I read twenty-five books this past year. Six more than 2013, seven more than in 2012, and nine more than in 2011. Only one of the books was read on my Kobo, the rest were deadtree. Nine of them were non-fiction and sixteen of them were fiction.
Fiction Read in 2014
- Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
- Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
- An Instance of the Fingerpost - Iain Pears
- System of the World - Neal Stephenson
- Saturday - Ian McEwan
- The Tesseract - Alex Garland
- Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone - J. K. Rowling
- The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
- Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
- Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett
- The Samurai’s Garden - Gail Tsukiyama
- The Circle - Dave Eggers
- Steppenwolf - Hermann Hesse
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling
- A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
- Story of Your Life and Others - Ted Chiang - Incredible “sci-fi” short stories. I’ve put sci-fi in quotes, ‘cause they are so much more than that.
Read in that order. No duds this year, although I’ve got two incompletes:
- The Difference Engine by Sterling & Gibson
- Friend, Follow, Text - Short stories about online culture.
I can normally savour a slow journey but Sterling & Gibson’s creation story for the Steampunk genre lost my interest. The stories in Friend, Follow, Text were harshing my mellow, so I’ve taken a break.
Top Three Fiction Reads
We are a story we tell ourselves, parts of which we try to forget. A gentleman butler of World Ward Two-era Britain remembers so much but admits so little.
This book was full of comments penciled in by a previous reader that shaped the way I interpreted the story.
A murder at Oxford in the 1660s told four times by four unreliable narrators. Each telling reveals more details and yet introduces more bias.
Shares many historical characters with Stephenson’s The System of the World (up next). It also shares this theme:
Early science is messy and pious. Early medical science more so.
I feel like I know Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, Caroline of Ansbach and the rest of them. I feel like I’ve witnessed the Great Plague, London’s Great Fire, the end of Britain’s Stuart Dynasty, and the birth of modern thinking in science, religion, politics, and business.
I know I shouldn’t trust these feeling but I do.
Some 300 years ago Newton discovered a new System of the World. The predictive power of his three laws of motion made credible the scientific method. The twin calculus methods of Newton and Leibniz gave the scientific revolution it’s analytic strength.
Non-Fiction Read in 2014
I fulfilled my goal of reading more non-fiction books. Many of these were inspired by a series of audio lectures on the Eastern intellectual tradition, others were inspired by parenthood as well as our work at Open Democracy Manitoba. They were read in this order:
- Existentialism and Human Emotions - Sartre
- No Death, No Fear - Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby - Sandi Metz - Oh, now I get it. Thanks Sandi for helping me understand OO after 15+ years.
- Feminism is for Everybody - Bell Hooks
- Yoga: Discipline of Freedom - Patanjali - Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller
- The Lost Painting - Jonathan Harr
- Electing Better Politicians: A Citizen’s Guide - Charles K. Bens - A must-read for accountable citizens!
- Good Citizens - Thích Nhất Hạnh
- Raising a Self-Reliant Child - Dr. Alanna Levine
Audio Lectures in 2014
Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition - TGC - Grant Hardy - 17hrs - The best series of lectures I’ve listened to, ever. The content was mind expanding. The lecturing was enthralling.
Consciousness and It’s implications - TGC - Daniel N. Robinson - 6hrs - Difficult and at times even disturbing.
Headspace - Take 5 - A Guided Introduction to Meditation - I’ve been meditating on and off since 2000 (when I took a meditation course in the rain forest near Cape Tribulation, Australia). I’m 25 days into the program and I cannot recommend it enough. Try Take 10 on the Headspace app for free. It’s 10 days of 10 minute meditation sessions. You’ll thank me.
Currently Reading and Listening
- Howards End - E.M. Foster (After just finishing Zadie Smith’s homage.)
- Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation - TGC - Mark W. Muesse
- Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition - TGC
Internet Bots for Fun & No Profit
My talk from last November’s BSides Winnipeg 2013 Security Conference.
