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The Killing Floor2019-05-29 20:46:15

Book #9 of 2019 is Killing Floor by Lee Child. This is another re-read, because I felt in the mood for some mindless fiction after book #8. I read this a few years ago when I read the Reacher series, and I still remember the plot twists, but it was still fun to read again. This library copy had an introduction (or maybe a foreword) by the author that I hadn't seen before and it was moderately interesting. He mentioned the Travis McGee books as being some kind of inspiration so I've requested the first couple of those from the library to see what they're like.


Hold on to your Kids2019-05-27 19:07:41

Book #8 of 2019 is Hold On To Your Kids. This one is actually a re-read; I read it a while ago and found it really insightful, and it's a lot more relevant to me now than it was then, so I figured I would read it again.

The main premise of the book is that many children these days, for a variety of reasons, are peer-oriented rather than adult-oriented. That is, they look to each other for guidance and belonging, which results in a dysfunctional blind-leading-the-blind kind of situation. This has all sorts of ramifications and compounding effects which the books discusses. It also covers ways to prevent this from happening, or at lease reduce the severity of it.

The book appealed to me in particular because it exposes assumptions in a process that basically only became important once they no longer hold. I run into this sort of situation a lot when debugging code, and discovering the broken assumptions leads to a deeper understanding of the whole system. In this book, society rests on an assumption of adult-orientedness in children, which fails a lot nowadays (in particular since the second half of the 20th century), and the book brings this to light.

In terms of readability, the book is not that great. It can be repetitive at times, and it's fairly dense so takes a while to get through. But it's totally worth it.


Past Tense2019-04-14 06:59:38

Book #7 of 2019 is Past Tense by Lee Child. I've been a fan of the Jack Reacher books for a few years now. While they tend to be a bit outlandish, I do enjoy the way they're written and the Reacher character. This one was no exception. I just finished it so it's hard to give an unbiased comparison to the other books in the series but I would place it a bit above average.

It's fiction so I don't have much else to say here. If you like the Reacher books I'm sure you'll read it at some point anyway.


Why We Sleep2019-04-14 06:54:26

Book #6 of 2019 is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. This was a really good book, and I plan to purchase a copy for myself. Written by a researcher in the field, it's full of interesting results about the importance of sleep and in particular what REM vs NREM sleep does to your brain. Again, I'm amazed by how much research has been done in this area, and how little of it is part of "common knowledge".

As with The Circadian Code this book cites numerous studies, but it doesn't feel repetitive at all and the information presented is well divided into separate topics/themes. The author also mostly stays away from personal anecdotes, but provides a touch of humour throughout the book which kept me engaged.

I would recommend this book to anybody and everybody. It's really eye-opening and brings home the detrimental effects of cutting out sleep.

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In Your Best Interest2019-03-30 20:53:46

Book #5 of 2019 is In Your Best Interest: The Ultimate Guide to the Canadian Bond Market. I got interested in learning about bonds after watching some Khan Academy video on the difference between bonds and stocks. Despite it (a) being pretty much the only book I could find on the Canadian bond market and (b) supposedly being written with beginners in mind, I did not find the book particularly illuminating.

While the author seems to have knowledge and experience in the area of bonds, I don't think he did a good job translating that knowledge into a book. Much of the basic stuff was repeated over and over, while the more complex stuff was not explained properly. Also at one point the writing randomly switched (mid-paragraph) from being directed towards a retail investor (i.e. me) to being directed towards an investment advisor. That was just weird.

Anyway, I ended up skimming a big chunk of this book so I can't really claim to have "read" it. I did read the parts that I thought would be most useful, and they did not live up to my expectations. Ah well.


Bad Blood2019-03-23 19:44:33

Book #4 of 2019 is Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou. It's the story of Theranos and how they managed to dupe so many people with their blood analysis device that didn't really work.

Although I'd seen the name Theranos come up in my newsfeed from time to time, I mostly just ignored it, and so was basically unaware of the whole scandal. The book was quite a page-turner, written almost like a work of fiction, except that it's not. The author is the Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who first exposed Theranos, so the book is fairly authoritative on the topic. A fun read, and also sorta scary that such a thing could happen.


The Circadian Code2019-03-23 19:40:38

Book #3 of 2019 is The Circadian Code, by Satchin Panda. This was a pretty interesting book written by a researcher in the field of circadian rhythms. Interesting to me at least because there's a lot more research in this field than I thought there would be, and (if one believes the book) the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that the body's circadian rhythms are hugely important in maintaining good health. If even a tenth of the claims he makes in the book are true, it's worth applying his suggestions.

