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September 2017

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

51FD3B49-2C27-4F07-A12E-61A9A9A00C10Readers of this blog might assume that I earn a living being almost Internet famous, what with my podcast, my several tech books, and this website. Sorry to burst that bubble, but I do have a day job (which I like!).

For the longest time I avoided managing people because, well, I didn’t think I’d be any good at it. However, since I’m in technology I had to decide if I wanted to go down the route of being super technical or managing people. I opted for people management, and now I manage a group of 10 people. That’s not to say I’m GOOD at it, just that I do it. And get paid for it.

Interestingly, I"m the only man on my team, which leads me to why I read “Lean In.” I was in a one on one meeting with someone who reports to me and she suggested I read this book because it could give me some insights into what women have to deal with at work.

And so I read the book. And I must say I liked it! Though I suppose I don’t like that it had to be written, I’m glad Sheryl Sandberg wrote it.

I am glad that she points out at the very start of the book that she has tremendous resources that most women don’t. Even with that setup, though, from time to time I would remember that she is a billionaire (like when she told a story about jetting off to some meeting with other CEOs, or how she got parking for pregnant women at Google by marching into the co-founders’ office).

The take away could be, well she’s so wealthy she doesn’t really get it. But as a white man reading it I took something else away from it: one should always use their privilege to help others.

I know some people don’t think that white privilege is a thing, but it is. And I benefit from it. Plus I’m a white guy, so I benefit even more! I’m not saying that everything is easy for me but I certainly have an easier time in life than most women or people of other colors (for example, I never think twice about speaking in meetings, and if I saw a police officer approaching me I would assume he was either looking for someone else or trying to offer me assistance).

Reading this book underlined something things that I already knew, and made me hope that I’m not doing all the typical male at work things she mentions

Who should read it: If you are a man who manages women you should read this book, or a book like it. Women don’t need me telling them what to read!

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


Sourdough by Robin Sloan

1E6013BE-4D86-4A31-BDE8-D50790338BF5Robin Sloan’s work (his previous book was Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore) tends to teeter on the edge of twee. Though his is a very modern twee set, generally, in a version of San Francisco that is both recognizable and slightly off kilter from reality.

In fact, I found myself in San Franciso a few weeks ago so reading a book set in that city (though this book is “of” San Francisco the city itself doesn’t play a huge part in the narrative) was a nice reminder of my time there.

As you might expect, soudough bread plays a rather important role in this novel. Actually, the sourdough starter is far more important. The story revolves around a programmer working at a robotic arm company who ends up in possession of a mysterious sourdough starter which leads to her becoming part of a mysterious farmers’ market, and changes her life.

A story that you’ve heard a million times!

At first I was skeptical since Sloan’s first book followed a very simliar plot (though in that story a former programmer stumbles across a mysterious bookstore that changes his life), but in the end the charm and wit of the writing won me over. As did the inclusion of Silicon Valley types sucking down packets of a food subsitute called “Slurry.”

Who should read it: Foodies or techies (or techie foodies) will eat this book up. See what I did there? Eh?

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

6DA848D6-0E2E-4A4E-AE03-3F852EA03F9DRight after I finished Dead Woman Walking I wanted more from Sharon Bolton. Luckily she has written a bunch of books, though most of them are in a series. I didn’t want to jump into a series, so I bought myself a copy of “Daisy in Chains,” despite the fact that I have something like 1,000 ebooks on my Kindle and probably another 1,000 or so physical books just waiting for me to read them (in fact the next 3 books I plan on reading come from the library).

This book is more of a character study than anything else, and it does include a few shocking twists (though I did guess one of the twists).

There are murders, blue hair, gypsies, and a creepy amusement park visit during a winter’s night. What’s not to like?

Once again Bolton deploys short chapters that keep you guessing. I didn’t want to put this book down, and I gobbled it up from start to finish. I was even tempted to just jump right into Bolton’s series… but then my book debt guilt kicked in so I decided to read the books I had picked up from the library. I will be reading more Bolton soon!

Who should read it: If you like thrillers and serial killers this book is for you!

