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David Field RSS Feed (Groveland, MA USA)

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Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
by Nick Bostrom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.74

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Superintelligence - you can't trust it as far as you can throw it, July 22, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book deals with the possibility of creating an artificial intelligence that turns rogue. This is an almost certain occurrence by 2100, maybe much earlier.

I'm a big fan of this sort of change, but I can see problems happening in associated fields like having an artificial intelligence based on a particular human that lives on in a box. Who gets this chance?

There has to be a discussion of these situations, and I welcome books on this line of thought. However, I think Nick Bostrom's book is not what today's philosophers need. It's an academic book, and although many people will pick up most of it, it still puts the discussion at a remove. We all deserve our say, not just academics.

What Bostrom appears to say is that a problem creating an artificial intelligence is that it will try to achieve its goals possibly at the expense of humanity. If you decide, for instance, to tell a machine to make paperclips, you run the risk of humanity being extinct as the machine takes over the whole planet to producing paperclips. Trying to make the machine able to understand that this is a bad thing needs clever programming, and just about every rule we give the machine won't be appropriate a hundred percent of the time.

My response is that, assuming computers started in 1946 with Harvard's ENIAC, we have had to live with computers deciding what to do without human intervention. There have been a few problems we didn't anticipate fully, like Y2K, but I remember being told in the 1970s that, although the program would foul up after the year 2000, by that time there would be so many changes that the code we wrote wouldn't be around any more. Not completely.

But there were so many other problems that were solved by people who stepped back and tried to see where problems would occur. Take databases - there were things like check digits and hash totals in place from the beginning to guarantee data integrity.

So I feel that, in the years before artificial intelligence machines, people will make sure that the machines will govern themselves responsibly. Bostrom's book is a good introduction, but there needs to be a lot more thought in the world.

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph
Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph
by Jan Swafford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.03

5.0 out of 5 stars You can't believe what one man can do, July 22, 2014
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In 1970, 200 years after Beethoven’s birth, the West German government sent out a number of “Beethoven Jukeboxes,” and my local library received one. The “Jukeboxes” actually were a number of turntables and a bunch of headphones, and the complete works of Beethoven on LPs. You’d ask to hear one of Beethoven’s works, and then retire to the appropriate headphone.

Although I had some knowledge of Beethoven already, and had several favorites, my main listening was to pop music. But for that week I spent just about every night listening to the LPs, and discovering even more music that I’d never forget.

Jan Swafford has written a masterful life of Beethoven. It is almost completely free from music on staves, and even what remains shouldn’t get in your way. It is most of all a biography, but each important composition gets some sort of discussion. Swafford also offers a description of the background of life, including the rise of Napoleon, and the growth of the Enlightenment movement through the Masonic society.

Beethoven had much to do with the leading composers of his time. He was introduced to Mozart, and took lessons under Haydn. Salieri (Mozart’s nemesis) and Cherubino taught him how to create operas. But Beethoven was very much his own man. There are many stories in this book of contemporary composers who threw up their hands when they heard the newest Beethoven composition.

Beethoven pretty much started the Romantic Movement. His compositions turned the present day way of making music upside down. He was obviously incredibly gifted. Quite often he would sit at the piano and improvise to the amazement of his friends. After a while he gained recognition as the premier musician of Vienna.

Swafford also deals with Beethoven the man, in life and in love. Beethoven often argued with people, including his close friends. Then in a day or so, he would write abject letters of apology. All through his life he was attracted to women he could not get, because they were married, or they were aristocrats. Yet a number of his letters exist to see that he was smitten by women, and occasionally they were smitten by him.

I can recall sometime after the “Jukeboxes,” I heard Beethoven’s late string quartets. A string quartet sounds like something that will be played in the background, trying not to offend anyone. Beethoven took a totally different approach, and often listening to these works I felt just as exhausted as I had done listening to Cream’s “Wheels of Fire.”

To this day I’m happy listening to Beethoven, in either new works to me or all my favorites. I’m sure Swafford’s book will become one of your favorites – although the book is long, the writing is great, and will leave you as it did me, anxious to hear more of the man’s music.

