Weapons of Math Destruction: Book Review

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (2016) by Cathy O’Neil is mind-opening expose of the nefarious use of data and its impact on day-to-day lives. Her book is well researched, insightful, and alarming. In one of O’Neil’s examples, it seems disingenuous the way resumes are scanned and eliminated, often solely because keywords were missing. O’Neil states: “In fact, some 72 percent of resumes are never seen by human eyes.” She further suggests that electronic gatekeepers are resulting in unequal treatment in the review of resumes. In another example, O’Neil excoriates the way data was used to target poor people through predatory ads to recruit them to enroll in online universities.
O’Neil goes on to further discuss the ramifications of data compiling and its negative and unequal treatment in decision making and outcomes for those affected by the criminal justice system, college admissions, and employment.

She presents solid evidence to back up her assertion that potential employees can be blackballed through erroneous use of data, and some may never know why. For instance data brokers may compile a dossier with wrong and harmful data, such as erroneous criminal history or debt problems, with a person’s data profile that they sell. Once it is associated with a person’s record, even if it is wrong, it is often difficult to correct, and may resurface in a data broker’s files. This is a stark warning to those who freely give out their information on the web in the form of surveys and contests or on social networks.

While O’Neil recognizes that the collection of data can have some positive outcomes, she is forcefully sounding the alarm about the misuse of data and its threat to democracy. O’Neil says, “The growing science of microtargeting, with its profiles and predictions, fits all too neatly into our dark collection of WMDs. It is vast, opaque, and unaccountable. It provides cover to politicians, encouraging them to be many things to many people.”

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Veranda: The Romance of Flowers: Book Review

Veranda: The Romance of Flowers (2015) by Clinton Smith is a stunning display of gorgeous floral arrangements and oversize pictures of flowers. The pictures are large and visually appealing with a detailed eye for expression and color. The quotes add charm to the book. The quote, “It’s always best to start at the beginning –and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.” (Glinda the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz) starts the section on the use of yellow flowers along with a vivid depiction of yellow roses. The book includes a few tips on floral arranging and flowers, but the photographs are its strength as well as the lore about flowers. You are sure to be inspired by the book and will only deepen your love of flowers. Alas, the book is very expensive and I would love to have a personal copy. However, I was able to get several weeks of enjoyment through my library copy. As another quote in the book says, “The Amen! of nature is always a flower.’ (Oliver Wendell Holmes, poet). You will certainly be uplifted after perusing the book.

SuperForecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction: Book Review

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Super Forecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (2015) by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner should be required reading for those who want to improve their prediction skills. While forecasting is a gamble at best, for those who dare to call themselves forecasters and stake their reputation on their confidence in their judgments, this book provides sensible advice and warnings of overconfidence. As the authors state, you want to avoid misses and false alarms. Surely, all the prognosticators and polling experts could benefit from a refresher on blindness to opposing views or outliers that could sway their opinion or negatively skew the conclusions. Just look at what happened with the recent election results.

Tetlock and Gardner say we are all forecasters, but superforecasters (those with accurate predictions) have a special set of skills that can be learned to improve forecasting ability. The authors suggest that “how predictable something is depends on what we are trying to predict, how far into the future, and under what circumstances.” The authors suggest that your ability to be a superforecaster is largely dependent on how you think. Your thinking must be “open-minded, careful, curious, and –above all – supercritical.”

So do you have the potential to be a superforecaster? According to the authors, if strongest predictor is “the degree to which one is committed to belief updating and self-improvement.” Intelligence helps, but it is not the top driver of accuracy. Philosophically, superforecasters tend to be reflective, good with numbers, analytical, pragmatic, and thoughtful updaters (continuously evaluating the facts and changing minds as a result).

This book will not tell you how to be a superforecaster, but the illustrative examples will give you clues about what it takes to up your game in forecasting. Remember, it’s an art and a science; and nothing is infallible.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing: Book Review

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Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing (2015) by Jamie Holmes is a research-based exposition of uncertainty and its effect on decision making and life’s decisions. In many situations, the need for certainty can lead to less than desirable results. If you are not sure where you lean on the need for closure, the Need-for-Closure scale will help you determine where you fit on the scale.

For anyone grappling with medical decision making under uncertainty, the chapter, “Overtested USA: When to Resist Momentum” will be especially informative and will lead you to delve deeper into test results and recommendations before making a decision.

Holmes builds a case for embracing uncertainty and being comfortable with not knowing. Insights can emerge when you allow new information to enter the gaps and leave room for the ambiguity. While some readers may find the emphasis on research a bit overwhelming, others who require substantiation prior to belief will find the research focus helpful. If you are avid reader, much of this information will be familiar and you are not likely to find new information. Overall, if you would like to lessen your need for uncertainty, you might find useful insights in this book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Designing Life’s Celebrations: Book Review

Designing Life’s Celebrations (2016) by DeJua Stroud is a phenomenal photogenic book of ideas for festive events. The photos of floral arrangements are astounding in their beauty and creativity. For normal (meaning of average means) they aren’t realistic and not likely to be used in the floral arrangements as part of life’s celebrations. However, one can still glean some ideas that can be potentially adapted for a smaller scale budget. The text supporting the pictures is minimal and not very enlightening for day-to-day applications.

The section on floral arranging tips is sketchy and very basic. Overall, this book is “eye-candy” as a coffee-table display book. Its price of $50.00 is very high (discounted at Amazon for $34) and not worth the investment if you are more interested in specific and prescriptive information. However, if you are looking for a treasure trove of inspiring pictures you might find it worth the expense.

