Saturday, November 29, 2014

Daniel Suarez: Influx

Date: 10/2014

Title: "Influx"

Author: Daniel Suarez

Duration: 13 hrs and 45 mins

Review: Fun techno-thriller, present day science fiction, about the struggle between a physicist inventor and a shadowy quasi-governmental organization that is charged with controlling the rate of technological change.  When the Bureau of Technology Control goes rogue, using its huge technological lead to suppress emerging technologies, it's up to our hero inventor and his friends to save the world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Daniel Suarez: Kill Decision

Date: 09/2014

Title: "Kill decision"

Author: Daniel Suarez

Duration: 13 hrs and 6 mins

Review: What happens if you infuse a multitude of cheap, disposal, weaponized autonomous drones with the behavioral model a weaver ant colony? One hell of a page turnin' yarn.. great tech-thriller.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Charles Duhigg:The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Date: 09/2014

Title: "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business"

Author: Charles Duhigg

Duration: 10 hrs and 57 mins

Review: Cue, routine, reward.  This is the basic formula for so much of what fills our days.  In this book, the author shows us this structure in a surprisingly large swath of life, both personal life, and group and collective life including family and business activities.  I liked this book.  It gave me some insights into building, or at least thinking about products that emphasize this structure, cue routine, reward, and how they would be, as a result of this emphasis, more likely to take off and become consolidated in user's lives. Also, it reinforced my belief in the very strong effect that this structure has on human beings and activities.  We rely on the habit structure as a mental shortcut that allows us to not re-think the many thousands of actions, and even thoughts, that we need everyday.  Many of our most basic needs, are provided for by utilizing a habit structure.
The Febreze case that Duhigg relates is really interesting and illustrative of the fact that you need the entire structure, all three elements in the right order to create a product that fully takes advantage of the habit loop.
This book inspired me to think about products from this perspective. The habit structure is neither good nor bad, and this vital mental structure can be used to sell fast food just as well as it can be used to get people to brush their teeth, or even spend more time with, or stop yelling at their kids.  Those of us that think about product design, and especially those of us that try to make pro-social, "good" products should really consider this more and try to design to it.  I liked this book and recommend it for anyone who wants to better understand people, especially, themselves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Daniel Quinn: Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

Date: 08/2014

Title: "Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit"

Author: Daniel Quinn

Duration: 2 hrs and 56 mins Abridged

Review: This book uses a Socratic dialogue between a hyper-educated gorilla and his observant and nimble  human pupil to expose some very interesting ideas.  What is the mythological basis underpinning modern culture? Civilized people are enacting a story in which we need to destroy the earth.  This story is collectively called Mother Culture in this book, and the tales that Mother Culture tells are instantly recognizable to us moderns: that humans are the pinnacle of evolution and that we were "created" to dominate the earth and other animals, that we'll keep inventing our way to ever more resources through exercising our god-given cleverness, AKA being productive.  That this productivity is moral and good, and that the opposite of this is bestial and lazy. The effects or consequences of this world view on ethics, especially in regards to ecology, sustainability, our future, and on basic justice have been building for some time and are now accelerating and quickly coming to a head.  I recommend this book to anyone willing to look deeply at what s/he believes makes us human.  This book is very short and dense, yet totally accessible. I liked this book a lot.

Dave Eggers: A Hologram for the King

Date: 08/2014

Title: "A Hologram for the King"

Author: Dave Eggers

Duration: 7 hrs and 52 mins

Review: Dave Eggers is one of my favorite living writers.  This book is ambitious in its scope and very deliberately and expertly crafted in its language.  What does it mean to be an American in a globalized world? What does it mean to be past your prime as a salesperson, as a man? What does it mean to be a father, unable to make good on promises and expectations? What does it mean to be human being among strangers? This sad, very well-written, slow little novel probably won't win any awards, but I liked it a lot by the end.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Daniel Suarez: "Daemon" and "Freedom"

Title: "Daemon" and "Freedom"

Date: 08/2014

Author: Daniel Suarez

Duration: 27 hrs and 44 mins

Review: Superfun, near future, techno-dystopia. I really enjoyed the ideas in these books.  The dialogue is wooden, and the characters are cardboard cutouts; the writing, in general, is pretty weak. But, the ideas are amazing. The gist: a genius programmer/game designer with the engineering capability of 10,000 Googles creates a distributed program to replace a government that's been taken over by corporate interests.  In the world of this story, much like our own, corporations have government in their pockets.  Unlike our own world however, corporate power, in the world of the book, is completely unchecked, used to achieve uniformly selfish and myopic ends, and is in short, always evil.

The corporations, first with the aid of government, and then on their own, battle this program for control of the masses.  Aside from the very detailed and realistic illustrations of the  risks posed by the hyper-connected, insufficiently diverse, overly complex, brittle systems on which we depend for our survival, the book also attempts to weave through consequences of the fragility of these systems to democracy, meritocracy, and individual and collective agency.

