Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

2013 Books

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Books I read in 2013:

  • Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore (Robin Sloane)
    I loved this book. A modern-day mystery story, set in San Francisco with all the tech hipsterism that implies, but also featuring old books, movable type and a secret society.
  • Taking Sudoku Seriously (Jason Rosenhouse and Laura Taalman)
    This was another awesome book. A thorough exploration of sudoku and all related puzzles, taking in a bunch of branches of mathematics along the way; completely accessible without being dumbed down.
  • Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Douglas Adams)
    A fun break to re-read this. I think I prefer the Dirk Gently titles to the Hitchhiker ones.
  • The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul (Douglas Adams)
    Likewise a quick read after the first Dirk Gently novel. I think I watched the TV series as well at this point.
  • Notes on the Synthesis of Form (Christopher Alexander)
    It’s supposed to be a classic, but I found it fairly unfulfilling. Maybe it was too high-level for my taste.
  • The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan (Robert Kanigel)
    This was slow going at first, but I persevered with it, and it got better. Ramanujan was an incredible man.
  • When Computers Were Human (David Alan Grier)
    This was interesting in parts but so slow-going that I only got halfway through it. Perhaps someday I’ll find the time to finish the rest.
  • StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Tom Rath)
    I read this for a course at work. Unsurprisingly my #1 strength came out as ‘Learner’.
  • The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True (Richard Dawkins)
    A fairly interesting and certainly beautifully produced book. I read it mostly as a precursor to having my kids read it (which they haven’t, yet). Understandably it’s a bit below the level I want from a science title. I prefer Dawkins-as-hardcore-evolutionary-biologist as in The Selfish Gene, rather than Dawkins-as-celebrated-atheist-champion.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)
    This was enjoyable and somewhat thought-provoking. And I identified with a lot of what was said.
  • Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form (Scott McCloud)
    A sequel of sorts to the famous Understanding Comics – and similarly engaging. Unfortunately I missed the chance to see a lecture from Scott when he came to Blizzard.
  • A Mathematician’s Apology (G. H. Hardy)
    A quick read and an enjoyable one. Something I felt I should read.
  • Lisp Hackers (Vsevolod Dyomkin)
    A free download and a cool collection of interviews with developers. This was worth the read.
  • Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age (Gary Marcus)
    The title promised, but the text didn’t really deliver. It was too long on questionably-interesting anecdotes and too short on science. I unreservedly recommend Musicophilia (Oliver Sacks) instead.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)
    This book is good, but too long. I’m still slogging through it. This is where the Kindle experience can be disheartening – you read a whole chapter and only minimally advance the percentage-read figure. I think I will need to make a precis of the salient points after I finish, so I can remember them. There is a lot in here.
  • Good Math: A Geek’s Guide to the Beauty of Numbers, Logic, and Computation (Mark Chu-Carroll)
    I bought this on a whim because I recognised the author’s name and I thought it would be worth it. It’s pretty good, but I’m really reading too much of this kind of thing and getting over-satiated.
  • The Medical Detectives (Berton Roueche)
    The last book I finished in 2013, and it was excellent. Real-life case studies of epidemiological puzzles and the stories of how they were solved.

The Year in Books

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Books I’ve read this year:

