Finding SciFi in Barcelona

This is the fantasy and science fiction section of the only used English bookstore in the late 80s in Barcelona. I was so excited when my dad found it. It was run by a woman from the Netherlands. She would buy any scifi books I had for half the price she could sell them for. She’d also buy back the ones I bought and read. My dad pitched in the other half. (They were not cheap. I seem to remember the used price was about the new price in the US.)

Every summer my uncle Larry Nelson would give me a box of scifi books in South Dakota that would eventually make their way to this shop in Spain. On a trip to London Dad and I found a used book store that just sold scifi and I came back with a suitcase full!

It was a long walk from our house in Barcelona to this store with no good public transport connections.

(There was also a store that sold new – very expensive – English books near our apartment. On each visit, my dad talked to the owner long enough that I would manage to read an entire book over several visits. I don’t think that was his intent. )

A fun space opera series!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
by Chambers, Becky (Author)

Price: $14.99
1 used & new available from $14.99

I’ve been looking for a fun space opera series and I found one in the Wayfarer series by Becky Chambers. It’s a fun series that combines space travel, human societies in space and other planets and alien species. What I love most about science fiction is how the people and societies adapt to technologies and the new discoveries in the universe.

In the first book, A Long Way to Small, Lonely Planet, a group of friends live and work on a space ship. The characters were instantly likeable – if you work in tech you’ve probably met a few of them. I nicknamed a few of them after people I know.

Does someone have to become poor for you to become rich?

I recently read Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust , Why that is a Problem, and What to do About It.

Dream Hoarders is a book with a good point hidden in a really annoying lecture.

The premise: Because of our society and our culture, the upper middle class is becoming a hereditary station in American life, not the meritocracy we imagine.

The author’s flaw in logic: In order for poor kids to become rich, rich kids need to become poor. He seems to believe that people cannot become upper middle class unless people leave the upper middle class. He’s obsessed with the way he measures classes, by the top 20% of income earners or the top 10% of wealth holders. I believe instead that class could be measured by what you are able to do or what you have access to. I don’t believe only a certain percentage of people should be allowed to read or go to college.

The annoying part: The author believes the book’s audience is the upper middle class (which seems reasonable) and he uses the first half of the book to lecture them about how they are keeping out poor people by ensuring their kids’ success.

The good: In the second half of the book, the author actually gets to some potential solutions that are not “sink the rich”. These include:

  1. Better birth control. If people can plan families better, they will have kids when they can best plan and take care of them.
  2. Home visits. The early years make a huge difference in a person’s life and home visits can help make sure parents have the support they need.
  3. Better teachers. Our best teachers go to our best schools. We need a way to incentivize them — or make it worth their effort — to go to schools that serve more disadvantaged students. The author says a good teacher can make more of a difference than smaller class size or even more funding.
  4. Cheaper college. The author argues against free college and against plans like the 523 college plan which he says benefit the middle class. But he still argues we need more affordable colleges for everyone. He also argues that the bar is rising and you need a graduate degree to distinguish yourself.
  5. Zoning. In the US, schools receive tax money from the neighborhoods they serve. This means that wealthier neighborhoods provide more funding for their schools. The author argues for more mixed neighborhoods so that poorer families have access to better schools as well as better networks.
  6. Legacy admissions. The author argues that legacy admissions — giving preference to alum’s kids in college entrance — is really hurting our meritocracy. The author was really upset about this one. I wondered if it had impacted him or if legacy admissions just really seemed ridiculous to him.
  7. Open internships. The author argued that internships should be treated like jobs and subject to laws like minimum wage. Otherwise, only those that can afford to live in New York City or San Francisco and work for free will be able to take advantage of them.

I also really liked the author’s point that a meritocracy works when all kids come equally prepared to opportunities. It’s not enough to give all kids the same opportunities, we need to make sure they have the same preparation for those opportunities.

How do you rate books?

Every time I rate a book, I struggle with what I’m rating it on.

Both Amazon and GoodReads use a 5 star system. If I loved the book, that’s easy. However, what if I liked the book except for the ridiculous stereotypical romance that was a minor theme. Do I ding it half a star? What if I read a romance and it’s really well written and the character development is good but I hate romances? Do I rate it on how good of a romance it is? (Maybe pretty good.) Or on how well I liked it?(Maybe not at all.)

And it depends on who I’m rating it for: me, friends, potential readers or authors. If these ratings are just for me, maybe to remember how I like a book or for some system to recommend books for me, then it’s simpler. I’ll rate it based on much I liked it overall. But these ratings are also for our friends to see if books are good. And if you leave your rating on Amazon, it’s used to make recommendations to potential purchasers. I’ve also had authors reach out to me and ask me to write a review because I’ve rated their book.

I really want a rating system with many more subcategories. Readability, character development, plot, dialog, descriptions, … And each category of book might have an additional subset of categories. Nonfiction books might have an accuracy category. Science fiction books might have a universe category.

How do you choose to rate a book? Do you just pick a star rating based on how you feel? Or do you have a system? Who are you rating it for?

What I learned about human evolution in a book about sex

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships was an interesting book that sparked many interesting conversations in my life. (Yes, animals do practice oral sex.)

Once I got over being angry about the final chapter that explains why all that history excuses why men cheat but not why women do, I realized the thing that stuck with me was not about sex but about how farming has changed our health.

Hunter gathers live to be about 70 years old. It was only after we introduced farming and land ownership to the equation that life expectancy dropped drastically in the middle ages. The book had a number of theories about why hunter gathers lived longer:

  1. Fewer children. They had fewer children due to delayed puberty. Hunter gathers ate a lot less fat and were generally a lot thinner. This meant that puberty was delayed and women did not start having children until later in life. Having a lot of children tends to decrease a woman’s life expectancy.
  2. Fewer children. They had fewer children because they breast fed longer. Because hunter gathers did not have animals to produce milk, they could not switch young toddlers to animal milk, so women breast feed their children longer. Breastfeeding women are less likely to get pregnant. Having less children increased their life expectancy.
  3. Less disease. Hunter gathers were less likely to die of disease because they lived in smaller groups. Hunter gathers lived spread out and had contact with only a small group of people on a regular basis. Farming communities could feed more people in a dense area. Dense areas are more likely to spread disease to more people quickly.
  4. Better diet. Hunter gathers, based on their bones, did not go through long periods of malnutrition like medieval village dwellers did. When food wasn’t good, they moved. Village dwellers had to depend on crops and if the crops were not good, they had no easy backup supply. Also villagers ate many more grains which had less calories and protein than what hunter gathers ate.
  5. War. Hunter gathers did not often fight wars nor even skirmishes. Wars came about when people settled and fought over land and possessions. The authors spent quite a bit of time on this one as they believe that hunter gathers have unfairly gotten a reputation for being violent.

The book goes on to theorize that the more promiscuous women are in a culture, the more peaceful it is. The authors had a number of reasons. Among them was that societies with promiscuous women don’t fight over women as possessions and they don’t promote their children over others. Since none of the men knows whose children are whose, they help all the children out. I think that’s a lovely idea but not sure why it makes sense for only one gender.

The book also briefly touched on how land ownership changed many things in our culture, including sex. According to the book, when landownership became a thing, people became preoccupied with making sure their land stayed in their family. They became more concerned with making sure their kids were really their biological kids; they became much more concerned about who their partners were having sex with. Since land was all owned by men, and women don’t have much doubt about whether a child is theirs or not, men spent a lot more time and energy making sure their female partners did not have sex with anyone else.

There were a lot of other interesting points in the book, many much more related to the title — things like why women are verbal during orgasms, why human male penises are so large compared to other primates and even theories on why different races have different size testes.

I recommend you read it if you are interested in all those things. I’m going to go learn more about the evolution of our society, hunter gathers and cities.

Originally published at Medium.

5 thoughts for the day: who moderates conversations, organization, grit and purpose

Photo by Michael Dunne.

  • When we make a private company the keeper of the space of most of our conversations, we give them a lot of control. Revealed: Facebook’s internal rulebook on sex, terrorism and violence.
  • I spend my day working on lots of different things and I’m often context switching. I was also playing around with the search on Google Photos and find it fascinating that I can see all the pictures of a particular person, or all the pictures of “doors” or all the pictures of “angry”. Now I want that ability to group together my emails. I want to automatically have my inbox grouped by topic.
  • I read the book Grit recently. This take by Jon Gordon, based on the author’s work, was slightly different but still good. I like the focus on doing something that has purpose to you instead of just “doing what you love” which I think leads people to think that you shouldn’t do things you don’t enjoy every minute of.
  • Foot binding in China might have had an economic factor behind it. Work, not sex? The real reason Chinese women bound their feet.
  • And some more political news. I learned about congressional subpoenas vs judicial subpoenas.

“Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”

While I don’t agree with everything Sebastian Junger writes in Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, I love the way he manages to articulate some things that I’ve noticed but never been able to describe.

