Monday, January 14, 2019

BookMarks #49: How to Invent Everything

Title: How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler 
Author: Ryan North 
Genre: Fiction, Pop History, Science 
Setting: Throughout Human History 
Published: 2018 

What if you are trapped back in time with no foreseeable way to return to your timeline? How do you build the things you are used to? Or basically how do you invent things before they were invented? 

The book presents an interesting premise. In the future, a time machine takes you back in time. But like any other machine, it can develop problems, but being stuck back in time, you can’t really call for “road side assistance”. While unable to repair the machine itself, you have this handy guide to help you figure out which era you are in, how to survive in that, and how to “invent” things you already know, so that the contemporary civilization gets a jumpstart to the modern age. 

The concept of time travel – while it is central to our story, the author has given a big caveat. Any alterations caused by your presence in the past leads to alternate timelines going forward in parallel, and does not disturb the space-time continuum as it exists in your original timeline. So there are multiple universes existing. 

The book is brilliant in teaching the basic guidelines for the major inventions/discoveries, and how one can build them from scratch. From inventing the wheel to building primitive computers, this book has it all. Depending on when you in the past, it can also act as a survival guide. Wondering what our friend Robinson Crusoe would have done with such a guide, when he was stranded on that island! 

Of all discoveries, writing is the most important one as it provides a medium to share information to the future generations, without which knowledge can get lost in time, as has been the case with many such discoveries, which had to be re-discovered multiple times! Probably one of the reasons why Europe thrived after the invention of the printing press while the likes of China, India, Egypt, Iran etc. became laggards in the technological race (my key takeaway from the book). 

Combining a bit of history, geology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, logic, with humour this book is an interesting take on the major inventions and discoveries which happened to bring humankind to its current shape. Overall, a fun read, although some of the details do get a bit tedious but you can always skim through those! 

Previously on BookMarks: Chanakya’s Chant

Monday, January 07, 2019

Goodbye 2018

End of year MMXVIII AD. Time to reflect back on having completed another revolution around the Sun. 

From a chaotic beginning, being stuck at the airport due to a fog delayed flight to a calm ending, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it was a year of busyness where while not much happened, yet a lot actually did. 

This was a year of small trips, including some with same day return. The travel map expanded into the neighbourhood (Pune) and to middle of the country (Shahdol). The daily commutes kept getting longer and amongst other things even involved a helicopter ride! The 4G connection helped overcome the ennui of the daily routine though. However due to the occasional madness which collectively grips our cities, spent a couple of days with mobile data not available, which was somehow also a very liberating feeling. 

There was a 10 year college reunion. Frankly speaking, 10 years can change a place a lot, if there is desire to do so. There were many other WhatsApp groups planning a multitude of reunions. Waiting to see how many of them come to fruition. 

Book count increased but there is always scope for growth. Movie theatre visits may have dropped but were replaced by experiences like a play (and not just any play but The Mousetrap) and a couple of games of Kabbadi. 

But most importantly, 2018 was spent preparing for 2019! 

Wishing all readers a very Happy, healthy & prosperous 2019.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018: The Year Gone By

The year 2018 AD is coming to a close leaving behind random memories – some fleeting and some of a little more permanent nature. Here is a personal compilation of events/non-events to remember the year gone by. 

1. Social Movement - #MeToo 
The #MeToo movement finally reached India. The entertainment industry as expected was where the biggest scandals lay but Corporate India was no less culpable. And to think it all began with a comedian’s tweet on the Pan Masala company’s antics on a cruise liner abroad! 

2. The Identified Flying Object 
Elon Musk launched a car in space with a mannequin in the driver’s seat listening to music. We finally have our own hitchhiker moving through the galaxy. 

3. Sporting Caption of the Year 
It was the year of the Football World Cup. We Indians chose our favorite teams rooting behind the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, Croatia and France. Meanwhile our neighbours on the West sent out this tweet “Dear World, thank you for playing with our balls” to announce the fact that Telstar 18, the balls were manufactured in Pakistan. 