I loved it!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Date: 07/2014

Title: "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"

Author: Thomas Piketty

Duration: 25 hrs and 3 mins

Review: The gist: What we think of as normal economic order, the economics of the period between 1950 and 1990 was an anomaly. The shocks of the two world wars of the 20th century basically leveled the playing field (lessened inequality) and made old money not nearly as important as it always had been previously, and, according to Picketty, will resume being starting at about the year 2000 (indeed, has already resumed being). Basically, inheritances will resume their role as the primary resting place for wealth, vast stashes of capital will once again rule the land, and extreme inequality will once again become the norm.
Extreme inequality is neither natural nor accidental and can only be addressed by intense state intervention in the form of a global tax on capital and a progressive income tax. He argues that allowing extreme inequality, particularly because vast stashes of capital just generate more wealth on their own, threatens democracy by undermining its core value, meritocracy.  Rich people get richer just by virtue of having tons of capital that generates wealth on its own, disconnected from the individual effort and ability of the owner.

I liked this book a lot.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Frank Herbert: Dune

Date: 06/2014

Title: "Dune"

Author: Frank Herbert

Duration: 21 hrs and 8 mins

Review: I loved it!  What an incredibly creative and spectacular yarn.  Dune is a beautiful mix of boy hero tale, religious awakening, ecological awareness, epic battle between cultures,  but most of all, conflict between ones life and ones Terrible Purpose.  Awesome, fun, page turner of a read!!

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game

Date: 04/14

Title: "Ender's Game"

Author: Orson Scott Card

Duration: 11 hrs and 57 mins

Review: I'd been meaning to read this book for years, or decades really. It didn't disappoint. A great boyish tale of a boy hero who saves the world from the invading horrible monsters. I really enjoyed it.

Malcolm Gladwell: The Tipping Point

Date: 04/14

Title: "The Tipping Point"

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Duration: 8 hrs and 38 mins

Review: Pretty good. I love Malcom Gladwell's ideas and hearing him read the book himself was fun. Not my favorite of his though.

Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections: A Novel

Date: 02/14

Title: "The Corrections: A Novel"

Author: Jonathan Franzen

Duration: 21 hrs and 57 mins

Review: I love this infuriatingly slow family disfunction novel. Jonathan Franzen is a master! I've been meaning to read The Corrections ever since I read Freedom, which I also LOVED! Incredible writer. Awesome!

Dave Eggers: The Circle

Title: "The Circle"

Date: 01/14

Author: Dave Eggers

Duration: 13 hrs and 42 mins

Review: Until this book, I have really liked all of Dave Eggers' books.  This one, made an impact on me, but I just wanted to be angry at the book all the time. The ideas about privacy and social media were interesting, but in this book they were made more flat and simplistic by a context in which the society seems to have never considered privacy issues before.  Also, the characters that inhabit the tech company which is the setting of the story seem to want more of what Copeland's "Microserfs" did really well.

On the other hand: (from Interview of Dave Eggers by Tasha Robinson  Feb 23, 2005 on A.V. Club

"What deserves that kind of bile that people throw out? Sometimes they throw it out at literary fiction, which is like dressing up in full body armor to go attack an ice-cream cone. I mean, just take it easy. [Laughs.] Back up, take a breath—it's a novel, you know what I mean?"

Donald A. Norman: The Design of Everyday Things

Date: 01/14

Title: "The Design of Everyday Things"

Author: Donald A. Norman

Duration: 7 hrs and 58 mins

Review: I suppose that back in the day the idea that users aren't to blame for their inability to efficiently use badly designed tools was revolutionary. For me, this book suffered from overly high expectations. Meh.

Gino Wickman: Traction

Date: 12/13

Title: "Traction"

Author: Gino Wickman

Duration: 6 hrs and 56 mins

Review: At work, my boss asked the executive team to read this. Pretty good.

Neal Stephenson: The Baroque Cycle

Date: 06/13 -- 12/13

Title: "The Baroque Cycle"

Author: Neal Stephenson

Duration: 113 hrs

Review: What an incredibly prolific and talented writer and thinker. Truly, an amazing read! Epic!!!  

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha: Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

Date: 06/13

Title: "Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships"

Author: Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha

Duration: 10 hrs and 57 mins

Review: Great read!  It turns out that we think we're more like chimpanzees than bonobos because we've been studying chimpanzees longer.  I disagree with half of the ideas in this book, but they are still thought provoking and well written.  I liked this book!

Yann Martel: Life of Pi

Date: 06/13

Title: "Life of Pi"

Author: Yann Martel

Duration: 11 hrs and 41 mins

Review: Great read!

Jared Diamond: The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?

Date: 04/13

Title: "The World until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?"

Author: Jared Diamond

Duration: 18 hrs and 31 mins

Review: Great read! Jarred Diamond knows SO much about humans. He confirms and refutes common ideas about how all humans have lived until very recently. What does "natural" mean in the context of human activity? I really liked this book.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Nate Silver: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - but Some Don't

Date: 02/2013

Title: "The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail - but Some Don't"

Author: Nate Silver

Duration: 15 hrs

Review: Interesting.