Book Review — The Midnight Library

Posted on Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Goodreads

The Midnight Library is a tale with a moral. A pretty strong one. It tells the story of a woman suffering from depression, partly caused by loneliness and mostly due to an early mid-life crisis, who is about to take her life. What happens next – between life and death – eventually changes her perspective of life, making her want to live again.

The core of the titular concept is a sci-fi-ish interpretation of the multiverse theory, something I have been researching heavily as well. The concept is not entirely novel, but well-used in the context of this story. The story is set in our contemporary world and is written in a simple yet imitable style. It’s a page-turner, where you yearn to learn what happens to Nora Seed in her many lives.

I enjoyed the book and loved the core message conveyed at the end.

Book Review — The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Posted on Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Goodreads

I received the book as a gift from my sister. It’s one of the best gifts I ever received.

On the surface, The Innovators seems like a glorified historical account of the most popular digital-era inventors and entrepreneurs – people we know all too well. The reality of the book, however, is not even close. More than inventions, innovations, and revolutions, this book is about community and collaboration.

Starting from the 1800s and going till the mid-2010s, it recounts how hardware and software responsible for the Digital Revolution were built, the people involved, and legacies created for the future generations of innovators. Thus, by discussing countless examples of critical inventions the book lays out a general process for innovation. In doing so, the book ends up being solid, fact-driven evidence that innovation happens in collaboration. It CANNOT happen in isolation: no matter how brilliant or visionary inventors maybe, if they do not have a team of smart people to execute their vision innovation does not happen. Those smart people may be skilled engineers who can make things, inventive experimenters who can craft prototypes in no time, or resolute people managers who know to “get things done.”

Another lesson is that – most of the time – innovation is not ‘original’. Rather, it builds on existing ideas. The most successful innovations are those that are the right blend of disparate pre-existing ideas brought together to achieve a common goal.

I also loved the concluding chapter’s central premise that the biggest use of computers is in human-computer symbiosis, where computers work alongside humans to achieve previously impossible goals. In such a relationship, humans and computers are partners where humans bring creativity and original thinking to the table while computers help through their raw power to process massive amounts of data in little time. The author notes that such a relationship is in stark contrast with the vision of Artificial Intelligence purists who aim to replace the human mind with thinking machines, a dream that may never be realized (for good reason).

Isaacson’s astute storytelling combined with historically accurate facts and quotes come out as a page-turner, a term that sadly cannot be applied to most other biographies and historical books. The way the author starts several threads together and later knits them together as evidence of collaborative innovation is just lovable, fun, and admirable at the same time.

This one’s highly, highly recommended for anyone looking for the secret sauce for successful innovation. It’s also good if you just want to get your history about important digital-era milestones right.

Book Review — You Can Negotiate Anything

Posted on Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Goodreads

(I had this book around from my childhood days. We got its ‘special’ edition (Jaico Publishing) along with our Readers Digest subscription.)

The book starts off with the definition of negotiation and clearly lays out its 3 ingredients. You’ll be surprised how different that definition is compared to how most people think about negotiation. The second part discusses a couple of contrasting styles of negotiations, and how one can identify when they are being played by an unscrupulous negotiator. In the last part of the book, you learn to tackle different situations even when things aren’t exactly in your favor.

The author gets cocky at times, sometimes even reminding one of everybody’s favorite Harvey Specter. He also occasionally talks about employing tactics that undoubtedly fall under the grey zone and may sound ‘shady’ to some. In most such instances, the author acknowledges this fact. I’ve read a few reviews on Goodreads referring to such instances as unethical and downright immoral. I personally would not go to such extremes in describing Cohen’s tactics, especially after reading the chapter on Soviet-style negotiations. The world isn’t exactly a just place: it is full of biases and corrupt folks aren’t that uncommon.

One thing I really like is how the author has used the power of repetition to help learn the stuff better. A lot of buzzwords and concepts thrown earlier have dedicated chapters later. And then concepts and assumptions are recalled in similar contexts.

And one thing I do not like is how some hypothetical examples just feel contrived and impractical. Also, a lot of instances feel more relevant in the North American context but not so much in other geographies.

Overall, the book does a good job of justifying its title.

Book Review — Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship

Posted on Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Goodreads

If you are a software engineer and think, like so many others, that writing clean code is trivial and a skill that could be picked up anytime, this book will be a BIG eye-opener for you.

The book is written by a group of authors led by Robert C. Martin (aka Uncle Bob). As you will find out yourself, they are highly skilled professionals who are very serious about their craft and do not take code smells lightly. They follow the Boy Scouts Rule and go out of the way to ensure they leave code in a better state than they find it. These are the folks who have helped establish modern software engineering practices & patterns such as Agile and SOLID. The chapters where they rip apart popular and highly respectable open-source software (JUnit and Apache JCommons) are especially enjoyable as you get to see how good code could still be bettered.

Being a software engineer myself for a while now, I had a hundred questions regarding code quality and structure. I found all the answers here. Some were a confirmation of my beliefs, while others were new lessons to be learned.

I wholeheartedly believe in the book’s central tenet — writing clean code is an art, a sign of a software craftsman. Overall, it’s a great read and a time investment with a multi-fold ROI.

Book Review — To Kill a Mockingbird

Posted on Leave a comment

Cross-posted from Goodreads

One of the best I’ve ever read. Period.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a chapter from the life of a southern girl, Scout, growing up in the US of the 1930s. It’s a chapter filled with fond memories and bitter occurrences. It’s a vivid recollection of sweet relationships with her elder brother Jem and a conscientious father. It’s a story of a man wronged by society because of deep prevailing biases, a story only a child could narrate with honesty.

The novel moves along at a nice pace. One admires how the author skillfully uses fewer words to describe broad situations and summarise big stories. Somewhere around the middle of the book, I was so hit by nostalgia that it appeared I was reading out bits from my own younger sister’s diary. Scout’s small-little incidents were very relatable even though set in a totally different world and era.

The part after the first quarter is a build-up to the legal case that is central to the book. The build-up is slow and gradual and yet described in only a few pages. The final hearing comes and goes, not dramatically but as an important piece in Scout’s life. The seminal courtroom drama is exceptionally well-done, with even the minutest details considered. One feels like watching the scenes enacted right in front of them while sitting in a seat in that courtroom.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic in the best sense of the word. It is an inspiration for aspiring writers and a good story with a moral for the rest.