The King of Torts

I just finished The King of Torts which was written by the master story teller, John Grisham. You can’t go wrong reading any of Grisham’s books. If you are perceptive you would realize from my blog that I have read quite a few books recently. I have been travelling on the road for work the past couple weeks and enjoy spending the time in the airport trying to catch up with my reading queue.

One Point Safe

One Point Safe is an engaging and scary story about the safety and security of nuclear materials and weapons.

“One Point Safe. This precise term of weapons engineering refers to the standard that every U.S. weapon must meet, so that in case of an accident, the chance of its producing an explosion with a nuclear yield greater than four pounds of TNT is only one in a million.”

This description of security agencies that protect the U.S. from nuclear terrorism sounds similar to the findings of the 9-11 Commission: “Bungling, arrogance, logistical chaos and the unwillingness of agencies to communicate were paralyzing their ability to defuse the worst nightmare of the post-cold-war age.”

“Plutonium dust kills for at least 24,000 years. Wherever and however the dust might be ingested, breathed in, licked by mistake, it was the world’s most potent killer.”

“John Goggin, a veteran of the Manhattan Project… was eighty-one years old… The octogenarian walked slowly around the table. He studied the mysterious Building 33 as he walked around again… Tarmiya was an exact replica of John Googin’s building at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, home of the calutron weapons program… ‘The Iraqis took the unclassified information on the U.S. calutron program and then they innovated.'” The Iraqis were well on their way to enriching uranium to make weapons.

Our Crowd

I just finished reading “Our Crowd”: The Great Jewish Families of New York. It was a well told story of coming to America, working hard, and ending up very successful. There was plenty of hardship along the way but these families were strong, intelligent and hard working.

Important historical points are nicely woven into the story line and many times these families played key roles from both a political and financial prospective. This book was a great read that definitely didn’t lull me to sleep like a politically correct history text. (I found the last couple chapters rather sluggish and boring, but overall it was solid.)

Showstopper

I just finished reading Showstopper, which has been on my book list a long time. My friends at Gnossos Software (during my summer internship in 1997) recommended it. It details the NT team’s effort and struggle to develop, debug, and deploy Windows NT. Even though Windows NT is an older operating system the book is still an exciting and easy read. Many companies still use NT as their server platform.

My favorite quote from the book is actually a quote from the Mythical Man Month that is woven into the story:

“The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures. Yet the program construct, unlike the poet’s words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sounds, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be. The computer resembles the magic of legend in this respect, too. If one character, one pause, of the incantation is not strictly in proper form, the magic doesn’t work. Human beings are not accustomed to being perfect, and few areas of human activity demand it. Adjusting to the requirement for perfection is, I think, the most difficult part of learning to program.”
– F. Brooks (“The Mythical Man Month”, pages 7-8)

The Prince

My friend Troy recommended that I read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. I found an inexpensive copy on Amazon and picked it up earlier this year. I completed it during my recent European travels.

It is a short, concise, and efficacious book which fits with Machiavelli’s ideas. It contains lots of interesting points about politics and maintaining power. Machiavelli uses his command of history to thoroughly back up his points, honor those leaders whom he respected and settle some scores with those he viewed as ineffective.

Machiavelli praised Moses as a great leader, which I found interesting given some of the means Machiavelli advocated to reach the desired ends. I guess he just didn’t see value in the be your brother’s keeper bit. It appears that politicians on both sides of the aisle, corporate executives and management have mastered Machiavelli’s principles. This book is a must read for anyone who works or votes.

The Art of War

I was travelling this week for work and finished The Art of War on the plane ride back. This book was an interesting read. There is a lot of explanation around the historical context, translation, and authorship of “The Art of War.” This was dry but certainly helped me, a western reader, appreciate this book of antiquity. The book itself is still timely and useful today.

I read a few books that quoted “The Art of War,” which prompted me to read it. Despite being an ancient book, it covers the strategy of terrorism. The word terrorism isn’t specifically used, but the concept is there. We as Americans have been fortunate that we haven’t had to deal with terrorism until fairly recently.

The movie “Wall Street” describes “The Art of War” as a guide for the corporate raider. I don’t agree with the ethics of applying the concepts found in this book to the world of finance. However, many business leaders quote it as their bible and use the corporate coffers as their personal checking accounts.

What does it take to power my Jeep?

I don’t know much about how engines work so I decided to read an Engine Builder’s Handbook. I have been learning a great deal, especially about the inputs necessary to make an engine run efficiently. For example: “The best air/fuel ratio is called stoichiometric, which translates to 14.7 pounds of air for every one pound of fuel… If you consider that air weighs about 5 one-thousandths of a pound for each gallon at standard temperature and pressure and gasoline weighs about 6 pounds per gallon, 1200 gallons of air must flow into an engine for every gallon of gasoline. Hmmm…

My Jeep has a 20.2-gallon fuel tank, consequently, I need ~24,240 gallons of air to flow thru my engine per tank of fuel. (Assuming my Jeep is stoichiometric.) That’s a large volume of air. What does it take to make a gallon of gas? 98 tons (~196,000lbs) of prehistoric, buried plant material. Therefore, each fill up of gas in my Cherokee requires ~3,959,200 lbs of prehistoric, buried plant material. My Cherokee has the aerodynamics of a brick, so I frequently go thru ~24,240 gallons of air and ~3,959,200 lbs of prehistoric, buried plant material. To reassure myself that my Jeep isn’t wasteful, but rather a temperate machine, I just think of the excessive depletion of natural resources due to an Escalade.

The Monk and The Riddle

I travelled to Roanoke Virginia this week for work. I read The Monk and the Riddle while waiting in the airport and during the flights. I enjoyed this book and it challenged me to think about work / life issues. The central theme is the issue of the Deferred Life Plan versus the Full Life Plan. In the form of a question, the central theme would be: are you doing what you truly want to do? Or, are you deferring what you truly want to be doing?

Many people defer what they truly want to do and assume they will have time to complete those items in the future. Unfortunately, we can’t assume we will ever have the time to accomplish them later. The morale of the story is, don’t let life pass you by, do what you truly want to and enjoy the journey. This book is framed in terms of Randy Komisar’s experiences in Silicon Valley. Therefore, it is even easier to recommend it to my friends that work in the technology sector.

The Prize

I just finished reading “The Prize” by Daniel Yergin. It is a thoughtful history (and a 1992 Pultizer Prize winner) that traces the oil industry from its beginnings until 1990. The book was an easy read despite its length, and offered lots of insight into the oil industry and how it evolved. I found oil and its connections to politics, the world wars, and the United State’s military conflicts particularly interesting. It is a must read, especially for people like me who work in the oil industry.