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

 

 

Why you should occasionally Google yourself!

 

google-images-hd-wallpaper

For many, Google (which as of this post controls 71.1% of the global search engine market share) is the gateway to everything that the Web hosts. People google a website’s name more often than entering it manually (or clicking on a bookmark).

And Google’s influence is way beyond than just acting as a way-point between people and their favorite sites on the web. Google has enough power to influence user’s thoughts and behaviours, it has enough power to change the state of the race of an election by simply altering the search ranking of the candidates.

But thankfully, Google is NOT evil. In fact that’s their motto. Almost all of Google’s search results are organic, meaning only the Google’s PageRank algorithm decides the positioning of a search result on the results page.

Google and You.

So, with that said, why should you care?

In today’s online world, concealing yourself is becoming an exception than the rule. By default people assume everyone is supposed to have a Facebook account, must constantly send out Tweets from their Twitter and must constantly upload a stream of pictures on their Instagram.

People (crackers included) can find a shit-ton about you just by knowing your first and last name.

Mobile devices only worsen the problem. Nearly every photo taken on your mobile device is Geo-tagged (unless if the user has disabled it), meaning it’s EXIF file contains tags about the Geo-physical location of, when the photograph was taken.

So, the Internet is a goldmine for hackers who can then use the very same information to impersonate you by stealing your identity. And if you think companies you trust are working round the clock to keep your account safe, then think again.

But, wait, I don’t want to scare you!

Yes, the point of this post is to NOT scare you. Of course, there is some probability of you being hacked sometime in your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid about it all the time.

Taking some simple steps to gain control over your information online is a good start. That’s why you should start by Googling yourself!

Why you should Google yourself?

Google, as previously mentioned is the first destination for any hacker to gain some basic data/meta-data about you.

If for example, you maintain public profiles on a whole bunch of websites, then all of them would show up in the search results.

A hacker can then manually mine and process your information from each individual profile (such as your username, profile picture, your family connections) and fuse them together to prepare a blueprint for an Identity Theft attack!

It’s called Social Engineering.

And, it’s scary.

General tips for Googling yourself!

Now that you’ve decided to Google yourself, here are some simple tips (conjured up from my own experiences) to help you.

  • Firstly, launch your browser in incognito mode (Firefox/Edge users can use “in-private” mode) – You want to do this because chances are, you’re already signed in many of your private accounts and Google account especially. This would invariably lead to Google displaying you personalized result right on top the very page (and fool you into thinking you’re the first result in your name’s search, Omg omg I’m faaamous!, No you’re not.). So, incognito mode is recommended.
  • Start by Googling your first name and last name – Chances are, there are tons of people already named after you, so your chances of finding your profile from that haystack of profiles is minimal, unless if you have a horribly rare name.
  • Search for your usernames on different profile – If you’re creative and love continuity, chances are you have same username across multiple profile on the web. Although it makes you easier to find on the web, like for example, Googling Abhiminator throws up my profiles exclusively, because I own the username across multiple profiles, it’s a hacker’s goldmine. With this, people can also find profiles in sites you don’t want people to access *cough* reddit *cough*. If you think your search throws up results you do not wish other people to see, you have three options. 1) Make the profile private so that search engine crawlers cannot access it. 2) Change your username to something completely unrelated to delink it from your name. 3) Nuke your profile (last resort of course.).
  • Finally, reverse search your profile image –  This is the final step in Googling yourself (and in some cases optional). Sometimes, your profile picture can end up in places you wish it didn’t end up in. And to make matters worse, they aren’t even linked to your original account. This happens mostly during catfishing, where people on dating sites put other’s profile picture to fool other users, and in some cases, they can use yours. You can reverse image search by dragging and dropping your suspected profile picture into Google’s image search bar. If you do end up finding your picture in an unrelated profile, you can shoot an email to that particular website for DMCA/privacy removal.

That’s about it.

Bottomline is, there are threats that exist in this information age that were unimaginable 20-30 years ago. With each passing day, the Internet is becoming even more ingrained in our everyday life and threats lurk just around the corner. But by taking specific precautions and using some common sense, one can avoid being digitally shredded.

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Abhishek.