Ryan Frantz

2018 Reading

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

More than any other book I’ve read so far, “A People’s History of the United States” made me aware of my ignorance. Even knowing the author’s biases (he states them clearly within and after the book; a first for me and one I appreciate) I felt the book was able to portray historical events in a fair manner and allowed for the reader to judge for themselves what this meant for the past, present, and future of this nation. I also could not help but draw many similarities between past behavior and the actions among our politicians and people these past 18 months (some strain of frequency bias, likely). In a sense, it saddened me to see history on repeat; in another, it made me hopeful that with this knowledge and perspective, we can all make significant efforts to improve.

I will be expanding my book list to include a number of authors referenced in this book.

Accelerate: Building and Scaling High-Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren

Forsgen, Humble, and Kim present their findings from data collected and analyzed over (to date) 4 years that illustrate the characteristics and behaviors of teams and organizations that deliver software. Not only do they demonstrate the minimum set of attributes that make for high-performing teams, they explain the science and rigorous process they used to reach their conclusions. Their descriptions matched my experiences (from low- to high-performing teams) but what struck me most was the time they spend backing up their conclusions with the data and definition of the process. I learned a lot about structuring surveys and how they’re evaluated to determine the integrity of the data and how they can be used to gain confidence in hypotheses.

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) by Martha Wells

A good, fast, enjoyable read about a half bot/half organic being trying to understand itself while keeping its human clients alive, I know I’ll be looking for more Martha Wells stories!

Amulet Series

I managed to catch up to the kids this year by filling in the holes I had for this series. I’m grateful the school library carries all these titles.

Binti (Binti, #1) by Nnedi Okorafor

There is so much to enjoy in this story. Despite its brevity it’s packed with lots of amazing imagery and emotion that my imagination had run so wild I could not believe I’d come to the end of the book! I’m looking forward to picking up the next books in the series.

Bloomberg by Bloomberg by Michael R. Bloomberg

Standard issue for new hires at Bloomberg, I picked at this book from time to time. The historical parts of the book were interesting but I found a lot of repetition in the book that made it longer than it needed to be.

Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang

This was an excellent read for me. Chang does a great job of illustrating the thinking, ideology, trends, and cultural norms that have developed and persisted within the tech industry over the past 50 years, specifically those that favor white, heterosexual men and diminish everyone else. Most telling are the stories she consolidates and relays from current events. This book is a must-read for anyone that looks like me.

Gravity Falls: Lost Legends: 4 All-New Adventures! by Alex Hirsch

The kids love Gravity Falls. I got hooked after watching one episode with them (Mabel is my favorite character). I love sharing these stories with my little ones.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

It is uncontested that da Vinci was a polymath, eternally curious, fastidious in his study of nature, and a pioneer in many fields including painting and engineering. Popular culture has bestowed a mythic quality to the man but his motivations and sources of inspiration were much more pedestrian than some tall tales would have us believe. Isaacson’s book helps clarify for us the origins and influences that shaped Leonardo’s work. In doing so, he makes the subject extremely approachable. For example, Leo drew up various military apparatus such as a tank prototype; these were derived partly from previous work of the ancients (Greek and Roman texts) and partly from da Vinci’s fantasy. Further, the flying machines he drafted were applications of his study of birds and their flight to concoct stage pieces for his theatrical commissions. Knowing these things makes them no less wonderful; indeed it makes Leonardo an inspiration for for all of us. Certainly he had some innate abilities such as his attention to detail, a keen eye, a desire to document much of his ideas and learning. This treatment of da Vinci shows us that we can each use our talents to pursue our interests, sometimes fail at them, and persevere to create beautiful things.

Linux Kernel Development by Robert Love

A bit dated by now but this book still provides lots of useful context about Linux kernel internals.

Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & flow by Dominica Degrandis

Degrandis does a great job defining and putting a face on a set of “time thieves” that prevent us from getting work done. The central theme is visibility. The more we make visible, the better we can understand what is stealing our time and make adjustments. Further, we can effectively communicate within and without our teams about the things that impact our work. This leads to setting better expectations and greater satisfaction, overall. And while the book recommends a Kanban approach to managing work, it’s not necessary to embrace that framework to realize the successes from visualizing work; Degrandis even makes this point a few times in the text.

Degrandis’ writing matched my experience at various jobs where, over many, many years, I learned some of these lessons. I wish I’d had her book so many years ago. I’m glad I read it even now as it helped clarify the things that can contribute to lost productivity and happiness.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I enjoyed this thoroughly.

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5) by Dan Brown

Dan Brown followed his usual formula of an intriguing mystery coupled with a fast-paced, developing grand conspiracy to keep some great truth a secret. Langdon is thrust into action and has as his side-kick, an alluring, competent partner that matches his intellect. To be honest, I am here for it. After reading many books this year that require reflection and deeper thinking, Origin was just the sort of break I was looking for. I knew what I was getting and I enjoyed every sentence of it. The story also got me interesting in a few additional topics, like most good books do.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John H. McWhorter

I felt like I took a journey around Europe while reading this book. The author develops a theory of the history of English that includes influences from the Celtic, Welsh, Vikings, French, Germanic, and (possibly) Phoenicians.

Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America by Seth Abramson

Having followed Abramson’s Twitter feed for some time, the content of his book was not new to me. What I found most useful about this book is that he has carefully curated content from publicly available sources to back his theory of the case that Trump and numerous folks in his orbit have been knowing parties to collusive and obstructive activities for years prior to and through Trump’s presidency. It is a harrowing story based only on current reporting; I can only imagine what Mueller’s investigation has in its trove.

Provenance by Ann Leckie

As I neared the end of this book, I thought, “Surely, this will continue. It’s not over.” But it was, and I wanted more. There were so many intertwining backgrounds and stories that I got caught up trying to figure out which paths would intersect and which would diverge. There was a conspicuous abbreviation of pronouns that, at first, felt awkward, but after a few pages became completely natural. It made the characters feel richer because they could not be too easily defined by simple gender classification. I’ll be looking for more titles by Leckie.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

If you’re an introvert or know one, go read this book.

Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results by Christina Wodtke

To my mind, OKRs are the latest incarnation of clear planning. They are very much synonymous with goals and milestones in that they define a desired outcome and statements that should help measure progress toward those outcomes. In other words, there’s nothing new under the sun. However, the parable of the startup struggling to focus their collective efforts is a nice way to introduce an otherwise dry topic; very few folks get excited about planning. And to that point, what makes goal setting and planning difficult is the follow-through and constant adjustments required when trying to reach an outcome. The book points this out a few times but I suspect folks are likely to miss this in their attempts to cargo cult the idea in their organizations. Still, like most tried and true ideas, it’s useful to repeat them; they will eventually be taken up and executed successfully by those that care enough to do the hard work.

Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights by Gary Klein

Klein performs naturalistic research into the ways insights are formed and discovers three paths that lead to them: connections, contradictions, and creative desperation. His research is driven by a set of stories he selected across many decades, events, people, and experiences. The work was contrasted with lab experiments used to understand insights, especially to highlight the idea that those trials typically limit our understanding to a narrow set of ways insight is gained.

This book gave me some interesting ideas to consider and I’m looking forward to reading more of Klein’s work.

The Etto Principle: Efficiency-Thoroughness Trade-Off: Why Things That Go Right Sometimes Go Wrong by Erik Hollnagel

Someone once said that after reading this book they couldn’t help but see ETTO everywhere. I agree. Every action we take (or don’t) requires a decision that balances several variables, especially constraints such as time, knowledge, and competing priorities. It’s both necessary and good (generally) for us to make trade-offs between being efficient and thorough (with a strong tendency to the former). In terms of safety and resilience engineering, understanding ETTO helps us to understand factors that contribute to negative incidents. Crucially in this book, however, Hollnagel makes and reiterates a point that it’s not enough to focus on when things go wrong; we must also spend time understanding how (most often) things go right. But, thanks to ETTO’ing, we tend to only report on negative events. If we can make time to understand the normal operations (and performance expectations) of our (socio-technical) systems, we can better understand (appreciate) what contributes to their failures.

This book is a pragmatic read and filled many useful references for the reader to learn more. I will be picking up a copy of Perrow’s “Normal Accident Theory” thanks to those references.

The Family ADHD Solution by Mark Bertin

ADHD can be a challenge for everyone in the family. This book contains a number of pointers, reminders, and ideas on how to better meet those challenges in a mindful and meditative way.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin

It took me a minute before I realized the story wasn’t alternating between characters in different times but the same folks. When I did, the book, which had already grabbed my interest, really took off. The cast is developed in a way that makes them feel so real and the story drops just enough hints to keep you guessing about lots of things. I’m definitely going to finish the set.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt

Awesome! One of the best histories of this venerable game.

The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook by Niall Ferguson

The main point of this book is that throughout history networks and hierarchy have always lived side-by-side, at times working against each other, at others coalescing to bring about new orders. I appreciated learning new (to me) history but occasionally the content had hard transitions. I realize that a more thorough treatment of the history would make for a much larger tome, but sometimes the reading was a bit tedious. Still, I came away thinking more about the design and operation of networks, especially in the context of historical events, leading me to want to know more.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis

Having read ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, this book caught my eye. I had hoped that I’d learn some new things, but beyond a history of Kahneman and Tversky, I gained no new insights. If you haven’t read ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ (an approachable text for layfolks), ‘The Undoing Project’ makes for a good appetizer that will whet your appetite for more.

The Silent Corner (Jane Hawk, #1) by Dean Koontz

After reading 700 pages of U.S. history, this book was a great break and a fun read. The action is fast and even though it’s got a familiar theme (mind control/Manchurian candidate) I was entertained. I’ll likely read the rest of the trilogy to see how things progress.

The Whispering Room (Jane Hawk, #2) by Dean Koontz

This is a fun follow-up to Koontz’s “Silent Corner”. I’m hooked On Jane Hawk and pulling for her as she chases down the bad guys, helps unwitting strangers, and seeks to unravel a nasty cabal.

The Crooked Staircase (Jane Hawk, #3) by Dean Koontz

I enjoyed this book, especially as a diversion after reading non-fiction. Part of me is a little bummed that this series will span (I think) 7 titles (the first 2 books had lots of action and I was looking forward to some closure), but I’m definitely invested. This chapter in the series set up some new characters and closed out others. It leaves me thinking #4 will get back to some of the same thrills as the first 2.

Vampirina at the Beach by Anne Marie Pace

Surf’s up Vampirina! This book is coooool!