Category Archives: When

50 books every geek should read- from

Ok, lets see: I’ve read 16 of these, gave up on another and have 2 in-progress.

I think there are a few good books missing:

1) “The C Programming Language” – Kernighan and Ritche. Not only a great book about programming, especially for beginners, it also shows how clear a programming text can be, how little needs to be said, and how to spiral around the same problems with increasingly capable and complicated programs.

2) “The C++ Programming Language” – Stroustrup. By comparison to C, a much thicker book, containing K&R’s language and a whole lot more, for practical coding and for object oriented techniques.

3) “The Codebreakers” – Herman Kahn A huge book and one that ends in the era where crypto was still a government issue, mostly. But a great history, and clear proof that no cypher system, or code book, is 100% unbreakable.

4) “Seizing the Enigma” – most complete discussion of BREAKING Enigma I’ve seen so far. There are any number of good lessons here, starting with, a small, motivated, team can accomplish what is considered impossible. Never treat the opposition with contempt. Define your requirements as well as you can, do what you can to satisfy them, pay attention to what actually happens.

The actual analytic technique to break Enigma was cooked up by two Polish intelligence officers who could see how the wind was blowing in the late 1930s. When the Germans invaded, they escaped with their method and presented it to the French. The French passed it on to the British before they collapsed. The technique wouldn’t do for rapid recovery of plain text from a well operated system but it could break in by brute force, with some time, and it could also rapidly exploit any laxness in technique by the cypher users. Whereas the Germans believed that Enigma was essentially unbreakable and never seriously looked for its weaknesses, or their own in using it.

Code and cipher trade-craft was good in the Kriegsmarine, so-so in the Wehrmacht and lousy in the Luftwaffe, oddly echoing Hitler’s complaint that he had a Christian Navy, a Reactionary Army and only one National Socialist (Nazi) armed force, the Luftwaffe. The Brits mounted a frontal assault on Luftwaffe Enigma traffic and got what they needed because of bad practices by the users. With the Wehrmacht they got enough to combine with conventional intelligence, what the Soviets gave them from “Lucy”, from the Italians sending cables to each other, etc., to get the job done. The Kriegsmarine used Enigma intelligently, so that frontal assaults hit a blank wall. Fortune gave the Brits the keys, the initial rotor position for each message, occasionally, and they knew what they were missing, so they made it their business to GET the keys, through espionage, Soviet salvage of a sunken German ship, the capture of a shipboard weather station in the North Atlantic, the US Navy’s capture of U-505. Every six months when the key changed, they had to get the new one and did, EACH TIME. And tight security at the Allied end allowed the Germans, all of them, to ignore any suspicion that their cyphers and codes were less than 100% secure. They had no “Red Team”s, or even someone looking at the pattern of Allied luck in finding lone U boats, bombing the right place at the right time, etc. Convinced of their own superiority, like the Japanese, they caught “victory disease” and when the tide turned, retained a confidence that events did NOT justify. Lucky for us.

“Snow Crash,” Neal Stephenson
“Neuromancer,” William Gibson
“I, Robot,” Isaac Asimov  <———- 1
“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Douglas Adams  <———– 2
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Philip K. Dick  <————– 3
“Ender’s Game,” Orson Scott Card
“The Time Machine,” H.G. Wells  <————– 4
“Microserfs,” Doug Coupland  <————— 5
“Flatland,” Edwin A. Abbott  <——- tried, couldn’t get into it. Should try again I suppose
“1984,” George Orwell  <—————- 6
“Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley  <————— 7
“iCon,” Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon
“iWoz,” Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith
“Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire,” Jim Erickson
“The Visual Display of Quantitative Information,” Edward Tufte  <——————- 8
“Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability,” Steve Krug
“The Non-Designer’s Design Book,” Robin Williams
“Tog on Interface,” Bruce Tognazzini  <—————– 9
“User Interface Design for Programmers,” Joel Spolsky
“Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made,” Andy Hertzfeld
“The Soul of a New Machine,” Tracy Kidder  <——————- 10
“Where Wizards Stay Up Late,” Hafner and Lyon
“Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age,” Michael A. Hiltzik
“The Cuckoo’s Egg,” Cliff Stoll  <—————- 11
“The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness,” Steven Levy
“Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time,” Dava Sobel  <– 12
“The Code Book,” Simon Singh
“Cryptonomicon,” Neal Stephenson
“Crypto,” Steven Levy
“The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master,” Andrew Hunt, David Thomas
“Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction,” Steve McConnell  <—— working on it
“Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software,” Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson, John M. Vlissides  <— working on it
“Dreaming in Code,” Scott Rosenberg
“The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering,” Frederick P. Brooks  <———- 13
“Beautiful Code: Leading Programmers Explain How They Think,” Andy Oram
“Cathedral and the Bazaar,” Eric S. Raymond
“The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson
“The Future of Ideas,” Lawrence Lessig
“On Intelligence,” Jeff Hawkins
“In the Beginning was the Command Line,” Neal Stephenson
“Code: Version 2.0,” Lawrence Lessig
“The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki
“The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” Ray Kurzweil
“Gödel, Escher, Bach,” Douglas Hofstadter  <——— 14
“Gut Feelings,” Gerd Gigerenzer
“A Brief History of Time,” Stephen Hawking  <————- 15
“Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age,” Paul Graham
“The Evolution of Useful Things,” Henry Petroski  <————– 16
“Getting Things Done,” David Allen
“Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better,” Gina Trapani

