Book Reviews

Four sci-fi books I’ve read this year

November 9, 2015 Book Reviews No comments

This year I did some science fiction reading. This is something not particularly helpful for software developers in their professional life. Nevertheless, I’ve read four sci-fi books and I would like to share my thoughts on them.

The Dune

Now I understand what is meant when people say “sci-fi classics”. This is really a book that ages very slowly. It is written in nicely phrased English but not too much overcomplicated for non-native speaker.

I remember when I was studying in university, one of my friends would go on and on about some game he was playing. There were huge sand worms and some people called fremen. It is only now that I can refer to this. Even if you are not much into reading sci-fi literature, you must have seen a picture of giant worm in Sahara-like desert somewhere, at least in Facebook with some funny text on it.

I was really surprised to know that this story was written in 1965, it continues in 18 books and many credit it for influencing such things like Star Wars and other great works in sci-fi world.

A top rated quote from the book at goodreads, which I also enjoy, goes like this:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

The Ender’s Game

A quick to read and enjoying story. Just recently I had a chat about world sport champions. Most of us, discussing, have very young children 1+ 2+ 2+ years old. We all agree that for someone to become a world champion a training is needed starting from age of 3 years. One of us told that this is effectively stealing of childhood. Well, probably.

If you want to read about stealing of childhood, Ender’s Game is the right book. Target audience for the book is probably boys 12+, but it reads very well by adults as well. Plus the book somehow manages to bring some big questions into picture.

The Hyperion Cantons

There is probably something wrong with me or with the book or with me reading this particular book. I didn’t enjoy it much. The book is organized in six stories told by six people on a journey to mysterious planet Hyperion. Out of six stories told I liked only two or three. A lot of techno-mambo-jambo was something I extremely didn’t like about the book. The author was just making things up that are no close to existence or in correlation with the science.

This is an actual quote from the book:

To be a true poet is to become God. I tried to explain this to my friends on Heaven’s Gate. ‘Piss, shit,’ I said. ‘Asshole motherfucker, goddamn shit goddamn. Cunt. Pee-pee cunt. Goddamn!’ They shook their heads and smiled, and walked away. Great poets are rarely understood in their own day.

I’m probably one of those who doesn’t understand this. I’m not trying to say that the book is so bad. I was really gripped by the Father’s story. I’m just not sure if the book is something that everyone can enjoy.

The Martian

A have a separate post on “The Martian” available here. “The Martian” is mostly kept within hard science boundaries. And since it is about one of my favourite topics I greatly enjoyed reading it. I also went to see the movie. It was good as well, but as per me the book conveyed many more interesting details. Probably something not so easy to convey into a movie, otherwise it would become extremely boring super long one.


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Book Review: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

October 16, 2015 Book Reviews No comments

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!I think “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” is a “must read” book for any technical person who reads not so technical books time to time. It is just fascinating.

The book was particularly interesting to read for me as I work on a project for the IAEA. My project helps to identify any misuse of nuclear materials to prevent creation of nuclear weapons, and here is the guy who describes how the Manhattan project looked from the inside. Of course, the book doesn’t go too much into details but you get the idea on the atmosphere of the project of the first nuclear bomb.

The book starts with Feynman’s early years when he was fixing some broken radio devices and performing experiments in his “lab”. This reminded me about the years when I was winning school competitions in physics and chemistry and also had some kind of a “lab” at home. I did some similar things. You know, blew few things, assembled a radio, broke few other things… Eh, that was a special time. So the book grasped me from the very beginning.

It is actually hard to believe that one person could have had so many of adventures in one life. Apart from serious things there are tons of short stories on learning other languages, trying art and samba music and even picking up girls. When you read all these stories it is like if your friend was telling his or her most compelling story. You listen with pleasure.

There are topics that make you develop a more critical mind, a more questionable one. For example, critiques of education system in Brazil and school book publishing business in US. I started to think that a lot of studying that I took could have been much better.

I don’t know how, but somehow “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” got to my list of technical books to read this year. Obviously it isn’t technical one, but it is for technical people to have a good reading time. I highly recommend it.



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Book Review: Soft Skills: The software developer’s life manual

October 3, 2015 Book Reviews, Career, Success No comments

After going through short free blogging e-mail course by John Sonmez, I didn’t sign up for the marketing course. I was a bit sceptical about paying few hundreds for the course. But not to miss on the opportunity to learn from John I decided to read his book “Soft Skills”. (Actually I listened to it via Amazon Audible.) The book wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be – it was much more. It’s kind of a book I would like to write myself someday. The book isn’t just about soft skills needed to perform your everyday tasks at work, it is much more generic and broader in topics. The book is about skills you need to succeed in your life as a software developer. “Soft Skills” includes advise on career, productivity, finances and even fitness and nutrition.

