Book Review: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

They Called Us EnemyThey Called Us Enemy by George Takei
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a straightforward narration by Georgia Takei of a Japanese Internment by the US Government during World War II. George and his family had suffered this cruelty. He highlights how opportunistic senators took chances to rise to power by promoting racial discrimination.

I had not known about this part of US history. I also did not know how ACLU helped the Japenese in the US then. US had detained 250,000 Japanese families living in the US, many of them US citizens, into camps during WWII.

Having lived through this horror, a lot of these Japanese families restarted and rebuilt their lives again. George Takei turned to activism to share his story with the masses, and I think he has been very effective.

This book has come the right time when similar mistreatment is being carried out by certain opportunistic politicians.

Book Review - The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic

The Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian EpicThe Mahabharata: A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic by R.K. Narayan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Mahabharata is one of the most complex stories I have ever read. I read this book following The Ramayana by R.K.Narayan. The ethical dilemmas presented in this story is at a whole different level than Ramayana. While in Ramayana, there are good guys and bad guys in Mahabharata there is nothing like that.

No one is entirely good or no one is entirely bad. The Pandavas and Kauravas are brothers, just competing against each other, but their quarrel reaches to a level for war.

Coming to the war, which is an important topic of this story, the book has 3 chapters dedicated to the avoidance of war and only one chapter for the war.

In spite of suffering all the atrocities presented by Duryodhana, Pandavas realize that war is not good for anyone, and try for multiple attempts to prevent the war. Duryodhana plays politics and chooses to listen, and highlight points only which could give a chance for war.

And when it comes to war, Pandavas understands that a deterministic outcome is achieved by eliminating everyone in the enemy camp, even babies. So, after trying to avoid war, when the war becomes inevitable, Krisha proposes and leads a _genocide_ against the Kaurava clan.

To me, the most complex characters in this story were that of Karna and Krishna.
Karna has chances to prevent war, he understands his background well but still chooses to side with Duryodhana. Krishna is one who leads the Pandavas to war and gives guidance "on duties" in ambiguous times.

There is no good or a bad person in this entire story.

Terraform Provider Dominos

I ordered Pizza using terraform today. I was learning about terraform and how provider can be anything, even Software as a Service, which is basically an API.

So, it made possible to develop software like terraform-provider-dominos using which you can order Pizza. I tried it. The terraform apply crashed for me, but I knew that terraform might have attempted the purchase operation and had probably crashed due to slow response from the API. It was the case. I saw my credit card charged in my account, an order confirmation email, and in 30 minutes, I got my pizza.

Codeforces: contest/1189/problem/A

I tried this codeforces problem contest/1189/problem/A. Trying a contest problem after many years and I thought, it was a problem either with Dynamic Programming or with Recursion.

Turned out be a much much simpler one, that if a person reads the problem carefully and understands the scope of the solution, the solution can be written in < 2 minutes.

I spent 30 minutes unsuccessfully. Lack of experience shows up if you don't practice.

Book Review: The Compass of Pleasure by David J Linden

The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So GoodThe Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good by David J. Linden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very good book. It made me rethink about the pleasures of life in terms of chemicals, and its properties on the human brain. Everything we 'enjoy' is like a positive signal to a particular area in the brain called VTA where Neuron's release dopamine to make us feel the pleasure.

Various experiments that humans have done, such as chemicals we eat (the taste factor in food), drink, inhale, and physiological activities such as running, exercise, sex, and brain activities like deep-thinking, understanding, associative thinking, are all related and trigger those VTA neurons to give pleasure.

The process of pleasures are understandable, and once we understand this, we have better control over things around it, like society norms, and optimizing for our desired outcome.

The book also touched upon the topic of addiction, which is commonly associated with pleasure, but in reality, it is not. The perspective shared in the book about addiction, was it should be treated as a disease, like having a fever/cold/cough, and instead of feeling sorry or ashamed, actions should involve just as we take actions to come out of fever/cold and cough.

Marvel Comic Universe

After watching Infinity War at a friends home, I became immensely curious and interested in watching all the related movies. Thor taking the power of the dying star etched in my mind from the Infinity War. I looked up the order to watch the entire series and before watching the Avengers: End Game, my family and I decided to watch the entire 21 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We finished our MCU movie watching adventure finally watching with EndGame on 21st May, 2019.

It was a treat to imagination, and a pleasure follow this saga along!

Here is a Marvel Cinematic Universe theme shared in a reddit comment.

If you end up watching the entire series try out this MCU Quiz (The answer key is here)

Book Review - Origin Story: A Big History of Everything

Origin Story: A Big History of EverythingOrigin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a highly accessible account to the Origin of Human Civilization, from BigBang, the birth of stars, universe, dinosaurs, humans, governments, the current social system to the possibilities of what lies ahead.

Reducing the origin of the universe from 13.6 billion years to 13-day scale was very interesting to get a sense of the scale. Discussion of the progress of human societies and adding adequate details as supported facts was a good approach too. The author takes us to the origin of governments, international bodies, and touches about the topics of origin of democracy supported by nationalism.

I like to dwell on the topics of Big History / Origin Story, and this was a worthy book.

A central theme of this book is humans are engaged in some sort of a "collective-learning", and that forms the central theme "our origin history".

This is a shared origin history for everyone in the universe, and there is course based on this book. These are some important highlights I had noted in this book.

