Audiobooks – October 2020

Protocol: The Power of Diplomacy and How to Make It Work for You by Capricia Penavic Marshall

A mix of White House stories and tips about how to enhance your career though skills she has learnt. The stories are the best bit of the book. 3/5

Little Town on the Prairie: Little House Series, Book 7 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Various incidents with 15 year old Laura now studying to become a school teacher while being courted. The family farm progresses and town grows. 3/5

Bold They Rise: The Space Shuttle Early Years (1972-1986) by David Hitt and Heather R. Smith

Covering up to and including the Challenger Disaster. Largely quotes from astronauts and people involved. Interesting seeing how missions quickly went to routine. 3/5

The X-15 Rocket Plane: Flying the First Wings into Space by Michelle Evans

A detailed look at the rocketplane programme. Structured around each of the pilots. Covers all the important flights and events. 4/5

The Time Traveller’s Almanac – Part III – Mazes & Traps
by Multiple Authors

Around 18 short Sci-Fi stories about Time, the oldest from 1881. Not all stories strictly time travel. Plenty of hits among the collection. 3/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Audiobooks – September 2020

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

Chapters on Pseudoscience vs Science, critical/skeptical thinking, science education and public policy. Hasn’t aged too badly and well written. 4/5

Don’t Fall For It: A Short History of Financial Scams by Ben Carlson

Real-life Stories of financial scams and scammers (some I’ve heard, some new) and then some lessons people can draw from them. Nice quick read. 3/5

The Bomb and America’s Missile Age by Christopher Gainor

A history of the forces that led to the Atlas program from the end of the War to 1954. Covers a wide range of led-up rocket programs, technical advances and political, cold-war and inter-service rivalries. 3/5

Girl on the Block: A True Story of Coming of Age Behind the Counter by Jessica Wragg

A memoir of the author’s life and career from 16 to her mid 20s. Mixture of story, information about meat (including recipes), the butchery trade and meat industry. 3/5

The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant

A history of the iPhone and various technologies that went into it. Plus some tours of components and manufacturing. No cooperation from Apple so some big gaps but does okay. 4/5

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker

Lots of examples of where Maths went wrong. From Financial errors and misbuilt bridges to failed game shows. Mix of well-known and some more obscure stories. Well told. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Talks from KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Europe 2020 – Part 1

Various talks I watched from their YouTube playlist.

Application Autoscaling Made Easy With Kubernetes Event-Driven Autoscaling (KEDA) – Tom Kerkhove

I’ve been using Keda a little bit at work. Good way to scale on random stuff. At work I’m scaling pods against length of AWS SQS Queues and as a cron. Lots of other options. This talk is a 9 minute intro. A bit hard to read the small font on the screen of this talk.

Autoscaling at Scale: How We Manage Capacity @ Zalando – Mikkel Larsen, Zalando SE

  • These guys have their own HPA replacement for scaling. Kube-metrics-adapter .
  • Outlines some new stuff in scaling in 1.18 and 1.19.
  • They also have a fork of the Cluster Autoscaler (although some of what it seems to duplicate Amazon Fleets).
  • Have up to 1000 nodes in some of their clusters. Have to play with address space per nodes, also scale their control plan nodes vertically (control plan autoscaler).
  • Use Virtical Pod autoscaler especially for things like prometheus that varies by the size of the cluster. Have had problems with it scaling down too fast. They have some of their own custom changes in a fork

Keynote: Observing Kubernetes Without Losing Your Mind – Vicki Cheung

  • Lots of metrics dont’t cover what you want and get hard to maintain and complex
  • Monitor core user workflows (ie just test a pod launch and stop)
  • Tiny tools
    • 1 watches for events on cluster and logs them -> elastic
    • 2 watches container events -> elastic
    • End up with one timeline for a deploy/job covering everything
    • Empowers users to do their own debugging

Autoscaling and Cost Optimization on Kubernetes: From 0 to 100 – Guy Templeton & Jiaxin Shan

  • Intro to HPA and metric types. Plus some of the newer stuff like multiple metrics
  • Vertical pod autoscaler. Good for single pod deployments. Doesn’t work will with JVM based workloads.
  • Cluster Autoscaler.
    • A few things like using prestop hooks to give pods time to shutdown
    • pod priorties for scaling.
    • –expandable-pods-priority-cutoff to not expand for low-priority jobs
    • Using the priority-expander to try and expand spots first and then fallback to more expensive node types
    • Using mixed instance policy with AWS . Lots of instance types (same CPU/RAM though) to choose from.
    • Look at poddistruptionbudget
    • Some other CA flags like scale-down-utilisation-threshold to lok at.
  • Mention of Keda
  • Best return is probably tuning HPA
  • There is also another similar talk . Note the Male Speaker talks very slow so crank up the speed.

