2020 Reading List

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

I normally try to do these in January, but better late than never? I hit fourteen books this past year and trended more toward fiction that I normally would. I was able to complete Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson series, Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and threw in a mix of Philip Dick and John Steinbeck for good measure.

Four of my favorite books that I read this year.
A selection of some of my favorite books that I read this year.
The books I completed this past year were:
  1. Springfield Confidential by Mike Reiss
  2. Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  4. Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro
  5. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  6. The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
  7. The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro
  8. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
  9. The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick
  10. The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  11. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
  12. The Waste Lands by Stephen King
  13. The Wizard and the Glass by Stephen King
  14. Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
My reviews for those books are as follows:

Springfield Confidential (4/5)

I've always been a huge Simpsons fan, and this is considered one of the better behind the scenes looks at the history of the show and how it gets made. It was a quick read and I really enjoyed learning more about some of the early personalities that helped craft the characters and the early framing of Springfield.


Means of Ascent (5/5)

I'm an unabashed fan of Caro's style of writing, the depth of his research, and his ability to form compelling narratives. This first book in the Johnson series traced Lyndon's origins in the Texas hill country and I loved every page.

All Quiet on the Western Front (4/5)

I hadn't read this since high school and I'm not sure what put it on my radar, but I finished it over the course of a few days on Caltrain in the early part of the year before everything shut down. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Master of the Senate (5/5)

The second in Caro's Johnson series, this book traced Lyndon's path from a Texas school teacher to Congress and then the Senate where he became majority leader. It was fascinating to read about how the institutions had changed over time and how a lot of that change in part was due to the way Johnson consolidated and utilized power.

East of Eden (5/5)

I hadn't read any Steinbeck in ages and had never read East of Eden, but I enjoy the book immensely. I mostly skew toward non-fiction, so it was great to immerse myself in the rich California imagery Steinbeck is so good at painting.

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (5/5)

This book had been on my radar for a while and I also really enjoyed it. It was a collection of sound bytes from interviews from hundreds of people who witnesses and lived 9/11 firsthand. Just incredibly well put together and I had a hard time putting it down once I picked it up.

The Passage of Power (5/5)

The third book in the Johnson series, this tracks Johnson as he first runs for President before accepting Kennedy's offer to join his ticket as the Vice President. It walks through the Kennedy years as Johnson becomes increasingly irrelevant and drops off following Kennedy's assassination as Lyndon assumes the presidency himself.

A Scanner Darkly (4/5)

I hadn't seen this film in years and ended up watching it on TV one night and figured it'd be a good excuse to read the book. I'd read a few of Dick's short stories previously, but this was probably my favorite novel of his.

The Minority Report (3/5)

I figured I'd continue with Dick and jumped into Minority Report right after reading A Scanner Darkly. I didn't enjoy it as much, and the book is definitely showing its age with the concepts and content, but it was still a fun and quick read and was well written.

The Gunslinger (5/5)

I'd had Stephen King's Dark Tower series on my list for years and decided this would be as a good a time as any to tackle them one by one. The Gunslinger drew me right in and I had trouble putting it down. I loved the setting, the character development, the language, it was all just really well done and set the stage perfectly for some of King's later novels in the series.

The Drawing of the Three (4/5)

The second book in King's Dark Tower series follows the main character Roland as he adds members to his team that will join him on his journey. Almost as well written as the first and just as engrossing.

The Waste Lands (4/5)

The third book in King's Dark Tower series follows Roland and his companions as they travel to a dead city and then onward into a dead world in pursuit of their goal. The books really hit their stride here as the characters become more built out, and I burned through this one over the course of a few weeks.

The Wizard and the Glass (3/5)

The fourth book in King's Dark Tower series was probably my least favorite, but still entertaining well authored. The narrative was a bit slower than I would have liked, but I found it to be a fun read regardless.

Is This Anything? (5/5)

I listened to Seinfeld's narration on the audiobook version and I really loved it. A complete collection of his best standup organized by year and by theme. It was only a few hours long but I laughed constantly.

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Book review: Springfield Confidential

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
I've been on something of a Simpsons kick lately and picked up Springfield Confidential: Jokes, Secrets, and Outright Lies from a Lifetime Writing for The Simpsons to read on my flight back to New York for Christmas.

I grew up watching The Simpsons and first really began to appreciate the show right as it was hitting its stride in the early to mid nineties during the era where Conan O'Brien was on the writing staff. I've always loved the show and even though I haven't watched it regularly since high school, I still can quote word for word from some of the early seasons.
The cover of Simpsons Confidential.
The cover of Simpsons Confidential.
Springfield Confidential, published in 2018 and written by longtime Simpsons writer Mike Reiss, was a quick read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I found the format to be quite similar to that of Live from New York in that it walked readers through the origin of series, how the show and the end-to-end process of creating an individual episode had changed over the years, and gave brief overviews of some of the more influential members of the Simpsons' writing staff.

