers, encryption, and cryptography.

There is nothing in the book that will help the reader replace the excellent open source implementations currently available. That is not the goal. Rather, the reader has a chance to learn the foundations underlying classic and modern attempts to secure communication between parties.

The classics are all here, from simple reverse cipher and transposition all the way through to one-time pad ciphers and public key ciphers. The book starts simply from both a programming and a code perspective, gradually adding complexity while explaining first how a cipher works, then how it is coded, then what its weaknesses are and why you would want to move on to something better.

If learning Python while studying basic cryptography is of interest, you will find this book useful and well worth your time.

Disclosure: I was given my copy of this book by the publisher as a review copy. See also: Are All Book Reviews Positive?

I wrote this in 1985

I am a technical writer. That is what I do for my day job. It is what I sometimes do for fun. Until recently, I did not realize that I have been doing this in some way since 1985. This was a school project I created when I was a fifteen-year-old high school freshman and found in a box in my mom’s house during a recent visit. It was originally accompanied by a balsa wood and paper scale aircraft model, which I built and which was created half covered and half exposed to show the airplane’s frame. This is not amazing work for someone my age today, but for a fifteen-year-old, I think it is impressive and worth sharing.