Tag books (15)
Built to Last
Posted on 2010-10-23 15:29:00
Tags: reviews books
On a whim, I picked up Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business Essentials) at an airport bookstore. I had heard the name of it before, and it was better than I expected. (I'm also a bit of a sucker for business books)
The idea of the book is to examine "visionary" companies (premier in their industry, widely admired, etc.) and try to figure out what makes them different. So the first step is to identify visionary companies, which they did by sending out a survey to top CEOs. (they also set an arbitrary cutoff of founding before 1950) So they ended up with a list like 3M, GE, HP, Proctor & Gamble, Boeing, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Philip Morris, etc. Then they searched for comparison companies in the same industry that were founded at a similar time and were successful but not "visionary". So HP got compared with Texas Instruments, Disney was paired up with Columbia, GE was paired up with Westinghouse, etc. Then with these comparisons, they looked for patterns to see what was different.
Their findings were interesting: a "great idea" at a company's founding isn't necessary, or even early success. You don't need a great or charismatic visionary leader for a visionary company. The visionary companies did not play it safe. And so on.
Then the book distills these down into what it takes to have a visionary company. The biggest thing is that a visionary company needs a fixed core ideology and a clear vision. By this they don't mean just having a vision statement, but having a purpose (beyond "make money") that is widely recognized and taken seriously within the company. For example, Sony was founded with a "pioneer spirit" (and the idea of raising the reputation of Japanese electronics - Sony was founded right after World War II), HP was founded to provide something that is unique and to make technical contributions, Johnson and Johnson focuses on aiding the "art of healing", Philip Morris focuses on freedom of choice and "the right to smoke".
This was probably the most interesting part of the book for me. Learning about companies core beliefs (especially compared to a lot of the comparison companies which boiled down to "make money") was actually kind of inspiring.
The book goes out of the way to point out that there's no "right" vision, but just that having one that is authentic and guides decision making is what seems to matter. Some companies focused on customers, some on employees, some on their products or services, some on risk taking, and some on innovation. Again, just having a vision statement is not enough.
The rest of the book talks about other things that the visionary companies tend to do. One is "Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress", meaning always remain true to your core values, but don't be afraid to try different non-core things. Similarly, "making a profit" can't really be a core value, but you can't ignore it either. (this is the "Genius of the AND") Another is trying a lot of stuff and keeping what works. Yet another is home grown management which seems highly correlated with being a visionary company - that way your upper management has spent a lot of time in the company and learning and internalizing its values.
The authors spent a great deal of time on their methodology and trying to make sure that this was a scientific(ish) study. Ideally we would examine two companies that were founded at the same time, one with these principles and one without, and see how they turned out. Since we can't do that, we have to examine historical data, which can lead to various biases. For example, maybe embracing these principles leads to a 99% chance of failing in the first 20 years and a 1% chance of massive visionary success. This seems like a pretty big problem, and one that the authors touched on but didn't have a very convincing argument for.
Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot, and clearly it's something that's read at National Instruments because I recognized a lot of the terms used (BHAG, Profitable Core, etc.), which was kinda neat. It's available for lending and is a fairly quick read.
Sex at Dawn
Posted on 2010-08-29 17:34:00
Tags: reviews books
My latest read was Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. Very interesting book.
The summary is a bit NSFWish, so here goes:
The authors' main thesis is that the standard narrative of human sexuality and how it evolved is totally wrong. The standard narrative goes something like this: A woman want to mate with a man who has a lot of resources and is monogamous with her, so when she gives birth the man will help her raise the child. Men want to mate with as many women as possible to spread his genetic material around, and he wants exclusivity with the women to be sure that the children they're raising are his. This results in a "mixed strategy" of pair-bonding - one man, one woman.
A lot of the book is dedicated to tearing down this narrative. They talk about the "Flintstonization" of prehistory - the tendency to take the culture of today and project it into the past. They also talk about some studies and books that have been written that support the narrative and tear them down a bit.
