16 August 2019

The Power of Moments

I was recommended this book in a CEO gathering about six months back. Finally dusted it up and got it in my daily reading routine. Fairly light reading with some occasional bouts of great wisdom. And lots of examples that you can quote in parties to impress folks – assuming you attend those kind of parties! Definitely will recommend this book.

Some of the things that you will learn include how our past memories are not recorded in a very uniform manner. It is predominantly the peak moments, the pit moments and most importantly the transitions (often the ending). As I sat down and thought about a lot of things I remember from the past – and somehow, I remember a lot of them – most fit in that model.

In fact most of the “memorable” moments for us are major transition moments that happen within a short period of our life – perhaps from graduating from high school to having the last child. The book actually talks about how to make life more memorable by creating more “transition” moments deliberately.

Also, you will learn about the “oddball effect” when it comes to committing something to memory – how the element of surprise somehow elongates our perception of time!

There are some great pointers for business too. Especially in the area of customer service. One thing I learnt (thinking back, it makes total sense) is that businesses ought not to strive to create a completely complaint-free service – just an extraordinary service one. Makes you think about the marginal investments in product and customer service in a very different way.

Like I said before, definitely a recommendation to read.

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15 July 2019

Another great book!

You want to impress somebody at a party next time? Ask them to take out their phone and Google “Texas License Plate images”. You will find in the first two or three an image which has the space shuttle on the left top and the half crescent moon on the right top. Now ask your friends what is wrong with the picture of the moon. Most won’t get it. The problem is that there are a couple of stars too close to it. Try mentally drawing the full circle of the moon. It will overlap with two of the stars. How can that be? Just because we cannot see that part of the moon does not mean it is not there!!! You can never see a star in that zone!

Have you seen those road signs pointing to a soccer field? Check the soccer field image. In all likelihood, it is drawn out of hexagons. In fact, if I asked you to draw a soccer ball, you will draw it with all hexagons in it. And therein lies the problem. Mathematically it can proven that a sphere ( Euler characteristic of 2) can never be formed entirely of hexagon (Euler characteristic 0) regardless of the size of hexagons. In fact a soccer ball is formed of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons!!

How about this? Have you seen those marketing pictures of three interlocking gears? Try Googling “three interlocking gear image”. There are lots of them (each gear is in contact with the other two). It may not strike you initially but such a combination is impossible. In fact in your mind, try to imagine that one of them is going clockwise… then the other two have to go anti-clockwise. But that cannot be – since those two are in touch with each other, they have to necessarily be moving in different directions!!

Did you know six F-22s when they were first released (at well over $100M a piece) while making a maiden voyage from Hawaii to Japan suddenly simultaneously shut themselves down? And could not be restarted for hours? (thanks to the mid air refueling planes, they never crashed). Turns out that they had crossed the International Date Line which completely messed up the programs in the onboard computers. So much for spending $100M+ per plane!

This book is filled with such hilarious and very interesting mistakes made by folks in the area of math, engineering and computer science. To be sure, many of those mistakes led to people losing lives and are not funny that way. But what makes this truly an enjoyable book is the author Matt Parker’s sense of humor. Australian born, settled in UK, he brings out all the subtleness of British humor.

This book is all about making mistakes. The dedication of the book goes to his wife… and it is written thusly:

“Dedicated to my relentlessly supportive wife, Lucie.
Yes, I appreciate that dedicating a book about mistakes to your wife is itself a bit of a mistake”


Finally, the book’s page numbering is a count-down counter. It starts with page number 314. Which in itself is irrational thinking. (That is the value of Pi – to the nearest two decimal – which is an irrational number). But the book has more than 314 pages. In fact, the page after 0 reads “4,294,697,295”. Some of my fellow computer science students will realize that this is an error every 32 bit chip will make. And yes, there is a story the author relates how this completely messed up a mission,.

Thank you Somshekhar for recommending another great book!

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7 July 2019

My birthday runs in your genes

If you have been unfortunate enough – and apparently with absolutely no opportunity cost of time – you might have read my blog or Facebook posts. If you have followed them with some level of regularity, you would have undoubtedly noticed that I get a boat load of birthday wishes on multiple days in a year. In 2014 alone, there were six days that I received birthday wishes on. In fact, the three most common questions on my blog would be: who is the photographer taking my running pictures, where is the dog when I am playing the tabla and what is my real birthday?

Re-birth theories of Hinduism be danged, it actually started as an innocuous April Fool’s prank. I had simply posted “Thank you to everybody who has made it my day so far or will so by the end of the day”. Somehow, that translated to me thanking everybody for my birthday wishes. In fact, I was thanking them – proactively – for all the chuckles I would get for falling into the trap that it was precisely devised to be.

Certainly having a random day as birthday in Facebook did not help maters. That one took me some time to comprehend. One fine September morning I woke up to a lot of birthday wishes. I had to re-check the date on my iPhone to make sure I had not gone thru a Rip Van Winkle episode. Much later, that day I connected it to the FB birthdate.

Of course, then there are well-wishers like Amitesh who gets on to the game once in a while and randomly posts a Happy Birthday message on my Facebook. That starts another deluge of birthday wishes. I guess in this day and age of social media, nobody wants to be left behind. As a matter of courtesy, I do not correct people and simply thank them for the thought behind the calendar-agnostic wishes.

The good news is that over the years, most of my readers and friends have gotten fairly accurate when it comes to the month. The date is a whole different thing. I get wishes from about four days before my real birthday and lasts for another couple of days after the birthday. It does not help that my younger daughter and I have consecutive birthdays leading to more confusion among even very close friends and family.

