January 2016 Summary

Posted on February 1, 2016

Last updated on February 1, 2016

“What gets measured gets managed” - Peter Drucker

I have decided that at the end of each month it would be beneficial to compile a summary of what I have been doing. I see multiple benefits. One, I have for myself a log of what I’ve done to compare to other months. Two, it is motivating in the sense I will want to do more so that at the end that of the month the list is not empty. Three, I’m expecting some people to find the content engaging, in particular the writing, links, and book review sections.

I will try to make every update have some picture of mine also. Here is the 2016 January snowstorm in NYC. It was truly mesmerizing to go out and walk on the emptied streets and not see a single car except the one-off firetruck or snowplough. You will not see that any other time in this 24/7 always-on city and it really was a peaceful moment. I even slept better with the silence.

NYC Snowstorm

NYC Snowstorm

The rest of the document is split into a number of self-explanatory sections.




Books Read

Total: 10

Number of pages: 3047

This is an overview. The full reviews are at the end of this document.

Technical Papers Read

Interesting articles read and notable links

Movies watched

Total: 8

Total runtime: 20 hours, 36 minutes


+1 Michelin Star count (total 49)

Book Reviews

Superhuman Social Skills: A Guide to Being Likeable, Winning Friends, and Building Your Social Circle

“The group of people you surround yourself with will dictate the course of your life more than any other factor”

I have been following Tynan and his blog for a while now. He is the person who got me interested in minimalism and who influenced me to pack just a tiny 22L backpack for an extended trip in South-East Asia. If you interested in minimalism, travel or an unconventional lifestyle I definitely recommend you have a look at Tynan’s blog.

I grabbed this book just because of the author as I think he’s fascinating. I liked the book. It’s short, just at 150 pages, so it’s not a big commitment. I enjoyed that the book is written with personal stories and anecdotes, and not as a laundry list and reference list of research studies which is a formula a lot of self-help books nowadays seem to follow. While possibly more factually correct, it’s easier to engage with personal stories such as those Tynan presents us here.

The main topics covered are:

While the book doesn’t have too much actionable content, I liked it as it made me stop and think whether I am investing enough into close friendships and friend groups. The personal storytelling and the fact that I am familiar with Tynan made the book more enjoyable.

Final tidbit quote on close friends:

“They are the people whose success feels almost as good as your own”.

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

“Success relies on the capacity to systematically create rapid, profound and sustainable changes in a handful of key behaviors”

‘Influencer’ dissects the topic of what it takes to drive change in people. The examples range from convincing a busboy that he needs to care more about his job, to the typical example of doctors not always washing their hands, and even such scenarios as how to get all the sex workers in Thailand convinced that they must always use a condom even if a client demands the opposite. The book follows the standard pattern of many such books - present a problem and back it up from examples from research studies, followed by presenting a solution with a whole lot more examples showing studies where it has worked.

The book is in two parts. First part tells us the ‘three keys to influence’, while part two goes into detail into each of the six ‘sources of influence’ that the authors have come up with.

Key one: Focus and measure. If you want to know if you are exerting influence you need a way to measure it. Before you will start influencing, you need to also know your desired result. This reminded me a lot of management theory and scientific management as developed by people like Henri Fayol, Henry Mintzberg and Igor Ansoff, except the book doesn’t mention any scientific management theories which is slightly disappointing and I think would make a great addition to the book. The ‘influencing’ that the authors talk about seems to me like a simple extension of scientific management: A for-profit business will try to maximize profit by influencing its employees to work in some optimal way. Most of the examples in this book are not from for-profit organizations, but the same idea holds: you would use scientific management theories to maximize some objective, such as stopping the spread of HIV caused by Thai sex workers not using condoms.

Key two: find vital behaviours. Basically the application of the 80/20 rule. A change in only a small number of behaviours will give you a large reward. You don’t need to change everything. You do though need to figure out which 20% to change.

Key three: Engage all six sources of influence. The authors identify a 3x2 matrix of sources of influence. We have motivation and ability for the columns, and for each one of these, there are personal, social and structural subtypes.

Overall the book was ok and I’m sure everyone can get something interesting out of it. I feel that it could have been better if the authors presented their ideas as not new but rather as an interpretation of the prominent management theorists of the 20th century. Otherwise the book has a number of interesting examples (I wasn’t aware that suicides are that much more prevalent than homicides) which you should enjoy going through.

