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January 10, 2013

Books

For a long time now I've been posting the books that I've read with my reviews on this site. My original intent with posting books on this blog was to capture the notes I took while reading. Turns out I've very rarely or ever gone back to those notes. I suspect it is a case that the act of writing down the note provides more meaning than the note itself. For a long time now I've been a member of Goodreads and track my books and reviews there since they give me neat statistics and recommendations. Instead of cross posting you can just follow my Goodreads feed or friend me on Goodreads.

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December 4, 2012

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your WetwarePragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware by Andy Hunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A wide ranging introduction to how we think and learn with many practical actionable next steps to get better at thinking and learning. The book gently takes you through how the brain works to practices for learning better, maintaing focus, and approaching tasks deliberately to gain the most out of them. With copious references to other material and clear next actions for each topic there is always something you can be working on. Besides a few references to outdated technology this is a fantastic read.



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Tags: books life

November 24, 2012

Innumeracy

Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its ConsequencesInnumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


While many of the examples in the book feel dated the overall message that being uninformed about math is as bad as being illiterate still rings true. The book provides an easy introduction to probability and statistics which he uses illustrate common issues with coincidences, polls, and pseudoscience. Other sections that covered dealing with large numbers and logic I didn't find as compelling. Overall the book is an easy and frequently amusing read that helps reiterate why math matters and how to not be fooled by it.



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November 17, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's BerlinIn the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Compared to other books I've read by Larson I found this one to be lacking a story that drew me in. I think it was a combination of the events leading up the war having been covered better in other books and movies and the fact that there was nothing engaging about the way the Dodd's were portrayed that captured my attention. It felt more like a synopsis of their journals instead of an intriguing story that was enhanced by the participants own words. The frequent foretelling I particularly disliked as it removed any element of surprise about future events. Overall, I'd give this book a pass.



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November 4, 2012

Regenesis

Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and OurselvesRegenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves by George M. Church

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I found this book suffered from self-aggrandizing and minutiae which combined to make it a chore to read and understand. It felt that because the authors were involved with much of the material being discussed they focused on a level of detail uninteresting to that of a layperson. It resulted in uneven tone and scope between chapters. I did gain some understanding of synthetic biology and how research around it is progressing but overall I'd give book a pass.



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October 16, 2012

Bonk

BonkBonk by Mary Roach

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A humorous survey of the history of scientists exploring sex. From the physical to the psychological and at times the peculiar the author does a great job of covering a topic that has caused many scientists to be shunned for trying to better understand. I often found the injected humor to fall flat and not enhance the text while the frequent footnotes where a great addition. I appreciated that the author covered some of the blatantly bad ideas that certain scientists promoted and how for the greater good science prevailed even if some battles are still being fought.



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Tags: books sex

October 15, 2012

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from VenusMen Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This book is clearly sexist, cheesy, repetitive, and not scientific. At the same time the underlying message of mindful communication, behavior, and reflection is worth thinking about. If you can ignore the sexism and instead focus on how speech and behavior are interpreted by someone of a different mindset, the book offers many examples based on the author's observations. He makes clear in the introduction he is stereotyping with the statement "I make many generalizations about men and women in this book", but I don't think that should excuse the content. In retrospect I should have read a different book but given how much this book is part of popular culture I found myself reading it anyway. If nothing else it made me be more aware of thinking about differences in how people communicate and behave even if the underlying context was outdated.



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October 14, 2012

The Antarctic: A Very Short Introduction

The Antarctic: A Very Short IntroductionThe Antarctic: A Very Short Introduction by Klaus Dodds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


For the uninitiated this books provides a thorough history of the geopolitical history of the Antarctic. In order to set the stage for the Antarctic Treaty System and its later doctrines the history of exploration and fauna exploitation are covered but are not the primary focus. Learning about the language behind the treaties and emphasis on scientific endeavors are interesting in light of the ongoing unresolved claims on Antarctica should countries wish to start exploiting it. While I would have liked a broader introduction as the first book I've read dealing with Antarctica it was an eye opener.



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Tags: antarctica life

September 29, 2012

Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World

Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our WorldAutomate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World by Christopher Steiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


While the book touches on the use of algorithms in linguistics and medicine the primary focus is on algorithms in the financial industry. Most of the stories are framed in a David versus Goliath theme with an algorithm acting as the fatal blow to upset the established giant. A repeating theme is that the growing use of algorithms in many fields once thought imune to computation are really driving the need for knowledge workers capable of creating them. Overall the book reads easily and provides a reasonable overview of the history and uses of algorithms in our world today.



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Tags: algorithms books computer

August 30, 2012

How to Be an Adult in Relationships

How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful LovingHow to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The overall message of striving for mindfulness in our relationships by letting go of ego and focusing on attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing provides a simple and powerful narrative throughout the book. I think the book would be as convincing without the occasional reference to a higher power. The practices at the end of each chapter are a great framework for thinking about and reflecting on your past and present relationships.



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Tags: books life love

August 7, 2012

Present at the Creation

Present at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron ColliderPresent at the Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider by Amir D. Aczel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A wonderful overview of the science behind and the science being tested at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The book describes the collaboration and building of the greatest machine in history and in the process introduces many of the people responsible for its creation and the many theories that scientists hope to test as it reaches ever larger energy levels. At times the shear breadth of material can be a little overwhelming if you are not well versed in topics such as particle physics, quantum theories, and the standard model. I'm sure I would gain a better understanding reading it again. The science is interleaved with vignettes of the author interviews or stories about many of the scientists mentioned throughout the book. I now I have a much greater appreciation for the LHC itself and what it is helping to accomplish.



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Tags: books science

August 4, 2012

Alone Together

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each OtherAlone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A fascinating look at the dilemmas raised by sociable robots and the cultural change brought on by our constant connectedness. I found the second half of the book which focused on connectedness reflecting a growing trend of discovering how to live with these seductive technologies that have been created [294]. It is as if we have grown scared of being vulnerable and instead focus only on making ourselves feel better instead of making things right [233]. We have become lonely and the network is seductive [3]. Simulation offers relationships simpler then real life can provide [285]. The general message is that we expect more from technology and less from each other [295].



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Tags: books technology

June 24, 2012

1Q84

1Q84 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An epic love story set in an alternative view of the world. A little repetitive at times but otherwise a lovely intertwining of story lines cumulating in a somewhat predictable outcome. I felt a few of the characters arcs didn't resolve cleanly but otherwise enjoyed the story.



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June 3, 2012

Chasing Venus

Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the HeavensChasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An interesting historical account of two attempts to determine the size of the universe by measuring the transit of Venus across the sun in 1761 and 1769. It reads like a curated synopsis of diaries from those involved in the many expeditions to remote parts of the world in order to record the needed observations. A quick and enjoyable read.



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May 19, 2012

The Children of the Sky

The Children of the Sky (Zones of Thought, #3)The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A wonderful continuation of the series marred by too much setup for what comes next.



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Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of LifeJeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A few too many clichés but otherwise a thoughtful and fun read.



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April 16, 2012

The Shallows

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our BrainsThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas G. Carr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The books covers many topics related to reading, writing, learning, and memory as it has been influenced by the growth of the Internet. While there are studies mentioned throughout the book many of the observations felt more derived from anecdotal evidence. While worthy of a read I don't feel the author fully supported his claim.



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March 11, 2012

The Wild Life of Our Bodies

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are TodayThe Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today by Rob Dunn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A delightful exploration of research around the evolution of the human body contrasted with how technological evolution maybe causing humans more harm than good. The book looks at the role of parasites in our gut, a new line of thinking about the purpose of the appendix, the impact of the introduction of agriculture, how our flight or fight response maybe harming us, and why humans lack hair. For each theme the author weaves a narrative of current research, his own observations, and anecdotal stories written with cliff hanger transitions. I found the first half of the book covering parasites, the appendix, and agriculture to be much better written and cohesive than the latter half which seemed to focus more on stories than science and didn't fit the wild life premise as well. Overall the writing is enjoyable, approachable, and presents many new theories and thoughts about our growing understanding of the evolution of the human body.



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Tags: books mos

February 26, 2012

JavaScript Patterns

JavaScript PatternsJavaScript Patterns by Stoyan Stefanov

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A grab bag of practices and techniques for JavaScript development for the core language and some browser specific concerns. The Essentials, Literals and Constructors, Functions, Object Creation Patterns, and Code Reuse Patterns chapters mostly rehash material from "JavaScript: The Good Parts". The author provides additional exposition on the concepts but doesn't introduce much new material. The Design Patterns chapter includes some good examples of JavaScript implementations but accurately points out many already exist in third party libraries. The DOM and Browser Patterns chapter provides a brief introduction to browser specific concepts and concerns but you'll want to consult the referenced books for more detailed discussions. This book is a great primer for JavaScript development due to the breadth of topics is covers but is worth a pass if you've already read other JavaScript books covering these topics.



