2016 Media Reviews «

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I’ve appreciated when people take the time to write reviews and highlight connections to other good works. This post was irregularly updated through 2016 and belatedly finished in 2017. Previously: 2014 2015

Starred items are highly recommended. Unlinked items should be avoided. “Dropped” items were left unfinished.


The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci: Jonathan D. Spence; biography
Organized topically rather than chronologically, so I’m left wondering about basic events of his life and whether he felt like he accomplished anything. Also, everyone in the past was terrible.
Getting Past “No”: William Ury; sales
Nice advice for negotiation.
Library of Scott Alexandria: Scott Alexander; essays
Insightful food for thought on rationality, science, politics, and more.
Work The System: Sam Carpenter; self-help
“The E-Myth Revisited” reinvented by an unlikable blowhard.
* Haskell Programming from First Principles: Chris Allen, Julie Moronuki; programming
Far and away the best introduction to Haskell and the vital CS topics at work. Half my notes are “Huh, this reminds me of outside topics X and Y. *tinker* Ohhhh, that’s an interesting equivalence.” and that’s for a section introducing case statements. I maintain a repo of referenced resources.
The Vampire Chronicles: Anne Rice; fantasy
Cheesy thrillers about a narcissist become increasingly bizarre Christian fanfic.
80/20 Sales and Marketing: Perry Marshall; sales
Salesy take on pareto distribution.
Pitch Anything: Oren Klaff; sales
Smug and based on terrible pop science, but a decent framework.
The Secrets of Consulting: Gerald Weinberg; business
A rambly uncle tells fish stories about consulting.
Lost Souls, Drawing Blood: Poppy Z. Brite; horror
Revisiting an angsty pair of novels, and I have definitely aged out of the audience.
Significant Digits: Alexander D; fantasy
A fanfic off the HPMOR fanfic. OK, but the plot and resolution are based on a strange fan theory that’s never explained.
* Badass: Kathy Sierra, business
3rd read, still learning ways to do better.
Tap Dancing to Work: Carol Loomis; business
A collection of Forbes articles on Buffet. Decent intro, but way too friendly and familiar to feel substantive.
A Guide to the Good Life: William B. Irvine; philosophy
Excellent introduction to stoicism and its modern practice.
PACE: Jesse Mecham, business
A curiosity: an abandoned restatement of Mecham’s YNAB rules for business.
Echopraxia: Peter Watts; sci-fi
Unhappy loser gets dragged to space by assholes who also bring an attacker for no discernible reason, curse her sudden yet inevitable betrayal, wreck earth’s economy, then doom the planet. Relentlessly unhappy but, as with Watts’ other books, every dozen pages has more ideas than most novels.
* Deep Work: Cal Newport; self-help
How and why to do difficult work.
Are You My Mother: Alison Bechdel; memoir
Purportedly about her mom, but actually evenly split between her own therapy and the process of writing this memoir. An OK book, but it can’t compare to Fun Home.
Before Watchmen: Various; superhero
These authors didn’t understand anything about Watchmen.
* Age of Em: Robin Hanson, futurism
Guesses at what a future with digitized humans would look like. Incredibly dense, any given page would give enough setting to hang a decent sci-fi novel on. Skim the first couple chapters, they’re academic throat-clearing trying to preempt obvious criticism.
Letter to a CES Director: Jeremy Runnells; history
Short amateur survey of historical criticism of Mormonism, a novel focus to me.
Distress: Greg Egan; sci-fi
Nice setting, but the protagonist just stumbles around 400 pages.
Permutation City: Greg Egan; sci-fi
Introduces a mind-bendingly great question for materialism, decent plot.
Quarantine: Greg Egan; sci-fi
Causality muddled, hijinks ensue.
Draft Evidence: Dick Disabato, business
Its advertising claimed it’s “how to create a durable, sustainable solo design practice”, but it’s actually unedited reprints of narcissistic email newsletter articles. Dropped early.
When Coffee and Kale Compete: Alan Klement; business
Introduction to the “Jobs to Be Done” methodology for understanding customer needs.
Weapons of Math Destruction: Cathy O’Neil; pop science
A decent lay explanation of algorithms and their unintended consequences.
Author later wrote a bad criticism of futurists where nearly everyone named just so happened to be Jewish,
so I guess maybe she thinks caring about the future is some kind of global zionist conspiracy.
Unsong: Scott Alexander; fantasy
Fun fantasy based on the Kabbalah, wordplay, and stories.
The Procrastinator’s Digest: Timothy A. Pychyl
Useful quick read.
Tribes: Seth Godin; marketing
Small communities and local fame.
Your First 1,000 Copies: Tim Grahl; marketing
Does what it says on the tin.
Information Doesn’t Want to be Free: Cory Doctorow; culture
Good thoughts on what the world looks like when digital distribution is free.
Aurora: Kim Stanley Robinson; sci-fi
Rather bleak take on a generation ship.
Hourly Billing is Nuts: Jonathan Stark; consulting
A disconnected series of unedited blog posts mostly cribbing from Alan Weiss’s Value-Based Fees.
On Tyranny: Timoth Snyder; politics
How to mentally and physically survive tyranny, and begin to resist it.
The Long Walk: Stephen King; sci-fi
Maybe the ur-text of the modern crop of dystopian young adult novels.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: Robert M. Pirsig; philosophy
Read first in college for the zen, again now for the maintenance.
Shaman’s Crossing, Renegade’s Magic, Forest Mage: Robin Hobb; fantasy
Everyone is terrible to the protagonist and then he saves the day by being magically special. Dropped about 25 pages into book two when it became a retread of the first.
Podcast Outreach: Kai Davis; business
How to guest on podcasts as content marketing.
The Little Book of Common-Sense Investing: John C. Bogle; personal finance
A nice brief guide to individual investing from the founder of Vanguard.
Million Dollar Consulting: Alan Weiss; consulting
The best book on how to work into and succeed at high-end consulting.
The Populist Explosion: John B. Judis; politics
A bit of false equivalence between political wings, but a decent exploration of populism.
Programming Beyond Practices: Gregory T. Brown; programming
Stories of development practices, though sometimes kinda pat.
They Thought They Were Free: Milton Mayer; history
Nazi Germany through the eyes of its working-class supporters.
Luminous, The Eternal Flame, The Arrows of Time: Greg Egan; sci-fi
Another mindminding take on fundamentally different laws of physics that’s
mostly of interest to physics fans.
Getting Started in Consulting: Alan Weiss; consulting
About 85% the same as Weiss’s “Million-Dollar Consulting”, read that instead.
The Fall of Doc Future: A Muse; sci-fi
Overpowered superheros rescue themselves from themselves.
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame vols 2A and 2B: Ben Bova; sci-fi
Great anthologies.
The Consulting Bible: Alan Weiss; consulting
About 85% the same as Weiss’s “Million-Dollar Consulting”, read that instead.
Shadows of the Limelight: Alexander Wales, superhero
What if superpowers were powered in proportion to how famous their wielder was?
Great take on the narcissism of superheroes.

