Tuesday 30 December 2014

Assassin's Creed: Unity

Book 27 of 2014 is Assassin's Creed: Unity by Oliver Bowden.

I bought this book at the airport in Darwin and mostly read it on the four hour flight to Sydney. I love entertaining easy reads on airplanes and this was easy. That was about all it was.

As someone who hasn't played the game, I thought it sounded like a fun adventure book placed in the centre of the French Revolution. The idea isn't bad at all but like most bad stories, they had no idea how to wrap up the book without making a man save a woman.

They have a good strong female protagonist and it finishes in a way that makes her look stupid and irrational, even after 400 of 460ish pages of making her out to be so strong and driven.

1 Templar traitor out of 5.

Should I read this? Don't read this. I know, I know, I shouldn't have expected anything.
What did I learn? Computer games and books about them have no idea about women.

Friday 26 December 2014

The Snow Queen

Woo hoo! I have reached my goal of 26 books for the year. Of those 26 books, 12 were audio books. Audio books have been a new experience for me and one that I've had to adapt to because your brain works completely differently when you read a book to when you listen to one. It has given my eyes a break and allowed me to hear stories I already knew through someone else's reading. It is true that I mainly used audio books to re-read some of my favourite books.

Book 26 of 2014 is a free audio book as a Christmas present from Audible. I recommend Audible US because it has many more titles than the Aussie site. Shoosh, don't tell them I live here.

The book was The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, read by Julia Whelan who was Audible's narrator of the year.

This a story I know very well from my childhood and has been one of the reasons I have avoided Disney's version - Frozen. They never tell a story the way it was written and tend to make the women weak and the animals sing.

This is worth the read or the listen. I'd recommend that if you read it in Darwin that you do so with the air conditioner on full.

4 evil shards of glass out of 5.

Should I read this? Yes. It is delightful.
What did I learn? People are not evil. They just have shards of evil glass in them.

The Brothers Karamazov

Book 25 of 2014 is The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

It is secret that I love the Russian authors and this book did not disappoint me. Although I had to stop several times and read other books in between, I enjoyed the soul challenging ideas contained within.

Although I am not a religious person, I loved the discussions and ideas around free will and our human mortality. There were a few chapters that left me lying on my bed staring at the ceiling pondering the purpose of life in the context of me, me, me.

Lines like...

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love."

"I love mankind, he said, "but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular."

"The more stupid one is, the closer one is to reality. The more stupid one is, the clearer one is. Stupidity is brief and artless, while intelligence squirms and hides itself. Intelligence is unprincipled, but stupidity is honest and straightforward."

4.5 brothers out of 5.

Should I read this? Yes. Just read it. Make it one of your 101 to read before you die.
What did I learn? The Russian authors embarrassed us in our own language.

Maze Runner Series

Books 22 (Maze Runner), 23 (The Scorch Trials) and 24 (Death Cure) of 2014 are the Maze Runner series by James Dashner.

In the post apocalyptic tradition of the Hunger Games and Divergent, Dashner gave us a group boys trapped in a giant maze trying to work out why they are there and how to escape.

The main difference between this series and the other two is that the whole experience is seen through the eyes of a 16 year old boy. The writing and thinking is obviously aimed at young men and was quite interesting to experience. It showed strength and vulnerability when I expected whinging and angst.

This series was hard to put down but that was after I got through the first book which was painfully drawn out at times. If you can make it through the Maze Runner (book one) then you will enjoy the whole journey. Each book follows are path but adds great characters and scarier and scarier monsters.

It is an easy read so do have a read.

It is an entertaining 4 right turns out of 5 in a maze.

Should I read this? If you enjoyed the Hunger Games and Divergent then this is a series for you.
What did I learn? To a young man, friendship is the more important than anything else. Even more so than girls and maybe even your life.

Thursday 25 December 2014

Self Destruction and other Bloody Games

It is hard to explain to another person what it feels like to look at yourself in the mirror each day and see your eye droop and a scar running through the middle of you face.

People tell you that they can not notice the difference but you can.

I've seen angry people, broken people and odd people with scars. I often wondered if you could see the scars in them, on them. Sometimes, I will double take and realise that they have no physical scar and then I wonder what I saw.

My biggest concern in life is the baggage that I carry and trying to not let me ruin all that comes in the future. Even with each improvement, it feels like trying to use only my body and physical strength to stop an 80 carriage freight train that is committed to its momentum.

