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megagiant Sunday links: football, vacations, programming languages as weapons [Sep. 28th, 2014|09:28 pm]
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[Current Mood |exhaustedexhausted]

I am running out of words for "big" here...I remember a time when I'd post these every week or so. To be fair, this one goes back to before we were in Hawaii, about which I will post pictures when I have the energy.

- I'm quitting football - sadly, I am too. Which hurts, because not only does football have the perfect number of games per season, but it's exciting and a real cultural bonding point. (and I don't want this to come off as a "holier than thou" stance...) But the thing that really got me was the head injuries and the fact that players are often on painkillers during games so they can perform. And I don't see how the game can possibly change to fix these issues without becoming something else entirely. (see also Brain Trauma to Affect One in Three Players, N.F.L. Agrees, which is pretty horrifying)

- Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain - or, taking breaks/vacation is really good for your brain. I will admit to lightly browsing through my work email while on vacation, but I didn't think about it much, and it was nice :-)

- If programming languages were weapons - this was spot-on, at least for the languages I've used. (although, really, C# is pretty excellent!)

- How to Get Ahead as a Woman in Tech: Interrupt Men - this is both depressing and uplifting. Just interrupt more, women, I guess! (thanks Christi!)

- The Law-School Scam - to be clear, this is talking about for-profit law schools, and it sounds like they're borderline scamming the government for federal aid for their students.

- Can the Crowd Solve Medical Mysteries? - obviously this wouldn't scale, but in truly desperate cases this sounds very promising.

- After Surgery, Surprise $117,000 Medical Bill From Doctor He Didn’t Know - ack! One more reason why medicine (especially when you're in the hospital!) is not a free market at all...there's no pricing transparency at all.

- How to Be Polite - this is kind of a weird article, but it seems like there's some good advice in there.

- Introducing Tweet-a-Program - hey, that's pretty cool! I wish I remembered my Mathematica syntax...

- The Secret Rules of Adjective Order - neat, there are rules that explain why "big red barn" sounds good while "red big barn" sounds weird!
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Windows Phone: including ads in your Universal app, and using In-App Purchasing to turn them off [Sep. 27th, 2014|03:03 pm]
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[Current Mood |busybusy]

Free apps are wildly more popular than paid apps, but some people (myself included) get annoyed at ads in apps. To get the best of both worlds, you can include ads in your free app but let people in-app purchase a way to turn them off. Here's how to do this in a Universal app (see how to do this in WP 8.0), and for an example, check out the Universal app Float to Hex!
how to do itCollapse )
--

See all my Windows Phone development posts. I also send out a monthly-or-so email with news for developers - check out the latest email and sign up here!

I'm planning on writing more posts about Windows Phone development - what would you like to hear about? Reply here, on twitter at @gregstoll, or by email at greg@gregstoll.com.
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Antifragile review [Sep. 21st, 2014|12:57 pm]
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[Current Mood |tiredtired]

Antifragile: Things That Gain from DisorderAntifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Maaaan this book was frustrating to read.

His main point is that some things are fragile - small random things happening to them make them break. Some things are robust - they're resilient to small random things happening to them. But the best things are antifragile - small random things happening to them make them stronger. Good examples are things like your immune system, since being exposed to weak viruses makes it stronger.

So far so good. Unfortunately the rest of the book was painful to read, even as there were some good ideas sprinkled within. Here are some reasons why!

- The author is, to put it delicately, an egocentric asshole. He calls things "sissy" and "wussy", because he's apparently a fifth grader. Some choice quotes:
A friend who writes books remarked that painters like painting but authors like "having written." I suggested he stop writing, for his sake and the sake of his readers.
Charming, no? He also goes on about people who just don't understand his ideas (which I'm a little skeptical of...it's possible that they do understand and disagree, which I'm sure the author would consider the same as not "really" understanding) and gives the example of a time when he was doing a radio interview and the journalist didn't understand something, so he walked out of the studio.

