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Bak's Sand Pile: Strategies for a Catastrophic World Paperback – February 28, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

TED G. LEWIS, PHD, is Professor of Computer Science and Academic Associate of the Homeland Defense and Security curriculum at the Naval Postgraduate School. Dr. Lewis is the former senior vice president of Digital Development for Eastman Kodak.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 382 pages
  • Publisher: Agile Research and Technology, Inc (February 28, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098307450X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983074502
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.8 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,153,320 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Per Bak's very original book, How Nature Works, introduced the reading public to the science of self-organized criticality, SOC, and using examples from ecology, evolution, traffic flow and the like, demonstrated the utility of his basic idea, that complex systems evolve to a state of criticality. Upon reaching the critical state, these systems then become subject to cascades, rapid down turns in complexity from which they recover but will be experienced again repeatedly. Both the magnitude of these repetitious events and their time spacing can be described by a power law. Lewis has taken both the theory and application of SOC an order of magnitude further. His book covers a wider range of topics than Bak's. I would particularly recommend the chapters on Levy Flights, Invention, Innovation, and Inspiration, and the final chapter, If I Were King. In these chapters he makes connections between SOC and movement, the burstiness of inventive occurrences and the distinction between invention and innovation, and in the last chapter is prescriptive with respect to our shared problems of the 21st Century, all of which appear to be consequences to SOC. Also, his discussion of system resilience and its relationship to the power law exponent is quite insightful.

If you have an interest in self-organized criticality and in understanding SOC at some significant depth, if you have an interest in the many events that affect our collective experience (and existence) as a species, the occurrence of which cannot be described by normal distributions but exhibit skewed, long-tailed distributions, and if you appreciate accessible, insightful scholarship, then this book is for you.
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I'm still thinking about "self-organized criticality" over a year after reading this. It impacts systems, governments, and most large-scale technologies. It made me think differently, more realistically and expansively, about system redundancy, back-up systems, capacity planning, and security.

Another area where the book led to a greater understanding is that disasters aren't necessarily isolated events. There can be a devastating subsidiary disaster during a period of time afterwards due to the intricate linkages and dependencies of our complex world. Think mortgage meltdown & global financial crisis, which is still reverberating over 4 years later. Think tsunami & Fukushima meltdown.

I highly recommend this book. It is highly accessible to generalists, and even more meaningful to someone with a foundational mathematical background.
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We must start to accept responsibility and make the changes necessary to protect the future environment, what is the real cost of buying cheaper products? We must change the way we evaluate progress.
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