Book cover for Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada

★★★☆☆

An interesting complement to The Candy House with dovetailing characters introduced in each chapter adding to the main party of protagonists. In this thinly-described pseudo-dystopia the idea of nationality is almost foreign. Language is a gloopy tool for expression and nothing and nobody are quite as they appear.

This short novel was dreamlike, lyrical and captivating.

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Book cover for The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

★★★☆☆

The Candy House

by Jennifer Egan

I enjoyed this although it didn’t have the same impact as Goon Squad. The core conceit of wildly overlapping characters was satisfying and the email thread chapter was a gleeful highlight. I found a few of the individual character chapters reminded me of Douglas Coupland short stories where things fizzle out with either mild unease or surprising resolution.

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Book cover for Sahara by Michael Palin

Sahara

by Michael Palin

A bit of comfort audio whilst recovering from the dreaded Coronavirus. Michael Palin is eternally affable, unflappable and overwhelmingly amiable. It’s strange reading a travelogue from over 20 years ago, a strange snapshot from a distant place and time.

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Book cover for A City is Not a Tree by Christopher Alexander

A City is Not a Tree

by Christopher Alexander

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Book cover for Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

★★★★☆

Happy-Go-Lucky

by David Sedaris

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A heady mix of egotistical self-promotion, gimmicky wins and dated sales strategies.

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Book cover for Ask a Manager by Alison Green

Ask a Manager

by Alison Green

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Book cover for Games: Agency as Art by C. Thi Nguyen

Games: Agency as Art

by C. Thi Nguyen

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Book cover for Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

★★★☆☆

Trick Mirror

by Jia Tolentino

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Book cover for Devil House by John Darnielle

★★★★☆

Devil House

by John Darnielle

Really enjoyed this. Better than Universal Harvester and on par with Wolf in White Van.

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Book cover for The Atlas of AI by Kate Crawford

The Atlas of AI

by Kate Crawford

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Book cover for New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

★★★☆☆

New York 2140

by Kim Stanley Robinson

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Book cover for Man Descending by Guy Vanderhaeghe

★★★☆☆

Man Descending

by Guy Vanderhaeghe

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Book cover for Undrowned by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Undrowned

by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

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Book cover for Busy Doing Nothing by Rekka Bellum and Devine Lu Linvega

★★★★☆

Busy Doing Nothing

by Rekka Bellum and Devine Lu Linvega

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Book cover for Hell Yeah Or No by Derek Sivers

Hell Yeah Or No

by Derek Sivers

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Book cover for Small Giants by Bo Burlingham

★★★★☆

Small Giants

by Bo Burlingham

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Book cover for Raincoast Chronicles 11 by Howard White

★★★★★

Fantastic tales of whalers, loggers, hoax real estate and a cast of coastal characters.

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Book cover for Actual Air by David Berman

Actual Air

by David Berman

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Book cover for The Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

★★★★☆

The Sputnik Sweetheart

by Haruki Murakami

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Book cover for Living in Data by Jer Thorp

★★★★★

Living in Data

by Jer Thorp

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Book cover for LaserWriter II by Tamara Shopsin

★★☆☆☆

LaserWriter II

by Tamara Shopsin

I expected to love this but the “cast of characters in a quirky company” vibe never quite landed for me.

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Book cover for Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

★★★★★

Four Thousand Weeks

by Oliver Burkeman

Okay, okay this is the first and last time management/productivity book I’ll read this year. But it’s pretty good! An antidote to the others, Burkeman describes the sheer finite nature of our time on this planet and makes recommendations to overcome the fatigue of overflowing todo lists.

Decline to clear the decks

Make it a conscious decision to “tolerate the discomfort” of less important tasks building up while you focus on the most important things.

The measure of any time management technique is: “Does it help you neglect the right things?” To take a phrase from financial planning you should pay yourself first and prioritise the things you want to do over the less important things you feel you should be doing.

Pitfalls of convenience

We have a dependence on technology that makes it convenient to eat, travel and live. Silicon Valley builds products to remove pain points but it’s the brokenness of everyday processes that make us human. By relying on technology to make every process smooth we remove the delicate social threads binding a network together, binding a neighbourhood together.

David Cain on happenstance

I happen to be alive, and there’s no cosmic law entitling me to that status. Being alive is just happenstance, and not one more day of it is guaranteed.

Warren Buffett

Make a list of the top twenty-five things that are most important to you. Top five are the crucial use of your time, discard the rest as they are just a distraction.

Idleness aversion

“Core ingredient of the modern soul.”

Developing patience

  1. Develop a taste for having problems
  2. Embrace radical incrementalism; focus on brief, regular actions over trying to do too much at once
  3. Originality lies on the far side of unoriginality, “stay on the fucking bus!”