Since being mugged, I can not seem to control the anger inside me. It isn't usually aimed at others but is more inward and destructive. Self destructive. It can not be avoided or reasoned with. It can not be placated or understood, no matter how much therapy I do.

This is something that I must get through. It is a monsoonal storm.

All that happens to me is my responsibility. All that I do to others is mine to own. All that I am, I am.

How does one reconcile the breaks they see in themself? How do I know that the scars I see in the mirror are actually physical if others don't notice them? How do I make it through the storm or stop the train or forgive myself for the brokenness of it all?

I don't know the answers. I just keep on keeping on.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Not Seeing Monsters

People are only human. We make mistakes. We do stupid stuff. It is mostly ok if we learn something from our stuff ups.

My aim is to live a life where I fully participate, take the opportunity to leave the world better than when I found it and cause as little pain to others as possible.

2014 was one of those years where I honoured most my ethos. Each year, I am closer to bringing my life to the point I want it to be at.

There is one fate that I seem unable to avoid. I seem unable to see the monsters that walk amongst us.

My biggest learning this year was acknowledging that I am pretty damn bad at telling when someone who is being nice to me is actually wearing a mask over their monster face.

I've had almost a full year to reflect on this and it has helped me to realise that not everyone who is nice to me, has nice intentions.

Yeah, I should know better but I like seeing the best side of people. I like believing they are good when they act good. What I do need to do is watch how they treat others and not just how nice they are to me.

An old friend once told me that someone who is nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person. That old friend was probably warning me about himself at the time. I wish I'd listened then. Oh well.

2014 was entertaining. 2015 will be brilliant.

I just have to start seeing the monsters before they become scary clowns.

Friday 5 December 2014

Just a thought

It must be your skin I'm sinking in
It must be for real 'cause now I can feel
And I didn't mind
It's not my kind
It's not my time to wonder why

Everything's gone white
And everything's gray
Now you're here now you're away
I don't want this
Remember that
I'll never forget where you're at

Don't let the days go by


I'm never alone
I'm alone all the time
Are you at one or do you lie?
We live in a wheel
Where everyone steals
But when we rise it's like strawberry fields

If I treated you bad
You bruised my face
Couldn't love you more
You got a beautiful taste

Don't let the days go by

Could have been easier on you
I couldn't change though I wanted to
Should have been easier by three
Our old friend fear and you and me


Don't let the days go by


Don't let the days go by



Black moon white again
Black moon white again
And she falls around me

I needed you more
When we wanted us less
I could not kiss just regress
It might just be
Clear simple and plain
Well, that's just fine
That's just one of my names

Don't let the days go by
Could've been easier on you, you, you



Monday 1 December 2014

14 Months of Me

Yes, yes, it can be argued that I already live a life that is all about me but this has not actually been completely true.

Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time building my network and reestablishing my place in my profession in order to negate the depression destruction of it.

This has meant saying yes to other people and for the benefit of other people. I want to refocus on me.

My goal is to continue to extend my knowledge about a lot of things and also keep improving my brain. I want to write more, read more and sleep more alongside getting fit again.

Since the beginning of November 2014, I have put the following actions in to place and intend to continue this until at least the end of 2015. Yes, 14 months.

Now I do these things without fail...

  • Get in to bed at 10PM and sleep within 30 minutes;
  • Quit Facebook and other useless time wasting activities;
  • Continue with my habit of reading one book a fortnight;
  • Don't use the Internet after 9PM and before 8AM;
  • Say yes to things I've never done before but only if they improve me as a person;
  • Write at least one thing every single week;
  • Have no more than one night out a week;
  • Do at least three sessions of strenuous exercise per week; and
  • Only allow acquaintances in my work life and not my personal life.
So far, so good. I have a lot more time for self improvement and to achieve my goals.

2015 will be fricken fantastic! I will accept no less.

Sunday 30 November 2014

I broke up with the Facebook because it just wasn't useful

A week ago, I looked at how I use the Internet weekly, daily and hourly. It looked like this:

  • Facebook - hourly in that I at least looked at notifications and would share and post a lot other times;
  • Blogger - once a month to post a blog post or two, usually about reading or geek stuff;
  • Twitter - daily in order to find articles on topics I care about;
  • Google+ - every second or third day to read topics I'm interested in and for sharing interesting articles;
  • Flickr - weekly to upload pictures from my life that I want to share with loved ones;
  • LinkedIn - every second or third day to find interesting things to read and participate in discussion groups. Also share interesting reading I have found and think others will like;
  • Work email - week days at work but not outside work; and
  • gmail - once or twice a day max and mainly for dealing with job related stuff.

