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A Library Without Us

August 9th, 2009

Oh boy. I’ve totally blown it. That’s pretty much what I think while I’m reading The World Without Us. Whether it be the car I drive, or how I handle refuse, or what I’m NOT doing about all that plastic in the ocean, I feel like I’m not too friendly with Mother Earth. But at the same time, she’s probably laughing a little at those who haven’t realize it’s too late, “oh, the naiveté”, she says. Homo sapiens were destined for extinction from the beginning. I’ve always thought so, but only in the biblical-armaggedon sense. Now I feel the same way, but for more practical “real-world” reasons, as in, The Earth Will Always Win. There will always be freeze-thaw, there will always be a warming and an icing over, and starting over again, as countless civilizations before us have experienced. Think of it in millions of years, which is difficult, almost impossible actually, but it makes it easier to grasp. We are done for. This isn’t fatalism. It’s evolution.

So why am I all the sudden very conscious of my carbon footprint? I know eventually I’ll be in the ground, an ice age will begin, and my remains will be pulverized over hundreds of thousands of years into bonemeal to be used for whatever bonemeal is used for. Most likely as unnoticed fertilizer for our descendant’s cornfield a million years from now. Like most things in nature, the earth and myself including, there is a constant breaking down and renewal. Not that I have any choice, but that’s fine by me and not in the least bit depressing. As corn or whatever grows through my fine-powdered remains, will the farmers, or the food be any different because I put pizza crusts in one trash bin and cardboard in another a million years earlier?

I have no idea what the (very) long implications of sorting out recycling are. What I do know, is that I see the impact it has now, in my time. And I’ve been impressed to do something about it, whether I ever see the return or not. EVEN if it makes a difference or not.

It’s much like the time when I realized that although my one small presidential vote is largely mathematically insignificant, not voting is wasting the lives that provided the opportunity to do so, and honoring sacrifices is reason enough to do something that sometimes feels pointless.

Ok, so I lost myself a little and somewhere there is a tie-in to recycling, I promise. Bottom-line is that although it may appear insignificant when people think about it a million years from now, deep down I feel like it’s my duty to ignore that and do what’s best for the earth, right now.

So, then, what can I do? Well I started using a Kindle again. I won’t go into whether this is environmentally better or not simply because I don’t know. Paper comes from trees, thus the more books, the more forests get hewn down. But then, paper is biodegradable and plastic is not. In a thousand years my books will be indistinguishable from soil, and my plastic Kindle will still be sitting there. I could go on and on, which I may, at a future date.

My problem is now all these books that I’ve accumulated over the years. They just sit there. Nobody reads them but me, and 95% of the books that make up my library never get read again. They collect dust while they wait for their journey to the landfill. A landfill will eventually be their home regardless of pretty much anything I do, but what can I do with them in the meantime?

Note To Self: Must think about this.

Book #33 tomorrow, week #33 started today. Not too shabby.


Alan Weisman, Book Thoughts, The World WIthout Us ,

Robert Fulghum Raises The Bar. Completed 31 of 52.

July 27th, 2009

I’m through with Fulghum’s book (#31 of 52). It is brilliant. It’s the kind of book that you can read one page at a time, take a moment and let it sink in, and then move on to the next. It’s that way because it’s a collection of passages that have inspired his own writing, almost all are just a few sentences. They aren’t his words, so the style and tone and delivery are different on every single page. For non-fiction, it’s an incredible page-turner. He has favorites from all walks of life, Tom Robbins, Norman Cousins, Gandhi, Lao-Tzu, Albert Camus, Thoreau, Roosevelt. A wide spectrum, yes. All fantastic bits.

Another great thing about this book is that it’s a short list of the best non-fiction books of all-time. And being that I am somewhat resolute in not wasting my time with…”of-the-moment” drivel, this book will be as a springboard, catapulting me headfirst with velocity and smiles to the best literature (hopefully) a man can engross himself in. I find myself writing titles on post-its, receipts, baseball cards, whatever is around, titles of books mentioned or titles of books by authors mentioned.

A voracious reader himself, there is no shortage of timeless wisdom that Fulghum has picked up. A nice passage tonight:

The man who never alters his opinion
is like standing water,
and breeds reptiles of the mind.

– William Blake

And one for when you are really down, and need a pick-me-up, gnaw on this one for a spell:

The great thing about suicide is that it’s not one of those things you have to do now or you lose your chance. I mean, you can always do it later.

– Harvey Feinstein.

SO true!


