numbers for people.

What I’ve been reading (Fall 2014)

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking)
I’m a fan of OkTrends as well as Rudder’s band Bishop Allen, but I wasn’t really wow-ed by this book. Although it was nice to know some of the stats that seemed wrong we’re USA specific (the racial bias in Canada is less than half as pronounced in Canada) and it’s a good explanation and counter-weight to WEIRD studies, the book could’ve benefitted from more aggressive editing:

“In any event, when I talked about the data as a flood, way back, I perhaps didn’t emphasize it enough: the waters are still churning. Only when they start to calm can can people really know the level and make good the surfeit.”

Still, it’s always great to get at new datasets even if the conclusions aren’t earth-shattering: that men find 20 year old women consistently appealing isn’t rocket science — and 50 year old men who are on dating sites and rating profile pictures might be unrepresentative in their own way.

Interestingly enough, Rudder includes Nate Silver along with Facebook and Google as “three of the biggest forces in modern data”.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail— but Some Don’t
This is the book that I wish I wrote — even if it’s light on actionable advice, the math is sound and consistently interesting. The premise revolves around Bayes’ Theorem
bayes formula
Silver’s plan of action: Start with your theory and how likely it is, and update it according to new information. It’s a subtle but important update to the scientific method that keeps all theories on the continuum between true and false. The chapters break down into real-world examples from baseball to earthquakes. I read the book in one sitting (high praise!) and completely forgot to take any notes, so I’ll have to go through it again.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Ben Horowitz’s A16Z invested in PagerDuty, so I knew that he was a smart investor. This book focuses on Ben’s time as CEO of Loudcloud/Opsware from its founding in 1999, through the dot-com crash until the sale to HP for $1.65B in 2007. It tells a very CEO-centric story, possibly because Horowitz managed to keep a lot of employees on board and working long after it seems that they really should’ve moved on to greener pastures. After 8 years, and many hundreds of millions in capital, it’s hard to imagine the rate of return those employees was particularly exciting.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
I didn’t end up finishing this book. Interesting as it was to read about the early 1900’s, most of this book seems to be a painful read about 1 or 2 women spending vast amounts of money to not be happy.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
I mostly bought this book to support, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.

“What If? is one of my Internet must-reads, and I look forward to each new installment, and always read it with delight.” —Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

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