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Matt Austern
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Attended Taylor Allderdice
Lives in Palo Alto, CA
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Matt Austern

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Sigrid Undset, The Wife (Husfrue) (tr. Tiina Nunnally)

The second book of Kristin Lavransdatter, a trilogy of novels written in the early 20th century and set in early 14th century Norway. In the first book, The Wreath, Kristin succeeds in getting the husband she wanted, at some cost. In this book we get to see how it worked out for her. Not entirely disastrously, and her husband didn't fail her in the way that one might have guessed, and the fault wasn't entirely his. Both he and Kristin and interestingly flawed.

Norwegians would undoubtedly have recognized some of the names from history and have known what to expect of some of the political machinations given that the king is Magnus VII. I was sometimes a little lost.
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Matt Austern

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Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis: 1911–1914

The first volume of Churchill's WWI memoirs. It's partly a history of the overall diplomatic and military events, including, for example, a chapter on the Battle of the Marne, but it's mostly a record of Churchill's own experiences as First Lord of the Admiralty. It deservedly gets quoted a lot, since it's a primary source and Churchill was a gifted writer, but it also has to be taken with a grain of salt. One agenda behind this book was Churchill arguing that he wasn't responsible for disasters like the Battle of Coronel, the fall of Antwerp, the escape of the Goeben to Constantinople, and the Gallipoli campaign.
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Charlie Stross, The Nightmare Stacks

A Laundry novel, but not a Bob Howard or Dominique O'Brien novel. The main character is Alex the Vampire, first seen in The Rhesus Chart. “Alex hasn't been a vampire for very long, and he isn't very good at it yet. But at least he's still alive — if that's the right word for his condition — unlike several other members of his brood.”
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Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky

A love story, an apocalyptic story, a story about the conflict between magic and science. Also a very funny book, one that includes, among other things, two-second time machines, the Nameless Order of Assassins, and a cat who observes that birds are “like toys with meat inside.” And perhaps we can also learn the answer to the question: is a tree red?
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John Scalzi, Lock In

A police procedural murder mystery set a few decades in the future, in a world where Haden's Syndrome has left millions locked in: conscious but completely paralyzed. New assistive technologies, implanted neural networks and telepresence robots and Integrators and virtual worlds, allow Hadens, including the book's main character, to function and participate in society. They also enable completely new kinds of crime.
Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four per cent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to ...
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Eager to buy one pair of those VR glasses 
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Matt Austern

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As usual there was far too much at last month's Maker Faire for me to see everything, but here are a few of the things I did see.
15 new photos · Album by Matt Austern
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Steven Weinberg, To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science

Steven Weinberg is a professional physicist, one of the best (he's done important work in cosmology, and he shared the Nobel Prize for his work on what's now called the Standard Model of elementary particle theory, a.k.a. SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) or the Weinberg-Glashow-Salam model), and an amateur historian of science. He's taught a few courses on the subject, and it's at least implicit in a few of his other books.

Weinberg knows enough about history to know what “the Whig interpretation of history” means and to know that it's not usually taken to be a flattering description, but nevertheless argues that it's an appropriate way to write about the development of science (pointing out that the person who coined that phrase, Herbert Butterfield, didn't hesitate to judge the past by the standards of the present when writing about the history of science) and that it's an especially useful perspective starting with the Scientific Revolution, when we start seeing something that looks like modern science to a modern scientist like Weinberg. It's a fairly convincing argument; if you're trying to explain why one point of view largely replaced another, surely you shouldn't neglect correspondence with actual physical reality. Not every history needs to be written with that point of view, but some should be. That's especially true if the author understands the science well enough to explain what some scholar from an earlier era was trying to do, what their argument meant in quantitative terms using notation that's understandable today, and why their approach worked, to the extent that it did.

If you've studied science of any kind then you'll undoubtedly know some of this story, since a class on any technical field usually includes at least a little bit on how our present understanding developed. You probably won't know all of the story, though, in part because those introductions we all get are always radically simplified for pedagogical purposes. One thing I learned that was new to me, for example, was that the Ptolemaic model of the universe was not universally accepted in the pre-Copernican era — far from it. Aristotle had a quite different model, also geocentric but different in many other ways, and there was serious argument between the two up through Galileo's day. What's even more interesting is that everyone agreed that Ptolemy's model agreed better with observational data, but that didn't stop a lot of people from preferring Aristotle's model anyway. For many scholars quantitative agreement with observed data wasn't the only criterion by which to evaluate a model, and not necessarily even the most valued. A model was also judged by the extent to which it could be arrived at deductively from a priori justification, the extent to which it embodied moral or teleological description, the extent to which it explained essence rather than merely appearance. Part of this story is about how we arrived at our present understanding of the world and part of it is about a change in the idea of what, in broad terms, an explanation of the world should look like.
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What are you do youwhat are you do you
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Matt Austern

