Book Review: The Other Animals

I love short stories, so I was really excited when one of the Audible Originals a while back was a set of eight short stories. The Other Animals is a compilation of short stories by a variety of authors (Daniel Mallory Ortberg, Ken Liu, R. Eric Thomas, Lulu Miller, Shruti Swamy, Max McClure, Kaeli Swift, and Kelly Weinersmith).

I really didn't know what to expect with this book. The ratings from other listeners are high. Audible describe it as being "written by a crew of scientists, literary writers, and comics, and informed by animal behavioral science – explores what animal perspectives can show humans about the world we all share."

All the stories are tales told from the perspective of animals.

I have to admit that I did find some of it cute, but I really struggled to persevere with it. There's a story where a vulture contemplates his role in killing; a story where a worm breaks up with a snail; another story where a whale falls in love with a song.

Some listeners really, really liked it. For the life of me, I couldn't find it "gripping" as others did.

Even though I like a lot of "off the wall" things, I'm clearly not the target audience for this book. I just couldn't bring myself to finish it. Life is too short.

The Verdict

There are obviously people that love this book but clearly I'm not the target audience. 3 out of 10 for me.



Book Review: Living Forward by Seth Godin

I have a lot of people who recommend books to me. I order many of them. If the book has impressed one of my friends, I'm keen to see what they liked about it. That's how I came to read Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life you Want by Seth Godin.

The title is making a pretty big claim, but the content? It's ok.

There are a great number of books that suggest you need to do some basic things:

  • Decide where you are
  • Decide where you want to be
  • Fill in the gaps

So from that point, there's nothing Earth-shattering there. I did like the way though that Godin provided a pretty specific methodology for achieving the outcomes you want. It's based around being both deliberate and proactive.

The friends that liked this book, particularly mentioned that it helped them break out of a cycle of procrastination. We all can suffer from that, but some suffer more than most, and this could be the prompt they need.

Godin also, of course, keeps concepts of a balanced life in mind, but he talks about just how easy it can be to simply drift through life.

The Verdict?

I'd give this one 6 out of 10. I didn't find anything very new, but I did like the structure it provided. I know I have a number of friends who could benefit from the thinking.



Book Review: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

A few weeks back, I finished reading The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries.

There have been a lot of books on Lean methodology over the years, so I didn't know what to expect with this one. But it was published back in 2001 (i.e. the turn of the century) and that's when the Lean methodology was still fairly new in entrepreneur circles.

I've seen others comment that this was the "single most informative book on the iterative entrepreneural process".

Ries looks a using the approach to consider how companies are created and evolve, and how their new products are launched into the market. He focusses on how to create a startup that's a long lasting startup. So many businesses crash and burn each year, mostly within their early stages. Ries looks closely at how you can create something new, but right in amongst very uncertain times.

It's a fascinating book. I just wish it was a little more lively. It does plod along a bit, but the content is excellent.

The Verdict

An excellent book. 8 out of 10. The excellent content could have been delivered a bit more lively though.



Book Review: Starting Strength

Over the years, I've had a number of friends tell me that they really enjoyed Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, and illustrated by Jason Kelly. Many regard it as one of the best and most useful fitness books ever written. So I had to read it, even though some of its strongest supporters (pun intended) revered it, almost to some sort of cult status.

What an interesting book.

As I age, I realise the importance of mobility and core strength. I just wish I'd put more importance on it during my life.

If you look at the quality of life of older people, mobility is the primary thing that determines much of how they get on. The thing that often immobilises them are falls and accidents, many of which might have been avoided with greater core body strength. Rippetoe makes it clear that resistance training is the key to that.

Rippetoe's writing style is very opinionated and forceful. There are many critics of his style though. His diet advice, in particular, seems misguided, and he doesn't talk about how this type of training might go wrong. In fact, just the opposite. He points out that injuries are likely to happen.

If you do read this book, I'd strongly suggest the real book, not the Kindle version, so you can see the illustrations. They are well presented.

The Verdict?

I liked it, albeit with some reservations. 7 out of 10.



Book Review: Passive Income: How to Make Money from Home, Skyrocket your Income at Lightning Speed

I tend to read a large number of entrepreneur-related books. Some are better than others. I almost didn't get a copy of  Passive Income: How to Make Money from Home, Skyrocket your Income at Lightning Speed as the title pretty much put me off as it sounded so cheesy, but for some reason I did listen to the audiobook.

I also don't normally write reviews for books that I really don't like. I didn't like this book.

It's interesting that the top review from US Amazon is titled "Worthless nonsense" and commented that there's nothing to learn in this book. It's all been written elsewhere, and better.

