Celebrate National Grammar Day with Frank Cioffi’s One Day in the Life of the English Language

Grammar: It’s the difference between knowing your stuff and knowing you’re stuff. Some even say it saves lives (see below). If you haven’t noticed, today is National Grammar Day (March 4), so here at Princeton University Press we are celebrating good grammar, proper punctuation, and clear communication with Frank L. Cioffi’s anti-textbook handbook, One Day in the Life of the English Language: A Microcosmic Usage Handbook.

Cioffi’s chatty and charming reference doesn’t just lay out the “rules,” but also makes a convincing case for why good grammar and usage matter. Cioffi argues that Standard Written English (also known as “formal English”) is vital for success in professions where exactness and clarity carry great importance, and he also proposes that correct English can foster a more honest, ethical, and functional culture of communication.

The book draws on some three hundred real-world sentences printed in eleven newspapers and six weekly magazines and published on a single, typical day (December 29, 2008). Cioffi emphasizes that English usage is continually evolving and he debunks some of the most popular grammar “rules.” Is it acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition? It is. Can you start a sentence with a conjunction? You can. Is it “correct” to use split infinitives. Sure.

What do you think? Does “formal” English still matter in the post-Twitter world?

commas-save-lives

Check out the introduction and let us know.

We’ve also been tweeting out #NationalGrammarDay #protips from the book today.

Happy National Grammar Day!

Photo via Brett Jordan / Flickr

#TheDress: Consulting the experts on color

White and gold or blue and black are the questions that have been taking the world by storm. For those who managed to miss it, #TheDress is a picture that has been floating around the Internet. Some say it’s white and gold, while others swear by black and blue. Others have even switched their allegiances. Amazingly, one dress has sparked a huge debate over color and how humans perceive it.

Neuroscientists have started to chime in on the discussion with scientific evidence. If you are curious about neuroscience perhaps want to provide some concrete reasoning for your color choice, or would like to read more on the social history of color, check out these two books:


 

bookjacket Colour:
Why the World Isn’t Grey
Hazel Rossotti

 

bookjacket Black:
The History of a Color
Michel Pastoureau

 

CLIMATE SHOCK authors on TheAtlantic.com: Will camels roam Canada again?

Climate ShockThe last time concentrations of carbon dioxide were as high as they are today, write Marty Weitzman and Gernot Wagner, authors of Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet, camels lived in Canada. That was a bit over 3 million years ago, of course. But how certain does science have to be for the world to act? Wagner and Weitzman had a terrific op-ed appear today on The Atlantic.com where they argue that climate is best thought of as a global-scale risk management problem. Check it out here:

Will Camels Roam Canada Again?

What we know about climate change is bad enough. What we don’t could make it even worse.

Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman

You are cruising down the highway at 65 miles per hour, reading a book in your self-driving car. Your life is in the hands of a machine—an eminently benevolent one. Meanwhile, in the lane next to you, an 18-wheeler using decidedly last-century technology—relying on a fallible human driver—appears to be swerving your way.

Your car’s computer is on the case. Equipped with orders of magnitude more computing power than the Apollo moon lander, it determines with all the confidence it can muster that there’s a greater-than-50-percent chance—it’s “more likely than not”—that the truck is about to hit you.

You may want to look up from your book. More importantly, you want to know with certainty that your onboard computer will hit the brakes, even if there’s a 49-percent chance that doing so will be a false alarm.

If, instead of “more likely than not,” the danger were “likely,” “very likely,” or even “extremely likely,” the answer would be clearer still. Even if there’s a 95-percent probability of a crash, there’s still a 1-in-20 chance that nothing will happen—but no one would gamble their life on those odds. Your car’s computer hopefully will have engaged the anti-lock braking systems already.