  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Daniel H Pink)
    I started the year by finishing this book. I was rather late to the party in reading it; it’s practically received wisdom now, especially for managers of knowledge workers. And of course there is a nice RSA Animate video which has been popular also.
  • Unseen Academicals (Terry Pratchett)
    This was a quick read although I had had a false start or two. It was enjoyable.
  • Digital Typography (Donald E Knuth)
    This book was amazing. I read it on various car trips over a period of about two years in all. It’s really a collection of essays about how Knuth wrote TeX and Metafont, and as such contains some astonishing scholarship. I have now finished one more Knuth book than most programmers!
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Bill Bryson)
    I love Bill Bryson’s humour and I find this kind of “popular history” fascinating. A really good read.
  • The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson)
    This one took me a while to finish: I read about half of it and then put it down for a few months, before coming back to finish it. It’s a fictionalised account of a true history: the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, following two threads: the story of the planning and architecture of the fair, and the story of the world’s first serial killer who found many victims there.
  • Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything (Joshua Foer)
    A fairly quick read about how a journalist found his way into the world of competitive memory feats.
  • 50 Short Science Fiction Tales (Isaac Asimov, Groff Conklin)
    I like Science Fiction of course, and in particular short stories, so this was something I read as a “rest book” in between more demanding reads.
  • Sift (Lawrence Sail)
    The author is a friend and former teacher of mine; while visiting the UK last year he invited me for lunch and signed a copy of his latest book for me. Knowing him as I do made this book all the more interesting to read. A biographical selection of his childhood experiences.
  • Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely)
    This book was recommended to me by more than one colleague, so I got around to reading it. There is currently a huge market in these types of business-psychology books. This was one of the worthwhile ones.
  • The Curiosity Cycle: Preparing Your Child for the Ongoing Technological Explosion (Jonathan Mugan)
    A quick read that my wife foisted on me under the guise of being an education-technology crossover.
  • Teach What You Know (Steve Trautman)
    This was recommended by a colleague. I originally ordered it from Amazon, then returned it because the print quality was very poor. I got it from the company library instead. Anyway, it turned out to be about 4 times as long as it needed to be. The useful information was there but swamped by endless examples and repetition.
  • API Design For C++ (Martin Reddy)
    At first, I didn’t think much of this book. But it grew on me, I think because tthe initial chapters were fairly uninspiring, and the later chapters were more useful. Now I would recommend it.
  • Mathenauts: Tales of Mathematical Wonder (Rudy Rucker)
    A quick read as an aside. Mathematical Fiction (a small subset of Science Fiction) is something I always enjoy.
  • A Game of Thrones (George R R Martin)
    Everyone was raving about the TV series, and I don’t get HBO or have any time to watch TV, so I decided to read the book. I actually got 4 books from the series for Xmas; this was just the first one. After reading one, I decided not to continue with the others just yet.
  • Hands (John Napier)
    This book is great. Fairly short, but packed full of insights social, evolutionary and medical about the human hand. You never knew that your hands could be so fascinating.
  • Test Driven Development: By Example (Kent Beck)
    I read this because I wanted to know more about TDD. This book was OK, and certainly contained useful nuggets of information, but you can’t really learn about TDD by reading.
  • For the Love of Physics (Walter Lewin)
    This is a very good book. Unfortunately, I have read many books of its ilk, so for me it wasn’t a great book. But still, a fairly quick read, and enjoyable enough for a filler.
  • Dark Integers and Other Stories (Greg Egan)
    More Mathematical Fiction, another filler book that I read along the way this year.
  • Periodic Tales (Hugh Aldersey-Williams)
    I have a thing lately for the elements, so I lapped this up. Really enjoyed it, and I haven’t yet had enough of reading about the (history of the) elements, so next I read:
  • Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (Oliver Sacks)
    A more human take on the denizens of the periodic table. I’ve read several of Oliver Sacks’ books and liked them all. This was no exception.
  • Snuff (Terry Pratchett)
    Well, I’ve read every Discworld novel so far, so it seems like I have to keep on reading them. And I did enjoy this one, more than Unseen Academicals actually.
  • Lauren Ipsum (Carlos Bueno)
    This book is great. As soon as my kids are old enough I’ll be recommending it to them. I read it through in about 2 hours. Imagine if Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were written by Douglas Hofstadter.
  • Ready Player One (Ernest Cline)
    It seemed like several friends were reading this, so I did. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a weekend. This is one for the SF canon.
  • Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)
    This is one of my favourite books ever, better than anything Terry Pratchett did alone IMHO. I find myself rereading it about once a year as a light filler between more weighty tomes. Still as enjoyable as ever and has a really good screenplay going on in my head.
  • Dealers in Lightning: Xerox Parc and the Dawn of the Computer Age (Michael A. Hiltzik)
    This was a good book, a fascinating read about Xerox Parc. Most things in computers were invented in the 60s and 70s.
  • The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London (Judith Flanders)
    So now I’m at the end of the year, and I picked this book up on my Kindle after seeing it recommended in CAM (which I find a pretty good source for book recommendations). It’s a really good read and I am currently recommending it to everyone. It is really long though, or at least it seems that way on my Kindle.

