Category: Books

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"... we are on the threshold of both heaven and hell, moving nervously between the gateway of the one and the anteroom of the other. History has still not decided where we will end up, and a string of coincidences might yet send us rolling in either direction."

Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind
-- Yuval Noah Harari

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The wonderful little book is called "On Being Nice" and this is how it ends:

"Friendship begins, and loneliness can end, when we cease trying to impress, have the courage to step outside our safety zones and can dare, for a time, to look a little ridiculous."

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The last time I was in London I made it a point to visit the store which can be found on 70 Marchmont St, Kings Cross. I can recommend very highly dropping by and seeing for yourself the interesting material they have to offer.

Be sure to visit the The School of Life website.

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Curious to find out what the differences are between PureScript (a small strongly typed programming language that compiles to JavaScript) and Elm (the best of functional programming in your browser).

Then I need to decide which one to use. First have to figure out what this whole functional programming ruckus is all about, especially as it applies to the wonderful world of JavaScript.

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Nowadays it's easy to buy new books, much too easy. Just click a button and then download. Oh yeah, and don't forget to fill in your credit card details. I've always been in love with books, the old-fashioned kind that you could hold, feel and smell. My more modern collection of ebooks is growing in leaps and bounds, and I'd be too embarrassed to admit the titles of the majority of books I have yet to read. I read a couple chapters of the one, and then I am distracted to purchase and download a couple more. Or even three or four more. Maybe it's a mania, an addiction or just plain craziness.

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There is still much too much to learn, and there's more and more coming.

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...
Do you like my hat?
I do not like that hat.
...
Where are those dogs going?
...
What is up there on top of that tree?
A dog party!
A big dog party!
...
And now do you like my hat?
I do. What a hat!

— Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman

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The following book passage touched me so much and struck a deep chord within me that I decided to take the liberty to include it in my blog.

"Why an angel? Because I believe that, in time, that is what we become in sobriety, if we last long enough, to the end. Not the winged type, no. Not some haloed cupid or sword swinger but a kind of flawed angel, without wings, that belongs to no religion but rather to a species of human heartbreak unlike any other known.

Alcoholics and addicts are unlike any other people I've ever met. I am unlike most people. A blazing mutant of some kind. A wondrous freak. In my mind lurks an urge that will be with me to the end, to put a bottle to my lips and drink myself to death. A judge and jury that I wake up to each morning has pronounced a verdict of guilt on me for no crime that I have committed, just for being alive, and has sentenced me to death, not by guillotine or rope but by a single drink.

It is the strangest thing, this sentence of death, this disease I have which tests me to the max and each day holds my existence accountable to the very universe, a god no religion can know as we drunks know it.

A god of drunks who goes with us into our prisons and gutters, bedrooms and businesses, flophouses and alleys, hospitals and mansions, and patiently waits with hand on our shivering shoulders as we groan through yet one more night of near death, waits to see if maybe this time we've had pain enough, loss enough, enough hangover, illness, fear, to ask for help....

Because when death sits on your shoulder each day, whispering, urging you to your end, there is no time to lose, so much light to grasp for, struggle to embrace. We are struggling with light. And yet we are only human after all, so terribly flawed and foolish, selfish and ridiculous. Sobriety can be messy. At times, I have seemed to myself the most awful of persons. But even then I am ascending, even then I am going up the ladder of light with eyes wide open and hands outstretched, to clasp the next rung up. And I climb."

Taken from "Drunken Angel" by Alan Kaufman.

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You'd think that by now my head would be crammed full enough and there wouldn't be much more room left to learn even more stuff. Yet as this fine and shining pile of books keeps staring at me, I cannot resist sawing through even more interesting books in order to explore more complicated jungles of thought.

These should keep me busy for some time to come, but it being fun reading I think I'll saw through them in no time. Eleven is my lucky number anyway.

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Five thick volumes and 4273 pages later, I have finally finished A Song of Ice and Fire which I began a little more than a year ago.

