Best Books I Didn’t Read in 2017

Open books laying in grass

 

Or books people told me to read in 2018…

I didn’t read as many books in 2017 as I did in 2016, but I still learned a lot from what I read this year. I did read Deep Work, and, with Klein, would highly recommend it. Titan by Ron Chernow was a brick of a good book and I would expect nothing less from Grant (in terms of both length and quality). And How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel by Mohsin Hamid was pretty good (even if I read it in 2016).

To start 2018, I’m reading You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier and Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. Lanier probably wouldn’t approve of this type of post (we should go for evergreen content instead of rehashing previous work), but I found it funny that so many people had these Best books posts. So this is mine! Looking forward, not back, to take what we learned in the past months and apply it to the present and future.

Here’s to another year of great books and learning.

Ezra Klein

  • Young Radicals by Jeremy McCarter
  • The Final Days by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
  • Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev
  • Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen and Barbara Fields
  • Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters With Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport

Ryan Holiday

  • Bodyguard of Lies: The Extraordinary True Story of D-Day Vol I & Vol II by Anthony Cave Brown
  • The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader by Fred I. Greenstein
  • Montaigne & Magellan by Stefan Zweig
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: A Novel by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

Bill Gates

  • The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
  • Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens, by Eddie Izzard
  • The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Energy and Civilization: A History, by Vaclav Smil

Barack Obama

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Grant by Ron Chernow
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  • Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  • Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
  • Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
  • Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

NY Times

  • Autumn By Ali Smith
  • Exit West By Mohsin Hamid
  • Pachinko By Min Jin Lee
  • The Power By Naomi Alderman
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing By Jesmyn Ward
  • The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us By Richard O. Prum
  • Grant By Ron Chernow
  • Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America By James Forman Jr.
  • Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder By Caroline Fraser
  • Priestdaddy By Patricia Lockwood

Wired

  • Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History By Erik Malinowski
  • (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work By Brooke Erin Duffy
  • Ours to Hack and to Own Edited by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider
  • Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest By Zeynep Tufekci
  • Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech By Sara Wachter-Boettcher
  • The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies By Jason Fagone

Some notable repeats are Pachinko (Klein and NYTimes), Grant (NYTimes and Obama), Evicted (Gates and Obama), Exit West (NYTimes and Obama). There are a lot of books out there to read in 2018. If you are looking for something, perhaps take a recommendation from the world’s thought leaders. Or, in the spirit of Lanier, go out on your own and read something no one else is talking about. In either case, keep curious.

Two Weeks in Review – November 5, 2017

Sunset over mountains from black to blue to orange

4:45 and its dark outside

Podcasts

The Finnish (UBI) Experiment – 99 Percent Invisible

The Psychology of Self-Righteousness – Jonathan Haidt – On Being
An interesting psychological take on political leanings

Readings

Bitcoin uses a lot of energy. Why not a solar powered rig?

The World’s Happiest Places – National Geographic

Tech

Xbox One X

iPhone X

A raspi cluster looks fun, and so does gaming on a plane.

And so many video games: BF1, Fortnite and TF2.

Food

Challah French toast

Donut or doughnut?

Week in Review – October 8, 2017

Another stock image of a person simulating an open office environment

Readings

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Thich Nhat Hanh via Lion’s Roar

Teach tech with cartoons by Julia Evans

Why We Contradict Ourselves and Confound Each Other with Daniel Kahneman via On Being (listen)

On Overuse of Technology

Follow Cal Newport. He lead me to Jony Ive’s talk at the New Yorker Tech fest. Here’s the transcript

Jony Ive’s thoughts on Focus

I tend to be so completely preoccupied with what we’re working on at the moment. That tends to take the oxygen. Like any tool, you can see there’s wonderful use and then there’s misuse.

This isn’t a new phenomenon that we have to exercise a modicum of self-control to try and find the right balance. I do think sometimes, it’s just nice to have space. I think we fill space because we can and not because we should.

If I get to sit down for two hours with one of the world’s best silicon chip designers, I could not be happier. And what connects us is a curiosity, and also sort of sense of the authentic pursuit of excellence.

The art of focus is even if it is something you care passionately about, focus means ignoring it, putting it to the side. And often, it’s at real cost. And [Steve Jobs] was remarkable at that. And there have been a few occasions, a few periods where I felt have achieved that focus, and it’s a little eerie. You do have a sense — boundaries before impedance, before that seems insurmountable, seems trivial. And it takes so much effort and is exhausting to sustain, but all of the good things we’ve done have required that sort of focus.