A perfect self-driving car doesn’t exist yet, nor has the world solved global warming. But it’s surprising that, by the standards that we’d expect in a car to keep its occupants safe, the governments of the world haven’t stepped on the brakes to avoid planetary-scale global warming disaster—a 100-year-storm hitting New York every other year, frequent and massive droughts, inundated coastal cities. In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that it was “more likely than not” the case that global warming was caused by human activity. By 2001, it had progressed to “likely.” By 2007, it was “very likely.” By 2013, it was “extremely likely.” There’s only one step left in official IPCC lingo: “virtually certain.”

Read the rest at The Atlantic.com here.

 

A Late Winter Challenge: Learn all of the Eastern Spring Warbler Songs

 

Magnolia Warbler, Spring Male, credit Scott Whittle

 

Together with Dennis H and the Brooklyn Bird Club, we are crafting a series of playlists designed to help you learn all of the spring warbler songs for our area by the time they arrive. Each set of songs can be added to an iTunes playlist, which will enable you to learn all the warbler songs just in time for spring migration.

The first playlist is here! It is based on the Cornell Song and Call Companion for The Warbler Guide. Add the songs to your iTunes library, create a mnemonic image, and test your knowledge using the “shuffle” feature on iTunes. Listen to the playlist, here. Stay tuned to The Warbler Guide‘s Facebook page for updated playlists.

Good luck! Leave a comment below with your progress.

190 c Black-throated Blue Type A1
258 c Common Yellowthroat Type A1
322 c Louisiana Waterthrush Type A1
408 c Pine Type A
488 c Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Type A1
164 c Black-and-white Type A1

Calculus predicts more snow for Boston

Are we there yet? And by “there,” we mean spring and all the lovely weather that comes with it. This winter has been a tough one, and as the New York Times says, “this winter has gotten old.”

snow big[Photo Credit: John Talbot]

Our friends in Boston are feeling the winter blues after seven feet of precipitation over three weeks. But how much is still to come? You may not be the betting kind, but for those with shoveling duty, the probability of more winter weather may give you chills.

For this, we turn to mathematician Oscar Fernandez, professor at Wellesley College. Professor Fernandez uses calculus to predict the probability of Boston getting more snow, and the results may surprise you. In an article for the Huffington Post, he writes:

There are still 12 days left in February, and since we’ve already logged the snowiest month since record-keeping began in 1872 (45.5 inches of snow… so far), every Bostonian is thinking the same thing: how much more snow will we get?

We can answer that question with math, but we need to rephrase it just a bit. Here’s the version we’ll work with: what’s the probability that Boston will get at least s more inches of snow this month?

Check out the full article — including the prediction — over at the Huffington Post.

Math has some pretty cool applications, doesn’t it? Try this one: what is the most effective number of hours of sleep? Or — for those who need to work on the good night’s rest routine — how does hot coffee cool? These and other answers can be found through calculus, and Professor Fernandez shows us how in his book, Everyday Calculus: Discovering the Hidden Math All around Us.

This book was named one of American Association for the Advancement of Science’s “Books for General Audiences and Young Adults” in 2014. See Chapter One for yourself.

For more from Professor Fernandez, head over to his website, Surrounded by Math.

 

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/laserstars/.

#NewBooks released February 17, 2015

bookjacket The Locust and the Bee:
Predators and Creators in Capitalism’s Future

Updated edition
Geoff Mulgan
With a new afterword by the author
“Geoff Mulgan’s The Locust and the Bee is an important contribution to this field.” –John Lloyd, Financial Times

PUP author Nicholas Humphrey wins international Mind and Brain Prize

Nicholas Humphrey, author of Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness has won the 2015 Mind and Brain Prize. The award was created by the University of Turin to acknowledge outstanding achievement in the Cognitive Science field. Read more about the award, here. Be sure to read the first chapter of Soul Dust for free, here.

