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
Share

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

Share

YouTube Channels I subscribe to in April 2020

I did a big twitter thread of the YouTube channels I am following. Below is a copy of the tweets. They are a quick description of the channel and a link to a sample video.

Lots of pop-Science and TV/Movie analysis channels plus a few on other topics.

I should mention that I watch the majority of YouTube videos at speed 1.5x since they usually speak quite slowly. To Speed up videos click on the settings “cog” and then select “Playback Speed” . YouTube lets you go up to 2x

Image

Chris Stuckmann reviews movies. During normal times he does a couple per week. Mostly currently releases with some old ones. His reviews are low-spoiler although sometimes he’ll do an extra “Spoiler Review”. Usually around 6 minutes long.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Movie Review

Wendover Productions does explainer videos. Air & Sea travel are quite common topics. Usually a bit better researched than some of the other channels and a little longer at around 12 minutes. Around 1 video per week.
The Logistics of the US Census

City Beautiful is a channel about cities and City planning. 1-2 videos per month. Usually around 10 minutes. Pitched for the amateur city and planning enthusiast
Where did the rules of the road come from?

PBS Eons does videos about the history of life on Earth. Lots of Dinosaurs, early humans and the like. Run and advised by experts so info is great quality. Links to refs! Accessible but dives into the detail. Around 1 video/week. About 10 minutes each.
How the Egg Came First

Pitch Meetings are a writer pitching a real (usually recent) movie or show to a studio exec. Both a played by Ryan George. Very funny. Part of the Screen Rant channel but I don’t watch their other stuff
Playlist
Netflix’s Tiger King Pitch Meeting

MrMobile [Michael Fisher] reviews Phones, Laptops, Smart Watches & other tech gadgets. Usually about one video/week. I like the descriptive style and good production values, Not too much spec flooding.
A Stunning Smartwatch With A Familiar Failing – New Moto 360 Review

Verge Science does professional level stories about a range of Science topics. They usually are out in the field with Engineers and scientists.
Why urban coyote sightings are on the rise

Alt Shift X do detailed explainer videos about Books & TV Shows like Game of Thrones, Watchmen & Westworld. Huge amounts of detail and a great style with a wall of pictures. Weekly videos when shows are on plus subscriber extras.
Watchmen Explained (original comic)

The B1M talks about building and construction projects. Many videos are done with cooperation of the architects or building companies so a bit fluffy at times. But good production values and interesting topics.
The World’s Tallest Modular Hotel

CineFix doesn’t a variety of Movie-related videos. Over the last year only putting about one or two per month and mostly high quality. A few years ago they were at higher volume and had more throw-aways
Jojo Rabbit – What’s the Difference?

Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) does tech reviews. Mainly phones but also other gear and the odd special. His videos are extremely high quality and well researched. Averaging 2 videos per week.
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Review: Attack of the Numbers!

How it Should have Ended does cartoons of funny alternative endings for movies. Plus some other long running series. Usually only a few minutes long.
Avengers Endgame Alternate HISHE

Power Play Chess is a Chess channel from Daniel King. He usually covers 1 round/day from major tournaments as well as reviewing older games and other videos.
World Champion tastes the bullet | Firouzja vs Carlsen | Lichess Bullet match 2020

Tom Scott makes explainer videos mostly about science, technology and geography. Often filmed on site rather than being talks over pictures like other channels.
Inside The Billion-Euro Nuclear Reactor That Was Never Switched On

Screen Junkies does stuff about movies. I mostly watch their “Honest Trailers” but they sometimes do ‘Serious Questions” which are good too.
Honest Trailers | Terminator: Dark Fate

Half as Interesting is an offshoot of Wendover Productions (see above). It does shorter 3-5 minutes weekly videos on a quick amusing fact or happening (that doesn’t justify a longer video)
United Airlines’ Men-Only Flights

Red Team Review is another movie and TV review channel. I was mostly watching them when Game of Thrones was on and since then they have had a bit less content. They are making some Game of Thrones videos narrated by the TV actors though
Game of Thrones Histories & Lore – The Rains of Castamere

Signum University do online classes about Fantasy (especially Tolkien) and related literature. Their channel features their classes and related videos. I mainly follow “Exploring The Lord of the Rings”. Often sounds better at 2x or 3x speed.
A Wizard of Earthsea: Session 01 – Mageborn

The Nerdwriter does approx monthly videos. Usually about a specific type of art, a painting or film making technique. Very high quality
How Walter Murch Worldized Film Sound

Real Life Lore does infotainment videos. “Answers to questions that you’ve never asked. Mostly over topics like history, geography, economics and science”.
This Was the World’s Most Dangerous Amusement Park

Janice Fung is a Sydney based youtuber who makes videos mostly about food and travel. She puts out 2 videos most weeks.
I Made the Viral Tik Tok Frothy DALGONA COFFEE! (Whipped Coffee Without Mixer!!)