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February 14, 2012

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human StrengthWillpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A wonderful exploration of willpower. The book reads easily and includes many references to research performed by the authors and many other scientists. It opens with the history of the discovery of willpower and that willpower is a limited but renewable resource. Next it dives into how humans can survive this depletion of willpower and most importantly setup conditions to remove the need to use willpower in the first place. Most encouraging the book concludes with a review of why willpower matters and the various techniques to strengthen it.



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February 6, 2012

You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding YourselfYou Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself by David McRaney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A lovely expansion and refinement of content from youarenotsosmart.com. Each chapter covers with examples and referenced research a psychological misconceptions most of us are unaware we have or make. Very readable and eye opening. To remember even half of what the book contains would give you a fresh set of eyes to perceive the world with.





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Tags: books life

February 3, 2012

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

The Information: A History, a Theory, a FloodThe Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Information as we call it today has a rich history and this book explores all that goes into our present day understanding of it. The central character is a man named Claude Shannon who wrote the seminal paper on information theory but touches on many other key individuals like Charles Babbage, Samuel Morse, and Alan Turing. The book reads easily despite the wide range of topics and concludes with astute observations about the role of information in today's world.



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Reamde

ReamdeReamde by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An enjoyable world encompassing romp building heavily on computer geekery circa 2010. At times bogged down in extraneous exposition it otherwise follows a fanciful but plausible storyline, casts intriguing characters, and concludes with one of his better written endings.



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January 1, 2012

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My tears, the Policeman SaidFlow My tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Warning possible spoilers.

A strange trip through drug induced multiple universe merging. The storyline wraps up quickly at the end but by that point I was happy to escape the mind bending world. I would have enjoyed a little more exposition on the ramifications of the concept and how the multiverse merges.



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November 20, 2011

The End of the Affair

The End of the AffairThe End of the Affair by Graham Greene

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The succinct writing style drives the story quickly and produces lovely nuggets of crisp dialog and narrative quips. The use of the protagonist as the author of the book is offset by the interlude of reading the diary of his lover, although the voices sound similar. The author's mastery of language makes the book very enjoyable even though I felt the ending too preachy.



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November 8, 2011

Knocking on Heaven's Door

Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern WorldKnocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World by Lisa Randall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The book explores the significance of science and recent developments that may alter how we think about the world. The theme throughout the book is about scale from the smallest to the largest, the theories being explored at both ends of the spectrum, and experiments being performed now or with the help of the LHC that will help validate or disprove those theories. I found the chapters that focused on physics informative and well reasoned, while those that delved into philosophy and policy wanting. I suspect individuals unfamiliar with the role and benefit of science or the growing religious pseudoscience trend would necessarily be reading this book (i.e. confirmation bias) and as a result some sections were a slog to get through. The informal tone of the prose made for enjoyable reading but included conversations felt more like name dropping then contributing distinct interviews. While I learned from reading the book I feel the same information could have been conveyed in a book half as long.



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October 22, 2011

On Writing

On WritingOn Writing by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I found this an intriguing book but didn't absorb as much of the advice as I should of. The biographical bookends offer a peak into why Stephen King writes the type of novels he does along with his harrowing tale of being hit by a car. Make no mistake the author has strong opinions about what works in writing and how to become a writer. He firmly believes that most will never become great writers but that it possible to go from being a competent writer to a good writer by following the sage advice he lays out in the heart of the book. As someone that doesn't have plans to become a professional writer if I'm able to take away one or two tidbits I know that will help.



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October 16, 2011

The Mathematics of Life

The Mathematics of LifeThe Mathematics of Life by Ian Stewart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The book explores the author's premise that mathematics is the sixth revolution to impact biology following those of the microscope, classification, evolution, genetics, and DNA's structure. The first third of the book examines the history of each of those revolutions and the impact on biology. The remainder of the book consists of vignettes about the interplay between mathematics and biology. The breadth of material exposed me to fascinating tidbits about animal patterns, evolutionary niches, and general biology. Alas the chapters are loosely coupled and the drive to prove that mathematics is the sixth revolution for biology is barely mentioned at all. In fact the book concludes that "I doubt that mathematics will ever dominate biological thinking in the way it now does for physics, but its role is becoming essential." While I found the book enjoyable to read it's lack of depth or cohesiveness left me wanting more.



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Tags: books mos

September 11, 2011

The Mind's Eye

The Mind's EyeThe Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Presented as a collection of loosely related essays, I found the book neither compelling nor informative. The details, history, and explanations of the various conditions covered in the book is minimal leaving me aware of issues such as face blindness, sense of space, and visual agnosia but wanting to know more. That knowledge may come from the reading the other books by the same author citied frequently in the footnotes, which made this book feel more like an introduction to his other work. While presenting a broad overview of many conditions that affect our senses and how certain people responded to those changes, I found it hard to enjoy the book.



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August 28, 2011

JavaScript: The Good Parts

JavaScript: The Good PartsJavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An appropriately opinionated exploration of JavaScript. The exhaustive diagraming of the language syntax and common methods can be skipped by those who have used the language before. The observations in the chapters on Functions (4), Inheritance (5), Style (9), and lists of gotchas in appendices Awful Parts (A) and Bad Parts (B) make this a must read for anyone developing with JavaScript. The author has a very strong point of view that is presented throughout the book, but I found warranted given the number of ways on can unintentionally harm yourself in JavaScript.



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Tags: books javascript programming

August 20, 2011

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Surreal at times but always intriguing this is a wonderful tale set in Japan. I might argue the many female characters are not portrayed as strongly as the male protagonist but feels more it reflects more the point of view the story is told from. A few footnotes for the non-Japanese would have improved my understanding of some of the intertwined stories, but even without it is a mesmerizing read.



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A Deepness in the Sky

A Deepness in the SkyA Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A wonderful space drama that introduces interesting technology and great characters. It includes a novel new race and a plausible scenario that the action unfolds under. Simply a great science fiction read.



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July 17, 2011

Plastic

Plastic: A Toxic Love StoryPlastic: A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An easy to read exploration of plastic through objects we interact with everyday. The book uses a comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card to gradually introduce all aspects of plastic. This includes the chemicals involved, people behind breakthroughs in plastic, companies producing raw materials and finished products, impact on society and environment, and the growing greening movement around plastic. The book is filled with intriguing characters and stories and offers a balanced look at all the benefits and drawbacks of plastic.



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Tags: books plastic

June 11, 2011

Four Fish

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild FoodFour Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


An exploration of four common fish driven by a personal narrative of fishing for them. Along the way current trends in aquaculture, genetic research, alternative fish types, and legislation are explained. Human greed and fisherman psychology seem to a driving force behind how we got to where we are today with fishing and it seems that without drastic measures nothing will change. The author doesn't advocate ceasing fishing as some other authors have. Instead the author recommends starting over thinking about what we eat using Francis Galton's criteria: hardy, endowed with an inborn liking for man, comfort-loving, able to breed freely, and needful of only a minimal amount of tending. Making strong international policy changes to: profoundly reduce fishing, create large no-catch areas, protect unmanageable species, and protect the bottom of the food chain. With those in mind he advocates creating a fishing industry build around: efficiency, nondestructive to wild systems, limited in number, adaptable, and functional in a polyculture.



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Tags: books food

June 1, 2011

Seven Languages in Seven Weeks

Seven Languages in Seven WeeksSeven Languages in Seven Weeks by Bruce A. Tate

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book offers an exploration of various programming paradigms (object oriented, prototype, constraint-logic, and functional), concurrency models (actors, futures, and transactional memory), and programming constructs (list compression, monads, and matching). None of the topics are covered in great detail but for those curious what Ruby, Io, Prolog, Scala, Erlang, Clojure, and Haskell are all about, this book does a reasonable job of introducing and demonstrating each language. The writing is uneven between the chapters and some concepts (like monads and monitors) could use much better code examples. As the introduction emphasizes, to really get the most put of the book, you will want to work through the exercises at the end of each day, as that is the best way to get a feel for each language. Be warned there aren't answers to these problems, despite what the introduction alludes to.



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May 31, 2011

Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition (Bigend, #1)Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I couldn't help but think this book influenced "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" even though Gibson wasn't mentioned by Larsson. In any case this is by far the most contemporary story of Gibson's that I've read. His protagonist is a quirky female trend recognizer that finds herself pursuing the creators of the biggest phenomenon to hit the Internet. All of the science is well within the realm of believability but is frequently twisted through the perceptions of the characters. An enjoyable read albeit fairly predictable at times.



