Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review – Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and SchoolBrain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Medina is one heck of an individual. If I learned anything (and I like to think I learned lots) from his writing, it is that the human mind is as understood as the universe, or the meaning of life itself. We have idea's and theories on how the mind works, from creating memories to dealing with emotion, but many turn out to be unproven, are contradicted by theories in place, or in-turn disprove a previously believed notion. In the end, the small space above our eyes, ears and nose is an incredibly complex space that we'll be lucky to have some basic understanding of in our lifetime.

I enjoyed reading Medina's book because he is a very good writer, and doesn't inundate you with too much science. He is an excellent teacher, and his writing shows that. I think I didn't enjoy this book enough to give it 5/5 stars because I thought the title and opening chapter was somewhat misleading. I had the impression that this book was "understand these 12 things and boost your brain power!"... not that I thought it was meant to rival the fake medical ad's you find on TV at 5 AM, nor that I thought it was just that, but the first chapter spoke in wonderful detail about the power of exercise, and how it promotes positive cognitive growth and power because of blood and oxygen flow. So after reading the title and opening chapter, I'm thinking "Cool.. I know something I can *do*". I feel that is where that concept stopped. The remaining 11 chapters were more "Did you know that we don't know how the brain does this?"

So all in all, did I learn something from this book? No doubt.. I learned many things (ask my wife, I didn't shut up about the insights from this book for weeks), but what I thought the book was offering, and then what it offered were 2 different things.

All that being said, I still highly recommend John Medina. For any parents out there, his other book (Brain Rules For Baby - is a must read for anyone who has procreated in the past 20 years. Why?.. because we don't know much about the brain, but what we do know, John does an excellent job telling us.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Configuring Azure Autoscale (You need to configure the AutoScale service)

Azure Websites have a feature (still in preview mode as of this writing) that lets you spin up\down VM's to run your website.  When user's access the "Scale" tab within an Azure Website, it's common to see the message "You need to configure the autoscale service".  It's slightly confusing on what this means, as the autoscale settings area is "below" this alert, it's just not labeled as such!

To configure Azure AutoScale, within the "Scale" tab in your Azure Website.


Scroll down to the "Capacity" area - this is the same area you see the "you need to configure the autoscale service" message.  Here, you have the option to "Scale by Metric", for example: None and CPU


If I choose CPU, I'm given a few choices to indicate how I want to autoscale, namely.. how many CPU instances do I want to use - both minimum and maximum - and what's the target CPU range to indicate if a VM should start up\shut down.


What does "Instance" mean here?

This is important.  If you are running a "Small" instance, you are running on 1 Core CPU.  Medium is 2 Core, and Large is 4.  The number of cores are the multiplier for instance count.  b_autoscale3

So here's some simple math, if you're running a Medium Instance (2 Cores), and you're minimum instance count range is 3, then that is 6 instances.  As I said, this is important, as it will affect your billing.

Additional Options

Of course, you have other options when it comes to scaling as well.  Namely, the website also offers the ability to scale based on schedule.  Perhaps you know your site will receive minimal\no traffic on Sundays.  You can configure a schedule to run your website at minimum resources for this one particular day of the week.


I had a heck of a time realizing that the message "You need to configure the autoscale service" meant to configure the "Core" metric, so hopefully this post helped you out!  If you'd like more information, I found the following resources very helpful:

- Developers Guide to Windows Azure - Patterns and Practices
- The new Auto Scaling Service in Windows Azure
- Windows Azure - AutoScale General Availability - The Gu!
- Auto Scaling Azure Web Sites, CPU or Scheduled - Scott Hanselman and Stefan Schackow (Video)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: David and Goliath

David and GoliathDavid and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The thing about Malcolm Gladwell's books is that they are so easy to read. For someone as cranial as his books are, it's nothing to pick up a book and read a chapter here, and a chapter there. This book is no exception, and it's refreshing to read his style of writing, marrying a scientific proposal of idea's and notions mixed with an easy going prose that doesn't bore you with large words and exotic themes. For anyone who has read any other of Gladwell's books, you'll find this one ranks among the rest of them.

All that being said, I felt like this book took off like a rocketship, and ended in a sputter. The opening chapter dissects the historical notion of David and Goliath, and even offers some suggestions on "how" and "why" David was victorious. The next several chapters all had the common, winning Gladwell theme, present an idea, mix in some stories and some science, and end the chapter convinced you learned something.

The last 3 chapters in particular kind of felt out of place, forced, or just didn't resonate with me as well as the others did. Each other chapter in the book had a unifying theme, and correlated well to there overall theme of the book. But the last 3 chapters were these somewhat loosely related, but seemed to be missing that "scientific" part.. which I feel are critical to Gladwell's writing style. He offers opinions and suggestions, and you tend to buy in (at least I did), but the science part where he says "look at these historical figures", was a little lacking. Trust me, the chapters are built well, I just didn't feel "wowed" like I did with the earlier parts of the book. In the end, the final chapters are meant to offer some insight into resiliency, which it did, but each chapter ended with me checking if any pages were missing in the book.

Overall, I still enjoyed this book (4/5 stars after all). Some say that Gladwell merely tells us what we already know (I've heard countless arguments that his "10,000 hours rule" in Outliers is a fancy way of saying "Practice Makes Perfect"), but I disagree with most on those points. Gladwell does a fine job offering insight into supporting his theories, presenting theories most of us have seldom heard of, and at the very least helps us continue to think outside the box and realize that what we observe is not always as it seems. David and Goliath did just that for me as well.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Book Review – The Happiest Toddler on the Block – The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One-to-Four Year Old

The Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One- to Four-Year-OldThe Happiest Toddler on the Block: The New Way to Stop the Daily Battle of Wills and Raise a Secure and Well-Behaved One- to Four-Year-Old by Harvey Karp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dr. Karp's book is on point, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. He does an excellent job on first helping you understand why toddlers can be a terror at times, reminding you that their brains are premature. He then presents a few very important methods for dealing with a toddler who is in the midst of a meltdown.. or being flat out unruly. From there, a few chapters are dedicated strictly to enforcing good behaviors, along with how to handle a child who simply will not listen. The final chapter does an excellent job on pulling this all together, citing specific types of meltdowns and how you could use his methodology in the particular scenario's - for example, how to handle when your child won't eat, or cries when you drop them off at daycare in the morning.

What I enjoyed most of this book, however, was that there wasn't anything *new*... I found that my wife and I already performed some of these actions. What was insightful was that we found the context that we should be doing things.. time-outs.. talking to a child when they cry.. using treats for a reward rather than a bribe. The book does a great job of providing context for when, how and why you can help raise a toddler. Well done Dr. Karp!

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