Book Thoughts, Robert Fulghum, Words I Wish I Wrote ,

Reader’s Block @ Week 30

July 23rd, 2009

Six days in and I’m on page 28 of FLOW. Page 28. That’s less than 5 pages a day. Perhaps I should have waited until after I encountered the tightrope walker to pick my next book because every time I pick the book up I subconsciously ask myself, “is this book really that important?”.

Don’t ask how I know this if it’s subconscious. I won’t have an answer.

So I’m officially stuck with reader’s block. If I don’t finish this book by Saturday I will officially be behind schedule for the first time.

Did I set myself up for failure when asking so much from myself by how I select my books? Why is reading by itself no longer enough? Is this an enigma wrapped in a mystery stuffed in a pancake?

So, any tips on how to overcome reader’s block and what I call “Unreachable Literary Expectations”?

p.s. today I added a donate button to the site. it’s not a stretch to think that if people donate to this, I’m more apt to accomplish it. nevertheless, a hint of shame entered my consciousness, I’ll tell you that. books at this volume are more expensive than I had anticipated. my anticipation skills are poor.


Book Thoughts, flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ,

Tightrope Walker Giving Me A Not-So-Subtle Push

July 20th, 2009

I watched an amazing film last night called Man On Wire. It got me thinking. This film is probably the best documentary film I have ever seen. The premise isn’t that exciting, the guy walks a tightrope between the two towers. Now, that is pretty crazy, right? But is it? As I watched the film I began to change my mind. It wasn’t crazy at all. It wasn’t even stupid. It was dangerous, yes, but it was also amazing and beautiful and transcendent.

But this post isn’t about the movie. It’s about what the movie taught me. It’s about what the movie taught me about the things that are going on in my mind, with what I’m involved in now, with this, the crazy goal of reading this much. 52 books isn’t so crazy anymore. Reading and tightrope walking are not the same. I’m not in any way comparing the two. Not even the goals exist on the same plane.

And with that I realized that I’m wasting my time. But I also realized that I don’t need to tightrope-walk really high in the air to maximize the time I spend doing something that drives me. Philippe Petit wasn’t content with the easy walk. He wanted something that challenged him, an act that pushed him far beyond himself.

Now, I know that I’ll never accomplish anything remotely close to our Monsieur Petit. But, I’m in the middle of doing something that I didn’t think I’d be able to do. I’m walking my own tightrope. So why am I wasting my time walking a tightrope that is only a few feet off the ground? Metaphors aside, why am I wasting my time with books that aren’t challenging, that don’t inspire as much as books are supposed to? I’ll tell you why. It’s because I know that books on the NYT bestseller list, or that are face-out on the bookshelves, or are getting 4.5 stars at Amazon are going to be no-doubters in the sense that I won’t feel I wasted money by reading them. Nobody will. Because, like so much bad T.V., they’re written to sell. They’re written with society’s “lowest-common denominator” in mind. As we’ve seen with some fantastic T.V. shows, too interesting equates to too few people in the audience.

There are exceptions in my current reading list. But I’m not challenging myself enough by moving outside the realm of what kinds of literature I’m comfortable with.

Self-Help? Out.
Better Business? Out.
Clever Memoir That EVERYONE loves? Out.
Baseball? Not happening.
Programming? *shrug*

You get my point.

Drop me off in the middle of Europe with no map. Throw me in the jungle with no food and a small blade. Give me scuba gear and tell me to find the gold. Put me high in the mountains with only my sneakers. This, after all, is the point of literature, right? Take me someplace I’ve never seen. Take me on an adventure I’ve never been.

I’ve been in the psychiatrist’s chair.
I’ve been in the conference room.
I’ve lived a life worth a memoir.
I’ve watched baseball.
and I’ve done some programming.

Books, brain, TAKE ME SOMEWHERE I’VE NEVER BEEN.

And THAT is the message of Man On Wire.


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I Finished Another Actual Book

July 17th, 2009

Book #30 is in the bag. This was the 2nd book in a row that came out of nowhere. Which means that it wasn’t in my Amazon wishlist, or something I had heard about in a magazine, or from another book, which is how it usually works. Each of the last two books have come from the workplace. I’m not a software guy or a programming guy, but this book was exceptional and I fell just short of demanding everyone I know read it.

It’s a small little book, paperback too, and it costs between $79 and $104 on Amazon. I know, pretty crazy. I could buy 10 John Grisham books for that amount! 😉 . But since I didn’t buy it, it was worth every penny. Even at that price, though, if you work in an environment where there is even a little software development and you are even just the slightest bit involved, it will radically change how you perceive “the process”. Two thumbs up from me.

So my next book is well known, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Or, Mr. C if you prefer. I read the first chapter of this over 10 years ago and remember thinking “Wow!”. I also remember never picking it up again. I didn’t approach reading then as I do now. There is another book by Mr. C floating around the office and it has caught my eye a time or two. Perhaps book #32?


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I Finished An Actual Book

July 13th, 2009

I completed Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. That in itself is newsworthy since it feels like forever since I’ve completed anything. But because I was a few weeks ahead before I hit this literary wall that is The Summer, I’m still on track for my goal of 52.

This next book is another borrowed one from work. It’s called Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way To Build A Successful Web Application. I know, really exciting. It is.

I feel like I’m back on track, and I’m excited to hit the books again. FYI.

You all should watch the “Glee” pilot. Srsly.


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A Struggling Update

July 6th, 2009

I’m struggling. With reading. Somehow I’ve lost track of the hours in a day, or perhaps life is catching up with me. Either way, I’m no longer soaring, breezing, drifting casually hundreds of hundreds of pages at a time. Each page is a laborious, energy draining TASK.

I read the two SQL books, and since then I’ve started and stopped a couple books. The CSS book was not read, way too much like a reference text. February, March, maybe. But not now, not in these circumstances.

I’m reading two books right now, which is a bad sign. It’s not a sign of studious reading, it’s a sign of non-commitment.

Today is the start of week #28. I’ve read 28 books. So, in a way, I’m right on target. But I know myself better than to rest on that. I’m behind, mentally, in my reading.

Despite being “right on track”, I haven’t completed a book since June 13th. That is a long time. Since then I’ve dropped 1 book, and started 2 others.

That “high” I would get from reading has gone away. My mind is still alive and active as it was when reading vehemently, but it has a new focus, something more important right now, my career. Not that reading was a distraction, because I often read late at night before bed, instead of watching T.V.. But the books, particularly the ones on SQL took me in a new direction, and it’s hard to read something else besides programming books when your mind wraps itself around a new topic that excites you. Luckily, the knowledge I gained from those two books has helped my career, which took an unexpected turn a couple weeks ago and now I’m doing much more amateur “database development” than I was ever required to do. I’m able to solve problems and streamline workflow much easier now.

So now I’m reading a book called “The Book” which is essentially a textbook on statistics centered around the game of baseball. It’s highly technical and mathematical and … dry.

I’m also reading “Predictably Irrational”, which discusses a developing field called “Behavioral Economics”. It’s a great book, and has helped get some of the excitement back.

I’m nowhere near completing either one.

So I’m on track, as far as numbers, but I’m lagging. And conversely, work is getting more and more interesting and my mind is focused almost singularly on that. Which for now is a great thing.

It’s July now, the Fall will soon be here. How then, will my resolution be?


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Completed SQL Circuit – Book #29

June 23rd, 2009

Done with the two database books. *phew*. Sidenote: SQL is awesome. I’m going to tackle a little CSS next and learn how to design properly. I suppose I’m a bit hesitant to read three straight technical books, but lately these topics have been on my mind and I wanted to learn. So I started. Eventually I’ll stop. Maybe.


Book Thoughts ,

Break From Literature For Technical Books

June 12th, 2009

I started reading Beginning Database Design thinking that it would probably be the greatest book read so far.

And I was pretty much right.

I’m heading to San Francisco this weekend for a little getaway and I’ll be starting a new book. Most likely it will be the companion volume to Beginning Database Design, titled Beginning SQL Queries, but I haven’t made up my mind.

Still ahead of schedule.


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Database Design

June 3rd, 2009

I’m jumping the shark a little here and tackling a computer book for book #27. I’ve been using databases for a couple years but have never taken the time to really learn more about the design, implementation, and maintenance of them. Databases excite me, so sue me. 😉


Book Thoughts ,

Asperger’s Syndrome and Page Count Statistics

May 29th, 2009

I took a few days off reading and it was wonderful. I’ve been able to clear my head and, after 3 days, I’m ready to roll again.

I’ve chosen Look Me In The Eye to read next. It’s by John Elder Robison, the brother of Augusten Burroughs. Robison has Asperger’s syndrome, a less severe version of autism. It’s a memoir. I’m very excited.

This will be my last “regular” book for a couple weeks because I have a couple computer books en route about MySQL databases. I’ll write more about that in the coming weeks, my recent fascination with data storage and retrieval and all the neat little things I’ve been using databases for lately, ranging from baseball statistics to tracking my daughters cellphone usage. Good stuff. And she’s grounded.

This past week, since I haven’t been reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about reading. I’ve been looking at a few different aspects of my reading so far. Something that I track, but don’t show on the website, are my ratings. I rate each and every book on a 0-10 scale. I also track the number of pages and a rough estimation of word count based on a sample page.

But I started getting curious about certain statistics, mainly if there was any correlation between the size of the book and the rating it received. Would it be more likely that a smaller book would get a better rating because I could read it faster, retain more information, and the idea that smaller books might be more focused on an individual subject, and thus was chosen more carefully? Or would larger books get higher ratings? After all, I’m not going to tackle a longer book unless I know for sure that I’m going to enjoy it throughout, and give it a more analytical inspection before I purchase. Or, because it’s a longer book, I dive into it with more dedication, knowing it will require more commitment than previous books, and in turn, have an emotional buy-in before I even begin reading. I couldn’t see myself spending 12 hours during a given week on a certain book, finish it, and then say, “that was a piece of crap.”

So I decided to take my ratings and the page count, and stick it into a formula called Pearson’s Correlation Coefficient. This formula can measure the correlation between two data sets and tell you how much correlation there is. I had a small sample size, only 25 books, but I plugged in the numbers anyway. The “score” ranges from -1.0 to 1.0, with zero being no correlation and as you move to either side of zero, you get closer to having a correlation (that was very crude but I’m not a mathematician). A -1.0 score would mean as the page count decreases, the rating increases, and a +1.0 would mean as page count increases, rating increases. Everything in between shows a smaller and smaller correlation between the two sets of numbers. If you were to plot these numbers on a graph, you would see the points forming a shape going upwards, left to right. The opposite for a negative correlation.

So I’ve described, roughly, correlation (to the best of my ability). All this only to tell you that there was no correlation at all between the length of the books and the ratings I’ve given them. My Pearson’s score was 0.27 which is no correlation at all. And on a graph it looks like a totally random placement of data points creating no shape at all. X is my rating, and Y is page count.


Based on the numbers, I like and dislike books big and small, with no pattern either way. Wasn’t that fun?

Now I’m going to learn more about Asperger’s syndrome. Laters.

tip: if this wasn’t fun to read, you’re not alone, but reread it anyways while listening to Flaming Lips’ Free Radicals. it will be much better.


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Possible Side Effects

May 25th, 2009

This weekend I started, and finished, Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs. It was much longer than Tribes, but because of the flu I was able to lie in bed for a large part of the holiday weekend and read (as much as you can lie in bed with 4 children). Now I’m faced with choosing a new book and I have a few to choose from that have been sitting around for a bit. I really don’t know what to read next. I’m a few weeks ahead so I may take my time with choosing the next book.


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Tribes – The End

May 22nd, 2009

Tribes was excellent as well as a quick read. It’s time to think about what’s next!


Book Thoughts ,

Tribes, Taking Breaks, and Persuasion

May 21st, 2009

The Wisdom of Crowds was a true bear of a book. The parts that I was able to follow were great. The group experiments, how they apply to groups in general, blahblahblah. It was all good. But then…I started reading a page, looking at the page number, reading a page, looking at the page number. I did this for the last 100 pages at least. Reading for the sake of reading. I realized this, and two quotes bounced around in my head for those last 100 pages, contradictory ones.

“Never read a book through merely because you have begun it.”
– John Witherspoon

“A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”
– Samuel Johnson

In this case, Samuel Johnson, sitting on my right shoulder, was of greater persuasion and I finished the book.

So now begins book #24. I’m way ahead of schedule, and that was the plan. I wanted to get ahead of schedule so that I could take a break and spend a few weeks doing other things, like maybe catching up on some television. But then I finish a book, and usually that last day I’m really starting to think about what book I’m going to tackle next. And that familiar feeling of anticipation starts to build, the desire to end and to begin again.

Today as I waited for my daughter to finish gymnastics I finished the last page of Crowds, placed the book into my bag and in virtually the same motion pulled out Tribes, book #24, by Seth Godin. 40 pages later, roughly 1/4 of the book, I realized that after I finished this one, I’d be almost a full month ahead of schedule. So now may be the time to tackle that history book I bought earlier this year. The 700 page one. And spend June learning about the history of my country. But you never know. I could just take the month off and catch up on The Mentalist. But then Groucho Marx whispers in my ear…

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

Catch you in a few days…

Ever wondered how to make Chocolate Tuxedo Strawberries?

