ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Non-fiction books I’ve read in 2013

12/31/2013 4:23:06 PM

One of my New Year Resolutions last year was to read 10 non-fiction books in 2013 and I’m happy to report that I’ve failed. Well, only by one book though. And a little cheat. So here’s the list:

  1. Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. This is the little cheat I’ve mentioned. I’ve started this book last year, but finished it in January. So I guess it counts, right? This is a very good and a highly recommended book. It is both informative/interesting and just plain fun to read.
  2. Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life. I was thinking about sort of improving efficiency of my professional and personal life and this book came recommended by someone. While the ideas and concept in it sounded potentially good, I just couldn’t stand the writing style. It was terribly patronizing with a lot of repetition. It felt like I was in the army or just plain stupid. So I gave up half way through.
  3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. One of my worst nightmares is shopping at a middle-eastern bazaar. Yes, I can’t bargain. So I decided I need to read something on negotiations and this book sounded intriguing. And it was really good. I actually plan to reread it paying more attention to actual methods, tips and tricks.
  4. The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations. OK, this is as close to crossing to fiction as a non-fiction book can be, but who cares. The premise is that Paul Carr figured that for the money he spends living modestly in London he can live pretty much anywhere in the world. While this looked like it’s going to be a “lifehacking” book, it ended up being a crazy, alcohol-induced rollercoaster. A real fun to read nevertheless. I’ve learned at least one lifehack from it too – how to iron clothes while traveling. :)
  5. Who: The A Method for Hiring. While I’ve participated in the hiring process a few times in my life, I haven’t done much hiring myself. And then I needed to hire quite a few people. So I realized, I need help and this book looked like the best option. It definitely delivered on the subject matter, but it was a little annoying in a way, because the authors tried to productize this thing (like “Lean Startup”, etc.) It’s not a bad thing per-se, but it doesn’t add much value to the content while adding some useless stuff around it.
  6. The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company. Steve Blank’s books are considered must-read for anyone in startups, but I refused to read them for a while because they weren’t available in the ebook format and I promised myself not to buy any more paper books a few years back. But now it’s available on Kindle so I had no excuses. The book has a lot of useful content, but I didn’t realize at first that it’s basically 3 versions of the same book in one (1 generic, 1 for startup founder (or something) and something else I forgot). So I read the generic version first and then realized that the version I was supposed to read comes next, but was too lazy to basically read the same thing again.
  7. Steve Jobs. I’m not a big Steve Jobs fan, but even I knew most of the things in this book. For an official biography with unprecedented access to Jobs himself, I think this book is pretty weak. No, it’s not bad. It’s just sort of meh.
  8. In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. Now this is a book about Google and it’s way more interesting than the Jobs’ one (IMHO). It was very interesting to read and I found quite a few ideas and thoughts I’m going to use myself, even though I didn’t expect anything useful from a book like this.
  9. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. This is considered the de-facto business book about Israel and since I was there 2 times in 2013, I decided I need to read it. I expected it to be more about startups, but I’d say it has more to do with Israel’s history through the prism of entrepreneurship than startups as such. In any case it is really good and makes you think about why things are the way they are both in Israel and around you (wherever you live).

That’s it. It feels like 10 non-fiction books a year is a good tempo for me (I’m alternating them with fiction) and I’d like to read another ten in 2014. Will report back in a year.


Best books I’ve read in 2012

12/31/2012 4:53:00 PM

alans books 2012

I’ve just counted the books I’ve read in 2012 and apparently there are only 12 of them (14 if you count the one started in 2011 and one I’m still reading). Somehow I thought there will be more and I managed to promise myself to read at least 10 non-fiction books in 2013.

Considering I’m a pretty slow reader (and a pretty fast fall-asleeper when reading) that’s going to be a challenge. But I accept it!

Anyway here are a few of the best books I’ve read in 2012. Nothing too sophisticated so don’t judge! ;)

Disclaimer: links to these books include my referral code so I’ll make a few cents if you buy any of them via these links. The “funds” will go towards my reading in 2013.


