Tristan Penman's Blog

Reading list progress report

19 February 2019

Seeing as we are past the middle of February, I thought it would be a good idea to write a quick progress report on my reading goals for 2019. While progress has been slow, and on numerous occasions I have given in to temptation and found myself reading things other than the books on this list, I hope that writing this post will keep me on track!

You may recall that there were three books on my list:

  • Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (or PRML)
  • Creativity, Inc.
  • Darwin among the Machines

Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning

I fully expected getting through PRML to be a difficult, even daunting, task. By including this book on my list, I was actually taking on two challenges. The first was to read the book, cover-to-cover. And the second was to complete the exercises, to better internalise the concepts. So far my strategy has been to simultaneously do a light pass through the entire book, reading each chapter as far as my understanding will allow, while also approaching earlier chapters in much greater detail.

I have enjoyed the light pass, picking up various concepts and re-learning things that I had long since forgotten. The detailed pass has been much more difficult. The math involved is often complex enough that I have had to find other resources to better understand a concept. The process has been beneficial, but boy is it hard work.

Overall, I’m part way through chapter 3 using this approach, and I’ve completed roughly 10 of the exercises.

Creativity, Inc.

Reading Creativity, Inc. has been thoroughly enjoyable, and even a bit surprising, so far (I’m about half-way through it). This is a book that I was sure I would enjoy, but I have been surprised by the many insights into how Pixar functions as an organisation. Through countless anecdotes, we see how their culture and processes serve to continuously refine a movie (and more generally, a story) and to produce something that is relatable, yet uniquely identifiable as a Pixar production.

The book also contains a lot of managerial insights - how to deal with pressure from above, how to read and respond to employees behaviour, etc. All interesting, and useful to know, even if you don’t manage other people in your work.

Darwin among the Machines

No progress here, I’m afraid. This book has been overshadowed by others that have caught my attention over the past couple of months. In any case, it’s worth sharing what some of those distractions have been.

The Distractions…

These are the three most significant distractions:

These are all ‘in-progress’ at the moment.

Understanding Computation (by Tom Stuart) offers a relatively gentle coverage of computing theory (regular expressions, lambda calculus, etc) with examples written in Ruby. This has been a nice refresher, since the last time I really studied these concepts was nearly ten years ago. The example code is all available online. It has been fun working through that, and I have even learned a few Ruby tricks along the way.

All of Statistics (by Larry Wasserman) is one of the many resources I have used to fill in gaps in my math background while working through PRML. I have really benefited from the broader coverage of probability and decision theory that, and have found that the content is well structured, though still challenging.

And finally, Portable Darkness: An Aleister Crowley Reader (edited by Scott Michaelsen). This was a chance discovery while browsing at RMIT library. I have read Aleister Crowley’s work in the past, and found the strange combination of myth and man intriguing. What originally led me to Crowley’s work were his writings on the religious and philosophical facets of Yoga. The possibility of resuming a regular practice of Yoga has been on my mind recently, and I think that might be what made this book stand out. In any case, this is a collection of Crowley’s work, so I expect that I’ll be more confused than ever once I finish reading it.