But I had a feeling that this book might split the potential audiences. And right on cue, there are many reviews saying how great it is, and how it was almost life-changing for some.

If you really, really haven't got any ideas on how to earn a passive income from home (and I have people I know in this category), this book might work for you. But for anyone else, it's a solid pass. I found it endlessly overstated what seemed to be just patently obvious.

The Verdict?

For me, 1 out of 10. For someone just starting to think about how they might make an income from home, and haven't yet done any real reading, perhaps 4 out of 10.

Book Review: High Performance SQL Server

I was pleased to get sent a copy of Benjamin Nevarez's new book High Performance SQL Server. I've known Benjamin for a long time. He's a very skilled SQL Server professional, and you'll see him at conferences around the world. (Or at least once Covid is tackled more completely).

And the technical reviewer for the book is another very skilled old friend in Mark Broadbent. So my expectations were high for the new edition of this book.

I wasn't disappointed.

It was refreshing to read a book that covered so much of the core knowledge that's needed when working with SQL Server and getting it to perform well.

Benjamin covers a wide variety of topics: an introduction to how SQL Server works internally (including now on Linux), how to configure it and how to work with tempdb. He then headed into monitoring, so that you could find what issues need to be dealt with. The book then looks at performance troubleshooting, and indexing. It finishes with a discussion of the Intelligent Query Processing features added in recent versions followed by a discussion on storage.

As I read, I kept seeing how he led into topics, and as soon as I'd think "I hope he mentions topic X" as I thought it was important, he'd then describe topic X. There were a few areas where I disagreed, but they were few and far between.

I can't tell you how pleasing it was to read a technical book that was well written, used English well, and  wasn't full of technical errors. I've seen so many books lately that just aren't like this. By comparison, I was the tech reviewer on a book just the other day, that I'd rather I'm not mentioned in the book at all once it's released. It was so poorly written.

Now, were there areas that I disagreed with Benjamin on?


In particular, I just don't share the enthusiasm for the in-memory OLTP options in SQL Server, even for temporary objects. I've spent so much time trying them, and let's just say, I don't use them. I'm pretty sure if I extended Benjamin's examples on those a bit further, I think he'd agree.

Were there areas where I'd love to see the book improved?


Here are some suggestions:

  • I think there are a few areas that are suffering from being updates, rather than having been written from scratch recently. As an example, Benjamin linked to an MSDN white paper that I wrote in 2008, and while still somewhat relevant, I did an update to that paper in 2012. That would be a better reference.
  • The discussion on storage feels dated. What I would also love to see discussed in this section is info on other current challenges in this area. For example, the impact of de-duplicating I/O subsystems.
  • There are a number of style aspects I'd love to see changed. I'd like to see WideWorldImporters instead of AdventureWorks. I'd like to see statement terminators in all the code (personal bugbear).
  • The order of the topics in theory makes sense, but in practice, I'm not so sure. I think a lot of readers would be put off by being thrown into a discussion of TDS as soon as they start reading.
  • The discussion on filtered indexes needs to be fleshed out further. They're an awesome feature, but you have to learn to use them, not just configure them.

I'd also like to see the book call out more on the importance of appropriate application design. In my work, I find that at least 70% of the SQL Server performance-related issues that I run into, are application design issues. When you're trying to fix them at the back end, it's already way too late to get real outcomes. I realise though, that that's all many people have a chance to do.

The Verdict ?

Overall though? What a wonderful book.   9 out of 10.


Book Review: Outgrowing God: A Beginner's Guide

Richard Dawkins is a controversial figure. I've got some mixed opinions on him. On one hand, I suspect that in a hundred year's time, The God Delusion will be regarded as a seminal piece of writing. On the other hand, I've seen how some of my religious friends find him abrasive. Most of the time when I see this though, what I suspect much of the criticism of him comes from, is that people just don't like having their long term beliefs challenged. (They would also say, at times, ridiculed). That's not surprising. Other times though, even his supporters think he gets too strident in what he says and how he describes things.

Anyone who has followed my writing, will know that even though I spent the first 42 years of my life growing up as a Christian, I now have absolutely no time for religion. I find it completely unnecessary, often harmful, and I yearn for the day that the world will get past beliefs in gods, demons, ghosts, spirits, etc. And I certainly yearn for the day when professing a belief in such things won't be required for achieving public office in various countries.

I also grew up in an era where the churches have overseen appalling acts, and then spent their times covering them up rather than helping victims.

I also have no issue with people believing whatever they want. I have friends of pretty much all the popular religious persuasions. Where I have a real issue is when they then want to make laws that govern how we live, based entirely on their belief system. Australia isn't too bad on this front, but there is still far too much overlap of church and state.