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May 10, 2011

Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth

Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on EarthHot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A well researched and cleanly written survey of the current state of knowledge and action concerning global warming and climate change. The book explores the topic from many different perspectives including political, economic, personal, with a focus throughout on the growing scientific body of knowledge. A key concept throughout the book is the dual roles of adaptation (reducing our vulnerability to climate change) and mitigation (reducing our emissions). The book addresses the potential gloom and doom if the world doesn't address the issue but also presents change communities are already making and a Green Apollo proposal of how to make a great leap forward. The author's repetitive use of sound-byte phrases like "avoid the unmanageable, manage the unavoidable" throughout the book is one of my biggest gripes in an otherwise wonderful book.



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Tags: books climate

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I delightfully dark tale of a mastermind using bio-engineering to create what he hoped would be a utopia told from the perspective of an unwilling participant in the events.



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April 17, 2011

We Have Met the Enemy

We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of ExcessWe Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess by Daniel Akst
My notes from reading are below:
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A meandering exploration of self-control and the many ways it can impact our happiness and health among other aspects of our lives. While the general theme of each chapter is cohesive the book overall doesn't hold together, in particular I felt the book was missing a compelling final chapter that drew the various facets of self-control together.



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March 14, 2011

A Spring without Bees

A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food SupplyA Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply by Michael Schacker

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


I couldn't finish this book. It reads like a repetitive alarmist rant. When the author started making mostly unsubstantiated conspiracy theory allegations against higher education and American media I hit my limit. Coming into the subject of bees and colony collapse disorder (CCD) with little knowledge of either I was hoping for an introduction to bees, CCD, and an unbiased exploration of what might be leading to it. I found none in this book. While there maybe truth in some of what the author says it is hidden among a writing tone and style that makes me distrust him more than the supposedly corrupt institutions he continually lambasts.



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Tags: avoid books mos

February 13, 2011

Outliers

OutliersOutliers by Malcolm Gladwell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


When reading this book the classic nature versus nurture discussion kept playing in my head. Throughout the book for those that become hugely successful (the outliers) there are clearly elements of nature at play (you need to be good enough) but overall nurture clearly plays a bigger role in the authors view. I'm lumping being in the right place at the right time (aka luck) under nurture since that seems to be a common theme especially when it comes to when you were born. The other clear theme I found was that outliers don't just happen, there is a clear lineage of accumulative advantage at work. That for me was particularly telling in the chapter that touched on the Baltimore students and the California Achievement Test. Less advantaged students showed similar gains those more more advantaged during the school year but lost that gain during the summer. Overall I found the pacing and presentation of the book to be uneven but still demonstrating the key theory well, if not offering any counter examples.



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Tags: books life success

February 8, 2011

Idoru

Spoiler alert.

Idoru (Bridge Trilogy, #2)Idoru by William Gibson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A light and amusing exploration of pattern matching, celebrities, interspecies love, and fandom. A few too many caricature only characters and a rushed conclusion left me wanting more (I've not looked at the other Bridge Trilogy books). The author examines some intriguing phenomenon but doesn't get enough into their implications. At its heart the book felt like the story of two unconnected characters inadvertently joining up to save the day.



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Tags: books scifi

Plastic Fantastic

Plastic FantasticPlastic Fantastic by Eugenie Samuel Reich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book chronicles the multiple year fraud perpetrated by Jan Hendrik Schon in the scientific community concerning his research around various new materials for transistors and nanotechnology. Unfortunately I found the bias of the author that the scientific method doesn't work as stated in the introduction tainted the rest of the material. Instead of laying out the facts and letting the reader draw their own conclusions about the scope and validity of the scientific method the book at times feels like a rant against it. The mixed chronological order that some of the material is presented in makes the timeline hard to follow. While I found the overall story interesting I suspect I'd appreciate another authors take on it more.



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Tags: books mos science

January 31, 2011

The Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist ManifestoThe Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A compelling mix of anecdotes and research exploring the power of the checklist. These are not to-do lists but instead lists of minimum necessary steps to do a task right. Much of the book revolves around the author's own awakening to the power of the checklist while also talking with others in fields such as construction, aviation, and finance about how they use checklists. As such the core takeaways of the book at times can be a little lost in the text but overall the storytelling model makes for an entertaining read while making you aware of the power to improve outcomes with no increase in skills by simply using a checklist.



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January 1, 2011

Last Words

Last WordsLast Words by George Carlin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A wonderful exploration of the life of an iconoclastic comic. From his early childhood to rocky first attempts at making it, Carlin's perfectionist mentality shines through in Tony Hendra's treatment of extensive conversations with Carlin.



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How to Catch a Robot Rat

How to Catch a Robot Rat: When Biology Inspires InnovationHow to Catch a Robot Rat: When Biology Inspires Innovation by Agnès Guillot

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


While full of examples of biology inspiring innovation, the book overviews the entire history and field without delving into depth on any particular topic or application. Along the way the book poses interesting ethical questions about the fusion of machines with man and animal parts with machines but shies away from exploration of the topic. The book is best suited for an academic or research setting versus being enjoyable by the layperson.



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Tags: books science

Ubik

UbikUbik by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A wonderful exploration of reality and psychics set in a world that offers salvation in spray can. Great stuff even with a few superficial characters.



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Tags: book scifi

November 14, 2010

Go Like Hell

Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le MansGo Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans by A.J. Baime

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


A quick and light read chronicling Ford's efforts to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans race. The book builds up to the showdown at Le Mans with examination of the leaders of two the companies, well known drivers of the era, the development of the race cars, and summaries of other key races. While aimed at racing aficionados with its intermixed technical jargon, the core story of two men struggling to outdo each other can be appreciated by all.



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Tags: books racing

Catching Fire

Catching FireCatching Fire by Richard Wrangham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book explores the question of how cooking impacted the evolution of the human race. At its core the claim is that by cooking food we reduce the energy expended to consume calories. As a result the shape of the human head, our intestines, and social structure evolved to capitalize on this external energy introduced into the eating process. While the core theory is explained and reasoned well, the author then makes many other claims using what feels like selective evidence and without addressing other obvious food sources, child rearing dynamics, or food consumption trends. The first half is a must read while the second half should be read with a critical eye.





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Tags: books food

October 16, 2010

The Shape of Inner Space

The Shape of Inner Space: String Theory and the Geometry of the Universe's Hidden DimensionsThe Shape of Inner Space: String Theory and the Geometry of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions by Shing-Tung Yau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An approachable book covering a range of complex and compelling topics in string theory and geometry. The book focuses on discoveries in geometry from the perspective of Shing-Tung Yau, a Fields Medal winner, and how the growing collaboration between mathematicians and physicists is advancing both fields. I didn't come away with a deep understanding of the topics covered in the book, I suspect a second or third reading would be required, but did come to appreciate the problems now being tackled. A worthwhile read if the topic is of interest.



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Tags: books mos

October 6, 2010

Jupiter's Travels

Jupiter's TravelsJupiter's Travels by Ted Simon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


The writing in the book is as bumpy as the roads the author traveled on, frequently crashing into a jumbled heap. His observations and caricature descriptions of different cultures seemed to be tied more to the weather than his personal interactions. The book's pacing is uneven with excessive detail in the beginning and some countries towards the end getting no more than a one line stereotypical summary. There are some well written vignettes scattered throughout the book but overall I'd give it a pass.



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September 9, 2010

The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThe Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An engaging exploration of the history and stories behind the periodic table. Each chapter focuses on different groups of elements that share a common theme, such as the scientists behind their discovery or some unique property. The notes and errata are a must read and offer a wealth of references to other books and articles if there is a particular element you want to learn more about. At times the science explanation is a little light instead favoring the telling a good story about the element. Overall one of the most enjoyable science books I've read.



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Tags: books science

September 5, 2010

Being Geek

Being GeekBeing Geek by Michael Lopp

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book contains many astute observations about the life of a software developer combined with practical advice about how to approach your career. The book touches on aspects like interviewing for a job, office politics, transitioning to new responsibilities like becoming a manager, how to manage your time, dealing with crises, and thinking about when it's time to find a new job. I found the book did a great job of helping me think about the three questions it lays out at the beginning: What am I doing?, What do I do?, and What matters to me?.



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Tags: books life

August 22, 2010

HTML5 for Web Designers

This isn't the technical book I'm reading as part of my 20x2x20 experiment, instead it was one kicking around the office. By far the best introduction to HTML5 I've come across yet.

