Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Art of Prediction

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction – Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner (Broadway Books)

If the 2016 presidential election proved anything it proved that the game of prediction is hard…very hard.

Liberal polling and predicting guru Nate Silver and his 538.com website often hailed as the go to source had Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning the presidency pegged at 71% to Donald Tump’s 28%. Mic.com stated that “forecasters predict solid Clinton victory. Going against the whitewater rush of predictions going in Hilary Clinton’s direction was the professor who utilized a primary turnout model to factor his presidential pick, Donald Trump. Of course the professor faced an equal onslaught of criticism from those who ready to anoint Clinton.

So what was the root cause of this MASSIVE failure on the part of forecasters? The answer is a simple one. In Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, authors Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner offer prescient insight with their straight forward and handy Ten Commandments of Superforecasting, which turns out to be 11 commandments long. The simple answer comes in the form of number 2, “unpack problems to expose assumptions, catch mistakes and correct for biases.”

BINGO! It was the assumptions and biases that tripped up all of these so-called experts when it came to the presidential election. I found Tetlock and Gardner’s  Ten Commandments to be the most useful part of the book, which I think focused much more on the forecasters than it did on forecasting.

A Life Forged in the Heat of Battle

All The Gallant Men – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account of Pearl Harbor- Donald Stratton with Ken Gire (William Morrow)

With the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor upon us; as I read the story of Seaman 1st Class Donald Stratton’s miraculous tale of survival and heroism and later his comeback to fight another day, I couldn’t help but be struck by the uncommon valor that is this fin man’s hallmark.

Tom Brokaw labeled them the “greatest generation” and no better evidence exists than by comparing 19 year old Stratton to today’s perfect snowflake 19 year olds who need safe rooms, crying towels and Playdoh because Donald Trump won the election. It was at the ripe old age of 19 that Stratton raced to man his battle station on the U. S. S. Arizona amid a hail of machine gun fire and dropping bombs.

In All the Gallant Men – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account of Pearl Harbor, Stratton and co-author Ken Gire chillingly describe the chaos that was the Arizona on that infamous day, as a 1760 pound armor-piercing bomb hit the ship, detonating a million pounds of munitions and igniting 180,000 gallons of aviation fuel that was onboard the craft. So powerful was the explosion that the massive warship was actually lifted out of the water, buckling the deck in an inferno of death and destruction.

Stratton and his gunnery team suffered horrific injuries and burns, yet somehow managed to muster the strength to traverse a rope stretched over forty five seemingly endless feet over a burning slick of oil to the relative safety of the U.S.S. Vestal. That day Stratton counted himself among 334 survivors of the Arizona, and at this writing he is 1 of 5 survivors alive today.

That in and of itself would have been an amazing story, but Stratton was just getting started. Severely burned over 2/3 of his body, Stratton spent an arduous year recovering from those injuries. His recovery included refusing a surgeon’s advice to have his legs amputated and learning to walk again. If that wasn’t enough, following a medical discharge, Stratton continued his recovery with the goal of reenlisting and reentering the fight.

The Navy, unsure of his ability and fitness for battle, made Stratton go through basic training a second time and in the summer of 1944 he cruised through the challenge and was assigned to the U.S.S. Stark. Who among us ordinary people could say they would climb aboard another ship, let alone return to battle following what Stratton endured?

Stratton and the Stark would count themselves among some of the war in the Pacific’s most crucial battles including that War’s final battle on Okinawa. Stratton’s is a truly amazing story and one that should be required reading for millennial in need of a firm grip on reality.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kick Doodling Up a Notch

Doodletopia Fairies: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Magical and Beautiful Fairies – Christopher Hart (Watson-Guptill)

Whether you are business meeting doodler that fills notebook pages with random art and designs or casual spare time doodler or even a serious doodler looking to kick things up a notch, Christopher Hart is probably the go to guy if you want to take your doodles to the next level.

Hart has sold more than six million copies of his doodle art instruction books that give you the basics you need to evolve your personal art and really make it stand out.

Hart’s latest effort is Doodletopia Fairies: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Magical and Beautiful Fairies. Hart spells out the basics for developing your fairies from the ground up so to speak. Even if you’re a beginner or even a kid, he makes things easy to understand and will have you churning out nifty drawings in no time.

As your skills get better with practice, Hart will help you grow and develop from those basic into much more complex and detailed art and designs. Keep in mind, you won’t become a budding Leonardo DiVinci; we are talking cartoons and doodles here! This would make a great gift for you budding artist or even those folks who caught the adult coloring bug, but want to try their hand a something a little different.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Adult Arts and Crafts

I Modify Ikea® - Elyse Majors and Charlotte Rivers – (Ulysses Press)

What do you think of when you hear the word Ikea®?

