A notch above a monkey

Books I read in 2016

...were very few. This year has been a reading disaster. I have never read so few books since I learned to read. My list would be even shorter if it did not contain three items ambitiously described as books by publishers. If I change nothing this year, I will definitely change this.

Which is not to say I did not read much. It was a US presidential election year and I read too many things that on the whole did not do me much good except further erode an already low opinion of mainstream journalism. I may (or not) come back to this in my annual review of past year. Also watched too much (good) TV.

Interestingly all my reading was done either on tablet (first 4 items) or Kindle (last two), both of which worked well and neither being perfect. However I expect this to be more common as convenience can't be ignored.

I haven't read much, but I can still recommend one book: The Oracle of Oil. Generally, I don't see a point in reading biographies and reading a book from the author you personally know also carries a risk of what to do if you don't like their work. Luckily for me Mason's book is excellent. A meticulously researched and engaging story of a father of peak oil kept me interested all the way through and left me pondering the power of wishful groupthink and (in)effectiveness of data substantiated arguments.

  • AngularJS Up & Running by Shyam Seshadri and Brad Green . A good introduction to 1.x version of AngularJS framework that gives you a solid overview of what can be done and how you should go about it without getting lost in advanced specifics.
  • React.js Essentials by Artemij Fedosejev. A gentle introduction to React.js and Flux avoiding rest of React's ecosystem as it does building complex, multi-screen applications. Still good first book to read on the subject.
  • The Secrets Behind Great One-On-One Meetings by Esther Schindler. From a series of recent O'Reilly short books (booklets?). Excellent guide on how to conduct effective one-on-one meetings (or receving one). Recommended for everyone with a job.
  • Designing Culture by Kristi Woolsey. Another booklet, but not as good as the previous one. Too few practical examples and because of author's background it focuses mainly on using architecture/design to influence culture. Still useful if you are in a position to influence or change working environment.
  • La Mujer Alta by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. Not so much a book as a short story, but it was the first longer text I read mostly in Spanish (with a lot of help from interleaved English text). It is a story I suspect just did not age well since 19th century when it was written. Skip unless you are learning Spanish.
  • The Oracle of Oil: A Maverick Geologist's Quest for a Sustainable Future by Mason Inman. An engaging biography of M.K.Hubbert, the father of "peak oil". It is more than just a story of a brilliant man pushing an unpopular view and provides an opportunity to draw lessons still relevant today.

This year I will achieve my plan of reading more books than last year as I could hardly read fewer. Some fiction would be nice and another Spanish book would be welcome too. My goal is again 15 books, but if I don't read at least 10, then, well... I have a year to think of a suitable punishment.

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Audacity to run an email server

I normally don't write about foreign politics on these pages. Those who know me should already know what I think and others would be smart to ignore pontifications of a random Internet stranger.

Still, I have been following US presidential elections closely this year. Main result of this unhealthy obsession was waste of my time, nerves and that my already low opinion of news media has been further lowered.

Reasons for this are many, but at the top of them it has to be how the "story" of Clinton emails was and still keeps being reported. Matthew Yglesias at Vox explained it better than anyone else I read.

However there are a couple, to the story tangential, parts that bug me:

...But while the use of a private server is legally irrelevant, it’s certainly unusual. And it leaves people wondering: Why did Clinton go out of her way to set up a private server?...


...Hillary Clinton — who is, again, his wife — also set herself up with an account on the same server. This is a bit unusual, but a lot about being married to a former president is unusual...

This is what many of us, non-presidents, do too. However it seems obvious from hysterical reactions of last few months that most people actually do find it unusual. It is a view which in its essence is not any different from "why are you hiding it if you have done nothing wrong".

When did we screw up development of Internet so much that it became more normal to be suspicious of running your own instance of a service that was designed and intended to be used thusly?

I can only describe it as sad that distributed, democratized infrastructure is not just too complex for everyone to run, but that doing so has now been legitimized as cause of suspicion.

DVD backups

Yesterday I finished backing up about 200 DVD disks to a drive, most of which are about 10 years old. Took me about 10 days and 1.5TB of space. I just copied data as it was the quickest and doesn't lose any information. Drive may complain and require change of a DVD region, but once they are copied, computer doesn't care anymore. Glad this part is over now.

Some of them needed cleaning, but I really had problems only with three, two of which remains not copied. As it happens it is also one of those on which I can find no visible scratch whatsoever. It used to work, because I've seen it. It does make you wonder what life span of disks really is, even when they were professionally produced. If you have any, I heartily recommend making a backup of them on some other medium. Unless of course they themselves are a secondary backup.

Flipping disks regularly for 10 days does make you notice their cases, especially hubs that keep disks in place with varying degrees of zeal. It is astonishing how many designs have been used over years and how few of them are actually pleasant to use.

Crown of teeth is probably the worst. Like a pitbull unwilling to release a disk until it is visibly bended or a tooth broken. Unless case is made of hard plastic there is really no excuse for using this design. Or any other "pluck" hubs.

Thank god there are patents (as there always are) to prevent everyone converging to those few "push-to-release" that are actually nice to use. How could I after all value my life appropriately without it being spiced with needless hassle.

At some point I intend to process them into a different, smaller formats that require less space and are easier to (re)use. I am not in a hurry as this step still seems laborious and may also result in some content being lost. I am also thinking of making an additional copy together with file hashes so I could, in principle, recover if any of files gets corrupted.

Next: processing our CD collection.