Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Great stories from the "real world"

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

Kirkus Reviews-

An up-to-date examination of what used to be called the mind-body problem.

Eagleman (Neuroscience/Baylor Coll. of Medicine; Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, 2009) makes the point that our sense of ourselves as coherent, free-standing personalities is at odds with the most basic findings about the workings of the human brain, an organ so complex that an objective description of it sounds hyperbolic. Instinct, unconscious impulses, automatic systems, emotion and a dozen other forces, most of which we aren't even aware of, affect every thought and action. The book is full of startling examples; split-brain research, for example, shows how the two halves of a mind can be completely at odds, with neither being aware of what the other experiences. Nor are those of us with "whole" brains and a complete set of senses necessarily
experiencing the world "as it really is." For example, other animals experience a different part of the visual spectrum, or can detect sounds and odors we have no awareness of. A significant segment of the population—about 15 percent of women—sees colors the rest of us can't. Our brains work differently when learning a skill and after it's become second nature – it's one thing to drive to a new place, another to drive a familiar route, and our brains work much harder doing the former than the latter, when we can go on "automatic pilot." There are lessons to be learned from various mental disorders, as well. Victims of strokes affecting certain parts of the brain may claim that they are operating at full capacity when they are clearly not; one former Supreme Court justice was forced to retire after displaying these symptoms. Eagleman has a wealth of such observations, backed up with case studies, bits of pop culture, literary references and historic examples.
A book that will leave you looking at yourself—and the world—differently.

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

Publishers Weekly

In 1948, Bell Laboratories announced the invention of the electronic semiconductor and its revolutionary ability to do anything a vacuum tube could do but more efficiently. While the revolution in communications was taking these steps, Bell Labs scientist Claude Shannon helped to write a monograph for them, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, in which he coined the word bit to name a fundamental unit of computer information. As bestselling author Gleick (Chaos) astutely argues, Shannon's neologism profoundly changed our view of the world; his brilliant work introduced us to the notion that a tiny piece of hardware could transmit messages that contained meaning and that a physical unit,
a bit, could measure a quality as elusive as information. Shannon's story is only one of many in this sprawling history of information. With his brilliant ability to synthesize mounds of details and to tell rich stories, Gleick leads us on a journey from one form of communicating information to another, beginning with African tribes' use of drums and including along the way scientists like Samuel B. Morse, who invented the telegraph; Norbert Wiener, who developed cybernetics; and Ada Byron, the great Romantic poet's daughter, who collaborated with Charles Babbage in developing the first mechanical computer. Gleick's exceptional history of culture concludes that information is indeed the blood, the fuel, and the vital principle on which our world runs.

KaBOOM!: How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play by Darell Hammond

From Publisher-

KaBOOM! is the powerful, uplifting journey of a man who grew up in a group home with his seven brothers and sisters and went on to build a world-class nonprofit that harnesses the power of community to improve the lives of children.

In 1995, Darell Hammond read an article in the Washington Post about an unthinkable tragedy: Two young children suffocated in a car on a hot summer day in southeast Washington, DC. The story indicated that the children had nowhere to play; in the absence of a playground, they had climbed into an abandoned car. Reading the article fueled Hammond’s sense of injustice, and his life’s mission came into focus. Hammond founded KaBOOM!, a national nonprofit that provides communities with tools, resources, and guidance to build and renovate playgrounds and playspaces.

In some of the toughest and poorest neighborhoods in North America, 2,000 barren spaces have been transformed by KaBOOM! and more than a million volunteers and community members into kid-designed, fun, and imaginative places to play. This is the story of a man with a vision, a man who believes that play is the best natural resource in a creative economy and that kids need more of it. Play is not a luxury but a necessity for their lives. Through hard work, commitment, and the conviction that access to a safe play environment is the fundamental right of all children, Hammond built an organization that has touched the lives of countless children and families.

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