This is the website of Abulsme Noibatno Itramne (also known as Sam Minter). Comments here or emails to me at abulsme@abulsme.com are encouraged... or follow me on Twitter as @abulsme.

Categories

Calendar

July 2020
S M T W T F S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

2011 Reading

I’ve fallen way too far behind on my little summaries of things I have read, so I’m switching methodologies.  Instead of posting something for each book, I’ll do annual summaries.  The last individual book I did was Envisioning Information which I read in February 2011, so I’ll start with 2011.  I’ll do the whole year, even though it means backtracking a little bit.

Here goes, the books I finished in 2011:

  1. Nurtureshock by Bronson and Merryman [2009]: 2010-12-22 to 2011-01-03 (336p/13d=25.8p/d): A book about child development and parenting concentrating on places where research has shown results that are perhaps a bit counterintuitive.  It was interesting.
  2. Shadow of the Giant by Orson Scott Card [2005]: 2011-01-03 to 2011-01-12 (6136L/10d=613L/d): The 9th book in the Ender series.  One of the Bean ones.  Continues the decline in the series.  Still an entertaining read, but still a series that kept going past where it needed to.
  3. Fatal System Error by Joseph Menn [2010]: 2011-01-12 to 2011-01-18 (4589L/7d=656L/d): An investigation into internet organized crime.  It followed investigations into a few rings of people responsible for DDOS attacks, cyber gambling, cyberwarfare.  Interesting, and kinda scary.
  4. A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card [2007]: 2011-01-18 to 2011-01-19 (1294L/2d=647L/d): the 10th book in the Ender series.  More of a novella than a full novel.  Very short.  With a Christmas theme.  Going back to Ender’s time in battle school.  A rather odd addition to the series.
  5. All the President’s Men by Woodward and Bernstein [1974]: 2011-01-19 to 2011-02-05 (5862L/18d=325L/d): The classic recounting of the Watergate investigation.  I found it interesting but a bit dry.  I also found myself wishing it continued further in the story than it did.
  6. Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card [2008]: 2011-02-05 to 2011-02-13 (380p/9d=42.2p/d): Book #11 of the Ender series.  There are 15 now, with a 16th on the way, but this is the last of this series that I have read.  This fills in a few gaps in Ender’s history.  It was OK, but nothing special.
  7. Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte [1990]: 2011-02-13 to 2011-02-16 (126p/4d=31.5p/d): The second in Tufte’s series of books on similar topics.  These are nice pretty books, but I think they are a bit overrated, and most of the points he makes were already made well in the first book.  This is the last book I reviewed the old way.
  8. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu [2010]: 2011-02-16 to 2011-02-21 (2877L/6d=480L/d): A bizarre little time travel story.  Very impressionistic and dreamy.  Everything seemed kind of foggy.  It was never quite entirely clear what was happening.  Or maybe I was just too dense to understand it.  Anyway, not my kind of book at all.  Can’t say that I liked it.
  9. Decision Points by George W. Bush [2010]: 2011-02-21 to 2011-04-09 (10840L/48d=226L/d): The second George Bush’s memoirs.  Not really an autobiography, but just highlights of important “decision points” in his life.  I actually liked it quite a bit.  It humanized GWB quite a bit for me, and actually made me feel sorry for him.  Although I know it was not his goal, but to me it left an impression of someone in over his head and swept away by events beyond his control.
  10. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis [1950]: 2011-04-09 to 2011-04-12 (1986L/4d=497L/d): The first (by original publication date) of the Narnia series.  I think the last time I read this I was between 5th and 6th grade.  It is VERY SHORT.  A cute book though, despite the fact that the whole thing is just a thinly disguised religious allegory.
  11. Visual Explanations by Edward Tufte [1997]: 2011-04-12 to 2011-05-01 (156p/20d=7.80p/d): More of the same from Tufte.  Once again full of nice visual artifacts.  Once again makes a few good points.  Once again makes some others I don’t buy so much.
  12. O by Anonymous [2011]: 2011-05-01 to 2011-05-27 (5881L/27d=218L/d): A novel based around a staffer on the campaign staff of a fictionalized Obama clone.  It was perhaps intended to provide a little insight into what was going on in the campaign with a little added drama.  But in the end it was mostly forgettable.
  13. The Cult of the Presidency by Gene Healy [2008]: 2011-05-27 to 2011-06-28 (4882L/33d=148L/d): An examination of the growth of executive power over the history of the United States, with a concentration on the 20th century.  For those of us with a deep suspicion of concentration of power…  any concentration of power…  it is a disturbing history.  But most importantly it shows the ratcheting nature of such things.  Powers once taken are rarely ceded again without a major crisis.  Especially relevant in post-9/11 America.
  14. Dying of the Light by George R. R. Martin [1977]: 2011-06-28 to 2011-07-13 (6591L/16d=412L/d): Martin’s first novel, long before the days of Game of Thrones.  It is about the last few groups of people on a dying planet.  I haven’t read any of the later series, but if this first effort is a taste of what is to come later, I understand what people got excited about.  This was a good old fashioned fun Scifi romp.  I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more by Martin.
  15. How to Measure Anything by Douglas W. Hubbard [2010]: 2011-07-13 to 2011-08-09 (6328L/28d=226L/d): This is a book about how to use various techniques to produce reasonable quantitative estimates of almost anything, including modeling the uncertainty in those estimates.  Indeed, it makes the strong point that any estimate without a confidence interval is worse than useless.  I found much of what this book had to say immediately useful, and put much of it into practice in things I did both at work and at home.  Highly recommended.
  16. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente [2011]: 2011-08-09 to 2011-09-01 (4273L/25d=171L/d): Structured like a more modern day Alice in Wonderland, this is also a story of a young girl traveling through a bizarre fairyland with strange rules for how things work.  It was interesting, and had some cute bits, but it was perhaps a bit TOO whimsical and non-sensical for my tastes.  Just not my cup of tea, although I can see why some would like it.
  17. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin [1859]: 2011-09-01 to 2011-10-31 (9403L/61d=154L/d): I don’t know what possessed me to read this.  Historical curiosity I guess.  It is a tour de force of classical science and all.  It is also extremely dry and slow moving.  Not exactly a compelling page turner.  And of course in most circles, no longer controversial or radical.  Subsequent science has of course refined details and corrected bits and pieces, but the fundamental concepts survive basically intact.  It was good to read it, but there are much more accessible modern overviews of evolutionary theory out there for those who want it.