There is a lot of unique in the book, but probably you will find yourself familiar with some of the recommendations. For example, in one of the chapters on productivity John suggests using pomodoro technique. Obviously, it isn’t something new. But the author explains how to make it work and also adds few of his own practices. Everybody knows that their health is very important, but unfortunately too many of us neglect to do anything about it. I think emphasis this book does on fitness and health in general is something that makes the book special. Personally, I didn’t really enjoy some of the chapters on finances. Maybe that’s because I’m almost done with my goal of reading 13 books on finances and investing this year. But, still, I think that others might find it useful, plus it is interesting to know about the financial experience of the author himself.

My takeaways

I’ve certainly learned few concrete tricks and technics I’m going to use when searching for my next gig, like creating a resume that stands out, applying for a job, hacking the interview, negotiating effectively and other.

I will also apply some of the productivity recommendations at my current work.

A lot from the section on learning is very practical. Hopefully, concrete steps this section is offering will help me overcome some of the inefficiencies in my learning process. I have to admit that I often learn incorrectly. For example, frequently I first read a book and only then try things out. Intuitively it felt to be an inefficient way of learning, but I continued to do so.

The other big takeaway is health related. This year I started to run (well, again), but this is not enough to feel myself fit and full of energy. The problem is that I’m not consistent in my runs. I will add some scheduled fitness exercises to my runs and will try to follow John’s advise on the topic.

John has managed to retire at age of 33 and even I’m 5 years away from that age I have less aggressive target of retiring at 41. Best takeaway on the financial side was realising that I share same opinions on the matter and have already taken few of the first steps on the way to financial freedom.

Conclusion

Soft Skills” is up to date book with very sensible, practical and actionable advice for any software developer. It has a potential to greatly improve your life – not just your career. I would highly recommend to read this book. I’ve even ordered a printed copy of the book as a gift for my friend for his birthday.


See the book on Amazon or buy it using my my referral link below.


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Book Review: The Passionate Programmer

September 15, 2015 Book Reviews, Success No comments

ThePassionateProgrammerCover

I think I’ve read “The Passionate Programmer” for the second time. Otherwise, I cannot explain why almost everything I read in the book sounded like a “Déjà vu”. Well, even if it was a second time, it’s worth it. Book itself if very easy to read. It is nicely organized in small chapters and contains short real-world stories from different people. I liked reading the book very much. Besides, since recently I started working on getting back on track with my career and blog writing this book came very handy.

What is this book about

Author, Chad Fowler, does really great job advising software developers on their career. This book definitely makes you think about your current position and gives sensible suggestions on possible actions to improve the situation.

The book helps you realize that your skills are just a product. A product that is highly demanded. For any high demand product there is high supply. And it is only a question where you find your product in all the supply available. Is your product a quality one? Are you sure your product won’t become obsolete over time? What is it you do to stand out from the crowd?

My takeaways

There is one take away from the book that I took action on already. I started writing Monday weekly e-mails to my direct manager with list of last week’s completed tasks and the goal for a current week. This is not to make my manager happy nor to make me look nice. I’m doing this for myself. For sure this will keep me focused and provide additional push for completing my work.

These below are some other action items from the book I want to take:

  1. Find out what is now highly demanded and how my skill set correlates with it.
  2. Read something about the industry I work in. Should be interesting, as it is nuclear energy.
  3. I need to put myself in “be the worst” situation.
  4. Proceed more actively with learning another programming language.
  5. Try AngularJs. Since I have experience with EmberJS, it would be nice to compare.
  6. Mentor myself (details in the book).
  7. Do some Kata.
  8. Never go too comfortable. I’m pretty sure my current just is exactly “too comfortable”. Time to change.
  9. Do “Refactotum” exercise (by Stuart Halloway).
  10. “Spend next year trying to become one of the alpha geeks.” This sounds strange, but why not?
  11. Find if I have any monkey traps (things I hold on to way too much).
  12. Go Independent.

You

Go ahead, read the book and create a list of action items for yourself.

Just Be Better Than Yesterday!



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Book Review: The Martian

May 8, 2015 Book Reviews No comments

Along with reading technical books and books on investing I’ve decided for myself to read couple of Science Fiction books this year, actually 4 of them.

My list so far looks like this:

1. Martian
2. Ender’s Game
3. Dune
4. Hyperion Cartons

So far I’ve only read first of those, called “The Martian”, and I’m completely fascinated by the book. It is great! Houston, did you get that?

First of all book has nothing to do with “little green man” or unrealistic magic or anything sort of you usually see in crappy movies. This book is hard science survival novel talking about a man who was left alone on Mars after his team decided he is dead and had to rush to leave the planet.

I’ve been always interested in astronomy and the outer space. I even have small telescope at parents house and just recently used it to see Jupiter while having night barbecue there. Also when I was a kid I read few soviet era books on planets, including Mars.

So when I was reading the book it felt very well in line with scientific facts and hypothetical future Mars missions. And this is the best thing about this book. Other good thing, as per me, is that the book doesn’t have any side stories. So, no love stories or too long description of anything. Plus it has its humour and is written in a nice and easy to read way.

I would for sure recommend to read this book if you are any interested in similar stuff. At least it should be interesting for software developers and other technical people. My wife would probably not like it.

Hollywood is already filming a movie. See short teaser: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRRgwYw4zds

Almost forgot to say, the book was available for free for a long time and it is how I found it by accident and downloaded for free. Not sure if I can still share it just like that.

From here: http://www.andyweirauthor.com/books/the-martian-hc/the-martian-el

Q) How did you feel when your original, self-published version of THE MARTIAN became a phenomenon online? Were you expecting the overwhelmingly positive reception the book received?
A) I had no idea it was going to do so well. The story had been available for free on my website for months and I assumed anyone who wanted to read it had already read it. A few readers had requested I post a Kindle version because it’s easier to download that way. So I went ahead and did it, setting the price to the minimum Amazon would allow. As it sold more and more copies I just watched in awe.


See the book on Amazon or buy it using my my referral link below.


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13 books on investing I’m going to read

January 24, 2015 Book Reviews No comments

Last year I started to invest my money into equities. Before that I was always interested in investing money, but I didn’t have enough knowledge, tools and money, so my investments were limited to timely deposits in Ukraine and later to mutual funds in Austria.

I started to buy equities thanks to the interview for the developer role I had in local financial startup. So in order to better understand their business I opened an account with a broker bank. (Btw, I even had gambling accounts when I worked for a betting company.) My current equities portfolio is up 7% since September 2014 when I started to invest into equities. Of course I’m in a good position since it is still bull market we are in. Nevertheless there is a lot of danger in this overheated environment and way too many pitfalls. So knowledge, discipline and patience are key.

As for the knowledge there are plenty of books written on investing. A lot of them are just mutually contradicting and more often than not useless. But there are books that were tested by time and deserve their mention in “best” lists. No wonder top of most of those lists is “The intelligent Investor”. I’m reading it at the moment and I can tell that it is by far the most far reaching book of all other ones I’ve read on investing. But to be honest, I’ve only read very few and I didn’t pay to much attention to selection of books, so I was reading some nonsense about doomsday and gold rush. Therefore I decided to come up with some good list for this year, since I anyway planned to read at least 13 books on investing.

I compiled this list in very simple way by searching the web for lists of recommended books and then selecting only those that appear most frequently in those lists. I scanned maybe 20 lists. The list below is like unsorted merge of other lists. I’m planning to have reviews for each of these books and then in the end of the year to have a list with overview and maybe my rating. So if I come up with rating list, it will also include other books I’ve already read on investing that didn’t make it into this list.

The List

  1. “The intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham
  2. “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” by Burton G. Malkiel
  3. “Fooled by Randomness” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  4. “One Way Up On Wall Street” by Peter Lynch
  5. “Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits” by Philip A. Fisher
  6. “Winning on Wall Street” by Martin Zweig
  7. “The Richest man in babylon” by George S. Clason
  8. “Manias, Panics and Crashes” by Charles P. Kindleberger
  9. “The Four Pillars of Investing” by William J. Bernstein
  10. “Irrational Exuberance” by Prof Robert J. Shiller
  11. “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis
  12. “The Warren Buffet Way” by Robert G. Hagstrom
  13. “Security Analysis” by Benjamin Graham

Other books

Some other books I consider to read or I might read instead of one or few above

  • “Beating the Street” by Peter Lynch
  • “The tragedy of the EU” by George Soros
  • “Stress test” by Timothy Geithner
  • “The Clash of the Cultures” by John C. Bogle
  • “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas J. Stanley
  • “The Wealthy Barber” by David Chilton
  • “A Short History of Financial Euphoria” by John Kenneth Galbraith
  • “Against the Gods” by Peter L. Bernstein
  • “The Essays of Warren Buffet” by Warren E. Buffett
  • “Common Sense on Mutual Funds” by John C. Bogle

If you are total beginner I think it is wise to start with smaller books like “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing” or “The Richest man in Babylon”.

