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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Book Review – The Power Law of Information

the_power_law_of _information

How many times have you read a non-fiction book and you were left amazed with reality ? Well, “The Power Law of Information” is one of those books. We are all so busy with the day-to-day happenings in our life that sometimes we fail to see how some things affect us so powerfully and literally change our lives. One of those things is “information”. 2.7 Zetabytes of data exists in the digital universe today and it is growing at a very fast rate. Earlier information was not available so easily and effortlessly.  But today the easy availability of information has transformed our lives. This book shows how the huge availability (and sometimes the unavailability) of information affects us in different ways.

The book has been written in lucid and easy-to-understand manner. For the technical people, there are mathematical equations and lots of graphs for a better and in-depth understanding. However the best thing which i liked was that, even if one is not familiar with the mathematical stuff, one can easily get the gist of what the author wants to convey. There are lots of practical, real life examples and anecdotes. There are some case studies to validate the point. All this makes the book an interesting read and an eye-opener about the impact of information in our life. This book can be specially useful for the people who are intrigued by the Internet, the world wide web, the social networks or about information in general

Earlier it was believed that information networks are similar to physical or material networks. However it is clearly shown here that information networks have unique and different properties like information can be reused, it can be easily replicated etc which are not found in the material network. Information follows the power law, i.e. a small number of entities have a high value and a large number of entities have a small value. It is such a unique and important property that it has its place in the title of the book. Information networks are non-linear since people in the network interact with each other and may be connected in loops. It is also friction-less since the feedback fully affects the information network. Studying and predicting outcomes in such networks can be extremely complex but that’s the way reality is !

In this book, ‘information’ has been analyzed from all the perspectives. Firstly information itself and its properties and how it affects us is discussed. Various parameters which affect information and different ways to model information are studied. Also how we as humans can make beneficial use of this information despite our fallacies, biases and bounded rationality makes an interesting read. Other social factors like herd mentality and satisficing behavior are analyzed with some interesting examples. Money is also in some sense, information. The book concludes on the topic how money affects the world. There is a detailed bibliography and further reading for the interested readers. Overall it’s an amazing book filled with lots of practical examples and a great read over the weekend.

Age is just a number

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ~Mark Twain

Days, weeks, months and years pass. And so do birthdays ! But does anyone feel “grown up” with each passing birthday ? Atleast i don’t. If you do please let me know what it feels like. A birthday is like a milestone for me. An indicator of the amount of time i have spent on Earth (in this lifetime 😉 ). A reason to celebrate, enjoy and party ! But i don’t feel anything different from my previous birthdays. May be next year i will, or probably not. No idea. Probably for me age will always be just a number !

I think more than the birthdays, its those special moments of wisdom which make us feel big. For example, when we help someone, when we face our fears, when we make BIG decisions, when we follow our heart/brain and not what others say, when we find happiness in doing things and so on … I think these moments make us wiser and older. It is the experience we have from these moments that makes us mature. And thus due to this reason i think it is possible that people celebrating bigger birthdays may not always be mature and in similar way, sometimes the young ones may be. It all depends on the experiences we have had. The people we have met. The friends (and enemies) we have made. The books we have read. The lessons we have learnt. The choices we have made. The decisions we have taken. The roads we have walked.

On a lighter note, when i was small and innocent and didn’t know the ‘reality’, i believed that i would grow taller on my birthday 😛 My parents tell me that i would ask them to measure my height before the birthday night as i would be taller the next day. Seriously we as children can have strange and funny beliefs.

My friends liked this idea, so i thought i would share it with all. How many of you feel that the day for which you waited so long, i.e. your birthday just flies away ? The next day, it feels like a dream. And then you have to wait for whole one year to celebrate it again ! So the idea is to celebrate “Birthday Month” instead of just “Birthday”. For the whole month, daily do something you like doing. Make each day special in its own way. Also celebrate the birthday. In this way, you won’t feel that your birthday just zoomed away. You will be enjoy each and every moment of the entire birthday month. Thanks to Mom and Dad for this wonderful idea 🙂 Also how about celebrating “Birthday Year” ? Lets make every moment of our life special ! After all its OUR life !

Do you want to know what is your actual mental age ? Try this fun test online -> http://www.mbti123.com/mental/en/

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” ~Satchel Paige

Book Review – Half a Rupee Stories

Half-a-Rupee-Stories-by-Gulzar

Half a Rupee Stories is a book written by Gulzar and translated by Sunjoy Shekhar. If you have ever heard a song written by Gulzar then i am sure you must be his fan ! He is a world renowned poet, lyricist and director. The language used by him is simple and easy to understand and most of all it has the power to touch the heart.

Half a Rupee Stories is a collection of 25 short stories. I will say that it is a collection of 25 gems. Each story touches the heart and leaves a message for the soul. It has real life lessons learned after years of experience. Some stories are filled with suspense and thrill while others highlight the various issues faced in life in a unique way. It has real life stories of Javed Akthar (his nick-name is Jaadu :)), Sahir Ludhianvi and Kuldip Nayyar. Many locations of the stories are located around the border regions. There are also some stories of  Mumbai. The best thing which i liked about this book is that it shows us how to find a bigger and higher meaning from our daily experiences. It shows how to look at life from a broader perspective. Thus i will say that this book is a must-read !

