Reading List – 2015

22 Mar

A list of books I read last year. My very short take is included at the end.

Reading List – 2015

    1. Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart by Lisa Rogak (Very good, if you get your news from The Daily Show)
    2. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson (Must read. The history of scientific innovations)
    3. A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz (Terrible. Rambling.)
    4. What Makes a Hero?: The Surprising Science of Selflessness by Elizabeth Svoboda (Good.)
    5. Correlated: Surprising Connections Between Seemingly Unrelated Things by Shaun Gallagher (Good in the beginning, then gets monotonous)
    6. The Complete Sherlock Holmes: Volume 1 by Arthur Conan Doyle (Very good. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, you already know the stories.)
    7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney (Best Wimpy Kid book in the series)
    8. The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller
    9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (Excellent, if you are into Wimpy Kid kind of books)
    10. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone (Must read. Tells the history of Amazon)
    11. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Excellent, if you are into Wimpy Kid kind of books)
    12. Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James (Ok, but certainly not worth the hype)
    13. Blasphemy by Tehmina Durrani (Great, but extremely terrifying)
    14. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam M. Grant (Very good. Explains why givers are better than takers)
    15. Selma 1965: The March That Changed The South by Charles Fager (Very good. Events reported in detail.)
    16. Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks
    17. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things by Don Norman (Good, but very few examples)
    18. AsapSCIENCE: Answers to the World’s Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena by Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown (Science meets entertainment)
    19. An Equation for Every Occasion: Fifty-Two Formulas and Why They Matter by John M. Henshaw (Good read if you love science)
    20. A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume One by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Crash course for people who have not seen the TV series or read the novel)
    21. A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume Two by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Same as Vol 1)
    22. A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume Three by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Same as Vol 1)
    23. A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume Four by George R. R. Martin, Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Same as Vol 1)
    24. HBR’S 10 Must Reads: The Essentials by Peter Ferdinand Drucker, Clayton M. Christensen, and 2 more (Great read)
    25. Monsoon by Wilbur Smith (Great  novel. Should have been a movie)
    26. The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber (Good parenting tips)
    27. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (Very good novel)
    28. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson (Great history of computing. Must read)
    29. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Pulitzer prize winning novel)
    30. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Pulitzer prize winning novel. Best book of all time. Movie equally awesome.)

Reading List – 2014

Design of Everyday Things: Drinking Water Fountain

9 Dec

Drinking water fountains are visible everywhere – airports, restrooms, parks. It’s a great way to let thirsty people, adults and children alike, to drink water when they are not in the comfort of their homes. It’s also a great way to waste water. More water goes down the drain than a person’s mouth. In absence of a cup or a glass, there is no better design available that minimizes loss of water.

A few months ago, I got off a flight at the Atlanta airport. I was thirsty and went straight to the first water fountain I saw.
Drinking water fountain - sensor activated

I first looked for a button to press or a knob to turn that would get me the water, just the way I’ve always done. When I couldn’t find it, the next second, I noticed a label that showed how to waive my hand under the fountain to activate the faucet. Oh, that’s helpful, I thought and was immediately impressed by the use of sensors in a water fountain. I waived my hand. Nothing happened. Waived again. And again. Nothing. A feeling of embarrassment clouded me, and I felt people looking at the idiot who couldn’t figure out how to waive a hand to activate the fountain. I quickly left and didn’t stop at the next fountain.

Two days later, while returning, I was again at the same airport. I decided to try waving my hand at a different fountain. It worked, and I felt smart again.

Drinking water fountain - mechanicalDesign issues

  1. Use of sensors is a good idea. Nobody touches the button. No more passing of germs from one hand to another, at least through a water fountain. This might be the reason the designers decided to use sensors.
  2. The designers ignored a fundamental design principle and the scenario when the sensors are not working: feedback.
  3. There is no way someone would know if the sensors are not working. A mechanical fountain has a button that people have to press. If they press the button and water doesn’t come out, that’s feedback enough indicating that the fountain is not working.
  4. What if my hands are not free, if I’m carrying something or a baby that I can’t put down? I can use, and have used, my body to press the button to drink water from a mechanical fountain but I can’t do it with this one.