Of course, it's a bit hard to say what human culture was like before the advent of agriculture, but we can examine chimpanzees and bonobos (our closest ape ancestors), as well as primitive cultures today. In most models of human nature, chimpanzees are considered to be closest to humans, but bonobos (who were one of the last mammals to be studied in their natural habitat) are just as close. Bonobos and humans are the only species that have nonreproductive sex.
Anyway, I'll jump to the punchline: their model proposes that our prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were not monogamous at all, or even polygynous (one male, multiple females), but there was a lot of multimale-multifemale mating. This helped to solidify social relationships within tribes. (no group-living nonhuman primate is monogamous) The parental involvement "problem" wasn't as much an issue, because if a women has a child and has had sex with a lot of men in the tribe, then they don't know which one is actually the father and they all feel responsible for raising the child.
Under this model, Darwinian competition for mates is replaced with sperm competition - some of the chemicals in ejaculate seem designed to kill/prevent other sperm from fertilizing the egg.
So their point is that monogamy is certainly possible for humans, but the way we evolved makes it "unnatural" and very hard to do. Which is no huge surprise, given the myriad examples of adultery we hear about.
I always feel like I'm selling a book short a bit when I write a review, and this is especially true in this case. It's very interesting, and has a surprisingly breezy and entertaining tone. (despite the fact that I knew nothing about evolutionary psychology) Highly recommended!
Posted on 2010-08-14 19:52:00
Tags: reviews books
I just finished Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent. It had some very interesting tidbits, but in the end was a bit long for me at 375 pages. Interesting stuff from it:
- Prohibition was only the second amendment to the Constitution that limited the activities of citizens (not the government) - the first was the thirteenth prohibiting slavery.
- The ship that brought John Winthrop to Massachusetts in 1630 had three times as much beer as water on it.
- In the 1820s liquor was cheaper than tea; in 1830 the average American drank the equivalent of 1.7 bottles of liquor per week. (roughly three times what the amount is today)
- Something I didn't realize was that the women's suffrage movement was connected to the Prohibition movement - women were generally against saloons so Prohibitionists wanted to give them the vote, and the suffrage movement needed the support.
- Another crazy thing was that even in the runup to Prohibition, the brewers and distillers were not allies - they argued that the other's wares were the "real" problem, not what they sold.
- The Anti-Saloon League, which was the main group that drove Prohibition, mainly consisted of racists (afraid of what blacks would do when they had alcohol), progressives (who thought banning alcohol would help the working man), suffragists, populists, and nativists (who were against alcohol because immigrants were for it).
- The tax on alcohol provided 20-40% of federal revenue. After the income tax passed, the ASL went after national prohibition.
- Best footnote ever? about Richmond Hobson:
Not that he was particularly enlightened about women in general: Hobson thought that any woman who experienced carnal desire was a "sex pervert," and attributed promiscuity to the effects of alcohol. He wasn't crazy about sexual urges in men, either, but accepted their evolutionary necessity.
- So how did Prohibition pass, anyway? The ASL was very good at getting "dry" congressmen elected. World War I brought anti-German sentiment, and most of the brewers were German. And finally, state legislatures were heavily weighted towards rural voters - "one man, one vote" was not law, and the legislatures were not reapportioned to account for the growing urban population. States like Missouri and Ohio voted in a legislature that ratified Prohibition while at the same time rejected a dry amendment to the state constitution.
- After Prohibition passed, alcohol consumption dropped to about 30% of the pre-Prohibition number, although by the end of Prohibition it was up to 60-70%.
- There were many loopholes in the law - if you bought the alcohol before Prohibition went into effect, that was legal. Altar wine for religious purposes was legal. Alcohol for medicinal purposes was legal. All of these provisions were heavily abused.
- Bootlegging was a very big industry - smuggling in from Canada was popular, as was rum running off the East Coast.
- Horatio Stoll (neat! related?) ran California Grape Grower magazine.