  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I think this is the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read and it’s awesome. It includes just a little of “fantasy” stuff and I love this kind of book. The story revolves around a guy from our times who finds a “portal” to a specific date in the past and goes on a mission to save Kennedy.
  • Gone Girl: A Novel by Gillian Flynn. I’ve stomped over this book while writing a blog post on Kindle book pricing, liked the description and bought it despite the ridiculous pricing. The book is written as “merged” diaries of husband and wife (one chapter from wife’s diary, next from husband’s, etc.) One day the wife goes missing and sh*t hits the fan. At first I thought the writing style was a little “pretentious” but then I got used to it and really enjoyed the book. Definitely buying the other 2 Gillian Flynn books.
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I’m not a fan of Sci-Fi but this one is considered a classic so I decided to read it and I can attest that this book is great. That said I’m still not of a fan of the genre and I’m not reading the other 4 books in the series.


I’ve only read 2 of the Malcolm Gladwell’s books this year: Outliers: The Story of Success and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Amazon categorizes the first one as Cultural Anthropology and the second one as Decision-Making & Problem Solving which I think is pretty accurate. Outliers is about “why do some people succeed, living remarkably productive and impactful lives, while so many more never reach their potential?” and Blink analyzes the way we make snap decisions. Both highly recommended.

I’m also 30% into Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely and it’s really interesting so far.

And that’s basically it. I’ve read some more filler fiction to clear my head before sleep, but nothing else stood out for me over this year.


Why Kindle eBooks Often Cost More Than Hardcovers in Europe

7/23/2012 7:05:40 PM


If you live in Europe and own a Kindle you probably find yourself depressed quite often when you see that a Kindle edition of some book is more expensive than even a hardcover. Like in the screenshot above. I don’t know what that book is. It’s just the first book on the first page that was shown to me when I went to the Kindle books section on Amazon. It’s 20%+ more expensive in digital form than in hardcover and 45% more expensive than a paperback. So WTF?

Here are several reasons for this. Let’s start with objective stuff and move to the real reasons later.

VAT on eBooks

There’s either no VAT or special (low) VAT rates on books in European Union, but eBooks aren’t considered books for some crazy reason. Apparently there were improvements in this area just recently:

The price that Amazon charges in all its EU stores (including the UK store) has dropped today to 3% from 15%.

This change is because Luxembourg has dropped the VAT rate it charges on eBooks down to 3%, the same rate it uses for printed books.

But apparently someone wasn’t happy about that:

The European Union's executive began legal action against France and Luxembourg on Tuesday for applying reduced tax rates on the sale of electronic books, something it said was incompatible with EU rules.


Wholesale prices on paper books

Amazon buys paper books in bulk at wholesale prices so they can sell them at whatever price point they want. But you can’t “stock” 10,000 copies of an ebook. So the same rules do not apply.

“Free” 3G

When Kindles with free 3G launched in US that was a feature. When they extended that offer worldwide it became an obligation. I own 2 WiFi-only Kindles and I’m pretty sure I’m paying for your free 3G with every book purchase.

Kindle is cheap for a reason

Amazon doesn’t care about making profits from Kindle hardware. They make their money from books and part of your book purchases goes to compensate for low margins on Kindle hardware. That’s why everyone who has ever tried to replace a broken Kindle was ecstatic about the quality of Amazon’s support. No questions asked. The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll stop buying books.


What did I miss?

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Kindle but every time I see a picture like the one above, I feel dumb and depressed. At the very least they could’ve stopped showing me prices for other editions. They know I haven’t bought a paper book in 3 years. Ignorance is a bliss, right?

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Popular Business Books for Developers

7/28/2011 6:25:29 PM


I haven’t been working for a “man” since 2001. I never seriously looked back. I was making just enough money not to think about looking for a “real job”, but it always felt like it’s going nowhere. A certain someone always encouraged me to read these motivational, pseudo-business books, but titles like “Become a gazillinaire without lifting a finger while sitting on the couch” were so vomit inducing that I couldn’t even think about it.

In October 2010 I finally gave in, and, even though I’ve read my share of fiction and technical books in-between, I became kind of addicted to these popular business books (as I like to call them collectively). I don’t know if these books are in any way responsible for helping me start what I consider to be IT, but it was undoubtedly started in that period. So, I guess these books deserve some credit for sure.

