When Breath becomes Air

Paul Kalanithi
If we go by Montaigne, Cicero had written that “to study philosophy is to learn to die.” If I go by Paul Kalanithi’s work, it is when you confront mortality that you discover your own philosophy. I have never read death this close, and I am finding it difficult to get words that would accurately describe my reaction to it, so I will restrict myself to the streams of narratives I followed in this book.
The first has less to do with Paul, and more to do with his trade. In his case, it isn’t a trade, it is a calling. However, this book has also given me perspectives which ensure that I would not judge those doctors who consider it a profession, and nothing more. Just to be clear, I am not referring to the monsters which the modern hospital corporations are, but the individual doctors who might appear callous or unfeeling in their interactions with us. Through his description of what the typical doctor goes through when he chooses the profession, Paul shows that doctors are humans too. Maybe we forget that, when we expect empathy and understanding. I can only barely begin to understand now what it means to have the responsibility of a life in your hands. A mistake is not about targets not being achieved or losing a job, a mistake is a life lost, or even worse. How can a person deal with that on a regular basis? And yes, some people can’t!

AI: Learns, Rules

The potential applications of blockchain are fascinating, and Melanie Swan’s book provides an excellent view of these. The part that I found particularly interesting is ‘buried’ on page 26 – the blockchain as a path to artificial intelligence. This happens through the increasing advancement of smart contracts on automation, autonomy and complexity parameters through an emergent form of AI that develops. Either by the introduction of non AI, non blockchain rule- based systems or by the implementation of programmatic ideas from AI research fields.

It led me to think of the development of AI in a Conway’s Game of Life manner – a zero player game that starts with an initial state and evolves based on the rules, and interactions with other entities within the system. In the recent past, I have come across several phenomena that are interesting especially when seen in this frame. More

Shizusan Shophouse & Bar

The plan originally was to go Irish House or Social, but as we entered Phoenix Market City, we noticed a new signage. A quick Zomato search showed me a menu that was very, very appealing! So, after business as usual at the mall, we headed over to Shizusan on the food court floor. At 7 PM, we had no problem finding a table. We contemplated sitting outside, but the one seat that offered a good view of the mall was already taken, so we decided the well lit, very pretty indoors was the better place to be. The seating is largely functional, though the chairs do exhibit a sense of aesthetics. The greenery on the ceiling is unfortunately unreal, but thankfully doesn’t really take away from the effect.  There’s some very elegant art at one corner that brings out the cuisine theme, and the only sore thumb in this entire set up are the table tops, which reminded me of very old restaurants. I refuse to believe there is anything related to the theme at work here!

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The Lessons of History

Will Durant, Ariel Durant

A delightful read. Surprisingly small in terms of number of pages, for a book that’s titled “The Lessons of History”. A total of 13 chapters, of which 10 are devoted to history’s relationship with other sciences- from biology to economics and philosophies – from politics to morals.
The book covers a lot of ground and vast swathes of history are reduced to a paragraph with learning that is applicable even now. The text is succinct and it would seem like each word has been weighed carefully before being used in a particular context. In uncovering the thesis, antithesis and synthesis in different domains, there are some superb profundities. e.g. “for freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails, the other dies.” or “Heaven and utopia are buckets in a well: when one goes down, the other goes up.”

Confidence, to wit

The Book of Life’s post On the Origins of Confidence made me think about the subject in the context of my own life. In the last few years, I have increasingly felt the importance of confidence in my professional life. It’s not so much what you know, but what you project that matters. Perception is reality, as the phrase goes. Hence the interest in the subject. But before that, a detour.

As far back as I can remember, I have been under-confident. Some of my earliest memories are of stage fright, and since I was into things like singing, elocution etc that are particularly susceptible to this, I have many memories! Despite multiple rehearsals, and prizes that I got over the years, I could never be sure that I would remember the lyrics/lines.

I preferred spending my time reading, and was very comfortable being alone. Ironically though, my friends from my last years of school as well those from my grad and post grad days remember me for my sense of humour, specifically because it could help people laugh or at least smile even in the worst of times. But if you met me, you wouldn’t figure this. This persona is archived in my mind, but at a reunion last weekend, my schoolmate, who is now the funniest guy in our Whatsapp group, told the gathering how I was his benchmark for humour. Embarrassed me much, but we were all drunk, so that was fine! 😀 More

Hoot

It absolutely was, and it had nothing to do with the food, service or anything that you’d normally judge a restaurant/pub on. Normally, nothing would get me to visit Sarjapur Road, but hey, microbrewery. That, and its photos on Zomato making it look like the sets of MTV Grind! (who remembers?)

Truth be told, the ambiance was quite good. Poolside would have been perfect, but we were told that the section wasn’t open because there was a rain forecast. We’ll get back to this. We got ourselves a table near the bar. The crowd was extremely mixed – fresh-out-of-engineering-college gawking kids, middle aged families, Sarjapur’s Page 3 equivalent, living ads of  Malabar Gold, probably businessmen, and so on. Hoot 1 – crowd. Not enough children though, so I didn’t have anyone to make faces at.

