Monday, September 29, 2008

Six Degrees, Duncan J. Watts

Six Degrees
Duncan J. Watts

Six Degrees is subtitled "The Science of a Connected Age". It discusses the emerging science of networks, and does so with some flair, though I found the first half more interesting than the second half.

In the first half, Watts actually discusses the science of networks in some detail, with charts & graphs. He explains how he and others worked out some interesting results in network science, and even shows where they made assumptions that others overturned. For me, this portion of the book was fascinating, and fun reading.

The second half loses that level of detail and instead becomes more of a survey of ongoing work in networks and how it can apply in the real world. There are some interesting stories here, but nothing quite grabbed me the way the first half did.

In any event, if you're interested in the Small World Problem, or (more colloquially) whether or not everyone really is only six degrees of separation apart, this is an interesting read.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blink, Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

What can I say about Blink aside from the obvious jokes?

Well, I started out being really interested in it, but that's an oddity of my personal nature. The opening vignette is about an ancient Greek sculpture that a museum bought. It that turned out to be a modern fake, and the story of how the mistake was made and uncovered was presented. As a sculptor, it resonated with me, but that's probably just me.

After that it goes down hill. While the research Gladwell summarizes is interesting, there is nothing really useful presented here. His underlying thesis - that we all make snap judgements based on very little information, and that sometimes those judgements are good ones - seems obvious on the face of it. But the repetitive nature of his assertions gets old, and the fact that he never once indicates how to change one's skill at "thin-slicing" is irritating in the end.

Yes, he does indicate that experts are better at thin-slicing in their domains, but "Become an expert" is a useless answer to the question "How do I get better at thin-slicing?"

And he fails to explain certain things. For example, the museum that bought the stature hired experts to authenticate it. Why did those people fail to note the problems that others noted later? Why didn't they thin-slice the problem as well? Clearly becoming and expert isn't enough, and there are no other answers given in here.

This would have been better in a much shorter format. As it was, I feel like I wasted a lot of time with it.

Gladwell's earlier big work was The Tipping Point and I thought I might read it, but after reading this I'm not so sure. There's more PR than substance in Blink and the reviews on make me think that could be the case there too. Oh well.