Unread Books "Meme"

via Journeywoman, a "meme" that's almost on topic with my recent whining about Russian novels:

What we have here is the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing’s users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded. Bold the ones you've read, underline the ones you read for school, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish.

Here's the twist: add (*) beside the ones you liked and would (or did) read again or recommend. Even if you read 'em for school in the first place.

OK, this is me again. In addition to the suggested notations, I added (link)s to Book Reports for those books upon which I have Reported.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment (reached the finish, but only read the odd-numbered pages)
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel (link)
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick (skimmed a fair amount)
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey *
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace (link)
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods (link)
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Quicksilver *
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys (link)
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons
The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse *
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present (link)
Cryptonomicon *
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas (link)
The Confusion *
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values *
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow *
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island (link)
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers (link)

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Book Report: Giant Robot 53

In this most recent issue of Giant Robot, James Jarvis says
...it takes a lot of obsessiveness to make things minimal.
If he decides to give up the art business, he could be a technical writer.

The article about the Hong Kong Noodle Co. was pretty good, too.

Because the process was automated in the '70s, all of the machinery is at least 30 years old. ... Those particular machines' identifying plates are rubbed clean from use, and it's impossible to read their manufacturer or model numbers.

Speaking of old things, I composed this entry on the 27th, but am trying to figure out how to use the new-to-Blogger.com time-delayed posting feature to delay publishing until the 28th. We'll see how that turns out.

[ Edited To Add: "We'll see how that turns out" I failed to delay the publish. Me=FAIL ]

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Book Report: War and Peace

Russian novels are long.

Back in high school, my English class was supposed to read Crime and Punishment. Our teacher asked for a show of hands: how many of us had finished reading the book. Mine was the only hand to go up--and I was making a waggling so-so gesture. Mr Tresize asked why my hand was waggling. "Uh, I only read the odd-numbered pages." I'd reached the end, but only by skipping. The describing and re-describing of the anti-hero's situation... it was more fun to reconstruct the gaps than it was to read the material.

Russian novels are long.

A few weeks back, my mom loaned me a fraction of War & Peace. One problem with long novels--if you mostly read during a bumpy bus ride, heavy books are rough on your wrists. I'm not exactly sure when I'm going to break down and buy a Kindle/Iliad-like device--but I bet it will be around the next time Neal Stephenson publishes another 10kg novel. (Disclaimer: I have not actually tried weighing any of Stephenson's novels--that way lies despair.) My mom has a low-tech solution. She sliced her copy of War & Peace into sections. She loaned me a section. I read it. She loaned me the next section.

Yestere'en, I stopped by the SF Minigame after-party. The talk turned to Gamers' blogs. Justin Santamaria pointed out that I read a lot. I apologized, giving the excuse that I had a long daily bus ride. Lessachu remembered back when she was studying in France, she'd read on the Metro. She could polish off a Russian novel in a couple of days--she was in an immersion program, and these books were a welcome bit of English.

I remember really enjoying Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, but part of why I liked it is that I read it in Japan and it was so nice to just understand something without straining my brain with translation.

I didn't finish reading War & Peace. I'm here in California. I have choices available to me.

And Russian novels are long.

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Book Report: Don't Make Me Think

The SF Minigame was awesome. But I can't say much about that now, since other folks will still get a chance to play in that game. So... a book review about Don't Make me Think

This is a book about web usability. Suppose you're creating a web site. You worked really hard to get this thing working. Ideally, people needn't work hard to use your web site, to find their way around. But all too often, that's how it turns out.

This book is about web usability. It's about setting up web sites so that people can figure out how to use them.

I don't design web sites. I just, you know, write stuff. I'm a technical writer. But there is some overlap. You can write a brilliant essay about, uhm, designing a database schema--but no-one will ever find that essay if you don't help them. And if you decide to divvy up that long essay, divvy it up into a few smaller web pages, that can help people to read it unless you screw up and people can't figure out how they're supposed to navigate between those pages.

I didn't learn much from this book, but it was still worth reading--it's short! And I did learn some things. One of these things was pretty important:

When someone's scanning a page, hoping for a link to something interesting, they of course won't read the whole page. They're scanning. If they notice something halfway plausible, they click it. If you have a few subtly-different choices, make sure they're right next to each other. If you have a link to your Pasta FAQ and links to your Spaghetti FAQ, most folks will just click on whichever of those they find first.