HTML5 For Web DesignersHTML5 For Web Designers by Jeremy Keith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Great introduction to what HTML5 is and how to start using it today. Having heard the term HTML5 tossed around a lot over the past year this book finally presented it in a concise and useful format. This isn't a technical deep dive but instead clearly outlines what HTML5 adds and provides plenty of links to find out more. Definitely spend the hour a quick read through requires.



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Tags: books html5

July 17, 2010

Recent Readings

A few quick updates on books that I've recently finished.

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June 27, 2010

Millennium Weekend

On Wednesday the second two books of the Millennium books arrived. I've been obsessively absorbed by them since. Thankfully I'm now done so I can get back to all the others things I should have been doing these past few days.

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Tags: books

June 20, 2010

Vacation Books

One of the things that I love about vacation is the additional time I spend reading. I'm less likely to fall into my standard trap of turning on the television to watch a movie and since I usually don't travel with a computer am not tempted by Netflix. Some unexpected delays on my return flight gave me a chance to finish the couple of books that had been sitting around my desk at home that I brought with me and also start on the Millennium series that was recommended to me again by others on the trip.

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Tags: books

May 14, 2010

From Eternity to Here

From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book is a through and frequently tedious exploration for a theory of time. Pay close attention to the word "Quest" in the subtitle. This books poses many questions that don't have answers yet and instead focuses on the various theories that currently exist. The book starts with an introduction to possible definitions of what time is, the role of entropy, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. With that foundation it dives into microscopic constituents, macroscopic systems, and quantum mechanics before finishing off with inflation, the reversibility of time, and multiverses. I found as I went along the tractability became further removed from everyday life and ended up almost entirely in the realm of theoretical physics and dare I say philosophy. If you are interested in understanding the current state of thinking about what time is, the origins of the universe, and similar topics the author's writing is excellent and the copious footnotes helpful. It just felt like it took an eternity to read.

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March 30, 2010

What the Nose Knows

What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life by Avery Gilbert


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is a popular science exploration of scent. Unfortunately the author does a better job of the popular part and not enough with the science. Each chapter is vaguely connected around a theme but is filled with cheap jokes and digressions to make the central point hard to follow. While there are nuggets of information scattered throughout the book, I found it a chore to read. By the end I wasn't at all interested in any of his philosophical points of view around the future of scent technologies.

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Tags: books

February 15, 2010

US: Americans Talk About Love

Us: Americans Talk About Love Us: Americans Talk About Love by John Bowe


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book isn't about fairytale love. This book is about love being complex, crazy, heart-rending, and at the same time comforting, profound, and heartwarming. The stories reflect the melting pot that is America touching on generational, cultural, and ethical differences of what people consider and call love.

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Tags: books life love

February 13, 2010

A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought) A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A masterful journey through space to save the universe from a growing new power. The story mixes alien races, hive minds, technology, and politics in a captivating story presenting it all in believable scenarios. The ending pushed the boundaries a little but resolved everything cleanly, a pleasant change from other science fiction I've read recently.

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Tags: books

February 2, 2010

Don't Make Me Think

Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd Edition) Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A no nonsense approach on how to design web sites to be as effective as possible. The second edition adds information on treating users well and designing for accessibility while trimming the focus on how to conduct usability testing. It has been a number of years since I first skimmed this book and I found the changes welcome. My biggest complaint with the book continues to be a lack of a summary or checklist on the high level points with references to where the topic is covered in more detail. While the book is concise enough to easily skim through I frequently found myself wishing for some more than just the index to find material when I wanted to review a topic. If even half the advice given in the book was followed the web would be twice as easy to use.

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Tags: books

January 31, 2010

The Music of Chance

I had read this book awhile ago as part of a book group but due to a gag order around discussing books prior to meeting in person, I'm only now getting around to posting it. Minor spoiler alert.

The Music of Chance The Music of Chance by Paul Auster


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The book started off great. I had visions of Rounders and Good Will Hunting in my head as the story started to unfold. Unfortunately once they lost the big poker game and voluntarily entered indentured servitude my suspension of disbelief was broken and I could no longer relate to the characters. As a result I found it a drudgery to complete the book.

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December 26, 2009

The Mind at Night

The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream by Andrea Rock


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book provides an excellent history and discussion of current research around dreaming. It is by the far the most approachable book on the topic I've read. Each chapter explores a different aspect of the mind at mind and calls out specific researchers leading the exploration of that area. The books builds upon itself such that the later topics, while dealing with more current and technical material, are digestible as previous chapters laid the groundwork for understanding them.

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Tags: books dream life sleep

December 21, 2009

In The Beginning

In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World by Virginia Hamilton


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I wanted to love this book. The artwork for each story is amazing and concept of the book is wonderful. I just couldn't get past the staccato prose used to tell each creation myth. Even though it's targeted at young adults I expected more flowery storytelling given the grandeur and scope of the myths.

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Tags: books reviews

Goodreads Book Swap

Goodreads recently introduced a new book swapping feature. The fact that the requester pays for the shipping is a big advantage over Bookmooch's point system. I've accumulated more points on Bookmooch than I know what to do with or probably will ever be able to use.

However, my initial interactions as a requester on Goodreads leave something to be desired. I have a multiple day unanswered request for one book. For the other book I wanted I got a note back saying the person was still reading the book and had promised it to someone else, to which I want to respond, "THEN WHY IS IT EVEN LISTED AS BEING SWAPPABLE!" Breathe-in, breathe-out, assume good faith.

Even in light of these setbacks I'm happy for books that would otherwise be collecting dust on my shelves to have found new homes. While my role on both of these sites seems to have been more of a book source versus a sink I can only hope that someday a book on my wishlist will show up and actually be truly available.

Tags: bookmooch books goodreads

December 2, 2009

Redemption Ark

Redemption Ark (Revelation Space, Book 3) Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A great continuation of the Revelation Space world. It felt trite towards the end with some big events summarized instead of detailed in his normal style. Some story lines were left wide open while others have run their course.

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November 10, 2009

Spent

Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The author blends personal observation, conjecture, and actual research into a rambling narrative about consumerism. Between taking pot shots at other research and offering little evidence of why his perspective is preferred it was hard to appreciate many of the points trying to be made. The last fews chapters offer a more expansive view of how society might change its behavior, compared to other books about consumerism that I've read, but I found the material out of place and instead wished for a more cohesive summary of the book's themes.

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November 1, 2009

Chasm City

Chasm City (Revelation Space, Book 2) Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
An excellent story expanding on themes introduced in Revelation Space. This story line flows nicely with plot twists, intriguing characters, and new science fiction themes.

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September 23, 2009

The Hunger

The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition The Hunger: A Story of Food, Desire, and Ambition by John Delucie


My rating: 1 of 5 stars
The book reads like a glorified timeline told out of order with a few shallow mostly cliché introspective footnotes thrown in. Mentions of interesting dishes he has created are scattered throughout the book and given minimal instructions, limiting the possibility of an aspiring cook being able to duplicate them. Enjoy his food but skip his writing.

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July 19, 2009

Goodreads

I find that for some of the books that I've read, mostly when it comes to fiction, a complete entry seems a bit much. My goal of writing up these entries has always been about capturing notes, since I'd say the majority of what I read is non-fiction. While I have reviewed fiction books I've read in the past, most of the time a short summary and rating would be better to capture my feelings should someone ask me what I thought about a book I'd read some time ago. As such a few months ago I signed up for Goodreads. I'm using it to its full potential but have found it useful.

Tags: books

Billions & Billions

Carl Sagan's "Billions & Billions" is a collection of essays covering a wide variety of topics. The essays are grouped into three parts: "The Power and Beauty of Quantification", "What Are Conservatives Conserving?", and "Where Hearts and Minds Collide." I started reading the book some time ago and interspersed it with others so my recollection of the book as a whole is a little fuzzy. Some of the essays did feel dated as the facts and conditions presented have clearly changed, mostly for the better, since originally written.

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Tags: books life

June 21, 2009

How We Decide

"How We Decide" by Jonah Lehrer is an exploration of all the nuances that go into the decision-making process. It is an approachable blend of cutting edge science an anecdotes about how decisions people made influenced their lives (both in life-and-death situations and the ordinary). He explores the decision making process through various facets, among them: dopamine, feelings, thinking, morals, internal argumentative dialog, and thinking about thinking. I suspect a second reading is in order as I usually find reading on airplanes to be a distracting.

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Tags: books thinking

The True History of Tea

Victor H. Mair & Erling Hoh explore one of favorite beverages in their book "The True History of Tea." I read this book during my visit to China which allowed me to better connect with the material as I was able to visit a tea planation and see statues of Lu Yu, who is a central figure in the book. While the general outline of tea's history was covered in A History of the World in 6 Glasses, this book more richly follows its path through China, Japan, and the rest of the world. An approachable and rewarding read for any tea lover.

