The Comic Book Story of Video Games | review

The gaming industry produced over $100 billion in revenue this past year, and that number is only going to go up. Within any of our lifetimes, whether your first game was Angry Birds or Pong, the progression of video games has been astounding. The Comic Book Story of Video Games is an incredibly informative graphic novel that tells the incredible story of the electronic gaming revolution.

http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9780399578908?width=450&alt=no_cover_b4b.gif

This graphic novel starts with the history of video, which is the actual logical place to start the history of video games! Don’t be deceived by the fun drawings and the inclusion of video game characters through this history (it’s a fun Easter egg to spot them!), but this was actually a fairly technical background on the technology behind video and gaming! I loved learning so, so much about the technological innovation that went into bringing video games to life.

I also really loved learning about the context of some of the biggest games in history. What was the historical context for Pong and Pac-man and Pokemon? What technological advances were necessary for each of those games to come out? What made Microsoft come out with XBox? What is the highest-selling console of all time? How did console gaming finally take off to begin with?

These questions and more are answered in this fun read, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a tiny bit of interest in video games and technology.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Advertisements

The New York Times: Footsteps

If you enjoy dreaming of visiting the places whose beauty and spirits inspire some of literature’s great authors, you may love The New York Times‘s “Footsteps” column. Their newest book is a collection of a few of these columns, if you want to keep a physical copy of these little bursts of literary travel to flip through. After all, it makes sense that someone who wants to see the physical spaces that inspired stories we have only lived in our imaginations might relish the physicality of flipping the pages of this book.

http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9780804189842

I’ll admit that The New York Times: Footsteps was not the best book for me to read during my subway ride. Normally, I think anthologies of short stories are good for my commute, as I only get about 15 minutes each way (20-25 minutes if I decide to read while I walk!) and it can be very frustrating to have to break up my reading time if I’m reading a very addictive book. (You don’t want to put it down!)

Additionally, I found that this wasn’t as enjoyable for me to read because:

  1. I wasn’t familiar with all of the authors referenced throughout.
  2. I wasn’t familiar with all of the destinations referenced throughout.
  3. The differences in writing style sometimes felt a bit disjointed.

The columns I enjoyed most were, of course, about authors whose work I am familiar with and/or with travel destinations I am familiar with. Columns about a place I haven’t heard of that inspired a poem I’ve never read were difficult for me to feel any connection to. That being said, some of the columnists used their words to craft a beautiful image of a destination that drew me in, and/or they were able to describe a piece of literature in such a compelling way that I want to read an author for the first time.

I’d recommend having a look at the list of authors and destinations and seeing if any are of interest to you. I love the idea of retracing the footsteps that inspired a piece of literature or an entire body of work and looking at that destination through this lens.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Weapons of Math Destruction (2016)

If you enjoyed Freakonomics, I think you’ll really enjoy Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. This book is crucial as we become an increasingly data-driven, automated world.

http://images.randomhouse.com/cover/9780553418811?width=450&alt=no_cover_b4b.gif
Weapons of Math Destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy

While it’s very exciting that we have machine learning and big data, O’Neil highlights how important it is to realize that the algorithms that we allow to run our lives in an attempt to avoid human biases are, in fact, developed by biased humans. Or they run in a biased context. And it’s important to think about this, especially in the wake of things like social media algorithms that keep us in echo chambers of people repeating shared opinions back at us and with more and more tasks becoming automated to the point where we don’t know why things happen anymore – we can only point to the computers and say “the algorithm did it”. Although the book came out before the 2016 US presidential election, she touches on the danger of our News Feeds and the fake news that can circulate in these echo chambers, which has become a huge topic of late. She also touches on how Weapons of Math Destruction were involved with the 2008 housing crisis, which was why she left the hedge fund she previously worked at.

O’Neil is not afraid to name names, either. She calls out specific companies that enable and encourage data-based biases, like police predictive software and teacher evaluations. This book really opens your eyes to the kinds of injustices that we are no longer able to say is the fault of people and, instead, just shrug and say, “Well, the numbers don’t lie.”

And it’s true, numbers don’t lie. But the thing with the Weapons of Math Destruction, which are carried out at a huge scale, is they often don’t receive feedback as to whether or not they’re working. Unlike sports statistics, which O’Neil thinks is an ideal use of data because they are constantly calibrated based on whether or not the predictions were correct, these WMDs plow forward with no regard to whether or not the predictions are correct. This is all the more dangerous if they are written with biases in them or designed as self-fulfilling prophecies.

This was one of my favorite reads this year because I am fascinated but apprehensive about the role that big data is taking in our world. While I was busy worrying about what companies can do with my data (still a valid concern!), it’s so important to understand the the lack of transparency with how some of these big data predictions and decisions are made have very serious consequences.

I highly highly recommend you pick up this book and learn about how companies are using data to perpetuate biases and to learn ways that we can start critically thinking of solutions to avoid just that.


Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Life on the Edge (2015)

I am working my way through Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, and although I’m not quite done yet, I just have to pause and talk about it with you.

24040194

What is life? And, maybe more importantly, why and how exactly is life? This is the huge question that McFadden and Al-Khalili aim to start answering in this book about quantum biology, which is the key to unlocking why and how life exists. They start with the example of the robin – as featured on the cover – that is able to use magnetoreception to navigate our vast planet, and take us on a journey through science history, from classical physics (Newton and his apple) to the birth of the field of quantum physics to the present day.

Read More »

Women in Science (2016)

I am a woman.
I am in science.

DSC01485

But you don’t have to be either to appreciate the women who have contributed to our collective body of scientific knowledge! And in fact, it’s important to take time to appreciate them because their work has frequently been trivialized or overshadowed by their male colleagues. I am grateful that we are finally able to give at least some women the recognition for their work.

DSC01486

For example, I’m really thrilled about the new trailer for Hidden Figures (definitely watch this!), which focuses on the black women whose work allowed an American astronaut to complete an orbit around the Earth. Women in Science has a feature on Katherine Johnson (who will be portrayed by Academy nominee Taraji P. Henson) if you’re interested in her story in advance of seeing the film!

DSC01500

I also liked how informative the book was about science as a whole field. Not only does the author and illustrator talk about each woman and her role in shaping our knowledge of science, but she talks about science itself. You can look at a timeline of events…Read More »