Book Review: Meditations

MeditationsMeditations by Marcus Aurelius

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book indeed is an insightful read!

It was on my books-to-read shelf since some time. I had another version of this book and it was a difficult read. I could not read it beyond a couple of chapters. Then I picked up the edition translated by Gregory Hays and this was a great read. Specially the long introduction in the beginning lays a nice foundation covering multiple aspects like Marcus Aurelius’s life, stoicism, as well as discussion about the contents and style of the book. This gives the reader an idea about what to expect ahead in the book.

Content wise the book is filled with learnings and lessons learnt by Marcus Aurelius. Although I don’t agree completely with his philosophy but most of the messages in the book are deep and thought-provoking. As mentioned in the Introduction, Marcus wrote this book for himself and it wasn’t to be published or read by others. And this is clearly reflected in the style of the book. Although the book has chapters, but it does not seem to have any logical separation of the content. Also some of the ideas keep repeating throughout the book. Probably, it throws light on things which Marcus frequently pondered upon. In my opinion, it might be interesting if all the thoughts can be arranged topic wise. Also it will make a nice calendar book with a message to ponder each day.

Some of my favourite lines from the book are:

  • “People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within. Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul.”
  • “The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.”
  • “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”
  • “If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.”
  • “Our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.”
  • “The soul as a sphere in equilibrium: Not grasping at things beyond it or retreating inward. Not fragmenting outward, not sinking back on itself, but ablaze with light and looking at the truth, without and within.

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Book Review: The Upanishads

The Upanishads

The Upanishads by Eknath Easwaran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Upanishads are one of the oldest Vedic scriptures of Hinduism / Sanatana dharma. The Upanishads are also known as Vedanta as they are taught in the end while imparting Vedic knowledge. Originally these are written in Sanskrit and are very difficult to grasp or understand as it requires high proficiency of Sanskrit. This book comes with simple translation of the shlokas in English which is easy to comprehend and understand.

The book covers 10 + 1 principle Upanishads rekindled by Shankara and also has briefs on 4 of the more recent Upanishads. The format is as follows: Each Upanishad is introduced in some detail by the author highlighting some of the key aspects and shlokas of the Upanishad as well as some elaboration on it. In the second part, the shlokas are presented, translated in English. This give the reader an opportunity to think and interpret the shlokas from their own perspective. Some Upanishads are short and succinct whereas others are comparatively longer and more descriptive. Some are conversational (Katha, Prashana) while others seem more poetic (Chandogya, Shvetashvatara, Aitareya).

Content wise, it is a treasure! The Upanishads are very crisp with respect to the message they want to convey to the reader. The word Upanishad means “to sit down near a teacher”. Thus, mostly its content is in the form of a dialog between a seeker and a Guru. The seeker / student asks some of the pressing questions which are answered in detail by the Guru. This type of dialog format makes it interesting and easy to grasp the message. Also the questions asked are some of the questions we might sometimes think of, for example, What happens to a person when he dies?, What is our true Self?, How can the Self be realized?, Can one be immortal?, What is the cause of the universe?, What is the true power of our body? etc. Thus, the Upanishads are the perfect scriptures for the curious, the learners, the explorers and the seekers!

Each Upanishad has a key message to convey. Collectively the Upanishads’ main idea is the importance of Self-Realisation and how it can be achieved. This core message is conveyed across all the conversations in the Upanishads. Also I like the way in which it’s so scientific and logical and inspires the seeker to try out the techniques in order to obtain the expected results. It gives the autonomy to the seeker to choose their path and also foretells that they will get the results accordingly. It is not a scripture which says “thou should do this!”