While reading a book on math – of all possible things – I found out that my birthday is somewhat unique. No, I am not going to bore you with historical events on this day or famous and infamous persons born on this day. Having to carry my name is enough of a burden for the day, I reckon.

What I found out is that there is a human gene that is named after my birthday! I will be even more precise – it is the tenth gene in the human chromosome.

I looked up Wikipedia which confirmed that but then threw a slew of minimum-thirty-letters-long biological words at me. I struggled through some of it but gave up when I had to deal with one “dash” too many in those freakishly long names. Went back to my math book.

So, there you go. You will never forget my birthday again, ever. It is in your genes.

I question your priorities though 🙂

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5 July 2019

The Story of the Human Body

Yet another book that I had to read a second time to get the full import. It is a great book if you are interested in how we have evolved as human beings. Daniel does a great job of taking the reader thru history of time with the evolutionary lenses on to see how human body parts become how they are today.

This book might come as a surprise to folks who believe in a particular diet (or have believed in different diets at different times). The author explains the complexity of the evolutionary journey that we have taken and establishes that humans are not adapted for any single diet or social environment or even one exercise regime.

During that journey, the author takes us thru the Agricultural Revolution which solved a lot of problems but created many more (all infectious diseases started at that time since we started living close to each other and around one location) – to the Industrial Revolution which solved a lot of medical problems but created a lot more (sugar became copiously available, meat started having carcinogenic chemicals and consumption of fiber started vanishing) and then to his predictions of the future.

One point he stresses on multiple times is that Darwinian evolution as it existed (natural selection retains those who can have many offsprings in diverse, challenging conditions) has been overtaken by cultural evolution when it comes to homo sapiens. (We wear shoes, drink coke and drive cars not because they help us have more healthy offsprings – to the contrary, they endanger our lives – but we do it for cultural reasons like comfort, lack of immediate pain etc).

A few other things I personally learnt:
(*) All fruit juices are junk food (because the fiber is taken out)
(*) Not all LDL is bad for you (only the small ones are)
(*) It is not fat per se that is the problem – it is the visceral fat (fat in your belly) that gives rise to almost all obesity related issues.
(*) “What does your gut say?” – that comes from the fact that our gut (intestines) are actually our “second brains”. Consuming the same energy as our brains in a day, our gut has over 100 million nerve endings and controls an incredible number of our activities.

If you find these kind of things interesting, I would recommend this book whole heartedly.

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8 June 2019

Evening unwinding

“Chokher aloy dekhechilem
Chokher bahire
Ontore aaj dekhbo
Jokhon alok nahi re”

With the light of my eyes
I had seen the world outside
Today I am going to look within
Now that there is no light around

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12 May 2019

Finally, finished this book

A professor friend of mine had once asked me to read this book when I had expressed my interest in understanding how did our brain development wean away from the rest of the primates during evolution. This book by Suzana (Brazilian scientist from Argentina who now lives in Nashville, I believe) is filled with some very interesting findings and conclusions from her research. And a lot of data and graphs.

Although I have to admit that sometimes the writing is a little repetitive and at least personally, I thought the data could have been presented in a shorter and perhaps more impactful way, the end results presented are very insightful, nonetheless.

That said, it is a book where you are bound to learn some really interesting things. Including the fact that we are not the animals with the biggest brains. Actually, nowhere even close.

Or that we have as many glial cells as neurons in our brain (it was believed to be 10X). Those “trillions” of neurons we guessed our brains have? Turns out it is only 86 Billion.

The two most important events in our evolution that made us the most intelligent animals? Using fire to cook was the biggest enabler. And before that learning how to stand up!!

If you get a chance and are inclined to understand a little more about how our brains became different – this would be a book I would recommend…

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26 April 2019

Friday evening relaxation…

“Aaye bunthun ke shehr-e-khamooshaan mein woh
Qabr dekhi jo meri to kehne lage
Aray aaj itni to iski taraqqi hui
Ek beghar ne accha sa ghar le liya”

Roughly translated…

“Now the town folk have arrived well dressed and in silence
Having seen my grave, they started saying
That finally, I have reached some success
The homeless person finally has found a good home”

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24 April 2019

Wishing happy birthday sometimes makes ME happy!!

I can’t even remember how many years it has been that I have been wishing people on their birthdays. It used to be mostly by emails – and that was pretty unique till Facebook came along and everybody started wishing on FB. That is when I had to up my game by moving away from email to making phone calls. Today, it is much easier for me to call and wish than email and wish.

It is a routine now – morning before going to office, I finish off the wishes to people in the eastern half of the world. After lunch or during lunch break, it is usually the folks in Europe. And after office or evening are the folks in US. Still averaging about 8 to 9 phone calls a day.

Today, I had two of the more interesting phone calls.

The first one was to a lady who I caught today in the middle of her lounging in the San Diego sun in her retirement years. She seemed genuinely thrilled to talk to me. She asked me how I had such a great memory. I admitted that I did not have a great memory – I just write birthdays down. We chatted for over fifteen minutes. She insisted that we meet two weeks from today when she would be visiting Chicago. I am going to test her and see if she remembers how we met the first time about ten years back. The truth is she was our customer and the only time I had ever seen or talked to her was when she had called me to her office to fire us!! I am sure we will get a great chuckle.

The second was a colleague that I had met once in Brazil. I had kept up with him thru my birthday calls and then one day, his numbers and emails stopped working. Later, I tracked him down to Utah – of all places!! Today, I called him. Took him two minutes to remember who I was. Then it hit him!!!

His follow up message says it all!!

Birthday wishes are about making the recipient happy. In a weird way, that happiness came back one full circle today!

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