The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

The Geography of Bliss Book Review: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

Happiness is “home” and a book that is illuminating and funny
Eric Weiner does an year long journey into places that are contradictory and different, in search of what makes people happy. He sometimes get into science of happiness studies and weaves his tongue in cheek observations and conclusions into actual travails that he had endured. He participates with the societies he finds himself into and focuses on “normal” people in those societies. If happiness is all about places, author does not give any definitive reasons to it, but the journey itself and the way it is narrated is so beautiful that you will enjoy reading this book until the end and will hope for more. If you are from some of the societies which he describes, like India where I am from, you will feel that some of his observations are perfunctory. But considering the complexities of any society and the time he had to spend with each of them being very little, it is something you can pass over without being offended.

Published in Amazon Review

Book Review: Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges

Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, by Antonin Scalia
“Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges” is a concise but practice based discourse on persuasion and is highly recommended.

The 245 page book is a result of brilliant collaboration between Antonin Scalia, an Associate Judge of Supreme Court of United States and Bryan A. Garner, a well known legal lexicographer and Editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary. The book is for lawyers. But I am software engineer: so what am I doing with this book? From the jacket to sub title and the back cover you will assume that this book is intended only for lawyers. Actually, the authors focus only upon lawyers and describe in detail various aspects of persuading a judge to lead or enable the judge to come to a decision favorable to their clients. All the illustrative examples and side bar are taken from the realm of legal domain. But what makes this book an extraordinary one is how this sharp focus on a particular domain becomes relevant to any situation where persuasion is needed to arrive at an actionable decision. The authors focus more upon analytical and behavioral aspects of art of persuasion rather than emotional techniques many propound.

The book has 4 main parts: General principles of argumentation, Legal reasoning, Briefing, and Oral arguments. First two parts are applicable to anyone and can be read without much legal background. Briefing and Oral arguments are the longest sections in the book and some part of them may need some amount of legal literacy to understand well. I do not know why “Source for Inset quotations” section was needed, but the Recommended Sources are well documented and is very helpful to continue learn more about the subject. The book looks like suddenly stopped without a summary chapter or a conclusion chapter. May be, authors were following their own advise on not to repeat themselves.

Published in Amazon Review

Book Review: India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

India After GandhiIndia After Gandhi The History of the World’s Largest Democracy By Ramachandra Guha

A very good historical account of India as a new nation state.

“India After Gandhi” covers a long period in Indian history from 1947 to 1990. There is an extended post script (“A history of events”) that covers the incidents and movements after 1990 to up until 2004. The book ends with author’s perception on why India survives regardless of many doomsday predictions that it has encountered throughout its 70 or so years of existence, about its survival as a single nation founded on democracy and secularism.

The story starts with independence, but does not cover the events and personalities that lead up to it. The longest part of the story in the book narrates a very engaging story of a young country trying to define itself, by creating a constitution that guarantees universal adult franchise, building a bureaucracy by extending the British ICS, providing a judiciary that is independent and generally infusing the county with optimism and ideals of a just born country. At the same time the country was dealing with division of the country into two, the “biggest human migration in history” that left many thousands killed and left many more thousands with no property, arduous resettlement of refugees, intricate and complex integration of more than 500 princely states into a country and the mammoth task of building its infrastructure. Author also gives a details account of various insurgencies including Kashmir issue. It is this part that covers era of Nehru and Shasri that is well written and well researched.

The second part deals with how the constitutional democracy slowly transformed into a “populist” democracy under Indira Gandhi and how the emergence of local politics changed the topology of Indian politics. Here Author’s research seems to be constrained to Haskar’s (A top bureaucrat in Mrs. Gandhi’s inner circle) papers and newspaper journalism. The depth of analysis suffers because of the weakness of primary source materials.

The third part, that is aptly named as “history of events” deals with most “current”, in terms of history, events in India. They are mostly depended upon journalism rather than any historical research, but in some way present a good analysis of emergence of caste, religion and regional based politics in India

All in all a very good history of India, especially on its inception stage as a nation.

Published in Amazon Review

Book Review: The Numbers Behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics

NumbersI started watching Numb3rs after reading this book. Actually the book helped appreciating the show since the show itself does not clarify many of the techniques they use and most of the time we just have to trust the show. In that sense this book acts as a companion book to the show itself. But it does more than that. The chapter on network analysis was particularly interesting and the discussion on misplaced degrees of separation a good one. The authors make a very readable text even for non-mathematicians.But authors try to cover too many sub fields of applied mathematics in this small book. The depth of the book suffers because these ambitions selections.

