What I read in 2024

2/19 François Chollet, Deep Learning with Python (Second Edition)

The “with Python” part isn't really the point; almost all deep learning will involve Python in one way or another. What's really distinctive about this book is that it's a detailed explanation of how to do deep learning using TensorFlow and Keras, written by Keras's main creator. It goes all the way from basic linear algebra and gradient descent through convolutional networks, the Transformer architecture, and generative deep learning.

Deep Learning with Python glosses over a lot of the theory, but it's an excellent introduction to the practical aspects: how you use Keras to build deep networks from layers, which loss functions to use for which problems, how to recognize and avoid overfitting, when and why to use tricks like dropout layers, max pooling layers, and residual connections, when to use 16-bit floating point, how to download Kaggle datasets, how to use Colab to train your models on GPUs and TPUs. In a field that, as the author says, is still “more alchemy than science,” that's a fine tradeoff.

Recommended.

2/14 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 44

Château d'Yqem, 1976. And… That's the end.

This is the last volume of The Drops of God. It ends with a 6-6 tie between Shizuku and Issei in the Apostle battles, as most readers probably expected from the beginning, and there are hints that Yutaka expected it too. Both of the brothers are left wondering about the final battle, the “Drops of God” itself. Both of them are still wondering what Yutaka was trying to do with his will. The relationship between Shizuku and Issei is still unresolved, and the relationship between Shizuku and Miyabi is only partly resolved. The role of Loulan and Chris is still mysterious.

According to Wikipedia there's a sequel: Drops of God: Mariage (神の雫 最終章), published between 2015 and 2020. At least some of it has now been translated into English.

2/13 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 43

Both competitors think they've found the Twelfth Apostle, which is not an aged red Bordeaux. The night before the final competition, perhaps by coincidence and perhaps not, Shizuku, Issei, Loulan, and Chris all open the same wine: a 1998 Alain Robert Le Mesnil Reserve Brut.

2/12 Dorothy Dunnett, Queens' Play

The title refers to chess, as do the titles of all of the Lymond books, but it also refers literally to queens. Queens' Play begins a couple years after The Game of Kings. Mary Queen of Scots is now seven years old, living at the court of Henri II and Catherine de' Medici and engaged to the Dauphin. The Queen Dowager, Mary de Guise, is visiting her after a long absence from France. It's a period of uneasy peace between Scotland, England, and France, but both the French and Scottish courts are full of scheming factions, and the English and Irish have their own plans, and there's at least one assassination conspiracy.

Probably all of these books need to be read more than once. A lot of what's going on is unstated, and is understandable only in retrospect.

1/28 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 42

The quest for the Twelfth Apostle continues. For both competitors the theme of the passage of time, as reflected in the aged wine they're looking for, has parallels in their friends' personal lives.

1/25 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 41

The last contest has begun, the search for the Twelfth Apostle. Yutaka Kanzaki's description of the wine is intricate and seems to have something to do with the passage of time. Both competitors think they're looking for an aged wine, and Shizuku is learning what 50 year old Burgundy and Bordeaux is like.

1/24 Dorothy Dunnett, The Game of Kings

The first book of the Lymond Chronicles, a series of historical novels written in the 60s and 70s. The Game of Kings is set in mid 16th century Scotland at a time when both Scotland and England have children on the throne, the four year old Mary and the eleven year old Edward. There's perpetual low level war with a constant threat of escalation, high international politics involving all the major powers of Europe, and scheming, rebellion, and double dealing by border lords on both sides of the border. The main character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, is an excommunicated outlaw: all but convicted of treason against Scotland in absentia, mistrusted in England and France, and quick witted, erudite, enormously competent, charismatic, dangerous, and still an important political player. There are hints from early on that there's more to his supposed treason than his fellow nobles think.

I tried to read this book once before and didn't even make it through the first chapter: a friend bought it for me to read when I was recovering from heart surgery. In retrospect, a book with intricate plots and deceptions, where you have to work hard to understand what's going on and who's lying to whom, was the wrong choice of reading material when I was in pain and heavily drugged. I got a lot more out of it this time, and I'll read the next five Lymond books.

1/21 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 40

Most of this volume, which was originally published in 2013, is about Japanese wine, focusing on Taiyo Beer's wine department trying to convince executives that Japan's wineries are now good enough that consumers will be willing to buy a curated ¥14,200 gift set of three domestic wines. Apparently there are varietals used only in Japan, such as Koshu and Muscat Bailey A. Now I'm curious!

1/19 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 39

2008 Ferrer Bobet Priorat Selección Especial.

1/16 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 38

The cast of characters continues to expand, and Shizuku and Issei both return to Japan with wines that they think express the right sunset and wind.

1/14 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 37

Shizuku and Issei are both in Spain, in quest of sunsets.

1/14 Philip N. Klein, Coding the Matrix: Linear Algebra Through Computer Science Applications

Just what it sounds like: an undergrad textbook on linear algebra from a computer science point of view. It's not exactly a class in computational linear algebra, but it does define things like vector and matrices in terms of Python, it's restricted to finite-dimensional vector spaces, and it explains which algorithms do and don't make sense given the realities of floating-point numbers. For example, determinants are described only briefly and only toward the end, and the book explains why it's a bad idea to try to compute eigenvalues by numerically finding roots of det(λI - A).

I read this partly to refresh my memory and partly because, even though it's been a long time since I actually studied physics, I'm still more used to linear algebra from a physics point of view.

1/11 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 36

The Eleventh Apostle, both competitors think, is from Spain. The cast of characters expands to include the two owners of a Tokyo wine bar that specializes in Spanish wine, whose patrons are expected to take sides in their fierce Madrid/Barcelona football rivalry.

1/12 Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

This is the first time I've read anything by Anne Brontë, although I have of course read books by both of her sisters. It's structurally interesting: a good half of the book, by page count, is a story within a story: the main character reading Mrs. “Graham”'s diary.

It would have been a very different story if it had been set in a society where divorce was a thing.

1/11 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 35

The longest of the several arcs in this volume is a televised cooking and wine pairing battle between two French restaurants: the homey Ma Famille, being helped by Shizuku and Miyabi, and the underhanded Maison de Grand Cru. Reminds me that I should drink more Alsatian wine.

1/8 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 34

Robert Sirugue Grands-Échézeaux Grand Cru 2002.

1/7 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 33

Shizuku and Issei both complete their quests, and both of them return to Japan with bottles that they think are the Tenth Apostle. This volume ends just before it's revealed to the reader, except that it's a red Burgundy and it's something that's very rare and hard to obtain.

1/4 Tadashi Agi (story) and Shu Okimoto (art), The Drops of God: Volume 32

Yutaka Kanzaki's description of the Tenth Apostle is unusually enigmatic even for this contest. It includes a quote from the 10th century poet Ki no Tsurayuki, and cosmic imagery that reminds me of 2001, and concludes: “This wine is a soul. This wine is the vast land, viewed from above. This wine is the broad expanse of space. And this wine is ‘hope.’”

Both competitors find this complex and mysterious. Shizuku flies to France in the hope of gaining a deeper understanding of the complex maze of Burgundy wine, focusing on Vosne-Romanée. Issei has a more mystical approach and he flies to, of all places, Waikiki. Naturally, both of them encounter beautiful young women who speak perfect Japanese and are in urgent need of a wine consultation.

Matt Austern