Some of the shlokas are truly polished gems:

“You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
[ Brihadaranyaka IV.4.5 ]

“What is here is also there; what is there,
Also here. Who sees multiplicity
But not the one indivisible Self
Must wander on and on from death to death.”
[ Katha II.2.10 ]

“As a tethered bird flies this way and that,
and comes to rest at last on its own perch,
so the mind, tired of wandering about…
settles down in the Self”
[ Chandogya VI.8.2 ]

“Knowledge is two-fold, higher and lower.
The study of the Vedas, linguistics,
rituals, astronomy, and all the arts,
Can be called lower knowledge.
The higher is that which leads to Self-realization.”
[ Mundaka I.1.4 ]

“Meditation, control of the senses
And passions, and selfless service of all
Are the body, the scriptures are the limbs,
And truth is the heart of this wisdom.”
[ Kena IV.4.8 ]

This book is definitely to be read multiple times. It will give new meaning and insight, every time it is read. It has also inspired me to read some of the advanced commentaries on the Upanishads to understand it in more depth. More importantly, it shows how useless our actions and efforts are in achieving happiness and joy using the sense organs to interact with the external world, when true, everlasting peace and joy lies within our own Self!

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Book Review – Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology

Vehicles: Experiments in Synthetic PsychologyVehicles: Experiments in Synthetic Psychology by Valentino Braitenberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have never read a book similar to this one! It’s amazing and will make you think and wonder at each step.

The book consists of following two parts:

In the first part the author shows how to build autonomous bots using plausible electrical / mechanical design. These bots resemble to small robotic vehicles. The initial designs are simple and give the basic idea to the reader. And every new vehicle builds on a previous one and adds more features and complexity. The most curious feature of these vehicles is that although they are purely mechanical, their resultant behaviour is similar to human emotions like love, fear, aggression etc. At one point the author even argues that these vehicles can ‘get’ new ideas or even follow a sequence of thought but sometimes it is not very convincing.

Many parts of the book throw light on current day artificial intelligence and machine learning concepts like Turing machine, prediction, classification, concepts similar to gradient descent, correlation vs causation etc.

One of the main lesson of this book is “the law of uphill analysis and downhill invention” which is highlighted multiple times. It means that it is comparatively easy to design a system having some desired characteristics (downhill invention), on the other hand given a system as a black box it is very difficult to come up with its exact design details (uphill analysis). This becomes evident in numerous vehicle designs in the book.

In the second part of the book, the author links back to research in biology which is aligned to the concepts discussed in the first part of the book. This part might be tricky to understand specially for people with non-bio background. Even I just skimmed through this part.

Overall, it’s a very intriguing read! However, it is a bit difficult to understand and might require multiple reads through some sections to get it.

This book also makes me wonder that if these simple designs can lead to such complex behaviour in these vehicles then our brain and associated system is way more complex than than and it is hard to even imagine the kind of resultant complex behaviour it leads to in humans (which it actually does)! Also based on uphill analysis, given a specific human behaviour, it is hard to find how exactly it pans out in the backend system of our body.

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Book Review: Recursion

RecursionRecursion by Blake Crouch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pick this book only if you have the time to read it till the end. It cannot be put down in between!

I liked the book Dark Matter and thus Recursion by the same author has been on my to-read list for some time. One day I randomly picked it up and just could not keep it down.

The book starts with two parallel stories of Barry and Helena and it seems that there is no connection between the two. However, gradually as the story builds up, the reader starts guessing that they might meet at some point in the timeline (and they do). The key idea of this book is that one can travel back in time by going back to a specific past memory using special equipment. There are an intricate set of rules based on which it all works out, as well as some mind-boggling(literally) consequences.

As the title itself reveals, there are multiple recursions in the story where the key characters live multiple iterations of their life. This book reminds me a bit of the movie Inception in that sense. Overall, they full timeline gets a bit crazy and complex but that’s the fun of this book! And the book is so perfectly written that the story blazes through at some points and is much more elaborate and descriptive in others. This creates a strange effect for the reader!

Also in my opinion, the ending is not at all shocking or unexpected as one would like it to be. The possible ending is hinted in the book before it actually happens and then it happens in the exact same way. I would have been great if the ending had an element of surprise rather that being one which the reader expected.

There might be some inconsistencies in the story related to some specific events but overall the book is an amazing read and a true mind-bender indeed!

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Book Review: Math with Bad Drawings

Math with Bad DrawingsMath with Bad Drawings by Ben Orlin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like maths, then you will love this book and if you don’t like maths, then probably you will start liking maths because of this book. I have been reading Ben’s blog posts (which also have similar stick-figure drawings) since a few years and I finally decided to read this book. One is lucky to have teachers like him who can inspire not just about the subject but about learning in general!

The book covers a variety of aspects of maths as well as “real-world” scenarios where maths is required. There are sections on maths and mathematicians (it’s my favourite section), geometry (with many cool use-cases!), probability, statistics and more.

The writing style is simple and easy to understand, not like the usual math books! Also, it’s filled with wit and humour. Mostly people cry about maths but I guess this is one of those rare books which makes people laugh! And then there are these hand-drawn illustrations of stick-figures (they are so expressive!) which make the topic fun and also drill down the key points!

A couple of my favourite quotes for this book are: “To do good work, you’ve first got to engage with nitty-gritty details. Then, to do great work, you’ve got to move beyond them.” and “Creativity is what happens when a mind encounters an obstacle. It’s the human process of finding a way through, over, around, or beneath. No obstacle, no creativity.”

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Book Review: Humankind – A Hopeful History

Humankind: A Hopeful HistoryHumankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is like a ray of hope in the current times of global pandemic, inter-community disruptions, natural disasters and more. All of us need to be reminded in the intrinsic goodness of the humankind, even though sometimes it might be hard to see. The core idea of this book is that humans in general are kind and trustworthy. And the author builds on this idea throughout the book across diverse aspects like education, business, government and more.

The book has many interesting and well researched case studies like the real life version of the fictional story from Lord of the Flies. What might have happened on the Easter Island than the usually believed story of war, mass destruction and cannibalism. There is also an in-depth analysis on some of the expected questionable events / experiments like the Stanford Prison experiment, Milgram’s shock machine experiment and Catherine Susan Genovese’s murder in NYC. In all these cases, an alternate picture based on detailed research is presented which completely changes the point of view.

The models of our day-to-day systems will be very different and enriching when they are built from a trustful point of view rather that the existing models which are usually distrustful by default. There are interesting examples where the application of these principles has brought remarkable change. Management, of example in a top down manner with strict way of doing things can be counter productive. There is an interesting example of Blok’s model of management where small teams are given full autonomy which has been very successful and created a win-win situation for the company as well as the employees. As the author say, “Because nothing is more powerful than people who do something because they want to do it.”

Further, education is looked at from the opposite of current day industrial / factory model. Importance of play, where the children are left free to experiment and explore is highlighted. Agora model of education which give a lot of autonomy to kids to design their own learning paths is presented which builds much more well-rounded individuals. “You can’t teach creativity,’ writes psychologist Peter Gray, ‘all you can do is let it blossom.”

Next example shows how cities and governments might look like when then are run autonomously using participatory models of governance. There is also an interesting discussion of the Elinor Ostrom’s model of the commons countering Hardin’s tragedy of the commons. Finally, the author gives examples where even in the most complex scenarios like handling prisoners, controlling police or even wars, it is possible to bring a positive change with models based on trust and compassion.

Being kind in not easy. As it is mentioned towards the end of the book, “To believe people are hardwired to be kind isn’t sentimental or naive. On the contrary, it’s courageous and realistic to believe in peace and forgiveness.” Also this strategy won’t be successful in 100% scenarios, however as the author says, “ accept and account for the fact that you’ll occasionally be cheated. That’s a small price to pay for the luxury of a lifetime of trusting other people.”

This book is powerful and can change the way we perceive the world. It breaks a lot of myths and also discusses many counterintuitive findings like compassion rather than empathy is better when interacting with others. It also presents numerous examples where a culture of trust, autonomy, goodness and compassion can build much better systems. This book restores hope in humankind and shows a way where we can be the change we want to see in the world, by being kind!

