January Books: New Orleans, World War II and Military Sci Fi

I made a resolution to read a book a week in 2015. As long as you are making resolutions, you should make them fun, right?

In January I read a great nonfiction book about New Orleans’ neighborhoods and culture, a good historical fiction book that takes place during World War II and a bunch of easy reading military scifi.

Historical Fiction

The first book I finished this year was All the Light We Cannot See. My book group chose this book and it’s a good story. It takes place during World War II and is told from the view point of an orphan boy who ends up in the army on the Nazi side and a blind girl whose father is the master locksmith of the Louvre. The girls’ father is one of 4 people given a replica of a jewel or the real thing and told to hide it. The boy is part of a crew designed to find and take down radio transmissions. The story is well told; the characters are well developed and the book is true to history. I recommend it.

Nonfiction

I also said I’d read one nonfiction book and blog about it. For January, that book was Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans. This is the true story of nine people’s lives in New Orleans from Hurricane Betsy to Hurricane Katrina. I really enjoyed the book – partially because I have met one of the main characters, partially because I’ve been to most of those neighborhoods and mostly because it’s a good book. I blogged about it on Can You Cross the Street.

Science Fiction

Then I got my military science fiction fix:

  • Against the Odds (The Serrano Legacy Book 7) by Elizabeth Moon. If you like Elizabeth Moon and you’ve read the rest of this series, then you should read this one. She does a good job of developing a universe of cultures and characters encountered with the issue of immortality. If you haven’t read any Elizabeth Moon books, you are probably better off starting with one of the first books in a series set in the same world (this one or this one) or my favorite Elizabeth Moon short story, Chameleons. You can find it in The New Space Opera 2.
  • Rich Man’s War. This is the second book in a series and the opening premise is an interesting one. What if we outsourced all education to companies and young people started out with a debt that was inversely proportionate to how much they had learned? The book is good and the story and characters are consistent but the characters don’t have a lot of depth. I read it and will most likely read the next books in the series some day.
  • Lines of Departure. This is the second in the series and after the first one I didn’t think I’d read any more of them. They were a bit too much about military life and way too many battle scenes, even for a military sci fi series. And not enough character development. However, I was intrigued enough – and missing the characters enough – that I read the second one. It was still good but still just too much fighting and military life. And I really hope this is not what happens to humanity. Infighting, squabbling and fighting aliens. Not much of a future.

Travel Books

I perused  the following books:

Tried to read …

I also tried to listen to The End of Power, the first book that Mark Zuckerberg choose as part of his 2015 resolution. It was really hard to follow when listening to it in 10-15 minute chunks. I gave up on listening to it and I’m reading it now.

What did you read in January?

What’s your fun New Year’s Resolution?

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Until today, I always considered New Year’s Resolutions as something hard. Something you didn’t really want to do but knew you should. Like lose weight, eat better, get more exercise, … then I read Mark Zuckerberg’s resolution. He’s going to read a book a week in 2015. (And the first book he picked sold out on Amazon.) That’s brilliant! That sounds like fun.

So I decided I too am going to read a book a week in 2015.  And because I’m still stuck in this mode where New Year’s Resolutions should be hard, I immediately decided that at least one book a month will be a nonfiction book and I’ll blog about it.

So then I decided I need another fun resolution … meet a friend once a week for a soda or a beer?

What’s your fun New Year’s Resolution? The one that you are actually looking forward to?

Fantasy Books for a Tween Girl

My sister sent me a message asking for some fantasy book recommendations for a tween girl. No science fiction; old school authors are ok.

That’s my favorite kind of question! What did I like to read around middle school age?

Here’s the list I sent. Makes me want to curl up for the rest of the day with a pile of books. What would you add?

