György Dalos

Gelesen im Budapest Urlaub. Dalos beschreibt einige Wochen aus seiner Jugend in den 60er Jahren, als er in Budapest als naiver Parteigaenger aufwuchs und sich zum ersten Mal verliebte. Waehrend eines Schulfestes kommt es zu einem Eifersuchtsdrama, wegen dem er zum ersten Mal Kontakt mit der polizei bekommt. Wenig spaeter wanderte Dalos nach Wien aus.

Heere Heeresma

Wieder kramt ein beruehmter Autor nochmal in seinen Kindheitserinnerungen. Heeresma wuchs in Sued-Amsterdam auf waehrend der deutschen Besatzungszeit. Sein Vater gab ihm Halt waehrend dieser Zeit, in der viele seiner juedischen Freunde ploetzlich verschwanden. Sie versteckten sogar jem anden in ihrer Wohnung.

Fuer mich war es nicht nur sinnvoll, um die Besatzungzeit dieser Stadt besser zu verstehen, sondern auch interessant, bekannte Strassennamen mit 60 Jahre alten Eindruecken zu verbinden.

Wolf Haas

Wenn man schon mal was zum Schmökern hernimmt, dann kann es ruhig mal etwas deftiges sein. Haasens Krimis lesen sich, als ob der Erzähler schon mit 2 Promille neben einem auf der Theke liegt, Grammatik daneben, quasi sagenhaft.

Neben dem Erzähler ist auch die Hauptfigur, Detektiv Brenner, eher so ein Drum-Herum-Typ, so daß es schon eine Kunst ist, wie dann später immer alles wieder zusammenkommt.

Dieser Roman spielt in Wien (schön, daß ich nun ein paar Ecken dort schon kannte), und zwar im testosterongeladenen Rettungsdienstmilieu. Da stecken sicher ein paar Wahrheiten drin...

# lastedited 19 Oct 2009
Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond's take on collapsing societies is widely praised and a lot has been written. I don't want to add to much to that, other than a few notes:

  • One important message is that societies are actually fragile and often collapse. Many seem to neglect that. Civilisation is not a one-way street uphill.
  • It is actually filled with interesting facts about collapsing (Easter Island, Mayas, Greenland Norse, Rwanda, etc.) and successful (e.g. Japan) societies, as well as currently endangered (e.g Australia)
  • Diamond has a 5-point framework to address the problems of societies, but here is an even shorter take-home message: Two types of choices have been crucial [for societies]: Whether they employed long-term planning and if they had the willingness to reconsider their core values.
  • This book spent some time on the shelf because I found the introduction about Montana to fact-filled. If you read this, skip what you find boring. That's ok.
  • Diamond gave a 16-minute TED-talk on this. Disregard the combover and that he didn't bring slides, he is a 70-year old-school professor :)
# lastedited 10 Oct 2009
Shaun Chamberlin

I read this book in order to learn more about the transition movement, which is the idea that communities prepare for the challenges of Peak Oil*, Global Warming on a local scale. It basically consists of four parts **:

1. Visions
This is the actual "timeline" part. Throughout several workshops held in english transition communities, four scenarios were developed, running from now, 2009, to 2029. In the first two, we continue business as usual and ignore (1) or acknowledge (2) the evidence, respectively. In the third and fourth scenario we make cultural shifts s, but fail to really acknowledge the challenge (3) or acknowledge them and start to transition early on (4). All four timelines are described in text and make up several events that could happen in such a scenario with title and year.

2. Challenges in transition
This chapter details some topics that pose quests for our society in transition to post-peak-oil. It covers demographics, food and water, energy, travel and transport and health.

3. The road to energy descend plans
what could be the steps to make and the tools to use when preparing for energy descend? An energy descend plan is made by the people in order to imagine what their lives could be like and prepare. A timeline is one of the first tools that come to mind and this chapter introduces some more that could be used in practice, like planning the 2030 high school reunion, visualisation techniques or finding indicators of resilience.