Book Thoughts ,

Wolfram|Alpha – Total Words Read

May 18th, 2009

Thanks to the new “computational knowledge engine” at http://wolframalpha.com, my 22 books, or 6000+ pages, read so far this year equals about 3 million words, based on the average page word-count. That’s a lot of words.

Which leads me to think about the human brain and how much I’m able to actually absorb. Then I start breaking that down into energy consumed, “storage space”, recall, knowledge accrued, and the general neuron activity in my brain that is occurring, but going almost completely unnoticed by me. And then I get a headache.

What do you think the intake of 3 million words (in subjects you pursued) over a 4 1/2 month span would do for you?


Book Thoughts

The Wisdom of Crowds

May 14th, 2009

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. Just when Gilbert was starting to get me all into meditation and insane egocentricity, I thrust myself back into business literature. You know, like Bali, Balance. Patience. I’ll have plenty of time for labeling things from God, then crediting myself for it, later. I have things to write about our friend Elizabeth Gilbert, but that will come later. I rarely write a blog post about one book while reading another, but right now I want to read and writing is just getting in the way!


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Eat. Pray. Love. Done.

May 14th, 2009

Lots of thoughts about this one. I may or may not put them here.

Stay tuned.


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Quick Update – Eat Pray Love

May 10th, 2009

I finished Quirkology obviously, and told myself that since I was a couple weeks ahead I was going to take a little break. Then immediately after that I went downstairs and picked another book to read and began reading. (See obsession post earlier) I read A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter. I breezed through that in a couple days and it was good at times. Some books you read you have to be in the mood for. This was one of those “beer-goggle” books, it looked really good at the time, but later, under different circumstances, not so much.

But I was able to get some good ideas about work and pace and urgency and all in all, I’m glad I read it.

So again, I’m very much ahead of schedule but have chosen a book to read that is a no-doubter. It’s Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book has appeared everywhere, but most recently I watched the author’s presentation at the most recent TEDTalk. And it was really good. It even included a Tom Waits anecdote which is a very quick path to my heart. So book #22 is starting and this is beginning of week #20.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s TEDTalk:

Author Video, Book Thoughts ,

Book #20 – Quirkology and The Obsession

May 4th, 2009

So I decided, because I was ahead of schedule, that I would read a much larger book. So I started that and got about 100 pages in when I decided to start a different book, and that book is Quirkology by Richard Wiseman. I’m going to continue to read both books, the other being a 600-page book on Search Marketing, but only track the main book, or in other words, the weekly book. Some books are meant to be absorbed slowly, as is the case with a 600-page educational text on marketing. I will take my time reading that one, while still maintaining my weekly pace with much more manageable sub-500 page books.

So I started Quirkology yesterday and I’m almost finished with it. I gave it a “casual” glance Sunday afternoon and found myself in no time at all reading about a third of it. It’s good. But a lot of the studies and experiments that are talked about were talked about in a different book I’ve read this year (and published earlier) called Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. I would say that of the 25 or so psychological studies that the book has covered so far, about 10 of them I was already familiar with from Gladwell’s book. So that is a little disappointing.

I should finish this book tomorrow, and be about 20 days ahead of schedule.

20 books in and I’m noticing that this is quickly turning into an obsession. I can’t stop reading, I can’t stop shopping for books, I read with an almost manic fever, the consuming of information, of stories, the feeling of accomplishment. It’s like a drug, the opening of a new book, the creasing of the spine, the consumption and placement of the book on the “finished” shelf (which is becoming rather full).

I have 13 books in my “library” that haven’t been opened yet, that I can’t wait to get to. It’s almost as if I’m reading for the sole purpose of getting to the next one, and not because it’s a numbers game, but because the rate in which I read has dramatically increased, and my ability to retain information is increasing as well, so it’s the need, the thirst for words, for information. My brain is slowly being conditioned in this way. And I like it.

And all it takes is canceling cable and 90 minutes a day. SO worth it. I’ll cover my TV/Movie intake in a later post.

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Finished With Midnight Disease

May 1st, 2009

I breezed through that book fairly quick, not an enjoyable read like I had hoped. I gave it a 5/10. Some passages were really interesting, but they were few and far between.

I’m now 16 days ahead of schedule so this is an opportunity to either take a break, or read a much larger book. I’m going to decided today what to do.

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