- The book is extremely prone to overstating things for dramatic effect (I assume?), which made me not trust it in a lot of cases. The author says "I realized school was a plot designed to deprive people of erudition by squeezing their knowledge into a narrow set of authors." (and then has a long list of authors that he's read) He says depression is a made-up disease! Here, look:
But when you medicate a child for an imagined or invented psychiatric disease, say, ADHD or depression, instead of letting him out of the cage, the long-term harm is largely unaccounted for.
I mean, I don't disagree that ADHD is probably overdiagnosed and we need to be careful about prescribing medication, especially if it isn't proven to work better than counseling. But I think it's pretty unreasonable and insulting to say depression is "imagined or invented". To me, this shows a lack of empathy or a belief that since he doesn't feel depressed, other people are just "sad" or faking it or something. Sigh.

- He has a giant chip on his shoulder. In retrospect this isn't terribly surprising, because in "The Black Swan" he talks about betting for the market to crash and being wrong every day for a long time, until he was right. (it also isn't surprising because he's an egocentric asshole - see above) But he attacks people mercilessly, some of whom seem like they don't deserve it. He keeps calling people "Fragilista" (which I never was entirely clear what that meant) and he talks about about "Soviet-Harvard" people. He is extremely condescending towards "book learning" and claims that most innovations came from tinkering without understanding what was going on, which I find a bit implausible.

- The book is extremely hedgehog like (see The Hedgehog and the Fox) - he tries to apply this principle of antifragility across a wide range of topics, some of which he (proudly!) doesn't know much about.

He also hates the metric system because the imperial measures are "intuitive". For example, a furlong is the distance one can sprint before running out of breath, which is really stretching the definition of intuitive...

Anyway, with most books I try to ignore the parts I don't like and get what I can out of it. In this case the whole reading experience was pretty unpleasant, and 90% of the good parts were in "The Black Swan" anyway, so I'd recommend reading that instead.

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We got married! [Sep. 20th, 2014|09:01 pm]
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[Current Mood |excitedexcited]

We just got back from our vacation in Hawaii (pictures, etc. coming soon), and we got legally married while we were there! See:



FAQ:
What does this mean? - right now it's a little confusing. Twenty some-odd states recognize our marriage, as does the federal government (after the Supreme Court overturned DOMA last year), but twenty some-odd other states, including Texas, don't recognize us as married. Fun times ahead!
Why wasn't I invited? - since we had a ceremony with our family and friends five years ago, this was just a quick civil ceremony. (although Jonathan and Sarah were there, but they were in Hawaii already :-) )
Are you changing your names? - Nope!
Are you changing your email addresses? - Umm, nope!
Where are the real pictures? - coming sometime once we settle back into Austin life. If you like pictures of us with varying proportions of happiness to nervousness, you will not be disappointed!
So...not to be rude, but is this a big deal? - Good question! Sort of yes and sort of no. We already considered ourselves married after our previous ceremony, but "making it legal" does have some meaning to it. And of course this means we get to file taxes together, etc.
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Red Rabbit review [Sep. 16th, 2014|09:56 pm]
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[Current Mood |relaxedrelaxed]

Red Rabbit (Jack Ryan, #2)Red Rabbit by Tom Clancy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thought the book was pretty good, although in retrospect it was kind of repetitive. Some other things I didn't like:

- The book was written in 2002 but set in 1982 (a sort of prequel), and it gets way too clever about "predicting the future": Jack Ryan thinks that Japan is going to go into recession! He invests in Starbucks! He has a good feeling about Cal Ripken, Jr! (and all of these get mentioned multiple times) I understand the temptation to do this, but do it more than once and it just gets irritating and takes me right out of the book.
- I'm guessing that Clancy was a bit right-wing (which, admittedly, isn't a huge surprise), and while I haven't seen his biases show in previous books they certainly do in this one, often for seemingly no reason.

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The Gendered Society review [Sep. 14th, 2014|08:59 pm]
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[Current Mood |relaxedrelaxed]

The Gendered SocietyThe Gendered Society by Michael S. Kimmel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got sent a copy of this book because it uses a version of my same-sex marriage map, so when I got it I flipped through to find it and then set it aside. David read through it and liked it a lot, so I decided to give it a read through, and it's really quite good!

