Archive of posts with tag 'books'

Media Consumption, April 2023

May 1, 2023 • #


Learning to Build, Bob Moesta
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The WEIRDest People in the World, Joseph Henrich
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The Network State, Balaji Srinivasan
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Dominion, Tom Holland
░░░░░░▓░░░░░░░░░░░░░ 30-37%


21 episodes — 26 hrs, 24 min


  • Succession (4 episodes)
  • Waco: American Apocalypse (3 episodes)
  • The Mandalorian (3 episodes)
  • Formula 1: Drive to Survive (14 episodes)


Clockers (1995)

Everything Everywhere All At...

Books of 2022

January 4, 2023 • #

This year I got to several books that have been on my list for years, excited to finally dig into them.

Here’s the full list, with my favorites ⭐️ starred:

Where Is My Flying Car? ⭐️ Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall Published: 2021 • Completed: December 12, 2022 • 📚 View in Library

Portals Into Earth

September 21, 2022 • #

From John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World:

Geologists on the whole are inconsistent drivers. When a roadcut presents itself, they tend to lurch and weave. To them, the roadcut is a portal, a fragment of a regional story, a proscenium arch that leads their imaginations into the earth and through the surrounding terrane.

This is a book I’d love to revisit. So many great bits of history.

David McCullough Dies at 89

August 16, 2022 • #

Historian David McCullough died last week at age 89. If you’ve never read his work, it’s some of the best, most readable and engaging history you can find. I’ve read a few of his books over the years, like The Great Bridge (about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge), 1776 (the Revolutionary War), and his biography John Adams. Looking back on his bibliography, all of his others are on my reading list.

It’s always unfortunate to lose such a critical voice in American culture, but at least his books will stand the test of time...

The Kalevala and the Underworld

August 5, 2022 • #

I just finished Robert Macfarlane’s Underland, a book about all things “underworld” — catacombs, cave exploration, underground rivers, tree root networks, and geologic time. He ties these stories together with historical backgrounds of each place, globetrotting from the Slovenian Dolomites to Greenland to Norwegian ocean caves. It’s an excellent read. Highly recommended if you like nature writing and narrative nonfiction!

In the final chapter he visits the west coast of Finland, specifically the Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository, a 500m deep network of man-made caves designed to house up to 6,500 tons of spent nuclear...

Weekend Reading: Readwise's Next Chapter, Reviewing Revolt of the Public, and the Helicopter State

September 17, 2021 • #

📚 The Next Chapter of Readwise: Our Own Reading App

Great to see this evolution of Readwise to enter the “read-later” app space. None of the options out there seem to be thriving anymore (Pocket, Instapaper, etc.), but some of us still rely on them as essential parts of our reading experience.

The Readwise team has been moving fast the last couple years with excellent additions to the product, and I can’t believe they were also working on this for most of 2021 along with the other regular updates....

Constitution of Knowledge

June 22, 2021 • #

Jonathan Rauch’s latest book The Constitution of Knowledge just dropped, which sounds sort of like a sequel, or at least a redux of his classic Kindly Inquisitors.

Brookings held a panel on his book’s release with historian Anne Applebaum and novelist Neal Stephenson (yes, that Neal Stephenson). In Constitution he follows up his ideas on liberal science and free speech with further work on institutional decay, social coercion, and disinformation.


On Legibility — In Society, Tech, Organizations, and Cities

April 6, 2021 • #

This is a repost from my newsletter, Res Extensa, which you can subscribe to over on Substack. This issue was originally published in November, 2020.

In our last issue, we’d weathered TS Zeta in the hills of Georgia, and the dissonance of being a lifelong Floridian sitting through gale-force winds in a mountain cabin. Last week a different category of storm hit us nationwide in the form of election week (which it seems we’ve mostly recovered from). Now as I write this one, Eta is

Weekend Reading: American-Dream-as-a-Service, Content Marketing, the Fifth Column Reading List, and More

March 20, 2021 • #

👨‍🎓 The American-Dream-as-a-Service

Antonio Garcia-Martinez interviews Austen Allred, founder of Lambda School. Lambda charges no tuition and builds its program on the ISA (income sharing agreement), in which you only pay when you get a salaried position in your field of study.

The cool thing about the incentive alignment is that we’re not going to train you to be a sociologist, because it just doesn’t work. A common critique of the ISA model is: oh, now people aren’t going to study poetry anymore. And my response to that is: yeah, we’re not a university, we’re...