Then I read a quote from Jason Yip on Twitter that said...

Worry less about "Are my feelings / Is my behaviour justified?"; worry more about "Are my feelings / Is my behaviour useful?".

That one tweet made me stop and reassess so much of who I am and what I currently do. So, I asked myself: When I use the Internet is my interaction useful?
  • Facebook - No;
  • Blogger - Yes;
  • Twitter - Yes;
  • Google+ - Sometimes;
  • Flickr - Yes;
  • LinkedIn - Yes;
  • Work email - Absolutely; and
  • gmail - Yes.
It took me less than ten minutes to then decide that I would do the following things:
  • Stop using Facebook immediately and then delete my account if I didn't use it for 3 months;
  • Remove Facebook, Twitter and Google+ apps from my phone and other mobile devices; and
  • Log out of Twitter and Google+ and only log in when I explicitly wanted to use them.
For the first two days after stopping using it, I kept coming back to the same feelings and asked myself if the resulting reaction would be useful...
  • Should I tell someone what I'm doing or feeling? Yes, but more specific people and not Facebook; and
  • Should I check to see if anyone has sent me a message? No, they will contact me on my phone or via email if they need me.
After the initial habit change left me nervous and a little anxious, it all passed. Yes, I still use all the other sites with more intent than I did in the past but I don't use Facebook and I feel no need to.

Later on, I will write a more detailed post about why Facebook has irked me for the last 6-9 months and how that has aided in my persistence to not return. This is not the post for it. Again, would it be useful?

Wish me luck and if you can't find me online, you can find me on the end of a telephone.

Saturday 15 November 2014

The Monogram Murders

Book 21 of 2014 is The Monogram Murders NOT by Agatha Christie but by Sophie Hannah.

This is the first Hurcule Poirot novel that the Christie family has officially approved.

Having read every Agatha Christie novel ever before I was 18, I was very excited about this when I found it in the new books section of the ABC Shop.

Although the story is very much like a Hercule Poirot story, it was told with contempt for the little Belgian detective. Christie described him brutally sometimes but you knew she loved this character. The same love was not evident in this story.

It was ok and did keep me engaged. Each day at work, I'd be looking forward to going home so I could read more of the book. That is a real page turner but not a genuine Poirot page turner unfortunately.

My little great cells give this 3.5 murders in a hotel out of 5.

Should I read this? Absolutely, if you love Agatha Christie's Belgian detective. Let me know what you think.
What did I learn? That criticism can come across for contempt if you don't truly love your character.

Saturday 25 October 2014

The Wizard of Oz

Book 20 of 2014 is from the BFI Film Classics series and is a review by Salman Rushdie of the movie The Wizard of Oz. I'd call this an essay, more than a book but my only criteria to satisfy something is a book is if it looks like a book and quacks like a book.

In 69 pages, Salman Rushdie reviews the movie The Wizard of Oz in a way that has changed, ruined and enhanced my view of it.

He does this as the first part of a series of essays commissioned for a project by the National Film and Television Archive in the UK. This was before DVDs and IMDB and was a way of deconstructing and reviewing 360 classic movies by great minds of the time. When Rushdie looked through the list, he chose Oz as one of his favourite places as a child and decided to write about this movie.

Like anything you love that is deconstructed and discussed, some of the magic disappears but Rushdie's passion for the film and shared discovered facts compensate greatly.

The thing I did like the most was finding that this essay inspired Gregory Maguire's Wicked. I love the Oz world and Wicked continued for me, as this essay has extended it for me.

At the end of this essay, the author writes a fantastical story about the futuristic auctioning of the famous and obviously magical Ruby Slippers from the movie. There is a great quote that seems quite apt in this time...

"We, the public, are easily, lethally offended. We have come to think of taking offence as a fundamental right. We value very little more highly than our rage, which gives us, in our opinion, the moral high ground. From this high ground we can shoot down at our enemies and inflict heavy fatalities. We take pride in our short fuses. Our anger elevates, transcends. 

Salman Rushdie. At the auction of the ruby slippers. 
In: East, West. Vintage, 1995."

I give this a brain, a heart and some courage out of 5. Yes, that's a 3.5.

