Austin Computer Book Club

Vote: Our Next Two 2018 Books

Here are the choices for the next two meetups of 2018. The two highest-rated books will be the ones we read for our May and August meetings. Look over these selections and make your choices using the form at the bottom of the post. Voting closes at noon on March 30!

Weaving the Web Weaving the Web, by Tim Berners-Lee

– The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web, by Tim Berners-Lee
246 pages, 2000, $1-$16
On Goodreads; Amazon

Named one of the greatest minds of the 20th century by Time, Tim Berners-Lee is responsible for one of that century’s most important advancements: the world wide web. Now, this low-profile genius–who never personally profited from his invention–offers a compelling portrait of his invention. He reveals the Web’s origins and the creation of the now ubiquitous http and www acronyms and shares his views on such critical issues as censorship, privacy, the increasing power of software companies , and the need to find the ideal balance between commercial and social forces. He offers insights into the true nature of the Web, showing readers how to use it to its fullest advantage. And he presents his own plan for the Web’s future, calling for the active support and participation of programmers, computer manufacturers, and social organizations to manage and maintain this valuable resource so that it can remain a powerful force for social change and an outlet for individual creativity.

Weapons of Math Destruction

– How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, by Cathy O’Neil
272 pages, 2016, $10-$26
On Goodreads; Amazon

We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated. But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this shocking book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his race or neighborhood), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.

Functional Thinking Functional Thinking, by Neal Ford

– Paradigm Over Syntax, by Neal Ford
180 pages, 2014, $17-$35
On Goodreads; Amazon

Rather than focus on specific language features, Functional Thinking looks at a variety of common practices in OOP languages and then shows you how to solve the same problems with a functional language. For instance, you know how to achieve code-reuse in Java via mechanisms such as inheritance and polymorphism. Code reuse is also possible in functional languages, using high-order functions, composition, and multi-methods.

Ford encourages you to value results over steps, so you can begin to think like a functional programmer. Expect your mind to be bent, but you’ll finish with a much better understanding of both the syntax and semantics of functional languages.

To Save Everything, Click Here To Save Everything, Click Here, by Evgeny Morozov

-The Folly of Technological Solutionism, by Evgeny Morozov
434 pages, 2013, $7 – $15
On Goodreads; Amazon

In the very near future, technological systems will allow us to make large-scale and sophisticated interventions into many more areas of public life: politics, culture, public debate, even our definitions of morality and human values. But how will these be affected once we delegate much of the responsibility for them to technology? The temptation of the digital age is to fix everything—from crime to corruption to pollution to obesity—by digitally quantifying, tracking, or gamifiying behavior. But when we change the motivations for our moral, ethical, and civic behavior, we may also change the very nature of that behavior itself. Technology, Evgeny Morozov proposes, can be a force for improvement—but only if we abandon the idea that it is necessarily revolutionary and instead genuinely interrogate what we are doing with it and what it is doing to us.

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