Some More Books I Read in 2016

When I started the year I had a goal that I would write a blurb about each book I finished this year however I’ve fallen way behind in the writing piece. As a form of catch-up (read as cheating), I’m going to quickly recap the books I’ve read since The Power Of Habit.

  • Born To Run – A great read while I trained for my first half marathon. I always enjoy reading about forgotten knowledge and for running long distances we’ve certainly forgotten more than we know Today.
  • Domain Driven Design Distilled – If you are building software applications, domain driven design is an approach to wrangling complex business logic by structuring your applications as your users will think and speak of them. This book and others will help you work through the brainstorming process for that as well some design patterns like CQRS and Event sourcing to aid in communicating changes in your domain driven services.
  • Food a love story – Jim Gaffigan writing about food, it is great.
  • Infrastructure as code – You’ll be inspired to rewrite your entire infrastructure so it’s not a set of hand-rolled fragile pets but an automated, repeatable, scalable infrastructure made of ready to kill at any moment servers.
  • Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble- A man in his 50s joins Hubspot and hilarity ensues. Of course about half through the book things take a dark turn. A great read for anyone who has worked at a start up and thinks sometimes that you are all going nuts.
  • Packing for Mars – An adventure of all of the weird stuff about going to space (how do they determine who has “the right stuff”?), floating in space (has anyone ever had sex in there?) and how we’ll ever colonize space (It’s probably like locking people in a space capsule on earth for months at a time… let’s see how that goes)
  • American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford –Alan Mulally took a company that by all rights should have been dead and rebuilt it by getting people to work with each other, focusing the product line, and solving problems of quality above all else.
  • The Psychopath Test – There is a test that professionals use to determine if someone is a psychopath. Jon Ronson explores whether he can learn to identify psychopaths by learning the test and finds out a lot about crazy people along the way.
  • The Etymologicon – My favorite feature of google is asking <WORD> etymology. This was basically 7 hours of that but a constant flow of words, it was so much fun.
  • Grunt – Military science rarely gets covered in the news, this was a fun way to learn about it. I saw Mary Roach speak about this book when it came out, she said she focused on the human stories and innovations that are largely ignored,
  • Omnivore’s Dilemma – It’s tough being humans. We  are making complicated trade-offs – organic, local, slow, fast, …whatever the trend, none of them are silver bullets and this book covers a lot of these trade-offs.
  • Sienfeldia- I’m a big Seinfeld fan and to hear all about how the ideas and stories came to light is fascinating. Can you imagine where we would all be without the big salad, yadda yadda yadda and the contest? Probably the darkest timeline.
  • Shoe dog- I didn’t know the story of Nike. To hear about the giant risks they took to create one of the largest shoe companies and one of the most recognizable brands of all time is a ton of fun. Reading this book after Born To Run was great as well because you can see how early Nike design decisions influenced the shoe industry that may lead to a backlash that turns into the barefoot running movement.
  • Spook – I’m clearly a fan of Roach’s writing – while this wasn’t my favorite of her works it’s still a good time to explore what happens after we die. Roach doesn’t pull punches as she explores reincarnation, people who communicate with the dead and even stories about past popes.
  • American nations a history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America – This was probably the one book I read this summer where I couldn’t stop talking about it. “And see the nations have never got along it was just these 3 events where we pretended to” or “Can you believe that people from the Appalachian states have made up the most of our military since the revolution but only account for a small piece of our population?”  is how I annoyed Sara every time I put down the book. When I finished the book I was amazed because the first article I read was about the prison sentences being widely different county to county. You can read the full article here, but the map of where the harshest prison sentences aren’t red states and blue states but almost an exact map of the “Borderland” states.
  • The Phoenix project – A fictional book about DevOps, what will they think of next. But you know what despite the deus ex machina up the wazoo – oh how convenient that the factory down the street has the exact same problem as our infrastructure team! – it was fun to see XP principles and DevOps applied and how it can transform an organization.
  • Notorious RBG – Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s journey to the Supreme Court and her impact on the court is inspiring. While the author tends to float into meme-heavy pieces about how cool RBG is, it was still a great story about a woman who has been steadfast in her fight to make our nation into a more perfect union.
  • The Ego Is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday goes deep throughout history and does a fantastic job finding examples where ego ruined a successful person. As much as we love Kanye, in looking at the data he is the exception not the rule.
  • Harry Potter and The Cursed Child – We’re going to see the plan in London next fall and after reading through the play, I can’t wait to see it on stage.

