Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, Jan Swafford

I enjoy the few pieces that I’m familiar with (Symphonies 5 –9, the Egmont overture, Fur Elise (duh!) and the Moonlight Sonata) simply because they ‘sound nice’. I need to relisten to them with this book in hand to understand why they do so! I’m sure the intricacies will be lost on me, but that’s fine!

I just knew the bare facts about Beethoven — mainly his deafness and eccentricities that followed. However, this genius came at a high cost. Too high? 

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Permutation City, Greg Egan

What if you slept…

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

What if you slept

And what if

In your sleep

You dreamed

And what if

In your dream

You went to heaven

And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower

And what if

When you awoke

You had that flower in your hand

Ah, what then?

 

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e: The Story of a Number, Eli Maor

I probably read this book for the first time around ’97-’98, and it was an eye-opener. It should be required reading for all engineering students. This time around, I read it in a fraction of the time that it took me then, and I’m happy with how comfortable I am with the contents. It also tied in nicely with Euler’s biography from last year.

In terms of mathematics, I still have to understand $e^z$ and taking the logarithms of complex numbers. Soon…

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Angry White Pyjamas: A Scrawny Oxford Poet Takes Lessons from the Tokyo Riot Police, Robert Twigger

Slice of life and society, and what a contrast to Musashi and Shogun. Well, not surprising, considering that this one is set in the 20th century! And then there’s this:

The Seven Ways to Attain Victory

  1. Suppressing the opponent’s ki
  2. Anticipating the attack
  3. Responding to the attack
  4. Holding down
  5. Driving back
  6. Overwhelming
  7. Proper adjustment

The author uses these to control a classroom of teenage girls. One could think of using these principles in business as well. Maybe that’s why Sun-Tzu is so popular?

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Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures, Merlin Sheldrake

How little we know about the world around us! And how interconnected everything is — I hadn’t realized that a Star Trek Discovery character was named after a ‘shroom expert! Plenty of recalls to ‘How to Change Your Mind.’ And, we understand so little about the world around us..

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Reading in 2020

This was not intentional, but I ended up reading a book a week this year — probably more than I ever have! I went back and looked at what I’d read, and here’s a bit of a summary.

This year was dominated by sci-fi, but these were mainly entire series (total 24 books!):

    • 3-body (3), Broken Earth (3), Witcher (7), and Earthsea (7)
    • 4 others

What was the goal here? Basically entertainment, but quite a few amazing ideas (Ted Chiang, N. K. Jemisen) and beautiful writing (Le Guin).

The next big bucket consists of books that I read in the hope of improving my thinking, understanding new frameworks, and making sense of the world around me (total 14). Highlights are:

    • Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction
    • Alain De Botton – two books
    • Two re-reads – The Road Less Travelled and The Three Marriages

I bailed on quite a few books without completing them — life is too short!

The next categories that I can think of are economics (total 6), technical (total 3), and other miscellaneous (total 5)

My reading has been pretty haphazard thus far. I pick up whatever looks interesting from my pile o’ books at different points in time. I usually read 4-5 books concurrently, and when I’m very busy, I’m more likely to go for fiction. 

This is the first time I’ve tried classifying what I read, and I think I may use this to guide what I focus on. 

Finally, the book that had the largest impact on me was a book recommended by Varad:  Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life, and Others”, for the beautiful, first-rate writing, mind-blowing ideas, and emotional wistfulness.

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Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, Edward Craig

What a wonderful way to end out an absolutely fantastic reading year! My notes:

Three basic questions:

  • What should we do?
  • What is there?
  • How do we know?

And different -ism’s:

  • Metaphysics or what sorts of things are there?
    • Dualism (mind & matter), v.
    • Materialism and Idealism
  • Epistemology, or how do we know?
    • Empiricism (perceiving over thinking) v.
    • Rationalism (thinking over perceiving)
  • Scepticism
  • Relativism

I’ll be using this framework to explore further, and to structure my own thinking in the coming year.

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After Life, Simon Funk

Wow! This is one way that we evolve into post-human constructs. And people currently worried about the ethics of AI should add a whole new dimension about what could happen!

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Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective, Kenneth O. Stanley and Joel Lehman

This has been a pretty poor year for books recommended by friends — such as this one! There are some cases where you know what you’re looking for, and you search for it. And that is all that you’ll find. If you wander around aimlessly, you’ll find other interesting stuff that you otherwise wouldn’t have found. I’m not sure what the big deal is!

Okay, I’m being facetious, but honestly, they could have done with much, much, better examples than what they used. Coming up with a figure that looks like a car (to us!!)? Give me a break. And I’ve worked with genetic programming twenty years back, so I’m not a sceptic.

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Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom

Recommended by a friend. My gut reaction was that I wouldn’t get much from this book, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t. I guess I’m just too jaded! I don’t disagree with anything that Morrie says, but the book had more of the surrounding drama and the actual message tends to get lost…

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The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money, Bryan Caplan

I had to struggle to get the context right while I was reading this book. He explicitly targets the liberal arts, and I was trying to apply his statements to engineering, and disagreeing with them. I get what Caplan is trying to say at an intellectual level. The amount of analysis that he’s done is amazing,  and it’s instructive to see how different factors can be included and different impacts can be measured. There is a lot of unnecessary fluff in the U.S. curriculum, and in India, one could easily apply this logic to even regular engineering and other courses. 

Ironically, things may change in India precisely because the education system is so bad! See my other posts on hiring and interviewing, and what TCS is (hopefully) doing right now.

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Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, Garrison Keillor

This (of course?) reads like vignettes of episodic occurrences that are very loosely strung together in a supposed story, and it ends pretty abruptly. I didn’t have to work too hard to imagine Keillor speaking this as I was reading it. Beautiful, descriptive prose, brings back fond memories of NPR in California and living in St. Paul. 

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The Lady of the Lake, Andrzej Sapkowski

I’m pretty sure I haven’t read these books before but get the feeling that I’ve read something similar to Ciri moving through space and time. Oh well.

Always be scared if you’re the sidekick. Especially if one of the other sidekicks is stepping away from the stage…

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