Congratulations to Nicholas Humphrey!

bookjacket

Soul Dust:
The Magic of Consciousness

Nicholas Humphrey

Jessica F. Green – Rethinking Private Authority: Agents and Entrepreneurs in Global Environmental Governance Winner of the 2014-2015 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award, Environmental Studies Section of the International Studies Association

Rethinking Private Authority: Agents and Entrepreneurs in Global Environmental Governance by Jessica F. Green is the winner of the 2014-2015 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award. “The award…is given annually to the best book in the field – one that makes a contribution to theory and interdisciplinary, shows rigor and coherence in research and writing, and offers accessibility and practical relevance. Nominated books should address some aspect of one or more environmental, pollution or resource issues from a broadly international or transnational perspective…”

The committee concluded that this book is an agenda-setting work in the debates around the nature and roles of private authority in international governance. The distinction between entrepreneurial and delegated authority illuminates the case material chosen for analysis here, and should stir more inquiry into these ideas. Two longitudinal chapters involve substantial and novel historical views of the topic, while the two case studies are well chosen and draw on extensive primary research. The book speaks to an important, dynamic phenomenon that we can see (or intuitively sense) operating across the transnational landscape and Green makes sense of it in sometimes counterintuitive ways. More general information on the awards can be found, here.

Congratulations to Jessica F. Green!

 


 

bookjacket

Rethinking Private Authority:
Agents and Entrepreneurs in Global Environmental Governance

Jessica F. Green

Q&A with Michael Harris, author of Mathematics without Apologies

What do pure mathematicians do, and why do they do it? Looking beyond the conventional answers—for the sake of truth, beauty, and practical applications—Michael Harris offers an eclectic panorama of the lives and values and hopes and fears of mathematicians in the twenty-first century, assembling material from a startlingly diverse assortment of scholarly, journalistic, and pop culture sources.

Princeton University Press catches up with Michael Harris, author of Mathematics without Apologies, to talk about the culture of math and what writing has to do with the pace of innovation.

k10317[1]

PUP: What is the book about? 

MH: The preface claims the book is “about how hard it is to write a book about mathematics.” This becomes less self-referential and paradoxical if the sentence is completed: “… without introducing distortions that transform the book into one about certain conventional images of mathematics.” One thing I had to learn when I started trying to explain what it means to be a mathematician was that the point of an  activity like mathematics doesn’t speak for itself through the products of the activity. If you try to find a simple definition of mathematics you’ll see it’s not so easy. As a first approximation we might say that “mathematics is what mathematicians do, plus the stories that are told about that.” The book is then about mathematics in that sense, with an emphasis on the stories, and not only the conventional ones, nor only the stories told by mathematicians.

Why did you write this book?

MH: For a long time I have been hoping to see a book about mathematics, for the non-specialist public, that broke with stereotypes and clichés and a predictable stock of references, and instead reflected the values to which mathematicians refer when we talk to one another. At the same time, I hoped the book, while not being a historical study, would at least acknowledge that these values have a history, and would take seriously the idea that mathematics also belongs to cultural history, by exploring the roots of some of the notions and habits of thought that mathematicians take for granted, using the tools of cultural analysis—but without adopting the elevated tone that is too common in this kind of exercise.

I have written a few book reviews and articles with these hopes in mind, waiting for someone to take the hint. In recent years several mathematicians have made a valiant effort to challenge stereotypes by writing about mathematics as a living activity, and a few writers have examined mathematics through the lens of cultural criticism; but it’s still sadly the case that when mathematicians write the word “culture” the reader can nearly always expect a dose of uplift. Soon enough I realized I would have to write the book myself.

There’s a more selfish reason as well:  I thought it would be prudent to develop a second skill, to prepare for the dire moment when the pace of  new developments in my mathematical specialty began to outstrip my ability to keep up with them, and I would need to find a different way to keep my brain occupied. Writing was the only plausible option. Strangely enough, when I reached the end of the book I found I could still function reasonably well as a mathematician, even though the pace of innovation in my field has suddenly accelerated—but that’s another story.

The text refers to any number of controversies and polemics, historical or contemporary. But you don’t come down clearly in favor of a solid position on anything. Is this a “postmodern” book?