And that was it for 2011.  The book I started on October 31st wasn’t finished before the end of the year.

When I did the individual reviews, I had also been including charts for how many of the last 20 books I reviewed were available on Kindle, and how many of the last 20 books I have read I have read on Kindle.  Using this new model, obviously the first is no longer really viable, so even though that ratio hadn’t yet reached the 90% at which I’d said I would stop, I will stop anyway.

I can still do the chart of what percentage of the last 20 books read have been read on Kindle.  As of today (so including books finished not just in 2011, but also 2012, 2013 and so far in 2014) and starting from the day I first got a Kindle, it looks like this:

rok20140211

As you can see, this percentage peaked at 85% in early 2013 and has actually declined back down to 75% at the moment.  5 of the last 20 books I have read have been physical books.  I find at this point that when I hit a physical book my reading slows down considerably, just because of the extra burden of having to carry the thing around.  I am sure this percentage will go back up again, but as long as I keep occasionally reading physical books that have been gifted to me (or I occasionally choose a physical book I have owned for years) it will be hard for this to get up to 100%.  For that to happen I would need to not just avoid buying new physical books (I already do that) but actually reject the possibility of physical books when they do come up.  I’m not quite ready to do that.

In the future, I may separate out these Kindle Ratio graphs from any reviews I do.  Or I may not post any more updates of the graph.  Depends what I feel like later.  :-)

Not sure when I’ll do the 2012 books.  Someday.

Book: War of Gifts

wogAuthor: Orson Scott Card
Original Publication: 2007
Started: 2011 Jan 18
Finished: 2011 Jan 19
Format: Kindle
1294 locations / 2 days
647 locations/day

I continue my tradition of writing “quick” reviews of books over a year after I read them…  uh, almost two years after I read them.  Oops.  Anyway, I guess this has value as it leaves in my head only what is fundamentally memorable about a book, not just the initial impressions.

So on Orson Scott Card’s War of Gifts, basically my memory at first blush was really weak:

  • It is yet another in the Ender series.  #10 in publication order.
  • It is not a full novel.  Maybe a novella?  Really not much more than a short story.
  • It has a Christmas theme.

That is about all that persisted in my memory all this time, so I reviewed the Wikipedia page to refresh my memory.

It really is an oddball little Christmas story that doesn’t fit in all that well with the rest of the series.  It is like when your favorite hard rocking band comes out with a Christmas album.  Some kind of effect.  You end up thinking “Uh, OK.  But what??”

In the end it wasn’t a bad little short story.  It just seemed out of place.

The five second plot summary is that a student who is fairly religious arrives at battle school, where overt religious expression is forbidden as divisive.  Hijinks then ensure over the Chirstmas season as various groups try to express their religious beliefs in various ways.  Finally, Ender comes in and plays diplomat and resolves the situation.

The end.

If you are trying to be a completist and read all the Ender books, by all means this needs to be part of that.  Otherwise though, I’d probably skip this.

OK, as has been my pattern, with each review, a couple of graphs regarding Kindle coverage:

% of the last 20 books I reviewed that are now available on Kindle:

kr201212211714

% of the last 20 books I read that I actually read on Kindle:

rok201212211716

(I bought my Kindle when the first ratio hit 50%.  I’ve said before that I’ll do these charts until the ratios get to 90% or so.)

