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    What are you reading? ask book

It’s been a while since I asked this question. Im looking for good books to tackle and I’m curious what others in the community are reading at the moment.

I’m currently reading Data-Intensive Applications.

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    Gödel, Escher, Bach.

    Sometimes I pause mid-reading to just contemplate what an amazing work the author’s done. It’s been sitting on my reading list for some 8 years, and I’ve tried to read it cover to cover (it’s a fairly big book) about once a year since then. I knew I was supposed to “enjoy” it, but it felt like too much fluff for me or something (I guess I was looking for a technical book), it’s never really gotten my attention. Now equipped with a decent understanding of Gödel’s theorems, a general interest in music and art and far more mathematical maturity than when I was 18, it’s been simply a delightful read.

    The book reads like a fugue and often the form of the writing is shaped by the concept it’s trying to explain. I couldn’t recommend it more enthusiastically.

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      I just finished Greg Egan’s new novel, Dichronauts.

      The world the book is set in has crazy physics:

      The four-dimensional universe we inhabit has three dimensions of space and one of time. But what would it be like to live in a universe where the roles were divided up more evenly, so that there were two of each: two dimensions of space, and two of time?

      Here’s his intro to the physics: http://gregegan.net/DICHRONAUTS/00/DPDM.html

      He also has a little interactive sandbox simulator for the world: http://gregegan.net/DICHRONAUTS/02/Interactive.html

      But what I really like about Egan is that despite having some of the wildest “hard SF” ideas in SF, he still has really novel social arrangements and characters. In this case, the main characters are a pair of symbiotic organisms, one that can walk around and the other that is immobile but can echolocate for the other. Can you imagine what kind of relationship they might have? Egan actually answers this question really well, and in ways I didn’t see coming.

      Egan definitely isn’t for everyone, but if your interested is piqued, then I would whole heartedly recommend the book (and his earlier novels as well! Diaspora, Permutation City, pretty much all of them) To you.

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        Permutation City is still one of my favorite novels. Greg, if you’re on here, know that you’ve given me a lot of thoughtful enjoyment over the years. I owe you a beer.

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          Greg Egan is great. Diaspora remains my favorite sci-fi book of all time. As you say, for the unique social arrangements as much as for the hard-SF. Polises are a very interesting idea.

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          I read it a few months ago, but just a recommendation: The Phoenix Project is super good, both as a novel and as a learn-about-how-to-do-enterprise-it book.

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            Looks like fun, I just picked it up. Thanks!

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              thoughts? intrigued by the list of authors!

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              I’ve finally finished reading Seeing Like A State, which is an anarchist critique of high modernism, or the practice of trying to remake the world to adhere to a few solid unifying principles rather than embracing the important localities in a system. It’s a fantastic read, though a bit of a slog.

              I’m currently reading Debt: The First 5000 Years, but am too early in for any strong impressions, although Graeber’s BBC audio documentary was very good.

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                I am reading essentials of programming languages and SICP.

                Really enjoying it so far. Want to understand the underlying concepts behind programming languages in more depth and in turn improve my search engine.

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                  I’m reading SICP too. Really great stuff.

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                  I recently started reading Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext. Interesting so far. I’m already vaguely familiar with many of the things it discusses (memex, Xanadu, etc.), but the book so far is filling in a lot of details, as well as quite a bit of social context (as part of research for the book, it appears that the author interviewed most of the still-living people mentioned in the book). Not too daunting a read either, only 141 pages excluding references and endnotes.

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                    Finally getting around to finishing Masters of Doom. Excellent story about Doom, id Software, some of the engine technology, and the culture surrounding all of it.

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                      What do you think of it? It’s been on my reading list for years.

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                        I loved it. Very engaging story and well-written. I don’t think anyone interested in the subject matter would be disappointed with the book.

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                      I am currently reading The Design of Everyday Things and Whole Earth Discipline.

                      I’ve heard a lot of good things about TDoET, and so far it’s a a little bit underwhelming. On the other hand, Whole Earth Discipline has been extremely compelling, and has completely changed my perspectives around on dense cities and nuclear energy.

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                        I really enjoyed The Design of Everyday Things, but I’ll admit I think the book could have been about a third as long and been just as useful. It was first published 29 years ago. Perhaps attention spans were better back then.