Time is a “network good”

Value is derived from how many others have access to it too. Same for phones and social media networks.

Chain of centennial lifespans

Egocentricity bias

We look after ourselves to give the best chances of staying alive. This is in contrast to our sheer insignificance.

Five questions to consider

  1. Where are you pursuing comfort when you should pursue discomfort? Choose uncomfortable enlargement over comfortable diminishment.
  2. Are you holding yourself to standards of productivity and performance that are impossible to meet?
  3. In what ways have you accepted who you are, not who you think you ought to be?
  4. What areas are you holding back until you feel like you konw what you’re doing?
  5. Without worrying about actions reaching fruition, how would you spend your days? Do the next and most necessary thing.

Recommended steps

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Book cover for Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me) by Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson

★★★★☆

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)

by Carol Tavris, Elliot Aronson

This book was fantastic. A deep dive into how people self-justify their actions and the cognitive dissonance they are comfortable living with.

Pyramids

The guiding metaphor of this book has been the pyramid of choice: As soon as people make a decision, whether reasoned or impulsive, they will change their attitudes to conform to that choice and start minimizing or dismissing any information suggesting they chose the wrong option.

Imagination Inflation

more you imagine something, the more confident you become that it really happened—and the more likely you are to inflate it into an actual memory, adding details as you go

Benevolent Dolphin Problem

A fun shorthand example for confirmation bias.

There are stories of dolphins helping nudge shipwrecked humans to safety. To accept this as evidence they like humans we would need to know about cases where dolphins have caused harm and, ultimately, have killed humans. But

We don’t know about those cases because the swimmers don’t live to tell us about their evil-dolphin experiences.

Arrogance Control

At its core, therefore, science is a form of arrogance control.

Retaliation

We can all understand why victims would want to retaliate. But retaliation often makes the original perpetrators minimize the severity and harm of their side’s actions and claim the mantle of victim themselves, thereby setting in motion a cycle of oppression and revenge. “Every successful revolution,” observed the historian Barbara Tuchman, “puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” Why not? The victors, former victims, feel justified.

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Book cover for Doing Content Right by Steph Wright

Doing Content Right

by Steph Wright

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Book cover for The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

★★★★☆

The Mom Test

by Rob Fitzpatrick

Short and sweet, the core few concepts in this book resonated with me and have clear applications in sales. The title and main conceit is a touch misogynistic, sure, but the author isn’t the first to recommend speaking to someone unfamiliar with a topic to gauge quality.

A recent New York Magazine article about the late “anarchic anthropologist” David Graeber, notes the use of his mother Ruth as an influence on his work:

Ruth herself never went to college. She was a constant reader, however, and years later, she was the audience her son kept in mind when he wrote. Graeber, Leve recalls, used to say that “if he understood something, he should be able to write it in a way that would be accessible and interesting to her.”

My main takeaway is that it’s easy to lead people to say the things they think you want to hear.

The Mom Test

Rules of The Mom Test:

  1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
  3. Talk less and listen more

It’s easy to get someone emotional about a problem if you lead them there.

Good questions about them:

Avoiding bad data

“Venture capitalists are described as professional judges of the future” – I like that.

Sometimes people will discuss a problem that irritates them but they would have no intent of buying a solution to that problem.

that person is a complainer, not a customer. They’re stuck in the la-la-land of imagining they’re the sort of person who finds clever ways to solve the petty annoyances of their day.

It’s recommended to cut off pitches as early as possible:

Being pitchy is the dark side of the “seeking approval” coin. Instead of inviting compliments by being vulnerable, you’re demanding them by being annoying. It’s when you hold someone hostage and won’t let them leave until they’ve said they like your idea. Normally, compliments are well-intentioned. In this case, they’re just trying to get you out of their office. “Won’t-take-no-for-an-answer” is generally a good quality for a founder to have. But when it creeps into a conversation that’s meant to be about learning, it works against you.

Asking important questions

Avoid prematurely zooming – that is getting into the weeds hearing what you want to hear.

When you fall into a premature zoom, you can waste a ton of time figuring out the minutia of a trivial problem. Even if you learn everything there is to know about that particular problem, you still haven’t got a business

If you ask When he talked to farmers, he asked questions like, “Would you switch trackers if something cheaper and more effective was available?” That’s the same as asking someone whether they would like more money.

Commitment and advancement

It’s on you to get a commitment. This can take many forms:

Time commitments

Reputation risk commitments:

Financial commitments:

Good rule of thumb:

It’s not a real lead until you’ve given them a concrete chance to reject you.