As we waited for our friends, we decided to get ourselves some beer. Out of the five craft brews, only two were available. D ordered a Saint Martin Abbey Triple, which was described as “liquid gold served to perfection”. After we tasted it, the only thing I was left wondering was whose liquid gold? Ugh! I had asked for the other available beer – Saint Martin Abbey Dark, which was described as “an uplifting experience”. This one delivered on the promise, only because it is easy to uplift anyone who has tasted that Morarji Desai prescription known as Abbey Triple! Our friends arrived by then, and after tasting both, decided to order wine an cocktails. No Rose wines were available, and no Bira, so the poor souls settled on Tuborg and a Blood Orange & Mint cocktail. My friend described the latter as Rasna with a hint of Vodka. The rest of us missed the hint.  More

Scarcity

Sendhil Mullainathan & Eldar Shafir

On a relative scale, we probably are in the most abundant era of civilisation. And yet, we struggle to manage with less than what we need. Sometimes it’s money, in other cases time or health, and then there are emotional needs like love and affection. But there’s a common thread that connects all of these – the scarcity mindset. A feeling of having less than what one needs. And scarcity, as the authors repeat many a time in the first few sections captures the mind.

This framing suddenly brings up patterns that are common across vegetable sellers in India and the authors of this book, two sets of people vastly separated by geography and lifestyles. It then allows the formation of concepts and constructs – bandwidth, focusing and tunneling, choking, slack are a few examples – that offers explanations on how scarcity is created, how it forms its own vicious cycles, and how far reaching its consequences are. Complicated as the subject may seem (and it is!) the fantastic use of examples (tests, experiments and real life scenarios) explains things in a way that the reader can easily grasp. More

Bloomsbury’s

Sometime back, we were super happy to see gastronomic progress happening in a building near the BMTC Depot in Whitefield. (map) Galito’s and Cold Stone Creamery were quick to start reperations, and we now regularly make up excuses to visit the latter! Bloomsbury’s looked very promising but had been holding out, until we began seeing lights inside around April. Side note – I think the same folks are behind all three, because it can’t be a coincidence that outside of Bangalore, all of them operate only in Kerala’s tourism hot spot – Lulu Mall. Though all three seem to be international franchises, I’m guessing that like most good things in life, these ones too have some Kerala connection. 😀

Bloomsbury’s proposition is a boutique cafe and artisan bakery, but let’s just say that from a menu perspective, you will have enough to choose from. In fact, that is quite a problem because you’ll find it difficult to preserve appetite for desserts. But we’ll come to that in a bit, because the decor is worth a shout out. Spread over two floors, the brick walls with chalkboard and illustrations, the cute teapot lights, the plant holder bulbs,  graffiti and the plush seating, all lend a lively yet cozy feel to the place. The staff do their best to make you comfortable too. For instance, when we asked to sit upstairs, we were told that it wasn’t open yet. Later, one of the other service staff let another party sit upstairs, followed by my cold glares. That last item was caught and they were nice enough to let us take a little tour upstairs, and move our food there if we wanted to. But we liked the area downstairs better.

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Project Happiness

Our “big” annual vacation typically happens around May-June. But at least six months of preparation precedes it, and my levels of preparation (which D has now been almost coerced into) might be considered way too orchestrated for practical purposes. My defense is that in all probability, this would be the only time we visit the place, so I’d like to make it as hassle-free as possible. Also, the fear of missing out.

As a species, we are uniquely capable of projecting our future in our own minds. My plan is supposed to make us happy. The expectations are already set. And that means that things can go wrong in many ways. For instance, things might not go as planned because of events outside of my control. Or we see other possibilities once we’re in a place but we’ve already committed to our plans in terms of time/money/emotions! More

The Accidental Universe

Alan Lightman

The title is intriguing and revealing at the same time, just as the book is. Most of us understand that it required an almost impossible set of coincidences for me to be writing this and you to be reading this! In many ways, it is accidental. And despite the vast developments in science and improvements in technology across time, do we still really know much of the universe we exist in?
It is an awe-inspiring subject, and Alan Lightman uses a series of lenses to frame the universe in ways that give us some understanding about its origins and how it works. From the basic forces that underpin the functioning of the universe, to the way it is constantly changing, to my favourite part – the two paths that have we humans have taken to answering our questions – science and religion – both spiritual in their own right, to the symmetry in design that almost suggests an architect, to the scale that is vastly beyond what we can actually perceive in relation to our immediate world, to its paradoxical love for the predictable and the occasional unpredictable, to the ‘unseen’ but active world of waves and particles, the book provides us snippets of the knowledge that humanity has collected over the years about the universe it inhabits. It also gives us an idea of what we do not know.