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Jul 19th

At The Halfway Mark

I’m not a fan of the Quantifiable Self trend that is all the rage these days, but I set myself a goal of reading 50 books this year and Goodreads e-mailed me with a notification I already hit the halfway mark, so here are some of the notable reads so far.

First off, an honorable mention regarding Waiting for the Barbarians - a delightful, gritty read suggested by a dear friend while we contemplated the ongoing acquisition of our company, ensuing corporate paralysis, and the catharsis that comes with it actually going through. It is quite removed from the kind of thing I usually read, and is heartily recommended.

That pushed me sideways into a (re)reading a sampling of both modern and historical classics like Kafka on the Shore, The Symposium, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold that made for an interesting couple of weeks, but I’m guessing that’s not exactly what most of my readership is looking for, so I’ll just skip to the hard core bits:

Programming

I’m kind of ashamed to say I’m still stuck halfway through Programming Erlang. I learned Erlang a long time ago in a very different context, and I’ve been meaning to return to it for a bit.

But work shifted to management again of late, so I have had little opportunity to experiment with a different runtime (I’m sticking to Python/Hy and Java/Clojure, with a little C# hacking as an outlier). Nevertheless, Armstrong’s book is still the one to read if you need a thorough understanding of how the language works, and the appendixes were handy when I was trying to cargo cult a skeleton OTP app in a hurry.

Other than that, the Clojure Cookbook is probably the one I reach for most often these days — even when not doing Clojure, there are more than a few nuggets of LISPy wisdom in there.

Leisurely Reads

I have a few actual (i.e. physical) books on my bedside table that I dip into now and then, and I’ve been adding to the pile some stuff to take my mind off technology. Right now, here’s what’s sitting on top of The Algorithm Design Manual:

  • The Elements of Typographic Style - I bought this two years ago, and love it. It’s not so much the kind of book you read through as one that you read on, and is crammed with the kind of typgraphycal arcana that appeals to the history buff in me (like the evolution of the ampersand, the multiple kinds of em dash and other esoterica).
  • Drawing on the right side of the brain, because every time I reach for a pencil I feel a craving to fill out a blank page with sketches (yet lack the proper frame of mind to tackle that in earnest).
  • Colloquial Chinese (the old edition), so I can appease the frustration of not having been able to keep learning Mandarin over the past few years. Most of what little I retained has retreated to obscure nooks and crannies inside my brain, and this is helpful in teasing it out.

Sci-Fi

As usual, this is the genre that makes up for most of my reading/leisure material.

Were it not for my making a point of interspersing them with more down-to-earth, charming stuff like The Bonesetter’s Daughter to remind me that we have plenty of human-scale fiction to explore, it would probably be enough to take my mind off work.

So here are my current darlings:

  • Scalzi’s new “The End of All Things” series, of which I’ve already read the first and second installments and am beginning the third.
  • Poseidon’s Wake, the third in another series (1, 2) I’ve enjoyed quite thoroughly.
  • Nemesis Games, another great read in the Expanse series, which I originally stumbled across a year or so. Like Tim Bray, I swam through it with great enjoyment.
  • Slow Bullets, a delightful novella by Alastair Reynolds
  • Armada, which I just picked up both because Ready Player One was one of the highlights of 2012 and because a few of my friends have also been raving about it.
  • Seveneves, also queued up for Summer break (i.e., for the bits when connectivity is but a lingering memory) due to peer pressure, but which I have high expectations of regardless.

What I Read On

Since Apple has shown little inclination to improve my wellbeing by adding support for something like f.lux, I’ve been doing most of my reading in the evenings using a “retina-grade” Android tablet running Twilight, which suits me just fine.

However, I can’t help but drool over the new Kindle Paperwhite. Were it not for my having already decided that this year’s upgrade would be a new iPad, I’d already have sprung for one — I had the Voyage on my wishlist, but removed it the day the new Paperwhite came out.

I was a bit surprised Amazon launched it before Summer (actually, I was more than a little annoyed, given I’m already anticipating sitting at the beach with my old, battered Nook and thinking wistfully of the Paperwhite), but I’m certainly willing to give it a go next Summer.


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