No Starch Press recently released The Cult of LEGO, a giant picture book discussing perhaps the most cherished of childhood toys. The book itself is a pretty epic tome: it’s nearly 300 pages, featuring countless large pictures of lego concoctions and with relatively minimal text. It won’t take you more than a few hours to read. My guess is that if you are super active in the LEGO community, you won’t find anything new here, but if you are a more middle of the road builder or fanboy, you might take pleasure in these colorful pages. And seriously, who doesn’t love LEGO?
The book was written by John Baichtal of MAKE and GeekDad, and Jon Meno of BrickJournal. The book is simply organized into a dozen chapters, but each page basically stands alone with a short story about one specific area of LEGO knowledge, starting with the history of the bricks, and working its way through fandom, styles, community gatherings, building standards and styles, and even touching on the various LEGO video game franchises.
Steve Jobs was a legend, and I think Walter Isaacson had a tough enough job trying to tell his tale. And then Jobs died, and the media made him into a god, so the Jobs job got even harder. I was looking forward to reading this book, and I was mostly pleased with what I found inside the covers: A reasonably honest story of a man who rose from humble beginnings and became the king of the tech world, only to fall to earth, and then claw his way back to the top, achieving heights that nobody ever has before. And he did all of this without compromising who he was at the core… which was oddly enough: more than just a bit of an asshole.
There are so many telling moments in this book. Stories of Jobs insulting famous people or engineers who’s names will be lost to history. Battles over the shape of a calculator application, or fans inside cases. Heists of ideas from Xerox. A great number of these stories are a bit of tech legend. Others are new and interesting. All aim to define a relatively private guy, who came from an adoption, abandoned a daughter, and created multiple billion dollar companies that each truly changed the world.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Google… one of the only other web properties who’s name became a verb on-line besides the one I built. And I also like Steven Levy. I keep my print Wired magazine in the bathroom and… you can figure out the rest. Once, many years ago I even had dinner with him and Hemos in a little hole in the wall restaurant in Tokyo. He’s a smart fellow… although I don’t think he really writes for me exactly: his writing actually makes a lot of the things that I deal with comprehensible to a wider audience. I feel like if I wanted to explain something to my parents, I just need to find the Levy article about it, and they’d grok it and he’d save me the trouble. So I was looking forward to In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
It came recommended by a few friends (one of whom works at Google now. Name withheld to protect him, but I’ll give you a secret hint: It’s Hemos.). I was a bit disappointed in that I don’t think I learned much about the search giant… but that’s probably because the vast majority of events covered in the book were probably already Steven Levy articles in Wired, or at the very least, covered in countless Slashdot stories and submissions. So much of the book wasn’t really new to me, but it’s well written, fast paced, and it does a good job of trying to string together and reconcile the startup Google of the 90s to the pre-IPO Google of the early naughts, to the modern Google: an internet behemoth struggling to maintain its identity, nimbleness and innocence, while dealing with real competition from Facebook. Continue reading
At long last I got to the end of Neal Stephenson’s latest tome, the amusingly mistyped ‘Reamde’. I bought the book not even noticing the typo: I saw a note about the release on someone’s G+, immediately hopped over to amazon and entered ‘Readme’ into the search box… and Amazon helpfully auto-corrected it to the proper improper version without me even noticing until I read the emailed receipt a couple hours later. I was pleased to discover a few hundred pages in that the author made mention of my old stomping grounds and while that made my day, it was also something like 800 pages ago, so I’m pleased to report that after chewing through the rest of the thing, the plug wasn’t even the best part of the book.
The story is pretty freakin’ gigantic. Big surprise from Stephenson, right? Normally he’s known for such tiny, intimate affairs. You know, a single setting, two guys talking in a convenience store for 250 pages. *cough*. No, The sets here range from a canadian ski lodge, bustling chinese streets, a castle in england inhabited by a ren-fair gone wrong, a trailer park morphed into something strange, manilla internet cafes, private jets, and the north american wilderness… Continue reading
A twisted and gory story that opens the door just a crack into an ominous world that I’m glad is fiction.
