Reflections of 2015: The year gone by…

…and here is the last day of the year 2015. As the year comes to close, it is time to reflect on what has transpired during the year.
This year started on a great note, with me completing 3 years in Aditi Technologies (now Harman) in Jan and experiencing my first snow storm in Feb at Boston during a business trip.

Boston snow storm, Feb 2015
Boston snow storm, Feb 2015

Around May, left the corporate world in which I had worked for over a decade. It was time to reflect back on priorities and getting back to basics and new learnings. A lot more getting to sketching (had left it long time back), reading books, learning new technologies and generally enjoying life.

More of my sketching and photography works at https://facebook.com/MannuAlagPhotography/

A window to the world. A pencil sketch by Mannu Alag @mannualag.
Window to the world. A pencil sketch.

So what did I read or do in these last 6 months, since I am back in corporate-free work-environment. Let’s list down few things:

Books Read:

I have always been an avid reader trying to read on literally anything and everything that picks my interest. Lately have been a lot more interested in human psychology and spy stuff, rather more towards Cold War between USA and USSR and World War II. So here is my list of books read this year:

  1. The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices by Paul Culmsee and Kailash Awati
    Well, has been following Paul Culmsee’s blog, CleverWorkarounds for quite some time for SharePoint architecture related stuff, but this book was like a kick in the gut. A lightbulb kind of book, which I do share with few clients’ time to time, who are facing complex, ambiguous problems and are not sure how to define, let alone solve those problems. Though it comes as a management book, but it is really about solving complex problems in our personal lives as well. A highly entertaining book, while giving you lessons for life.
    .
  2. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    This has been one of the best books I had read on workings of human brain. Daniel Kahneman is a Noble Prize winner for Economics. He talks about the basics on why and how we think and act in on way, in certain situations and why not otherwise. Why humans react differently to same inputs given their situations. He is trying to answer the “why” to gain in-depth understanding of working of human brain and mind.
    .
  3. God’s Debris by Scott Adams
    Oh man! This book by Scott Adams is a real brain teaser, with “A thought experiment” as subtitle, aptly provided. Reading this book will make you think your beliefs and have a lasting impact on the readers. A never before view of God in an untraditional view. So if you are offended by unorthodox and untraditional view of God, or do not want your day to day view of world and reality to change, do not read this.
    .
  4. The Religion War by Scott Adams
    Another on from Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert cartoons, remember?). This book takes a step forward from God’s Debris and put in a plot in the story for the central character, trying to avert a religious war.
    .
  5. FREAKONOMICS, A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
    So what is common between a school teacher and a sumo wrestler? So where does learning about basic economics of everyday life takes you? Why does some simple economic policies at work or home backfire? Why did the crime rate of late 90’s in USA came down suddenly rather than rising up as suggested by various agencies and experts? Was it good policing? Govt. economic policies? Or an equation of demand and supply?
    Get into this book and it will answer all your questions with an economic point of view, not just financial but other decisions having economic impact in kind (rather than hard cash/currency).
    .
  6. Rogue Code by Mark Russinovich
    Anyone who works in IT industry and specially Microsoft ecosystem and have not heard of Mark or Sysinternals, should be shown the door. This is an impactful, fiction novel written by Mark about a plot on Wall Street. This book brings you to inside of electronic trading and what could possibly be a dangerous situation. A fast paced writing putting you in the middle of a scenario what could go terribly wrong in US Stock market.
    .
  7. The Master of Disguise, my Secret life in CIA by Antonio J. Mendez
    My first jump into the spy stories and World War II espionage. A gripping tale by Mendez about his operations and the situations he found himself in, during his tenure in CIA. He was a specialized agent in-charge of disguises for various operations. Read this if you want to be lead into a world of espionage and intelligence agencies and their tactics.
    .
  8. Spy Dust: Two Masters of disguise reveal the tools and operations that helped win the Cold War by Antonio and Jonna Mendez
    Well, this was an easy follow up from the previous book by Mendez. This book gets into more details and clearly caters to the saying “The most successful operations are the ones we never hear about”.
    .
  9. The Secret Agent: In search of America’s greatest World War II spy by Stephan Talty
    A page turning and gripping tale of Erik Erickson, an American oil mogul living in Sweden and spying on Nazi Germany during World War II.
    .
  10. A Sea Story: The untold story of US Navy’s response to 9/11 by Joseph Pignataro and Barry A.A. Dillinger
    I have been reading and watching a lot about events that followed post 9/11 and lots of interviews, shows, documentaries talking about NY Fire Department and NYPD and Seals and various people from govt. spokesmen to survivors or witnesses, but never thought from Navy’s point of view. This book as a fictional writing build on top of factual events, following life of Joseph Pignataro on USS Leyte Gulf, from initial response to his return back. Though book feels like a factual account of the events but it does contain some good story telling. Some maybe due to fact that Pignataro may not have been privy to all high level meetings and decisions and would need to fill up the gaps with some fictional accounts.
    .
  11. Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer – The True Story of the Man Who Recruited Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames by Victor Cherkashin
    Having read through the CIA/FBI side of story on espionage during the World War II and their accounts through various books and memoirs, now was the time to have a look at the other side of the story. From the Russian side and this book was recommended. Along with being the other side of coin, Cherkashin’s writing style starkly differs from the US spies’ memoirs. Everything is stated in a very factual manner, without going overboard and planting himself as the most important spy, which convinces the reader that he is telling the truth always (maybe?). To read a lot what happened during 1985, “the year of spy”, I would definitely recommend this book.
    .
  12. The Innocent Traitor by Eric Rill
    A thriller novel with a true to life subject. The author questions and challenges the reader and can keep you up thinking even after you have finished the book.
    .
  13. Jet by Russell Blake
    A gripping fictional tale of Mossad’s most lethal agent and her disappearance from the scene. But the past never forgets you! A jarring and surprising story for fans of Bourne trilogy or SALT movies.
    .
  14. The Flicker Men: A Novel by Ted Kosmatka
    An outstanding science fiction with a mind-blowing plot. It keeps you on the very edge with a mix of real science, fictional characters and some pretty impressive (by plausible) imagination. Providing food for thought, it raises some serious questions about our real life, about science, theology, free will, fate and leaves you questioning the overall existence of our universe as we know.
    A brain twister with an earthquake under it.