Keynote: Building a Service Mesh From Scratch – The Pinterest Story – Derek Argueta

  • Changed to Envoy as a http proxy for incoming
  • Wrote own extension to make feature complete
  • Also another project migrating to mTLS
    • Huge amount of work for Java.
    • Lots of work to repeat for other languages
    • Looked at getting Envoy to do the work
    • Ingress LB -> Inbound Proxy -> App
  • Used j2 to build the Static config (with checking, tests, validation)
  • Rolled out to put envoy in front of other services with good TLS termination default settings
  • Extra Mesh Use Cases
    • Infrastructure-specific routing
    • SLI Monitoring
    • http cookie monitoring
  • Became a platform that people wanted to use.
  • Solving one problem first and incrementally using other things. Many groups had similar problems. “Just a node in a mesh”.

Improving the Performance of Your Kubernetes Cluster – Priya Wadhwa, Google

  • Tools – Mostly tested locally with Minikube (she is a Minikube maintainer)
  • Minikube pause – Pause the Kubernetes systems processes and leave app running, good if cluster isn’t changing.
  • Looked at some articles from Brendon Gregg
  • Ran USE Method against Minikube
  • eBPF BCC tools against Minikube
  • biosnoop – noticed lots of writes from etcd
  • KVM Flamegraph – Lots of calls from ioctl
  • Theory that etcd writes might be a big contributor
  • How to tune etcd writes ( updated –snapshot-count flag to various numbers but didn’t seem to help)
  • Noticed CPU spkies every few seconds
  • “pidstat 1 60” . Noticed kubectl command running often. Running “kubectl apply addons” regularly
  • Suspected addon manager running often
  • Could increase addon manager polltime but then addons would take a while to show up.
  • But in Minikube not a problem cause minikube knows when new addons added so can run the addon manager directly rather than it polling.
  • 32% reduction in overhead from turning off addon polling
  • Also reduced coredns number to one.
  • pprof – go tool
  • kube-apiserver pprof data
  • Spending lots of times dealing with incoming requests
  • Lots of requests from kube-controller-manager and kube-scheduler around leader-election
  • But Minikube is only running one of each. No need to elect a leader!
  • Flag to turn both off –leader-elect=false
  • 18% reduction from reducing coredns to 1 and turning leader election off.
  • Back to looking at etcd overhead with pprof
  • writeFrameAsync in http calls
  • Theory could increase –proxy-refresh-interval from 30s up to 120s. Good value at 70s but unsure what behavior was. Asked and didn’t appear to be a big problem.
  • 4% reduction in overhead
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Audiobooks – August 2020

Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster by Allan J. McDonald

The author was a senior manager in the booster team who cooperated more fully with the investigation than NASA or his company’s bosses would have preferred. Mostly accounts of meetings, hearings & coverups with plenty of technical details. 3/5

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson

A quick tour though the rise of various financial concepts like insurance, bonds, stock markets, bubbles, etc. Nice quick intro and some well told stories. 4/5

The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe by Angela Kelly

An authorized book from the Queen’s dresser. Some interesting stories. Behind-the-scenes on typical days and regular events Okay even without photos. 3/5

Second Wind: A Sunfish Sailor, an Island, and the Voyage That Brought a Family Together by Nathaniel Philbrick

A writer takes up competitive sailing after a gap of 15 years, training on winter ponds in prep for the Nationals. A nice read. 3/5

Spitfire Pilot by Flight-Lieutentant David M. Crook, DFC

An account of the Author’s experiences as a pilot during the Battle of Britain. Covering air-combat, missions, loss of friends/colleagues and off-duty life. 4/5

Wild City: A Brief History of New York City in 40 Animals
by Thomas Hynes

A Chapter on each species. Usually information about incidents they were involved in (see “Tigers”) or the growth, decline, comeback of their population & habit. 3/5

Fire in the Sky: Cosmic Collisions, Killer Asteroids, and the Race to Defend Earth by Gordon L. Dillow

A history of the field and some of the characters. Covers space missions, searchers, discovery, movies and the like. Interesting throughout. 4/5

The Long Winter: Little House Series, Book 6 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The family move into their store building in town for the winter. Blizzard after blizzard sweeps through the town over the next few months and starvation or freezing threatens. 3/5

The Time Traveller’s Almanac Part 1: Experiments edited by Anne and Jeff VanderMeer

First of 4 volumes of short stories. 14 stories, many by well known names (ie Silverberg, Le Guin). A good collection. 3/5

A Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away: My Fifty Years Editing Hollywood Hits—Star Wars, Carrie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Mission: Impossible, and More by Paul Hirsch

Details of the editing profession & technology. Lots of great stories 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Linkedin putting pressure on users to enable location tracking

I got this email from Linkedin this morning. It is telling me that they are going to change my location from “Auckland, New Zealand” to “Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand“.

