Category Archives: Computers

Book Review: ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Pondering the Explore/Exploit Algorithm. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Pondering the Explore/Exploit Algorithm.
Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

If you can think it, there’s most likely an algorithm for it. With a wry humor running throughout, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths navigate the interconnections between computer science and human activity in the newly released, “ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions,” published by Henry Holt and Company. You come to find that many of life’s golden rules actually have proven methodology. So, in a sense, this book is a self-help book, just a particularly resourceful one using algorithms.

Algorithms. The steps involved in solving a problem. We remember them from high school algebra. We accept them as part of our reality with computers. And, as Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths explain, they relate to everyday life in more ways than you may have expected. In fact, many of life’s decisions could benefit from considering an applicable algorithm. Perhaps the most compelling is the question of finding a life’s partner. While computer scientists may not be specifically finding better ways to manage your love life, you’d be surprised at how math can play a role as matchmaker.

Optimal Stopping: Knowing When to Stop Looking and Start Choosing

Optimal Stopping: Knowing When to Stop Looking and Start Choosing

It’s called the 37 Percent Rule. And, while only correct 37 percent of the time, this algorithm can prove helpful when making a variety of significant decisions. This is also known as, “optimal stopping,” or knowing when to stop looking and start choosing. Computer scientists offered a quaint scenario, “The Secretary Problem.” Christian and Griffiths explain, if you are interviewing a bunch of applicants for a job as a secretary, proceed about a third of the way through; afterwards, be ready to decide moving forward based on what you know. You can see how that would apply to looking for a new apartment and even looking for a new mate!

Christian and Griffiths offer you 11 of these algorithms applicable to real life. Okay, let’s consider another example. Let’s keep in mind that, during a search, you reach a point when you’ve gathered enough data and a continued search can be seen as both redundant as well as confirming what you know. Computer science offered another quaint scenario, “The Multi-armed Bandit Problem.” The idea here is also something of a wait and see game. You can also call it “explore/exploit.” For example, in youth, you explore what life has to offer; in your mature years, you exploit what you have learned. Take that advice to your local casino and, who knows, you might win a payout: try a bunch of slot machines for a while; later, focus on the ones that seem to suggest to you, based upon your exploration, that they’re worth further gambling.

"ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions"

“ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions”

Sure, some of the correlations can seem rather tongue-in-cheek. Should you depend upon an algorithm to help you find a mate? Well, how about when finding a parking space? Keep looking, perhaps you need help with sorting, scheduling, or breaking a bad habit. We seek order out of chaos and this unique book offers some refreshing ways to create some order.

“ALGORITHMS TO LIVE BY: The Computer Science of Human Decisions” is a 368-page book available in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book. For more details, visit Henry Holt and Company.


Filed under Algorithms, Book Reviews, Books, Brian Christian, Computer Science, Computers, Henry Holt and Company, Psychology, Self-Help, Tom Griffiths

Review: STEVE JOBS: Insanely Great


Steve Jobs is a person who had a lot of great days, so many of which directly impacted the great days of countless others. By that measure alone, Jobs led a remarkable life, a life quite worthy of remarking upon at length. To do this through the comics medium is a worthy endeavor. To do it right, the way Jessie Hartland did, is an inspiration. Her graphic novel, or “graphic biography,” tells the story of a man who, by luck and pluck, ends up going down in history as one of the great technological trailblazers. He was a really nice guy and a bit of a stink but, all told, a person to look up to and to learn from. “Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” give us an accessible, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining biography.


Jessie Hartland’s style is quite light and breezy, disarmingly so. She packs quite a lot of information in this book, all neatly assembled in a seemingly effortless way. The life of Steve Jobs seems like that of a never-ending race. Just before the starting gun, Jobs is all flexed and ready and then he’s off and never ever really stops until the very, very end. What a life!


There’s all these things he’s supposed to have said like, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” It sends a chill down my spine. I need to get up for a moment and pace around. This day. This time. This life. Study this above page for a moment. It would make a great poster, wouldn’t it? Very simple yet powerful. That is what Hartland has tapped into, Job’s pursuit of something powerful through simplicity. It wouldn’t be the money that would make him happy, although he was happy to use the money to pursue his dreams. Throughout the book, you can’t help but get swept up by the sense of urgency as one bright kid becomes one even brighter man.


Who is this book meant for? Everyone, quite literally. You could say grades 8 and up. It’s definitely something younger readers will appreciate and it seems that Hartland has an ideal reader of say, thirteen, in mind as she is careful to include various details that older readers might take for granted. I especially like her two-page spreads explaining such things as “What’s New! Late 1990s.” Along with a rapidly growing internet and digital cameras, Hartland depicts a rogue’s gallery of portable music players. This, of course, is a sly reference to what lies ahead. Much in the same spirit as her biography of Julia Child, Hartland does her best to balance a myriad of facts. She does a great job, for instance, in lightly touching on the drug use of a young Steve Jobs. It is filed away with an assortment of other exploration and soul-searching, like traveling to India. Idle time is balanced with driven work. Ultimately, this book depicts a life well lived, conscious of the moment.


“Steve Jobs: Insanely Great,” by Jessie Hartland is published by Schwartz Wade Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Visit our friends at Penguin Random House right here.


Filed under Biography, Comics, Computers, Steve Jobs