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

91B9BE4E-81E0-44B0-843F-2E4E801CE0EEI suppose this is more of a thriller than a mystery, though there are some mysterious elements to it. You know who the bad guys are (for the most part), but it is unclear why each of the characters are mixed up in this story. And like any good thriller this book has some unexpected twists and turns (which I won’t ruin for anyone!).

The setup for this novel is brilliant: 13 people are in a hot air balloon and witness an act of violence. And then they all die in a crash… all expect for one person.

I read this book over the course of 24 hours because of Bolton’s effective use of very short chapters and an intricate weaving of a few stories spread over the course of a decade or so.

It is well written and compulsively readable. My only quibble is that it does seem remarkable that these particular characters would end up so well placed in relation to the story. However, I don’t think realism was the point of this book!

I will say that I’d never heard of Sharon Bolton before reading this book, but I plan on reading another one of her books soon!

Who should read it: If you don’t mind horrible people doing horrible things, this book is for you!

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone

458630B6-2599-4CB7-9720-F3429B8EC020Recommending a book that is the 6th in a series isn’t something one should do, however, the Craft Sequence isn’t a normal series. If you read the series in publication order, as I have, you’re actually reading them out of chronological order. This might seem strange, but the upshot is you can pretty much start the series at any of the books. And you should.

I’m not a huge fan of urban fantasy, which is why I was so surprised when I read a review of “Ruin of Angels” describing it as such. Upon further reflection it does make sense: this is a world where lines of contracts power magic, ever living skeletons run corporations, and gods trade faith for power.

Ruin of Angels is a good jumping on point, and for $3 (ebook) it is a great deal. If you’ve read any of the other books in the series you’ll recognize some of the characters featured.

I suppose I should point out that all the main characters are women, which I guess is either a plus or minus depending on your point of view.

Who should read it: Anyone who has read any of the Craft Sequence, or if you’ve ever wondered what a space program powered by magic might look like.

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


My 5k Report

I ran my second 5K race ever yesterday! You can read all about my first experience in 2008 (so young!) on this very blog. Mayor Nutter (who was the mayor of Philadelphia at the time) was there, and I met him so that was cool. And Marisa took what is my favorite picture of the day:

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That's me pointing to the Mayor's back. How security didn't escort me away I'll never know.

Much like my first 5K experience, signing up for this one was something of an impulsive decision. I wanted to support the cause of getting rid of colon cancer in my mom's memory so it seemed like a good idea. Of course, I hadn't actually ran outside, or really at all, for months and months and months before I signed up.

I had been doing an hour on the elliptical for several months, so I didn't think it would be too bad to get back into the running habit. To train I went out and did exactly what you aren't supposed to do: I ran a 5K run to see how it would feel.

Reader, I ran my fastest 5K ever! At this point I considered becoming a professional runner, but the benefits aren't great.

A week later, I ran another 5K and BEAT my previous time again!

Then we went on vacation and I ran along the coast of Oregon… and didn't beat my record. However, I did get chased by a couple of dogs so that was fun.

I ran a few more times in Philadelphia and before I knew it race day was upon me. Marisa, sadly, was off being famous so she couldn't be there. My brother and his girlfriend came down to watch me race (though they weren't there at the start, since really it isn't that exciting. And due to a coffee mishap they missed me crossing the finish line, but it is the thought that counts!).

I showed up, pinned my number to my t-shirt and waited. I hate being late for things, so I was an hour early for the race. I could have helped myself to some snacks… but I don't eat before I run since I imagine myself vomiting along the route (this is also why I don't eat before public speaking).

Since I had so much time on my hands I checked out the giant colon:

Soon it was time to start the race. I was surrounded by people in much better shape than me (some of whom were wearing nothing but their underwear. I was wearing the pair of boxers they gave to runners [it was an undy run] over my running shorts… doubly secured).

And off I went! My goal for this race was simple: pace myself. During my practice runs I was so excited to be running outside that my first mile would be super fast (well, for me) and then the second mile would be slower, and the third mile would be me jogging/walking and hating life.

I didn't want to walk at all during the 5K, and I didn't want to expend all my energy during the first mile. How did I do?