Email from Linkedin on 30 August 2020

Since “Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand” sounds stupid to New Zealanders (Auckland is pretty much a big city with a single job market and is not a state or similar) I clicked on the link and opened the application to stick with what I currently have

Except the problem is that the pulldown doesn’t offer many any other locations

The only way to change the location is to click “use Current Location” and then allow Linkedin to access my device’s location.

According to the help page:

By default, the location on your profile will be suggested based on the postal code you provided in the past, either when you set up your profile or last edited your location. However, you can manually update the location on your LinkedIn profile to display a different location.

but it appears the manual method is disabled. I am guessing they have a fixed list of locations in my postcode and this can’t be changed.

So it appears that my options are to accept Linkedin’s crappy name for my location (Other NZers have posted problems with their location naming) or to allow Linkedin to spy on my location and it’ll probably still assign the same dumb name.

The basically appears to be a way for Linkedin to push user to enable location tracking. While at the same time they get to force their own ideas on how New Zealand locations work on users.

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Sidewalk Delivery Robots: An Introduction to Technology and Vendors

At the start of 2011 Uber was in one city (San Francisco). Just 3 years later it was in hundreds of cities worldwide including Auckland and Wellington. Dockless Electric Scooters took only a year from their first launch to reach New Zealand. In both cases the quick rollout in cities left the public, competitors and regulators scrambling to adapt.

Delivery Robots could be the next major wave to rollout worldwide and disrupt existing industries. Like driverless cars these are being worked on by several companies but unlike driverless cars they are delivering real packages for real users in several cities already.

Note: I plan to cover other aspects of Sidewalk Delivery Robots including their impact of society in a followup article.

What are Delivery Robots?

Delivery Robots are driverless vehicles/drones that cover the last mile. They are loaded with a cargo and then will go to a final destination where they are unloaded by the customer.

Indoor Robots are designed to operate within a building. An example of these is The Keenon Peanut. These deliver items to guests in hotels or restaurants . They allow delivery companies to leave food and other items with the robot at the entrance/lobby of a building rather than going all the way to a customer’s room or apartment.

Keenon Peanut

Flying Delivery Drones are being tested by several companies. Wing which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, is testing in Canberra, Australia. Amazon also had a product called Amazon Prime Air which appears to have been shelved.

Wing Flying Robot

The next size up are sidewalk delivery robots which I’ll be concentrating on in the article. Best known of these is Starship Technologies but there is also Kiwi and Amazon Scout. These are designed to drive at slow speeds on the footpaths rather than mix with cars and other vehicles on the road. They cross roads at standard crossings.

KiwiBot
Starship Delivery Robot
Amazon Scout

Finally some companies are rolling out Car sized Delivery Robots designed to drive on roads and mix with normal vehicles. The REV-1 from Reflection AI is at the smaller end with company videos showing it using both car and bike lanes. Larger is the Small-Car sized Nuro.

REV-1
Nuro

Sidewalk Delivery Robots

I’ll concentrate most on Sidewalk Delivery Robots in this article because I believe they are the most mature and likeliest to have an effect on society in the short term (next 2-10 years).

  • In-building bots are a fairly niche product that most people won’t interact with regularly.
  • Flying Drones are close to working but it it seems to be some time before they can function safely in a built-up environment and autonomously. Cargo capacity is currently limited in most models and larger units will bring new problems.
  • Car (or motorbike) sized bots have the same problems as driverless cars. They have to drive fast and be fully autonomous in all sorts of road conditions. No time to ask for human help, a vehicle on the road will at best block traffic or at potentially be involved in an accident. These stringent requirements mean widespread deployment is probably at least 10 years away.

Sidewalk bots are much further along in their evolution and they have simpler problems to solve.