A few weeks ago I explained my sad little habit of buying comics recommended blindly by comic book store employees when I reviewed Sweet Tooth vol 1. This week I read Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampá and got a taste of something wildly different: Trucker Hats, Super Assassins, and Gigantic Magical Fists? The truth is that after 50 or so pages of graphic novel (and I do mean graphic!) I’m not sure what the hell I just read. I just know I’d like another 50 pages now please.
An elvis impersonator and a trucker are driving a truck and making a delivery. They stop off in the middle of nowhere for whatever reason you have to stop when you drive a truck. A chance encounter with a few locals who are every bit as bizarre as our delivery boys takes a quick turn for the violent as one twist, and then another makes this book highly memorable albeit fast read. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball in preparation for the movie (which I got to see on friday). When I originally mentioned that I read the book, several folks recommended a number of other titles by the same author. I decided to tackle Liar’s Poker, Lewis’ far more autobiographical story of the 80s bond market rise and collapse, told from his perspective as a trainee working his way up through one of the largest investment banks in the world.
Much of the story rings powerfully true to me. There’s a lot of stuff about MBAs drawn to Wall Street as the obvious place to make infinite piles of wealth without actually doing anything useful. There’s stories about reasonable fellows made to feel super important because good fortunate and coincidence and caused them to become fantastically wealthy. And there’s a lot of terrifying tales of rich people behaving inhumanely to their subordinates. It will probably remind you of the movie Wall Street. Continue reading
I have a sort of bad habit. When I go to a comic book store, I usually am looking for one or two things: the next issue in some series that I’m reading, maybe a new book by an author that I like. These days I’m working through a mountain of Deadpool. What can I say? I love that guy. But I love to ask the clerk what they think is awesome. Sometimes this is catastrophic fail. But I never would have read Axe Cop had some kid not told me all about it. And a life without Axe Cop is no life indeed.
The way I figure it, these dudes spend their days in a comic book store. They probably know better than me. It’s probably the fumes from the action figures. Recently on one such adventure I was recommended Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. The description the clerk gave me was vague and rambling, but my philosophy is that if you don’t try, you always lose… even when he describes the story as a sort of post apocalyptic bambi. And if I can give you any single piece of advice today, when someone describes someone as a post apocalyptic bambi, you say YES. Continue reading
This is what the cover of the book looks like. Remember books? They are like tiny pieces of the internet, on "paper".
I don’t have a need to know, but I sure have a want.
I’m a sucker for the conspiracy theory. And I love to believe all of them, even when they contradict each other: man has never set foot on the moon AND there’s a secret CIA moon base for nuking Russians. Sure, why not! Atlantis? UFOs? I’ve watched a zillion stupid shows on the so-called “History” channel. I’m slightly dumber for the effort, but I still watch ‘em. I’ll read web pages about the knights templar until my eyes bleed. I’m like a junkie for this stuff.
But on the more serious side, I’m also really interested in the technological weapons of the military. Not really so much about guns as much as jets and missiles. For most of my childhood I had several posters on my wall: a space shuttle, a lamborghini, and an SR-71 Blackbird. There is no more potent symbol of our governments ability to do something amazing in secret than that beautiful titanium jet capable of kissing the edge of space at more than 3x the speed of sound.
Of course I knew that the SR-71 came from the mysterious Lockheed Martin Skunk Works secretively based at Area-51 in Nevada. I knew that it was based on an earlier plane built in complete secrecy. But when I saw author Annie Jacobson on the Daily Show a few months ago talking about her new book ‘Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base’ I knew I was gonna eventually have to read it just because it sounded like this would feed my need to know. Continue reading
The very first book ever reviewed on Slashdot was Guns, Germs, and Steel, and it was written by Jeff Bates back in 1998. So that should give you an idea of how far behind I am in my book queue.
Last week I read Moneyball which was a bit fluffy. This week I tackled Jared Diamond’s book knowing it was a bit heavier. It was worth it: the first half especially covered a lot of interesting material, from the domestication of animals and crops to the axis of the continents and how this led to the transformation of humanity from hunter gatherers to sedentary farmers… and ultimately to the widespread dominance of the european societies.
The last half of the book seemed a bit less interesting to me, although the bit about the development of language and how you can use it to sorta track the development and spread of different cultures was very cool.
An excellent read. Highly recommended. But then again, your reading list probably doesn’t have titles on it that have been collecting brain dust back to the clinton administration either.