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                        Not a tech book, but this was an amazing read I’d suggest to anyone who is interested in trees/plants The Hidden Life of Trees.

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                          Didn’t expect to see that here! I recently bought it on impulse for my mother who is enjoying it, and am looking forward to reading it myself, so I’m glad to hear you liked it.

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                            For fiction, “Babbitt” by Sinclair Lewis. For tech, “SQL for Smarties” by Joe Celko.

                            Also I planned a future tech reading list for myself: https://begriffs.com/posts/2017-04-13-longterm-computing-reading.html

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                              My Struggle Volume I by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Really enjoying it so far.

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                                Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Cannadine. Very fun read!

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                                  The Nature of Code, by Dan Shiffman. Very different from what I typically do, I’m having a lot of fun creating pretty images in Processing.

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                                    The Lies of Locke Lamora, the first book of The Gentleman Bastards series.

                                    It starts off slow and seems more like Oliver Twist than a fantasy novel, but its charm pulled me in. Over time the fantasy elements and broader scope start to work their way in and by then I was completely invested in the characters and their plights. It’s a unique take, about 2/3 through but I can already highly recommend.

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                                        Distress by Greg Egan. It focuses on biotech advances. I really enjoy the amount of ideas Egan throws out in his books page after page, as well as the fact that it’s hard SF.

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                                          a book about German colonialism (going to go on a trip to Namibia later in the year and I am interested in history in general). Next is probably going to be “thinking fast and slow”.

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                                            Thinking Fast and Slow is great. I’m planning on re-reading it before this year is out.

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                                              Just keep in mind that the studies cited in Chapter 4 are of poor quality (as confirmed by Kahneman). Not sure about the other chapters.

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                                                The book is a great comprehensive look at Kahneman’s body of work in a fairly well-written and easily digestible format. The quality of an individual study or chapter doesn’t negate how good or useful the book is overall, just that individual study (and maybe the chapter, if his conclusions are wrong).

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                                            Neuromancer, Battlefield Earth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Infinite Jest, The Structure and Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

                                            I am somewhat scatterbrained.

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                                              Cracking the Coding Interview, 6th Ed, by Gayle.

                                              I was very sceptical about these kinds of books at first, but decided to go at it. To my surprise, it had some actual questions I was asked by various companies, many verbatim, even as far as having identical hints!

                                              I also found it interesting that it had some info I learned not from my algorithms or datastructures class at the uni with a 4.00 GPA in CSCI, but through an actual interview with, IIRC, Google, a few years back — what’s the actual way that collision avoidance is implemented in hash tables? During that interview, my recollection was that at school we were basically always taught that it’s done by simply going through the table until an empty space is found. Turns out, according to the book and that interviewer a few years back, that’s not how it’s actually done in practice! (Solution did become obvious during my interview, but knowing these things beforehand would certainly be to one’s advantage.)

                                              Would be interested to see next how going through the book will affect my interviewing abilities. :-)

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                                                Presently, nothing, haven’t had time to dig into books recently, but my wife bought me a copy of The Joiner and Cabinet Maker for my birthday, and while I have to wait till Tuesday (because while she is bad at hiding the surprise, she’s great at enforcing the ‘no presents until your birthday’ rule) to start it, I’m pretty excited about it.

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                                                  On the Kindle, I just started A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age.

                                                  When I am home, I am browsing through Bryan Hayes’ fantastic Infrastructure: A Guide to the Industrial Landscape.

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                                                    Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. It’s about comics, but it’s also about storytelling, abstraction, and presenting information.

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                                                      Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

                                                      The theme of the book is that, with a little training and the right approach, it’s possible to increase the accuracy of your predictions. I’m about 50 pages in, but it’s a good book and a fun read so far.

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                                                              An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back. I’m only 3 chapters in but it’s very insightful if you want to understand the mess that is American Healthcare and how we got here. A bit depressing + infuriating but strongly recommend.

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                                                                • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathon Swift. I love satires; Bulter’s Erewhon is one of my favorite books.
                                                                • Saussure’s Course on General Linguistics
                                                                • Lacan’s Seminar 17 is next on my list. I’m eager to have a deeper mathematical understanding of the psychoanalytic subject. I feel like this has been holding me back in other learnings.
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                                                                  Blood of Elves - Andrzej Sapkowski

                                                                  The first book in the Witcher series. I really love the world created by Sapkowski. I finished the short story book, The Last Wish, recently and I’ve played through the Witcher 3 game and expansions. I’m also playing through the Witcher 2 game for the first time, and playing a lot of Gwent, the online card game based on the universe.

