Book Review- Earth Awakens

Earth Awakens: The First Formic War
by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, 2014

earth awakens

The third book about the First Formic War, which pre-dates the war the kids fight in Ender’s Game. I wrote about the second book here. This book follows the efforts of our heroes to destroy the invading alien ship and save humanity. It succumbs to the tried and true method of killing all the secondary characters in predictable ways while the heroes survive ridiculous encounters repeatedly. There is one exception to that, as one main character does die of radiation poisoning toward the end of the book.

This book was more great action from Card and Johnston. It is the 18th book written or co-written by Card that I have read. While I initially expected the First Formic War books to be a trilogy, there is a cliff-hanger at the end of this book that suggests there is more to come.

Book Review- The Missile Next Door

The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland
By Gretchen Heefner, 2012

the missile next door

I was hoping for a description of military strategy and technology. I got an opinionated piece about disruptions in farmers’ lives and dependency on the military-industrial complex. At least I learned some things about the scale of missile building, the process of deciding upon and acquiring sites for missiles, and the lengthy draw-down in silo force post-Cold War.

I feel the author lost some perspective in writing the book. How many people were really impacted by missile silos? Maybe 10,000, spread across the western half of the country? Those missiles were our main deterrent against nuclear war. And they worked. Perhaps we went a little overboard in terms of number of missiles, but it’s hard to argue with the results. We won the Cold War. While I agree that the military industrial complex wastes lots of money, I think this book was too negative in its appraisal.

While it definitely wasn’t the intention of the author, I am now interested in visiting the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota. Perhaps we’ll stop on the way to Montana to visit two of my college friends.

I listened to the audio book version of this book.

Project Updates- October 16, 2014

Well, middle of semester hits, and my posting frequency goes down. Predictable.

6 main projects of interest to me right now, 4 of which are actively being undertaken:
1. Investigating feasibility of multi-level triage in EMS: Gave a presentation in front of the department last Friday. It went very well. I am beginning the first draft of the paper.
2. Predicting sports attendance: A project for two classes (Econometrics and Service Operations) that is in the initial stages. I am looking to improve day-to-day forecasts of attendance for baseball games. Perhaps other sports too.
3. NFL betting model: Presented a poster on the successful betting model we created. Need to find time to write up the results. Analysis is done. Model wins enough bets (over 30 years) to make a profit, even if you bet equally on every game.
4. Finding sunk costs in call centers: Very initial analysis done. It looks like the longer someone spends in the button-pushing segment of the call center (sunk cost), the longer they are willing to wait for service. Among other findings.
5 (in planning). Prestige rankings: Want to create a website that generalizes the effort shown in this paper to all sports.
6 (in planning). Have a great idea for optimizing end-of-game decision making in basketball. Dynamic programming will be involved.

I’m also doing work for 3 PhD classes and teaching myself advanced econometrics. Busy.

Book Review- Average is Over

Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation
By Tyler Cowen, 2013


A few weeks ago, I covered The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen. This book is the follow-up, which discusses the implications of changing technology, demographics, and information availability on incomes, education, and politics.

Cowen is a strong believer in the disruptive ability of machine intelligence. Call it artificial intelligence, call it data mining, call it automated pattern recognition, call it Skynet. Whatever you call it, machines, programmed by smart people, are getting smarter and infiltrating more areas of life and business. The main premise of the book is that the few individuals who can work best with the machines in the future will be high earners. Everyone else will be worse off. Thus ends the middle class. Thus ends average.

Computers may be excellent at computation and statistics, but they typically need a human to interpret and implement their analyses. Those who can work well with computers, be they programmers or just technically-savvy subject matter experts, will be well-placed to succeed. With the depth of information available on the internet, it will be possible for self-starters to educate themselves and position themselves well with technology. It will be a meritocracy.

Closely related: Humans Need Not Apply.

Book Review- Brave New War

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
By John Robb, 2007


I’ve been interested in the problems of securing essential utilities and improving national security for a few years. This book gives a modern view of terrorism and suggests new strategies for security. I found some of the insights very interesting. Terrorists in the twenty-first century have entered a new era and attacks have some attributes that were not seen previously. First, with the interconnectedness of society, attacks on infrastructure (electricity, oil, etc.) have huge multiplier effects, which allow terrorists to cause thousands or millions of dollars in damage for every dollar they spend on the attack. Second, terror cells are quickly evolving their tactics by watching other cells. Effective techniques are quickly duplicated and improved. Third, the enemy in the war on terrorism is rarely a nation-state. Small groups have the ability to wage war, and they are able to use our country’s size against us in battle. Many small groups tend to cluster together under one umbrella cause (hatred of the US/infidels or defense of homeland from western crusaders) and fight, though there are individual differences in motivation or technique between groups. Using the established practice of targeting leaders of these groups won’t work because they are so easily replaced and because no one leader controls a significant portion of the various terror cells/groups.

The book explains why the US had such trouble with guerrilla insurrection and infrastructure instability in Iraq post-Saddam. New techniques of attack and defense are necessary in the new world of terrorism. On the defense side, we need to build open platforms upon which different groups can innovate and layer security. If the electric grid were better understood by the average innovator, it would be open to improvements in security and redundancy. Putting all of our faith in one organization, such as the Dept of Homeland Security, to protect us from attack will result in disaster every time. Personally, I’m most worried about the electrical grid going down in an attack. Think about how dependent EVERYTHING is on electricity. If a significant portion of the country went dark for a month, chaos would ensue. I hope we don’t see anything like that in the future, but I expect it to happen eventually.

New Technique for Theory Posts

I’ve decided to stop selecting haphazard topics for the Theory Tuesday/Thursday sequence of posts.

My field of study goes by many names: operations research, operations management, decision science, industrial engineering, management science, etc. I want to create a useful repository of knowledge about my field. I envision it as filling two roles:
-Serving as an introduction to the field for the interested but uninitiated student
-Serving as a roadmap for learning specific topics for current analysts

I want to first create a list of topics to cover (e.g. probability, supply chains, optimization, etc.). Then I want a big list of sub-topics to hit under each topic. Each post will be about one of these sub-topics and you’ll be able to reference the entire list to see where it fits within the topic.

As I study for my qualifying exams for the spring, these lists will be built and augmented. Then I will slowly type up and add to the repository of knowledge.

If I get enough time, I would also like to create short video lectures to supplement my text-based theory notes. I’m envisioning something similar to MRUniversity. I’ve created video lectures in the past, while working. It would be fun to create optimized short lectures that deliver the information quickly and convincingly. Add this to my ever-increasing list of things I want to do but don’t really have time to do.

I will be updating the way the theory posts are stored on the website in the next couple weeks. Once an initial list of topics and sub-topics to cover is created, I will start knocking out the sub-topic posts. Stay tuned.