Tour of the Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been transmitting data since 2009. NASA used it to make this 4K tour of the moon:

— April 15, 2018

The telephone and the skyscraper

The development of the skyscraper had as much to do with the invention of the telephone as steel framing and elevator:

It may sound ridiculous to say that Bell and his successors were the fathers of modern commercial architecture—of the skyscraper. But wait a minute. Take the Singer Building, the Flatiron Building, the Broad Exchange, the Trinity, or any of the giant office buildings. How many messages do you suppose go in and out of those buildings every day? Suppose there was no telephone and every message had to carried by a personal messenger? How much room do you think the necessary elevators would leave for offices? Such structures would be an economic impossibility.

John J. Carty, 1908 (quoted in The Information by James Gleick

— April 10, 2018

My favorite books of 2017

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The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pépin

Jacques Pépin retired in 2016, and I learned about him after the fact from an article in Slate. Watching him work is mesmerizing, so I checked out some of his cookbooks and his masterpiece, Technique. I also stumbled across his autobiography in the library. By itself, The Apprentice might not rate a pick as one of the best books I read last year, but it stands in for Pépin's body of work. What I like most Pépin is how unpretentious he is. He is one of the last generation to rise up through the apprentice system in France. He came to America at the right time an place to be introduced to James Beard and Julia Child. After a terrible car crash, he refocused on teaching. His story is inspiring, and the book includes some great recipes, too.

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Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Russell Hochschild

Hochschild is a sociologist at UC Berkeley who spent five years studying the Tea Party in Louisiana through the lens of environmentalism. Louisianans of all political affiliations cherish outdoor activities and sports, but the state is one of the most polluted in the country. In her time there, she became friends with many conservatives and tried to understand their sense of fatalism about the inevitability of environmental destruction. She was at the right place at the right time to catch the start of Donald Trump's rise. She explains the appeal of conservative resentment through what she calls a "Deep Story": people who have been patiently waiting in line for their chance at the American Dream are being pushed back by line cutters -- minorities, immigrants, women -- led by the Line Cutter in Chief, Barack Obama. This Deep Story makes sense to me, though I found her attempt to express the liberal Deep Story less compelling.

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Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner

This is a book about how the CIA has over-promised and under-delivered, going to great lengths to hide their screwups from the American people. Even their so-called successes have had wide-ranging negative side effects. Again and again, presidents have called on the CIA to solve foreign problems quietly, and the CIA has messed up. Reading this book was eye-opening, because in the countries where the CIA operates, its interference is common knowledge, but at home, people are generally ignorant.

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You & a Bike & a Road, Eleanor Davis

Cartoonist Eleanor Davis's journal of her cross-country bike tour. Sparse and beautiful, this book captures the small moments of riding and the people she met along the way.

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Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems, Martin Kleppmann

I don't read a lot of tech books any more. However, I made an exception for this book after watching a few of Kleppmann's conference talks. I wish I could have read it early in my career. It would have saved me a lot of pain. Kleppmann surveys the entire field of data storage and distributed systems including data models and query languages, data storage, serialization, transactions, partitioning, consensus, and batch and stream processing. If you work on anything related to data storage, this is a must-read.

My full list of books from 2017 is below. You can also review lists from previous years: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 (retroactive favorites), 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, Jacques Pépin

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Unfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis

The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Corey Robin

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Russell Hochschild

The Corporation Wars: Dissidence, Ken MacLeod

The Corporation Wars: Insurgence, Ken MacLeod

Rhinoceros, Eugene Ionesco

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner

Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff

My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, Al Franken

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of 6'4", African American, Hetrosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, W. Kamau Bell

You & a Bike & a Road, Eleanor Davis

The Cold Between, Elizabeth Bonesteel

Empire Games, Charles Stross

Protector, Larry Niven

The Kill Artist, Daniel Silva

Soonish: Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything, Zach Weinersmith and Kelly Weinersmith

Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When they Lose Elections), Stephen Prothero

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

On Stranger Tides, Tim Powers

Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems, Martin Kleppmann

— March 10, 2018

Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read

[Faria] Sana says that often when we read, there’s a false “feeling of fluency.” The information is flowing in, we’re understanding it, it seems like it is smoothly collating itself into a binder to be slotted onto the shelves of our brains. “But it actually doesn’t stick unless you put effort into it and concentrate and engage in certain strategies that will help you remember.”

I've recorded all the books I've read for over ten years. Looking back on the lists reminds me how little I remember of most of them.