- Eventually, the ASL waned in influence (mostly because Wayne Wheeler died), Prohibitionists overplayed their hand by passing much harsher punishments for drinking (making it a felony), people got tired of widespread corruption and increased mob violence, and the reapportionment that didn't happen after the 1920 census finally did in 1929. (seriously, how exactly was that legal?) So Prohibition was repealed. And people drank again. The end.
The Checklist Manifesto
Posted on 2010-08-02 21:48:00
Tags: reviews books
Continuing my love affair with Atul Gawande, his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right is an enjoyable and persuasive book. Summarized:
There are two types of failure: ignorance (not knowing enough) and ineptitude (not using what we know well enough). For most of history, ignorance has been the bigger problem in medicine; now ineptitude is. According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 13,000 different diseases, syndromes, etc. There are also 6,000 drugs that we can use and 4,000 procedures that we can do to try to help. Even with specialization, this is a huge variety of problems and solutions.
The average stay in an ICU is 4 days, and the survival rate is 86%. That's pretty good given how serious your condition has to be to get admitted to one, and according to a study done fifteen years ago, the average ICU patient required 178 individual actions per day...and two of these actions involve errors of some kind. Of course this is a 99% success rate, but two errors a day is still quite dangerous.
Ever since a Boeing Model 299 crashed during a test flight (the pilot was an Army air corps test pilot with loads of experience), aviation has used careful checklists to handle the complexity of flying a plane and responding to emergencies in midflight. The main thrust of the book is to extend the use of checklists to medicine.
In 2001, Peter Pronovost designed a simple five-step checklist to prevent central line infections. At the time, these steps were well known, but one-third of the time, at least one step was missed. They tried using it for a year at Johns Hopkins hospital, and reduced the central line infection rate from 11% to 0%. Statistically, the checklist saved eight lives and $2 million.
Checklists are also used in construction. When problems arise, a separate checklist is used to ensure that all people involved have communicated and the best course of action is agreed upon.
The culmination of the book is the development of the Safe Surgery Checklist. Eight hospitals around the world tried it out for three months, and surgery complications went down by 36% and deaths went down by 47%.
I feel that summarizing the book isn't quite doing it justice - it's a fascinating read. But the results are so amazing, it makes me want to stand up and scream for all hospitals to use the Safe Surgery Checklist!
Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts
Posted on 2010-07-30 11:59:00
Tags: reviews books
Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict is my most recent read. It wasn't as exciting as the title indicates :-) Basically, it's a collection of political science essays. My synopsis below:
Statistics are important, but very hard to measure when they involved armed conflict, drugs, or trafficking. Agencies push numbers that make them look good to try to ask for/justify higher funding. Even if the number is totally made up, it acts as an "anchor" for people trying to make their own estimates.
A good example is casualties of the war in Bosnia. In 1992, the president, foreign minister, and commander of the army met to decide what number to use, and agreed on 150K civilians killed by Serb nationalists. Then the foreign minister announced that 250K civilians had been killed, which became the number that "everyone" used for a while. Years later, the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center worked on a project that led to publishing The Book of the Dead in 2007, which counted everyone killed and came up with a number of 97K. This made some people very angry and they denounced the project and people who had worked on it.
One school of thought is that it's OK to exaggerate numbers in order to draw attention to a problem. This school of thought makes me mad :-)
Anyway, what I took away from the book is basically never trust numbers for things that are really hard to count, like most things involving illegal activity.
Posted on 2010-07-20 13:34:00
Tags: reviews books
Another neurosciency book, I recently finished Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. Note that the book has an official website at brainrules.net that describes each of the rules and has some chapter excerpts, etc.
I was hoping the book would give me tips to learn better, etc., and there was some of that, but there was a lot more stuff along the lines of "this is interesting but not really helpful". But, interesting for interestingness's sake isn't bad, right? Here's some stuff I learned:
Exercise is really good for your brain - even fidgeting on the couch is better than not fidgeting. The gold standard for exercise (for the brain, anyway) is 30 mins of aerobic exercise 2-3 times/week. This has been shown to decrease Alzheimer's by 60% and dementia by 50%, and it's around as successful as medication for treating depression/anxiety.
