In general how do you read ? Do you finish a book even if you don't like the style or subject matter ?
Do you read sequentially - one book at a time cover to cover - or do you read several books in parallel ?
Any tips/tricks on how to choose the next book ?
Do you continue going deeper into the subject matter of the last book or do you jump to a completely different domain ?
Fluency really helps because there are fewer really worthwhile books than other kinds (this is similar to "most ideas are mediocre down to bad", in no small part because good ideas are a rarer set of insights, and they have to be formed in our not wonderful commonsense environment).
In third grade I started to put a lot more effort into really remembering what I read (it finally occurred to me that I'd have to reread most of the books if I didn't).
Because of efficiency, etc., I generally finish virtually all books. I often read several books at a time. I don't spend all day reading now, though I certainly often did when I was younger.
Reading often leads to other reading. I also read reviews of books. A really fun find ca 1970 was The Whole Earth Catalog, which listed thousands of "tools" including hundreds of books with small very useful reviews. Most of these were very worthwhile (and all the books in the WEC were the first books in the PARC library).
I sympathize with the writer below who wished for a little description for each book on my reading list (annotated bibliographies are very helpful).
I follow my nose (and try to use other dim senses when possible).
From what I've read, the idea for The Whole Earth Catalog came to Stewart Brand during an acid trip, so I'm going to try my luck with a deeper question on the subject...
The counterculture and the "psychedelic revolution" of the '60s has been a subject I've been very interested in, especially its impact on technology and computing.
You were there, you saw it with your own eyes, you helped move technology forward with your mind, you worked with all kinds of experimenters and bearded geniuses..
Do you think that psychedelic drugs had a big impact on how technology (and society) has evolved since the '60 ?
The reason I'm asking this, is because these substances and practices are making a major come back, now globally, and I'm very curious about how this will impact our society in the future, given the radical changes apparently spawned in the short period that people explored them, before becoming illegal..
And I think it had indirect influence -- kind of a glow -- on other things that were going on, such as changes in technology and computing. But I would call most of the top people there at that time -- including most of the researchers at PARC -- quite straight with regard to drugs. PARC was much more of an older drinking culture than a drugs culture. However, other kinds of non-drug mind-altering practices were experimented with (many kinds of meditation, self-hypnosis, isolation tanks, etc.)
A little goes a long way, for many reasons.
can you please verify that number? Assuming reading for that past 50 years, that is over a book/day (or 3 books / 4 days reading for 75 years). I'm a slow reader and generally enjoy taking my time reading, but that would be quite the volume.
So, as I estimated, probably not more than 20,000.
It seemed an agonizing wait until 14, the required age for checking out books from the adult section. I'd read the entire children's section, so I had to wait until after school (pointless school) to read adult books at the library. By 18, I'd read about 20,000 books. Strangely, on turning 18, my reading rate dropped off a cliff.
I became a librarian in the end. I rarely read anymore, my attention span and time just don't allow it.
I am a fairly intelligent person, with a large vocabulary, but forcing my "mind's voice" to read faster than a normal conversational pace dramatically reduces both enjoyment and retention of material. Doubly so for anything of technical content.
I feel a mental voice when reading e.g. poetry or when writing a draft for a presentation/speech, but all other content is purely visual. I tend to recall the visual location where a fact was written, e.g. that was on the right side of some page around the bottom part, but not how it sounded.
I read HN with an eye to suggestions, which has worked out well for me.
100 is no more than 20,000
i don't think verification is needed...
[edited for carriage return]
Do you have any tips, tricks, hacks that you would like to share that you may have developed in helping you to remember content.
Did any techniques evolve over the years?
The first thing to notice is what happens if you accidentally dial into the middle of a movie on TV you haven't seen for 20 years. How long does it take you to recognize the movie? And how often can you remember pretty much what is going to happen next? Then ponder that when you saw the movie the first time you didn't know you were going to be tested with just a few frames 20 years later!
