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gspec writes "A little background about me: 36-year-old computer engineer working in the Bay Area. While I bring in a comfortable salary, I consider myself an underachiever, and my career is stagnant (I have only been promoted four times in my 12-year career). I have led a couple projects, but I am not in any sort of leadership/management position. I realize I need to do something to enhance my career, and unfortunately, going back to school is not an option. One thing I can do is to read more quality books. My question: which books, of any type or genre, have had a significant impact on your life?"


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Moebius

RIP, French comic artist and illustrator Jean “Moebius” Giraud, who has passed away from cancer at the age of 73. This is a good place to begin learning about his work. His best known film design work is in live-action, like The Abyss, Alien, TRON and The Fifth Element, but he also contributed to a number of animation projects including Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Space Jam and Time Masters (below). He was revered in France where they exhibited his comic art with respect and appreciation.

Moebius influenced many people in our industry. I’ve collected some of the animation community’s reactions on Twitter:

[View the story "Moebius Reaction from the Animation Industry" on Storify]

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ananyo writes "DNA origami, a technique for making structures from DNA, has been used to build devices that can seek out and potentially destroy cancer cells. The nanorobots use a similar system to cells in the immune system to engage with receptors on the outside of cells. The barrel-shaped devices, each about 35 nanometers in diameter, contain 12 sites on the inside for attaching payload molecules and two positions on the outside for attaching aptamers, short nucleotide strands with special sequences for recognizing molecules on the target cell (abstract). The aptamers act as clasps: once both have found their target, they spring open the device to release the payload. The researchers tested six combinations of aptamer locks, each of which were designed to target different types of cancer cells in culture. Those designed to hit a leukemia cell could pick that cell out of a mixture of cell types, then release their payload — in this case, an antibody — to stop the cells from growing. The researchers designed the structure of the nanorobots using open-source software, called Cadnano."


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How many meetings did you have today? This week? This month?

Now ask yourself how many of those meetings were worthwhile, versus the work that you could have accomplished in that same time.

Meetings, the practical alternative to work

This might lead one to wonder why we even have meetings at all.

At GitHub we don't have meetings. We don't have set work hours or even work days. We don't keep track of vacation or sick days. We don't have managers or an org chart. We don't have a dress code. We don't have expense account audits or an HR department.

Now, I'm sure Tom was being facetious when he said that GitHub doesn't have meetings, because I sure as heck saw meeting rooms when I recently visited their offices to give a talk. Who knows, maybe they use them to store all the extra forks.

Although some meetings are inevitable, even necessary, the principle he's advocating here is an important one. Meetings should be viewed skeptically from the outset, as risks to productivity. We have meetings because we think we need them, but all too often, meetings are where work ends up going to die. I have a handful of principles that I employ to keep my meetings useful:

  1. No meeting should ever be more than an hour, under penalty of death.

    The first and most important constraint on any meeting is the most precious imaginable resource at any company: time. If you can't fit your meeting in about an hour, there is something deeply wrong with it, and you should fix that first. Either it involves too many people, the scope of the meeting is too broad, or there's a general lack of focus necessary to keep the meeting on track. I challenge anyone to remember anything that happens in a multi-hour meeting. When all else fails, please keep it short!

  2. Every meeting should have a clearly defined mission statement.

    What's the mission statement of your meeting? Can you define the purpose of your meeting in a single succinct sentence? I hesitate to recommend having an "agenda" and "agenda items" because the word agenda implies a giant, tedious bulleted list of things to cover. Just make sure the purpose of the meeting is clear to everyone; the rest will take care of itself.

  3. Do your homework before the meeting.

    Since your meeting has a clearly defined mission statement, everyone attending the meeting knows in advance what they need to talk about and share, and has it ready to go before they walk into the room. Right? That's how we can keep the meeting down to an hour. If you haven't done your homework, you shouldn't be in the meeting. If nobody has done their homework, the meeting should be cancelled.

  4. Make it optional.

    "Mandatory" meetings are a cop-out. Everyone in the meeting should be there because they want to be there, or they need to be there. One sure way to keep yourself accountable for a meeting is to make everyone optional. Imagine holding a meeting that people actually wanted to attend, because it was … useful. Or interesting. Or entertaining. Now make it happen!

  5. Summarize to-dos at the end of the meeting.

    If your meeting never happened, what would the consequences be? If the honest answer to that is almost nothing, then perhaps your meeting has no reason to exist. Any truly productive meeting causes stuff to happen as a direct result of the decisions made in that meeting. You, as a responsible meeting participant, are responsible for keeping track of what you need to do – and everyone in the room can prove it by summarizing their to-do list for everyone's benefit before they leave the meeting.

It's not that we shouldn't have meetings, but rather, we need to recognize the inherent risks of meetings and strive to make the (hopefully) few meetings we do have productive ones. Let's work fast, minimize BS, and get to the point.

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Daniel Wilson is a PhD roboticist who made his name with a series of fun, light science books about robot uprisings and similar subjects. But his new novel, Robopocalypse, is anything but fun and lightweight: it's a gripping, utterly plausible, often terrifying account of a global apocalypse brought on by a transcendant AI that hijacks the planet's automation systems and uses them in a vicious attempt to wipe out humanity.

Robopocalypse opens on the first days after the terrible robot war, with Cormack Wallace, a human soldier, contemplating a "black box" containing the war's history as recorded by Archos, the rogue AI that nearly exterminated the human race. After this bit of stage setting, we go back to the months before the war, when a researcher unwittingly creates Archos and then loses control of it when it murders him. A series of small, grisly episodes follow in which automation systems are compromised by Archos and domestic robots, autonomous cars, and other devices turn on their owners. These presage the war that is to come.

But the war, when it arrives, is far more brutal than Wilson hints. Archos possesses perfect global coordination, and so when the killing begins, it is near-total and so swift that humanity hardly knows what's coming. Cars mow down people in the streets (even as their owners, trapped within, scream in horror and beat at the windscreens); elevators and domestic robots conspire to drop terrified people down empty shafts or shake them to jelly; planes crash themselves; buildings seal themselves and asphyxiate their occupants.

But some humans survive, thanks to luck and sheer numbers and a bit of cunning, and these humans live to fight. Slowly, and with little success (at first), humanity strikes back at the robots, learning something about the threat they face. Archos is adaptive, though, and every successful measure evinces a countermeasure, horror piled on horror that will have you glued to the pages.

Like Max Brooks's World War Z, Robopocalypse is structured as a kind of oral history, composed of vignettes that take the form of first person accounts, transcripts, technical documents and so on. This is a great literary device in that it dispenses with much of the stage-business in novels where characters get from A to B so that the reader can see what's going on -- rather, the author is free to jump from anyplace to anyplace else, telling the story with a viewpoint that's both omniscient and intimate.

But Brooks's novel had very little in the way of recurring characters, while Robopocalypse quickly converges on the stories of a dozen or so freedom fighters whose lives gradually become entangled. This recurrence gives Robopocalypse something World War Z lacks: heart, in the form of character arcs, wherein heroes learn and change and grow, and we get to root for them.

The film rights to Robopocalypse have been bought by Stephen Spielberg, who has announced a big-budget feature for 2013. If the script is at all true to the novel, it might just be one of the best and scariest science fiction movies of all time.

Robopocalypse

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In this short video Kris Madden shows you how to read faster. The trick, he says, is to repeatedly say "AEIOU" or "one, two, three, four," as you read. This prevents you from vocalizing the written words with your larynx. Once you train yourself, you can stop uttering "AEIOU," and you will be able to read much faster than before, or so he says.

Scientific speed reading: how to read 300% faster in 20 minutes

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