Some books I’ve read this year

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

So, I’m quite a reader. Mostly non-fiction, and books with scientific or technical subject matter. I’ve read some good ones this year. So I thought I’d share what I remember reading in case anyone is looking for a good book for Xmas.

Earlier in the year, I picked up a couple from the LA Times Festival of Books. I immediately read What the Nose Knows, a fascinating read about the science of the perfume industry, and a miscellany of olfactory trivia.

I started with that one because it’s the one I can definitely fix in time. For the rest of this year’s reads, it’s harder to pin down exactly when I read them.

Almost Everyone’s Guide to Science was excellent, especially the chapter on stellar physics. It’s amazing how much we know about the universe when all we can do is look at what’s out there. I mean, it’s not like we can actually devise experiments to do on stars.

The Black Hole War was the other book I picked up at the LA Times Festival, and it was surprisingly approachable, although it got a bit heavy towards the end.

Coders at Work is a collection of interviews with “coders” that has been well covered in the technical blogosphere already. I found it very variable. For starters, it was terribly proofread and full of typos and typesetting errors. About 50% of the interviews were pretty interesting. But I think there were too many interviews with people who don’t code any more, who are too far removed from the average, and who just aren’t doing much to push the boundaries any more.

Garbage Collection: Algorithms for Automatic Dynamic Memory Management is a book that I got early in the year and I’m about halfway through it. It is to GC what K&R is to C. Enough said.

Richard Dawkins’ latest book The Greatest Show on Earth is exactly the kind of book I like to read by Dawkins and has made me want to read some of others of his which I haven’t yet got around to and which are on my shelf. I also read The God Delusion this year and found it well-argued but ultimately less interesting than his books about evolutionary biology. Maybe I’m not the target audience.

At the moment I am reading How Round is Your Circle and I’m finding it really interesting. How do you make a straight line? A flat surface? A ruler? This book explores where geometry meets engineering and it’s great. Linkages, shapes and solids of constant diameter, stacking dominoes, etc. I’m only a few chapters in so far.

I’ll leave it there for now. And maybe at some future point I’ll share some fiction, if I ever read any!

Book Festival

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

This weekend we all went to the LA Times Festival of Books at UCLA. The number of stalls was noticeably smaller this year: a whole row of children’s publishers was gone. We saw the following panels:

  • Real Science (K. C. Cole moderating, with Carl Zimmer, Leonard Susskind and Avery Gilbert).
    A good panel discussion with 3 different fields represented: the evolutionary biology of E. coli, cosmology, and the science of smells. Each panellist was engaging in his own way. I picked up The Black Hole War and What the Nose Knows.

  • Science Fiction: The Grand Masters (Scott Timberg moderating, with Joe Haldeman, Harry Harrison and Robert Silverberg).
    This discussion was a disappointment. There were some interesting points but for the most part it could have been retitled “Science Fiction: The Grumpy Old Codgers”. The moderator wasn’t very good either, dragging out such dreadfully old chestnuts as “Is SF really about the future, or about the present?”

  • T.C. Boyle with an Introduction by Georges Borchardt.
    Mrs Elbeno attended this one, and according to her it was very good. I took care of the mini-Elbeno at the Target Children’s Stage for most of the time, and we watched Choo Choo Soul. Then he ran around exploring the university staircases and such for an hour while Mrs Elbeno waited to meet TC and get her books (Tortilla Curtain and The Women) signed.