I guess I kinda knew that. I knew that my Pasta FAQ should have a notice close to the top saying If you have a Spaghetti Question, you want the Spaghetti FAQ and a similar "mercy link" at the top of the Spaghetti FAQ. But I wasn't thinking so much about how to structure a page that had links to both FAQs. So now I have more to think about.

And if I hadn't already had all too many conversations about usability, I probably would have learned even more from this book.

Unfortunately, it's not so clear how to apply his Usability-Lab on the cheap advice for technical writing. I can see asking an engineer, "Here's a pile of documentation. Does this tell you enough to write an international currency computer? OK if I sit over here and watch you struggle?"... but I don't think it would go over so well.

Another problem with reading a book about web usability is that I keep switching over to bold-face text for a sentence or phrase for no apparent reason. Sorry. I'll try to stop that.

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David Hill on Hypotheses and Blurting

David Hill replied to yesterday's blog post on hypotheses in puzzle-solving. He replied on Facebook, so you probably didn't see it. I'll post his reply here. I have a couple of reasons for wanting to post his reply here. First of all: he makes some relevant and cogent observations. Second of all: His reason for posting this on Facebook is astounding.

sorry to post my reply on facebook and not your blog proper but here at work your blog is blocked by sonicwall as "personals - dating."

i enjoyed reading this a lot and thought about how teams i've been on have dealt with this problem on other games.

in new york, where our team has been as large as 20 people, we often try to huddle around a puzzle and do the blurting thing. but i can't deal with that because it is uncomfortable and i don't think well in that situation.

but my experience has also shown me that puzzles are rarely solved by one person suddenly cracking them, often the group has to brainstorm and share all their ideas, "blurt" them if you will, in order to get someone to that "a-ha" moment.

i think figuring out a set amount of time for each person to come up with ideas then everyone sharing them is a good marriage of these two approaches.

i also think having a copier available to make sure everyone can take a paper puzzle a quiet place to think is helpful.

This prompts some questions: How many of you people are using this site to find dates? How many of you would use this site to find dates if only your local firewall wasn't blocking it? Should I try to make matches among my single friends via this website? Which do you consider to be a better source of dates: lahosken.san-francisco.ca.us or facebook.com? Should I think harder about what David wrote about collaboration instead of getting totally sidetracked by the whole "dating site" thing, or would that be out of character?

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere; but so is Problem-Solving

A while back--long enough ago that I'm probably getting details wrong--someone told me how the Scoobies tackle a puzzle. They set the puzzle out where everyone in the team can look at it. They look at it. But instead of everyone blurting out their ideas at once, they just kind of keep them in mind. After a while, they go around and folks talk about hypotheses. The intent: share some hypotheses, resist the temptation to go haring off after the first dang fool notion to pop into someone's head. Our brains do that--someone says "Hey maybe it's Morse code?" and, bam, everyone looks at that puzzle through the lens of Morse code. It's hard to break out of that Morse-ish point of view even when you've intellectually convinced yourself that it couldn't be Morse code, no way. It's as if someone said "Don't think of an elephant."

The technique is that someone says "Maybe it's Morse code," but before everyone looks back at the puzzle someone else says, "...or maybe, gee, I think it's semaphore", then your brains are less likely to get stuck in the Morse code track/trap. Everyone pipes up with their ideas before looking back at the puzzle.

So I was mighty interested when Ducky Sherwood mentioned a similar computer-debugging technique in her blog.

If you aren't a computer programmer, you might be surprised to find out that debugging a program is like solving a puzzle. It's a stretch, but... If you're looking at a puzzle, you're staring at something like, say the seeming nonsense 208120'19 238120 1985 19194; you're thinking There's a bazillion possibilities about what message is encoded here; there's a bazillion possibilities about how it could be encoded; how do I narrow down the possibilities? How do I test ideas? When you're programming, you're thinking In this web shopping-cart program, I expected taxRate to be .08, but instead it's 0.2; there's a bazillion places where we could have accidentally clobbered that value or skipped setting it; how do I track down exactly where things went wrong?