  1. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong trilogy. I wanted some firelizards in the worst way! It’s about a girl in a fishing village who loves music but music isn’t what her family values to keep them all fed. It takes place in the same world as Dragonriders of Pern but the main character is school aged girl. (There’s no Kindle edition which is tragic.)
  2. Marion Zimmer Bradley is probably my favorite pure fantasy author but I don’t know if it’s the best for tweens. The Darkover books were the ones I was thinking of.
  3. So You Want to Be a Wizard? by Diane Duane was one of my favorites. It felt like it could happen to you. (And it is on Kindle. Kindle Unlimited in fact.)
  4. My 14 year old boy really liked all of Rick Riordan’s books. They are set in present day with mythical legend that live among us.
  5. I really liked Robin McKinley, especially The Blue Sword. I just reread them recently. And looking her up, I discovered that she has a book I haven’t read! So I bought Shadows for my plane ride home tonight.
  6. And of course, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Except I think I was more of a teenager than a tweener when I enjoyed that.

What else would you add to the list?

Own a business to help people, not just make money

Anything You Want is a book by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. Derek shares how he created a muli-million dollar company (supposedly he sold it for $22 million) as well as his philosophy around why you should start a business and how he ran a company. It sounds like he’s a pretty unique individual and some of his ideas are pretty thought provoking.

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Derek insists you should focus your business on what adds value to the customer. When he started CD Baby, he was really just looking for a way to sell his music without a distributor. He ended up creating a website and setting up a merchant Visa account. (This was in 1997, pre Paypal and pre lots of web tools.) A friend asked him if he could sell his CD too. Before he knew it, he had a warehouse of CDs from independent musicians and an online business. His goal wasn’t to make money selling their CDs (although he did) — his goal was to enable musicians to reach an audience.

When thinking about your “business plan”, he recommended pushing yourself. Ask what you’d do if you only had $1,000. If you wanted ten times as many customers. If all your first assumptions were wrong. If you had to do it without a website. If you wanted to franchise it. He recommends examining your life that way too. Plan your life for the next couple of years. Then think, “Now you’re living in New York City, obsessed with success. Go!” Or “Now you’re a free spirit, backpacking around Thailand, Go!” And keep imagining …

He also has some really unique views on running a company. It’s hard to tell if his tactics worked really well or if he’s just not telling us about the daily trials; he very successfully ran a very large distribution business and he doesn’t talk much about the logistics. His uniqueness comes through in things like hiring friends of current employees without an interview process and putting the friend in charge of making sure they are trained and successful. He also worked hard to empower people. When he made a decision, he made sure to explain why so that someone else could make the decision next time. It’s also worth pointing out that he didn’t seem very interested in running a business and was very hands off. His idea of success was a business that ran itself (which seems like a great business goal!) and eventually he realized he wasn’t very interested in running it at all. He put the company in a charitable remainder trust and sold it. Now he lives off the trust and the remainder will go to music education when he dies.

The book Anything You Want is a really short read if you want to give it a try. It took me about an hour on the airplane to read and I enjoyed it.

Would you like your favorite author in a new genre?


Last month my book group read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling. Although I wouldn’t call her my favorite author, I loved the Harry Potter series – I started reading the first one on an airplane ride home and actually sat at the airport to finish the book before I drove home. I was really curious what she’d be like writing in a different genre. I was particularly impressed that the book did well before anyone knew she wrote it.

I confirmed for myself that the genre matters to me. The Cuckoo’s Calling was a good mystery. It was full of details that kept you guessing until the very end but in the end I didn’t find the story fascinating. I actually found the descriptions of London, the city, the locales and the different types of societies much more entertaining than the plot. I’d say J.K. Rowling has both been looking at real estate and getting glimpses into other lives like the rich and famous and models.

I missed the book group discussion but heard that half the group loved the book and half hated it … that makes for some good discussion!

So what do you think, would you like your favorite author in any genre?

How to find Amazon Prime eligible Kindle books: A direct link

If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can check out a book a month on your Kindle without paying anything extra. The problem is it’s really hard to search for which Kindle books are part of the program.

Here’s a link to an Amazon search result that will show you all the Prime eligible books:

Amazon Prime Kindle Books

You can also get to this page by going to Amazon, searching in books and checking the “Prime  Eligible” box but half the time the box doesn’t show up for me and I can’t click it, so I just bookmarked the link.

Now I just wish you could check out more than one a month …

Disclaimer: my affiliate code is in the link above so I will get a referral fee if you buy a book using that link.

You have to take care of the individuals as well as the process

I read an awesome book last month, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Connor Grennan that made me realize that in addition to saving the world and solving big problems that affect millions of people, we also need to make sure everyone has a champion.

