Monthly Archives: March 2016

Book: Dreamland by David K. Randall

imageHave you seen a dream about a monkey and an elephant?

No.

You should, it’s great!

Ok, compensating for the long reading of the previous book, I started reading fast. At the moment, I’ve almost got three more, but will be writing in English only on one of them (one is Russian and one is fiction – who wants to know what I think about 1984? No one wants!). The book is David Randall’s Dreamland.

First of all, I started this reading not because I cannot sleep but because I thought, maybe the quality of my sleep was rubbish. See yourself: 4-5 hours a day wasn’t enough for me. And even when I started sleeping 6 to 7 hours it was better, but still not perfect. Well, I can’t sleep 8 to 10 hours, can I?! That’s waste of my time! Ok, as far as I understand it now, I can, actually. For now. And I better do it, while I can.

The most amazing thing I learned from the book, is that nobody knows anything about the subject. There are various experiments on this piece of the picture and that, but nothing can tell you what is sleep and why you need it exactly (yeah, like rest, learn, and something else, probably…). But we’d better were sleeping better and more than we do.

The book, then, just tells us some separate facts about sleep, dreams and some stuff around it. So there is not much thought except that it is important, and I won’t do any reasonable report on the book, just several facts from the book:

1) We are constructed to sleep in two parts. Go to bed early, then wake up in the night, do something (there are some pretty spicy suggestions in the book), then sleep till morning. And, sure, don’t forget about siesta! The day dreams are in our specifications. That’s what we are supposed to do biologically, even though we don’t need that in the modern world. Just no one cared to tell your organism about it.

2) We learn and create new stuff in our sleep. That’s the fact. Everyone heard about quite sane scientists, who made their discovery while dreaming. That. Is. Fact. So, after learning something while you’re awake, the best course of action is to practice the stuff (that improves the overall result) and make sure this night your sleep is long (more than 6 hours) and undisturbed.

3) BTW, your mattress doesn’t matter if it’s not worn-out. I mean, you shouldn’t care if it is hard or soft. You should care you like it, and you are accustomed to it. Your habits are more important than a mattress vendor’s marketing.

4) Quantity of sport activity doesn’t matter too. At least not directly. What you think about your achievements – matters. Like, if I ran 1km in 15 minutes and think “I’m so cooooool”, I’ll be sleeping well. If you ran a marathon in 2:30 and believe that your result sucks, you’ll be tossing about all the night and scaring away flocks of sheep with your beta waves. The most important not to screw your own brains. Be calm, be cool. And sleep well.

A book: Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb

image– What’s the probability of meeting a dinosaur in the street?

– Around 50/50: you either see one or you don’t.

One of the most long-lasting books in my library: I’ve spent almost three months reading it. Not that it’s not interesting, or it’s very large, or something like that. It’s just that I needed to stop and think over what I’ve just read. Well, there was one thing which made it hard for me to read the book (I’ll tell about it later), but other than that it’s just abnormal. And, while there is little in the book I haven’t thought about myself there was much food for thought.

I’m not going to recapture the book for you, the main idea is that judging many events in our life with standard statistics, based on the normal distribution is futile if not plain stupid (well, NNT believes it’s stupid). Aaaand, that, actually, gets quite a range of subsequences. From unpredictability of what’s action will bring you success to “(almost) all Nobel prize winners from Economy are idiots”. You’d better read the book, because it seems to be quite close to the truth.

Meanwhile, here’s what I found out to be interesting aside of what I’ve mentioned already:

1) Taleb says we cannot forecast our future. Actually, we cannot even tell what and why happened long ago. It’s even more difficult. More distinctly it’s described with some kind of test: it is nearly possible to predict what kind of pool will create an ice cube. But it is totally impossible to judge the form of the cube, basing on the pool.

2) There was a mention of quite popular story about Umberto Eco’s ant library. Well, as attractive idea as it is, beware or else you’ll be buying books, but not reading them at all.

3) Why cannot we “predict” our own history? Well, even leaving aside what was described in Orwell’s “1984”, our brain is quite lazy and we are susceptible to the following fallacies when dealing with history:

a. Illusion of understanding. Everyone thinks he knows what goes on. Nah, we don’t.

b. Retrospective distortions. We see the past more organized than it was. It’s way too easy to find absolutely solid-state explanation of what just happened. Solid-state and incorrect. (I like a joke about it: during one of major financial crisis one economist calls his friend: “Hi Steve, do you understand what’s happening?”. “Sure, listen I can explain it to you…” starts Steve, but is interrupted: “No I can explain it myself. Do you understand what’s happening?!”).

c. Simplification of the reality (Taleb calls it “platonification”). We cannot take in, save comprehend, the whole complexity of the world. Our brain immediately starts creating models. As in “leave out nonessential details”. And often we don’t really know what’s nonessential in this particular situation.

4) Induction is, generally not the only and the safest way of forecasting the future. The central example of Taleb’s is a turkey which receives its food 100 days in a row, gaining wait. But on 1001 day there comes a butcher:

(illustration from the book)

Besides the fact that we cannot successfully predict the particular events, there is one more law I already mentioned in my blog (Russian): negative results don’t give us any answer in sense “the thing we don’t know don’t exist”. Just one observation of isolated fact or event will ruin the whole 2000 years’ experience.

5) Markowitz tricked everyone and wasn’t too right. Hey, I wrote a paper in my university on Markowitz! Hands off Markowitz! =)

6) Sometimes NNT uses metaphors in otherwise mathematically sound proofs. That’s rubbish and makes some places a bit less convincing. We see it Nassim, stop doing that 😉

7) For me the book has finally explained, why all the predictions are rubbish (from Gartner to everyone else). I felt it deep in my guts but wasn’t able to explain why.

