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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

NAB Executive Technology Briefings : Streaming and Digital Media by Dan Rayburn is different from all other technology-centric books that I have. As the name Executive Technology Briefings may suggest, it combines both business and technology into a single big picture, that illustrates well how one may affect the other.

Dan Rayburn in this book says, “technology is useless if it does not drive the business forward.” To him, having the latest and most sophisticated technology does not matter, the only concern is whether the choice of technology meets the business needs. He’s right.

At a more personal level, this highlights the absurdity of my approach to technology all this while. I’ve been trying to catchup to latest web technologies that until now I still dont have my own website. Sad, so I think I’ll go with Rayburn’s advice. Know what I want, and choose whatever technology that can implement it.

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This book is excellent for those who want to learn about business considerations when choosing or implementing technologies, in particular, streaming and digital content distribution business. Rayburn explains what technical parameters are relevant, working and historically-shown non-working business models and priorities when making business decision. Each chapter also ends with two case studies, that illustrate the key points mentioned.

I would suggest this book, if you dont mind the fact that it was published in 2007. For some entirely technical books, being dated is not a problem because technical foundations and concepts may not have changed very much. But when business case studies and market reseach reports are included, you would probably want the latest ones. (However the book does give links to websites where you may get latest information).

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In previous post, I had moved.
In this post, I am moved.

I have just finished reading a splendid book titled “The Race for a New Game Machine: Creating the Chips Inside the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3” written by ex-IBMer David Shippy.

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This book is about the development of Cell processor by STI (Sony, Toshiba, IBM) alliance. Cell processor is the answer to the grand vision of Ken Kutaragi, then the Chairman and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI) who wanted the PlayStation 3 to be a personal computer that also played games, with a chip that could take on roles in many broadband applications, from on-demand television to online gaming to real-time video chats.

First and foremost, I consider this book to be a management book, than a technological one. I am usually uninterested in management books, but this one is about how a team of super experts and geniuses working together to achieve the impossible within severe time constraints. They had to give their all. As David Shippy put it,

we work hard enough to win, play hard enough to stay sane.

Microsoft came much later into the story, 2-year after the development of Cell started in 2001. They too wanted to use Cell processor for XBox 360, but with extra enhancement particularly of the vector unit. Microsoft team was interesting as well, with their super confident and risk-taking attitude. All teams added up to make a very interesting story ūüôā

There were just too many challenges faced by Shippy’s team where he acted as chief architect and technical leader. They wanted the processor to reach 6GHz, with low power, small area, and still meet the deadline. Many times, some of them lost confidence but positive and forward-minded leaders Jim Kahle, Chekib Akrout managed to keep the team together. Project Manager Keryn Mills with her iron-fist made sure the project was always on schedule.

There was also a young hotshot engineer who was hungry for recognition from solving big problems. Haha.. I think I have the similar hunger. Well, I actually saw in myself the qualities of many of the engineers mentioned in the book – love big challenges, overconfident, proud, arrogant – haha that’s all me. Minus the brain, knowledge and experience.

As mentioned, the book was about project management rather than technology. Shippy even outlined the key leadership principles in the Introduction.

  • Inspire a bold vision
  • Build a team for success
  • Know your competition and do your homework
  • Inspire innovation
  • Work hard, play hard, celebrate success
  • Enable risk taking
  • Stay positive, even in the swirl of controversy
  • Be proactive, anticipate problems, hold everyone accountable
  • Stay laser focused on the end result

Heh, know what, this was the book that prompted me to buy PlayStation 3 right away, after browsing the book in Kinokuniya. ūüôā Such was my appreciation of the effort behind the development of the machine.

Read this book!

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It may seem a little too late to be reading this book, now that all the hypes about Google had cooled down somewhat. But while mainly focusing on Google, this book is about Search. About us, hundreds of millions Internet users entering keywords in our preferred search engines, creating a massive Database of Intentions from which knowledge about human desires, directions and culture can be drawn.

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Among the key (ex-) players in Search industry mentioned in the books are Google, Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, Altavista, AskJeeves, A9 etc. AOL, Ebay and Amazon are also mentioned. Several references are made to Microsoft although they are mainly in the desktop and office industries, whereas IBM makes appearance with the WebFountain project.

