Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Great Books Meme   4 comments

Once upon a time, I thought this collection of books was the neatest one in my parent’s library. It was just so impressive, visually, dominating a shelf or three (depending upon which house we lived in at what the configuration of the library was at the time), brown tomes lined up in an impressive array of Things Which Ought To Be Read.  When I worked for Loyola High School they replaced the copy they had in the library as too worn, and I picked up the discards.  I’ve lugged them around for over a decade now.  I’m missing Aristotle II (probably one of the Jesuits in the community checked it out informally and forgot to return it), but I’ve got the rest.  Some of the criticisms of the collection are of justifiable validity, but on the whole it’s not a bad idea to read the original set, and the Second Edition contains some additional “must reads”.

So, here’s the list of works that are included in both editions.  Copy, paste, and strike-through those you’ve read.  I probably should get back to work on these, I still have a long way to go.  I know if my mother reads this she’ll respond with horror, “You haven’t read Emma?  You haven’t read War and Peace?”  No, I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

[edited to add] Out of curiosity, I wanted to know how many of these were banned somewhere.  Turns out a few were on the Index of Forbidden Books,  and others have been banned here or there at one time or another, which I noted next to the books in question.  The Index has been dead for a while, and to the best of my knowledge none of these books are still banned in the areas listed, but book burnings and censorship are still out there.


Posted October 7, 2008 by padraic2112 in books, memes

Blogmeme: Page 56 of the Book Nearest You   Leave a comment

Got this from Erich, via Corey.

The rules:

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open the book to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the next two to five sentences in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

I read Corey’s post late last night at the dinner table right before I shut down my computer.  In the interest of maintaining blogmeme integrity, I grabbed the nearest book and brought it to work with me today to complete this post (else you’d be getting page 56 of “Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, by Jon Erickson”).  It was a close call; the Virgina Lee Burton collection was closer if I turned clockwise, and the book I grabbed was closer if I turned counterclockwise (actually, there were a few other candidates in the kid’s bookshelf, but the Burton book was the only one with 56+ pages that was close enough to qualify).

I admit, I turned and looked over my left shoulder first on purpose.

From Volume 35: Great Books of the Western World (Locke, Berkeley, Hume), page 56 happens to be a portion of Locke’s “Concerning Civil Government“, Chapter XI: Of the Extent of the Legislative Power.

It is a power that hath no other end but preservation, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects; the obligations of the law of Nature cease not in society, but only in many cases are drawn closer, and have, by human laws, known penalties annexed to them to enforce their observation.  Thus the law of Nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others.  The rules that they make for other men’s actions must, as well as their own and other men’s actions, be conformable to the law of Nature – i.e., to the will of God, of which that is a declaration, and the fundamental law of Nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good or valid against it.

A pretty good Judeo-Christian argument against the validity of the death penalty, right there.  Full of dicey propositions at best from a logical consistency standpoint, but Locke does have a rather stirring voice that’s fun to read.  The guy did write run-on sentences, though… a common problem in the “Great Books” collection.  I guess great thinkers have a tendency to be verbose, don’t they?

Posted October 7, 2008 by padraic2112 in books, memes

On the Nightstand – A PILE   1 comment

Currently, I am reading (or have just completed) David Weinberger’sEverything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the new Digital Disorder“, E.B. Sledge’sWith The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa“, Joel Spolsky’sSmart & Gets Things Done“, and Michael Pollan’sThe Omnivore’s Dilemma“.

Here’s the nickel reviews.

Sledge – Five Stars (done).

  • Who should read this: anybody interested in WWII, military history, or who has a relative or friend serving in a war zone.
  • What it’s about: the amphibious landings performed by the US Marines during WWII on the islands of Peleliu and Okinawa.  More specifically, what it was like to be a grunt during those two military actions, fighting an enemy with major philosophical differences when it comes to war.
  • Why it’s a good read: it reminds you that it is normal for “the good guys” to be dehumanized when participating in war.  Sledge describes man’s inhumanity to man in stark terms, without the intention to pass judgment on the actions of the troops, but rather to simply describe what it’s like to have people trying to kill you with guns and bombs while you try to kill them with guns and bombs.  You have to wonder what sorts of stories the troops currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan will write five or ten years from now.
  • Why I read it: there are lots of excerpts from the book in Ken Burn’s “The War”, which Kitty and I finished watching on the DVR recently.

