Saturday, February 4, 2017

Important Reading - 2016

Books read 2016

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande 

What happens to the body as we age, the transformation of old age care, geriatrics , hospice care, the transformation of society from a joint family system to a nuclear family set up, more elderly people living alone, the troubles they face, why taking care of sick or terminally ill people at home is better, what is the point at which medical intervention should stop and nature allowed to take its course ? a very interesting thought provoking book. I see it more relevant for indian context because the social network that existed in my grandmothers time ( when we took care of her at home during her last days with doctor visits and help from family members) is no longer around and no longer feasible too…

Verdict: Must Read

Quiet by Susan Cain

For a long time, I thought of myself as Shy till my friends told me that I talk well with people I know or on subjects that I know. I realized later that I am what people call as Introvert . And unfortunately for Introverts, we all live in a world where the quiet, serious and less talkative are overlooked in terms of the more open, talkative and loud types.
The book starts with the transition of how  character gave away to the idea of personality as a judge of people. And moves on to how this transition made the idea of a charismatic leader more popular. Talks about how brain storming is a bad idea, takes help of biology to look into whether the temperament is something a person is born with and how extroverts and introverts think differently. Book also looks at how Asian Culture gives space for Introverts ( in fact encouraging it ) while American culture is opposite in nature. The last section of the book talks about introvert kids, introverts at work, introvert extrovert marriages, problems faced and suggested solution.

The book is highly recommended and a must read if you are interested in people or work with people.

Verdict: Must Read

Mindset by Carol Dweck

There are two mindsets. One is Fixed. This makes people believe that their qualities (intelligence, ability and potential) are fixed. People form a certain image of themselves and need to perform to validate that image. 

Failure is looked upon as an inability or shortcoming of the potential and not as a means to learn something new and extend one’s ability. The other mindset is growth. People with this mindset believe that they can improve and look at failures as opportunities to learn rather.  This is not to say that the mindset alone is enough. Planning and working to achieve the goals or targets set is important.

Some kids are smarter than others. When there is too much focus on the results of the performances, the kids mindset becomes Fixed as they are under pressure to confirm to a certain image and there by impacting their growth. for e.g. Ms Dweck suggests that Parents should get kids to focus on putting in the best effort and not worry too much about the results. Praise and focus should be on the effort put in and not on the results.  

I have taken notes while reading the book and hope to write a separate post about the book.

Verdict: Must Read

The Climb by Anatoli Bourkeev and G. Weston DeWalt 

The climb of three groups that turned  fatal due to a ferocious blizzard and Anatoli Bourkeev’s rescue of  a number of climbers by risking his life is a first person narration and makes you feel sorry for the mountaineers who lost their lives attempting the climb. Poor planning, communication due to English and Russian, lack of proper radios, cost cutting in selection of oxygen cylinders, poor coordination… you can see all classic reasons for project failure throughout the book. And when you are against the mighty nature, over planning and over preparation is any day better than sufficient planning. In Military, there is a saying ‘ Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics’.

Verdict: Worth a read

Blockchain Revolution by Dan and Alexi Tapscott 

This book talks about the potential of blockchain and the kind of potential changes it can bring about. It is nontechnical and focuses on the areas where Blockchain can be used. It is comprehensive and a good read if you want to understand Blockchain’s potential. 

Verdict: Must Read

H for Hawk by Helen MacDonald.

 A woman and the story of how she overcomes the sudden death of her beloved father with the help of Falconry. The English landscape, the archaic languge that is unique to falconry, an author whose memoirs of failed experiments with falconry that weren’t meant to be published, but got published - all these have come together beautifully in this book. The prose is delectable and have never enjoyed a book for the language used this much in recent times.

Verdict: Must Read

World Economic Forum Report on  Blockchain

The future of financial infrastructure -- An ambitious look at how blockchain can reshape financial services

The report looks at different sectors like Insurance, Banking and takes use cases and how BlockChain can reshape financial services. It is an exhaustive report and is also more pragmatic in assessing the technology and discusses the limitations too. Unlike other books, this report doesn’t talk about as blockchain as the only thing, but the report is very careful to call out the technology as one of the fundamental building blocks.

Verdict: Must Read , if you are interested in knowing the potential of Blockchain and potential areas of implementation. click here to read the report

Read from my son's Library

Matilda by Roald Dahl
Couple of Geronimo Stilton whose titles I forgot J
Amar Chitra Kathas and few other kid books

Websites frequented for all stuff that interests me for Science Maths and Computer Science related developments
Pocket for interesting articles

Articles worth a mention

Books referred to or went back for selective reading

Books started and hopefully should be completed in 2017 :-)

The curse of Cash by Kenneth Rogoff
Mastering Bitcoin by Andreas Antonoupolos  

Friday, November 18, 2016

Blockchain - A Paradigm Shift

This is my recent presentation on why the concept of Blockchain is a paradigm shift. 

This presentation elaborates on why the blockchain is a paradigm shift across industries. It starts with the issues with online transactions at present. Gives a brief technical overview of the evolution of cryptocurrency, bitcoins, blockchain , smart contract and types of blockchain. It then talks about the global financial industry , its short comings, why blockchain will disrupt, opinion of leading banks on the technology, potential areas of application, World Economic Forum's report on Blockchain, concerns around blockchain implementation and ICICI's use of the technology for transactions. it ends with suggestions for further exploration. 

Technology focus is limited in this presentation and please do watch out this blog for a more technical overview

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Explainers, Elucidators and Enchanters...

BrainPickings has been one of my favorite sites, ever since i discovered it a few years back. It is one place , in fact the only place that you have to visit to cater to your curiosity.