The Art of Travel

It was ok, but I didn’t really get into it possibly because I was expecting something slightly different. The book is mostly about, literally, the Art of the people who travelled and how they transformed what they saw into poems, books, and paintings. In that sense, the book is less about how travelling itself is an art for the author (I was expecting more of that), but how prominent artists like Van Gogh, Flaubert, or Ruskin travelled across the globe and commited their thoughts on these new environments to paper or canvas. I did learn new things though, for example that Van Gogh painted his famous sunflowers in Arles in southern France, or who, in more detail, Flaubert and Ruskin were.

Python Machine Learning

A great book, it will teach you exactly what it promises - how to use the most common ML algorithms using Python and libraries like sklearn/numpy/pandas.

I found it to have a great balance between the theoretical math and implementation in Python; the split is somewhere around 20/80 in favour of implementation and actually using the algorithms on real data-sets. If you are trying to get a good understanding of the theory, then this book is a good starting point but you will most definitely need to supplement it with something else. I would recommend it even if you have no previous experience with Machine Learning. It’s a good topic to approach top-down by seeing how you can actually use ML with some easy-to-use Python libraries and get great results, than to get bogged down in mathematical details and discouraged from further exploration.

In short, the book covers all the popular supervised and unsupervised learning algorithms. You will learn techniques for feature selection, feature extraction, hyperparameter tuning, and model evaluation. The final two chapters will introduce you to artificial neural nets and running them on GPUs using the Python libraries Theano and Keras. The emphasis is on being hands-on, so you will be working along in an iPython notebook, downloading data-sets, and following the book on how to create your models in the sklearn library. The book also has an associated github repository with the iPython notebooks which is handy.

Estimated time commitment: 20-35 hours depending on your level of interest in following along with deriving the mathematics behind the algorithms.

Here’s what you will learn the basic theory of and how to do it in Python:

Speed Reading: The Comprehensive Guide To Speed Reading

Garbage. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to spend money on this, I must not have done my research. The book is subtitled ‘Comprehensive guide to speed reading’ but it consists of at most five pages of speed reading techniques. The rest is hotpot of what supplements to take for concentration, reasons why you should meditate and why speedreading is beneficial (does this really need saying? Why else would I have bought the book?). The author must have probably written this after reading an online tutorial on how to make money by writing crappy ebooks and selling them on-demand to naive people on Amazon. From the quality of the writing I would not be surprised if the writing was outsourced to someone in India. Any kind of editing was an afterthought - the mistake of writing “l’theanine” instead of “L-theanine” was repeated three times. What are we talking about, a french noun, or the L isomer of theanine as opposed to the D isomer? Don’t buy this. Here is the relevant part on actual speed reading techniques: Don’t subvocalize, don’t fixate on words, try not to go back and re-read sentences, and read in chunks of words instead of reading one-by-one. Another ground-breaking technique the author suggests is, wait for it, not reading everything! Read the table of contents, first and last paragraphs of a section and the topic sentence of every paragraph. Right, and then I have the gist but I don’t actually know the content. If a summary is all I wanted then I could just carefully read a well-put together summary that someone most definitely already has online. I will need to find a better source for actual techniques and exercises for speed reading. I welcome any recommendations.

Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money

I really liked ‘Digital Gold’ and can highly recommend it to both people who have had some previous exposure to Bitcoin and those who haven’t but are interested in seeing the story of the genesis of the cryptocurrency.

The book takes you from the beginnings of Bitcoin in 2009 through to mid 2014. I have followed Bitcoin for a couple of years and consider myself knowledgeable, but ‘Digital Gold’ presented the stories from the other side of the curtain so to say. In the book you’ll discover the fascinating stories of the people behind Bitcoin. I never knew of all the rich and powerful actors who were helping to create the Bitcoin ecosystem. It was also exciting to follow the stories behind BitInstant and the creation and demise of MtGox and Mark Karpeles. I never delved before into the very beginnings of the cryptocurrency where Satoshi Nakamato was working with Hal and a guy in Scandinavia to create the first couple of versions of the bitcoin client. There are a ton of other stories in the book that will keep you entertained; you’ll read about the Winklevoss twins and their interest in Bitcoin, about ‘Silk Road’ and its creator Ross Ulbricht, and about Bitstamp coming in to replace MtGox which was falling apart, among many others.

The book is very well written, accessible, and split up into thirty one exciting chapters. Even though I knew the storyline of Bitcoin well the book reads to me like a great mystery or action novel. I kept wanting to read one chapter after another and finished the whole ~400 page book in one sitting.

