New book about 100 years of IBM

Book coverAs some of you know, I’ve been working for IBM for 28 years, though I was but a child when I started. Evidently it existed before I got here, and the full 100 year history is discussed in a new book called Making the World Work Better: The Ideas That Shaped a Century and a Company by journalists Kevin Maney, Steve Hamm and Jeffrey M. O’Brien. It is now available for preorder and will be be out in a week or so.

From the book description:

The lessons for all businesses and institutions are powerful: To survive and succeed over a long period, you have to be willing and able to continually transform, guided by enduring values and a broadly understood identity. Over a century of change, IBM, came into being, grew, went global, nearly died, transformed itself… and is now charting a new path forward, embracing a second century that bids to be even more surprising than its first.

By the way, Linux is mentioned, see page 194.

Finished: “The Windup Girl”

book coverI just finished reading The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and I have to say it was an excellent, excellent novel. It happens to be science fiction because it is set in a future Bangkok after most of the petroleum reserves have run dry and gene-ripping monopolies have tried to corner the market on “calories” while unleashing plagues that have destroyed the competition, but it’s a great human story as well. Highly recommended.

Like many of the books I’ve read recently, I read the e-book version on the Kindle app on my iPad.

Next up I might tackle one of the books on my Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reading List, or I may go back and work on A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. What’s most likely I think, is that I’ll go steampunk for a few days and read Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. Yay, zombies.

Update to scifi and fantasy reading list

I’ve updated my list of Hugo and Nebula award winners for novels to include 2010. For the Nebula, the winner was The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book also won the Hugo, though it was shared with The City & The City by China Mieville.

I just finished reading Mieville’s book on my iPad via the Kindle app and it is quite good. For the first half I thought it was definitely a scifi book but by the end I wasn’t sure. There are certainly intentionally unexplained mysteries that keep it in the category, but as the author states in an interview at the end, it is a crime novel at its core.

The notion of two largely co-located but politically separated cities with serious sanctions for “breaching” the borders is a very clever one and the core idea on which the plot is based. It’s strong enough to allow sequels to further develop the implications.

I started Bacigalupi’s novel today while on the treadmill. It is intriguing but it’s far to early to report anything intelligent.

While the list only contains award winners, I do read other books in the category. However, to the degree that the list provides a compelling reason to read the best books by a broad selection of authors, I think it’s a good motivator and guide.

Reading list update

I just finished reading A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., winner of the 1961 Hugo award for Best Novel for science fiction and fantasy. (You can see all the Hugo and Nebula award winners in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reading List.)

Set after a near complete destruction of the world and its population by nuclear holocaust, the book moves through three parts over 1800 years focusing on a Catholic abbey dedicated to Saint Leibowitz, a man who tried to save knowledge from those who would destroy it because of the destruction it brought. The writer of the book’s introduction states that it’s a novel she brings out every several years and reads again, each time getting more from it. I can see that, though I am willing to give it some time before picking it up again.

Some key phrases that might help you decide if this is for you: Catholicism, science fiction, holocaust, renaissance, cold war, feudalism, apocalyptic, Latin.

This is the first time in a long while that I’ve reached back to the 60s in my goal of reading all the Hugo and Nebula best novels. I’m nearly done with the 00s, having only Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke left to read. Indeed, I’ve started it once but put it down in favor of something less Victorian in its style. I’ll need to get back into it to accomplish my task, eventually.

Right now I think I’ll read two books from the 90s by Lois McMaster Bujold: Barrayar and Mirror Dance, both in the Miles Vorkosigan series. That will leave only A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge for the 90s. I’ve read Vinge’s two other “best novels,” and I considered each a chore. I have no problem with the hard science approach, but the writing style doesn’t pull me through the book, but rather makes me feel like I’m pushing up against a wall, and feeling rather uncomfortable doing it.

Getting started with e-books on the Apple iPad

Can the iPad work for me as a viable device for reading certain kinds of books? What are the characteristics of such books?

I sat out the first wave of iPad shipments in order to get an early birthday present of an iPad with both WiFi and 3G. I travel for business a lot, and I wanted to have 3G support so I could have more ubiquitous connectivity. I received the device late in the afternoon this last Friday. Earlier that day I had gotten a root canal, so it was a good excuse to think about something else.

Friday evening and Saturday morning were spent installing and organizing apps for the iPad. When I first registered the device in iTunes, it copied down all my iPhone apps. I then went through and deleted the ones I didn’t want or need on the bigger iPad, and then looked for newer editions of my favorite apps that took advantage of the larger screen. I splurged for a few new apps like Pages, Keynote, Scrabble, Pinball, and Plants vs. Zombies.

