Also, can I just say how nice this reading experience is—the typography, the arresting image …I like it.
Friday, September 27th, 2019
Saturday, August 3rd, 2019
Books in the public domain, lovingly designed and typeset, available in multiple formats for free. Great works of fiction from Austen, Conrad, Stevenson, Wells, Hardy, Doyle, and Dickens, along with classics of non-fiction like Darwin’s The Origin of Species and Shackleton’s South!
Monday, February 25th, 2019
While the Interaction 19 event was a bit of a mixed bag overall, there were some standout speakers.
Marty Neumeier was unsurprisingly excellent. I’d seen him speak before, at UX London a few years back, so I knew he’d be good. He has a very reassuring, avuncular manner when he’s speaking. You know the way that there are some people you could just listen to all day? He’s one of those.
Marty’s talk at Interaction 19 was particularly interesting because it was about his new book. Now, why would that be of particular interest? Well, this new book—Scramble—is a business book, but it’s written in the style of a thriller. He wanted it to be like one of those airport books that people read as a guilty pleasure.
One rainy night in December, young CEO David Stone is inexplicably called back to the office. The company’s chairman tells him that the board members have reached the end of their patience. If David can’t produce a viable turnaround plan in five weeks, he’s out of a job. His only hope is to try something new. But what?
I love this idea!
I’ve talked before about borrowing narrative structures from literature and film and applying them to blog posts and conference talks—techniques like flashback, in media res, etc.—so I really like the idea of taking an entire genre and applying it to a technical topic.
The closest I’ve seen is the comic that Scott McCloud wrote for the release of Google Chrome back in 2008. But how about a romantic comedy about service workers? Or a detective novel about CSS grid?
I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about Marty Neumeier’s book next time I’m struggling to put a conference talk together.
In the meantime, if you want to learn from the master storyteller himself, Clearleft are running a two-day Brand Master Workshop with Marty on March 14th and 15th at The Barbican in London. Early bird tickets are on sale until this Thursday, so don’t dilly-dally if you were thinking about nabbing your spot.
Tuesday, February 19th, 2019
An Interview with Nick Harkaway: Algorithmic Futures, Literary Fractals, and Mimetic Immortality - Los Angeles Review of Books
Nick Harkaway on technology in fiction:
Humans without tools are not magically pure; they’re just unvaccinated, cold, and wet.
SF is how we get to know ourselves, either who we are or who we might be. In terms of what is authentically human, SF has a claim to be vastly more honest and important than a literary fiction that refuses to admit the existence of the modern and goes in search of a kind of essential humanness which exists by itself, rather than in the intersection of people, economics, culture, and science which is where we all inevitably live. It’s like saying you can only really understand a flame if you get rid of the candle. Good luck with that.
And on Borges:
He was a genius, and he left this cryptic, brilliant body of work that’s poetic, incomplete, astonishing. It’s like a tasting menu in a restaurant where they let you smell things that go to other tables and never arrive at yours.
Tuesday, January 15th, 2019
I have to admit, I’m kind of nervous about this talk. It’s been quite a while since the last New Adventures, but it’s always had quite the cachet. I think I went to most of them. It’s quite strange—and quite an honour—to shift gears from attendee to speaker.
The talk I’ll be giving is called Building. That might be a noun. That might be a verb. You decide:
Every new medium looks to what has come before for guidance. Web design has taken cues from centuries of typography and graphic design. Web development has borrowed metaphors and ideas from the world of architecture. Let’s take a tour of some of the most influential ideas from architecture that have crossed over into the web, from pattern languages to responsive design. Together we’ll uncover how to build resilient, performant, accessible and beautiful structures that work with the grain of the materials of the web.
This talk builds upon the talk I gave at last year’s An Event Apart called The Way Of The Web. It also reflects many of the ideas in Resilient Web Design. When I gave a run-through of the talk at Clearleft last week, Andy called it a “greatest hits.” For a while there, I was feeling guilty about retreading some ground I’ve covered in previous talks and writings. Then I realised it was pretty arrogant of me to think that anyone in the audience would be familiar with any of it.
Besides, I’ve got a whole new avenue of exploration in this talk. It’s about language and metaphor—how we talk about what we do on the web. I’ve just finished giving another run-through at the Clearleft studio and I’m feeling pretty good about it. That’s good, because I find that giving a talk in a small room to a handful of colleagues is way more stressful than giving a talk to hundreds of people at a conference.