The book was cleverly written. I never expected a book on Searching technology could be very interesting. I couldn’t put it down, all the time; during flight, while queueing at the passport control, while waiting for baggage and even while driving back home. It is a story about multi-billion media and IT industry with Google accelerating full speed ahead overtaking many older giant companies.

How Google did it? Superior approach to ranking webpages to give highly relevant results to search queries. The algorithm, PageRank was developed by Larry Page, a Stanford University PhD student with help of Sergey Brin, a brilliant student of mathematics, also from Stanford.

I highly recommend this book. John Battelle, the author also gives a vision of how Search will continue influence our way of doing things. Overall, the book was an entertaining, enlightening and informative read. What more could I ask?

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The Darkmoon by Julia Gray is the first book of five of The Guardian Cycle. It’s a fantasy. After a year of reading manuals, standards, legal documents and textbooks, I was hoping for an escape from reality by reading a fantasy. I was hoping for the effect that I had when I was reading Magician, The Belgariad and The Mallorean series. But nah, it did not come.

The story is decent. But there was hardly any part of the story that could maintain my anxiety, anticipation and excitement for long. The feelings were short-lived, inter-sparsed with more mundane parts such as Terrel’s dreams or the astrological descriptions of the Four Moons.

It’s probably unfair to compare¬†the reading experience now ¬†to the ones I had with¬†Raymond E. Feist’s Magician and David Eddings’s The Mallorean and The Belgariad which I read years ago. This time, I have stronger resistance to suspension of disbelief, which is sad. I wonder if I could enjoy fantasy anymore.

Should I read the part two? Maybe. I will sneak-read a chapter or two in the bookstore before deciding to buy or not.

Any fantasy fanatics can suggest a good series?

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When I first started out at my job, I moaned “I was born to excel, not to do Excel”. I didn’t know why I had to do silly things like adding and removing specific data from a worksheet, merging tables, rerepresenting data in a new format and so on.

At the point when it became unbearable, I bought the following book.

The author John Walkenbach is nicknamed Mr. Spreadsheet. I think that is very cool. ūüôā I should try to earn some cool nicknames too i.e. Mr. Wimax, Mr. ISO27001, Mr. XML. Yea, dream on.

Since then, working with Excel has been a smooth ride. I love using the VLOOKUP function tremendously to relate data. And I managed to write a macro using Visual Basic to convert degree to decimal with error checking. Now in the office at every opportunity, I experiment with Excel and the massive amount of test data. Boss must be suprised to see me overzealously working with those dull spreadsheets.

Excel programming is a very useful skill to have. I wonder how I overlooked this when programming has always been my high-priority interest. I guess I tried to be cooler by learning non-Microsoft technologies only. LOL.

By the way, the book is a really excellent way to get started with learning Excel, and VBA. It has loads of examples and technical details are very well explained. It’s sad that my Excel version is 2003, not 2007 hence I have not been able to try out Ribbon stuff. Gotta upgrade!

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Nothing is better than a book that teaches, excites and encourages critical thinking all at the same time. And this book that I borrowed from UTM library, Essential Foundations of Economics is exactly that. I shunned the study of economics during my A-Level and University for a total of six years. But now this book presents clearly and concisely the important roles of economic theory. I am now overwhelmed with embarrassment for having belittled it.

The whole concept of economic arises because of human wants and desires, and there is not enough supply to satisfy them. Or what we call scarcity. And this little dot is the origin of other matters such as globalization, disappearing tropical rainforests, water shortages, unemployment, global warming etc, which collectively create the scenario of the world we are living in today.

At microlevel, the study of economics explains the choices that individuals and businesses make and the way these choices interact and influenced by the government. It is amazing that I could easily use economic ideas to explain my own behaviour and decisions. For years I have been perplexed by my own attitude of never finishing my work and always jumping from one hobby to another. I even thought of myself as a quitter. For example, I am now playing less and less Go online at each passing day after putting so much effort in the game since five years ago.