Finding conversations

The author discusses some strategies to talk to potential customers about your idea.

Be persistent:

Unless your plan is to sell your app via cold calls, the rejection rate is irrelevant.

Strategy for conversations is summarised as Vision / Framing / Weakness / Pedestal / Ask

Don’t mention your product, just your vision:

You’re an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z.

Frame expectations:

mention what stage you’re at and, if it’s true, that you don’t have anything to sell.

Show weakness:

give them a chance to help by mentioning the specific problem that you’re looking for answers on. This will also clarify that you’re not a time waster.

Put them on a pedestal:

show how much they, in particular, can help. Explicitly ask for help.

In terms of mindset, don’t go into these discussions looking for customers. It creates a needy vibe and forfeits the position of power. Instead, go in search of industry and customer advisors. You are just trying to find helpful, knowledgable people who are excited about your idea.

Running the process

When all the customer learning is stuck in someone’s head instead of being disseminated to the rest of the team, you’ve got a learning bottleneck. Avoid creating (or being) the bottleneck. To do that, the learning must be shared with the entire founding team promptly and faithfully, which depends on good notes plus a bit of pre- and post-meeting work.

Conclusion

You’re never going to be perfect, but it always helps to be better.

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Book cover for Make Time by Jake Knapp

Make Time

by Jake Knapp

A few good insights to start but quickly devolved into listicle-worthy life hacks.

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Book cover for Cathedral by Raymond Carver

★★★★★

Cathedral

by Raymond Carver

A wonderful collection of short stories. Carver’s spare, tight sentences draw a much more emotive picture than they have any right to.

Particular highlights for me were “Chef’s House,” “A Small, Good Thing” and “Fever”.

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Book cover for This Census-Taker by China Miéville

★★★☆☆

This Census-Taker

by China Miéville

Odd little book, quite unsettling.

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Book cover for The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories by Various, Jay Rubin

★★★★★

I’ve been picking this up every other week since I was gifted it last Christmas and I finally finished it with a burst of completionism. It’s a beautiful curation of Japanese short stories from between 1898 and 2014 translated to English. I enjoyed all of them with the exception of the gory “Patriotism” by Mishima Yukio.

It was so rewarding to read each short story before flipping back to the commentary from Murakami. I now have a much deeper appreciation for Japanese literature and will definitely seek out some of the further reading.

Here are my favourite short stories in this collection:

Kono Taeko – In the Box

This is a story of a petty grudge and sheer irrational behaviour. I loved it for the lack of explanation and the domestic yet unpredictable setting.

Natsume Soseki – Sanshiro, Chapter 1

A strangely nostalgic tale of transition to a big city.

Tanizaki Jun’ichiro – The Story of Tomoda and Matsunaga

The book starts with this novella of sorts: a mildly unbelievable but alluring mystery that slowly unravels.

Genji Keita – Mr English

I enjoyed just how mundane this story was. A tale of work politics and salarymen.

Betsuyaku Minoru – Factory Town

An allegory with a plausible backbone. Written in 1973 but could have been published in the last decade.

Uchida Hyakken – Kudan

This short story was from the section entitled “Dread” and describes a Kafka-esque world of transfiguration and misunderstanding. Haunting.

Sawanishi Yuten – Filling Up with Sugar

An unsettling depiction of the decline of a relative to a fantastical disease. Pay close attention!

Seirai Yuichi – Insects

A heartbreaking account of the fallout from atomic warfare, wonderfully crafted and deeply evocative.

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Book cover for Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil

★★★☆☆

I was pretty cynical about this at first as I thought I’d heard it all before. I think this should be required reading for anyone working with data. I can’t shake that the injustices created by the use of data as described in this book are just the tip of the iceberg.

Just like with Humankind’s homo puppy I winced at the use of the WMD acronym, a purposefully overloaded term.

Three factors to systems deemed “Weapons of Math Destruction”

  1. Opacity: Are the rules of the system transparent to those that are being judged and analysed?
  2. Scale: Does the model have the capability to grow exponentially?
  3. Damage: Is the model unfair? Does it have a “pernicious” feedback loop that only makes it more unfair?

Clopening is when a worker is scheduled to both close a location at night and then re-open it in the morning. This can be stressful and result in an erratic schedule for workers balancing a number of responsibilities.

A large amount of Facebook users believe the algorithm behind the scenes is just presenting factual information and isn’t tailored to them.

In 2013, when a University of Illinois researcher named Karrie Karahalios carried out a survey on Facebook’s algorithm, she found that 62 percent of the people were unaware that the company tinkered with the news feed. They believed that the system instantly shared everything they posted with all of their friends.

I wonder if this is still the case eight years later?

