A Change in Direction? Or Picking One?

I have struggled with this blog over the years.  In order to have a really good blog, you need a focus area, and I didn’t really have one.  I started just blogging general stuff about my life here in Pittsburgh, did some fiction, then switched to book reviews.  Lately, it’s been pretty much lists of books I have read.
 
I did the reviews as part of my being associated with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  I would love to blog on International Security, but there are already so many good bloggers in that space (that’s not even half of them) and I didn’t feel I had anything to add.  Coming from an engineering background, I also suffer from a lack of credentials.
 
In any case, my friend has been blogging about her experiences in training her horse (and herself) for international dressage and eventing competitions.  It’s giving me the itch to blog again.
 
But that brings me right back to the first point – what to blog about?
 
Lately I’ve been working on picking up an associate’s degree in software development (to add to my already over-degreed self with a BS in Mechanical Engineering and my MBA).  I’m doing this to make myself more employable, but also because…it interests me and I enjoy it.
 
I recently read David Kilcullen’s book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla.  It’s a fascinating book.  Kilcullen basically notes that the future will be urban, coastal, and networked.  Urbanization continues apace with more than half of the world’s population living in cities, and most of those cities on the coasts.  With technology – especially mobile phones – more and more of them are becoming connected.  This has huge implications for the future – and Kilcullen notes the effect it will have on warfare.  We got a taste of this in Somalia back in the 90s (See: Black Hawk Down) and with the raid on Mumbai in the 00s.
 
So what, you ask, does that have to do with computer programming?  Well, the short answer is, Smart Cities and Big Data.  And the long answer will have to wait for the next blog post…

 

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My Books Read in the Last Year

Another year, another book list.  I read less book this year than last, but over two thousand more pages!  Here’s the list:

January
2.) Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
4.) Debt: The First 5000 Years – Peter Graeber
5.) Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat – Hans Christian von Baeyer
7.) Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography – Hew Strachan
8.) Tanks in the Cities: Breaking the Mold – Kendall D. Gott
February
March
13.) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – Eliezer Yudkowsky
15.) A Magic Broken – Vox Day (Novella)
17.) Shadow of the Hegemon (Ender Wiggin Saga) – Orson Scott Card
18.) Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology – Rosemary Radford Ruether
19.) Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale – Ian Morgan Cron
April
24.) The Last Stand of Fox Company – Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
27.) Liberation Theologies: The Global Pursuit of Justice – Alfred T. Hennelly, S.J.
28.) Human Security in a Borderless World – Derek S. Reveron and Kathleen A. Mahoney-Norris
31.) The Mathematics of Life – Ian Stewart
May
40.) Worm: The First Digital World War – Mark Bowden
June
44.) Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
45.) Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War – Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss
46.) How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth – Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart
July
51.) Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty – Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
August
54.) Beginning Programming – Adrian and Kathie Kingsley-Hughes
55.) Sure Fire (Rich & Jade #1) – Jack Higgins with Justin Richards
56.) Just My Type: A Book About Fonts – Simon Garfield
60.) Head First HTML and CSS – Elisabeth Robson and Eric Freeman
September
63.) Star Wars: Scoundrels – Timothy Zahn
66.) Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Think – Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier
October
67.) The Tao of Programming – Geoffrey James
November
68.) The Myriad: Tour of the Merrimack #1 – R. M. Meluch
69.) Caliphate – Tom Kratman
70.) Kris Longknife: Mutineer (Kris Longknife #1) – Mike Shepherd
71.) Shadow Puppets (Ender’s Shadow series) – Orson Scott Card
72.) Starting Out With Visual Basic 2012 – Tony Gaddis and Kip Irvine
December
73.) Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things – Ken Wytsma with D. R. Jacobsen
74.) The City: A Global History – Joel Kotkin
79.) Theology: A Very Short Introduction – David F. Ford

Books I Read in 2012

It’s that time of year again.  My reading was down a little this year due to the fact that I was working full time and reading some longer books.

January
 
2.) Regeneration (Species Imperative #3) – Julie Czerneda
3.) Chaos: A Graphic Guide (Introducing Series) – Zaiuddin Sardar and Iwona Abrams
4.) Catching Fire (The Hunger Games#2) – Suzanne Collins
5.) Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction – Kevin W. Plaxco and Michael Gross
6.) Thinking in Systems: A Primer – Donella H. Meadows
7.) Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) – Suzanne Collins
9.) War – Sebastian Junger
 
February
 
10.) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – C. S. Lewis
 
March
 
15.) One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way – by Robert Maurer, Ph. D.
 
