Posts for January 2015

2015-01-01: 2014 Book Reading in Review

This year, after a series of catastrophically horrible and unethical management decisions, I walked away from my job of seventeen years and found a new job.

As you might expect, reading wasn't the top priority for much of the year. I'm moderately surprised that I read as much as I did. The good side is that I'm now in a much better place both professionally and personally and no longer have to put up with draining and demoralizing nonsense happening on a regular basis. The downside for my review output is that the new job is more engrossing and is, in some ways, harder work, so I expect my reading totals going forward to stabilize somewhere below where they were in the past (although it's possible that the daily commute will change that equation somewhat).

As mentioned last year, I had a feeling that something like this would happen (although not that it would be anywhere near this bad), so I had no specific reading goals for the year. Next year, I'm going to see how it goes for the first few months, and might then consider setting some goals if I want to encourage myself to take more time for reading.

The below statistics are confined to the books I reviewed in 2014. I read three more books that I've not yet reviewed, partly because the end of the year isn't as packed with vacation as it was at Stanford. Those will be counted in 2014.

Despite the low reading totals for the year, I read two 10 out of 10 books. My favorite book of the year was Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, which was one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read. Highly recommended if you like the space opera genre at all. A close second was my favorite non-fiction book of the year and the other 10 out of 10: Allie Brosh's collection Hyperbole and a Half. Those of you who have read her blog already know her brilliant and insightful style of humor. Those who haven't are in for a treat.

I read a lot of non-fiction this year and not as much fiction, partly for mood reasons, so I don't have honorable mentions in the fiction department. In the non-fiction department, though, there are four more books worth mentioning. Cryptography Engineering, by Niels Ferguson, Bruce Schneier, and Tadayoshi Kohno, was the best technical book that I read last year, and a must-read for anyone who works on security or crypto software. David Graeber's Debt was the best political and economic book of the year and the book from which I learned the most. It changed the way that you think about debt and loans significantly. A close second, though, was David Roodman's Due Diligence, which is a must-read for anyone who has considered investing in microfinance or is curious about the phenomenon. We need more data-driven, thoughtful, book-length analysis like this in the world.

Finally, The Knowledge, by Lewis Dartnell, is an entertaining and quixotic project. The stated goal of the book is to document the information required to rebuild civilization after a catastrophe, with hopefully fewer false starts and difficult research than was required the first time. I'm dubious about its usefulness for that goal, but it's a fascinating and entertaining book in its own right, full of detail about industrial processes and the history of manufacturing and construction that are otherwise hard to come by without extensive (and boring) research. Recommended, even if you're dubious about the efficacy of the project.

The full analysis includes some additional personal reading statistics, probably only of interest to me.

2015-01-04: faq2html 1.33 and release 1.48

These changes to a couple of my scripts were done some time ago, but I never pushed them out or announced them.

faq2html, which I use to convert package README files and other documentation to something suitable for the web, no longer tries to parse the document for leading headers when a title is specified with -t. This makes the web page generation for new copyright-format 1.0 LICENSE files a little less awful, although I really need to write an HTML converter specifically for that file format. (That will require me to figure out what a reasonable web conversion of that file format actually is.)

You can get the latest version of faq2html from my web tools page.

The release script I use to prepare and move around copies of my software releases has been updated to handle Perl distributions that use Build.PL a little better, and to generate xz-compressed tarballs if the upstream build system only generates gzip-compressed tarballs (as Perl's does). I'm moving towards standardizing on xz compression for all of my software releases, although I'll also provide gzip-compressed tarballs for the forseeable future.

You can get the latest version of release from my scripts page.

2015-01-10: Short catch-up haul

First weekend back home after being away for the holidays. That was a lot of fun, but it's also nice to be back home with all my stuff and my normal schedule. Apparently nice enough that today I went on a productivity binge and did lots of random chores that had been building up. Quite satisfying.

This is a catch-up haul post for a few random things that popped up over the past few months apart from a full book order.

Ibraheem Abbas and Yasser Bahjatt — HWJN (sff)
Ibraheem Abbas and Yasser Bahjatt — Somewhere! (Hunaak!) (sff)
Shannon Appelcline — Designers & Dragons: The '70s (non-fiction)
Shannon Appelcline — Designers & Dragons: The '80s (non-fiction)
Shannon Appelcline — Designers & Dragons: The '90s (non-fiction)
Shannon Appelcline — Designers & Dragons: The '00s (non-fiction) — Some of the Best from 2014 (sff anthology)

The Appelcline four-volume history of RPGs was a gift from a friend, and a lovely set of books. The first two were available for free on the Kindle (as was the last) as part of an effort to publicize Arab SF, and I always like to broaden my cultural reading horizons.

Last modified and spun 2017-02-20