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April 25, 2005

Current Reading

I pushed the 'buy' button last week on whatever was in my Amazon queue because I had a few extra bucks.

Ragged Robin
I have been looking for this book for about 7 years. As soon as my little ones started to read, I went back into my own memory for all the books that I remember reading as a child, and Ragged Robin was at the top of the list. Except that I could not, for the life of me, get anyone to remember it, including myself and harried librarians in Redondo, South Pasadena, and the main branch of the LA Public Library. All I could remember was 'Zachary Zed, the last man on earth'. Finally, the search engines made sense of my earliest childhood memories. They delivered when my own parents couldn't, and gave me the ISBN of this incredible book by James Reeves. It had the most profound impact on me when I finally saw its pages after 35 years - I was brought to tears.

My Life as a Quant
I'm just getting into this one and it's going to be a geeky ride. Finally, someone is writing about what has basically been my unfulfilled professional ambition - applying scientific algorithms to the business of equities. As soon as I heard the call for 'rocket scientist' programmers at Cal State back in 83, being a Wall Street programmer has been all I ever wanted to do. I never really came as close as I wanted to and I can't say that I put my whole heart and soul into it. The discipline was so extraordinarily arcane, I couldn't even find anyone who knew someone on the inside - even when I lived in NYC. I settled for the next best thing, Business Intelligence, which is pretty much what everybody outside of Wall Street does, kinda.

Most business computing specs aren't so demanding analytically but interesting nonetheless. That is, unless you're Emanuel Derman, theoretical physics grad. Just reading Derman brings out the persnickety overdisciplined manic in me. I check my fingernails for dirt, straighten out the papers on my desk and go through my full mental queue of all things done and left undone. While I'm on the subject, I have a confession. I harbor a secret admiration for the Notary Public in Redondo at the UPS Store. There is something about the meticulous way she purposfully lines up her stamp on the page. It's her fingers, the precision. That she grew up speaking another language than English only heightens the feeling for me. When I was 10 years and graduating from the 6th grade with straight As except for a C in handwriting, my father made me practice cursive for hours on end. This is the kind of appreciation I have for the world-ordering instincts and compulsions of the fastidious. The desire to be correct is very deep in us, and it is that resonance I am feeling with Derman right from the start.

He has the Jewish thing, a God above his head. He has the South African thing, a perfect ability to be oblivious to other orders. He has the American thing, a crushing desire to be the best at something. He is a brainy rube in NY looking to the brightest minds in the most demanding discipline of his day, and he has gone the whole nine yards on the geek side in the classic way I have heard countless times, of recognizing the stunning brilliance and beauty of Maxwell's equations. In other words, he is in so many ways, a hopeless romantic in thrall to the life of the precise and dominating mind. Oh the suffering that can bring. But at this stage in the book, I haven't witnessed that part yet.

The Teeth of the Tiger
It's Clancy, what can I say? This along with the latest stealth video game, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, is keeping my paranoia fed. Did I tell you that I was reading that other Dan Brown 'Digital Fortress'? Yike. What a pooter. (It stinks like your girlfriends fart, almost cute). I got halfway through that pulp in New Orleans and decided I needed to pump up the volume, and Clancy has delivered in these two forms a much superior class of fiction. I must say that I still much prefer the Splinter Cell fiction to the 'Tiger' fiction, but I haven't tossed Tiger yet.

I may never finish 'Secrets and Lies' by Schneier because it's so dated and commonsensical now. But it remains a decent reference if not a decent read. I now have 'Beyond Fear' and haven't cracked it yet. Soon come.

Posted by mbowen at April 25, 2005 10:01 PM

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I've just started getting on a reading regime. How many books do you read a month? What are some good suggestions? Thanks.

Posted by: TheOne at April 26, 2005 05:12 AM

When I first got started, it was with Woody Allen books and Neil Simon plays. They were funny and short. The trick was readjusting my attention span. Also find a nice comfortable place and designate it as your reading spot. Finally, when you're watching TV and see something stupid, immediately turn it off and go read.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2005 08:26 AM

Posted by: George Kelly [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 26, 2005 02:31 PM

The first book my husband checked out of the library with his very own card was Sprockets, a Little Robot. He was horrified when he couldn't find it for our own kid, but eventually a very old, used copy showed up. My own early childhood favorites are still very much in existence: the Beverly Cleary books (Henry Huggins and Ramona) and the Little House books.

I used to go to the library and check out the most off-the-wall books I could for my husband. He always read them, too. I remember one about the Spanish Inquisition, one about the Zulu king Chaka, and one about Livingstone of "Mr. Livingstone, I presume?" fame, which led to Lawrence of Arabia. I think L of A depressed him and I stopped bringing books home and left him to his usual science fiction (not that there's anything wrong with that). I ought to start doing that again.

My daughter hates it when I recommend a book to her and tell her she'll love it; she hates it because she always does, and she dislikes being so predictable.

Posted by: Laura at April 26, 2005 06:16 PM