Ducky had read that programmers tend to fall into mental traps. Why does taxRate have the wrong value? It must be a memory corruption bug! You've run into a couple of memory corruption bugs lately, and you're soooo sure this must be another one. So you waste a couple of hours running the program under a heavy-duty memory-corruption-bug-finding tool. Meanwhile, you totally ignore the fact that this shopping cart belongs to your first-ever customer from Puerto Rico and your database of local tax rates has the wrong value for Puerto Rico.

Ducky decided on a new approach to debugging: before diving into the code, make up three hypotheses about what the problem is.

... After a binge of reading Andrew Ko papers last week, I decided to start forcing myself to write down three hypotheses every time I had to make a guess as to why something happened.

In my next substantive coding session, there were four bugs that I worked on. For two of them, I thought of two hypotheses quickly, but then was stumped for a moment as to what I could put for a third… so I put something highly unlikely. In once case, for example, I hypothesized a bug in code that I hadn’t touched in weeks.

Guess what? In both of those cases, it was the “far-fetched” hypothesis that turned out to be true! For example, there was a bug in the code that I hadn’t touched in weeks: I had not updated it to match some code that I’d recently refactored. ...

--"false hypotheses"

Those papers she mentions--Ducky researches programmer productivity. She's not just making up this three-hypotheses approach out of thin air. She's basing it on some research, though apparently the research itself is not so easy to find, as she points out in a later blog post:

I finally got my hands on the dead-trees (i.e. uncorrupted) version of the Klahr/Dunbar article that I posted about earlier, and it didn’t say anywhere how long people in the hypothesizing group spent on coming up with hypotheses. However, I was able to track down David Klahr, and emailed to ask him how long they hypothesizing group spent hypothesizing. He graciously and quickly replied that it was only a few minutes. So if we make a wild guess that “a few” works out to an average of about four minutes, then the hypothesizing group took an average of about 10.2 minutes, while the non-hypothesizing group took an average of 19.4 minutes — so the hypothesizing group is still twice as fast as the non-hypothesizing group. ...

--"Hypothesizing first makes you more productive"

So there's support for this notion of coming up with a few hypotheses before trying one of them out. And notice that this research mentions groups of people, not just lone programmers. Teams of people... hmm...

The important world-saving question here is of course: How to apply this to team-based puzzle-solving games? How do you convince folks to not blurt out their ideas in the first 30 seconds? This activity attracts plenty of competitive people. If I look at a puzzle and yell out "I think it's Morse code!" before anyone else on my team does... and if the puzzle is Morse code, then I get to strut as we walk back to the van, right? I just proved I'm a puzzling stud, right?

Or maybe I was the first to blurt out Morse because I'm a fan of Morse, I want to see it everywhere, it's always the first thing I look for. If I spotted Morse while my semaphore-loving teammate thought Is it semaphore?... Oh, I guess not maybe that's not cause for strutting. If the puzzle isn't Morse and the whole team wastes half-an-hour barking up the wrong tree, that's no good. It's all very well that I can say "Well, I just spoke up with a theory; other folks could have spoken up with their theories. I didn't gag them or anything." but maybe by speaking up so early, I caught their brains in the Morse trap. Maybe I should have kept quiet, tried applying Morse code for a minute on my own, let my team-mates consider other possibilities.

How long to sit and ponder quietly? How do you decide when to share ideas with the group? If you have three ideas, how do you decide which to work on first? I don't know.

Now that I think back, I vaguely remember that the reason I heard about this technique is that Alexandra Dixon wanted us Mystic Fish to use it--she had us look at a puzzle quietly, then share hypotheses. But I think that when we looked at the next puzzle, we were back to our blurty ways. (Or maybe the next puzzle was such a stumper such that no-one had any good ideas and everyone had kept quiet out of ignorance, not out of technique? So then when we saw the next-next puzzle, we had forgotten why we'd kept quiet before?.... Oh, vague vague memory.) So this technique does take discipline; it doesn't seem to come naturally, at least not to Team Mystic Fish, and I haven't seen other teams do it, either.

