Free Books! (and AI, Gates and Sci-Fi)


A happy belated fourth to all -

This month was a great one for FTB, with some particularly strong reads on AI and the internet at large. But first, let's get that subject heading explained.

Ego is the Enemy: I Have 40 Free Copies!

I have 40 free copies of Ryan Holiday's Ego is the Enemy that I'm giving to all of you on a first come, first serve basis (if you want the background of why I originally bought 50, the short answer is the pre-order bonus incentives were pretty awesome). Some background: Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite writers and the former director of marketing for American Apparel. His book Trust Me, I'm Lying forever changed how I view online publications (the financial incentives, the reporting deadlines, relationships with sources, etc.); his last book before this one, The Obstacle is the Way, changed my approach to problem-solving and outlook on work / life; his first appearance on the Tim Ferriss podcast made me reread Meditations and look deeper into Stoic philosophy. His most recent book is perhaps my favorite of his; it's a historical analysis of how ego has hindered historical figures and humility has aided them, featuring people that range from George C. Marshall to Katherine Graham to Bill Belichick to Howard Hughes. You can sign up to get the book with Google Forms here and I'll ship them as soon as I can. You can also follow up with me one and one and we can book exchange in Boston if you're in the area.

I've already unloaded a couple to people who saw the announcement on the FTB Twitter feed, and the early reviews are overwhelmingly positive from those reading Holiday for the first time.

The Economist Special Report on AI

The Economist's first week of July edition has an amazing series on AI, something I thought was as informative and well written as Tim Urban's 2 part series I recommended a few FTBs ago. I learned a lot of new stuff in this one, including how the improvement in GPUs (Graphical Processing Units) in the video game industry has made performant machine learning possible, the difference between machine learning as a broad term and neural networks as a more specific term and the crazy improvements in the strength of visual recognition power of computers over time.

I didn't really understand well the difference between GPUs and CPUs prior to reading this article, and this blog post from NVIDIA (the world's leading GPU manufacturer) explained it really well. In short - GPUs were built largely to handle advanced 3D graphics for video games; this means some have hundreds of cores to handle hundreds of software threads. In contrast, the CPU's primary responsibilities are a lot more varied (think of all the different things your computer has to do) that don't scale well to a bunch of cores / threads.

Fuzzy Logic - A Scary Practical Application of AI

Tip of the hat to Andrew for this article on how an AI fighter plane beat a trained fighter pilot in a simulated battle. I wasn't familiar with the concept of "fuzzy logic" prior to reading this article. You can get into a real rabbit hole searching for precise definitions of fuzzy logic, but in short it's a way of getting computers to make decisions more like humans by using what are called "fuzzy sets" (collections of related items, where items can be classified based on definite criteria [e.g. basketball player is 0.65 tall on a 0-1 scale]) and "fuzzy rules" (a player with 0.4 height and 0.95 agility is a good candidate to be a guard on a basketball team). This video has a real nice overview of some of the basics of fuzzy logic.

Bill Gates and the Dawn of the Information Super Highway

I stumbled across this New Yorker piece on Bill Gates ("Email From Bill") from 1994 and was amazed at how well it held up and how interesting it was to read. The author's first ever experience with e-mail is interviewing Bill Gates via e-mail.  What we call the internet is called the Information Super Highway all through this article, and is assumed to be an entity that Microsoft will dominate. This piece really gets into how Gates thinks about the future, and the amount of stuff he was right about in 1994 is pretty stunning.

A Rare Science Fiction Recommendation: Snow Crash

Neil Stephenson had been recommended to me by a few people, and I saw his chat with Bill Gates on Gates' blog. I naively searched for "best neil stephenson book" and Snow Crash seemed to pop up the most. This book (dumbed way down) is about a hacker and teenage skateboarder / courier trying to save the world from a digitally transmitted virus. It's a nice combination of action, comedy and Stephenson's take on the future of technology - half the book takes place in the Metaverse, a Matrix-like digital manifestation of reality where you can get to through "goggling" in (the equivalent today being VR headsets). It's easily the most imaginative sci-fi book I've read (and is realistic in the same way that Black Mirror makes you go "Hm, that could really happen"), and even more impressive, was written in 1992. I really enjoyed reading this and wholeheartedly recommend it for the beach / plane / whatever you're doing this summer. Buy it here from Amazon.

More Excellent Ferriss Podcasts

Tim had his usual array of awesome podcasts this month. My favorites were his several hour long chat with Youtuber Shay Carl and "random" show with Digg founder Kevin Rose. The Shay Carl episode digs into how Carl was basically working odd manual labor jobs all through his 20s and took whatever side gigs he could on radio as a second career, basically calling into a morning station non-stop to land a job. There's some really interesting stuff here on the evolution of YouTube, and how Carl was an early pioneer in determining whether a person could make a career off it.

The Rose episode explores a spate of start-up and technology topics, as well as random stuff like memory and book recommendations. If you like Kevin Rose, he has a monthly newsletter a little like this one (except better) that's available here.

Special thanks to Max for sending me this Medium piece that goes over one guy's take on his 10 favorite. I must admit I don't particularly agree with these rankings though, as Ferriss' podcasts with Chris Sacca, Josh Waitzkin and Jimmy Chin (my top three) didn't even make it onto the list. That said, podcast rankings are in the ears of the beholder.

Enjoy July,