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Tags: books tea

May 11, 2009

Rapt

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winifred Gallagher is an exploration of attention. It drifts between reasoned discussion about what is going on in your brain backed by various sciences to anecdotal evidence presented in self-help new age manner. Thankfully the book sticks more to the former than the latter. Overall the text is very approachable and offers insight into how we experience the world.

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Tags: attention books life

April 20, 2009

The Book of Merlyn

A couple of people I know convinced me that I should join Goodreads, so I did. I haven't decided how I'm going to handle capturing book information here versus there. I suspect that I'll continue to write my more verbose reviews and notes here and just have the summary review (i.e. star rating) on Goodreads.

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March 6, 2009

Ender Series

Last night I finished my obsessive tear through Orson Scott Card's Ender Series. I had read Ender's Game a number of years ago and throughly enjoyed it. Towards the end of January the lunchtime conversation at work turned to the most recent book in the series and that it was a good read. Since I wasn't really into my other reading options at the time, I thought I'd start reading the series. Rereading Ender's Game, which is one of only about half a dozen books I've ever reread, I became enamored with the characters and the idea of reading the rest of the series. If you haven't read the series I've probably let drop some spoilers below so be warned.

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Tags: books ender

January 31, 2009

The Once and Future King

I'm not sure what I was reading at the time but T. H. White's "The Once and Future King" was mentioned and I ended up adding it to my BookMooch queue. Not long afterwards a copy came available and I mooched it. I remember watching Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" countless times while growing up. Needless to say the book covers much more than that movie could :)

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January 19, 2009

Child 44

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith blends elements of Case Histories set in a 1984 like world. The primary story follows Leo on his fall from grace to his betterment of society. Along the way his path intersects a wide cross section of the suppressed society he lives in. The story at times felt like it had been told before, but the author embodies it with a fresh voice that made for easy reading.

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December 28, 2008

Nothing to Be Frightened Of

Julian Barnes' "Nothing to Be Frightened Of" has a wonderful opening line, "I don't believe in God, but I miss Him." For a book examining mortality from a once atheist now agnostic author the duality captured in that line exemplifies the tone the book takes in its examination of death. I've not read anything else by Julian Barnes but picked up the book based in part on its opening line and a favorable review I read of it. Since then I see that the book graced The New York Times "10 Best Books of 2008" list.

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Tags: book death quote

December 21, 2008

The good, bad, and ugly of books

I'm behind on writing about books so this will be a quick post to catch up on some that have crossed my path recently. A mix of fiction and non-fiction, but no real notes to capture, more about perceptions.

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September 15, 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife

Yesterday I read Audrey Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife". It is by far one of the most entertaining books I've read in a long time. Stories that deal with time travel often times get bogged down in the science behind the time travel or worrying about the various paradoxes that it can produce. This book mostly avoids those subjects and instead focuses on the two main characters and their time traveling love story.

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Tags: book timetravel

September 13, 2008

Critical Mass

Philip Ball's "Critical Mass" is an exploration of how one thing leads to another. I found the book to be a laborious read and overall wouldn't recommend it. While it touches on interesting topics such as phase transitions, power laws, self-organizing patterns, collective motions, and scale-free networks, the book isn't cohesive. It is bookended with the thought of using the laws of nature to guide and predict human nature. While there maybe corollary between the two, I didn't find any of the law applications that persuasive.

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Tags: book science

August 25, 2008

Drop City

T.C Boyle's Drop City follows the life of a hippie community forced to move, Alaskan frontiers people, and how their lives become intertwined. Not having grown up in the 1960's Boyle's portrayal of the hippie community felt more realistic then the idealized version commonly presented elsewhere. Likewise having grown up frequently camping and spending extensive time outdoors, the Alaskan narrative felt realistic, even having never tried to live completely off the land.

One of my biggest complaints with the book is the number of minor characters introduced whose stories are never really satisfied. Unlike the unnamed characters on Lost always milling around on the beach in the background, some of Boyle's characters are fleshed out enough to leave you hanging at the end of the book when never heard from again. Thankfully the fate of all of the major characters are dealt with otherwise I'd be tempted to say the book was complete rubbish.

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July 4, 2008

Shantaram

Gregory David Robert's epic tale "Shantaram" is a sweeping story set in Bombay. While parts of the tale are based on the author's life this work of fiction feels more like an action packed autobiography given the rich details lavished upon on the city and all of the primary characters within. After an audacious prison escape the main character flees to Bombay in hopes of avoiding escape. Through a fortunate series of events the main character soon finds himself in the employ of the mafia and associating with an eclectic group of friends. Along the way he experiences all aspects of Indian culture from rural, slum, and well-to-do city life. A nagging conscious contributes to him running a health clinic in the slum, while also learning new languages, and struggling with love.

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Tags: bombay books

The Road

Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is a post apocalyptic tour de force. The writing is curt, brutal, and extremely engaging. It took me some time to adjust to the author's writing style but once I did I found it hard to put the book down. The book's dark theme relentlessly continues and little solace is found even in the closing pages which only adds to the gravity of the world presented within it. The nearly punctuation less dialog matches the barren landscape the characters inhabit and after awhile I found it softer on the eyes than a typical quote filled page. The struggle to survive portrayed in the book is inspirational despite the lack of a happy ending. Overall a fantastic read.

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Tags: books

Into Thin Air

While in Nepal trekking up to Everest Base Camp it felt appropriate to read Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air". I was not attempting the same physical feat of the author, but I did traverse the same paths up to the base camp, which gave me familiarity with the first few parts of the book. The version of the book that I read included an additional section at the end which offered the author's rebuttal of another book covering the same events. The inconsistencies seemed to focus mostly on the portrayal of people in the book versus the over arching series of events that happened. With that in mind the experience and horror captured in the book was mesmerizing.

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Tags: books everest nepal

Psychology and Consumer Culture

"Psychology and Consumer Culture" is a collection of essays edited by Tim Kasser and Allen D. Kanner. Kasser is the author of "The High Price of Materialism", a book I highly recommend reading. The essays in this book cover four main areas: i) Problems of Materialism, Capitalism, and Consumption ii) Theoretical Perspectives iii) Clinical Issues and iv) The Influence of Commercialism on Child Development. Unlike most readings of non-fiction books like this one, I didn't take many notes. Part of the reason was I read this during my trip to Nepal and it wasn't always handy to have a notebook around to capture my thoughts. The primary reason though was that most of the essays in the book are dense and to really appreciate all of the material presented in the book, I want to give them all a second reading.

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Tags: books consumerism

I Was Told There'd Be Cake

Sloane Crosley's "I Was Told There'd Be Cake" is a collection of essays on a wide range of topics from family matters to friendly surprises in the bathroom. What intrigued me most about the collection was that it's from a voice of my generation. Many of the comments in the book are very similar to what I grew up with, what I experienced, and most often relate to. The rift on Oregon Trail found a special place in my heart. It almost makes me want to buy Busted Tees "You Have Died of Dysentery" shirt :) The book is a quick read as the writing style is light. While funny, the humor feels forced at times and sometimes strays too much off-topic. I'll be curious to see what her next project is as I can only think her writing will be more polished in her next effort.

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Tags: books life

April 21, 2008

The Omnivore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan starts off strong but with each major section gets less informative and more autobiographical. This isn't to say that the later sections don't have worthwhile material, it's just that what material they do have is harder to find and not as thought provoking. I suspect if the book had started off with his tales of novice hunting and mushroom gathering I wouldn't have read the rest of it.

The writing style of each major section does match its theme. Which is why I may have found the Industrial (scientific) section the most interesting, while the Pastoral (pseudoscience) less so, and the Personal (new age) a chore to read. Despite the major differences in the quality of the material the book does prompt one to consider where your food comes from.

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Tags: book food

April 19, 2008

The Partly Cloudy Patriot

It's hard to believe that it has been almost a month since I finished Sarah Vowell's "The Partly Cloudy Patriot". I know I've had some free time but it is only now that I'm getting around to jotting down my thoughts. This was a lighter read than most and as such it didn't generate as many notes, which has always been my primary motivation for writing about the books I read. I've lost track of the number of times I've done a Google search for something only to end up on my blog having forgotten I'd written down some thought a couple of years ago. Now back to the book. Overall I enjoyed the book but frequently found her writing to come off as whiny.

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Tags: books obama

February 3, 2008

Persepolis

Persepolis I & II by Marjane Satrapi is the first graphic novel that I've read. I've skimmed through others, but this one I actually read cover to cover. It's a fascinating way to tell a story. Being a fan of cinema I found this format provided a bridge between a traditional novel and a movie. The fact that all of the drawings are done in black and white I found enhanced the story since most of the material is somber.

