Line by Line

Reading List Update: Three Down, Ten to Go

posted August 14, 2010

Tags: reading list

I haven't been able to devote as much time to reading as I thought I would, since I've also been getting caught up on my podcasts and working on my art. (Who knew deviantArt would actually be fun?) But here are my thoughts on those books I have finished. Therefore, this post is a long one. Next time I'll have to remember to post as soon as I finish one book. I'll also try to be more timely in the future.

First up, Ender's Game. Apparently it's considered required reading for science fiction fans, and I've been wanting to get more sci-fi in my diet.

I'm struck by the similarities and differences between the technology in the book and the technology we have today. The book's copyright date is 1977, after all. The examples that come to mind are newspapers projected right on the kitchen table, the portable computers ("Desks") everyone has, and the "nets."

I'm pretty sure we've mostly given up on "a computer in every surface" for now, and let's face it: Print is not dead. On the other hand, the book nailed the idea of everyone having a portable computing device: Just look at all our laptops, netbooks, PDAs, smart phones, iPads, and so on. The idea of everyone being connected by computer networks is sound, but I see two main differences between the nets and our Internet: First, they look to me more like the old newsgroups than the Web--but then again who could have predicted how the Web would take off? Second, while the Internet is (mostly) one big open network, the nets were several networks, some more restricted than others, most off-limits to children.

Another thing I wanted to mention is that Ender's Game is famous for it's plot twist near the end. (Spoiler: The Buggers work for Ganon. No, not really.) I won't give it away, but this being the Internet I bet you've already had it spoiled. But it's not the only twist. There's another one that comes a bit later, and it's rather thought-provoking. It makes you think about some of the things that were taken for granted throughout the book and, like the other twist, it ties into the book's theme of the information we use to make decisions being controlled by others. Good stuff.

If you can get past a couple rather violent episodes and some crass language throughout, Ender's Game isn't half bad.

Moving on, my next project was the Gospel According to Matthew.

What struck me about this book was the number of things that are expected of us. All this stuff about taking up your cross, and especially the part where Jesus talks about how simply following the old law is not enough: You can't just not kill someone--even harboring anger is a sin. You can't just avoid cheating on your spouse--even a lustful look is like adultery. And on it goes. It's easy in this day and age to focus on the promise of salvation and Jesus' love, or (as in my case) just worry about whether a given act qualifies as a sin and whether it's mortal or venial. Reading this Gospel has been a stark reminder that we're also required to make an effort to reach out to God and cooperate with His grace.

Also of note: The miracle of the loaves and fishes. Fish. Fisheses... *ahem* I always hear people refer to it as a single event, but it happened twice. First, in chapter 14, five loaves and two fish fed five thousand men (not counting the women and children) with twelve baskets of leftovers. (And no refrigeration. Eew.) In chapter 15, it was seven loaves,"a few small fish," four thousand men (plus women and children), and seven baskets. Both accounts also appear in Mark, which I'm reading now. Judging by the end of John's gospel (I read ahead; sue me), I wouldn't be surprised if those weren't the only two times.

Finally, I finished Wicked Cool PHP. The format is different from most of the computer books I've read, in that its chapters are divided into sections devoted to individual scripts. It's designed for people who already have a basic knowledge of PHP syntax, and each section is intended, basically, to answer the questions that start with "How do you...?" by introducing readers to a given technique (or maybe a few techniques) and putting them into practice. Want to know how to create a CAPTCHA (those "type these letters" doohickeys you see on blogs)? That's in section #66. Want to know how to let users upload files as part of form data? That in #54. Need to work with the date and time formats? That in #47.

I don't have enough experience with computer books in general to say whether it's an innovative approach, but I'll give it this: Seeing these techniques demonstrated under real-world conditions (albeit simplified for the learner) beats the pants off the "hello world" tripe that most programming books shove on you. Examples are also a heck of a lot easier than trying to learn using just the reference manual.

Expect another post fairly soon on the Gospel According to Mark, which I've almost finished. After that, I'll probably be working on The Artist's Complete Guide to Facial Expression and Philosophy 101 by Socrates, both of which I've already started.