Audiobooks – April 2021

Inheriting Clutter: How to Calm the Chaos Your Parents Leave Behind by Julie Hall

Lots of specific advice for Children and Parents on preparing for and handling estates. Lots of good advice on defusing feuds before they start. 3/5

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future by Pete Buttigieg

Memoir of a small-city mayor who grew up gay in Indiana. Timed to come out for his presidential run in 2019. Nice enough read with a good mix of stories. 3/5

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

James Bond investigates the mysterious industrialist Hugo Drax and his nuclear missile project which is vital to Britain’s security. Exciting and well written. 3/5

Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA by Neil Shubin

A very accessible account of how various ways genetic information is passed down was discovered, who found it and how it works. 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 – March 2021

The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey by Richard Whittle

The story of tilt-rotor aircraft & the long history of the V-22’s development. Covers defense politics and technical matters equally well. 4/5

Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet by Claire L. Evans

A series of stories about individuals, not just about the Internet but about women and early computing, hypertext, etc. Interesting and well written. 3/5

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis

Lewis interviews people involved in the Obama to Trump transition at 3 major government agencies. He profiles the people, their jobs and in most cases how the Trump people underestimated the Dept’s importance. 3/5

OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind by Jill Filipovic

Mostly a stats dump with a few profiles and accounts of struggling millennials sprinkled in. With a weird tone shift to boomer-love in the last chapter. Okay I guess 3/5

Six Days of Impossible: Navy SEAL Hell Week – A Doctor Looks Back by Robert Adams

A first-hand account of a training class in 1974/75 where only 11 of the 71 starters graduated. Fun read although some interviews with non-graduates would have provided a contrast. 3/5

Three Laws of Nature: A Little Book on Thermodynamics by R Stephen Berry

Science mixed in with some history, designed for those with minimal science. The equations were simple but numerous & didn’t work in audiobook format. Try the printed version. 2/5

Space Odyssey: Stanley Kubrick Arthur C Clarke and the Making of a Masterpiece by Michael Benson

A detailed account of the film’s making from pre-production though to the bad reviews of the first release. Covers most aspects of the film and people involved. 4/5

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

Pulitzer Prize winning story of a team creating a new model of minicomputer in the late-1970s. Good portraits of the team members and aspects of the tech. 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 – February 2021

Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World by Rand Fishkin

Advice for perspective founders mixed in with stories from the author’s company. Open about missteps he made to be avoided. 4/5

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers by Tom Standage

A short book on the rise of the telegraph and how it changed the world. Peppered with amusing stories and analogies to the Internet. 3/5

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

A memoir of the author growing up and into his mid-20s. Well written and interesting. Audiobook is read by the author but he’s okay. 3/5

The Age of Benjamin Franklin by Robert J. Allison

24 Lectures about various aspects of Franklin and his life. Each lecture is on a theme so they are not chronological. I hadn’t read any biographies previously but this might help. 4/5

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

3rd book in the Lady Astronaut series. Mostly concerned with trying to find and stop agents sabotaging the Moonbase. Works well and held my interest. 3/5

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks

A collection of long New Yorker articles from the 1960s. One on a stock corner even has parallels with Gamestop in 2021. Interesting and well told even when dated. 3/5

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

James Bond takes on Gangster/Agent/Voodoo leader ‘Mr Big’ in Harlem, Florida and Jamaica. The racial stereotypes are dated but could be worse. The story held my interest. 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 – January 2021

The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57 by John N. Maclean

An account of the fire that killed a five-person firefighter crew. Minute by minute of the fire itself, plus the investigation and the trial of the arsonist. 4/5

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

An argument against early-specialisation and over-specialisation. How it fails against open non-predictable problems and environments. 4/5

The Vikings: A New History by Neil Oliver

A vaguely chronological introduction to the Vikings. Lots of first person descriptions of artifacts by the author. 3/5

Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career by Scott Young

Examples and advice on how to learn a skill very quickly, usually via an intense method. Good practical advice mixed with some stories 3/5

81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska’s Frozen Wilderness by Brian Murphy

An interesting survival story. The pilot survives a crash in a remote area & manages to walk out with minimal gear during winter. 3/5

Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World by Tim Harford

The unexpected connections between creativity and mess. Lots of examples although as one commentator noticed most of them were from people already masters not beginners. 3/5

Outliers: The Story of Success by Martin Gladwell

A book on how the most famous and successful are often there because of their upbringing, practice or chance events pushed them to the top rather than just raw talent. 4/5

The Book of Humans: The Story of How We Became Us by Adam Rutherford

How the latest research that reveals the extent to which behaviors once thought exclusively human are also found in other species. Spoiler: except Culture. 3/5

Tank Action: An Armoured Troop Commander’s War 1944-45 by David Render and Stuart Tootal

The author is thrown into the war as a 19 year old officer in command of 4 tanks 5 days after D-Day. Very well written and lots of detail of the good and the bad. 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 – December 2020

The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything by Bobby Duffy

Lots of examples of how people are wrong about usually crime rates or levels of immigration. Divided into topics with some comments on why and how to fix. 3/5

The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch
by Lewis Dartnell

A how-to on rebooting civilization following a worldwide disaster. The tone is addressed to a present-day person rather than someone from the future which makes it more readable. 4/5

The Story of Silver: How the White Metal Shaped America and the Modern World by William L. Silber

Almost solely devoted to America it devotes sections to major events around the metal including it’s demonetization, government and private price manipulation and speculation including the Hunt Brothers. 3/5

The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

About half the length of the other books in the series and published posthumously. Laura and Almanzo try to make a success farming for 4 years. Things don’t go well. The book is a bit more adult than some of the others 3/5

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Interesting how close it is to the 2006 Movie. Also since it is set in ~1951, World War 2 looms large in many places & most characters are veterans. Very good and fairly quick read. 4/5

A Bridge too far: The Classic History of the Greatest Battle of World War II by Cornelius Ryan

An account of the failed airborne operation. Mostly a day-by-day & sources including interviews with participants. A little confusing without maps. 4/5

The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War by Fred Kaplan

“The definitive history of American policy on nuclear war”. Lots of “War Plans” and “Targeting Policy” with back and forth between service factions. 3/5

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World
by Sarah Stewart Johnson

“Combines elements of memoir from Johnson with the history and science of attempts to discover life on Mars”. I liked this book a lot, very nicely written and inspiring. 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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Donations 2020

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 also blog about it to hopefully inspire others. See: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015

All amounts this year are in $US unless otherwise stated

My main donations was $750 to Givewell (to allocate to projects as they prioritize). Once again I’m happy that Givewell make efficient use of money donated. I decided this year to give a higher proportion of my giving to them than last year.

Software and Internet Infrastructure Projects

€20 to Syncthing which I’ve started to use instead of Dropbox.

$50 each to the Software Freedom Conservancy and Software in the Public Interest . Money not attached to any specific project.

$51 to the Internet Archive

$25 to Let’s Encrypt

Advocacy Organisations

$50 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Others including content creators

I donated $103 to Signum University to cover Corey Olsen’s Exploring the Lord of the Rings series plus other stuff I listen to that they put out.

I paid $100 to be a supporter of NZ News site The Spinoff

I also supported a number of creators on Patreon:

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Audiobooks – November 2020

The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler

A classic in urban planning, covering the downside of post-war American urban design. It dates from 1993 so but still 90% relevant. 3/5

A Year in Paris: Season by Season in the City of Light
by John Baxter

A series of short chapters arranged in seasonal sections on Paris, People, the Author’s life and the French Revolutionary Calendar. Plenty of Interest. 3/5

These Happy Golden Years: Little House Series, Book 8 by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Covering Laura’s short time as a schoolteacher (aged 15!) and her courting with husband-to-be Almanzo. Most action is in the first half of the book though. 3/5

Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World by Matt Alt

In depth chapters on things the Walkman, Game Boy and Hello Kitty traces Japans rise first in hardware and then in cultural influence. Excellent story 4/5

On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist by Clarissa Ward

A conflict-reporter memoir of her life and career. Based mainly in Moscow, Baghdad, and Beirut she especially goes into detail of her missions into Syria during it’s civil war. 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 – 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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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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