Book Review: The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

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Cross-posted from Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3196927726

This one is bold! May not be for the faint of heart. 4WW is a book about the realization that living your dreams is as important as doing your 9-5 job. Ferriss’ casual style of writing is motivating and quirky. I personally found his thought process and “lifestyle design” tips to be extremely helpful. Even though at times his (or one of his interviewee’s) story feels larger than life, I would recommend this book to anyone looking to once and for all stop deferring their “grand” vacation/retirement plans and start living them today. Ferriss provides practical advice to make time to do all that you want by somehow managing to complete your routine job work in exponentially less time.

Having read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World before this one, I found a lot of ideas and techniques very-very similar described by Newport. It’s important to realize, though, that 4WW came a decade before!

Book Review: Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish

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Book cover for Scion of Ikshavaku

Cross-posted from Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3081641646

Scion of Ikshvaku was my first Amish book. Amish has been called India’s literary rockstar, and has been compared with Dan Brown. So, naturally, I was much excited about reading him. Although I liked the storytelling, I was put off a bit by his writing style.

Being born and bred in a Hindu family, I knew the story in and out. So I carried a certain amount of bias into reading Amish’s version of Ramayan. Despite this I loved the big and small twists in this story, especially the parts where Amish has given logical explanations for what we’ve been taught since centuries to be the results of supernatural phenomena. I really liked that; Amish is super creative there.

I also loved how Amish has portrayed feminism throughout the book. Sita is shown as a strong-willed and independent better half of Ram, which is a far cry from her character’s TV adaptations. In most Hindu hymns and religious songs, Sita is worshipped along with Ram. After reading Amish’s version, I can now better appreciate why this is so. Also, Ram’s steadfast belief in monogamy and his reasons for that are very well put together by Amish. I enjoyed the bits where feminine and masculine societies were contrasted through Ram’s own thoughts.

Perhaps the best thing I liked in the book was Ram’s character development. Amish couldn’t have done a better job on that. During second half of the book I fell in love with the character, especially his stoicism, clear beliefs and respect for the law. His godlike mastery over archery was well represented.

What I didn’t like, however, were the clichés that Amish used generously throughout the book. His writing style in this book reflected a childlike excitement around telling a cleverly written story. I also felt a general lack of thrill in the story. Again, that could be because of my pre-contained biases. I knew the whole story already. But I tried my best to keep my existing knowledge at bay while reading Amish’s version. Still, I feel some major turns and twists may have been make more thrilling. The supposed cliffhanger (Hanuman’s entry) in the end also felt a bit lackluster.

Overall, Amish’s Scion of Ikshavaku is a good read, especially for people who want to go deeper into historical aspects of Ramayan’s world and want logical explanations for its events. But unless someone assures me that the next book in series (Sita) has a better writing and storytelling, I may not pick it up.

My Restaurant Reviews — a WordPress plugin

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Screenshot of My Restaurant Reviews widget

This post is long delayed. It should have been an announcement but will now be a backstory.

Back in May (4 months ago!), I did a website redesign for SkewerSpot, our family business. SS is a cute little restaurant/cafe in Jalandhar, Punjab, with a wide selection of snacks and waffles. We specialize in waffles, all sorts, especially stick waffles. Earlier the SS website was a pure Bootstrappy static thing. The design had become outdated, and it was difficult to maintain. So I redid the entire thing in WordPress. It looks pretty neat now, go check it out!

At that time, I was faced with a very specific problem. We have our online presence on Zomato, Swiggy, Google Maps, Instagram and Facebook. We get reviews on all these five platforms. I wanted a way of showing reviews/ratings from these sources in a unified interface. To address this specific problem, I created a specific WordPress plugin. It’s called My Restaurant Reviews (or ‘Mr.R’).

I wanted to create this as a dirty, cowboy-style plugin for my own website. But I soon realized it’d be cool to have others also benefit from it, since a lot of new-gen restaurants are cropping up each day that perhaps face the same problem that I did. So off I went to the awesome WordPress Plugin Handbook, read it cover-to-cover, and got to work. Within a couple of weeks, I had the first working version. Writing code in PHP again was nostalgically pleasant experience. I learned so much about the internals of WordPress, my respect for the platform and its code quality increasing everyday.

Anyway, in early June I finished it, and submitted it for publishing on the great WordPress Plugins Directory. What a scary name, haha! Thankfully, it was accepted after a short review. I’ve heard that there’s a rigorous review process for all plugin and theme submissions, and some contributions are rejected daily for not following their coding standards. Didn’t happen to me 🙂

You can find and install it on your own WordPress website or blog from its official plugin page. Source code is on GitHub. There’s still so many improvements that can be done, especially in terms of adding support for more review platforms (currently only Zomato and Google Maps are supported). See TODO. With my arms spread, I invite ya’ll to help me take it to the next level.

Whatever happened to…

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Software come and go. We like some, despise some and are neutral to others. Most of the good and useful software obtain a huge following and userbase, and usually survive for a very long time until either a better software appears or the technology changes. There also are software that are based on innovative ideas, but do not get sufficient attention, due to the lack of which they perish sooner than others.

And finally, there are software that initially create waves, catch all the attention due to the wonderful concepts they are based upon, attain significant fan following, and then… disappear! In this article, I am going to talk about just these kind of software, err, that were. These are such software that I would have hoped to see flourish till, at least, a couple more years. And yes, all these softwares were free.