I enjoyed reading about the origins of certain characters and learning more about how the backstories of those characters evolved over the years. It was also quite interesting discovering how certain famous episodes, especially those from the show's sixth season, came together over the course of months or even in some cases a couple of hours in the writing room.

The book was relatively free of deeper dives into behind the scenes drama between staff members, and although I'm certain that drama was omitted not for lack of material, I didn't miss it.

Something I really appreciated after finishing the book was that none of the staff who were hired to work on the show in its first season expected it to last more than a couple of months. It's especially funny looking back now in the show's thirty-first season to think that all of the individuals who were present at time time of its creation had almost a complete lack of faith in the series staying power.

None of this was even to mention that, at the time of the show's premier in December of 1989 on the then relatively new Fox network, there hadn't been a prime-time cartoon on television since The Flintstones had ceased production in 1966. The Simpsons writers and production staff quite literally had to reinvent how to produce a prime-time cartoon in a way that hadn't been done with success for decades.

If you aren't a Simpsons fan, there probably isn't a lot in this book that would make it worth the read. However, if you're even a fan in passing and you're looking for a light and entertaining read, you won't have any regrets saving this book for a long flight.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

2019 reading list

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
I started 2019 by setting a goal for myself to read at least fifteen books and I came in two books shy.
Four of my favorite books that I read this year.
A selection of some of my favorite books that I read this year.
The books I completed this year were:
  1. Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou
  2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  4. The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam
  5. Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham
  6. The Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz
  7. Live from New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live by James Andrew Miller
  8. A Man On the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin
  9. Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law by Preet Bharara
  10. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
  11. Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis and Bing West
  12. The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson Vol 1) by Robert A. Caro
  13. The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
I partially blame my failure to meet my reading goal on the fact that I've been reading a lot of Caro and Halberstam, neither of which is known for their succinct prose. From the list above, The Coldest Winter was 733 pages, The Power Broker was 1,344 pages, and The Path to Power was 882 pages, and A Man on the Moon was 704 pages.

I've already written longer reviews for about a quarter of these books, so I'll keep this post as more of a general summary of my thoughts and will try to circle back around at some point to knock out some longer reviews. I'll also rate each book on a five star scale.

Making of a Manager (3/5)
This was a quick read that I picked up for the Designer Fund book club. It had some common sense management suggestions that are probably useful for managing someone in a tech organization, but that aren't especially useful outside of Silicon Valley.

Becoming (5/5)
I really loved Michelle's book both because it taught me a lot about how she approaches personal growth and really helped me understand who she was as an individual and how she arrived there. I'd love to read this again sometime.

Lincoln in the Bardo (4/5)
My Mom actually suggested I read this last Christmas and I finished most of it on a cross-country plane ride. It's a really fun fictional story about Abraham Lincoln's son crossing into the afterlife. I'd recommend listening to the audiobook because of the incredible cast the author was able to assemble to read for the books many characters.

The Coldest Winter (5/5)
I'd been meaning to read this forever because I love Halberstam and it was the last book he ever wrote before his untimely passing. It's considered one of the more definitive histories of the Korean War and I learned a lot while reading.

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (4/5)
I picked this up on something of a whim after the passing of George Bush earlier this year and actually found myself enjoying learning about his background and time in office a great deal. Bush entered office a year after I was born so I really only had an ancillary understanding of his policies and impact and this book helped fill in a lot of gaps.

The Beastie Boys Book (4/5)
Like Lincoln in the Bardo, I'd definitely recommend listening to the audiobook because of the talented ensemble that was assembled to narrate. I've always loved the Beastie Boys and listening to their history as they experienced it was a real treat.

Live from New York: An Oral History of Saturday Night Live (4/5)
I've always been an unabashed fan of Saturday Night Live, and this behind the scenes look at the show, its history, and its many controversies was a fun and quick read. I picked up the second revised edition which was published a few years back and couldn't recommend it enough even for passing fans of the show.

A Man On the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (4/5)
I funnily enough listened to the audiobook for Man on the Moon while on a solo motorcycle trip up the Pacific coast. The anniversary of Apollo 11 had just happened and I took that as an opportunity to learn more about the Apollo missions in their entirety. If you're a NASA fan you'll be able to knock this out fairly quickly and the history of the lesser known moon missions was fascinating.

Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law (3.5/5)
This was another recommendation from my Mom and I liked it a great deal. I've always enjoyed Preet's podcast and I enjoyed his book even more. It was largely a series of his musings on our modern day system of criminal punishment and on his views of morality.

