Completely Random Books worth Reading

baby pretending to readThank you, God, for St. Mary’s Catholic School, where someone back in the 1960’s decided that a speed-reading machine and programmed learning was a good idea. My father used to say that if they put words on toilet paper, I’d read it. I still read six or seven books a week, selected pretty much at random. Here are some books I read lately that I  just happen to like.

Applied statistics and the SAS programming language. by Ronald Cody and Jeffrey Smith

Experienced programmers will probably find several chapters too basic, but that’s okay, I just skipped to the interesting ones.

Consequential strangers by Melinda Blau & Karen Fingerman

About the importance of acquaintances in our lives, those people like the hair dresser or dentist you have gone to for ten years, who are not quite friends but not really strangers, either.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

I doubt Schwalbe, who had a privileged upper middle class childhood, realized how interesting that would be to the other 95% of the world – the children of the secretaries, housekeepers and gardeners who wondered what it would be like to grow up in one of those nice houses with a grand piano – and that part is just described in passing. His mother, who died of cancer, had a fascinating life – from Harvard admissions director to years of work with refugees. Throughout, he adds discussions of the books they read together to pass the time while waiting for her chemotherapy.

jQuery Ui by Eric Sarrion

It’s billed as a beginner to intermediate book on the jQuery user interface, and that it is. I liked it because you can breeze through it in a day or two, and each chapter is pretty self-contained so if you are interested particularly in animation, for example, you can skip to that chapter.

Reality is broken by Jane McGonigal

A really insightful book on how games can be applied to real world problems, why some games work, what we like about them. After the first 250 pages or so, I thought it got to be redundant. The point I liked the best is how sometimes failing spectacularly can be reinforcing, so that people will want to keep playing a game even more after they get killed (virtually speaking, that is).

So … what have you been reading lately?

P.S. Does anyone know why they don’t have speed reading programs in school any more? Being able to read hundreds of words a minute saved my ass from high school all the way  through three graduate degrees. I wasn’t really the most motivated student for much of those years and if I’d had to spend the hours reading that many of my classmates did, I think I would have given up and gotten a job selling fish and chips or something.

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  1. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Quite an interesting book.

  2. Since you asked, one of the books I’m currently reading is “How To Stop a War” by James Dunnigan and William Martel. It was published in 1987 and the Cold War had an obvious influence. Even so, their discussion of how wars start, end and can be avoided (by looking at data for wars from 1787 to 1987) seems relevant to today.

    For what it’s worth, many — but not all — of their predicted wars did happen.

  3. After reading The Black Swan, I am a big fan of Taleb.
    So, is How to stop a war an analysis of quantitative data to predict wars?

    I did not even know there was a growing interest in quantitative research in history until I kept getting asked to do guest lectures on SPSS for history courses. I finally asked – why do you people want to learn SPSS?

  4. I took a speed reading course (this one: at the end of high school — not at school, privately — and I also found it very useful. I’ve wondered ever since why school curricula didn’t adopt the basic principles, which are simple and effective, when teaching reading.

    For most people, I can double your reading speed right now: put your finger back under the words as you read, like they probably told you to stop doing when you first learned. This helps keep an even pace, which helps cut down on sub-vocalization, and also helps to prevent re-reading.

    I don’t know how speedreading would work on a screen…

  5. read ‘the gargoyle’ by Andrew Davidson. I got zrr a copy and I believe that Marina now has it.

  6. I don’t know why speed reading programs have dropped off of the early educational map. It’s a bummer. Not only does practicing the skill make people more likely and efficient readers, but it also plays a documented role in the development of visual attention in general (which humans use for, like, everything we do). Universally applicable skills for the win!

    My fave High School English teacher had us do in-class exercises with a computerized program called “Eye-Q.” The software was pretty good and even had some built-in tracking tools to measure ongoing progress.

    I can’t imagine that it be super-difficult to create a comparable piece of software. Getting it broadly implemented is another story…

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