The main function of oxygen is to absorb free electrons left over from digesting food to prevent them from damaging/killing cells.
We adapted to walk on two legs because it's more energy efficient, leaving more energy left over for the brain. Our brain is 2% by volume but takes 20% of our body's energy.
Learning new skills literally rewires the neurons in your brain. Some neurons are for surprisingly specific tasks - there is a neuron (at least in a "typical" patient) that activates only when you see a picture of Jennifer Aniston, and a different one for Halle Berry.
Your brain can't really multitask in what you're paying attention to - things are pretty much sequential. You can pay attention to something for around 10 minutes, then you need a break or to shift focus to something else.
People are naturally sleepy in the mid-afternoon, and a short nap can dramatically help performance. (a 26 minute nap improved a pilot's performance by 34%) Sleep is really good for your brain. Falling behind on sleep puts you into sleep debt, which can severely impact performance.
Stress is a coping mechanism designed for short-term problems. (i.e. a cheetah is about to eat you) Being stressed long term makes you 3x more likely to catch a cold, etc. Some people, however, are very tolerant to stress, which seems to be a genetic trait. One of the defining characteristics of stress is that the stressor is out of your control, so taking control is a good strategy to reducing stress.
A workshop called Bringing Baby Home (designed by John Gottman who got a lot of shoutouts in For Better)) can help new parents to improve their relationship, which reduces their stress levels when the baby is born, which makes the baby develop in a less stressful environment, which makes them cry less and develop better emotional regulation, etc.
Pretty interesting stuff, and available for borrowing.
Posted on 2010-06-27 17:35:00
Tags: reviews books
Continuing the neurosciency trend, my latest read is For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope. I gleaned a lot of information from it, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. (if there's anything the last book taught me, I'm not going to try to explain why, because I don't know!)
Here's lots of random stuff:
The statistic that "50% of all marriages end in divorce" is misleading - the divorce rate has been going down significantly since the 1970s. Big risk factors for divorce include getting married before the age of 25, and not having a college education.
A good marriage improves your health, but a bad one hurts it, due to higher stress levels (and the fact that the stress is happening at home, which is supposed to be your sanctuary). A study on stressed-out women showed that holding hands with their husband reduced the pain they felt from an electric shock. (holding hands with a stranger helped some, but not as much)
Conflict: early in a relationship, some amount of conflict seems to make things healthier in the long run. (according to John Gottman, who is cited enough to deserve a coauthor credit) The number of fights you have is not nearly as important as the way you fight - a complaint ("I wish we had sex more often.") is better than a criticism ("You never want to have sex - you're always too tired."), which is better than contempt ("You're such a slob."). The difference between complaints and criticisms sounds minor, but from personal experience I definitely react much more poorly to criticisms. The first three minutes of a fight is a good predictor of the strength of the relationship. Eye rolling during an argument is another good predictor that the relationship is in trouble.
Children can take a big toll on marriage. On average, parents spend more time with their children than they did in the 1960s. This is fine, but it's better to make sure your marriage is healthy. Parents in happier marriages are more effective parents. When kids were given one wish to change the way their parent's work affects their life, they wished that their parents would be less stressed and less tired. (not that their parents would spend more time with them, which is what the adults predicted) Couples that did the best with kids (in terms of their marriage) were the ones that planned in advance - when they would have kids, who would take care of them, etc. Breaking the gender roles is also good, e.g. fathers do more housework, mothers give up some control about how things are done.
Sharing chores/housework is important. Money is another common point of contention; spendthrifts are attracted to tightwads and vice versa, but marrying one tends to lead to trouble. Maintaining some monetary independence from your spouse (being able to spend money on what you want) is helpful. Spending money on things that help your marriage (a vacation, for example) - also good.
Having outside relationships with friends and family is a very good thing; apparently this is more common in same-sex couples.