Just last weekend I was camping, and we had this torrential rain storm. People rushing to get their boats off the water were hurrying so much that they lost their boats off the trailers. Rain came down so hard and quick, it broke tent poles and tents literally floated away. People had to dig trenches to get water out of their campsites. And it was fun. Granted, my sleeping spot was completely dry, so I speak from a position of privilege. But everybody getting together to help make sure people were ok, finding ways to keep important things dry, finding dry places for people to sleep and ways to feed everyone, that was fun. There was a real feel of community. Of adventure. Of responsibility.

When I tell people it was fun, they give me this look and then I end up back peddling, trying to describe what I mean. Sebastian Junger describes it well. He talks about how social bonds are reinforced during disasters and “that people overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community rather than just themselves”. Social differences and economic inequalities are temporarily irrelevant, at least until outside aid comes in.

Communities that have been devastated by natural or man-made disasters almost never lapse into chaos and disorder; if anything, they become more just, more egalitarian, and more deliberately fair to individuals. — Sebastian Junger

The same thing happens to our veterans. They join a community that’s closely knit, that trains, sleeps and eats together. They are placed in high stress combat situations where they work together regardless of background or previous social differences. Where they all have a job, they are all needed and they all work together. Ask a veteran you know about their “team”, about the people that served with them. Most of them have told me they’ll never be that close to any other group of people in their lives.

Then we bring them home. To this super loose knit society. One where not many of us are needed beyond our immediate family. One where our purpose in life, our job, is not often clear. Or doesn’t feel like our job fits into a higher purpose. As Junger says, “part of the trauma of war seems to be giving it up.”

We all need to feel like we are part of a tribe. We need to feel connected to other people and we need to feel like our work is meaningful, that it helps others.

Just yesterday I read an article in the New York Times that theorizes that we can get teenagers to eat healthier by getting them to contribute to a cause as a community: “as students work together towards a shared purpose, the impulse to resist authority fades.”

So is modern society broken? Does it make people feel unnecessary? What tribes do you belong to? During what moments do you feel most useful and connected? What moments make you feel like your life has the most purpose?

I am also doing a series of 22 pushups for 22 days to raise awareness for veteran suicides.

10 thoughts inspired by Always Hungry?

First published on Medium.

Always Hungry? by David Ludwig is yet another diet book but one written by a respected doctor specializing in obesity in children. I really enjoyed several articles about Dr Ludwig and his ideas, so I was expecting something more from the book but all I got additional was lots of recipes.

  1. Dr Ludwig, like many others, blames sugar and refined grains for many of our health problems. I like how he explained it and provided supporting science and studies, but if this is why you are reading the book, I recommend Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. Dr Ludwig does do a good job of explaining inflammation, blood sugar and fat storage in a way that people without medical backgrounds might understand.
  2. I love his point that the process of getting fat makes you eat more, not the other way around.
  3. I hate reading cook books on the Kindle. Actually, I just hate reading cook books. I think you should search for recipes or ideas for recipes, not read them.
  4. The advice for how to eat healthy seems pretty consistent these days — avoid processed foods, refined grains and sugar — and just as hard to follow.
  5. He focused more on waist size than weight and only recommended weighing yourself once a week as opposed to most people’s recommendation to weigh yourself daily.
  6. His supporting quotes and stories were all about people who had lost 5–20 pounds instead of the tons of weight most diet books claim.
  7. New studies seem to be consistently saying that exercise is good but exercise makes you eat more, not less. I really wonder what we’ll be saying a decade from now.
  8. He doesn’t really talk about overweight kids at all in spite of his background.
  9. If I could not eat carbs, I’m sure I would lose weight. I would also be really sick of eggs and chicken and meat. And while I like vegetables and fruit, I just can’t imagine them replacing pasta.
  10. Unlike Atkins, Dr. Ludwig recommends lots of fruits and vegetables and eventually some grains and carbs.

What did you end up thinking about as you read the book or these points?

March Books: Discovered Kindle Unlimited

In March I read a bunch of science fiction and fantasy along with a few nonfiction books. I also discovered Kindle Unlimited. I had bought it for one of my kids, but I discovered this month that not only are there a lot of books that I like there but many of them come with Audible editions too.

I had a few long plane rides this month which led to lots of reading. I think I read 2.5 books on my way to Berlin after my laptop battery ran out. Multiple delays also added to my reading time.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Dragonlance Chronicles). I remember enjoying books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman way back when. I used to really crave the next one and wait anxiously for it to come out. I enjoyed the book but didn’t love it in the same way I remember. I didn’t rush out to get the next one. But maybe that’s because I had Patricia Brigg’s book waiting …

Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega Book 4) by Patricia Briggs. I’ll read anything by Patricia Briggs so I had pre-ordered this one. It was as good as I hoped and I spent a good part of a weekend reading it.

