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!

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)
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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”

Dichotomies…

When was the last time you were in awe after reading a simple solution to a problem that had haunted you for days.. perhaps on StackOverflow, Martha Stewart’s website or in some book or forum? When was the last time you saw a product that changed by orders of magnitude how we do something like make a call, washing the dishes, driving a car? Do you have memories of things you experienced decades ago that you still cherish.. like a feature film, a song, a recipe?
How do people come up with solutions so elegant, products that charm and experiences so memorable? Are they simply more “innovative” from the get go?

Continue reading “Dichotomies…”

The year, so far…

General thoughts

The tale of two lists

2016 started on a high note. I am certainly enjoying the audiobooks. Having set up a few categories to read from this year, I am more determined than last year to cover a broader set of topics.

I highly recommend setting up two important lists: The read list and the hack list. If you are a new reader, just get reading. 1 book in a year is immensely better than 0 but once you are reading 4-5 books in a year, you will start to love it. By the time you can do 20 or more books, you will need to prioritize what you read. Similarly, the hack list helps you prioritize your personal projects. If you have not deliberately undertaken and completed a small personal project, I would suggest just commit to one and do it. Once you realize your potential (and everyone has boatload of it), you will want to do more. Once you are able to do more predictably, you will have to plan where those precious hours go.

Here is my read list 2016 (here is read list 2015). Here is my hack list 2016 (without any method to madness). I’ve started the hack-list this year so it is not very well structured and I have yet to see how it pans out at the end of the year. An experiment I am excited about.

The tale of two advantages

I have realized two advantages: The commuter advantage and the weekend advantage.

I think having a commute is a double edged sword. It is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. The commute (2 hours every weekday) is not terribly tiring if I get enough rest while at home. It does give an advantage of 2 hours to myself, undisturbed (mostly, not counting the screeching of the trains). This allows me to pursue personal projects and learning but it is also taking away 2 hours that I could otherwise spend with family or at work (both of which have an appetite for more).  I guess I have to spend more time in coming days in time-budgeting. My health initiative suffer greatly because of this.

Similarly, the weekend advantage is a self realized one. You could spend it binge watching netflix, traveling around, lazing around or just sleeping. Or, if you are like me, you can spend it with family in the daytime and coding/learning in the night time.

Books read

Science & Space Travel

  • Astronaut’s guide to life on earth ★★★★★
  • Starman (In progress)
  • The future of mind ★★★★★

Product development

  • Hooked ★★★

Fiction

  • The last question ★★★★★
  • Girl on the train (In progress) ★★★★

Self help

  • The confidence Gap ★★★
  • Way of the seal (abandoned) ★
  • Creativity Inc (In progress)
  • Happiest toddler on the block (abandoned) ★★★

Statistics and Data science

  • Signal vs Noise ★★★
  • Python data-science essentials (continued) ★★★★
  • First course in design and analysis of experiments (continued) ★★★★

Academics

Personal projects

  • Patio herb garden (not started) – sigh
  • Let’s Hack Book (shelved – will come back to it later)
  • Grocery planner app (to be started)
  • From the hack list, lots of smaller projects.

Have any tips, feedback or comments for me? Follow my blog or facebook or tweet to me.

2015: Year in reading

2giphy2015 was a good year for reading. It was also one of the most challenging year I have had so far. From changing houses 3 times, finding a new job and moving thousands of miles away from home country, it was far from a “year on the couch”™. Quiet the contrary!

But don’t most busy people have the most time to do most of the things they want to?

At least that is the motivation for reading so many productivity books.

The process

Every year I setup a read-list for the next year. I also setup a “read-list-inbox”. All the recommendations I get throughout the year (from the books I am already reading, from other people, from blogposts, etc.) go into read-list-inbox. From the read-list-inbox I prioritize books and put them in read-list. The priority is based on what I want to learn in the year. I will write later on some learning themes I follow.

80% of my reading is thru audiobooks, 15% on the paperbacks and 5% on my laptop.

The ratings

giphyPlease note that these are not absolute ratings. These are my ratings and how I feel about the book and whether I found it useful, entertaining, mind-opening and recommend worthy to people who are similar to me. For example I have already read so much on personal discipline and productivity that I didn’t find anything new in “Eat that frog”. It may still be a nice book. Similarly, I find Nasem Talib’s tone a little over the top for my taste and hence I didn’t like Antifragile. It may have been a good book.

The books

giphy1From 3 books in 2013, 5 books in 2014, I was able to go thru 20+ books in 2015. 2016 looks promising and I hope to double that number while improving on the quality I extract from these books.

Here is the list of books I went thru in 2015.

★★★★★ (Books I love and highly recommend)

★★★★ (Books I enjoyed and recommend)
★★★ (Books that were a good read and may interest some people)
★★ (Books that I couldn’t get much out of)
★ (Books that either had errors or were not up to my taste)

If you have read or are currently reading any of these books and want to have a discussion, feel free to find me on facebook or drop me an email at [zakishaheen-at-me-dot-com].