The author's main points are:
- gender differences are quite exaggerated - there's much more variability inside a gender than between them. (think of two bell curves with slightly different means, or something like that)
- It sure seems like gender inequality is the cause of (and not a result of!) the differences between genders.

The book can be a bit depressing because people are terrible, but it's a good look at what gender means, and it opened my eyes into how much society constructs and enforces gender roles. And gender roles make me angry!

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Everything is Bullshit review [Sep. 13th, 2014|08:59 pm]
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[Current Mood |exhaustedexhausted]

Everything Is Bullshit: The greatest scams on Earth revealedEverything Is Bullshit: The greatest scams on Earth revealed by Alex Mayyasi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really enjoy the Priceonomics blog, so I was happy to support them even though this is just a collection of essay from the site.

Some of these I considered pretty obvious (demand for diamonds was created by DeBeers! Companies that make packaged foods lobby Congress a lot and get laws passed!), but there are definitely a few gems here. I specifically enjoyed the article about how a comedy writer became homeless (which honestly didn't have much to do with the book's premise, but was gripping and well-written), the donate cars for charity article, and the bicycle thief one.

So it all depends on what you know or have read before. I'd recommend it regardless and just skip to the next chapter if you get bored.

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Profit from the Core review [Sep. 8th, 2014|02:32 pm]
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[Current Mood |relaxedrelaxed]

Profit from the Core: Growth Strategy in an Era of TurbulenceProfit from the Core: Growth Strategy in an Era of Turbulence by Chris Zook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was OKish. (I'd give it 2.5 stars if allowed to) The main thesis is that your business should figure out what it's good at and focus on that. When you want to expand, focus in adjacent markets where you can leverage what you're good at. The book is very down on diverse conglomerates.

Which is all fine and such, but the book itself was kind of dull and repetitive. Also, being written in 2001, it has some amusing bits:
- It quotes Mitt Romney! (the book was written by people at Bain)
- It isn't so sure how Amazon's move to sell other things than books is going to work.
- The best part was the few pages on how Enron(!) does so well! There's also a few positive mentions of WorldCom.

So...yeah. Grain of salt indeed!

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The Innovator's Dilemma review [Sep. 6th, 2014|08:56 pm]
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[Current Mood |relaxedrelaxed]

The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do BusinessThe Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton M. Christensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very engrossing book. I've started taking these business sorts of book with a grain of salt, but the book presents an interesting way of thinking that I'm pretty sure is right some of the time.

The basic idea is: established companies are great at coming up with "sustaining" innovations, which are innovations that improve on their existing technology. They are terrible at investing in "disruptive" innovations, which produce products that are worse than their existing products in ways that their customers care about, but better in a few that are crucial for customers they don't have yet. The example the book uses is disk drives in the 70s-80s - companies that made 14 inch drives were successful at increasing the density of those drives, but few/none made the jump to 8 inch drives. These 8 inch drives were more expensive per megabyte and smaller, but they were cheaper overall and more rugged, which their customers didn't care about but emerging products did.

This is combined with the trend that often technology improves faster than the market cares about, so eventually 8 inch drives caught up in capacity with what the existing market needed and soon after nobody bought 14 inch drives anymore.

The tricky part is that often established companies had the ability to make these disruptive innovations, but when they're being developed they generally have smaller margins since they're cheaper, so there's a strong incentive for companies to keep investing in the technologies they're familiar with and get higher margins. This works for a while until the disruptive innovation becomes good enough, and then the market collapses. Even if the company then tries to make the disruptive innovation, the companies that have been doing it for years are much better at it.

The author suggests that the only way established companies can successfully adopt a disruptive innovation is to basically let a group work on it that is guaranteed resources to continue their work and isolate them from the existing company, so the people can have the freedom to experiment without being pulled in to working on existing products.

Anyway, it's a fairly light read but very interesting!

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Windows Phone Developer News - Dev Center Benefits, Unity promotion, paying your "taxes" [Sep. 1st, 2014|12:08 pm]
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[Current Mood |relaxedrelaxed]

I just sent out my first Windows Phone Developer News! Check it out: Windows Phone Developer News - Dev Center Benefits, Unity promotion, paying your "taxes" (you can also subscribe at that link)
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