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John Buchan, Greenmantle

The Thirty-Nine Steps — the book, not the Hitchcock movie — is set in the summer of 1914 and is about a sinister German plot to steal the secret plans for the naval defense of Britain. Greenmantle is the lesser known sequel; it was written and set in 1916 and Richard Hannay, now a major fighting on the Western Front, is called in to deal with another sinister German plot, this one an attempt to start a jihad against the British Empire.

It didn't surprise me that the book was somewhat racist by today's standards. It also didn't surprise me that it was reasonably respectful of Islam; British imperialists may not have understood Islam, but they admired it. What did surprise me was the book's sympathetic portrayal of Germans, even including the kaiser himself. They're the enemy, but by and large good people, and even the two villains are admirable in some ways.
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Sigrid Undset, The Wreath (tr. Tiina Nunnally)

Or Kransen in the original Norwegian. It's the first book of Kristin Lavransdatter, a trilogy of historical novels set in the 14th century. Kristin Lavransdatter is Undset's best known work, and the primary basis for her 1928 Nobel prize.
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A lot of people say that Thomas is a lazy judge, or that he was just a mouthpiece for Scalia. Both of those claims are false, and pretty easily shown to be false. (I wonder if racism is at least part of the reason they're so widely believed.)

This doesn't mean I have much respect for Thomas as a judge; it's just that the ways I find him appalling have nothing to do with how hard he works or how often he agreed with Scalia. It's much like what Tolstoy said: every dreadful judge is dreadful in his or her own way.
His recent abortion dissent explains why Clarence Thomas is so cut off on the Supreme Court, even from his fellow-conservatives. Credit PHOTOGRAPH BY DENNIS BRACK / BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY
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Yeah, people speaks too much sometimes, but that's better than not talking at all, they release pressure.

With time, they even learn to speak less and think more, it's human nature.
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When we went to Oʻahu last year one of the most spectacular things we saw was the Spitting Cave of Portlock, near Honolulu. I usually take still photographs, but in this case video gives a better idea of what it's like.
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There's a storm sewer discharge on the Hudson that does the same thing. Not as scenic (and way more sewage-y).
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Ellen Kushner, Swordspoint.

The subtitle is A Melodrama of Manners, and that's a good description: graceful surfaces concealing more complicated implications, delicate maneuvering with complicated rules where what's unsaid is usually more important than what's said, love affairs and political alliances and blurry combinations of the two. And swords. And especially since this is Pride Weekend, I also ought to mention that the most important romance in this book is between two men.

This was Ellen's first novel, and it's still her best known. I've read it several times. The copy I have now is the second edition, which includes an author's afterword and three short stories set in the same imagined and unnamed city and featuring some of the same characters: “The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death,” “Red-Cloak,” and “The Death of the Duke.”

“Let the fairy tale begin on a winters' morning, then, with one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff. And it therefore follows that evil lurks behind each broken window, scheming malice and enchantment; while behind the latched shutters the good are sleeping their just sleeps at this early hour in Riverside. Soon they will arise to go about their business; and one, maybe, will be as lovely as the day, armed, as are the good, for a predestined triumph…

“But there is no one behind the broken windows; only eddies of snow drift across bare floorboards. The owners of the coats of arms have long since abandoned all claims to the houses they crest, and moved up to the Hill, where they can look down on all the city. No king rules them any more, for good or ill. From the Hill, Riverside is a tiny splotch between two riverbanks, an unsavory quarter in a prosperous city. The people who live there now like to think of themselves as evil, but they're really no worse than anyone else. And already this morning more than one drop of blood has been shed.”
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Didn't realize it was her first novel.
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Education
  • Taylor Allderdice
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Physics, Math
  • University of California, Berkeley
    Physics
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Male
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Matthew Austern
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Software engineer
Employment
  • Google
    Software engineer, 2005 - present
  • Apple Inc.
  • AT&T
  • Silicon Graphics, Inc.
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Currently
Palo Alto, CA
Previously
Alameda, CA - Menlo Park, CA - Berkeley, CA - Cambridge, MA - Pittsburgh, PA