4. The Rescue 
A bunch of Thai boys, from a local football team, stuck inside a flooded cave for many days without food and water and in the dark and finally getting rescued. Gripping drama in the age of 24x7 media and social media coverage. And pretty sure there is a movie in the works as well. Yet much closer home, in Meghalaya, 13 miners were missing and barely a mention anywhere. 

5. The Political Reality TV 
Rahul Gandhi hugging PM Modi in Lok Sabha, to a shell-shocked House and then following up with a wink. The moment when Lok Sabha TV provided more drama than all soap operas combined! And with elections approaching expect more such drama. 

6. The Battle of the Jokers 
Trump vs Kim Jong-Un - after bouts of some childish name-calling (Dotage, Little Rocket man were some of the affectionate terms used), they indulged in a discussion on the size of their respective nuclear buttons and then ended up meeting as if nothing happened. Unfortunately these jokers are also controlling nuclear arsenal. 

7. Data Privacy discussions 
Widespread debates & discussions on how user data is being mined from social media to influence political outcomes and possibly cause targeted individual harm as well. This also led to hilarious outcomes where tech honchos like Zuckerberg & Sundar Pichai patiently explained to Congressional committees how internet and social media worked or that iPhones were made by Apple and not Google. In India, we had our own issues with Aadhaar database and its access, leading to the TRAI Chairman publicly giving out his Aadhaar number and asking all to hack him. (Well, a bit like Mad-Eye Moody teaching the Unforgivable spells to a bunch of teenage wizards) Never got to know the results of this challenge though. 

8. Newton’s Law of Gravity – things which go up have to fall down 
Bitcoins and the multiple crypto-currencies which had spawned all over the place, was the bubble which pricked just enough for many to lose out (and the smart ones to make money) while the underlying blockchain technology kept going places.

9. Headline of the Year 
Seal slaps man with an octopus - Wonder what the poor octopus would have felt and what outraged the seal so much!

10. The 15 seconds of Fame 
Priya Prakash Varrier - the winking girl, or Sanjeev Srivastava - the dancing uncle. All but forgotten by the end of the year. 

So that was 2018 events wise. Lets see what 2019 has in store. After all 2019 brings in the Lok Sabha elections, and the epic culminations of events in Westeros and the Avengers finale! 

Wishing all readers a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2019.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

BookMarks #48: Chanakya’s Chant

Title: Chanakya’s Chant 
Author: Ashwin Sanghi 
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Setting: Mauryan Empire & Modern India 
Published: 2010 

In the 4th century BC Chanakya plots to overthrown the Nanda dynasty from Magadh and install his protégé Chandragupta Maurya on the throne. In the 20th century, Gangadhar Mishra attempts to put Chandini Gupta as the Prime Minister of India. 

An interesting way to tell a story. There are actually two stories running here in parallel, separated by a timeline of two and a half millennia. One is a fictionalized take of the ascendancy of Chandragupta Maurya to the Magadh throne and the other a modernized version of the same, set in 20th century India. 

Key message of the book is while settings may change, the basic politics remains the same. Use every means to pin down your opponent while moving up the ladder yourself. And it is the backroom players who play the key role in propping up their candidates. 

Overall quite an engrossing account! 

Previously on BookMarks: The Time Machine 

Monday, October 29, 2018

BookMarks #47: The Time Machine

Title: The Time Machine
Author: HG Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Setting: Late 19th Century Britain & way ahead in the future
Published: 1895

An inventor builds a Time Machine and travels into the future and gets a glimpse of what has become of the intelligent life on Earth.

We do not learn of any character names except Weena, who becomes the time traveler’s companion in the future. Even in the text, when a character addresses another by name, that part is left blank. Almost as if all names have been redacted from the text.

Had read the book at a much younger age, and did not get the many nuances the story has. It isn’t just a tale of an inventor building a Time Machine, finding things different from what he imagined, landing in trouble and managing to get back to his own time after a great adventure. It is also a tale of how even species can diverge if the differences between the haves and the have-nots keeps on rising. The increasing gap here leads to evolution of two radically different species, one of whom even feeds on the other. 

