Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Books on Xen

February 24, 2008

I’ve found the following two books on Xen to be required reading if you’re a beginner to the world of Xen and Fedora administration. Virtualization with Xen is an excellent book to get started with Xen and how to design your first Xen system. It is packed with information that would take you a long time to gather unless you’re a Linux admin guru.Xen Virtualization is another good book to get you going. Again very strong on basic Linux administration needed to deal effectively with Xen. For a beginner to Xen, I refer to both of these book constantly as I’m extending my knowledge on Xen and find them both to be indispensable resources.

Longitude

July 10, 2007

Navigators and cartographers have used latitude and longitude to pinpoint a location on earth. Whilst it is possible (but still fairly complicated) to use the sun & the North Star to measure your current latitude (north and south location relative to the equator), having a practical method for measuring the longitude (east and west location relative to a reference point – aka the prime meridian – e.g., the Greenwich prime meridian) proved to elude navigators for centuries.

This all changed when the British parliament in 1714 passed the famed Longitude Act, setting out a bounty worth several million dollars in today’s currency (£20,000) for a Practical and Useful means for determining longitude.

LongitudeThe true Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel is a short, clearly written and captivating story of John Harrison the English inventor that designed a series of 3 clocks and 2 watches (H1 to H5) and ultimately was the recipient of the Longitude Act award.

Harrison’s first clock, H1, was build out of wood and is still running! The main problem with the clocks of the time was that both temperature change and motion caused them to become very inaccurate. For instance, it was common that a degree increase in temperature would cause the clocks to run 10 seconds faster and similarly colder temperatures would cause the clocks to run slower as the viscosity of the lubricant would change with the temperature. A typical accurate clock of the day would gain or lose as many as 15 minutes a day rendering them useless for measuring the longitude, where each hour corresponds to 15° degrees turn by earth.

Harrison, who was not a watch maker, decided to design 5 remarkable time keepers that were based on a frictionless design and a number of other innovations to compensate for temperature and motion change. Some of them still in use today, e.g., the common thermostat is based on Harrison’s design.

At the time, the scientific community didn’t believe that it was possible to manufacture accurate clocks. Instead they all were searching for a celestial solution to the determine the longitude. Using binoculars & complicated tables, it would take a sea captain four hours on a clear day to compute the longitude based on the celestial clock (this method didn’t work at night or on a cloudy day).

The idea of using time to compute the longitude was considered to be an unrealistic fantasy. How could such accurate clocks and watches be made to withstand the rough seas.

Harrison finally managed to claim his prize in 1773 – 40 years after he started his work on H1. And this would not have been possible without the support of King George III. The commissioners in charge of the longitude prize, would change the rules whenever they saw fit to favor astronomers over the likes of Harrison and his fellow mechanics. But the utility and the accuracy of Harrison’s approach triumphed in the end.

The book is also filled with very interesting facts. For example, Captain James Cook on a second voyage to test the clocks took along a replica of H4 and lots of Sauerkraut. This German staple of salted and fermented cabbage is filled with vitamin C and since it is practically pickled, it keeps for a long time. Captain Cook managed to end scurvy. Sauerkraut went on to save sailor’s lives until lemon juice and finally lime replaced it for the Royal Navy.

Longitude graphI’m in the process of creating a graph of all of the notable figures in this book. This is still a work in progress.

Books on Google Maps

June 15, 2007

I recently ordered Google Hacks and Hacking Google Maps from Amazon. Both books are excellent and required reading if you want to come up to speed with the Google maps API in short order. Google Hacks covers many applications that are based on the API. You get to appreciate the scope of the applications that are built on the maps API. I found Hacking Google Maps to be excellent source of really useful how-to examples with working JavaScript code. Cant get any better than this.

Interventions: Chomsky’s Latest Book

June 13, 2007

Noam Chomsky’s latest book is out and is reviewed in AlterNet article Chomsky as the Rest of the World Knows Him. I just ordered it from Amazon and plan to read it during the summer vacation on Lake Bass. The book is the accumulation of Chomsky’s op-eds during the past few years. The format of the book – a series of op-eds – will be very appealing. Basically you can read it in any order and each op-ed is bound to be short.