Weinberger: Three.Five Stars (done).

  • Who should read this: people who believe “all of us are smarter than one of us”, people who believe that last statement is a bunch of bunk, and anyone who hasn’t studied set theory and is over 25, because they may not have any idea how the young whippersnappers are going to experience learning different from the way they themselves did.
  • What it’s about: how organizing information and meta information is inherently different in a digital world than the physical world (ie, print media).
  • Why it’s a good read: it’s a pretty decent introductory book on the topic.  I confess I was slightly dissapointed, though… Weinberger has a chance to tackle some big issues here, but glosses over the hard stuff.  The description of the Dewey Decimal system is well done.  His writeup of the implications of the historical publishing models, particularly as they tie to academic publishing is well done… but all he does is throw in the viewpoints, he takes no stand on the issues.  Coming from someone who’s writing a book about a topic that has pretty revolutionary implications on knowledge management and learning, that’s a disservice to the readership.  Plus, he throws the words “information” and “knowledge” around as being equivalent, but the two are not the same.
  • Why I read it: knowledge management is an interesting problem, particularly when it comes to community taxonomies.  I was hoping for a little more meat in here.

Spolsky: Three.Five Stars (done).

  • Who should read this: anyone who hires IT people, particularly programmers.  Anyone who is an executive at a high-tech company.
  • What it’s about: how to find and hire good IT people, particularly programmers.
  • Why it’s a good read: if you’re a technology-centric company, it’s great at explaining how to find and hire people that will actually make a huge difference for your company.  If you’re not Google or Microsoft, and you want to be able to find programmers or IT people who are that caliber of worker (or near it), it’s a pretty good collection of advice.  If, on the other hand, you’re looking for commodity IT work, you’re probably going to get some wrong ideas if you just read this book and think of it as gospel.  Joel does a great job of talking about the top 3% of the pack and how to attract them, but it probably would have been a good idea to include at least a few paragraphs on what the demographics of the pack actually are.  Your org may not need the top 3%.
  • Why I read it: I like Joel’s stuff.

Pollan – Five Stars, with Cluster (still reading)

  • Who should read this: everybody who eats food in the U.S, or pays taxes.
  • What it’s about: a pretty interesting investigation into the agricultural industry in the U.S.  Did you know that about almost of the chemical fertilizer produced in the U.S. goes directly to the corn crop?  The chapters on industrial agriculture, nitrogen fixing, and the implications of the weird market forces created by the USDA’s farm subsidy programs are downright scary.  It doesn’t make much sense to switch cars to ethanol if it takes more petroleum energy to (a) create the fertilizer (b) grow the corn (c) make the ethanol… than it does to just run the car in the first place, now does it?
  • Why it’s a good read: I’m not done, and I haven’t thoroughly hashed through the references in the book, so I can’t say how accurate all of the information is in it yet (if you take the book on face value, you’re liable to get very, very irritated at your local congressperson).  His credentials aren’t science-heavy, but his writing indicates that he knows the basics of agribusiness, economics, and biology… and more importantly he knows how to write a compelling illustratative argument.
  • Why I read it: Kitty read it for her book group, and recommended it.

Posted July 29, 2008 by padraic2112 in books

Off the Nightstand: Managing Humans   2 comments

Full title, “Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager” by Michael Lopp, writer of Rands in Repose.

I appear to have been bitten by a bug (a viral bug, not an insect) and have spent the last four hours in bed on vacation, during which I pounded through this quite handily.  Lopp is hilarious and engaging and spins some interesting yarns that are applicable to anyone who manages people, or anyone who has a manager, regardless of industry.

The book is mostly (or perhaps all, I didn’t check rigorously) comprised of existing blog posts, so if you’ve been a follower of Rands in Repose for a while, you’ll only be interested if you’re like me and appreciate books as works in and of themselves as entire entities… something David Weinberger, author of one of my other nightstand occupants “Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder” would undoubtedly find quaint.

If you are an IT worker or a manager of any stripe, Managing Humans is required reading.  I choose a quote from page 111 as my favorite section of the book:

Fact is, your world is changing faster than you’ll ever be able to keep up with, and you can view that fact from two different perspectives:

  • I believe I can control my world, and through an aggressive campaign of task management, personal goals, and a can do attitude, I will succeed in doing the impossible.  Go me!


  • I know there is no controlling the world, but I will fluidly surf the entropy by constantly changing myself.

