What we’re reading

Ok, so we’re going to try to make sharing this list a regular thing; you can see our previous post on What We’re Reading (Summer/Fall 2011) here. A group of us are also participating in a cross-organization internal reading group, so I’ll try to share that syllabus — er, reading list! — here soon…

An overwhelming number of people had mentioned that they were reading “the” Steve Jobs biography (you know, the one by Walter Isaacson). Reasons ranged from it touching upon personal encounters and experiences (“fascinating study of a complex man who affected my life”, “in the background of our professional lives”) to it sharing insights (“examples of how great products came into being incrementally, and not not entirely by rational planning, with heavy influences of art”) to simply: “+1”.


Here’s a flash-sampling of what other works some of the folks in our community just happened to be reading over the past few months. We’d love for you to add your reactions — or share what you’re reading! — in the comments.

Victoria Bellotti, principal scientist and ethnographer in PARC’s Innovation Services area —

Dave Biegelsen, research fellow, uber-inventor, and one of PARC’s earliest employees —

  • The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks… “Dysfunctions frequently cast light on the normal operation of the brain. And  I love almost everything Sacks writes; he is able to capture the essence of the experience of brain dysfunctions, and the compensations that people usually develop.”
  • Beat the Market by Edward Thorp… “A father of hedge concepts and their bastard offspring. The warnings about black swans are all there for the pack to skip.”
  • District and Circle by Seamus Heaney… “Very gruff and evocative poetry. Good for clearing one’s head.”

Danny Bobrow, research fellow, AI expert, and one of PARC’s earliest employees —

  • The Master Switch by Tim Wu… because “it’s capitalism versus technology: what happens, the pendulum swings”

Sonal Chokshi, PARC content and community manager —

Les Nelson, computer scientist in PARC’s socio-cognitive computing area currently focused on health & wellness —

  • Theory of Addiction by Robert West… “This book describes a synthetic theory of the human motivational system, compiled from the latest in behavior change research and evidence-based medical practice. It has direct implications for understanding how and why behavior change like healthy eating and physical activity are so desired, yet hard to accomplish in a lasting way.”

Richard Fohrenbach, systems engineer in PARC’s computing & network services group —

  • The Great Reset by Richard Florida… “I’m new to the area and heard a local NPR station interview with the author, who explained how Silicon Valley did not just magically ‘happen’ nor did it arise just because of the companies we commonly think of. The author shares how factors such as the return of GIs after the war, suburbanization, and road infrastructure all came together, and how it might happen again to create unforeseen opportunities.”

Bob Price, PARC computer scientist and expert in model-based systems —

  • Managing and Mining Graph Data edited by Charu Aggarwal and Haixun Wang… “A survey of methods on extracting information from graphs, such as Facebook networks, protein interaction networks, or computer vision scene graphs.”
  • The Watchers by Shane Harris… “A description of surveillance programs in the U.S. over the last few decades.”

Ajay Raghavan, aerospace and mechanical engineer in PARC’s intelligent automation team —

  • Gut feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer… “It shares insights into the evolved reasoning mechanisms of the ultimate ‘intelligent systems’ – humans. Particularly interesting are the parts that talk about how simple heuristics usually win over complex algorithms in the real world, where data is often abundant but noisy.”
  • Calculated risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You also by Gerd Gigerenzer… “A good discussion of the frequentist approach to demystify probability concepts for broad audiences.”

Bhaskar Saha, Bayesian techniques expert in PARC’s intelligent automation team —

  • “Nonlinear Filters: Beyond the Kalman Filter”by Fred Daum… “This is a great paper — magazine article with readily understandable language — discussing the theoretical motivation behind several nonlinear filtering techniques that are widely applicable over several domains, including System Health Management.”

Mark Stefik, PARC research fellow, serial inventor, and entrepreneur —

  • Skillful Means: Patterns for Success by Tarthang Tulku… “My first thought was ‘what would a Tibetan monk possibly have to say about business success?!’ But when I looked into what this guy has done — including his company and also the robotics publishing plant in Marin, I decided to listen up. Commonsense wisdom.”
  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries… “I met Eric when he gave a PARC Forum talk here. A good read for anyone who thinks customers might matter.”

Erik Vinkhuyzen, PARC ethnographer who specializes in Innovation Services in workplace settings —

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