Books

This page collects recent BookReviews. Collecting them on a single page just did not scale well.

I’m interested in giving away old books!

2020-05-25 The Mediocre Programmer

This book is about helping you along on the journey of being a mediocre programmer. Together we’ll uncover some of common misconceptions we have about programming, failure, and growth and come to understand that the act of programming and development is something we undertake each day and improve in small ways. It’s these small changes that over time transform us from being mediocre programmers into better programmers.” – @craigmaloney

What I like about the book is already visible in the title: a humility in its approach to programming, one of the professions in this world that is rife with rock star press and blogs. We grew up with stories of geniuses that founded empires on programming and turned into the richest men on earth, and its time to see that this is an illusion. Instead of tearing them down, however – easy enough to do! – the book focuses on the things we actually need: dealing with feelings of inadequacy, the joining of communities, and so on.

This book is about the things that aren’t actual programming in the life of a programmer. That alone makes it important to me, makes it into a book I’d like to suggest to newbies entering the profession. We don’t need to read about Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Thorvalds, all the language designers and framework builders. We need to read about people like you and me.

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Comments on 2020-05-25 The Mediocre Programmer

Thank you for posting about this book! I am enjoying the read and the message is quite relevant to my current mindset.

Shreyas 2020-06-09 17:36 UTC


You are welcome!

I also just saw your blog post Oddmuse-curl exploration. Wow! Now we’re two users. 😀 I’ll be happy to take suggestions for changes, particularly regarding the documentation. This is neglected often enough.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-09 22:07 UTC

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2019-09-16 Social Architecture

This morning I’ve been skimming Social Architecture by Pieter Hintjens. Sadly, he died in 2016. The book is like a summary of all the things one learns slowly, growing up as a programmer online. Group dynamics, encouraging newbies, using distributed version control, picking the right license, but with a focus on people and groups, not on the particular tools and the details of how to use them. This is not the Git book.

You can get the book via GitBooks. Notice the PDF link. You can also get it (and other books) from Amazon. See his Books page for more information.

You’ll find his blog on the same site. I didn’t read it because life is short. But the table of contents for the last blog post looks very interesting!

Anyway, I recommend it. Take a look at the “reusable protocol for collaboration” or Collective Code Construction Contract, C4. If you’re interested, read chapter 4 of the book. It goes through the C4 document, giving you the background for all the various things it says.

I was particularly intrigued by the idea that all correct patches are merged. In the book, it’s discussed as optimistic merging vs. pessimistic merging.

Fascinating.

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Comments on 2019-09-16 Social Architecture

As @deshipu noted, there’s also a FAQ that mentions “optimistic merging” and the question is: “How do you deal with rude contributors who are brilliant/highly skilled?”

It is better to embrace a bad contributor, and give them time to show their damaging behavior. By rapidly merging their (awful) pull requests, then quickly reverting or cleaning them up, it creates a historical record. “You did not use our guideline of clear problem statement with minimal solution. I’m going to revert your patch, sorry.”

– Alex Schroeder 2019-09-16 20:06 UTC

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2019-02-03 Tolkien Time

«There are several examples in Lord of the Rings where Tolkien could be said to be drawing inspiration from prehistory. His work was very much concerned with capturing an emotional response to the passage of time. Techniques he employed in his construction of languages were designed to evoke, in one with the requisite knowledge of scientific philology, the sense of an extraordinarily long period of time.» – Ago, by Tom Fitzgerald

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2018-08-02 Science Fiction

@alex asked about recommendations for Science Fiction books. I’d say: start with some classics? Maybe Frank Herbert’s Dune is a good place to start. I’d also read a William Gibson, e.g. Neuromancer; an Ian M. Banks like The Use of Weapons; an Charles Stross like Singularity Sky; an Octavia E. Buttler like Lilith’s Brood; a M. John Harrison like Nova Swing; a David Brin like Startide Rising; a Bruce Sterling like Schismatrix. But I’m stuck somewhere in the eighties with my SciFi, I fear...

