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The Last 5 Books I Read (February 2016)

Redirect, Timothy Wilson

A book from a college professor about his (and others') research in "story editing" techniques that target the narratives we tell ourselves. I particularly appreciated the thoughts on happiness, as those are the most widely applicable. Because I'm not a parent, I couldn't quite get into the stuff about parenting as much. The discussions of various societal issues and how they might be addressed were also interesting, but not particularly applicable to my life.

The Martian, Andy Weir

I liked this book a lot. The attention to detail made it feel very real and interesting. The point of view from which it is written adds a lot of tension and excitement. As an aside, I enjoyed the book much more than the movie because the book is more detailed and the writing style is enjoyable.

Deep Work, Cal Newport

The first 30% of the book is an argument for why deep work is necessary in today's economy. That 30% is good, but I was already convinced of the value of what he calls "deep work," so they weren't the most interesting thing I've read.

He has many good suggestions. One I've liked so far is to keep a sort of deep work scoreboard, where you log how many hours of deep work you get in each day. Then, in your weekly review, you can use that data to keep yourself accountable. This suggestion comes out of the idea of focusing on lead measurements, which is itself a good idea. If you have a goal (e.g. get more personal projects done), the obvious way to measure your progress on that goal (e.g. how many projects you've finished) is often a lag measure. That is, by the time you see the improvement on the lag measure, you've already made the improvements in your personal processes which allowed for it. By contrast, lead measurements help you quantify the change in your personal processes that will ultimately enable you to achieve the goal you're working toward.

Coders at Work, Peter Seibel

This is a book of interviews with notable programmers. While some of the stories seem dated (most of the people in the book got their start decades ago), it's interesting to read others' reflections on programming.

A detail I like is that several interviewees mention how important reading other people's code is. I didn't really read much code until I did an internship at a software company, and then I almost felt like I was drowning in it. One company I worked for practiced "self-documenting code," so the way I learned what certain pieces of code was simply to read it. Once I got used to it, I liked this system. That internship was the first time I really understood the value of readable code.

Douglas Crockford talks about code quality in an interesting way. I like the idea of taking every seventh sprint to focus on improving the codebase. One of my employers did not focus on code quality, and their company suffered for it. At a certain point it becomes difficult to retain developers when the codebase makes it harder to develop and easier to introduce bugs. I'm sure they didn't intend to get to that point, which demonstrates the importance of understanding quality as an ongoing process.

I enjoyed Joshua Bloch's thought that some coding is more similar to writing prose than it is to mathematics. The way he talks about creating good API's and readable code inspires me to be a better programmer and designer.

The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

Another interesting book in the series. The sense of adventure and the grandness of the world make reading this book enjoyable.

I want to be Treebeard when I grow up. He's such an interesting character, and I think his orientation to time is very interesting. A detail I like in particular is that his name in the ent language is very long, as ents believe that names should tell something of the thing's story.

At times, I get lost in all the detail and have difficulty keeping my mental picture straight. Perhaps I would gain more out of the reading if I were to hold on to more details, but that feels like more work than I want to put into reading this book. I don't mean to be lazy; I would just rather spend my mental energy elsewhere. Though I lack a lot of the detail (the geography of the area, for instance, is completely lost on me), I feel like I understand the story well still, and I still enjoy reading it.