Jan 6, 2013
I read a considerably larger number of books in 2012 than in 2011, largely because I started rereading the Wheel of Time series, which I can read quickly, and which has a very high page count.
My audiobook consumption dropped quite dramatically once I moved out to California. I haven’t found a good way yet to incorporate them into my schedule.
- Total # of books: 33
- Total length of books: 16,632 pages
- Total # of audiobooks: 7
- Total length of audiobooks: 3 days, 7:18:00
||Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier
||Edward L. Glaeser
||The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better
||The Gated City
||Ready Player One
||Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It
||The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)
||The Great Hunt (Wheel of Time, #2)
||The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and the Environment. Chris Martenson
||Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic
||John De Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor, Thomas H Naylor, David Horsey, Vicki Robin
||The Dragon Reborn (Wheel of Time, #3)
||An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times
||Charles Hugh Smith
||The Shadow Rising (Wheel of Time, #4)
||The Fires of Heaven (Wheel of Time, #5)
||Tobias S. Buckell
||Look to Windward (Culture, #7)
||Iain M. Banks
||The Mongoliad, Book One
||Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, E.D. deBirmingham, Cooper Moo, Mark Teppo
||Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet
||Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing
||Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time, #6)
||The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption
||Clay A. Johnson
||A Crown of Swords (Wheel of Time, #7)
||Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us
||The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture, #10)
||Iain M. Banks
||The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food
||The New Geography of Jobs
||Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
||Four Hour Chef
||The Path of Daggers (Wheel of Time, #8)
||City of Dark Magic
||Winter’s Heart (Wheel of Time, #9)
||Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time, #10)
||The Red Pyramid
||The Throne of Fire
||Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
||An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies
||The Serpent’s Shadow
||The Son of Neptune
||The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (in Real Life)
Dec 31, 2012
I’ve combined my year end list of travel destinations (previously: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). Last winter, I travelled to the Bay Area several times for interviews. I stayed in a few different towns (Sunnyvale, San Jose), but for simplicity I only included San Francisco. I also drove across the country again, which explains the stops in Laramie, Salt Lake City, and Reno. In June I returned to Northfield for Reunion, and I visited Chicago with Divya in October. My only international travel was to Istanbul for VLDB, which was awesome. Istanbul reminded me somewhat of Budapest with more Arab/Islamic influence, and it’s definitely a place I would like to return.
- Omaha, NE*
- Ithaca, NY*
- San Francisco, CA*
- Mountain View, CA*
- Laramie, WY
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Reno, NV
- Northfield, MN
- Salem, OR
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Chicago, IL
View Places 2012 in a larger map
Apr 15, 2012
March started out slow, but I read quite a bit at the end.
John De Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor, Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic
I was quite disappointed with this one. I’ve been interested in issues of conscious consumption vs. materialism for a while now, but this was more of a screed than a reasoned discussion. It had strange religious overtones, and was generally so one-sided as to be off-putting. Technology, in particular, is portrayed as “soulless” (whatever that means) and antithetical to a balanced life. It also made me wonder about how various kinds of activism have changed over time. The book was originally published in 2001, but somehow it feels much older to me — more akin to the environmentalism of the 60s and 70s that relied on emotional appeals for things like air and water quality, rather than the more efficiency oriented activism that has become common in light of global warming (think Thoreau vs. Al Gore). Obviously both kinds of activism are important, but I personally find the more quantitive approach much more compelling.
Robert Jordan, The Dragon Reborn
After a long slog through a non-fiction book I didn’t really enjoy, I plowed through this one in three days. I don’t have too much to say other than that I enjoyed it. It focusses a lot more on Perrin and Matt (and the Aes Sedai) than Rand, but the bit with Callandor at the end ranks (in my memory at least) as one of the most iconic scenes in the series.
Charles Hugh Smith, An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times
This was another impulse purchase on the Kindle that was better in theory than practice. The question that drove me to read it is one I still think makes sense: There is some evidence that climate change and resource scarcity will have a substantive impact on the world within our lifetimes. Given this, how should we personally prepare and invest for an uncertain future? Unfortunately, the only people writing about this seem to be pretty radical libertarians. I knew nothing about this author going in, but his continued references to the “nanny state” made it pretty clear that we had some fairly dramatic ideological differences. Even though I have serious concerns about his politics, he does make some reasonable points. He focuses not only on investing in the traditional sense, but also on developing skills and social capital, which can be as important as money for surviving hard times. Smith’s vision of the future of employment is also very similar to the gig economy described by Sarah Horowitz in the The Atlantic, which lends it a bit more credibility in my book. In terms of more traditional investments, he advocates investing locally, which may be reasonable, but I would recommend the book Locavesting for a better resource on the topic. The author is also a fan of gold, and while I don’t have strong feelings either way about gold as an investment vehicle, he lost soem credibility with me when he revealed that his primary concern was not gold losing value, but rathe the government seizing it.