Given the heightened fear among Americans of terrorism the story is wonderful in helping to view an "Axis of Evil" country in terms of its people. My knowledge of Iran is limited and this story helped me understand it better. It isn't presented in some idealized fashion but mixes the joys and despair that the author experienced during the revolution. In particular she makes many astute observations about the freer life she had compared to many of her compatriots and how that affected her world view.

Tags: books

January 1, 2008

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

"A History of the World in 6 Glasses" by Tom Standage was a fun read. In it the history and influence of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola are dissected. The author makes convincing claims that each beverage played a key role in lubricating change in the human condition. While episodes like the Boston Tea Party have obvious ties others like the role of beer in building the pyramids or rum and the mixed in lime juice leading to the rise of the British navy maybe less well known. While the book at times doesn't make it clear what are the author's extrapolations versus researched material the text is well written and easy to read.

Tags: books

December 29, 2007

Agile Project Management with Scrum

Reading Ken Schwaber's "Agile Project Management with Scrum" has been helpful in reinforcing for me the key benefits and practices that make up Scrum. The numerous real-life scenarios presented in the book help flesh out the essence of Scrum beyond the six and a half pages of rules which comprise the entire Scrum process. As mentioned in the book it is one thing to understand the rules of Scrum but it is very different to understand the purpose of the rules and how they make Scrum such a success.

Allurent has been using Scrum for sometime now and while we have successfully completed many sprints and delivered shippable software with it, after reading this book I've noticed some subtle nuances that could make us even more successful. It was also good to examine the entire Scrum process more from the ScrumMaster perspective, since my experience with Scrum at this point has only been as a member of the team.

Tags: books scrum

November 25, 2007

Born Standing Up

Over my extended Thanksgiving break I picked up and read Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up: a comic's life". I'm not completely sure why I picked it up. I think I recently read a review of it and it looked interesting. I knew of Steve Martin and have seen some of his films, but I've not seen much or possibly any of his stand-up material.

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Tags: books

September 9, 2007

Life: The Odds

"Life: The Odds" by Gregory Baer is an amusing read. By the author's own admission it is aimed at the sitting on the toilet crowd [xi], which we later learn could increase your chance of getting hemorrhoids [141]. The author does a good of teaching how to think about odds. He covers the probability of an event happening and in the section on money how those differ from the payout odds in games of chance. The book is billed as humor and unfortunately the author frequently stretches too hard to incorporate a joke. Which is my primary compliant with the book.

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Tags: books odds

September 1, 2007

Martini

I've just finished "Martini, Straight Up" revised edition by Lowell Edmunds. It is a short and at times metaphysical history and look at the Martini. In this case Martini primarily means a drink made of gin and vermouth served in the iconic glass. The author prefers his Martini cold, 4:1 to 8:1, shaken, straight up, with the oil from a twist of lemon. I find it strange that given his tastes the cover picture includes the lemon rind floating in the drink instead of discarded as directed [xviii].

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Tags: books gin martini

August 7, 2007

Atlas Shrugged

With some of the free time I had while at the camp I started "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. I don't quite remember when I bought the book, but it had been sitting on one of my shelves for some time. I believe one my motivations for buying the book came after reading "Sewer, Gas & Electric" by Matt Ruff in which Ayn Rand is carried around in a lamp. I found the story engaging and recently completed it.

I won't even begin to claim that I understood all of the philosophy contained in the book. What I do agree with is many of the general ideas. I'm sure reading through the Objectivism entry would help clarify things. I also suspect rereading the "This is John Galt Speaking" chapter would reiterate the main points. For me, the fact that the philosophy was set in a fictional world helped make the material more digestible. Instead of being a dry exposition many of the tenets were captured in the characters actions and personalities. Overall I'm glad that I read it.

Tags: books

August 4, 2007

Bowling Alone

"Bowling Alone" by Robert D. Putnam is a dense and sobering look at the state of social capital in America. The book is meticulously researched, the last 100 pages are devoted to discussing the sources of the books' data and the copious cited material. The picture painted is one of a nation under change, but it is presented in straightforward manner allowing the reader the chance to draw conclusions about what it means for America. It isn't until the last 50 pages that the author switches to a more call to arms prose.

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Tags: books life

Founders at Work

I recently completed "Founders at Work" by Jessica Livingston. It traces the stories of startups' early days. It focuses on software and hardware companies from the technology sector. From overnight runaways like HOT or NOT to longer term ramp ups like TiVo. While reading the interviews from the 32 companies, I started to find reoccurring themes:

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Tags: books entrepreneur

July 4, 2007

The Undercover Economist

About half way through reading "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Hardford I lost interest. The book is well written and approaches the topic of economics in a very layman friendly way. I just personally wasn't interested in reading more about economics at the time. With that said I slowly came back to the book and recently finished it. Each chapter addresses a different fundamental economic concept and builds well on the previous topics. Most importantly the book is filled with many anecdotes which help convey the underlying principle.

My favorite quote out of the book "Growing them in Iowa makes use of a special technology that turns wheat into Toyotas: simply put the wheat onto ships and send them out into the Pacific ocean. The ships come back a short while later with Toyotas on them. The technology used to turn wheat into Toyotas out in the Pacific is called 'Japan', but it could just as easily be a futuristic biofactory floating off the cost of Hawaii." [213]

Tags: books economics

June 4, 2007

Thunderstruck

It has been some time since I've finished a book. I attribute it to my phase nature. In any case I recently read "Thunderstuck" by Erik Larson. I really enjoyed the last book of his that I read. Overall I liked "The Devil in the White City" better. "Thunderstruck" is an enjoyable read and it does a great job of capturing the race for wireless communication set against the scientific bickering of London and intertwines the mysterious murder committed by Dr. Crippen. What it didn't do is draw me into both stories.

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Tags: books london science

January 25, 2007

Three Cups of Tea

It has been way to long since I've sat down and focused on reading a book. Thankfully over this past week I've done just that as a way to relax. Life is starting to slow down a little and reading made for a nice change of pace. The book was a recent present called Three Cups of Tea. It's about the life of Greg Mortenson penned with the help of David Oliver Relin. Greg for over a decade now has been working to build schools in remote areas of Pakistan and other out of the way places in that part of the world.

The book chronicles the experiences that led up to him starting this monumental task, the trials in getting the first school built, and the role his work has played in the area post 9/11. Yes it is possible for the determination of one person to change the lives of so many. He has had many people help and continue to help him along his journey but by and large without Greg the schools would not exist. Which also plays into the only negative aspect mentioned in the book, that without Greg this work would not continue. I can only hope that through this book others leaders capable of building the relations and trust can carry on what the Central Asia Institute has done, since having others in the field with the determination Greg has would only further expand the impact that can be made.

Greg's life is an inspiration for all of us and I truly do believe that he is a modern day hero.

Tags: books

September 11, 2006

Urban Tribes

It isn't often that I read a book that I find truly speaks to me. Some books are engaging in that I find the material of interest while other books are written well and I find myself wanting to see what happens next. For a book to really speak to me it has to be something different. After reading an article in a magazine I went to buy Urban Tribes by Ethan Watters. At the same time I ended up picking up What should I do with my life? by Po Bronson, since it was mentioned on the back of Watter's book. I hoped Bronson's book would speak to me. It didn't.

Urban Tribes ended up sitting on my bookshelf for months with other books I had hoped to read or thought I was going to read. While packing for my drive to Virginia to attend Dave Fried's wedding I was trying to decide what I should bring along to read. I picked up Urban Tribes as it seemed about the right length and attending yet another wedding this year made it seem that much more relevant. Turns out it was and it really spoke to me.

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Tags: books gilmanmanor life

A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole was an entertaining book for reasons different from most fiction I read. The writing in the book is superb and was the primary reason that I kept reading it. Unlike most fiction books where the draw to keep reading is that I've found a character I relate to or a character I empathize with, in this book I hated them all. If ever there was a text book example of victim mentality, the characters in this book fit it to a tee. The dichotomy of loving to hate the characters doesn't remind me of any other books I've read lately which helps it stand out. I'm not sure what I else I can say without getting caught up in all of the storyline, so I'll keep it short. Great book worth the read.

Tags: books

August 6, 2006

The Devil in the White City

I've recently finished devouring The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. It has been awhile since I've found a book so riveting that I had trouble putting it down. I actually had a couple fits of insomnia this past week because of the heat and thankfully this book was there to pass the hours. Or maybe it was the other way around, I want to read so I feinted insomnia? In any case the book is mesmerizing and extremely well written. Unlike A Million Little Pieces the author's note at the beginning sets the tone "However strange or macabre some of the following incidents may seem, this is not a work of fiction" (emphasis his) [xi].

