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Books I read in January

Feb 2, 2016, 5:52

Why not write about some of the books I read in January? Honestly, thinking about writing a post about some of my reading prompted me to read more, so it's a good thing and I'm planning to keep up the habit.

“Functional Swift” by Chris Eidhof, Florian Kugler and Wouter Swiersta of objc.io

I believe it was called “Functional programming in Swift” recently, but when the book was updated in December 2015 for Swift 2.1 (which I read) it got renamed as well, and for the better.

This one read a lot like the Apple's official Swift book for me: clear, concise, to the point and at the same time introductory. The book consists of several sections exploring different topics e.g. writing a wrapper for Core Image or implementing a test suite which generates tests automatically, all of them revolving around the functional approach to solving problems.

I would say that the authors succeed in demonstrating that writing in a functional way is at least as safe and rewarding, if not superior, than a more imperative approach. A typical Swift programmer comes either from the Objective-C or, possibly, the frontend JavaScript background, both of the languages loosely-typed as in not encouraging being strict with your types. This book gently presents a different approach and prompts for further reading (at least I was sufficiently interested to read further).

If you're interested in the actual functional programming, reading “Learn you a Haskell” would be more beneficial, but if you're curious how to think differently while writing in Swift or learn some new approaches to common problems, it's a great introductory book that you can later supplement with more reading on the topic, having the primaries down.

“Turning Pro” by Steven Pressfield

This is a small but intense book intended for everyone who is (or should be) hard at work. I read it last time three years ago, worked a lot since then, and this time it stood out even brighter than before. It's a great reminder why you would jump out of bed each morning and work hard. A motivational book, so to say, but not in a happy way — a sobering one: the work is hard and it's you who has to do it, no exceptions.

Here's my slightly longer review on Goodreads if you're interested.

The final two books are (surprise!) about financial markets and specifically, high-frequency trading. Why read them over crunchy programming books? December saw the launch of Stockfighter, a game where you basically write a trading bot to try and game the simulated financial market. Yes, this is supposed to be someone's idea of having a good time, and incidentally I had a good time designing and (partly) writing my own library for it. Anyway, on to the books.

“Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis

Lewis is a good writer and writes a good story, but when it comes to the technical details… not so much. Some glaring holes right there, and far more than once I was close to making a facepalm.

Still, it's probably the best book to start with on this topic as it paints the picture in large strokes and gives you a good idea of the emotions behind what people were doing. You can read any number of technical books on the subject, there are many, but first you have to dive in and look around, and this is a really good introduction that starts slow and holds you by the hand all the way in.

Yes, some claims are outrageous and plain wrong, but it's entertaining and Lewis gradually explains most of the buzzwords you're likely to encounter in other books about the subject.

Don't confuse it with “Flash Boys: Not So Fast” by Peter Kovac which is sort of a bashing reply to Lewis. Kovac too makes quite a lot of mistakes, judging by the reviews, so I haven't read it yet.

“Dark Pools” by Scott Patterson

This is another “introductory”, or rather, non-technical book, which looks at the same process described in Lewis' “Flash Boys”, but from a different angle. Where Lewis mostly follows the story of a banker playing catch-up to high-frequency trading firms, Patterson describes the lives of several prominent people who directly influenced the rise of HFT from the inside. Small shops which eventually grew to enormous size and changed the market altogether.

Arguably, “Dark Pools” is far more technical of the two and I really enjoyed reading it. It's more technical, but it's still a story, so it's perfectly readable and just as entertaining: Patterson goes into a lot of detail on how the markets worked since the early 90s up to the current moment. It also turned out to be more applicable to Stockfighter: quite a few of the actual techniques he describes used by high-frequency traders I can see used in the game verbatim.

Reading about HFT is surely nice, but I decided that I should stop reading and beat a few levels of the game first :)

Books   Swift

Superintelligence: The Next Big Thing?

Jan 23, 2016, 0:17

Some fascinating reading this week!

First, the New York Times asking “Why are the corporations hoarding trillions?” where they claim Apple, Google and other giants don't spend or convert their cash, as if expecting something just beyond the horizon. Something that would need an insane amount of money.

Second, Ben Goertzel with “Superintellingence: fears, promises and potentians”, a through and in-depth review and criticism of current literature by Bostrom, Yudkowsky and others.

This struck me as amusing:

As Peter Norvig of Google has noted (personal communication), quite suddenly we’ve gone from outrage at the perceived failure of AI research, to outrage at the perceived possible success of AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) research!

For the last decade, AI research and theory is booming, and it's very hard to ignore the fact that every other app or service now has some form of machine learning or AI-like capabilities, the most common example being Siri on iOS. There are many more examples, like Google Now or various personal assistants like AlfaSense, X.ai or even something as simple as a blog layout system.

Very excited to see the progress.

Books   Tech

“Life Is Short And So Is This Book” by Peter Atkins

Jan 10, 2015, 14:13

This is a nice little book expressing the age-old truths in a concise and accessible way. Some reviewers on Amazon say that the book is shallow and the author just regurgitates on plain truths. But aren't people simple creatures? The behavior that brings happiness won't change, no matter how many times it's repeated.

Here's the freely available table of contents, which is also the list of things you should (or shouldn't) do to fulfill your potential:

  1. Create space.
  2. Try not to worry.
  3. Don't do really dumb things.
  4. Build character and make friends.
  5. Care for yourself and others.
  6. Laugh.
  7. Do what you love.
  8. Embrace change.
  9. Learn from experience.
  10. Have dreams and work towards them.

To put it even more tersely, it's “be calm, be kind and be curious about the future.” Seems a lot like what Buddhism is all about, isn't it?

There's another similar book, also by a CEO, the founder of Panasonic Konosuke Matsushita, which is called “Principles of Success.” It's an even shorter book and even more terse, compressing everything into three groups: management, work and life. All or most of what Peter Atkins offers is in Matsushita's book, and vice versa. They may be plain truths, yet simple principles are easier to remember and easier to act on, than a bunch of convoluted tactics which won't fit everyone.

Throughout the book, Atkins shares some brilliantly formulated principles, that I have been thinking about myself but haven't been able to articulate.

Overall, it's a treat to read and I'll be sure to come back to this book.

Life is Short And So Is This Book” on Amazon.


The struggle against self-sabotage

May 17, 2014, 12:50

Written two years ago for one of my other websites which is about to expire. Just reread the book yesterday, and it rings even more true than last time, if it's possible.

The amateur tweets. The pro works.

That pretty much sums up Steven Pressfield’s “Turning Pro” for me.

In the face of uncertainty and doubt, the amateur chooses distraction, while the pro chooses to do the work instead. The pro knows: doubt won't go away by itself, one has to push it, shove it, kick it. By doing the work.

What is distraction, if not self-sabotage, sabotage of one's future self? As Pressfield puts it, lives go down the tubes one hundred and forty characters at a time. It's not only Twitter, but any distraction or self-delusion that prevents us from doing the work of our life.

Mindset makes all the difference. Approach the work like a pro, and you win. Come at it like an amateur, you give up and in the end it kicks your butt.

The amateur and the pro are Pressfield's metaphors for people who either run from their fears or face them. It's a choice that one has to make every day.

What's your choice?

Ignore this book at your own peril! Short and intense, it will challenge your attitude to work and life — for your own good.

Find the links to buy the book on the official site. I've bought my copy on Amazon.