I guess one should also read an Isaac Asimov, a Robert Heinlein? So many white men... Somebody link me to some good Science Fiction books from the last years?

I think the only one I read which is recent is Tobias Klausmann’s Slingshot.

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Comments on 2018-08-02 Science Fiction

Ich mag „The Martian Chronicle“ sehr, etwa 1950 geschrieben.

– Chris 2018-08-04 19:56 UTC


und „The Forever War“, aber auch alt, 197×...

– Chris 2018-08-04 20:08 UTC


Ja, The Forever War war wirklich gut weil die Zeitverzerrung so richtig zur Geltung kam.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-08-04 22:01 UTC

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2017-09-08 The Wake

Still reading The Wake. I just read a review and another review.

This tale of the Norman conquest, told from the point of view of an English man, in an invented language that is readable but looks a bit like Old English, the “shadow tongue”, this tale makes me uneasy for all the nationalism it invokes, a kind of new-pagan ecofascism, too much Blut & Boden for my liking. As a perpetual foreigner, I question every mentioning of the “true” nationals, the “original” people, their “special” relationship with the land. If we learned anything from history, it should be that even if the first monkey that climbed down from tree and walked, even if that first human had stayed right there on that first piece of land, and their descendants had stayed there as well, making them the most original of the most true natives forever—I still don’t believe in a special relationship that cannot be gained in a few years of living somewhere, in a special property inherited from parents to children, in any sense of “belonging”. There are the things we do, the things we say, but the special connection to the land, a special property of the blood, this is one of the ingredients of fascism. Remember the essay on Urfascism. When you don’t have anything, when you can’t do anything, when you don’t know anything, at least you were born in a country and therefore it must be all to you. Fuck this.

Discussion on G+.

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Comments on 2017-09-08 The Wake

Related: Nature writing’s fascist roots by Richard Smyth in New Statesman: how nazis use the environment and misanthropy to imagine a past that’s better and a present that’s overrun with “other people.”

Well, these other people – they are us. Hi! I hope you don’t me settling on your land.

We need to find better ways to talk about our relationship with the land we live on.

Just because you live here doesn’t mean nobody else may come and live here as well. That doesn’t mean we need to support annexation and confiscation: if land was taken through an injustice, that injustice remains an issue to be solved, of course! All I’m saying is that your genes don’t have a right to the land. You do have the same rights to protection as everybody else, of course. And if a foreigners comes and buys your land, then that’s freedom and capitalism for you.

Sometimes we’d like to curb capitalism and that needs to be OK as well: sometimes we don’t want people or organisations to own large swathes of land. That’s what I mean: it’s complex, it needs to be talked through, it needs a constant political process to figure out what the right approach is, right now, for our times.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-31 23:43 UTC


Related to the section in the afterword where Kingsnorth talks about the effects of the Norman invasion still being felt today as the land is all in the hands of the nobility, @neil posts a link a The Guardian story about some land being treated as a commons and then being fenced off by some development company registered in the Bermuda’s and says:

About half of the land in England is owned by about 0.06% of the population.

Quoting from the story:

‘This period was, in effect, the birth of private property as we know it in England – and the consequences have been dramatic. Today, Fairlie explains, “nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06% of the population”.’

– Alex Schroeder 2019-09-15 12:29 UTC

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2014-01-04 The Walrus and the Warwolf

These days I read a lot less books than I used to. I read too much blogs on the topic of role-playing games, too much time spent on Google+, also on the topic of role-playing games, I skim this role-playing book and that PDF, and since I’m mostly interested in the Old School Renaissance of role-playing games—namely D&D from the nineteen eighties—I also feel like I ought to like the books recommended by one of the founding fathers of D&D, Gary Gygax in his Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. If you’re interested, you should check out the articles in Martin Ralya’s blog tagged Reading Appendix N.

