Good Books Lift You!

Good Books Lift You!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins by Garry Kasparov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Garry Kasparov has a way of his own – it is well after his retirement from professional chess, and yet he is so much sought after. This book traces the progress of chess engines, the evolution of their algorithms culminating in the famous Kasparov Vs Deep Blue battle.

Chess engines have gained rapidly in the recent past from databases for reviewing games, to aids for analyzing positions, to challenging humans and finally overpowering them. Kasparov discusses how the algorithms have changed – the limits of technology resulting in lower search depth initially for brute force algorithms, to the incorporation of intelligent search tree reduction and later machine learning. While Chess has been of keen interest to me since years, the information presented is very systematic and well organized with quite a bit of information making for very interesting reading which I was not aware of.

Kasparov hates losing..well, he really does. Till a time it seemed to be smooth going against both human challengers and the machines. He is the world champion and quite easily overpowers Deep Thought – the predecessor to Deep Blue. He wins the first championship against Deep Blue as well, employing clever anti-computer strategies. The Deep Blue which he takes on in 1997 seems to be a different beast though. While Kasparov wins the first game, the second one turns out to be a stunner with Deep Blue employing strategies never before seen in chess engines. Kasparov, in fact becomes deeply suspicious, even alluding to the possibility of human intervention. He admits that the impact to his psyche as a result of this game was so high, that he subsequently loses the tournament. He is not exactly a gracious loser and has issues with not being given logs on time as well. Of course, subsequent revelations do indicate that IBM went to great lengths to prove a point and defeat Kasparov. This includes injecting some delays in Deep Blue to score some psychological points against Kasparov and tuning the opening book on and off. Kasparov mentions that Lou Gerstner visited the match area and gave the Deep Blue team a pep talk and said that the match was between the best chess player in the world and Kasparov.

This book is very well written and Kasparov's intellect really shines through. A large portion of the matter in the book is public information though, if you can make the effort to read and collate it. I really liked Kasparov's writing style and the only thing which could have been avoided was a few excuses for his intemperate behaviour at times such as being a sore loser to Deep Blue, and slamming the door in the game against Anand.

Kasparov's take on Artifical Intelligence / Robots in general are extremely mature and practical. In contrast to the general panic futurists have started spreading on impending large job losses, Kasparov has sensible comments to make and sound advice as well. As he points out - going into a panic on machines overpowering us at this point in time is like worrying about overcrowding on Mars! We are very capable of making a good future for ourselves if we are sensible about it.

If you follow chess, you will love this book!

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: Undelivered Letters

Undelivered Letters Undelivered Letters by J. Alchem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My rating: 3.5 / 5.

This is a story which has a lot going for it. Aron was a postman many years back. He falls in love and gets married to Sara.

Accidentally, Sara discovers a bunch of letters he should have delivered 20 years back. Guilt gnaws at Aron – what does the non-delivery of these letters mean to the intended recipients? He goes about trying to find out. Here, the book moves on to the stories of people connected to these letters.

I found each of the three stories covered in depth to be strong emotionally and your heart goes out to the characters involved. While the digression into the individual stories seems sudden, the stories are tied together at the end excellently. I do think though that the format and central storyline offered much more scope for a bigger and deeper story.

This a cute and quick read – which I certainly recommend. Many of the stories are very moving.

I received a free copy of the book for providing an honest review.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review: Origin

Origin Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, at the outset I might as well mention that I am a Dan Brown fan. Other than good research, his books whip up tremendous pace and I find myself wanting to keep going.

This time, Robert Langdon finds himself at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao – invited by his brilliant former student Edmond Kirsch. Kirsch, who has always believed that science will have all the answers sooner or later, is also generally known to be provocative towards organized religion. He promises that his presentation will have far reaching consequences seeking to answer the two most intriguing questions all of us have: Where do we come from? Where are we going?
The event is organized by Ambra Vidal, the beautiful museum director who is engaged to the Prince of Spain. The event ends in tragedy just before the Edmond’s presentation is to be made. Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal flee the scene, determined to pursue, and reveal to the world Edmond’s presentation. They have an unlikely ally in one of Edmond’s creations. As with all of Dan Brown’s books, there are plots and twists.

As with all of Dan Browns books, the research is credible – be it the places, the history or the organizations involved. And yet – when the answer is revealed, it is somewhat disappointing since the build-up seems to allude to somewhat much bigger. There are also a few loose ends in the plot.

The discussions in the later sections of the book around religion and science, and how they can be both be progressive and complimentary are very good. The openness, and progressive thinking Robert Langdon speaks about are much needed and should find more resonance in government, religious and scientific circles.

If you have a more serious inclination to the matters discussed in the book, I would suggest the books: The Vital Question: Energy, Evolution, and the Origins of Complex Life, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

If you like Dan Brown’s books, you will love this one too.

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir

If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir If Truth Be Told: A Monk's Memoir by Om Swami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first read one of Om Swami's blogs, which I found to be excellent. I subsequently read his - Kundalini & A million thoughts both of which are great books.

