Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review - Fermat's Last Theorem

Fermat's Last Theorem

This book takes you on a riveting journey of solving Mathematics' most famous and extremely difficult of riddles, Fermat's Last Theorem. The riddle, Fermat's Last Theorem, itself is very simple to understand but equally extremely difficult to prove that it took over 3 centuries (358 years to be precise) to be proved in 1993 by Sir Andrew Wiles.

Everybody...and I am sure everybody, who has been to high school knows or has heard of Pythagoras theorem or equation which states –

X (raised to the power of 2) + Y (raised to the power of 2) = Z (The Hypotenuse) (raised to the power of 2)

Fermat's Last Theorem is a sister equation of Pythagoras' equation. It states -

X (raised to the power of n) + Y (raised to the power of n) = Z(raised to the power of n) has no whole number solutions for n > 2

The 17th Century French mathematical genius by the name of Pierre de Fermat created this equation while studying the book Arithmetica. Fermat was also notorious for stating a problem and then intentionally not stating the solution! He would also go ahead and challenge his fellow mathematicians to find the proof. Not surprisingly, this used to frustrate his fellow mathematicians who loved to collaborate and build up on one another's methods...This habit of Fermat of hiding the proof of his theorems not only tortured his contemporaries but generations of future mathematicians.

So when Fermat scribbled his above theorem in margin of Arithmetica, he did not explain his proof of the equation. As expected, this mischievous mathematical genius also made a tantalizing note which infuriated and haunted current and future mathematicians. Fermat simply scribbled - “I have a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.”

...and with that was born a legendary mathematical monster - Fermat’s Last Theorem (‘Last’ because it was ‘The Last’ remaining theorem of Fermat’s that remained unproved) and the race to prove it, which took the next 358 years and 19th and 20th century mathematical techniques to prove it.

This book is not just about how the talented Andrew Wiles solved the world's most fabled mathematical problem but also a very absorbing journey of Mathematics' famous and infamous legends and their intriguing stories - some tragic, some pure genius and some shockingly astonishing. For example, Calculus was not developed by Issac Newton independently but by someone named Pierre de Fermat!

If you are a Maths, Science or a Engineering student or professional you will find this book absolutely delightful to read as the topics will naturally appeal to your technical self. Even if you are not inclined towards mathematics, at worse, you will find this book to be an enjoyable read! Simon Singh does a brilliant job of explaining the most arcane of mathematical concepts so much so that you will consider taking up mathematics! Go buy a copy. You won't regret it!

Fermat's Last Theorem

Book Review - The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

Interestingly, I got to know about The Four-Hour Work Week (4HWW) from So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love book (which is a great read in itself) and which preaches exactly opposite to what Tim Ferriss does in 4 HWW. So, I was ultra convinced that 4 HWW is similar to those get rich quick schemes kinda books which are as silly as they sound. Hence, I scrapped reading it...However, when I skimmed this book after a chance sighting of it in my office library, I was instantly hooked.

I am not gonna talk about what Tim Ferriss teaches and advocates in this book in detail, as already all the reviewers have done that...instead, I am just gonna say that you do not have to actually do what Tim has done. You do not even have to leave your job. What I got from 4HWW is that even if you employ some of Tim's techniques (Parkinson's law, 80/20 principles and the art of avoiding emails and conference calls like plaque), at your current job, it will shoot your productivity through the roof....The lifestyle redesign part comes later when you get plenty of time as result of employing these techniques at your work place. Tim pushes you go beyond your boundaries and take mini-retirements now instead of later. However, it is entirely up to you, what you do with those new found free hours!...4HWW is also a treasure trove of information and other clever hacks which will prove useful to you at some point in life.

For the last 2 weeks, I have been using some of the techniques mentioned in this book (Parkinson's law and avoiding email/con calls) and they have given me a sense of calm at my insanely busy day job as a software engineer...This book will save you a lot of time! I suggest reading So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love first and then The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich which will give a unique and well balanced perspective to look at your 9-5 or 9-8 job like myself.

Rating 5/5. This is a must read!

Book Review - Blink: The Power of Thinking without thinking

Blink: The Power of Thinking without thinking

Fascinating psychological stories/studies told the Malcolm Gladwell style and hence an interesting read. The power of information processing is all about thin-slicing (extraneous information to be discarded) an event and how our adaptive unconscious utilizes it brilliantly to provide us with valuable insights in real life situations. The author talks how great decision makers hone and trust their instincts to serve them in times of need and also when this impressive ability clearly fails both the experts and laymen. Particularly, how our biases influence this ability.

However, after a few chapters you do get a gist of the book and then it is just stories with the same message all over. The stories and the case studies cited are engaging and enthralling but somehow they do not appear to flow correctly. I got a the feeling that the author is going off tangent on many occasions for e.g the Coke vs Pepsi case, Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman story and Paul Ekman's FACS. These stories are very intriguing in itself but I felt the author could have talked a little less about it. Having said that this book is engaging and will keep you entertained.

Rating 3/5.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Diwali - Pollution, Hypocrisy and Ignorance

People refraining from bursting crackers during Diwali and urging others to do so and cribbing about air pollution during Diwali, I have this to ask you -

-Do you drive a car or a motorbike and have considered pooling or using Public Transport during the rest of the year?
- Have you stopped using six-seaters that pollute like they are running a factory inside?
- How about your own car? Is it really 'PUC' checked?
- Have you considered not flying and taking the train instead sometime?
- Have you thought of not honking when driving in India?
- Have you considered not buying an AC in a city like Pune when the weather is pleasant except for 2 hot months?

If the answer is No and you are complaining about smoke and noise during Diwali- you are plainly ignorant about air pollution issues or are a hypocrite or both.

If you really care about pollution, voice your opinions about the driving and flying habits of the rich countries first. They are the ones having wrong kind of Diwali all year round. Then question your own habits!
Do not crib about how environmentally unfriendly Diwali is as if it is the sole root cause for climate change round the world!
#ughsomepplinIndia #Diwali #Airpollution