Oddly enough, some of the iPhone apps like Calculator and Weather do not come with the iPad, though there are several good substitutes. For the latter I went with WeatherBug. I also downloaded the Apple iBooks and the Amazon Kindle e-book reader apps.

I have never been much impressed the Kindle device itself, and whatever it is going to turn into, it is now a mono-function piece of hardware. I don’t like DRM for books, much less music, but at least Amazon allows you to read Kindle content on an actual Kindle device, plus iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Mac, and Windows. The iBooks app only works on the iPad and has significantly fewer books in its catalog than does Amazon.

I very much like real books, but there are some kinds that would serve me better in electronic form. Characteristics of these are:

  • Very heavy books that I would read while I was traveling but can’t afford the extra poundage in my backpack.
  • Books whose content is likely to become obsolete or at least somewhat out of date within two or three years.
  • Books that are most useful while I am away from the house.
  • Books that I would normally buy in paperback form for a one-time read that come out earlier in electronic form.

With these points in mind, I’ve now bought or obtained the following books as part of an experiment. Will I read them? Will they be useful in their electronic forms? Will I later have reason to to want the paper version? Were they worth the money in electronic form?

My plan was to get one of several different kinds of books and try to answer these questions. It’s too soon to tell how the experiment will turn out.

  • Blackout by Connie Willis. This is a science fiction book that was not available in paperback when I book the e-book. In the last year I read two other books by Willis as part of my plan to work through the Hugo and Nebula award winning novels.
  • The Power of Pull by John Seely Brown, Lang Davison, and John Hagel III. This is a new business book by well regarded authors. I’m not a big fan of business books and they usually get packed up and put in the attic to make room for other books. Maybe I’ll read this one if I don’t need to lug it around. (I can give no greater endorsement yet since I’m only in the Introduction.)
  • Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X, Third edition by Aaron Hillegass. Very heavy book, likely to be replaced within a few years. I’ll need this if I ever get around to writing an iPad app.
  • German Demystified by Ed Swick. I took a year of German in college in the mid-70s and I only remember a bit of it when I travel to Germany on business. Maybe having it with me will encourage me to work through it, and at least I’ll have the material with me when I go abroad.
  • Music Theory for Guitarists: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask by Tom Kolb. I already own this book in paper, but it is in a large format and a bit heavy, so I’ll see if the e-book version works. It’s excellent in all forms. (Also see my Guitar Reading List.)
  • Pride and Prejudice Enriched E-book by Jane Austen, because evidently everyone needs to have an e-book version of this classic. This has some extra formatting and is not just a text dump of a book that is out of copyright. It cost about $3.
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is out of copyright and was free. There are thousands of free older books out there, many courtesy of Project Gutenberg. Note that quite a few have not been well reformatted for e-books, so do check them out first to ensure that they have tables of contents with links and so forth.

Scifi reading list update – Time travel, in various ways

This is my latest update on my working through the list of Hugo and Nebula Award winners for Best Novel for Science Fiction and Fantasy. It’s a way for me to be both goal directed and to read well regarded works by great authors, often new to me. Rather than just plowing through the list, I’ll start with a novel somewhere on it and, if I like it, investigate other works by the same writer.

I’m currently about 20% through Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. The book follows three people as they deal with the Earth being encapsulated in a strange shield while time passes extremely quicklyoutside. It’s a real page turner and quite inventive, with above average character development for science fiction.

Before Spin I read Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. It’s about time travel from Oxford forty years into the future back to 1348, the time of the Black Death in England. Though this is older that her other Hugo Award-winning novel To Say Nothing of the Dog, I think it is the much better book. Dog is also about time travel and is more a comedy of manners and, I thought, about a hundred pages too long.

Continuing to work backwards, I read 1974’s Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. I like Clarke’s scientific, straightforward style, thought his works would not be the only things I wanted to read. Another point of working through the list is to see a variety of styles. There are other Rama books, but they are by Clarke and a second author. I’m not a big fan of scifi by multiple authors, for some reason. They somehow seem diluted and suffer a bit from plot-by-committee. I know there are exceptions, and feel free to use the comments to tell of those novels you think qualify.

Finally, I read three books in the Riverworld series that starts with To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer. Actually, I inadvertently read the second book in the series first, The Fabulous Riverboat, and then went back and read Bodies. I then plowed through The Dark Design but ran out steam when I started The Magic Labyrinth. The story just goes on and on, slowly. It’s a victim of the author not believing that a trilogy would be sufficient to cover the breadth of what needed to be said. I definitely recommend the first and even the second book, but don’t feel guilty if you proceed no farther.

Used bookstores are a great way to find old scifi books for a couple of dollars or less.