The 100 best books of the 21st century

The Guardian has created a list of the books they consider the 100 best of the 21st century (so far). The list and the description of each book can be found here.

As always with such lists, people are looking at it, and trying to figure out how many they have read, and as a bibliophile, I am no exception. So, I have recreated the list below in order for me to share.

If a title is bold, it means I own the book. If I have struck through a title, I have read the book. If a title is in italics, the book is on my to-read list.

  • I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)
  • Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou (2005), translated by Helen Stevenson (2009)
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005), translated by Steven T Murray (2008)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling (2000)
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
  • Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan (2004)
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker (2007)
  • The Siege by Helen Dunmore (2001)
  • Light by M John Harrison (2002)
  • Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck (2008), translated by Susan Bernofsky (2010)
  • Bad Blood by Lorna Sage (2000)
  • Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)
  • Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (2017)
  • Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (2017)
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2006)
  • The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (2018)
  • Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli (2016), translated by Luiselli with Lizzie Davis (2017)
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
  • Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)
  • Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (2002)
  • The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2009)
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (2015)
  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (2009), translated by Lisa Dillman (2015)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (2011)
  • Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (2009), translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2018)
  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016)
  • Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2009)
  • The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (2019)
  • Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2000)
  • Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller (2003)
  • The Infatuations by Javier Marías (2011), translated by Margaret Jull Costa (2013)
  • The Constant Gardener by John le Carré (2001)
  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker (2018)
  • Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli (2014)
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)
  • On Writing by Stephen King (2000)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)
  • Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn (2006)
  • This House of Grief by Helen Garner (2014)
  • Dart by Alice Oswald (2002)
  • The Beauty of the Husbandby Anne Carson (2002)
  • Postwar by Tony Judt (2005)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
  • Underland by Robert Macfarlane (2019)
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (2006)
  • Women & Power by Mary Beard (2017)
  • True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)
  • Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)
  • Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (2009)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (2011)
  • Night Watch by Terry Pratchett (2002)
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000-2003), translated by Mattias Ripa (2003-2004)
  • Human Chain by Seamus Heaney (2010)
  • Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (2013)
  • Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (2004)
  • Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (2014)
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis (2010)
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001)
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
  • The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
  • The Green Road by Anne Enright (2015)
  • Experience by Martin Amis (2000)
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (2010)
  • Outline by Rachel Cusk (2014)
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006)
  • The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (2015)
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
  • A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (2009), translated by Don Bartlett (2012)
  • Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy (2005)
  • Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro (2001)
  • Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty (2013), translated by Arthur Goldhammer (2014)
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018)
  • A Visit from The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2011)
  • The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon (2001)
  • Tenth of December by George Saunders (2013)
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (2011), translated by Harari with John Purcell and Haim Watzman (2014)
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night‑Time by Mark Haddon (2003)
  • The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (2007)
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)
  • Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004)
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011), translated by Ann Goldstein (2012)
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
  • Cloud Atlas David Mitchell (2004)
  • Autumn by Ali Smith (2016)
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
  • The Amber Spyglasse by Philip Pullman (2000)
  • Austerlitz by WG Sebald (2001), translated by Anthea Bell (2001)
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
  • Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (2013), translated by Bela Shayevich (2016)
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

All in all, I have read 10 books on the list, and want to read 32 more of them. I have already bought some of those books.

Lazy linking

A few things I have come across on the internet, which I thought might interest others.

Hail Satan?: The Satanists battling for religious freedom – A profile of the upcoming movie about the Santanic Temple and their fight for religious freedom and women’s rights.

Related to my blogpost on Trump, Greenland, and Denmark, here is a fun fact – The U.S. ambassador to Denmark starred in a movie mocked by MST3K

Something different from the stuff I usually post about – an archive of folk music from around the world. There is not a lot in it yet, but I suspect it will grow over time.

A somewhat scary article by Carl Zimmer in the NY Times: Zika Was Soaring Across Cuba. Few Outside the Country Knew.

The mosquito-borne virus spread through the island in 2017, but global health officials failed to sound the alarm.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who grew up around ‘broken’ and defeated Nazis, has some blunt advice for the alt-right (and Trump)

New podcast recommendation: DeepMind the Podcast

I have just come across a new podcast hosted by the always-brilliant Hannah Fry. It is on AI, and was made in collaboration with the DeepMind laboratory in the UK, and it is simply called DeepMind the Podcast.

The website has the following description:

What’s AI? What can it be used for? Is it safe? And how do I get involved? These are the kinds of questions we often get asked at public events like science festivals, talks and workshops. We love answering them and really value the conversations and thinking they provoke.

Sadly, we can’t have face-to-face conversations with everyone who is interested in AI. So, to help us bridge that gap, we’re now launching DeepMind: The Podcast, a new series that we hope will answer these questions and more, while also giving listeners an inside look at how AI research is done at an organisation like DeepMind. You can subscribe now on your favourite podcast app.

 

Trump, Greenland, and Denmark

So, Denmark has been a bit in the new lately. First there was some minor coverage of the fact that Trump was going to visit the country in early September. Later the coverage became much more massive, because Trump stated that he was going to ask Denmark to sell Greenland to the US. This idea was rebuffed by the Danish PM, who in a Danish newspaper called the idea “absurd”, and pointed out that we are past the time where countries sell other countries and populations. Trump didn’t take this rejection kindly, and he cancelled the visit, calling the Danish PM (or perhaps her choice of words) nasty.

It is rare for world leaders to actually say what they think about Trump’s ideas, so this has gotten a lot more coverage than Trump’s usual inept foreign blunders – see e.g. Washington Post’s <a href=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/21/foreign-leader-finally-said-what-she-really-thought-about-trumps-ideas-trump-clearly-didnt-like-it/?fbclid=IwAR1l5cOU1jlN7_XYR_QTX7svegFXJmjlKHh_fc0zHMQI8wxFaVPpVxF-4aA” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>A foreign leader finally said what she really thought about Trump’s ideas. Trump called that ‘nasty.’</a>

Unsurprisingly to most people outside Trump’s election base, the Danish PM’s answer to Trump is deeply popular among people from Denmark and Greenland.

It is popular for several reasons, one of them the simple fact that she was entirely correct in calling the idea absurd. It is correct because asking Denmark to sell Greenland is similar to asking England to sell Scotland – they are two distinct territories within the Kingdom of Denmark, and Mette Frederiksen is only the PM of Denmark, not Greenland.

Denmark does, however, hold a lot of power over Greenland, and in theory, it could happen that Denmark decided to ignore the autonomy of Greenland, and sell it, but as Mette Frederiksen said, the time for that kind of behavior is long past. Also, Greenland matter a lot for Denmark and the Danish’s view of their importance in the world.

To make clear how unpopular the suggestion, and later reaction by Trump was, I present you with this tweet, by the conservative politician Mai Mercado

The Conservatives are in opposition to the current government, and generally don’t go out of their way to back up the Danish PM. They are also generally very pro-USA, and more or less consider Ronald Reagan a patron saint. And Mai Mercado is not just any member of the Conservatives – she is one of the leaders.

Not surprisingly, Trump reacted to the rejection by trying to bully Denmark and the Danish PM

This prompted an reaction by Lars Løkke, the former PM of Denmark, and the biggest rival to Mette Frederiksen.

Now, because some of the people involved are sane adults, there is an attempt to normalize the relationship, but I think that Trump won’t be able to invite himself to Denmark anytime soon.

One note about the attempt to normalize the relationship – some have tried to downplay the usage of the word “absurd”, claiming that it has a less strong meaning in Danish than in English. That is to some degree true, but not in the situation where Mette Frederiksen used it. And it was an absurd idea.

Monster Talk has gone independent

The excellent podcast Monster Talk, hosted by Blake Smith and Dr. Karen Stollznow, has gone independent.

