Reading List – 2017

6 Mar

Books I read in 2017:

  1. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis (A great story about the friendship and parting of two of the world’s great psychologists)
  2. History’s Greatest Discoveries And the People Who Made Them by Joel Levy (A good read)
  3. Pearl Harbor: An AP Special Anniversary Edition by The Associated Press (A good read though not too detailed)
  4. Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald (A great book on different types of biases we harbor)
  5. 3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias: Watch, Think, Act by Sondra Thiederman (A poorly written short book)
  6. The 25 Cognitive Biases: Understanding Human Psychology, Decision Making & How To Not Fall Victim To Them by Kai Musashi (A terrible book)
  7. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance (Elon Musk’s biography. A great book for Musk’s fans)
  8. The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt (A good book about the life of a rich person, who happens to be the president’s wife)
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (The funniest book I’ve ever read. A must read.)
  10. Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths (The premise is great, but the book totally deviates from the topic)
  11. Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger (A good read but a very narrow focus on why wars are great for a community)
  12. Fifty Shades Darker by E. L. James (No comments)
  13. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance (A great book on the hard and desperate lives in the middle America)
  14. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool (A great book on how deliberate practice improves performance. One of the best book I’ve read.)
  15. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (A great book in support of introverts, with evidences)
  16. The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics by Barton Swaim (A very funny take on the workings of a governor’s office)
  17. The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth (A must book for beer aficionados)
  18. Simplify: How the Best Businesses in the World Succeed by Richard Koch and Greg Lockwood (A good book on simplifying business models and products to succeed)
  19. The Road Less Traveled, Timeless Edition: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck (Extremely idealistic. Great book, didn’t finish, too theoretical)
  20. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street by John Brooks (A good read on a few business stories)
  21. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal (As the title implies. A good book for product/service designers)
  22. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (A crappy book by an awesome person)
  23. In Defense of a Liberal Education by Fareed Zakaria (As the name implies. An okay book.)
  24. History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 by James Ford Rhodes (Great book with very detailed accounts of the civil war.)

Reading List – 2016

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Reading List – 2016

6 Jan

Busy 2016. Less reading.

Reading List – 2016

  1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Good mystery novel. Also a movie)
  2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Excellent novel on African-American lives.Pulitzer prize winner. Also a movie.)
  3. Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis (Very funny and incisive, Michael Lewis’ take on Wall Street in the 1980s)
  4. Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania by Frank Bruni (Good book on the college-admissions craziness)
  5. The Guns of August: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Classic About the Outbreak of World War I by Barbara L. Tuchman (Too detailed. Makes it unreadable. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  6. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Good novel. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  7. Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird by Mary McDonagh Murphy (Good book with real-life information about the characters in the original book)
  8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Too long, too much wordplay. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  9. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton (A well-researched history lesson on Harriet Tubman)
  10. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (The best father in the world turns racist. Shocking. Nowhere near To Kill a Mockingbird)
  11. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (6 pages worth of story, told in 600 pages. Too much wordplay. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  12. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Good novel set in post Vietnam era. Pulitzer prize winner  )
  13. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (A moving story of a father and son in a post-apocalyptic world. Pulitzer prize winner. Also a movie.)
  14. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (A decent book. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  15. Tinkers by Paul Harding (An ok, below average, book. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  16. Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism–From Goldwater to Trump and Beyond by E.J. Dionne Jr. (A great account of why and when the right went radical.)
  17. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down (book 11) by Jeff Kinney (A typical wimpy kid book.)
  18. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
  19. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (A beautiful collection of stories with intersecting lives. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  20. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri (A collection of emotional stories. Pulitzer prize winner.)
  21. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White

Reading List – 2015

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.