                                                                  Thus Spoke Zarathustra - Friedrich Nietzsche

                                                                  First time reading Nietzsche. I’m just a few chapters in, but I like the style and there’s a denseness of ideas here that mean I’m often going over the same part a few times.

                                                                  On Writing - Stephen King

                                                                  I’m writing a lot more recently, and find myself interested in reading about writing. This is the #1 book I was recommended, so I’m diving in. Good so far, but too early to levy any judgement.

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                                                                    On the serious side, I finished The President’s Book of Secrets a bit ago, and am now chugging my way through Team of Rivals a book about Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwyn. There’s something about her story telling style that’s not working for me and I’m about 1/3 of the way through and may give up.

                                                                    Next up on the serious side is Extreme Ownership by Jacko Willink.

                                                                    For fun I’m finishing up The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers - entertaining and fun but maybe a bit too soap-opera-y for me.

                                                                    I also recently just blazed through The Farthest Station - the latest in the Peter Grant mysteries which is an urban fantasy series I just love.

                                                                    Anyway, enough book rambling :)

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                                                                      • Polygon Mesh Processing — Just put this on the shelf because the math was getting too dense for me. The topics were interesting, I just couldn’t grok it.
                                                                      • Learning From Data — An overview of machine learning recommended to me by a research scientist. The math gets pretty dense also, but I might be more motivated to get through it than Polygon Mesh Processing.
                                                                      • The Deep Learning book — Currently on the shelf while I make it through Learning From Data. More of a long-form text book on the subject, but it does a very good job of teaching any math required to understand the topic.
                                                                      • A Primer on Infinitesimal Analysis — Being delivered soon. I realize that I suck at calculus and someone recommended this book as the best way to get more comfortable with calculus. Every other book in this list uses calculus pretty heavily and…yeah, I don’t do calculus.
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                                                                        Hopefully this will give you some more motivation, but can I just say how much I love calculus? It has absolutely changed the way I think.

                                                                        If I’m driving, I’m thinking about calculus, relative rates of change, area between curves.

                                                                        If I’m thinking about game design, it usually involves calculus. For instance, what is the nature of the advantage one team in league of legends obtains when they get an early first kill? If you think about the power curve of each team, then getting a kill is essentially bumping your teams curve by adding in a constant. But power curves in the game have a positive second derivative (think of an exponential curve: as you get powerful, it is easier to get more powerful).

                                                                        With that knowledge, we can see that the area between the two curves will be at its greatest just after the kill, when the constant is having the greatest impact, but will taper off as the game progresses, getting lost in the other natural power gains. This is the most natural negative feedback loop in the game, and absolutely essential to keeping the game competitive.

                                                                        There are other negative feedback loops too: a character that has died many times in a row being worth less money, and ending an enemy kill streak rewards extra gold. A lot of people tend to see negative feedback loops as more casual and less competitive, like blue shells in Mario Kart games. With one more insight, we can see why this isn’t the case.

                                                                        You win a game of League by destroying the enemy base, which requires some given amount of power advantage over the enemy team (that is to say, there is a cost of destroying the base: the damage output of the turrets, the locality of the enemy spawn and minions, the time it takes to destroy everything). Because the power level of the game is constantly increasing, the relative cost of winning the game shrinks.

                                                                        Winning the game means gaining enough advantages in a row that the space between the power curves is larger than the power cost of destroying the enemy base (and executing it all properly, of course, but that can be thought of as an additional power cost).

                                                                        So why is diminishing impact of advantage so important? It means your team can’t just build up enough advantage over the game in one off victories, but must do so quickly. You must stack enough advantages in a time period, and if you waste the opportunities, or the enemy team interferes sufficiently, then your advantage fades and the game tends back towards neutral*.

                                                                        (* Neutral isn’t actually neutral, because different heroes have different power curves. Some heroes are strong early and taper off, others are weak but become very powerful towards the middle or end game. The game is constantly tending towards this character defined power curve, more or less, and in the absence of other factors, the pressure to win is on the team that would naturally lose in the long run.)