MH: I am certainly opinionated about a great many things, and it is my considered opinion that most of the sharpest controversies—like platonism vs. nominalism, or positions on what Wigner called “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”—miss the features that make it really interesting to be a mathematician. To avoid distracting the reader with pointless polemics, I consciously chose to present those features with a minimum of ideological adornment, and to allude to controversies only obliquely. I’m told there’s a risk that some will find it disorienting to read a book about mathematics that doesn’t tell them what to think; but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

What’s with all the endnotes?

MH: Two of the blurbs describe the author as “erudite,” which is a kind thing to write but is unfortunately far from the truth.  It’s amazing how easy the internet has made it to look well-read; it helps to think of asking questions different from the ones that are usually asked. The endnotes and the extensive bibliography are there, in the first place, to convince the reader, that mathematics really does deal intimately with an extraordinarily varied range of experience. I hope in particular that genuine scholars can use this material to expand their sense of what’s relevant in writing about mathematics.

In the second place, the notes are there to convince the reader that I didn’t make things up. But please don’t get the impression that I actually read more than a few pages of most of the references quoted.

The notes are also a convenient hiding place for the author’s true opinions. But what do they matter?

Describe your writing process. How long did it take you to finish your book? Where do you write?

MH: Each chapter started with a clear-cut theme, though some of them led me in unexpected directions. Chapter 8, for example, was supposed to be an exploration of why it’s so important for mathematics to appear to be serious, and specifically why so much is written about the supposed affinity between mathematics and classical music. The “trickster” theme was supposed to serve as an indirect way of introducing the question of mathematical seriousness. But mathematical “tricks” turned out to have such a rich and unfamiliar history that they tricked themselves into the chapter’s main theme.

Each chapter’s theme evolved as I collected relevant material. Some of the material organized itself into a plausible narrative outline. Then the actual writing began.   The individual paragraphs were easy enough to complete, but assembling them in a coherent order often enough presented an impossible mathematical problem: I need to talk about B before I can explain C, and B is incomprehensible until I talk about A; but it makes no sense to bring up A without having already mentioned C. Resolving this kind of problem is what took up most of the time between when I started writing in early 2011 and when I submitted a completed manuscript three years later. Usually it was only possible in a state of total isolation, which I could only maintain for a few days at most.

At the end I found myself discarding enough material for at least two books the same length. But there’s no reason to write them, because they would say the same thing!

Who do you see as the audience for this book?

MH: Anyone who is willing to take seriously the idea that mathematics deserves respect, not only because it can be used to provide efficient solutions to practical problems (though that is eminently worthy of respect), but also as a living community, a cultural form, an autonomous domain of experience.

Check out the introduction to Mathematics without Apologies here. The book was recently reviewed at Library Journal and Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong.

Q&A with the authors of The Fascinating World of Graph Theory

The fascinating world of graph theory goes back several centuries and revolves around the study of graphs—mathematical structures showing relations between objects. With applications in biology, computer science, transportation science, and other areas, graph theory encompasses some of the most beautiful formulas in mathematics—and some of its most famous problems. For example, what is the shortest route for a traveling salesman seeking to visit a number of cities in one trip? What is the least number of colors needed to fill in any map so that neighboring regions are always colored differently?

Princeton University Press catches up with Arthur Benjamin, Gary Chartrand, and Ping Zhang, authors of The Fascinating World of Graph Theory, to discuss just what it is that makes graph theory so fascinating.

Benjamin_TheFascinating_F14

PUP: What is graph theory?

AB, GC & PZ: Graph theory is the study of objects, some pairs of which are related in some manner. Since there are no restrictions on what the objects might be and no restrictions on how two objects might be related, applications of graph theory are only limited by one’s imagination.

PUP: Why is graph theory important?

AB, GC & PZ: There are problems and questions that occur in a wide variety of settings that can be visualized with the aid of graphs and which can often be understood more clearly. Understanding the theoretical nature of graph theory can, in many instances, lead us to solutions of these problems and answers to these questions.

PUP: Where do you see graph theory in action in the real world?

AB, GC & PZ: Because graph theory has been shown to be so useful with problems in transportation, communication, chemistry, computer science, decision-making, games and puzzles, among other things, there are few aspects of life where graphs do not enter in.

