As an information technology practitioner in the corporate world, I’m sometimes surprised and delighted when I encounter a fun and useful tool in my life outside of work. It’s more often you see clumsy user interfaces or poorly integrated tools brought into stunning relief by your background—which makes finding something done well all the more glorious.
The first is a nifty data visualization tool called NameVoyager, which requires a java plug-in but otherwise runs well in your web browser. The second was a pleasant surprise from Uncle Sam, the Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names Search, for those who prefer a more tabular presentation.
Even if you don’t have a bun in the oven, it’s fun to uncover how unoriginal your own parents were however many decades ago. Oh and for those wondering about Jelly Bean, no spoilers here.
It’s not since Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game that I’ve been so vocal about recommending a work of contemporary science fiction. This time, it’s Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down–all 934 pages (if you include the ‘calca’ proofs in the back).
It is a thought provoking look into two different approaches to life: the monastic ‘avout’ who pursue scientific and philosophical knowledge in communities separated from the world for long periods of time (inspired in part by the Long Now Foundation’s 10,000 Year Clock), and the external world full of casinos, cell phones, and consumerism. The former is about as appealing as the latter is unfortunately familiar.
The novel is both intellectually satisfyingly (a pleasant surprise for fiction) and simply a ‘good yarn’. Drop me a line when you’ve finished it (and not before, I’d hate to accidentally spoil the plot).
You can watch the author speaking at Google both about the book and his writing practice.
Stephenson, Neal. Anathem.