The Crow's Dream

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

Posts Tagged ‘books

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

Posted in books

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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

Posted in books

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My Stab at Economic Theory

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Lately, I have been reading a lot of books about economics. I know that reading a lot about something doesn’t make me an expert, but I’ve really been wondering about the value of things, and sometimes, I wonder if spending a certain amount of money on entertainment would be worth the amount of joy I’d derive from it, so the other day I came up with a formula to figure it out. Just for fun, I decided to take a stab at quantifying the whole thing, though I do not believe that it is a good idea to put numbers on everything. I did ejoy trying to think like an amateur economist though. Here is the result:

First, take your hourly wage, and figure out what percentage of it you would be willing to spend on entertainment. For example, if you made minimum wage, and you were willing to spend 10% of your income on entertainment, you would take $7.25, and multiply it by 0.1 (to figure 10%). You would get about $.72, then you would multiply that amount by the number of hours that you plan on spending with the book. If you were thinking about one of Brandon Sanderson’s books, you could look forward to about 20 hours of unadulterated, epic fantasy and joy, so you would multiply $.72 times 20. You should be willing to pay about $14.40 for the book. A variable on the formula allows you to multiply the ideal price of the book, by the number of people who are going to read it, so if your roommate, Joey, is going to read it, then you could pay $28.80 for the privilege of owning the material in question–assuming you like Joey.

This formula varies widely, specially when related to disposable income. Some people may make more money, but be unwilling to spend a lot of it on entertainment, others may make less, but be able to spend it more freely.

The other factor is that this works only for books you read for fun. Text books, or self-development books may be worth more for some people.

Here is the formula (I’m not a mathematician, so correct me if I expressed it wrong, and feel free to send the right one):

((HW*X) FT)) P=IP

HW = Hourly wage.

X = The percentage (in decimals) you are willing to spend on entertainment.

FT = Fun time the ride from the book.

P = the number of people, you like, who will have access to the book.

IP=Ideal price of item


What do you think?

I got the image from the Wikipedia and it is in the public domain.

Written by Hector

April 14, 2011 at 4:43 am

Posted in Comics, thoughts

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Myths Upon My LIfe

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I took this image from the Wikipedia, and it is in the Public Domain

Normally, I prefer to read science fiction, and science non-fiction, but all throughout the end of December and most of January, I’ve been consuming large amounts of mythology and Urban Fantasy.  Most of my reading falls under the umbrella of delicious escapism. I have particularly enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, The Dresden Files, and even Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson, as we well as the more literary works of Charles De Lint and  Padraic Colum.

I think everyone needs the kind of fancy that comes from the raw imagination of humanity. When I was a child, I used to pretend that I was somehow related to Poseidon–way before The Lightning Thief. My first crush ever was Aphrodite (Venus), as portrayed by Uma Thurman in Terry Gillian’s The Adventures of Baron Münchausen. I think my early relationship with myths was a healthy one. Everyone needs to hear a good fairy tale, and to be terrified or elated by the unfolding images it brings into our consciousness.

By the time I was in my teens, my fascination with mythology had grown a little bit outside of the ordinary, and I became very interested in spirituality and religion. I think I might have tried almost everything under the sun, from astrology, to meditation, homeopathy, and prayer. I became suspicious of science, because it didn’t fit my world view, and I even had the audacity to believe that my improbable ideas had a better foundation than other people’s improbable ideas. I don’t know how many hours I spent working to understand the mysteries of the universe, by browsing  the religion and spirituality sections of my local bookstore. I am not about to count my early explorations as wasted time, since I did learn some valuable skills, some even based on fact, for example, lucid dreaming and relaxation.

My problem was that I expected too much from practices that time and time again have shown themselves to be useless. Homeopathy never quite worked, neither did dream interpretation, and, other than teaching me to feel amazingly relaxed, I do not think that meditation ever opened my “third eye.”

It wasn’t until my early twenties, after completing some of the basic biology courses required by the general education standards set forth by the state of California, that I began to look into science once again. Particularly, into the theory of evolution. The sweepingly beautiful saga of life blew my mind, and invited me to question the layer of stories I had placed upon my world. Many of the spiritual meetings I attended  began to feel like playacting. At one point, I finally quit going to them, especially after I was criticized, and even verbally attacked for believing in science.

Emergence theory, Information science, and the idea that we can test reality have enriched my life immensely, as well the reading of philosophy, neurology, and skeptic thought. I am oversimplifying my journey into skepticism, but I am glad to have made it.

