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How Computers Work: The Evolution of Technology, 10th Edition (How It Works)
How Computers Work: The Evolution of Technology, 10th Edition (How It Works)
by Ron White
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.06
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I am finding errors early in the book, December 15, 2014
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Beautiful illustrations, but I am finding errors. This one is forgivable, in the Introduction to the 10th Edition, page xviii: "...a computer that would return a solution in the form of punch cards". I remember punch cards for input, but not output. On page 17, I am asked to view an image of a two-bit Mona Lisa. But I see a color Mona Lisa. I think the image must be at least 8 bit. Also on page 17, the explanation for multi-bit sampling is not consistent with the Diagrams A and B that are referenced. The same diagrams are referenced a bit more intelligently in the discussion of sampling rate. Are the appropriate diagrams missing? Onward to Chapter 2, but I am disillusioned. Comments are welcome about suspected errors.

The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change
by Roger A. Pielke Jr.
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.09
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thin book, with some personal anecdotes, by a major player, December 1, 2014
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Let me take the liberty of quoting directly from the concluding chapter:

--- begin quote ---

If public opinion is not the reason we have failed to make much progress on climate change, then what is? Two of the biggest obstacles, which I have discussed at length elsewhere, are summarized here. The first is a failure of political plausibility. As discussed above, conventional wisdom on climate policy has long been that energy prices need to increase significantly. More expensive energy fits into a complex causal chain of policy action as follows:

Win public opinion via closing the science deficit (now focused on claims about extreme weather events), defeating the skeptics ->
the scientifically informed public will pressure politicians for action ->
politicians respond by passing laws, and international treaties are signed ->
dirty fossil energy becomes more expensive ->
people consequently feel economic pain (incentives) ->
not liking economic pain, people change their behavior and the market responds with more energy efficiency and fossil fuel alternatives ->
such market demand stimulates innovation in the public and private sectors, as well as in civil society ->
the resulting innovation delivers low carbon alternatives ->
GHG emissions go down, extreme weather (and other) problems are thus solved.

Laid out from start to finish the entire causal chain seems like a Rube Goldberg invention. If the causal chain begins to weaken at the first step, where the deficit model is assumed to operate, it completely breaks apart at the point where energy is supposed to become more expensive in order to create incentives to propel efficiency and innovation. The idea that higher-priced energy can be used as a lever to transform the global energy system may work in abstract economic models, but fails spectacularly in real-world politics, where energy costs are directly linked to virtually every aspect of human well-being, from the price of food to the availability of decent jobs.

A second obstacle is the pathological obsession of many climate campaigners with the climate skeptics. By concluding that the skeptics are the main obstacle to action, campaigners are devoting their energies to a fruitless fight. Make no mistake, fighting skeptics has its benefits- it reinforces a simplistic good-versus-evil view of the world, it gives a sense of doing something about climate change, and elevates scientific expertise to a privileged place in policy debates. However, one thing that it does not do is contribute towards effective action on climate change.

The battle over public opinion on climate change has long been won, and not by the skeptics. However, simply by virtue of their continued existence, the climate skeptics may have the last laugh, because many climate campaigners seem to be able to see nothing else in the debate. Climate skeptics are not all powerful and may not even be much relevant to efforts to decarbonize the global economy. They are not the reason that we haven't solved the climate change problem, but they are an easy explanation for more than twenty years of failed campaigning.

--- end quote ---

The bulk of the book is about the first step in the chain, with references to Prof. Pielke's personal research into the statistics of disaster losses, research by others into weather frequency, and quotes from the IPCC. Personally, I did't need any more convincing that a statistically significant increase in hurricanes, floods, etc. cannot be attributed to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In other books, Prof. Pielke has written about (and I have reviewed) the middle steps in the causal chain.