A Shade of Vampire. This was a Kindle Unlimited book (so free for me) with 4.5 stars with 4,000+ reviews and I was looking for some light reading. It was an easy, quick read but not what I was looking for. It’s well written but I had a hard time with how they portrayed the male and female stereotypes – whether or not they were human or vampires.

Quantum Lens. Another Kindle Unlimited book. Pretty good science fiction. Lots of explanation but some action and character development too. Basically about what might happen if a few people had almost super-hero powers.

The Curse Keepers. It wasn’t a book I necessarily would have continued reading, but I really enjoyed the free Audible book that came with it. Supposedly Amazon keeps the audio and text versions synced – the sync worked for me the first time, but not after that.

Growing Up Fast: How New Agile Practices Can Move Marketing And Innovation Past The Old Business Stalemates was an interesting book about how larger organizations can incorporate agile processes into their innovation. I particularly liked the idea of setting up a cross organizational innovation team.

Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. This book is most useful to people getting close to retirement. It’s written by a couple of people who also have software that will help you calculate the best way to collect your social security. By the time you finish reading the book, you will think their software is well worth the $40 it costs. I came away with the impression that social security is super complicated unless you are single and never married.

February Books: lots of fiction

Nonfiction, a really painful read

The End of Power. I made it through this book but it was a struggle. The author’s premise is that power is becoming more distributed (I agree) and that because of that nobody will be able to get anything done (I disagree). He thinks that if we don’t have a few powerful countries, the world will continue to see more and more terrorism. I think we need a new way to work that takes into account the distributed nature of power – both at the governmental and the corporate level. The author gives lots of data and examples and defines power in interesting ways. However, if he allowed distributed works, I think I could rewrite the book with 80% fewer words. I don’t think I’m the only one that had trouble with this book. After Mark Zuckerberg picked it as his first book of the year, it sold out. Now, 2 months later, it only has 102 reviews on Amazon, so most of those people must not have finished the book …

Book Group: General Fiction Books

My first book and last book in February were for my book group.

The Girl on the Train was an entertaining thriller. I’m not sure what to tell you about it without giving it away, but it does make you question whether you know the whole true story about anyone you meet. The book might also make you stop drinking. It wasn’t the kind of book to drink while reading a glass of wine as the main character loses large parts of her memory due to alcoholism.

I really enjoyed The Rosie Project. I don’t know how realistic it was (I’m curious to see what my friends who have more experience with Asperger’s think) but it was an entertaining read about a man who starts a Wife Project, a survey to find the perfect wife. Then he decides to help a woman with the Father Project, a project to find her biological father. During the process they form a friendship and share many misunderstandings and hilarious moments.

Science Fiction and Fantasy, a bit of every type

Inescapable. I almost quit reading on page 2 when I read “using my mirror to refresh my lip-gloss”. There was a lot of description of clothing and looks. And the way one of the main character’s accents was done was kind of annoying. And the way the mystery is revealed is pretty artificial. On the plus side, I think, the author took all those awkward high school relationships and bundled them all up and shoved them into this book. While not my kind of book, I did read the whole thing.

Third Shift – Pact (Part 8 of the Silo Series) by Hugh Howey. If it’s been a while since you read the previous books, I recommend a refresher. The author just continues the story right where it left off with no reminder of who the characters are or what’s going on. If you haven’t read the Wool Silo series, I highly recommend the books. I think they’d be good for people who haven’t read much science fiction too.

Soul Identity. I thought this would be science fiction but it wasn’t really. It’s about an organization that believes everyone has a unique soul that can be identified by their eyes. And after a person’s death souls comes back in a new person – without any memories. People can leave wealth and belongs to their future soul hosts. The story was good – a bit of a mystery – and I think it’d make a good movie. I found the dialogue to be rather awkward and it was 95% dialogue. I prefer a bit more narrative mixed in.

The Shattergrave Knights proved to be the fantasy book I was looking for. I’d have preferred more character development but I was in the mood for an easy read placed in some fantasy world that resembles the middle ages only very slightly with swords and magic and this book fit the bill. (It’s also only 99 cents on Amazon.)

Tried but didn’t make it …

The Briar King. It seemed like one of those epics where the author has the story they want to to tell and then makes up the people to tell it. The characters were well done but the book was about the epic tale. (And according to Amazon I bought this in 2009. Maybe it’s time to give up?)