The story follows two men and is set around the 1893 World's Fair that was held in Chicago. The first man is the architect behind the World's Fair. The second is a gruesome serial killer who played upon people coming to see the World's Fair. The city of Chicago itself also takes center stage throughout the book with the author's vivid descriptions and auxiliary people that are tied into the two main men.

To read about a city trying to assert itself and America through the fair then be stricken along with the rest of the country as the economy took a downturn only makes the success that the fair achieved even more phenomenal. That success would not have been possible without the men and women behind the fair all of which are captured in the book. Likewise the cunning dastardly deeds of the killer provide a somber backdrop to the excitement of the fair. A truly remarkable, approachable, educational, and entertaining book.

Tags: books

June 3, 2006

A Sense of the Mysterious

A sense of the Mysterious by Alan Lightman is primarily a collection of his essays that have previously appeared in various other magazines and publications. The essays cover a wide range of topics and range from his personal observations about being a scientist to short biographies about other scientists. Overall I didn't find the book that engaging. While the essays were organized well, I didn't find themes that followed through all of them to really tie the book together. They felt just like a collection that had been repackaged together.

In many of the essays I found the author's frequent digressions to be distracting and superfluous as they didn't offer any support of the main topic. With all of that said there are nuggets of reflection buried throughout the book that I found myself agreeing with and broadening my own perceptions. The concept of the "creative moment" isn't something I have felt to the same degree as Mr. Lightman I have briefly touched its outer edge and agree with his description. His "Prisoner of the Wired World" reflects many of the same feelings as the ceaseless society talk. Overall the book's short essay format makes for quick reading with one or two small nuggets to be gleamed from each piece.

Tags: books science

May 27, 2006

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Today I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It's a quick read, but very good. One aspect of the book that I found most interesting was the random inclusion of various math and physics concepts. Having read about most of the random tidbits mentioned in the book it was neat to see how they were woven into the book. As a work of fiction I can't say that I got that much out of the book besides a few hours of enjoyment. I didn't feel that attached to any of the characters and didn't feel that they evolved that much throughout the book. The most engaging aspect of the book is its writing style and a unique protagonist.

Tags: books

May 16, 2006

Bringing Down the House

Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich is a quick read. It's also a fluffy read. The book leaves many questions unanswered including some surrounding the main character, such as if and when he ever told his family what he did, which could have been answered. It also ends on too clean of a climax, with the purple poker chip on the table, making me think that certain aspects of the book were over embellished. The mystery of who sold the team out is only touched on and never explores the opinions of the characters. Having also read "John Magic and the Card Shark Kids" by David Kushner both books follow a similar vein. New team blackjack system that works for awhile in Vegas, he casinos catch on and they end up exploring other casinos which leads to trouble and the operation basically goes belly up. Neither book I felt did a good job of really exploring the subject, instead both were light treatments of the characters involved. Both are good plane reading material but nothing that great.

Tags: blackjack books gambling

March 10, 2006

Religion Explained

Pascal Boyer's book "Religion Explained" explores the evolutionary origins of religious thought. I found the text to be fairly dense and dry but it throughly examined the subject. The primary idea presented through the book is that the mental facilities humans have for intelligent thought, planning, and learning and the social structures around them make us predisposed to acquire religious connotations [3]. Once acquired they stick for a variety of reasons but one of the most important is religions use of ontological exceptions [80]. Rituals (most of which are religious) play a role in marking key events of our lives (birth, marriage, death) so that the event becomes public knowledge [248]. This publicness helps ensure that a group/community has a shared record; for example everyone knows this newly married couple is no longer among the pool of possible mates. One of the last concepts touched upon is that religious concepts are parasitic since they require and build upon all of our other mental capacities [311].

The book dives into each of the points mentioned above along with many others examining them from a cognitive, social, and biological perspective. Since I struggled through the text I know I didn't pick up as much as the book that to offer. Below are some additional observations I took while reading:

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March 9, 2006

Empire Falls

The one thing I've noticed is that I tend to read fiction much faster than non-fiction. Granted I've also had a little extra time on my hands as of late, but I find it much easier to get into a flow/groove with a good book of fiction then with non-fiction. Part of that may be when I'm reading non-fiction I'm really trying to learn the material where with fiction I'm reading it for pleasure and don't mind if I come away from the book with nothing more than a few hours letting my mind wander around in an imaginary word. I suspect that is the same affect that is happening when I'm watching a movie. I get sucked in and for a couple of brief hours don't really notice much of anything around me.

I recently finished "Empire Falls" by Richard Russo which is why this topic came up. It's set in a fictional small town in Maine. Unfortunately, being from Maine (albeit not as small a town as the book depicts) his characterizations of many Maineisms ring all too true. I throughly enjoyed the book and while my thoughts on it this time will be brief, I highly recommend it to others interested in a well written book filled with many fleshed out characters and a focus on the human condition.

March 3, 2006

What Should I Do with My Life?

I've just finished reading "What Should I Do with My Life?" by Po Bronson. I bought this book at the same time I bought "Urban Tribes" which I'm planning on reading next after finishing "Religion Explained". Po Bronson was quoted on the back of "Urban Tribes" and the title of the book intrigued me. I can't claim that I've thought about the question at any great length or focus. Which makes me wonder why I bought and read it at all?

I don't think I'm really struggling with the question, but then I might also be deluding myself. Because I haven't resolved that fundamental issue I didn't get as much out of the book as I had hoped. Saying that I had hope for someone means that I was looking to the book for something, but now looking back I have no idea what that was when I bought it.

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February 25, 2006

The Journey of Man

Spencer Wells "The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey" explores the role of genetics in tracing the history of human expansion across the world. The primary means of accessing this spread is various markers on the Y-chromosome. Since these markers don't change except through rare mutations, by looking at the concentration of specific markers throughout the world it is possible to trace the human population back to a genetic Adam. There is an equivalent genetic Eve, but the data isn't as good. This is later attributed to the paternal nature of most human societies, in that the woman traveled to the man's village thus causing more dispersion of genes.

Overall I enjoyed the book and feel that the author presented a very compelling case that humans did originate in Africa and then spread out across the rest of the world at various points through time. More importantly, that spread occurred in a very short amount of time, compared to the age of the earth.

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February 13, 2006

A Million Little Pieces

I've mostly been reading scientific non-fiction. While I love doing that, it was time for a change. I heard about an upcoming book discussion about A Million Little Pieces by James Frey and I figured given the recent controversy about that book that would be a nice change of pace. Originally billed as a memoir it has since been determined that the author changed much more than one should to be able to still call it non-fiction. These transgressions were summarized in a reader's note that will be included in all future publications of the book.

With that said, the book itself is a great read. Frey is a great author and his narrative style moves the book along. One stylistic trait I found odd at first but came to like was the lack of punctuation detonating conversation. There isn't a quote mark to be found. The repetitive elements I found helped draw me into the addicts mindset and understand the difficulty of the healing. How much of that was real versus embellished I'm almost inclined to ignore as it helps makes the story work. I do agree that if it was fictionalized it should be marked as such, but I think the core of the addiction healing process is what captivates.

One simple sentence echoed out at me as having double meaning in light of the falsifications. "I hate the memories and I hate myself for creating them." [275]. In the original intent it concerns the reflection he is having on his life and how his addictions caused him to act poorly and mess everything up, thus creating many painful memories. In a more cynical view, it can be read that he has made up his memories and hates himself for having done that.

In the end I'd recommend the book provided you first read the "a note to the reader".

February 1, 2006

The High Price of Materialism

I've been referring to this a bit lately, but The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser is a great book. As I previously mentioned John highly recommended it. I agree. This is a must read book if you are at all interested in the effect of materialism or really the effect of commercialism and/or capitalism. The basic theory throughout the book is that the pursuit of wealth and possessions might actually be undermining our well-being [9].

The author walks through various aspects of peoples lives and how materialism can have a negative impact on each of them. These include: self-acceptance, affiliation, and community feelings [6-7]. The causes of this condition are varied but include issues such one's environmental circumstances such that an environment that fails to provide security and safety increases the tendency for materialistic tendencies [37]. This materialistic pursuit then leads to bad relationships and feelings of insecurity, among others [73].

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July 30, 2005

Lincoln at Gettysburg

I was astounded that such an incredible book could be written about a speech that lasted only 272 words, but Garry Wills has done just that in Lincoln at Gettysburg. Wills dives into details about the political climate of the time, the structure of the speech, and many details about Lincoln that help show how the speech was written and why it had the reverberating impact that it did. With my spotty English, political, and historical background I know there are many pieces of the book that I just missed. This will be a great book to pickup and reread in a few years time.