So who should read this book? Personally, I was most engaged by Chapter 1, with Prof. Pielke's personal saga of his encounter with, and reaction from, "the noble cause". I suppose you could piece together the saga from his blog, but I appreciated being able to read it in a book format that costs less than lunch. Followed by only a reading of Chapter 6 (the Conclusion, quoted above), that could be a satisfying partial read of a very thin, cheap book.

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
by Sam Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.85
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you become bored, skim, November 16, 2014
I cannot add much to the other much-upvoted and much-commented 3-star reviews that I have read here. I generally endorse what has been written in those reviews

I forced myself to read carefully the chapters on "Conciousness" and "Self", hoping eventually to find them worthwhile. It did not happen for me. One reason is that I have read "How to Create a Mind" by Kurzweil, and "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins, which I found more satisfying. Mr. Harris's chapters are not bad, but I have read better.

Nevertheless, the anecdotes on the charlatans and quacks were very much worthwhile, especially the analysis of "Near-Death Experience". Though this material perhaps is in the author's blog, I appreciated having it organized into a book format. I wanted to get to know Sam better, and this book helped me with that goal. The book has not motivated me to become either a Buddhist or a meditater.

The Age of Global Warming: A History
The Age of Global Warming: A History
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I doubt "they" will read it, September 7, 2014
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My academic abode is located within the National Weather Center, which houses various weather and climate organizations. Here are some excerpts from email announcements that I have received from such organizations:

''The South Central Climate Science Center bi-weekly Journal Club will meet on Thursday September 13th at 1:30PM CST in the Oklahoma Climatological Survey's conference room located on the second floor of the National Weather Center. This week's discussion will focus on "Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States." by McCright and Dunlap (2011).''

(BTW, the cool dudes that were examined don't deny carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and don't deny that climate changes).

And this announcement for the Region 6 Transportation-Climate Summit:

''BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Our transportation systems are facing increasing challenges due to extreme weather and climate variability. For example, rising seas, increasing storm severity, extreme temperature cycles, severe winter snows and droughts are creating increasing demands on infrastructure and operations."

Although the last chapter of "The Age of Global Warming: A History" is not a journal article, I highly recommend that participants in the journal club download the Kindle edition for 10 bucks and start with the last chapter. There we read a bit about the intellectual history of Vienna in the 1920s:

''Popper's search for a principle to distinguish science from pseudo-science was sparked by the contrast between Einstein's theory of relativity and Marx's theory of history, Freud's psycho-analysis and Alfred Adler's `individual psychology'. Einstein's theory was supported by passing the severe test conducted by Eddington, a test it could have failed. By contrast, subscribers to the theories of Marx, Freud and Adler found confirmatory evidence wherever they looked. Their theories seemed to explain practically everything within the fields to which they referred. Whatever happened always confirmed it.''

''Common to the three, Popper noted, was their treatment of unbelievers - or, to use the terminology of global warming, sceptics and deniers. Their defiance in the face of manifest truth had a ready explanation, for, as we've already seen, "unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still `un-analysed' and crying out for treatment."''

As other reviewers of this book have noted, the details of the diplomatic history can be difficult to follow, if you are not predisposed to remember the names of all the players. A less tedious option might be a book such as the Manga Guide to Climate Diplomacy, if such a book is ever published. However, the broad theme of the diplomatic history is not difficult to follow. The system of international governance, nurtured by the UN, has worked as designed, giving voice and power to the disenfranchised and downtrodden of our planet. The final agreement reflected the needs and desires of humanity, the quality of the science, and the discount rate that even the participants (politicians, climate scientists, NGO members included) apply in their personal lives. The international political system works. Celebrate it!

Okay scientists we are not supposed to make exclamatory statements about policy decisions that are balancing needs outside our purview.

A more parochial history for us scientists is reviewed in the book, namely the various aspects of climategate. Here is one conclusion from the book: ''The prospect of planetary salvation inflated the science so it became too big to fail, justifying the anti-scientific practice of withholding data and methods from potential critics and de-legitimising critical argument.''

