2017 reading roundup

In 2017 my reading volume was considerably higher than previous years. With this much reading volume my brain started to fatigue and it shows in 2018. 2017 was also a year of a big change as I switched my job.

Engineering

The first quarter of the year was spent preparing for the programming interviews so I was going through some technical books.

  • NSHipster: Obscure topics in Cocoa and Objective-C
  • The NSHipster Fakebook
  • The Algorithm Design Manual
  • The Pragmatic programmer

The first two were iOS focused and the 3rd one is more geared towards computer science.

Space exploration

On a more interesting subject, I was able to cover some ground on space exploration.

  • Astrophysics for people in a hurry
  • Failure is not an option
  • No Dream is too high

Gene Kranz stole my heart this year with his epic adventures as the director of several key NASA missions including the infamous Apollo 13 mission. Neil DeGrasse Tyson did a wonderful job in ‘Astrophysics for people in a hurry’ and I thoroughly enjoyed it. ‘No Dream is too high’ by Buzz Aldrin was a major disappointment primarily because Buzz sounds too pompous and arrogant in the book. I’ll put “Failure is not an option” up there with “Astronaut’s guide to life on earth” and “starman”. I am continuously amazed and fascinated by their adventures and want to continue this category for years to come.

Biographies

  • Hit Refresh
  • The Art of Learning
  • Saint Mother Taresa of Culcutta
  • The Everything Store

In 2017, I tried to randomize my sample of biographies. No longer am I just going to focus on Tech biographies – but don’t expect radically different subjects either. I really enjoyed ‘The everything store’ about Amazon (it was more about Jeff Bezos than Amazon though). Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella was a refreshing change in pace from the cut-throat Silicon Valley experience to a more mature Seattle/Microsoft setting. There were a lot of places where I could relate to Satya and its ‘refreshing’ to hear the POV from inside microsoft. The Art of Learning is about the life of a chess champion (and he has been good at other things aswell). Book about Mother Taresa was fairly disappointing because it was too ‘Christianity’ based.

Parenting

  • How to raise an adult
  • How Children Succeed
  • Hero: become the strong father your children need

I want to make a claim: ‘any’ book you read is essentially improving you as a parent and parenting books specifically don’t really make people better parents. Yes they have really good advice and sometimes let you see things from different perspectives but nothing compares to an empathetic, knowledgeable parent with a growth mindset, who shows children that learning is a life long process – that parents don’t always know everything and that anything can be learned.

‘How to raise an adult’ is a phenomenal book. It starts with a lot of scolding especially for younger parents. This ranges from overparenting and setting expectations too high from kids which spoon feeding them everything. While I don’t agree with the tone of the book: taking an extremist approach to cull an extremist way of parenting – but I get the point. It has changed my mind and I would urge looking for some serious parenting advice for the long run to read this book.

‘Hero’ was a nice book, too – though I wouldn’t exactly recommend it unless you don’t have specific parenting agendas to complete first. Its about the author’s father and what she thought of him. ‘How children succeed’ was so boring I put it down after a few chapters.

Self help, Productivity

In this category, books I recommend:

  • Relentless
  • Superhuman by Habit
  • Deep Work
  • Managing Oneself
  • Ikigai

Books I don’t recommend:

  • Change Anything
  • 5% More
  • Start with Why
  • Standout 2.0

Business

  • The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the great American Innovation
  • Chaos Monkeys

The Idea Factory should be a required reading for computer scientists, all Americans, all engineers and anyone interested in innovation and technology. This is an amazing book about the amazing inventions and discoveries made at Bell labs.

Chaos Monkeys was apropriate to read before joining Facebook, right? It chronicles the author’s journey from Wall St. to y-combinator and finally Facebook. He doesn’t hold any punches back and has a great style of writing.

  • Dealers of Lightning
  • Lean: Quickstart Guide

These two books were subpar and I wouldn’t recommend them.

Sociology

  • Gun Germs and Steel
  • Sapiens
  • Homo Deus

I could write a separate blogpost about this topic and in particular the books i read in 2017. I’m kind of disappointed that I picked two of Yuval’s books in the same year based solely on the populatity with the younger crowd and advertisment. Guns, Germs and Steel hands down beats Sapiens by a mile. Sapiens is amateur work in sociology, GGS is text book level stuff. It must be a required reading in schools.

As for homo deus, Yuval shows that he doesn’t have a great story line or way of writing so he blabbers abount any subject here. Common themes include religion bashing, etc. You would be better of reading’ The future of mind’ by Michio Kaku.

Fiction

  • The sun also rises
  • Exit West

I had high expectations from Hemingway but somehow I just don’t get his dry writing style, especially in this book.

Mohsin Hamid disappointed me with Exit West. Too many show-offsy lines and a lack of coherent plot.

Other

  • Long story short
  • Option B
  • Lean In

These three books are amazing in their own right. Margot is awesome on stage and the way she demystifies the magic of story telling in ‘long story short’, its inspiring.

Sheryl is a very thoughtful writer and a person full of life and stories. Both Lean In and OptionB are great samples of thorough writing and stories.