It used to be connected to Skeptic, the magazine which is edited by Michael Shermer. Even though the podcast had no connection to Shermer, it still meant it was hard to promote the podcast, or even worse, support the podcast financially, without somehow benefiting Skeptic and Shermer.

Luckily, this is no longer the case. A few weeks ago, Smith and Stollznow went independent with the podcast, which is now produced by Blake Smith’s company Monster House, LLC.

If you want to support their new independence, Blake Smith has set up a fundraiser and they have a patreon

I haven’t been able to find a link to the actual podcast which isn’t under the Skeptic domain, but I am sure it is only a matter of time before they have a website I can link.

 

Goodbye Rutger Hauer

I know I am a couple of days late, but as most of you probably know by now, Rutger Hauer passed away a few days ago, 75 years old.

Rutger Hauer is most well known for his role as the replicant Roy Batty in Blade Runner, which he played masterfully. One of his many great scenes in the movie, and perhaps the most famous, was his death scene.

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The most amazing part of that monologue at the end, is that Hauer wrote it himself, apparently not being happy with the scene as it was written in the script.

While his role as Roy Batty was incredible, and well worth remembering, I also remember him from many other movies:

The Hitcher, Escape from Sobibor, Ladyhawke, the Blood of Heroes, Wedlock, Split Second, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fatherland, and Sin City. While most of these movies aren’t great movies (Ladyhawke very much the exception), Rutger Hauer gave his all, and made his roles memorable, and the movies entertaining.

Oh, as an aside, it should be mentioned, that Blade Runner was set in 2019, so Roy Batty died that year. Something fans obviously noticed straight away when Rutger Hauer died.

European scientific or health personnel, please sign this manifesto

The Association to Protect the Sick of Pseudoscientific Therapies from Spain, and several other European organizations have gotten together to write a European manifesto against pseudo-therapies

It says, in part:

European directive 2001/83/CE has made –and still makes— possible the daily deceiving of thousands of hundreds of European citizens [10]. Influential lobbies have been given the opportunity to redefine what a medicine is, and now they are selling sugar to sick people and making them believe it can cure them or improve their health. This has caused deaths and will continue to do so until Europe admits an undeniable truth: scientific knowledge cannot yield under economic interests, especially when it means deceiving patients and violating their rights.

Europe is facing very serious problems regarding public health. Over-medicalization, multiresistant bacteria or the financial issues of the public systems are already grave enough, and there is no need to add to that gurus, fake doctors or even qualified doctors who claim they can cure any disease by manipulating chakras, making people eat sugar or employing “quantic frequencies”. Europe must not only stop the promotion of homeopathy but also actively fight to eradicate public health scams, which implicate more than 150 pseudo-therapies in our territory. Thousands of citizens lives depend on that. In fact, according to recent research, 25.9 % of Europeans have used pseudo-therapies last year. In other words, 192 million patients have been deceived [11].

Europe being concerned about the misinformation phenomena but at the same time protecting one the most dangerous types of it, health misinformation, is just not coherent. This is why the people signing this manifesto urge the governments of European countries to end a problem in which the name of science is being used falsely and has already costed the life of too many.

I do not fulfill the criteria for signing the manifesto, but I fully endorse it, and hope that any readers out there, who fulfill the criteria, will read the manifesto in full, and sign it.

It is about time that we got rid of pseudo-science in our health care in Europe.

The Danish election

June 5 is the Danish Constitution Day, and this year it was also the Danish election.

The Danish election was basically a choice between an environment-focused center-left coalition or a right-libertarian coalition, and there was a lot at stake.

Happily the center-left coalition won.

Nearly as important, the center-left coalition won in a way, which probably will force the major party, the Social Democrats, to tone down their xenophobic tendencies, and help make the country better for immigrants and refugees.

Also nearly as important, a fascist party that had entered the election, didn’t get anyone elected. Unfortunately a far-right, xenophobic party, Ny Borgerlige, got in with 4 mandates. Happily, the existing far-right, xenophobic party, Danish Peoples’ Party, got slaughtered, and is down 21 mandates to 16 mandates.