Books of 2020

January 7, 2021 • #

I’ve gotten a lot more selective about books to read in the past few years. My 2020 reading goal was 30 books, giving me space to absorb them and take better notes, and to permit reading longer stuff I could take my time with.

Here’s my list for the year, with stars next to the favorites.

Brave New World Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Published: 1932 • Completed: January 7, 2020 • 📚 View in Library
  • Shelves: classics, science...

A Reverse Dunkirk

November 6, 2020 • #

In Erik Larson’s book The Splendid and the Vile, he tells the story of Britain during the Blitz of 1940-41.

In May of 1940, a strategic lapse by the Germans allowed the British to evacuate 330,000 Allied soldiers from the French coast in the famous Dunkirk evacuation. An assemblage of 800 mostly-ragtag vessels were able to slip those hundreds of thousands through air and u-boat attack to safety across the Channel.

There’s an anecdote in the book that I’d never thought about before, with respect to Britain’s response as they prepared...

What if Government Paid Better?

October 14, 2020 • #

In his book Political Order and Political Decay, Francis Fukuyama has a section on corruption in political systems and how it impacts economic development:

There are many reasons why corruption impedes economic development. In the first place, it distorts economic incentives by channeling resources not into their most productive uses but rather into the pockets of officials with the political power to extract bribes. Second, corruption acts as a highly regressive tax: while petty corruption on the part of minor, poorly paid officials exists in many countries, the vast bulk of misappropriated funds...

Second and Third-Order Effects

October 6, 2020 • #

From Mark Levinson’s The Box, on the shipping container and its impact on global trade:

The true importance of the revolution in freight transportation would be found not in its effect on ship lines and dockworkers, but later, as the impact of containerization resonated among the hundreds of thousands of factories and wholesalers and commodity traders and government agencies with goods to ship. For most shippers, except perhaps government agencies, the cost of transporting goods was decisive in determining what products they would make, where they would manufacture and sell them, and whether importing or exporting...

The Antilibrary

September 17, 2020 • #

In The Black Swan, Taleb raises the concept of the “Antilibrary,” using author Umberto Eco’s personal library of tens of thousands of books as an example. Here’s Shane Parrish on Taleb:

A good library is filled with mostly unread books. That’s the point. Our relationship with the unknown causes the very problem Taleb is famous for contextualizing: the black swan. Because we underestimate the value of what we don’t know and overvalue what we do know, we fundamentally misunderstand the likelihood of surprises.

I have no intention of physically...

Readwise and Roam Research

September 8, 2020 • #

If I tracked my time spent in software tools, I’m pretty sure over the last 8 months Roam and Readwise would be top of the list.

All of my writing, note-taking, idea logs, and (increasingly) to-dos happen now in Roam. Since getting serious with it around the beginning of the quarantine, I haven’t used any other tool for writing things down.

I discovered Readwise about a year ago and it quickly entered routine use. My backlog of meticulously-kept-but-underused Kindle highlights was immediately made valuable through Readwise’s daily reviews....

Readwise, Books, and Spaced Repetition

August 7, 2020 • #

In his piece “Why Books Don’t Work,” Andy Matuschak made a strong case that books are a poor medium for knowledge transfer. Even with the most advanced book experiences today (like digital ebook downloads to a Kindle), if you took away the digital e-ink screen, a reader from the 16th century would still recognize books as no different than what they had. We’ve added digital on-demand access, dictionary lookups, and the ability to have a library in your pocket1, but the fundamental model for conveying...

On Legibility

July 31, 2020 • #

I think I probably read three different pieces this week alone that reference James Scott’s Seeing Like a State. It presents an argument about the desire for “legibility” that overthrows and reorders bottom-up, emergent systems that develop naturally.

In this piece, Venkatesh Rao dives into what legibility means and what happens when the pursuit of order and “governability” ignores locally-discovered motivations that could be at work informing why a system works the way that it does.

Boca Raton, planner's paradise Boca Raton,...

Image credits: Daily Overview

Library Notes

July 20, 2020 • #

Jumping off from my Friday post on literature notes, I’ve taken the first step here in what will hopefully become something more meaningful over time.

I just finished up filtering back through all my highlights and notes on Matt Ridley’s How Innovation Works over the weekend. Part of what this process helped me figure out is a standard model for organizing literature notes by section, so if I publish the complete notes, they’ll be browsable by part and chapter of any book I have notes for.

Book notes

All I’ve...