  • A small vehicle that can carry a takeaway or small grocery order is buildable using today’s technology and not too expensive.
  • Footpaths exist most places they need to go.
  • Walking pace ( up to 6km/h ) is fast enough to be good enough even for hot food.
  • Ubiquitous wireless connectivity enables the robots to be controlled remotely if they cannot handle a situation automatically.
  • Everything unfolds slower on the sidewalk. If a sidewalk bot encounters a problem it can just slow to a stop and wait for remote help. If that process takes 20 seconds then it is usually no problem.

Starship Technologies

Starship are the best known vendor and most advanced vendor in the sector. They launched in 2015 and have a good publicity team.

In late 2019 Starship announced a major rollout to US university campuseswith their abundance of walking paths, well-defined boundaries, and smartphone-using, delivery-minded student bodies“. Campuses include The University of Mississippi and Bowling Green State University .

The push into college campuses was unluckily timed with many being closed in 2020 due to Covid-19. Starship has increased delivery areas outside of campus in some places to try and compensate. It has also seen a doubling of demand in Milton Keynes. However the company has laid of some workers in March 2020.

Kiwibot

Kiwibot

Kiwibot is one of the few other companies that has gone beyond the prototype stage to servicing actual customers. It is some way behind Starship with the robots being less autonomous and needing more onsite helpers.

  • Based in Columbia with a major deployment in Berkley, California around the UCB campus area
  • Robots cost $US 3,500 each
  • Smaller than Starship with just 1 cubic foot of capacity. Range and speed reportedly lower
  • Guided by remote control using way-points by operators in Medellín, Colombia. Each operator can control up to 3 bots.
  • On-site operators in Berkley maintain robots (and rescue them when they get stuck).
  • Some orders delivered wholly or partially by humans
  • Concentrating on the Restaurant delivery market
  • Costs for the Business
    • Lease/rent starts at $20/day per robot
    • Order capacity 6-18/day per Robot depending on demand & distance.
    • Order fees are $1.99/order with 1-4 Kiwibots leased
    • or $0.99/order if you have 5-10 Kiwibots leased
  • Website, Kiwibot Campus Vision Video , Kiwibot end-2019 post

An interesting feature is that Kiwibot publish their prices for businesses and provide a calculator with which you can calculate break-even points for robot delivery.

As with Starship, Kiwibot was hit by Covid19 closing College campuses. In July 2020 they announced a rollout in the city of San Jose, California in partnership with Shopify and Ordermark. The company is trying to pivot towards just building the robot infrastructure and partner with companies that already have that [marketplace] in mind. They are also trying to crowdfund for investment money.

Amazon Scout

Amazon Scout

Amazon are only slowly rolling out their Scout Robots. It is similar in appearance to the Starship Robots vehicle but is larger.

  • Announced in January 2019
  • Weight “about 100 pounds” (50 kg). No further specs available.
  • A video of the development team at Amazon
  • Initially delivering to Snohomish County, Washington near Amazon HQ
  • Added Irvine, California in August 2019 but still supervised by human
  • In July 2020 announced rollouts in Atlanta, Georgia and Franklin, Tennessee, but still “initially be accompanied by an Amazon Scout Ambassador”.

Other Companies

There are several other companies also working on Sidewalk Delivery Robots. The most advanced are Restaurant Delivery Company Postmates (now owned by Uber) has their own robot called Serve which is in early testing. Video of it on the street.

Several other companies have also announced projects. None appear to be near rolling out to live customers though.

Business Model and Markets

At present Starship and Kiwi are mainly targeting the restaurant deliver market against established players such as Uber Eats. Reasons for going for this market include

  • Established market, not something new
  • Short distances and small cargo
  • Customers unload produce quickly product so no waiting around
  • Charges by existing players quite high. Ballpark costs of $5 to the customer (plus a tip in some countries) and the restaurant also being charged 30% of the bill
  • Even with the high charges drivers end up making only around minimum wage.
  • The current business model is only just working. While customers find it convenient and the delivery cost reasonable, restaurants and drivers are struggling to make money.

Starship and Amazon are also targeting the general delivery market. This requires higher capacity and also customers may not be home when the vehicle arrives. However it may be the case that if vehicles are cheap enough they could just wait till the customer gets home.

Still more to cover

This article as just a quick introduction of the Sidewalk Delivery Robots out there. I hope to do a later post covering more including what the technology will mean for the delivery industry and for other sidewalk users as well as society in general.