Some book that are currently on my table and waiting to be read:

  1. Top Secret Files of History: World War I: Spies, Secret Missions, and Hidden Facts from World War I by Stephanie Bearce
  2. Top Secret Files of History: World War II: Spies, Secret Missions, and Hidden Facts from World War II by Stephanie Bearce
  3. The Girl with No Past by Kathryn Croft
  4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

That was a lot more than I was planning to write about the books! Well, now on to technology and what I have been doing around with it. I had plans to learn about new technologies for quite some time but commitments were keeping me away. Now that I had time and this is what I indulged in:

Technologies Learnt or Brushed up:

  1. Unity 3D:
    Oh my favorite 3D game engine. Having burnt my hands already in XNA (MonoGame now) and trying to work around limitations of WPF for 3D, had a choice between choosing Unity 3D or UDK and guess who won? Unity 3D with their support for C#, my language of choice JI had a loads of fun creating a realistic car driving simulation and brushing up on vehicle physics and adding Oculus Rift into the picture, to give realistic feel. Sorry, cannot release it to public, NDA bound. Also worked on adding support for Kinect v1 and Kinect v2 integration with Unity 3D projects.
    .
  2. Augmented Reality:
    This was a bit of extension of work I was already doing with Kinect v1 and v2 and now with Unity 3D into picture, made the jump a little easier. Using Vuforia and ARToolkit, this easily fell into place and soon had up and running augmented reality projects in the hands of customers.
    .
  3. Cloud:
    This has been close to my heart earlier also during my work with Microsoft and Aditi Technologies (now Harman). Growing up in enterprise world, working on SharePoint, cloud was the next logical move. Working on both AWS and Microsoft Azure, had a great success running quite a few projects and API’s and back ends on Microsoft Azure.Recently had a great success, architecting the gradual move of an in-house ERP built on VB6 and SQL Server to latest .NET and Microsoft Azure. Some more cloud adventures in pipeline!
    .
  4. Mobile application development:
    Mobile development had been a hotbed since long with all those website/web app clients looking for mobile accessibility of their websites. Adding mobile to an already existing variety of browsers and OS combinations of desktop world, it was a hell. But lessons well learned.Explored and delved into Native Android development (Java was long forgotten language, used during college time) and Microsoft’s support for Xamarin and their primary language of C# pulled me into Xamarin’s world of mobile apps.Then there were the hybrid ones, using Cordova or Intel platforms. Dipped my hands into OnSenUI as well as Intel XDK but settled down on Ionic Framework. With its tight integration with Angular JS and Cordova plugin community, it worked out great and churned out a couple of apps.

    The latest have been, toying with the idea of NativeScript project from Telerik. Let’s see where it takes!

 

Oh boy! that’s been a long post. I usually don’t like writing long posts but this has been a special case as I have not written anything for almost a year. Well, will try to keep up more with the postings. So keep the links handy and see what comes next…

Till then have a happy life and a Happy New Year!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *