Friday, 13 April 2018
Carl Sagan describes the evolution of man and other creatures and speculates a bit on some unanswered questions. What makes us more intelligent than other species? Are we the result of competing ancestral species? He ponders over life and evolution on other planets, suggesting intelligence developed outside of Earth (or the solar system) might look very different (literally and biochemically), while still having to comply with the same laws of physics. Machines might have a role to play in the next big step in intelligence, computers being good at many things that we aren't very good at, and vice versa. He also discusses the purpose of dreams, something that is observed only in mammals, and more common in predators rather than prey (go figure). The asymmetry in the hemisphere of our brains, the purpose each serves, the progress of language, are among the several other things Sagan takes us through the history of. The best part about this book is the cosmic calendar at the start, which puts down the entire history of the Universe (as we know it) in a single year. Fascinating to know how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, but also of the outstanding progress made by humans in relatively short time.
Peter Thiel in this book defines the attributes of a successful startup. He focuses on the concept of going from zero to one; change of an order of magnitude– a fundamental shift from how existing companies approach and solve a problem. He shares his thoughts on monopolies, capitalism, and competition among companies, and what makes them successful. One of my favorite pieces of advise for a startup, also something that I came across in the book, is about doing one thing and doing it well. When the odds are against you, as they are in a startup, you only make it harder for yourself by focusing on half a dozen things with the same small team. This is a good book overall and a must read for founders and employees, for it teaches you how to avoid the most common mistakes which prevent an enterprise from succeeding.
Fiction, for a change. The first one in the Foundation and Empire series of books, but the last to be published. Set in the distant future where humans inhabit millions of worlds and faster-than-light travel, Asimov takes us through the adventures of a paranoid mathematician who is convinced (by someone else) that his mostly theoretical paper could have a practical application, possibly making him the most important person in the galaxy. A fun read, will probably pick up the rest of the books in the series as well. Not much to write about without spoiling the story.
Sunday, 11 March 2018
|This month's list|
This was recommended in the footnotes of An Intelligent Investor which I was reading last month (January, 2018). The author provides a window into the secretive lives and ballsy albeit short adventures of the partners in the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management.
LTCM, which comprised of Nobel laureates and other geniuses, made a whole lot of money with a lot of leverage and then lost it all, almost bringing down several banks and the financial system along with it in a span of 4 years. I like the way the author gives a little bit of background on John Meriwether, the man at the centre of it all, and some of the partners, before going into the details of the fund itself.
It's an enthralling read, and it could be better, I feel, if I had better knowledge on the basics of financial markets and the instruments they deal in. The author makes it a point to explain, in simple language, several of the terms and concepts (such as arbitrage, swaps, spreads, etc) when first mentioning them, but I think it would be a better read if these terms and concepts were second nature to me. The more you understand, the more you appreciate.
I mentioned this one last month, having read a small part of it. I may have been quick to judge. I've heard words of praise for Toyota from a car enthusiast friend and this book provides the explanation. Every organisation takes about culture and core principles, but few put their money where their mouth is. Toyota has been doing it for decades. The founders and top personnel believed in a set of principles, ways of getting things done, and made sure everyone around them did the same. Promoting from within, they made sure their successors believed and followed these principles as much as they did. Rinse and repeat. What you end up with is a global organisation with astounding manufacturing efficiency and reputation for being one of the most reliable car manufactures on the planet. More important than the principles themselves is the ability to stick with them through thick and think.
The author mentions other organisations attempting to copy the processes Toyota follows, without making it a part of their culture, without buy-in from top management, in hopes to achieve the same gains in efficiency. It doesn't work, even if it does it doesn't stay that way for long. Sooner or later, they are back to square one. If you work in manufacturing and have even the slightest influence on the floor, this book can prove to be of great benefit.
I work in a startup, one that provides software based services. I read this book hoping to find something to help ship quality products on schedule. What I learned is that blindly attempting to apply these principles will not work, even if you do it well. I will need to start from scratch, picking those that apply to me, modifying them to fit this specific industry. I don't believe software is much more complicated than hardware. I feel the industry is relatively young and slightly undisciplined overall, and perhaps in half a century's time, whoever still maintains the quality they have today, will have an interesting story to tell.
I found this one also in the footnotes of one of my favourites from last month - Getting To Yes, by Roger Fisher, who is one of the co-founders of the Harvard Negotiation Program. The author of this book, Robert Mnookin, can be said to be his successor, and the current chair of the same program. This book is a great lesson in history, logical reasoning, and human relationships. The author provides a framework at the start of the book, one that will assist you in making the decision of whether or not you should negotiate. He discusses traps, which can be described as ways of thinking, that can lead, confuse, distort your thinking into leaning towards either of the ends (to negotiate and not).
The author then describes several stories where the protagonist (or a group of people) figure out how to "deal with the devil", if at all. The stories include that of Anatoly Sharansky and the Soviets, Rudolf Katzner and the Nazis, Churchill and the War Cabinet, IBM and Fujitsu, Nelson Mandela, the ANC, and the South African Government, musicians and management of the San Francisco Symphony, and a few more of personal disputes including divorce, estate settlement, etc. The author is personally involved in a few of them, and ends each story with an assessment of whether the characters involved were right in choosing to negotiate (or not) with their counterparts, and what he would do differently, providing ample reasoning. This books answers some of the questions at the end of the "Getting To Yes" in much more detail.
Sunday, 4 February 2018
What follows is my experience with reading (at least) 25 pages a day, and mini-reviews of the books I've read through it in January 2018. I find books to be a good way to learn something new and the easiest way to get more perspective on everyday things. It turned out to be a good "new year's resolution" and I intend to write a short summary of the books I cover each month.
What I would have liked to see: Perhaps more focus on the scientific aspect of the subject.
Would I read it again? - Probably not anytime soon. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but the concept is simple and it drives home the point in one go. There isn't much to go back to. It was an entertaining read, and I now don't feel as bad spending more time lazing around.
Would I read it again? - Definitely. Just browsing the table of contents was enough to refresh my memory (as it did at time of writing this), but there's a lot that I don't and would go back for.
Would I read it again? - For certain. It would take me a few more readings to truly remember all that it has to offer.
Would I read it again? - Yes. Just like the previous book, it would take another reading or two to get it all in.
Below are a few books that I started reading but didn't finish.