— March 2, 2018

This Code Sucks: A Story About Non-violent Communication

Nadia Odunayo speaks at Brighton Ruby Conference about Non-violent communication. This was interesting, I picked up a copy of the book to learn more.

— February 19, 2018

Nibble Nibble

Last year I read Memorize that poem! in the New York Times. I have never been into poetry much, but it seemed like an interesting idea.

Since ancient times, humans have memorized and recited poetry. Before the invention of writing, the only way to possess a poem was to memorize it. Long after scrolls and folios supplemented our brains, court poets, priests and wandering bards recited poetry in order to entertain and connect with the divine. For individuals, a poem learned by heart could be a lifeline — to grapple with overwhelming emotion or preserve sanity amid the brutalities of prison and warfare.

Yet poetry memorization has become deeply unfashionable, an outmoded practice that many teachers and parents — not to mention students — consider too boring, mindless and just plain difficult for the modern classroom. Besides, who needs to memorize when our smartphones can instantly call up nearly any published poem in the universe?

In fact, the value of learning literature by heart — particularly poetry — has only grown. All of us struggle with shrinking attention spans and a public sphere that is becoming a literary wasteland, bereft of sophisticated language or expressions of empathy beyond one’s own Facebook bubble.

Around the same time, we had checked out some children's poetry for our daughter, so I decided to memorize "Nibble Nibble" by Margaret Wise Brown:

Nibble Nibble Nibble
Goes the mouse in my heart
Nibble Nibble Nibble
Goes the mouse in my heart
Nibble Nibble Nibble
Goes the mouse in my heart
And the mouse in my heart is
You.

Lippity Lippity Clip
Goes the rabbit in my heart
Lippity Lippity Clip
Goes the rabbit in my heart
Lippity Lippity Clip
Goes the rabbit in my heart
And the rabbit in my heart is
You.

Flippity Flippity Flop
Goes the fish in my heart
Flippity Flippity Flop
Goes the fish in my heart
Flippity Flippity Flop
Goes the fish in my heart
And the fish in my heart is
You.

Biff Bang Bang
Goes the hammer in my heart
Biff Bang Bang
Goes the hammer in my heart
Biff Bang Bang
Goes the hammer in my heart
And the hammer in my heart is
You.

Drum Drum Drum
Goes the drum in my heart
Drum Drum Drum
Goes the drum in my heart
Drum Drum Drum
Goes the drum in my heart
And the drum in my heart is
You.

Softly now beats the beat of my heart
Softly now beats the beat of my heart
Softly now beats the beat of my heart
All for the love of you.

Since then, the poem has been part of our bedtime routine. Caroline Kennedy wrote in Poems to Know by Heart, "If we learn poems by heart, we will always have their wisdom to draw on, and we gain an understanding that no one can take away." It's not The Odyssey, but I feel that way about memorizing "Nibble Nibble". It's something special that my daughter and I share, and will always be a part of me.

— January 30, 2018

The Long Way Round

Sometimes when you read some history, you think "someone needs to make a movie out of this". Long Way Round is the story of the last Pan Am Clipper out of California bound for New Zealand before the outbreak of war in the Pacific. Narrowly missing the attack on Pearl Harbor, the crew is flying the last leg to Auckland when they receive word that the US and Japan are at war.

Their route home is cut off, and they are ordered to proceed back to New York...the long way. Amazingly, without a mapped route, without access to the high octane aviation fuel their engines need, a lot of close calls, and over 31,000 miles, they made it to New York.

— January 25, 2018

Meltdown in a nutshell

Charles Nutter provides a concise and easy-to-understand explanation of how the Meltdown attack works.

— January 25, 2018

FML: Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression

This is what it feels like to be young now. Not only are we screwed, but we have to listen to lectures about our laziness and our participation trophies from the people who screwed us.

How screwed are the Millennials? It's dire.

— December 15, 2017

Wooden iPhone

wooden iPhone

This is an interesting toy. We found it at a playground, so I don't know if it's mass produced or a one-off. Either way, it's clearly a screen shot of an iPhone 6s or 7, rendered in wood (I think with a laser). The detail is impressive. You can see the network mobile network (Verizon), day (January 29) and time (10:20 AM), Bluetooth connection, and battery level (99%). There's also a third party app installed (YouTube) so it was not a stock screenshot. The body of the phone is also nicely done. It's perfectly sized and the microphone, speakers, home button, and camera are outlined.

— November 26, 2017