Coming Up...

Mostly for my own benefit, here's a run-down of subjects and books I plan on reading in the near future.

I've been meaning to delve into this for a while, but I think watching Crash Course World History crystallised it for me. Some subjects can be more amicably divorced from their histories than others. You don't need to know about Francis Galton to understand statistics, but if you want to make sense of the Business Cycle, there's an implicit need for knowledge of historical events that pertain to the Business Cycle. It seems to me that having a basic introduction to the theory of historical inquiry may be useful. As such, I've put myself together a triptych introduction to the subject.

The three books I've opted for are The Houses of History, (which I'm about half way through at time of writing), The Pursuit of History, and History: A Very Short Introduction1. I've also picked up a copy of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, which I've been meaning to read for a while. The plan is to see what I make of it once I'm historied up to the eyeballs.

Mathematical Proofs
I have something of an embarrassing secret: I am terrible at mathematical proofs. I'm conversant with common methods and techniques, and I can follow some pretty hairy ones, but ask me to personally prove something, and most of the time I'll spend half an hour pushing vacuous algebra around a page before skulking off in failure. I am led to believe this isn't an uncommon problem for people in my position. I have a lot of "methods" under my belt, but haven't really done much by way of analysis. While this doesn't matter quite so much right now in my mathematical career, it will probably become a lot more important later on, so I suspect it'd be a good idea to tackle this one now.

With that in mind, I'm awaiting the arrival of How to Read and Do Proofs, which came recommended by the four corners of the internet, along with How to Solve It, which came similarly recommended, and satisfies the charm I am under as regards quaint books from decades ago which are presumably still in print because they're of genuine value. While I will likely review these books, I won't form them into a triptych. This is a case of reading as many books on the subject as it takes to not need to keep reading books on the subject any more.

  1. I've heard a few good things about the Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions series, and I expect to sample quite a few in the near future. Not only are they in broad alignment with my goals, but they're also ridiculously cheap on AbeBooks, and having a ~150-page volume I can polish off in an evening makes rounding off a triptych a lot more straightforward. 


A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Daniel Dennett's Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. I'd recommend it, though it's not the focus of this post.

Early on in the book, two of the "tools" established by Dennett are certain words that he claims are strongly indicative of weak points in arguments. Specifically, these words are "surely" (which he claims is indicative of the author pleading a point he or she is in fact not entirely sure of), and "rather", (which he claims is often used to conceal a false dichotomy). I believe these claims to have some weight to them, though they're also not the focus of this post.

"What is the focus of this post?" I hear no-one cry. Well, having established these two words early on in the book, whenever they subsequently appear, Dennett suffixes them with "(ding!)". Sometimes the word appears in one of his own arguments and sometimes in those he is critiquing, but the purpose is to effectively draw your attention to their use. So effective, in fact, that when I was reading an unrelated piece of text last week, I hit the word "surely" and ding!ed.

I'm not sure whether this would be so effective for everyone, but I have the opportunity here to train myself to notice specific word usage. I've installed a regex browser extension (this one, for Chrome, is my weapon of choice, but I'm sure suitable alternatives exist for Firefox), and set it to append the (ding!) to a set of words I want to notice. For the time being I'm working with "surely", which I'm finding to have quite a bit of mileage.

You should consider how hard this post is for me to proof-read while this regex rule is in place. If I make a follow-up post in six months listing all the words I've added, that's going to be even more fun.

EDIT: Surely enough, a (ding!) crept into the draft of this post, and I spent about ten minutes wondering what was wrong with my incredibly simple regex that was causing two (ding!)s to appear