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2011-12 Reading List

I have finished 5 more books in my last push in 2011. Many of them are short books however.

The Question of Separatism By Jane Jacobs (1980)

This short book from great thinker Jane Jacobs takes on the contemporary issue of Quebec separatism. Unlike other discussions on separatism, which is invariably emotion laden, Jane Jacob is making a largely rational and non-partisan argument on the issue that embroils her country.

Drawing on the lesson from the peaceful break up of Norway from Sweden in the early twentieth century, she lays down the foundation of an independent Quebec in this book. Ever skeptical on large centralized government and the bureaucracy it brings about, Jane Jacob believes it is possible for an independent Quebec to thrive. Ultimately it can bring economic development and cultural diversity that benefits both itself and the rest of Canada.

The 4-Hour Workweek By Timothy Ferriss (2009)

After reading Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Body, I've already decided he is not my favorite writer. But the book has come through the library reservation system after many weeks. So I give it a look anyway.

The idea of 4-hour workweek is he shows you how to setup a Internet mail order company, outsource everything you possibly can to service firm, and cut down most of the things you used to do everyday because they are just time waster. When everything works according to his scheme, you will have so much time left that you can travel around the world while money automatically roll into your account with little work required from you.

There are actually quite a lot of wisdom and good advices in the book. The problem is they are so greatly amplified that they becomes just hot air. His contrarian theories are backed not by evidence or statistics but total self-conviction and a handful of anecdotes. If motivational talk is your thing then this is the book for you.

Ferriss is a huge fans of what I'd call strict Pareto principle. The idea is 20% of your work gets 80% of result. The other 80% of work is such waste of time that you should just not do it. I find the best way to practice strict Pareto principle is on his book. Since 80% of the book is going to be useless anyway, I just skim through the other 20%. The result is I've wasted much less time on this book. As least I can claim a small victory base on his method.

One Day, One Dollar 美國華工田園生涯 By Peter C.Y. Leung (1984,1993)

California's Sacramento river delta is a fertile agricultural region. Back in 19th century, Chinese migrant farm labor are instrumental in developing the estuary into productive farms. Chinatowns are booming along the river. They were bustling with activities back in the days.

Fast forward to 1980. These Chinatowns are in its last days. Most residents have already left. These once bustling towns are only left with a small number of elderlys. To record the history before they vanish, historian C.Y. Leung visited and interviewed the elders and compiled their history into this book.

Migrant workers recount their story in first person format. They left behind their village in China to escape poverty and found work in farms or packaging factories in the Sacramento delta. They worked really hard to make a living. Some of them are able to move up the economic ladder to become tenant farmer or merchants. Many travel back to China to get marry, but after only a short union, they left the spouse behind and return to California to work. In some case they did not get to see their children after many years.

This is a fascinating book on a forgotten history. It may be an really obscure book today. But when it is first published, it has received a well deserved recommendation from then California Secretary of State March Fong Yu.

Programming HTML5 Applications By Zachary Kessin (2011)

This is a short book on programming HTML5 applications. The best is the chapter 2 on JavaScript. It gives a great tutorial on programming JavaScript in functional programming style. Otherwise it is yet another resources on HTML5. I prefer Mark Pilgrim's presentation in his HTML5: Up and Running quite a bit more. (The coverage of this two books actually have little overlapping).

Gödel, Escher, Bach

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
By Douglas R. Hofstadter (1979)

This is a fascinating book that probe the nature and limitation of mathematics, artificial intelligence and human mind. It is intriguing but rather difficult book to follow, with concept that involves recursion, self referencing, meta-mathematics and meta-meta-mathematics and so on. Nevertheless it is a rewarding journey that really open your mind. Also it has the best introduction to molecular biology that I've seen anywhere. At least it is the best from the point of view of a computer scientist.

The book is uniquely brilliant that it intertwine the abstract concept above with the art of Escher and Bach. In fact the author has created his own parable of Achilles and Tortoise and use them and their dialog to reenact the concept he is exploring. His story is written with much talent and highly entertaining.

Gödel, Escher, Bach also has a personal meaning to me. I have stretched the reading of this book over many months. Every night when I try to rock my baby Hangchee to sleep I pick up this book. While I was gently swaying him, my mind is occupied with all these fascinating and entwined idea of Hofstadter. Soon enough Hangchee will get big and not need me to rock him to sleep anymore. But while he was a baby, we read Gödel, Escher, Bach together.

2011.12.15 [] - comments



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