Literature Notes for the Library

July 17, 2020 • #

With the last several books I’ve read, I’ve been trying to force myself to work through and document literature notes for my highlights, key ideas, and takeaways from books. Using a process (that perhaps I’ll one day go through in greater detail here) in Roam, I’ll scan through all of my highlights and write up notes on the content, editing it into my own words and phrasing. One of the goals of this process is to increase retention and recall, and as Sonke Ahrens

Book Light

July 10, 2020 • #

I do most of my nighttime reading with my Kindle, but lately I’ve been reading a couple of books that don’t exist in ebook format. I actually do prefer reading paper books as an experience, but I still favor the ebooks especially for highlighting, but also for the obvious benefits of portability and availability.

Most of the clip-on book lights out there are clunky and annoying. Years ago I had something called a LightWedge that was pretty clever, but too expensive, fragile, and heavy for regular use.

I went out looking for a simple,...

Audiobooks and Engagement

June 16, 2020 • #

Recently Nat Eliason started a thread on the subject of audiobooks, and how much lower comprehension and retention is when listening versus reading:

I know where he’s coming from here. I probably consume half my books in audio form, and on certain dimensions here I would agree. My general pattern is very selective in what I’ll choose to listen to instead of read...

Current Reads

April 29, 2020 • #

I recently added to my Library section to include the books I’m currently reading. At the top of the page now I’ll be including books in the rotation. You’ll notice that I’m always reading multiple things at once. Usually the batch is either a) modal: I’ve got something on Audible, a paper book, maybe a couple e-books, or b) type: nonfiction, fiction, etc.

Currently in progress:

Hardy Boys and Microkids

March 17, 2020 • #

Physicians hang diplomas in their waiting rooms. Some fishermen mount their biggest catch. Downstairs in Westborough, it was pictures of computers.

Over the course of a few decades dating beginning in the mid-40s, computing moved from room-sized mainframes with teletype interfaces to connected panes of glass in our pockets. At breakneck speed, we went from the computer being a massively expensive, extremely specialized tool to a ubiquitous part of daily life.

Data General Massachusetts Office

During the 1950s — the days of Claude Shannon, John von Neumann, and MIT’s Lincoln Lab — a “computer”...

Image credits: Wikipedia, RCS/RI

Library 2.0

March 6, 2020 • #

Since I began tracking my reading habits a year and a half ago, I’ve been able to keep up with it regularly. It lives in a Google Sheet and allows me to log dates I started and finished books, attributes about them, ratings, links, and more.

I spent some time with Airtable importing and cleaning up the data so I could have a richer version with the ability to view, edit, and add to the library from my phone. Airtable has the ability to create Views (similar to what we do with Views in Fulcrum) which are essentially...

Readwise and Instapaper

February 27, 2020 • #

Discovering Readwise a few months ago caused me to resurrect my long-dormant Instapaper account. Instapaper was my go-to “read later” service, but I also used it as a general bookmark archive. After a while I’d fallen into only using it for the latter, which then made me go back to Pinboard since the single function of bookmark tagging is its specialty. I’m still using Pinboard heavily to archive interesting things, but I’ve found a new use for Instapaper with Readwise’s integration.

Readwise’s main feature is to sync all of the highlighted passages from your...

Kindle Features and Areas for Improvement

February 12, 2020 • #

The Kindle launched in 2007, making ebooks accessible as a format not only because of a compelling device, but also a marketplace for content. Suddenly most books were available instantly for $10 a piece. No more trips to the store, expensive hardcovers and paperbacks, and importantly, no more paper taking up shelf space. As much as I love the Kindle, I have a growing list of gripes about the experience. Like with John Gruber’s recent post on the iPad, criticism comes from a place of love for the platform, and a disappointment with how...

Books and Microdata

January 27, 2020 • #

Tom posted a while back about his book review section, and adding microdata to those pages for book review-related data. The promise of these schema standards is to provide a semantic markup framework for unstructured text content, so things like recipes, movies, and products can conform to an attribute standard for (theoretically) better indexing and search.

Referencing his implementation, I went through my library templates and added schema attributes on the relevant properties I publish. I don’t know what value those’ll have, but...

Weekend Reading: Internet of Beefs, Company Culture, and Secular Cycles

January 18, 2020 • #

🥩 The Internet of Beefs

Venkatesh Rao has assembled a most compelling explanation for how the internet polarization machine works:

The semantic structure of the Internet of Beefs is shaped by high-profile beefs between charismatic celebrity knights loosely affiliated with various citadel-like strongholds peopled by opt-in armies of mooks. The vast majority of the energy of the conflict lies in interchangeable mooks facing off against each other, loosely along lines indicated by the knights they follow, in innumerable battles that play out every minute across the IoB.