Little Princes is about this guy who decides to quit work and travel around the world. In order to look less like he’s on a boondoggle, he decides to stop in Nepal and volunteer at an orphanage. While there he falls in love with the kids and makes a personal commitment to several of them. He also discovers that many are not really orphans but rather children whose families are trying to save them from being recruited as soldiers.

When he finds out that 7 of the kids he promised to help have gone missing, he starts a nonprofit, raises money and goes back to find those 7 kids. He sees hundreds of needy children, but he hunts for those 7 kids. (He also opens an orphanage and does a ton of great things along the way.)

I struggled with that for a while – his ability to continue hunting for 7 kids while tons of others could have used his help. He passes hundreds of kids who need his help and focuses on finding those 7. At some point, I think I would have given up and gone to work fixing the political system that caused the problem. Trying to fix it for just 7 kids would have felt pointless. Then I realized that I fight every day for the 2 kids in my house. I help hundreds of kids indirectly through my work but I am a champion for the individual kids that live in my house. And they have not just me but their dad and a huge extended family of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

So everybody needs someone who is fighting for them as an individual. And all of us need to fight for the individuals we believe in as well as the causes.

So what does this mean? I think we need to focus more on relationships, not just causes. In the open source world, we do this a lot through events and blogging. We do it when we say we’re a “meritocracy” and each individual earns their role. We value the individual and form tight bonds that aren’t dissolved when someone changes roles or gets hired or fired. The individual is more important than the role. The project is made up of individuals.

I think there are also opportunities for a different kind of mentorship. A much more accountable, visible mentorship.

34 science fiction books for the non-scifi reader

 

I asked on Twitter and Facebook and it started a lively debate. Add your thoughts below!

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Here were the most recommended and discussed books:

  1. Ender’s Game is a classic that has probably been read by almost all scifi fans. Jan NieuwenhuizenFilip HanikJon Lotz and Debbie Moynihan all recommended it. As Debbie pointed out, it will be a movie this year too and will likely be read by a much wider audience.  The government is recruiting children to be part of their army. They are trained together and play mock battles. The main character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, is a child genius who struggles growing up in a school for soldiers – growing up with a bunch of other kids can be lonely.
  2. Iain Bank’s books were highly recommend and they were by far the most discussed books. Debate was around which of the books was the best to start with: The Player of GamesUse of Weapons or Consider PhlebasSean KernerEmmanuele BassiRoss BurtonLuis Villa and Hubert Figuière all participated in the discussion. I think my book group should thank Havoc Pennington though. He said  “as long as storming knows it’s likely to be the most revolting thing anyone’s ever read” made me rethink Iain Bank as a book club recommendation. I did add his books to my own wishlist though.
  3. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was recommended by Laura Dragan and Emmanuele Bassi. This military sci fi book is really about humanity. The 75 year old protagonist signs up for the military in exchange for a new, young and enhanced body. Scalzi is often compared to Heinlein – I love both their books.
  4. Neuromancer was recommended by Emiliano Figueroa and kbedell. I really like William Gibson but I find the way his players plug into and travel through cyberspace a bit confusing at times. (Although I totally want to try it!) I don’t think I’d recommend them to people who don’t read much scifi but maybe I’m underestimating their readability.
  5. Debbie Moynihan and Rikki Endsley recommended Ready Player One. I haven’t read it but it sounds like it’s about a future where most people spend their time escaping in virtual reality playing games – including a game that’s supposed to contain the winning lottery ticket. It’s extremely well rated on Amazon.
  6. Mary Beth recommended Wool Omnibus and full heartedly agree. I read the whole series in a row and was thinking the whole time it would be a great book for those not used to reading scifi to experience some of it. The Wool Omnibus. The first part of  Wool is free for Kindle right now. (Be warned though, you will be hooked and have to buy the rest of them.)
  7. Ross Burton and Luis Villa both liked Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series but warned it is not easy reading.

