Reading in 2020

Goodreads.com runs the yearly Reading Challenge year after year. One has to commit to reading a certain number of books in the year to participate. There is no award but it is just a personal goal. Reading more is a goal for me as I very strongly believe that people whom I consider smart, are also well-read. Mind you, that doesn’t work oppositely. Every year, I have tried to increase the number of books I read than the previous year. And like how always it happens, life happens and your promise runs out of gas. So, as is shown below, I have never been able to reach even 12 books in any year since I started tracking this. Shameful indeed! But over time, I have read more Non-Fiction than Fiction. Real-life is thrilling enough nowadays. Also, a good Non-Fiction would be as captivating as any fictional book if you have an interest in the topic. In any case, storytelling would rule in any book there is.

2020
Previously

I might not have read the most number of books. But, I have read the most this year. Seriously a lot. Not books per se, but medical articles. Just going by the variety of topics read, it ranged from Haematology, Diabetes, Sarcoma, Immunotherapy, Dendritic Cells Therapy, Metastasis, Obesity, Pneumonia, and of course, Covid-19. And many more horrible but widely prevalent things.

Committing to reading gives a tangible goal. There is no compulsion but like they say, without a goal, you cannot score. If one could balance between how much content one wants to consume, through watching and through reading, and how much content, one wants to generate, that would work out the best. That would always be a struggle though but I wish to be in the group that wants to create more than consume.

I think my plan for next year would be to not go by what’s trending to read. But, I would go into what exactly I want to know about.

Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash


Recent Book Reviews

Acronyms can GFT

A rant is due from a long time. Here it goes:

One time I had a dream. It was somewhat like this:

I woke up from deep sleep, got ready, and went out to buy something. As soon I reached a shop, I asked the shop owner to give me something. He asked me ‘What?’. I repeated what I wanted. He seemed to not understand me. I kept on telling him but he kept on shaking his head as if I was speaking another language.

I came back home and picked up my phone to call my friend. The friend picked up just after 1 ring. I said something. But he didn’t seem to get it and he said ‘What?’. I said something again. Again, he kept saying ‘Hello!?’. Irritated I cut the phone and I thought that I will text him instead. I messaged him. He replied back ‘Have you gone nuts? What are you typing? What does it mean?’.

I checked what I had sent him. I also realized what I was saying on phone. And what I said to the shopkeeper as well.

It was all in acronyms. I was speaking, writing, texting all in Acronyms. All in short forms with no regard to grammar, receiver’s state of mind, decency of humanity but GM, HRU, TC, TX, and so on. It was a nightmare. It indeed was a nightmare!

Acronyms. We all are surrounded by them. They have taken over us. They have been there for some time. Since people started to write, they also found ways to shorten what they wrote in the beginning. They have morphed a bit, changed a lot, evolved sometimes, and stayed the same. They have seen it all. They are coming to get us. They have stuck around long enough to irritate one and all. If they haven’t (oh sorry have not) irked you yet, they will.

What would one do with the time which one saved by not typing full words? FYI, GNU stands for GNU’s Not Unix (!). ANT stands for Another Neat Tool. PIN code could have been called just Code but no! OK has been On Kerosine or some time it was for All Correct or now just K. Can you get past a day when you are not hit by one or the other acronym someone created because they were too busy to write it wholly out? Moreover, who approves these short forms? Shouldn’t there be a law to approve them first so that they become universally acceptable first? Shortening words or transforming words happen with time, but when did PTO become ‘Personal Time Off’ from ‘Please Turn Over’? I say let’s take SMH, AFAIK, RT, ID, and so on, wrap them around, etc., and then throw it send it to Wuhan’s Abandoned Wet Market or bury it under some Internet Cable in some sea.

But you say, there’s a Glossary? Haha, no you should be sorry to have explanations given explicitely for previous blunders.

What would one do when the country’s Prime Minister himself is an acronym enthusiast?

PostScript: Just google “Acronyms Seriously Suck – Elon Musk” if you have some time saved by sending across acronyms instead of full sentences. Obviously, you don’t have any time saved. So take this instead.


Photo by Surendran MP on Unsplash

Algorithm isn’t the answer always

In 2009, Pilot Sully landed a full fledged plane in New York’s Hudson river when its engines malfunctioned. Although he saved a lot of lives but he was still criticized for taking such an extraordinary decision. Simulations showed that he could divert the plane to another nearby air strip. But as they show in the eponymous movie, that simulation forgets to take human struggle into account. When the plane malfunctioned pilots kept on trying for at least a minute to get it back on track. They could have panicked, they could’ve gotten cold feet, but instead of giving up, they tried for a minute or so to get the plane working. Simulations later showed that if you added that minute, it was not possible to reach the airstrip. So human mind’s strategy at that time was actually correct and simulation wasn’t.

I am studying Data Science and I work for a company making software for Retail Data Science. Data Mining, predictive modeling, training, etc. are the terms I see and read all day. There are factors at play in the world today which are forcing everyone to find the method to the madness from the huge chunks of data we have at our hands. But relying on data and algorithms is a two edged sword. In fact, whatever I am studying and working with professionally has certain limitations.

