books that changed the way I think

Originally posted on 6/19/2008, brought forward here because no one has yet submitted any other influential books.

Kevin Kelly recently blogged a short list of books that changed his life, and challenged others to compose a similar list. Here’s mine, in the order in which they were read. What are yours?

One, Two, Three … Infinity (1947), by George Gamow
books At a very young age, I asked my father some questions that he could not answer. So he took me to meet a college faculty member (probably in physics) who listened to my questions and gave me a paperback copy of this book. It was the first book I ever read that was in small print. Naturally, I didn’t understand the whole thing, but I understood enough to grasp that there were limits to what could be done in the universe, but no limits to how much we could eventually know. I also learned the theoretical principles of travel near the speed of light, and that there could be no traveling back in time. I still enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time (1962) by Madeleine L’Engle.

My Side of the Mountain (1959), by Jean Craighead George
This story of a boy who ran away and built a self-reliant life for himself in the wilderness sparked my imagination like no other. It was so full of detail and so believable. It was McGyver and Robinson Crusoe rolled into one. This was the type of resourceful person I decided to become. (The 1969 movie sucked).

Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) by E. O. Wilson,
The book that sparked the controversy and public debate over evolutionary or genetic basis for human behavior. Just like the scientific question around which this is argued (nature vs. nurture), I suspect there are valid elements to each point of view. As a robust scientific thesis, it can and has been spun to justify specious arguments about crime, social programs and even warfare. But the world is not black and white.

Blue Highways, (1982) by William Least Heat-Moon
This biographical story of a 13,000 mile journey on America’s most rural of roads greatly influenced me. It remains my favorite form of travel. Its because of this book that we stumbled upon Grant Wood’s American Gothic house two years ago.

The Road Less Traveled, (1978) by M. Scott Peck
This best-selling book is basically about life skills, but the part that resonated with me was his discussion and analysis of Love.  Bottom line is that true love for another person means that you will encourage and help that that person in their spiritual growth.  Consequently, you can’t “love” an animal or pet in the same sense.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, (1983) Edward Tufte
I picked up this book while working as a marketing analyst for Time-Warner cable, and this thin volume is elegant in its theory and approach to using charts and graphs. This book influenced my choice of what Masters degree to pursue 10 years later after I started working in higher ed. Tufte has written many other excellent books about information theory, including serious criticisms of Microsoft Powerpoint and how it has influenced thinking. He has credibly cited Powerpoint as an element contributing to the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, (2006) by Michael Pollan.
A great investigative analysis which will totally change the way you think about what you eat. Its about economics, agriculture, food technology, the American diet and above all, corn. Things have changed so much in my lifetime. I can’t say the book has significantly changed my habits, but I sure am better informed.  And I have an appreciation for grass-fed buffalo and beef.  Incidentally, included is an explanation of why the purported economic benefits of using ethanol fuel is BS.

El Orfanato (2007)

We caught this spanish-language supernatural thriller over the weekend, and I highly recommend it.   I’m not a big fan of the genre, and prime examples like Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen totally escape me.    But this one (The Orphanage, in english), is extremely well scripted and skillfully executed.  Its produced by Guillermo del Toro, the guy who directed Pan’s Labyrinth, and it shows.   The film owes a lot to whats referred to as J-Horror, the Japanese school of thrillers exemplified by  recent Hollywood versions of The Ring and The Grudge.    Its also got an intriguing ending that reminded me of The Sixth Sense.   It’s still haunting me nopunintended.

In the DVD extras, someone commented that its like the story of Peter Pan told from the perspective of the mother whose children have gone missing.  Thats a good clue.  Look for the Peter Pan reference early in the narrative.

music by decade

Bob Sr. has asked for help in compiling a list of songs to sample in a show medley that represent the past decades.  Problem is, he has to sing excerpts, and his audience (U-club retirees mostly) should recognize them!   I’m really stuck on the current decade since most of the notable songs I can think of have been top-40 (Outcast, Norah Jones, etc)

Any suggestions for widely recognized iconic songs?   this is what I’ve got so far:

YMCA (1978)
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (1973)

We Are the World (1985)
Theme from Cheers (Where Everybody Knows Your Name)

My Heart will go on (theme from Titanic)
Circle of Life (Lion King, 1994)

You Raise Me Up (Josh Groban)


I wanted to run the Disney half-marathon this year, but registration closes out very early, like 11 months in advance of the January event, and I was laughably late to sign up when I investigated last summer.   So I planned to get an early registration in this month for 2010.     Running/singing friend Seth urged me to consider the full marathon, and I’ve been thinking about it for the last 24 hours.  Coincidentally, this morning at the Y I met a woman who just Sunday completed her first Disney marathon, and it was a big goal for her.  A sign?

I just registered and paid my non-refundable fees for the full marathon, next January 10, 2010.   357 days to train.  Wish me luck.

new music

I discovered a couple of new bands this week

Girlyman – NYC group with close harmonies reminiscent of The Indigo Girls,  genre classified as “Urban Folk”.  I heard a song by them on a coverville podcast singing a Cyndi Lauper cover.  Wikipedia says they are a favorite of the queer community.   click below to listen to a track:

The Greencards – Progressive bluegrass like Nickel Creek, but with a celtic influence. Although comprised of two Australians and an Englishman, they formed in Austin, Texas, and are currently based in Nashville, Tennessee.  This group popped up on a rhapsody channel mix I was listening to.

More videos by The Greencards at CMT.


I received this email:

Dear baribob,

Video Disabled

A copyright owner has claimed it owns some or all of the audio content in your video Redfish on topwater. The audio content identified in your video is In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly. We regret to inform you that your video has been blocked from playback due to a music rights issue.

Replace Your Audio with AudioSwap

Don’t worry, we have plenty of music available for your use. Please visit our AudioSwap library to learn how you can easily replace the audio in your video with any track from our growing library of fully licensed songs.

Other Options

If you think there’s been a mistake, or you have other questions, please visit the Copyright Notice page in your account.

The YouTube Content Identification Team

However, I followed the audioswap link and republished the video clip with a copyright-free audio background, its a piano polonaise.

According to Jim

Too bad.  This TV show has totally jumped the shark.   It was never really good television, but i kept an eye on it over the years.  It had two hot female leads, a fat guy good at physical comedy, and Jim Belushi conveys echoes of sibling John Belushi’s performing genius.  Its no Seinfield, but it was predictable and diverting, and thankfully, the kids in the sitcom family were usually not very prominent in the plot.   Good lord, this show has been on the air since 2001 and has outlived its contemporaries 8 Simple Rules, and Life with Bonnie.

Now in 2009, the writers are scraping bottom.  They devoted the last season to wife Cheryl’s (Courtney Thorne-Smith) expectancy of twins, and now Dana (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) has left the show.   The last episode I saw this past weekend was about Jim casting his twin babies in a movie with Steve Guttenberg and it was just awful.

BTW, I learned on wikipedia that Kimberly Williams-Paisley is married to singer Brad Paisley, is featured in some of his music videos, and is sister of uber-cutie Ashley Williams who was easily the most memorable thing from the shortlived sitcom Good Morning, Miami and more recently featured in How I Met Your Mother.

Brad and kimberly


Monday morning, back to the grind in 2009!   I’ve started the week with the routine 2 mile run to the Y for a workout and shower, walked the dog, chlorinated the pool, and picked and squeezed a couple dozen oranges before heading for work. Our tree is groaning with fruit this winter.  Gina was still in bed when I left, but she’s back to school today.

fresh cut oranges