Almost none of these battles matter...

Reading Metrics

January 9, 2020 • #

Since I began tracking my books in a spreadsheet in 2018, I’ve got a bunch of data I can now look at on my reading habits.

One thing I took a stab at was a “duration chart” that could show the reading patterns over time, based on when I started and finished each book.

Book reading durations

Using this stacked bar chart style, you can see which books I stalled out on and put down for long periods. Not a judgment on those books’ respective merits, more of a criticism of...

Weekend Reading: Bullets in Games, Lessons of History, and BrickLink

January 5, 2020 • #

🎮 How Do Bullets Work in Video Games?

A cool analysis of methods for rendering bullet physics in games.

🏟 Notes on “The Lessons of History”

Maksim Stepanenko’s notes on Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. I’ve got this one on the shelf, and these nuggets make me want to pick it up now to read.

While working on some Lego sets with the kids, I wanted to know if some...

Goal Summary: Books of 2019

December 30, 2019 • #

I just finished my last book I’ll complete this year, making the final tally 54.

Here’s the full list of everything I read:

The Infinity Machine

December 22, 2019 • #

This one is part book review and part reflection on some personal experience, a chance to write about some science related to a harrowing past experience.

A couple of years ago I had a run in with genetics-gone-wrong, a life-altering encounter with cancer that would’ve gone much differently if I was older or had the run-in in the wrong decade. The short version of that story (which I still plan on writing more about one day on this blog) is that I made it through the gauntlet. A stage IV diagnosis, 6 months of chemotherapy, and 2 major surgeries, and...

Kindle for Mac

December 8, 2019 • #

Periodically I want to read on my computer, particularly when sitting at my desk. Amazon publishes a web app called Cloud Reader for reading Kindle books, which emulates pretty closely what their mobile apps look and feel like.

I found out they’ve got a full desktop client also, which seems they’ve had for years but I never discovered or tried it out. It turns out to be one of the better applications for reading ebooks I’ve seen, even though Amazon clearly hasn’t cared about it in years (if they ever really did).


Weekend Reading: The Worst Year to Be Alive, Chinese Sci-Fi, and Slack Networks

December 7, 2019 • #

🌋 Why 536 Was the Worst Year To Be Alive

You may have thought the entire 14th century was pretty bad, or maybe 1918 with its flu pandemic and millions of war casualties, but how about the 6th:

A mysterious fog plunged Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Asia into darkness, day and night—for 18 months. “For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year,” wrote Byzantine...

A Third Force

December 2, 2019 • #

It’s been a while since I wrote a book review here, and a couple months since I read any fiction. A few of Graham Greene’s works have been on my shelf for years, so I decided to pick up his 1955 novel The Quiet American to give it a go.

(Note: spoilers here, if you care about that sort of thing for a 60 year old novel)

Given that this book was written in the mid-fifties by an English writer, it surprisingly and presciently foresees the quagmire of Vietnam and the naive interventionist...

Weekend Reading: Baseball Graphics, the Mind Illuminated, and the Crucial Century

October 19, 2019 • #

⚾️ How Many Outs? Baseball Graphics Compared

Some top-notch baseball geekery, with Jason Snell comparing the graphics overlays from Fox, MLB Network, and ESPN’s telecasts. I’ve thought about this, too, but have to give it to the ESPN one, with Fox right up there.

🧘🏽‍♀️ Book Review: The Mind Illuminated

Scott Alexander’s review is an excellent in-depth look at this book on meditation. I’m still making my way through it, but it’s definitely a fantastic soup-to-nuts guide so far.

🇬🇧 The Crucial Century


Book Haul, October

October 14, 2019 • #

I’m up here in Jacksonville for medical follow-ups, so I made my regular trip to Chamblin’s to do some shopping. Here are the latest pickups:

Book haul October

Weekend Reading: Terrain Mesh, Designing on a Deadline, and Bookshelves

August 17, 2019 • #

🏔 MARTINI: Real-Time RTIN Terrain Mesh

Some cool work from Vladimir Agafonkin on a library for RTIN mesh generation, with an interactive notebook to experiment with it on Observable:

An RTIN mesh consists of only right-angle triangles, which makes it less precise than Delaunay-based TIN meshes, requiring more triangles to approximate the same surface. But RTIN has two significant advantages:

  1. The algorithm generates a hierarchy of all approximations of varying precisions — after running it once, you can quickly retrieve a mesh...