Surfing entropy takes confidence.  This isn’t Tony Robbins confidence; this is a personal confidence you earn by constantly adapting yourself to the impossible.

Good stuff, and interesting insight from someone who has written interesting and involved dissertations on pens, notebooks, and coffee mugs.  Hang ten, everybody.

Posted July 9, 2008 by padraic2112 in books, management, software, tech

And Now… a Warning   2 comments

I’ve noticed that Megan has added a regular feature to her blog – a sidebar section called “Mcgeeisms”, with a quote from one of the Travis books. I’ve noticed as well that the quote has changed with about the regularity I would expect if Megan was undergoing a literary task I myself underwent about 8 years ago… reading all of the Travis McGee books in a block.

She’s on Dress Her in Indigo, which is halfway through the series chronologically.  I don’t know if she’s actually reading them in order, or just in the order in which they sit on her bookshelf (Megan is not quite as overly organized as I have been accused of being when it comes to things like books, movies, CDs… etc).

Meg, I hope you’re throwing some other things in there, and not just reading Travis. If you are, by the time you get to A Tan and Sandy Silence (or 13 books in, if you’re just reading them in no particular order) you’re going to find yourself overwhelmed by a melancholy period that lasts for about 3 months.

Throw some Carl Hiaasen in there, to cut it.

Posted June 24, 2008 by padraic2112 in books, crime/mystery fiction, family

On the Bookshelf – Theory and Reality   Leave a comment

By Peter Godfrey-Smith, CiteULike page here. An interesting approach to philosophy of science. I’m halfway through it so far (class blog posts about it are here), so I’m not sure at this point if I’m going to like it or not, holistically, but one way or the other I find the study of scientific thought to be really interesting, and the author covers not only the philosophy of science but the historical and social context.

Posted October 8, 2007 by padraic2112 in books, msis, tech, theory

Bookcrossing   1 comment

Megan has already complained about my introducing her to Goodreads, so I thought I’d be a typical brother and compound her problem.

Have you seen Bookcrossing?  Imagine that you’re the type of person who collects books.  Now, you might be like my friend Heather, who dedicates a significant amount of her domicile to not just storing her books, but storing them in an accessible format (Heather suffers from catalogers’ disease, like myself).  However, maybe you can’t dedicate space for books.  Or maybe you could in the past, but now you’ve got to move, or you’re turning the library into a nursery, or maybe you just looked around and said to yourself, “I can’t let people see me living like this, I don’t live in a house, I live in a used bookstore.”

Parting with a collection can be excruciatingly painful, because although they are just objects, they are objects that have an association with some sort of emotional meaning to the collector.  Even the dreck in your collection (and every collector has some dreck at some point) has some value to you, because you associate it with memories of the collection itself.  It’s a vicious cycle.  How do you solve this problem?

Selling your books to a used bookstore or dumping them on eBay is one way to unburden yourself of the physical collection, but it’s so… mercenary.  Also fairly lacking in gratification, as you’re usually not going to recoup anything resembling the cost of the collection, unless you’re a First Editioner (a separate disease we’ll discuss elsewhere someday).  Donating your books to a library is somewhat traditional and worthwhile, of course, but you can’t maintain contact with your collection any longer.  Is anyone reading them?  Are they sitting alone, dusty, on a back shelf?  At what point does the layer of dust indicate to someone that they ought to go out on the patio during the used book selloff?  My God, may they be cursed to storage!??!

Enter Bookcrossing.  Now, you can let the objects go, while keeping the collection (albeit in virtual form) forever!  Moreover, you can EXPAND the emotional meaning, by letting other people contribute to it!  Now it’s not just YOUR collection, it’s a social construct in and of itself!  Nirvana!  Delicious anticipation!  Will someone pick up that copy of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat that you left at the bus stop?  Will they be drawn into the Bookcrossing web?  Wither shall it go, how many people will it touch?  It’s like casting a message in a bottle, except instead of waiting for an unlikely single person to find your missive cast up on a sandy shore, you’re wondering how many people in our vast society will touch your book as it passes from hand to hand!

Of course, looking at Goodreads and Bookcrossing together, when you have cataloger’s disease, enters into a major dilemma -> what do I keep, and what do I cast upon the winds for an entirely new adventure?!?!  OH NO, A NEW CATALOGING PROBLEM!

Posted October 4, 2007 by padraic2112 in books, social, tech, web sites