Finally, her prescription for marital health:
- Celebrate good news
- You need at least five times more positive interactions than negative ones to be stable. So after a fight, just saying "I'm sorry" once isn't enough. (say it four more times?)
- Keep your standards for your marriage high
- Pay attention to family and friends, as this puts less stress on the marriage to be emotionally fulfilling on all levels.
- Don't expect your spouse to make you happy - some studies have shown that most people have a personal happiness "set point" which they tend to return to.
- Have sex. Even if you're not in the mood, usually you'll get in the mood after a few minutes.
- Reignite romance by sharing new experiences and adventures.
Anyway, it was reasonably interesting, and available for borrowing as usual.
Next up: more neuroscience!
How We Decide
Posted on 2010-06-21 13:05:00
Tags: reviews books
Bookwise, I've been on a neuroscience kick lately - they feel a lot like self-help books (which I have a soft spot for, wanting to improve myself) but with science and studies to back them up!
My latest read is How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, affectionately known (at least to me) as "The Ice Cream Book" since it has pictures of different flavored ice cream cones on the front.
For a long time, people thought rationality and reason were what separated us from the animals, and that was what we used to decide pretty much everything. It turns out that is very, very wrong. We make emotional decisions all the time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you're skilled in a particular area, making a decision based on how you feel is usually a good idea. (an example: Tom Brady doesn't have time to consciously decide whom to throw to, so he glances at each receiver and gets a "gut feeling")
The trick is knowing when to use emotion and when to use reason. One of the best examples (the author gives a lot of interesting examples ala Malcolm Gladwell) is Michael Binger, who won third place at the 2006 World Series of Poker. He's played poker for long enough that after playing at a table for a little while, he can glance at the other players and instinctively know how to play the hand (whether to be aggressive or not). Actually, this part of the book reminded me of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. (which I haven't actually read) But Binger also uses reason to avoid making big mistakes right after losing a hand - it's easy to get upset and your emotions can easily lead you astray.
Another good example was a study known as the Iowa gambling task. (great name, no?) The setup is that the subject is given four (virtual) decks of cards with different amounts of money on them and asked to maximize their money. Two decks are "good" (many more good cards than bad) and the other two are "bad". At first subjects pick more or less randomly, trying to figure out which decks are best, and after about 50 draws people generally stick with the good decks, although it takes around 80 draws before they can explain why. However, after about 10 draws people start getting emotional reactions - they get nervous when they're about to pick from the bad decks! People with a dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex (which is responsible for emotional decision-making) don't get the nervous reaction, and never figure out which decks are good.
One example I found amusing was choosing a strawberry jam. Some college students were given four unmarked containers of jam and asked to pick which was best - their choices lined up reasonably well with the reviews in Consumer Reports. (correlation of .55) However, when a different set of students were asked to choose the best and explain why, they preferred the worst jam to the best one! (correlation of .11) The theory is that when we have to justify our decisions, our rational brain kicks in and picks something to rank them on, like a chunky texture. But maybe the texture doesn't really affect how good the jam is - it just sounds like it should.
There are lots of fascinating examples in the book, and he concludes with a few principles on making decisions:
- For simple problems (like choosing a can opener), use reason.
- For novel problems (unfamiliar situations), also use reason.
- Embrace uncertainty - being certain about a conclusion can easily blind you to new contradictory evidence.
- You know more than you know - the "emotional brain" is much better at solving problems with many different variables, like choosing furniture or a car.
- Think about thinking - be aware of whether you're choosing based on reason or emotions; emotions can be great at certain types of problems but they're easily fooled when it comes to others.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the book - I've read it twice already! It's available for borrowing if you're interested.
