Friday, 13 April 2018

25 pages a day - March 2018

Dragons of Eden

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.

Zero to One

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.

Prelude to Foundation

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.

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