Tabletop Games

* Pandemic Legacy: Z-Man Games; co-op
When I first heard of the “legacy” mechanic I thought it was a silly gimmick to sell more copies. This is actually a really clever game that got me re-interested in Pandemic and having fun with friends even though I’d run out of interest in the original Pandemic after three games.
* Star Realms: Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle; deckbuilding
Quick, lean take on the genre that I’ve really enjoyed with friends. Incoherent setting, but spaceships. The expansions are too small to have much effect, but Colony Wars is good. Tear up “Stealth needle”, grab a life counter smartphone app, and have a great time.
Twilight Struggle: GMT Games; strategy
Nice to play and great use of the setting, but really wants an experienced player to learn from.
Sushi Go: Phil Walker-Harding; drafting
Delightful all-ages game. Warning: play after dinner, not before, or you’re certain to be ordering sushi. The “party” edition adds big replayability for a couple bucks.
Kitty Paw: Aza Chen, party
Very cute dexterity/recognition game. Fun limited by wildly different player ability.
Smash-Up: AEG, rulebreaker
Clever and memetasic, but 4+ player games get a bit bogged down in reading lots of unfamiliar rule-tweaking cards.
Seafall: Plaid Hat Games, strategy
Pirate sorta-4X legacy game from the creator of Pandemic Legacy. 4-5 players a must, and at least one player must watch the Watch It Played intro. It’s a noticeable step up in complexity from Pandemic Legacy and turned out to be more complicated than my play group really enjoyed, so we dropped it after seven games. I hope to play through entirely with another group sometime.

