Seattle’s role in the tech ecosystem

Lots of blather about this. Two salient observations by Charles and Eric below. As Eric notes, it is impossible to think about launching a startup today without technology from Seattle.

“Hey John, how do you decide what books to read?”

I was asked this recently. I draw from:

  • The NYTimes Sunday Book Reviews. I especially enjoy the “By The Book” column, in which a living author talks about what they have read and are reading. Always some things off the beaten path there.
  • The LA Times book reviews are useful as well.
  • Various prize lists — Hugo, Nebula, Man Booker, Pulitzer, Nobel, Edgar. Tho I have found the Nobel prize winners to be rough rough going.
  • Goodreads reviews and Amazon reviews. If a book doesn’t get great consensus reviews (or at least a strong positive rating from a subset of readers), I probably won’t read.
  • I have a couple coworkers/friends who are big readers and I listen to their recos, and my college roommate is a voracious and critical reader, and I listen to him. And then anything that a family member recommends, I will consider.

I will read just about any genre with a couple limitations. I find most popular business books to be horrible — 1 or 2 good ideas that are worthy of an article, but nothing worthy of a book. And I do not enjoy farce in any genre, just not my thing.

Recent books — Unruly Places, The Rook, Dispatches from Pluto, Dog Stars, Pamuk, Niceville

  • Unruly Places by plutoAlastair Bonnett. The stories behind some of the most unusual and unlikely places on the globe — places belonging to no nation, to many nations, floating, underground, in the sky — and an understanding of the meaning and importance of place.  Enjoyable.  
  • The Rook and Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley. Great suspenseful adventure in a world filled with magic —  kind of a grown-up Harry Potter milieu.  The first page grabs you — the protagonist awakens with no memory, in a park surrounded by bodies, and in her pocket is a note that says “Read Me”. Stiletto isn’t quite as strong but still a fund read.  
  • Dispatches From Pluto by Richard Grant. An English adventure writer decides to settle in the Mississippi Delta. Interesting look at the culture and issues of a part of the country that seems almost foreign to me.  
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. A different kind of post-apocalyptic novel, the world has largely been emptied out, a very few people try to find their way and remain human.  
  • A Strangeness In My Mind by Orhan Pamuk. Tried to lift my literary sights, but as always, “Nobel Prize Winning” does not equal “interesting”.  
  • Niceville by Carsten Stroud. Not a nice place. Solid horror/mystery.  

Recent Books

  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemison. A small set of related characters finding their way on a far-future(?) Earth peopled by humans and human derivatives, littered with the artifacts of past civilizations, undergoing yet another seismic/volcanic reshaping. Of course there is some conspiracy at work. Good tale, characters dealing with painful issues.connectography
  • Connectography by Parag Khanna. How the world is moving beyond nation-states to clusters driven by interconnectivity. Well written and a lot of maps, and I am a sucker for maps.
  • The Ruins of Gorlan by John A. Flanagan. Pretty standard YA fantasy, but fun nevertheless. I’d read more.
  • The Call by Yannick Murphy. Eh, what started out as a clever structural gadget became tiring. I am a little curious to know what happens to the family but I gave up.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I like Atkinson, but this book also became tiresome, tho I managed to finish. But I’d recommend a different Atkinson.
  • Farthing by Jo Walton. How did I miss this? Conspiracy, murder in the English countryside in an alternative history where Britain made peace with the Nazis. Excellent.
  • Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta. A boy witnesses a murder, and, well, shit happens. Fun but not memorable.

Recent Books — Uprooted, Big Little Lies, A Burglar’s Guide…

  • Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sarauprooted Baume. Highly praised, but it felt to me like the author was trying very hard to be literary. I stuck with it, but it didn’t really move me.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik. A captivating tale of a young witch coming of age and getting drawn into an existential threat for her homeland. Really loved it, deserves the accolades.
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Completely fun story of conflicts between parents at a preschool, hilarious but serious. Apparently coming to HBO, this will be fun
  • A Burglar’s Guide To The City by Geoff Manaugh. A look at how burglars use urban design and building design to achieve their goals. Would have been even better with more anecdotes, but still interesting

Recent Books — High-Rise, Travelers, Song Machine, The Whites, Electric Barracuda

  • High-Rise by J. G. Ballard. ebThe community in a modern high-rise starts to fall apart in “Lord of the Flies” fashion…actually “Lord of the Flies” seems pretty tame after this.
  • The Travelers by Chris Pavone. A travel writer is coopted and stumbles into a job as a spy, and slowly learns that nothing is as it seems in his life. Fun.
  • The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook. No surprise here, pop music is largely a manufactured product.
  • The Whites by Richard Price. Couldn’t finish. Supposedly a gritty police drama but kind of dull.
  • Electric Barracuda by Tim Dorsey. I generally don’t like farce, but there is something endearing about this character — a wise-cracking serial killer with a heart of gold.