There are of course omissions on interesting Bitcoin subplots, but including more of them I can imagine could make the book prohibitvely long. For example, it could have talked more about all the ASICs and the associated drama with ‘Butterfly Labs’ and other miner manufacturing companies. ‘Silk Road’ was a big driving force for Bitcoin and I think this subplot could have been developed in more detail. These are only small suggestions that might not be of interest to a lot of people. Overall the book has done a fantastic job of putting together a coherent story of the creation and rise of Bitcoin that will keep you entertained and flipping pages even if you don’t know much about Bitcoin. A hope the author will write a sequel as the ecosystem is constantly evolving and I’m sure there are more interesting stories to look at behind the scenes.

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data

The book was ok but nothing more. It’s an introduction to statistics for people that are completely unfamiliar with statistics. I was definitely not the target audience as I’ve done a substantial amount of statistics and statistical learning but thought the book might have something interesting explanations or anecdotes. I think I only finished the whole book as it’s interspersed with interesting examples of studies and their results.

The book is meant as a very light introduction to statistics for people who have had no such previous experience. In this regard I believe it fails. It introduces and tries to vaguely explain concepts such as hypothesis testing, p-values, normal distribution, t-distribution and the central limit theorem, but it’s done in a way that is too complicated for the average reader without a math background, and too simple for anyone who has done even one course in statistics.

One chapter I enjoyed is on the Monty Hall problem. The explanation of using 100 doors, with 99 of them hiding goats and one a prize, clarified for me the solution to the original problem with 3 doors.

If you want to get some understanding of statistics I would recommend you get a statistics textbook instead of reading this.

Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt

Starting this book I only knew that HFT (High Frequency Trading) is something where you exploit speed to get an edge at the financial markets. ‘Flash Boys’ went into more detail, just enough for the average person to understand how the financial markets normally worked, how the introduction of the HFT players changed the playing field and what a guy named Brad had done to try and fix the situation.

The book is well written and I was interested throughout and kept wanting to go forward and see more of the storyline. It almost reads like a fiction novel with Brad the protagonist assembling a team to fight the evil High Frequency Traders who are out to the get everyone for their own profit.

Since I didn’t have much financial knowledge, I felt that I learned a lot by getting this kind of insiders peek at what and how it was happening. As a software engineer, I found the chapter about Sergey Aleynikov, the software engineer from GS accused of stealing proprietary code, fascinating to hear, especially Sergey’s stoic reaction to the whole ordeal.

Some people don’t have a high view of the book, for example the following review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R3PJO6KJGRMWUE/. The reviewer is someone very knowledgeable about the subject matter and comments on a lot of points that the book got wrong or hasn’t fully explained. Fair enough, I do like when everything is factually correct and there are no errors of omission, but you have to see this as a book for the average intelligent reader who doesn’t know anything about the financial markets or HFT. As that type of the book, I feel that I gained more by reading it than the negative effect from any misinformation it presented. Addressing all the points of the reviewer would make for a more factually correct book, but it would be couple times longer and denser, and would read like a financial textbook joined with a precise historical account of the rise of HFT. In the same spirit, I as a computer scientist and software engineer could give 1/5 to a book that aims to explain computing to an average person by pointing out the simplifications as factual inaccuracies and claiming that this reduction in complexity is not really what happens on the physical level and that this is hurting the true understanding of computing for the reader. It might, but if that’s what the reader was interested in he would be reading a textbook.

I highly recommend this if you are curious about HFT as the book presents it with enough detail to make it interesting and not overly complicated to make it boring, all wrapped up in an well put together storyline and chapter progression.

Status Anxiety

There is a very high chance that if you are reading this you suffer from at least a mild form of status anxiety: How am I viewed by others in relation to everyone else? Am I average, below average, or above average? In today’s times the most common feature for establishing status is your accumulated wealth? Making a lot of money? Great, you are high status! Not making enough to satisfy your basic needs (or at least what people around you tend to consider basic needs)? You will have low social status.

The book’s aim to alleviate the reader’s ‘status anxiety’, the worry that we aren’t at the spot in the social ladder where we want to be. The author takes us through history and shows us what constituted ‘high status’ across the times, the causes of social anxiety and five approaches people have used to alleviate this pain: philosophy, art, politics, religion and bohemia.