Video Games

Endless Legend: Amplitude Studios; 4X
Enjoyable grand strategy for people who thought Civ was a bit too short and simple. Missing and poor documentation, so be ready with Google to learn.
Tidalis: Arcen Games; puzzle
Unpolished but deep puzzle game.
The Talos Principle: Croteam; puzzle
Well-paced and highly polished first-person puzzle game.
Crypt of the NecroDancer: Brace Yourself Games; roguelike
Rhythm-based roguelike. Scratched my itch for a brutally difficult but fairly mindless action game for 140+ hours.
Celestian Tales: Old North: Ekuator Games; RPG
Thoroughly generic RPG. Bland presentation, tedious story, uninteresting battles; dropped an hour in.
The Novelist
Sad people choose-your-own adventure. Ignore the shoehorned stealth game mode. Dropped after one chapter.
Shattered Pixel Dungeon: 00-Evan; roguelike
Great little mobile roguelike.
Hero Generations: ReGen: Jon Shafer; roguelike
This refresh fixes enough of the UI issues that I was annoyed at gameplay instead. Probably a solid game, but it’s really hard to feel like I’m learning viable strategies as I play.
Dungeon of the Endless: Amplitude Studios; tower defense
I couldn’t tell if it was unplayable because of bugginess or bad design, but the millimeter-high font has me thinking the latter.
Conquest of Elysium 3: Illwinter; strategy
Basic stack of death turn-based strategy with a clunky UI, but the wonderfully weird factions make this a hidden gem.
* Invisible, Inc., Klei; strategy
Wonderful turn-based tactical stealth with randomized levels, I’ve played 120+ hours. Has a few small UI quirks that UI Tweaks mostly fixes and No Dialogues is essential after two or three playthroughs. (Neither interferes with achievements.)


Since picking up a smartphone I started listening to podcasts with AntennaPod.

* Why Are Computers
Thoughtful, deep interviews.
Abandoned, but nice interviews with Haskell community members.
This Developer’s Life
Striving vainly for profundity at a glacially slow pace. I skipped ahead to see if it got better, but dropped it after a few episodes.
Magic Read Along
The setup is two experienced devs giving hot takes on tech news, but it’s actually two bros giggling smugly about being unprepared. I have no idea why this was recorded. Dropped after a few.
The Bike Shed
Great chats wandering from day-to-day development work into the deeper underlying topics.
Stacking the Bricks
Getting started in entrepreneurship from two experts.
Game designer David Sirlin and playtesters talk through thorny issues in the design of competitive games.
Ruby Facets
A five-minute weekly podcast on Ruby news. The schedule is off to a shaky start, but fingers crossed it keeps running.
Rationally Writing
Two authors in a niche subgenre of hard sci-fi talk about the craft. Great preparation leads to great discussions.
More Perfect
A thoughtful miniseries about the history of the Supreme Court.
Podcast Method
How to produce a podcast. You can listen to almost any two episodes and have heard everything, though, the long gap between episodes meant it retrod the same ground.
Planet Money
Entertaining (and occasionally disturbing) investigations into the world of finance, broadly defined.
A friendly introduction to functional programming concepts.
Functional Geekery
Interviews with functional programmers on their careers and work. I wish it had more depth, but it’s still good listening.
Hardcore History
Military history from a guy who gets really excited every time he quotes a primary source.
I think it wants to be the Planet Money of crime, and it’s growing towards that level of quality.
Make Money Online
Kai Davis and a tediously smug narcissist chat about the business of consulting.
Immediately drop any episode when a restaurant is mentioned.

Last update: 2017-12-27. Very belated finish, but happy to share.
I didn’t plan to include podcasts, but they slipped in.

Here’s the links back to 2015 and forward to 2017 if you’re reading chronologically.