PUP: Who needs to understand graph theory? And why does understanding the theoretical underpinnings help us?

AB, GC & PZ: Whether it’s mathematics or some other scholarly endeavor, a key element to understanding is not only becoming aware of what others have accomplished but developing a knack of being curious and asking relevant questions. Because graph theory has applications in so many areas, it is an ideal area within mathematics to become familiar with.

PUP: Why did you write this book?

AB, GC & PZ: There have been numerous reports of American students doing poorly in mathematics in recent years. Furthermore, we believe that mathematics has acquired an under-served reputation of being boring and difficult. While gaining a good understanding of any subject requires effort, we know that many aspects of mathematics are interesting. Since we felt it was likely that many people are not familiar with graph theory, we decided to illustrate how interesting and useful mathematics can be by writing a book on graph theory with this goal in mind. While we wanted to include some real mathematics, showing how certain facts can be verified, we primarily wanted to show where mathematics comes from, discussing some of the people responsible for this, and how mathematics can assist us, often in many unexpected and fascinating ways.

Read the preface of The Fascinating World of Graph Theory here!

Andrew Hodges honored with Scripter Award

 

Andrew Hodges, author of ALAN TURING: THE ENIGMA

Andrew Hodges, author of Alan Turing: The Enigma

Congratulations to PUP author Andrew Hodges, who along with The Imitation Game screenwriter Graham Moore, has been awarded the USC Libraries Scripter Award. Hodges’s book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, was used as the basis for the screenplay of the Oscar-nominated film.

Calling bookworms and movie-goers alike — this award has something for all of you. Established in 1988, the USC Libraries Scripter Award is an honor that recognizes the best adaptation of word to film. The award is given to both the author and the screenwriter.

Alan Turing: The Enigma — a New York Times–bestselling biography of the founder of computer science — is the definitive account of an extraordinary mind and life. Capturing both the inner and outer drama of Turing’s life, Andrew Hodges tells how Turing’s revolutionary idea of 1936 — the concept of a universal machine — laid the foundation for the modern computer and how Turing brought the idea to practical realization in 1945 with his electronic design.

The book also tells how this work was directly related to Turing’s leading role in breaking the German Enigma ciphers during World War II, a scientific triumph that was critical to Allied victory in the Atlantic. Turing’s work on this is depicted in The Imitation Game, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME © 2014 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME © 2014 The Weinstein Company

At the same time, Alan Turing: The Enigma is the tragic account of a man who, despite his wartime service, was eventually arrested, stripped of his security clearance, and forced to undergo a humiliating treatment program — all for trying to live honestly in a society that defined homosexuality as a crime. Alan Turing: The Enigma is a gripping story of mathematics, computers, cryptography, and homosexual persecution.

Check out Chapter 1 of Alan Turing: The Enigma for yourself here.

The other four finalists for the Scripter award included:

  • Gillian Flynn, author and screenwriter of Gone Girl
  • Novelist Thomas Pynchon and screenwriter Paul Thomas Anderson for Inherent Vice
  • Jane Hawking, author of Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, and screenwriter Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything
  • Screenwriter Nick Hornby for Wild, adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

 

Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy Wood to be honored at annual conference of the American Meteorological Society

On January 7th and 8th in Phoenix, Arizona, authors Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy were recognized by the Atmospheric Science Librarians International (ASLI) for their books Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History and Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World, respectively.

Canfield’s account of the history and importance of oxygen won him the 2014 ASLI Choice Award and will be recognized as “a well-documented, accessible, and interesting history of this vital substance.” Wood received an honorable mention for this year’s Choice Award in History. Tambora, will be acknowledged as “a book that makes this extreme event newly accessible through connecting literature, social history, and science.” More general information on the awards can be found, here.

Congratulations to Donald E. Canfield and Gillen D’Arcy Wood!

bookjacket

Oxygen:
A Four Billion Year History
Donald E. Canfield

 

bookjacket

Tambora:
The Eruption That Changed the World
Gillen D’Arcy Wood