And here are all the other great recommendations, many classics with a few lesser know but (at least for the ones I’ve read) great books:

  1. Dune was recommended by Frederic Crozat.
  2. Suzy Millett Bullett recommended The Prisoner of Cell 25. (And I discovered I’d bought this book two months ago and haven’t read it yet. I bumped it up!)
  3. Debbie Moynihan recommended James Patterson’s The Angel Experiment as an easy read for those not used to sci fi. (And I didn’t realize it had turned into a series. Adding more to my wishlist.)
  4. Emiliano Figueroa recommended The Songs of Distant Earth.
  5. Mike Olson recommended short stories like Time ConsideredAye, and Gomorrah, and We in Some Power’s Employ.
  6. Rikki Endsley recommended The Handmaid’s Tale. I thought this one would be a great one for my book club. I even thought about pretending I hadn’t read it.
  7. Paul Christofanelli recommended Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter.
  8. Michael Schulz recommended the classic The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think humorous science fiction can often be bizarre to non scifi readers.
  9. Brian King recommended A Scanner Darkly.
  10. Flowers for Algernon was suggested by Neil Levine. I agree it’s an awesome book. My book club has had a streak of lost their memory, lost who they are type books though. Plus I’ve read it.
  11. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson was suggested by Perry Ismangil.
  12. I Am Legend was suggested by Neil Levine.
  13. Sean Kerner suggested Asimov’s Foundation. I’ve been thinking about rereading that series. As soon as I get through the rest of these great books that I haven’t read yet.
  14. Neil Levine suggested The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. It’s similar to Old Man’s War but instead of old people getting young bodies to fight aliens, young people go fight aliens and Earth ages without them.
  15. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson was suggested by furicle. I remember really enjoying reading this series but I can’t say I remember many specifics at all.
  16. furicle also suggested Armor by John Steakley.
  17. andreasn1 sugggested The Other Side Of The Sky (And he’s talking about the one by Arthur C. Clarke not the The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by the woman from Kabul. I think.)
  18. as well as I, Robot. The book where Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics were developed. There was also a movie made with Will Smith.
  19. Emmanuele Bassi suggested Accelerando
  20. and Robopocalypse.
  21. Ross Burton suggested The Night Sessions.
  22. Luis Villa suggested Wiliam Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of branding in a completely different light.
  23. Luis Villa also suggested John Varley’s Steel Beach.
  24. Federico Mena Quinte suggested a different John Varley book, The Persistence of Vision. (It looks like you may have to hit the library or the used bookstore to find this one.)
  25. as well as Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. (What an awesome name for a book!)
  26. Deb Nicholson suggested Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
  27. as well as Connie Willis’s books on time travel To Say Nothing of the Dog (funny, according to Deb) and Doomsday Book (darker).

What would you add to the list?

Which ones would be best for people not used to reading science fiction?

Book Review: The FastDiet, Not my kind of book

While the diet and the ideas behind The FastDiet are pretty intriguing, the book doesn’t add a lot of value.

I was expecting something like Good Calories, Bad Calories. Something with a bit of research and data behind it. Instead you get a brief overview of the diet with a few pointers to studies, a few quotes from doctors at longevity institutes and then lots of advice for how to eat 500-600 calories on the fasting days. Not worth the $9.67 I paid for it.

I also checked out their website which has a brief overview of the diet, but no pointers to any studies.

The diet in summary:

  • Eat normally 5 days a week.
  • “Fast” on two non consecutive days. “Fasting” means eating 500-600 calories preferably in 2 meals spaced widely apart.

Their theory is two fold:

  • Your body evolved under situations that required “fasting” and during those times it spent its energy on repairing itself. So fasting will cause your cells to regenerate, decreasing all sorts of bad things like high cholesterol, cancer and signs of aging.
  • You’ll eat less, so you’ll lose weight. They quoted a study that said people eat more the day following a “fasting” day, but it was less than 125% more, not double what they would have eaten normally.

In addition to the proposed health benefits of the diet, they advocate that it’s much easier to follow than most other diets like low calorie or low carb. I do agree with them on that. I think it’s easier not to eat for two days a week than it is to count calories every day but they did not have any studies to support that.

Most of the evidence in the book was the authors’ own experiences, quotes from a few doctors at longevity institutes, pointers to a few studies and a bunch of letters with anecdotal evidence.

The diet is an interesting idea, but the book doesn’t do much more than explain the diet and the authors’ theories.