Shadow Puppets

Author: Orson Scott Card
Original Publication: 2002
Started: 2010 Nov 23
Finished : 2010 Nov 30
Format: Kindle
5563 locations / 8 days
695 locations / day

So, we’re now up to the 7th book in the Ender series.  Shadow Puppets picks up soon after the last one ended up.  But the main source of drama switches again, and the book seems to start moving back to the more philosophical sort of orientation as books 2-4 as compared to the more “things happening” sort of orientation of Books 1, 5 and 6.  Which is OK I guess, but in this case a bunch of it seems to be pushing the whole “the purpose of life is to produce children” sort of agenda.  Which actually started to get annoying.

The main plot point is that Bean, who is a genetically enhanced individual who gains great intelligence at the expense of abnormal growth patterns and an early death, initially intended not to have any children at all.  But he is convinced otherwise.  But they decide to create a number of embryos, test them for his condition, and only actually bring the ones without the condition to term.  But, oh my, the people helping in this process are in league with the bad guy, and all the embryos, both with and without the condition, are stolen.  Then we run around trying to get them back while also working to thwart the bad guy’s global plans.

I mean, I guess it is OK, but just a bit too much of it was centered around the “must have children, children are the meaning of life” thing.  I’d say of the books in the series I’ve read, this was the weakest so far.  I mean, it wasn’t horrible or anything, just not at the level of some of the others.

Shadow of the Hegemon

Author: Orson Scott Card
Original Publication: 2001
Started: 2010 Oct 30
Finished : 2010 Nov 8
Format: Kindle
7231 locations / 10 days
723 locations / day

So here I go, I am now up to Book 6 in the Ender Series.  This book once again concentrates on the character of Bean, the minor character in Ender’s Game that got a deeper background in the last book, Ender’s Shadow.  Now that the Buggers / Formics have been defeated, the action shifts back to Earth, where the unity of the planet during the war against an alien threat has fallen apart, and now major geopolitical shifts are under way as national powers start reasserting themselves.

In this context, the former members of Ender’s team (including Bean) become major players, as they are considered the brightest military minds on the planet.  An old rival of Bean’s from his childhood who was introduced in the last book also plays a huge part as the villain, constantly plotting for his own power, but more importantly for revenge against all those, such as Bean, who had ever seen him in positions of weakness.

There is some interesting geopolitical speculation here, looking at how a world might look several hundred years in our future, after an interlude where the planet had been forced to unite, but no longer is.  But even given the premise of this cadre of super-bright children who had already saved the world, it does start to stretch the suspension of disbelief a little bit when you essentially get a handful of teenagers engaging in machinations that direct the course of major nations as they go into and out of war.  It is an entertaining story, and once again Card is doing a novel that concentrates on events and actions as opposed to philosophical speculation.  They are different sorts of novels.  Both good in their own way.

This is maybe in the middle of the pack of the series so far in terms of how much I’ve enjoyed it.  Not as good as #1, #2 or #5 in this series, but probably better than #3 and #4.  Dunno.  They are all enough different from each other that it is hard to compare.

Worth a read if you like this series.  I wouldn’t suggest picking it up without having read at least #5 though, since it follows directly on from that book.

Children of the Mind

Author: Orson Scott Card
Started: 3 Oct 2010
Finished: 9 Oct 2010
Format: Paperback
349 p / 7 d
49.9 p/d

OK, now that is more like it.  Almost 50 pages per day and a book finished in a week.  Compared to the text book before this, that is just lightning speed…  Of course, I’m usually much faster with fiction and this was an easy read.

This is of course the next book (#4) in the Ender Series.  I’m working my way through the series to get to #11, which Brandy gave me for Christmas or a birthday or something a couple of years back.  :-)  I had finished the last one back in April.

This one continues directly from the previous book with no gap in time whatsoever.  It follows a couple of “characters” who are essentially just artificial extensions of Ender himself as they (and others, including the original Ender) try to prevent the destruction of a planet and a sentient computer network.

Continuing the trend of the last couple of books in this series, what goes on is decreasingly about events and actions or even characters, but instead is Card exploring a particular concept of  the nature of the soul and what it means in relation to the various characters in the story, the species they belong to and toward the whole of the universe I guess.  This is all an interesting thought experiment.  He proposes a physical extra dimensional sort of thing that embodies the soul or the will or whatnot, and which essentially possesses physical objects, with the “stronger” of these things being able to take control of complex entities such as human beings and with the ability to “intertwine” with other of these things as embodiment of relationships between people, etc.  He then pursues some of the ramifications of that sort of structure.  As I said, interesting thought experiment.

Overall a good book, if you are into the kind of book that is really more about exploring ideas and concepts that being a page turner based on plot alone.

Oh, and of course, the most interesting character here continues to be Jane, the sentient computer network.  But then again, I’ve always had a thing for sentient computer networks.