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Follow-up: SFZero Suggestion Box

You may recall that last month, I stumbled onto a suggestion box on Waller and Steiner streets. This suggestion box, as it turned out, was part of a game. This game, SF0, is a sort of mutual-dare contest. A player concocts a challenge. Several players attempt to meet that challenge, documenting their efforts. Players then vote on which of these efforts is most impressive.

So the challenge was to make a suggestions box and collect suggestions. I'd found one attempt at doing this. I was impressed. And other folks were, too: of the various suggestions boxes made in response to this challenge, the Waller/Steiner suggestion box won first place. You can follow that link to see photos of their installation and photos of some of the suggestion cards they received.

You won't see the text of those cards, though. They didn't type them in. So I did, just now. (Note: these are other people's suggestions, not mine. (Well, one of these is mine; I submitted one card to the box. Can you guess which one?) I agree with some, disagree with some, don't know how I feel about some, couldn't read the poor penmanship of some.)

  • Please more BOXES
  • let's have dedicated bike lanes
  • I suggest more suggestion boxes in SF -Colfax Cor?thers
  • More magic carpet parking
  • Get the rich folks OUT NOW!
  • More Unicorns
  • European misty mornings, California ?sunny? afternoons!! &Tiger Feast
  • I THINK TO MANY ?farlk? walk WITH out looking both way so if I HIT ONE NOT MY Fault
  • Who is Frank? I don't know who frank is I will not yield to someone I do not know. I suggestion is subliminal (figure it out)
  • Steven 202-4378
  • No pollution in the environment
  • Fox in socks with lox in box
  • bike riders need to reduce the stink eye
  • Recall what you enjoyed doing when you were a child and keep doing it: ie hulla hoops, sing, play, laugh, be silly, make a for, color
  • handicraft and barter-based local economy
  • diagonal crosswalks!!! and a diagonal bridge crosswalk at church and market!
  • Do not forsake the for-next loop. There is power in its rhythm. You must control it. Don't let it control you.
  • More diagonal crosswalks!! (tigers takeover)
  • Try to figure out what the ants are doing over by that tree
  • Feed the population to the TIGERS!
  • You suck!
  • This is a great idea! Want to install one near my apt (oak & ?central?) Keep up the good work!
  • I want higher taxes paid on all vehicles larger than a mid-sized truck. All SUVs need to be off the road
  • Remove the cross-walk signal buttons that make noise. We can't even understand what they say. JP
  • I suggest that we create a suggestion WALL where everyone can write their suggestions up for everyone else to see and comment on. And I'd like a really big marker so that my suggestions are recognized as most important. A red marker. Big.
  • Stay cool!
  • Can we get sharpies to write with?
  • I think we should eat cupcakes for breakfast more regularly! Preferably pink sprinkly ones.
  • The lack of Lamppost for the ARTS!
  • Less Usage of Ball-Throwing Ice-Cream Scoop Dog Toys in Duboce Park
  • I suggest a BBQ!!! Let's have a BBQ! You bring the chips, I'll bring my guitar.
  • We need more of these boxes
  • Make More Boxes
  • 1. Impeach Bush 2. See #1 3. Destroy Capitalism 4. NO FAT chicks
  • Do NOT let people put their garbage on the street. It's NOT nice!
  • How is it that you ?? commithe murder and then act as if it never Happened! Memory of Vi?? Har?ey 2-911 (?)
  • We shall ?? back later But overall, I am suspicious of you
  • I think there should be more public art... possibly by local artists who live in the neighborhood.
  • Spend more tax money to transition SF homeless population
  • . Stop having babies. . eat more broccoli + spinach . Buy ice cream + have it delivered to my office . allow Jason, + only jason to park in front of fire hydrants if granted this one wish he promises to tone down his arson habit. . Remember that you are average--just like everyone alive. Average not special. Screw what your mom said.
  • . If you are a little on the chunky side, don't wear tight low rise jeans. . stop having babies . no adjusttable rate mortgages . get up early + do stuff all day. . watch meerkat manor . prepare for earthquakes... are you ready for earthquakes? . if you must have babies, do not shake them
  • - and I am not refering to "recyclable items" -
  • More ??olic girls schools!
  • Fuck the COPS
  • I am concerned with disposable paper cups. I would like to see a system for sharing re? cups when we drink cofee.
