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Book reviews for February 2014

Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings

Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings

4/5

Epic book about the origins, frequency and long term outlook of life in the universe.

 

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2) by Ben H. Winters

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2) by Ben H. Winters

4/5

A search for a missing person is the backdrop for watching society start to collapse and the plot begin to thicken in the sequel to The Last Policeman. Here's hoping that the third book will be worth the wait.

 

Skype for Android - Getting Closer

Skype for Android - Getting Closer

Skype for Android is finally getting there. Push support means that it is now useful for more than conditioning your battery. Conversation read status is mostly synced between different client instances which is a big time saver. I'm actually starting to use it.

There is one horrible usability crime. When you open the app you get a list of unread conversations. Your set your finger in flight to the first one and then notice an ad sliding down from the top of the screen. With horror you realize it's too late to change course and you hit the ad instead of the conversation.

I'm not complaining about Skype being ad supported here, but if you were going to try and design a UI to trick people into clicking ads you really couldn't do better than this. I expect better from Microsoft.

Other than this the only real complaint is that new posts to group messages sometimes make it through to the notification bar and sometimes don't. You have to run the app periodically to see if there is something new.

(previously, previously)

Pier 14

Pier 14

You won't believe this one crazy trick that would fix the broken patent system

You won't believe this one crazy trick that would fix the broken patent system

On Thursday The White House announced a trio of executive actions to fight patent trolls, most interestingly:

"Crowdsourcing Prior Art — To help ensure that U.S. patents are of the highest quality, the USPTO is announcing a new initiative focused on expanding ways for companies, experts, and the general public to help patent examiners, holders, and applicants find relevant “prior art”—that is, the technical information patent examiners need to make a determination of whether an invention is truly novel."

I've considered this for a few years as a for-profit business, paying a bounty to anyone who contributes prior art that helps take out a troll. But I have a way better idea: stop examining patents altogether.

(previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously)

Fog over Twin Peaks

Fog over Twin Peaks

Fog sweeps in over Twin Peaks in San Francisco.

Book reviews for January 2014

Why Does E=mc²? (And Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox

Why Does E=mc²? (And Why Should We Care?) by Brian Cox

4/5

Has some new (to me) angles to help you try and understand relativity and quantum mechanics so I enjoyed it. I can feel that clarity starting to slip away again two days later though...

 

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Sean Covey

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Sean Covey

3/5

Not as religious as your typical business self help book, still wildly repetitive though. Important goal -> focus on leading rather than lagging metrics -> simple scoreboard -> peer accountability on a weekly basis -> win. It's pretty much scrum for the non-development crowd (assuming that having a captive customer can be counted as a leading metric which I think it does).

 

A Good and Useful Hurt by Aric Davis

A Good and Useful Hurt by Aric Davis

4/5

Well paced and strange book about catching a serial killer via unexpectedly powerful tattoos.

 

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga

3/5

It's like an episode of the A Team with two important differences - the book is set in India and the A Team don't show up. This means that it doesn't end well.

 

Lottocracy vs Legislative Service

Corrupt Legislation

Alexander Guerrero in aeon:

"There are hard questions about how exactly to structure a political system with lottery-selection at its heart. Here’s one approach, which I am in the process of developing, that I call lottocracy. The basic components are straightforward. First, rather than having a single, generalist legislature such as the United States Congress, the legislative function would be fulfilled by many different single-issue legislatures (each one focusing on, for example, just agriculture or health care)."

It's the same concept as legislative service except randomly selected people serve a single issue for three years rather than just voting on a single bill. I think the advantage is clearly that you get to build up a greater depth of knowledge if you're spending three years learning about health care. The disadvantage is that the number of people willing to give three years of their life is going to be much lower than just asking for the few weeks or months that legislative service would require.

(previously, previously)

Fitbit on a bike

Fitbit on a bike

My company bought everyone a Fitbit for Christmas and now we're in a Battle Royale to get the most steps. I'm at a disadvantage as I often cycle to work and Fitbit does not track this accurately.

A couple of people suggested that clipping the Fitbit to your shoe would help. So over the last week I conducted an experiment. My ride from home to the office is 6.5 miles. With the Fitbit clipped into my hip pocket it registers 2,362 steps. Perched precariously on my shoe I get 2,389 steps. You can't cheat Fitbit this way.

How far off is 2,300 steps? If I was walking the same distance I'd get 13,000 steps. But I  wouldn't be coasting down any hills so that isn't right either.

For my weight relaxed walking should be around 155 calories a mile, cycling at around 10 miles per hour is 78 calories a mile. This is about a 2:1 exchange rate so those 2,300 steps should be 4,600 or so.

Fitbit does have some options to manually add activities that it doesn't register correctly. This sounds too much like hard work though, it's difficult enough to remember not to put the poor device in the washing machine. I'm also 234,037 steps behind the current leader for January so I'd need to cycle home for lunch as well to stand any chance of catching up...

Don't show this to me again

Don't show this to me again

HTC deserves to go bust for greying out the option to not use their sharing tool.

Tree

Tree

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