O’Neill uses the phrase “birds of a feather” a few times to discuss how members of the same social network will often behave in similar ways. One example is that they may click on the same ads on Facebook.

Some recidivism analyses use this concept and inadvertently encode bias by taking acquaintances, jobs and credit rating to predict behavior. This sort of data would be inadmissible in court.

Interesting dataset alert:

A few years ago, MIT researchers analyzed the behavior of call center employees for Bank of America to find out why some teams were more productive than others. They hung a so-called sociometric badge around each employee’s neck. The electronics in these badges tracked the employees’ location and also measured, every sixteen milliseconds, their tone of voice and gestures. It recorded when people were looking at each other and how much each person talked, listened, and interrupted. Four teams of call center employees—eighty people in total—wore these badges for six weeks.

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Book cover for How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

★★★☆☆

How to Pronounce Knife

by Souvankham Thammavongsa

Enjoyed these stories on their own but all together they felt a little heavy-handed.

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Book cover for The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga

★★★★☆

The Courage to Be Disliked

by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga

The dialogue is a little clunky and I need to do some reading around Adlerism but there were quite a few “aha” moments for me in this book. It was a library loan but I picked up a copy to give myself more time with it.

causation/purpose

Etiology is the study of causation while teleology is the story of the purpose of a given phenomenon, rather than it’s cause. In Adlerism we don’t think about past “causes” but instead about present “goals.”

Lifestyle is the tendencies of thought and action in life.

No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.

A life-lie is the state of coming up with all manner of pretexts in order to avoid life tasks. e.g. “I’m busy at work so I don’t have enough time to think about my family.”

Separation of Tasks

All problems are interpersonal relationship problems.

Adlerism denies the need to be recognized by others, one must not seek recognition. You are not living to satisfy other people’s expectations. Do not behave without regard for others – separation of tasks. All interpersional relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own taks intruded on.

The life tasks of interpersonal relationships are:

  1. “Tasks of work”
  2. “Tasks of friendship”
  3. “Tasks of love”

We need to think with the perspective of “Whose task is this?” and continually separate one’s own tasks from other people’s tasks.

Who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about by the choice that is made?

Intervening in other people’s tasks and taking on other people’s tasks turns one’s life into something heavy and full of hardship.

All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.

Horizontal and Vertical relationships

Horizontal relationships are relationships where members have equal standing whereas vertical relationships are those where one member has greater power, authority, knowledge or wisdom over the other.

Don’t praise or rebuke: praise is passing judgement from someone with ability to someone with no ability. By praising we are making vertical relationships, not horizontal ones. All healthy relationships should be horizontal.

The more one is praised by another person, the more one believes they have no ability.

Go from praise to gratitude.

Community

When Adler refers to community, he goes beyond the household, school, workplace, and local society, and treats it as all inclusive, covering not only nations and all of humanity but also the entire axis of time from the past to the future.

The scope of community is infinite! People are never truly alone or separated from community and cannot be.

You must consider yourself part of the community rather than the centre of the world. The goal of personal interpersonal relationships is a feeling of community. Use separation of tasks to “unravel the threads of the complex entanglement of one’s interpersonal relations.”

When running into difficulties in interpersonal relationships, one should zoom out and “listen to the voice of the larger community.”

Dots

Life is a series of moments called now, not a linear map from birth to the top of the mountain.

Think of this as a line drawn with pencil, if you magnify enough it’s made up of tiny dots. These are the now.

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Book cover for Humankind by Rutger Bregman

★★★★★

Humankind

by Rutger Bregman

A very readable, refreshing look at human nature. I didn’t expect to enjoy this quite so much. The author covers a fascinating array of studies and historical examples to show that, contrary to popular belief, people tend towards being good.

I cringe a little at the repeated reference to homo puppy – the moniker given to the empathetic humans we evolved to be.

Ten Rules to Live by

  1. When in doubt, assume the best
  2. Think in win-win scenarios
  3. Ask more questions
  4. Temper your empathy, train your compassion
  5. Try to understand the other, even if you don’t get where they’re coming from
  6. Love your own as others love their own
  7. Avoid the news
  8. Don’t punch Nazis
  9. Come out of the closet: don’t be ashamed to do good
  10. Be realistic

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Book cover for Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

★★★★★

Project Hail Mary

by Andy Weir

Reading them in quick succession it’s hard not to blend the worlds of Project Hail Mary, Three-Body Problem and Ministry for the Future into one. Speculative near-future fiction with climate overtones, spaceships and a hope for cooperation between the entire human race.

The main character in this jarred on me at first but reading around I appreciate that Weir’s “gee-whiz” schoolteacher is a tongue-in-cheek inversion of the sweary protagonists of his previous books.