We know that Covid Vaccine is now being given to front line workers. In one of the cases, an algorithm was used to find out the order in which the vaccine should be given. The algorithm, which is obviously highly dependent on what we feed as initial parameters, chose some names of the Medical staff. However, it did a mistake which led to actual front line workers to protest. It didn’t chose names of staff who were on ICU duty and who had the real imminent danger of infection.

We should be grateful to the work done by scientists but we forget that an algorithm is as good as what it takes as input, how it is supposed to run models, and how much tested it is. Over relying on it blindly isn’t the answer and it might lead to more problems than it is supposed to solve.

I guess, data scientists and softwares have some tradeoffs when it comes to accuracy and the quality of data fed. And not all works with 0s and 1s. Human emotions aren’t tangible but still play a huge role in almost everything.

P.S.: This.

Vagabonding and Lucky Ali

When it comes to traveling, unfortunately, I have been like a Kite with Chinese Manjha. Basically, I have been to some places but always tied to a certain place with a cord that could never be broken. I have hardly traveled. When I see YouTubers with backpack travelers, it just fills me with envy and amazement (that their fellow people allow them to travel alone? Or is it just the mind that is conditioned to be stationary). The show Lonely Planet on Discovery back in the 90s used to be one of my favorites. In fact, you need not even watch a TV Show (or Google Earth) to travel anywhere. There are songs and music and voices which can take you places.

The music of Lucky Ali is like that. It gives a sense of a person traveling to somewhere alone with a backpack across the countryside. There is a feeling of leaving the civilized world behind, and sometimes returning to the civilized world but there’s travel involved. His videos also visualized a person going somewhere, meeting people, searching for something while the destination not being very clear. The lyrics and the somewhat different than usual music and voice always painted a picture of a vagabond.

There’s a video of Lucky Ali performing live in Goa floating around on the Internet nowadays. And then there are some more videos of him where he is bearded, humming things, and living a life of his own. Maybe he himself wants to keep his image like that. A Musician traveling to places with his guitar, now aging with every appearance, still having the soulful voice and the magical gift of making music that stays with you long after you’re done listening to it.

When ‘O Sanam’ was released, I had no inclination towards or knowledge of music. The only song I grooved to that time was Pak-chik-pak-Raja Babu. I was not even a teenager then but Lucky Ali made me hooked at a different level altogether. I told myself that one day when I will travel alone, this would be the first song on my playlist. I remember I used to never miss visiting one of my relative’s house because they used to own the audio cassette of his second album ‘Sifar’ and just getting to listen to ‘Dekha hai Aise Bhi’ was bliss.

Travel and Music are two things which take you places, literally and figuratively. Movies involving traveling always have peculiar music too. One recent example was the movie Karwaan. Traveling is something I have always wanted but never got the courage to really try traveling alone. Maybe a time will come for that, maybe it won’t. Till then, I can keep listening to Lucky Ali.

Having said all of the above, I am not a fan of his Live performances. Maybe the reason is that when you seeing a live performance, it is stationary and the melody is not just the same. It looks like he is struggling to sing and he would better be traveling and singing someplace else.


Photo by Andreas Selter on Unsplash

Phew

About 3 weeks ago, 7 out of 9 people in my family fell sick and the RT-PCR turned positive. 2 had to be hospitalized while others somehow managed at home. Slowly and slowly everyone is regaining their health back and things are now looking better. Hospitalized have returned home. Others who were at home who took an uncountable number of medicines are also getting back to their feet. There are still some vitals that are going haywire but we are trying to get them under control.

Those who say that they can trust their immunity against Covid, have no idea about surviving for a minute when you feel difficulty in breathing. Try walking without breathing for a minute. Those who say that Masks don’t really work have not seen how Glucometer readings go sky high and Oximeter readings touch rock bottom. Bottom line is that, if you have had it and had no symptoms, consider yourself super-lucky because it didn’t even touch you really!

The amount of money spent has gone through the roof. Forget money, the damage it has left behind on health will take months to get back to normalcy. Things have just turned towards better but the fight is still not over. There is a long way to go and a few vital stats might always give a headache.

For those who are still struggling, and while those who couldn’t, all I can say is that I hope we see a better time soon.

Avoid the crowd. Wear Masks. Keep Washing Your Hands. There is no other way possible at the moment. Vaccines are still months away.

I hate to be superstitious but Fingers Crossed.


Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Be like a Monolith

There are mysterious Monoliths showing up at various places across the world. Then they disappear without any hoopla.

They show up. They create suspense whether they are alien, or they’re some prank, or they’re naturally occurring, or they serve no purpose, or Banksy is the culprit, or an art installation, or bad welding show-off. We don’t really know. That’s quintessential 2020 then and there.

Then they disappear. Some people say people have been seen taking them down and cleaning all the traces. No video has been surfaced yet of installation or removal.

I think there is a lesson in it. Actually, there is none. And that’s the lesson that some things do show up and then they disappear. They leave no clue but only conspiracy theories.They can create mystery and might damage things. Or they might not.

One can’t understand everything. That’s the beauty of it.

Be like a Monolith in some stranger’s life. Or don’t. Who cares!

Here are my renditions of Monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey