Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Reading List

It's that time of the year where I get away from hacking and instead spend quality time doing a Think Week (more of a Read Week) of sorts.

Book Reviews

This is a compilation of some of the books I have been reading this year.

Mature Optimization Handbook (pdf) by Carlos Bueno

Bueno taps on his 19 years of software engineering experience to write this handbook on how to approach performance optimization within the framework of a telemetry-based feedback system (aka Scuba) from the perspective of Facebook. This handbook provided fascinating insights into what pieces should constitute a modern telemetry stack to enable effective performance optimization and monitoring. Beuno left Facebook for MemSQL after the publication of this handbook.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

This is a must-read for any serious entrepreneur. The first half the book focuses on Loudcloud and Opsware, and how Horowitz led the company through some really tough times with a ton of sheer determination and luck. The second half of the book is more relevant: Ben Horowitz dispenses advice from management to leadership.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

This book is suppose to be a summary/extension of the original CS183 course that Thiel taught at Stanford and some of his talks. I felt this book was over-hyped and was disappointed by Thiel's generalizations. It took me a while to really understand the crux of Thiel's thinking -- Thiel's thinking is based around a contrarian philosophy where he postulates a non-conventional or seemingly incongruent viewpoint and rationalizes it to explain worldly and human behavior within the confines of a specific domain. Such a thinking methodology requires one to be fairly comfortable with thinking from first principles and be flexible enough to avoid the pitfalls of framework-based thinking.

Marc Andressen pretty much sums up the way to approach Thiel's writings: "'exactly half' of whatever Thiel says" [Fortune article] (i.e. with a pinch of salt). That said, Thiel does have some keen and valid observations such as his theory on mafia.

Blake Master's original CS183 notes made for more interesting reading.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

Brad Stone put together impressive research for an auto-biography on Jeff and Amazon. Reading this book made me understand the growth of Amazon, its many flops, successes and business secrets, and the almost Jobsian personality of Bezos.

How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

To me, this book felt like an attempt by Eric Schmidt to cement his achievements as the CEO of Google and to take some credits for Googly operating and management methods. However, this book did have some compelling and insightful ideas (which might work at Google since Google is cash-rich, but not work elsewhere). I found Schmidt's definition of "smart creatives" to be enlightening and relevant in the context of the contemporary technological company. A fairly accurate TL;DR of the book is on Slideshare.

World Order by Henry Kissinger

This is a pretty dense book written in classic Kissinger style with great insights. This is my second Kissinger book after On China (which some say is Kissinger's seminal piece). I am a newbie to the topic of International Relations and so I am taking this slowly.

How to Start a Startup (Stanford CS183b) by Sam Altman

This isn't exactly a book, but an online course I took. I have mixed reactions to this course -- some lectures were structured and valuable while some were unstructured Q&As and the questions asked had a tendency to be off-tangent or boring. The Q&A format usually leads to impromptu responses from the speakers which sometimes lack insights. My favorite lectures were: GrowthBuilding for the Enterprise and How to Operate.

Y-Combinator is perhaps one of the seed accelerators to have taken a distinctive approach to mentoring startups. Paul Graham and his team are able to break down the process of starting a startup into components that could be easily understood, and engineer success by adhering to a set of guiding methodologies backed by real historical data compiled over a decade of the YC program. The CS183b course and the continued success and recognition of the YC program is a result of that unique effort.

Bonus: A Brave New World In Which Men Ruled by Jodi Kantor

This is a NYT interactive article that explores gender inequality from the perspective of Stanford's graduating class of 1994 which entered society 20 years before this year and a time before the Internet came of age. It features soundbites and (contrarian) viewpoints from the Paypal Mafia. The article itself did not exactly explore gender inequality in great detail, but rather exploited the setting of Stanford alumni (as actors) and Silicon Valley (as the stage) to tell an intriguing story of careers and lives.

Lastly, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Common Allergies and Medications

A summary of common medication for treating allergies grouped by their purpose:

Active ingredient: Guaifenesin (400-600 mg)
Thins and loosens mucus, making it easier to be coughed out. [1]

(Nasal) Decongestant
Active ingredient: Phenylephrine (10 mg), Pseudoephedrine (part of Decondine)
Relieves nasal congestion in the upper respiratory tract by constricting blood vessels and reducing the blood supply to nasal mucous membranes. This reduces nasal congestion, stuffiness, and runny noses. [1]

Active ingredient: Loratadine (10 mg), Triprolidine (part of Decondine)
Reduce or block histamines. Histamine is an organic compound produced by local immune responses. It results in running nose and sneezing. [1] [2] [3]

Active ingredient: Dextromethorphan (20 mg)
Used for temporarily cough relief; suppresses cough reflex. [1]

Pain Reliever
Active ingredient: Acetaminophen (650 mg)
Main purpose is to treat headaches and minor body pain. Also reduces fever.

Note: This blog post is not an accurate source of medical information. Consult a doctor if you have a medical concern.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


I have been trying out ASP MVC recently. Naturally, I hit a few roadblocks and found some solutions.

Make sure you update your nuget packages after initializing the project.

I settled on using NLog. Darren has an entire series of blog posts on MVC logging.

Custom Model Binding and Validation
This is a great introduction, but I settled on the solution on Stack Overflow. Always use DefaultModelBinder over IModelBinder.

Passing Multiple Models into a View
Again, great article on SO. There are two main methods I considered: PartialViewResults and passing into a Tuple. The "tuple" method is very much a hack, and results in a bunch of issues if you need to display validation messages from the ModelState.

Article. Routing is ugly. Do the web a favor and set routes.LowercaseUrls = true; 

Custom Error Pages
After many hours of trying out different solutions, I am still stuck on this one.

Finally, stuff I liked:
- Script bundling and compression out of the box
- CSRF token and validation
- Model validation using data annotation attributes
- Nuget packages: MVC HTML5 Toolkit

Monday, April 14, 2014

Robert Schiller's Financial Markets

I enjoyed Robert Schiller's Coursera class on Financial Markets. Robert gives his students a broad overview of the principles behind finance, touching on a wide range of topics in contemporary finance such as stock markets, monetary policy and behavioral finance.

His course is more philosophical than it is technical, the pace is easy, and is well-suited for the man-on-the-street. His weekly introduction sets the learning expectations and as a bonus, gives us a window into the beautiful Yale campus. Robert Schiller is the 2013 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, and he puts his stature to good use -- inviting eminent weekly guest speakers such as Maurice Greenberg, Larry Summers and Carl Icahn. 

Robert is a keen proponent of finance, and he tries to dispel conventional myths popularized by the Occupy Wall Street movement. He argues that finance is a instrument of good, that both greed and selfishness are problems with society, not finance. The course gave me a more appreciative understanding of finance, and convinced me that finance is a creative invention of goodness and opportunity.

Monday, April 07, 2014

.NET and the Unification of Languages

I was looking back at Steve Yegge's EE380 GROK talk. Steve is as usual both entertaining and provocative.

It is difficult to describe GROK, but it is a compiler toolchain at a high level. As polygot programmers, we have used different IDEs and editors for different languages, but there is no one text editor or IDE to rule-them-all -- simply because each language has its own idiocracies and what not. Grok tries to solve the toolchain parity problem:
My project is accomplishing this lofty and almost insanely ambitious goal through the (A) normative, language-neutral, cross-language definitions of, and (B) subsequent standardization of, several distinct parts of the toolchain: (I) compiler and interpreter Intermediate Representations and metadata, (II) editor-client-to-server protocols, (III) source code indexing, analysis and query languages, and (IV) fine-grained dependency specifications at the level of build systems, source files, and code symbols.
-- Steve Yegge, Notes from the Mystery Machine Bus
It is interesting to note that in the Microsoft .NET world, the toolchain problem is less pervasive. In .NET, all languages share a common library (.NET framework), compile to one CIL (common intermediate language) standard, runs on a single CLR (common language runtime), and development is driven by a single Visual Studio IDE. This unification of languages resulting in a standard toolchain showcases the beauty of .NET.

In other news, the .NET foundation open sources significant part of the .NET platform, including the .NET compiler platform (Roslyn). (However, language differences are still tricky -- Roslyn provides two distinct compiler APIs for C# and VB.) Microsoft also released CTP3 (Community Technical Preview) of RyuJIT (a .NET JIT compiler).

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Back to Windows

I recently switched back to using Windows 8.1 after several years of *nix-based operating systems (Ubuntu, OS X). Windows 8.1 has some "design flaws". Here are my recommend installs to fix them:

  • Google Chrome (64 bit)
  • Cygwin (64 bit)
  • Clover 3: multi-tab functionality in Windows Explorer
  • Pokki: brings back the start menu on Windows 8
  • Launchy: nothing close to Alfred for Mac, but sometimes does the job
  • f.lux
  • Spotify
  • Notepad++, Sublime Text, GVim
  • Git with Git Bash
  • Java
  • Adobe Reader
PS: First blog post in quite a while, maybe I am back from my blogging hiatus!