Really enjoyed this, appreciated the thorough science, twists and dedication to an idea.

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Book cover for The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

★★★★☆

The best translations into English do not, in fact, read as if they were originally written in English. The English words are arranged in such a way that the reader sees a glimpse of another culture’s patterns of thinking, hears an echo of another language’s rhythms and cadences, and feels a tremor of other people’s gestures and movements.

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Book cover for A World Without Email by Cal Newport

★★★☆☆

A World Without Email

by Cal Newport

A book of two halves. I loved the first part as Newport described how email overtook as the dominant communication method for businesses, despite being inferior to traditional methods.

A misjudged reference to The Tragedy of the Commons marked the beginning of the book’s decline. The author describes common Kanban tools, provides some introspection on writing the book and finishes by rattles off a few productivity life hacks.

The bits I liked the most echoed Newport’s advice in Deep Work and Digital Minimalism.

Technological Determinism happens when we allow technology to control how we act and behave

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Book cover for Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, Tahl Raz

★★★★☆

Never Split the Difference

by Chris Voss, Tahl Raz

I wasn’t sure at first but this turned out to be a good listen. Lots of helpful considerations for successful transactional conversations. One undercurrent in the book was that a strong negotiation strategy is simply to buy time and extract information from your “counterpart” to aid the process of reaching an agreement.

Labelling is an interesting idea. Effectively calling out something for what it is without ascribing blame.

It seems that …

rather than

I think you …

Harks back to non-violent communication with the aim of being as non-judgemental as possible.

Similarly I liked the example Voss gave of showing contrition early if you’ve done something wrong. Getting ahead of the situation and keeping in control.

Mirroring is a remarkable active listening device with a clear benefit.

Voss recommends leaning into the conflict that’s at the core of any negotiation and to see it as a collaborative process to reach agreement.

Calibrated questions should be used early and often in negotiations. Voss’s favorite is the oft-repeated

How am I supposed to do that?

but any open question that draws information out of your counterpart is worth using. Questions starting with “how” or “what” will spark a cooperation for both sides to agree.

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Book cover for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

★★★☆☆

I had high hopes for this book at the start but my enthusiasm waned towards the end. The optimism of the spunky, tech-savvy protagonist and ease in which he could achieve his goals soon grew weary as the mystery slotted into place.

I was surprised how much the book aligned with my interests, in particular data visualization, typography and cryptography. It reminds me there are many people interested in the intersection of these topics.

The fawning Google-worship proved too much. The undeserved, magic code-breaking scene betrayed what is otherwise a reasonable “hard” science fiction fantasy book. The fantasy-novel-in-a-novel failed to escape it’s use as a plot device and a vehicle for some cringe-worthy geekery. Oblique references to Harry Potter were apt considering the author’s fondness for Dumbledore-adjacent names.

All that being said I did enjoy this and I’m not sure why I’m being so harsh. The book just seemed to go off-the-rails a third of the way through and never recovered.

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Book cover for The Elements of Style  by William Strunk

The Elements of Style

by William Strunk

There were a few humorously archaic references in this book, but for the most part it holds up 100 years later!

Here are the main rules that stood out to me, most likely because I flout them all.

Usage

  1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's
  2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

Oxford comma, I don’t do this but perhaps I should?

  1. Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas

I do a lot of parentheticals. Good core rule to remember.

  1. Place a comma before a conjunction introducing a co-ordinate clause.

So before the and or but. I need to do this.

  1. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.

If two or more clauses, grammatically complete and not joined by a conjunction, are to form a single compound sentence, the proper mark of punctuation is a semicolon.

Or a period.

  1. Do not break sentences in two.

  2. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject

e.g. about the subject of the sentence:

Walking slowly down the road, he saw a woman accompanied by two children

vs. referring to the woman

He saw a woman accompanied by two children, walking slowly down the road.

Composition

  1. One paragraph to each topic
  2. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence, end it with conformity with the beginning
  3. Use the active voice as it’s more “direct and vigorous”

A common fault is to use as the subject of a passive construction a noun which expresses the entire action, leaving to the verb no function beyond that or completing the sentence.

e.g. A survey of this region was made in 1900 vs. This region was surveyed in 1900.

  1. Put statements in positive form
  2. Use definite, specific, concrete language
  3. Omit needless words
  4. Avoid a succession of loose sentences
  5. Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form
  6. Keep related words together

The subject of a sentence and the principal verb should not, as a rule, be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.

