Summer Reads

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With fall already upon us, I wanted to get this post out before it becomes Winter (totally still going to get that New Years Resolutions 2015 post out).
This summer I went on a reading rampage. Perhaps not as exciting as a lyrical rampage, or the game Rampage. I still am fairly proud of that number of books I was able to knockout this past season. Turns out when you spend hours and hours running you tend to have a lot of time to fill.

Here is a list of the books, and a little blurb about each.

Open: How Compaq Ended IBM’s PC Domination and Helped Invent Modern Computing
Interesting story of how the modern PC came to be. It made me wonder if we could have gotten to the sheer dominance of the computer without the standardization and commoditization of computing technologies. Like the way most app writing is done now, there has to be different apps specialized for their specific target devices. You can’t have an iOS app run on Android. Back then it was the same thing, but with a lot more fragmentation as you had all these desktop computers and none of them worked with any other software. It’s hard to have a large developer base with so many devices. Either way, good little history lesson. Definitely biased though because it was written by one of the founders of Compaq

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Super interesting look into one of the most influential animation studios. Pretty good tips and hints for getting the best from creative people. My thoughts of the author were slightly tinged afterwards as I learned of Ed Catmulls alleged wage fixing.

The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story

Who doesn’t love eccentric millionaires? This story follows Jim Clark of SGI and Netscape fame. It’s an interesting look into the beginnings of the Internet boom and it’s eventually bust. It also touches on Jim’s life before which is tied mainly to inventing large scale 3D graphics technologies. Remember the Nintendo 64? That used chips developed by Silicon Graphics. This was before you could buy a graphics card off a shelf for $200 and have it render the entire universe. There is also lots of Yacht talk. Fun book, I love Michael Lewis’ writing style.

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
You like all of the tech things you have? Mostly developed here. Seriously, this was a hotbed of innovation that has rarely ever been seen. It’s hard to overstate how important Bell Labs was to modern technology. Doubt me? Why not take this book for a whirl?

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Walter Isaacson does a decent job of capturing the general feeling behind tech stuff. He wrote the Steve Jobs biography and did a pretty good job of capturing a portrait of the man. He now takes that and picks up some of the most important people that lead up to the modern computer and gives a little insight into how they contributed. I generally was transfixed by this book. They should just call the book, “Matt’s book for Matt with topics Matt likes.” I saw people complaining about Issacson’s embellishments with history, but I think that is the nature of a book like this.

Dealers of Lightning
Like the Bell Labs that preceded it, Xerox PARC was also an important piece to the modern computer puzzle. It is generally accepted that Apple and subsequently Microsoft stole a lot of ideas from PARC to establish the Graphical User Interface paradigm. I think this kind of shows that if you get a lot of really brilliant people together with little administrative oversight and a pile of cash some really cool things will result. That being said, it’s a really hard sell from a business angle. The book was pretty short, and I wish it delved deeper into what happened at PARC. What I did get was pretty awesome.

Atlas Shrugged
Here is one sure to be divisive. This is like the conservative bible (or is that just The Bible?). I read The Fountainhead back when I was a sophomore in college, and I actually liked it. This book is not The Fountainhead. It bludgeons you over the head with the same objectivist philosophy Ayn Rand was trying to popularize. Seriously, The Fountainhead tried to at least have the trapping of a story. Atlas Shrugged has extensive monologues and inner thoughts that offer no additional insight than the points made earlier in the book. I don’t fully agree or disagree with Ayn Rand. I feel like there are insights to some of what she says, but it’s so easy to go overboard with it which is what I feel like she does in this book. She paints the world as black and white and that is disingenuous to how life actually is. I do think it’s funny that this book is held up as a conservative tome of ultimate power because it vilifies large corporations who mirror some of the very same practices that are done today that conservative politicians put into place. Not going to get political too much here though. Overall, super long, repetitive, and not up to the previous book. Probably wouldn’t recommend it. Also, stop writing “Who is John Galt?” everywhere.

As you can see, I like non-fiction tech books. Dork status, in check. Boring to some, really fascinating to me. I did use Audible to “read” all these. Some consider it not reading per say and that’s OK, but the content is the important thing to me and that is the same. Books are pretty cool though! The smart money is on me reading more.

UPDATE:
I forgot, in my haste, two additional books that I read.