Published in Amazon Review

Is Book a Failed product?

A good product creates and maintains two way communications between the user and the product. A successful product, software or otherwise, creates a more natural form of interaction, an interaction that can take place subconsciously, without effort, whereby the communication in both directions is done so naturally, so effortlessly, that the result is a smooth merger of person and the product, jointly performing a task.

Given that definition, see what Socrates had to say about Books, one of the most enduring and successful product ever in human history:

SOCRATES: You know, Phaedrus, that’s the strange thing about writing, which makes it truly analogous to painting. The painter’s product stands before as if they are alive, but if you question them, they maintain a most majestic silence. They seem to talk to you as if they were intelligent, but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you just the same thing forever. And once a thing is put into writing, whatever it may be, drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it: it does not know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong.

—Plato: Collected Dialogues, 1961.

Is the product Book, a failure? We know its not. Then how does it follow the definition of a good product, described in the beginning of this note?


The Design of Future Things by Donald A. Norman for complete quote by Socrates

Panchathantra: The best of Indian stories

{ Written for my daughter when she was 5 years old}
Panchathandram is full of stories. Very good stories. This is a book that has a lot stories about birds, animals, and many people. There are stories of a crow that will stay with owls and then defeat them in war. There are stories of people who are so greedy and bad things happening to them. There are stories of people who are so good, but will go through difficult times, but in the end many good things will happen to them.
Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Mahilaropya. It was ruled by a good king. He had three sons. All of them were not very good at studies. They just liked playing around and teachers could not teach them anything. King was so sad. “How can they become kings themselves when they grow up, if they are so stupid and not good at studies?” King worried.
King thought and thought and decided that his sons must be taught all the good lessons as soon as possible. “But who can teach my sons all the lessons needed to make them a king?” King asked his prime minister. Prime minister Said “Oh King, only a very smart teacher can teach your sons all the lessons needed. We need a great teacher to teach them well”So King ordered Prime Minister to find such a teacher. He decided that if a teacher can teach his sons well, he will give a lot of presents to the teacher. Prime Minister, after searching a lot, found such a teacher. His name was Vishnu Sharma. Prime Minister brought him before the king.
“Can you teach my children all the great things they need to know as Kings?” King asked
“Yes, your illustrious King, I can”, Vishnu Sharma Said.
“How can you teach them all the lessons to those kids who only like playing and not learning?”
“I will teach everything to them by telling STORIES…” Vishnu Sharma Said.

And thus, Vishnu Sharma taught five big lessons to Kings Sons by telling them many stories. All these stories together came to be known as Panchathandram. Each story has very good “moral” or a lesson attached to it.

Here is a story from Panchathandram. Ask Mummy to tell you the moral of the story.

Little Rabbit who defeated the Big Lion

Once upon a time there lived a ferocious lion in the forest. It was a greedy lion and started killing animals in the forest. All the animals together went to the Lion and begged him to stop killing. They told him that everyday one of them will come to his house and he can kill that animal and eat. So every day it was the turn of one of the animals and in the end came the rabbits’ turn. The rabbits chose an old rabbit among them. The rabbit was wise and old. It took its own sweet time to go to the Lion. The Lion was getting impatient on not seeing any animal come by and swore to kill all animals the next day.

The rabbit then strode along to the Lion by sunset. The Lion was angry at him. But the wise rabbit was calm and slowly told the Lion that it was not his fault. He told the Lion that a group of rabbits were coming to him for the day when on the way, an another angry Lion attacked them all and ate all rabbits but himself. Somehow he escaped to reach safely, the rabbit said. He said that the other Lion was talking very ill of this Lion and was telling that this Lion is a very bad lion. The Lion was naturally very enraged and asked to be taken to the location of the other Lion.

The wise rabbit agreed and led the Lion towards a deep well filled with water. Then he showed the Lion his reflection in the water of the well. The foolish Lion seeing the reflection thought that there is a real Lion in the well. The Lion was furious and started growling and naturally its image in the water, the other Lion, was also equally angry. Then the Lion jumped into the water at the other Lion to attack it, and so lost its life in the well. Thus the wise rabbit saved the forest and its inhabitants from the proud Lion.