What are you reading? June 2020 Edition

Well…I forgot to post this in May, so this can be a May/June 2020 update. What have you been reading? Hopefully the (continued) lock down in some parts of the world (US, at least) have meant you have time for reading, and the warmer weather means you can do so outside.

I usually split what I’m reading into business, technical and fun books, but you are welcome to post however you’d like!

Here is last month’s post as reference: April 2020

I’m a slow reader/listener. Still going through the books a lot of the books I mentioned in March.

  • Still slowly listening to Someone Comes to Town Someone Leaves Town by Doctorow. I lost interest in it a bit since it veered off into the magical side, with the main characters brother’s corpse trying to exact revenge for its murder (yep). It’s focusing more on the technicalities and community problems of setting up a city-wide Wifi network now, which is actually more enjoyable to read for me. I do like the over-all dream-like weirdness of it though.

  • Still perusing China on Strike by Hao Ren.

  • Still dipping in and out of 3D Printer Engineering - Volume 1: Motion Platform Design

  • I have also started Eccentric Orbits which was recommended (by Chris) on this forum and have been enjoying it. My brother actually works for Motorolla and it was interesting to find out that he had also heard about Iridium through company lore.

  • Also started This is Marketing by Seth Godin. I have been very much enjoying Seth’s podcast and this one is written and read by him. He frames marketing’s main purpose as helping people rather than number-driven selling. I find it really useful in framing my own thinking about promoting my work.

  • I have stopped reading Driven To Distraction by Hallowell and Ratey. I just feel I am dealing fairly well with my concentration and motivation in my work life right now. I think reading the first few chapters did help me. Should see if I there is more good info/advice in the rest of it at some point.

  • Finally, finally, finished Practical Electronics For Inventors. It’s okay. I don’t think I’d go much further than that.

  • So, naturally, moved right on to The Art of Electronics! I’ve tried to get into it before and failed, but I’m more positive this time around. It’s good! But it is so very very dense. They’ll make what sounds like some throwaway comment about something in a single sentence, and 10 pages later you realise that that throwaway comment was absolutely critical, so you go back and pore over that section line by line… I (conservatively) planned one chapter a week. After three weeks I’m half way through Chapter 1, so that might require a bit of a rethink!

  • Rust in Action by T. S. McNamara. Rust is another thing I’ve bounced off a bit in the past, but I’m going to try it for some embedded things, where it feels like a better fit than the problems I’ve tried it on before, so I read this as a recap.

  • KiCad Like A Pro by Peter Dalmaris. I learnt a few things from this, but it wasn’t as deep and comprehensive as I was hoping from the title. It’s mostly pretty basic. Nothing about simulation, hardly anything about 3D modelling and interfacing with MCAD, not much about library management, only extremely simple layout examples, only extremely simple schematics. It’s a beginners’ book, so the “Like A Pro” title is a definite misnomer.

  • Also reading a dull but worthy embedded systems book to recap a pile of stuff I should already know. I think I’ll read Elecia White’s book about this stuff afterwards, since it sounds like it should be more fun.

  • The Human by Neal Asher. I’ve read a lot of Asher’s books in the past, and have found him to be an interesting and imaginative writer, but this felt like he was phoning it in. It’s the end of a trilogy that’s the end of a long-building sequence of novels, and it feels like he just needed to kick over all the boxes he’d set up along the way. Not satisfying. And since it was the only “fun” novel I got around to this month, double disappointing!

Also, so very very many datasheets and app notes. I’ve been reading one per (week)day for the last month or so, and it’s been really useful.

It looks like it was more or less all technical this month, with no business (I’ve been getting some of that by osmosis from talking to my wife about her business development stuff, so that ticks that box), and the only “fun” thing ended up being less fun than The Art of Electronics

(Not sure what the etiquette is here, should I have split this into another topic?)

What did you try it on before? What’s going to be your embedded target?

I have been considering learning Rust by implementing a parser targeted at web-assembly. I find these sorts of “half natural language” parsers like I implemented for electro-grammer fascinating.

Earley parser generators seem to be quite suitable for this and someone made a little toolkit in Rust already. I have been thinking about wrapping that in a sort of framework where you could implement a little grammar for your domain specific “half natural language” grammar and then through Rust and WASM you can parse it anywhere you want.

Not sure what it’s useful for but it seems like fun. (Well it’s probably useful for data-mining people’s conversations e.g. facebook/duckling but I am not so interested in that. )

  • The Art of Doing Science and Engineering. This is book is a classic. There’s a lot going on in this new edition. First of all, the most famous chapter is available for free online. Y’all should read it. Second of all, this book is reprint by Stripe Press. That’s right, the payment company has a publishing arm. That’s crazy! And they have some pretty epic and beautiful books available. Like this book, the Making of the Prince of Persia, looks freaking amazing as well. But TAODSAE is a classic in its own right, but the new forward is done by Bret Victor. Everyone on this forum would truly appreciate his talk, the Future of Programming. Seriously, go watch it now. Bret is now working on a new form of computing at Dynamicland. So, in summary, classic book by Richard Hamming, reprinted by Stripe Press, and a forward by Bret Victor. It’s amazing.
  • Burn-in. This one was just fun, AI/ML/CyberCyberCyber techno thriller. Usually, I’m put off by these but they do a great job describing the tech aspects and the plot line is not the typical AI-robots-of-the-future you’d think. Great summer reading. They also did Ghost Fleet, which I also enjoyed but there’s a strong Navy connection. However, the way the book begins is pretty epic – WWIII starts because of a silicon backdoor in wafers of the Joint Strike Fighter. It’s pretty good too :slight_smile:
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I don’t know either. I guess Chris will tell us if he’d rather we did things a different way!

