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Notes about book I have read (2018)

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Some notes about the book I read in 2018. These notes are mostly for my future self. Book are presented in order of “impact”, which is a completely personal metric.

4-hour body week (Tim Ferris)

Full of very useful, body-related advice. My biggest takeaway from this is that i experimented for a couple of months the low-carb diet he suggested, and i have never been this slim before. I always wrongly assumed that my weight must be genetic, given how much sport I do. The truth is that my parents, coming from Italy, have an average high-carb diet, and that was what i learned. I also assumed that, with the italian cuisine being advertised as healthy everywhere, i could not be wrong. I never stopped considering that most of the world is borderline obese. Great book.

Rich dad poor dad (Robert T Kiyosaki)

Pretty good book, because it pushed me to take investing more seriously. This book redefines the notion of being rich from having money to having assets, which produce a constant revenue stream. Rich people stay rich, while people with money do not necessarily keep it for long. A mistake is acquiring too many liabilities, volountarily or not. A nice car taken with a mortgage is a liability. An house is a liability, unless you rent it or resell it for more. Even though market circumstances can make choices harder, the math is undeniable.

The 7 habits of highly effective people (Stephen R Covey)

Such a great (and dense) book. It starts by redefining “success” by drawing a distinction between character ethics (how success has always been defined in the past) and personality ethics (how success has been redefined after 1930s). While character ethics emphasizes inner traits, personality focuses a lot more on public image and outward facing traits, which are beyond our full control. Wide-spread, long-lasting success must be radicated on good values. Everyone must find their principles, which is their implementation of the values they believe, their step-by-step guidelines. By building habits out of principles, we shape our character. Habits can only be picked up if we know what/why things need to be done, if we know how to do it and if we have the desire to do so. Once we have packaged our habits to practice, we can be successful at it only if we strike a balance between actively working on it and resting our mind so we become effective again. This is also known as production/production capability balance. If the habit is about changing a behavior, remember that between stimulus and response, as human beings, we are able to choose what response to give. Being proactive is about choosing the response, and that is the first good habit the book talks about. Proactive people focus their efforts on their circle of influence while reactive people on their circle of concern. The second habit is to always begin something with the end in mind. How does success look like? It is very easy to get caught up in the busyness of life, but we regularly need to step back and examine where are we going. Being effective is a lot more important than efficient. Developing a personal mission statement is about understanding what you want to be, what you want to do and the values/principles upon which being and doing are based. The third habit is about putting first things first, which means effective time management. What are the daily priorities to get to where you want to go. You must classify things both in terms of urgency and importance. Defining what is important personally is hard: you must start by identifying your key roles. Husband, colleague, manager, parent, scholar, and so on. Each role should have a different todo list, refreshed weekly. Habits n. 4/5/6 focus on the social aspects. As a preamble of social habits, the book underlines the necessity of building an “emotional bank account” with people, which is based on understanding them, attending to the little things that are important to them, keeping promises, clarifying expectations, showing integrity and apologizing for your faults. Habit n.4 is about thinking win/win, which is what i studied at uni. The book advocates a Win/Win or No deal approach. Then book then talks about synergy as something that we should strive for. In good teamwork, the output is greater than the sum of its parts. The last habit is called “sharpening the saw”. It is about taking some time to do personal retrospectives, and to recharge your batteries. It must be done in your 4 areas of life: physical, spiritual, mental and social.

Jobs to be done (Anthony Ulwick)

The author explains his framework to generate product roadmaps. It starts from understanding the jobs of people you are targeting, describe their motivations and their pain points, discover the added value they are looking for that is not in the products they are using now. Then, you can use these insights to generate ideas based on what is needed vs what is your objective. This forces you to think and often reframe your perspective on things. The road to truth however is always going to be an iterative approach. Experiment and iterate is what leads to new learning and better products.

The E Myth (Michael E Gerber)

Great book about enterpreneurship. Pushes you to compare starting a business to creating a franchise. Franchise intended as to create a documented, repeatable process that can be, once fine-tuned, outsourced to somebody employed at the lowest salary. It emphasizes creating manuals on how to do all the jobs that the company requires. In my life I had experience of enterpreneurs that were not able to delegate, outsource and generally let go of some choices, and ultimately burn out. This method of managing the “let go” process is def something i would consider if i ever find myself in this position again.

More money than god (Sebastian Mallaby)

I found this book fascinating. My knowledge of hedge funds was pretty low and this book gave me interesting insights on their history, delving into rise and downfall of the most important ones for all the last decades, 60s, 70s and so on. It was enlightening to see that whatever initial insight these people had before winning major market bets, that was not making them infallible. These people lost big and made big, until they lost more than they made, and fell into oblivion. Most techniques that these people employed are periodically rediscovered, believing some unique insight has been found. The truth is that that might not be.