  1. In summaries, keep to one tense
  2. Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end

Words to avoid

Certainly, can (instead of may), factor, feature, interesting, so, sort of, kind of, system, very, while

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Book cover for Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

★★★★★

Such a Fun Age

by Kiley Reid

My recent reading list tracks Tom Macwright’s closely, mainly because I see he’s rated something with five stars so I go to the library website to add it to my holds. But I forget to pause the hold until some reasonable date in the future, the book arrives at the library and – bam – I start it in earnest.

This book hooked me. The sharp character observations along with the grey areas of intent and purpose made it a magnetic read. I respect the ending but it felt a little unresolved.

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Book cover for On Writing by Stephen King

★★★★★

On Writing

by Stephen King

This was really good. A very clear, cogent take on the craft of writing. It almost made me want to start writing a novel.

On distractions

… I’m sure all writers feel pretty much the same, no matter what their skill and success level: God, if only I were in the right writing environment, with the right understanding people, I just KNOW I could be penning my masterpiece

In truth, I’ve found that any day’s routine interruptions and distractions don’t much hurt a work in progress and may actually help it in some ways. It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. And the larger the work looms in my day—the more it seems like an I hafta instead of just an I wanna—the more problematic it can become.

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Book cover for The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe

★★★★☆

The Last Crossing

by Guy Vanderhaeghe

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Book cover for Healing Back Pain by John E. Sarno

Healing Back Pain

by John E. Sarno

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Book cover for Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

★★★★☆

Exit West

by Mohsin Hamid

We are all migrants through time

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Book cover for Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

★★★★★

Crying in H Mart

by Michelle Zauner

To have a “thin ear” is to be too easily swayed by the advice of others.

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Book cover for Talk to Me by Dean Nelson

★★★★☆

Talk to Me

by Dean Nelson

I don’t have any plans to interview anyone but this was a good read on the things to consider if I ever do. The tone was a touch smug at times but it was a breezy read with plenty of anecdotes to help it flow.

Finding a way in

Nelson suggests finding something unusual that proves you have done your research and shows the interviewee that they are in safe hands. One example digs into the craft – Nelson asked about a particularly long sentence in something Gay Talese had written. Looks like it’s reproduced in this article.

Heat and Like

Heat for heat’s sake or heat for light’s sake

This is referenced a few times, the first time as quoted from Chris Wallace. I really like it. “Heat for heat’s sake” is something that’s pleases an audience. I liken it to virality online and pushing for controversy. “Heat for light’s sake,” however, is the process of “making things a little bit difficult for the object of your scrutiny in order to really try to help the audience understand.”

In my comparison to online discourse this would be drawing attention to something in a non-confrontational way for the purposes of greater awareness.

Open Questions

Unsurprisingly open questions are lauded as important devices for getting good answers from interviewers.

What kind of father were you?

What do you think?

There are also lots of examples of asking questions that you already know the answer to in order to keep in control of the interview. This is a powerful technique when combined with the knowledge you’ve learned “on backround.” But if you don’t know then stick to open questions:

Did it change you in some way? How so?

Always end an interview in this way

This is a surprising question to most and even if someone has a “conventional” name confirming regardless will ensure that the printed result won’t upset them in some way. At the least you will prove that you’re thorough.

Give your source a chance to tell you something that they were hesitating to bring up.

I love this because it’s all about referrals and loops. “There’s always someone who knows more, someone behind the scenes, someone who isn’t quoted or sought out very often.”

Leaving the door open with a source is likely to pay off in the future.

Creativity budget

As per Anne Lamott,

each of us has a hundred dollars of creativity to spend each day. How will we spend that hundred dollars? If we just have two hours available to write today, we could spend some of that time on the internet […] Then we can focus on getting our work done—wisely spending the remaining dollars.

You can’t bank this money, “You get a hundred dollars today”

The interview is not about you

Above all a good interviewer leaves their ego at the door. An interview is not about the interviewer. In the same vein one should learn to be comfortable with silence if it helps draw out interesting details from a source.

An audience with…

When interviewing and unsure about your source you should consider your audience and try and focus on one person in particular. Consider what they would want to know from this source and take away from the interview. This holds for all writing.

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Book cover for The Alignment Problem by Brian Christian

★★★★★

The Alignment Problem

by Brian Christian

An engrossing, cogent look at Machine Learning safety

Reinforcement learning

Imitation Game

Imitation and aping, it’s more of a human thing than an ape thing

Professor Procrastinate & Moral uncertainty

BOGSAT

Bunch of Guys Sitting Around a Table

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Book cover for The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

★★★★★

The Ministry for the Future

by Kim Stanley Robinson

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It opened my eyes to the new realities of climate change but matched those realities with some thought-provoking, optimistic steps we could take in the future.

I found myself marking lots of pages with interesting ideas and collated them below.