Well if you’re like me then a couple of things come to mind; tasty meatballs and practical, simply made but sturdy furniture. So when I saw the title of this book, I Modify Ikea® by Elyse Majors and Charlotte Rivers, I envisioned nifty upgrades to useful furniture. Think the episode of Big Bang Theory where the nerds discuss plans to upgrade Penny’s entertainment center with fans and aircraft grade aluminum.

What I got, was a little more basic than that and what amounts to adult arts and crafts. Majors and Rivers dots page after page with easy to create pieces, both functional and arty alike, that would make great additions to your living space or even nice gifts with the holidays right around the corner. In fact if you have a handy crafter on your list, I Modify Ikea®, would make a great gift in and of itself.

The reality is, Majors and Rivers makes these DIY projects pretty simple and straightforward for those of us who are craft challenged. Each project comes with not only a list of what you’ll need to make these creations, but it offers up step by step illustrations that walk you through each project from beginning to end.

Since I don’t live anywhere near an Ikea outpost, while traveling for the holidays my plans include a sidetrack trip to pick up the stuff I’ll need to complete a book ledge, which covers both the practical, mount the book ledge within in reach of my work space, and the decorative; a neat way to display books I am using for research, without having them stacked on the floor next to my desk.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Insights of a Spy

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life – John le Carre – (Viking)

Over the course of his career British spy novelist John le Carre has masterfully crafted some of fictions most memorable stories and characters. Right from the start, with The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, threaded his stories with insights acquired first hand from his time serving with British Intelligence during the cold war.

While many have speculated about the authenticity of le Carre’s characters being modeled after those he crossed paths with in his real life escapades, he has never confirmed nor denied that thought process, choosing to never really delve deeply into his experience. That is until now; with the release of his latest outing, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, the elder statesman of spy fiction has lifted up the tent side and allowed us all to see snapshots of his time in her Majesties Secret Service.

le Carre is a true craftsman, has he skillfully presents vignettes, some as brief as a couple of pages, others more expansive, detailing his interactions with not only his colleagues in the service, but the diplomats, despots and deviants he crossed paths with. His recounting include where were you when it happened tales of historical events of the time, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the so-called Profumo affair.

le Carre’s life journey has been dotted with real life versions of the characters who are a hallmark of his fiction. His memories strike an interesting balance of clarity and at times self-admitted fog about the people, places and events that were part of the story. It is truly a remarkable gathering of stories about a remarkable man and a remarkable life and proves to be high entertainment for fans and non-fans alike.


How Did We Ever Survive

Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion – Danielle Walker – (Ten Speed Press)

How did we ever make it this far? How did our parents and grandparents survive and thrive into their 80s and 90s without the need to have paleo, grain-free, fill-in-the-blank-free diets? I feel like I should be the proud wearer of a I Survived Kindergarten T-shirt based on the number of my classmates that gobbled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a daily basis.

Yes, I realize that people are diagnosed with a variety of health and diet-based issues, but I think we have reached the point of silliness when we need a cookbook featuring a recipe for an AB&J Sandwich…that means almond butter and jelly. Enter author Danielle Walker who scored bestsellers with her against all grain approach to diets and recipes.

Walker’s latest entry is Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion, in which she posits a variety of recipes, notably for holiday based celebrations that are free, free, set them free of grains, dairy and would make a caveman happy. Gee wasn’t the average life expectancy of a caveman about twenty-something? Maybe it was a dinosaur thing.

The recipes in the book look amazing in the photos, but like all cookbooks the proof is in the pudding…oh wait, pudding probably has dairy…um the proof is in the arrowroot! While the meat, fish and seafood based recipes sound great, I just couldn’t bring myself to slap together the bread and baked goods that featured no grains. Oh and I’ll pass on the AB&J Sandwich; sorry but almond butter looks like wallpaper paste.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Inspiration for Passion

Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For – Craig Sager. Craig Sager II, Brian Curtis (Flatiron Books)

While there is some debate about the origin of the comment, there is a saying often attributed to Confucius that goes something like, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” When I’ve been asked about how to choose the best career path my response comes in the form of a question; What are you passionate about? I am always amazed how stumped people are by that question.

One guy who I know would NEVER be stumped by that question is legendary sportscaster Craig Sager. I have to admit two things; one I have never quite been able to wrap my arms around what is behind Sager’s flamboyant, often glow in the dark clothing choices and two after reading his biography, penned with his son, Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For, my respect and admiration for the man has been ratcheted up.

Sager is one of those guys who brings an unparalleled level of passion to everything he has pursued in the world of sports broadcasting. His heartfelt story recounts not only his career ups and downs, but also his family life and his battle with cancer. This is a rare character and it should be no surprise that he and his son, who has been by his side through much of his career, proved to be a rare bone marrow donor match. What an amazing story that is in and of itself that Craig Jr. was able to donate bone marrow to his father’s battle to beat cancer.

Whether you are a sports fan or not, Living Out Loud will inspire your passion and motivate you to be a bigger, better person. I think my new response to the career path question will be to simply hand the person asking a copy of Living Out Loud, that should provide all the guidance and direction anyone should need.