Clean gut (Junger Alejandro)

A book about nutrition and detox I stumbled across, and I am quite happy about it. The guts are one of the most complex and overarching organ of the body. They absorb and, most importantly, expel all the body’s waste. In the average diet, the guts are normally overworked, and that is usually why we feel sluggish after meals. Gluten-heavy meals are very taxing for the guts as well, many times triggering strong reactions that damage the intestinal walls therefore breaking the barrier that separates waste from organs. The book recommends a detox cycle (of 21 days) every year, in which you eat 80% greens/vegetables and 20% protein/good fats every meal. No gluten, no dairy, no alchohol, no processed sugar, no fruit (except berries), no starchy veggies, and a lot more excluded. It is a very hard diet. It is also accompanied by a long list of supplements, used for helping with the gut cleansing. It is not however about eating less, just eating differently.

Hands-on macine learning with Scikit-learn and Tensorflow (Aurelien Gerom)

I picked this book more because of the Tensorflow hype than interest for AI. The book is pretty good. It has a very practical approach, full of code and suggesting exercises. It does not try to mask that in AI most work is data preparation, which is not fancy at all. The explanation of CNN and the intuition behind them being good for visual recognition was enlightening. Very good read.

Strength training not bodybuilding (Marc Mclean)

Lots of advice here for having effective gym workouts. It starts from what you eat. The book recommends unprocessed, whole foods to get the nutrients your body needs. Then to do gym effectively: focus mainly on compound exercises, progressively overload your muscles with higher weight and not too many reps (more reps is not better), and avoid over training (not exercise same muscles consecutive days). Follow the 3,6,9 rule: 3 reps with min 6 max 9 sets. If you reach 9 and you could still continue, it is time to increase the weight. If you don’t reach 6, lower your weights. The book advices to ditch cardio because it will undo your work on muscles, or at least do it different days.

Crossing the chasm (Geoffrey A Moore)

I think this is a must read if you want to sell technology products to businesses, although the book is a bit long and dense sometimes. It focuses on the different phases of adoption, the different segments of the market (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards), their objectives and personalities. For me it was good to reinforce the mental picture i had of the early adopter. It was also interesting to read about the gap between early adopters and early majority users, and how most startups die there. There are a few things that became intuitive for me only in hindsight, like the fact that a market can only be defined as such if the businesses within it reference each other when making buying decisions. There are so many brilliant insights here that is hard to list them all.

Recycling our future (Ranjit S Baxi)

One of the few books I found about recycling. It is quite well done, unfortunately it does not contain much detail about the mechanics of waste processing. However, it explains the economics and the challenges. Talks about the several types of paper (a lot more than i imagined), plastic (12 types if i recall), metal and textile.

Start small, stay small: a developer guide to launching a startup (Rob Walding)

Stumbled upon this book by accident, and i am glad as it is a great book for its topic. First lesson of the book is that if you want to self-fund, you have to choose a niche. There is very little hope in succeeding in a broad market without some serious marketing money. Second lesson is that code is prob only 30% of the work you have to do. Third lesson is that you have to define your goal and, to create urgency, you need to assign a monetary value to your time. Once you know this value, try to outsource all the low-value items. Market comes first, marketing second, aesthetic third and functionality fourth. The product with a sizeable market and low competition wins even with bad marketing. If market conditions are the same, the product with better marketing wins. Make sure you are able to reach the market. The ideal market is reachable through specific websites (or magazines) with a budget of max 5000$. The book then delves into the details of marketing and outsourcing, with lots of good common sense advice.

Angel (Jason Calacanis)

Lots of insights and life lessons from a famous angel investor. He has a very strong character and does not hold back much of what he thinks, as you can see from what he writes. This book feels honest. Startups are hard and my experience of investors is that, for the most of it, it is a world full of bullshit and backstabbing. It is also a world where you take bets that most likely will go into nothing. If you stick to the game long enough, eventually one bet will pay off. The book gives a lot of advice on how to start angel investing.

The world’s fittest book (Ross Edgley)

Easy read about body fitness. I learned a few things, one obvious: if you don’t push your muscles to exhaustion, you are not going to get any stronger. I changed the way I do gym after this, or at least started doing more research on this. After this general concept, the book explored several areas… improving speed, strength, body mass, etc. The book also talks about the use of cold showers as a way revitalize the immune system, and I started taking those every time, until winter set in.

The creative curve (Allen Gannett)

A surprisingly good book, which takes creativity and breaks it down into steps to do during the creation act. Too many times I though about this with the “eureka” moment. In practice, the moment is more like a stretch of years where someone dedicated copious amounts of time to a craft. Creativity is also about ideas that have the right balance between novelty and familiarity, which is a changing equilibrium. Because of this time-dependency, being creative in a niche requires deep understanding of its trends. Experienced entrepreneurs recognize valuable ideas that are familiar to them based on previous experiences. To keep ahead of your field, it is important that 20% of your working time is allocated to consuming material in your creative field, this is required to develop your intuition. To get better in your field of choice, you must start by imitating whoever you want to learn from.