Just as I put together links related to last year’s talk, I figured I’d provide some hyperlinks for anyone interested in the topics raised in this new talk…
- Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
- Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
- Creating Killer Websites by David Siegel
- Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockman
- 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick
- Architectural Intelligence by Molly Wright Steenson
- A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein with Ingrid King, Shlomo Angel and Max Jacobsen
- How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand
- Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
- The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility by Stewart Brand
- A Dao Of Web Design by John Allsopp
- Responsive Web Design by Ethan Marcotte
- Device Agnostic by Trent Walton
- The Work I Like by Ethan Marcotte
Friday, December 28th, 2018
Books I read in 2018
I read twenty books in 2018, which is exactly the same amount as I read in 2017. Reflecting on that last year, I said “It’s not as many as I hoped.” It does seem like a meagre amount, but in my defence, some of the books I read this year were fairly hefty tomes.
I decided to continue my experiment from last year of alternating fiction and non-fiction books. That didn’t quite work out, but it makes for a good guiding principle.
In ascending reading order, these are the books I read in 2018…
A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
I started this towards the end of 2017 and finished it at the start of 2018. A good sci-fi romp, but stretched out a little bit long.
Time Travel: A History by James Gleick
I really enjoyed this, but then, that’s hardly a surprise. The subject matter is tailor made for me. I don’t think this quite matches the brilliance of Gleick’s The Information, but I got a real kick out of it. A book dedicated to unearthing the archeology of a science-fiction concept is a truly fascinating idea. And it’s not just about time travel, per se—this is a meditation on the nature of time itself.
Traction by Gino Wickman
Andy was quite taken with this management book and purchased multiple copies for the Clearleft leadership team. I’ll refrain from rating it because it was more like a homework assignment than a book I would choose to read. It crystalises some good organisational advice into practical steps, but it probably could’ve been quite a bit shorter.
Provenance by Ann Leckie
It feels very unfair but inevitable to compare this to Ann Leckie’s amazing debut Imperial Radch series. It’s not in quite the same league, but it’s also not trying to be. This standalone book has a lighter tone. It’s a rollicking good sci-fi procedural. It may not be as mind-blowingly inventive as Ancillary Justice, but it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures edited by Ed Finn and Joey Eschrich, with guest editor Juliet Ulman
This book is free to download so it’s rather excellent value for money. It alternates sci-fi short stories with essays. Personally, I would skip the essays—they’re all a bit too academic for my taste. But some of these stories are truly excellent. There’s a really nice flow to the collection: it begins in low Earth orbit, then expands out to the Mars, the asteroid belt, and beyond. Death on Mars by Madeline Ashby was a real standout for me.
The Best of Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle
For some reason, I was sent a copy of this book by an editor at Penguin Classics. I have no idea why, but thank you, Sam! This turned out to be a lot of fun. I had forgotten just how many classics of horror and sci-fi are the work of Richard Matheson. He probably wrote your favourite Twilight Zone episode. There’s a real schlocky enoyment to be had from snacking on these short stories, occassionally interspersed with genuinely disturbing moments and glimpses of beauty.
Close To The Machine: Technophilia And Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman
Lots of ’90s feels in this memoir. A lot of this still resonates today. It’s kind of fascinating to read it now with the knowledge of how this whole internet thing would end up going.
Gnomon by Nick Harkaway
This gripped me from the start, and despite its many twisty strands, it managed to keep me with it all the way through. Maybe it’s a bit longer than it needs to be, and maybe some of the diversions don’t entirely work, but it makes up for that with its audaciousness. I still prefer Goneaway World, but any Nick Harkaway book is a must-read.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Terrific stuff. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve got about one tenth of the story. The book charts a longer arc and provides much deeper social and political context.
Dawn by Octavia Butler
This is filled with interesting ideas, but the story never quite gelled for me. I’m not sure if I should continue with the rest of the Lilith’s Brood series. But there’s something compelling and unsettling in here.
Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Frustratingly inconsistent. Here’s my full review.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
I devoured these books back-to-back. The Fifth Season was terrific—packed to the brim with inventiveness. But neither The Obelisk Gate nor The Stone Sky quite did it for me. Maybe my expectations were set too high by that first installment. But The Broken Earth is still a fascinating and enjoyable series.
Programmed Inequality by Marie Hicks
I was really looking forward to this one, but I found its stiff academic style hard to get through. I still haven’t finished it. But I figure if I could read Sapiens through to the end, I can certainly manage this. The subject matter is certainly fascinating, and the research is really thorough, but I’m afraid the book is showing its thesis roots.