Microsoft Reader

MS Reader was Microsoft’s noble attempt to change the way ebooks were read. Reader offered an actual book-like interface that was easy on eyes. It had two other advantages. First, the ebooks created in Reader format (.lit) were considerably smaller in size than an equivalent PDF. Second, it introduced text-to-speech in ebook reading (it would read the book word-by-word with adjustable voice speed).

In my opinion, MS Reader was a novell software. Many popular ebooks were published in “lit” format, but as time passed, such ebooks also disappeared. Today, the most ebooks we see are in PDF format.

Continue reading Whatever happened to…

Puppy Linux – A pocket-size atom bomb

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The category of small-sized Linux distributions (or mini distributions) is fast evolving. Every now and then we see a new mini distro coming out, sometimes as a light-weight edition of an already established distro and sometimes based on an innovative concept. The likes of this category involve Damn Small Linux, Yellow Dog, SliTaz, and Puppy Linux. But believe me, Puppy Linux is not yet another mini distro. It is an everything OS. Puppy comes as an installable livecd, and can be installed on a number of medium, such as hard-disk, USB pen drive, external hard-disk and more.

I happened to have my first stint with Puppy about 3-4 months ago, when I found it bundled with a local computer magazine in a companion disk; it was Puppy Linux 3. Since that very day, I knowingly or unknowingly became a hard-core fan of the distribution.

A month later, Puppy 4.0 was released and I upgraded from version 3 to version 4. As now I’ve spend considerable amount of time with this beautiful distro, I am in a state to mention some points about its goodness.

Waking up Puppy
Puppy’s boot process is a no thrills-and-frills thing. The booting is plain, but the developers have made it to look impossibly simple. We see a black screen with only relevant boot-time messages appearing, nothing more, nothing less.

The booting time is not large (about 35-40 seconds) and is almost the same when booting from hard-disk or livecd. That is a considerable improvement in the booting time of a livecd.

The interface
Once the booting has completed, Puppy logs you in as the ‘root’ user and takes you directly to the main interface. No password is by default required to login. Puppy uses JWM as the desktop environment which is extremely light-weight (occupies less space). So the interface is quite simplistic, sometimes primitive, and comes with a limited set of functionality. But there are so many other options in Puppy which will never let you feel the lack of features in JWM. Basic customizations are very easy, like changing the wallpaper, window decoration, icon theme, GTK theme, etc.

Setting up and configuring Puppy
Although Puppy detects and configures most of your hardware and other settings, there could be some areas that need to be setup by you. Say, for example, setting up an Internet connection, setting up a printer, and so on. Puppy makes it extremely easy to accomplish these common configuration tasks by providing you with a number of easy-to-follow wizards. And guess what? There is even a wizard for all other wizards by the name ‘Wizard wizard’ which serves as a central point to all configuration tasks. For installing new software, Puppy comes with its own package manager, PETget.

All-in-all, most configuration tasks in Puppy are very easy which are otherwise difficult in many other Linux distros.

Play me baby
Throw just any multimedia file at it and it will play! That’s what Puppy has to offer in this department. With the xine engine pre-installed, the multimedia application – gxine – is capable of playing just any audio or video format you have heard of (and even the ones you haven’t heard of). Although I would personally prefer a more feature-rich player than gxine, it proves a wise choice to save space. Puppy also comes with software for ripping CDs, DVDs, editing metatags and recording audio. It even has a Puppy community-made audio player Pmusic.

To complete the multimedia section, it includes Pburn – a very nice community-made software for burning CDs/DVDs and comes with sufficient options for authoring discs. Puppy even has an ISO file editor!

Internet
No Firefox! But Puppy comes with a light-weight cousin of  Firefox – Seamonkey – adored by many for its speed. And it’s not just a browser, it’s a complete suite of applications – a browser, a mail client, an address book, and a HTML editor. After you have easily setup your Internet connection, you’ll be all set to browse the web (Seamonkey), chat with friends (Ayttm), check email (Seamonkey), talk through VoIP (Psip) or download stuff (Pwget, gFTP, Pctorrent).

Fun & Work
Puppy contains many popular office utilities, like Abiword (documents), Gnumeric (spreadsheets), a pdf viewer, personal organizer (to-do, calender, contacts), scientific calculator, and even a CHM file viewer. In the fun section, there are more than a couple of games that could keep you busy for a long time.

Miscellaneous utilities
Puppy comes with some additional stuff, like a personal blogging system (PPLOG), a personal wiki system (DidiWiki), partition manager (GParted), archiver (XArchive), scanner software (XSane), firewall, torrent creator and many more such software.

Killing the Puppy
Not literally. I mean shutting down Puppy. And believe me, even if you have had enough Puppy experience, shutting it down would be just like killing a lively little being on your computer. The experience is most of the time so interactive and fun-filled (and not to mention ‘light’), you would want to switch it on again very soon. And Puppy boasts of the fastest shutdown time around. It shuts down in a mere 5 seconds or so, when most of the other well-known Linux distributions take 10-20 seconds for the same task.

Puppy also offers the feature of saving your current session to a file of desired size during shutdown or reboot for future use. The ‘current session’ includes all your custom settings (wallpaper, theme), newly installed packages etc.

Conclusion
Puppy Linux proves that even simplicity has the power to get all the things done. The basic interface may require sometime from you to get you accustomed to it, but you’ll like it afterwards.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a Linux newbie or a seasoned Linux user, you will like Puppy as much as I did. This has to be one of the best Linux distros around. And it certainly deserves more attention than it is getting right now. Puppy is a tiny atom bomb – loaded with plethora software and utilities – that you can carry in your pocket – in your pen drive, CD, etc. Puppy has so much to offer in so little a size!