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Recent Readings

Book review: Darwinia
Reviewed: Friday, August 11, 2006

Summer reading: Spin
Reviewed: Saturday, August 5, 2006

Reviewed: Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the Omnivoire's Delimma
Reviewed: Wednesday, July 12, 2006

the Golem's Eye
Reviewed: Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Linked: the New Science of Networks (chapters 11 - end)
Saturday, June 5, 2004

I wrote about Linked not to long ago. Now that I've finished reading, I'll fill in the details of the last chapters and end with my exciting conclusion.

Chapter 11: Hey, the internet is a scale-free network too. This makes it resistant to random failures but vulnerable to targeted attacks. It is also a small world network and tightly connected so that failures can cascade quickly. What's more, it's very complicated so maybe one day it will become self aware -- where did that idea come from?

Chapter 12: Search is hard because the internet is a big directed graph. That links have direction mean that the internet is broken into four kinds of sub-nets: a connected core, a sub-net that is reachable from the core but that cannot get back, a sub-net that can get to core but cannot be reached from it, and a vast spume of disconnected islands.

Chapter 13: "Life" is also best understood via network inspired principles. Knowing the genome is nice but that tells us little about the network of cellular reactions, or of protein-protein interactions or of cell to cell interactions of creature to creature ones. These webs all share structural properties (they are small-world and scale-free). This has implications for treating disease, understanding ecosystems.

Chapter 14: The economy is also made up of networks. For example, the connectivity graph of fortune 1000 board members is very small world (~10,000 seats filled by ~7,700 directors!). Companies and corporations are also formed from networks (of employees) and linked by networks (of competitors, partners, suppliers and so on). This helps explain how small causes can have large effects (dot-com bubble, the South East Asian economic collapse of the 1990s).

The Last Link: The book's summary: real networks aren't random, they are scale-free; they are not constructed, they grow, change and (in some cases) adapt. Furthermore, understanding networks and their laws will help us understand almost everything else we care about.

So given this summary, is the book any good? I found the first half quite readable and mostly interesting. However, as Barabasi moves from descriptions of networks to applications of networks, his prose becomes more and more purple and, to my ears, very irksome. I'm intending to read Duncan Watt's Six Degrees soon. That should help me make a useful comparison in both the writing and the science.


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Copyright -- Gary Warren King, 2004 - 2006