“Gut Feelings,” Gerd Gigerenzer

Great nerdy films: The Way Things Go, Rivers and Tides, Rendezvous

The Way Things Go – Fichelli and Wiess’ finest moment, so far.

Probably the most demanded “Play It Again!” film of all time. It has its own Wikipedia page, and the Honda Cog ad was found to violate Fichelli and Wiess’ copyright of the image of tires bumping into each other and rolling uphill….See it too, but see the original first. Repeatedly. With a child, age 5-105…

Product Details The Way Things Go 100 feet of physical interactions, chemical reactions, and precisely crafted chaos worthy of Rube Goldberg or Alfred Hitchcock – a discussion starter for … – Cached – Similar – Trailer:

Retail $18, used from $9.13… Amazing Chain Reaction – The Way Things Go 4 min 34 sec – Jan 15, 2007 – Rated 4.6 out of 5.0 TO BUY THE DVD of the complete 30 minutes of this chain reaction called The Way Things Go go here: IN THIS SCENE: Fire is … – Related videos – And Here’s Cog: Results include your SearchWiki notes for Honda Cog. Share these notes Copy and paste this link into an email or IM: See a preview of the shared page 1.

Honda Accord Cog Commercial 2 min 1 sec – Mar 3, 2006 – Rated 4.7 out of 5.0 High res Quicktime file (original commercial). – Related videos – 2. The Making Of “Honda – Cog” 4 min 4 sec – Oct 4, 2006 – Rated 5.0 out of 5.0 The Making of Honda’s “Cog” commercial (Honda Accord) – Related videos – 3. Cog (advert) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Cog is a British television and cinema advertisement launched by Honda in 2003 to promote ….. Honda ‘cog’ ad at centre of rip-off debate over 1987 film, … Sequence – Production – Release and reception – Legacy

A n d W h i l e W e A r e O n e T h e S u b j e c t . . . . Product Details Rivers & Tides ~ Andy Goldsworthy working with time. (DVD – Sep 28, 2004) Buy new: $26.95 $14.49 42 Used & new from $11.52 Watch It Now:  4.5 out of 5 stars (103) DVD:

If you don’t know Andy Goldworthy’s art, I think you’re in for a treat. Also QUITE child-friendly. HIs basic brief is to go out into the world and make something from what he finds there. Then he photographs is, and then lets it return to what it was. Some of his installation pieces in galleries have been stacks of slate, some have been album covers for Tori Amos’ early records. Once he made a collection of snow balls with various contents, stored the, and the put them out in the gallery to melt and reveal their content. Its all about using what’s actually there, but also all about time and how impermanent the world is. Nothing we see, not the rocks, not the mountains, not even the sea, will last for ever. Ok, ok, and the point is???? Ok. The first piece in this film is filmed before dawn, in Newfoundland. Goldworthy is out with a little bowl of water, and he’s collected a bunch of carrot-sized icicles, and he’s breaking them into segments and using the water to stick them back together to make an arc that starts and ends on the side of a big rock down by the ocean- like a letter C stuck to the rock as if: / C| / then the camera pulls back and you can see he’s made a series of these, like the old arrow-though the head gag, a series of loops on both sides of the rock

…….L/ \

…..C/….. \D

C/………. \D

so it looks like the icicle is threaded back and forth through the rock and the at the top it turns and goes up a couple of feet straight up. Nice. He’s got gloves but he’s working with bare fingers because he gets better control of the ice pieces that way. It looks COLD. Just as he’s about to take the picture, the sun comes up, its been twilight as he’s been working, and the sunlight falls on the icicle pieces and they turn on with the golden light as if they’re neon tubes or something like that… completely unexpected.

