52 States in 8 Months

Books — I read plenty of them in Yellowstone National Park

Posted in Rapid City and Yellowstone by Ulf on June 5, 2009

Or actually, I read them during the bus rides which took me more than 8,000 km through the continent.

bild9731The first one was “Chaos — Making a new science” by James Gleick. My room mate Inaki gave it to me a few weeks ago. When first published in the 1980s the scientific field of “Chaos” (or studying the complex dynamic behavior of nonlinear systems) was still pretty young. The book tells the stories of Lorenz, Mandelbrot, Feigenbaum and a bunch of other non-standard researchers. It’s really well-written, just one or two chapters got a bit too philosophical for my taste. As a control engineer I could see where many of the basic things that we learned in our undergrad programs came from. If you’re interested in the origins of fractals, strange attractors or period-doubling bifurcations, read this book (but don’t expect to learn too much that you can immediately apply — it’s more like a history book).

bild9738Afterwards I read “Simplicity” by John Maeda (you can check out this website). It was a present from Prof. Allgöwer. The author (a design professor) gives a set of ten laws of simplicity, and he explains them very lively with modern examples. The author’s Ipod (which he rarely uses) is introduced as a device which achieves simplicity by reduction, and by being something small and fragile. It’s nice to see that the authors really obeys his own theories, that is repeating himself as a method of teaching, and always giving a lot of context. In his case the contexts are often stories from Japan. I especially remember two of them. One is about “omakase“, something you can order in a sushi restaurant. It basically means that you leave what to cook up to the cook. (I wish fast food restaurants would offer this: I just give them money and they give me something to eat!) And there was a story about a fenced-off area next to a sacred place. Maeda had no idea what it was used for, until it turned out that people put their cars into it to receive an annual prayer against traffic accidents and breakdowns. :-)

bild9724The third book is “Das ist o.B.d.A. trivial” by Albrecht Beutelspacher. It was also a present from Prof. Allgöwer. Here the author (a math professor) gives an introduction to mathematical writing. Why should a ∀ always go before a formula and not behind it. And why should we really pay attention when we put a ∀ and an ∃ into the same formula: “∀m ∃f: h(m,f)” means something else than “∃f ∀m: h(m,f)”. Consider m=male, f=female and h=have a relationship. And when to say “eine Abbildung auf eine Menge” and when to use “eine Abbildung in eine Menge”. When to use “one”, “I” or “we” in written texts, and what a mathematician things about the ≡ sign (the answer is disappointing).

If one of you wants to read the first book, ask Inaki or check out bookcrossing.com or ebay.de or amazon.de. Amazon seems to be the best choice. If one of you wants to read the second or third book, I can give it to you. Just let me know, or steal-n-eventually-return it.

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