Nourishing Meals: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Soy-Free Dishes (2016): Book Review

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Nourishing Meals: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Soy-Free Dishes (2016) by Alissa Segersten & Tom Malterre is filled with many easy to prepare, delicious and healthy dishes. You will be surprised at the range of recipes that are included. For instance, you can make curried lima bean soup, super immune boosting chicken soup, a pan-fried steak salad with sesame ginger dressing, fish tacos, or a slow-cooked Mexican beef roast. There is enough variation to meet many different meal choices and preferences. The spices in the recipes are easy to find, and many you probably already have in your kitchen, and the other ingredients should be readily available. The instructions are written clearly and don’t have many complex steps to follow.

While you may not be motivated enough to prepare homemade bone broths, which can take up to 73 hours (that’s more than 4 days) for simmering, there are many less time consuming recipes that you will give you a push to eat healthy and tastier meals.

Even if you are not totally committed to relinquishing processed foods, the range of nutritious meals in this book will give you a head start in eating more balanced meals with fewer allergens. If you are not convinced of the benefits of gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free dishes, the authors provide an informative introduction. They also include tips for gluten-free baking as well as many other helpful tips dispersed throughout the book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship: Book Review

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The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship (2016) by Shuanti Feldhahn is a fun book to read. You will be surprised at how much a simple act of kindness can shift the relationship dynamics. Feldhahn says that kindness is “doing a small act of generosity for someone else.” How easy is that? The 30 days of kindness tips are easy, manageable, and enjoyable. Many of these acts of kindness are well known, such as take a walk together, brag about him or her, or give a special thank you for a big or small act; they aren’t really earth shattering in their newness or originality. However, when coupled with a sincere effort directed over a 30-day period it adds a challenge that increases the likelihood of relationship improvement, simply by doing acts of kindness.

Can you trust the results that Feldhahn promises? I encourage you to try the 30-Day Kindness Challenge to find out. According to Feldhahn, you probably have blindspots and think you are kinder than you really are. Feldhahn cites positive outcomes from her research that lends credence to her suppositions. Further, Feldhahn gives some background on kindness as a superpower, but warns that kindness requires self-sacrifice and the willpower to avoid being negative. She also stresses the importance of adding positivity and praise to your acts of kindness.
Feldhahn gives you the roadmap to improve relationships, not with just your spouse, but for any relationship. If you are familiar with the importance of being kind, but need a push and shove to put it in action more often, this book will provide a nudge for you. If you’ve tried everything else, and your relationship isn’t working, why not try kindness and let Feldhahn be your guide through your 30-Day Kindness Challenge.

Learn more at Feldhahn’s website at: http://www.shaunti.com.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Great Spiritual Migration: Book Review

The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking A Better Way to Be Christian (2016) by Brian D. McLaren is a refreshing and engaging read that will provoke deep thinking and questioning of your long-held Christian beliefs and practices. It is truly a breath of fresh air to experience forward thinking about what is working and is not working with the Christian faith. McLaren is less concerned about hardline beliefs and organized religions and more supportive of a faith that leans toward a “loving, compassionate ways of life.” He effectively presents a case for Christians to adopt more harmonious views of God and to diminish the focus on violence that is so often a part of religious faiths now. McLaren also calls for less competition among religions and institutions with a view toward moving beyond being stuck and standing still. He suggests that for this to happen, it is more likely to come from “the mystical/poetic/contemplative streams within our traditions.”

McLaren suggests that the book can be read according to where you are in your faith journey; which he characterizes as movements: spiritual migration, theological migration, and practical, ecclesial, or missional migration. I suspect that you will be captivated at such honest thinking and examination that you will choose to read the entire book.

McLaren’s book encourages reflection with its end-of-chapter sections that include exercises for contemplation, conversation, and action. McLaren paves the way for individuals to join in the work for change and to be aware of and prepared for the struggle ahead.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sky Above Clouds: Book Review

Sky Above Clouds: Finding Our Way Through Creativity, Aging, and Illness (2016) by Wendy L. Miller, Gene D. Cohen with Teresa H. Barker is a meshing of disparate feelings about Cohen’s illness and demise, with little or no discussion of creativity and aging. While the book is supposed to be a tribute to Cohen’s remarkable legacy of aging, creativity, and growth research, it is predominately about Wendy Miller’s experience and coping with her husband’s illness and grief after his death. The book mostly serves as a platform for Miller’s exploration of her experiences in feeling her way through grief, written almost as a rambling stream of consciousness of thought.

The book supposedly would include expressions about art therapy, but it fails to delve into this subject deeply. For the most part, the book merely includes images of some of Miller’s artwork, with a few insightful comments dispersed through other meanderings and wanderings of views about coping and grief.

This is the most frustrating and poorly edited book I have read in a while. The book is a hodgepodge of thoughts and musings that have few coherent linkages or themes. It is a confusing book to read and demands much of the reader to try to make sense of it. It is a challenging read, but there is nothing that makes it a worthwhile endeavor. Reader, be forewarned.

Big Bad Breakfast: Book Review

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Big Bad Breakfast (2016) by John Currence has an extensive selection of Southern breakfast recipes, but few are simple to make. If you are counting calories, you will need to skip many of the dishes. However, some are so tempting, such as the Banana Pecan Coffee Cake, you’ll most likely splurge anyway. Others are rather adventuresome, so if you are not an explorer of foods you may be disappointed in the range of recipes.

Some of the writing is colorful, to put it mildly, and did not add to the book’s charm. The photographs are mostly full page displays and add a visual appeal to the recipes. I am not a fan of stories that go along with recipes, but for those who enjoy the story behind the recipe or just vignettes about life and food, you may delight in the repertoire that accompany the recipes. The recipes are detailed so there is no guesswork. You will also appreciate the tips and shortcuts.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.