Finally, if you need to use an illustration to show how to use an item as simple as a water fountain, that is, in my book, a bad design.

Related readings
Design of Everyday Things

We Won The Internet

13 Mar

Yes, we won the Internet on February 26, 2015. But, first things first.

What is Net Neutrality?
For douchebags,

“Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.— Senator Ted Cruz on Twitter

For educated folks, The Oatmeal has explained net neutrality beautifully with an example. Simply put, net neutrality is all about information on the Internet being treated equally. Which means, a movie on Netflix or a video on YouTube has the same priority as any other video from a small startup. The cable companies like Comcast or Time Warner cannot charge money from any company to speed up their videos streaming and slow down feed from companies that do not pay.

In the beginning …
Everything was hunky-dory and information on the Internet was free. Free as in air, not free as in beer. And all information was considered equal. This was the default so we never paid – or had to pay – attention to concepts like “net neutrality”. Everyone received the same content on the Internet and all content from all companies was treated equally.

Then this happened …
Netflix started slowing down for Verizon and Comcast customers. Netflix, being the most popular online TV and movies provider, consumed about 25% of the total bandwidth of the Internet connection in 2012, which rose to 35% in 2014 during peak TV viewing hours. So, some service providers started asking Netflix to pay more for more bandwidth usage. Netflix declined and these service providers started throttling Netflix.

Courtesy Netflix

Courtesy Netflix

Paid prioritization
Because money is king; to hell with customers

In February 2014, Netflix agreed to pay Comcast, and later to Verizon, to stream its videos at higher bandwidth. Then the streaming speed went up again.

Courtesy Netflix

Courtesy Netflix

Verizon vs. FCC
Federal Communications Commission is a US government agency that oversees and regulates all communications, including TV and radio airwaves and wire and cable transmissions. In 2005, the FCC had issued guidelines to promote net neutrality. These were not formal rules, so the ISPs were not legally bound to obey them. In 2011, Verizon sued FCC and asked the court to overturn the open Internet rules. The court ruled in favor of Verizon on the grounds that the Internet providers are not classified as common carriers and as such, FCC does not have authority to regulate them.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996
In 1934, congress enacted the Communications Act to regulate the wire and radio communications. The Act was amended in 1996 into the Telecommunications Act and the Internet was included under its purview. The Act made a distinction between “telecommunications service” and “information service” wherein the telecommunications service are more stringently regulated than information service, which included the Internet service providers. The Act was intended to foster competition among the providers but due to consolidation in the industry, only a handful of providers remained operational in each region. Verizon won the lawsuit on the grounds that it was an information service provider and hence, cannot be regulated by FCC, which was the right decision.

What is Title II of the Telecommunications Act?
One of the seven titles of the Telecommunications Act, Title II outlines the provisions of “broadcast services”, which includes “Common Carriers”. Title II stipulates that common carriers can’t “make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.” In February, FCC voted in favor of reclassifying the ISPs as Common Carriers, which means the broadband Internet service will be treated as telecommunications service and not information service.

The fight ahead
President Obama has openly and strongly supported net neutrality. The final rules have not been announced; however, there has already been an outcry from the industry, which was expected. However, many leaders of the Republican party have strongly spoken against the rule change. Lawsuits would undoubtedly follow once the rules are announced, and it might take years before things are stable again.

Until then, we, the people, have won the Internet. People: 1 – Douchebags: 0.

Recommended readings

What The FCC’s Net Neutrality Ruling Means For You
Verizon, the FCC and What You Need to Know About Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now

Proficiency = Hard Work + Mentor

30 Jan

Despite the occasional rants of random people criticizing teachers appearing in the media, I’m a huge believer in the noble profession of teaching. I believe that the presence, help, feedback, and expectations of a teacher is crucial to a student’s, particularly a school kid’s, performance – academically, athletically, and in other activities.