There have been many studies over the years about just how good and detailed is visual recall. Much of the best recall is "prompted recall" usually via an image or some other sense (smell is a biggie).
You've also heard about Cicero's "mind palace" where when he was giving a speech in the Senate he would walk in his imagination around his villa and revisit parts of his speech that he'd associated with objects in his house.
This is also possible to do with ideas. It's a kind of relaxation from the parts of your brain that do general thinking (Kahneman's "System 2") and just letting the ideas be "configurational" (like images or sounds, where many can exist at the same time). A lot of the associations are kinds of analogies and metaphors.
In any case, we all have tremendous memories for some kinds of things, and it seems to be difficult to remember other kinds of things (perhaps things that are further from sense memories are more difficult). But it seems that a lot of the sense memory system is happy to remember enough "hybrid stuff" to then allow better recall of the more distant stuff.
One of the things I had discovered to a small extent in 3rd grade was that one can read "faster than actually thinking", and that a lot of the thinking would still be done. Looking back, I think this is like the kinds of background thinking we often do when we are working on a problem -- this seems to work also for reading. (It is also connected to how sight-reading in music is done (next comment).)
There's lots more, but one last thing here. Though I got to music early, I got to classical keyboards late -- in this case the organ -- and thus got a chance to watch myself learn to sight read three staves of music for hands and feet. (I found this quite a painful process for a few years, especially at my age.) But it has quite a bit in common with the mechanics of reading and remembering texts (with the addition of a lot of fine muscle memory that has to be taught what to do).
The essential transition is to gradually learn to detach from being "on the notes" to being able to see a few bars ahead (like what you do when you are reading aloud to someone), being able to perform with the meanings you just saw, while gleaning new meanings ahead and remembering them for the performance a few seconds later. It's basically a pipe-lined buffered process which anyone can learn to do, but which most do not learn easily (it was difficult for me).
If you can also tie the buffers to something that is in long term memory, you have a good chance of remembering it when something like it re-cues the memory. Most musicians wind up with a kind of double memory (they can remember the music more easily than the muscle movements). I think this also obtains in text reading and remembering.
The simple heuristic is "relax".
Are you a paper notebook fan?
I hope it goes without saying: thank you very much for your contribution to the world, generally.
One way to think about this in the larger sense is that "an interesting person is one who is interesting whether you agree with them or not". This also goes for books. (This is the "it's about perspectives, not about relevance" point of view.)
It's worth it to try to understand what "interesting people" have thought -- it provides context for one's own thinking.
This is eventually the main reason why I mentioned Bateson's work in particular (besides the depth and orthogonality of his ideas).
I've read Watzlawick's work on interaction and pragmatics of communication before I've read Bateson's. I found Watzlawick's ideas easier to grasp (at least, I'm under that illusion), clearly presented with e.g. axioms. Then I read Bateson's work, and got this strange feeling of dwelling around the same underlying concepts, but without a clear understanding of his main argument.
I've read "Steps to an Ecology of Mind" quite a few times (I still re-read some chapters every once in a while) and always felt that a) I'm reading new material; and b) I'm not getting it all. Yet, I always get something new, and this is an extremely interesting insight on how my own perception changes over time.
Of course, this happens with other books and authors. Still, personally, I have a clear feeling that not to the same extent as it happens with Bateson's ideas. It's my own mirror, so to speak.
Having that audience in mind, wouldn't Manuel Castells' work (mostly, the "The Information Age" trilogy) be a good reference? Probably a little too vast.
I think it might be too long for the intended purpose (maybe a little too academic?). On the other hand Mumford also wrote a trilogy "Technics and Civilization" that I did hope they would read ...
And certainly the McLuhan books are more cryptic for most readers. On the other hand ...
Thinking about it, from a practical perspective, I'd eventually suggest "The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society" instead of the trilogy. It should be more readable, definitely smaller, while still addressing most important concepts (for me, it was the spatial configuration in the information society: the space of flows).