Book Review: Educated

EducatedEducated by Tara Westover

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A memoir which shows the power of resilience, hardwork and hope!

The book has been brilliantly written. The life of the author is very different from most of our lives, so much so that sometimes it almost seems like fiction. And then we realize that it’s true and the author has actually lived through these experiences.

In the first part the usual lifestyle of the author and her family with a variety of incidents is laid out to give an idea to the readers of a survivalist lifestyle. In the second part she describes the challenges of starting formal education as a 17 year old and the violence which she faced at home. The third part shows the importance of home and family sometimes even when they might not be supportive and acknowledge the reality.

It shows how valuable a family which accepts and supports you is. Despite all the challenges (sometimes each day seemed like a challenge) the author not just conquers the adversity, but rather she aces it. She and a couple of her brothers did their Ph.D. from some of the best graduate schools in the world. She acknowledges her life and its challenges in the formative years and decides to look ahead and move forward when her family breaks ties with her.

It also shows the importance of education and learning. It is nice to see how the author’s world view about a lot of things which she believed, transforms when she studies and learns in depth about it. As the author at one point mentions, “An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.” This book also shows that it is never too late to be the person you want to be even if one has faced the worst circumstances in life. A spirit of hope, trust in oneself and ability to work hard can make a difference at any point in life!

Maze & PhD

Imagine you are somewhere in a maze. And it’s dark. And all directions look almost the same. That’s how things are initially when one starts PhD.

And then when we discuss with our advisor, who knows a lot of intricacies of the maze and the way around it, one of the directions seems better and we start exploring that with a bit more confidence.

After some time (or days) again all directions look more or less similar, we are lost and feel as if we don’t know the way around. A chat with our advisor again, and things seem better and we pursue a direction that looks promising.

This process repeats. Again and again.

And gradually, we ourselves start getting to know some of the intricacies of some parts of the maze. We are not as confused exploring the way around the maze as we initially were. We know some parts of the maze so well that we can literally move around with our eyes closed!

There can be different metrics of success in a maze. Sometimes it is about finding a path out from some region of the maze. At other times, it is about finding something cool and interesting on the way in the maze itself. Not all explorations result in success (actually most don’t)! Most explorations end up in a dead-end!

These results about the interesting things we find around the maze as well as the routes we explored are the things which we share with others at conferences, and in more detail in journals. It’s our way of giving back and sharing our experience of our journey around our region of the maze.

It is good to have friends and peers who are in different stages in the maze. We can share our experiences around our regions of the maze with each other. We can help and motivate others when they feel stuck on a route. Together we can be pillars of support for one another!

The maze itself is not fixed, it keeps changing dynamically over time. And experts like our advisors can mostly predict how it will evolve in the long run. And thus sometimes things which worked in the past might not work in the future; at the same time, things which didn’t work in the past might now work due to the changes in the maze!

A comprehensive exam tests if one knows the basics of the maze and is capable to explore it around. It also tests if one is resilient against failures and is strong-willed to try again with the lessons learnt from the past failures.

Similarly, the state of the art exam is where one looks at other people who have navigated around the maze, the actions they took, the routes they explored and the outcomes they got based on it. Based on these learnings, we build upon and answer some new questions regarding some other parts of the maze or even regarding some existing regions which have been explored previously but the maze has changed since then.

Different mazes have different levels of popularity. Some mazes are so popular that there is a lot of buzz and hustle-bustle around. In these mazes, many people are interested in the new results, however, it is hard to do some novel work. Also, in such mazes, there is a tendency of peer-pressure such that people are pulled in the direction which others are moving towards. On the other hand, some other mazes are not as crowded. There may not be as many people around who can appreciate new findings and results, but that doesn’t mean that these mazes should not be explored. After all, to each his own!

Different domains have different types of maze. Each has its own specifics and intricacies. Mostly we are free to choose the kind of maze we want to explore and try to become experts in. And accordingly, we choose an advisor who can help us in the process. Ideally, an advisor is not just someone who is an expert of a specific kind of maze but also someone whose personality gels with ours.