21 Jump Street
This falls into the “stupid comedy” genre. It’s not something I would normally go to see, but Divya was out of town, I wanted to see a movie, and this had the highest rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time. It was actually pretty funny, and the two main characters had good chemistry.
The Hunger Games
I saw this with Divya and we both thought that they did a great job adapting the book. They cut out a fair amount, particularly of the events in District 12 before the Games, but this is inevitable with a book-to-movie conversions and I don’t think they cut out anything too major. My major complaint is actually with the shaky camerawork, particularly during the Reaping scene. I very rarely notice the cinematography in movies, but I found this quite distracting.
Game of Thrones, Season 1
After being mocked mercilessly for my television choices last month, I’m happy to report that in March I watched the critically acclaimed first season of Game of Thrones. I read the first three books of the series the summer after sophmore year of college (so ~7 years ago, yikes), so while I have a high-level idea about how the series go, I don’t remember too many of the details. Like the books, the show is quite dark, and it took a few episodes for me to get into it. That said, once I got hooked, I finished the rest of the series in short order. I agree with pretty much everyone that Peter Dinklage’s portrayal of Tyrion is the highlight of the show. Since this is an HBO show, it will be a year before I can watch the second season, but I am certainly looking forward to it.
Chuck, Season 3
Divya and I finally finished watching the third season of Chuck. The beginning was a bit campy, but I thought the season got progressively better. They made some major plot changes at the end of the season, and it will be interesting to see what happens in season 4 now that all of the main characters know Chuck’s secret.
Of Monsters and Men, My Head is an Animal
I’m not very good at reviewing music, so I’ll just say that I particularly enjoyed this album, which I first heard on [the Current][http://thecurrent.org/]. It kind of reminds me of Mumford & Sons, but is perhaps a bit more upbeat.
Jonathan Alter, Meet the New Boss, The Atlantic, Apr. 2012.
Nice Profile of Rahm Emanuel as mayor of Chicago. Alter has a history with Emanuel, and the piece is largely favorable, but it touches on some of the complexities of governance in Chicago related to its long history of machine politics.
Mark Bowden, The Man Who Broke Atlantic City, The Atlantic, Apr. 2012.
I should really just subscribe to the Atlantic, as I’ve enjoyed almost every article I’ve read. This one profiles Don Johnson, a gambler who won millions in blackjack from Atlantic City casinos. His trick seems to have been social engineering — he took advantage of the casinos’ desperation for high rollers by convincing them to give him concessions that tilted the odds in his favor. I had no idea that casinos would actually change the rules of the game for high-rollers, but clearly it wasn’t a good idea. I found this gripping throughout.
James Bamford, The NSA Is Building the Country s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say), Wired, Apr. 2012.
This article reports on alleged NSA data-center in Utah that will eventually be used to mine a considerable fraction of domestic internet communications. I don’t really know how much to believe the details in an article like this, but it does cite (and name) a former NSA employee, which I suppose gives it some credibility. In any case, it’s fascinating stuff, though I wish it appeared in a James Bond novel rather than a non-fiction article.
Mar 18, 2012
Now that March is more than halfway over, I suppose I should get around to
reporting on my February media consumption. I made several long trips in
February, which greatly increased my reading for the month. It also made me
very glad to have a Kindle, as several of the books I read were large fantasy
tomes that would have been otherwise inconvenient to lug across the country.
Neal Stephenson, Reamde
Stephenson is one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to his new releases with great anticipation. Reamde is something of a departure from his previous work, in that it takes the form of a present day thriller and doesn’t introduce any substantially new technologies other than a particularly sophisticated MMO. Many people found this disappointing (Tyler Cowen called it “devoid of interest”), but I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel as a slightly nerdy action-packed page-turner.
Stephenson is very good at writing characters that, for lack of a better term, are extremely competent. In Reamde, the characters, good and bad, collectively manage to track down a terrorist on the other side of the world, hack a major virtual currency, commandeer a rogue fishing vessel, steal and fly a plane into the Canadian wilderness, and perform numerous other feats of strength, endurance, and mental agility. This could easily seem ridiculous, but for whatever reason I find Stephenson’s characterizations compelling enough that they seem aspirational rather than annoying. You can almost believe that a slacker drug runner could invent a brilliant MMO, or than an obese writer could lose weight and make millions by working while walking on DIY omnidirectional treadmill, and somehow it makes you want to be more creative and ambitious in your own life. Or at least it does for me.