The Power by Naomi Alderman
This plays out its conceit well, and it’s a fun read, but it’s not quite a classic. It feels more like a Neil Gamain or Lauren Beukes page-turner than, say, a Margaret Atwood exploration. Definitely worth a read, though.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
The world-building (or maybe it’s world rebuilding) is terrific. But once again, as is often the case with Kim Stanley Robinson, I find the plot to be lacking. This is not in the same league as Aurora. It’s more like 2312-on-sea. It’s frustrating. I’m torn between giving it three stars or four. I’m going to be generous because even though it’s not the best Kim Stanley Robinson book, it contains some of his best writing. There are passages that are breathtakingly good.
A Thread Across The Ocean by John Steele Gordon
After (temporarily) losing my library copy of New York 2140, I picked this up in a bookstore in Charlottesville so I’d have something to read during my stay there. I was very glad I did. I really, really enjoyed this. It’s all about the transatlantic telegraphic cable, so if that’s your thing—as it is mine—you’re going to enjoy this. It makes a great companion piece to Tom Standage’s The Victorian Internet. Come for the engineering, stay for the nautical tales of derring-do.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Not as disturbing as the Southern Reach Trilogy, but equally unsettling in its own way. Shades of Oryx and Crake, but in a more fantastically surreal setting.
The Airs Of Earth by Brian Aldiss
A good collection of short stories from the master of sci-fi. I’ve got a backlog of old pulpy paperback Aldiss collections like this that make for good snackfood for the mind.
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths
A Christmas present from my brother-in-law. I just cracked this open, so you’ll have to come back next year to find out how it fared.
Alright. Now it’s time to pick the winners.
I think the best fiction book I read this year was Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon.
For non-fiction, it’s a tough call. I really enjoyed Hidden Figures and A Thread Across The Ocean, but I think I’m going to have to give the top spot to James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History.
But there were no five star books this year. Maybe that will change in 2019. And maybe I’ll read more books next year, too. We’ll see.
In 2017, seven of the twenty books I read were by women. In 2018, it was nine out of twenty (not counting anthologies). That’s better, but I want keep that trajectory going in 2019.
Saturday, December 22nd, 2018
Craig writes about reading and publishing, from the memex and the dynabook to the Kindle, the iPhone, and the iPad, all the way back around to plain ol’ email and good old-fashioned physical books.
We were looking for the Future Book in the wrong place. It’s not the form, necessarily, that needed to evolve—I think we can agree that, in an age of infinite distraction, one of the strongest assets of a “book” as a book is its singular, sustained, distraction-free, blissfully immutable voice. Instead, technology changed everything that enables a book, fomenting a quiet revolution. Funding, printing, fulfillment, community-building—everything leading up to and supporting a book has shifted meaningfully, even if the containers haven’t. Perhaps the form and interactivity of what we consider a “standard book” will change in the future, as screens become as cheap and durable as paper. But the books made today, held in our hands, digital or print, are Future Books, unfuturistic and inert may they seem.
Tuesday, December 18th, 2018
How lovely! Going Offline is in very good company in this list, and Oliver has some nice words to say about it:
Extremely beginner-friendly and approachable, it can be read in half a day and will help you get Service Workers up and running in no time.
But all I want for Christmas is for Shopify to stop enabling Breitbart.
Thursday, November 8th, 2018
Monday, July 23rd, 2018
Typography meets astronomy in 16th century books like the Astronomicum Caesareum.
It is arguably the most typographically impressive scientific manual of the sixteenth century. Owen Gingerich claimed it, “the most spectacular contribution of the book-maker’s art to sixteenth-century science.”
Monday, July 2nd, 2018
Okay, I think I’m going to have to get this pack of three notebooks: Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.
Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
If only all documentation was as great as this old manual for the ZX Spectrum that Remy uncovered:
The manual is an instruction book on how to program the Spectrum. It’s a full book, with detailed directions and information on how the machine works, how the programming language works, includes human readable sentences explaining logic and even goes so far as touching on what hex values perform which assembly functions.
When we talk about things being “inspiring”, it’s rarely in regards to computer manuals. But, damn, if this isn’t inspiring!
This book stirs a passion inside of me that tells me that I can make something new from an existing thing. It reminds me of the 80s Lego boxes: unlike today’s Lego, the back of a Lego box would include pictures of creations that you could make with your Lego set. It didn’t include any instructions to do so, but it always made me think to myself: “I can make something more with these bricks”.