8) Still I’d say a couple words in support of all those “predicting guys”. Average human like me should have some model to act. It’s better to do something according to the model which may not work (or may work for that matter) than looking for the absolutely correct model all your life without doing anything. And having at least some model is much easier psychologically. Just remember: there is day 1001. After all someone should have done all that stupid stuff on which Nassim Taleb made his observations.

9) One important consequence of the previous item: «Forecasting by bureaucrats tends to be used for anxiety relief rather than for adequate policy making». And it is sometimes really important and useful to know how to use it. Just be careful to use it fully understanding what and why you are doing.

10) We cannot predict future technological advances. Even theoretically. It’s all somewhat random.

11) We’re all lucky people. Why? I just cite the book here: “Imagine a speck of dust next to a planet a billion times the size of the earth. The speck of dust represents the odds in favor of your being born; the huge planet would be the odds against it. So stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t be like the ingrate who got a castle as a present and worried about the mildew in the bathroom. Stop looking the gift horse in the mouth—remember that you are a Black Swan.”

Have fun reading it even though it’s somewhat tough because it seems like mr. Taleb is very offended by the leading economists and their getting Nobel Prize. A bit too much venom for my taste, Mr. Taleb 😉

Crouching manager, hidden engineer

clip_image002Late last year I won Kaspersky Lab’s own “Oscar” for best cinematography. And quite recently I walked away with a “Golden Globe” of sorts (the best bla-bla-bla expert on the company’s intranet portal). I believe this could mean that I have almost succeeded as a manager. Ergo, it is high time I wrote about the trials and tribulations of being one. After four years since I last worked as an engineer, I am in a position to say the following: being a manager is more challenging. And more interesting. But more challenging. Aaaaaand more interesting 😉

Judge for yourself:

1) Clarity of objectives:

a. Back in my engineer days, I could tell the managing director of an entire region that business did not need that new-fangled thing he came up with. That’s how I earned my moniker “Business Does Not Need This”.

b. Now I no longer have any idea what business needs: the old clarity of business vision is gone. Business now seems like something complicated and arcane, and I’ll be damned if I knew what it really needed.

2) What we manage:

a. Equipment (even computer hardware) is a simple and understandable thing most of the time. If something gets broken, it’s the fault some ham-handed Indian halfway across the globe, and the support team will get it fixed. If not, support will tell you it’s your own fault and ask you “not to do it again.”

b. On the other hand, from our enlightened point of view, regular people are not only hard to understand but sometimes are also real nutjobs. How can a mature and mentally competent person having a legal license for software that needs to be installed on one of the directors’ workstations go and download this software from a torrent tracker? Or, for that matter, after one of the cluster nodes crashes because he did something, he goes to “try it out” on the other three.

3) And the relationships? That’s something altogether unthinkable!

a. When I was an engineer, I could simply tell a person that he was an imbecile.
This was an obvious thing to a point where it did not require any supporting arguments and even helped you get your work done: the guy just left and let you get on with your work.

b. When you’re a manager, it may suddenly turn out (texts are in Russian) that the imbecile is not necessarily the person on the remote end of the conversation. What’s more, even if that person is the actual fool, saying this to his face does not necessarily mean that this would help your work move along. Rather the opposite: your work will hit a dead end because now your job is not interacting with a server (which is much easier when you are left alone to whatever you’re doing) but with that particular hypothetical “imbecile”. So when you call him like that to his face, he will lose all interest in you and stop listening, and will instead be mulling on the insult and thinking of a way to get back at you.

4) Selection of toys. This is very similar to the first item on this list, and all sorts of product managers will be able to relate to this.

a. Engineer: “OMG! Check out the features! This coffee maker can also wash your dirty socks!” This is where absolutely anybody who wants to buy a different coffee maker for a third of the price but without the sock washing feature is looked upon like a total idiot.

b. The manager (who was an engineer quite recently and would also like a coffee machine with sock washing functionality) observes all of this with sadness and remembers the requirements of the customer, who clearly said he needed a cheap coffee machine that will not make coffee with an aftertaste of dirty socks, because the customer is allergic to socks.

5) Communication. In our industry, managers traditionally grow out of the best engineers. While this may not be totally right, it is what it is. And what is a good engineer most likely? Right: an introvert (no matter how anti-scientific this may sound).

a. I was the kind of engineer who kept addressing my superior formally for half a year even though everybody else was on a first name basis in the company. I never went to team-building events because “WhatTheHeckAmISupposedToDoThere”. I got to communicate with others a couple times in a year: while speaking at MCP Club or other events. Excellante!

b. Now I’m a manager. As one of my subordinates aptly said: “You’re a manager. For you, shutting up is like cleaning up your desk.” Communication takes up to 80% (and sometimes 100%) of my time now: phone, email, meetings, simply walking down the corridor. As a manager, you learn to communicate so that even your simple “yes” would not sound like “get lost”. You learn to communicate even when there is no topic for communication. You have to master this darned smalltalk. And you keep on communicating in such manner as to be heard. Incidentally, this is important because:

6) It does not matter what you say; what matters is what they hear.

a. An engineer says what’s on his mind and thinks that’s enough. “But I told you that the firmware had to be upgraded. What do you mean it doesn’t read “downtime” for you?”

b. In reality, people lose some of the information even before we start talking to them. In lieu of an explanation, here’s this old meme:

clip_image004

Those who consider this a joke never had to take 40 minutes to write a four-line email.

7) Last but not least: both a good engineer and a good manager read a text all the way through before forming an opinion on it. This article is not about an engineer or manager, but about a good high-earning employee as opposed to a bad low-earning employee who is bad for the team. It’s no simple task being a good professional in whatever you do. Take care 😉