Reading 2017

Most unexpectedly I read 52 books in 2017. These last couple of months I’d been gunning for it but nothing about the first half of this year indicated that I would even hit my challenge of 26 books.

The first half of the year was marked by some decidedly slow reading as well as becoming a twin dad. The long and regular naps of young babies along with my parental leave made that a period where I caught up on watching a lot of movies (see the 50 movies in my Letterboxd diary).

Then halfway through the year, a shift happened where the kids underwent sleep regressions and we went through figurative hell. Watching video became impossible. The sleepless nights sitting up for 30-45 minutes at a stretch with a baby falling into deep sleep turned out to be a catalyst for reading.

I wanted to see how dramatic this shift was so I retrieved my year’s reading from Goodreads, filled in the page counts and made a bar chart of pages racked up per month.

That is indeed more or less where the kids started to become difficult sleepers (month 4-5) where my first peak starts and from there on it’s a steady pace until the end of the year bang.

What this has taught me more than anything is how relative reading velocity is and how with a bit of time and a slight change in attitude you can easily read 2-5x more than you normally thought possible. One of my tricks is to read about five books simultaneously and to cycle through those to keep up the energy.

For a normal month 1500 pages seems sustainable which would be about five books per month or sixty a year if I’d kept that up from the start. And 1500 pages per month is only 50 a day something that anybody with a bit of dedicated time should be able to do.

The books are listed per category below and the recommended ones are marked bold.


A meagre year but I feel that in my current engineering practice I know mostly what I want to know and I’m looking more to branch out. I’m still open to reading books about engineering, but the bar is rather high since both of the UX books below did not add much to my knowledge. Alexander’s Notes… is seminal and should be a required exercise for anybody designing anything.

  • Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience
  • Notes on the Synthesis of Form, Christopher W. Alexander
  • Advanced Swift
  • UX for Lean Startups


This has been one area where I branched out and tore through a decent stack of standard works. I’ve enjoyed most of the things I read here a lot. Some books did not teach me that much as much as reinforce and recontextualize things that I already knew. It’s nice to be confirmed about things you found out yourself, but let’s hope my reading prevents me from making as many mistakes as well.

Jocko Willink’s Extreme Ownership is simple but extremely (!) effective. Reinertsen’s is a seminal tome that formalizes a lot of (what I think to be) common sense when it comes to product development and project management. Never split the Difference is a thrilling read and I’m already looking forward to applying the haggling it taught. The Coaching Habit is a laser precision book that teaches you exactly what you need to know and when/how to apply it. More books should do that.

  • Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, Jocko Willink
  • Personal Kanban: Mapping Work Navigating Life
  • The Principles of Product Development Flow: Second Generation Lean Product Development, Donald G. Reinertsen
  • Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager
  • Developer Hegemony: The Future of Labor
  • Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
  • What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful
  • Financial Strategy for Public Managers
  • Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, Chris Voss
  • The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier


Seven out of nine (78%) of these authors are non-white/non-male and that is a worse score than I was hoping for. Toer’s book on life in the Dutch East Indies should be essential reading for all Dutch people. Nelson has shown me parenting from a non-cis/-male perspective and for that I’m grateful.

  • Água Viva
  • Open City
  • The Name Of The Rose
  • Aarde der Mensen, Pramoedya Ananta Toer
  • The Goldfinch
  • The God of Small Things
  • The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
  • Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West
  • The Underground Railroad

Genre fiction

Five out of nine (56%) books here are by non-white/non-males which is somewhat better than one could hope for in speculative fiction. Blue Mars was a lovely end to a huge journey and both the trilogy and the planet did grow on me. The second Inheritance book was the best of the lot which does not mean the series is bad in any way.

  • The Lathe of Heaven
  • Blue Mars (Mars Trilogy, #3), Kim Stanley Robinson
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy, #1)
  • The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance, #2), N.K. Jemisin
  • The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance, #3)
  • The Forever War (The Forever War, #1)
  • The Dispossessed
  • Blindsight (Firefall, #1)
  • Echopraxia (Firefall, #2)


Not that much outstanding here other than Scott’s book about Zomia. Reading a lot of the other books here felt like work even if they were short.

  • The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering
  • We Have Never Been Modern
  • The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, James C. Scott
  • Homage to Catalonia
  • Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals
  • Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
  • Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built
  • Metaphors We Live By
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed


Kids’ books are terrible and Karp’s book on kids was one of the few I read that wasn’t totally useless.

  • Mann Und Vater Sein
  • Babys brauchen Väter
  • The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block 2-Book Bundle, Dr. Harvey Karp
  • The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems: Sleeping, Feeding, and Behavior–Beyond the Basics from Infancy Through Toddlerhood
  • Was machst du kleiner Bagger?
  • Wie kleine Tiere schlafen gehen
  • Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt
  • Mein erstes Buch vom Körper
  • Schlaf gut, Baby


A very slim year with Darwish the sole representant of this category, lovely but overly long in this selection.

  • Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems, Mahmoud Darwish


Trungpa’s style is highly accessible while maintaining a lot of jargon. This is one of the first times things have clicked for me.

  • The Truth of Suffering and the Path of Liberation, Chögyam Trungpa

XiR – Angela Merkel

Turkish MC XiR has a new trap song out with the noteworthy title Angela Merkel. There is even somebody with a Merkel mask in the video.

The video has a quick and dirty German subtitle bundled with it which you can turn on and read.

In the spirit of international relations, I will translate to English the hook of the song (lyrics on Genius). The rest of the song is either not that interesting or I’m missing out on a lot of inside baseball. Either way, I won’t try it.

Angela Merkel
Schengen yok
Karaköy’e sen gel

Bozulur dengen
Yol aldı yengen
Karaköy’e sen gel
Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel
There is no Schengen
You come down to Karaköy

You’ll lose your senses
Your woman’s gone
You come down to Karaköy
Angela Merkel

I can’t make much more of it other than that the mythologization of Angela Merkel continues. I’m curious what the German foreign office thinks about that.

Highlights for Metaphors We Live By

Madness and journeys give us handles on the concept of love, and food gives us a handle on the concept of an idea.

We are proposing that the concepts that occur in metaphorical definitions are those that correspond to natural kinds of experience.

Examples are PHYSICAL ORIENTATIONS, OBJECTS, SUBSTANCES, SEEING, JOURNEYS, WAR, MADNESS, FOOD, BUILDINGS, etc. These concepts for natural kinds of experience and objects are structured clearly enough and with enough of the right kind of internal structure to do the job of defining other concepts.

What is real for an individual as a member of a culture is a product both of his social reality and of the way in which that shapes his experience of the physical world.

New metaphors, like conventional metaphors, can have the power to define reality. They do this through a coherent network of entailments that highlight some features of reality and hide others. The acceptance of the metaphor, which forces us to focus only on those aspects of our experience that it highlights, leads us to view the entailments of the metaphor as being true. Such “truths” may be true, of course, only relative to the reality defined by the metaphor.

A statement can be true only relative to some understanding of it.

It is because we understand situations in terms of our conceptual system that we can understand statements using that system of concepts as being true, that is, as fitting or not fitting the situation as we understand it. Truth is therefore a function of our conceptual system. It is because many of our concepts are metaphorical in nature, and because we understand situations in terms of those concepts, that metaphors can be true or false.

The reason we have focused so much on metaphor is that it unites reason and imagination. Reason, at the very least, involves categorization, entailment, and inference. Imagination, in one of its many aspects, involves seeing one kind of thing in terms of another kind of thing—what we have called metaphorical thought.

The reason is, simply, that if we can do this, we can draw inferences about the situation that will not conflict with one another. That is, we will be able to infer nonconflicting expectations and suggestions for behavior. And it is comforting—extremely comforting—to have a consistent view of the world, a clear set of expectations and no conflicts about what you should do. Objectivist models have a real appeal—and for the most human of reasons.

A general realization that science does not yield absolute truth would no doubt change the power and prestige of the scientific community as well as the funding practices of the federal government. The result would be a more reasonable assessment of what scientific knowledge is and what its limitations are.

Within the experientialist myth, understanding emerges from interaction, from constant negotiation with the environment and other people.

Each art medium picks out certain dimensions of our experience and excludes others. Artworks provide new ways of structuring our experience in terms of these natural dimensions. Works of art provide new experiential gestalts and, therefore, new coherences.

Highlights for Blindsight and Echopraxia

In a world in which Humanity had become redundant in unprecedented numbers, we’d both retained the status of another age: working professional.

The Unknown was technologically advanced—and there were some who claimed that that made them hostile by definition. Technology Implies Belligerence, they said.

Humans didn’t really fight over skin tone or ideology; those were just handy cues for kin-selection purposes. Ultimately it always came down to bloodlines and limited resources.

So the therapists and psychiatrists poked at their victims and invented names for things they didn’t understand, and argued over the shrines of Freud and Klein and the old Astrologers. Doing their very best to sound like practitioners of Science.

Since you don’t actually see it, there’s no messy eyeball optics to limit resolution.

Luddites love to go on about computer malfunctions, and how many accidental wars we might have prevented because a human had the final say. But funny thing, commissar; nobody talks about how many intentional wars got started for the same reason.

“What relationship? According to you there’s no such thing. This is just—mutual rape, or something.”

