The Consumption Series – Books I’ve been reading!

Hello Internet.

It’s been a while since I stroked the keys on my keyboard while being at this editor window. Looking back, the last *proper* post that I published in here was way back in November of the dumpster fire year of 2016 (excluding the guest post by my friend).

So, essentially, I haven’t posted a single. frickin’. post. in 2017. That’s not a streak to be proud of.

So, to break exactly that, I’m starting with this 3 part “consumption” series, to share with you guys the stuff I’ve been consuming. And I’ll be exclusively focusing on books this post.


 

Books are pretty neat!

I can’t quite comprehend the ‘Aha!’ moment that Gutenberg must’ve experienced when he finally figured out a way to mass produce Bibles cheaply. Books are super-dense chunks of knowledge neatly stacked together in the form to form leaves of pages, which are then elegantly bound, with a hardcover (or a soft one) guarding the contents.

Well, that’s how books used to be; Now we have things like e-readers, e-book apps for smartphones and of course, audio-books. All of these new technologies are massively redrawing the very image of a “book”.

Now that I’ve given my brief introduction about books, let’s jump right in to the books I’ve been reading these past 6 months.

‘Demon Haunted World’, by Carl Sagan

For the last 500 or so years, starting with the path-breaking Copernican heliocentrism, Science has forged us a new path in understanding the insanely complex Universe we inhabit. The Scientific-method probably is right up there; next to the invention of wheel and the discovery of fire, in the hall of Human milestones.

In the Demon Haunted World, Carl Sagan beautifully explains the essence of Science and the Scientific-method. He talks about the various human biases and logical fallacies. He warns us about how we should be ever careful about people promising us quick fixes/solutions to all of the issues we face. He gently describes to us about how the world actually is, COMPLEX.

He uses the alluring examples of ‘Alien Abduction’, ‘Flying saucers’ and various other urban legends to entice us towards thinking skeptically and using some aspects of the Scientific-method to bolster and refine our modes of thinking, in an era of information overload, misinformation and ever-present propaganda.

Overall, this book is a fascinating read and will certainly help you bump up your reasoning skills and propel you toward asking question and be more curious in general.

And, Sagan’s exceptional ability to communicate super complex ideas makes it easy for even a layman to understand.

4.5/5

P.S. I absolutely believe this is what most of us should be reading right now, especially after the shit-storm of misinformation that’s been trickling out of the White House, MSM, and other news sources. This book is a good anti-dote to the post-truth world (fake news, propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation etc.) we currently inhabit.

 

‘Einstein’, by Walter Isaacson

There’s a certain charm to biographies. It’s quite revealing to read about a person’s life in great depth, in learning about how some small and perhaps ‘insignificant’ decisions could push them toward a path of self-discovery.

And, Walter Isaacson is really good at this. He has the biographies of two other American greats under his belt, that of Benjamin Franklin and Steve Jobs.

‘Einstein’ is a testament to Isaacson’s biographical abilities. He vividly documents Einstein’s life, from his infancy, through his early years in education, his fondness for observing the surroundings, his love for Mathematics and Physics, his foray into the academic realm, his groundbreaking papers in Physics (which would radically change the way Physicists dealt with time and space), and through his escape from persecution in Nazi Germany, his escape to the United States, his involvement in the Manhattan Project ultimately resulting in the Trinity test (world’s first detonation of a fission bomb a.k.a Nuke), his thoughtful insights into the post war rivalry between the United States and the USSR, his later work in Physics and his ultimate death, complete with a special section on the preservation of Einstein’s brain.

Overall, this was a very gripping read. Isaacson deserves much praise for the way he documents Einstein’s entire life, particularly the way he brings about contrast between the various aspects of the life of one of the smartest people to have ever walked on the face of the planet.

This book helped me appreciate all of the little things we take for granted in our mundane everyday lives, as the people we consider super smart are merely more observational and curious than the average Joe (aside from a lifetime of dedication to the subject in question, *totally not trying to make it look easy*).

5/5

 

‘The Glass Cage’, by Nick Carr

My second Nicholas Carr book, ‘Glass Cage: Automation and Us’ tackles one of the most biggest societal issue of this century — what the rise of automation means for global employment, economy and Capitalistic society as a whole.

Carr takes us back to the 18th/19th centuries and accustoms us with the fact that this debate is not something that just popped out from the dot-com bubble era, but rather a large section of society’s animosity toward Automation is something that’s been a common theme since the dawn of the industrial revolution.

Carr uses numerous examples from various chunks of recent history to illustrate his point that, although automation might potentially be beneficial in the short term, it causes tremendous societal and political upheaval over the course of the many decades, and impacts of a certain kind of technology can only be judged through the hindsight lens.

His takes on factory robots, self-driving cars and A.I. get quite interesting at times, though he does come across as a postmodern Luddite more often than not. Also, some parts of the book feel forcefully stretchy and borderline unnecessary.

Overall, this book gave me a good perspective on the state of automation globally and a glimpse into the kind of things we could expect as automation becomes even more mainstream by the middle of this century.

3/5

P.S. You can check out my review of Nick Carr’s first book, here.


 

So as you can probably guess, the past one half of a year has been pretty busy for me. Aside from feeding my synapses with the contents from these 3 books, I also worked a lot on stabilizing my academic boat, apart from dealing with personal issues that kept popping up. 6 months has been the longest I’ve ever gone without posting in here, and I’m pretty sure that gap will never be breached.

Now, be on the look-out for the part 2 of the series!