This prejudice is part of a larger one (which is partly a generalization) that it is rare when commentators -- whether philosophers of science or other -- come close to having a good view. Of course, so many in fields are also quite blind to what is going on. Still, most of the good commentaries I know on science are by scientists, and most of the good commentaries on computing are by computerists. And music ... etc.
My perspective on Castells is biased because it was essentially the backbone of my academic training. I had teachers telling us explicitly that Castells' notion of information society was the framework (in the Kuhnian sense) on which we'd build upon. Having that in mind, I see Castells as a sociologist and his work (sociological) as a view on a society defined by information flows (not exactly computing, although computing and telecommunications are key enablers). Still, he keeps technological determinism at bay by considering the impact of geography, territory, matter - the physical (tangible?) dimension.
What I like quite much about his work is exactly this aspect: he presents a vision of a society dominated by the intangible, while still dedicating rather extensive chapters on the geographical asymmetries of the world. This avoidance of technological determinism, the "information is key but place and physicality still matter a lot, as evidenced by real-world data" notion is why I see Castells as a great reference.
_The Laws of Form_ by George Spencer Brown,
Anything about logic by Gotthard Günther :) (He's a rare bird.)
_Autopoiesis and Cognition: the Realization of the Living_ by Maturana and Varela
Anything by Niklass Luhmann about social systems: the economy, mass media, art, functional differentiation, … He was a student of Talcott Parsons
Norbert Wiener, _Cybernetics: Or Control And Communication in the Animal and the Machine_ and _The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society_
_An Introduction to Cybernetics_ by W. Ross Ashby
McCullogh and Pitts (You mention Minsky but not these dudes.) _A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity_
Basically, most of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberneticist
A lot of the books you mention were listed in the Whole Earth Catalog, and were favorites at PARC.
Especially "Laws of Form".
And some of the other "Cybernetics" circle books (Bateson et al was part of the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics, etc.) Both Maturana and Varela were around in those times as well.
Minsky was a huge fan of Warren McCullogh and Walter Pitts.
I couldn't vouch for the other topics but I can say that the section on Philosophy made me raise an eyebrow! Well, that and the section on Politics & Economy is obviously US/capitalist -centric but you know that. No Communist Manifesto? Really? :)
In case anyone happens to read the list you gave and also reads here, the following are not considered primary philosophical works:
The Passion of the Western Mind
by RICHARD TARNAS
Ascent of Man
by JACOB BRONOWSKI
Science and Sanity
by COUNT KORZYBSKI
Science is not Enough
by VANNEVAR BUSH
What I Believe
by MARK BOOTH (Ed)
Zen Mind, Beginners' Mind
by SHUNRYU SUZUKI
Also. While Plato's Republic is a master-work his Symposium far exceeds the Timeaus. Symposium (not Timeaus) is included in the brilliant _The Classics of Western Philosophy_ which is a decent source and one stop shop of Western Philosophical Works: http://www.hackettpublishing.com/classics-of-western-philoso....
Just to remind again that the list was for people in business -- they were quite intelligent, had college degrees, but were not well read or "broad". They were very goal-oriented, and I think they did not use school or college for "general education". I tried to pick books that would be assessable and useful for them.
So no "Das Kapital" or other political tracts. I would have put in Madison's Notes on the Constitutional Convention, and many other political writings for a different audience.
I didn't really include much if anything primary about Philosophy (again, that wasn't the point for this group).
And, now that we are discussing this, I now recall that the original list (it was an email) was not just expanded by I know not whom into the pictorial form on the web, but has also been edited a bit. The most important changes are from sentences like "Anything by Bertrand Russell" and "Anything by Jerome Bruner" etc. to the individual books (as subsets). However, I don't recall what I did say about Plato ...
"Bible, Talmud, Koran
Read them whether or not you believe them!
Be sure to read between the lines, and you can discover what people were actually thinking back then.
Very interesting documents!
Bava Metzia 59b is an interesting story!"