The quick and easy way to effective speaking (Dale Carnegie)

Dale was the first professional salesman ever, and he fine-tuned his techniques with people until he clearly had an edge. My enumerating all the things he does you realize that there is a great deal of nurturing rather than innate talent. Full of tips on effective speaking, it was a good read.

High blood pressure (Mark Langley)

I suffer from high blood pressure, as a lot of other people in the world. It is one of the most common chronic conditions of the modern society. The book points to the most common causes, too much salt in the diet and overweight. Nowadays there are still no drugs that target the root cause of this (they only address the symptoms). The anticipated reduction of life for those who suffers this is significant, and it has been proven that, while medications help getting through everyday, they actually decrease even more life expectancy. The book prescribes a vegetarian, low-fat, low-sugar diet, exercise, lots of water-drinking (filtered) and meditation/yoga. Easier said than done. The book also talks about fasting. Fasting is the oldest method of healing, used in a past where there was no medicine. The book advices 3 day fasting every 4-6 weeks, to be done only in no-work (and no drive) days. Alternatively, one day fasting each week, or doing monodiets.

Radical candor (Kim Scott)

It is a nice book of insights on team dynamics in companies. Ruinous empathy, Obnoxious aggression, Manipulative sincerity and Radical Candor are four key behaviours that are on the scales of caring for others and being challenging. The book is full of examples and, if you have been working for a while, it is pretty easy to relate to the different dynamics you have seen in different companies. I have seen a few of these, and Radical candor is not the default. It takes courage and caring to do, but ultimately it leads to better teams.

Zero to £1million (James Smith)

Collection of techniques used by the author to do stock picking. It is technical analysis, although not too fancy. All the ideas presented make sense, and i will probably re-read it and implement some of this in code at some point. I am not expecting to become rich soon though. Most of it seems just common sense, the book nevertheless is a good read.

Traction (Gabriel Weinberg, Justin Mares)

This is a marketing book that explains quite well all the ways that you can reach customers with your message. There are 19: targeting blogs, publicity (mentions on newspapers), unconventional PR, online ads, offline ads, SEO, content marketing, email marketing, viral marketing, engineering as marketing, business development, sales, affiliate programs, through existing platforms, trade shows, offline events, speaker engagements, community building. The book does a pretty good job at explaining each one.

Slicing pie (Mike Moyer)

This book treats well the touchy subject of equity ownership in a new startup venture. The reality is that you cannot do this beforehand with no bad feelings. Even with equal splits, people may think they deserve more based on whatever they bring. The only solution is to decide those later but, given the good faith of everyone involved, agree on the method to calculate the splits before, which will be applied only if people stick for a period of time. Tracking how people spend time, deciding people’s daily rate, and if money is involved, how to adjust these values based on risk. This is the best book I have read on this topic.

The million-dollar one person business (Elaine Pofeldt)

It is a book about building one person startup, without doing it all. To get to one million, you cannot do it without having a network of freelancers you can rely on. Only some types of business are suited here: the book mentions e-commerce, online education, consultancy (and methodology franchising), real estate and a few others. The book is full of tips, some generic some specific. Being one person, time needs to be managed a lot better than in other settings.

Property investment for beginners (Rob Dix)

Everybody tells that investing in the brick is safe, and they are probably right, but I cannot imagine this being a good idea if you do not want to live in your investment. Still, this book is full of tips. I read this with the intention of understanding real estate investment, and this book offers a good overview, with a specialization in the UK market. Good read.

How to talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere (Larry King)

Larry king is a famous american broadcaster. His book is a good read, talks about overcoming shyness, making the talk flow, the importance of genuine curiosity (without giving the third degree) and enthusiasm, the power of “what if” statements. He also stresses the importance of physical setting in giving comfort to whoever he is speaking to. One of his rules, while talking, is “never stay too serious too long”.

Inspired (Marty Cagan)

How do big companies maintain agility? most non-engineers normally work in waterfall mode, because it models well the chain of command. This model leaves all customer validation at the end, and this is a huge risk. The book advocates tackling all risks you can upfront (value/usability/feasibility risks) by separating the process in product discovery and product development. Discovery may (or may not) involve writing code. At the end of the discovery you would get a prototype, and that allows you to answer whether a client is interested in it and whether engineering could release it with confidence. It is important to build the right type of prototype (high-fidelity for the customer for instance). The book mentions doing outcome-based roadmaps, where every step is about answering the questions rather than just building production-ready code. Really everything is driven by the product vision, and that is why it is so important to be in love with the problem rather than the our solution. Customer interviews is one of the most important job of the product lead (min 2-3h per week) which will organize with the product designer (meeting lead) and engineer (observer). It is a very deep book about product. Nice read if you are into the subject.

