Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reading List for 2013

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Lately I have started to read a lot again, which is a good thing. I used to be an avid reader. Avid wouldn't quite describe it. I would read anything I could lay my eyes upon. But somewhere down the line, the amount of reading I did on non-technical topics became quite small. Most of my reading for a couple of years was limited to tech blogs and web sites, until 2011.

It wasn't quite the lack of time which prevented me from reading much. There were two main reasons. The obvious one was, most of the time when I felt like reading, I found myself without access to a book, printed or or otherwise. The second reason was, I didn't come across good reads quite often. The magic of reading a good book was hard to come by, at least for me. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't the lack of good reads, I just wasn't finding them. Then of course, time at hand also played a part in which I wouldn't bother reading if I didn't enjoy it greatly. And to top it off, books from current-top-sellers more often than not didn't do well with me.

By 2011 I had re-started re-reading old favorites, like The Lord of the Rings, The Golden Rose, The Deep Range, So Many Hungers, The Destruction of Faena and a lot of Sinhala poetry books from greats like Sekara and Rathna Sri, catching up with a few pages whenever I could find time. I also re-read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by borrowing a copy from Chanux.

Methods of Rationality

The surprise find came via Twitter. I believe it was Justin Vincent whose tweet in early 2011 brought my attention to the first book in my list; the book that changed my world view. It may now sound cheesy to say that something changed your life (thanks, mass media), but when it does, it does.

How good this book is? Late Aaron Swartz said:
" may just turn out to be one of the greatest books ever written."
commenting about this book. I readily agree.

The full name of the book is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, known among fans as Methods of Rationality, HPMOR, MOR or just Methods. Before the words "Harry Potter" turn some of you away, let me tell that it's not an official Harry Potter title. It's a fanfic. And before the word "fanfic" turns the rest of you away, let me tell that it's probably the best fanfiction ever. Once you look past the title and the classification and read a few chapters, it becomes clear that it's a brilliant piece of literature.

Being written by Eliezer Yudkowsky, HPMOR takes you to the wonderful world where Harry was brought up by loving relatives. By the time Harry receives his letter from Hogwarts he is already well initiated in the studies of Science, Rationality and reading. So Harry goes to Hogwarts and starts applying Rationality and Scientific Method to magic, and hilarity of epic proportions ensues. It turns a lot of characters and plots of Harry Potter canon on the head. Therefore if you are a HP purist, it might strike a nerve. But for everyone else, it's loads and loads of fun and chaos.

But excellent story, plots, character building or writing aren't the only reasons what elevates HPMOR to a class of its own. While the story remains immensely enjoyable, the author makes it an fun way to explore concepts such as Rationality, Scientific Method, Cognitive Science, etc. Every time Harry says something smart/wise/impossible there's a rationale behind it. And numerous books, experiments, lectures, etc. are referred from the real life. This is how it changed my life. It piqued my interest enough to seriously learn about rationality and what comes with it. Honestly I mainly wanted to think like Harry and have the super power of rationality. Eliezer (and Less Wrong) won. So did I. :)

The reason MOR is in my 2013 list (apart from re-reading) is because it's still a running story. The book is still being written and new chapters are added from time to time. I eagerly await the next ones to come. You can read (and download PDF, EPUB and MOBI formats) on the HPMOR website.

Gödel, Escher, Bach

There's a book which was recommended to me a couple of times but never got around to read. After I found that it was referred inside HPMOR, it jumped to the top of my to-read list. After two copies were lost during shipping/delivery over a period spanning almost a year (I'm looking at you SL Postal Service), I finally received my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid a couple of days ago.

Written by Douglas Hofstadter, GEB, as it's commonly known, is an award (including Pulitzer Prize) winning book first published in 1979. The author describes the book as his:
"attempt to say how it is that animate beings can come out of inanimate matter"

The Wikipedia says that "through illustration and analysis, the book discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of "meaningless" elements. It also discusses what it means to communicate, how knowledge can be represented and stored, the methods and limitations of symbolic representation, and even the fundamental notion of "meaning" itself". Good stuff.

I've overheard (or may have been told) that GEB too is, one of the greatest books ever written. I have only read a few pages so far, but I'm already a believer. I'm yet to find GEB in a local bookstore. Therefore I bought my copy the next best way. More about that later.

The Design of Everyday Things

While I'm not certain how I came to hear about this book, I believe I might have seen about it in the Puppet Labs blog. I just received it yesterday. Therefore I don't have much information about it other than what I saw elsewhere.

Written by Donald Norman and first published in 1988 under the title The Psychology of Everyday Things, this book is also a very popular one. The Design of Everyday Things or sometimes called DOET, is about the design of simple objects, and why some objects please their users while others frustrate them. I believe the title of the book is enough of a strong hint about what's inside.

The Wikipedia says that:
"the book spans several disciplines including behavioral psychology, ergonomics, and design practice"

I received DOET the same same way I bought GEB. I bought the books from the online book store The Book Depository and the good people there delivers the purchases worldwide without charging for shipping. That's correct, no shipping fees. Suddenly, buying books online has become very feasible. They also have a free eBook section.

A couple of technical books

Since it's bound to happen, I plan to read/refer a couple of good tech books. While I'm not sure which, with my ever-learning of Ruby and re-touching C (go home C++, you are drunk) it's likely I'd refer related books. I also look forward to read Practical Vim.

