Recent book reviews — November 2012

Title: Basic MIG Welding Practices
Author: Linde Welding
Source: LAPL
Interest: 1 star

This 24-page booklet is most likely a reference manual that comes with Linde welding machines. Although the basics were interesting, it is fairly out of date and limited in scope.

Title: The Handplane Book
Author: Garrett Hack
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3 stars

This is a fun overview of handplanes, with historical info interspersed with descriptions of maintenance and technique. Although the writing is fairly staid, and a Rob Cosman video would probably be preferable for howto-type information, as an introduction to handplanes, Hack’s book is quite serviceable.

Title: Towards A Poor Theatre
Author: Jerzy Grotowski
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3.5 stars

Many actors consider Towards A Poor Theatre essential reading. With my recent focus on honesty in my own performance, I thought Grotowski’s “poor theatre” concept might prove useful. He believes that the theatre should not try to compete with the technical flash of movies and tv, instead focusing on the author-audience relationship unique to the theatre. I indeed think much of the concepts are relevant to taiko performance and enjoyed vindication of my recent distaste in costume, for example, but my ulterior motives probably did a disservice to the dense, difficult book.

Title: Drift — The Unmooring of American Military Power
Author: Rachel Maddow
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3.5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Maddow’s take on the historical reasons for our gradual expansion of the US military. Her writing is sometimes snarky, with facetious interjections, but overall she is fair and the book feels studious and respectful. Maddow explains the practical and sometimes reasonable thinking behind presidents’ and congress’ expanded funding of the military, the US’ never-ending wars on multiple fronts, and our use of drone strikes. Drift also makes a strong case for reducing our nuclear stockpile, with suspenseful explanations of our increasing missteps managing these weapons.

Title: Welder’s Handbook – A Guide to Plasma Cutting, Oxyacetylene, ARC, MIG and TIG Welding
Author: Richard Finch
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3.5 stars

This is a great overview of welding styles and technique, with explanations of prep work, machine setup, and common problems. This was just what I needed to get over the fears of turning my new machine on for the first time.

Title: Imagine — How Creativity Works
Author: Jonah Lehrer
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3.5 stars

What happens next is the stumped phase of creativity. Not surprisingly, this phase isn’t very much fun. In the CRA study, for instance, subjects quickly got frustrated by their inability to find the necessary word. They complained to the scientists about the difficulty of the problems and threatened to quit the experiment. But these negative feelings are actually an essential part of the process because they signal that it’s time to try a new search strategy. … Because we feel frustrated, we start to look at problems from a new perspective.

“The point is that it’s not enough to just daydream,” Schooler says. “Letting your mind drift off is the easy part. The hard part is maintaining enough awareness so that even when you start to daydream you can interrupt yourself and notice a creative thought.”

They recruited six hundred subjects, most of them undergraduates, and had them perform a variety of basic cognitive tests displayed against red, blue, or neutral backgrounds. … The differences were striking. When people took tests in the red condition, they were much better at skills that required accuracy and attention to detail… The color blue, however, carried a completely different set of psychological benefits. … they did far better on those requiring some imagination, such as coming up with creative uses for a brick or designing a children’s toy out of simple geometric shapes. In fact, subjects in the blue condition generated twice as many creative outputs as did subjects in the red condition.

As Nietzsche observed… “All great artists and thinkers are great workers, indefatigable not only in inventing, but also in rejecting, sifting, transforming, ordering.”

… we can continue to innovate for our entire careers as long as we work to maintain the perspective of the outsider.

When the Q [the level of “closeness” of the creators involved] was low, or less than 1.7, the musicals were much more likely to fail. … However when the Q was too high (above 3.2) the work also suffered.

“Well, what’s our most important function? It’s the interaction of our employees. That’s why Steve [Jobs] put a big empty space there. He wanted to create an open area for people to always be talking to each other.”

Title: Working with Handplanes
Author: Jerzy Grotowski
Source: LAPL
Interest: 3 stars

This is a collection of articles from the magazine, Fine Woodworking, about the use and maintenance of handplanes, with a few articles on making simple planes. The information is genuinely useful on a well-rounded selection of topics for the practical woodworker.

