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

Book Review - The Ramayana By R.K. Narayan

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

This is Narayan's narration of the famous Indian Epic, Ramayana. It follows Valmiki's script, instead of the Kamban, that I thought, I would expect from the South Indian author.

The introduction gives the details of the Ramanand Sagar's Television series and how India stood still when Ramayan was telecast on weekends. The story is well know, but the best part of this book are in the details.

I liked the chapter on Vali and Sugreeva, wherein the author does not mince words and shares about the ethical lapse of Rama. That was a difficult chapter in Ramayana. Rama tries to help Sugreeva to fight against his brother Vali. He kills Vali by hiding. Rama being a warrior, is supposed to fight straight, and being righteous person, who is supposed to not harm anyone unnecessarily, forgoes both in this episode. Vali questions him about this. And Rama rationalizes that Vali is not a sub-human, Monkey, but a higher form since he possesses the judgement skills of Right vs Wrong, and since Vali choose the Wrong approaches, when knowing what was Right, he had to meet with this fate. Also, by having killed by Rama, Vali is elevated to higher form in his death.

Other mistakes of Rama are explained as a consequence of Rama forgetting his inherent divinity, making mistakes as a human, and needed constant reminders from gods.

This book is action packed, has good stories, morals, stories of ethical dilemmas and is entertaining. The author does a very good job of maintaining balance of religious piety and story telling in this book.

Looking Back at Postgres by Joseph M. Hellerstein

Looking Back at Postgres by Joseph M. Hellerstein (available here: ) is an easy to read, general paper on the Postgres development. It details, the design of Postgres database, and provides the details on multiple inflection points into it's development. The very paragraph caught my attention.

Michael Stonebraker was the lead, and the designer of this system. But never wrote the code for this system, all coding was done by students, and university programmers. Postgres, followed Michael Stonebraker's first system Ingres, and turned out to be successful database system, that is now being developed by community of open source developers.

Book Review: The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online

The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe OnlineThe Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online by Violet Blue
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a checklist book for the various steps that a person can take to stay secure and manage their privacy online. This is written for general populace, and does a good work to highlights of perils of getting hacked online, problems associated with online privacy. Author provides references to tools and mechanisms that can help person stay safe online.

Book Review - Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car — And How It Will Reshape Our World

Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World by Lawrence D. Burns, Christopher Shulgan

Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our WorldAutonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World by Lawrence D. Burns
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book reminded me of "The Road Ahead" by Bill Gates. This is an impressive account on Self Driving Technology, that is about to come and consume us in the near future. The book is very well written. Initially, I had plenty of doubts on the author, Lawrence D Burn's style, thinking that he was one of the pure management type guys, looking at things in a disconnected way, trying to associate himself with changes brought about by others. I was proven wrong. I started appreciating his insights, his outlook towards this project, his commitments, and really understood where he was coming from when the author provided more context into his own up bringing and background. He provided the view from Detroit, that many following the self-driving space will miss, and it an important viewpoint to consider.

The book starts with the DARPA race, narrates the events, and stories of people who are shaping this story. GM, and Google play a very important role in the story. The book shines in presenting, well researching personal accounts from various actors like Red Whitaker, Chris Urmson, Sebastian Thrun, Larry Page, Antony Levandowski, Travis Kalanick, as well as many people from the top management in established car companies. It was good to get a first hand account on how people running established businesses think, and make decisions. It also shares the grit, and adventures of engineers who work to push the envelop of the possibilities. The book indirectly highlights the value/policy stances taken by companies such as Waymo, Tesla, and Uber pursuing self driving technology after giving the backround on the limitations of the technology, which were known to everyone developing it. It should be noted that as of 2019, Tesla and Uber have both been responsible for loss of lives with their pursuit of this adventure, and both have escaped consequences for their mistakes.

With all the events, book lays the solid ground for what is to come and expected in the next few years or decades for Autonomy. I will count this book as one of the good business books that I have read in recent years.

Science and Opinions

Most of us were attracted towards maths, science and programming because there was certain level of rigor, factual information that can be verified by repeating the experiment, equality based on understanding of these facts, and desire to elevate ourselves to the equal position of someone who had a better understanding of the facts that can obtained by ourselves repeating the experiment, understanding the concepts and thereby understanding the greater sum.

Soon, as adults, we run into the opinion territory. What is considered an opinion vs fact is a topic in itself. However, let us assume that opinion is different from mathematical fact.

When we run into opinion territory, the way the world works is, if a person has power over another, the person exercises that power. We often find this irrational, argue in the opinion territory and try to find out if facts can be established so that equality order can be restored.

Some scientist identify the opinion territory from science and choose to devote more of their energies to science, aligned with what brought them to this interest in the first place.