I started playing with it when I was working for a company that did “caching in the cloud” for speeding up web apps. It was basically a custom distributed multi-tenant caching system that looked like memcached to the users, but was running on a load of machines on AWS for better performance and redundancy. All the (very complicated) back-end code was in Go, and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to try rewriting some portion of it in Rust. It turned out to be just about the most unsuitable first Rust project imaginable. The whole thing is about highly optimised management of memory, and there are data structures with pointers pointing to pointers that point to more pointers that point back to the original pointers, and so on ad infinitum. That turns out to be hard to deal with in Rust, and would have required a lot of up-front design thinking to do things in a more principled way to make the Rust compiler agree that everything was okay. I failed fast there.

As for an embedded target, one will be an STM32 of some kind, mostly just because I have a Nucleo dev board lying around I can use to start with. That has an STM32F767 on it, which should have more than enough space and power for anything I want to do with it, and I can downsize from there once I’ve scoped out the software requirements for the project I’m doing. I’m doing another thing at the moment which is a tools comparison for the nRF52840. That’s slow work and slightly dull, so I’m keeping in mind the idea of doing some very basic Rust experiments on it at the end to keep me going!

Writing parsers in Rust sounds like a much more sensible project to start on than what I tried! I don’t know about these “half natural language” things. I had a little look at electro-grammar (which is nice) and Duckling, and Duckling at least mostly seems to be about spotting stereotyped phrases. I didn’t see anything in their examples that you couldn’t write a regular expression to match.

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TAODSAE looks good. And if you have any interest at all in how humans interact with computers, Bret Victor is someone you should be listening to! I would strongly second the recommendation for The Future of Programming. It’s a great talk.

So as a founder member of the Rust Embedded Working Group (although currently “hibernated” for personal reasons), I thought I should pipe up here and say - go for it!

See https://rust-embedded.github.io/book/ and https://github.com/stm32-rs.

Oh, I’m looking forward to it. A lot of smart people are strong believers in Rust, so I’m pretty convinced that my sub-optimal initial experience was down to me, not Rust. I spent quite a long time programming more or less exclusively in Haskell, so the Rust type system is familiar, but the Rust memory management model is something genuinely new.

Currently Reading

Recently Finished

  • Technical
  • Business
  • Enjoyment
    • Humble Pi
      • This was a book club book. Lots of familiar stories from engineering school, but paired up with some new material. I liked it and the anecdotes were fun, but it was really tough to listen to. I should have read it instead, since hearing strings of numbers read out was tough to keep track of.
    • The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
      • I had never read the later books, and I had forgotten some of the earlier ones. I forgot that they really aren’t that long of stories. Still, Adams has a way with words that made it a great read even a second time around.

Glad to hear you’re reading this! A bit slow to start, but it turns into a really wild ride :slight_smile:

Yeah, almost done with it, it has been a really good recommendation, thanks for that! My only fear is the fictional life that Stephenson breathes into real historical persons will somehow embed itself in my memory and I’ll have an embarrassing episode where I state something that Newton or Leibniz “said” as a fact on The Amp Hour :smiley:


Done with all three books, or just the first? It gets better and better.

Just the first so far, but I’m onto the next books as soon as I get through Enlightenment Now. Ended up signing up for Audible again for a year, I’m well and truly hooked.

They are good, aren’t they? I really liked the tie-in with the Shaftoe family from Cryptonomicon. And the whole mining and smelting sub-plot. And the weird aristocratic pirate pervert. And so many other things!

And Chris: if you like that kind of sideways look at history where you don’t quite know what’s real and what’s made-up, you might like some of Tim Powers’ novels. His Declare is magnificent, taking the whole “secret history of the world” of the classic spy novel and adding another layer of secret behind the secret. (And don’t be put off by the whole thing about one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films being based on Stranger Tides: his books are way deeper and weirder than those films.)

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Among my most very favorites, up there with Moby Dick, Aubrey-Maturin, and anything by George Elliot. I remember something about an abridged edition being released, presumably for people with short attention spans - be sure to get the unabridged originals!

I’ll have to try some Elliot, because those other things are things I love. I had an Aubrey-Maturin re-read a couple of years ago, which was sinfully enjoyable, but meant that I got more or less nothing done for a couple of months, and started speaking like an early nineteenth century scientific gentleman seafarer. And I still laugh whenever I hear the word “curtailed”.

I hesitate slightly to recommend it, because some people hate it, but Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon might appeal. It has the same slow-burning representation of a deep and complex friendship as the Aubrey-Maturin books, and it has the same baroque playfulness of language as Moby Dick. Some people find it all a bit much, but if you like The Baroque Cycle, you’re not likely to worry about that!

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Damn, I can never remember if it’s one ‘l’ or two, and in fact it’s one. So George Eliot :slight_smile:

Her best-known are obviously Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss (the latter being my fave) but Daniel Deronda is also fab, if you don’t mind some Zionism.

I just downloaded Silas Marner, because of grumpy misanthrope identification issues. I’ll add the others to my list as well though. I don’t know why I’ve never read any of her books before now.

Silas Marner was her first, and while good, not her best and a bit slow. I’d go for Mill on the Floss or Middlemarch.

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