Managerial Leverage

August 5, 2019 • #

Andy Grove is widely respected as an authority figure on business management. Best known for his work at Intel during the 1980s, his book High Output Management is regularly cited as one of the best in the genre of business books. After having it on my list for years and finally reading it earlier this year, I’d wholeheartedly agree. It’s the best book out there about business planning, management, and efficiency, still just as pertinent today as it was when it was first published in 1983.

Its relevance more than 30 years later attests to the...

Weekend Reading: Satellites, Antilibraries, and Libra

June 29, 2019 • #

🛰 How to Profit in Space: A Visual Guide

Fantastic visualizations from the WSJ team. Shows the history of satellite expansion divided by country, year, and orbits, both LEO and geosynchronous. A great use of maps for storytelling.

📚 The Antilibrary: Why Unread Books are the Most Important

This is a concept pulled from Taleb’s The Black Swan, which I recently enjoyed. As he notes, the antilibrary can function as a reminder of how much...

The Reading Diet

June 26, 2019 • #

Books are one purchase I don’t restrict my spending on. I’m not a big buyer of “stuff” in general, but I don’t hesitate at all about my money going to reading. I do try to be circumspect to not overwhelm myself, and to limit that spending to ones that I’m highly interested in and likely to read. I tend to think along the same lines as Shane Parrish here (and, by extension, Charlie Munger):

Books contain a vast amount of knowledge and knowing what most other people don’t know is how I...

Andy Grove on Meetings

June 21, 2019 • #

You hear the criticism all the time around the business world about meetings being useless, a waste of time, and filling up schedules unnecessarily.

A different point of view on this topic comes from Andy Grove in his book High Output Management. It’s 35 years old, but much of it is just as relevant today as back then, with timeless principles on work.

Grove is adamant that for the manager, the “meeting” is an essential piece in the managerial leverage toolkit. From page 53:

Meetings provide an occasion for...

Reaching the Early Majority

June 18, 2019 • #

Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm is part of the tech company canon. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years unread, but I’ve known the general nature of the problem it illuminates for years. We’ve even experienced some of its highlighted phenomena first hand in our own product development efforts in bringing Geodexy, allinspections, and Fulcrum to market.

Moore’s “Technology Adoption Life Cycle” is the axis of the book:

The chasm

In principle, the advice laid out rings very logical,...

Process Not Products

April 14, 2019 • #

In his new book Loonshots, author Safi Bahcall uses the concept of phase transitions to analyze how companies work. When a substance changes phase, like water going from solid to liquid, the same exact substance is forced to take on a new structural form when the surrounding environment changes.

As Bahcall points out in the book, companies exhibit a similar behavior in their inventions and strategy. He contrasts two different types of innovations that companies tend to be built to produce: “P” type innovations, where a company is great at producing new products, and “S”...

Linguistic Relativity

April 7, 2019 • #

The linguist John McWhorter has written a plethora of books on the English language. For an academic (he’s a professor at Columbia University), he has a very progressive view of English’s evolution, a supporter of the vernacular and everyday grammar with all its quickly-developing trendy figures of speech over the conservative, traditionalist approaches of Strunk and White. Many linguists of tend toward preservation, pushing standardization of grammar and even teaching “proper” usage that no modern speaker would say out loud. But McWhorter has a different perspective and supports change in usage with...

A Neural Chernobyl

March 11, 2019 • #

The short story is the perfect format for science fiction. A genre that’s keen on high concepts that can be very interesting often finds itself overreaching when certain concepts can’t sustain themselves through a 400 page full-length novel.

Bruce Sterling, one of my personal favorite authors, thinkers, and self-described “futurist” is one of the best in the business with the format. Globalhead is one of these collections from the early 90s, an eclectic mix of stories of varied genres — speculative fiction, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, crime thriller, Victorian steampunk — I begin to wonder if there’s a subject Sterling hasn’t...

The Origin and Transmutation of Species

February 10, 2019 • #

Since The Origin of Species, Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been the foundation of our thinking about the evolution of life. Along the way there have been challengers to the broadness of that theory, and David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree brings together three core “modern” concepts that are beginning to take hold, providing a deeper understanding how lifeforms evolve.

The book mostly follows the research of the late Carl Woese, a microbiologist who spent his career studying microorganisms, looking for connections between creatures in the micro and macro. Beginning with Darwin’s tree...