A good thinker is a good craftsman

April 21, 2007

Smart Thinking - Edward de Bono“Great thinkers aren’t born; they’re made. Good thinking is not a matter of intelligence, not a gift; it is a skill that can be practiced and developed like any other.” I like the premise of the Smart Thinking book by Edward de Bono. This is a very good audible book that summarizes lateral thinking and is fun to listen to whilst driving. I purchased the audible book on iTunes. I also downloaded Master Thinker. In Master Thinker, de Bono takes you through a number of exercises, e.g. he asks suppose that they’ve made you the director of a tennis tournament where there are 131 contestants. He then asks, how many matches will need to be scheduled? Think about it for a while. Most people will start to divide by two and the problem kind of gets complicated. He offers a simple solution based on a change of perspective: think of losers. There are 131 contestants and ultimately there needs to be one winner. So there must be 130 losers. It takes one match to create a loser, so there must be 130 matches. This makes a perfect interview question.

Serious Creativity – Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas

April 17, 2007


This is a very interesting book (by Edward De Bono) and is based on the premise that creativity is a learned skill. The book covers the basis of lateral thinking (aka creative thinking) and has a number of excellent tools such as the “six thinking hats” as a way to view a problem from different perspectives. This technique can be very effective in meetings where the all the participants are asked to put on a different colored hat and present that specific perspective. Here are the six color hats and their meaning:

The white hat has to do with data and information. Everyone at the meeting is asked to see what information is available, what is needed and how it can be obtained. You’re supposed to put aside the proposal and arguments and focus on information.

The red hat has to do with feelings, emotions and hunches. The red hat gives people the option to put forward their feelings without apology, explanation or without having to justify them. Because the read hat signals emotions, they can be discussed without pretending to be anything else.

The black hat is the caution hat (think of a stern judge in his black robe). The black hat is for critical judgment. The black hat points out why something cannot be done, or why it cannot be profitable, and so on. The black hat is very valuable but is is very easy to over use it and thus kill creative ideas with early negativity.

The yellow hat is the positive spin on the proposal. Think of sunshine. The yellow hat is for deliberate optimism and logical positive view of things. The yellow hat looks for benefits, e.g., …the high cost of energy would make everyone more energy efficient. Every creative idea needs some yellow hat attention.

The green hat (think of vegation and rich growth) is for creative thinking, new ideas, alternatives and possibilities. The green hat makes it possible to ask directly for a creative effort, e.g., … could we do this in a different way?

The blue hat (think of sky) is for process-control, asks for next steps, action items, and so on. The blue hat is usually put forward by the organizer of the meeting. It can also be used to ensure that the other hats are used effectively.

The six hat approach looks very promising and I think it will make it a lot easier to discuss a proposal without getting into personal preferences, pet peeves and negative arguments.

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Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative – Thinking Techniques

April 9, 2007

This book is by Michael Michalko. This is a fun book to read. It is packed with useful techniques such as keeping an Idea log or a Bugs list to setting yourself a daily idea quota (5 ideas a day). Edison set himself the goal of a minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every six months….I’m still reading this and will have to update this entry when I’m done…

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America

April 1, 2007

This is a very scary book. I hope Chris Hedges’ predications will be proven wrong. I heard about this book on a BBC podcast, there are a number of podcasts on this book and all of them are worth listening to. This group believes in literal interpretation of the Bible. They believe that dinosaurs and humans were on this earth at the same time and that the dinosaurs were all vegetarians until Adam and Eve were kicked off the the Garden of Eden. T-Rex had the big teeth to crack open coconuts, … Read this interesting article by Chris Hedges.

Funny in Farsi

March 1, 2007

Funny in Farsi, is a great little book by Firoozeh DuMas. This is one funny book especially if you’re from Iran or know someone who is. This book reminded me of some of my own experiences when I was at the University of Manchester. In Farsi, you can turn a statement into a question by just adding an emphasis to the end, e.g., instead of saying “In this thing broken?” you can just say “It’s broken?”. One rainy day, I remember a student struggling with a coffee vending machine at the department of Computer Science, finally after inserting the coins, the machine refused to give out any coffee (also attempts to get the money back proved to be futile). Having just noticed a fellow student’s struggle, I decided to sympathize with his loss and asked a useless and obvious question: is the machine broken? However, I asked this question in Farsi style: “The machine is broken?”. That didn’t go down too well. The student angrily said thanks for telling me now! I knew there was no point explaining to him right there that I was asking him a question. I wish I could remember who that person was so I could send him a copy of this book.

After Fidel

February 17, 2007

After Fidel paints an excellent psychological profile of the Castro brothers: Fidel and Raul. The author Brian Latell is an ex. CIA analyst for Cuba. Given the author’s credentials I assumed that the book will be filled with Cuban Miami style venom towards the Castro regime, but this book is anything but. The author provides a factual and I suppose fair assessment of the Cuba since early 1940′s. I ought to also read a biography that highlights the achievements of the Castros a bit more. One of these days, I will. I highly recommend this audible book. I enjoyed this audible book so much that I also ordered the real book: After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader


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