Posted on 2010-05-20 14:19:00
Tags: reviews essay books
I just finished The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. (I'm turning into somewhat of a Michael Lewis fanboy - really enjoyed this book, Moneyball, and The Blind Side) It tells the story of the subprime mortgage meltdown and in the epilogue talks about the fact that not only were (most) of the companies involved bailed out by the government, but most of the traders who bet on subprime mortgages and lost billions of dollars for their company were let go with generous severance packages. (i.e. millions of dollars)
His implicit argument is that they should have known better (most of the book is about the people who did see the crisis coming ahead of time, bet against subprime mortgages, and made plenty of money) and thus don't deserve to have their job or be rewarded. I'm not defending the giant severance packages, but this is a dangerous road to walk down. If they honestly believed they were making money for their companies, then firing people who failed (and obviously there were a lot of them) could make other traders very wary about doing anything.
And yes, I feel kind of ridiculous defending the traders, but I know I screw up a lot at work and I'd be very paranoid (and cautious to the point of getting very little done) if I thought one mistake could lead to being fired.
On a similar note, some people seem to think that contacting politicians at home or following them around Washington is "fair game" if they don't vote a certain way, or even outing them as gay if they vote against anything gay-related. I believe in a thick line between one's professional life and one's personal life, and such things make me very uneasy.
Rich Dad Poor Dad review
Posted on 2010-03-14 16:56:00
Tags: reviews books
Rich Dad Poor Dad is a book that I've heard about for a while (partially because of the radio ads for seminars), so when I heard David's parents had a copy I wanted to borrow it.
I expected it to be about the usual stuff, like saving and not living beyond your means. It did include some of that, but it wasn't the book's main focus.
The author's (who grew up in Hawaii!) childhood friend's dad, who is a local enterpreneur is the "rich dad". His actual dad, who is a schoolteacher is the "poor dad". The book's main structure is that he and his friend want to be rich, so rich dad eventually gives them advice and shows them how he does it.
Here is the book's advice, in descending order of goodness:
- Assets vs. liabilities: An asset is something that makes you money (stocks, business, income-generating real estate); a liability is something that costs you money or loses value. (cars, a house, jewelry, golf clubs) The main difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich spend money on assets and the poor spend money on liabilities. This is generally good advice.
- "Pay yourself first": Every month you should save/invest first, before paying bills and expenses. It's easier to do this if you're not in debt. I like this idea, but what are you supposed to do if you can't afford to do this? Apparently still pay yourself and then the pressure of not being able to pay your bills will inspire you to make more money. ?
- How to make money: The author's passion is real estate, specifically buying at depressed prices. He tells a story of buying a house worth $75K from a bankruptcy attorney for $20K, and then selling it quickly for $60K. Which is good and all, but I'd be bothered doing this for a living - you're not producing anything, you're just being a middleman. (yeah, yeah, "reduce market inefficiency" but come on)
- Taxes: Rich dad (and the author) hate taxes. A lot. So he recommends forming your own corporation and having it own your assets. Then the corporation buys stuff for you (a "company car", a vacation is a "board meeting in Hawaii"), and you don't pay taxes on the corporation's expenses. I suppose this legal, but it's ethically wrong as far as I'm concerned. Taxes pay for things we all benefit from, like roads and schools, and avoiding them by ignoring the spirit of the law makes me mad.
- Rich dad is kind of a jerk: He explains most people take a job out of fear, and then: "Some people say I exploit people because I don't pay as much as the sugar plantation or the government. I say the people exploit themselves. It's their fear, not mine." Also, it sounds like he was always so busy making money that he didn't spend much time with his family. (although, to be fair, I think he retired early)
Overall, the book has some good ideas, but to really follow it's advice I'd have to quit my job and become an enterpreneur. Which isn't totally unappealing, but...no.
Posted via LJ for WebOS.
Things I learned from the books I read on the honeymoon:
Posted on 2009-08-08 18:37:00
Tags: honeymoon books
Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - When the shit hits the fan (or WTSHTF, as the author uses) I have few useful skills. But I think I'm OK with that.
All the President's Men - The Watergate scandal was really complicated and really hard to unravel. It makes me sad that newspapers are dying.
The Skeptical Economist: Revealing the Ethics Inside Economics - People are not rational (in the economic sense) at all. Baumol's cost disease is important. Maybe instead of measuring GDP we should measure and optimize total happiness, although actually trying to do that is impossible.