If you’re going to do something new that means that the reason it has not been done before is that is there’s 55 reasons why it hasn’t been done before. And so you have to be so focused and so resolute, and in some ways almost blinkered, but you have to be so determined, but then you have to move between these two behaviors that are almost on the polar opposite.

I am confident that the mistakes weren’t born from laziness or some self-satisfied belief that it’s inevitable that they will be successful. I think we’re bunch of very anxious, worrying individuals who generally assume it’s not going to work unless we can prove otherwise.

Smartphone habits and addiction transforming into information dystopia

via The Guardian

This is classic Nir Eyal

One morning in April this year, designers, programmers and tech entrepreneurs from across the world gathered at a conference centre on the shore of the San Francisco Bay. They had each paid up to $1,700 to learn how to manipulate people into habitual use of their products, on a course curated by conference organizer Nir Eyal.

His book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products is a recipe book to shows how to game human psychology to get people addicted to your product, or as he puts it:

“Just as we shouldn’t blame the baker for making such delicious treats, we can’t blame tech makers for making their products so good we want to use them,” he said. “Of course that’s what tech companies will do. And frankly: do we want it any other way?”

But there is a line between solving a problem through satisfying a need and engineering products for more usage. Read Don Normans’ The Design of Everyday Things instead.

And push notifications, turn them off:

Brichter says he is puzzled by the longevity of the feature. In an era of push notification technology, apps can automatically update content without being nudged by the user. “It could easily retire,” he says. Instead it appears to serve a psychological function: after all, slot machines would be far less addictive if gamblers didn’t get to pull the lever themselves. Brichter prefers another comparison: that it is like the redundant “close door” button in some elevators with automatically closing doors. “People just like to push it.”

Sometimes psychology can make boring situations a little more convenient, even elevator rush hours and grocery store queues.

On the Open Office

Open offices are overrated via Vox

The idea is worth executing well because it matters too much to stop trying to fix it. By that we mean the 40 hours a week, the 8700 hours, the nearly 10 full years of your life you spend inside the four walls of one room.

The Office Gets Remade Again via NY Times

Salesforce’s new skyscraper campus in San Francisco, for example, has areas on every floor for meditation, partly inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

Create things so others can create

Getting to the Future Faster from Exponent

The conversation starts with a discussion on long term thought development via writing on a blog instead of cementing a momentary mindset in a book. In a blog, the audience can learn and grow with the author, while the author can support writing with a subscription business model. They move into universal basic income, single person businesses with an audience of 100s and Etsy as a model for unlocking creative potential of people across the world. Also, Instagram and YouTube stars are entrepreneurial in a job that did not exist five to ten years ago. How can we build technology that enables more people to create?

Week in Review – October 1, 2017

An old bike and a sleeping dog next to a wooden fence

Read

The Handmaid’s Tale (no, don’t just watch the show)

Write

Book or blog? Unfinished and developing thoughts fit best in a blog. Plus one can use WordPress and Stripe for subscriber payments.

https://stratechery.com/2017/books-and-blogs/

Because aggregators deal with digital goods, there is an abundance of supply; that means users reap value through discovery and curation, and most aggregators get started by delivering superior discovery.

Then, once an aggregator has gained some number of end users, suppliers will come onto the aggregator’s platform on the aggregator’s terms, effectively commoditizing and modularizing themselves. Those additional suppliers then make the aggregator more attractive to more users, which in turn draws more suppliers, in a virtuous cycle.

This means that for aggregators, customer acquisition costs decrease over time; marginal customers are attracted to the platform by virtue of the increasing number of suppliers. This further means that aggregators enjoy winner-take-all effects: since the value of an aggregator to end users is continually increasing it is exceedingly difficult for competitors to take away users or win new ones.

https://stratechery.com/2017/defining-aggregators/

Sleep

This article was popular this week: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Why do we sleep less?

We electrified the night, and light is a profound degrader of our sleep.

There is the issue of work: not only the porous borders between when you start and finish, but longer commuter times, too. No one wants to give up time with their family or entertainment, so they give up sleep instead.

We have stigmatized sleep with the label of laziness. We want to seem busy, and one way we express that is by proclaiming how little sleep we’re getting. It’s a badge of honor.