All the stories in a line –

  1. A story based of faith, trust and miracle.
  2. How 100 rupees changed someone’s life !
  3. A story of friendship.
  4. A story of slum for the perspective of the people living there.
  5. Rain and flood.
  6. A boat-cleaner can also be a king.
  7. A glimpse of the life of the people who live on the footpath.
  8. Connection across LoC.
  9. “Over”
  10. All for a ram fight !
  11. Hilsa fish and the newspaper headline.
  12. How wars affect lives and souls !
  13. Story from paradise-Kashmir.
  14. A freedom fighter’s life.
  15. A swayamwar.
  16. “Half a Rupee”
  17. God is a superman.
  18. Love story between a bird and a kite.
  19. Lessons from an orange.
  20. Earthquake.
  21. Shortcut, an accident, fate.
  22. The biggest pickpocket.
  23. Grandparents love.
  24. Grandpa’s love for grandchild.
  25. The transformation.

Daily Prompt: Burning Down the House

My Top 5
My Top 5

Your home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?

  1. Laptop
    All my study material and projects are in my laptop. So it gets the first priority. I will also take the HDD along :).
  2. Books
    I just love my books and novels. At any cost i cannot imagine getting them burned down to ashes.
  3. Autograph Book
    I have the autograph of my teaches and dignitaries whom i have personally met. Its an instant trigger to the past sweet memories.
  4. Mobile
    How else will i contact my parents and near and dear ones to inform that i am OK ???
  5. Certificates + Trophies + Medals
    I just don’t want to lose these precious things as well.

What do you think ? What would you chose ??? Quite difficult ! Right 😀

My Library – My Den

Do you know the best place which i loved the most at my college ??? “My Library” 🙂 Believe me its like a heaven for a book lover like me. My Library was My Den. The place where i could go and find happiness and joy 🙂 Here i am using past tense because my college is over now and i am missing “My Den” a lot 😦 I would like to share a few things about my library here.

Library & Learning Center

Here i would point that the Library and Learning Center is the best in Gujarat and i am sure one of the best in India. It has an enormous collection of books. Almost all magazines about which i have heard and many even unheard are subscribed. There are around 30-35 computers in the learning center where one can surf the internet. Also you can get a headphone from the help desk and listen to lectures, and study at your own pace.

There are soooo many CDs and DVDs which can be borrowed for a day. I found some interesting stuff here. There are both educational as well as recreational CDs.

Lets come to my most favorite place in library. The General Reading Books Section. There is a big bookshelf full of general books. A dreamland for me 🙂 Any time i went there i always found an interesting book to read! Yes Always 🙂 I have read sooo many books like – I Dare, Chicken Soup for the Soul, You can Win, Angels and Demons, The fountainhead, Around the world in 60 Days and many more. Actually the list is endless. How can i even recall all the books that i have read in four years 🙂 But i can say that I read almost all the books in the general section.

The General Books’ Shelf

The magazine section attracted me by my favorite Readers’ Digest, Inside Outside (dreamt about my future home :)), Life Positive, Digit, Gadget and many more. In the reference section there was always a copy of a book available as it was “Not for Issue”. So one could get even the ‘in demand’ books here.

Magazines

The projects section contained the project reports of our seniors and now ours as well 🙂 This was the most in demand place in the last semester, to refer others projects 🙂

Project Reports

Are you a chess lover ??? Then you won’t believe that you can officially play chess in our library. Just ask for chess set at the help desk and play it ‘silently’ with your partner. Amazing right 🙂 What more can you ask for in a Library ?

Almost all the festivals and days are celebrated here. From Diwali to Holi, from Teachers’ Day to World Environment Day. We even celebrated Friendship Day in the most unique way. Since books are known to be a man’s best friend so we had new collection of books as a gift and we had to write about our favorite book on colored bits of paper and pin it on a big board. These were some of the best moments at library.

The new arrivals used to be kept on a separate table for everyone to see. It was my happiest sight in library and then i would spend hours with the new books and deciding which book i should get issued first.

New Arrivals

All this has been possible due to the hard work and persistent efforts put in by our Librarian Sheetal Mam and the complete library team. They work together like a big family. Sheetal Mam is one of the best person i have ever met. She was always available and has supported and helped us in her own unique ways. A person whom you can look up to in both happy as well as sad times. Miss you a lot Mam! Specially those long discussions and talks. You have the special ability to make someone’s day 🙂

I miss my den a lot. Those sunlit tables, those cool wooden floors, interesting new books, those chess games, those happy reading times, its hardly a month since i left and i am already missing it all ! Library was “My Zone” in college. It will always be there in my heart.

Book Review – The Fountainhead

Since a long time i was planning to read The Fountainhead. But my final semester exams, the thickness of the book and its small font prevented me from reading it earlier 🙂

But it was worth the wait. It is an awesome book. Ayn Rand the author has described all the characters of the book to such a minute detail that they literally come alive in front of the eyes.  It is a 1943 novel but almost all the scenarios described in it are valid even today. It is a bestseller and millions of copies have been sold all over the world in many languages. The book is mainly based on the life of two architects who compete, struggle and fight with each other to get success, money and recognition.

I specially loved the character of Howard Roark who maintains his individualism till any extent. He gives a speech in the end which is superb. Roark is an example of the type of person, a person should. Thus we can say that he is an ideal. His friend and college mate Peter is the opposite of him. He can fall to any extent to see himself good in others’ eyes. A term which i liked in this regard which has been coined in this book is second-hander i.e. a person who does everything to please others and is nothing by himself. Dominique’s speech in the courtroom again makes an awesome read.

This book has been added to my favorites 🙂 I just could not leave it once i started reading it. All the human sentiments from love, anger, revenge, jealousy, sacrifice … are filled in this book. Do read it when you get time. Its amazing ! I finally got how a bestseller should be 😀