Should I read this? Read this if you love The Wizard of Oz movie. It would mean nothing otherwise.
What did I learn? Toto was female and her name was Terry.

A Room of One's Own

Book 19 of 2014 is Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

I've only read a couple of Virginia Woolf books and I love the way she writes. She is a born story teller who paints pictures with words. Now I know that she writes like a "woman-manly." Or was it a "man-womanly"? Either way, it makes her voice unique in a crowd where she is a minority.

This book/essay/speech is one of the most relevant (yes, even now) books that I woman can read.

Of late, life has had me wondering where I belong and what the whole damn point of it is. Belonging is important but it is more than that. The feeling was more about how I belong in a world where I can not see anyone like me. That was my mistake.

There may not be people who look like me everywhere but there are people who think like me, both men and women. This book was like taking a giant sigh after a very long week ends. She said it perfectly.

It is only 112 pages and if you can't do that then at least read the last chapter. She is brilliant. Just that.

I give it 5 revelations without bitterness out of 5.

Should I read this? Women should. Secure men should. Others will not be impressed that someone let her out of the kitchen.
What did I learn? “I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.”

Monday 6 October 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Book 18 of 2014 is one that i have read twice now. It is a favourite and often fits in to certain contexts in my life.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the Milan Kundera book that you must read.

I most identify with Sabina and have been told she is dysfunctional. Maybe she is but boy does she look hot in a bowler hat.

I give it 4.5 extra-martial affairs out of 5.

Should I read this? Absolutely. A classic that you must consume, at least once.
What did I learn? Love is totally and absolutely unique to who you are. Let no one dictate otherwise.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Building Scalable Web Sites

The 17th book of 2014 is Building Scalable Web Sites by Cal Henderson.

I read this because a developer I really respect at Thoughtworks recommended it. The reviews I read ripped it to pieces with comments like "I already know this" and "well yeah, duh." I still read it.

Once thing that you have to do as a lead is understand concepts so well that you can explain and teach it to other people. The thing I've seen a lot is that people dismiss the small things, the concepts that matter and talk about big ideas while not understanding where it all comes from.

This book is a great way to understand the basic concepts and teach you how to teach others. It talks about where no mainstream software engineering concepts come from in a way that fills all the gaps.

If you want to claim you are a great senior software engineer then read this with a little humility. I will guarantee you learn something. Or at least learn how to teach it.

I'd give it 3.5 checkins out of 5.

Should I read this? Yes. Anyone who intends to lead a software team should read this whether they are technical of not.
What did I learn? Humility and the ability to articulate what is in your giant brain.

A Rightful Place

Book 16 of 2014: A Rightful Place is a Quarterly Essay by Noel Pearson. The Quarterly Essay is a series of four essays a year written by current key Australians.

After reading this, I wrote Noel Pearson an email. It went...

"Hello Mr Pearson,

I have never written to anyone of worth before so forgive any mistakes I make.

I just finished reading your Quarterly Essay. I am not indigenous to this country. In fact, I am half Australian and half Papua New Guinean but I write you all the same. There is something to not belonging that I empathise with when I read what you wrote. Something raw and true.

Having never been a fan of yours, it surprised me how much I understood what you said.

You see, I grew up on Palmerston in the Northern Territory in the mid 80s to 90s. My school was less than a quarter white and that didn't seem odd to me. We used the word budju as a compliment and c*nt as a disgrace. I even still return to my parents house speaking in that manic drawl that is Darwin. There is a part of me that is goanna cooked over a fire and peanut flavoured grubs out of trees.

When I read you essay, I found a way to articulate and (sadly because it is required) defend the people I grew up with. The most amazing and ancient culture we have on earth.

I lost respect for Darwin (again) and Dickens (for the first time) and got teary at your conclusion.

I write this email because I'd like to thank you for saying it so well. For articulating your plight in a way others haven't before or maybe not so well.

You won me over, sir.

I live in Canberra. If I can ever buy you dinner and have a conversation, I would be honoured.

Damana Madden - a black Darwin girl"

I'd give it 4 non-racist remarks out of 5.

Should I read this? If you get a chance, read this. As an Australian, you should.
What did I learn? There is a way to help our first people but it means giving them control over their life and not just participation in the process.

Friday 26 September 2014

The Imagination of Readers

From a book I adore...