Book Review: The Starfish and the Spider & Open source software organizations and money

The Starfish and the Spider compares two types of organizational structures. Spider organizations have a central command structure, like a CEO. If you detach one of the spider’s legs from the head, the leg can no longer function. It is not autonomous. Starfish organizations have very distributed command structures. Cut off a leg and it will continue to function and will even grow other legs and turn into its own starfish. Each type of organization has its benefits and drawbacks and each are useful at different times. One key to success is understanding what type of organization you are in, its strengths and weaknesses and when you might want to act more like the other type. Hybrids are also possible. For example, GE  under Jack Welsh transitioned from a spider to a spider/starfish. Traditional companies tend to be more like spider organizations and open source software projects tend to be more like starfish.

Some of the points in The Starfish and the Spider made me wonder whether money can change an open source project into a more traditionally organized and closed project. And if it has that potential, what we can do preserve the best of open source while introducing money.

As I discussed in “Would you do it again for free?“, I’m very curious about how open source organizations work and in particular how factors like motivations, companies and pay change them. I’ve theorized that pay can change an open source developer’s motivations. It’s not usually bad for the project (especially if the payment is in the form of salaries) unless the money goes away. If the money goes away, if for example the developer gets laid off, then I think the developer will quit working on the project but will switch projects, not quit working on open source software projects all together. (Assuming they were working on open source software before they got paid to do it.)

But what happens when money gets introduced suddenly into an open source project? I think it depends on how the money is used and how much its distribution changes how the project is run. In most cases, access to money has greatly helped open source software projects in a number of ways.

  1. Developers. There are a lot more developers working full time on projects like Linux and Firefox than there would be if no one was paid to work on them. And those developers contribute more than just work. They bring ideals and values to the project.
  2. Team building & communication. More resources means being able to bring more people together – and not to just hold the conference but to actually pay for people’s travel expenses if needed. GNOME, Apache and Mozilla all help pay for contributors travel to key events when needed.
  3. Infrastructure. Money can also provide for project infrastructure, hardware and hosting costs.
  4. Skills. Money can also be used to bring in resources that open source software projects have traditionally had a hard time recruiting or finding in their volunteer staff such as marketing and business development.

Given all the benefits that additional resources can bring a project, I think having access to money is definitely a good thing for open source software projects. (And I’ve spent a lot of time personally helping projects effectively raise and use money through efforts like fundraising for GNOME and serving on the Board of Directors for the Software Freedom Conservancy.)

I do think there are a few things to keep in mind though.

  1. Money often concentrates power. This is not so much an issue when the money is used for salaries, but more an issue of when resources for things are not accessible to all project members. Or the process for getting access is not communicated well. The Starfish and the Spider shares the example of how the Apache Indians were ultimately defeated. The Apaches were definitely a starfish organization. Tribes followed their leaders because they believed in them. If a leader was killed, people would continue to fight and a new leader would emerge. How were they defeated? By cows. The Americans gave the Apache leaders cows. Once they had cows, they controlled a valuable resource and became an authoritative leader and the power structure became hierarchical instead of flat. Once the organization was hierarchical, it was easier to control. So it’s important to make sure that control of resources reflects or supports the project structure.
  2. It’s hard to spend money. Many open source software projects, especially those with relatively small amounts of money, struggle with how to spend the money effectively and fairly. If you have $500 and a project with 10 people, how should you use it? You could reward everyone with a dinner at a conference, but most of them would probably rather you spent the money on the project. You could pay to fly someone to the next hackfest that would not ordinarily be able to afford to attend. With a little bit of money (I heard under $10,000), it is often hard to spend the money. It’s more work to figure out how to spend it and use it, than it’s typically worth. Especially if the project doesn’t have an organizational entity associated with it.
  3. Most financial transactions require an authorized person. In most countries, signing a deal with another organization requires someone to sign the deal. So to enter into any kind of business relationship whether as a client or a partner or a provider, an organization must have someone with authority to sign for the organization. And for tax and liability reasons, you need an organization to collect money and sign agreements. It’s possible to give that authority to someone in a way that’s consistent with the values of a starfish organization, but it requires some thought.

Money can do a lot of good for open source software projects but some thought needs to be given to using it in a way that will do long term good.