Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: It's Complicated

I've scaled back the book reviews on my blog. Combination of being busy and just being less interested than in the past in doing so. That said, I intend to make a point of adding reviews for books I deem important, and danah boyd's book, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens , is just such a book.

I've had the pleasure of meeting danah through mutual friends and she's one of those crazy smart people that would make you feel woefully inadequate, were she not so personable and engaging. It's Complicated represents the culmination of over a decade's worth of her research into American teens and how they use technology and social media. It is a groundbreaking, nuanced, thorough look at the topic and it's many facets.

The book opens with a discussion on 'networked publics', the virtual spaces created by online participation, and the ways in which these spaces overlap and collide with each other and the real world networks in which we live. It then goes on to discuss the many ways in which youth today use and participate in these networks as part of their participation in society and as part of their growing into adults.

From the closing passage of the book, boyd summarizes why I think the book is so important:

"Growing up in and being a part of networked publics is complicated. The realities that youth face to not fit neatly into utopian or dystopian frames, nor will eliminating technology solve the problems they encounter. Networked publics are here to stay. Rather than resisting technology or fearing what might happen if youth embrace social media, adults should help youth develop the skills and perspective to productively navigate the complications brought about by living in networked publics."

Ultimately, this is a book about modern teenage life in our society, how it differs from the actual and idealized world of their parents' teenage years, and the role that technology does and doesn't play in that difference. It's also about media literacy and how kids and parents are struggling to make use of, and sense of, a shifting landscape of technology that is reshaping how we view our relationships to one another.

I started reading the book as a technology guy looking to learn more about where things were heading. However, I think the side of me that is a father of three will-be-teens-before-you-know-it kids got the most out of it.

Strongly suggested reading for anyone in tech and anyone with kids.

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 in Books (continued)

I've many things I've mean to post, but being early-jan-going-on-mid-jan, I'd better post my annual summary of the year's reading.

Last year, I decreased my target number of books to read from 48 to 36, and then missed that by one, having read 35.

I read 16 works of fiction and 19 non-fiction books (about the same percentage as last year). Format-wise, 9 were audiobooks, 10 were paper-based, and 16 were e-books (e-books trending up for me, and audio books trending down probably due to lowering my target for the year.

Favorite non-fiction books of the year for me were: The Information, The Signal and The Noise, the Blind Giant, and Born to Run. Favorite works of fiction: Nexus, Wool, Metatropolis. (see links below)

Here's the list grouped by topic, asterisk next to recommended titles, two asterisks next to highly recommended books.

Business
Good Strategy: Bad Strategy
The Coke Machine

Overdressed*  (haven't written review yet, but it's good)
Stewardship (haven't written review yet)

Politics/History
Griftopia*

Culture/Art/Media
The American Way of Eating

Technology
The Information**
Who Owns the Future
The Blind Giant**

Fitness/Health/Self-help
Becoming a Supple Leopard*
First: What It Takes to Win

Biographies/memoirs
Love with a Chance of Drowning

Fiction
Amped
Makers*
Nexus**
The Hangman's Daughter (haven't written review yet)
You
Wool** (haven't written review yet, but it's good)
Robopocalpse
A Crack in Space
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (didn't bother writing review)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (didn't bother writing review)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Graphic Novels
The Technopriests BookOne

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 in Books

More detailed post later, but here's the gallery version:


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: Pirate Cinema

A while back I started Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema but then got distracted by a few other books I had going. I then spotted the audio-book version at the library and finished it that way.

Pirate cinema is a YA novel that is one part Oliver Twist, one part sci-fi, and one part copyright polemic. The lead character, Trent, a UK teen, runs away from home when his family's internet access is cut off after he downloads too many pirated film clips to us in his own amateur film making. After running off to London, he falls in with some other homeless teens, who show him how to make a living and work the system. They then turn their mischievous ways to fighting unjust copyright regulation.

The treatment of the subject matter is a bit blunt but this is probably ok for a YA novel, so I can see past this. The characters are fun, the story is pretty good.

Two flaws that make me give this a 3/5 rating. First, there were a few tangential bits of reference to tech that felt just forced (e.g. reference to Sugru). Secondly, while I was willing to suspend disbelief that the teens in this story could be as street-smart and tech-savvy as they were portrayed, the degree to which they were "foodies" just broke the illusion for me. There were a number of sections that went on at length about elaborate food prep that it's just not likely a teen, let alone a homeless 'freegan' teen, would eat. It read a bit like maybe Doctorow wrote it when dieting himself and was on a diet while writing it.

Those minor complaints aside, it's a fun ride if you don't mind the copyfight pontification.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Book Review: The Signal and the Noise

Nate Silver's book, The Signal and the Noise, is among my fave non-fiction reads of the year. Highly recommended, especially for anyone that does any kind of modelling/forecasting as part of their work (as is the case for me).

Silver made a name for himself doing baseball forecasting, then moved on do playing professional poker during the 'poker bubble', then came onto the mainstream radar by pretty accurately predicting the 2008 election.

In his book, he looks at the poor track record many branches of science & business have in making predictions. He also points to some areas of success. In running through his examples (baseball, weather, politics, finance and earthquake prediction, to name a few), he looks at a variance of available historical data, signal to noise ratios, etc. He gives a nice overview of Bayesian principles of taking bias into account.

I don't want to give it five stars only because much of his work has been covered by others (e.g. Taleb's Black Swans for example), but it's a great book nonetheless. It made me realize some of the flaws in much of the modelling that we do in my work, and gave me some tools to (hopefully) improve.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't