The quick summary is that different organs/systems in the body have different clocks that are controlled by different things. e.g. the brain alertness/awakeness is controlled by exposure to blue light; the digestive system is controlled by when you eat, and so on. Ensuring that you allow the different clocks to work their full cycles properly leads to better health outcomes. The single biggest thing to do is ensure that all your eating stays within a 12 hour (or smaller) window in a day, so as to give your digestive and other related systems time to rest and recover. This is called time-restricted eating (TRE) and many studies have shown it helps in all sorts of ways (again, per the book). I haven't even consulted any alternative sources on this but it's worth following up on.

The book itself was a mix of science, anecdotes, and personal stories/advice. The mix was pretty good although after a while the sheer number of studies being described and cited started to make my eyes glaze over so towards the end I was sort of just skimming. The "TRE is awesome" theme got hammered in a little too much, in my opinion. Still, overall it was a pretty informative read.


Mindstorms2019-01-25 21:24:01

Book #2 of 2019 is Mindstorms, by Seymour Papert. This one has been on my reading list for a long time. I think I first heard about it in one of Bret Victor's talks. It was written almost 40 years ago (!), and is about the intersection of computers and education. Specifically, Papert talks about his ideas on how computers can help kids learn stuff.

I found it really quite interesting, and also sad in that the vision and ideas he had seem to have been forgotten and not implemented widely. He worked with Piaget for a while (who did a lot of work in child development) and a good chunk of the book rests heavily on that collaboration, so it's not just random stuff he made up - it's based on research and investigations that they did in real-world settings.

That being said, I also found it a somewhat hard book to read because of the plethora of big words he uses, and I ended up skimming a couple of the chapters that were a little too abstract for me. But the parts where he talked about specific examples of how the LOGO programming environment was used to enhance a child's learning experience was quite inspirational. If you're interested in education and how people learn, I highly recommend giving it a read.


The Sleep Solution2019-01-06 21:15:12

I'd like to blog more in 2019. So to get me started I'm going to start blogging about books I'm reading.

I just finished the Sleep Solution by W. Chris Winter. It was recommended by a number of people on one of the HN "best books of 2018" threads. It's a pretty good book covering sleep - how it works, why you might be getting not enough or poor quality sleep, and what you can do to improve it.

The book is written in a very funny/colloquial style that's easy to read, and generally is light-hearted. Ironically the best time I have for reading these days is before going to sleep, so I felt a bit guilty about sacrificing sleep time to read a book which was telling me how important sleep is. It's also the first book I'm reading specifically about sleep so it had a number of new concepts for me and helped me build a better mental model of what happens when I sleep and how to improve my own sleep.

I don't consider myself as having any real sleep issues, so it's not like I was looking for a solution in this book, but I found it useful nonetheless, and would recommend it to anybody as an easy-to-read introductory (albeit somewhat opinionated) book on the topic.

I have another sleep-related book on my reading list so it'll be interesting to compare the two.


Mozilla Productivity Tip: Managing try pushes2018-10-18 08:08:32

I tend to do a lot of try pushes for testing changes to Gecko and other stuff, and by using one of TreeHerder's (apparently) lesser-known features, managing these pushes to see their results is really easy. If you have trouble managing your try pushes, consider this:

Open a tab with an author filter for yourself. You can do this by clicking on your email address on any of your try pushes (see highlighted area in screenshot below). Keep this tab open, forever. By default it shows you the last 10 try pushes you did, and if you leave it open, it will auto-update to show newer try pushes that you do.

With this tab open, you can easily keep an eye on your try pushes. Once the oldest try pushes are "done" (all jobs completed, you've checked the result, and you don't care about it anymore), you can quickly and easily drop it off the bottom by clicking on the "Set as bottom of range" menu item on the oldest push that you do want to keep. (Again, see screenshot below).

(click to embiggen)

This effectively turns this tab into a rotating buffer of the try pushes you care about, with the oldest ones moving down and eventually getting removed via use of "Set as bottom of range" and the newer ones automatically appearing on top.

Note: clicking on the "Set as bottom of range" link will also reload the TreeHerder page, which means errors that might otherwise accumulate (due to e.g. sleeping your laptop for a time, or a new TreeHerder version getting deployed) get cleared away, so it's even self-healing!

Bonus tip: Before you clear away old try pushes that you don't care about, quickly go through them to make sure they are all marked "Complete". If they still have jobs running that you don't care about, do everybody a favor and hit the push cancellation button (the "X" icon next to "View Tests") before resetting the bottom of range, as that will ensure we don't waste machine time running jobs nobody cares about.

Extra bonus tip: Since using this technique this makes all those "Thank you for your try submission" Taskcluster emails redundant, set up an email filter to reroute those emails to the /dev/null of your choice. Less email results in a happier you!

Final bonus tip: If you need to copy a link to a specific try push (for pasting in a bug, for example), right-click on the timestamp for that try push (to the left of your email address), and copy the URL for that link. That link is for that specific push, and can be shared to get the desired results.

And there you have it, folks, a nice simple way to manage all your try pushes on a single page and not get overwhelmed.


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