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Showing posts from November, 2011

In the plex by Steven Levy : Making sense of how Google does what it does

If you ever wanted to find out how Google does what it does In The Plex is the book. I have read a few Google stories and none are even remotely as good as this. Steven Levy was granted a lot of access and he made full use of it. The book is rich in detail and deftly puts together the way Google took search, a concept no one thought could be monetized successfully and turned it into a money spinning machine. Many products are given short shrift but that is understandable given the scope and breadth of the tale. Levy paints the broad strokes using Search, Gmail, Android and Chrome as the anchors. He also takes us through what Google went through in China and how censorship and governmental controls made the time a tumultuous one. He talks about the impact that Google has had and the privacy concerns that crop up all time. Its a brilliant, fascinating and intriguing read about what makes Google tick. It talks about its reliance on data above all else, its grandiose ambitions

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson : A megalomaniac's tale

Steve Jobs is A sublime biography. Its beautifully written and presents Steve Jobs in all his avatars. From a megalomaniac to a supreme charmer. I read this in a single stretch in one go so so that must mean something. Isaacson brings out the contradictions of a man at the cutting of technology who lived like a monk nonetheless. A man who repeatedly says that its not about the money but becomes a millionaire and cheats his best friend Steve Wozniak out of his fair share of the profits. The way he disregards authority but is the most commanding person around himself. How even though he liked to hack other people's work(telephone lines and the like) and wouldn't allow the same to his products.(People will screw things up if they can open them) It is also an intriguing look at his years of failure, after he was ousted from Apple and went on to found NeXT. The creation of Pixar is present as well. It is an intriguing look at the dynamics and how he ran it differently fro

Chapter 4 - Karna finds a home

Adhiratha stepped out of his house. He had just had an argument with his wife Radha. He was part of the Suta community of Charioteers who lived by the banks of Ashwa, one of the sub tributaries of Ganga. The fire as always had started out with a small match. It was their usual discussion on children or rather why they were unable to have them. They had tried everything. They had gone of year long trip of all the major temples in the country. No guru's feet had been untouched by the two of them and there was no esoteric remedy that had been left untried. All of this was of course to no avail. To compound matters their neighbors seemed to have absolutely no trouble in having kids. Indeed they turned them out by the dozen it seemed. Only yesterday had they gone to celebrate one of those births. Understandably this put them in a bad state of mind. They were among the few childless couples still around. When they walked they could hear whispers questioning her fertility and his impot

Chapter 3 - The Birth of Karna

It had been a few days since Durvasa had left. Kunti was by the river having her bath. She had always liked the river and she recalled leading the sage and his acolytes down to clean themselves up. This brought her thoughts to what Durvasa taught her just before they left. "These sages are strange beings" she thought. "Imagine saying a mantra, invoking a god and having a child out of it all". She practically laughed out aloud. What Durvasa hadn't envisioned was the innate curiosity in any human especially in a Kshatriya woman. Kunti saw the Sun smiling down at her and decided to invoke the mantra with Surya, the Sun god as the subject. It would be an understatement to say that she was surprised when she saw Surya standing beside her in all his radiance and glory. Kunti believed in the gods but never believed that they actually came down to earth. She was an agnostic to put it mildly. Despite being taken back Kunti couldn't help but notice that Surya

Chapter 2 - Kunti learns a Mantra

Preparations for the arrival of Durvasa were in full swing. The Brahmins were busy perfecting their intonations and enunciations. (Usually they could get by with many mistakes and even chanting the wrong mantras but Durvasa and his retinue would spot it in an instant.) The preparation of the food, lodging arrangements were supervised by Kunti in name only. The king had ensured that his entire advisory was on the task and that Kunti merely knew what was going on. He was after all trying to do what was best for the kingdom. Sage Durvasa and his retinue finally arrived. They were spotted by the tower guards and information was relayed across stating that a band of safron wearing mendicants has been seen. Durvasa of course was the leader of the pack. He was the only one sporting a beard while the rest were bereft of hair from head to toe. (These brahmins never did anything by halves, either they had beards upto their feet or they had nothing, Tapasya(meditation in plain english) was th

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan : A debut for the ages

Imagine a world(or a galaxy rather) where your mind can be downloaded into any body(called a sleeve) you desire at a cost of course. This is the premise that Richard Morgan starts out with in Altered Carbon , his debut novel. The rich live forever, have backup memories that are synced with data banks. The poor suffer as always. Takeshi Kovacs is dead. He had no intentions of coming back to life. It is at this point that he is brought back from the dead to investigate the murder of Laurens Bancroft, who is of course extremely rich, powerful and has all the latest bells and whistles . Takeshi Kovacs happens to be an envoy(a part of an elite military unit trained specifically to adapt to different body types). It builds in classic noir fashion where a murder turns into a much larger conspiracy. Its amazing how far Morgan takes the concept of mind and body being separate(he calls them stacks and sleeves). Multiple copies of the same person exist. Takeshi Kovacs calmly talks to s

Endymion by Dan Simmons : Pitch perfect thriller set way into the future

Endymion is the third book in Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos series and it is quite simply brilliant. Endymion is driven by its characters, indeed the science fiction elements are incidental to the story.(Not to say that the science isn't well done of course). The characters are fascinating and their dilemmas draw you in. The plot is very complex(to say the least, there is time travel, there is AI and what not) but in broad strokes it is about  about a certain Raul Endymion who is named after the planet Endymion. He somehow gets caught up in a rescue mission but rather than doing the rescuing ends up being the one rescued. The pursuers are the more interesting lot though and their harrowing space travels are described in great detail. The writing is top notch. Dan Simmons is a deft writer choosing his words carefully and keeping the plot on a tight leash. He has this ability to paint pictures with words which shines through particularly in Endymion. Hyperion Cantos a

Moneyball by Michael Lewis : An unputdownable study in how to value things with

I think you could give Michael Lewis a random set of numbers and he would still be able to build a narrative to tie them all up. Moneyball is about Oakland A. A baseball team which doesn't have much money but they still manage to win games(a lot of games) and make the playoffs. To achieve this Billy Beane(their general manager) and Paul(their statistician, a Harvard graduate straight out of college) redefine the metrics they will use to measure player performance. In essence it is about seeing value where no one else does. It is also about figuring out where players are overvalued in the baseball market. Right from the outset Michael Lewis draws you in with Billy Beane. Billy Beane is archetypal perfect baseball player, the perfect athlete whose career does not play out the way it is expected to. This causes him to have a healthy disrespect for  gut instincts and conventional ways of measuring value. This is in essence how the tale is setup.   Michael Lewis brings out

An interview with Mark Charan Newton

This is an interview that I had the opportunity to do with Mark Charan Newton, who was gracious enough to oblige. Mark Charan Newton is the author of the Legends of the Red Sun series of which three books have been published. The books are self contained and are some of the best written fiction out there. I reviewed City of ruins here  which I thought was a fascinating read from start to finish. If there is an author that you want to read he would be a good start. Anyways enough of the introductions and onto the main stuff. In City of ruin the characters who are the most heroic are also the most socially deviant. Commander Brynd Lathrea and Jeryd to name a few. Is this a deliberate choice? I think I find socially deviant characters more interesting! It's certainly not a conscious choice, though - I mean, it's a case that these particular characters have an certain, different outlook on life, and therefore make for slightly unusual perspectives on a story. As lo