SkyMall magazine - "No food better celebrates this great country than hot dogs."
My American Journey - A clear objective is a necessity to deploy the armed forces. Colin Powell is awesome.
The American Idea: The Best of the Atlantic Monthly - LBJ was obsessed with money. JFK was on a lot of medications. Lots of famous people (Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Booker T. Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Helen Keller, Walt Whitman, JFK, etc.) wrote articles for The Atlantic.
Murder in the Rue Ursulines: A Chanse MacLeod Mystery - Umm, New Orleans is neat? (this was a murder mystery)
Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment - NY Times v. Sullivan was an important Supreme Court decision. The First Amendment is pretty awesome.
Mahu Fire: A Hawaiian Mystery - ...fires are bad? (another murder mystery)
The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next - The last 30 years have been a dry spell for particle physics. String theory as it stands now is not verifiable or falsifiable, but it's very popular and hard to get a job if you're not researching it, so maybe we should spend more time on different ideas?
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University - Liberty University has some crazy crazy rules. But, such strict discipline is generally good for people. The students, while pretty fundamentalist, are generally nice and not nearly the slaves to the Republican Party I expected. There is a lot of homophobia at Liberty, sadly. Jerry Falwell, for all his flaws, was no phony.
Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity - Copyright law has been vastly expanded in the last 100 years, giving it control of many more aspects of how we consume media. DMCA = bad.
Hawaii & Its People - Hawaiian history is pretty interesting.
(these books are available for borrowing)
Here ends the steady stream of honeymoon posts - 12 in 6 days!
Posted on 2009-07-15 13:10:00
Tags: reviews gay books politics links
The Episcopal Church voted to start putting together same-sex blessing ceremonies, which, you know, would have been awfully convenient. But still awesome!
In news that should surprise no one, scientists are way more likely to be Democratic than Republican, like 55%-6%.
The sequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (my review here) has been announced: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!
I recently bought a few comic books (or "graphic novels"?) after rewatching V for Vendetta and liking it. Quick thoughts, in the order I read them:
Batman: Year One - shorter than I expected but still pretty entertaining.
V for Vendetta - I was disappointed. The book is really long, and while there are some differences between the book and the movie, I mostly (horrors!) prefer what the movie did. I also found it somewhat difficult to tell what the hell was going on.
Batman: The Killing Joke - The artwork is really nice and I enjoyed the story. Wish it was longer (it was only 50some pages)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Only halfway done (it's long!) but I'm enjoying it.
Anyway, after absolutely loving Watchmen my interest in comic books has kinda subsided - they're fun but not something I'm hugely interested in.
pride and prejudice and zombies and "star trek" and wedding and words
Posted on 2009-05-11 14:03:00
Tags: movies ljbackup wedding books
In reverse order:
- My bad. I posted to Facebook that my epic jury duty recounting was 9500 words long, which sounded more improbable the more I thought about it. Indeed, my word-counting was counting characters instead of words, so after a little tuneup the statistics show it was only 2228 words long (still my longest post ever). In fact, now I know I write an average of 200 words per entry! And over the life of my LJ (including protected posts which don't show up in the public statistics) I've written 204550 words, or around 126 words a day.
- Wedding stuff is going fine. I sent the invitations out today at lunch!
- "Star Trek" movie = good. We saw it at the Alamo Drafthouse, so I had a Romulan Ale before it even started which made it even better. (also, Kirk's Iowa steak with McCoy's baked beans, while arriving extremely late (the waiter took half off the price) was delicious) The new 4K digital projection thingy was incredibly crisp and I really enjoyed the movie. (talking about seeing it again soonish!)
- I have a long history with "Pride and Prejudice". I was forced to read it in 7th grade and hate hate hated it, didn't understand most of it, and got a "D" or something like that on the test. As such, I never had any desire to watch the A&E miniseries even though my mom and sister(s?) loved it, and I generally went on with my life.