                                                                        A quick proof by contradiction: if there weren’t negative feedback loops, predicting the victor of a match would use a simple tally system, comebacks would be rare, whoever started out winning would probably end up winning, and the end of most matches would have very little tension. Skill would be far less of an advantage, because you would only have to get an advantage, not fight to keep and expand it.

                                                                        Without using too much of the language of calculus, hopefully you can see how important the intuition of it all is. The relative rates of change, how advantages impact that rate over time, how advantage dissipates relative to the overall power of the game, and how advantage and winning are time sensitive (which is to say, they change).

                                                                        Just thinking in arithmetic and algebra won’t get you there, and the game can’t really be modeled discretely.

                                                                        Anyway, I love calculus and it seems to come up everywhere, even outside of “hard math/science” areas. I really hope you enjoy studying it :D

                                                                        (The irony in all of this is that I don’t actually play League. I tend to get too frustrated to enjoy it.)

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                                                                        Vacation time is reading time.
                                                                        In order of recommendation,

                                                                        • All Systems Red - The Murderbot Diaries (introvert AI loves sitcoms, hates social interactions; one can relate)
                                                                        • Infinite (FTL travel, virtualization and reality trust issues)
                                                                        • The Three-Body Problem (currently at p. 80, very promising)
                                                                        • The Delirium Brief (latest in the Laundry Files, slightly dull compared to the rest)

                                                                        My reading decreased significantly after replacing the old-school Kindle with text-to-speech support with a newer model lacking this. Having vivid stories about rogue AIs and narrated by a highly robotic synthetic voice added a certain edge.

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                                                                          The downside of having an O’Reilly Safari Books Online subscription is I rarely read technical books all the way through and just read chapters from various books as needed. On the one hand, it’s great to have so much at my fingertips, on the other hand it does not help my ADHD… Anyway, here’s what I’m sampling these days:

                                                                          • Iron-Clad Java - brushing up on my Java-related web-app security knowledge. Some solid tips and code. Need to start relating that to how Spring Security does things.
                                                                          • Creating Courses for Adults - Since I’ve started my Java online training company, I’ve been studying ways of creating more effective courses. This book is just one of a bunch that I’m skimming through, looking for specific suggestions (this book’s chapter on assessments has been very useful), or simply thought-provoking. Alas, most of these types of books are somewhat generic, so it’s not always easy to apply it for learning how to write software.
                                                                          • Growing Object-Oriented Software - Picking this up again after many years and finding that it’s still my preferred way to develop (and teach how to develop) software. I disagree a bit around the area of mocking, but I guess that makes me part of the “Detroit” (or “Chicago”, vs. the “London”) school of Mocking.
                                                                          • A bunch of books on Spring/Spring Boot (since that’s what every company seems to want in their Java training), many of which are mostly awful: they’re either years out-of-date (this stuff changes too quickly, I think, for traditional publishers to keep up with), or they’re just not useful to me (or they’re poorly written, e.g., much of the Pakt and Apress books).
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                                                                            Struggling with Too Like the Lightning; it has moments of brilliance but it’s not easy to engage with. Edit: giving up on it, every other page is more pronoun fussing that gets in the way of the story.

                                                                            Reading Mozart in the Jungle in parallel, which I’m finding a lot better-written than I’d expected, and fascinating as a window into a very different world from the one I inhabit.

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                                                                              That’s the review of Too Like the Lightning I’ve been hearing from EVERYONE this year (it’s a Hugo nominee).

                                                                              I skipped it as a result. I read (and enjoyed, though it was WAY too long IMO) Ninefox Gambit and am looking forward to reading The Obelisk Gate (I’m a completist so I had to read The Fifth Season first which I very much enjoyed) and A Close and Common Orbit which I’m finishing the preceeding volume to now.

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                                                                                I really enjoyed Ninefox Gambit, and recently-released sequel Raven Strategem keeps it up IMO - though I guess if you found the first too long it’s somewhat more of the same. a closed and common orbit is fun/engaging enough, but more of a side story than a sequel (it doesn’t include the main cast, and half of it is flashbacks to one character’s childhood), and even less clever than it looks - the whole book seemed to be building up this parallel between its two threads but then it never did anything with it.

                                                                                Guess I’ll check out The Fifth Season?