This is Om Swami's life and progress to spiritual excellence in a nutshell. A person who was very successful in his profession and went on to become a millionaire by the age of 30, but was drawn to spirituality since his young age.

The book shifts between his pursuit of spirituality by renouncing everything he had, and his child hood. The narration is crisp for the most part and his life quite obviously is fascinating. There are sections though which could have been shortened in the earlier parts of the book, and more space could have been devoted to his meditation and spiritual practices in the later sections. However, mindfulness methods are covered in his subsequent book "A million thoughts" which I would rate as among the best books on meditation.

Overall, an inspiring book you should read if spirituality as a genre is of interest!

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review: The Fragile Thread of Hope

The Fragile Thread of Hope The Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book has two principal characters – Soham and Fiona. For a large part of the book, their stories run in parallel converging towards the later part of the book.

The one thing in common between the lives of Soham and Fiona is the pain in their lives. Both come from humble backgrounds and face hardship as well as tragedy. The other aspect in common is their strength in looking ahead despite deep rooted personal suffering.

Soham's brother's untimely demise affects him deeply, and he is haunted by memories. It has an impact on his parents, as well as their relationship. Soham works in Bangalore in an IT firm and is doing well professionally. A relationship with a co-worker seems to be exactly what he needs to move on with life. But then, the happiness is short lived and more difficult times come up in his life causing him to return to Gangtok.

Fiona's mother Sharon has had an especially tough life with a husband who drinks every day squandering his money and his health. As he passes away, it is not clear how Sharon can make ends meet and educate Fiona – but she does it with great strength. Fiona feels she has found the love of her life too, and yet long term happiness proves elusive.

Soham and Fiona are now both in Gangok. Can they find meaning in their lives, which seems to have lost purpose as a result of the pain they have suffered?

There is deep rooted tragedy and pain in the lives of the Soham & Fiona – yet this book is about their character, strength and certainly hope. The setting and culture of Sikkim is well explored and described. Having visited Sikkim, just this past year – it brought vivid images of the beauty of the place to my mind.

With it's impressive build up of it's strong characters and good story line, I certainly recommend this book to be read.

Note: I received an advance copy of the ebook for providing an honest review

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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A book which stays with you well after you have read it.

A story about the Grimke family and their slaves – in particular tracing the lives of Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” in Charleston. Not surprisingly the 19th century is a period where slavery is the norm. Since her childhood – Sarah finds this grossly unfair. She is assigned Handful as her slave and makes attempts to help her – she teaches her to read and write for instance. They are soon found out and both are punished. Sarah's own ambitions of practicing law make no headway either – that is not what women at that time could aspire for.

Handful's mother Charlotte works hard to save money (at times taking risks by working extra hours) in the hope that she can buy their freedom in future. Sarah finds solace and purpose in being the godmother of her sister Angelina, who shares many of her ideals. The risks Charlotte takes leads to her having to run away from the Grimke household. She is united with Handful after many years, by when she has a second daughter “Sky”.

While the years elapse, what does not change is Sarah's conviction that slavery is unfair and must end. She finds others who share her ideals, including her sister Angelina. In the midst of tremendous suffering, and at times tragedy – there is also hope held by determination and conviction.

Other the brilliantly etched characters, the book scores for it's tremendous attention to detail – building an extremely realistic picture of the times. The research which the author describes in the afterword are very evident all through the book. I did not initially know that Sarah and Angelina Grimke are real characters – the fictional characters of the slaves in the Grimke household blend in excellently in the narrative.

The realism in this book reminded me of another excellent book - Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, though the stories are vastly different otherwise.

This book leaves it's impressions which stay – the characters, the pain of the period and a reminder that what is assumed a normal practice is not necessarily right and some brave people who can leave their conditioning aside can make the difference.

I would ideally rate the book at 4.5, only because the pace of the book slows in parts around the middle.

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Review: You Never Know

You Never Know You Never Know by Akash Verma
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The primary character in this story are Dhruv, Shalini, Anuradha & Sid. Dhruv is doing well at an advertising agency and is appointed the centre head for Delhi as well. Shalini is his wife who has a busy professional career as a psychiatrist as well, and they have two young kids. Anuradha is new to the company - is bright and outgoing. Dhruv is instantly attracted to her and she soon falls for him as well. The implications to Dhruv's married life is to follow, as also some issues from Anuradha's previous affair with Sid. And we see the entry of corrupt politicians and marital troubles all hitting Dhruv.

The books assembles a very predictable cocktail of lust, corruption and some mystery. The treatment of attraction at first sight is a little silly, and the characters needed more depth. I suppose the author also hopes this will be made into a Bollywood movie, as this combination is so typical. While the story is weak, the book has some positives as well - it moves quickly and it a good one to relax with, the Mojo campaign build-up has some good material though the treatment is simplistic, and the characters of Dhruv and Anuradha are likeable.

You might consider reading this book if you want a quick read, and are willing to leave assessment of the story aside.

I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

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