 

The Men Who Stare At Goats By Jon Ronson

The Men Who Stare At Goats follows the ups and downs of the use of paranormal and New Age concepts by the US military since the 1970s to Today, mostly focusing on their resurgence after 9/11. The title comes from the Ronson’s search for a man who allegedly has been able to learn how to harness his psychic ability to kill a goat, and other mammals simply by staring at them. The cast of characters is deep and to imagine Ronson tracking them down is part of the fun. Who is the man who actually killed the goat by staring, did it even happen? Who was it that learned Matchbox 20 was the best way to send out subliminal messages? Who took the proposed taking elements of the New Age peaceful measures and distort them to be used in events that lead to Abu Ghraib, Waco and Guantanamo?

The intentions early on seemed so earnest. What if we could take New Age ideas about peace and harness them non-violently in our military? Our military could carry ginseng and could stop their enemies not by firing weapons but by surprising them with hugs and Jedi mind tricks. The violent and disturbing outcomes appear as misunderstandings and distortions of the original intent of the First Earth Battalion, the proposed group of supersoldiers who encouraged nonviolent conflict resolution.

What is clear from reading this book is that parts of the military and intelligence want alternatives. While some of these alternatives are crazy schemes like invisibility and walking through walls, it certainly seems that the military is not about to slow down on them anytime soon.

 
The Men Who Stare At Goats By Jon Ronson
 

Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation  By Jez Humble

Hopefully, more books I read this year will have an impact on my day to day life, but at the very least this one definitely will. Continuous Delivery by Jez Humble was suggested to me by our VP of engineering along with Release It By Michael Nygard which I read last year. Both cover the software development pipeline by focusing on resiliency and regularly delivering working code. While many a blog will eschew the ideas of continuous delivery, this book gives you the patterns to use to significantly shorten your cycle time – the time between ideation and code live on production.

 

If you talk to people who are responsible for releasing software, most will tell you releasing is painful. The reasons for this sentiment are many: they do it rarely so it is a big event, it’s manual, there is no automated testing, they have no idea what they are releasing because someone else wrote it and the kicker of them all, production is different than their testing environments. This book calls all of these complaints and more out as anti-patterns and models many of the solutions around one idea: if it is painful right now, then move it forward in your process and do it more often, which forces you to automate it. This means if there is only manual testing which is slow and at the end of your process then do test driven development, i.e. write tests first. He includes in this TDD pattern server deployments where one builds the monitoring and health checks first before they release the server as the “test” will pass once they are deployed. Chances are for many teams especially ones with little automation in place, it means doing a lot of hard things first, automated testing, configuration management, better version control strategies, and getting staging looking more like production. Humble suggests incremental improvements but it is critical to have testing in place as you can release all the time but your customers won’t be too happy if your applications break regularly.

 

This book will change the way you deliver software and likely will make your life a lot easier. I also suggest reading Nygard’s Release It either right before or right after as it gives you concrete architecture patterns to implement some of Humble’s ideas.

Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation (Addison-Wesley Signature Series (Fowler))

What If? By Randall Munroe

Are you a regular reader of XKCD? Do you like hypothesizing on the fantastical? Have you considered tying yourself to 100 AK-47s and trying to fly through the air? If you answered yes to any of the previous questions then likely you would be a candidate to read What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions By Randall Munroe. In What If? Munroe, the author of all of those amazing XKCD comics that we all quote day in and day out, attempts to answer his readers craziest questions. About half the content comes from Munroe’s What if? site https://what-if.xkcd.com/ so even if you are a regular reader there is more then enough reason to pick it up. For me, the most interesting sections were where he avoided the obvious answers like when answering the question “What if the sun disappeared?” Obviously, we would all freeze and die but think of the upsides, no solar flares, better astronomy, no time zones! It is a great gift for the nerd in your life who wants to find out if the sun actually has ever set on the British empire.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Save The Cat By Blake Snyder

I started the year with a controversial book. It might not seem controversial as it is, at its heart, a guide to being a more successful screenwriter. But Save The Cat By Blake Snyder is a screenwriting guide for those looking to sell their script, not to be necessarily critically acclaimed. Written by Blake Snyder, who sold many scripts in Hollywood and whose film Blank Check was turned into a major motion picture, the book guides the aspiring screenwriter towards building better structure into their script. It also encourages building out the critical pieces that surround a successful script: log lines, planning boards and how to pitch the film. He shows, for example, how simply modifying a log line can help build the foundation for a better script and ultimately one that gets sold in Hollywood.

In Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell asserts that every story follows a simple arch and that every three act structured story aligns with the transitions between our ordinary and adventure worlds.  Snyder takes the concepts set up in Hero and revs them up. He sets up an opinionated guide that says each story must break into certain acts and set pieces by a certain page in the script. For example, if we’re writing an 110-page script, then the Bad Guys Close In beat better have started and been wrapped up between pages 55 and 75 of the script.

The book encourages some good practices about planning and building off a working framework, however, you as a reader are quick to find how many of your favorite films may fall into this story structure. If you are into screenwriting or films at all, it is a must read to better understand how mainstream Hollywood films are written and sold.

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need