Locus Online


Maybe Not
First I'll retract, or scale back, some intentions announced here last month -- rather than formal notices or profiles of nonfiction books in the Books section of this website, for now I'll cover such material only informally in this space, just as Locus managing editor Marianne Jablon comments about her sometimes non-SF reading in the ''Editorial Matters'' section of the magazine.

And I'll start now. With K. C. Cole's The Universe and the Teacup, a book subtitled ''the mathematics of truth and beauty''. It's still stacked on the front table at my local Barnes and Noble, so presumably it's been selling decently -- better than you'd expect a book about math to do. My thumbnail reaction: full of interesting ideas, but not a particularly well-written book. Cole is a newspaper columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and even in this book she seems most comfortable sustaining an argument only over a few pages. The book covers numerous independent topics, with footnotes linking chapters back and forth, as if they were written separately and then loosely knitted together.

That said, there are lots of interesting, even vital, subjects covered. Chapter 2 discusses how our brains seem to be calibrated exponentially, which is why we have trouble distinguishing between million and billion, and why we don't recognize the dangers of exponential growth. Other chapters cover how poorly humans calculate risk; the flaws of voting systems (Lani Guanier was right!); schemes for dividing thing up 'fairly'; and game theory experiments that validate altruism -- 'tit for tat'.

An interesting point in Chapter 7 pertains to ideas about science many SF readers may take for granted. Cole points out that most people don't realize that when scientists say a theory ''predicts'' something, they're not talking about forecasting future events, but rather predicting the outcome of an experiment or observation that could, in principle, have been made at any time.

Here Online
I'm in the process of revising the format of several of the main section pages to make them more amenable to updating on a timely basis. Sections like Books and Aether Vibrations have so far been updated an entire page at a time. In practice this has meant accumulating material for a week or two before posting. The trouble is, the more material to post at one time, the more difficult it is to find the time to do it, and the easier it is to put it off, causing the backlog to grow larger. Better, I hope, to structure pages like the main News page, where each item is separately posted and dated. These changes should be complete over the next week or two.

--Mark R. Kelly
21 May 1998

Previously: 19 April 1998

© 1998 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.