Also, I really liked your interview with Marissa Mayer at CHI.
It was published in 2001. What do you think of its relevancy 15 years later in the context of our age of "big data" and "Machine Learning"?
An important idea about reading is that part of the pleasure (maybe even more than that) is one's choice of "this book, now". I had read many hundreds of books a year by the time I got to high school, but I balked at reading books chosen for me in a class. I suggested instead that the classes deal with themes and that there should be several thousand good books in the library that students could choose for themselves. This would make the discussions of the themes quite interesting, etc. But no go, so I wound up -- for their chosen books only -- reading "Classic Comics" like most of the rest of the students (I did get around to reading the "chosen books" later in life.)
The approach of lots of books and themes was used by Mortimer Adler in putting together "The Great Books of the Western World" (now 60 of them). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Books_of_the_Western_Wor... Besides these books he picked 102 "Great Ideas", wrote an essay on each one, cross indexed the ideas through the "Great Books", and published the essays as the two volume "Syntopicon".
In this sense, the reading list I came up with for Anderson Consulting was too short -- it wasn't a decent library size. And this is true of the "Great Books": it's too short as well.
Another idea is the "Oxbridge" approach: pick "4" important as orthogonal as possible large subjects, and go deep on them until they meet in "the good stuff".
Simplest heuristic: read a lot.
I've been playing Factorio  , which I think would resonate with your love of Rocky's Boots, cellular automata, queuing theory, visual programming, system dynamics and distributed control systems. It's in the spirit of John von Neumann's 29 state cellular automata  and universal constructor. 
 Factorio: https://www.factorio.com/
 HN Factorio discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11266471
 John von Neumann's 29 state cellular automata: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann_cellular_automaton
 JvN Universal Constructor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann_universal_construc...
I think I'm so out of context wrt video games here and now that I can't come up with a worthwhile reply. I liked Rocky's Boots because of the brilliant combination of the content and the idea behind the game play -- and they were well matched up. I liked the idea of its successor "Robot Odyssey" a lot, but advised the TLC folks to use something like Logo for the robot language rather than the Rocky's circuit diagrams (which were now not well matched up to the needs). As you know I really tried to get the Maxis people to make "Sim City" a rule based system that children could program in so they could both understand the generators and to change them (no luck there).
If I were to look around today, I'd look for something where the underlying content was really "good" for children -- I doubt that cellular automata would be in my top 10 -- and then would also have good to great game play.
Thanks for mentioning that. I've been looking for a reason to read "poor books" for a long time (much to the frustration of people around me, who want me to "just read it, who cares"), and this makes sense to me.
(I'm not starstruck in the slightest, by the way...)
Definitely agree with this sentiment:
> I should mention that reading lots of "poor books" is also part of literacy: they help the understanding and appreciation of "good books" considerably.
I see parents bemoaning their children reading sort of simple formulaic series like The Hardy Boys but frankly that's how I started out and now those parents complaining consider me some kind of authority due to my collection of books and wide ranging reading habits.
It's ok to read spy/dective fiction or romance novels. As long as you make an attempt to explore outside those genres at some point it'll be fine.
It's like the three stage rocket leaving earth's gravity. The payload is supported by an immense amount of push from something that will be thrown away later (until Elon Musk came along). You don't necessarily get better readers by increasing the quantity of payload.
Thiel often says something to the effect of that when he worked out the value of Paypal, that the major value really came ten, twenty years later. So it would be important to focus on looking at those companies which could have a reasonable chance of having that kind of longevity and not worry so much about big spikes in valuations in the here and now i.e. sustainability was the major driver of returns vs the attraction of viewing investments as being lottery tickets.
The same thing is almost certainly true of the Net+Education. The major structural change the Net brings to advantage our lives probably doesn't exist yet or is in very nascent form. Either way the good stuff will take considerable time to mature to get us to that high hanging fruit.