April
 
19.) Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis – Lauren F. Winner
 
 
May
 
20.) The Silver Chair (Narnia) – C. S. Lewis
22) Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think – Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
23) The Detachment (A John Rain novel) – Barry Eisler
24) Fifty Shades of Grey – E. L. James
25) Fifty Shades Darker – E. L. James
26) Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next – Greg Lindsay and John D. Kasarda
 
June
 
27) Private Dancer – Stephen Leather
28) Fifty Shades Freed – E. L. James
31) Dubai: Gilded Cage – Syed Ali
32) Amped – Daniel H. Wilson
 
July
 
33) China Safari: On the Trail of Beijing’s Expansion in Africa – Serge Michel, Michel Beuret, Paolo Woods
34) All Fall Down – Vern McGeorge
39) Night Without End – Alistair Maclean
 
August
 
41) Birds of Prey: The Battle Within – Gail Simone et al (Comic Book Graphic Novel)
43) The Twelfth Imam – Joel C. Rosenberg
44) Batman: Battle for the Cowl – Tony S. Daniel et al (Comic Book Graphic Novel)
45) Batman: The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul –  Grant Morrison et al (Comic Book Graphic Novel)
46) Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Dust – Sean McKeever et al (Comic Book Graphic Novel)
 
 September
 
53) Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success – By John R. Wooden et al.
55) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food – by Barbara Kingsolver
 
October
 
59) Fractions and Decimals Made Easy (Making Math Easy) (with Jacob) – Rebecca Wingard-Nelson
61) Fraction Fun – (with Jacob) David A. Adler
63) Working With Fractions – (with Jacob) David A. Adler
65) Estimation (A Young Math Book) (with Jacob) – Charles F. Linn
 
November
 
68) Pump Six and Other Stories – Paolo Bacigalupi
69) The Great Divorce – C.S. LewiS
71) Contemporary Security Studies, 2nd Edition – Allan Collins, editor
75) Engineering Systems: Meeting Human Needs in a Complex Technological World – Olivier L. de Weck, Daniel Roos, and Christopher L. Magee
77) Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson
 
December
 
82) Omnipotence and other Theological Mistakes – Charles Hartshorne
83) The Teeth of the Tiger – Tom Clancy
84) Exit Plan – Larry Bond
85) e: The Story of a Number – Eli Maor

Mini-Reviews: Ralph Peters and More on linguistics

A couple of mini-reviews…
 
The Mother Tongue - English And How It Got That Way
 
I don’t what it is about books on linguistics but I have had a terrible time finding books that do what they purport to do.  For example, it seems my quest for a good history of the English language continues.  In The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson takes the English language and describes it ad nauseum – he covers all the major periods of history but not in a coherent fashion.  Instead, this book reads more like a collection of entries on various facets of the language.  He provides plenty – and I mean plenty – of examples of different ways that words were formed, where they came from, and the differences across regions. He covers everything from naming conventions to pronunciation differences to swear words, and he covers the difference between British English and American English.  It’s great if you’re looking to win a trivia contest, but not so good for tracking the history of the language.
 
 
Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World
 

This weekend I read Ralph Peters’s book Looking for Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.  In the tradition of Robert D. Kaplan, he combines travel writing with political commentary.  The major part of the book is given over to his travels through the former Soviet Union in the mid-90s, and includes insight into Georgia,Azerbaijan, and Armenia.  His prose is beautifully written, and his insights into the situations there, although influenced by hindsight, are thought-provoking.  Later he recounts his involvement in the drug war in South and Central America as well as Thailand.  The book ends in 1998, when he retires from the army and becomes a civilian.  I’m hoping there will be a sequel.  Peters is a commentator on Fox news, and it should be noted that he has very strong opinions about things.  Overall, I think it’s worth a read for anyone interested in travel, COIN, or international security.

(Peters review originally posted at http://macengr.tumblr.com/ on 17 July 2012)

Books I’m reading

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by John Nagl

I’m filling in a gap by reading this book.  It’s referred to in a half-dozen counterinsurgency books and on of course on COIN blogs as well.  I’ve read Kilcullen and other’s, and I figured it’s about time to read Nagl’s book too.  It’s interesting, reading it from the perspective of the course of events in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is the paperback edition from 2005, and Nagl does have a foreword written that notes some of the lessons he learned serving in Iraq and where he got it wrong and right in the book.

Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen's Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, Revised and Expanded 

Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En

Traditionally security is evaluated from the vantage point of military force, and maybe less often economics.  Two areas that I’ve been reading lately are financial security (which is different from economic, and which I’ll touch on later) and food security.  My family joined a CSA this year, and it’s opened my eyes to the problems with our food system in the United States – everything from long supply lines to the health of our people, things that directly impact our security.

I’ll dig more into all three of these topics in future posts.