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May 30, 2005

Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

I suspect that the difficulty of the book and the concept in general contributed to the small group showing to discuss Lee Smolin's Three Roads to Quantum Gravity. I also had a hard time getting through the book as I felt many concepts were touched upon too briefly. I think that since the author approached the theory of quantum gravity from three different perspectives and each had its own terminology and history, the book would have been three times as long if he had tried to go into more detail. The fact that the book is billed as It would be hard to imagine a better guide to this difficult subject. -- Scientific American makes me wonder how bad other books on the topic are.

The book focuses on the history and current state of research into quantum gravity. It is not out to answer all of the questions and assures you that there is still much to be done. This is a very different outcome from many of the other books we have read in the group that had a distinct viewpoint and a definitive ending. The author does maintain a good level of objectivity when talking about the competing theories that are outside of his field of research. He makes a point towards the end of mentioning that in doing so he upset all camps, which in his mind means he found the proper balance between them.

Having read other book about quantum physics in the past I found this book more challenging and felt that for many of the concepts introduced I didn't grasp them. I'd be tempted to read it again, but think that with the general objections raised about the author's approach to the subject I might find a second read more infuriating than rewarding. Instead I'd probably delve into the extensive list of recommended further readings the author includes after the very helpful glossary. Some of the scientific concepts I did pick up are that space and time are defined of discrete indivisible units, black holes emit radiation and as such shrink over time, and that there is the concept of the horizon which hides information from the observer.

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Wonderful Life

I have to disagree with the general theme of Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life. I don't place as high an emphasis on chance/luck as he does. I think if you were to wind back time you could predict the outcome again with a high degree of certainty. The problem, which is easier to explain if you say it is luck, is that the number of variables that go into one species surviving over another are too difficult to track and analyze over any reasonable time scale. Evolution is still about adaptation to the changing environment, the problem is the environment is constantly changing, so what made one species the most adapted a minute ago might have changed (think asteroid hitting the earth). This is why I think you can predict what will survive if you play out all of the what-if scenarios, provided you can think of them all. The shear number of interdependencies between everything makes this unrealistic, hence luck can instead be used to explain the outcome.

The author's discussion on the impact that visual representation can have on a concept was great and I think has lead to the misconception of equating evolution with progress, which is isn't. I could have done without the middle section of the book where every creature from the Burgess Shale was described in detail. I felt like the author wanted to give the reader a taste of what it was like to reread all of the highly technical descriptions of those animals by the teams that reexamined them.

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April 20, 2005

Your tax dollars well spent

Your tax dollars well spent

If this isn't design by committee I don't know what is. The entire graphic is a joke. When you need a separate page just to explain it, it's trying to be too abstract.

April 18, 2005

Pendulum

Amir D. Aczel's book Pendulum traces the history of the pendulum and its place in helping prove that the Earth rotated. The book is about twice as long as it needs to be. The second half is very repetitive and many of the tangential stories and characters, while intriguing, sometimes stray too far from the main character and topic. I also felt the book didn't go into as much detail on some of the scientific material as I would have liked. While aimed at a general audience a more through appendix could have been used to expand on the pendulum and frame of reference concepts.

Recurring themes in books I've read recently include the advantages of being multidisciplinary, the role of simplicity, and having an outside perspective. The author contends that since Foucault wasn't a traditional scientist and dabbled in multiple fields, his multidisciplinary helped him to conceptualize and realize the pendulum experiment. Other scientists of the time had theories about the concept, but none took it to the logical conclusion. This ties into the simplicity of the experiment. While constructing an apparatus to let the pendulum swing in any direction with almost no friction required trial and error along with working with metal, the concept behind the experiment can be easily explained. Simplicity allows the results to be easily verified and reproduced which is vital given that the results varied by latitude. Lastly, Foucault and his experiment were initially shunned by the elite scientists of his time because he was an outsider and the experiment was so simple. Those scientists couldn't believe that they had missed it. Thankfully for Foucault others noticed the achievement and he eventually got due recognition.

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April 16, 2005

To Engineer Is Human

I'm thinking that while I'm posting comments about these books, I'm not really going into depth. It's seems to act more as an outline of what I'd want to talk about with someone after I'd read the book. Since most of the books that I've been writing up came from the Museum of Science Book Club, that discussion has been taking place, just not in an electronic format. I think I tried to summarize one of those discussions, but felt it was just reduced to sounds bites.

If nothing else, I find that by putting these comments together I have a better chance of actually remembering what the book was about and hopefully recalling some of the details. It is amazing that for all that I read, I usually don't assimilate that much of it consciously, it instead filters in and sometime in the future it begins to make sense if I come back to it. I'm particularly finding that to be the case with my current book. I read an entire chapter today over lunch and knew that I would have to read it again to understand what it was trying to get at. Now onto this book:

To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski focuses on the need for failure in engineering to keep innovation in check and provide a basis for new ways of thinking about safety and maintenance. Innovation requires risk, it is the job of the engineer to think about those risks and ask the right questions [201,222]. If all engineers played it safe the rate of innovation would slow to a snails pace or the cost would remain too high. The risks are controllable if they are within reasonable bounds of existing experience [5,201]. The book covers many examples of well known failures, the failures being well known since they are the anomaly [106]. The failures discussed include the walkway collapse in the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and the AA DC-10 crash.

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March 28, 2005

The Golden Ratio

I'm behind on putting together my notes for some of the books that I've recently read. One that I finished not long ago was The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi. The World's Most Astonishing Number. by Mario Livio. This book held a special interest as it is part of what makes NeoPhi what it is. I've always had a love of math and incorporating that into my domain name just seemed like a nice tie in, besides it just sounds good.

Unlike a lot of other books I've read lately, the author wasn't pushing a point of view as much as summarizing all that is currently known about the number. He does spend time discrediting various theories about where phi was used. For example the pyramids are not influenced by phi. I think you have to have some interest in math to really enjoy the book even though is it approachable to a general audience.

Below are some usually paraphrased references from the book that I think are worth mentioning:

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December 11, 2004

The Future of Life

I'm finally getting around to putting together some thoughts about The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson. This was the first book read by the Museum of Science's Book Club for the Curious. One of the main points that the author makes throughout the book is the concept of humans being the steward of nature. The following are some excerpts from the book that touch on this thought:

We will have them both, you and I and all those now and forever to come who accept the stewardship of nature. [xxiv]

We must know the role each one plays in the whole in order to manage Earth wisely. [12]

And our tragedy, because a large part of it is being lost forever before we learn what it is and the best means by which it can be savored and used. [21]

Still another intensely felt value is stewardship, which appears to arise from emotions programmed in the very genes of human social behavior. ... If the rest of life is the body, we are the mind. Thus, our place in nature, viewed from an ethical perspective, is to think about the creation and to protect the living planet. [132]

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November 20, 2004

A Short History of Nearly Everything

My main reading material during my trip to Bangkok was Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. A wonderful book that covers a lot of ground but helps fill in gaps from what you learned in school while updating you on research and offering plenty of chuckles along the way. Before my trip I also started Edward O. Wilson's The Future of Life for the Boston Museum of Science's book club. Between the two I must conclude that we humans are on the way out. Mind you neither of these books makes that mention, but that's a conclusion I draw. A few tidbits that I managed to jot down while read Bryson include:

It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. ... Life, in short, just wants to be. But-and here's an interesting point-for the most part it doesn't want to be much. [336]

It cannot be said too often: all life is one. That is, and I suspect will forever prove to be, the most profound true statement there is. [415]

I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn't choose humans beings for the job.
But here's an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or Providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. [477]

It is this last statement which under scores my thought that we are deluding ourselves to justify our existence. Life does just want to me. The problem is humans have the ability to evolve outside the confines of nature's scale. That leads to thinking we are the best since we can't think that nature might produce a mutation that given 10,000 years would be better and could maybe live in equilibrium with nature instead of constantly destroying it.

the five people you meet in heaven

After missing an earlier flight back to Boston by two minutes, I had a six hour layover to kill in LAX. I passed most of it reading the five people you meet in heaven by Mitch Albon. It's a delightful read and you can easily find yourself lost in the main character since he presents a little bit of all of us. The following are a few lines from the book that stuck with me:

No life is a waste, the Blue Man said. The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone. [50]

That's the thing. Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you're not really losing it. You're just passing it on to someone else. [94]

All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, other crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair. [104]

Learn this form me. Holding anger is a poison.. It eats you from the inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves. [141]

Life has to end, she said. Love doesn't. [173]

The biggest thought for me is the author's view that everything happens for a reason. One may never know what that reason is, but it's there. I myself have to reject that notion since it implies some higher purpose or meaning that I don't believe exists.

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