If you are looking for the Walter Underwood who was at
Autonomy, I'm now at
Netflix improving the
I worked on the
Ultraseek enterprise search
engine for five companies and eight and a half years (through thirteen
layoffs). It was a fun ride.
My blog, Most
Casual Observer, is updated more often than this page. Go there for
my latest opinions on search, books, photography, and other stuff.
I'm also Scoutmaster of Boy
Scout Troop 14 in Palo Alto.
Also check out another "walter" and "underwood",
walteri and Trillium
underwoodii from Michael Abram's
Florida Wildflower page.
- A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Ralph Koster. How do games
work? What do game designers do? What are you missing if you don't know this stuff?
It will take a few more readings to internalize this one, but that was true for
Understanding Comics, too.
- The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. I thought the name was
from the baroque period, but clearly he has taken it to heart in the plot structure.
One might even call it rococo. Or a great read. Don't fight it. If Samuel Pepys
needs a two page benediction on the wonders of free urination, go with the flow.
So to speak.
- Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. Walking
as transportation, a dynamic sense of place, a political right, a social
privilege, pilgrimage, exercise, and a few other things I can't remember.
You can read this in bits, which is a good thing, because it kept overflowing
my brain with ideas.
For example, the Stations of the Cross is a walking pilgrimage turned into
to symbols which you use as a virtual pilgrimage (while physically walking
the stations). Think that three times real fast.
Throw it in the bag for your next trip and read a chapter when you sit down
to rest. Then walk a bit farther.
- Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn. This really should
be a forgettable coming-of-age tale with castles and fairies, but it has
something extra. This one is for when you need a book that is easy and pleasant
to read, but still has some substance. Like al dente pasta instead of
- Summerland by Michael Chabon. A jam session mixing any bits
of mythology he can get his hands on, from Coyote to the designated hitter rule,
and a darn good tale, too. Our 4th grader read the whole thing and enjoyed it,
even though he didn't get the Beowulf references. It is still good on the
second read, and the audio book version is great. Chabon does different
voices for each character.
- The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand. Philosophy, biography,
and history in a single book. Could it be any better?
- Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford. Edna St. Vincent Millay was
a genius, an addict, a naif, and the girlfriend from hell. Read all about it.
- Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore. Every once in a while, I
find a book that involves me enough to interfere with my sleep. I've lost a
few hours with Francine, Katchoo, and David. Maybe you should, too. Did I
forget to mention that this is a comic book?
- Excession by Iain M. Banks. It could have been a formal
exercise -- let's put something unexplainable at the center of the novel, and
see what happens. But the web of people surrounding the Excession works so well
that the dark center holds it all together. Somehow. Don't skip over the
conversations between the intelligent ships, even though they are hard to
follow at first. And they get the cool names: Killing Time (a warship),
Ethics Gradient, Death and Gravity, …
- Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. I always figured that this
was an over-long, preachy, amateur utopia novel. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It is
about falling in love with a land, a people, and a woman. At least, so far it
is only about one woman, but I'm only a third of the way through, and Dorna
just, well, I won't spoil the story. It is too good and you should read it
- Lost Japan by Alex Kerr. Originally written in Japanese for a
Japanese audience, the English version is a surprisingly good introduction to
Japanese culture. Of course, it is much more than that -- I wish I could write
as well in one language has he does in two. Though this is billed as set of
cultural essays, it is really a love story, starting with the author's initial
infatuation with Japan and leading to a long, familiar accommodation, where he
is well aware of her faults.
- Style: toward clarity and grace by Joseph M. Williams.
Principles and mechanisms for turning turgid prose into clear, easy-to-read
prose. In other words, writing tips for engineers.
- The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Well, now I know the source
of the weird, choppy detective novel writing style. Of course, the original is
something entirely different from the imitators -- the writing is highly visual,
taking you to 1930's LA, and the writing has a shiny modern surface,
"metal and glass exact", to quote a Scott Miller lyric.
- Design Patterns by Gamma, Helms, Johnson, and Vlissides.
Addresses the missing level of system description, in between, for example,
sorting (low level algorithms) and client/server (system architecture).
- Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, a mind-opening tour of
- Shiloh by Shelby Foote. After watching the PBS series, The Civil
War, Tina said, "I want Shelby Foote to come to my house and talk to me
every night." Well, I can't arrange that, but I can recommend
- The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, an
architecture book that can instruct us on building software as if people were
going to use it.
- Programming as if People Mattered by Nathaniel Borenstein,
the original of the paraphrase above, and the true sequel to Elements
of Programming Style. Also notable for an inspirational dose of
humility -- most bad examples are from the author's own programs.
- The City Shaped, by Spiro Kostof, a study of streets,
buildings, and environs, how they came to be and how they change. Great
- The Five Gospels by Funk, Hoover & The Jesus Seminar, a
new translation and an instructive view of the gospels--read it both for the
results of the scholarship and for a look at how scholars do their work. And
Bob Funk was my Dad's roommate in seminary, but you should read it anyway.
- The Night Land, by William Hope Hodgson. I can believe that
some people might barely be able to start this book, let alone finish it, but
reading it is a sustained, peculiar, and dark experience that is well worth the
time. Written in the 19th century, about a man in the 16th dreaming of a far
future time when the sun is dying. That didn't make sense?
Find out for yourself.
- Thuvia, Maid of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. What is a
reading list without the classics?
- Shonen Knife, has any band ever had more fun? US pop filtered through
Japanese culture, and presented without guile. A song about the Jackalope?
- Brave Combo, pretend that you don't know
they're a polka band, put on the record, and prepare to have fun. If you don't,
you'll never find out what a good cha-cha Oh, Holy Night can be.
- The Loud Family (and Game Theory),
some bands have great tunes but lame lyrics, and some bands have really great
lyrics are hopeless with the music. And a very few bands have lousy music and
lyrics, but they don't last very long. Then there are bands like this.
- Fastbacks, wow, these people just love to play. They might be having as
much fun as Shonen Knife. And they cover "Midnight Confession".
- Tiger Trap, honest music about high school life. This is My So-Called
Life written by people living it. For the post-teen experience
(thirtysomething?), Rose Melberg is still writing songs, check her out.
I'm looking forward to her forties (Once and Again).
You can try the web for my church, All
Saints' Episcopal Church.
My workstation is named Nosferatu, to honor the film by
F. W. Murnau,
eine Symphonie des Grauens. It's the first, and maybe still the best,
Dracula film. If you think that silent films are goofy and hard to watch, see
Nosferatu, preferably in a theater. At Infoseek, I got tired of spelling that for
people, so I named my machine "diva", not because I'm arrogant and high maintenance,
but for Diva, another fine film.
If you used to e-mail me as email@example.com you should now
use the same username at wunderwood.org for a mail address.