Education in particular has so many sacred cows blocking the way to improving it. We do need some of your 'Whoosh' moments to break the conventional wisdom[s] that exist about Education though. It is more than possible that The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer and VR and transcranial monitoring/stimulation are the wrong paths.
We'll probably make horrible mistakes you know, but the Net is kind of like a giant Undo button that should allow us the ability to retrace our steps to where the initial error got made.
Whatever happens, a whole lot of ox is going to get gored! :-)
What do you think about Urbit?
It seems to represent a fresh new start!
Or you can post your own email and I will write you.
Some of my favorites:
Freedom and Culture
Notes on a Synthesis of Form
The Character of Physical Law
and anything Tufte
Here is the old post, with some good discussion:
And it turns out that the book is growing even more relevant with the rapid growth of Lego Mindstorms -- which is a direct result Papert's projects and related MIT Media Lab projects.
What is most exciting, to me, is the direct links from the Mindstorms book to the rise of hobby micro-controllers such as the Arduino, BeagleBone, Raspberry Pi, and others, as well as the "Internet of Things" meme and similar kinds of home automation projects and home robotics projects.
Lateral Thinking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFFZ0XSfCRw
Six Thinking Hats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Mtc_CBTIeI
That said I probably read the book at the right time because it works best when you have a certain naivete and faith that you stumbled upon the ultimate silver bullet for problem solving.
Had I encountered the book just yet I'd probably have been more dismissive of it. "Oh yeah, here we go .. another guy who wants to sell you some self-help fluff disguised in a business context"
by that account, shouldn't we all be learning mathematics ?
Essential reading for a world that usually promotes taking media for granted.
Also, I wonder if there is a provision (perhaps in a "preferences" section I don't know about) to have an email sent when someone replies (this is a very limited format for an open-ended exchange ...)
It's an old pg trick to put a speed bump on flamewars (edit: the 'reply' link does show up after a few minutes), but you can get around it by clicking the timestamp of the comment you want to reply to.
I've relaxed the depth limit a notch, too.
Also do you have a favorite piece of software?
Good question, but I don't have a good answer (perhaps too much of an idealist ...)
You should setup a Twitter or a blog or something. But I'm sure I'm not the first person to suggest this. Or even better write a book.
On some level though I think that making more people acquainted with what you are working on might be beneficial to making progress.
> I don't have time to do justice to the top three things I'm trying to do.
I cannot not ask what those top three things are :-). I'm pretty familiar with your work but I'm not sure what the top three things are.
To see replies, click on "Threads" at the top of the page. I don't know if there is any standard way of getting an email notification.
I suspect Dr. kay would have a lot to say about (and perhaps add to) such a list.
Montessori anticipated the whole 'the brain exists to control movement' awakening that is happening in developmental cognitive neuroscience, and her work caused me to question the relevance of technology in an early learning environment.
This is a great book list. I was delighted to see De Bono there, who I'd forgotten about since I first discovered him years ago. May have to reread some of that.
In this list I didn't include quite a number of books I think of as "great" -- instead I put in readable books that I thought would help the target readers.
Just to pick one as an example: I think Newton's "Principia" is a great book. It's not easy to read, and it would not have been a good choice for this group, but it is above any threshold I would draw.
Well he helped created the first computer networked workstations, practically invented Object Oriented Programming, created the concepts of overlapping window management...
... I struggle to think of what needle your trying to move that wouldn't be moved by any of those.
His insights about this field and its potential, narrowed by his views that many of today's computer engineers have forgotten fundamental principles and practices of old, favoring instead popular trends of new, and that the Web was built by amateurs, I imagine, would yield a very interesting subset of ongoing work.
Although my IDEs are quite powerful, they are yet far from the Xerox PARC workstations experience used to feel like.
My tablet, even a Surface, aren't as easy to use or programmable in the same way as the Dynabooks were envisioned.
So yes, he is still relevant, because mainstream computing is still catching up to his vision.
