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Matt Austern
Works at Google
Attended Taylor Allderdice
Lives in Palo Alto, CA
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Matt Austern

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The book I finished a few days ago: Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem (tr. Ken Liu).

No, it's not a treatise on advanced topics in classical physics; it's a science fiction book. (In which orbital mechanics is relevant.) Cixin Liu is apparently a well known writer in China, and this is his first book to appear in English translation. I liked it a lot, and I wasn't the only one; it's been shortlisted for a number of awards, including the Hugo. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that the translator is a well regarded author in his own right.
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I just got that as a birthday present! Looking forward to it.
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I hope this show comes to the Bay Area someday; I'd love to see it. Alison Bechdel is one of my favorite cartoonists, and this was her best book.
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The book I finished today: Kim Stanley Robinson, Sixty Days and Counting.

Third book of the “Science In The Capital” trilogy: a continued climate crisis, and the continued effort of our intrepid heroes in the NSF (and other parts of Washington) to save the world. It was published in 2007, but one part feels very topical: a backpacking trip in the drought-stricken Sierra Nevada.
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The book I finished today: Kim Stanley Robinson, Fifty Degrees Below.

Forty Signs of Rain ends with a flood, of course. (I have the sense that Robinson likes ending books with floods.) Fifty Degrees Below introduces us to the term “abrupt climate change,” and involves a different kind of unnatural natural disaster. (If you've heard of thermohaline circulation, or if you've read An Inconvenient Truth, you'll understand what the title of this book refers to.)

There's also a romance/thriller subplot, whose connection to the rest of the book I don't really understand. Perhaps it will become clearer in the third book of the trilogy.
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I need to pick up more KSR. I loved the Mars books.
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It was inevitable.
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It sells for $225. The fact that it's "the complete studio recordings" means it's a somewhat quirky collection, of course: there's a Traviata, for example, but it's the 1953 Cetra recording rather than either of the two live performances that EMI released.
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The book I finished today: L. Frank Baum, The Road to Oz.

“Before they left the great Throne-Room King Evardo added to Ozma's birthday presents a diadem of diamonds set in radium.”

Wait, radium? Checking dates… Yep, The Road to Oz was published in 1909, and the Curies were awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of radium in 1903, and Pierre died in 1906. Radium would have been in the headlines when this book was written. I still think, though, that no matter how elegant and thoughtful a fairyland present it was, that's not the material I would choose for a diadem that I was going to wear.
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...nah, looking stuff up, I see I'm confusing some things: the Emerald City ended up using the Love Magnet, but the Shaggy Man takes it to the Rose Kingdom later and finds that it doesn't work on plant-people.
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Matt Austern

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The book I finished today: Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.
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I'd read For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises, but never this one. Thanks for the impetus to pick it up, that quote is amazing.
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The book I finished today: Eugenia Cheng, How To Bake π: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics.

It does have recipes, some of which look pretty good, but it's not a cookbook: it's a mostly non-technical introduction to abstract mathematics, and in particular category theory (the author's specialty), using cooking as metaphor and inspiration.

I'm not entirely sure who the target audience for this book is. It doesn't assume any previous exposure to category theory or abstract algebra or topology; she introduces groups and equivalence relations, for example, and even explains what mathematical abstraction is and why mathematicians value it. I'm sure that at least some familiarity with mathematics helps, though, and at least a willingness not to be scared of it things like a commutative diagram for the composition of natural transformations. For what it's worth, I'm squarely in the target audience for this book; I like cooking, I've been trying to teach myself category theory for a while, and I've even watched some of the author's YouTube lectures. If that sounds like you, you might enjoy this book too.
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I have trouble getting past first base in category theory. But I haven't tried very hard.
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Did you wonder about today's Google Doodle? Yep, Bartolomeo Cristofori was apparently the sole inventor of the piano. I think he counts as pretty obscure nowadays, and he wasn't terribly well known in his day either. It's an interesting story, and a reminder that things were different 300 years ago.
Bartolomeo Cristofori's legacy teaches us a lot about genius in the 18th century.
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“There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards Immanuel Kant. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Jeremy Bentham instead. Jeremy Bentham clutches the only existing copy of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant holds the only existing copy of Bentham’s The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Both of them are shouting at you that they have recently started to reconsider their ethical stances.”
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This is a totally contrived situation.  It implies you only get to kill one of them.  But in reality, it would just mean you had to find a different way to kill the other one soon after.
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The book I finished today: Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain.

A near-future novel (near-future relative to 2004, that is, since that's when it was written; maybe it's set in the second term of the McCain administration, or something like that) about the daily practice of science, mostly the unglamorous parts like killing mice and serving on grant application review committees, and the intersection between science and public policy. The context for all of this is the unsuccessful attempt to get the US political system to finally start taking climate change seriously. Nothing happens in Congress, then still more nothing happens. Frustrating for the reader, even more frustrating for the characters.

First book in a trilogy.
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Well, I left out the part about unnatural natural disasters. (The title does mean something.) They're always exciting.
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PSA: the Adobe Creek bike undercrossing between Palo Alto and the Baylands is now open. I rode through it on the way home from work today.
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Education
  • Taylor Allderdice
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Physics, Math
  • University of California, Berkeley
    Physics
Basic Information
Gender
Male
Other names
Matthew Austern
Work
Occupation
Software engineer
Employment
  • Google
    Software engineer, 2005 - present
  • Apple Inc.
  • AT&T
  • Silicon Graphics, Inc.
Places
Map of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has livedMap of the places this user has lived
Currently
Palo Alto, CA
Previously
Alameda, CA - Menlo Park, CA - Berkeley, CA - Cambridge, MA - Pittsburgh, PA