Is evolution circular? A question which crops up while reading the book. The human species hasn’t evolved into a super-human one rather it has effectively moved backwards. There are simple-minded, child-like fun-loving “eloi”, who sustain on fruits and are fascinated by a flame and seemingly have no care in the world. And then there are the savage “Morlocks” who eat the eloi, stay in the dark undergrounds and are scared of fire. Ability to live as a community, agriculture, domesticating animals, building industries and machines – all seem to have been lost alongwith the intellectual capacity to read and write and store knowledge which can be passed on from one generation to other. 

All this happens even while the Earth is still inhabitable. As the time traveler proceeds further into the future, there are changes in the solar system leading to climate changes, which drastically alter the life. This bit is quite understandable because life exists on Earth in its current form because of conditions which are just right. 

Through the time traveler, we also learn how not to depend just on our biases. Every new information he gets, he tries to formulate a theory based on his 19th century understanding. And thus ends up being wrong multiple times. Although he does keep evolving his thought process with passing time. It is quite fascinating to see how new information is processed by our biased brains. We try to immediately bucket new things with what we already know rather than wait for all information. 

The Time Traveler goes into the future and burns down a forest with fire that he has created in order to keep the morlocks at bay. A whole forest destroyed, large scale destruction of species, some species friended and “domesticated” as companions – isn’t that exactly what humans have done during our time on Earth? Go to a new place and drastically change its ecological balance. Since there aren’t many such places left in the present, our narrator has gone into the future and done the same in a matter of days!

The ending is written with an air of mystery, when there is actually none. If the Time Machine is still working, the narrator should not have to wait for his Time Travelling friend for three years to tell his story. The Time Traveler can choose the exact moment of his return.

Fun Fact – The term “time machine” was coined by HG Wells in this book. And it is now the universally accepted term for such a device! Time Machines and Time Travelers may not exist (from what we know now) but Wells certainly was a man ahead of his time!

Previously on BookMarks: Exponential Organizations
Also by HG Wells – The War of the Worlds 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

BookMarks #46: Exponential Organizations

Title: Exponential Organizations
Author: Salim Ismail
Genre: Non-Fiction, Management, Strategy
Published: 2014

In this book, the author attempts to define what would enable an organization to keep growing. He provides the concept of an Exponential Organization. An Exponential Organization is defined as one whose impact (or output) is disproportionally large—at least 10x larger—compared to its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies. 

For an organization to be considered exponential, it needs to have a Massive Transformative Purpose. The vision statement should be simple yet provide a large scope. The author has also provided 10 attributes which an Exponential Organization should have. These are acronymed as SCALE & IDEAS. 
  • SCALE: Staff on Demand; Community & Crowd; Algorithms; Leveraged Assets; Engagement, 
  • IDEAS: Interfaces; Dashboards; Experimentation; Autonomy; Social
He goes on to measure different global organizations and provide how they compare on these 10 attributes. Examples are from both tech & manufacturing industries including Google, Coca Cola, Uber, Amazon etc. And there are companies and ideas which failed to keep up like Kodak, Nokia.

According to the author, Big Data analytics plays a key role in the success of such organizations. The 5P benefits of big data being Productivity, Prevention, Participation, Personalization and Prediction.

Some of the key Qualities of Exponential Organizations have been identified as follows.
  • They are not swayed by the HiPPO (“highest paid person’s opinion”). 
  • Information accelerates everything. Everything is being turned into information—and is thus measurable and knowable.
  • Everything is being disrupted, and disruptions can come from unexpected quarters.In a disruptive world, smaller is better.
  • Rent, don’t own, assets. E.g. Uber & AirBnB. Marginal cost of supply is dropping exponentially for the first time ever.
Couple of interesting observations from the book.
  • “Execution eats strategy for breakfast”
  • “Biology has the unique trait of being software that can create its own Hardware”.
An interesting book giving real world examples on what an organization must to do survive and thrive in this increasingly VUCA world. 

