Cibola Burn, James S. A. Corey

Basic problem solving. If you don’t have the data you need, play with the data you have, see if something comes out of it. She’d made it through three semesters of combinatorics that way. All right.

Forwarded to all my combinatorics students 🙂

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Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt, Arthur T. Vanderbilt II

What a bunch of self-centered, selfish, nasty, horrid people! How can anyone be like this? And I’m not referring to the Vanderbilts, but rather, the entire “society” of the time. I guess the equivalents today would be the Trumps, and in terms of ostentatious houses, the Ambanis. 

The battles that the Commodore fought are fairly entertaining and point to the need for government regulation.

I’m also currently reading “Walt Whitman’s America”, which is contemporaneous with the rise of the Commodore. It shows a completely different picture of America and New York.

I’m happy to have read this book, if nothing else, it shone a light on human nature that is not evil in the way that, say, the nazis were evil, but is evil in its own way…

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How Not to Write, William Safire

A wonderful book that delights in demonstrating, well, how not to write. And it’s full of lines like:

Unlike the period, which decisively separates complete thoughts, or the comma, which gently separates phrases, the semicolon is the Cleopatra of punctuation marks; she separates and connects at the same time, making hungry where most she satisfies.

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Sahara: The Untold Story, Tamal Bandyopadhyay

I have a bit of a mixed reaction to this book, but mainly due to my expectations. I didn’t realize that the book was published around 2014, just around the time Roy was arrested, so it doesn’t cover that part of the saga. That’s one downside. The second one is that the author presumes too much background/domain knowledge from me, which I don’t have. As I said, the downsides are more on me, not a reflection on the book.

Barring these, what a wonderful book! I had no idea of the extent of Sahara’s success, and while he is not explicit, it is pretty clear how Sahara makes money. I still feel that there must be some political money being whitewashed, but due to lack of evidence… Two additional points: Subrata Roy’s hubris is astounding. And the even-handed treatment by the author is amazing. It brought my bias into start contrast, even before I picked up the book I assumed he (Sahara, not TB) was a crook! (I still think he is, but that’s a different story). This really helped me exercise my ability to keep my biases aside and read the story on its own merit. I should do more of this!

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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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