Causes of Social Anxiety


One of the inborn desires of all of us is to be loved by the world. You want to be a ‘somebody’ and not a ‘nobody’. You want your voice to be heard and the people around you to respect you. High status here might very much not be caused by high wealth. As an example: soldiers at war living in conditions worse than the poorest back in their home country are respected and have higher status. On the opposite end, people who have accumulated a lot of money might continue do so not to make more of it, but for the associated respect that comes with whatever endeavour they are pursuing.


Due to improvements in processes, industry and trade the quality of living in Europe and America was elevating in the end of the 18th century. Giant department stores opened that sent out catalogs and convinced people they need everything they are selling to have a higher status.

This tenet of the issue of status anxiety shows us that our status cannot be arrived at independently and needs to exists within a bubble of everyone else. From the book: “Our judgement of what constitutes an appropriate limit on anything - for example, on wealth or esteem - is never arrived at independently; instead, we make such determinations by comparing our condition with that of a reference group, a set of people who we believe resemble us”.

The anxiety to own more things only arose because the people around us started getting more. The anxiety then arises from being below average, even if below average was more than enough to happily satisfy before couple decades beforehand.


Your skill, education and ability to create defined your social status. Here, rich people who owned factories or businesses, and hence created jobs for the lower class and products to consume for the middle class were seen as highest class as they quantitatively created more value than the people working at their factories. In ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’ Adam Smith is not fond of those who accumulate riches just to accumulate more, but he nevertheless states that he is immensely grateful for the whole of civilization and welfare of society depended on people’s desire and ability to accumulate unneeded capital and show of their wealth.


The problem here is the condition in which others value your status based on your material wealth, achievements and symbols of importance rather than who you really are. In a world-view defined by snobbery, your friends will leave you as soon as you lose your status or someone else higher status comes along. In a snobbish world, those with low status, those without any status symbols, even if by any monetary standard they aren’t poor are a all, are imposed ‘emotional penalties’ by ostracize son by the rest of snobbish society.


In old society it was nearly impossible to acquire high status without being born into it. You were born a peasant and stayed a peasant, you were born royalty and you stayed royalty. Going forward in time, status and your own personal skill were beginning to become dependent and hence independent of where you were born and what family you came from. Now people born in poverty created multi-billion businesses and propelled themselves forward in social status.

The creation of this dependence causes anxiety as now starting as a ‘peasant’ is not seen as an excuse to not increase your status.



This section looks at some prominent philosophers from across the times including Greek, Roman and more modern 18-20th century philosophy as well. The main idea seems to be Stoicism. You should de-couple your own self-image from the interpretation of others and not allow it to be negatively influenced by the outside world. This chapter here is only a short overview of these philosophies and so I recommend ‘Meditations’, ‘Letters from a Stoic’, and ‘A guide to the good life’.


We learn about ‘Memento Mori’ (from Latin, ‘Remember that you can die’) here, a type of art recognizable by a skull and an hourglass that are meant to signal to us our impermanence. Other forms of art, such as the natural art of the mountains and canyons of the Earth, should signal to us that in the scale of things, you and everyone around you is insignificant and status is something silly to be anxious about.


This section shows us what meant high status across the times. In Sparta, physical strength, a warrior spirit and emotional distance were valued. In Europe circa AD 470 - 1100 high status was following the teachings of Jesus Christ and getting by with as little as possible. 1100-1500 was the time of the knights. In 1750-1890 knowing how to fight was no longer a necessity; this is the age of the gentleman. Someone who knows how to dance, and doesn’t do much besides managing their estates, but they shouldn’t appear to be a part of the industry or trade (you don’t want to be confused with merchants and industrialists of the lower classes). It is that that you can look into and dabble in politics to try and redefine what a high status means. A lot of the chapter is an interesting discussion of the current connection of wealth to status. Arguments such as “The very act of earning money calls upon virtues of character. Working at - and keeping - almost any job requires intelligence, energy, forethought and the ability to cooperate with others. And the more lucrative the position, the greater the requisite merits” are looked upon.


We look at religion here where people try to convince themselves that what the rest of society deems currently valuable to high status (for example material wealth), is irrelevant as their short impermanent life on earth will be followed by an eternity in some form of heaven. The standard approach here in religion is following Nietzsche’s slave morality.


A secular approach to fighting status anxiety. The bohemia are people who shunted the accepted status symbols for a life of arts, music, travel, writing, philosophizing and dismissing material wealth as unimportant and an enslavement to a life of servitude at something as banal as a job, a total conflict of interest with what they think is important in life.