At the end of our PhD, we pen down the whole journey around the maze, with the experiences we had around the maze, the lessons we learnt, the successes (and failures) we experienced on the way, and that’s our thesis!

And we not just become an expert in some part of the maze, we also discover ourself and our own capabilities and strengths in the process. Once someone has a PhD, the person is expected to explore and find the way around any part of the maze. That’s because it’s not just about knowing the maze well enough, but the capability to navigate in any part of the maze!

Happy exploration around the maze!

IC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/devolve/14324394240/in/photostream/

Turning 30: Looking back & looking ahead

I’m turning 30 pretty soon! And it’s literally freaking me out! I was looking back at some of my past posts and I saw my own post titled “Age is just a number!” I’m surprised that I said that! I read through it and I guess apart from the opening paragraph where I say age is just a number, everything else still seems fine…

30 is a huge milestone! Completing three decades on the planet seems like a really long time. It’s also for the first time that it feels like time is slipping like sand from my hands. This brings an image of a sand-clock in my mind, where I don’t know how much sand is there in the top part! Coincidentally, along with my 30th birthday, the calendar decade is also coming to an end. So my 30s, as well as a new decade of 2020s, start almost together! Surprisingly I had never realized this before probably because I didn’t care about my age in the past!

When we complete the first 10 years, we are just kids and it’s like just another birthday where we have fun being kids. Another 10 years and 20th birthday feels good and gives feels of turning into an adult. The twenties pass by where we mostly complete our education and start working. Life is cool! For the first time in life, the 30th birthday seems huge! It’s the first birthday of my life which is such a big deal for me, otherwise, I have always been pretty chilled out and cool about my birthdays.

I think this 30th milestone birthday is also a good opportunity to think, introspect, reflect back and plan forward. At this goalpost, it’s a good time to objectively think of the decisions we have taken, the choices we have made, our successes and failures, the lessons we have learned, the people we have met, the dreams and plans we have, our hopes and our overall Self. It looks like an appropriate checkpoint to consolidate the life we have lived thus far as well as to re-evaluate our priorities and future ahead.

I thought instead of freaking more about turning 30, I’ll collect some of the key learnings of my life which I learned while completing 30 revolutions around the Sun. We remember recent things than things far back in the past and thus even these lessons might be mostly based on recent years rather than from times long ago.

People

  1. Parents: Parents are special people who genuinely care for us (in most cases). They might not always understand us and sometimes they just fail to get the context of the things we say (probably due to the generation gap). However, it is good to remember that they (in most cases) always intend our well-being. They sacrifice so much of us, their kids, that it makes me genuinely wonder, how and why someone would do that! But they do that and mostly they do that without any regrets! At the same time, they are also humans just like us and make mistakes just like everyone else, including us. It’s best to always shower our love on them and be a receiver of their blessings, as long as we are blessed to have them in our lives.

  2. Mentors: It is difficult for family and friends to be objective towards us. Our friends are sailing the same boat as us, so in most cases, they might lack the larger perspective. And this points to why it is important to have mentors in life. A mentor is like a lighthouse; always there and ready to guide in the right direction. They can give a pat on the back as well as be critical when required. It’s a blessing to find a mentor who matches our personality and on whom we can completely trust.

    “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” ~Bob Proctor

  3. Friends: Friends make our lives fun! It’s not necessary to have a lot of friends. My friends and my friend-list are completely different things. A few close friends to count on are more than enough. At the same time, it’s always good to be on the lookout for new friends. Sometimes we never know that the people we meet might turn out to be ideal friends. Finally, it’s not necessary to have friends of similar age-group. Sometimes people elder (or even younger) can be friends. Also, people’s priorities change over time, so not everyone can be a friend for a lifetime.

  4. Everyone else in the world: Everybody will have an opinion about everything under the sky, including ourselves. And that’s totally okay. The same is true even for us, even we have an opinion or point of view about everything. But the important point here is to take others’ opinions with a pinch of salt, not to care too much about others’ opinions and to take decisions and choices based on our own will and preferences.