Gini coefficient

The Gini coefficient is a measure of income or wealth disparity in a population, typically given as a fraction between 0 and 1.

0 is the coefficient if everyone owned an equal amount, 1 is for if one person owned everything and everyone else nothing.

The Gini coefficient for the whole world’s population is higher than for any individual countries as there are so many more poor people in the world. It’s roughly 0.7 for the world.

Monocausotaxophilia is the love of single ideas that explain everything – “one of humanity’s most common cognitive errors.” The Gini coefficient is a good example of this, some countries have the same coefficient despite a large difference in the average annual income. We should consider the spread between the richest and the poor.

Cognitive errors

Foreshortening is a common perceptual distortion.

When standing under a cliff in the mountains and looking up at it, the cliff always appears to be about the same height—say a thousand feet or so. … Only when you get miles away […] can you actually see the immense height …

Other cognitive errors include “anchor bias (you want to stick to your first estimate or what you have been told) and ease of representation (you think an explanation you can understand is more likely to be true than one you can’t).”

The book mentions an “excellent circular graphic display of cognitive errors” – it could be this graphic but it doesn’t quite match the description.

Another one from later in the book is the “availability heuristic,” in which you feel that what is real is what you know.

Secret actors

Hebrew tradition speaks of those hidden good people who keep the world from falling apart, the Tzadikim Nistarium, the hidden righteous ones. In some versions they are thirty-six in number, and thus are called the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, the thirty-six righteous ones.

They emerge and act when needed to save their people before sinking back into anonymity. They are exemplars of humility, if someone were to proclaim himself to be one of the Lamed-Vav, this would be proof that actually he was not. The Lamed-Vav are generally too modest to believe they could be one of these special actors.

The stories of secret actors are the secret action

Paradoxes

The Jevons paradox is that increases in efficiency in the use of a resource lead to an overall increase in the use of that resource, not a decrease. Originally written in reference to the history of the use of coal.

At this point it is naïve to expect that technological improvements alone will slow the impacts of growth and reduce the burden on the biosphere.

2,000 Watt Society

The 2000-watt society is an environmental vision, first introduced in 1998 by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH Zurich), which pictures the average First World citizen reducing their overall average primary energy usage rate to no more than 2,000 watts (i.e. 2 kWh per hour or 48 kWh per day) by the year 2050, without lowering their standard of living.

Carbon coin

The book posits a carbon coin, or carboni, a cryptocurrency backed by central banks to reward and promote ecological actions. I’d like to learn more about this potential for cryptocurrencies, it sounds fascinating.

Hazards

Some of us talked about the bathtub graph. People doing dangerous things make mistakes when they’re first learning it, and then when they’ve known it forever. Theses were the two periods with higher rates of accidents, while the in-between was a stretch of low accidents.

Avoidance

One pathologicial reaction, a form of avoidance, has been called The Masque of the Red Death Syndrome, after the story by Edgar Allan Poe. In the story, a group of privileged aristocrats, isolated in a castle on a peak above a countryside devastated by a plague, stage a masquerade to distract themselves, or to display indifference or defiance to their eventual fate.

A silent masked stranger then appears and stalks through the party, and few readers are surprised when this stranger turns out to be death itself.

Even more extreme pathological responses to biosphere collapse are possible and have been observed. Some who feel the end is near work to hasten it, or worsen it.

Götterdämmerung Syndrome ~ the Goddamning of the world or “twilight of the gods.”

Shorting civilization & assorted quotes

Yes. You can short civilization if you want. Not a bad bet really. But no one to pay you if you win. Whereas if you go long on civilization and civilization (therefore) survives, you win big. So the smart move is to go long.

You could literally fill a medium-sized encylopedia with the good new projects already invented and waiting to scale.

Are your machines learning?

Data mining tells us things we wouldn’t have known unless we did it. That could be called artificial intelligence but it’s what we used to call science. What we have really is computer-assisted science. Best to call it that. It’s getting stronger. But we have to figure out what to do with it.

Mail delivered by Lions

Charles Fourier was a French utopian with followers in France and America. There were communes based on his ideas. For him the animals were very important—they were going to join us and become a big part of civilization.

So at one point he says, The mail will be delivered by lions.

After a cursory look online I can’t find anything about this but it’s a nice idea.

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Book cover for The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

★★★★☆

The Mountains Sing

by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

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Book cover for Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

★★★★☆

Bird by Bird

by Anne Lamott

I listened to this on audiobook and loved the thinly-veiled contempt throughout. Lamott had a world-weary, bitter outlook on many aspects of writing so it was remarkable how inspiring I found the book in it’s totality.