Robert Jordan, The Eye of the World
I’m not sure how wise it was to start rereading a 14 volume, 4 million word series, but the final volume is coming out this year (written by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s untimely death), so I suppose it’s as good a time as any. I was also somewhat inspired by the Wheel of Time reread at Tor.com, which includes lots of description about the entire series.
I was pleased with how well this book held up. Last year I reread the first Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, which is another fantasy series I enjoyed as a kid. While I still had fun with that, I was struck by how bad the writing was, which I guess means that my tastes have improved somewhat since middle school. I had no such problems with the Eye of the World, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series.
I was reminded how similar this first book is to the Lord of the Rings. From the Ent-like Ogier to black riders who dislike water, Jordan clearly borrowed some of his ideas from Tolkien, but I’m inclined not to be too critical since he has another 10,000 pages to differentiate himself.
Robert Jordan, The Great Hunt
I reread this on my second cross-country flight this month, and I enjoyed it just as much as TEotW. Jordan hasn’t yet succumbed to the overwhelming number of subplots that characterize the his later books, but the series starts to move beyond the Tolkien-esque confines of the first book. I’m looking forward to book 3.
Chris Martenson, The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our
Economy, Energy, and the Environment
In some ways this is a standard “we’re all doomed” book about the environment, but I thought it did a better than average job of linking the environment with the economy and discussing some of the economic challenges we will face due to resource scarcity. I appreciated that Martenson took the time to go over the math of exponential growth and work through things like the impact of inflation in some detail.
I was less impressed with the solutions section of the book. Martenson’s suggestions — buy gold, move to a semi-rural community, etc. — sound a bit survivalist, and his self-promotion heavy website doesn’t help. This may just speak to the magnitude of the problem. There are many clear presentations of the challenges we face, but relatively few simple solutions that can be realistically implemented.
The Vampire Diaries, Season 1-2
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit to this, but I found The Vampire Diaries to be extremely addictive. The easiest way to describe is really True Blood lite. Even though it is based on a different series of books, the similarities are striking. Both series feature young female protagonists in small southern towns that become involved in love triangles with two vampires, one of whom is brooding and reformed. They both have an African American “best friend” who gets involved in all sorts of supernatural drama. They both introduce werewolves and include at least one sympathetic werewolf struggling with his identity. They both feature a slightly irresponsible brother who is initially unaware of all of the supernatural happenings. And so on. In other words, you should not watch this for originality.
Nevertheless, the characters have good chemistry and the plot moves fast, and while I don’t expect The Vampire Diaries to win many awards, it is enormously fun to watch.
David Foster Wallace, The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and The Shrub, Rolling Stone, Apr. 2000
This is a long, brilliant, and exhausting account of the 2000 Republican primary by the late novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace (DFW). As a political outsider, DFW travelled with the McCain campaign and reported on the exhausting and bizarre world of the campaign trail during the period in which McCain was making waves as the “maverick candidate”. DFW is hardly a traditional journalist, and this is hardly a traditional profile. It’s full of fun quirks — George W. Bush is referred to as “the Shrub” throughout, for instance — but it also provides an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the strategy and process of running a campaign. It is also a profound meditation on politics as advertisement and the challenge of determining when candidates are being honest and when they are being strategic. Finally it is a surprisingly human portrayal of McCain, who the otherwise progressive DFW seems to develop a healthy respect for. Highly recommended.
Adam Gopnik, The Caging of America, The New Yorker, Jan. 2012
The U.S. puts a larger fraction of its population in prison than any other country and this is a travesty just about any way you look at it. Gopnik surveys the problem and makes some interesting connections to the surprising drop in urban crime since the 80s.
Matt Chaban, Terminal Condition: How New York’s Airports Crashed and
Burned Can They Soar Again?, New York Observer, Jan. 2012
New York is one of the most important cities in the world, but its airports are old, crowded, and inefficient. Much of this is due to the dramatic increase in air travel since they were built, but some is also due to the effects of 9/11 and increased security. For example, transit between terminals that requires you to exit security is now much less useful than it was in the decades prior to 2001, leading to the unpleasant necessity of inter-terminal shuttles. This was an nice followup to Aerotropolis, which I read last year, and should be of interest to anyone who has to travel to or through any of NYC’s airports.
