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Readings: 2 Jun 2019

I’m headed to Boston to attend the Tufte seminar tomorrow. It’s been nearly fifteen years since I bought — and devoured — The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Even if there’s nothing new in the seminar beyond what I’ve already learned from the four books, I’m excited to see one of my heroes live.

Over the past few weeks, I devoured the three extant Wayfarers novels by Becky Chambers: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Records of a Spaceborne Few. If your only yardstick for a science fiction novel is how many new mind-bending ideas it introduces, these probably aren’t for you. But if you want space opera stories about infrastructure and the quotidian, about the people and the emotional substance of life among aliens, then these books are well worth your time. Highly recommended.

Robert Caro has been sharing behind-the-scenes stories about his biographies, in The New Yorker and in his book Working. He shares a piece from an early editor, which I’ve been mulling over for weeks now:

Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.

It applies much more often than I thought: reading source code instead of relying on someone else’s summary of what an application does, carefully reading error messages, writing down my assumptions and explicitly reviewing them instead. This seems related to Paul Graham’s concept of “schlep blindness” — that opportunities to make a difference are hidden in plain sight, in bringing diligence to tedious, dirty work that no one else wants to do.