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Review of 'Practical TLA+: Planning Driven Development' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

I found this book to be an excellent guide to the world of "using a tool to help you think good about software design." A few points:

- it's not just for doing fancy distributed systems, you can also use it to help reason about complex product requirements

- since it's a tool for reasoning about systems in general, you don't even need to limit yourself to software!

- the first half is a little bit dry so I quit after that. Don't do this, I went back to it and the second half is so worth it - lots of insights and practical advice and wonderfully written examples.

Also it's quite short. So: if you want another way to think about the behavior of systems pick this book up and read the whole dang thing.

The Spell of the Sensuous (1997, Vintage) 3 stars

[In this book, the author] draws on sources as diverse as the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, …

Review of 'The Spell of the Sensuous' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

I read this because it informed Jenny Odell's wonderful talk how to do nothing.

I got a pretty distasteful primitivist, psuedosciency vibe from lots of it. But setting that aside I think there's still a lot of interesting stuff in here. Abram dives deep into the effects of language, especially phonetically written language, on how we abstract the world around us. To me the valuable thing is the act of investigating language and other tools for abstraction, as opposed to the specific analysis & evidence he gives for his points. Peripherally there's also lots of fun stuff about the reciprocity of perception and the conceptual barriers between the senses.

I can definitely see how this book can read as anti-progress, anti-abstraction, or anti-civilization. However if you take him at his word that it is not these things maybe you'll have a better time with the book. In my view …

Review of 'Sound Book' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

I read this book on the recommendation of a friend who said it "changed the way [she] experiences sound." Curious!

So I picked it up and read it. Definitely makes me pay more attention to the sounds around me, and opens up a whole world that I had previously closed off. Now I'm snapping in stairwells and talking at walls just to see what it sounds like.

Not sure if it will make me better at anything but listening & paying attention to things, but those are worthwhile things to get better at.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking (2017, Simon and Schuster) 5 stars

A visionary new master class in cooking that distills decades of professional experience into just …

Review of 'Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

I'm a fairly confident cook. Reading this book was like seeing a map of my neighborhood for the first time. I had intuitive knowledge about these different dimensions of food, but had no such framework for thinking about my cooking. This helps me orient myself when I'm cooking and points out areas where I haven't explored as much. So I highly recommend it. I myself couldn't put it down.

Some people complain that the recipes are too vague. That's the point, dummies! Learn to trust your senses!

I do want someone to give me a similar framework for thinking about spices and herbs - that was sort of handwaved in this book, and I accept that, but that doesn't mean I don't want it.

Four futures (2016) 4 stars

Review of 'Four futures' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

Super super short. So there's a lot of places where Frase simplifies or skips things, not least in the framing of "there are Two Crises, automation and climate change, and I'm gonna analyze them along these two axes." But given the limitations/focus I think this book does a pretty good job of imagining and contrasting different societies we could be living in.

Some of the key assumptions that the book rests on:

- automation will dramatically reduce the need for human labor

- capitalism will end, in the sense that it will stop being the basis for a functional society

Which I find mostly compelling, though I'm not sure how much our automation trajectory will be affected by ecological collapse (which are two crises he treats as orthogonal).

There's also some pretty fun stuff that's basically like, "hey, realistically we are kind of far away from seizing the state & …

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love (2012) 4 stars

Review of "So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love" on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

I'm between jobs right now so I figured I might as well read this. I came into it having heard that it was the book about how it's more important to be good at what you do than to like what you do.

I came into it with the following mindset:

- It makes sense that, to have a job that is good, you should yourself be good at doing stuff. So getting good at doing stuff should be your top priority!

- However, it seems important to believe in the mission of your work. Shouldn't this be your top priority, too?

So one big question for me was how to reconcile those two points. I think Cal Newport does it fairly nicely. The basic argument is that desirable job traits such as mission alignment and creative control are things you need to buy with "career capital" i.e. being good …

The works (2005, Penguin Press) 4 stars

Review of 'The works' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

Fun and broad look into various infrastructural systems of NYC, with beautiful illustrations. Pretty inspirational in terms of "wow, there's a lot of cool, complex, and meaningful systems I could be working on!" Sometimes the explanations get a little muddled or the numbers don't quite make sense but I'm willing to overlook that as the broad strokes seem fine. It does feel slightly outdated - left me wondering what the current state of all these systems is.

