Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sapiens is a very entertaining read. It presents the history of humankind in its integrity and search to make sense out of it all.

It’s a well researched and well written book, but by choosing to present a specific theory on how cultures and human groups evolve and interact, it gives to its narration of history the aspect of an ultimate truth. I was slightly put off by this aspect of the book. I found it interesting that Jared Diamond’s praise was on the cover of my copy of the book, as similar critics have been made of his book “Guns, Germs and Steel”.

I still think that Harari’s book is worth reading as it raises good questions and gives a good introduction to history in a book that is easy and enjoyable to read.

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Les Nouveaux Chiens de Garde par Serge Halimi

Les Nouveaux Chiens de Garde (Edition revue et augmentée)Les Nouveaux Chiens de Garde by Serge Halimi

Ce livre de Serge Halimi est important. Il invite le lecteur à ignorer un temps le bourdonnement des médias et à prendre du recul.

Dans cette édition actualisée et augmentée, Serge Halimi décrit l’évolution des médias et de leur relations aux pouvoirs financiers et politiques au cours des 60 dernières années. Il utilise des exemples datant de 1978 comme de 2005. Il décrit les forces qui guident la trajectoire dangereuse de la profession journalistique vers la servitude volontaire.

En présentant l’histoire de la relation des médias au pouvoir politique, en analysant en détail les structures financières des groupes possédant les principaux médias français, en décrivant les inégalités entre la fortune les éditorialistes vedettes et la précarité des pigistes et stagiaires et en condamnant la corruption des cercles journalistiques, Serge Halimi nous décrit un monde où le courage n’est pas récompensé et où la flatterie et la flagornerie sont des ingrédients du succès.

Malgré sa thèse principale, cet essai pousse à l’optimisme. Plusieurs fois dans le livre, Serge Halimi oppose à la paresse intellectuelle des journalistes et autres éditorialistes, l’action populaire et les mouvements d’opinions. Il décrit la confrontation entre le consensus politico-médiatique et les convictions des grévistes et manifestants qui se sont opposés aux nombreux traités européens et aux successives réformes du régime des retraites. Il souligne que le ronronnement satisfait des médias néo-libéraux n’a pas fait disparaître le débat d’idée, même s’il n’a plus autant de place dans les quotidiens nationaux et sur les chaînes de télévision ou de radio.

Ce livre mérite d’être lu et relu. Il n’est pas nécessaire de partager les idées de Serge Halimi pour trouver dans son essai une invitation à la réflexion et à la créativité. Lisez sur les idées nouvelles, instruisez vous sur les solutions venant d’ailleurs ou d´autres époques. Les lois du marchés et du monde ne sont pas aussi inflexibles que les lois de la nature. Serge Halimi vous donne le pouvoir de les disputer.

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Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock

KnockemstiffKnockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Donald Ray Pollock shows the worst in the lives of the people from Knockemstiff: their bad decisions, their vices, their worse weaknesses… But, he doesn’t judge them. All characters have human motivations and fears. A lot of fears.

At first, I didn’t like the book. It was extremely dark, and I saw a form of unhealthy voyeurism in the way Pollock dug in the worst aspects of life in middle of nowhere America.

But, after reading all these different stories and seeing how Pollock shows that his characters are stuck in a life that they never chose fighting a terrible destiny that everybody can forecast with no difficulty, I saw the empathy that Pollock has for each of them. It would have been easy to just push the reader to hate the bad guys or feel sorry for the poor victims, but the author rarely choose the easy way and will you make feel empathy for the worst asshole and hope for the most hopeless drunkard.

I recommend this book. It rings true.

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RESTful Web Services by Sam Ruby and Leonard Richardson

RESTful Web ServicesRESTful Web Services by Leonard Richardson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book gives a very good introduction to the concepts underlying the RESTful way to design Web Services and explains in details the benefits of a Resource Oriented Architecture. The main issue that I noticed is that the examples are kind of outdated. But, it is actually pretty cool to see how much the web evolved in the past 10 years.

If you come across a cheap copy of this book, I would recommend to read the chapters that are about the general principles of the resource oriented architecture and the examples of how to design a well thought web service. The authors are going in great details about why the type of architecture they are advising for makes sense and compare it with other possible designs. It is extremely useful to understand the value of these principles.

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Everything that remains by The Minimalists

Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the MinimalistsEverything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Minimalists do not provide a lot of answers in this book but do two thing that I found really beneficial to me: They ask some good questions and they tell you to trust yourself.

The tone of the book is optimistic and is in favor of experimentation and customization of the experience. It is overall empowering. Maybe, the template that has been defined as the American Dream and forced on us as the perfect way to happiness is not fitting you. And, it’s OK. Try and experiment with other templates and find the one that make you happy. Do not settle for the one that gives you the best chance to achieve happiness. Give yourself the right to be happy now.

A lot of it is kind of vague and kind of generic, but I think that it’s worth the read. It’s a very short volume.

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Dan Schulman CEO of PayPal on the social value of banking services

In this article, Dan Schulman speaks to McKinsey about the social benefits of fintech and of the importance of providing access to banking services to everyone.

There are two billion people in the world that live outside of our financial system. In the United States, there are over 70 million people who live outside the financial system. This is a global issue of immense proportions.

Even if the talk contains its fair share of corporate talk, it also gives some interesting stats about the cost of banking for the less fortunates. People “spend as much as 10% of their incomes on unnecessary fees and interest rates.” Or as much as they spend on food.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Colson Whitehead wrote a real page turner. This book is excellent. It is captivating and at the same time gives you a better understanding of the origins of race issues in the United States. It presents a story of a New World built on plundering and violence. It is not a beautiful story and it does not bring a beautiful morale at the end. But, it is a story worth being told.

I highly recommend this book.

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WordPress integration to Slack deployed on Heroku

Deploying WordPress integration to Slack toy application on Heroku

A few weeks ago, I posted a note about a tinkering project with the purpose of building a small web API with Flask to get notifications on Slack from my WordPress blog.

At the time, the application was deployed on a Raspberry Pi and I wanted to try and get the application to run on Heroku.

In the process, I adopted some of Heroku best practices on the management of the environment setup. I cleaned the code so that it can be shared on GitHub and I played around with Slack message formatting capabilities.

What did I learn?

At some point during the migration of the application from the Raspberry Pi, I spent a lot of time being stuck with an “unauthorized access” error. I assumed that the issue was coming from my poor understanding of the port routing logic of Heroku. I was wrong, as the issue was linked to the definition of the Slack API Key.

In the process, I learned that the official documentation is often the best place to find reliable information on a service, as the Heroku documentation show me the correct path to the solution.

I also learned that you need to get as much insights as possible from logs and error messages before starting to mess with your code.

Resources

I used two tutorials from Heroku documentation:
1. Getting Started on Heroku with Python
2. Deploying Python and Django Apps on Heroku

I also used Slack documentation for message formatting.

Shared repo

The code of this project has been shared on Github

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

The Weary BluesThe Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a special feeling from reading poetry in a foreign language. Poetry uses very specific vocabulary and plays with sororities that are foreign to the reader.
But, I was taken by the beauty of some of the poems in this book. Troubled Woman really moved me, Sea Calm is beautiful, Pierrot is touching. Langston Hughes brings you in his world through his poetry and you learn as much in his verses as you would in a documentary about his era.

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