T minus 354: Bursts (a.k.a. Power Law)

I’m finally down to the last couple of chapters of this book by Barabasi entitled “Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do.” I was in Borders last month looking for a gift for a friend, when I chanced upon this book in the non-fiction section.  I was looking at the name of the author, it was very familiar… it turned out that he is one of the collaborators of my previous mentor (where I did a 5-month lab rotation and was fortunate enough to generate relevant data that were included in an article published in Genome Research).  I have never personally met the guy, but I have this “thing” with physicists – they never fail to amaze me.  I read the short description on the book flap, and it really caught my interest.  However, since it was a relatively new release and only available in hardcover, I could not afford it.  A few days later, I went to the public library to return some stuff and found the book being displayed on the shelves facing the entrance!  I immediately borrowed it and started reading it that same day!  It is such a fascinating book!  I liked the way he explained complicated and technical terms by using very tangible examples, even using personal experiences and his own personal history (that dates back to the 1500s in Transylvannia) to get to his point.  I have to say, he had a tendency to keep you on your toes while reading, which got tiring for a while (I caught myself  saying – get to the point already! – a couple of times), but it was all worth it.  The different scenarios and stories he wove together in “Bursts” actually made sense in hindsight.  If I summarize the whole book, I can write it down in one sentence – one “ennui-inducing” sentence – that human behavior is not actually governed by randomness (following a Poisson or Gaussian distribution) but is defined by bursts (or Power Law), which allows us to potentially predict what one is about to do next.  Don’t let the physics terms scare you off, he did a great job in making his research focus very accessible to non-physicists (or non-mathematicians or non-statisticians or anyone not so good with numbers for that matter).  Albert-Laszlo Barabasi definitely amazed me with how he looks at the going-ons in the world.  Really cool stuff!

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