Other than those, I'm looking forward to good books on the topics Go, ZeroMQ and Ceph (perhaps Erlang too) plus whichever new technologies that would be fascinating me.

A few Sinhala books (probably Poetry)

I won't be deciding which and when. I'd take the opportunity when it presents itself. Which reminds me, I have yet to read my good friend Iranga Yaddehige's second poetry book.

And finally, some Classics

So far I don't own a Kindle or a Nook or any Tab for that matter. But reading on a mobile device has become very second nature to me thanks to my trusty phone. Since June, 2012 I'm a happy owner of a Samsung/Google Galaxy Nexus smartphone. With a large high quality display, it functions well enough as a Reader for me. I'm only using Aldiko Book Reader app right now, but stored in there is a collection of classics I'd love to touch if and when I get a time. It's packed from Vatsyayana to Bronte, and from Sun Tzu to Nietzche. I'm all set. :)

PS: After proof reading the post, it struck me that the entertainment I'm interested the most these days are the type that challenges my intellect and involves topics such as Rationality, Cognitive Science, Behavioral Science, Physics, etc.

It's not just books. Even quite a few of the TV shows I watched recently follow the pattern: Sherlock, The Mentalist, Lie to Me, Psych, Death Note, Naruto.... Oh, well.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Is has been a long time since I've blogged, specially for a person who loves what he's doing. And how do I title that new post? "Happy".

This isn't going to be a "looking-back" post reminiscing the hardship and success. I am not yet privileged enough for that type of post. It's just, while I've always been a cheerful guy, that is how I feel right now. Peace & happy (and I'm not high, before anyone suggests).

The love of my life and I've been in our long and detailed love story with twists, turns and fun. But I'll spare you the details and just tell. Nadee and I are now happily married. We finally tied the knot this May, and it's been awesome! We've already been told by many that everything doesn't smell like roses always. Well, thank you. We'll figure things out on the way.

Among other things, for more than a year I've had a pleasant work environment, good employee benefits and a team that's loads of fun to work with. That's a perk of working for a company who gets that running an IT company is different from other businesses. I would be ungrateful if I didn't say that thinkCube has treated me well.

Another big thing that happened during the last two years was me re-discovering my flare to keep going and getting a no-nonsense getting-stuff-done attitude about life. Starting from my late-teen years I've always been a guy who could take a beating. But I was also of the laid-back and go with the flow nature, even while I was in the school of hard knocks. But since it gave me a graduation certificate and kicked me out, I've been a guy with a different attitude. You'll have to take my word for it now, but I intend to use it in action.

When I started this blog I was at the beginning of my career, silly enough to write that I was falling over-and-over in love with the same girl. I was raw enough to talk trash and be emotional about technology. It's all there in the blog archive. And I'm going to let them be for that's who I was, and that's how I grew up to be me.

The wonderful thing about marriage is, it puts things into perspective. And the great thing about happiness is, you are at peace to think about what you want to be doing. I have the luxury of both. As I keep typing this away in bed, a single look at my wife who's in a peaceful nap, is all the assurance I need. I do not know what future holds, but I know what I will take. :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Departing Giants

October of 2011, the history will remember you as the month in which two pioneers of modern technology passed away. First Steve Jobs departed and withing a few days Dennis Ritchie too.

I've never been an Apple fan, let alone a customer. And I don't see that changing anytime soon. However hold a deep respect for the man Steve Jobs was. I used to think that he's some rich guy running a tech company. Listening to his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University was life altering for me to say the least. Not only it changed how I saw who Steve Jobs was, it taught me to "stay hungry", "stay foolish" and more.

If Steve Jobs was soaring high above there, Dennis Ritchie (dmr) was the giant whose shoulders he stood on. 'Dennis Ritchie' might not be a household name as 'Steve Jobs' is, but his legacy is far more vast. He made C. He co-created Unix.

C is not just a programming language, it's the programming language which paved the way for all the programming languages we have today. Without Unix, there would be no Linux and no Mac OS X. It's easy to overlook Dennis Ritchie's contribution to modern computing, but without those, computers and software would be a lot different today. You can read Herb Sutters post about why dmr's work considered "doing the impossible".

I used to tell my friends in other fields that our field has the privilege of living heroes and pioneers. Sadly, the times seem to be changing. With giants such as Steve and Dennis gone, it falls to our generation and ones to come, to carry on the good work. With that thought in mind, I'll mark this post my own little tribute.

Good bye, Steve... Good bye, Dennis... And thank you.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My talk at Refresh Colombo - September

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I did a talk on infrastructure scaling titled "Building Internet-scale Applications - The Beginning" at this months Refresh Colombo on 22 September. Refresh Colombo is a community of technology enthusiasts & professionals in Sri Lanka who meet once a month to talk about interesting things. The audience ranges from students, enthusiasts to alpha geeks.

My talk ran longer than I'd have thought, and I hope it was interesting. Just for information I'm linking the slides and video here. Before you check the video I apologize for my voice. If I sound like I'm saying things like "you" where I should have said "you'd" that's my voice. It has nothing to do with the fine folks who did the recordings.

Here are the slides hosted at Slideshare.
If you have a Slideshare account you can download the PDF there. For those who without here's another link (via Dropbox).

Here's the video hosted in Refresh Colombo YouTube channel. My talk starts at about 06:50 into the video.

Next months Refresh is on 20 October. Drop by.