TCP LA1027KND6 LED A19 - 60 Watt Equivalent (10W) Soft White (2700K) Light Bulb - 6 Pack
TCP LA1027KND6 LED A19 - 60 Watt Equivalent (10W) Soft White (2700K) Light Bulb - 6 Pack
Price: $41.98
3 used & new from $40.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Let there be light - everywhere!, July 21, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Since incandescent light bulbs are no longer made, there's been a possibility that new bulbs may not fit your existing structures. Some Compact Fluorescent bulbs are too wide immediately above the screw base, and I had to throw away one of my floor lamps because the CFLs were too big.

At the time LED bulbs were too expensive, but now they're available at a reasonable price, especially in quantities of a half-dozen. I'm glad that these bulbs fit my new floor lamp, and it looks like they'll work in any light socket in my house. They share with Compact Fluorescents the low power consumption and long life. In fact, they're supposed to last eighteen years, so be back here in 2032 and I'll report on that. :)

Someone recently asked me if they'd damage the light fittings if they were only related at 40 watts. They're 60 watt equivalents, but in terms of power consumption and heat they are only ten watts. What's even better is that they are noticeably brighter than my 60 watt equivalent CFL bulbs. They come in Soft White or Daylight color light, so you can get a heartening "Sunny Day" effect in mid-winter with the Daylight bulbs (mine were the Soft Light).

I'm sure that you will make the payback on your investment in these or CFL bulbs in under a couple of years. Just be ready for your kids when they ask, "Why did people change light bulbs?"

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap
by Matt Taibbi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.23
88 used & new from $14.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Get this book and read it, July 21, 2014
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You might be wondering why people are getting so het up about things like income inequality. There's a great book on this subject - Pickety's "Capital in the Twenty-first Century," which is quite a slog, but it at least explains what's happening. But what else is happening that we should know about?

I read Tiabbi's previous book, "Griftopia." That story of corporations' screwing all of us has been developed into this book into a contrast between the law as it's applied to big business compared to the law as it's applied to people at the bottom of the heap.

Each chapter alternates between the companies' behavior in swindling us out of million of dollars, and the plight of people who have committed no crime, other than being poor.

I have to presume that everything Tiabbi writes is true, since I'm not aware of any libel action against this book. It's amazing how few convictions have arisen from the financial crisis of 2008, yet the book lists hundreds of times that criminal investigation was needed. There's even a case of how Wall Street figures combined to try to bring down a large insurance company by planting biased reports by "analysts."

And at the bottom of the heap, what happens? If you're Black and on the street in New York, you could spend your whole day being arrested and taken to the police station to discover that there are no charges against you. Or the woman who was arrested outside her own apartment for "blocking the sidewalk" - at two in the morning! And finally, Social Security workers in Los Angeles who spend their time investigating their women clients for "boyfriends" (by looking for men's clothing in the apartment). One investigator rummaged through a women's panty drawer to pick out a sexy pair of panties, and then told the women "Why do you have underwear like this if you don't have a boyfriend?"

These are just a few of the incidents in the book that will astound and amaze you, and hopefully leave you feeling angry. I suggest that everyone read this book, and then try to act on it. Tiabbi writes well, and also explains corporate law clearly.

The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London
The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London
by Judith Flanders
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.14
37 used & new from $16.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Really - A Great Book, July 19, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a great book. Let me tell you why.

If you read a novel set in the present day, you expect it to have many of the technological advances that are current. If it's an adventure or crime novel, the plot should anticipate characters having a cell phone, finding information through public TV security systems, or looking at someone's Facebook page. Yes, you can have novels without all these, but a private investigator without a cell phone?

You can also invent a future with technology that doesn't exist today. We call that science fiction, and equally we have historical novels written today without modern technology. The whole attraction of books like the Brother Cadfael mysteries is that he is able to solve crimes in a Medieval setting without modern-day techniques like fingerprinting or blood analysis.