Feb 16, 2012
I’ve decided to try something new this year and post monthly updates about my media consumption. I haven’t quite decided exactly how this will work, but I hope to give an overview of the books and magazine articles I read, the audiobooks I listened to, and the movies and TV shows I watched. While the list of books will be fairly complete, as I track that information already, I will probably just include a selection of the articles and TV shows I consumed. This may or may not last for the whole year (and I’m already off to a somewhat late start), but we’ll see how it goes.
Tyler Cowen, The Great Stagnation
This was a quick read, and worth the $3.99, but I’m not sure how much it changed my thinking. Cowen’s basic premise is that the rate of technological growth has slowed in recent years, and that this is one of the root causes of our economic slowdown. The Internet is an obvious counterexample, but Cowen argues that it hasn’t generated jobs or economic activity at the same rate as previous innovations (like automobiles). These points are worth making, but not particularly surprising, and Cowen’s solution, more eduction, is similarly obvious.
I think this book succeeds as a succinct outline of some of the economic challenges we face, but those looking for radical new ideas may be disappointed.
Ernest Cline, Ready Player One
This was the most fun I’ve had with a sci-fi novel in a long time. I’m a bit young to appreciate all of the 80s trivia, but it was fast paced and engrossing and includes all sorts of geek wish-fulfillment. There was an interesting conversation on io9 regarding the somewhat problematic representation of the real world in the novel (as opposed to the virtual world in which most of the book was set). I tend to agree that Cline doesn’t develop his dystopian world as much as he could, but for pure entertainment value, Ready Player One was hard to beat.
Ryan Avent, The Gated City
Like the other Kindle single I read this month (Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation), I found The Gated City to be interesting and well-written, but ultimately redundant for those who have read more broadly about the issues. Avent’s main thesis is that outdated zoning laws have led to low density American cities and extracted high economic, social, and enviornmental costs. While this is now fairly well understood, widespread NIMBYism has consistently thwarted attempts at reform. This topic is one I find particularly important and interesting, but I would recommend Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City as a better and more thorough introduction.
Amy Cortese, Locavesting
Locavesting surveys a number of different financial mechanisms for local investing and discusses the advantages and disadvantages to both investors and companies seeking capital. I learned something reading this, particularly about the challenges that small companies outside the tech sector face when raising capital. I was a bit worried that the author would sacrifice data and detail for a sort feel-good advocacy, but in the end I thought she did a fairly good job of focusing on the practical and regulatory challenges faced by some of these new investing models.
Rick Riordan, The Red Pyramid
I enjoyed Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, and I started listening to the Red Pyramid on Divya’s recommendation. I find this type of young adult fiction to be ideal in audiobook form as the narrative structure is simple enough that I can follow along without having to flip back for reference, even when I’m periodically distracted by traffic or other noise.
I thought Riordan did a particularly good job in this book with the interaction between the siblings, and the two narrators of the audiobook do a great job. On the other hand, I found the description/modernization of the mythology to be somewhat less successful than in the Percy books. This may be due in part to the nature of Egyptian mythology. The gods are less associated with specific phenomena than in Greek mythology, so there are fewer opportunities for clever updates (like the wind god weatherman in the Heroes of Olympus). Still, I can imagine this would be a great way to introduce Egyptian mythology to kids.
White Collar, Seasons 1-3
I started watching this on Netflix and plowed through the first two seasons in short order. It falls into the “quirky police procedural” model that is so popular these days, but I find the characters charming, and white collar crimes are refreshing after so many shows built on week after week of grisly murders. According to IMDB, the show is actually filmed in NYC, and I enjoy the portrayal of upper-crust Manhattan.
Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class, NY Times
There’s a follow-up article dealing with the condition of the workers in Foxconn factories, but this one did a good job covering some of the macro-level forces affecting the migration of high-tech manufacturing. Surely it’s partially about cost, but I thought anecdote about Corning moving its production to China simply to be nearer to customers was worth thinking about.
Marc Ambinder, Inside the Secret Service, The Atlantic
This was a fun read after watching so many movies and TV shows about law enforcement agencies. A usual, the truth seems to be both more and less interesting than fiction.
Adam Davidson, Making it in America, The Atlantic
This is another article about American manufacturing, and everybody has heard the basic story, but I thought this article did a good job drilling down and discussing different types of manufacturing jobs, some of which are safe in the U.S. for the moment.
Bryan Gruley, The Man Who Bought North Dakota, Bloomberg Businessweek
Eric Konigsberg, Kuwait on the Prairie, The New Yorker
As most of the country struggles with recession, North Dakota has been having a huge oil-fueled boom. These articles give a good overview of the major players and the effect of the boom on the local economy.