The plus point is that we get so many book recommendations. so many in fact that i find difficult to keep up with that.

This particular post is built around Science writing and as a student of science and good science writing, i like the way how it is presented. More importantly, belive this can be extended to all good writing.

This is how the post explains the different categories of great writing

Explainers make information clear and comprehensible. 

Elucidators go beyond information and integrate various bits of knowledge into a larger framework of comprehension

Enchanters do all of the above, but go beyond the realm of knowledge and into the realm of wisdom. They provide a different level of understanding that is otherwise impossible to get.

Please read the complete post here and do check out the book recommendations too..

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge" - Notes to Self

Why this article is important: It reminds us that the advances in science and technology owe itself to  the advances in fundamental science. More importantly, the research in fundamental sciences weren't and aren't  done with the aim of arriving at something immediately useful to mankind. And all this was and is done only with the purpose of satiating a human being's curiosity. Hopefully this will answer queries about the need for  research, be it Large Hadron Collider or Chandrayan or Mangalyan ( India's Mars Mission) or The Voyager or...

I chanced upon this article titled 'The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge' by Abraham Flexner written in 1939. The article starts with the author telling the readers towards the end of the first paragraph  "I shall concern myself with the question of the extent to which the pursuit of these useless satisfactions proves unexpectedly the source from which undreamed-of utility is derived." It moves on to the question of whether the idea of useful in the materialistic world ( as in 1930s) has become too narrow for the human spirit and proceeds to look at the question from scientific and humanistic spirit.

Flexner moves on to a conversation he had with George Eastman where Mr Eastman, who has a refined taste in music, mentions Marconi as the most useful worker in science. Marconi's name was mentioned by Eastman due to the invention of the Radio. Flexner proceeds to explain how the building blocks for Radio were already in place due to the work done by Maxwell and Hertz and Marconi put them together.

Flexner says that Maxwell and Hertz didn't have the use of the theoretical work in their mind and where driven only by curiosity. To quote Flexner again, "curiosity, which may or may not eventuate in something useful, is probably the outstanding characteristic of modern thinking. It is not new. It goes back to Galileo, Bacon, and to Sir Isaac Newton, and it must be absolutely unhampered. Institutions of learning should be devoted to the cultivation of curiosity and the less they are deflected by considerations of immediacy of application, the more likely they are to contribute not only to human welfare but to the equally important satisfaction of intellectual interest which may indeed be said to have become the ruling passion of intellectual life in modern times."

 Flexner proceeds to give more example from Science, Maths and Medicine. He talks about the importance of Faraday's work and how the focus was on revealing the secrets of the universe and utility was never Faraday's focus. He also talks about the contribution of Gauss ( non-euclidean Geometry) and the importance of this to theory of relativity. He mentions Group Theory and Probability to strengthen his case about the originators never worrying about the utility or usefulness of their work. Flexner then quotes the example of Paul Ehrlich whose work resulted in the science of bacteriology. Flexner concludes that the work of Pasteur, Koch, ehrlich and score of others would never have been possible if the idea of possible use had come up in their mind.

He then goes on to talk about how the advances in modern science or inventions have been the built on the work of multiple men and women and how we must be weary about attributing scientific discovery to any one person. To quote him "Almost every discovery has a long and precarious history. Someone finds a bit here, another a bit there. A third step succeeds later and thus onward till a genius pieces the bits together and makes the decisive contribution."

Flexner continues to emphasize the importance of research for its own sake through this paragraph

"I cannot deal with this aspect exhaustively, but I may in passing say this: over a period of one or two hundred years the contributions of professional schools to their respective activities will probably be found to lie, not so much in the training of men who may to-morrow become practical engineers or practical lawyers or practical doctors, but rather in the fact that even in the pursuit of strictly practical aims an enormous amount of apparently useless activity goes on. Out of this useless activity there come discoveries which may well prove of infinitely more importance to the human mind and to the human spirit than the accomplishment of the useful ends for which schools have been founded."

By continuing this emphasis, he moves on to the topic of the importance of intellectual and spiritual freedom and says that people who want to reatrain the human thought is the real enemy of man "The real enemy of the human race is not the fearless and irresponsible thinker, be he right or wrong. The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings"

Flexner explains how this idea has conceived and founded the University of Berlin or the John Hopkins University. He goes on to say "It is the idea to which every individual who values his immortal soul will be true whatever the personal consequences to himself. Justification of spiritual freedom goes, however, much farther than originality whether in the realm of science or humanism, for it implies tolerance throughout the range of human dissimilarities. In the face of the history of the human race what can be more silly or ridiculous than likes or dislikes founded upon race or religion? Does humanity want symphonies and paintings and profound scientific truth, or does it want Christian symphonies, Christian paintings, Christian science,..." 

Flexner then talks about the Institue of Advanced Studies, how it is organized and gives examples of how the structure of the organization helps scientists.  He ends the article with this paragraph "We make ourselves no promises, but we cherish the hope that the unobstructed pursuit of useless knowledge will prove to have consequences in the future as in the past. Not for a moment, however, do we defend the Institute on that ground. It exists as a paradise for scholars who, like poets and musicians, have won the right to do as they please and who accomplish most when enabled to do so."

In summary, It is a very well written article that starts with the problem statement ( pursuit of seemingly useless acts result in undreamt of useful stuff for mankind), talks about curiousity and its importance, gives examples from the field of science to strengthen the authors case and finally ties up all this to the motto of Institute of Advanced studies with examples about how the idea of the institute has been found useful to the scientists.

The complete article in pdf format can be read here 

Further reading about Institute of Advanced Studies (pdf file)

Amazon Contextual Product Ads