I am subscribed to the Fermat’s Library newsletter. Their paper of the week is The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp. The author, R. A. Radford, observed the life of the prisoners and their economic interactions. I guess this is a coping mechanism in a way. Use what you know to understand the situation you are in and survive the best way you can.

Radford’s paper and the use of cigarettes as currency reminded me also of the use of rum as currency in 1790 Australia (the most popular form in fact). Which also came with its own set of problems: Farmers had no incentive to produce crops only to be paid in rum. They had to pay workers in rum and with many workers drinking their pay, productivity was lowered.

It reminds me also of the book Games Prisoners Play, where its author Marek M. Kaminsky, while imprisoned in Communist Poland, started mapping the dynamics between groups of prisoners and analysing them using Game Theory.

A different kind of life

Williams: A Different Kind of LifeWilliams: A Different Kind of Life by Virginia Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very important book regardless of whether you are a F1 fan or not. Actually there is very little F1 racing in the book. This is a book about pivotal life changes. It describes the life Virginia Williams had with Frank before and after the accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down.

As such this book is about caregivers; the untrained, totally unprepared family members who are suddenly efforted to be a complete support infrastructure 24×7.

There are many books about disabled persons who overcame and thrived. There are none about caregivers and what it means to them.

I recognized every bit of hope, pain and frustration expressed in the book. Even to the point of (over)using painkillers as a crutch to make it though the day dealing with both the emotional and physical pain.

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The Uprising (Revolution Book 1)

The Uprising (Revolution Book 1)The Uprising by Konstantinos Christidis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book from the author and if I am not mistaken, it is self-published. It could use some more help with editing. That is why I did not give it more stars.

Think of this book as a prequel to the Expanse. The setting is similar, the Earth is governed by the UN and there is a terraforming project for Mars (and Venus) and at Callisto there is an installation that ships material and water (ice) to the terraforming projects.

Think also of the existence of the equivalent of the East India Company with its own private army, monopoly status and control over the judicial system and the government. What can go wrong when some theoretical physicist backed with VC money (to put it in today’s terms) threatens the status quo with faster than light travel?

This is what the book is about.

Could it have been written better? Yes. Does it matter that at times the author does not manage to keep the pace and be a bit boring? I don’t know. Maybe. It took me more than I anticipated to finish it.

Did I have a good time ultimately reading it? Sure.

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The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?Joshua

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War PlannerThe Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner by Daniel Ellsberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a long time to finish the book. It contains too much information to divulge and I needed to do the occasional back and forth to remind me of stuff I’d read in the previous chapters.

If you ever wonder how one prepares for a nuclear conflict, target decision, actually starting such a war, it extent and even the tactical deployment, along with any problems that may arise in the process, and there are many, this is a book you need t read.

Fatalities after a nuclear strike according to plan
Fatalities after a nuclear strike according to plan

Humanity it seems has averted omnicide a number of times. Not only in the case of the Cuban crisis which is detailed, but also on a number of other cases also. You get to get a glimpse within the many different stakeholders during planning and deployment, conflicting interests, expected number of deaths, presidential and other civilian and military views on the matter. Highly illuminating book. One I came across by pure chance.

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Agility in planning (not)

I’ve read about the inflexibilities of Gosplan while going through Red Plenty. These days I am reading Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner and it gives me an opportunity to examine inflexibilities in thinking on the western bloc side:

The price of bringing all the theatre and component service plans into harmony with each other, into one plan, was the total elimination of any flexibility in carrying it out.

Yes no flexibility at all in a military machine where the no plan survives first contact with the enemy is dated around the same time (1963). In this case the inflexibility was due to the lack of staff and computer time available to complete alternatives. This is similar to Gosplan’s problems: they had so many inputs to their models, that their planning for the current year was completing around October of said year.

Ambition in planning, lack of resources and definite inflexibility in taking another route because of already committed resources. Wow project management does not change at all, in any field and in any bloc.

I am 20% into the book and I am scared. It seems to me that we have survived out of pure luck.

(Random incoherent thoughts; I know.)

Confessions of a Necromancer

Confessions of a NecromancerConfessions of a Necromancer by Pieter Hintjens

I knew of Hintjens’s work (Xitami, ZeroMQ, etc) but not much more of him. The book popped up in a Slack I am a member of while discussing Torvalds’s decision to take a step back and work on himself.

Hintjens writes a technical memoir. At least that is the first part of the book. And because he writes stuff about the era of computing I grew up into, I like it. He reminded me of technologies, tricks and methods I had long forgotten. I even learned new old stuff that I had never come across.

And the there is the second part of the book. The most important and most interesting one. What can I say about it? Not much I am afraid. I can only declare my respect for his effort to document the process and his voyage towards the end. I envy his clarity, even though I cannot even begin to imagine the cost for it to be maintained during the cancer treatment process.

Highly touching.

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PS: I am trying to see whether using Goodreads to write my thoughts on books I read is a thing that I like.

The Golden Ticket: P, NP, and the Search for the Impossible

As long as P versus NP remains a mystery we do not know what we cannot do, and that’s liberating.

I follow Lance Fortnow’s blog from time to time. So when the book was out, I fired up the kindle and bought it. And then it stayed there for some time. Most likely because two out of seven days of the week I am not sure I can explain P vs NP. The rest I might be able, but the difficulty of the problem makes one double think about it, even when it is a book that makes it accessible to the general public. After all, it is The Problem.

And then came a plane trip. And with nowhere to go for the next 2,5 hours I started reading it. Fast. The history of the problem is there. Examples that are very easily understood are there. The hop from the example to the equivalent real problem is there, so you get to understand vertex cover before ever knowing the name.  Plus you get to learn a bit about complexity during the Cold War and about quantum computing too.

We know for example that if P=NP, then cryptography as we know it will be defeated. But how will other aspects of our World change? Fortnow offers a glimpse. Is it worth it? Maybe. You will be the judge. Is it likely that P=NP? The author does not believe so (I do not want it to be, and want versus believe denotes the vast skill difference between him and me).

Chapter 2 was a bit boring for me and I almost gave up on the book. Fortunately I did not. If you are a computational complexity theorist then the book is not for you, but if you are not and you want to ask clear questions to one, then it will definitely help.

Release It!

I finally got to read Release It!. It would have served me better had I read it 10 years or so ago when I actually bought it. But never too late. There is a second edition that came out this month. While this first edition clearly shows its age and relics of another time, I guess the second edition is more hip, fresh, readable and with more experience to share.

Not a timeless book, but one that needs a refresh every decade or so. I tag it under “system administration” too, because a system is what you build, works and bring money in, not just what Ops runs and grumbles about.

books I am currently reading

I am doing a variation of spaced learning with the books I am currently reading. It flows almost naturally, since three of them have similar (economic) premises:

I highly enjoyed reading the first three. Last week I was switching between them every hour (I was on vacation and got a lot of downtime and reading time). Not that I did not like the fourth one, but the first three make a nice economics spaghetti.

And thus concludes a short blog post after some silence.

A New Kind of Science

I won’t pretend that I’ve read it. I’ve read critiques of it, I’ve read a book that heavily relies on it and I’ve gifted the iPad app of it twice I think. But now, according to Wolfram, it is available for free download:


You can download each chapter individually in PDF and use something like pdftk to concatenate them.

No, I will not even pretend that I will try to read this. I have other weird books in the pipeline. But still automata appeal to me, so the occasional glimpse may happen. Then again, the web version has been there for years and I’ve browsed it very few times.  Time is a resource that I cannot devote to Wolfram’s thought it seems.