“After all, reading is arguably a far more creative and imaginative process than writing; when the reader creates emotion in their head, or the colors of the sky during the setting sun, or the smell of a warm summer’s breeze on their face, they should reserve as much praise for themselves as they do for the writer - perhaps more.”

- Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots

Saturday 30 August 2014

Divergent - Insurgent - Allegiant

Books 13, 14 and 15 of 2014 are the Divergent trilogy.

The first book is Divergent, which has recently been made in to a movie. The movie is a shallow interpretation of the book. The first book is both good and bad. It is not the original tale that everyone claims it is but more a mix of Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

It is however easy to read and very entertaining.

Unlike Katniss Everdeen, Tris (the main protagonist) is a little too caught up in teenage love and self absorbtion for me. She does improve rapidly in the second and third books though so it is worth persisting.

The second book of the trilogy, Insurgent is less about action and more about character development. I actually wish they'd taken the time for that in the first book. It worries me that people will not continue on through the whole story because the first book is a little shallow. The second book makes it worth it. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the middle book more than the first and last. I've only ever felt that with Lord of the Rings. Think Helm's Deep.

Then the third in the series, Allegiant made me sad and happy. Finally, a story that ends in a non-Hollywood way and concretes this as a possible stayer for years to come.

Without giving too much away, I will say that this series is worth reading. It is dystopian, aimed at teenagers and therefore easy to consume and a gripping plot to keep you engaged.

I'd give it 3.5 punches in the face out of 5.

Should I read this? Yes. it is good fiction and entertaining.
What did I learn? "Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can't escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other."

Friday 2 May 2014

A Happy Death

Book 12 of 2014 appears a month after the last book I read. Yes, I have been slack and not actually finishing anything I start.

In this case, A Happy Death is the last of  Camus' books for me to read. That is both saddening and a prompt to re-read those ones I love and that changed my life.

As usual, I'm left with too much to think about after finishing one of his books. There are so many lines that fit perfectly in to what is happening in my life and my own search for happiness in life, while I am unable to feel the connection of love that others so readily feel.

"He discovered the cruel paradox by which we always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love - first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage"

When I started this book, it felt too much like my favourite of his, The Outsider. However, it took a different path. Maybe one that was a lot more acceptable to readers when Camus was younger. The Outsider is still a better book but a different one.

The in-depth exploration of suicide (assisted or not) and self-imposed exile is something I connected to deeply. A need to rebel against everything you should do by destroying yourself is a hard subject to discuss and not scare people away with. Although he writes in a scattered way, the way Camus wields words will always make me listen and not allow me to put down his books.

You have to read something of his. This may not be the book but it is an insight in to the man, 100 years after his birth. Although, I adore everything he has ever written... I do worry what people may think of me for that :)

This may not be the Camus book you should start with but certainly one to read on your Algerian existentialist absurdism journey. At least it is on mine.

If that is too much for you, start by watching the Big Lebowski. At least you'll understand why I always sigh and say "obviously, you're not a golfer."

Should I read this? Yeah, it is short, perspicacious and beautiful. Like me.
What did I learn? “Yes, I'm happy, in human terms.”

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Fahrenheit 451

Book 11 of 2014 and the 3rd book I have read in ten days, is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

The name comes from the temperature at which books will burn. It is about a future world where firefighters are no longer needed to put out fires since buildings are built to be fireproof. They are instead responsible for seeking out and burning books in a world similar to the middle ages where information is destroyed in order to prevent dissention.

I did spend a lot of time after this reading about the periods through history when books were burned. It is both disturbing and depressing to think of how much we regressed in those times. Where would humanity be now if those incidents never happened?

There were a lot of original ideas in this book but to be honest, it is not the kind of writing I enjoy. It feels like a lengthened short story and on further investigation, I found that it basically was.

Yes, this is my third book in three days. When I can't stop my brain from overthinking EVERYTHING, I read. It lets me escape my own thoughts and enter in to a world in which I don't exist. I share the concerns of the protagonist and forget my petty worries. I wonder if other people go to books to escape stress.

It might be time to move away from dystopian science fiction for a while. Not sure what awaits me now. Maybe I need a Kindle shuffle feature. Or I can just throw my to-read book pile in the air and read the next one I catch.

Should I read this? Honestly, don't bother. There is much better science fiction out there. This is a classic because it helped shape the genre. Read its spawn and leave this on that list of stuff to read when they've burned all the other good books.
What did I learn? The autoignition point of paper.