  5. Happy to be alone: The world might be filled with people. But there is only one person who knows us exactly how we are, and that’s our own Self. Thus it’s a great skill to be happy and calm in our own company.

    “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” ~Oscar Wilde

    Life

  6. Money: Of course money is important in life. Money can make our lives simpler and smoother. However, it is also important to remember that money is not everything. If we take the major decisions of our life only on the basis of money, then it might not necessarily be the best thing to do. In my life, I have taken some key decisions without keeping money as the top criteria. And I have never regretted those decisions!

  7. Traveling: One of the best ways to broaden our outlook is to travel (like an explorer or local and not like a tourist). It gives us the opportunity to see the world from a bigger perspective. We understand the commonalities and differences among different cultures including why things are how they are! We learn to adapt ourselves to different environments and discover some of our own characteristics which we ourselves might not be aware of!

  8. Hobbies: All work and no play definitely makes Jack a dull and boring boy. So it’s good and essential to have some hobbies in life. It’s good to try and explore things that we are passionate about and spend some time on those. For example, I like photography, playing keyboard, reading books, etc. Whenever I take a break, I do some of these things. And these hobbies are like restarting a computer! It refreshes our brain and then we get back to our work in a much better state.

  9. Learn: Learning is a life long process. It enhances our skills and helps us gain knowledge and a broader outlook on life. It also makes us adapt better in changing times where we are able to learn things that are necessary for survival in the new context. Even otherwise, learning just for the sake of satisfying curiosity is cool!

    “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” ~Brian Herbert.


  10. Passion: Finding something which makes us lose sleep, something which excites our neurons and something that we don’t get bored of, is hard. Not everyone finds it! However, just in case if we think that something is a probable candidate, don’t let it go just like that! Work on it and try it out! In the short term, we might have to sacrifice or give up things to pursue it, however in the long term it is worth it! Nothing can be more satisfying than doing things that we are truly passionate about in life!

    “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” ~Steve Jobs

    “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” ~Oprah Winfrey

  11. Health: Health is wealth! And gradually I’m realizing this. Until my mid-20s, whatever I ate, however much I ate and whether I exercised or not didn’t matter. My weight was constant and my energy levels always high. However, since my late 20s, I have gradually started noticing that my weight and energy levels vary based on the kind of food and the amount of food I eat. Exercise is essential! Also, it is better to stay fit and avoid illness rather than curing it! Maintaining good health requires consistent efforts by ourself, for ourself, on ourself.

    Lessons

  12. Do what you can: Sometimes our actions might seem insignificant. They might not have tremendous effects, as we may wish to be. Yet, if our actions are based on our principles and if it is what we want to do, then we should do it anyway. Repeated and consistent efforts can have a compounding effect in the long run and sometimes it is difficult to imagine that when we start.

    One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”. The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!” ~adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley.

  13. Ownership: Taking ownership means associating our selves with the things we do. When we own something, we are responsible for it and we take care of it. Similarly, when we take ownership of our work, we connect our self with it and then we give our 100% to improve it, get it to a point we want it to be and be proud of it. Also if things we own, don’t work out the way we want them to be, we feel responsible regarding it and think of solutions rather than escape routes or excuses.

  14. Believe in our Self: When things don’t exactly happen the way we want it to be, sometimes we blame the circumstances and sometimes we doubt ourselves. Either approach is not appropriate. Of course, not everything will happen as planned, that doesn’t mean that it’s due to our incompetence, there might be so many other factors involved. Thus it’s essential to always have faith in our own self and to always be our own best friend!

    “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~A. A. Milne 

  15. Be kind: Each and every one of us is on our own journey. It is always easy to judge others or be critical of others. However, just like nobody exactly knows our journey except ourself, similarly we can never know others’ true story and what is going on in their life. Thus it’s always best to be kind, not only to others but to ourselves as well. Also, not just with the people but with all the beings we interact with (like animals and plants).