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (5/5)
This is possibly one of my favorite books I've ever read. It's a deep dive into the impact a single man had on shaping New York City's infrastructure from behind a curtain, and despite the density of the writing, the story itself is quite riveting. You can check out my more in-depth review to learn more, but I really love Caro's writing style.

Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead (3/5)
I love General Mattis but I was a bit bummed that his most recent book read more like a laundry list of his complaints surrounding the political leadership of our country. I'm still a fan of the man, but not necessarily a fan of his writing.

The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson Vol 1) (5/5)
I picked this up in part because my family and I visited Johnson's library while we were in Austin this year, and in part because I enjoyed reading Caro's The Power Broker so much. It's one volume of a four volume series on the life of Johnson and I've already started the second because I liked the first so much.

The Forever War (4/5)
I read this on a whim as a follow up to having read Fiasco a few years back and thought it was really well done. It was an examination of the American misadventure in Iraq, which seems somewhat poignant given the current climate and American hostilities in the country.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Race report: North Face Endurance Marathon

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
I ran the North Face Endurance Marathon this past Saturday and enjoyed myself a great deal. This was the first trail race I've run in over a decade and the first marathon I've run since the Oakland Marathon back in March.

I had originally signed up for this race last year, but it was canceled due to the poor air conditions that had been caused by wildfires. I either had the option of receiving a refund or of gaining automatic entry into this years race, and I chose the later.

Having not run a trail race in years and because of the nearly 6,000 feet of elevation gain on the course, I took my finishing time from the Oakland Marathon and added an hour to use as a target time. I ended up missing it by about 15 minutes, but overall I was pretty happy with my both my finishing time and with my performance on the course.
North Face Endurance Marathon - 26.29 miles through the Marin Headlands.
I finished with a time of 4:21:03 and Strava clocked me at a total distance of 26.29 miles. I ended up placing 50th out of 252 finishers and I placed 11th in my age group. Over the course of the race I averaged a pace of 9:56. My individual mile splits were:
  1. Mile 1: 9:15
  2. Mile 2: 8:58
  3. Mile 3: 8:15
  4. Mile 4: 6:48
  5. Mile 5: 7:11
  6. Mile 6: 9:06
  7. Mile 7: 9:38
  8. Mile 8: 8:46
  9. Mile 9: 7:51
  10. Mile 10: 7:43
  11. Mile 11: 10:25
  12. Mile 12: 13:18
  13. Mile 13: 8:41
  14. Mile 14: 8:36
  15. Mile 15: 8:44
  16. Mile 16: 10:22
  17. Mile 17: 6:34
  18. Mile 18: 8:54
  19. Mile 19: 12:19
  20. Mile 20: 9:38
  21. Mile 21: 7:20
  22. Mile 22: 9:57
  23. Mile 23: 10:12
  24. Mile 24: 10:08
  25. Mile 25: 8:37
  26. Mile 26: 10:07
I'm not going to overlay the elevation gains on each mile, but it's pretty easy to tell when I was going up and then back downhill.

From a hydration and nutritional standpoint, because this race took place on the same course as a 50k and 50 mile ultra that went off earlier in the day, the aid stations contained all sorts of awesome snacks like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potatoes, M&Ms, donuts, pretzels, and fruit.

I love all of these things and ate them pretty liberally throughout the course, which ended up upsetting my stomach some on account of how rich it all was. Going into a race like this in the future, I'd definitely train more while eating those types of foods.

Melanie met me at the finish line and we finished off the day by seeing Ford vs Ferrari at the Alamo. All in all, a great Saturday.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Book review: The Power Broker

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
I’ve been chipping away at this one for a while, but I finally finished The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro a few weeks ago and have no reservations about calling it one of the most enjoyable works of non-fiction I’ve ever read.

Caro is known for his deeply researched and extensively thorough character examinations of historic figures of power in American history, the other notable example being his four part volume on the life and works of the thirty-sixth President, Lyndon B Johnson.
The cover of The Power Broker.
The cover of The Power Broker.
The Power Broker, published in 1974, documents the life and accomplishments of Robert Moses, an individual most would be remiss to name outside of those living in New York State who might only know him by the name of the State Park or Parkway which bear his name.

At the time of the book’s publishing, New York City was in the midst of a decades long slide into a worsening state of urban decay, in large part due to the public works projects that had been organized and carried out by Moses and the organizations under his control.

Of the many positions he held over the course of his decades of public service, at the height of his power Moses was at various points in charge of the Long Island State Park Commission, the New York State Council of Parks, the New York City Department of Parks, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, the New York City Planning Commission, the New York State Power Authority, and the New York's World Fair.

These positions, in aggregate, allowed him to control the construction of bridges, roads, public works, and all manner infrastructure throughout the state of New York to such a degree that he was largely immune to outside political influence.