“You use your Chinese room the way they used vision. You’ve reinvented empathy, almost from scratch, and in some ways—not all obviously, or I wouldn’t have to tell you this—but in some ways yours is better than the original. It’s why you’re so good at synthesis.”

When asked for your perspective, you serve it straight up and unvarnished— until the decision is made, and the orders handed down. Then you do your job without question.

I was good at what I did. I was so damned good, I did it without even meaning to.

People were starting to weigh costs against benefits, opt for a day or two outside the panopticon even in the face of the inevitable fines and detentions.

“Then it’s not your brain anymore. It’s something else. You’re something else.”

“That’s kinda the point. Transcendence is transformation.”

He shook his head, unconvinced. “Sounds more like suicide to me.”

the Anarres colony

“Have a drink,” he said. “Helps the future go down easier.”

“Dan, you gotta let go of this whole self thing. Identity changes by the second, you turn into someone else every time a new thought rewires your brain. You’re already a different person than you were ten minutes ago.”

She’d hadn’t even been in the kill zone; she’d been on the other side of the world, growing freelance code next to the girl of her dreams. Those weren’t as rare as they’d once been. In fact they’d grown pretty common ever since Humanity had learned to edit the dream as well as the girl. Soul mates could be made to order now: monogamous, devoted, fiercely passionate

I know how bad the optics are. I know how tough it is to sell an alliance with a regime whose neuropolitics are rooted in the Middle Ages. But we’re just going to have to take this dick in our mouths and swallow whatever comes out.

I’ve told you before, Daniel: roach isn’t an insult. We’re the ones still standing after the mammals build their nukes, we’re the ones with the stripped-down OS’s so damned simple they work under almost any circumstances. We’re the goddamned Kalashnikovs of thinking meat.

It frightened him, at first—the way new thoughts spilled from his mouth before he could check them for veracity, before he could even parse their meaning.

It’s a hack, in other words; your brain has learned how to get the reward without actually earning it through increased fitness. It feels good, and it fulfills us, and it makes life worth living. But it also turns us inward and distracts us.

Because natural selection takes time, and luck plays a role. The biggest boys on the block at any given time aren’t necessarily the fittest, or the most efficient, and the game isn’t over. The game is never over; there’s no finish line this side of heat death. And so, neither can there be any winners. There are only those who haven’t yet lost.

In hindsight, it is apparent that describing the Bicamerals as a religious order is a little misleading: the parts of the brain they’ve souped up simply overlap with the parts that kick in during religious neurobehavioral events, so the manifestations are similar. Whether that’s a distinction that makes a difference is left as an exercise for the reader.

Highlights for Never Split the Difference

In every negotiation, in every agreement, the result comes from someone else’s decision. And sadly, if we believe that we can control or manage others’ decisions with compromise and logic, we’re leaving millions on the table. But while we can’t control others’ decisions, we can influence them by inhabiting their world and seeing and hearing exactly what they want.

So don’t settle and—here’s a simple rule—never split the difference. Creative solutions are almost always preceded by some degree of risk, annoyance, confusion, and conflict. Accommodation and compromise produce none of that. You’ve got to embrace the hard stuff. That’s where the great deals are.




Ask: “What does it take to be successful here?”

We are emotional, irrational beasts who are emotional and irrational in predictable, pattern-filled ways. Using that knowledge is only, well, rational.

Having just two words to start with might not seem like a lot of ammunition, but trust me, you can use “what” and “how” to calibrate nearly any question.

The trick to “How” questions is that, correctly used, they are gentle and graceful ways to say “No” and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution—your solution.

When implementation happens by committee, the support of that committee is key. You always have to identify and unearth their motivations, even if you haven’t yet identified each individual on that committee.

Humanize yourself. Use your name to introduce yourself. Say it in a fun, friendly way. Let them enjoy the interaction, too. And get your own special price.

And if the other side pushes you to go first, wriggle from his grip. Instead of naming a price, allude to an incredibly high number that someone else might charge.

Sometimes a situation simply calls for you to be the aggressor and punch the other side in the face.

The person across the table is never the problem. The unsolved issue is. So focus on the issue. This is one of the most basic tactics for avoiding emotional escalations.

The systematized and easy-to-remember process has only four steps:

1.Set your target price (your goal).

2.Set your first offer at 65 percent of your target price.

3.Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (to 85, 95, and 100 percent).

4.Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer.

5.When calculating the final amount, use precise, nonround numbers like, say, $37,893 rather than $38,000. It gives the number credibility and weight.

6.On your final number, throw in a nonmonetary item (that they probably don’t want) to show you’re at your limit.

The shock of an extreme anchor will induce a fight-or-flight reaction in all but the most experienced negotiators, limiting their cognitive abilities and pushing them into rash action.