4. Peak Oil and Climate Change
This section surprised me by being a short, but highly informative primer on these two topics. For instance, I learned what the most basic indicators for climate change are plus what the likely sources of confusion in discussions are. Also, it was explained how the reports of the IPCC come about and what they say. There are a lot of numbers to back up certain claims and the whole point seems to be made pretty objectively. I might give this chapter some people I know to read.

The challenges we face are likely to be threatening our economic growth model at its core. ...
The transition movement has some clear messages and a solid concept (I am anticipating the video of Rob Hopkins TED talk - notes are already here). This book, however, has several ingredients. Every chapter has its own message. It is more of a handbook for people who are about to start a transition movement in their community or, like me, just want to learn what they might expect from these people***.

* The time point where oil production peaks is hard to measure, even if its already over. In this book, they assume it will be 2010.

** The fifth only deals with UK-specific discussions, so I'm leaving that out here.

*** There is a transition initiative in De Pijp, Amsterdam. The question to me is: Will we be able to feed cities at all in the future? I should look at this book.

Eric D. Beinhocker

I already mentioned some of the thoughts of this book here when I started it. Though it is pretty long, it was a rewarding read and I came back after a break from it to finish it.

Beinhocker claims (and who would argue with him about it) that economics as we have it develops models that seldom relate to reality and leads to false predictions, false hopes and false politics. He argues for a new kind of economics, which he calls "Complexity Economics", in which it is acknowlegded that the human economy is one of the most complex systems imaginable and in a constant state of unrest (as opposed to the equillibrium view of traditional economics). He puts his case forward on the shoulders of many advancements in science: physics, psychology, sociology, computer science and systems research (of course, there have also been some economists who understood the problem).

The books proceeds in four parts:

  • Beinhocker first explains how, when and by who the traditional economic models were first developed.
  • He then explains several concepts which have been on the radar of other sciences in the last decades (and that, he is convinced, all show how the traditional models of economics is flawed): dynamics, agents, networks, emergence, evolution and cooperation. This part didn't contain too much new things for me, but was written well, I must say.
  • Then, he goes on to define several design spaces that a new science, Complexity Economics, could make use of to formalise things. He says we should think about Physical Technologies, Social Technologies and Business Plans as three distinct ingredients. Then, Business Plans would make a good unit to be put under a selection pressure in an economic sense. Furthermore, the conditions of what constitutes economic activity should be discussed. In the new light of complexity, he proposes as a starting point that every activity should be irreversible and entropy-lowering in order to be counted as an economic activity.
  • In the end, Beinhocker lines out what the effects of such a new way of looking at our main activities could have on several parts of our doings. How businesses develop their strategies should evolve to a more adaptive mind-set. The structure of organisations should be affected on all levels and be less rigid in order to tap more of the brainpower of employees. This way, he claims, a company could have the advantage to emerge better abilities to tackle complexity and enable endurance and growth (though this claim is not made very clear). Maybe we could even come to smarte financial indices than we have today. Lastly, politics could finally set their left-right divide aside, as Complexitiy Economics wouldn't be "owned" by any side.

It is always interesting to see when someone tries to put pieces together. Then, of course, he mixes facts with wishful thinking and it can be hard to set those apart. Then again, this book is meant to provoke discussion and in addition, he cites a lot of serious research so it's not just him talking. Actually, he cites some really interesting papers, some of which I had a closer look on.

Let's close with Beinhockers first sentences in the book:

"As I write this, the field of economics is going through its most profound change in over a hundred years. (...) I also believe that just as biology became a true science in the twentieth century, so too will economics come into its own as a science in the twenty-first century."

We'll see about that but I hope he's right.

# lastedited 22 Dec 2010
Per Wahlöö

Ein Kurzkrimi, unverkennlich für Wahlöös Arbeiten aus den 60er Jahren im political Science Fiction Stil gehalten.