  • The 4-Hour Workweek. Timothy Ferris. This was the book I chose as my first book of a kind. The title immediately appealed to me. It wasn’t some crazy title promising me millions in a month. That’s what I wanted – make enough money to chill on the beach, or work a little more and make even more money while still chilling on the beach. And put it on auto-pilot. Little did I know that the title was carefully constructed/selected using AdWords and landing sites to attract jerks like me. This book immediately challenged my moral compass, but it was really helpful and inspiring. At the very least I’ve derived my “email of happiness” concept from there and am happily using it since. Highly recommended.
  • ReWork. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This book is from people I definitely respect and I totally like the business concept behind 37 signals. That said I don’t remember a thing from this book :) All I remember that I enjoyed reading it and that it was really really short. So maybe I should just ReRead it.
  • Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup. David Cohen and Brad Feld. This one is from the founders of TechStars startup accelerator program and includes lots of chapters from new and seasoned entrepreneurs. If launching something big and ambitious is your thing, then this is a definite must read. Highly recommended.
  • Start Small, Stay Small: A Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup. Rob Walling. This one is quite the opposite of “Do More Faster”. It preaches freedom and quality of life over striking it really big. Lots of useful advice inside. If you want to go big – read “Do More Faster”. If you want to create small profitable businesses and enjoy life – read this one. Want to get confused? Read both. Highly recommended.
  • How To Be The Luckiest Person Alive! James Altucher. I’ve discovered James’s blog recently and this book through it. That not as much a business book as a fun read with lots of life and business hacking advice in it. I’m a fan. Highly recommended.
  • Startups Open Source. Jared Tame. This one came recommended by a friend but I found it pretty boring. There are quite a lot of interesting bits in it. Author interviews lots of startup founders. But a couple of things annoyed me a lot. First of all the set of interview questions is 90% identical for all the founders. Reading the same questions over and over is pretty boring. The fact that most of the answers are quite identical too, didn’t help much. The other issue is that vast majority of the startups interviewed in this book (as Jared’s own) went through Y Combinator and unsurprisingly have very similar stories to tell. And unlike “Do More Faster” book that kind of made me want to apply to TechStars, this one left me with pretty negative, yet inexplicable, aftertaste for Y Combinator. Another thing – the magnitude of the founders/startups fluctuates dramatically – from people who started Reddit or Foursquare to someone who launched some random websites, slapped AdSense on them and made enough money to do something that’s is not even a business yet (nothing personal). I guess it’s fine if you want to just read interviews with people you are interested in selectively. But reading it cover to cover was something I shouldn’t have done.

That’s it for now. I’m off to read Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist. I guess this is going to be the least “popular” read of the bunch, requiring a substantial amount of my brain power. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to be worth it.

Feel free to recommend books in the comments below.

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Book Review: Framework Design Guidelines. Conventions, Idioms, and Patterns for Reusable .NET Libraries by Krzysztof Cwalina and Brad Abrams (Second Edition)

6/11/2010 3:38:05 PM

5138dM4PHnL._SS500_ This book is a must-read and a must-have for anyone developing .NET libraries and frameworks. It’s basically an internal Microsoft document describing how .NET itself and related frameworks should be developed.

Guidlines are divided into DO, DON’T, CONSIDER and AVOID depending on how strong authors feel about them. In addition to official guidelines the book is filled with notes and commentary from other Microsoft gurus. Quite often these notes are even more valuable than guidelines themselves. That said there were a few places where guideline was just thrown out there without any explanation of the reasoning behind it. Sometimes it was obvious but a few times not so much.

If you are an experienced .NET developer you probably follow most of these guidelines automatically but this book provides all of them in one place. You can force your less experienced colleagues read this book and save them from learning these rules the hard way. And when in doubt it’s an excellent reference to turn to.

I must say this is not a fascinating read. To tell the truth it’s one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. Nevertheless it’s extremely valuable and I don’t hesitate to recommend it to any .NET developer. And even if you don’t do .NET you can gather quite some wisdom from it.

If you follow tech news you probably know that Brad Abrams left Microsoft and went to Google, so, I guess, we shouldn’t expect a third edition of this book (at least by the same authors) in the foreseable future. So this is probably as good as it gets for now.

Buy this book from Amazon

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Book Review: The Art of Unit Testing by Roy Osherove

2/2/2010 7:49:36 PM

The Art of Unit Testing by Roy Osherove

Personal preface

I must admit – I haven’t been doing any real-life unit testing until now. Back in 2004 I was leading a relatively big WinForms project and I thought we should do unit testing on it. Unfortunately we had already finalized our conceptual designs (which didn’t consider unit testing), the tooling at the time wasn’t as mature as it is now and, most importantly, we had no knowledge on how this unit testing thing should be done properly. So after playing around with NUnit for some time I’ve concluded that it was neither the time nor the place to start doing it for real and put it away.