Title: Mathematics — A Very Short Introduction
Author: Timothy Gowers
Source: LAPL
Interest: 4.5 stars

Wow! This is a fascinating overview of the concepts behind many areas of both fundamental and high-level mathematics. Gowers’ writing has a wonderful tone. It is straightforward and concise, demanding a certain level of curiosity and respecting the reader’s intelligence. At the same time, however, the writing is gentle and clear, precisely for the non-mathematician, and on topics of interest to the amateur. Fantastic!

Title: Rethinking A Lot — The Design and Culture of Parking
Author: Eran Ben-Joseph
Source: LAPL
Interest: 4 stars

“A book about parking lots?!” Maz quipped. Rethinking A Lot is surprisingly interesting, explaining the in-depth historical and social underpinnings of the parking lot, plus architectural/design suggestions to make these spaces more enjoyable and environmentally friendly. Ben-Joseph presents a nuanced understanding of the role of parking lots, replacing the simplistic “parking lots are a necessary evil”, with “parking lots have good and bad aspects… here’s how we can minimize the bad.” I particularly appreciated realizing that the unbroken open space of the parking lot lends itself to creative use in almost every community in the United States. It is remarkable that parking lots facilitate such a diverse range of activities, from farmers’ markets to student-driving practice to tailgate parties.

My hope is to retire my car and transition to a life of bicycle transportation. Toward that end I am trying to diversify my understanding of cars in Los Angeles and their role in our culture. Rethinking A Lot has certainly helped. Highly recommended.

Title: How Children Succeed — Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Author: Paul Tough
Source: LAPL
Interest: 4 stars

How Children Succeed argues that character traits like resilience, diligence, and motivation are much more significant in determining a child’s prospects of success than strict cognitive measures like IQ and SAT scores. It also makes the case that these traits are largely the result of early childhood nurturing, but that the skills can be improved to dramatic effect later in adolescence.

As I prepare for opening the Los Angeles Taiko Institute I am encouraged to think that the study of taiko might help students practice these more fundamental character skills. Perhaps the school’s deeper role in society is to empower people through the practice of attention, self-reflection, diligence, determination, and curiosity.

…Duckworth explained to the KIPP teachers. “It’s not like some kids are good and some kids are bad. Some kids have good habits and some kids have bad habits. Kids understand it when you put it that way, because they know that habits might be hard to change, but they’re not impossible to change.

One of the most effective techniques, which has now been tested in a variety of settings, is exposing students at risk of stereotype threat to a very specific message: that intelligence is malleable. If students internalize that idea, these studies show, they gain confidence, and their test scores and GPAs often rise too.

Flemister nodded, and Witter began to work his way down the scores on Juaquin’s character report card, starting with the good news: Every teacher had scored him as a perfect 5 on “Is polite to adults and peers,” and he did almost as well on “Keeps temper in check.” These were both indicators for interpersonal self-control.

“I can tell this is a real strength for you,” Witter said, turning to Juaquin. “This kind of self-control is something you’ve developed incredibly well. So that makes me think we need to start looking at, What’s something we can target? And the first thing that jumps out at me is this.” Witter pulled out a green felt-tip marker and circled one indicator on Juaquin’s report card. “‘Pays attention and resists distraction,'” Witter read aloud; this was an indicator for academic self-control. “That’s a little lower than some of the other numbers. Why do you think that is?”

“I talk to much in class,” Juaquin said a little sheepishly, looking down at his black sneakers. “I sometimes stare off into space and don’t pay attention.”

The three of them talked over a few strategies to help Juaquin focus more in class, and by the end of the fifteen-minute conversation, Flemister seemed convinced by the new approach. “The strong points are not a surprise,” she said to Witter as he got up to talk to another family. “That’s just the type of person Juaquin is. But it’s good how you pinpoint what he can do to make things easier on himself. Then maybe his grades will pick up.”

Nelson, using instinct more than research, identified five skills, which he called leadership principles, that he wanted OneGoal teachers to emphasize: resourcefulness, resilience, ambition, professionalism, and integrity.

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