You should sleep more

I give myself a non-negotiable eight-hour sleep opportunity every night, and I keep very regular hours: if there is one thing I tell people, it’s to go to bed and to wake up at the same time every day, no matter what.

Hey, you know who else says that? Ray Dalio. He says it helps keep an even keel.

Take away?

Need to wake up at 7. Go to sleep at 11 sharp. Recently, 11 PM turns to 11:45, so 7 AM becomes 7:30.

Speak

Here be Sermons from Melting Asphalt

Thoughts

Is a blog a sermon or a lecture? Does the faceless audience denote a congregation or group of individuals?

Suppose Feynman’s physics lectures were never recorded, and you were (somehow) the only person in attendance as he was delivering them. In other words, he’s lecturing to an audience of one. Well, you might feel sad for everyone else who’s missing out — but at least you’ll learn some things, and Feynman is probably happy to teach you. (It might even be a competitive advantage for you to learn directly from the master

How does aggregation theory apply to sermons?

Moral communities often benefit from upholding a so-called meta-norm: an injunction to punish anyone who doesn’t punish others for their transgressions. As you can imagine, this kind of recursive rule requires commensurately recursive knowledge in order to get off the ground.

Ride

Best Electric Bikes 2017
Copenhagen Wheel on The Verge
Rad Power Bikes

Week in Review – September 24, 2017

Top down view of coffee mug on a yellow surface

A lot of work this week, possibly fueled by too much caffeine (3 cups in 4 days is a lot for me). But I am practicing deep work techniques to avoid email, single task and stay in the flow.

How to answer questions in a helpful way

Jvns post from a couple days ago caught my attention. Just today I encountered both sides of how to answer questions in a helpful way.

How you phrase a question is important:

  • Rephrase a more specific question back at them (“Are you asking X?”)
  • Ask them for more specific information they didn’t provide (“are you using IPv6?”)
  • Ask what prompted their question. For example, sometimes people come into my team’s channel with questions about how our service discovery works. Usually this is because they’re trying to set up/reconfigure a service. In that case it’s helpful to ask “which service are you working with? Can I see the pull request you’re working on?”

When asking a question, you need to be cognizant that the other person may not know your level of understanding. Set the state by giving them some insight into your point of view. Maybe start with a drawing.. Visualizing the problem often makes it easier to communicate.

Figuring out what your question-asker knows already is important because they may be confused about fundamental concepts (“What’s Redux?”), or they may be an expert who’s getting at a subtle corner case. An answer building on concepts they don’t know is confusing, and an answer that recaps things they know is tedious.

Building on the idea of visualizing the problem, when talking about how you solve a problem, try to show what you did and explain your thought process

New person: “I’m seeing errors on the site, what’s happening?”
More Experienced Person: (2 minutes later) “oh that’s because there’s a database failover happening”
New person: how did you know that??!?!?
More Experienced Person: “Here’s what I did!”:
Often these errors are due to Service Y being down. I looked at $PLACE and it said Service Y was up. So that wasn’t it.
Then I looked at dashboard X, and this part of that dashboard showed there was a database failover happening.
Then I looked in the logs for the service and it showed errors connecting to the database, here’s what those errors look like.

High Frequency Trading

If this doesn’t seem like a company run by a Bond villain, I don’t know what does: Citadel

And Reading for the Emmys

The Handmaid’s Tale

Week in Review – September 10, 2017

Tomorrowland entrance at Disneyland

Book, Articles, and Readings

Are Your Lights On? Thanks DHH

On Writing Well

Telling people what you are working on

To determine what is not a hotdog, use Keras 

It’s all a hack

The fall of Juicero and ICO Fever

If a Silicon Valley executive does something, it is “hacking.” Doing your laundry? That’s a life hack. Eating lunch? A biohack. Not eating lunch? Sure, yes, also a biohack.

Skepticism not cynicism

And Multicultural USA: The 200+ year experiment
Dan Rather on The Ezra Klein Show

Just focusing on being the best offensive lineman in the NFL I can be

John Urshel on Freakonomics

WordPress did this

https://www.wired.com/2017/08/uncanny-valley-internet/

LA Weekend Musings

I’m on the plane to LA. We are about to land. I read the September issue of Nat Geo on the flight, and I have a lot on my mind. The main article was about the brain and addiction. Technology creates new stimuli not before considered, and there is ongoing research into how the internet affects our brain. Plus there’s an article about how agriculture in the Netherlands yields more food per square mile than any other country.