Saturday, June 16th, 2018
The focus of the A Book Apart series is what makes it great …and that means having to reject some proposals that don’t fit. Even though I’ve had the honour of being a twice-published A Book Apart author, I also have the honour of receiving a rejection, which Jeffrey mentions here:
In one case we even had to say no to a beautifully written, fully finished book.
That was Resilient Web Design.
So why did we turn down books we knew would sell? Because, again—they weren’t quite right for us.
It was the right decision. And this is the right advice:
If you’ve sent us a proposal that ultimately wasn’t for us, don’t be afraid to try again if you write something new—and most importantly, believe in yourself and keep writing.
Tuesday, May 15th, 2018
Monday, April 2nd, 2018
Perspectives other than our own bring a breath of fresh air. They open doors and allow light to flood in. They wrap us in a warm, comforting blanket by letting us know other people go through similar struggles. There is a tonne of writing out there that exists because the author suffered through something. Suffering tends to give you a strong desire to prevent others experiencing similar pain.
Sunday, February 11th, 2018
There’s something quite Bridlesque about these lovely books that Brendan is generating from git commits.
Friday, December 29th, 2017
Plague; zombie; nuclear …Anna’s got them all covered in her roundup of apocalyptic literature and games.
Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Books I read in 2017
Here are the books I read in 2017. It’s not as many as I hoped.
I set myself a constraint this year so that I’d have to alternate between reading fiction and non-fiction: no reading two fiction books back-to-back, and no reading two non-fiction books back-to-back. I quite like the balanced book diet that resulted. I think I might keep it going.
Anyway, in order of consumption, here are those books…
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
I had already seen—and quite enjoyed—the first series of the television adaption of The Expanse so I figured I’d dive into the books that everyone kept telling me about. The book was fun …but no more than that. I don’t think I’m invested enough to read any of the further books. In some ways, I think this makes for better TV than reading (despite the TV’s shows annoying “slow motion in zero G” trope that somewhat lessens the hard sci-fi credentials).
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
This was recommended by James Box, and on the whole, I really liked it. There’s a lot of anecdata though. Still, the fundamental premise is a good one, comparing the attitudes towards risk in two different industries; aviation and healthcare. A little bit more trimming down would’ve helped the book—it dragged on just a bit too long.
The Separation by Christopher Priest
I need to read at least one Christopher Priest book a year. They’re in a league of their own, somehow outside the normal rules of criticism. This one is a true stand-out. As ever, it messes with your head and gets weirder as it goes on. If you haven’t read any Christopher Priest, I reckon this would be a great one to start with.
Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George
Recommended by both Jessica and Danielle, this is a well-crafted look into life on board a cargo ship, as well as an examination of ocean-going logistics. If you liked the Containers podcast, you’ll like this. I found it a little bit episodic—more like a collection of magazine articles sometimes—but still enjoyable.
Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler
A false start. This is a short story, not a novel—I didn’t know that when I downloaded it to my Kindle. It’s an excellent short story though. Still, I felt it didn’t count in my zigzagging between fiction and non-fiction so I followed it with…
Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
Science fiction from the 1930s. The breadth of imagination is quite staggering, even if the writing is sometimes a bit of a slog. Still, it seems remarkably ahead of its time in many ways.
The Sense Of Style by Steven Pinker
I spent a portion of 2017 writing a book so I was eager to read Steven Pinker’s take on a style guide, having thoroughly enjoyed The Language Instinct and The Blank Slate. This book starts with a bang—a critique of some examples of great writing. Then there’s some good practical advice, and then there’s a bit of a laundry list of non-rules. Typical of Pinker, the points about unclear writing are illustrated with humorous real-world examples. Overall, a good guide but perhaps a little longer than it needs to be.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Writing On The Wall by Tom Standage
I’ve read of all of Tom Standage’s books but none of them have ever matched the brilliance of The Victorian Internet. This one was frustratingly shallow. Every now and then there were glimpses of a better book. There’s a chapter on radio that gets genuinely exciting and intriguing. If Tom Standage wrote a whole book on that, I’d read it in a heartbeat. But in this collection of social media through the ages, it just reminded me of how much better he can be.
Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
Recommended by Jessica and Denise, this was my first Sheri S. Tepper book. It took me a while to get into it, but I enjoyed it. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s a solid planetary romance.
Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
This has been recommended to me by more people than I can recall. I was very glad to finally get to read it (myself and Amber did a book swap: I gave her A Sense Of Style and she gave me this). As a guide to writing, it’s got some solid advice, humorously delivered, but there were also moments where I found the style grating. Still worth reading though.