  • Michael J. Fox in Conversation with Mary McNamara.
    I didn’t get to see much of this because the mini-Elbeno wasn’t able to sit still quietly, so I headed out with him after about 10 minutes. Which was actually more like 5 minutes because someone held up the proceedings by shouting for a doctor like it was a medical emergency, only to recover and be apparently all right. Anyway, Mrs Elbeno reported that Michael J. Fox was good; Mary McNamara not so much. And the questions from the audience were of the usual poor standard. Given that I had left early, I went straight down to the post-interview signing zone, but all the presigned books were already sold out, and I guessed that MJF wasn’t about to do a big signing after the interview. So I picked up an unsigned one from the UCLA store.

I also snagged a few other books from the UCLA store which was having a festival-long 20% off sale: Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Handbook of Computer Game Studies and HCI Remixed.

Functional Rainbow

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Functional Rainbow

Knowing what to search for

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

The Internet has its limits. Sometimes one of those limits is simply not knowing what to search for. There is a book that I read in school which I have been trying to track down for many years. It was an anthology of short stories, called Twisters – each story had a surprise ending, you see. I remembered the title, several of the story plots, and that it was purple; but not the author, nor any story titles (nor the ISBN!). Unfortunately, as you can guess, searching for “twisters” produces about 100 pages of books about tornadoes.

So it wasn’t until today, when I was reading a book of short-short stories that I happened upon a story that was also in Twisters. Adding the appropriate search terms finally led me to a google books listing which revealed the author (editor) of Twisters to be one Steve Bowles.

From there it was a hop and a skip to abebooks, and another blast from the past has been tracked down for posterity.

Book sale time again

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

And this time it seems like it’s been quite a while since the last one. Shelf space in our house is still at a premium, of course. We picked up lots of things for mini-Elbeno, including some really nice non-fiction stuff (a science encyclopedia and a book on weather).

Mrs. Elbeno got some interesting novels that she liked, and I got copies of Genius, Programming in Prolog, Little Brother and another copy of Stroustrup. But I resisted buying a third copy of the Dragon Book.

(William Clocksin, co-author of Programming in Prolog, was my AI/Prolog lecturer at university.)

Book Meme

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Here are the Top 100 Most Popular Books on LibraryThing.
Bold what you own, italicize what you’ve read. Star what you liked. Star multiple times what you loved!

1. Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone by J.K. Rowling (32,484) *
2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) by J.K. Rowling (29,939) *
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) by J.K. Rowling (28,728) *
4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2) by J.K. Rowling (27,926) *
5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3) by J.K. Rowling (27,643) *
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) by J.K. Rowling (27,641) *
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (23,266)
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (21,325) *
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) by J.K. Rowling (20,485) *
10. 1984 by George Orwell (19,735)
11. Pride and Prejudice (Bantam Classics) by Jane Austen (19,583)
12. The catcher in the rye by J.D. Salinger (19,082)
13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (17,586)
14. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (16,210)
15. The lord of the rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (15,483) **
16. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (14,566)
17. Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics) by Charlotte Bronte (14,449)
18. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (13,946) *
19. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (13,272)
20. Animal Farm by George Orwell (13,091)
21. Angels & demons by Dan Brown (13,089)
22. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (13,005)
23. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (12,777)
24. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Oprah’s Book Club) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (12,634)
25. The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, Part 1) by J.R.R. Tolkien (12,276) *
26. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (12,147)
27. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (11,976)
28. The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, Part 2) by J.R.R. Tolkien (11,512) *
29. The Odyssey by Homer (11,483)
30. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (11,392) *
31. Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut (11,360)
32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (11,257)
33. The return of the king : being the third part of The lord of the rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (11,082) *
34. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (10,979)
35. American Gods: A Novel by Neil Gaiman (10,823)
36. The chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (10,603)
37. The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams (10,537) *
38. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (10,435)
39. The lovely bones : a novel by Alice Sebold (10,125)
40. Ender’s Game (Ender, Book 1) by Orson Scott Card (10,092) *
41. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman (9,827) *
42. Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman (9,745) **
43. Dune by Frank Herbert (9,671)
44. Emma by Jane Austen (9,610)
45. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (9,598)
46. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Bantam Classics) by Mark Twain (9,593)
47. Anna Karenina (Oprah’s Book Club) by Leo Tolstoy (9,433)
48. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (9,413)
49. Middlesex: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (9,343)
50. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (9,336)
51. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (9,274)
52. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (9,246) *
53. The Iliad by Homer (9,153)
54. The Stranger by Albert Camus (9,084)
55. Sense and Sensibility (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen (9,080)
56. Great Expectations (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens (9,027)
57. The Handmaid’s Tale: A Novel by Margaret Atwood (8,960)
58. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (8,904)
59. Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt (8,813)
60. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery – (8,764)
61. The lion, the witch and the wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (8,421)
62. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (8,417)
63. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (8,368)
64. The Grapes of Wrath (Centennial Edition) by John Steinbeck (8,255)
65. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (8,214)
66. The Name of the Rose: including Postscript to the Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (8,191)
67. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (8,169)
68. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (8,129)
69. The complete works by William Shakespeare (8,096)
70. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (7,843)
71. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (7,834)
72. The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel (Perennial Classics) by Barbara Kingsolver (7,829)
73. Hamlet (Folger Shakespeare Library) by William Shakespeare (7,808)
74. Of Mice and Men (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) by John Steinbeck (7,807)
75. A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Classics) by Charles Dickens (7,793)
76. The Alchemist (Plus) by Paulo Coelho (7,710)
77. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (7,648)
78. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) (Barnes & Noble Classics) by Oscar Wilde (7,598) *
79. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk (7,569)
80. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (7,557)
81. The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, Book 2) by Philip Pullman (7,534) *
82. Atonement: A Novel by Ian McEwan (7,530)
83. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (7,512)
84. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (7,436)
85. Dracula by Bram Stoker (7,238)
86. Heart of Darkness (Dover Thrift Editions) by Joseph Conrad (7,153)
87. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (7,055)
88. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (7,052)
89. The amber spyglass by Philip Pullman (7,043) *
90. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin Classics) by James Joyce (6,933)
91. The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel (Perennial Classics) by Milan Kundera (6,901)
92. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (6,899)
93. Neuromancer by William Gibson (6,890) *
94. The Canterbury Tales (Penguin Classics) by Geoffrey Chaucer (6,868)
95. Persuasion (Penguin Classics) by Jane Austen (6,862)
96. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman (6,841)
97. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (6,794)
98. Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (6,715)
99. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (6,708)
100. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (6,697)

e-book reader

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I got an e-book reader for my birthday! It’s very shiny. Comparable to the weight of a small hardback, with an internal memory of 200MB (doesn’t sound a lot, but novels don’t take up much space), and expansion slots for SD and Memory Stick Pro Duo. The e-ink technology is impressive – I checked it out while I was at the LA Times Book Festival some weeks ago, and it’s perfectly readable even in bright sunshine. And it doesn’t use any power except when changing a page, which means long battery life.

I’m using calibre to do library management, which works well, and so far I have uploaded a few Cory Doctorow novels. It (calibre) also interfaces with LibraryThing which is a very lightweight approach to keeping ones catalogue of books online. Since I already have my print books online, I’ll probably use LibraryThing for my e-books only.

So I’m also checking out the various sources of free books on the web. There’s Project Gutenberg of course, and also the forums over at mobileread.com seem to be a great resource.

Anyway, enough writing for now. I have a lot of reading to do.

Unexpected CS Book Bonanza

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

This weekend was another book sale, this time over at our other local library. It’s a smaller library and fairly new – I wasn’t expecting much. There were only about 10 smallish tables of books, so I was quite surprised to find quite a cache of computer science books on a chair in the corner. Of course, there were the usual “Learn VB6 with a book the size of your head” and “NT admin’s pro reference” type books, but in between those, I managed to get, at a dollar each:

Quite the haul there! Including several from my CS reading list of ~14 years ago. But good CS, like maths, doesn’t really date. Talking of maths, I also picked up a couple of 1950s texts: Analytical Geometry and Calculus and Trigonometry: Plane and Spherical, both by Lloyd L Smail.