For my birthday, djedi got me Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I started reading it, and awesomeness ensued. The first paragraph is:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.There was enough zombie happenings to keep me interested throughout the book, and I even got kind of engaged with the non-zombie plot, which is nothing short of remarkable. Also, there are illustrations!
book review: Dreaming in Code
Posted on 2009-02-15 23:01:00
Tags: reviews books
Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software is a book about the creation of Chandler, an email/calendar/todo list that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It starts by talking about how Mitch Kapor came up with the idea for the product and decided to fund it as an open source project and takes it through three years of development. It does a good job of explaining technical decisions made along the way and capturing the spirit of a lot of hackers.
What the book is really about is why software is so hard. Time and time again the people on the project would dramatically underestimate the amount of time it would take to complete features - indeed, it took basically three years before they had a "dogfood" worthy release (one that they could use themselves everyday - this is known as "eating your own dogfood"). Because the scope of the project was so large to begin with, it took a long time to really nail down what it was going to do and how it was going to do it.
Software development is hard - very hard, and the book does a pretty good job of explaining why that is. The techniques that we have now work reasonably well for smallish projects but just aren't very well suited for large ones. (see Virtual Case File, Windows Vista, etc.) This is not unlike when we first started building bridges - many collapsed due to poor design, but eventually we figured out how to do it well. Of course the problem with software is what the author dubs Rosenberg's Law: “Software is easy to make, except when you want it to do something new.” and its corollary “the only software worth making is software that does something new.”
I enjoyed the book and suspect that even non-programmers would find it illuminating.
holidays, book reviews
Music: Everything but the Girl - "Walking Wounded" (Pandora)
Posted on 2005-12-28 10:59:00
Tags: reviews books links
Quick summary of holidays: they were good! I had fun at home, wonderjess made me delicious mochas. Funny things happened, played a lot of Taboo and some other games, and watched a fair bit of Arrested Development (and read about the Simpsons (one of my presents), so I have a lot of quotes in my head. Watch out!).
Outrageous Firsts in Television History (not entirely SFW)
Christmas is a bad time to try to lose weight. Also, weighing one's self right before bed can lead to having an angry sleep. Ugh.
I got a lot of books for Christmas, so I'm going to review them. Here are the ones I've read so far:
The Scorpion's Gate by Richard Clarke. The tagline for the book is "Sometimes you can tell more truth through fiction", and the book seems fairly realistic. It's a tad...idealistic, maybe, that a few people could stop such a major thing from happening, but then again maybe that's how it works. The secretary of defense is evil, and although his name isn't Rumsfeld, you get the idea. It's a pretty good thriller, similar to Tom Clancy but a lot shorter.
Bait & Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich (borrowed from my mom, who had checked it out from the library). I liked her other book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, where she tried to live off of the salary of very blue-collar jobs (working at Wal-Mart, being a waitress in a diner, etc.). In Bait & Switch, she tried to get a white-collar job by hiring image consultants and resume guidance counselors and things like that, but I didn't quite see the point. Overall it was mostly depressing and I didn't get much out of it except being worried about losing my job. Not really recommended.
Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by Jimmy Carter. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting too much out of this book (maybe because in my copy the pages weren't cut correctly, which irritated me at first), but it blew me away. He talks about lots of things that have changed under this administration that he credits the rise of fundamentalism to, and although the list of things that have changed wasn't terribly new (science vs. religion, separation of church and state, etc. - you can see the table of contents at amazon), he presents his case very well, and manages to maintain a sort of composure while still conveying a sense of urgency. He includes a few chapters on foreign policy and nuclear proliferation which had material that I wasn't familiar with. Also, the writing style is very straightforward, and he often talks about what the Carter Center (nonprofit organization that he and his wife started) are doing to alleviate the problems he lists. Overall, I was highly impressed, and would definitely recommend it.
I really like Pandora when I want to listen to music but nothing in particular. You should try it if you haven't!
Oh, and this SNL rap video about the Chronicles of Narnia has been making the rounds - quite amusing!
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