I find this charming, and it may not be the best piece in the film. Maybe the failures, the stack of rocks that keeps collapsing, the screen of sticks pinned together with thorns that a tiny breeze destroys, are the best. Good lesson for kids- some ideas don’t work out- give it your best, and if it isn’t going to happen, do something else. Its like going back 50,000 years to when art and engineering and science were more or less the same thing… What happens to the gallery wall he covers with mud is so cool I’m not going to reveal it. Suffice to say, its cool.

A n d N o w F o r S o m e t h i n g T h a t F i t s R i g h t I n . . . Product Details Rendezvous (DVD – Feb 20, 2003) Buy new: $29.95 $26.99 5 Used & new from $24.95  4.5 out of 5 stars (38) DVD: Another really good one in my personal collection is Rendezvous, an inexcusable but wonderful 9 minute drive across Paris, at about 5;30am, in a Ferrari with a camera fastened to the hood. The driver, never identified by director Claude Le Leouch, assuming it wasn’t him, doesn’t even lift has he blows the red lights down the approach to the Arc de Triumph. Then a quick jaunt to the Louvre, turn north and through the various districts (1st to 9th to 18th I believe) and ends up at the Sacre Coeur, where Le Louch steps into the headlights of the car and embraces his wife. A Rendezvous.

To quote one review on Amazon: “…nearly 30 years ago I saw the film on 35mm, and it was so intense, that the memory of it has never left me. It’s like watching Leo Kottke in full flight on his 12-string; you see it, you hear it, but nonetheless your mind refuses to accept that it’s possible. Buy it. Buy it now. And while you wait for it to arrive, practice holding your breath for 9 minutes, as you’ll need that ability….. ”

Another reviewer notes: “…No streets were closed, for Lelouch was unable to obtain a permit…. …Upon showing the film in public for the first time, Lelouch was arrested…” Reckless driving of course… and he was convicted, although he has always maintained it was a professional driver… whom he has never named. The sound is simply the car, tires, street noises, pigeons, garbage trucks, etc. There’s nothing quite like it, and probably never will be.

And when all else fails:

On to my next adventure

Besides the Inauguration of President Obama, January 20, 2009, was also notable because LTX-Credence had a Reduction In  [work]Force (RIF) and I am off to my next adventure.

Terrific support from my wife,  son, co-workers, friends and former co-workers has poured in.  And I’m focusing on being a homemaker, as long as the opportunity is here.

More soon.

Recommended Reading

We are a household of readers and we read a lot of books. Here are some particular favorites, past and present. Our son is now 12…

Perhaps these are aimed too young, but they’re delightful reads…

Winnie The Pooh
The House At Pooh Corner

When We Were Very Young
Now We Are Six
Old Possums Practical Cats
The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald
Alvins’ Secret Code
Emil and the Detectives
Rabbit Hill, The Long Winter
– Robert Lawson
Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan.

Age Appropriate & enjoyed by all of us:
Bone” graphic novel(s) Really, really, great art, characters, story, plot, you name it. Beautiful.

All Creatures Great and Small, etc, etc. “James Herriot”.
Really good story telling, and yes, though based on real people, this is fiction. Some drinking, smoking, a fair number of complicated deliveries for sheep and some other farm animals.
Based on the writer’s experience but a work of fiction. In the real world, “Helen” wasn’t the woman he married, for starters… All Creatures and the second book were re-read requests, I think we read the pair more than 3 times all the way through…

My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives – Gerald Durrell.

British expatriots in Corfu during the 1930s. No clue where theirmoney comes from or what happened tothe father- Gerald (Gerry) is a pre-teen and already a naturalist in training and the youngest of the 4 children. Oldest brother Lawrence is already becoming A Famous Writer, middle sister and brother are teenagers, nowhere near as interesting as the animals Gerrald collects or the locals he meets. “My Family and Other Animals” is my favorite, and we re-read it at least 2-3 times.

A Zoo In My Luggage – Gerald Durrell.