  • The daily rituals
  • Hal Higdon Half Marathon Training
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Creation
  • Status Update

Not much to see here. Bitcoin came and went and as most of the people round me were betting on its worth, I kept away. Tried to learn more about it but I just don’t click with Cryptocurrencies yet. ‘Creation’ was something I picked from Jeff Bezos’s biography The Everything Store but somehow found it really hard to read. Other books here are meh.

So onwards to 2018!

Changes

The more people I work with I develop more empathy. I wish I had learned this earlier: people are people. They all have the same issues, the same stories. Everyone struggles at different levels. Every is scared. Everyone is insecure, vulnerable – on a gradient of intensity. The more people I work with the more empathy I develop for nationalities, genders, opinions, etc.

As I pass thru the corridors of my workplace I look at people wondering if they care? If they wonder why I am looking at them? If they wonder the same about me? If they are better than me? If they are smarter than me? If they are happier than me? And the more people I meet, work, sit and talk with I realize we are more similar than different.

Then there is the imposter syndrome but I will leave that topic for a later exploration.

I think I have been conditioned in a certain way in last 30 years. Some of these conditionings are:

  • 10 girls to 25 boys in a class.
  • All boys school from 7th grade onwards.
  • Girls score grades and boys become street smart.
  • Girls get married and their husbands outshine in careers.
  • Physical beauty is real beauty
  • Girls maintain kitchen and boys geek out.
  • I am smart, others are not.
  • Love equals marriage.
  • Marriage equals children.
  • I am not smart as the white folks, non Pakistani folks, rich folks, other folks.
  • Boys only court girls.
  • Other people are always right.
  • There is a single right way of doing things and only other people know what that right way is.
  • Worry about how you chew, how you fold your shirts, how you speak, how you dress, how you comb your hair
  • Worry about making Queen Victoria happy in her grave.
  • Worry about what other people will say.
  • Worry about if everyone is happy.
  • Indians are evil
  • Westerners are immoral
  • Judgement passing is ok
  • Perfect is better than done
  • Elders are always right
  • People are born to fulfill their god-anointed role and for some people it is being dark skinned christians in Pakistan cleaning sewerage only

Just to mention a few. (It is a very complicated society with a lot of good and bad and everything in between).

This turns into conditioning because everyone around me is following the same curriculum. There is no diversity. Its only when you work, live, talk, sit with other humans that you realize there is no single truth, no single way. Queen Victoria’s etiquettes are not the end of the world and her passive aggressive clones are not the only people who deserve to be made happy all the time. That the world is much larger than my need to look like the cool boys in the next street or to become as cool as the rich uncle.

At this point in my life I think diversity and inclusion is very, very important – probably more than schooling and academics. This is, among other major changes, that I have been feeling lately.

2016 Reads – complete round up

2016 was so far the best year in reading for me. I set out with (a rather naive) goal of 45 books and was able to complete 35. I know that not all books are equal but having a goal is motivating. Most of these books did come from my annual read list that I set out in Jan 2016 but I do pick up strong recommendations throughout the year.

I read 5 hardcopy books and 30 audio books.

You can view the complete list of books and authors is here.

Biographies

  • Einstein
  • Elon Musk

Both of these biographies are a must read. It becomes clear after reading the books that fundamentals of everlasting legacy are still hardwork, perseverence and curosity. There is no such thing as ‘genius’. Circumstances (bad, more than good) play a strong role in making strong people. Also, marriage and kids are not a barrier to productivity as most people believe. 

Space Exploration

If there is one human quality that would decide its future, it would be curosity. Curosity about what is out there, people who go after it,  and the tools, science and stories that enable it. These are very close to my heart. Col. Chris Hadfield (ex-commander of the ISS), Yuri Gagarin (first Human in space) and Adam Steltsner (team lead for EDL on Mars Curosity rover) are people to look up to in this curosity aspect. All of these books I highly recommend. 

  • An astronaut’s guide to life onearth 
  • Starman
  • Right kind of crazy

Parenting

Problem with being an left-brained engineer is that you need to find a solution, a method to the madness, an optimal solution – any solution to almost every problem. Once you become a parent, you have a daunting challenge – a startup, maybe more than a startup! Learning from years of hardwork of other parents is my way of doing away with basics so I can add more value to my relationship with my daughter. 

Tina Payne and Dan Seigel have done a wonderful job in the first two books below. I highly recommend these books for parents with kids 3 and older. In fact, I reread whole brain child this year to refresh the ideas. Happiest toddler is for those parents who have kids younger than 4. A good book with solid advices. 

  • No drama discipline
  • Whole brain child
  • Happiest toddler on the block

Self help and productivity

Now this is the most controversial section of any library – but its like cheesy pop songs, everyone hums them and likes them but no one admits to being a fan. Its like a guilty pleasure. Sometimes, you don’t want to miss out on something super basic and other times you just need validation for your ways. Either way, self help books are going to stay in my yearly reading lists. 