The Gradual by Christopher Priest
I just can’t get enough of Christopher Priest. I saw that his latest book was in the local library and I snapped it up. This one is set entirely in the Dream Archipelago. Yet again, the weirdness increases as the book progresses. It’s not up there with The Islanders or The Adjacent, but it’s as unsettling as any of his best books.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford
I think this was the best non-fiction book I read this year. It’s divided into two halves. The first half, which I preferred, dealt with the sweep of human history as told through our genes. The second half deals with modern-day stories in the press that begin “Scientists say…” It was mostly Adam Rutherford gritting his teeth in frustration as he points out that “it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Thoroughly enjoyable, well written, and educational.
A Closed And Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
I had read the first book in this series, A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and thought it was so-so. It read strangely like fan fiction, and didn’t have much of a though-line. But multiple people said that this second outing was a big improvement. They weren’t wrong. This is definitely a better book. The story is relatively straightforward, and as with all good sci-fi, it’s not really telling us about a future society—it’s telling us about the world we live in. The book isn’t remarkable but it’s solid.
The Dream Machine: J.C.R Licklider And The Revolution That Made Computing Possible by M. Mitchell Waldrop
This is the kind of book that could have been written just for me. The ARPANET, Turing, Norbert Wiener and Cybernetics, Xerox PARC, the internet, the web …it’s all in here. I enjoyed it, but it was a long slog. I’m not sure if using J.C.R. Licklider as the unifying factor in all these threads really worked. And maybe it was just the length of the book getting to me, but by the time I was two-thirds of the way through, I was getting weary of the dudes. Yes, there were a lot of remarkable men involved in these stories, but my heart sank with every chapter that went by without a single woman being mentioned. I found it ironic that so many intelligent people had the vision to imagine a world of human-computer symbiosis, but lacked the vision to challenge the status quo of the societal structures they were in.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Lauren defies genre-pigeonholing once again. This is sort of a horror, sort of a detective story, and sort of a social commentary. It works well, although I was nervous about the Detroit setting sometimes veering into ruin porn. I don’t think it’s up there with Zoo City or The Shining Girls, but it’s certainly a page-turner.
Accessibility For Everyone by Laura Kalbag
Because the previous non-fiction book I read was so long, I really fancied something short and to-the-point. A Book Apart to the rescue. You can be guaranteed that any book from that publisher will be worth reading, and this is no exception.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
There was a lot of buzz around this book, and it came highly recommended by Danielle. It’s thoroughly dizzying in its world-building; you’re plunged right into the thick of things with no word of explanation or exposition. I like that. There were times when I thought that maybe I had missed some important information, because I was having such a hard time following what was going on, but then I’d realise that the sense of disorientation was entirely deliberate. Good stuff …although for some reason I ended up liking it more than loving it.
High Performance Browser Networking by Ilya Grigorik
A recommendation from Harry. The whole book is available online for free. That’s how I’ve been reading it—in a browser tab. In fact, I have to confess that I haven’t finished it. I’m dipping in and out. There’s a lot of very detailed information on how networks and browsers work. I’m not sure how much of it is going into my brain, but I very much appreciate having this resource to hand.
A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
I picked up a trade paperback copy of this sci-fi book at The Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver when I was there for An Event Apart earlier this month. I had heard it mentioned often and it sounds like my kind of yarn. I’m about halfway through it now and so far, so good.
There you have it.
It’s tough to pick a clear best. In non-fiction, I reckon Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived just about pips Steven Pinker’s A Sense of Style. In fiction, Christopher Priest’s The Separation comes close, but Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora remains my favourite.
Like I said, not as many books as I would like. And of those twenty works, only seven were written by women—I need to do better in 2018.
Monday, October 23rd, 2017
I love what Ben is doing with this single-serving site (similar to my design principles collection)—it’s a collection of handy links and resources around voice UI:
Designing a voice interface? Here’s a useful list of lists: as many guiding principles as we could find, all in one place. List compiled and edited by Ben Sauer @bensauer.
BONUS ITEM: Have him run a voice workshop for you!
Monday, October 2nd, 2017
Great advice from Jen on writing a book:
- Write emails to Ted. Try to find a little comfort zone inside the larger uncomfortable task.
- Don’t write a Book. Write Chapters. Break a large chore into smaller tasks and focus on one at a time.
- Trap yourself. Set up a workspace that limits distraction and procrastination.
- Don’t despair the zero-word-count days. Give yourself credit for behind-the-scenes work, even self-care.
- Get amnesia. Keep your eye on the prize.