Durrell’s other books are accounts of his collecting expeditions to find animals for other people’s and finally his own zoo. He has great stories, and started the first zoo-as-refuge-for-endangered-species around 1960, on one of the
Channel Islands.

The Cockcoo’s Egg – Cliff Stoll.

True story of a Berkeley grad student who discovers someone breaking into the computers he’s supervising, ends up discovering a German who is hacking university and government computers for the KGB. Includes a goode chocolate chip cookie recipe

The Periodic Table – Primo Levi –

Levi trained as a chemist, growing up in Italy in the 1930s.When the war starts he ends up in the Reisistance, is captured and shipped off to Auchwitz. He survives (working in the I. G. Farbin facility) and returns to Italy after the war. He becomes a paint and varnish chemist. Each story/chapter uses an element as the anchor for an episode, telling his life story from youth to age. Two stories are fictional the one about lead and the one about carbon. He wrote them in a feverish burst along with his acclaimed “Survival In Auchwitz” in 1946. Its wonderful in translation, it must be even more fun in the original Italian.

The Survival of the Bark Canoe – John McPhee.

Profile of Henri Vallencourt, a young man who mastered Native American canoe building technology and built them to order in the 1970s. No pencils, no saws, just a hatchet and a “crooked knife”, bought from the Hudson’s Bay Company. They’re easier to use and maintain than the sharpend beaver tooth they replaced, which is why HBC still sells them. Second half of the book is a canoe trip consisting of McPhee, the canoe maker, and some friends, through the Maine woods that Henry Thourou traveled and wrote about 150 years ago. One half-page reference to Deliverance and jokes about banjo-playing rapists mean it can’t be “G” but “PG” is very fair.

The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You know these.

The Harry Potter books. You know these too.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes – Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle

All 1100 pages. out loud, twice. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I recomend it. Smoking, light drinking, cocaine use by Holmes when he’s bored. (Watson portrays this unsympatheticly…)

The Fallen Man – Tony Hillerman.

Set on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, Hillerman’s mysteries are solved by members of the Navajo Tribal Police. They’re deeply rooted in place and time, and the Navajo and dominant cultures. In this story, a skeleton discovered over 1000 feet up a pinacle which is both popular with climbers and a Navajo sacred place. It may be a rancher who disappeared on his honeymoon years before…

The Maltese Falcon – Dashiel Hammett.

A woman with a complex story visits the small detective agency of Sam Spade and Miles Archer. Archer agrees to watch over her case personally. He is found, shot dead, in the middle of that night, and Sam Spade has to figure out who killed him, and why, and do something about it. One character in a criminal association is gay, and Spade refers to him as a “fairy” in one scene. There are suggestions that another male member of the gang may be his lover, which are not treated as positive. Relatioinships outside of marriage, past and present are key parts of the plot. Archer’s is not the only death. None the less, this is Hammett’s finest and a terrific book about being an adult.

Animal, Vegitable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver.

A year of eating locally, and in low-impact, means raising their own food animals and growing crops, as well as preserving by canning and freezing, and seeking meals away from home which are also of locally produced food. Naturally, seasonal foods become staples, and much thought is given to what comes from far away and how commercial, agribusiness farming works, as opposed to small, organic,efforts. Many recipes, the majority of the text is by Kingsolver but her husband and one daughter contribute as well. A really delightful book. A more positive take on the same subject as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Hoot, Flush,

These are really terrific kids books- kid centered points of view, serious conflict without it becoming overwhelming, justice triumphs more or less. Unsympathetic characters get a comeuppance and wits and dairing are shown to match brute force and come out ahead. Very likable protagonists, not the same in each book. I was sorry when each ended. Also see “Scat“, about Florida panthers.

Fate Is The Hunter – Ernest K. Gann

Memior of an airline pilot, from the wild days of the 1920s through the Depression, the war and the post-war boom. Superb, humble and honest adventure stories where nobody succeeds without help and kindness from others. Much dry wit, and a steady roll of the names of friends, co-workers and legends who died when fate finally had their number. I read this in 6th grade and loved it. We read it with Benjamin a couple of years ago and he loved it too. Superb writing. When he tired of the airline business, Gann went to medical school and became a doctor- quite a guy.

The Silent World – Jacques Y. Cousteau

From the invention of the Aqualung, in occupied France, through setting up Calypso for expeditions and setting out to make a life with science and diving. Cousteau wrote all his books in English directly, for the world market I suppose.