Previously on BookMarks: 36 Stratagems

Saturday, October 13, 2018

BookMarks #45: 36 Strategems

Title: 36 Strategems
Author: Unknown, Chinese oral tradition
Genre: Essay, Non-Fiction, Military Strategy
Published: Unknown, Has been passed on through oral history

Another Chinese treatise on military strategy. It is more of an essay than a book. The book is divided into 6 chapters. Each chapter has six proverbs and a couple of lines explaining the essence of the proverb to the audience. The chapters focus on different strategies which are as follows
  1. Winning Stratagems
  2. Enemy Dealing Stratagems
  3. Attacking Stratagems
  4. Chaos Stratagems
  5. Proximate Stratagems
  6. Desperate Stratagems
Brute force and firepower is never the optimum strategy. However, the strategies focus on use of deception, understanding of opposition and the conditions to reach to victory. The writer saves the best for the last and concludes of the 36, fleeing is the best strategy!

Military strategy and planning has provided lots of inspiration to modern business strategy formulation. This one keeps it simple and straightforward and that is usually the secret ingredient of most successful business strategies! Especially the last one - knowing when to retreat!

LinkWikipidea - provides the entire text with history and explanation.

Previuosly on BookMarks - The Art of War

Saturday, October 06, 2018

BookMarks #44: The Art of War

Title: The Art of War 
Author: Sun Tzu
Genre: Non-Fiction, Military Strategy
Published: 5th Century BC in Mandarin
English Translation By: Lionel Giles (1910)

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese treatise on military planning and warfare. It comprises of 13 different chapters - each dedicated to a distinct aspect of warfare. None of the chapters focus on the actual battle, but instead focus on planning, preparing, understanding the ground conditions, role of the leadership, adopting tactics to the ground conditions leading to calculating the chances of winning the war and gaining territory.

While the era of "conventional" warfare is gone, the book is still a gem for understanding tactics and building strategy. The book addresses themes like understanding the environment, the economics, the resources and their mobilization, opportunities and  how to cash in on them, when to engage in and to avoid direct confrontation, the need for flexibility, the tools to be used and finally the role of gathering intelligence about the opponents. No wonder, it is a much cited book for strategic planning and why so many leaders refer to it as their "inspirational" book. Also, the small text size helps a lot!

In short, the perfect beginners' guide to building strategy!

Link: Google Play Store App

Previously on BookMarks – The World is Flat

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Road To Tokyo: Episode 4

On our Road to Tokyo, we crossed another important milestone – the 18th Asian Games. It did provide a glimpse of what can be expected at Tokyo. But two years is a long time and things can change quite dramatically. Here is a short review of the Indian performance at the Games in context of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Pre-Games Drama 
What is Indian sport without any drama in the build-up? So many athletes and even sports went to court regarding participation/selection in the Games. Shows how big a mess we are in still in the matters of sports administration! 

Tennis provided its usual drama with Leander Paes as usual in its epicenter! Paes pulled out at the very last minute expressing his unhappiness at the doubles combinations (déjà vu!!!). When will this Paes saga end? 

Meanwhile our Swimming Federation sent in wrong qualifying timings (!!!), ensuring our swimmers ended up in slower heats!