And of course, hit follow for new posts to get delivered straight to your inbox.

@Abhiminator

 

 

SwiftKey – The App I can’t live without!

SwiftKey

Hello again, I’m posting here after about a month. You know, I have some real issues up with punctuality, but no matter how late an article gets, one thing that never gets compromised is QUALITY. I put every effort to make sure I write the best quality of an article I ever possibly could. With that said, enjoy this week’s article about a special app that’s super close to my heart. This is a tribute-cum-review of the app. Read on…

SwiftKey, as most of you might be knowing is a keyboard for Android (and recently iOS, after Apple Inc lifted restrictions on 3rd party apps) made by SwiftKey Inc, a London based startup which got recently acquired by Microsoft for $250M.

I started using SwiftKey since my Samsung Galaxy Y days because the default Samsung keyboard that came pre-installed with the device was a big pile of… you get it. It was really bad, buggy and inaccurate.

Although SwiftKey was quite resource intensive, I still continued using it because it offered way more features and it’s auto-correct was spot on, 99% of the times. The small reduction in my (low-specced) phone’s performance was a trade-off I was more than willing to make. People were amazed at my ability to type out responses quickly, they hailed my fingers, little did they know the backbone behind my quick response time. 😉

Anyway, then in 2014 I jumped onto the Motorola bandwagon and got myself a Moto G (2nd Gen.)[still my current phone]. SwiftKey ran as smoothly as butter. Bigger screen meant more real estate to type, which meant fewer mistakes on my own, so the autocorrect feature was used a little less than on my previous phone.

The best part about SwiftKey is its machine learning algorithm and its dictionary. SwiftKey’s quick to learn the words I use frequently in my conversations and the prediction bar on top of the keyboard loads up the words accordingly. The most shocking part was when the SwiftKey ML changed a bunch of words a few weeks after my relationship ended. The most used words during it was, “baby”, “love” and things on that end of the spectrum. But, a few weeks later, as I started using those words less (for obvious reasons), the predicted words also changed to reflect my new list of frequently used words. It is a small thing, but small things like these blow your mind.

SwiftKey also predicts words according to the app I’m in. For example, say if I’m in an IM app, the first predicted word would be “hello” or “hey”. And, if I open my browser and go to say Google, the predictions change automatically. (And, in that case, the first predicted word is ‘How’ and ‘How to’, since I mostly use the internet for learning how to do things, even mundane ones.)

Also, who can forget, the SwiftKey Flow. Flow is the Swype for SwiftKey. SwiftKey didn’t invent the flow method of input, but coupled with its ML and clever algorithms, it’s nearly flawless in predicting my inputs. In fact, I’ve actually forgotten how to tap-type. I’m a SwiftKey flow junkie.

Apart from all these, you can also super customize the keyboard to match your preference. There are a bunch of themes available offline and more can be downloaded from the newly launched SwiftKey store. Themes are mostly free, although paid ones are also available. I don’t see the point of purchasing a themes when there are already tons of free themes available, since they add zero functionality to the overall experience. I’m the function over form, guy and that’s just me. Anyway, I’m just referring to the business model, not the themes themselves. Sorry if I hurt you, paid themes. 😦

Speaking of customizability, SwiftKey is customizable not just with themes, but with a lot of other things as well. For example, long press duration. Being a teenager and having played tons of games, my reflexes are pretty quick compared to say my grandfather’s. So, I hate waiting even a millisecond more (quite literally) while typing on my device. Changing the longpress duration from 400ms to my current 200ms makes a hell lot of difference to the overall typing experience. That 200ms saved compounds up overtime and makes a visible difference. Little things, little things like these make a product successful. SwiftKey knows that.

And, after installing SwiftKey, you can login using your Google Account to give SwiftKey permission to read and learn from all of your emails, text messages (SMS) etc. to aid in better predictions. It’s quite a useful feature, especially for new users who don’t want their keyboard to spend a bunch of time adapting to their typing. Neat.

I haven’t even talked about language options yet. I primarily use English (India) and have English (US) as my secondary. There are also a bunch of other language options like Hinglish (Hindi typed in English) and tons of regional languages. You can also wire up more than one language simultaneously. Super neat.

Finally, SwiftKey also has a statcounter which tracks your usage and also gives out a typing heatmap that shows your most stroked keys and the location of your finger landing. Really neat.

The last time I checked (a few second back), my stats looked something like this.

  • 29% more efficient.
  • 218, 394 taps saved.
  • 23, 069 words predicted.
  • 32, 181 words completed.
  • 352, 274 words flowed.
  • And… wait for it… 25021.39 METERS FLOWED.

Like, heck. I’ve flowed over 25 kilometers across my screen over the course of the past two years while using SwiftKey. If that’s not mindblowing, I don’t know what is.

My heatmap looks something like this:

My typing heatmap on SwiftKey. © Sheky Rambles
My typing heatmap on SwiftKey. © Sheky Rambles

And my stats for proof (:p):

My SwiftKey stats. © Sheky Rambles
My typing heatmap on SwiftKey. © Sheky Rambles

Final Word

So, yes SwiftKey has been such a useful app for me and it won’t be an overstatement to say that it’s made me twice as productive (typing wise) than before using it. I can’t even begin to imagine using any other keyboard and also what all of those saved keystrokes would have done to my poor fingers if not for SwiftKey.

So, if it’s not already clear, I HIGHLY recommend using SwiftKey to replace your current default keyboard. It’ll be nothing short of an upgrade to your smartphone typing experience.

Thanks for reading, catch you next week.