Having grown up in New York and having traveled upon roads and visited parks and beaches which only came into being as the result of Moses’s imagination and hand, I found the book appealing in some ways on a personal level. That aside, a story which at surface level might strike some as mundane is gradually revealed to be one that is instead deeply fascinating. This is due in no small part to the extraordinary lengths Caro went to compile primary and secondary sources for his research.

Moses’s long list of accomplishments are varied, but at the height of his power he largely controlled public policy and the distribution of public works inside and around New York City and New York State in a manner that would make it practical to describe him as being more powerful than both the Mayor of New York City and the Governor of New York State. It really wasn’t until decades after he withdrew himself from the public eye that journalists and the public began to truly understand how powerful a man he had been and the extent to which he had operated with independence and immunity from any governing or controlling body.

Aside from the works he envisioned and enacted, the book also details to an extent that borders on the comedic the many enemies he fostered across his many decades of public service, chief of which was Franklin Roosevelt both during his time as Governor of New York and later as President of the United States.

Having known next to nothing about Moses when I started the book, I continually found myself surprised both by the actions he undertook to realize his ambitions and by the sheer amount he was able to accomplish as he continued to amass political, financial, and legal power throughout the first half of the twentieth century.

In a philosophical sense, the book documents the well known and often-told story of an idealistic and ambitious young man slowly abandoning those ideals as he ages and adds to his power and influence. In other ways however, one cannot help but feel sympathy toward Moses as he grows old.

Despite the accurate portrayal of Moses as cruel to both his political adversaries and even to members of his own immediate family, as well as the racism inherent in his many public works, I found myself deeply sad as I finished reading the book’s closing chapters as Moses’s power slowly evaporated and he eventually found himself in a decaying body and lacking power, but still as full of ideas and ambition as the man he had been in his youth.

If you had to sum up Moses in a single statement, you couldn't do much better than to look to an excerpt from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1924:

If the ends don't justify the means, then what does?

I really can’t recommend this book enough and would caution anyone who picks it up that you’re in for a long ride as the book runs 1,344 pages and 66 hours on audio. I’m hoping to start Caro’s series on Johnson later this year, so expect a follow-up review sometime in early 2020.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Overdrive audiobook command line access

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
For the past few years I've used Overdrive via the Seattle Public Library to download audiobooks for free rather than pay a monthly subscription to Amazon for an Audible membership.

Using some pretty clunky software from Overdrive, it was (until recently) possible to download DRM free MP3 files of audiobooks which I then would add to my Plex server and listen to while running or swimming.

With OS X 10.15 Catalina requiring all software to be 64-bit however, Overdrive decided to discontinue audiobook download support for Mac in lieu of updating their software to be compliant with newer versions of OS X.

While initially I was a bit frustrated that I'd need to use a Windows machine to continue accessing audiobooks, I stumbled a across an awesome shell script authored by Chris Brown which lets you download full audiobooks and cover art from Overdrive from the command line.

Having used this download method a few times now, I far prefer it both in ease of use and in robustness to Overdrive's now defunct Mac software. It's always so awesome to see people find creative solutions to problems like this.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Back in the pool

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
After what has been close to a six year hiatus, I'm back in the pool swimming laps. The last time I swam regularly was in graduate school when I was still living in Seattle and it feels good to be back  in the water.

I've been swimming at the Bakar Fitness & Recreation Center at UCSF and have been using their six lane outdoor pool on the buildings roof a few times a week, usually alternating days that I'm not swimming with runs around San Francisco.

When I swam as an undergraduate circa 2007, I used a waterproof Otterbox case for a first gen iPod Nano which I strapped to my arm. The case was bulky and running a wired pair of headphones up my arm always felt pretty restrictive.

This time around I've been using a Sony NWWS413BM which basically looks like a pair of bluetooth headphones but is actually a standalone MP3 player with 4GB of memory built in.
Sony's NWWS413BM waterproof MP3 player.
Sony's NWWS413BM waterproof MP3 player.
So far I've been using them to listen to Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest on audio-book and the audio is surprisingly crisp underwater. I read the book somewhere around a decade ago and have been looking for an excuse to pick it back up and give it another run through.

As far as the rest of my gear goes, I'm swimming with the following:
  1. Speedo Silicone Swim Cap
  2. Speedo Vanquisher 2.0 Goggles
  3. Speedo Solar 1
  4. Speedo Poly Mesh Training Suit
  5. Timex Men's T5E901 Ironman Watch (for lap counting)
I use Nike gear almost exclusively for almost everything I do, but their swim lines are unfortunately shit so this is the rare (possibly only) sport I'll make an exception for.

It feels good to be working out a set of muscles I haven't thought about in a while and it feels good to be complimenting running with a different kind of cardio. I'm going to run another marathon in November, but I don't plan on swimming with a specific goal in mind other than the enjoyment I get out of being in the water.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.