Typisch für Wahlöö ist ein gesellschaftlichs Endzeit/Stillstandszenario, in dem ein völlig abgestumpfter, aber dennoch brillianter Ermittler (Komissar Jensen) dem Verbrechen auf die Spur kommen muss. Typisch auch die Magenbeschwerden und der Schnapskonsum des Ermittlers, aber hier reiht sich Wahlöö ja in die Detektivromantradition der Jahrzehnte zuvor ein.

In diesem Szenario wurden die Medien gleichgeschaltet, stetig und folgerichtig im kapitalistischen System, zur Gewinnmaximierung. Es maximiert den Gewinn, wenn die Leute sich nicht wirklich aufregen, und somit gewinnt am Ende der Verlag alles, der konfliktloses Schreiben meistert. Der Verlag engagiert sogar die konfliktsuchenden Autoren, nur um durch ihre Arbeit herauszufinden, worüber man auf keinen Fall veröffentlichen sollte.

Das ist das Geheimnis der Sonderabteilung im 31. Stock, doch bis Kommissar Jensen das herausfindet, muss er noch vieles anderes über den Verlag lernen. Und woher die Bombendrohungen kommen, berkommt er auch erst am Ende heraus.

Ich finde diese Art, Kurzkrimi und Gesellschaftsscenario zu vermischen, sehr interessant (und das Scenario selber sollte natürlich vor dem Hintergrund des 45 Jahre zurückliegenden Veröffentlichungsdatums interpretiert werden). Leider trifft Jensen desöfteren jemanden, der ganz weit ausholen muss, damit der Leser die Zusammenhänge einer langwierigen gesellschaftlichen mitbekommt. Das ist wohl kaum anders hinzubekommen, wenn man nur 130 Seiten Zeit hat, aber mitunter etwas offensichtlich. Wahlöö wollte aber auch nicht den Literaturnobelpreis, sondern Diskussionen anstossen. Gelungen.

Stephen D. Levitt, S. Dubner

Being a good scientist requires the ability to think in highly complex ways. Being a successful scientist requires even more: To wrap all this complexity up into a simple question/answer pair.

The reason behind this phenomena is that science has internal and an external aspect. Internally, things have to be sound and correct. New circumstances have to be modelled and put into numbers in a reasonable way. Some say there is even math and statistics involved. But externally, science has to communicate itself. It's about getting money and attention. But most importantly, it's about understanding. Why is this research important? Only if (s)he excels on both fronts will a researcher be really successful.

Take Stephen D. Levitt. He is one of the highest-praised young economists in the USA. He is doing sound work of course, but his greatest ability is to ask simple and appealing questions and then answer them with complex statistics. Then, he published the answers in a highly readible book: Freakonomics. He asks qwuestions like "Do real estate agents actually work in the interest of their clients? What makes successful parents? Should we make DNA sampe of dog poo to identify owners who don't clean up?

Levitt can alternate between thinking simple and thinking complex. And he is not afraid to be heard asking asking seemingly childish questions.

In reality, Levitts simpe questions may sometimes be the result. What triggers most ersearch he did is the availability of good data. He performs regression analysis (in which one controls for all variables but one to test for its effects) and thus needs big data sets.

Most of these data sets are extensive surveys or test/competition results, but there us even the occasional curiosity like the crack dealer gangs bookkeeping records, secured by a colleague of Levitt.

So this may be what makes a creative scientist. Whatever comes first, a good question or a promising tool - Levitt is able to find the other and then formulate a good story around it.


P.S. Another thing that makes a good scientist is also related to communication: Being able to put your work in the context of other researchers. Levitt doesn't provide a lot about this, but that can have two reasons: First, Freaconomics is popular science so readers generally don't care. Second, this context-provision is most important for young scientist to be accepted (as I currently experience) and maybe becomes less important when you climb the ladder.

# lastedited 09 Apr 2009
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