Check out my Runkeeper stats:

Image 29

I am very proud of how darn consistent I was able to keep my pacing. How did I manage it? Well, I had set Runkeeper to tell me my pace at 1 mile intervals, which really meant that I couldn't adjust at all. Before the race I set it to alert me every .5 mile (which I didn't think would be too annoying) and it worked like a charm.

Now, when I registered for the race I had two fears:

  • I would be the fattest person running.
  • I would come in dead last.

I'm happy to report that only one of those fears was true, which made the fact that the second didn't come true all the sweeter.

Sure, I was the biggest guy running (lots of people did the fun walk) but I wasn't the slowest person. Hurrah for me!

Now, I was very far from being the fastest person but I did come in 9th in my age group (104th overall). That's something.

The run itself was pretty good. I made sure to run along the far edge of the road so people could easily pass me (since I wasn't running very fast). We ran 1.5 miles one way, turned around, and ran back.

The way out was great. I was chugging along. Passing some people, having some people pass me. No big deal. Then I turned the corner, passed the water station (no water for me, thanks. Don't want to vomit) and ended up behind 3 teenage girls walking side by side on the race route. It was clear that they were friends since they were chatting amongst themselves. No big deal, but they were blocking the entire half of the road. I sped up, swerved around them and passed them.

No big deal.

Well, having seen an old fat guy pass them they decided they needed to speed up themselves and so they passed me. And kept running. Until they started walking again. And, you guessed it, I had to pass them again since I was running at a consistent speed.

Once again, they saw this… and decided to run pass me again.

And then they started walking side by side again.

So I passed them, again.

And this was with about .7 miles left, so I was pretty sure they would run past me and beat me to the finish line… but I didn't see them again.

Therefore I assume I beat them. Take that, teenage girls who I am sure have no memory of me even being there!

According to the race chip I ran the 5K in 31:39 which gave me an average pace of a 10 minute 11 second mile (3 times in a row!).

And then I ate two bananas and drank all the water:

When I ran my last 5K (9 years ago) it took me 33:03, so I improved without really trying. Hurrah for me.

And a much bigger hurrah to everyone who donated to the cause. I was almost the top fundraiser for the race (I was bet by $75 but I'm ok with that).


Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea by Adam Roberts

A3D80DA6-4ECE-4E8C-9C0F-2DEBA535F133-950-00000172776FA044Adam Roberts is one of those authors who writes whatever they want, and damn the marketability. Generally I enjoy his work, and he is a very talented writer. This book wasn't his best work, though I did think it was quite interesting and I almost enjoyed just as a physical object.

Almost.

The cover is gorgeous, and the illustrations are generally very good but… the copy editing is just bad. I usually don't even notice the odd mistake here and there, but this book was littered with them. It was distracting (and not the author's fault, but it didn't do him any favors).

The story is heavily influenced/extends 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A French experimental submarine goes off on a test run and dives. And dives. And dives deeper than the ocean should allow a submarine to dive.

And then things get crazy, and none of it is good for the crew.

I would say this book ends up being interesting rather than good.

Who should read it: Big fans of Jules Verne and French people, I guess?

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat


The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

IMG_0395Trilogies can be tough. The first book is exciting because you're discovering a whole new world populated with interesting characters (at least in good ones!), the second book generally moves the story along and not much more, and the third book… the pressure is on to stick the landing. If you have a bad conclusion it can have the power to sour people on the previous two books, plus who is going to recommend a trilogy with a bad final book?

I'm happy to report that The Stone Sky, the final volume in the fantastic The Broken Earth trilogy, does not disappoint. It is a well written and satisfying conclusion to a very good trilogy. Seriously, if you haven't read any of these books you should totally do it.

My one complaint is an odd one: I almost feel like the third book explained too much of how the world got to be the way it is in the trilogy. Now, I know that lots of people will be very happy to find out the details, but I think I would have preferred a little more ambiguity. That's just me, though, since I tend to enjoy books where I have little idea what is going on (which was pretty much the case in the first two books of this series).

I won't bother to try and recap what this book is about, but I will say it is a very interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction.

Who should read it: If you're read the first two books you'll need to read this one. And you should read the first two.

Would I read it again: I can imagine myself re-reading this trilogy again at some point (much like the Foundation trilogy, which is probably my favorite trilogy of all time).

Get it: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powell's | WorldCat