Recknsense

Recommendations

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert Pirzig (1974)

I read this book in my first year at Uni. It might sound a bit clichéd; but really had quite a profound effect on my outlook on life, and also the way in which I approached pretty much everything (and everyone) from then onwards. And not in terms of a new method or process or formula, but in terms of critical thinking and the spectrum between emotional and rational, romantic and classic, creativity and logic etc. etc. It was heavy going at times, and the narrative, complex but the reward , for me at least, was everlasting.

You and your research by Richard Hamming (Mathematician and Computer scientist)

Sometimes I come across something that I can’t believe I didn’t find sooner. This is one of those things. It’s more than research as the title suggests. As Hamming himself states at the open, this could have been called ‘You and your career’. There are many truly insightful takeaways. I’m still digesting. The biggest is to work on important problems which sounds obvious but think about what you spend most of your time on at work and reflect. Other advice should be of comfort to anyone going through a period of assessment – it’s not always the highest IQ people who succeed, working hard is good but be careful as it’s really about working on the right problems at the right time. Confidence is a big factor as well as sticking with a problem. Saving Friday afternoons for ‘great thoughts’ is something I naturally did but never called out. This whole article is short, to the point and exceptionally inspiring.

What is “scientific”, really?

Given the current emphasis on “believing in science” (a meaningless category of belief), I can’t recommend highly enough Zoltan Dienes’ exploration of scientific inference – Understanding Psychology as a Science: An Introduction to Scientific and Statistical Inference.

He gives a decent enough survey of the problem of first of all deciding what is science, although within the framework of how we might decide that experimental results constitute evidence of a theory that we can use to infer.

He begins with Karl Popper’s philosophy of science and, in particular, the notion of falsification. He then takes us via Kuhnian paradigms and the notion of theory approximation. This latter subject ought to be of great interest in an age where it seems we are awash with “theories” of all kinds, not just scientific ones. For example, there are myriad “theories” of how enterprises function, although it is doubtful that many of them constitute a theory at all. As Karl Weick pointed out – the products of laziness and great effort can often look the same: references, data, lists, diagrams and hypotheses.

The book then explores the inference approach of the classical Neyman/Pearson statistical framing (i.e. the t-test et al) but in a way that explains the validity of the approach, or not. This is the framing that nearly all papers use when purporting to possess statistically significant results. I am guessing that even many well-educated folks have never paused to ask what, exactly, is significance? It is clear from at least my daily dose of Twitter that our collective understanding of statistical inference is nearly zero.

He then goes on to explain Bayesian inference, a topic that is seemingly straightforward, yet deceptively complex in its subtleties. The ability to assign a probability to a future event based upon observed data is one of those things that ought not to work, except that it does — there would be no cellular communications without Bayes. On the other hand, does it really work? I am not sure I know the answer.

However, if there is a branch of mathematics that might allow us to say that we “believe” in something, then Bayesian statistics makes strong claims about beliefs.

The book ends with an exploration of likelihood, a measure that many confuse with probability. As an aside, I would say that the mechanism known as a Maximum Likelihood Estimator (MLE) is something that any well-educated person ought to know. Indeed, I will add it to my list of important things to know, if I can find it. (It is a list that I made when thinking about my children’s education.)

Up to date AI News at AITopics.org

I found this useful source for AI news at AITopics.org – you can filter your search for various keywords. It’s more up to date than a Google search (which I compared it against) and you get more varied news and sources. You can filter on all kinds of other information like Industry, Genre, Author and more. You can also export the searches if you need to. It’s pretty handy! I don’t much more about how this came about but I found this on the About page:

AITopics is the Internet’s largest collection of information about the research, the people, and the applications of Artificial Intelligence. Our mission is to educate and inspire through a wide variety of curated and organized resources gathered from across the web. AITopics is brought to you by The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

 

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes By William Bridges (2004)

Our lives are full of changes. We transition through periods in our personal and professional lives, yet we understand so little about how those transitions happen. Bridges advocates that we need to think about endings, first. Ending jobs, relationships, where we live are always the catalyst of change. This is followed by a period of wilderness and discovery, before new beginnings emerge. Sounds obvious? It is almost universally not observed. Next time you catch someone making new year resolutions, tell them that they should list what they need to end, not what they want to start.

Too many to List…

It is not just one book that did it for me, it was many books — all building on each other. And interestingly… it was often the serendipitous reading of two (both similar and different) books at the exact same time. One book never does it all — if you think it does it is probably because of all the books that you read before that prepared you for “the one

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

Yes this is a classic, but this book taught me all about empathy. The ability to really understand and look deeply into another persons point of view, even when it is at polar opposites to our own. I learned so many life and business lessons from this book. In designing tech solutions we should always be user centric, empathetic and listen to the challenges and opposing voices which (believe it or not) help us build better products and solutions for all of society. I will never tire of reading this book again and again.

The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences

Have you ever wondered why maths so perfectly helps us describe physics? It all fits together so well by a happy coincidence. This a famous article by physicist Eugene Wigner from 1960 which ponders this question and along the way points to a few human behaviors that could help explain e.g. humans see what they’re looking for. It can be hard to follow every argument but the wikipedia page about it gives a lot more insight. This is a great summing up from the author himself:

‘The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.’

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

I discovered the The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli a few years ago and it reignited my interest in Quantum Physics. This is the original review that reeled me in. The title caught my attention initially because the focus was on the concept of time. Time is a mysterious topic. It changes in unexpected circumstances, it’s perceived in different ways and scientists still ponder what it actually is. It turns out that time and quantum physics go hand in hand. The book is in three sections; the understanding of time in modern physics, what happens without time and finally the latest theories on time including Rovelli’s own research into Quantum Gravity which present some of the most recent theories in the field.

More about my thoughts of the book here.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen (1997)  

This was one of the first books I read early on in my career which made a real impact. I quickly recognized the ‘dilemma’ of incumbents being unable to innovate effectively while they are still focused on their core business. Although it’s difficult to find a solution (although the follow up by Christensen does offer some clues), just being able to understand the issue is enlightening. It makes you realize how many companies hit this roadblock and how some of their innovation initiatives are doomed to fail as a result of this dilemma.

The Extreme Self

I found this at Foyles in Waterloo station in London recently, while I was waiting around. I wish I could say this happened more often as I love any excuse to find myself in a book shop. The distinctive silver cover catches my eye as it’s similar to the books predecessor – The Age of Earthquakes. I’ve lost count of how many people we lent that book too. It’s just such an entertaining read. Few words, many pictures but every page has you stopping to think. What is the extreme self? I kind of think I know but I mind need to flick through this a few more times. More like a graphic novel than a book. We need more like this – bold, curious, and always showing not telling. Co-curated by the book’s co-authors, Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar.

The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want by Terri Kurtzberg (2011)

It is full of practical wisdom. If you are fortunate enough to have options in the job market, taking a new job is still a big decision. This book will help you consider what you need vs what you want, how to assign value to different aspects of an offer, and how to approach negotiations in a stepwise manner, all the time remembering you want this to be a win-win interaction. The only thing that is lacking, and may date the book a little, is a chapter on how to evaluate special cases such as start-ups.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr & E.B. White (1959)

Writing well is a useful skill in almost any career. Not only for what you produce, but because to write well you first have to think through your ideas clearly. This book is very helpful for improving how you write. It was recommended to me by a poet pretty early on in my career. (E.B. White might be familiar to you, he is the author of ‘Charlotte’s Web’).