EDIT: from a brief read of his wikipedia page:
"Kay has lectured extensively on the idea that the computer revolution is very new, and all of the good ideas have not been universally implemented."
Coming from someone with multiple major accomplishments (OOP pioneer, smalltalk, overlapping window GUI, etc.), that's a powerful message that can still be applied today.
Namely; much of the low hanging fruit has been ignored and much of the world is in a technological stagnation.
Separately they could be made to sound pessimistic, but together there is much reason for optimism.
I think I read most of those books they were popular, but I'm not that much younger than he is. I'm not sure I'd recommend all of them now....
That's probably true, and that's good. However, that doesn't mean that the author's gender doesn't influence the work itself. You are not deliberately opting into skewing the data yourself, but you are still consuming a biased input set.
> Your comment suggest that Alan Kay deliberately discarded books written by women, and I find that hard to believe.
I don't think that's the case. I think it's just the more value-free observation that "this set of data points is biased." It doesn't state why it is, just that it is. That might be relevant to someone who expects the list to reflect a certain distribution of perspectives.
I think I have the same ratio in my bookshelf. More interesting the subject is for me, less women. For example: I have ~50 computer science books and only one is written by a woman (Sonya E. Keene).
The subject of paper vs digital is of particular interest to me because I volunteer with www.savenypl.org, a group created to thwart the NYPL's efforts to gut the stacks at the 42nd Street Library and sell of two branch libraries (we succeeded, mostly). I am not as skeptical of keeping books off site as some of our members, but I think many libraries are misguided in their rush to remove paper books, for reasons of both reading efficacy and surveillance. I know many technologists share these concerns. Richard Stallman was kind enough to help a few years ago (https://stallman.org/save-the-nypl.html). Now it would be good to have additional technical people weigh in on the issue of digitization / paper book removal.
May I add you to the list of such people and / or keep you posted?
The first commercial laser printers were 300dpi and the result was quite readable (the very first one that was invented -- by Gary Starkweather at Parc -- was 500pdi). I asked John Warnock why 300dpi worked better than I thought it would, and he said that it was the "real black" and excellent accuracy.
We have both at least that on "retina" type displays, so I'm guessing that there is still some refresh flicker that is causing some of the problems (if so, then that would revise long ago experiments that indicated most people would not be bothered by anything above 120p).
(But I think I feel that my eyes are doing extra saccades on laptop displays, and that the contrast ratios and res are not good enough with eInk.)
The experiments I did at Parc, cross connected with Tom Cornsweet's work at SRI, showed curves that swung both with contrast ratio, and "distance from real black".
Another thing that will help (for "Aldus" type personal books) will be the next round of flexible displays that will feel a little more conformal.
(Also, how could the Ipad and Eink tablet folks failed to have put the batteries on one side of a symmetric device so it could be held with the center of mass in the offhand?) This is really shockingly awful elementary human factors design. The next round of these will hopefully have a lower density/mass in any case.
I have an older MacAir that does not have a highly reflective screen. The black is pretty good.
My feeling is that my eyes are jumping a bit with it, and for this (or some other) reason, I also have a distinct "I'm not remembering as well" underlying feeling. (This could be an illusion, or it could be harking back to long ago when I was trying to learn how to remember more of what I was reading ...)
It would be good to know if they have tried studies that involve grades of reading fluency.
This has been on our list to fix since https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10917057 so I went ahead and fixed it (or tried to). Now, in addition to "[flagged]", "[dead]", or "[deleted]", you'll see the usual item line with at least a timestamp. Hopefully this will make it clear that there used to be a full comment there, to which there is a surviving reply.
You can turn on showdead in your profile to see comments that have been hidden.
It was displayed as if it was a reply to mine - in place of the deleted comment there was just "[flagged]", but no date or anything, so it looked like a tag added to mine. This isn't most readable UI...
Thanks for the showdead tip.
While the link below goes to the page mentioning Socrates, I highly recommend the entire interview. Kay was in truly excellent form.