Real Engineering is a bit more technical than the average popsci channel. The especially like doing videos covering flight dynamics. but they cover lots of other topics
How The Ford Model T Took Over The World

Just Write by Sage Hyden puts out a video roughly once a month. They are essays usually about writing and usually tied into a recently movie or show.
A Disney Monopoly Is A Problem (According To Disney’s Recess)

CGP Grey makes high quality explainer videos. Around one every month. High quality and usually with lots of animation.
The Trouble With Tumbleweed

Lessons from the Screenplay are “videos that analyze movie scripts to examine exactly how and why they are so good at telling their stories”
Casino Royale — How Action Reveals Character

HaxDogma is another TV Show review/analysis channel. I started watching him for his Watchmen Series videos and now watch his Westworld ones.
Official Westworld Trailer Breakdown + 3 Hidden Trailers

Lindsay Ellis does videos mostly about pop culture, Usually movies. These days she only does a few a year but they are usually 20+ minutes.
The Hobbit: A Long-Expected Autopsy (Part 1/2)

A bonus couple of recommended Courses on ‘Crash Course
Crash Course Astronomy with Phil Plait
Crash Course Computer Science by Carrie Anne Philbin

Share

Audiobooks – March 2020

My rating for books I read. Note that I’m perfectly happy with anything scoring 3 or better.

  • 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

The World As It is: Inside the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes

A memoir of a senior White House staffer, Speechwriter & Presidential adviser. Lots of interesting accounts with and behind the scenes information. 4/5

Redshirts by John Scalzi

A Star Trek parody from the POV of five ensigns who realise something is very strange on their ship. Plot moves steadily and the humour and action mostly work. 3/5

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The book covers less than a year as the Ingalls family build a cabin in Indian territory on the Kansas Prairie. Dangerous incidents and adventures throughout. 3/5

Wheels Stop: The Tragedies and Triumphs of the Space Shuttle Program, 1986-2011 by Rich Houston

A book about the post-Challenger Shuttle missions. An overview of most of the missions and the astronauts on them. Lots of quotes mainly from the astronauts. Good for Spaceflight fans. 3/5

The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman

Ways that people, organisations and governments can start looking ahead at the long term rather than just the short and why they don’t already. Some good stuff 4/5

Share

Audiobooks – February 2020

A Reminder of my rating System

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

Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Volume Two) by Michael Burlingame

2nd volume covering Lincoln’s time as president. Lots of quotes from contemporary sources. Fairly good coverage of just about everything. 3/5

Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State
by Samuel Stein

Some interesting insights although everything being about New York and very left-wing politics of the author muddle the message. Worth a read if you are into the topic. 3/5

Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean

The story of the 1949 Mann Gulch fire that killed 13 smoke jumpers. Misses a point due to lots of talking to maps/photographs but still a gripping story. 3/5

The Walls Have Ears: The Greatest Intelligence Operation of World War II by Helen Fry

The secret British operation to bug German POWs to obtain military intelligence. Only declassified in the late 1990s so very few personal recollections, but an interesting story. 3/5

Share

Audiobooks – January 2020

I’ve decided to change my rating system

  • 5/5 = Brilliant, top 5 book of the year
  • 4/5 = Above average, strongly recomend
  • 3/5 = Average. in the middle 70%
  • 2/5 = Disappointing
  • 1/5 = Did not like at all

Far Futures edited by Gregory Benford

5 Hard SF stories set it the distant (10,000 years+) future. I thought they were all pretty good. Would recommend 4/5

Farmer Boy: Little House Series, Book 2 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

A year in a life of a 9 year old boy on a farm in 1860s New Year State. Lots of hard work and chores. His family is richer than Laura’s from the previous book. 3/5