The book is a history book, with a lot of deep history. ''To this, scientists brought their cultural aversion to learning from the past.
For them, history is not so much a closed book as irrelevant to the problems of the future.'' I feel that claim is generally true, and this aversion is nurtured by the system of higher education that I am familiar with. From freshman year to the Ph.D. hooding ceremony in the football stadium, the only historical knowledge required is what is needed to pass a token undergraduate history requirement, generally regarded as a joke. I hear no lament about this where I work. The grumbling I heard was about Laplace Transforms being dropped from the undergraduate curriculum.

But it has all happened before. Here is one gem of historical analysis within the book:

''In medicine what matters is not the motive of the practitioner but the efficacy of the therapy. A century ago, Professor Lawrence Henderson of Harvard drew attention to the remarkable advances in medical science, technology and therapy. 1912, Henderson claimed, marked a `Great Divide' when `for the first time in human history, a random patient with a random disease consulting a doctor chosen at random stands a better than fifty-fifty chance of benefiting from the encounter'.''

''When did reputable doctors retrospectively become quacks and when did clinical interventions, based on the medical science of the day, become of net benefit to patients? Even with the benefit of hindsight, it's hard to know. One answer is certainly wrong - at doctors' evaluation of their own abilities. Good intentions and strength of belief are highly misleading indicators of the quality of scientific knowledge. Physicians had been swearing the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm for twenty-three centuries prior to Henderson's Great Divide.''

Here is one error that I found in the book: ''By the end of the twentieth century, the Milanković cycles had fallen out of favour. Scientists now favoured theories that explained climate change in terms of changes in the atmosphere.'' Milanković cycles are not out of favour for predicting climate changes on time scales of 10,000 years or more.

The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics
The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics
by Leonard Susskind
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from $6.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Errors persist in the Revised Edition., July 23, 2014
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An admirable attempt to provide a low-cost education in some of the basic mathematics of theoretical physics. But I am surprised that the first edition of the book was so widely endorsed, given that there were so many errors. Some other reviews have pointed this out. The Revised Edition still has some serious errors. Go to scribd, search for the book title, then click the Documents tab. You will find a recent errata document, unavailable at the book website.

Math Girls
Math Girls
by Hiroshi Yūki
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.49
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human interaction with math, July 9, 2014
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This review is from: Math Girls (Paperback)
The primary three teenage characters:

(1) Miruka. Girl. Hot (at math) and she knows it.
(2) Unnamed first-person narrator. Guy. Not as adept as Miruka. He follows her lead, but is intimidated by her.
(3) Tetra. Girl. Least adept at math. Really wants to compete for/with the other two characters.

The really clever part of the book is the dialog between the three characters about their individual struggles with math concepts. The long, drawn out dialog to explain and question math concepts, both elementary and advanced, is a really refreshing way for the reader to learn and review math. Readers who teach advanced math concepts, or use advanced math concepts in their teaching, will be most appreciative of this book. The human interaction with math that is laid out in this book is superb.

I disagree with reviews here that claim that a reader only needs math prerequisites through complex numbers and pre-calculus. The math here seems very advanced to me. Best wishes if this is your first exposure to math on the level of the Basel problem (see wikipedia).

The fiction aspect is minor. Math Girls could provide guilt-free reading for those who would feel uneasy about allocating time to read a beach book.

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else
by Chrystia Freeland
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.07
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5.0 out of 5 stars inspiration for plutocrat wannabees, April 6, 2014
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Don't judge this book by the cover. I am surprised that the reviews here are so American-centric, and don't complain about how the cover is misleading. The same processes that elevated the plutocrats did NOT cause "the fall of everyone else" in China, Brazil, and many other countries. The author definitely presents the facts about this and does not just harp on the declining wages for semi-skilled workers in America.

The back cover of the book is much more true to the book's content. From the last sentence on the back cover: "Plutocrats is a tour de force of social and economic history". If you are looking for rant, or a manifesto for Occupy Wall Street, you may want to shop elsewhere.

