Julian Simioni

Julian Simioni’s Blog

2015 Books

Like last year, I’ve been up to some reading this past year. Here’s the list along with some thoughts.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I read most of this book in 2014, but didn’t quite finish it. There’s no doubt Melville has an unparalleled skill with the English language. Strangely, I found all the characters, especially Ahab, comical, rather than frightening. Perhaps Ricardo Montalban’s performance in The Wrath of Khan has set the bar too high. A great read both as fiction and as a historical depiction of the times.

Talking with Tech Leads by Patrick Kua

Although not the case for a few years after college, these days I find myself more fascinated and interested in the challenges of growing and organizing people, rather than software or other technology. This book, with its many short investigations into the delicate balance the two inherent in the tech lead role, is a helpful resource. Each essay has a different author and so covers a wide range of viewpoints and situations. Far from being a deficit, the conclusion of this book – that the tech lead role is itself nearly undefinable and that there are no perfect solutions to efficiently lead groups of people working with software – is actually a valuable lesson.

career.fork()

Having just moved to Berlin and looking for work at the time, I felt compelled to investigate contracting and freelancing options, as many in Berlin do. Another short read, career.fork() touches on, but doesn’t attempt to completely cover, all the challenges one will face working for themselves. Like Tech Leads, this brevity is useful, as there aren’t any simple solutions to most of them. This admission is something I respect about both of these books, which was absent in another, Managing the Unmanagable, that I couldn’t finish years ago: it’s author seemed to have claimed the problem of working with developers solved.

Patterns of Enterprise Application Architecture by Martin Fowler

A classic architecture book from the 90s, today PEAA is not likely to be as practically useful as it once was, but is now almost a history book. The proliferation of powerful open source software frameworks means few people will need to use the techniques in this book. But it’s place as a foundational tome of knowledge on which many of those tools are based is obvious. The first architecture pattern it describes is familiar to anyone from the Rails world: active record.

Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott

A silly, short, enjoyable story that is as much a window into its times as it is a dive into mathematics and abstract thought.

The Little Tea Book by George Washington Hood

I don’t remember anything about this book.

Working Effectively with Unit Tests by Jay Fields

A great and focused book on unit tests. I find myself using and sharing ideas from this book all the time, and definitely recommend more developers read it.

From Eternity to Here by Sean Carroll

I bought this book perhaps 5 years ago, and nearly read through it. I’m glad to have decided to re-read and finish it. Mr. Carroll is a fantastic writer and scientists. This book covers issues deep enough to fill philosophy, as well as science texts, but is still easy to read.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

A rather surreal fiction based in North Korea, I enjoyed and disliked this book for its ridiculously outlandish plot and characters. It was frustratingly unclear how much of this books ideas are based in actual facts about North Korea, and which were invented by the author, but none the less it has some fantastic sections that make it worthwhile.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

In the past I’ve claimed to prefer non-fiction books to fiction, arguing history gives us enough fascinating stories that there is no need to invent our own. However after The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo I can no longer defend that position.

Fantastic characters, deep plot with incredible mystery, and scenes that make the suspense of any horror film feel mild make this one of the best books I’ve ever read. While it uses the real political and historical climate in Sweden to make the story even more riveting, it’s immediately clear where the fiction begins, unlike The Orphan Master’s Son.

My only complaint about this book is a practical one: at the time I read it, I had been travelling between the US and Europe frequently, and used reading as a way to get my sleep schedule back on track. Mr. Larson’s writing ruined those plans: unlike every other book, normally unconquerable exhaustion after international flights couldn’t stop me from staying up all night to finish it.

102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer

It would probably be insensitive to say I enjoyed this book, but whatever I felt, I couldn’t put this book down and finished in only a few days. Supported by what must have been a superhuman quantity of research, 102 Minutes covers every human emotion in detailing the heroism and tragedy of September 11th.

Refreshingly, 102 Minutes leaves no room for conspiracy theories, vilification of Muslims or Islam, or irrational fear of terrorists. In fact, it might be argued the book blames building codes more than anything for the tragedy: in a break from the minute-by-minute account of the morning of September 11th, the book details how building codes of the time were written to fit the design of the twin towers, rather than vice versa, and allowed for a construction that enabled the horrific collapse of the buildings.

The Island at the Center of the World by Russel Shorto

Second in my reading list after moving to New York City, this was a wonderful history on par with any other I’ve read. Despite a setting over 300 years in the past, I see the influence of the characters and events in this book everywhere I go in New York, which brings me great joy.

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson

The sequel to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo contains the same spectacular writing and characters, so it’s still immensely enjoyable, but it’s more complex plot doesn’t surpass the first.

Aviation Weather by the FAA

Long ago, the FAA distributed information on weather phenomena and the technology used to predict and measure it together. It turns out weather itself doesn’t change, but our weather related tools sure do, so the topics were split into two books in the 70s. This book covers the former topic, and it hasn’t seen a republishing since 1975. All the information it contains is useful, but it could use with a bit of modernization still, if even just to show higher quality pictures of different types of clouds.