    “We are all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.” ~Prof. Charles Gordon


  16. Have hope: Hope is the only thing that keeps us moving forward. One might have big dreams and elaborate plans but if there is no hope, then it is hard to execute what we want to do. Sometimes, the kind of things that happen in the world makes us wonder if this is the place we want to be? Are we heading in the right direction? But come what may, it is important to never lose hope!

  17. Compromise on the small stuff: Not every battle needs to be fought. It’s okay to let go and not delve into small stuff. These small issues if pursued fervently consume a lot of our time and energy than what it’s worth. Thus it’s okay to let go of small things or stuff that doesn’t matter to us and focus on the bigger goals at hand. Know which games to play and which to ignore!

  18. Ask for help: For me, it’s difficult to ask for help. It feels as though I’m incompetent when I cannot solve my own problems. Thus asking for help hurts my ego. However, I have realized that not all battles are meant to be fought alone. Just talking with someone regarding our problems doesn’t make us incompetent. On the other hand, it provides us different points of view of the problem which we might have not known or ignored. It’s okay to talk to someone we trust in difficult times and ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable in our trusted circles.

  19. Okay to fail: I am also the one who always strives for success in everything I do. However, practically it is not always possible to be successful in everything we do. And with this attitude, when failure strikes, it hits real hard. Also when we just focus on the end goal, we forget to enjoy the process. Now onwards, my goal is to normalize failures. It’s should be okay to fail sometimes. I will try to synthesize lessons from my failures and try to move on rather than lingering too long over it. (But I also know that it’s easier said than done!)

  20. Perfection: In continuation, my attitude has also been to be perfect in everything I do. And sometimes, it’s good as it leads to outcomes which are of high quality. However, in most cases, it requires a lot of energy to create perfect results which may not necessarily be required. Also, perfection also has human limits because of which however hard we try, for some goals we just cannot be any more perfect. Also, this attitude of perfection deprives us of experiencing and being happy about things in which we might not be perfect. For example, it’s not necessary that I may draw perfectly, but I can be happy about whatever I draw even though it might not be perfect. Now onwards, I will try to incorporate perfection within limits (not sure something like that is feasible!) and sometimes intentionally leave things to be imperfect when perfection is not that critical.

  21. Take risks: Staying always in the comfort zone is boring. It might be safe but nothing exciting happens there. It is important for us to step outside of our comfort zones sometimes and do the things we want to do. As it is said, no risk, no return! We must be able to take measured risks in life.

    “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” ~T.S. Eliot


  22. Stay strong: In some situations in life, we are helpless. Terminal diseases, deaths, major accidents, etc. are things that are not wished for even for enemies. And yet sometimes we find our loved ones and the people we care about, in those situations. It literally breaks our heart and there is nothing much that we can do about it. Feeling helpless is a terrible feeling! The only thing that we must remember in such times is to stay strong!

  23. Accept both good and bad emotions: In a world that is constantly pushing the message about being positive, it’s relieving to know that sometimes it is okay to be not positive. We have a variety of emotions like happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anxiety, guilt, etc. Some emotions are positive and some seem to be negative. It’s okay for us to feel all these emotions and not just positive emotions. Suppressing “bad” emotions can adversely affect our well-being. On the other hand, a better strategy is to think why are we feeling those emotions and can we do something about it?

    Future

  24. Have goals: It is important to have goals in life. Without goals, life seems meaningless. A goal gives us the purpose to wake up each day and to do something so that we are a little closer to the goal. Goals should be personalized and be regarding things that are important and meaningful for us. For example, one can have goals like losing x kgs of weight in an year or walking y kms every month or writing at least 1 paper per semester, etc.

    If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. ~Lewis Carroll

  25. Plans: Life is unpredictable. We don’t know what will happen next year, next month or even the next day. However, that does not mean that we should just give up and let things happen as they happen over time. Our actions have the power to change the course of what can happen, just that it is not deterministic. Thus it is always good to have plans, both short and long term. At the same time, one must be aware that things might not happen exactly as planned and it’s okay to dynamically update the plans over time. Plans should chalk out a route to attain our goals.

    कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन | मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

    You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
    – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, Verse 47

  26. Dream: Goals are specific. But dreams are generic. It can be about anything we want to do or achieve or see happening in our life or in the world in general. It can be some crazy idea to build something. Or it might be something that might seem to be unattainable or rather impossible. And yet, we should dream. It makes us see and imagine the world beyond ourselves and our limitations.

    Self

  27. Discover our Self: Our Self is intricate. We are only aware of some parts of it. The more we discover our Self the more aware we are. Some parts of our Self, others may be aware of, but we might not know about it. We should do whatever it takes to discover and know our true Self. Our Self is the one tangible truth that is definitely true. Meditate, practice mindfulness, practice stoicism, go on a retreat, talk to a mentor, seek a Guru, whatever works for you, do that, but discover your Self!

  28. Accept our Self: Some aspects of our Self we may be proud of and then there might be some aspects which we might not like. However, we need to accept our Self including all the aspects. Suppressing some aspects just because we or others do not like it or because we are not good enough at it prevents us from being our Self.

  29. Being our true Self: Being our true Self might not sound a bit deal, but in reality, it is! When everyone is trying to be like someone else, to have characteristics of someone else, to achieve things like someone else, it is hard not to follow the crowd! However, we can truly attain inner peace only when we are being our true Self. 

    “Is there a difference between happiness and inner peace? Yes. Happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive; inner peace does not.” ~Eckhart Tolle

  30. Tune within: Our Self always gives us the signals when something is wrong, when something feels a bit off or when something is not aligned to our principles. If we are drowned in the external noise of the world it is difficult to focus and identify that. We need to be sensitive enough to sense and understand our internal signals. That way, we can detect and modify our course of action. 

    “When I slip outside, I fall. When I slip inside I rise.” ~Swami Chinmayananda

Looking forward to the next decade. 10 years is a long time and a lot happens in that duration. Hope by the end of the next decade, if I’m still around, I won’t be freaking out about turning 40! Also hopefully, I’ll be wiser and more at peace with my Self.

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?” ~C.S. Lewis

Book Review: Algorithms to Live by

Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Algorithms to Live by is one of my top favorite books! I’m a CS grad student and I have studied all the topics mentioned in this book like sorting, caching, overfitting, networking, game theory etc in great theoretical depth. After reading this book I think it can be understood and enjoyed by both CS and non-CS people. However, CS folks can relate to the things mentioned in the book even better as they have background knowledge about it!

All the chapters are well researched and presented in a way that it almost feels like reading a story. With real-life incidents, day to day examples and quotes it makes an awesome read! It is one of those books which one can randomly reread. Some of the lines have philosophical undertones and on reading it especially in connection to the topic being discussed, the mind just goes WOW!

Some of the everyday things that can be tackled by algorithms as presented in this book are finding the perfect house for rent, finding a life partner, why not to consume too much news as it disturbs our priors, how our tastebuds have overfitted over the years, how evolutionarily speaking our brains are at an optimum state, links between networks and effective communication, alternate email auto-replies, group interactions and its complexities and many more!

Some of my favorite lines from the book are:
* Outcomes make news headlines but processes are what we have control over…We can hope to be fortunate, but we should strive to be wise.
* If changing strategies doesn’t help, you can try to change the game. And if that’s not possible, you can at least exercise some control about which games you choose to play. The road to hell is paved with intractable recursions, bad equilibria, and information cascades. Seek out games where honesty is the dominant strategy. Then just be yourself.
* It turns out there is no Godfather quite like God the father.
* James Branch Cabell – “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”
* Communication is one of those delightful things that work only in practice; in theory it’s impossible.
* Our judgments betray our expectations, and our expectations betray our experience. What we project about the future reveals a lot – about the world we live in, and about our own past.

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