Freeland's meticulous reporting and visits with the plutocrats makes this book very special, and may turn Freeland into a (multi-)-millionaire. I think she deserves it.

An Executive Summary of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's 'The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies'
An Executive Summary of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's 'The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies'

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enough said, February 23, 2014
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Am I now motivated to read the original book? No. With rare exception, this summary did not leave me desiring more details. Evidently, a reader familiar with technological innovation (digital technologies in particular) and the global trend towards income inequality will not be startled by any new analysis in the book. Nevertheless, the snippets of succinct analysis in this summary were pleasant. For example, I read a paragraph about how a global ,winner-take-all market also applies to fiction, and made J.K. Rowling a billionaire in a way that Homer could not be. Nice. I actually hadn't thought about that.

As happened to another reviewer of this executive summary, the advocacy for a negative income tax as a public-policy response to a second machine age really got my attention. That alone intrigues me to read the original book. As I write this, an alternative response being considered by the US federal government is to extract wealth with a regressive tax on low-income families having a night out at a fast-food restaurant, and from sixteen-year olds forced into idleness. I am left wondering if the authors have charted a political path to success for their proposed policy. Extracting wealth from the fast-food robotic engineers and financiers isn't going to be so easy. They are a politically powerful group.

Degrees Kelvin: A Tale of Genius, Invention, and Tragedy
Degrees Kelvin: A Tale of Genius, Invention, and Tragedy
by David Lindley
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Needs illustrations and equations, July 7, 2013
I am giving three stars because of the lack of scientific illustrations and equations. Except for that, I endorse all the positive statements in the other four-star and five-star reviews. I think that to really appreciate this book (and read it from cover to cover), a reader would need to have an undergraduate degree in science and engineering. Equations and illustrations would benefit the majority of such readers, and not detract from the reading experience. An example of a biographical book about physicists that strikes a comfortable balance between text, equations and scientific illustrations is "Great Physicists" by William H. Cropper. For a reader that pines for a balance like Croppers, I hope my three stars provides some commiseration.

The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future
The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future
by James M. Inhofe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.48
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18 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A review by a Professor of Meteorology, October 19, 2012
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A Professor of Meteorology in the great state of Oklahoma will hereby go on record with a review of Senator Inhofe's book. This book could have been been titled: "How a prognosis of catastrophic global warming plays out in Congress". That is what the bulk of the book is about. The "hoax" refers to the claims of "catastrophic" and the proposed mitigation strategies, not "global warming".

There is very little criticism in the book about the mainstream of global warming science: a doubling of carbon dioxide produces at most 4 watts per square meter of radiative forcing, which is relieved by about a one degree Celsius rise in surface air temperature. Positive feedbacks could produce a larger increase, and so on. The "conspiracy" here is simply refers to a consortium of groups advocating the threat of "catastrophic global warming" in alliance with a renewable energy lobby.

With a widely held perception that the alliance is engaged in altruistic activity, many would object to the word "conspiracy" but might concede a pejorative no worse than "occasionally misguided". Case in point: on page 80 of Al Gore's book "Our Choice" there is a pie chart with a big title on the top "Global Wind Energy Production" and a smaller, accurate title on the bottom "Total installed wind-power capacity". Does the IPCC care to distance itself from its co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for this factor of four deception? (Blunder? Are you going to tell me the proof-readers didn't catch it? ) Is it okay to publish contradictions to basic principles of settled science and engineering, if the intent is to move the debate in a virtuous direction? Does it matter that the American people would only get ¼ of the power they thought they paid for with their wind energy subsidies?