I am enjoying, however, revisiting mythology and dreams in the form of metaphors, and playful wraiths of the imagination.

Stories are important. According to Paul Bloom, they teach us how to behave. I   sometimes feel like they imbue us with the ideals, and the patterns of their heroes and characters, as they stitch themselves into our minds. I am glad to once more feel the pull of the gods deep within myself, this time around, however, I do not fear them, for I know that they reside within me. Of course, most of my reading is just light fun, an escape into a world where the primordial personifications of our fears and hopes mingle with soapy drama, and inane tensions. It’s fun.

I am happy to have recovered a healthy relationship with the beautiful sights of the imagination, especially when they are personified by Uma Thurman.

The image comes from the Wikipedia, and it is in the public domain.

Written by Hector

January 30, 2011 at 1:29 am

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

Conffesions of a Slow Reader, or How to Make the Most of What you Read

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My wife is a librarian. She can read an average novel in two hous. I think I married a super hero. I, on the other hand, am not a fast reader. I’m not a slow one either, I’m just not naturally fast. For many years I have tried to correct this flaw, thinking that if I could get through more books, my life would somehow improve.

I’ve used methods like schematic reading and skeeming, and most of them have worked when I need to get through something quickly, and when that something is meant to simply increase my knowledge, rather than my appreciation of life, or my ability to pass the time doing something I like. I’ve been jealous of my wife’s superpowers for a long time, but recently, I have come to terms with my status as a mere mortal who is only capable of reading a couple of books a month.

I have learned that there are a few questions that I need to ask myself before I read something, and those questions have made my literary experiences allthemore enjoyable. Here they are:

Do I want to read this, or do I have to read this?

You’d be surprised at how many times I find myself rejecting a book because I neither need to read it, nor particularly feel like enjoying it. I think it’s important that non powered readers learn to choose what they want to read. There is nothing wrong with reading a few pages, and then giving up on something because it is just not good enough for us at the time. I don’t care how literary a work it may be. We may not be ready for it right then.

If you have to read a book, try to learn a speed reading method. Although most of them tend to ruin the contents of the book, but when you are just trying to gather information, and there is no need to worry about a plotline in a manual, or recipe, you can read through, not thorough.

How long do I want to spend with this book?

I am not talking about how many days do you want to devote to the book here, because if you are an average reader, the likellyhood is that you’ll end up devoting a week, if not more, so don’t sweat it. What I mean is daily. Do you think you’ll try to read for fifteen minutes? An hour? Make sure that you read from it often. If the book is good, every page should be a pleasure. It’s all about the journey. Who cares about the destination? Chances are, you’ll actually miss the characters once the book is done. So make time for them. I usually read during my morning exercise, my breaks, and before going to bed.

Is there a good audio version?

Audiobooks are not cheating. No one is grading you. You are only reading because you want to, remember?

I love audiobooks because I can listen to them when I am doing something else, like cleaning the house. Plus, since I try to only read one book at a time. Audiobooks provide me with a second choice at times when reading text would be impossible. Also, some times I read some sections of a book, and listen to others. That way, I can enjoy it throughout most of my day. Wether I’m cleaning or sun bathing, the book is always with me. That’s how I intend on reading War and Peace, and Les Miserables.

Do I have other stuff to read?

I love to read, and that is partially why I am happy to take my time with my books, but Les Miserables is a lot to get through, and while I love reading long classics, I do get tired of reading the same book all the time, so I supplement my literary diet with snacks. I always have access to short story anthologies, articles, graphic novels, and other stuff I can finish in a couple of hours. That way I can renew my interest in the longer works, and I can satisfy sudden interests without abandoning my current literary journey. As I said before, I try to read one book at a time, though I allow myself the benefit of an audiobook, thus maximizing my reading to two books, but I don’t think I’d have the dicipline to stick to the very long ones if I didn’t have these extras to keep me going.

While speed reading can be good for non fiction and learning, I’ve learned to take my time with fiction. I get a lot more out of my experiences with books when I just enjoy them thoroughly from beginning to end. It’s about the journey, not the destination, and I am glad to be sharing the journey of my life with a superhero.

Written by Hector

July 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Posted in How To

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Librarians are my heroes!

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I was very moved and impressed by this:

I’m going to see if there is a way to contribute to this project, and I’ll let everyone know.

Written by Hector

October 3, 2009 at 5:32 pm

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