If we write in a present-day setting, we take for granted many of the things that aren't mentioned specifically like the changing social circumstances of today against those of a century ago. But what if you read a book that was written centuries ago? The authors had little idea of the world of 2014. It made sense when it was written, but not today.

That's why I like this book. Judith Flanders has given us a guide to everything that happened to the occupants of London in the 19th century. That's a hundred years of history in a rapidly changing city, from the time of Dickens and Jane Austin to the short stories about Sherlock Holmes.

As you read this book you'll become aware of matters important to Londoners at that time that you probably haven't thought of. I’d never thought that the noise from the streets would be so loud, but with street-vendor cries and plenty of horse carts, it was probably deafening.

One other thing that Flanders mentioned was a tragic night when skaters fell through the ice of a pond in one of the royal parks and many drowned. I wasn’t so much the accident, as the fact that I’d lived in London for over ten years, but I’d never heard of it. I guess that even these middle-class skaters were used to sudden death that could happen to anyone, particularly by misunderstood illnesses that mysteriously spread.

There are many more facts like this that give you a far greater insight to conditions in London during the period than any others I’ve read. Highly recommended – it will make you think.

Lonely Planet London (Travel Guide)
Lonely Planet London (Travel Guide)
by Emilie Filou
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.64
70 used & new from $13.67

5.0 out of 5 stars Just look right - OK?, July 13, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have written a lot of reviews about travel books on places that I haven’t been to. However, London is a place where I not only visited, but lived for over 10 years. For most of that time, I worked as a motorcycle messenger and was constantly on the streets in all parts of London. If you don’t know what a motorcycle messenger is, be sure to look to your right when you step off the curb.

Lonely Planet has broadened its set of guide books from the backpackers guide to a whole range of books on popular destinations. This one is typical of a midrange guide, which assumes that the reader has more money and is not inclined to rough it. It still has plenty of information if you’re young and just want to have a good time.

I think it does a fairly good job, and seems up to date in many respects. Some people might suggest that you look only on the Internet, but when you’re walking down the street it’s a lot easier to pick up this book rather than set your gadget up for Internet access. London is set up for tourists and has plenty of ways to get around, and in some cases you can walk from one attraction to another.

Since I left there London has changed in a number of different ways. The food, which was the main drawback, has improved considerably in quality and range. London is regarded as the most cosmopolitan city in Europe, and the food reflects that. The other big change is the gay scene, and if you’re gay, there’s plenty to do.

There are some places to go on the Internet. I would choose a place to stay from TripAdvisor. Some cheap places to stay are in the suburbs, but if there’s an easy method of transport to town they could be worthwhile. Europe and London in particular have discounts that are not available unless you book from outside the country – see the website of VisitBritain for cheap transport passes and discount entry into attractions.

The weekly guide to London is the magazine Time Out and it’s definitely worth getting. Unless you are in a big hurry to get around I’d advise against taxis – trips to the airport will cost over $100. But London itself has reasonable cheap transport – one pass will take you anywhere on Tube, Bus, or surface trains. You pay more for the number of zones you travel in.

Just a Zone 1 pass will take you almost anywhere in the main part of London. I recommend that you pay cash for the subway that gets you into London from the airport, and then use a pass for those trips in the center. $10 will get you into London from Heathrow, or $40 or so on the Heathrow Express. There’s a London Pass that gets you into almost all the major attraction for free, without any waiting. For around $160 for six days, $80 for one.

So go! Take this book and some rainwear, and don’t forget to look right when you step off the curb.

The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success
The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success
by Rich Karlgaard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.97
57 used & new from $14.96

4.0 out of 5 stars Softies win out, June 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a great book. The success of Northwestern Mutual shows how the Soft Edge works. Who wants to sell insurance? Not many, but Northwestern's salespeople do.

The book says that you need three things to stand out - a Strategic Base, which equals a great product in the right market, a Hard Edge, which means you can deliver the product to customers, and a Soft Edge.

