Books I Read In 2017

Writers Note: I know that we’re about 6 weeks into 2018 but I got lazy so I missed the whole 2017 reflection phase. In typical CYA fashion, I’m going to reflect on 2017 based on the lunar year. After all, it’s around lunar (Chinese) new year!

In 2017, I decided to read more books. Here’s what I read

Blood, Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreiner

After reading Jason’s open editorial on how video games ruin the lives of those who make them, I decided to read his his book. In it, he looks at the development process of 10 games, from AAA (Witcher 3 and Diablo 3) all the way to indie. In all of the stories, I realized how “it’s a miracle that any video game is made”.

Given all the struggles the developers came across while making the game (money, poor mechanics, internal politics and worst of all, the game not being fun), I really sympathize with game devs. Not saying that you should love everything developers make, but you should be aware of the struggles they face instead of calling the “lazy devs”.

Once you read this book, you won’t see games the same way again, from E3 demos (very controlled a la Watch Dogs) to game delays (heavy crunch). Speaking of crunch, it was sad to see crunch playing such a heavy role in games development (less so in EU studios, but the stress is still there).

Technically Incorrect by Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Given the intense social discussions that dominated headlines last year, particularly in tech and especially at Uber, this book came out at a good time. In it, Sara discusses the implications of Silicon Valley’s reckless approach to technology which mainly comes about due to a very homogenous culture (white, cismale, heterosexual, rich, Californians…you get it).

The implications are insensitive, dehumanizing, humiliating, frustrating and even borderline dangerous. While I understand the difficulty in solving some issues, others are totally avoidable. The main reason for this she argues is a homogenous culture that values certain individuals and attitudes which in addition to leading to the creation of terrible systems, it creates a toxic work environment which protects the perpetrators over the victims (see Susan’s post) since they’re “very talented”.

My favorite part of the book were the portions in which she discusses how some companies address their issues. For the most part, these organizations took an effort to examine the communities they serve and re-examine the metrics they value.

This isn’t the most fun of topics to discuss nor is it the easiest and I still have questions about this issue, but I appreciate that this book exists. Hopefully it will get more engineers talking about the way they build systems.

Masters of Doom by David Kushner

Masters of Doom is a book by David Kushner which looks at the history of id Software, creators of DOOM, founded by John Carmack and John Romero. I haven’t finished this book yet, but I have enjoyed it so far.

So far, I’ve read on the founders childhoods, their early careers and the early days of id. Turns out that they were pretty reckless kids who grew up to make games that literally define a genre. Along the way, they craft ingenious solutions to tough problems (some of it which were met with mere shrugs).

I might have more to say once I’ve finished this book, but I’m enjoying it so far.

Adventures of Babbage and Lovelace by Sydney Padua

I’m not sure how I started reading this graphic novel. I think I wanted to learn about the work Ada and Babbage did so I searched their names on Amazon and found this. It’s a steampunk novel which asks what would happen if the Analytical Engine was built and they decided to fight crime.

While it isn’t biographical in nature, it still has a lot of research into their lives, which you can tell by the pages which are essentially an annotated bibliography rather than a graphic novel. Still, it’s good to see the book being well researched. While there is still some controversy, Sydney does make a good case for Ada’s contribution to computing.

This is a good book to get if you want to know more about how the first computer came to be as well as the people who influenced them. Interestingly, I got to go to the UK and see their work at various museums. Also, I like Sydney. She replies to my dumb tweets sometimes.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Since this book comes up in a lot of development/self help articles, I eventually read Deep Work by CS professor and productivity guru Cal Newport. Forgive me for sacrilege but I didn’t find this book particularly groundbreaking. Maybe it’s because I’ve read enough productivity tips (especially those of Cal Newport).

I guess it’s time that I implement these tips rather than reading about them?

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

Building off a blog post of the same name, Manson argues that one way to live a fruitful life is to not give a fuck (more so, giving the right fucks). Again I didn’t enjoy this book a whole lot. The fucks get a bit edgy after a while and it did seem to be longer than it’s supposed to be.

If you need some motivation to get off your ass and do something, this is for you!

Hardware Hacker by Andrew “bunnie” Huang

I consider this to be the best book that I read in 2017. I decided to read it after browsing Twitter and finding Naomi Wu (@SexyCyborg) arguing with someone over China’s maker space which has a reputation for being “fake”, “unoriginal” and “shoddy”. She then recommended this book which in refuting those claims, looks into bunnie’s life as a hacker.

While some things few right over my head, I really enjoyed the way he looked into things and hacked them to see how they worked. It did make me sad to think how the devices we use are getting increasingly difficult to open up, mod and repair. We don’t really own them anymore 🙁. It’s still possible, just very hard.

Honestly, me trying to summarize this book doesn’t do it justice so you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Code by Charles Petzold

I haven’t finished this book yet but like Hardware Hacker, I really enjoy reading it. Code looks into How code and computers works. It starts out by tracing earlier forms of communication like Moore’s Code and Braille and it shows how the concepts found in those tools are useful in computers.

Charles does a great job explaining things from the basics all the way to the hard stuff. I wish this was the book I used in Computer Org as its much better to read. I still need to finish this but I’m sure that I’ll still enjoy reading it.


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