Recent Books — Serial Killer, Project Rose, Maxwell, Orphan X, Shaker, Goldbarth

  • I Am Not A Serial Killer by John Cleaver. A teenager obsessed with his own psychoses discovers that there are much worse things going on in his town.
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simpson. Very engaging tale of a man with Asperger’s who fights to build a life for himself. Very enjoyable.
  • Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell. A pleasant family visit by out-of-town cousins results in darker turns and secrets unearthed. Quite good.
  • Orphan X by Gregg Hurtwitz. An orphan is raised by a secret agency to be a ruthless operative. Just like me.
  • Shaker by Scott Frank. A hitman arrives in a post-quake LA to take care of business, and things go south. Not really sure why the quake mattered to the story.
  • Great Topics of the World by Albert Goldbarth. Wow this is a meaty meaty book, very demanding, but fascinating. The first essay alone is worth it.

Recent Books — A Doubter’s Almanac, Dragon Day, The Alchemist of Souls, All the Birds in the Sky, Chimera, The Victoria Vanishes

  • A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Caninalmanac. Fantastic story of a misanthropic obsessive genius and how he impacted family and friends around him. An incredibly unlikeable and yet sympathetic main character. Very good.
  • Dragon Day by Lisa Brackmann. Solid detective tale set in modern day China, where it seems everyone is out for their own advantage, and justice is a hard thing to find.
  • The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle. Fantasy set in the early days of the New World exploration, with a New World quite different than ours, peopled by a non-human race. Entertaining, not sure I am driven to keep up with the series tho.
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. It’s the end of the world, maybe, and two childhood friends come together to save it, one with a deep science background, one with a deep mystical background. Good characters but I felt it kind of dissolved into mystical goo.
  • Chimera by Mira Grant. The last in a 3 book series about semi-intelligent and autonomous tapeworms invading human beings. OK it was fun at times but probably 1 book too long.
  • The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler. Fun tale of two aging detectives investigating a very very strange set of murders. I’ve read another in series, solid characters.

Recent Books — Vanishing Games, Hades, Forty Thieves, Planetfall

I needed some escapism.

  • Vanishing Games by Roger Hobbs. Pirates, Macau, Diamonds, Counterfeiting, high bodycount. Fun but not distinctive.planetfall
  • Hades by Candice Fox. Cops with dark pasts taking the law into their own hands. Also a high body count.
  • Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry. Now this was more fun, a husband/wife PI team run into a husband/wife assassin team, both trying to resolve a cold case. Bullets fly.
  • Planetfall by Emma Newman. Ok this started out slow, a group of colonists on a new planet, but it went very strange, with a strange alien experience, and twisted humans.

Recent books not to read

My last batch of books were very good, and so my bar is raised. I couldn’t get through either of these:

  • The Witch of Lime Street” by David Jaher. This gets great reviews, but is incredibly choppy, and the characters are unappealing, or to be precise, the author does a poor job of introducing them in appealing fashion.
  • The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos. This falls into the classic trap that many books of this type fall into — in its attempt to make a technical topic more interesting to a broader audience, it dumbs down its treatment of the topic, and is simplistic and repetitive. And so pushes away readers who have more background. It is obviously hard to achieve the right balance, I could not stay with this book.

Recent Books — Boys in the Boat, Phishing, Slade House

  • The Boys In The Boat sladehouseby Daniel James Brown. Recommended by almost everyone else in the family, this is a great tale of the UW crew team which went to the Berlin Olympics. Especially interesting probably to Seattle residents, but very well written. I had no idea that crew was such a popular sport at the time.
  • Phishing for Phools by George Akerlof and Robert Shiller. OK I have great empathy for the material, an expose of how we are manipulated and deceived (and how we buy into this). But the book honestly was a little thin, I would have liked more examples and depth.
  • Slade House by David Mitchell. Lord can this man write, I love everything he touches. A great creepy haunted house tale, written in the Mitchell style. Hard to put down.

Loving the ML framework battle.

Facebook has open sourced Torch, Google has open sourced TensorFlow, and now Microsoft has responded with CNTK (Catchy name, guys). This is awesoem for startups, three great frameworks on reasonable licensing terms, and I am sure they are going to kill each other in an attempt to “win”, which is going to result in a flow of tools and data available to the world at large, since part of winning is building the biggest community. If you are not one of these companies, and you think you need to build and promulgate your own ML framework, I would think hard about that decision.

Today’s word — polysemous

I read a lot, online and offline, fiction and nonfiction. First time I’ve run across “polysemous“. I guess I should be impressed, tho if you need words like this to describe what your software does, you might need to scrub your messaging some more

Recent Books — Coates, Tahir, Leckie, Antrim

Is this thing on?

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. A challenging but important read. It is difficult to really comprehend the road that less privileged have had to travel, but it is important to try to understand and address.9780316246682_custom-b990a1e1d99f5af6bd343b01493a274a4b8e6a6e-s400-c85
  • An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Yet another dystopian YA trilogy, but well written and very enjoyable.
  • Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. Third in the series and it is still holding up. Fascinating far future tale of empire and intrigue with a very unique set of ideas about identity.
  • The Verificationist by Donald Antrim. Very well written, the self-absorbed main character is having a breakdown or trip, and you are along for the ride.
  • Moxyland by Lauren Beukes. Eh, near future spread of technology through the less developed world. Some nice ideas but ultimately bored me.