After that project I was mostly involved with smaller ASP.NET projects and never thought that unit testing was really feasible for them. So, basically unit testing was always somewhere on my mind but not too close to the surface.

Five years later I’ve started working on amCharts for WPF & Silverlight and as we release new products, add new features and fix bugs I’ve started feeling a real fear of breaking something while fixing a bug or adding a new feature. Manual testing helps but the fear is always there. I understood that it’s time for “take 2” on unit testing.

This time I knew that I have to do it right. This is one of those subjects where you can’t just start doing it and learn as you go. That is a sure way to fail (see my experience above).

The Book

Fortunately this time there is this book and it’s targeted at .NET developers which is not essential but a nice bonus. I’ve been reading Roy Osherove’s blog for quite some time and following him on twitter. I’ve been using his Regulator regular expression testing tool before that. So, I sort of “knew” and respected the author, the book got raving reviews at Amazon – buying it was a no-brainer.

The book is short (less than 300 pages) but on point with almost none “water spilled” and space wasted. I’ve swallowed it in less than a week reading it in the evenings only. That wouldn’t be that fast for a fiction book, but I think that’s a record for me for a technical book. I usually fall asleep reading technical books in bed pretty quickly and I only did it once with this book ;)

It covers all the aspects of unit testing, writing good tests and testable code, tooling for .NET (also mentions tools for Java, C++, etc.). It also offers quite strong author’s opinions on the matters. Some people might not like this, but as long as you can see that it’s an opinion and not something written in stone, I really do like it.

Minor Criticism

I can’t say anything bad about the content of this book, but I have a few minor complaints about presentation. First of all I didn’t like the font used. I’m no expert of fonts and this could be the default Manning (publisher) font, but it didn’t feel right to me (too wide or something). The use of some “comic” type of font for ToC and headings is another story, but since it’s not the main font it didn’t bother me much. There were some minor issues with sample code too: incorrect indentation, a couple of auto-capitalized “return” statements and things like that, but nothing major.

The book comes with free access to ebook version in PDF, ePub and Mobipocket formats w/o DRM (as far as I understand). Unpleasant thing was that my name and email address was inserted in the footer of every page of the PDF. I don’t even know what is more unpleasant DRM or this. Should I protect the PDF now so it doesn’t spread over internet accidentally or something? If I wanted to spread illegal copies I’d find a way to remove this, but now I don’t even feel comfortable giving that PDF to my colleague which I consider a fair use (I’ll give him a paper book anyway). Anyway this is a minor issue and I should stop complaining.


If you are serious about starting unit testing or improving your skills, do yourself a favor and don’t just jump right in, but buy this book (especially if your main platform is .NET). It’s a really excellent starting point for anyone who doesn’t consider himself a unit testing guru (and I guess even gurus might find something new). After reading this book I feel pretty confident that my next project will include unit tests and I’ll have a good basis and this book as a reference if I have questions.


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Book Review: Pro WPF in C# 2008: Windows Presentation Foundation with .NET 3.5, Second Edition by Matthew MacDonald

4/29/2009 1:42:00 PM

prowpf After a pretty bland and unexciting ASP.NET book this was a very good change. Matthew MacDonald covers all aspects of WPF in a very good and interesting style. All the basics are covered, principles explained and practical advices are given.

Probably my only but pretty serious complaint is about a Chapter 24 - Custom Elements. This was one of the main chapters (aside from basic WPF principles) why I bought this book in the first place. I was developing our WPF charting controls and expected to find some insights and guidance in this chapter. Unfortunately a big chunk of the chapter (which is not so long to start with) was dedicated to explaining logical implications of building a masked text box. Probably quite interesting stuff on it’s own but not directly related to what it takes to build custom WPF elements in general.

Aside from that I’m very satisfied with this book and can highly recommend it to any .NET/C# developer interested in programming for Windows Presentation Foundation.

Verdict: close to perfect

Buy this book on Amazon.