From economic point of view, this is a rational thinking from my part, as the marginal benefit of playing a Go game online is diminishing. When I first started playing, each game taught me tremendously and I gained a massive understanding of the game logic and principles. However now, I don’t learn much from playing online anymore.

On the other hand, the marginal opportunity cost of playing Go is rising steadily. As I progress with my career and studies, I stand to lose much from continuing to play. And I have not even putting “a girlfriend” into the whole equation.

From this cost-benefit judgment, I rationally play less game of Go. ūüė¶

All these are examples of the core ideas relating to the economic approach or economic way of thinking about the choices that must be made to cope with scarcity. The book outlines five of such core ideas :

  1. Rational Choices
  2. Cost
  3. Benefit
  4. Margin
  5. Incentives

My study of the first chapter of the book also covers cause and effect. Basically, to investigate the effect of a factor of interest, all other things are assumed to be constant. This is not so different from engineering technique where certain variables are approximated or constantised to simplify calculation. However unlike engineers, economists think there is a need to grandly name such technique. It is called cet par or ceteris paribus which can be understood as “if all other relevant things remain the same”.

I still stand by my long-held perception that economics is just common sense. However, economics formalizes common sense so that it can be easily applied as an effective analysis tool. And I am lucky to have found a book that teaches this very interestingly.

Ah, there is also mention of Malaysia in the early part of the first chapter titled Gloabilzation and International Outsourcing.

When Nike produces more sport shoes, people in China, Indonesia, or Malaysia get more work.

and,

And doesn’t even the worker in Malaysia who sews your new running shoes for a few cents and hour also lose?

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From American Go Association newsletter,

COMPUTER BEATS PRO AT U.S. GO CONGRESS: In a historic achievement, the MoGo computer program defeated Myungwan Kim 8P (l) Thursday afternoon by 1.5 points in a 9-stone game billed as ‚ÄúHumanity‚Äôs Last Stand?‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúIt played really well,‚ÄĚ said Kim, who estimated MoGo‚Äôs current strength at ‚Äútwo or maybe three dan,‚ÄĚ though he noted that the program ‚Äď which used 800 processors, at 4.7 Ghz, 15 Teraflops on a borrowed European supercomputer ‚Äď ‚Äúmade some 5-dan moves,‚ÄĚ …

Complete writing is here.

The game of chess has long been conquered and mastered by machines, and now they are eyeing on even greater problem domain, the game of Go ! But dont worry, the computers will not conquer the earth and enslave us in the near future just yet. That’s because of the nature of AI discipline, which focuses more on narrowly defined problem space, with limited rules.¬†At least I never heard of any¬†successful general-purpose AI machine, or even existence of any such project.

By the way, it was a 9-stone handicap game, meaning that the computer was allowed to move 9 times before the human made his first. The positions of these handicap stones are usually predetermined to spread evenly over the board. So yea, humans are still that much better than machines in Go.

Kim estimated that MoGo’s strength is about 2 or 3 dan (amateur) which I further estimate to be about¬†the level of¬†average amateur go players who play and study the game consistently for 1-3 years. And this same performance is achieved by hardware of 15 Teraflops, or 15,000,000,000,000 floating point operation per second. I am very curious as to what techniques of AI are involved in a computer go program. In fact I’ve already downloaded open source gnugo project, although¬†being slightly¬†demotivated by its size. Haizzz.. so huge,¬†where to find time to study¬†ūüė¶ .

By the way, from Artificial Intelligence : A Guide to Intelligent System by Michael Negnevitsky, I read that

  1. Human brain memory capacity is 10^18 bits.
  2. Human brain processing power is 10^15 bits per second.

Well,¬†maybe¬†that explain subconscious memory, dreams, and so on ? After all, we only remember 0.1% of what we know on every second, with others somewhere in the background. (“Remember”, for me, means “being processed”).

Anyway, that above book on Artificial Intelligence is superb, really excellent with good review from many other readers. I have only read the first chapter, and did not fall asleep despite having no reason whatsoever to learn AI. OK, maybe I am not qualified to¬†review that book since I’ve only read¬†one chapter out of nine. But a technical book that keeps you wanting to read even after 24 pages, isn’t it¬†good ?

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