To show how little code is required to create automated accounts on Twitter I demo’d a few other bots that I’ve written. Here’s one that Tweets out a random number every five minutes. A modern day Numbers Station.
require 'chatterbot/dsl' loop do tweet rand(1000000..99000000).to_s sleep 300 end
I closed with my motivations, the security/ethical implications of algorithmic social media accounts, and the possibility of a future where we are unable to determine who is real and who is a bot on the Internet.
UPDATE - Abotlafia’s response to my talk:
@stungeye “you’re in trouble? good.”— Abulafia (@abotlafia) November 25, 2014
Lift off with battery packs in series. Our new electronics activity kit!
On Monday I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony organized by Red River College Aboriginal Student Support & Community Relations. This took place near Libau Manitoba at the site of a yearly Sun Dance. The ceremony was a teaching lodge led by Bundle carrier, Sun dancer, and Spiritual Advisor for Corrections Services Canada, Brian McLeod.
A sweat lodge is an Aboriginal ceremony of purification, thankfulness, healing, and discovery. The lodge itself is built of saplings lashed together and hung with heavy cloth tarp. A dome maybe 10 feet (3 metres) in diameter, the shape of a great turtle shell.
We offered tobacco to the fire blazing outside the entrance of the lodge. The offering made in the name of all our relations. We knelt and entered the lodge sitting side by side on a circle of blankets. Brian spoke to us of vulnerability, of strength, and of living in a good way.
The tarp is pulled shut from outside. It is dark inside but for the red light of the Grandmothers and Grandfathers, the granite rocks pulled from the fire outside and placed into the earthen pit in the centre of the lodge.
The smell of cedar. The sound of rain. Drumming and rattles and voice. Water on stone; the hot breath of life. Hottest right before the flaps open, only to be closed again. Four cycles of heat. Four doorways. Giving thanks to all our relations. Awash in the fervour of sensation and gratitude.
PechaKucha 20x20 is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images.
My talk went well, or at least I assume it did. It was a blur once I got on stage. The talk was delivered by auto-pilot Kyle. I found the 20x20 format challenging. With twenty 20 second slides you talk for 6 minutes and 40 seconds. I’m use to lecturing for an hour or more, so this was an interesting exercise in constraint. Producing the slides a week in advanced, and building the talk around them, had me initially trying to cram in too much. Even after a few rewrites for brevity I felt at times like a nervous robot dictating my talking points for each image. :D
The crowd was great. Very welcoming and clappy. The other speakers were engaging and passionate. I was told ahead of time that at past events an ad hoc theme for the night tended to emerge. The theme for last night’s event seemed to be social justice.
Again: social justice. Unofficial theme of #pknwpg18— PechaKucha Winnipeg (@PKN_Winnipeg) May 23, 2014
I was the first to speak. I talked about the experience of building winnipegelection.ca and manitobaelection.ca. I also argued that a well functioning democracy requires engaged and accountable citizens.
Here’s Karenia Niedzwiecki mash-up of the evening:
Government accountability requires citizen accountability. Democracy gives us the chance to say “I’m worth more than you think”. You can think of me as the travel santa… but apparently we’ve all been bad. The most successful matches are made when organizations identify the need. I’d been running for a 1000 days in a row, so I thought, let’s run a 50k for fun. I hope your next vehicle will plug in. We work hard to make this happen—grandmothers and grandchildren, happy and healthy. I know you’ve had a couple of DJs present before, but I have one thing that they don’t, and that’s offspring. Citizen journalism requires a disconnect from self-focus. That’s what I want to avoid… rejection (as a graphic designer or as a comedian).” — source
The sentence Democracy gives us the chance to say “I’m worth more than you think” was from the talk after mine by Dougald Lamont. Mr. Lamont spoke about his research into economic inequality and what we can do about it. I think our talks went well together.