Trying to remember the whole saga and history is impossible, and I could easily reread the whole thing all over again to refresh my memory. I am also sure that a second or even a third reading would reveal many secrets and interesting new twists that were hidden.

A constant reference companion for me was A Wiki of Ice and Fire which is a complete cross reference, including history, maps, chapter summaries and indexed character references.

Now that I've read it all, I can watch the videos series and enjoy it all much more.

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The first couple of chapters of Feast of Crows was difficult reading, but after rereading them I finally built up enough momentum to carry me through the first half of the book.

To help me get up to speed, I googled around and found the following excellent primer which provided me with a nice refresher of the story up to now.

Four and a half thick books and two more to go. Keeping just ahead of the television series to avoid spoilers. Wondering when the next volume will be published.

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The collection of books by George R.R. Martin.

Alright so perhaps I got a bit excited after seeing the first video and reading two hundred pages of book one. In a whim I ordered the whole set which was delivered to my doorstep the other day. These seven massive volumes should keep me well occupied for quite some time.

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In his book Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace, Ricardo Semler has some very interesting and challenging ideas about the definition of the modern company and what needs to be done in order to survive in the chaotic and unpredictable world.

"Technology was gone through the roof, but quality of life has gone down the drain. All we have done is accelerate our malfunctions and increase the intensity of our mis-communication."

"The truly modern company avoids an obsession with technology and puts quality of life first."

"No company can be successful, in the long run anyway, if profits are its principal goal."

These are indeed some very great words of advice, but going about implementing them in a commercial and hard-pushing environment is very difficult if not impossible.

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In the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying a nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying which are:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Looking at myself, if I were suddenly to come to realize I'd be dying tomorrow, I'd also regret items 1, 2, 3 and 5 (not 4). However, in order of importance I'd say 5, 1, 3 and 2.

Here's the newspaper article where I found this.

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An excellent book that I've been reading is called Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo.

The book has all kinds of interesting discussions about running development teams, based mostly on the idea that you can inspire them best by empowering the team members to take more control of their own environment.

However, in order to trust the team with such a heavy responsibility, one has to be able to trust oneself. You can only trust others of you trust yourself. This makes alot of sense, the essence of which is contained in the following quotation which I've taken from the chapter about respect for each other:

You must believe in yourself and stay true to your own reason and common sense, even when others disagree with you. You should only change your mind when new insights have convinced you, not when other people have pressured you to reconsider. Because doing something that you don't believe in is an act against the trust in yourself. A self-reliant person has confidence in himself, while still allowing new information to change his mind.

The last point is just as important as the rest. You want to avoid the situation of becoming too hardened to resist change and thereby becoming an unnatural obstacle to moving forward. That's why it's also imperative that you regularly listen well and try to empathize, even though your course might be set in a given direction.

Here are some links that might also be interesting:

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Although it was nearly midnight, and I was feeling pretty drowsy, with only one more chapter to go I just had to finish the book. I was glad I did, as the last two sentences at the end of the book provided me with just the right inspiration to fall asleep quickly and get myself fully re-energized for the following day of exciting challenges.

"With a balanced time perspective that learns from the past, draws energy and emotion from the present, and is guided by a clear vision for the future, each of us as individuals and all of us as a world can accomplish great things. Our hope for the future includes a balance and harmony of the past, present and future; of thinking and feeling; of people and nature; and an abundance of happiness and health for all."

The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd.

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One of my favorite scenes in "The Angel's Game" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is when David finally finds Cristina wandering aimlessly on the frozen lake:

...

I followed the tracks as far as the park that bordered the lake. A full moon burned over the large sheet of ice. That is when I saw her. She was limping over the frozen lake, a line of bloodstained footprints behind her, the nightdress covering her body trembling in the breeze. By the time I reached the shore, Cristina had walked about thirty metres towards the centre of the lake. I shouted her name and she stopped. Slowly she turned and I saw her smile as a cobweb of cracks began to weave itself beneath her feet. I jumped onto the ice, feeling the frozen surface buckle, and ran towards her. Cristina stood still looking at me. The cracks under her feet were expanding into a mesh of black veins. The ice was giving away and I fell flat on my face.

"I love you," I heard her say.

I crawled towards her, but the web of cracks was growing and now encircled her. Barely a few metres separated us when I heard the ice finally break. Black jaws snapped open and swallowed her up in a pool of tar. As soon as she disappeared under the surface, the plates of ice began to join up, sealing the opening through which Cristina had plunged.

...

There's more and it gets better and better, but I don't want to spoil it all for those who want to read this fantastic novel.

This is just one of many gripping parts of the book which takes place in the old, shadowy sections of Barcelona and surroundings. The story is an excellent read, although you will probably want to reread certain sections in order to get the most out of the darker and more mysterious chapters, trying to figure what's real and what's coming from the author's fantastical mind.

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I'm now reading the book "Sea of Poppies" by Amitav Ghosh and really like it. I like it so much that after having read the first one hundred pages, I found it so entertaining that I went back and read it all over again just in case I might have missed something (I did and maybe I should reread it again).

The backdrop of the book takes place during The Opium Wars of the eighteen hundreds, and the way the author writes pulls you into the story with such force that it's like you are walking right next to the characters and seeing stuff they see. Take the following excerpt for instance and upon reading it close your eyes and imagine you are there:

"The town was small, just a few blocks of houses that faded away into a jumble of shacks, shanties and other hut-houses; beyond, the path wound through dense patches of forest and towering, tangled thickets of sugar cane. The surrounding hills and crags were of strange, twisted shapes; they sat upon the plains like a bestiary of gargantuan animals that had been frozen in the act of trying to escape from the the grip of the earth."

Trying to follow the language of the so-called lascars (crew members onboard the ship) is sometimes frustrating, but if you need a helping hand with the strange slang you might want to print out the Ibis Chrestomathy and keep it on hand while reading the book.

On the one hand you have God playing with opium and using it as an instrument of fate, and on the other hand you have a list of characters entangled in a web of complexities and deception.

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Lately I've been able to spend much time in the evenings reading one book after the other. I can sit down in my simple reading chair feeling relaxed as my mind dives into and gets totally lost in one world or another. The large window behind provides ideal light until it get too dark in the evening at which time I can flick on the standing lamp to the right.

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This is my reading chair.
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Here is my personal review of "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I just finished today.

This is not the easiest book to read. Some parts I really had to struggle through, but I must admit that the author uses some clever unorthodox ways of getting his points across. I only started understanding the plot fully when I was about half way through, and I believe that I would have enjoyed the first half better had I known in advance what the plot was about. The dual nature is of two disasters: one being the Dresden bombing during WWII and the other being the aftermath of losing a father during the 9/11 tragedy. There are two generations: a young boy named Oskar trying to make sense of things and finding a mysterious key by chance in a blue vase that he lets fall, and the grandparents immigrating after the war, the mute grandfather who for some reason left and the grandmother was has never forgiven him and becomes infatuated with the young boy. Better stop now so I do not give away too much. Read it for yourself and enjoy.
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The following is an especially powerful excerpt from the book "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez which in beautiful prose describes the essence of the book and the theme around which the whole plot revolves.

"By the time she had emptied the teapot and he the coffeepot, they had both attempted and then broken off several topics of conversation, not so much because they were really interested in them but in order to avoid others that neither dared to broach. They were both intimidated, they could not understand what they were doing so far from their youth on a terrace with checkerboard tiles in a house that belonged to no one and that was still redolent of cemetery flowers. It was the first time in half a century that they had been so close and had enough time to look at each other with some serenity, and they had seen each other for what they were: two old people, ambushed by death, who had nothing in common except the memory of an ephemeral past that was no longer theirs but belonged to two young people who had vanished and who could have been their grandchildren. She thought that he would at last be convinced of the unreality of his dream, and that this would redeem his insolence."