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

A great and complete book on weight training. Rippetoe has a character that is unforgettable if not always PC or likable, but he seems to for the most part really know what he’s talking about. Why does he love milk so much though?

The Girl who Played With Fire by Steig Larsson

Following up on what is in some respects a cliffhanger ending, it’s inevitable that you will read this book to conclusion once you start on the second book in the trilogy. Despite Larsson’s continued excellent writing, I was happy to be done with this book: the story had gotten rather boring. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll read the fourth book.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Bookless before a short flight, I bought The Martian at an airport bookstore and finished it less than 12 hours later. I had already seen the film but it didn’t reduce my enjoyment of this funny and scientifically accurate story.

The movie and book are both excellent, but differ especially in theme. I’d love to discuss the details more with anyone who has enjoyed both.

Notably, I find that my consumption of potatoes has considerably increased since reading this book.

The Seven Essentials of International Travel

I love travelling, so I’m no stranger to occasional long distance travel. But, since I moved to Berlin last November, I’ve reached another level: In 6 months I’ve crossed an ocean 7 times. I used to be a mess after every flight, but at this point I think I’ve got most of it figured out.

Other than a few simple rules, like drinking lots of water, most of what has helped has been a few simple items.

I’ve got all of them with me right now, since I’m writing this at the end of a trip from San Diego to Berlin, so I want to make a list while it’s easiest. Every traveller should have most or all of these at the ready for all their trips.

Eye Mask

This is one of the cheapest, but probably the most important single item for travelling. Without sleeping on a long flight, it’s simply not possible to be ready to go quickly once you arrive, and above all else your body uses light to decide when to sleep.

I used to try to put a blanket over my head, blocking out only some of the light but nearly drowning me in warm air, and I still see people do this. A good eye mask is still cheap, but blocks out more light than any blanket, and more than a cheap eye mask like the one you might be lucky to get on some airlines. Eye Mask

Noise Cancelling Headphones

Even the newest airplanes are loud. The engines are loud, the passengers are loud, the in-flight announcements are loud. A few minutes of this is ok, but after ten hours, loud noises cause fatigue as much as anything else.

Fortunately, in the last few years the amazing technology of noise cancelling headphones has emerged. These use advanced signal processing to actively reduce the loudness of ambient sound around you. They work best with consistent background noise, so they’re perfect for the endless drone of the engines.

They cost a bit more than even a good pair of over the ear headphones (which are good at insulating from sound, but don’t come close to active noise cancellation), but they’re worth it since you can use them every day. Headphones

Earplugs

Before noise cancelling headphones, earplugs were our best defense against noise, but they aren’t useless today. If nothing else, being able to switch between earplugs and headphones keeps either from getting too uncomfortable.

On the loudest flights, using both may be what’s required to get some peace. Earplugs

Neck Pillow

For those of us who don’t get to fly business class, there aren’t many positions that really let us rest on a plane. My neck and my back are what get tired and uncomfortable the most. A neck pillow can at least help a little bit.

I have to admit I still haven’t found a really good one. All the ones I’ve tried, including my own, just don’t feel firm enough. I try any new ones I come across, and would be willing to pay for a good one, but so far the one I got at Target for $15 is the best.

Spare Contacts and Glasses

I can’t sleep in my contacts. My eyes quickly dry out, my contacts stick to my eyes, and its all no good. Fortunately I wear daily lenses, so throwing away a pair is no big deal. It took me way too long to realize it, but bringing spare contacts on the plane, in an easy to reach place, is a super simple way to make flying a lot more comfortable. Glasses help too if I’m not sure I want to put another pair of contacts in just yet. Contacts and Glasses

Advil

I get headaches all the time. I get the worst headaches when I’m dehydrated. It’s really easy to get dehydrated on a plane. I almost always get really bad headaches when flying. So if I don’t bring something to help with my headaches, I’m pretty much miserable when flying.

I first started bringing Advil, but in my carry on bag that was not easy to get to during most of the flight. Now I just put some right in my small bag that’s always with me. Whenever I feel the need I can find some water and take some Advil. This mostly cures my headaches and makes flying so much better. Advil

Food

I really can’t stand airline food. It’s not that healthy, not at all fresh, and tastes terrible. These days I generally plan on bringing enough food to keep myself alive for an entire day or so. That way there’s no chances of getting hungry and not being able to do anything about it, or eating bad food and feeling terrible after.

My go to flying food is simple stuff: bagels or other bread, some whole fruit (bananas are perfect because they’re already well packaged), and some sliced meats. Eating something fancy may seem nice, but usually I’m too tired to really enjoy eating anyway, and getting sick on a plane is no fun at all. Food

It’s taken me a few years to really settle on all these essentials, but now that I have I can generally handle anything that comes my way on even the longest flights. Now I just need to work on conquering the jet-lag that comes after.

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