Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: How Will You Measure Your Life?

I'm a big fan of Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma and other books about innovation and creative disruption. I was surprised to learn that he'd written a slightly different book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, this one about guiding principles for guiding one's career and one's life. I was curious about it being outside his usual fare, so I decided to give it a whirl.

As a self-help book, it's pretty unique. Christensen draws upon his many business case studies to make some pretty interesting analogies (e.g. comparing 'outsourcing' of parental duties to nannies and activity providers to Dell's outsourcing of it's core functions over time and what it cost them in the long run). This aspect of the book I liked very much, and most of his analogies are sound. I also like his recommendation on career choice assessments into 'hygiene factors' (e.g. salary - you need a certain amount to function, but beyond that it shouldn't be part of a decision between 2 jobs) and the factors that really matter.

On the down side, I found the later parts of the book to drift a little into left field. Especially when he gets into the more religious elements later in the book. Still, I enjoyed it despite this.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: Tears in Rain

I added Tears in Rain to my to-read list somewhat impulsively after reading an excerpt published on BoingBoing. It was not without it's flaws, but also had some strong points, and I enjoyed reading most of it despite the flaws.

The book is Blade Runner fan-fic. A noire detective story in a future setting very much in keeping with that film. The main character is a Replicant (Android) drawn into investigating a series of strange Replicant deaths  after one of these occurs in her apartment. The further she unravels the mystery, the more twisted the conspiracy becomes as the bodies keep piling up.

Along the way, there are some very nice bits of sci-fi, both in the smaller details of the settings (courier robots, home automation, etc) and in the larger questions put before the reader (e.g. ethics of tampering with people's memories, when/if that becomes possible, for example. Also I really liked the treatment the author gave to state-control of information and revisionist history when all our history is centralized in a wikipedia-like system. Very thought provoking).

My complaints about the book: (1) It was desperately in need of editing down to about two thirds its size. The author took on too much, and some of it should have stayed on the editing room floor. (2) There was some unimaginative bits of sci-fi that broke the immersion (personal computers are still mobile phones, and they still use GPS). (3) Rather than name-checking the Blade Runner characters or universe, the author name-checks the MOVIE itself, which totally broke the immersion where it was done. Finally (4) while most of the book was too long, the ending definitely felt like it came together and tied off too quickly, like the author was trying to rush.

These flaws aside, it's a good 'B' level read for Blade Runner fans

Tears in Rain

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012 in Books

A little late with it, but here's my annual round up on the year's reading.

I took a goal at the end of 2011 to read 48 books this year and I managed to hit that goal. However, in pursuing that goal, there were times I pushed through books I should have otherwise put down, and times I prioritized lighter fare over heavier stuff. Next year I'm taking the goal of completing 36, but having them be more meaningful. I'll be ok with abandoning books that are turning out as disappointing.

I read 31 non-fiction books and 18 works of fiction (though three books were a mix of fic/non-fic, so I had to make a call on which category to put them in). Format-wise, 19 were audiobooks, 12 were e-books, and 17 were on dead-trees. All the e-books were consumed on Amazon's Kindle app on the iPad, or rare occasion I used the phone when I was stuck somewhere with downtime. Four of the books (Seven Fables, The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, and Hello Skater Girl, The Art of Videogames) were written by friends; I continue to marvel at how lucky and privileged I am to know such people.

My favorite books of the year were as follows: In non-fiction: The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It, Republic Lost, and Rocket Men. In fiction: Rainbows End, Angelmaker, and The Windup Girl.

Here's the full list grouped by topic. An asterisk means recommended, and two means highly recommended.


Graphic Novels

What do you think? Did you disagree with any of my recommendations? Any faves from last year that I missed entirely? Let me know!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Metagame

MetaGame is a scifi thriller that takes place in and around MMO-type games. In this vein, it's similar to Snowcrash, Rainbows End, Ready Player One, and many others.

I found it to be a very engaging story, with some provocative bits technology futurism. I give the book a 3/5 or so rating because it was in dire need of editing. There were parts that were too long and should have been left on the chopping block, and there were parts that could have used cleanup, and some poor choice of language that broke suspension of disbelief at times. Less would have definitely been more.

That said, it's FAR better than Ready Player One that so many found so great last year, so I still recommend it.

Among the interesting bits of futurism: Crowd-sourcing as source for the meta-game and for the hive-mind; Post-scarcity life, and various bits of bio-tech and post-human hackery. The author even does a pretty good job of tackling ethics of genetically engineered human-derivative 'products', despite this being well trod ground.

There's a scene where the lead character, D-lite, has a maddeningly frustrating tech support dispute over the terms of his mind-interface chip's EULA in an attempt to access the source code to his own in-game character, that in itself is worth reading the book. It's thought-provoking gold, and just conceivable enough to be scary.

Well worth reading despite it's flaws.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 book gallery

I'm going to do my usual roundup post when I get some time, but here's the gallery view of last year's reads.

Book Review: Program or Be Programmed

I headed into Douglas Rushkoff's book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age expecting it to like it. I've read some of his writing and find I agree with some of his major ideas. As the title of the book implies, it centers around the idea that the more of our lives we place in the hands of technology, the more important it is that we understand how the underlying tech works, and if necessary, be capable of changing it.

However, I was quite disappointed with the book. While some of his ideas are along the right lines, he sort of circles around them without directly nailing most of them. Worse still, many of his analogies are broken For example, he makes an analogy to automobiles, comparing ignorant users of tech to being passengers rather than drivers. I'd say a better analogy would be to say that it's more like drivers who know how an automobile works are more likely to make better use of the car, better able to converse with their mechanic, etc. Others are just plain wrong. For example, he compares digital audio to analog audio recording, making the point that digital is a quantized, and thus poor, copy of the original, while analog is an exact copy. However, analog recording is full of it's own errors and approximations. Ultimately BOTH are a copy of the original, each with their own flaws, thus 'going digital' doesn't necesarily cause a problem, and ultimately it's important to understand both. More annoying still, is that he stretches many of his analogies too far, as many books tend to do.

Finally, he doesn't really offer a prescription of any kind. Unlike better works like Jonathan Zittrain's book, which at least attempt to offer some suggested tactics and possible solutions, Rushkoff's book just rants about the problems and doesn't offer any paths out for most of them.

Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age