Saturday, January 30, 2016

And On That Bombshell

I just finished the new book And On That Bombshell - Inside the Madness and Genius of Top Gear by Richard Porter.  I liked the book very much and recommend it to anyone who enjoys the TV show.  The book is filled with interesting and amusing stories about the show, told by the long time script editor.

Porter provides a satisfying meal of behind-the-scenes stories about Top Gear.  The only other pieces I've read about the making of Top Gear was the 3-piece article written by Andy Wilman for Top Gear magazine after the show ended.  I especially liked Porter's reflections on the gradual evolution of the show's format, writing, themes, and more.  How they tried many things that resulted in big failures, many of which never made it to air.  

Reading the stories about the early years of new Top Gear made me want to watch some of the older episodes from series 1 through 9, so I did.  This site offers an easy way to watch those old shows.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Beyond Words - What Animals Think and Feel

I just finished a very good book: Beyond Words - What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina.  If you like animals, then you will really enjoy this book.  It's long, but you don't notice it.  The audiobook is 16 hours on 2 mp3 CDs.  

Carl spends large portions of the book describing his experiences working with animal researchers observing elephants in Kenya, wolves in Yellowstone National Park, and killer whales near Seattle.  With ease, he presents compelling arguments about various animals' intelligence and emotions.  Along the way he describes the application of the observed animal behaviors and theories to dogs, chimps, bonobos, dolphins, foxes, scrub jays, hawks, bats, and more.  

The book criticizes and ridicules scientific researchers for their puzzling, and sometimes obviously inaccurate, findings.  There's a decent description of the Theory of Mind and how it applies to animals.  Carl presents several examples of how animal researchers have it wrong; how they are misinterpretting their own observations; and how their own published papers are not even self-consistent on the topic.  He does the same with researchers' misinterpretation of mirror mark tests

This book does a great job of explaining how animals think, plan, teach, reward, deceive, mourn, play, and more with far more complex and richer social lives than most people realize.  Carl shows that many animals possess attributes traditionally associated with humans and not with other animals: consciousness, intelligence, rationality, creativity, empathy, love, self awareness, and compassion.  

Some would argue that Carl does this through the anthropomorphising lens of human experience, and that this is unscientific and propagates bias that leads to false assumptions and false findings.  Carl does a decent job of explaining how this perspective is, indeed, acceptable and this is how humans begin to understand the world around them.  To do otherwise will dramatically slow the acquisition of knowledge.

The book is not crammed with clinical jargon.  In fact, the style is very conversational and easy to understand.  I enjoyed the book and I highly recommend it.  

Here's Carl's web site.  Carl's 2015 TED talk is here.  I hope they let him speak on the main stage at future TEDs.  Here's the Amazon page for this book.