If you can show inconsistencies between their beliefs and their actions, you have normative leverage. No one likes to look like a hypocrite.

But when someone displays a passion for what we’ve always wanted and conveys a purposeful plan of how to get there, we allow our perceptions of what’s possible to change. We’re all hungry for a map to joy, and when someone is courageous enough to draw it for us, we naturally follow.

The alternative we’ve chosen is to not understand their religion, their fanaticism, and their delusions. Instead of negotiations that don’t go well, we shrug our shoulders and say, “They’re crazy!”

Whatever the specifics of the situation, these people are not acting irrationally. They are simply complying with needs and desires that you don’t yet understand, what the world looks like to them based on their own set of rules.

If this book accomplishes only one thing, I hope it gets you over that fear of conflict and encourages you to navigate it with empathy. If you’re going to be great at anything—a great negotiator, a great manager, a great husband, a great wife—you’re going to have to do that.

One can only be an exceptional negotiator, and a great person, by both listening and speaking clearly and empathetically; by treating counterparts—and oneself—with dignity and respect; and most of all by being honest about what one wants and what one can—and cannot—do.

When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion—you fall to your highest level of preparation.

Highlights for Financial Strategy for Public Managers

Boeing’s executives expect their managers to know this information, in real time, if the company is to remain profitable.

Managers need good information about costs to set prices, determine how much of a good or service to deliver, and to manage costs in ways that make their organization more likely to achieve its mission.

Public financial resources are finite, scarce, and becoming scarcer.

CVP is a powerful tool that can directly illuminate many important management decisions.

For most public organizations personnel costs are the largest and most visible budget inputs. That’s why effective budgeting for public organizations starts, and often ends, with careful attention to budgeting for personnel.

Public managers must know what portion of the costs for which they’re responsible are fixed, variable, and step-fixed. They must also understand how different cost items connect to service delivery outputs, and how their cost center is assigned indirect costs. And perhaps most important, they must understand how their program’s cost structure and cost behavior will change under different performance scenarios.

For instance, for organizations with mostly fixed costs one of the best approaches to manage costs and bolster profitability is to “scale up.” Since fixed costs are fixed, one way to manage them is to spread them across the largest possible volume of service. However, for organizations with mostly variable costs, scaling up will simply increase variable costs. The better approach in that circumstance is to invest in new technology, procurement processes, or other strategies that can drive down variable costs.

The best we can do is understand these trends, forecast them to the best of our ability, and help policymakers understand the trade-offs these trends put in play.

But fundamentally, budgeting is a form of politics. Resources are scarce, and budgeting is the process by which organizations allocate those scarce resources. As such, budgeting is about managing conflict.

For budget policymakers, conflict and compromise is often around that annual percentage change, or increment. This assumes, of course, that last year’s budget – or base budget – was a fair representation of the organization’s goals and priorities. If this is not true, then debating incremental change will only amplify that disconnect between resources and priorities. In fact, for most public organizations, that disconnect is persistent and pervasive.

Legislators and board members are generally willing to appropriate small amounts of money to try “innovative” approaches. With time, many of those small experiments morph into large-scale programs.

Highlights for Blood Meridian

“We are dealing with a people manifestly incapable of governing themselves. And do you know what happens with people who cannot govern themselves? That’s right. Others come in to govern for them.”

There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto, said the Mennonite.

Sproule sat without moving. The kid looked at him but he would look away. He was wounded in an enemy country far from home and although his eyes took in the alien stones about yet the greater void beyond seemed to swallow up his soul.

But the kid only spat into the darkness of the space between them. I know your kind, he said. What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.

And so these parties divided upon that midnight plain, each passing back the way the other had come, pursuing as all travelers must inversions without end upon other men’s journeys.

They’d been skinned and I can tell ye it does very little for a man’s appearance.

The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night. His spirit is exhausted at the peak of its achievement. His meridian is at once his darkening and the evening of his day.

Their arms aloft pulling at their clothes were luminous and each obscure soul was enveloped in audible shapes of light as if it had always been so.

The horse screamed and kicked but the bull had planted its feet and it lifted the animal rider and all clear of the ground before Miller could get his pistol free and when he put the muzzle to the bull’s forehead and fired and the whole grotesque assembly collapsed he stepped clear of the wreckage and walked off in disgust with the smoking gun dangling in his hand.

Each man scanned the terrain and the movements of the least of creatures were logged into their collective cognizance until they were federated with invisible wires of vigilance and advanced upon that landscape with a single resonance.

Moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak.

Of such corporal histories even as these he bore no tidings and although it was the custom in that wilderness to stop with any traveler and exchange the news he seemed to travel with no news at all, as if the doings of the world were too slanderous for him to truck with, or perhaps too trivial.