Read it carefully once or twice until it rings true in your mind, and hopefully like me you will also be struck by the deep yet disturbing meaning.
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Whenever you are feeling down, the best way to make yourself feel better is to order a bunch of books from Amazon.
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I cannot believe I somehow managed to struggle through all 762 pages of the book Shadowmarch by Tad Williams.

This fantasy saga is not terribly exciting but there was something about it that kept me reading on and on to the end for some reason.

To be honest, a book must be really bad if I do not finish it after having read the first couple of hundred pages.

It's the first part of a trilogy, and before I'd started the first book I'd already purchased the second book Shadowplay (761 PAGES) in anticipation, having read so many positive reviews.

"A sublime piece of storytelling!"

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I'm not what you'd call an overly avid fan of fantasy. Hopefully the second and third books are better.
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What especially appealed to me about the following book excerpt was the part about the saving rope being lowered from above, as if just by reaching up and holding onto it one is whisked away from the mundaness of the everyday world in which we sluggishly push along.

"But for me it was enough if, in my own bed, my sleep was so heavy as completely to relax my consciousness; for then I lost all sense of the place in which I had gone to sleep, and when I awoke at midnight, not knowing where I was, I could not be sure at first who I was; I had only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an animal's consciousness; I was more destitute of human qualities than the cave-dweller; but then the memory, not yet of the place in which I was, but of various other places where I had lived, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself: in a flash I would traverse and surmount centuries of civilisation, and out of a half-visualised succession of oil-lamps, followed by shirts with turned-down collars, would put together by degrees the component parts of my ego."

Remembrance of Things Past: Swann's Way - Marcel Proust
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Rumor has it that I've decided to become some kind of Linux expert. So who am I trying to kid?!

At least I was happy when I came home today and discovered the big box from Amazon lying on the cabinet in the hallway entrance.

New challenges on the horizon are:

  • Understanding the Linux Kernel by Bovet & Cesati
  • Linux Device Drivers by Corbet, Rubini and Kroah-Hartman
By the way, there was also a more "normal" book as part of the shipment, namely:

  • A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon
Two days ago I finished his first book called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which I really liked.

On my way home yesterday, I stopped at the bookstore at the train station and purchased the following two paperbacks:

  • Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Shadowplay by Tad Williams
When I realized I'd inadvertently bought book two I quickly went to Bol.com and ordered book one:

  • Shadowmarch by Tad Williams
Am I getting overly addicted to buying books or what? No matter, I've got lots of time to read it all in the train, about two hours per day which is ten hours per week (or about one good novel a week).
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I am sitting in the train on my way to work reading the book "The Curious Incident" by Mark Haddon.

When I finish the next chapter I look up and gaze out of the window reviewing in my mind all the stuff I just read.

Over to my left sitting next to the window, I see a younger well-dressed man who is also reading a book. Realizing unconsciously that some other stranger is gazing in his direction, he stops reading a looks back at me.

That is when I avert my glance, but just ever so slightly so that out of curiosity I can have a peek at the book he is reading. I'm always really curious what kind of books, magazines or whatever the other fellow passengers are reading.

Then to my surprise I discover that he is reading the very same book I am. It's a slightly larger edition than the copy I'm holding in my hand, but it is nonetheless the identical book. It also looks like he has read the same amount that I have, about three eighths of the book.

I wonder what the odds are that I am sitting across from someone who is reading the very same book that I am. The odds of winning the lottery are probably much better, so this is a unique moment that I should appreciate as long as possible.
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Upon the first reading of the following paragraph, I was struck by its profound meaning and disturbed by its painful truthfulness at the same time. It's stuck in my head ever since, and I've reread it on a number of occasions in order to be able to soak in the totality of its forcefulness.

