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What I am Reading Lately

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I will try to post every month or so what I have been reading lately – books, essays, blog posts, code. Recently inspired by Om Malik’s similar column.

Yet if we look back over the last 400 years to ponder what ideas have caused the greatest changes in human society and have ushered in our modern era of democracy, science, technology and health care, it should be a bit of a shock to realize that none of these is in story form!

Powerful Ideas Need Love Too! by Alan Kay

A good programmer in these times doesn’t just write programs. A good programmer builds a working vocabulary. In other words, a good programmer does language design.

Growing a Language by Guy Steele (video on YouTube, transcript)

It turns out that the key to Apple’s creativity, speed, and adaptability is, on its surface, the exact opposite of the kind of free-wheeling creativity one might expect. It’s a checklist. A really long one.

Any company can copy the keystone of Apple’s design process (Quartz)

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Thinking, Fast and Slow

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The book cover Never has a book become more deeply ingrained in my daily life for such a short time. Every day, since the moment I started reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, I have either referenced it in a conversation or have noticed a situation, explained in the book.

Thinking, Fast and Slow contains all the psychological wisdom the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has gathered through the years. He’s almost 80 years old, this makes for a lot of wisdom.

The goal of the book is to give us names to the most common errors of judgement we make. In addition to the names there are a ton of amusing stories and insights into how our mind works. While most of the content isn’t unique, the value of the book is in its completeness. It covers all aspects of the way humans make decisions, both right and wrong.

If you answer with “yes” to at least two and a half of the questions below, move Thinking, Fast and Slow to the top of your reading list:

  • Have you wondered why very smart people have a hard time navigating in the outside world?
  • Have you ever submitted a sub-par essay, because the professor knew you were smart?
  • Have you ever negotiated over something?
  • Have you ever given money to a charity?
  • Have you ever evaluated (in your mind) whether a person is attractive or not?
  • Have you wondered why we trust some politicians even if we don’t know their work well enough?
  • Have you wondered why people love conspiracy theories?
  • Have you ever had to make an important work decision?
  • Have you ever had to make an important life decision?
  • Have you ever had to make a decision about anything?

Thinking, Fast and Slow is the most complete and in-depth popular work on how and why we make decisions, that I’ve read. It was worth every minute I spent with it.

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Book: Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

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Mortality sounds like a road trip motto. Coincidentally, I accidentally bought the book right before we set off on a road trip.

The moment I saw the small, hardcover book with the great serif on the cover I couldn’t resist. Yes, I choose my wine by the label, too.

Under the beautiful cover, Hitchens is dying of cancer. It doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? He’s not the first to try it, neither was the first who succeeded.

Mortality cover

The pleasant surprise was that the book isn’t about rethinking his life, feeling sorry he didn’t return that phone call in 1977, or trying to convince me I had to stuff my short mortal life with daisies, love, time for my family, and blueberry pancakes.

Instead, Hitchens tells us 6½ stories from “Tumortown”. Stories about different aspects of his experiences with having cancer. And with the cancer having him. And with the surrounding world having them both.

If you have read any of his previous writings, you already  know that he’s an ironically witty, straight-forward atheist. If you haven’t read any of his previous writings, you still don’t know that he’s an ironically witty, straight-forward atheist.

Staying witty, while dying at the same time sounds incredibly hard. I don’t know if Hitchens showed his true emotions in the book or he started believing in god and kept atheism just as a marketing tactic, but I don’t really care. All I know is that I want to be witty when I’m dying.

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A Distributed Company Meetup

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Nikolay Bachiyski:

Toni, Automattic’s CEO explains how to make an awesome distributed company meetup.

Originally posted on Toni.org:

I just got back from an exhilarating, week long Automattic company meetup in San Diego. We’ve now done 9 full company meetups over the last 6 years (plus dozens of smaller team ones), and I wanted to write down some tips on how to run a company meetup while it’s fresh in my mind:

1. Focus on connecting people: We call our get-togethers meetups – instead of off-sites or retreats – because our primary goal is to get everyone on the team to meet and to get to know each other better (not to get away or retreat from our office). We’re distributed (mostly working from home), so in-person meetups are especially important for us, but I think it would be beneficial to any company to get everyone together once or twice a year to spend time with each other to deepen personal connections and get to know the “people…

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You Have The Time

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“I don’t have enough time” is the most frequent excuse for not doing something. But that’s bullshit. You have the time. You just decided to spend it on something else.

Sometime last year I stopped saying “I don’t have the time”. And I’ve been happier.

Every time I want to say “I don’t have time”, I use the following template: “I can’t do this, because instead I will do X and it’s more important”. It made me think a lot more clearly and honestly about my priorities – “I wish I could help you out, but instead I will check continuously Twitter and Facebook”. There have been a ton of red flags like this.

Next time you say “I don’t have time” just think what are you doing instead and is it really more important.