Overall definitely worth the time - there's a lot in here and it is really a quick read.

The Cyberiad (2002, Harvest/HBJ Book) 4 stars

Review of 'The Cyberiad' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

This book is so goofy! On one hand, it's a short story collection with consistent characters and something close to resembling a plot that ties everything together. On the other, it's an entire book of unapologetic technobabble.

Billed as a book of fables, and as such the morals of the stories are pretty heavy-handed. But since we have a lot of them with the same two folks there's a surprising amount of character development, even if there's an infinitesimal amount in each individual story.

The technobabble is great. You can dip in and out of it as you read - if you're feeling like reading some clever nonsense it's fun, and if you're not, you can skim through it knowing that most of it is just for flavor anyways.

In many ways this reminds me of Labyrinths by Borges, but I liked this book and didn't like that one. I …

Just mercy (2014, Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House) 5 stars

The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a …

Review of 'Just mercy' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

Read this on the suggestion of my wonderful partner. This is a gripping, beautiful, and frustrating read, in which I learned a lot more about how our criminal justice system is terrible. It's a tribute to the author's clients and the unknown prisoners who are like them, as well as the communities around them. It lacks a strong call to action - this is how you can help! - but I think that it's not really necessary in this book, and I don't think he has any "innovative solutions" to the problem of our justice system. What he emphasizes, though, is the power of kindness and "just mercy," and he also highlights some "lead bullet" (as opposed to silver bullet) things you can do to help out.

Passion Projects for Smart People shows how you can create your own opportunities to do …

Review of 'Passion projects for smart people' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

Quick read about different ways to do interesting things outside of work. A few points he makes that are pretty motivating:

- if it's not your job you don't have to stress out about success and failure, at least not on a deadline

- start small, projects (especially with other people) tend to lead to other ideas

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Hardcover, 2014, Ten Speed Press) 4 stars

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes …

Review of 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

I read this book. I tidied up with my partner. This book was really helpful in that endeavor. My life is still mostly the same but I'll give it a few days to take effect.

Overall a real fun book - Marie Kondo clearly takes a lot of joy in this and is also quite willing to poke fun at herself about that.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (2010, Penguin (Non-Classics)) 3 stars

Review of 'Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

I kept trying to skim this but failed. Fortunately this is not tough going. I think the stuff that helped me most was:

- thinking about three different sub-conversations (what happened/how people contributed, how people feel, how people conceive of themselves)

- listen well & don't skip to solutions / telling the other person what you think before they feel heard

I think the whole listening well thing is one of those things that seems simple but actually hides a huge amount of complexity & power. This book kind of points you in the right direction but I think there's no substitute for actually doing the work.

Overall, fine but not mind blowing. If you haven't read other sorts of self-help and therapy books in the same vein maybe it's more exciting.

The  lathe of heaven (2003, Perennial Classics) 4 stars

“The Lathe of Heaven” ; 1971 ( Ursula Le Guin received the 1973 Locus Award …

Review of 'The lathe of heaven' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

There's a lot to like here. The language is great - some of the imagery is really fantastic, and there are some spots of cute wordplay. The plot is interesting and zips along, but it doesn't dominate the book. I found it easy to identify with both George and Dr. Haber, which is a nice trick that helps me think about the central conflict between them. I thought the contrast between "use this power for good!" and "don't use this power at all!" was fresh and very relevant to me as a tech worker.

There's a lot more to think about, but I haven't thought it yet! This is definitely one to reread.

Changing Planes (2005, Ace) 3 stars

Review of 'Changing Planes' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

A set of short stories with a very charming framing story that feels almost Terry Pratchett esque. The stories are sometimes feel a little less nuanced than what I expect from LeGuin. Despite that it's a fascinating box of thought experiments, with gripping imagery that will keep bouncing around in my head a while yet.

My favorite track off this album: The Building.

Review of 'Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow' on 'GoodReads'

4 stars

I picked this up for free a while ago. Very short & definitely thought provoking. If you don't have the time to go through all of "This is an Uprising" this is a great alternative. I thought the organizer/helper/rebel/advocate framework is useful, as well as the pillars of support model.