I think it is very important to have the knowledge in a field you want to operate in, being it software development or investing or whatever. So good luck both to you and myself.


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Book Review: “Give and Take: A revolutionary approach to Success”

November 21, 2013 Book Reviews, Success 2 comments

Give_and_take_cover_3DCan you be a big boss if you are not greedy? Can you move to higher positions if you spend you time giving to others? Isn’t it better to take as much as possible? And to grab every opportunity you have to get promoted? Why would you help others if you don’t get back more or at least equal?

This book argues with conventional view on how people succeed.

The book splits people into three categories: Takers, Matchers, and Givers. It could be that most of people are Matchers. We always try to pay it back. Entire world is build on that – you pay people. There are people who would smash you into the crap if you stand on their way. It is commonly accepted that these people get what they want. There is type of people who help others without second thoughts.

Adam Grant, the author, says that takers get to high positions quickly, but only givers stay there for long. Though it could happen that givers got trapped and become doormats or pushovers, the book brings some tips on this.

One of the reasons I liked the book is that it provides a lot of research information. Book is not written out of thin air it bombards with facts to support ideas. Studies and research results provided in the book are thought-provoking. Just reading them is very interesting and sometimes even exciting.

For example if you were to ask wife and husband to give a percentage of their contribution to their marriage life. Ideally it should sum up to 100% and be 50%/50%, but turns out everyone thinks that they contribute more so you get something close to 130%.

Or did you know that your name could easily affect your choices in life? People with name Dennis are more likely to be Dentist. At least this is something author brings as the fact. On the other hand I just googled why this might be not truth.

There are many more of similar studies and facts about successful people in the book. I enjoyed reading them.

Some are questioning if book is truly bringing new approach to success or it is just useless junk. I found this interesting question posted by Iryna:

Hi Adam,
While reading a book, I decided to conduct a research. I interviewed my friends and co-workers and asked them to pick four values and arrange them from most to less important. I used values from the list presented in Schwartz study.
I found out that all the men picked values from taker list. Wealth, power, pleasure and winning. The majority of women picked helpfulness, responsibility, social justice and compassion. So, according to my research, women tend to be more giving then men. (Was not surprised of course by this result). However, as you know the majority of executive positions are still occupied by men. The question is, does “take and give” approach work when it comes to gender? Or man who is a taker will always be a step ahead of a giving woman?
Thanks,
Iryna

It is very legitimate question. I also think that book brings some controversy thoughts. Splitting people just by givers and takers didn’t seem good enough to picture successful person, since many givers were and are not successful. Frequently because they were doormats/pushovers, burned out or just went unnoticed. I’m wondering if we could maybe come up with idea of successful person that also shares similar properties of giver, but also has what’s best from taker.

Let me try: I think the way to succeed is to give people something that they need and value more than it actually costs for you. Even though I used word “give” and it probably sounded like takers motto. But why would that taker be bad? He is just smart, and besides he is helping others by giving them what they want. Isn’t he? I think that supporting other people is very wise, since they will watch your back. Building solid social network is important and you indeed can only build it by sincerely helping. Giving credit and prising people is also very important and a must.

Important is to know what others need and what it is you can give them back.

I honestly love to give and help, but what I love even more is to get. When I was reading the book I though that I mostly fall into matchers/takers group and was a bit ashamed (since they are bad, right?). But I just took assessment on the website of the book: http://www.giveandtake.com/Home/ChooseAssessment

Here are my results:

image

Doesn’t look that bad, does it? What are your results?

Pay it forward is exactly what this book advocates for. This is what my former scrum master did when she gave me this book and one more book. I’m really thankful her for this. I should be paying forward as well.

Dear readers this blog post is my payment to you. I don’t know you – I just share thoughts with you, but sometimes this might help me. It did in the past, since blogging pays off.

Do I recommend to read this book? YES! Definitely. It worth reading even if in the end you will find yourself not agreeing with some conclusions.


See the book on Amazon or buy it using my my referral link below.


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