Spirituality Without Religion

January 31, 2019 • #

As I’ve been trying to bootstrap into a meditation practice, most of my learnings have been from various podcast episode discussions and a couple of books on the topic. My approach thus far hasn’t been to try and dig in way deep, but largely to kickstart a regular routine to form a healthy habit.

Since I already listen to Sam Harris’s podcast, I’d heard good things about his book Waking Up as a nice primer on meditation from a secular perspective — a neuroscientist’s view on the subject as a true contributor to...

A Vast Wilderness

January 27, 2019 • #

I picked up John McPhee’s Coming Into the Country this week. You could think of it like a biography of Alaska: the region pre- and post-statehood, its people, the wilderness, wildlife, and its vastness.

Woven throughout are reminders of just how massive the untouched wilderness is in Alaska, and how far you really are from civilization out in the flatlands or up in the Brooks Range.

Early in the book he and his companions are traveling up the Salmon River, in the Kobuk Valley National Park (still not designated in 1977 at the time of...

Self Reliance and Introspection

January 16, 2019 • #

The nearly 2000 year old Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is likely the first ever entry in the “self help” publishing genre. During his last days as Roman Emperor, reigning from 161-180 AD, he wrote the 12 “books” that comprise the Meditations. It’s a personal journal he wrote to himself, never intended for publication, with thoughts, ruminations, reminders, and short stories from his life, all with the objective of serving his future self as a reminder of how to live and act.

There’s not much of a thematic arc from book to book — each numbered paragraph entry largely...

Books of 2018, Part 2

December 30, 2018 • #

My wrap up of books of 2018, continued from part 1.

The Order of Time & Reality is Not What it Seems, Carlo Rovelli

I don’t remember where I ran across Rovelli first; it may have been a YouTube video of one of his lectures that I found intriguing. Both of them I found supremely enjoyable — popular physics done succinctly, vividly, and in a lyrical style that’s completely unique. The Order of Time is about human perception and asks the...

Books of 2018, Part 1

December 28, 2018 • #

This year was a productive one for reading. Even with all going on in life, I still managed to get through 43 books in 2018. Reading by quantity isn’t the measure of success, of course. I want my selection guided by interest, important, and impact, not sheer numbers. When I scroll back through the timeline, I can see my interests shifting around — from nonfiction to fiction and back, moving between politics, economics, and science.

Rather than run through an exhaustive review of everything I read this year, I’ll give the highlights of my...

Image credits: Reddit, YouTube

A Globe of Connections

December 19, 2018 • #

Borders in today’s world are remarkably static, ever-present lines we all get used to separating territories as if there are hard barriers to interaction between the multicolored countries of your average political map of the world. Centuries of perpetual war, invasions, treaties, intermarrying monarchs, imperialism, and revolutions redrew the global map with regularity, but today we don’t see this level of volatility. When a new country is formed, a disputed territory shifts, or a country is renamed, it makes global headlines. It’s only every few years that you see territorial shifts.

This level of...

Kindle Highlights

December 14, 2018 • #

I started making this tool a long time back to extract highlighted excerpts from Kindle books. This predated the cool support for this that Goodreads has now, but I still would like to spend some time getting back to this little side project.

Eric Farkas has another tool that looks like it does this, as well, so that’s worth checking out as a possible replacement. What I really want is my own private archive of the data, not really my own custom extraction tool. The gem I was using for mine might’ve been the same one,...

Progress Report: The Federalist Papers

December 4, 2018 • #

I’m making my way through The Federalist, which has been on my reading list forever, and for which I had my interest rekindled last year reading Alexander Hamilton.

For those that don’t know, it’s a collection of essays written by the trio of Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay to convince the populace of the need to ratify the then-draft US Constitution.

Up to Federalist No. 25, the focus is on a) the utility and importance of the “union of states” as a concept worth pursuing and cementing and b) the insufficiency of the Articles of...

Quanta, Relativity, and the Nature of Reality

December 2, 2018 • #

It’s quite a daunting task to explain anything in theoretical physics in 250 pages, but this is just what I like about Carlo Rovelli’s books. Earlier this year I read The Order of Time, and like that book, Reality is Not What it Seems gets right to the point. No time is wasted or point too embellished.

This time around Rovelli tackles his specialty: quantum gravity. While it is a work of popular science, he does an admirable job of explaining wildly complex theories — made all the more difficult because a...