How to build a billion dollar app (George Berkowski)

This is the journey that one of the cofounders of Hailo went through. The book starts with justifying the choice of apps with the idea/app fit and its connection with human “universals”, which are things everybody does eventually. Then talks about picking cofounders, gathering feedback (by making it very easy), regularly talking to clients, figuring out what are the essential features, do user testing, trying new marketing channels (and not saturating the used ones), OKRs, and the importance of people (rather than rockstars) later in the company stage. Interesting read.

Think complexity (Allen B Downey)

Typical CS book about graphs, complexity, cellular automata, agent-based modeling, etc. I have to be honest, i read this book quite quickly, mostly looking for practical applications of the theories exposed, which I did not find. To this day, i am still unsure how to apply any cellular automata theory to a real world problem (besides implementing game of life).

Mastering Node.js (Sandro Pasquali)

This is a good book about NodeJS, describing its architecture, why it is designed in a certain way and what this architecture allows you to do. It is full of examples, all carefully selected to show off node async-ness and its performance. It does not really describe how to structure large codebases in node, or tackle the complexity of real-world projects. It is a good overview of the ecosystem though.

So you think you can write? (Julia Mccoy)

Talks about the journey of a content writer from starting up to owning an important content writing agency, and the forming of a profession that is self-made, as many are in the tech world. Starts with the importance of understanding what audience you want to attract, picking good keywords (mentions semrush and others), being focused on “creative” writing (if the task allows it) and the importance of maintaining a blog with good content to attract people and build a fan base around it. Pleasant read.

Python testing with pytest (Brian Okken)

Many projects i worked on use pytest, and this book thought me a few tricks i did not know. I did not know the “–lf” flag to run only the tests that failed in the last run, or ‘-x’ (both huge timesaver). I did not fully know how to use fixtures and their scopes (and all the cli options around those). At the end there is also a good list of plugins to extend base pytest.

Learn to earn (Peter Lynch, John Rothchild)

An interesting stroll in the history of corporations and entrepreneurship, from the 18th century to nowadays, including the birth of the financial system and the concept of stocks and stock exchanges. At the beginning, lots of frauds were committed, but nowadays the matter is a lot more regulated (by the SEC). The book also talks about investing nowadays, stocks, funds, fund rating companies. For those who do not want to invest much time researching single stocks, fund investing is a better choice. When investing in stocks, you have to know what numbers to look at. You also need to know the outlook of a market, and that is why there is a lot of specialization in investors. It is important for good portfolios to be “recession-proof”, luxury and consumer growth brands are an example of this. One thing advised against is getting in and out of positions: your margin will be eaten by exchanges.

Moonwalking with Einstein (Joshua Foer)

This book is about memory techniques, a subject I did not know anything about. The main teaching is that humans are much better at remembering things that are tight to the 5 senses rather than abstract concepts, and we can use this trick to remember some types of information like words, numbers, cards. Vision is the strongest sense, and the trick is to associate images to words and place those images in a “memory palace”, which is a mental reconstruction of a place very familiar to us. Fascinating topic, but not enough for my memory needs.

The happiness of pursuit (Chris Guillebeau)

A book by a guy that has been in every country of the world (took 10 years), and he talks about pursuing your goals, planning them and then adapting to what the world throws at you. Most life journeys start with a nagging sense of discontent, and only after reaching a point of realization (forced or not by external circumstances). There are many stories in the book about people pursuing very different goals (travel, business, learning, etc). The book argues that everyone in their journeys seemed to be aware that life is fragile, and they better make the most of it before it’s too late.

The book on rental property investing (Turner Brandon)

A long book full of insights on property investing. Not one of my immediate personal goals. One of his important considerations when property investing is to only consider properties that offer cash flow today. He stresses the importance of finding a great property manager. To understand whether an opportunity is good, you have to do the math. If you don’t , do not be surprised if it does not pan out. The author uses this 2% heuristics: if the monthy rental income is not at least 2% of the purchase price, do not invest.

Introducing Go (Caleb Doxsey)

I quickly read this book as i have used Go in the past. I wanted to refresh my memory a bit. The book seems well structured. Unfortunately it does not talk about the recent package management projects.

101 things I learned in architecture school (Matthew Frederick)

Quick book about architecture. One of the main takeaways for me was the importance of negative space, most times more than what is actually present inside a building.

Superintelligence (Nick Bostrom)

A walkthrough of all the types of intelligence, what we have today, what is coming and what could come. I found this book too hypothetical and just an exercise in thinking. Also a bit boring.