  • Ballpoint pens write poorly when held horizontally--a different sort is suggested (or a writing surface)
  • Get the crack out of the Lower Haight. It will help the neighborhood and its people.
  • See other card.
  • What if everyone sat outside on the sidewalk and talked to each other like in the barrio? That would be so nice. Also more fresh fruits and vegetables. Thank you, Lisa
  • Public Restrooms for the bathroomLess & Help for the crackheads
  • My car will move itself when it is time for street cleaning / Word: Fuck DPT Evil = DPT
  • ? Simply the Best
  • More Kissing
  • You have a lovely box: I like the lock on it. The wind is particularly chilly. I would appreciate more warmth. Thank you!
  • This neighborhood could absolutely benefit from a bumpin' techno soundtrack. Thank you, Sam
  • In a transit f? city its rediculous that we have no $5 change machines at Civic Center, Montgomery, powell-people with only a $5 bill are told to go "buy a soda" weird-Nonsense-Silly MTA-Thanks!
  • chocha for one is chocha for all Increase societal nudity and free the yoni energy! Richard Bradley.
  • San Francisco needs more nice hotels outside of onion square +downtown.
  • Heal the world through insemination Babies are peace! I want to be free from all disgusting male energy!
  • More good stuff!
  • stop the examiner from covering our city with unwanted newspapers in unwanted plastic bags!!!
  • Less Hills Please !!! thnx Boston
  • Taxi drivers should have to pass a special "bike awareness" test. Maybe they'd even get a cool sticker for their cabs. (P.S. Your suggestion box is really pretty)
  • 3-5-08 Fewer Cars More Flowers Keep being awesome, suggestion people
  • wouldn't it be awesome if people perceived suggestions as gentle reminders coming rom a genuine place of caring instead of as aggressive ego threats? It's all in the delivery I guess. Could you help me with my delivery?
  • I suggest you ?? ?? in several languages Gracias Merci Danke Gratis
  • Doggie potties so R city don't stink
  • Thank you for continuing a wonderful tradition in the community!
  • Put a wind turbine on all of the roofs in the city to charge the power grid
  • Bring back Naked eye news & video We don't need that much vapor!!
  • Clean this F*!#$ing Street!
  • Less violence in the drug trade.
  • Extend you 2 Hour Parking on ?? of ?? Ernest M??? ???Steiner + 1
  • I suggest that we have more community gardens throughout the city!! Thanks for the suggestion box!
  • No more dog poo?
  • send all the homelsss people to treasure island for a Battle Royale! to the death!
  • Kick the "Environment" dudes out of our neighborhood -Luca
  • Why suggest when I can act?
  • I think there should be more cheese around for general consumption. Thanks.
  • improve my satisfaction, i dare you.
  • You USE BLOCK LETTERS. ITS YOUR ART (You hope book or blog) PROJECT
  • make my job better
  • we all need to smile at each other more often. Especially when passing each other on the sidewalk.
  • More beach days!

Yes, yes, there are other things I should be doing.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere: Midnight Madness Photos

I went to the Midnight Madness: Back to Basics Game and all I got was a t-shirt, a pencil, a card announcing an upcoming Game, eight photos, and the most challenging adventure of my life.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even Overhead

This past weekend was the excellent Midnight Madness: Back to Basics Game. I'll post photos soon, a write-up eventually. Yes, yes, I'm slow. But I'll post about one thing now, because it happened just now. But first I need to explain a little about Saturday: There was one puzzle which involved standing on the peak of a huge pile of landfill and looking around for three giant posters which had been posted in windows of Google HQ. During the game, we spotted two of the posters, but never saw the third.

This morning, I was still pretty drowsy when I got in to work. Post-game sleep schedule, post-bus ride grogginess, I wasn't so alert. I walked in the door, walked up stairs--and was so tired that I walked on up past my floor and up to the tippy-top floor stair landing, roof level. It was the pedestrian equivalent of sleeping through your bus stop. Finally, I snapped out of my lethargy, looked up, looked up at the big window at the top of the stairwell, looked up--at the third poster. I'd spotted it at last, a mere ~40 hours late. This window didn't have line-of-sight to the landfill's peak, so I no longer feel so sheepish about not sighting it during the Game.

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