Tag Archives: books

Books for Christmas: The Roasted Vegetable

My mom gave us this book over the holidays, and it’s incredible.  We’re part of both the Poughkeepsie Farm Project and the Winter Sun CSA.  This means that right now we’ve got lots of bags of root vegetables and squash.  Beets, Potatoes, Rutabagas, Turnips, Sweet Potatoes, Acorn Squash, Butternut Squash, Hubbard Squash.  Last winter we never quite got into the groove on the winter vegetables, so a lot of them went to waste.

But not this year.  In the 5 days since we’ve had this book Susan’s made 2 recipes: a beet, turnip, squash, an onion roast mixed with goat cheese and pasta; sweet potato wedges.  Both were great.  As we flipped through this book nearly every page has something that you are just dying to try.  My mom didn’t let the book out of her sight in Vermont until she managed to copy out a few recipes for herself.

So, if you are trying to figure out how to use vegetables in some new and tasty ways, especially ones you don’t normally cook, I can highly suggest this book.

Blink

The beginning of my summer of popular non-fiction was started with Blink, on audio, that I finished a few weeks ago. Blink is about the way we make a lot of decisions at an unconscious level, some times for good, some times for bad. While I’d heard the “rss version” (i.e. the 1 paragraph synopsis), the book, as always, is way more nuanced than that. I’d highly recommend this book to others.

One of the things I found most interesting about Blink was changes done in police departments to prevent mistakes. It turns out, that once our heart rate goes above 145 beats per minute, we start to loose both rational thinking and motor coordination. Many of the police abuses in the last decade have come at the end of a high speed pursuit, which drives up adrenaline rates, and puts the people whose job it is to defend us into a state where their judgment is largely stripped away by biological constraints. It turns out that by banning high speed chases, and making officiers ride alone, so they need to stop and call for backup before approaching a scene, rates of mistakes and abuse go way down. It’s a simple structural change in the organization that benefits us all.

There are also great sections in there about reading faces, instinct over information overload in millitary war games, and the subtle biases that kept women out of many key roles in classical music until an unrelated circumstance caused blind auditions to be instituted. So many go things in this book, definitely check it out if you get a chance.

Software is Lettuce, not Gold

I’ve been listening to The World is Flat on audio book, as part of my summer run through of popular non fiction of the last couple of years. One phrase really struck me on the way home, which was the assessment by Brian Behlendorf that

“software is lettuce, not gold”

Software is both a commodity and perishable if not consumed in a timely manner. For the doubters out there, check out the ranks of abandoned software on sourceforge.net some time. My proud collection of shirts from software companies that don’t exist any more is a less compelling, though more close to home, reminder of that fact.

The way tech books should be ordered

For my grad school class this semester we are using the book Lucene in Action, as we are doing projects in and around search engines.  I did a quick search on getting this book, and found that if I ordered directly from Manning they would provide me a pdf version as well.  Sign me up!

This is the same sort of deal you get with the Pragmatic Programmer books, and I love it.  The PP folks went a step further, and let you buy into a BETA book where you get revs of the PDF during it’s editing cycle, and then send you a paper copy once it ships.  They also provide updates to the PDF after ship (I’ve gotten at least one for my rails book), removing the need for “errata” inserts.

It’s unfortunate that the larger publishers aren’t doing this yet, as I’d love to have my O’Reilly books in both PDF and bound versions.  They are selling some electronic only copies, but the lack of the safety net of having paper sort of sucks, and I’ve not quite bought into the whole safari approach yet.

Props to Manning for doing this well (or at least the way I like it).  🙂

Vacation and Books

The greatest value of vacation is it snaps you out of your normal routine. In the absence of the standard trappings of the 21st (as we were in rural Wisconsin and Minnesota for the entire trip), I brought a stack of books. The two books that actually got some attention were “Serious Creativity” by Edward De Bono, and “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker. Both are non fiction.

Serious Creativity is a book that sums up all the Lateral Thinking methodology that I learned last year in my leadership classes. The book largely overlaps with what we learned in the class, concept fan, provocations, random word, etc. While the book is great, I’m honestly not sure how much sense it would make to someone who didn’t also do 2 days of training on the techniques. There were a few new interesting bits in the book though, like the introduction of the 6 thinking hats (a much more interesting way to run meetings), and some comparisons of western and japanese biases around putting products into the field (which helps explain why there are so many cool new things coming out of japan all the time).

