Ryan Frantz

2016 Reading

what if? by Randall Munroe

If you’re a fan of xkcd you’ll love this book. Munroe started the the what if? site to field and answer off-the-wall physics and math questions from folks. He compiled many of those, and their answers, into what if? It’s a fun read, filled with lots of compelling scenarios and humorously-answered responses.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

This book came as a recommendation from my wife. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I read it anyway. In it, the author describes how, while learning to write a more compelling story, he learned to approach his life in the same way. All good stories have tension and struggle. Characters are defined by their experiences and how they react to them.

The author felt his own life was boring and unsatisfactory, two things he suspected would lead to a decline in his ability to continue as a compelling author. In order to live a more satisfying life, he decided to find and live new experiences, especially those that provided tension and uncertainty.

I enjoyed this book because it left with the idea that it’s not enough to go after our dreams. It’s just as important to seek out experiences that take us out of our comfort zone so that we can truly grow as humans. Then we can write truly compelling stories.

Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows

I had learned from past experiences to approach (computer) systems and their design holistically, but this book gave me new ways of, well, thinking in systems. Now I see stocks, inputs/outputs, and feedback loops everywhere!

I posted several ideas about systems thinking in practice as a result.

Whether you’re new to your career or an old hand, pick up a copy of this book and I bet you’ll find useful guidance in how you approach your work.

The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun

I picked this book up because I work remotely and I was curious what someone else had to say about the lifestyle (there are no shortage of opinions on this topic online, of course). It was compelling for me because Berkun compared the transition from an in-office experience to 100% remote, the same I’d done when I started working for Etsy 3 years ago. He reflected the same feelings and concerns I had at the beginning: uncertainty about how my progress would be measured; not knowing if my ideas and communications were being ingested or ignored; anxiety about feeling alienated and alone in my home office.

The book primarily explores Automattic, in general, and WordPress.com, in particular. Specifically, Berkun details the experiment that was him coming on board to determine if creating small teams made sense as the company grew. Was a flat hierarchy still tenable? Could teams meet the demands of a growing company? Would people balk at the structure?

The stories were generally interesting and I felt a sense of camraderie for the characters involved. Despite that, while I can’t quite put my finger on it at the moment, the book felt just a tad superficial; it felt like an honest and transparent look into how Automattic behaved and also felt like a carefully curated expose.

Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate by Spencer Rascoff

This book distilled lots of data into bite-size ideas. In general it was interesting but it felt like the content only scratched the surface. At times it also felt like an advertisement for Zillow, but that’s to be expected.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Jesus, the feels… I found this book at my kids’ book fair and thought it might be a good read. The story, about a boy and his pet fox, tells the story from both characters’ perspectives after the boy is forced to release his fox in the woods. Each of them is determined to find the other and must do so while learning to grow up in a harsh world.

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1) by Liu Cixin

Having not read fiction for some time, this book was an enjoyable book to jump back into some sci-fi. The book opens by showing us how contact was made will extraterrestial intelligent life and how we learn of their pending arrival. We learn that scientific advancement has been stymied by the aliens in the hopes that we will pose no threat to them when they land. There are actions working to save humans and some working to aid the aliens, thinking the Earth would be better off in the hands of new stewards. And it takes off from there. I really enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn

The book provided some good insight into the executive functions many of us take for granted. While the book’s focus is on diagnoses that include weaknesses in one or more of those executive functions, I was struck by the fact that really anyone, for any reason, can present with temporary weaknesses as well such as when one is tired or worn out from a taxing day at work.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

I see Norman doors everywhere now! I also think a lot more about design, utility, and affordances when I wrote code or build systems.

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

This was a great read about how those who intend to break in to our homes, banks, and museums view architecture and how it can be used much differently than most folks (i.e. the deadbolt on your door doesn’t matter when a window presents a much more likely/easy entrance).

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #2) by Liu Cixin

Soooooo good! I loved all the vignettes and their interplay. My imagination ran wild with the imagery that Liu wrought as he covered huge periods of time and immense swaths of space.

I can’t wait for the final book in the series!

Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3) by Liu Cixin

The last in the series was very fun to read. Like most closings, though, I was a little disappointed. But that is more about the expectations I build up in my head when I’m wrapped up in a story. I will say, however, that the ending felt a bit rushed and a bit too convenient. Still, I’d recommend this series. One good takeaway for me has been that I want to learn more about spacetime!