Entries in Category Media

The Amateur Scientist at Bookwise

Build yourself a cloud chamber from one of the lovely hand-drawn diagrams in The Amateur Scientist.

For years I've been pleased, every now and again, to browse the stacks of local used bookstore Bookwise, one of the sort-of-green spots in Boca Raton's semi-arid intellectual landscape. Despite the resident cat it's never been a very comfortable place to sit and read, maybe because I've always felt there an urgency to go through the place quickly and grab what I can. I never left Bookwise empty-handed, but I never felt there was enough time there.

Pure chance brought Samantha and I to its doors again on a recent Saturday when there really wasn't enough time anymore. We discovered that its owners were closing this location and moving at least some of the stock to their sister store Booksmart (which mostly sells textbooks to FAU students). Everything in the store was 30%–50% off. I asked the woman behind the counter when the last open day was and with the used bookstore's typical splendid disregard for good business practice she answered “maybe today”. I let my urgency run free.

Although I didn't leave with quite the arm-long stack that Sam assembled, I bought some pristine Everyman's Library volumes of de Tocqueville and Jefferson, Gleiser's The Island of Knowledge, and a history of the shipping container (The Box by Marc Levinson) that I'm actually quite excited to read.

But most exciting of all, I picked up C. L. Stong's 1960 collection of his “Amateur Scientist” columns from Scientific American for $1. One dollar! Originals like this one trade hands for more than $200, and as of this writing there's one listed on Amazon for $847! And it may be worth every penny of even those market prices. I badly wanted this book after coming across it in a library in my high school years. My family had a subscription to Scientific American and I used to read the Amateur Scientist particularly and obsessively; even though the 1980s and 1990s were the twilight of the column (which went though a hiatus in the early nineties before ceasing publication altogether in 2001) you could still find there some absolutely bonkers projects.

Reading List for 2019

I have finally gotten around to completing last year's reading list and analyzing the results. And what a disappointment! Not only did I fail, for the first time in years, to meet my stated goal (36 books in this case), but I compromised on quality and length to even get as far as I did. What a waste of time, and only to meet a self-imposed target? That's just cheating myself.

Something has to change. I have an ever-growing list (on Goodreads) of books to read that is currently 392 titles long. For the last few years I've been choosing what to read haphazardly or worse, passively, because of the book club or because I've been given some book or because of someone else's enthusiasm. Also, the practice of setting some number of books as a challenge for the year has encouraged reading short and often not-very-serious works (although I don't want to suggest that seriousness is necessarily proportional to length). I was already aware of this last observation one year ago but didn't carry out my resulting intention of reading longer books.

So, for 2020, I won't worry too much about the total number. Instead, I'll read the bookclub selections only if I really want to, and I'll read one more book per month and that book will be something very significant and very intentionally selected. By the end of the year I want to have read 12 of the sort of books I've always meant to read and have had in the back of my mind for years. Many of these works are very long indeed, so overall I'll be reading just as much, if not more, as my previous 36 book challenges. Far more importantly, however, I'll be reading what I really want to read, finally.

Disciplined and Orderly Work

I've started an as-yet short playlist on YouTube named “Orderly and Disciplined Work”, intending it to collect videos that in some way document methodical, detail-oriented, clean, well-organized, and calm workspaces and processes. This is part of my ongoing attempts to encourage those qualities in my own work and in the various places I do that work, which include, at the moment, my work office, home office, workshop, garage, and kitchen.

“Tomorrow, I will do my best again.”

Reading List for 2018

Last year's reading list is complete. I'm pleased to report that I met my target number of 36 books for the year (although only just!). My usual practice in case of success last year would be to set a higher goal for this year, but it's occurred to me that chasing ever higher numbers has the effect of encouraging me to read shorter books, which isn't exactly in line with the spirit of this enterprise. So I'll keep it at 36 and still try to read more, by reading longer books.

Publishing My Reading List

Inspired by the personal websites of Silicon Valley autodidact Susan J. Fowler and Estonian parliamentarian Kaja Kallas I've published a reading list of books I've completed recently. I intend to use this published list as a way of motivating myself to read more and better works and to give myself a place to write a bit about some of them. Compiling the list for the last three years has already suggested changes I should make. Check back often as I'll update the page with each new book I read.

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