The Guardian has a good commentary on the election results from Denmark: Europe, take note: in Denmark, the humanitarian left is on the rise

On a more personal note. As I have written before, I supported a specific candidate, Samira Nawa (link in Danish), and I am happy to report that she got elected to the Danish parliament.

Book review: Accelerate

Book review of Accelerate: The Science Behind DevOps – Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations by Nicole Forsgren, PhD, Jez Humble, and Gene Kim.

If you have been at any programming or agile related conference within the last 8 months or so, you will probably have heard people recommend Accelerate. One of the reasons it is often recommended is that it explains the importance of DevOps for high performing tech organizations. This is not really anything new, but what Accelerate does, is base it on actual science, and not just anecdotes and opinions – something we see all too often in the tech field.

The findings of Accelerate is based upon the survey data collected through the yearly survey “State of DevOps” in the years 2014-2017. Those data clearly demonstrated that a high performing organization performed much better than a low performing organization, but they could also be used to explain what caused this differences in performance.

The book is split into 3 parts, a conclusion, and some appendixes. The first part explains the findings, the second part, the science used, and the third part is a case study contributed by Steve Bell and Karen Whitley Bell. I will go through each part separately below.

The first part of the book is called “What we found”, and what they found is certainly noteworthy. They looked at some key indicators of software delivery performance, and found that a high performance organization had the following performance compared to low performance organizations:

  • 46 times more frequent deployments
  • 440 faster lead time from commit to deploy
  • 170 times faster mean time to recover from downtime
  • 5 times lower change failure rate

These numbers are from page 10 of the book, and show a much greater difference than most would expect, no matter how big a proponent of DevOps.

The rest of the first part of the book goes through their other findings, which identifies “24 key capabilities that drive improvement in software delivery performance, and, in turn, organizational performance”. According to the authors, “[t]hese capabilities are easy to define, measure, and improve”.

I won’t include the list here, but many of them relate to DevOps practices and lean management practices, though there are a couple related other things, such as architecture. One thing I will mention, is that the findings indicate that while culture has an influence on the use of DevOps techniques, the use of DevOps techniques also have an influence on culture, which changes as a result of that.

None of the mentioned capabilities are new, but here we have, for the first time, evidence that they actually work, and help improve performance.

The second part of the book, “The Research”, goes into how the research was conducted, and why survey data was suitable for the research. It doesn’t include the actual data, which would have been nice, but I can understand why that isn’t the case (breach of confidentiality etc).

I can’t recall seeing a similar chapter in any other book on programming/systems development, and I highly applaud it. I also think it was a smart move to put it in the second part, rather than the first part, as most people will be more interested in the findings, rather than the methods behind finding them.

The third part of the book, the case study contributed by Steve Bell and Karen Whitley Bell, is called “Transformation”. They takes us to Ing Netherlands, a world-wide bank, where they have been involved in a cultural change, started and lead by the IT manager, enabling the organization to become high-performance.

To be honest, I find this part to be the weakest part of the book, both in content and in presentation, but it does provide a nice overview of practices on the team, management, and leadership level (it can be found online here).

All in all, the findings of the book should not be shocking to people who has worked with agile, DevOps etc., but it is nice to have a list of proven capabilities to focus on. It is also a useful tool when debating with management about these subjects.

I highly recommend the book to people working in any aspect of software engineering – be it as a programmer, a project manager, in a leadership position, or in any other capacity.

RIP Joe Armstrong, the author of Erlang

Sad news from the world of programming, Joe Armstrong, one of the authors of the Erlang language has died

I never worked much with Erlang, and have never met Joe Armstrong, but from everything I hear, he was a genuinely nice man.

If you want to know more about Erlang, and how it was used, you can watch Erlang the Movie.

To be honest, I highly doubt anyone outside the world of programming will get much out of that clip, but it is interesting to watch, since it shows what type of problems Erlang was developed to solve. It gives a view into the early days of digitizing telephony, which wasn’t that long ago, considered how long telephones and other forms of telecommunication has been around.