Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Not-So-Big Read

Picked this up from some random blog. Just because it's been a while since I've actually picked up a book, here's hoping that this provokes me enough to stop reading only Reader and become an actual reader.

The original list was flawed (clubs entire series together as one book, and it doesn't accurately reflect The Big Read's Top 100 books) so I've taken the liberty of modifying the meme with the actual list.

The Big Read reckons that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed.
  • Look at the list and bold those you have read.
  • Italicize those you intend to read.
  • Mark in RED the books you LOVE.
  • Reprint this list in your own blog.
  • (this point added by me) Having seen the movie/cartoon/TV series is not the same as having read the book.
The List
  1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
  2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
  6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
  8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
  9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
  10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
  14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
  16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
  20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
  21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
  23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
  24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
  25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
  26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  28. Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
  29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
  32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
  33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
  34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
  35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  37. Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
  38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
  39. Dune, Frank Herbert
  40. Emma, Jane Austen
  41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
  42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
  43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
  44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
  47. Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
  49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
  50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
  51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
  53. The Stand, Stephen King
  54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  55. Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
  56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
  57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
  58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
  59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
  60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
  62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
  63. Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
  65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
  66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
  67. The Magus, John Fowles
  68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
  70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
  71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
  72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
  73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
  74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
  75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
  76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
  78. Ulysses, James Joyce
  79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
  81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
  82. Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
  83. Holes, Louis Sachar
  84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
  85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
  87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
  89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
  90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
  91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
  92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
  93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
  94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
  95. Katherine, Anya Seton
  96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
  97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
  98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
  99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
  100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
And just because I can, and because the number is ridiculously manageable, I tag whoever reads this blog post :-)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Say it isn't so!

Is IIT-M going the way of IIPM? Or was this deliberate? One can never know. Found in the Super Manager event page for Shaastra 09, the rules & regulations read thusly:

I suppose if a manager is 'doing their undergraduate', then they REALLY must a super manager..

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Computers never get old. They just become incompatible with the state-of-the-art.
Well said, sir.

Monday, 10 August 2009

This is awesome

(I hope the commenter doesn't sue me for the verbatim lift. Linky 1 and Linky 2 from a Hacker News discussion on useless Time magazine article on why exercise is useless.)
Self-restraint is a hackable psychological phenomenon in one's brain. I agree that it is not an innate moral power, but I disagree that it is a distinct human quality that can be strengthened. Self-restraint boils down to optimism. People can put themselves through anything if they have faith that it will pay off in the end. Rational knowledge doesn't help, and it isn't a matter of simply being harsh with oneself, either: harshness and pessimism just produce a paralyzed, chubby, self-loathing person. If passing up a cheeseburger leaves you with a dead feeling inside -- "I'm deprived now and screwed in the long run anyway, what a waste" -- then you won't be able to keep it up. If you have faith that passing up the cheeseburger will have a long-term payoff, then your brain gives you a down payment of happiness that cancels out the displeasure of depriving yourself.

That's why thinking about a distant, glorious end result (like a smoking hot beach body) works for some people but is counterproductive for others. It's motivational if you really believe in it. For many people, though, it's just a reminder that they're making sacrifices for something that they don't believe in at all. Those people are better of thinking of less distant payoffs that they can really believe in, even if the payoffs are trivial by comparison.

Some people think that your brain will simply not accept passing up food that your body thinks it needs, that it's completely unnatural and therefore impossible. But you do things all the time that have energetic costs and distant, uncertain payoffs. Hard work, saving money, hell, even just getting out of bed: these are things that impose immediate costs. Your brain does emotional bookkeeping to incline you to avoid costs that have no payoff. If you've ever been depressed, you know that getting out of bed is sheer misery if you believe that nothing good will come of it. Yet it's normal to get out of bed, get to work on time, and work at a job for a payoff that comes a few weeks later. (Or, for a startup, months or years later.) In the same way, it can be normal to pass up food. You just have to have faith in the payoff. You might think that food has some special status in your brain, and it might, but your brain is surprisingly abstract and adaptable. (Consider the recent article about money!) Also consider that physical labor is basically the opposite of food, but people manage to habituate themselves to physical labor despite the complaints of their body (which are, initially, totally out of proportion to the physical cost.)
Having faith isn't easy; in fact, it's really hard. But it demystifies the question of why people eat or don't eat, and why they feel good or bad when doing so. I find it much easier to deal with my "faith" than to struggle directly with my impulses.

[...]The strength of one's restraint is measured against the strength's of one's desires. You improve results by strengthening restraint and weakening appetite.
I see self-restraint as a limited amount of discretion that a person has to override his natural tendency to maximize emotional reward. As the article says, self-restraint is tiring and unnatural; it's a stopgap measure at best. The primary conflict is in your emotional brain's cost/benefit analysis of the situation. You have to hack your emotional reward system so you don't have to employ as much self-restraint. When you naturally derive satisfaction from eating well, because you have faith in the ultimate payoff, your natural tendency will not be as strongly tilted in favor of overeating.

Your subconscious/emotional/whatever brain is smarter than most people think. You aren't doomed to have an out-of-touch brain that fills you with irresistible, self-destructive impulses to overeat. We may have evolved on the savannah, but if you can stand on a subway platform, surrounded by strangers whose personal feelings about you are unknown, waiting for a huge steel structure to come whizzing by you at high speed, without feeling scared, you can learn to leave food on your plate. You just have to program your brain properly (cultivate faith) so that you feel, subconsciously, that limiting your eating leads to well-being and happiness (and, according to the highly publicized recent study, more sex if you're a man.)
Like another commenter said, made me think in a way that I've never thought before.


I flit about every day, one Slashdot post after another, one Hacker News article after another, one Google Reader entry after another. Snippets of work. Email, Facebook, Twitter. Sporadic bursts of exercise. Passing off pretty much anything edible as food (glorious food!). Books. Reading beyond books. Meeting friends. Conversation. Some of it stimulating, some of it inane. All of it fun.

The fact is, I quite enjoy almost EVERY aspect of my ‘typical’ day (except fending off diatribes on how I need to eat better – another day, another post...)

Then along comes some young whippersnapper who, barely into her 3rd month of the ‘corporate’ life, has the audacity to look for purpose in life. While there are those of us who are waltzing through it with nary a thought about what the future holds in store, there are these little ones who are actually want answers! This can NOT be good, I tell myself. What’s MY purpose? Where’s my drive? What do I want to become?! Who will I end up with?!? Oh wait, that last one’s answered... well, that still leaves the others.

The truth is – I don’t know. I thought I knew, but I don’t. And, for better or worse, I do not seem to care. I have settled into a comfortable routine punctuated by intermittent blips up and down. Do I need a purpose? Is current and immediate-foreseeable-future happiness not enough?