• 30 books this year. let’s get crackin'


liberty’s daughter (naomi kritzer)

what happens when you’re living on a libertarian sea-stead? this is a fun bit of world building where libertarian ideals are allowed to fester to their logical conclusions. the limitations of the invisible hand, the likely devolution into some form of slavery for those who aren’t wealthy and have problems. unregulated medical care, having to hire private security to just go about your day-to-day business, and all sorts of goodies. so fun.

green earth (kim stanley robinson)

this was a tome, and it kept getting just a few pages at a time in terms of grinding through it. it wasn’t really a grind to read, it was simply so large that i couldn’t bring myself to travel with it over the past month or so.

this is actually 3 books pulled together into a single volume. i think it’s call the “science in the capital” series and it’s kind of early KSR cli-fi. this was published in the early-mid 00s and there’s a ton of stuff he riffs on and some of it is quite prescient. there are dips into geo-engineering, he foresees much of the left-right division on climate change that politicians lean into. we were seeing the polite forms of this when he was writing this, but it’s only hardened in the intervening years. his fictional president is the victim of an assassination attempt, the assailant has been radicalized by right-wing media. rush limbaugh gets a well deserved and far too brief jab.

finally, you see the not so faint glimmers of “the high sierra: a love story” in here. it hits you in the last 100 or so pages like someone smacking you about the face with a trout. the descriptions of the geology, the concerns about the snowpack, traveling and drinking with friends, he gets to riff for a while on all that. in retrospect, he’s clearly winding up to something more substantial.

i suppose good {cli,sci}-fi is really about getting you to look at a range of possible outcomes that don’t feel to far fetched and the really good writers don’t just drag you thru disaster porn, they provide some sort of optimistic narrative that can be explored while providing a cautionary heads up.

this hits on most counts.

The Future of the Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned from Patagonia’s First 50 Years (Yvon Chouinard, Vincent Stanley)

i snarfed this down in a couple of hours on the plane. it’s no secret that i’m a bit of a fanboy. they seem to walk the walk and this was a remarkably compelling read in a few areas.

  • it’s a reasonably unsparing account of the stuff that Patagonia ran into while they were cleaning up their business. while it’s pretty clear they’re believers here, it’s quite candid on the things that did and didn’t work. they talk about their financial failures, the successes that they had and the frustrations that they had as they looked to transition to more ethically sourced materials and to be less wasteful in their business operations.
  • it lays out an ethos and a vision that, i think, more corporations should aspire to. Patagonia was fortunate in that it was largely privately held and the owners had a clear vision of what they thought was right.
  • it’s clear that many of the things they’ve been struggling with are the things that most good businesses will struggle with as a baseline. how to avoid cheap/lazy growth (which has clear limits in terms of eventual scale), how to retain high quality staff and talent. these are all problems/challenges which have some ethical component to them. they seem to have intoned that there’s value in looking at this through a lens of ethics and responsibility.

i found the checklists that they had at the back of the book surprisingly worth the read. honestly, i’ll commonly blow that sort of thing off and i read these to the end.

the death and life of the great lakes (dan egan)

more in the vein of my conservation kick. honestly, i have under appreciated the level of systems thinking that takes place in the world of wildlife biology. this is a fascinating rundown on the various ecological disasters that we’ve been stumbling through as we carve the st. lawrence seaway, reverse the river in chicago and engage in various bits of fishery hijinks in the south.

a few things that jumped out at me.

mid-20th century optimism

i really had no appreciation for the fact that carving out the st. lawrence seaway was a pretty recent affair. the economic considerations here seem pretty obvious, but likely only in retrospect and in the presence of the efficiencies wrought by containerized shipping.

up until the 1980s people really had aspirations for the north shore and the great lakes cities to effectively be a 4th coast. the fact that the lakes and the seaway froze up for 3 months out of the year didn’t seem to make anyone bat an eye. the scaled efficiencies of containerized shipping and the narrow form-factor of the canals seem to have put the nail in the coffin of scaling this up. which is probably for the best given the ecological disasters that the balance of the book digs into, at considerable depth.

that said, with climate change and winters being less reliably cold … how long is it before folks start looking to the great lakes chain again and wanting to dredge/expand the st. lawrence seaway to make this commercially viable for oceanic shipping?

systems thinking

… or the tyranny of second order effects.

blinded by a desire for commercial efficiencies, growth or just plain old fun, we have done some incredibly reckless things as a species. apparently salmon were released into the great lakes with the objective of balancing out the ecosystem of the warmer great lakes. this was an unsustainable commercial boon, but seems hilarious and incredibly irresponsible in retrospect.

ah, the 1960s and 1970s…

odd critiques of peoples facial features

Surveyor James Camak, a University of Georgia mathematics professor with a chin weak as an owl’s, knew almost right away he botched the job, but he insisted it wasn’t his fault. – p251

THE YEAR BEFORE THE GEORGIA RAILROAD SURVEYORS NAILED their stake in the forest that would become the heart of Atlanta, an 18-year-old boy with a beak for a nose and ears the size of saucers lighted out from upstate New York for the “Far West”-Wisconsin.

– p256

a hacker’s mind (bruce schneier)


shop class as soulcraft (matthew b. crawford)