"At the imminent prospect of battle one experiences a wild excitement that precludes rationality. But in the boredom of waiting for it, one's mood changes. The excitement transforms itself into a kind of thoughtfulness that is solitary, but which requires the reassuring presence of others; people offer each other cigarettes in low voices, and when they pat each other's backs, their touch feels the need to linger. Some write notes or poems that will be found upon them after the event of their death, detailing regrets and previously unacknowledged longings. Others pass the time dismantling, cleaning, and reassembling weapons that are already in immaculate condition. They pass handfuls of ammunition from one pocket to the other, weighing up the best way to distribute it for ease of access. Others walk about with their hands in their pockets, smiling wanly, and with genuine affection, even at those who have always annoyed them intensely. Everyone looks at the world with heightened acuity, as though perceiving for the first time the globular abdomen of an ant, or the porous texture of snow."

- The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman by Louis de Bernieres.

Other books by him that I've read:
  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin
  • Birds Without Wings
  • Red Dog
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Well I finally finished the long and daunting Dan Simmons tetrology Hyperion Cantos consisting of the following four books: Hyperion (482 pages), The Fall of Hyperion (517 pages), Endymion (563 pages) and The Rise of Endymion (709 pages).

After having made my way through these 2271 pages, I would not dare expose whether or not The Shrike made it nor what important role he ended up playing together with Aenea, Raul Endymion and the blue android A. Bettik and the survival of the universe, not to mention Old Earth.

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Looks mean but has a good soul.

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"We may, indeed, say that the hour of death is uncertain, but when we say this we think of that hour as situated in a vague and remote expanse of time; it does not occur to us that it can have any connection with the day that has already dawned and can mean that death may occur this very afternoon, so far from uncertain, this afternoon whose timetable, hour by hour, has been settled in advance. One insists on one's daily outing, so that in a month's time one will have had the necessary ration of fresh air; one has hesitated over which coat to take, which cabman to call; one is in the cab, the whole day lies before one, short because one must be back home early, as a friend is coming to see one; one hopes it will be as fine again tomorrow; and one has no suspicion that death, which has been advancing within one on another plane, has chosen precisely this particular day to make its appearance in a few minutes' time . . ." - Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way.

I took the liberty to copy this quote used at the beginning of the latest novel by William Boyd called Restless, which I am currently reading, because I found the quote really insightful and appropriate.

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In need of a spiritual recharge so that I can get myself in a rejuvenated mood of inspiration, I went to the American Book Center and bought myself a copy of The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy.

By thinking positive thoughts I can achieve amazing miracles, at least that is what the book claims.

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In his new book, Richard Dawkins continues the great God debate in spectacular fashion, although he has the tendency to hit hard at those poor souls who unthinkingly base their beliefs purely on blind faith.

Although from the scientific view of things he makes sense with his convincing arguments, he has the tendency to really go out of his way to put down believers endlessly. I'm not so sure the effort is really worth it.

If there truly is a God, then it really doesn't matter anyway whether or not this book is true. I read it purely for its entertainment value (and hope that in the end God will not strike me down because I am reading for fun).

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After having reread the first book of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman I gained much momentum and finished the whole trilogy within a week. Truly a fantastic story. Too bad that Lyra and Will had in the end to be separated from each other for the good of the future of humanity but I guess that was bound to happen considering events between worlds and the way they were supposed to overlap.The subtle knife gets broken (purposely) and there is no turning back, but the dust ceases to drift for no reason at all and all openings to other worlds are sealed off for the sake of keeping history under control.

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Information

This personal weblog was started way back on July 21, 2001 which means that it is 7-21-2001 old.

So far this blog contains no less than 2315 entries and as many as 1878 comments.

Important events

Graduated from Stanford 6-5-1979 ago.

Kiffin Rockwell was shot down and killed 9-23-1916 ago.

Believe it or not but I am 10-11-1957 young.

Began well-balanced and healthy life style 1-8-2013 ago.

My father passed away 10-20-2000 ago.

First met Thea in Balestrand, Norway 6-14-1980 ago.