These books are weird. Compared with the The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire or Malazan Book of the Fallen, these older books are short. There are sometimes short stories, collection of short stories, novellas, or little paperback books. All of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian fit into two books of typical size for these fantasy series.

A while back, I remembered how eagerly I read all those Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley and I decided to find them all second hand, in German, on Amazon, and buy them for Claudia. Every now and the she reads one of them, interspersed with some Steven Erickson and George R. R. Martin. We start talking and comparing. There are two aspects I like about these books:

  1. each book stands on its own
  2. each book only has a single plot line

Tolkien may have started this dreadful fashion of telling multiple stories at once. But in his case, at least each segment was long, very long. When I read George R. R. Martin, I feel like the author is suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. Is every little segment ending on a cliff hanger? When I start noticing the literary devices, when I start to see the man behind the curtain, it doesn’t really work anymore. It starts to bore me. I start noticing that—like in Zeno’s paradox about Achilles being unable to overtake the turtle—as the number of segments increase, the time slot available decreases. As more stories are told in parallel, less actually happens. Plot is reduced to flashes and still images.

I am exaggerating, of course. In comparison with older books, however, I start to appreciate a tight plot, a unified vision, a drive forward. All the Conan stories stand on their own. They can be arranged in some sort of chronological order, but that’s not the important part. Similarly, the Darkover books can be read in any order. You get the occasional reward for regular readers. Older stories are referred to, but understanding this is strictly optional.

I was once again reminded of this when I read The Walrus and the Warwolf. It was published in Paizo’s Planet Stories line (now discontinued). I liked it very much. The book itself wasn’t short, but the chapters were short. The characterizations were short. Things happened. I felt that it incorporated not the best of literature, of language, of fancy words and synonyms and antonyms but it incorporated what is best in story telling. Keeping things short. Just enough words to let the reader’s imagination embellish it all without ever taking too long to read.

I’m hoping that I’ll like the other volumes in Hugh Cook’s Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series. I’ve ordered many of the volumes second hand, via Amazon. I also ordered the four books that got translated into German. Perhaps Claudia will enjoy them as well.

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Comments on 2014-01-04 The Walrus and the Warwolf

I loved hugh cooks books. A breath of fresh air when they were released. I read recently that initially he had planned 60+ books in the series. Sadly passed away now but walrus and warwolf was ond of the better ones

– brad 2014-01-05 10:31 UTC


Yeah, I read the same thing on Wikipedia. I was sad to learn that he had died in 2008 and I was disappointed to learn that his 60 book plan had been cancelled much earlier because of financial failure. Nooo!

I’m fascinated by the idea of telling the story of a different protagonist in each book with intersections between the books every now and then. It reminds me of the Eternal Champion stories by Michael Moorcock. I was always fascinated by the boat trip in the mist where the various heroes all meet.

AlexSchroeder 2014-01-05 12:26 UTC

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2012-12-05 Prince Valiant

Started reading Prince Valiant to add more raw material to my Pendragon campaign. I find that in order to improvise well, in order to think of good plots, in order to better characterize non-player characters, I need a backdrop of material: movies, books, comics. Right now I’m very much under the influence of Marion Zimmer Bradleys Avalon. I read it again just three or four years ago. The Quest of the Holy Grail, Chrétien de Troyes, Malory, T. H. White, Mary Steward, Nancy McKenzie, I think I must have read them all ten or twenty years ago. Thus, the comics of Prince Valiant are a good way of getting back in the Matter of Britain.

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2012-11-30 M. John Harrison

I just finished Light by M. John Harrison. It had some very nice ideas in it. Like many cyberpunk books, however, I felt that it was lacking somewhat in plot. I don’t really enjoy the feeling of confusion followed by a lack of closure.

I’ve also been reading the Viriconium collection on the side. Currently in the middle of A Storm of Wings. I like the Viriconium books from a plot perspective. There, I just need to be in the right mood. They exhaust me emotionally with their bleakness.

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