I unfortunately do not think the book has done much to alleviate my personal status anxiety (Books about Stoicism do a better job at that), but it did give me an overview what the different status metrics were across the times and that they were at not all similar. If you think you would be interested in more detail about any of the above points, I do recommend the rest of the book.

The Alabaster Girl

“At some point, every man needs to stand in front of the mirror, look himself in the eye, and ask himself the big questions, the hard questions, the immense questions. The question I asked myself was this: Have you ever been a woman’s fantasy? If not, why not?”

I decided to read this after seeing someone recommend it on the /r/seduction section of Reddit. While it does masquerade as a guide on how to appreciate and fully engage with and find beauty in women, it’s also a guide on how to live a life aligned with your inner self - never regretting anything and always doing what you feel needs to be done. It is not your standard Pick-up-Artist (PUA) (think ‘The Game’) type of book of pick-up lines, approach techniques, negs, etc. You can categorize the book as fiction but we know that most of it is from the author’s personal experience. An unnamed narrator, the author of ‘Alabaster Girl’ is riding a train and is interviewed by a female journalist who wants to know more about his escapades with women, what makes him tick and just how truthful ‘Alabaster Girl’ actually is. As you noticed, this book is titled the same as the fictitious book within it which the narrator wrote. Throughout it you’ll find excerpts of the narrator’s book where is he remembering all the good times with the girls in his life.

The writing is erudite and you will many times find yourself looking into a dictionary to figure out all the words that are used to describe the beautiful trysts of the narrator and his muses. (If you didn’t know, a ‘tryst’ is a romantic rendezvous between lovers.) I found it annoying and trite at first, but later on I realized the book probably would not have worked well without this type of language. I feel that I’m to see the narrator as this pure soul searching for ‘Beauty’ in life, finding it through women and expressing his content and bliss to those women and thus spreading and creating more ‘Beauty’. Without the elaborate language the message might be interpreted to be a baser one. You would see the narrator as a creep and not a lover of beauty, life and women, and you would have a harder time finishing the book; it would not flow as easily as it does in its current form.

I can only think that if a man has never experienced a moment like this in his life, a moment surrounded by the whirling flowerness of an island girl, with the scent of orange blossom salt on her skin, her body the color of café-au-lait and as hard and smooth as porcelain, and little bits of sand still flecked all about her knees, then he needs to stop his life right now and find it. Only then has his life been lived.

These poetics paint a dreamy and imaginary landscape that the narrator inhabits. It’s persuasive. You will find it hard to not wish for yourself for scenarios such as the above one. Nearly every interaction that the author describes he has had with women has this kind of ethereal quality. Throughout the central part of the book, you’ll hear a number of his stories through which the narrator will give you pointers on what makes him a lover of women and various recollections of what has worked for him. A selection of quotes to get a feel for what you’ll find in the book:

“You would be amazed what a woman will do for a man who makes her feel like a queen.”

“Women give me everything. They give me women. They bring other women into my life.”

“The language of women is entirely sub-communicated.”

“Eye contact is the eighth wonder of the world, the solution to all the problems of men.”

“Most guys will hide their natural impulses because they really like you and want to give you a good impression. The difference between me and them is that I don’t hide my desires.”

“All great lovers have great empathy. It is the essence of their lover-ness. This is the secret of a man who loves women: his touch is always imbued with respect, honor, and empathy.”

“It is interesting that the traits we had as children are the traits we need to reclaim now. We squander our childhood gifts: our sense of wonder, of adventure, of learning, of curiosity.”

The final part of the book concentrates on the overall ‘self’, how our current generation has a lost our way and how we need to get back on track. The message was similar to what you can find in many self-help books, but it’s delivery method that was very good and the points strong and appealing. Leading all the way to this chapter we know the narrator deeply believes in finding and going towards ‘Beauty’; he’s spent all his life finding and engaging with it in the form of women. He’s so loved that at one point one of his girls organizes a birthday party for him and invites twelve of his past girlfriends with their current boyfriends. They are all merry, and the narrator reminisces of all the beauty everyone here brings to his life. It’s hard to read that and then not take his self-help advice more seriously than other books that are laundry lists of motivational quotations and things you should do. I read that and think ‘This guy has lived his philosophy’.

“When faced with two courses of action, two different paths before my eyes, and I have to make a decision, I do not ask which path will offer greater security, or which path will be better off financially, or which path will be approved of by family or friends. I ask only one question: Which path will give me the best memories?”

I can recommend the book.


This is it for January 2016. I hope to be as, or even more, productive in February.

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