The Crow's Dream

Philosophy, geekery, and the meaning if life, and what I read this week…

Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Moonwalking with Einstein

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Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering EverythingMoonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book, Joshua Foer explores memory and the tricks people use to improve it, which sounds boring, but Mr. Foer manages to cast the book into a heroic journey during which he learns the ancient secrets of memorization. The result is an entertaining, though occasionally self indulgent story about practice and mastery. While this book will not teach you everything you need to learn about memory, it will give you a vivid window in to the world of remembrance, and may even spark an interest in further studying it.

Reading this book was fun, because I am familiar with some of the techniques the author describes, and I can attest to their effectiveness and limitations. I like to memorize poetry, and while the skill has come in handy only once, the whole endeavor was worth it. I recently took a couple of very difficult technical tests, and building a “memory palace” to master some of the concepts proved to be very helpful.

This book was very, very nerdy, but in a good way. I liked that Mr. Foer was skeptic about some of the more pseudoscientific promises made by memory gurus, and that he addressed the limitations of the systems he explores. If you are curious about memory, check this book out. It is probably one of the most entertaining ones in the subject.

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Here is a TED talk by the author:

Written by Hector

July 12, 2015 at 9:49 pm

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The Netflix Of Books: Three Options

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The Netflix of Books: Three OptionsI remember the first time I heard about because I jumped up and down for joy. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I mean it in a literal sense. I love to read, and living in a world where I can carry hundreds of books in my pocket brings me incredible amounts of joy. Shortly after discovering Oyster, I began to search for other services. My goal was to compare them and to find the right one for me. I wasn’t completely new to book subscription services. I have been a member of Marvel Unlimited and Audible for many, many years, but actual book services, not comics or audio were a completely new thing for me, and I wanted to see what these new fangled sites had to offer.

I ended up subscribing to three book services for at least a month each. At the end, I only kept one of them, and I think I made the right choice. I tried Oyster Books, Kindle Unlimited, and Scribd. Here is a brief overview of each one:
Kindle Unlimited
Kindle unlimited seemed, at first, like a really good deal, and it may be for some people, but to me, it seemed like the service really lacked. Don’t take me wrong. It has a large selection of both books and audiobooks, but the selection consisted mainly of the kind of materials you’d find at the discount rack at your local bookstore. The kind of bestsellers that were overprinted of overhyped. I also found a ton of Kindle Author books, which is cool, as I am a big fan of a few of them, but I could buy the books for less than $9.99 a month, so the deal didn’t seem worth it to me personally. I do admire the technical know how behind this specific service. That said, of you are a Kindle fan, and you do most of your reading in one of Amazon’s devices you might as well give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised, but it is not for me.

Oyster introduced me to the world of book subscriptions, and it will always have a place in my heart. It is gorgeously built, and it manages to project a sense of community without being too social mediaey. I like that I can use the speak screen feature of my phone to listen to the books. You can tell that the folks at Oyster love literature. I actually kept my Oyster membership for a little bit more than a year. The service allowed me to expand my comfort zone, and I read stuff that I would not have picked up otherwise, but I found that I wasn’t really reading enough in the Oyster app to justify the $9.99 subscription cost. I always felt pressured to read more in order to feel good about the cost, minimal as it was. If I took longer than a month to read a book, or if I ended up reading an iBooks, Amazon, or Paper book that month, I always worried that I was wasting my membership, so I ended up canceling it. I usually read one to three full length texts every month, and about half the time they come from a subscription service, so I am actually paying anywhere between ten to twenty bucks for each one of them, which doesn’t make sense, I rather buy at that point.

I think Oyster is for people who read voraciously, and who want to have a beautiful typographical experience, and the best curation I have ever seen. Oyster is beautiful, and inviting, but not for me.

Scribd isn’t ugly, but it isn’t as beautiful as Oyster. You can get a membership for $8.99, which isn’t that much less when compared to the other two, but Scribd has a lot of content. Not only do they have audiobooks, which is cool–though not enough to seal the deal for me, but they also have a ton of comics, which certainly sealed the deal. I can read a comic in between fifteen minutes to two hours, and then I can move on. This service is like the Netflix of books, because consuming its selections takes about as long as catching up on a show. With it, I read three to seven graphic novels every month, which adds up to more than $60.00, so I get an unbeatable value, and never feel guilty for reading stuff elsewhere.

While Oyster is pretty, and Kindle Unlimited may be a good deal for voracious Kindle Owners. Scribd provides me with a good enough experience that pays for itself every month. I think the secret sauce is comics—they make it possible for me to read enough to justify the price. No only that, but I have been reading stuff outside of my comfort zone again, and that is always a good thing. I think Scribd will introduce non-comic readers to comics, which is awesome. 

All of these services provide trial memberships, so try them out and find the one that’s right for you. 

I still have a Marvel Unlimited membership because it does have the largest Marvel collection in the market, and I still get my monthly audiobooks from Adible. Though I do most of my reading on my iPad, I still go to the library, and buy paper books, especially comics. Some companies even give me a free digital copy. The library has great events, and books I can’t get anywhere else, plus wise librarians who can help me find my next great read. My local Comic Book Store (Wild Pigs) is a fun place to go play board games, to build my actual physical collection of comics, and to hang out with a diverse and awesome group of geeks like myself. You don’t stop going to the movies because you have Netflix, and I won’t stop getting books from different sources because I have Scribd, but it sure feels nice to have thousands of books and shows in my pocket.

Note: I’d be remiss not to mention that another great place to get comics is They have crazy awesome sales, and your purchases help to make the world a better place.

Written by Hector

July 4, 2015 at 12:20 am

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A Trader’s Tale

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I am currently reading A Trader’s Tale, by Nathan Lowell, a space opera about growing up and learning to find a place in the universe.

Most space operas deal with the adventures of space cadets in some kind of military organization. Lowell’s books, by contrast, stay away from cliches and provide us with hours of delightful immersion in the world of Ishmael Wong, a charismatic, and intelligent, but otherwise average kid, who finds himself thrust into the world shortly after his 18th birthday, and the dead of his mother.

Ishmael has to learn to survive, and even thrive as a member of a trading space ship. The story does without the exaggerations many other space adventures relish, and reads like a light picaresque novel mixed with pinch of beautiful American realism, but without the heavy existential overtones, or saccharine outlook.

Like all good literature, the books have a way of siping into life and perceptions. Although I’ve only listened to the first two and a half books of the series (Quarter Share, Half Share, and Full Share), I find myself looking forward to spending time with Ishmael, Pip, Brill, and the other characters, and when I am not reading, I am inspired to apply Ishmael’s outlook to the rest of my life.

Through the books, I can see my daily duties as an adventure, and a set of challenges and opportunities to make the world a little bit better. It has been a long time since I’ve interacted with literature capable of touching me at such a deep level. I actually don’t believe it has happened too often since I got my literature degree.

A Trader’s Tale is a vindication of hard work and ingenuity without being preachy, or overly romantic. It is really hard to encapsulate the story, but it is immersive and a pleasure to read.

Note: Lowell’s series is available online as a podcast. If you download the free audiobooks, and enjoy them, don’t forget to make a donation, or, at the very least, to tell a few people about them. Authors like Lowell deserve to be supported and encouraged. Also, I accidentally deleted this post, so here it is again. The original one contained a kind response from Mr. Lowell himself

Written by Hector

November 24, 2010 at 4:54 am