Naked Economics
Economics can be interesting. No, seriously, it can be. It’s not all charts and graphs. I mean, a lot of it is better represented with charts and/or graphs, but really economics is a way to better understand human behavior. It’s not just about dollah bills. The author does a good job of relating the real world to the theoretical. Super interesting read. Would recommend.

Naked Statistics
While this does make statistic easier to understand, this is not going to make a convert of anyone. Statistics is an inherently dry subject matter. It can provide illuminating insight into situations, but it is very math intensive. No bones about it. I can’t really recommend this book to anyone who isn’t mildly interested in stats or math even though the author does a great job of making the subject interesting.

On My Year of Reading or Reading Rainbow!

Do you like my super artsy art? I want to start making accompanying sketches to my post, even if they are stick scratchings. I think I have narrowed my books for the year all picked out. I tried to get a good mix of different genres and take a bunch of suggestions to get stuff that might not have been on my radar. Thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions, I really appreciate it!

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – January

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – February

3. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli – March

4. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – April

5 .Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson – May

6 .Racing the Beam by Nick Montfort – June

7. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke – July

8. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – August

9. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith – September

10. iWoz by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith – October

11. The Big Short by Michael Lewis – November

12. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk -December

This is the list for this year, and if I read through them all with extra time I have a contingency list waiting as well, with a lot more of your suggestions.

I have all the books on my trusty iPad, Matilda, ready to be read. This is going to be great. What will you guys be reading this year, or are reading now? I am curious. Let me know in any way you can, comments preferable. I mean you can use any account now to post, there is nothing stopping you! Happy reading!

On Random ISBNs or How Not To Do a Stats Project

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This semester I am taking a course called Probability and Statistics for Engineers and Scientists which is actually pretty cool. I’ve yet to take a class in stats so this stuff is mostly new to me. It’s a powerful form of Math and probably one of the most relatable and useful in “real life.” This post isn’t about stats as a class though it’s about stats as a project.

We were assigned a project in which we had to come up with a way to find the average date of all the books published in our library. You couldn’t brute force it either by checking every book and recording the copyright date. You had to come up with a method to take a random sample of data (how many to sample was also part of the project) and then using that, do calculations on the data. Here was my plan:

The library has all its books cataloged online.

All books (in the catalog) have ISBNs.

Randomly generate ISBN numbers and have it auto-search, parse, and record book dates.

Viola! Tons of randomly selected years from books.

In theory this is great! It is impartial and once setup can be repeated as many times as needed with minimal effort on my part. Before I get into why it’s the worst plan, let me show you how I accomplished randomly generating ISBNs because it’s not straightforward at all.

Let me preface this by saying I now know way more about ISBNs than I ever wanted to. I will give you the abridged version as not to bore you to tears. (Although the thought of any of my writing bringing you, the audience, to tears is tempting)

Here is a breakdown of a ISBN13 number (13 being the number of digits)

9781999186135 <—Random ISBN

so the first 3 digits

978

This apparently refers to a fictitious place called “Bookland” where all books come from, no joke. It’s called the “country code.” It can also be the industry, in this case book publishing.

The next number, 1, denotes language. English is either 0 or 1.

The numbers that follow are weird because it’s not like 3 numbers are the publisher code, it varies a lot, but suffice it to say the next numbers are publisher and title numbers.

The last digit, 5, is a checksum value. It basically makes sure the number is valid, by performing a checksum calculation.

Without getting into too much detail, they are very strict values and do not just vary from 0-9 for 13 digits and this made my MATLAB script go from 10-15 lines to about 100 lines. I worked for about 3 hours researching and creating the script and it works! The problem, and I feel really stupid for having missed it, is that having that many combinations of numbers, even if they are within guidelines produces a ton of possibilities. This means that almost every value I generated, while being valid within the confines of the standard, did not produce a number that was assigned to a real book.

Using only books in English there is a whopping 199,920,000 different combinations to be made. The chances of me hitting on a real book, especially in a small university library are slim to none. Needless to say, I didn’t end up using this method. Even the best laid plans can go awry. On the plus side I have all this useless information on ISBNs now; come on Cash Cab.

*Edit*

I feel like the dumbest. I did my math wrong and there is actually more combinations than I had previously stated. It’s not 22,952,230 different combinations, it’s 199,920,000 and this has been reflected above. I should really be better at math.