The first semester of my junior year of college was my death semester. I took the following 4 classes:

  • Advanced Quantum Mechanics. Yes, it was as hard as it sounds. This class was by far the most challenging, and rewarding class that I took. The class often produced up to 40 hours of homework a week, and the 24 hr take home final (which was 6 questions) took me 18 hours to complete (21 hours walk clock time, as I slept for 3 hours in the ITS Helpdesk before going back to complete problem 4).
  • Radiation and Optics. This was the 3rd and final Electricity and Magnetism class in the Wesleyan Physics Dept E&M sequence. While not nearly as challenging as Quantum, R&O was taught by my favorite instructor at Wesleyan, and was a hefty chunk of work by itself (6 – 8 hours a week).
  • 3rd Semester Ancient Greek. A 3 person class (which meant there were some occasions where it was a 1 person class) in which we translated 3 of Plato’s works. This represented the end of my ancient greek studies as I didn’t put in the work required to really get to the next level (due to Quantum swallowing most of my time).
  • My blow off class, Chomsky Linguistic Theory. Learning rules of transformational syntax, applying them to arbitrary English. The optional book for this class was Steven Pinker’s Language Instinct, which I bought. However, you may understand why I never actually opened the book while at school.

I had tried digging into the book a few years ago, and gotten about 50 pages in, before it went back on the shelf, though I still can recall much of the discussion on how pidgin languages are formed. I decided to start where my bookmark was an journey on from there. It turned out to be a great idea.

I’m about 3/4 through the book, hoping to finish in the next week or so. Pinker sets out in this book to explain why language can’t be a fully learned skill, i.e. there must be some innate structures / skills that let us acquire language. There are a few things that are a bit dated, as he goes to explain why audio transcribing software of the time (1995) fails miserably, however the bulk of the book holds up very well a decade later. It many ways it lays out some pretty reasonable explanations of where the hardware / software boundary of our brains lies, which parts are field programmable when it comes to language, and which parts aren’t. I love books like this, as they generate a lot of new random neuron firings, and make you think about all kinds of things in different ways. It’s like mountain biking for your brain.

It’s funny to think that such a fun and interesting book has been staring at me for 10 years, and it takes a week away to actually pick it up. But that’s what vacation is for, to break you out of your routine. 🙂

The Salmon of Doubt

The latest book on my audio book list, is The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams. I’m about 1/2 way through after listening to it mostly on the plane back and forth to Madison this past weekend.

While I’ve always been a fan of Douglas Adams for the Hitch Hikers books, and I was missing his comic brilliance last year when listening to the original radio dramas, I never fully realize how much of a man of science Douglas was. The Salmon of Doubt isn’t really a book, it is a collection of writings found on Douglas’s hard drive after his death, which included the beginning of a new book (though I’ve not even gotten that far yet). But the writings are awesome. His exposition on the 4 ages of sand, and the posit of an Artificial God are just brilliant, and deeply amusing all at the same time.

Jewel quotes include the following (during his exposition on the 4 ages of sand)

. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

It is really a shame there won’t be any more work by Adams, but at least we’ve got this one last bit that gives a very good window into the man that he was. Any fans of science, or comic writing, should check it out.

The Areas of My Expertise

On the way back from Austin, I strolled into the airport bookstore to get a bottle of water, and do my quick check to see if they actually carried any science magazines (the answer was no, per usual, though there were 12 or so gamer magazines there). However, they did have The Areas of My Expertise sitting out front. After reading the cover, and finding a Dr Who reference early on, I was hooked.

The book reads much like America The Book, though it is structured almost exactly like the Old Farmers Almanac. For instance, every chapter starts with a Lycanthropic Transformation Table, explaining time tables and effectiveness during the different sevenths of the moon cycle, and a brief description, including motos, of all 51 (yes 51) states.

I was enthralled for most of the trip back with the book, and laughing out loud, probably disturbing those around me, for the course of the trip. If you are a fan of dry wit and satire, you should definitely pick up this book.