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Book Review: Professional ASP.NET 3.5: In C# and VB

4/24/2009 4:29:00 PM

proaspnet About a year ago I bought this book when Scott Guthrie promoted a deal on it at Amazon. This was probably the biggest technology book I’ve ever read and it took me months to read and not only because of the size but because it was boooring.

Most of the book is written by Bill Evjen (as far as I understand) and his chapters are very dry and not very different from just browsing through MSDN documentation. There are almost no personal opinions, recommendations or anything. Just plain reference.

Some chapters are written by Scott Hanselman and you can see it right from the start. These chapters offer opinions, advices and you can see a person behind them. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I prefer seeing a person behind a book or an article rather than reading a book which looks like it’s written by some technical documentation team. Unfortunately only a few chapters are authored by Scott.

I couldn’t identify chapters by Devin Rader so he either writes indistinguishably from Bill or Scott :)

The other point to criticize would be the fact that book has samples in both C# and VB. I understand that it’s easier to publish one book instead of two but the book could’ve been like 20-30% thinner and lighter and I wouldn’t have to decide against bringing it with me on the flight (yes, it’s that heavy). And, you know, 300-400 useless pages for almost every reader (either VB or C# developers) doesn’t help preserve Amazonia forests.

Overall this is not a bad book if you are looking for printed ASP.NET reference but not quite a good read if you want some insight, recommendations and depth.

Verdict: complete but dry and boring.

Other recommended books about ASP.NET: 4 years ago I’ve read Programming Microsoft ASP.NET 2.0 Applications: Advanced Topics by Dino Esposito and it was really good. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that there’s an updated edition of this book by Dino, but there’s other book called Programming Microsoft ASP.NET 3.5. I’m not sure how this new book is related to the older ones (in terms of topics) but I really like Dino Esposito’s style and depth of his books.

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Essential Silverlight 2 (Up-to-Date) by Christian Wenz

6/18/2008 4:04:03 PM

Finished reading Essential Silverlight 2 (Up-to-Date) by Christian Wenz. I've posted about the look and feel of the "Up-to-Date" concept when I got the book. To that aspect I can only add that it was actually more comfortable to read than I've anticipated. The binder doesn't stand in the way and probably is sturdier than paperback or even hardcover.

Now let's move on to the reason why I bought this book - content. The book succeeds at getting you excited about the technology and that's basically it. It shows you how to do basic XAML and how to access the objects from C# and JavaScript very briefly (currently it's only about 200 pages long). I really missed a part dealing with creation of objects and drawing directly from C#. I don't think that's something outside of the scope of "essential" book. It also seems that some chapters are being rewritten from JavaScript to C# but the text still says "JavaScript" while the code in the example is in C#.

I was mostly interested in Part 3: Programming Silverlight with .NET. But to my surprise it dealt with embedding Silverlight into ASP.NET pages rather than actual programming of Silverlight apps.

Anyway I got my share of excitement about the technology and feel pretty comfortable to start actually doing some stuff with it after reading this book.

Verdict: succeeds at getting reader excited about Silverlight 2 and stops right there

P.S.: This review refers to the book with "Update 1" (Beta 1) applied.

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Accelerated C# 2008 by Trey Nash

6/13/2008 3:56:01 PM

accelerated_csharp_2008I've been developing in C# (on and off) since version 1.0 was in beta. I've read a book about it when version 1 came out and then I relied on online articles, blogs and docs to stay updated. Now (2 versions later) I decided that it's about time to read something systematic on the language to get a complete overview of the things I could've missed over the years and to familiarize myself with new features in C# 3.0 (btw, book title is probably a work of some crazy marketing mind since there's no such thing as C# 2008 AFAIK) .

And the book delivers just what I needed: concise overview of most of the language features complete with samples, usage patterns and best practices. Accelerated C# 2008 (Accelerated) is targeted at developers with some prior experience. It's stated in several places that it's for C++, Java and Visual Basic developers though it's perfectly clear that Trey Nash has lots of things to say to C/C++ and C# guys and not so much to the Java and Visual Basic crowd. Almost all comparisons are done with C++ world so if you are Java/VB developer I suggest you look elsewhere or at least be warned that you wont find many references to these languages.

Verdict: highly recommended for C++ and C# developers, not so much for beginners and Java and VB developers

P.S.: actually in this case I've read a Russian translation of this book titled "C# 2008 ускоренный курс для профессионалов" so I can't talk about publishing related qualities of the book.

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