And for the Games themselves. First the Olympic events
  • Shooting: Our shooters are getting younger and younger with each passing event! A good haul this time around and a whole new crop of shooters is ready to roar at the World arena.
  • Athletics: Our athletes are the best amongst Asians. It was quite a weird sight, seeing India earn silver in race after race losing out to African origin athletes. Bahrain and Qatar seem to have done a good job in outsourcing their sports department! Meanwhile we continue our “niche dominance” in Women’s 4x400m relay winning our 5th consecutive Asiad Gold. Neeraj Chopra was certainly a class-apart in Javelin Throw. All four of his valid throws were way ahead of the rest of the field. What a dominating performance.
  • Medals arrived in Table Tennis – our first ever. Manika Batra is definitely one to watch out for proving that the Commonwealth Games were not just a flash in the pan. And this is one sport where the Asian level is as competitive as the World stage.
  • Hockey: It was a tale of missed opportunities. After hammering all and sundry, both the teams came a cropper at the critical juncture, missing out on Olympics berths. Only consolation is with Japan winning both events, an extra quota has opened up in other Qualifiers.
  • Wrestling – Bajrang Punia & Vinesh are world class, while rest have to start catching up. And is it the end of road for Sushil Kumar!
  • Badminton: One sport where the world level is hardly much different from the Asian level. Had our best medal haul till date. The doubles teams are improving but still not there yet. But the early loss in Men’s singles was surprising.
  • Boxing: Amit Panghal defeated an Olympic champion to win the Gold, but overall the boxing contingent is slipping back.
  • Rowing: A sport where we improved our medal tally and yet felt like we have underachieved! So many 4th place finishes!
  • Gymnastics: No medals but a big silver lining. It’s not just Dipa Karmakar anymore. Dipa is expanding her range and there are other gymnasts making their presence felt.
  • Tennis: We got back the Men’s Doubles Gold, and a couple of singles medals. 
  • Sailing: A few medals, but not sure about further chances
  • Equestrian: We got a medal after 36 years. Makes me wonder why we did not participate in the Olympics qualifiers also last time!
  • Fencing – Pretty sure this was the first appearance of the fencing team. They did make their presence felt but can’t read much into that.
  • Swimming: Like at Gold Coast, many new National records, a few finals, but nowhere in the hunt for a podium finish except for a solitary 4th place.
  • The Martial Arts – Nothing of note in the Olympic sports – Judo, Karate, Taekwondo. But we picked up medals in the non-Olympic ones – Wushu & Kurash. How does somebody decide their calling as representing India in Kurash or Pencak Silat!
  • Golf: Wonder why amateurs participate in Asian Games while Olympics allows pros!
  • Team Sports, with the exception of Hockey & Kabaddi, are an area where India made hardly any mark. Football, Handball, Water Polo, Volleyball, Basketball – nothing to note in any of these events.
  • Weightlifting: Mirabai Chanu was missed.
And for the events not in Tokyo roster.
  • Kabaddi – no Golds this time. It was coming for some time, but India are now well and truly knocked off their pedestal. And just to rub salt in the wounds, Iran is claiming to be the spiritual home of Kabaddi. Will India come back or will be go down the slippery slope a la Hockey! In the Kabaddi is the real winner here!
  • Bridge – Who would have imagined cards as a sport at Asian Games. Or that e-sports will be a demonstration sport with likely inclusion at the next Games!
No quotas for Tokyo earned during the Asian Games! But we have certainly identified strong potential representatives for raising the Indian flag at Tokyo in 2020. And most importantly no doping issues (so far). Thankfully!


Monday, September 10, 2018

MovieNotes: Stree

Title: Stree (IMDB)
*ing: Rajkumar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Aparshakti Khurana, Abhishek Banerjee
Director: Amar Kaushik
Language: Hindi
Genre: Horror, Comedy

Basic Premise
A small town is haunted by a woman’s ghost who abducts the town’s men.

There is horror and the scare element involved, but more importantly the makers have kept the focus on comedy making it more watchable than if it had been out and out horror film.

The acting is brilliant. Rajkumar Rao and his gang are fun to watch but Pankaj Tripathi simply steals the show with his deadpan delivery and the habit of breaking into old songs at every opportunity. The analysis of what-we-know about the ghost is simply brilliant. From Hello Mr. “Falana dhimkana” onwards!

Best Jokes 
  • How does the ghost know everybody’s name? Well everything is Aadhar linked. 
  • The town’s men staying scared at home while the women move around freely!
The unanswered questions – Who or rather what exactly is the girl (whose name we never learn), and what happens just before the end. And who is Shama? And is Vicky's mother the Stree? The ending just spoils a bit of fun. Although it also sets up enough material for a sequel.

Rating: 8/10. An unusual film which is scary and funny with good acting. Only the ending spoiled it a tad bit.

Previously on MovieNotes: Hachi