peteg's blog

H. W. Lewis: Why Flip A Coin?

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I finished reading this back in mid-January but have only now found the time to write it up. I've forgotten why I picked it up, probably on the strength of a blog review or something.

This is a very Americentric take on probability and decision theory, with a smattering of public choice, game theory and random other things. Math is almost absent, so there is almost no support for all the "trust me"s the author throws in. A bibliography would have ameliorated this. There are some good pop-sci treatments of various things, but it ends up being a ramble with too much opinion and not enough evidence. The ultimate advice is formulate-then-compute, and stick to it.

The bit I enjoyed most was about Lanchester's laws, which model how two opposed army-like things inflict damage on each other as a function of time. There is a good writeup of the math here.

His take on Arrow's Theorem is a bit naive and uninteresting; a more insightful approach would have furnished some perspective through the later work of Amartya Sen (and many others) or perhaps May's Theorem, but clearly there's more table-thumping to be had in banging on about how impossible voting is.

Wayne McLennan: Tent Boxing

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I picked this one up whilst waiting for Andrew T. It was just sitting in the window of Sappho Books, someone thinking it a hook, and for $14 I figured I may as well be the mug. (The last thing I bought there was Ray Monk's biography of Bertrand Russell.) I'm a fan of McLennan's short pieces, especially those in the Griffith Review, and the Smage gave this memoir a glowing review.

Here he recounts his recent experience, at the age of fifty, of joining an old-school tent boxing troupe on a journey from Tullamore (near the centre of New South Wales) to Far North Queensland. There's a lot of drinking, a bit of fighting, a lot of male bonding, some aggro, some scenery, and a lot more drinking. Of course he has a go himself, and of course that was ill-advised. I always liked how he expresses his regrets and fears, the dangers and his responses to them. There's plenty of quiet reflection here, in a Henry Lawson sort of a way.

Despite what the Smage opined, I preferred his earlier Rowing to Alaska, which I found more naturally episodic and more diverse in its episodes. On the topic of boxing, his earlier piece for the Griffith Review is quite riveting.