Such misrepresentations matter to Senator Inhofe. He opts for stronger pejoratives. He understands his trillions and his gigawatts and the virtues of accurate arithmetic. Many climate scientists do not understand energy technology and investment, apparently by choice. For example, they show no public remorse about their discretionary intercontinental jet travel, but will publicly excoriate the energy companies that supplied the fuel for their jet. Whether hypocrisy or naivete, this attitude doesn't sit well with Senator Inhofe (me too). Senator Inhofe is a holistic thinker. Expensive federal programs that are being used for public demonstrations of innocence, for scoring victories in the culture wars, don't appeal to him. He knows he will be held accountable for the human welfare of his constituents. Senator Inhofe can forecast the consequences of a vote for the largest regressive tax increase in history (which would be true for any cap and trade legislation that would have a substantive effect). Most of his congressional colleagues are also capable of similar holistic thinking: they know they can be for "cap and trade" only because they know it won't pass. When passage looks possible, his congressional colleagues apparently are compelled to consider the true cost and effect, and enough defections occur to keep the bill from passing. Or they start suggesting exemptions to make the cap and trade system just an expensive, pointless boondoggle.

Senator Inhofe presents a personal history of his involvement with the issues of the Discharge Petition, cap and trade, EPA regulation of carbon dioxide, and congressional earmarks. That history forms the bulk of the book. Though I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable about climate science, I was chagrined by my ignorance of these civics issues. Senator Inhofe gave me quite a civics lesson. He presents his analysis with detailed references. For example:

"It is very likely that the D.C. Circuit will overturn it and force EPA to grapple with the regulatory nightmare of its own creation. If the tailoring rule is thrown out - and almost everything is regulated by the EPA including farms, churches, coffee shops and restaurants - what will be the economic impacts? According to the EPA's own documents, PSD permits cost an average of $125,120 and impose a burden of 866 hours on the applicant. In addition, the nation's largest employers, such as refineries, electric utilities, and industrial manufacturing facilities, and industrial manufacturing facilities, will be forced to install (currently undefined) best available control technology (BACT) at their plants to reduce CO2. EPA has also admitted that if the tailoring rule does not hold up in court, they have to hire 230,000 new employees and spend and additional $21 billion to implement their greenhouse gas regime."

Okay, the law is the law. The law that declared carbon dioxide a pollutant is also the law that tells the EPA what it is supposed to do. Implementing a carbon tax is not within the enabling legislation of the EPA. The facts about the expensive EPA permit system were news to me. Those who were cheering that the EPA took over the job of Congress may need to think again.

In his summaries of legislative history, Senator Inhofe naturally presents himself as a good guy. But before I would risk my social standing in academia as a Professor of Meteorology and commit the sin of appearing to admire Senator Inhofe, I thought it would be prudent to verify his presentation of events. Rather than go to the sources cited in his book, I decided to take a short cut and read the plentiful 1-star reviews here. Certainly Senator Inhofe's many enemies would be gleefully refuting any legal or historical distortions found in the book. I was shocked by the vituperation. No civics lessons to be found.

I remind the reader that the United Kingdom has proceeded a bit further with its green politics than the USA. Big decisions with big tax dollars (pounds sterling) were imminent, and so a reality check was in order. Professor David MacKay, FRS, author of Sustainable Energy -- Without the Hot Air has been appointed chief scientific adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The European cap and trade system also suffered from Enron-style corruption. Voices like Senator Inhofe's will be more more welcomed in the USA in future years, if global warming recycles into a prominent issue again. Global warming is a serious issue, as far as this reviewer is concerned.

The appendices in the book can be neglected. The climategate emails are better understood in the annotated book Climategate. If you want to spend time with the emails, read the book Climategate. By the way, I disagree with Senator Inhofe's claim that "climategate=vindication", just as I would disagree that the malfeasance by Enron vindicates that socialism is superior to capitalism. Likewise, the excerpts from Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear, though a landmark novel in having an extensive non-fiction reference list, detract a bit from the seriousness of Senator Inhofe's book. But you get these appendices virtually for free in the modestly-priced kindle edition, the price of two gallons of gasoline.
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