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Audiobooks – July 2020

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask

Covered the subtitle well. I would have like some of more technical stuff that the author mentioned reading. 3/5

The Fated Sky: Lady Astronaut #2 by Mary Robinette Kowal

Set mostly in the lead-up to the first Mars expedition and the journey to Mars. Lots of interpersonal/interracial problems & fixing toilets. 3/5

Enola Gay: Mission to Hiroshima by Gordon Thomas

Mainly following Paul Tibbets and the 509th Composite Group plus some on the ground in Hiroshima. Has “minute-by-minute coverage of the critical periods”. 3/5

Pandemic by John Dryden

A 3 part radio play set before/after and during a global pandemic. Total length just 2 hours. Parts 2 & 3 felt a little cliched. 3/5

An Economist Walks into a Brothel: And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk by Allison Schrager

Examples of how people in unusual situations handle risk and how you can apply it to your life. Interesting and useful. 4/5

100 Things The Simpsons Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Allie Goertz & Julia Prescott

Over 4 minutes per fact so plenty of depth. A Great collection of stuff for casual and serious fans. 4/5

Chernobyl 01:23:40 : The Incredible True Story of the World’s Worst Nuclear Disaster by Andrew Leatherbarrow

Chapters on the disaster and aftermath alternate with the author’s trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. A good intro to the disaster. 3/5

Turn the Ship Around! : A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet

The management advice is lost on me but the stories about turning around an under-performing sub crew in weeks is interesting. 3/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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AudioBooks – June 2020

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

A good warning of the dangerous designs and goals of firms like Facebook and Google. Sometimes a bit wordy. 3/5

The Calculating Stars: Lady Astronaut Volume 1 by Mary Robinette Kowal

Alternate timeline SF. A meteorite hits the US. The Space program accelerates so humans can escape earth. Our hero faces lots of sexism & other barriers to becoming an astronaut. 3/5

By the Shores of Silver Lake: Little House Series, Book 5 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The family move to De Smet, South Dakota. The railroad and then a town is built about them over a year. A good entry in the series, some gripping passages. 3/5

The Restaurant: A History of Eating Out
by William Sitwell

A non-exhaustive history. Bouncing through ancient times before focusing on Britain since 1945. But plenty of fun and interesting bits. 3/5

Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles by Fran Leadon

A mile by mile coverage from South to North. How each section was added to the street and developed. A range of interesting stories and history. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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AudioBooks – May 2020

Fewer books this month. At home on lockdown and weather a bit worse so less time to go on walks walks and listen.

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody

A fairly straight adaption of the screenplay-writing manual. Lots of examples from well-known books including full breakdowns of beats. 3/5

Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living by Elyakim Kislev

Based on 142 interviews. A lot of summaries of findings with quotes for interviewees and people’s blogs. Last chapter has some policy push but a little lights 3/5

Scandinavia: A History by Ewan Butler

Just a a 6 hour long quick spin though history. First half suffers a bit with lists of Kings although there is a bit more colour later in. Okay prep for something meatier 3/5

One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon by Charles Fishman

A bit of a mix. It covers the legacy of Apollo but the best bits are chapters on the Computers, Politics and other behind the scenes things. A compliment to astronaut and mission orientated books. 4/5

My Scoring System

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recommend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70% of books I read
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all
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Audiobooks – April 2020

Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections by Patrick Smith

Lots of “you always wanted to know” & “this is how it really is” bits about commercial flying. Good fun 4/5

The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

A very tightly written thriller about a fictional 1963 plot to assassinate Frnch President Charles de Gaulle. Fast moving, detailed and captivating 5/5

Topgun: An American Story by Dan Pedersen

Memoir from the first officer in charge of the US Navy’s Top Gun school. A mix of his life & career, the school and US Navy air history (especially during Vietnam). Excellent 4/5

Radicalized: Four Tales of Our Present Moment
by Cory Doctorow

4 short stories set in more-or-less the present day. They all work fairly well. Worth a read. Spoilers in the link. 3/5

On the Banks of Plum Creek: Little House Series, Book 4 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The family settle in Minnesota and build a new farm. Various major and minor adventures. I’m struck how few possessions people had back then. 3/5

My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company by Cal Turner Jr.

A mix of personal and company history. I found the early story of the company and personal stuff the most interesting. 3/5

You Can’t Fall Off the Floor: And Other Lessons from a Life in Hollywood by Harris and Nick Katleman

Memoir by a former studio exec and head. Lots of funny and interesting stories from his career, featuring plenty of famous names. 4/5

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

75% about Big-wave Tow-Surfers with chapters on Scientists and Shipping industry people mixed in. Competent but author’s heart seemed mostly in the surfing. 3/5

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