An In Depth History of Maps

November 28, 2018 • #

This is the first book review post since I put up my library section. I hope to do more of this in the future with each new book I add to the collection. Enjoy.

The Story of Maps took me a while to get through, but it’s the most comprehensive history I’ve seen on the history of geography and cartography.

Of particular note was the history of the figures in antiquity, their discoveries, and the techniques they used to advance the science of mapmaking. From Strabo, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy to Ortelius, Mercator, and Huygens, Brown is extremely...

The Library

November 26, 2018 • #

I just merged in a new project I worked on over the holiday to add a library section to this site. You’ll see it under “Books” from the top navigation menu.

Based around the library database I’ve been adding to over the last few months, I built a way to convert the record data for each book into content pages for the website. It uses Jekyll’s Collections functionality for building custom content types to use. Once you have the basic templating set up, creating new content records is as easy as making...

Nonfiction Reading Patterns

November 18, 2018 • #

My nonfiction interests have evolved quite a bit. When I browse what’s new, recent, or recommended I find most of it uninteresting. I now find myself picking up books I wouldn’t have attempted several years back; I’d have been too intimidated by their length or complexity.

But now I’m comfortable with those and interested to visit “first principles” on whatever the topic is. Rather than reading current takes on economics, I’d prefer to pick up Adam Smith, Hayek, or Keynes. Instead of modern political writing, I’ll go for Locke, Hamilton, or Burke.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy contemporary...

Additions to the Library

November 11, 2018 • #

As always during trips to Jacksonville, I made a visit to Chamblin Bookmine, my favorite bookstore. I never have enough time to browse, this time had about an hour before I had to be somewhere. So I had to act fast and hit all the sections looking for my target buys.

The Library Database

October 29, 2018 • #

I’ve been an avid user of Goodreads for tracking books for the last ten years. Tom MacWright wrote a post and a script utility last year to export and format items from Goodreads into pages that could work in a Jekyll site, like his and this one. On my profile I track more than just what I’m reading; I also log start and finish dates, ratings, reviews, and more. Getting a feed somewhere on the website would certainly be cool (I have a branch now with this in progress). On my way to...

2018 Reading List

October 16, 2018 • #

I’m on pace this year to read 40 books this year. Here’s a quick snapshot of the list so far, in rough order from beginning to end of year. I’m looking forward to writing up a week’s worth of posts this year on my favorites by genre.

Books of 2017

December 28, 2017 • #

I didn’t realize how many things I’d read this year. Looking back at the list, I enjoyed all of them. Here’s a snapshot of my favorites from 2017.

Books of 2017

Political Order and Political Decay — Francis Fukuyama. 2014.

This is Fukuyama’s second volume in his treatise on political systems. Last year I read the excellent first part, Origins of Political Order, which chronicles the first forms of human organized societies and tracks the evolution through to the French Revolution. This part picks up where that left off up to modern governments....

Spacers and Earthmen

September 18, 2017 • #

This is part three of a series on Isaac Asimov’s Greater Foundation story collection. This post is about the first installment of the Robot trilogy, The Caves of Steel.

We’re still early in the timeline of Asimov’s epic saga. The short stories in I, Robot set the stage for dozens of future novels that take place in the same universe and along the same timeline. The far-future stories of the famous Foundation series have threads leading all the way back to the “3 Laws” and the Robot series, which starts off the action on...


April 4, 2017 • #

A couple years ago I bought a Kindle Paperwhite, after moving almost exclusively to ebooks when the Kindle iPhone app launched with the App Store. I read constantly, and always digital books, so I thought I’d write up some thoughts on the Kindle versus its app-based counterparts like the Kindle apps, iBooks, and Google Books, all of which I’ve read a significant amount with. For I long time I resisted the Kindle hardware because I wasn’t interested in a reflective-only reading surface. The Paperwhite’s backlit screen and low cost made it easy for me to justify buying....

Bits & Genes

March 14, 2017 • #

As I started The Gene, I was assuming it’d be framed as a history of genetics. There’s a significant amount of history on the discoveries made the last few centuries as scientists gained an understanding of how hereditary traits are encoded and transmitted. But my favorite parts of the narrative are when Mukherjee seeks to look at the gene as the fundamental building block, making comparisons to bits and atoms.

It reminded me of another book I’d like to revisit: James Gleick’s The Information. That book is to bits what The Gene was to genetics. Claude Shannon’s

Form Defining Function

February 16, 2017 • #

I’m currently reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene, a history of the building block of living things. A great read, the right mix of history and discussion of future possibilities like gene manipulation, splicing, and cloning (good or bad).