The Living Sea, World Without Sun, Jacques Y. Cousteau

Further adventures, exploration and science in the 1950s and early 1960s. I remember reading about most of this in The National Geographic some in the latest issues, some in back issues…

Incredible Victory – Walter Lord

The battle of Midway, as told by hundreds of survivors to Mr. Lord, 20 years later. He manages to tell the central parts of the story using quotes from people who were there, on both sides, the very best kind of history. In mid-1942 the Japanese Navy sets out to destroy the remaining US Pacific fleet. By capturing Midway, only 1200 miles from Oahu, they expect to provoke the US fleet into a final battle and defeat them. They don’t know the US Navy is reading their radio codes. In a single day, and amid enormous cost in American lives from Midway and afloat, dive bombers from two US carriers sink all 4 Japanese carriers, though the Japanese manage to sink one American carrier and an accompanying destroyer. This is the beginning of the why Admiral Nimitz got a freeway named after him… This and “A Night To Remember” are Lord’s most famous books, It helps that the good guys win, but the waste and savagery of war are not glossed over.

A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking

This is such a great book- it starts with a good cosmological joke, and contains only one equation. Its both a story of what is and how we know it, and what we don’t know yet. We saw Hawking on his last visit to the Bay Area and he’s inspiring. Robert Heinlein once wrote that any scientist who can’t explain what they’re doing, to a child, in 10 minutes, is a fraud. Hawking is not a fraud.

Benjamin read a number of Charlie Bone books to himself, and we read one as bedtime reading. Not my first choice, but he liked them a lot. He’s also current in the Maximum Ride and Levin Thumps series’, and looking forward to the next one in each case.

More fiction:

Around the World In 80 Days, Jules Verne
A Wrinkle In Time – L’Engle (?)
Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Bach
Owls In The Family
– F. Mowat

More natural history:

A Fish Caught In Time –
Waiting For Aphrodite – Sue Hubbell
The Ancient Engineers
– L. Sprague de Camp
Wonderful Life – Stephen J Gould
Life (the first 4 billion years) – Richard Fortey
Trilobite Eyewitness to Evolution – Richard Fortey
The Decypherment of Linear “B”
The Periodic Kingdom
Giant Squid – Ellis

The Wisdom of Bones – Walker & Shipman – Benjamin loved this and after this we read The Hominid Gang, by Delta Willis, which he liked even more. Willis has a different view of some of the same people and places that are the foundation for Walker and Shipman’s book. Willis was writing while the Nariokatome aka Turkana Boy, the oldest and so-far best preserved Homo Erectus, was being un-earthed and pieced together.

Books we read pieces of but stopped before the end or didn’t want to read all the way through start to finish:

Little Women – Louisa May Allcott – stopped before Amy died.

Read some, then stopped:
Little House In The Woods
Little House On the Praire
Anne of Green Gables
The Yearling

Read here and there, but not the whole thing. Enjoyed in small pieces. Favorites of mine :^)
Rising from the Plain – John McPhee
Assembling California – John McPhee
Looking for a Ship – John McPhee
Taking Wing – Pat Shipman and
Synapsida – McLaughlin
The Man Who Walked Through Time – Colin Fletcher
Carrying The Fire – Michael Collins

In theory good ideas but not yet actually read by/to Benjamin, yet:

Broadsides From The Other Orders – Sue Hubbell
A Country Year – Sue Hubbell
Life on the Missippi,
Mark Twain

A Distant Mirror – Werthimer
Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn
– Mark Twain
Endurance – Lansing (a powerfully written account of Shackleton’s last Antarctic expedition.)
House of Seven Gables
The Red Badge Of Courage – S. Crane

I, Juan De. Pareja

Historical fiction, story of a Moor who is enslaved and owned by the painter Velasquez… De Pareja eventually becomes a paint himself and provokes controversy by painting a black Jesus and Mary Mother and Child picture.

Pride and Prejudice – J. Austin
Sense and Sensability – J. Austin
Emma – J. Austin
Persuasion – J. Austin
Northanger Abbey – J. Austin
Is Paris Burning?
Beyond the 100th Meridian – W. Stiegner
Wuthering Hieghts
Last and First Men, Starmaker – Olaf Stapleton
A House In Space – Henry F. S. Cooper
(More) Tony Hillerman…
Diary of a Young Girl – Ann Frank