Tag Archives: Books of 2009

Re: Japanese Hot Pots

Chicken Mizutaki Hot Pot

When I went looking for 660 Curries at the library, I stumbled on Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals. It’s a beautiful book with gorgeous photos and clear recipes, that makes you eager to try them. On the book’s website, the authors, Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat, show how quickly it can go. They emphasize four basic steps: Prep. Broth. Build. Cook. More than once they make my favorite, Chicken Mizutaki. (That’s my latest effort in the photo.)

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Re: Supersense

Supersense by Bruce M. Hood opens with a provoking question: Would you wear a killer’s sweater? The rational part of me wants to say, Of course I would, but mostly to prove that I can ignore the vague sense of unease that idea gives me. The part of us that creates that unease is what the author calls “supersense.”

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Re: The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

I liked the look of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen from the moment I first saw it. The book itself is a beautiful production. There’s illustrations on most pages, as well as end-papers and covers, wonderful ink drawings filled with commentary and wit. Even better, nearly every page has further excursions into side-notes or footnotes wandering around the discursive narrative. I even liked the story.
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Re: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture

I expected Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Ellen Rupple Shell and In Cheap We Trust to touch opposite sides of the same coin. I thought the latter would be about how it’s good to be cheap, that is, frugal. (Which it was.) I thought this book would be about how others pay the true cost of the cheap goods we buy. It’s more about how we are deceived into buying cheap junk that won’t last, and end up spending more money in the long run. In short, cheap junk sells even to people who can afford better because they don’t know.

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Re: Moral Machines

Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen raise some interesting questions in Moral Machines. Who is responsible when a driverless train runs amuck? Or when an automated medical system prescribes the wrong drug, or fail to detect drug interactions?  Why do we react to a robot displaying emotions as if it could feel them? Does a bomb detecting robot deserve our love?

The sections going over basic ethics and morality raises some intriguing possibilities. Maybe long-lived entities would have incentive to be kinder to others, as they would be more likely to be subject to the ill consequences of their actions.  Maybe to be moral, a machine needs to fear punishment. (But is it moral to build a machine that fears being turned off?)  Maybe a computer (or anyone) needs to be omniscent in order to make good moral decisions.

But as when the book tries to address the question of whether machines will ever become moral agents, it gets annoying.

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Re: Genesis Illustrated

The Book of Genesis, illustrated by Robert Crumb by R. Crumb has got to be the most repetitive  title I’ve ever seen, almost as repetitive as the “begats” Crumb had to tackle when he decided to illustrate the full text of Genesis. When I heard about this book, I was intrigued because R. Crumb is always intriguing. I like the excerpt. And I knew it would be a good fit, because the Bible never flinches from depicting people at their worst, and neither does Crumb.

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Re: Inbound 4

Boston is full of local history, odd little stories that add up to a sense of place. A fun collection of some is presented in comic book form is Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston. Assembled by the Boston Comics Roundtable, these Boston-based artists tell a wide assortment of historic tales. It’s like an illustrated  even more What They Never Told You About Boston (Or What They Did That Were Lies) by Walt Kelley.

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Re: Eclipse Three

I found most of the stories in Eclipse Three, edited by Jonathan Strahan, especially in the first half of the book, disturbing, disorienting, and depressing, but never dull. Over and over, I would get sucked in by beautiful writing. I would keep reading, wondering where it’s going, thinking that if it’s this well done, there must be a good reason to spend time on it. And then I would get hit with a downer and the end — and feel burned.

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Re: In Cheap We Trust

The main thesis of In Cheap We Trust, by Lauren Weber, is that most people live cheaply only when they have to. To a few it comes naturally, like the author’s father.  People in comfort, Ben Franklin included, might look back on a frugal past and call it virtuous, but those were people living in poverty, remoteness, a bad economy or other repression. Much of it is taken up with the history of who lived cheaply because they had to, who thought you should live cheaply, who was considered cheap in a bad way, and who thought cheap was a good thing. While there were some interesting passages about famous misers or bizarre household economy books, I was bored until we came to the role of cheapness in the 20th century.

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SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman is a collection of 40 flash stories, each packed with dense, lucid, playful ironies about what might come after this life. Many play with SF tropes, like the idea that we can transfer our minds into computers, or perhaps we were created by other intelligences that aren’t necessarily godlike, or what it means to understand the equations behind reality. It’s not so much about life after death, but death becoming a moment of illumination when the illusion of life is stripped away and you see what existence really is.

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