This bit struck me about the construction of anything, not just living organisms. It’s not the parts, but the relationship between parts that gives a structure its function:

A boat is not made of planks, it’s the relationship between planks. If you hammer a hundred strips on top of each other you get a wall, side to side you get...

Books of 2016

January 18, 2017 • #

I haven’t done a book roundup in a couple of years. This year was more fiction than non-fiction, and my near-term list will probably continue that trend.

2016 books

Annals of the Former World, John McPhee. 1998.

Top of the list for sure was this epic work from John McPhee. I wrote about this one in detail earlier this year. It’s a natural history of North America, told in 4 parts as McPhee travels with renowned geologists across the continent along I-80. Each part features a distinct aspect of geology — the...

Annals of the Former World

March 15, 2016 • #


I majored in geography in college and always liked earth sciences. I dabbled a bit with classes that were related, but not core to geography study — your basic geology courses and a class in geodesy. One of the classes I took called “Geology of the National Parks” had an applied approach to explaining the foundations of geology. Something about hopping from Katmai to Yosemite to the Everglades made me see geology as more than rocks and minerals. I loved the massive scope and scale of the Earth’s 4.5 billion years. Normally anything...

The Craft of Baseball

July 17, 2015 • #

I’m a baseball fan from way back, and grew up as a Braves fan during the early years of their 1990s NL East dominance. As much as I always enjoyed following the sport as a casual fan, I’d never studied the game much, nor its history beyond the bits that are conventional knowledge to anyone with an interest in the sport (the seminal records, player achievements, and legends of the game). I’ve been on a kick lately of reading about sports I enjoy—baseball and soccer—and have picked up a few books on the subjects to find out what I’ve been...

The Three Laws of Robotics

March 7, 2014 • #

This is part two of a series on Isaac Asimov’s Greater Foundation story collection. This part is about the short story collection, I, Robot.

Picking up with the next entry in the Asimov read-through, I read a book I last picked up in college, I, Robot. This is the book that cemented his reputation in science fiction. His works on robots are probably his most well-known. He was an early thinker in the space (he even coined the term “robotics”), and wrote extensively on the subject of artificial intelligence. After reading this again, it’s incredible how much...

The Year in Books

December 21, 2013 • #

2013 was busy in so many ways. Our product matured beyond the level I’d hoped it could, we’ve done some incredible mapping work around the world, and I’m just getting started with my involvement in an awesome local hackerspace scene. Even with all that going on, I still managed to read a fair number of great books this year.

2013 in books

A few thoughts on some of the favorites:

Neuromancer, William Gibson. 1984.

I first read this one back in 2010, but after recently finishing up the Sprawl series...

Upwhen and Downwhen

October 30, 2013 • #

This is part one of a series of essays on Isaac Asimov’s famous Greater Foundation story collection. In this first one I discuss the time travel mystery The End of Eternity.

The prolific science fiction writer Isaac Asimov published an astonishing body of work in his life. Though he’s probably most well-known for his stories, collections, and postulations about robots (and, therefore, artificial intelligence), he wrote a baffling amount speculating on much bigger ideas like politics, religion, and philosophy. The Robot series is one angle on a bigger picture....


July 9, 2012 • #

I recently finished reading Spycraft, Robert Wallace and Keith Melton’s chronicle of the CIA’s spy tech divisions, specifically OTS (Office of Technical Services), the division responsible for creating technical espionage gear. Things like eavesdropping devices, dead drop containers, secret writing, disguises, and document forgery.

Acoustic kitty

The story of OTS is fascinating and full of all sorts of straight-out-of-the-movies espionage games and tactics. The book is chock full of anecdotes of crazy operations from the group’s inception with OSS during World War II, through the years of the Cold War. For evidence, look no...

Counterinsurgency, a brief history

June 19, 2012 • #

I’ve been reading a lot lately about sociocultural geography — about how people interact with their environments and with one another across space and time. This topic is more relevant than ever with today’s borderless conflicts, asymmetric warfare, and technology behind the scenes leveling the playing field for groups at all levels. On a journey across the internet reading and watching various things about human geography, I stumbled upon this fantastic piece by Adam Curtis on his BBC blog.

It tells the story and background of counterinsurgency doctrine from its inception in revolutionary communist China and Indochina to...

Books of 2011

December 27, 2011 • #

A list of books I read in 2011:

You can see more of what I’m reading and what’s on my reading list, too.