The availability of a teacher, or a mentor, can be extremely valuable to people of all ages and in all disciplines of life. The exchange in the screenshot below happened on Facebook where one of my friends posted and a few other people responded with their comments. My beliefs exactly.

Hard work and mentors

A Zinger And A Wink

23 Jan

I don’t post political matters on my blog but I can’t resist the awesome zinger followed by a wink from the president at the State of the Union 2015 address. A man with nothing to lose and it shows.


Reading List – 2014

9 Jan

Books I read in 2014

  1. Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray
  2. Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires by Carol Graham
  3. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
  4. The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now! by Mark Hyman
  5. On Virtues: Quotations and Insight to Live a Full, Honorable, and Truly American Life by Sheldon Whitehouse
  6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney
  7. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney
  9. The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America by Amy Chua
  10. ADHD Does Not Exist by Richard Saul
  11. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack
  12. The Garfield Treasury by Jim Davis
  13. Worth It … Not Worth It?: Simple?: Profitable Answers to Life’s Tough Financial Questions by Jack Otter
  14. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
  15. The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears by Mark Batterson
  16. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
  17. Deception Point by Dan Brown
  18. It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd
  19. Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer, and Paul B. Brown
  20. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
  21. Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
  22. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald
  23. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  24. Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World by Phillip Landrigan
  25. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
  26. The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand
  27. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
  28. Do Fathers Matter?: What Science Is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked by Paul Raeburn
  29. The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money by Carl Richards
  30. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  31. How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg
  32. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  33. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney
  34. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney
  35. Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa
  36. The Innovator’s Method: Bringing the Lean Start-up into Your Organization by Nathan Furr, Jeff Dyer, and Clayton M. Christensen (Foreword)
  37. Agile Project Management for Beginners: Mastering the Basics with Scrum by Bryan Mathis
  38. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz
  39. The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline
  40. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak
  41. 1,000+ Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently by Marc Chernoff and Angel Chernoff
  42. You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney

Reading List – 2013

The Digital Babysitter

22 Dec

When I visit restaurants, a very common view is families looking at their smartphones, even with food on the table. Kids playing games on phones or handheld gaming devices while following their parents in grocery stores is not very uncommon. When we gather at a friend’s house, most of the kids play video games on phones, tablets, or a gaming console. Even in parties where people dance, these kids are busy with their phones. The adults are setting a bad example for their kids.

Digital babysitter: When kids are busy with their devices, they don’t trouble their parents, who are already tired from a hard day’s work. So they use these devices as digital babysitters. I’ve seen parents having fun at parties while their children are glued to their screens. I wonder if life is passing by these kids and they don’t even realize it. Eating, while watching TV, has been proved to lead to eating disorders. The diagnosis for ADHD has exploded in recent years, and less parent time is not helping the children.


Empathy: It is going to be the number one job skill by 2020. We develop empathy by interacting with other people, learning about them, getting social cues, empathizing with them. Unfortunately, technology is steering many children away from socially interacting with other children and adults.

My home, my rule: At my home, we have a simple rule: A maximum of one hour of screen time a day at home, and zero screen time outside home. This rule is applicable to kids and adults. My wife and I don’t check emails or go to facebook when we are in movie theaters or restaurants or parks. Our kids run around at social events and dance in parties. We eat without a screen in front of us. We talk, we laugh, and we generally have fun a lot.

Even people leading technology companies – the late Steve Jobs and Dick Costolo – did not approve of too much technology use for their kids.

What research says: Unregulated physical activity has tremendous benefits in terms of academic achievement and health. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics, the exposure to technology should be limited for children and young adults. Smartphones and tablets are a recent phenomena, so there have not been any long-term research to study the effect of screens on children’s lives. However, some research shows that more time spent looking at devices has a negative impact on academics and social behavior. This, of course, is not a general rule. Some kids who use technology a lot will grow up to be leaders and inventors. Unfortunately, a majority of kids might suffer from its bad effects.

Additional readings
10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12
Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent
Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?