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

A quick (4h) overview and introduction of our current understanding of the universe. A nice little introduction to the big stuff. 3/5

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough

The Story of five of the first settlers of Marietta, Ohio from 1788 and the early history of the town. Not a big book or wide scope but works okay within it’s limits. 4/5

1971, Never a Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year by David Hepworth

A month by month walk though musical (and some other) history for 1971. Lots of gossip, backstories and history changing (or not) moments. 4/5

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

A guide to cutting down electronic distrations (especially social media) to those that make your life better and help towards your goals. 3/5

Share

AudioBooks – December 2019

Call the Ambulance! by Les Pringle

Stories from a British Ambulance driver in the late-1970s and 1980s. A good range of stories from the funny to the tragic. 7/10

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

An autobiography by the NSA Whistle-blower. Mostly a recounting of his life, career and circumstances that led up to him leaking. Interesting. 7/10

Life in the Middle Ages by Richard Winston

As the titles describes. Unusually for English Language books it focuses on France. Not much history just daily life & only 5h long. Probably works better with pictures. 6/10

Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future by Alice Gorman

A Mix of topics. Some autobiography & how she worked her way into the archeology of spaceflight. Plus items of Space History & comparisons with earth archeology. But it works 8/10

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Only 3h 40m long and roughly covering a year. The author describes her life (aged 5-6) and her family in a cabin Wisconsin in the early 1870s. 1st in the series. 7/10

Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Volume One) by Michael Burlingame

50h and covers up to his 1st inauguration. Not a good 1st Lincoln bio to read but very good. Some repetition as multiple sources a quoted on some points. 7/10

Share

Donations 2019

Each year I do the majority of my Charity donations in early December (just after my birthday) spread over a few days (so as not to get my credit card suspended). I’m a little late this year due to a new credit card and other stuff distracting me.

I also blog about it to hopefully inspire others. See: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015

All amounts this year are in $US unless otherwise stated

My main donations was to Givewell (to allocate to projects as they prioritize). Once again I’m happy that Givewell make efficient use of money donated.

I donated $50 each to groups providing infrastructure and advocacy. Wikipedia only got $NZ 50 since they converted to my local currency and I didn’t notice until afterwards

Some Software Projects. Software in the Public Interest provides admin support for many Open Source projects. Mozilla does the Firefox Browser and other stuff. Syncthing is an Open Source Project that works like Dropbox

Finally I’m still listening to Corey Olsen’s Exploring the Lord of the Rings series (3 years in and about 20% of the way though) plus his other material

Share

Audiobooks – November 2019

Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester

Starting from the early 18th century each chapter covers increasing greater accuracy and the technology that needed and used it. Nice read 8/10

The Secret Cyclist: Real Life as a Rider in the Professional Peloton by The Secret Cyclist

An okay read although I don’t follow the sport so had never heard of most of the names. It is still readable however and gives a good feel for the world. 6/10

Braving It: A Father, a Daughter, and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild by James Campbell

A father takes his 15 year-old daughter for two trips to a remote cabin and a 3rd trip hiking/canoeing along a remote river in Alaska. Well written and interesting. 8/10

The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America by Robert Wuthnow

Based on Interviews with small town Americans it talks about their lives and frustrations with Washington which they see as distant but interfering. 7/10

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brookes

This was the “almost” full text version. Lots of different actors reading each chapter (which are arranged as interviews). Great story and presentation works well. 9/10

Share

Audiobooks – October 2019

The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places by Neil Oliver

Covers what you’d expect with a good attempt not just to hit the “history 101” places. Author has an accent that takes a while to get used to. 7/10

Death’s End – Cixin Liu

3rd in Trilogy wrapping things mostly up. Just a few characters so easy to keep track of them. If you liked the previous books you’ll like this one. 7/10

Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality by Melissa & Chris Bruntlett

Talking about Dutch Cycling culture. Compares 5 different cities (some car orientated) and how they differ in their cycling journey. 7/10

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

A general memoir by the actress. A bit disjointed & unsystematic and by no means a tell-all. A few good stories sprinkled in. 6/10

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Lots of case studies of businesses built off relatively little capital (and usually staying small). Plenty of good advice although lists don’t translate well in audio. 7/10

Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder-A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science by James Magaffey

A bunch of really good stories from the Atomic age (not just the usual ones) including a view from inside of the Cold Fusion fiasco. 8/10

Share