Reading 2013

Updated 21 Nov 2013

Top books this year

Simplicity, by Edward De Bono (5/5)
(re-read Oct 2013) What a great book. Simplicity is not a natural outcome – you have to choose it as a value, and actively seek to achieve it. I was very inspired by this book years ago when I first read it, and it was neat to see how many of the ideas I repeat all the time to others (without remembering that this book was the original source).

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas, by Seymour Papert (5/5)
The philosophy behind the LOGO programming language as a method for teaching mathematical thought to children – I remember doing some of these exercises in Grade 3 or 4. Look up Bret Victor to see some very interesting contemporary programming tools/UI inspired by this work.

Human Transit, by Jarrett Walker (4/5)
I thought I already had a clear picture of the options for transit, but this book did a great job of laying out the terms and tradeoffs really clearly, and I can see a number of the choices in Vancouver much better now. Our city is doing a pretty good job… it would be nice if all the debates could be so rational.

All the rest

What It is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes (4/5)

Staying Power, by Michael A. Cusumano (4/5)
An excellent perspective on the qualities it takes to stay relevant in business:

  1. platforms (not just products),
  2. services (not just platforms or products),
  3. capabilities (not just strategy),
  4. pull systems (not push),
  5. economies of scope (not scale),
  6. flexibility in operations and decision making.

This definitely gave me a new vocabulary and lens to look at the maneuverings of giants like Sony, Apple, IBM, …

The Making of Prince of Persia, by Jordan Mechner (4/5)
Good times in computer history! When game development was small enough to be done by a single person + a little help (Fred Brooks’ surgical team?). Also a couple of neat connections in this book for me: years ago I had read his brother’s account of studying Go in Japan, and he also mentions Janice Kim, author of the first Go book I ever read.

Distrust That Particular Flavor, by William Gibson (4/5)
Great stuff. Interesting to read the bits that are old enough to feel slightly quaint, even though they are so recent (early Internet, ebay, etc). I like collections of essays because you can jump in and read these bite-sized pieces that are still complete thoughts.

The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder (4/5)
Really interesting to read about the history of the industry, but also depressing to see all the same bullshit (schedule-chicken, resource battles, etc) that hasn’t changed in 30 years.

1984, by George Orwell (4/5)

Design As Art, by Bruno Munari (4/5)
A collection of essays on state of design, and the place of art, in modern (1966?) society. He has a bit of cultural-envy for the Japanese, though.

Myths to Live By, by Joseph Campbell (4/5)
Myths provide symbols, patterns and conditioning for relating to your (cultural) world, and everyone is telling some variation of the same basic mythology. The problem with modern religion is that it’s trying to teach an outmoded set of symbols. Also, kitten vs monkey cultures (other- vs self- reliant). Great framing of some cultural differences for me.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, by Thomas C. Foster (4/5)
A nice primer on to look for when interpreting writing. No big surprises, but a good set of triggers that would alert you to look deeper (eg, weather, mythology, bible).

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes (4/5)

The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallwey (3/5)

Generative Art, by Matt Pearson (3/5)

Human JavaScript, by Henrik Joreteg (3/5)
It was OK. Quite a short overview of some JS modules for front-end development. Probably aimed at junior devs, or people who haven’t really worked with MVC- style frameworks?

The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang (3/5)

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories, by Yasunari Kawabata (3/5)
A handful of gems in there, but lots of stories that I just got nothing from. I wonder how much of this is in the translation?

Fast Handling Technique, by Frank Bethwaite (2/5)
Repetitive and poorly edited. There’s still some good information in here about setup and target speeds, but 1/3 of the book is devoted to telling you how NOT to sail (the “natural handling” technique), and it keeps repeating the same instructions for “fast handling” technique so I was left puzzling about what was different in each case (nothing?). Not up to the high standard of his other books.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer (3/5)
A lightweight version of Oliver Sacks?

Visualizing Data Patterns with Micromaps, by Daniel B. Carr (3/5)
I actually found many of the map visualizations hard to comprehend – series of maps showing per-year values, plus a second row of maps showing the deltas between years is too noisy and requires too much refocusing. But, they do mention that in their testing they find some people prefer this, while others prefer interactive flipping between frames. What I did love was the amount of references to other research material, and to general concerns about cognition, perception and interpretation of visualizations.

The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick deWitt (3/5)

The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yōko Ogawa (3/5)
A very simple story, told in the Japanese style of “being there”. I don’t see what people find so interesting about it – maybe romantic ideas about mathematical intuition? Or personal experience with caring for someone with dementia?

On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt (3/5)
I suspect the author has a talent for bullshit.

Dead Men Scare Me Stupid, by John Swartzwelder (3/5)
More Frank Burly zaniness, this time with ghosts. Just lots of chuckles, nothing more.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins (3/5)

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield (2/5)
Creative motivation for people who believe in God? Meh. It had a few good moments, but in general the personification and externalization of Resistance didn’t work for me.

Picture This: How Pictures Work, by Molly Bang (2/5)
Kind of interesting; short and simple. I’m not sure how much of this requires cultural learning of how to interpret the symbols of a picture (not that this takes anything away from it). Could be a good jumping off point to go and read more deeply about the topic.

Broken Angels (Takeshi Kovacs, #2), by Richard K. Morgan (2/5)
Weak. The earlier book, Altered Carbon, was a good matrix-meets-blade-runner blend of sci-fi and detective story. This one took the space-marine angle, and didn’t really do anything interesting with it.


You can also check out everything I've been reading on Goodreads.