My Books Read in the Last Year

I read quite a bit last year, with an emphasis on linguistics, Counterinsurgency, complexity, and mathematics.  Fiction, as always was scattered throughout the year.  Lots of good links below; I encourage you to check them out, along with the reviews I did of several of them…

January
1) Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Guide to Learning and Brain Development from Birth to Adolescence – Jane M. Healey, Ph.D
2) Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) – Jeffrey Kluger
3) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
4) A New Kind of Science – Stephen Wolfram
5) Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power – Robert D. Kaplan
6) The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity – Richard Florida (My review here)
7) Language: The Big Picture – Peter Sharpe (my review here)
8) Understanding Physics: Volume 1: Motion, Sound, and Heat (Understanding Physics) – Isaac Asimov
9) Seven Firefights in Vietnam – John A. Cash, et al.  (My review here)

February
10) Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages – Guy Deutscher (My review here)
11) Chaos Theory Tamed – Garnett P. Williams
12) Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity – John Gribbin (My review here)
13) The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa: With E. D. Swinton’s “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” – Michael Burgoyne and Albert Marckwardt (My review here)
14) The Age of the Unthinkable , Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It – Joshua Cooper Ramo
15) The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) – Graham Greene
16) Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq – Patrick Cockburn
17) Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life – Len Fisher
18) Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language – Seth Lerer (My review here)
19) Migration: Species Imperative #2 – Julie Czerneda
20) Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology – David S. Richeson
21) Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (My review here)
22) Chicago Blues – Edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann

March
23) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Dan Pink
24) The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why – Richard E. Nisbett
25) Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer – Mireya Mayor (My review here)
26) A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – Anthony Bourdain
27) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World – Liaquat Ahamed (My review here)
28) Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions – Lisa Randall
29) The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson
30) Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents – Robert A. Cutietta

April
31) Thought Contagion – Aaron Lynch (My review here)
32) Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia 2) – C.S. Lewis
33) Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
34) Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Open Market Edition) – Duncan J. Watts
35) The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention – Guy Deutscher
36) Hardwired – Walter Jon Williams
37) The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been . . . and Where We’re Going – George Friedman

May
38) Almost Human: Making Robots Think – Lee Gutkind
39) Understanding Physics: Volume 2: Light, Magnetism and Electricity – Isaac Asimov
40) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) – Robert B. Cialdini
41) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
42) The Secret Servant (Gabriel Allon) – Daniel Silva
43) Pittsburgh Noir (Akashic Noir) – Edited by Kathleen George
44) Freedom (TM) – Daniel Suarez
45) Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots – Gareth Branwyn
46) The Traveler (Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book 1) – John Twelve Hawks
47) Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back – Douglas Rushkoff
48) Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource – Peter Rogers and Susan Leal
49) Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants – Dennis Okholm

June
50) Counterinsurgency – David Kilcullen
51) Hunter’s Run – George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham
52) The Killing Ground (Sean Dillon) – Jack Higgins
53) One Shot (Jack Reacher, No. 9) – Lee Child
54) The Hard Way (Jack Reacher, No. 10) – Lee Child
55) Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart – Mark E. Eberhart

July
56) Earth Strike: Star Carrier: Book One – Ian Douglas
57) Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese – Robert D. Kaplan
58) The Post-American World: Release 2.0 – Fareed Zakaria
59) Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – Novella Carpenter
60) The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization – Bryan Ward-Perkins
61) The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century – Thomas X. Hammes
62) Four Colors Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved – Robin Wilson
63) How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel – Piers Bizony
64) The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives – David Bainbridge
65) The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World – Peter Schwartz

August
66) The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine – Francis S. Collins
67) The Scar – China Mieville
68) The Profession: A Thriller – Steven Pressfield (My review here)
69) Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature – Marcus du Sautoy
70) The Five Chinese Brothers (Paperstar) – Claire Hutchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese
71) Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America – Matt Taibbi
72) How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late — A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents – Linda and Richard Eyre
73) The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
74) Havoc – Jack DuBrul
75) Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, Book 1) – David Brin
76) Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy – Steven Metz

September
77) The Rest of the Robots – Isaac Asimov
78) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things – William McDonough and Michael Braungart
79) 7th Sigma – Steven Gould
80) 50 Mathematical Ideas You Really Need to Know – Tony Crilly
81) The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life – Thomas W. Malone
82) Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier – Edward Glaeser
83) Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself – Dan Pink

October
84) The Future of Management – Gary Hamel with Bill Breen
85) 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith – Sonia Arrison
86) The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics – Karl Sabbagh
87) Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (Great Discoveries) – David Foster Wallace
88) The Final Warning (Maximum Ride, Book 4) – James Patterson
89) Re-read Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean
90) The Caryatids – Bruce Sterling

November
91) Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality – Jonathan Weiner
92) Mathematical Mysteries: The Beauty and Magic of Numbers (Helix Books) – Calvin C. Clawson
93) The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity – Amir D. Aczel
94) Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes – Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
95) Reamde: A Novel – Neal Stephenson
96) The Poincare Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe – Donal O’Shea

December
97) Euclid’s Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace – Leonard Mlodinow
98) Millennium Problems – Keith Devlin
99) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
100) Godel’s Proof (Revised Edition) – Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman
101) Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon #8) – Daniel Silva
102) The Bourne Legacy – Eric van Lustbader
103) Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus – John Eldredge
104) Count Down: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad – Steve Olson
105) The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets – Alan Boss