So I was interested to read Dawkin's new book Outgrowing God: A Beginner's Guide. I hoped he would create a book that explained why belief in deities, etc. isn't needed, and is often counter-productive, but in a language that many more would find easier to approach.

This book does cover the basics. It looks at how beliefs have developed over time; it looks at how we know what's true and what isn't. It looks at how having a god adds nothing to our knowledge of where the universe came from. It looks at how there's no need at all for a religion to provide a moral compass for us all.

And I'm sure he's targeted a mostly US-based audience when describing what we know about evolution. A recent Gallup poll found that 38% of people in the USA still believe that a god created us in our current form, and within the last 10,000 years or so.

Even the catholic pope has long given up on that.

As a book, it touches all the bases, but when reading it, I thought the tone felt a bit flat. It also tended to be repetitive in some areas.

The Verdict ?

This book is ok, and probably best if the target audience was say 15 to 25 year olds, growing up in a society that holds religious beliefs strongly.  6 out of 10.


Book Review: Reprogramming the American Dream

I've mentioned before that I have a deep interest in artificial intelligence and how it will change the world. In particular, I'm interested in the effects on jobs. So I was pleased to get to listen to another book covering this recently. It was Kevin Scott (from Microsoft)'s Reprogramming the American Dream: From Rural America to Silicon Valley – Making AI Serve Us All.

Kevin is Microsoft's Chief Technology Officer, so I've come across him before. Prior to Microsoft, he was a senior vice president at LinkedIn and came across to Microsoft as part of the LinkedIn purchase.

I found the book quite fascinating, as much for details of his background in rural America (in Virginia), the moves he's made over the years, and then how he views the potential impacts of AI on rural America. That's an interesting take, as most books today seem to focus on the effects on the big cities.

I'm really interested in how AI will effect people outside the major cities. A recent LandLine program here in Australia covered some local agri-robots. I loved seeing that happening. There is a lot of buzz about agri-robots but not too many are offering practical machines for sale. So I loved seeing that happen, particularly from a rural town like Emerald. What I really loved though, was that they were producing a software development kit (SDK) for their robots, right from an early stage. They've realised they won't be the only ones building apps for their robots. The intersection of this and AI opens so many doors.

In this book Kevin looks at how to integrate AI with work, rather than the typical dystopian view where work is all obliterated. I found his viewpoint somewhat practical and refreshing.

The Verdict ?

This is a great book. 9 out of 10. I found it compelling and compulsive listening. (Mind you I love this topic anyway). I'd like to get Kevin on my podcast one day, to get to discuss it further with him. I might reach out soon. I think it would make for interesting content.


Book Review: Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again

I have a deep interest in artificial intelligence and how it will change the world. I regularly present sessions on what I see coming, technology-wise. Many examples in those sessions are based on breakthroughs related to medicine. So I was pleased to get to listen to Eric Topol's book Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Healthcare Human Again.

Eric spends time discussing how much of existing medicine is functional yet quite broken. Very few doctors now really connect with and relate to their patients. Worse, misdiagnoses are becoming far too frequent, arguably because of this disconnection.

In this book, Eric takes a realistic look at where we're at with AI in medicine, and suggests how AI based systems will revolutionize the practice of medicine. The issue is with how this will be implemented. Doctors who see their own roles as purely functional (e.g. a radiologist who reads scans and writes summaries all day long, without interacting with patients at all), will be basically replaced. Doctors who use the AI based systems to enhance their work and free them from procedural tasks so that they can focus on patient interactions will see great outcomes.

Eric hopes that AI based systems will bring real patient care back into the healthcare business, while reducing the number of mistakes that are made.

The Verdict ?

This is a great book. 9 out of 10. I found it compelling and compulsive listening. It was interesting to hear an assessment of medical AI from someone directly involved both in medicine, and in researching where we are with medical AI.

Book Review: Atomic Habits

Another book that I listened to recently, also fits into the "I nearly didn't get past the first chapter" category. It was Atomic Habits by James Clear. By the end of this book though, I realised just how much I'd enjoyed it.

James makes a really interesting study into habits. Far more than anything I'd ever read before.

He makes it so clear how the compound effect of hundreds of small decisions leads to profound life changes. That was already pretty obvious to me but I loved the way he made this so practical. He calls the habits that are formed Atomic Habits.

As soon as I posted on Facebook about having enjoyed it, I was surprised by how many of my friends told me they'd loved it too.

I wasn't expecting to find a deep discussion on habits and the science behind how they form and how to change them so interesting, and I'm so glad I didn't give up near the beginning.  The endless examples are particularly engaging.

The verdict ?

Have to say I loved it. 9 of out 10.  If you need a bit of motivation after a year of covid-19, this might help.