Newton's View:

Isaac Newton saw God as the “first cause” of everything and argued that He was present in all of space.

About Goldilocks Condition:

We don’t know what Goldilocks conditions allowed a universe to emerge, and we still can’t explain it any better than novelist Terry Pratchett did when he wrote, “The current state of knowledge can be summarized thus: In the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.”

Indian Veda's view on creation of universe:

Like the “neither non-existence nor existence” of the Indian Vedas, this tension seems to have bootstrapped our universe.

Attempt to recreate the conditions of origin of universe:

Remarkably, we humans have managed to re-create such energies briefly, in the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva. And, yes, particles do start popping out of that boiling ocean of energy.

Charles Darwin's recognition of Emotions:

Charles Darwin understood that the emotions are decision-makers that have evolved through natural selection to help organisms survive.

Humans interbreeding with Neanderthals:

At sites such as the caves of Skhul and Qafzeh in modern Israel, they may have encountered and occasionally interbred with Neanderthals. (We know this because today, most humans who live outside Africa have some Neanderthal genes.)

On genetic changes as a result of choice of vocation.

Humans have changed genetically as a result of farming. For example, if you’re descended from people who once herded cattle and consumed cow’s or mare’s milk, you will probably be able to digest their milk even as an adult because you can keep producing lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose (milk sugar). Hunter-gatherers consumed only breast milk till about four years of age, and after childhood, they no longer needed to produce lactase. But where cow’s or mare’s milk became a major food source, humans began to produce lactase into adulthood—a genetic mutation had occurred.

Rise of a new religion, Islam, in 8th century

Perhaps most astonishing of all was the rise of new political systems associated with a new world religion, Islam, in the eighth century CE.

On wealth distribution in early 1900s

The French economist Thomas Piketty has estimated that in most European countries as late as 1900, 1 percent of the population owned about 50 percent of national wealth, and 10 percent of the population accounted for 90 percent of national wealth. The other 90 percent of the population made do with just 10 percent of national wealth.

On Capitalism

Like the appearance of the first oxygen atmosphere or the sudden death of the dinosaurs, this was an example of what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter termed creative destruction—the constant, often violent replacement of the old by the new, which Schumpeter saw as the very heart of modern capitalism.

First Global Currency

Mule trains carried silver to the Mexican port of Acapulco, where it was minted into silver pesos, the world’s first global currency.

Relation between Government and Commerce

Rulers protected and supported commerce, and in return they got the right to tax and profit from commercial wealth. This was the earliest and crudest form of capitalism, a system admired by European economists from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.

New way to think about "wealth"

Many early economists understood perfectly well that the wealth traded by and generated by capitalists really represented control over compressed sunlight, over energy flows through the biosphere.

Cheap energy encouraged experimentation and investment in many new technologies. One of the most important was electricity. In the 1820s, Michael Faraday realized that you could generate an electric current by moving a metal coil inside an electric field.

Conquest on Silk Road

The Nemesis, the first iron-hulled steam-powered gunship, with its seventeen cannons and its ability to sail fast in shallow waters, helped England win control of China

Indian Railroads

Even the building of India’s major railroads benefited Britain more than India.

Most of the track and rolling stock was manufactured in Britain, and the huge Indian rail network was designed primarily to move British troops quickly and cheaply, to export cheap Indian raw materials, and to import English manufactured goods

Europe view on civilizing the rest of the world

Europe’s economic, political, and military conquests encouraged a sense of European or Western superiority, and many Europeans began to see their conquests as part of a European or Western mission to civilize and modernize the rest of the world.

Increasing Productivity

Prokaryotes had solved the problem billions of years ago, but Haber and Bosch were the first multicellular organisms to successfully fix atmospheric nitrogen. The Haber-Bosch process uses huge amounts of energy to overcome nitrogen’s reluctance to combine chemically, so it was viable only in a world of fossil fuels. But artificial nitrogen-based fertilizers transformed agriculture, raised the productivity of arable land throughout the world, and made it possible to feed several billion more humans. It turned fossil-fuel energy into food.

Rise of Nationalism

The governments of revolutionary France and the United States began to mobilize the loyalty of their subjects through democratization, which brought more of the population into the work of government, and through nationalism, which appealed to people’s sense of a shared national community.

Some governments, such as the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China, attempted to micromanage the entire national economy.

What it might be like in future

Eventually, as economic growth ceases to become the primary goal of governments, individuals will begin to value quality of life and leisure over increased income.

Book Review: A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science by Barbara Oakley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like most readers, I stumbled upon this book after taking Barbara Oakley's Learning How to Learn Course in Coursera.

This book reinforces the concepts taught in that course. The idea of relaxed learning, giving ourselves plenty of time while learning difficult concepts, avoiding procrastination, and tools that help us avoid the procrastination. The idea of repetition for remembering different concepts is presented and stressed well this book.

The importance of sleep for learning stayed with me and changed me when I took the course based on this book. I never discount sleep for important exams or deadlines now.

The crux of learning is expressed well by this quote from Santiago Ramón y Cajal introduced to us in this book

What a wonderful stimulant it would be for the beginner if his instructor, instead of amazing and dismaying him with the sublimity of great past achievements, would reveal instead the origin of each scientific discovery, the series of errors and missteps that preceded it - information that, from a human perspective, is essential to an accurate explanation of discovery.
- Santiago Ramón y Cajal