New Caelifera

New Caelifera

modern methow cabin

Book: A Man for All Markets, From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market

A Man for All Markets: From Las Vegas to Wall Street, How I Beat the Dealer and the Market by Edward O. Thorp.

Edward Thorp has does some amazing things. He invented card counting for the game of blackjack. He built, with Claude Shannon of all people, one of the world’s first wearable computers. That computer was used to beat roulette. He came up with Black-Scholes formula for pricing options before Black and Scholes. He ran for many years a very successful statistical arbitrage strategy before such arbitrage was on anyones radar.

This an autobiography which covers much of Thorps life. There are some pretty amazing scenes, like the time he asked Feynman whether roulette was beatable and Feynman said no. Thorp’s reaction was to then think he was definitely onto something (interesting Feynman’s student Hibbs, shortly after this encounter, exploited misbalanced roulette wheels to great success.) But I think what comes through most in all of this is how clear of a thinker Thorp is. The ideas he describe sound straightforward, I think, because he does an incredible job laying them out from a foundational perspective. This is a rare gift.

Another important part of this story is that Thorp gave up the life of an academic mathematician. (Here example of one of his papers). In the book he describes this transition. Even all these years later you can feel how much of a change this was for him, he had sort of always planned on being an academic. OK, I guess mostly it’s just that I can really relate to this transition, so it was good to read someone else’s thoughts through that journey.

Recommended for those whose first thought when encountering a game is to analyze it and those interested in the history of games and finance.

admin February 14, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

An ambitious look at humanity from the time when we could first call ourselves human. The book shines the brightest when it takes a step back and looks at humanity without the prior lens of how we frame our history and culture. This is especially true in the first half of the book, where the author digs into the many created myths and ideas that shape history. My one beef would be that at times, the author turns pastoral, though often while admitting that he can’t really judge whether this idealism about the past can be justified. Recommended.

admin February 12, 2017 1 Comment Permalink

Book: Overcomplicated, Technology at the Limits of Comprehension


Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension by Samuel Arbesman

Time, or at least today’s society, points in the direction of more technological interconnectedness. In this book Sam Arbesman lays out the increasing complexity of our technological world and how we have moved into a regime in which we can potentially not even understand what causes these complex systems to misbehave. As someone who works with complexity daily (what do you think software development is, these days?) I can attest to this in spades.

This book will be eye opening to those who believe our increasing technological sophistication marches hand in hand with our increasing comprehension. My one quibble would be that I think there is a missing portion of this story which is the techniques that everyday practitioners use to work in this increasingly complex environment. I mostly agree with both Arbesman’s observations about our current complex state, and his argument that we will require new approaches to understanding the complex artifacts we create. But tomorrow I must go to work, and build a system that works in this complex world. What techniques can I use to best insulate myself from this complexity, indeed to get anything done? Here I think there is an untold story filled with cool ideas from distributed computing.

admin February 5, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: Proofs and Refutations, The Logic of Mathematical Discovery


Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery by Imre Lakatos

The flow is a mental state in which you are totally immersed in what you are doing. It’s been a long time since I got into the flow while reading a book, but this book did it for me. Written as a socratic dialogue it is a discussion between a teacher and many students who work on proving Euler’s polyhedron formula. The great thing about this book is that the proof (really plural proofs) here are easily comprehensible to someone with only a small mathematical background, but the way in which the story unfolds is both dramatic and insightful. Or at least it was for me.

The best book I’ve read in a few years, I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in how mathematics and mathematicians work, and in general to anyone who wonders about how discovery and newness appear in the world.

I’d give you mine, but Imma dog ate it (apparently she had some disagreements with Gamma):

admin February 5, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink

Book: The Quantum Handshake, Entanglement, Nonlocality and Transactions by John Cramer

The Quantum Handshake: Entanglement, Nonlocality and Transactions by John Cramer.

The transactional interpretation of quantum theory is probably the most neglected interpretation of quantum theory (I know, you would have thought all interpretations of quantum theory would be fodder for gossip mags and the glitterati!)  Invented by John Cramer it was inspired by the Wheeler-Feynman absorber theory of electromagnetism.  In this later theory Wheeler and Feynman examine the consequences of taking both advanced and retarded solutions of electromagnetism seriously.  You may recall from your hours spent reading Jackson (I will not link to the blasphemous third edition) that when solving Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism you end up in the tricky situation of having solutions to the equations that seem to go the wrong way in time.  When you wiggle (accelerate) a charge there are solutions to the electromagnetic fields which are waves propagating away from the charge into the future (called retarded waves).  But there are also solutions that have waves essentially propagating backwards into the past (called advanced waves).  Of course this should make you head hurt, and so the normal thing to do is disregard the advanced waves.  What Wheeler and Feynman attempted to do was to not make a theory of electromagnetism without this kludge of disregarding advanced waves.  They were in a sense successful, able to show that in essence they could recover the retarded only electromagnetism via an assumption that all emissions must result in absorption.

What Cramer’s transactional interpretation does is to attempt to use advanced (backwards in time) solutions to the relevant quantum mechanical equations to help us overcome our difficulties understanding quantum theory.  Roughly this works as follows, an emitter at some time emits and “offer” wave.  In nonrelativistic quantum theory this is just the normal wave function for Schrodigner’s equation.   At some later time an absorber interacts with this offer wave.  In particular the absorber sends a wave backwards in time to the emitter, in nonrelativistic quantum theory this is the solution to the complex conjugate of Schrodinger’s equation.  The emitter then receives this “confirmation” wave.  Now, interestingly, if one thinks about the amplitude of the wave function at the emitter, it will be the norm squared of the wave function at the absorber.  An emitter can receive many “confirmation” waves from future absorbers.  In order to change this into reality, a “transaction” must be established: a choice is made so that only one of the confirmation wave “survives”.   Because the emitter has access to the amplitudes, we can see that this choice could be made so as to follow Born’s probability law, at least in so much as the information necessary to get the correct probability law is at the emitter.  Supporters of the transactional interpretation like to say that the interpretation “derives” Born’s law, though I find this slightly wanting in this area since I still wonder how probabilities arise here, why is a field norm squared turned into the probability that a transaction is chosen?

The nice thing about the transactional interpretation is that it can help one attempt to reason about seemingly paradoxical setups in quantum theory.  For example in a Bell experiment, one can reason about the probabilities that violate local realistic theories, by imagining backwards in time propagation of measurement directions to an original emitter, who because they receive confirmation offers from spacelike separated detectors in the future, can make the same probabilities arise as those in quantum theory.  The thing I most like about the interpretation is that it attempts to keep locality of information propagation intact, at the price of these backwards propagating solutions.

“The Quantum Handshake: Entanglement, Nonlocality and Transaction” is a gentle introduction to the transactional interpretation. I begins with a description of the history of quantum theory and conceptual problems that arose. It then introduces the transactional interpretation. And then comes my favorite part of the book, which is where Cramer applies the interpretation to just about every paradoxical quantum experiment ever proposed. In my view this is the best part of the book, an amazing collection of these different issues and what led people to get confused. In each Cramer attempts to show how the transactional interpretation would deal with these issues. But it is a seriously good list of the experiments that makes this book worth picking up, even if you are not likely to be converted to Cramer’s view of the world. The book also includes a bit on an objection to the transactional interpretation due to Maudlin. This involves, Cramer’s approach, an additional assumption about the hierarchy of transactions, which is interesting to ponder.

Recommended for quantum theory buffs and anyone who want’s to beat their head up against understanding quantum theory.

admin February 5, 2017 Leave A Comment Permalink