I also listened to podcasts on the way to the airport. The Ezra Klein show with Dan Rather had a relaxed, calming pace (I didn’t realize Rather had an issue at CBS for bad sources). Then I started the 99PI podcast on algorithms. Not too far into yet, but kicking someone off a United flight was an unexpected example of algorithms in the real world. It makes me consider my status on airlines as an infrequent flyer. (The flight attendant just asked me to put my seat back up, but I never reclined. Ahem Ryan Holiday).

The article most on my mind is from Ezra Klein on the Google memo. What struck me as different about Klein’s perspective is how he critiques the lack of refinement and supporting arguments for the claims presented. It left me thinking a similar thought to Zinsser’s on Writing Well about editing. I could see Klein thinking about what he wrote while planning and reviewing his own writing. It’s a meta, writing about writing, that makes me think about how I can be more expressive as a writer.

I am thinking a lot about how people can clearly articulate their ideas, and tell stories about their experiences. John Urshel impressed me in his interview on Freakonomics. He told a compelling tale about his life as a full time PhD student and full time NFL lineman for the Ravens. The podcast focused on risk vs uncertainty, which was interesting in itself, but his background added intrigue.

Wrap up

More fun included Disneyland, two football games, burgers, fries, ice cream, hotdogs, chicken, enchiladas, and a brewery in a dentist office.

 

Random

This happens far too often

 

Week in Review – August 27, 2017

Eclipse 2K17!

Tech & Programming

Books & Reading

Disney’s Choice

Stratechery

Vertical companies like Apple achieve profits by selling differentiated goods at high margins. Horizontal companies like Google, on the other hand, achieve profits through scale, which by extension means being free (or as low cost as possible) is more important than being the “best”; the brilliance of Google’s model, of course, is that having more users, and thus more data, means it is the best as well.

Epic of Gilgamesh

Wikipedia page

This story is over 4000 years old but was only discovered in 1853. Time deteriorated the tablets and filtered the text to what we have today. The story is about King Gilgamesh of Uruk and his quest to beat death, but what amazed me was the insight it gave to the scale of humanity at the time the story was written (my thoughts were influenced from just reading Sapiens). If all stories were kept on multiple tablets of similar size, where are all the others? What happened in the 4000 years that we never decided to make another copy? Today, it seems the internet will preserve all we create for the foreseeable future, so Gilgamesh will live on.

Everything Else

CinemaSins

CinemaSins is great for screening movies of questionable quality without investing the entire 2 hours on a rotten tomato (but the Kong director doesn’t think so). For example, Power Rangers. Now I know I only need to watch the end to see Megazord. Granted this is not a replacement for watching the movie, just a way to rearrange your list of what to watch next. Still, such nostalgia.

Don’t forget the second step

Seth Godin

Showing up and doing it again and again until you’re good at it, and until it’s part of who you are and what you do.

Gothic Basin

A preview of what’s to come…

At the top of Gothic Basin

Earworm

Two Weeks in Review – August 20, 2017

It's about time

Thoughts

on Renew Psychology

Here’s a test. I decided not to renew nautilus for $29 a year. I already have another 1 year on my subscription, and while I currently would like to have the magazine for another year I am balancing a few things to decide if in one year I want it for another year. In reality, the $29 for a year is really, $29 for two more years since I already acclimated to the original cost. So now, I am taking the option of not wanting the magazine in a year at the cost of an increase over $29. My current rate is $35 a year, so my value on the option is $6.

 

Readings

Aziz Ansari Quit the Internet

via Cal Newport (via GQ)

when he gets into a cab, he now leaves his phone in his pocket and simply sits there and thinks; when he gets home, instead of “looking at websites for an hour and half, checking to see if there’s a new thing,” he reads a book.

Like Macklemore

 

Podcasts

 

Tech and Learning

 

Knick-knacks

San Juan Island

Ferry and driving tour

Cele is no more

I removed it from the App Store. It had a good run, but it was time for other things.

Gated Reverb

via Vox on YouTube
and a Spotify playlist

Weekly Productivity

I like the option I have with this iPad to either read, or write in the mornings. I swing back and forth between the two activities (right now trying to finish Sapiens), but I thought a lot last night about how I was going to write a book. That fell flat in July and August. Replaced with video editing, coding, and having fun with friends. All in moderation is my way of doing things.