The Soft Edge is the one that's being ignored these days. Karlgaard shows that companies that encourage the Soft Edge have the advantage over competitors. I was lucky to work for a company that encouraged people to learn the soft skills - EMC - and I think that was what made me perform my best.

Some books cover soft skills in a rather fuzzy manner - just do these few things and your company will turn out right. But this book shows clearly how companies of today are cultivating these attributes in their everyday work.

I strongly advise you to get and read this book. You'll profit by it.

Sabrent 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub with Individual Power Switches and LEDs (HB-UMLS)
Sabrent 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub with Individual Power Switches and LEDs (HB-UMLS)
Offered by Store4PC
Price: $6.99
45 used & new from $4.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Handy Hub to Have, June 26, 2014
I think just about everyone these days has too many USB devices, so a hub is becoming a necessity.

This one not only has four USB ports, it gives you the means to switch each socket on and off.

Add to that it works with all PCs since around 2001 and all Macs using OS X. The device works as well with all varieties of USB from 1.1 to 2.0 natively, and also with USB 3.0 at 2.0 speeds.

Considering that many devices don't need more than USB 2.0 speeds (a keyboard needing more than 12 MB/sec ?) this isn't that much of a handicap.

I was sent the black version of this to review, but if I'd had the choice I would have bought the white version so it wouldn't get lost on my desk.

All in all, a very useful hub to have around, and it's small enough to fit in a laptop bag. And since I thought the price would be about twice what it is, a great value, too,

First World War For Dummies (For Dummies (History, Biography & Politics)
First World War For Dummies (For Dummies (History, Biography & Politics)
by Sean Lang
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.29
49 used & new from $11.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Dig into World War One, June 25, 2014
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This is a tricky book to write. WW1, as I've discovered in reading a number of books on the subject, has many ramifications. This book appears to be aimed at the High School student. You can open it at almost any page and drill down into the surrounding facts through the many references to other pages.

That's handy, because WW1 has many scenes of operation and consequences. One major difference between it and WW2 was that the countries that took part largely did so on their own territories, settling local differences. Compare that to WW2, where the major powers fought each other across vast passages of country where the local residents had little say (like the countries of North Africa compared to the vast number of American and British forces and the Germans and Italians).

And also, it would be hard to say today which war had the greatest effect on the world of today. When you consider that the Middle East was partitioned largely by Britain (which led to the wars of today), and Britain also seized power in the oil-rich countries there, the Russian annexation of Eastern Europe (and the subsequent breakup of the Russian Bloc) is a sad story, but at least most of the inhabitants of the area now have something to look forward to.

At least the end of WW2 led to the creation of the European Union, compared to the feeling of a post-WW1 betrayal that Hitler capitalized on.

You can argue these points all night, but at least if you get this book you will have a reliable and affordable understanding of the War. I see the major market as students, but for the rest of us this book can be just as handy. An excellent introduction.

Five Stars: Putting Online Reviews to Work for Your Business
Five Stars: Putting Online Reviews to Work for Your Business
by Gradiva Couzin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.77
57 used & new from $11.38

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four stars for "Five Stars", June 23, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was amused to see that I could rate a book on getting good ratings.

Although Amazon gets a mention here, the author is aware that many small businesses have a limited area to serve customers. Hence a bad review of a pizza joint on Yelp can cause a lot of heartbreak.

This is why the book deals with many types of small businesses and the sites that review them. It gives good advice on ratings, and points out that even bad reviews can draw the owners' attentions to areas that need improvement.

Every site seems to have its bunch of people who give negative reviews. We Amazon Vine reviewers have a bulletin board where we mention some of these people who give one-star reviews to five-star items. They're usually people who have only a few reviews, and every one of them gives a single star. But from all I see of the reviewers and Amazon, everyone works to give thoughtful and honest reviews. Amazon is constantly reminding us that we're not here to automatically give good reviews.

I'd recommend this book to anyone running a local business. It helps you understand the effect of review sites. There are no "magic bullets" here to deal with problems, but good advice that will help you understand the market.

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