Writing is labour, any other idea is romantic

Radio KFKD

I need to bring up radio station KFKD, or K-Fucked, here….If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo.

Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open, and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is.

Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to shit, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on.

The unconscious

My friend Carpenter talks about the unconscious as the cellar where the little boy sits who creates the characters, and he hands them up to you through the cellar door. He might as well be cutting out paper dolls. He’s peaceful; he’s just playing.

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Book cover for Here (graphic novel) by Richard McGuire

★★★☆☆

Here (graphic novel)

by Richard McGuire

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★★★★☆

On Fragile Waves

by E. Lily Yu

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Essentialism

by Greg McKeown

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★★★★☆

The Infinite Machine

by Camila Russo

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Intimations

by Zadie Smith

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★★★☆☆

No One Is Talking About This

by Patricia Lockwood

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★★★★★

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★★★☆☆

Jonny Appleseed

by Joshua Whitehead

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★★★★☆

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Book cover for Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes

★★★★☆

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Graphical excellence

complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision and efficiency.

that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the shortest space

graphical excellence is nearly always multivariate

And graphical excellence requires telling the truth about the data

Data-Built data measures

Using the data itself to plot data “increases the quantitative detail and dimensionality of a graphic”

If we are going to make a mark it may as well be a meaningful one. The simplest—and most useful—meaningful mark is a digit. (Tukey)

Examples:

Color guidance

Color often generates graphical puzzles. Despite our experiences… the mind’s eye does not readily give a visual ordering to colors.

Greyscale shades show varying quantities better than color.

Multiple layers of information

  1. What is seen from a distance, an overall structure usually aggregated from an underlying microstructure.
  2. What is seen up close and in detail, the fine structure of the data
  3. What is seen implicitly underlying the graphic

Consider the viewing architecture of a graphic.

Data-ink ratio

Data-ink is the non-erasable core of a graphic, the non-redundant ink arranged in response to variation in the numbers represented.

data-ink ratio=data-inktotal ink used to print the graphic\texttt{data-ink ratio} = \frac{\texttt{data-ink}}{\texttt{total ink used to print the graphic}}

Whitespace

Even part of the data measures can be erased, making a white grid

range-frame

the frame of a graphic can become an effective data-communicating element simply by erasing part of it.

should extend only to the measured limits of the data

Data density

Taking into account the size of the graphic in relation to the amount of data displayed yields the data density:

data density of a graphic=number of entries in data matrixarea of data graphic\texttt{data density of a graphic} = \frac{\texttt{number of entries in data matrix}}{\texttt{area of data graphic}}

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Book cover for Bad Island by Stanley Donwood

Bad Island

by Stanley Donwood

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Book cover for How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

★★★★★

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Indistractable

by Nir Eyal

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Deep Work

by Cal Newport

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Tyll

by Daniel Kehlmann

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Visual Explanations

by Edward Tufte

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How Not to be Wrong

by Jordan Ellenberg

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Beautiful Evidence

by Edward Tufte

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Shantytown

by César Aira

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Familiar Face

by Michael DeForge

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The Man Without Talent

by Yoshiharu Tsuge

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Year of the Rabbit

by Tian Veasna

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The House of Owls

by Tony Angell

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Algorithms to Live by

by Brian Christian

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Freedom Hospital

by Hamid Sulaiman

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Fire on the Water

by Scott MacGregor

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Little Eyes

by Samanta Schweblin

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Uncanny Valley

by Anna Wiener

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Killing and Dying

by Adrian Tomine

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Unbuilt Victoria

by Dorothy Mindenhall

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How to Measure Anything

by Douglas W. Hubbard

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Showa 1953–1989

by Shigeru Mizuki

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Bandwidth

by Eliot Peper

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Embassytown

by China Miéville

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Non-Violent Communication

by Marshall B. Rosenberg

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Radicalized

by Cory Doctorow

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Sandworm

by Andy Greenberg

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Design of Everyday Things

by Donald A. Norman

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Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg: This Is Our Territory

by Gidigaa Migizi (Doug Williams)

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Atomic Habits

by James Clear

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Dark Matter

by Blake Crouch

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9 Stories

by J. D. Salinger

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Permutation City

by Greg Egan

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100 Days in Uranium City

by Ariane Dénommé

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Turn the Ship Around!

by L. David Marquet

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Shortcomings

by Adrian Tomine

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Creation

by Sylvia Nickerson

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Blankets

by Craig Thompson

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Maggie Garrison

by Lewis Trondheim and Oiry

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Beverly

by Nick Drnaso

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Off Season

by James Sturm

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Brother

by David Chariandy

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Digital Minimalism

by Cal Newport

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Most Human Human

by Brian Christian

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