Here are the ones that I do recommend:

  • Crucial conversations
  • Effective engineering
  • Will power instinct
  • The startup of you
  • The life changing habit of tidying up

Here are some that I couldn’t extract much value from. Maybe because Ive already heard the advice a lot of times (confidence gap) or I couldnt relate to it (way of the seal). Sometimes I cant invest or commit to the advice (mindfulness) and sometimes I will just sleep on it for now (rich dad)

  • The confidence gap
  • The way of the seal
  • Mindfulness
  • Rich dad poor dad

Business

  • Creativity inc
  • Derailed
  • Zero to one
  • The lean startup
  • Effective executive
  • Hooked

Science

Two categories from science made it to my list this year. Neuroscience and statistics (some would argue whether it is a science after all). Michio Kaku’s future of mind is a wonderful primer into knowing how far we have come to understand the most complex thing in the universe and where the research is heading. 

In better angels of our Nature, Pinker’s basic premise is that violence has declined in recent history. While the statistics presented are sound-ish, I still couldn’t come to terms with his research and day to day reality. It does give hope but …

  • Better angels of our nature
  • The future of mind
  • Signal vs noise

Engineering

  • The complete friday Q&A (iOS)
  • Design and analysis of experiments
  • Python data science essentials
  • Data science handbook

Mike Ash is a great resource of iOS internal workings. He is a true hacker and someone I really look up to. The complete friday Q&A has great articles on internals of ObjEctive-C language and runtime as well as a lot of core Cocoa API. Some content is rather dated but is still useful in understanding a lot of concepts. 

Other books mentioned are great reference for getting started and motivated toward data science, experimentation and such things.

Politics

  • Who rules the world (Noam Chomsky)

A brutal account of American imperialist and interventionist ways in south american politics and in general future of the world since WW2. It became so depressing I had to put it down. I do recommend it if you have the stomach for some hard truths!

Fiction

Dont watch the movie. Read the book. They ruined it in the movie.

  • Girl on the train
  • Herzog (incomplete)
screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-7-01-18-am

Dear Diary: Dubai Airport

Aug 10, 2014 – 8.00pm

Dear Diary,
Now I make a promise to myself. You see, if you don’t travel too much, you fall prey to a lot of luring by big brands. There is so many fine bottle of spirits n wines that you can gift to someone, you can buy yourself a pair of Police sunglasses or treat yourself with a burger chain you probably would not get a chance to eat anytime soon. But one has to draw a line. I promised myself I would not spend a single euro at the Dubai airport – one of the most alluring airports i have ever seen.
An airport is a very fascinating place.In most countries, it usually reflects the culture and temperament of the nation that built it. With Dubai, it’s different. There is nothing, not even speck, arabic about this airport. Its luxurious. Its international.
They are fascinating because you get to see so many different kinds of people at the same time that for a second it really makes you realise your true place in the world. All sorts of people.
At the same time it’s depressing. It shows you that you are one of those rare few who can afford to take a flight. Who can afford to travel around and even do window shopping at world’s top brand outlets. Most people in the world don’t even know these brands names, let alone know where to find them. All the artificialness of the airport, the squeaky cleanliness, the allure and grandeur makes the whole situation so much more hopeless. Do we really need airports with marble floors more squeaky clean than the drinking water of half of the world? IS it really worth it to buy something from these so called “duty free” shops – knowing that the extra you are paying them is going to get invested in these brands only getting bigger? Why do all the janitors have to be of a certain race here? Where are all the ugly people? … FOr a second you can really get lost and forget that there is a world out there that cannot imagine, in their wildest dreams, how dubai airport would look like.
Hence I make a promise to myself not to spend a euro here. To refrain. I can spend it and then I can “roll with the punches” of my impulse and adjust rest of the budget accordingly. But why? Fuck corporation, fuck capitalism, fuck oligarchy, fuck affluent lifestyle.
I feel hungry even though I had a good breakfast in the plane just an hour or so ago. I’ll abstain till I get to my next flight. They’ll hopefully serve something nicer. These guys are going to rip me off on currency converting.
Good bye

Books, Gigs, Tech, Talk

2 books behind schedule. But “2” is just a number, right? You cannot “quantify” books. Setting up a goal of number of books is utterly naive. There are books you want to revisit over and over no matter how big. There are also books you simply cannot make yourself to go through, no matter how small. This journey is about finding these kind of books and sharing the knowledge and process.

Continue reading “Books, Gigs, Tech, Talk”

Tips on Learning new Algorithms

Someone on Quora recently asked What is the most important skill to develop in algorithms? Here is my response.

Read Zaki Shaheen‘s answer to What is the the most important skill to develop in algorithms? on Quorahttps://www.quora.com/widgets/content

Mediocrity…

Oh the unused potential.
1-albert-einstein
I love stereotyping. Stereotyping is good. An unfortunate stereotype that I see is of people with serious lack of resources and access to knowledge and information. These are unfortunate people and perhaps the only way for them to progress is by sheer luck. They can be very hardworking in offering human sacrifices to secure their crop but they will most certainly fail. They have an empty or perhaps regressive feedback loop which encourages them to sacrifice harder next year, contemplate on their sins more and create more rigorous rituals. Unless there is someone born with serious mental mutation to generate the idea of the century, or someone comes and teaches them from outside, they will not progress. Not for centuries.

Continue reading “Mediocrity…”