Are we there yet ?

There is a book that comes to my mind again and again at odd moments. It is not a philosophical book or a religious book. Nor is it a tome filled with nuggets of wisdom. Not a biography or a memoir. Strangely, it is an early reader book that spans about 10 pages with about as many lines.  It is a book I had to read a zillion times to my child.

The book is titled "Are we there yet ?" and it reminds me of the journey of life; chasing the answer to that same eternal question. 

In the book Mickey and his group want to go to the Sandy Beach which is just a mile away. They miss the road to the beach and instead go the other way .. and the journey begins ...

Sandy Beach 1 mile, Dry Desert - 10 miles.

Then the question -

Are we there yet ? No ! This is not the beach ! :) 

And they go on ...
Sandy Beach 11 miles, Rain Forest - 100 miles...
Sandy Beach 111 miles, Antarctica - 1000 miles...
All the way to back to -
Sandy Beach 1 mile, Dry Desert - 10 miles .......
where they take the correct turn and end up at the beach they wanted to go in the first place.

At every stage there is a route back to the Sandy Beach and they consistently miss this turn.

To me the entire 10 page book is an allegory of life. The Sandy Beach is the ultimate enlightenment and the other stops are whatever we crave in life - status, money, fame, possessions, power. Basically any state that doesn't give a sense of lasting peace or a permanent "Yes" to the question "Are we there yet ?" or "Have I arrived ?" (To word it differently).

It seems a little naive and perhaps subtly condescending to say - status, money, fame, possessions, power are not the ultimate goals. But generally speaking; is there is a threshold when we say we have enough money? Or we have enough material possessions? There is always something more to buy, there is always more money to earn, more places to see, more power to wield, more followers to get, more more more ........ It is a never ending quest. No, at least I do not consider it the ultimate destination.

The ultimate destination or nirvana if you will; does not mean an end to experiences nor is it the end of pursuit. It does mean that what you achieve and the joy of achievement is independent of the need for validation - be it internal or external.

It is like enjoying the beach for its own sake - rather than racing through the experience to put up a selfie/picture to show you are enjoying. The act of sharing the picture itself is trivial. However there is a difference in putting up a picture to share your happiness with your friends vs putting up a picture to show you are enjoying.

And so - when I look at life - I know my answer to that question is:  "No - This is not the beach". I am still journeying (or lost ? ) ...... and that question still haunts me.

Book Reviews - Every day Calculus, Hyperbole and a half, Complications

It has been sometime since I last wrote. This sentence gives me a feeling of déjà vu; I think I must have written this in another blog post. Shows just how regular I am in my writing. Anywayz ...... :)

So what's been happening lately ? Nothing .. really !!! Work, home and a bit reading. Not much travel .. me thinks I have completely settled down in a way I never had before. Of course with 3 schedules to maintain it is not so easy to get time for travel at least.

I had promised myself at the beginning  of the year that I would read more non-fiction but I think I have not managed to read much. My rate remains the same. My book collection got corrupted and I lost some of the notes I had made too. Bad luck.

However although I have not finished even 1% of the books I want to read - I was itching to write a blog post on some recent books. So here they are .....

1. Every day Calculus - Oscar Fernandez

What I really loved about the book is that - the author takes us through a regular day and shows how calculus is used in seemingly ordinary things. And the writing is humorous and witty. I wish calculus was taught this way.

There are quite a few cases / stories in the book as the author muses about everyday things and then leads to the math behind it. Great way to handle the topic. Actually reminds me of Stephen Strogatz whose New York Times column fascinated me for they were very well-written essays on applied mathematics.

Some of the case studies in the book -

1. There is the case of the famous voltage "stepping down" case between AC and DC electricity which I remember amazed me when I had read about it in school. At that point I did not understand the calculus behind it.
2. The steam arising from a cup of coffee leads to derivatives with respect to time taken to cool the coffee.
3. Transmission of common cold to rate of fishing sustainability.
4. Why the raindrop which falls from 13000 feet and increases in size and speed  does not crash through the umbrella?
5. Radio signal that powers his alarm clock and the math function behind it.
6. How the rate of hot chocolate dispenser that pours chocolate at a fixed rate can lead to analysis of reservoir levels after heavy rainfall and may be the basis for evacuation if flooding is suspected.
7. The angles of arterial branching  .... and so many more.

This list is by no means exhaustive - it is a mere indication how the author takes us on a fascinating journey through the lens of a single day !!!
All in all - yeah I think a third reading to appreciate the book may be in order. [ I have not done the math in the book - so far have just been reading about the omnipresence of calculus in every day life ]

A highly recommended read !!!
Image result

2. Hyperbole and a Half - Allie Brosh

Ordinarily this is not a book I would pick up but it was recommended by Bill Gates and it made me curious. While I could not identify with most of the chapters in the book one topic stood out. It was on depression. It is eerily true in what it describes. The absolute absence of emotion. Concise and beautifully written - it was just spot on.

3. Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science - Atul Gawande

An oft-repeating thought that ran in my mind while reading this book was - how did doctors allow this book to be published? It exposes human errors that surgeons can make in their practice. Note the word practice - and that is what the life of a doctor is. And this with lives hanging in balance !! My husband always says that it is called practice for a reason and although I knew it at the back of my mind - this book brings it to the forefront ! Lest one think that the process is all negative it is more to do with how doctors do their best in limited time and with varying possibilities of things going wrong.

I read the book "Doctors" by Erich Segal and in it there is a a single number mentioned - "26" ...  Let me see if I can get exact the words "There are thousands of diseases in this world, but Medical Science only has an empirical cure for twenty-six of them. The rest is … guesswork." 

Scary right ? May be things are better now I am not sure; and well that book is a work of fiction. Still the guesswork part is not wrong.

From the other fiction book "The final diagnosis" - to me frankly this book was Arthur Hailey's best book and in it the dilemma the main doctor faces - amputate the girl's leg or not based on the biopsy results which were inconclusive and when sent to the two top doctors came with the opposite conclusions. I still think he was wrong to have chosen to amputate but .. these are the kind of situations that doctors face and mistakes are costly.

And the learning curve - different types of bodies, different emergency levels and to add to the confusion non-standard equipments ! A learning that has to be hidden because nobody wants to be the person being learnt upon. He admits this when his child is taken to the hospital and his reaction.

It made me laugh though that a surgeon's idea of a holiday is stitching knots in a human-like meat at a fair !! Well I guess that is what makes them surgeons !!

I cannot say I liked how doctors handle other doctor's mistakes especially when they are long standing issues. Speaking from a patient's perspective that would be a horrible situation so I felt that there has to be a better way to remove a bad doctor.

The last chapter is on intuition - how a normal case of cellulitis somehow made him question if it were really so and the subsequent change in treatment when they realized it was not a simple case of cellulitis but a flesh eating bacteria that could have resulted in amputation of the leg ( and loss of life if not diagnosed on time). On the top of it - there was no specific indicator to make him question the diagnosis but something made him do so and in that he saved a 23 year old girl from dying.

Through the entire book one thing stood out and I think it resonates better in the author's own words -

 "No matter what measures are taken, doctors will sometimes falter, and it isn’t reasonable to ask that we achieve perfection. What is reasonable is to ask that we never cease to aim for it."

And so .. next time one enters a hospital or goes to a doctor, while it is scary and one does know that anything can go wrong perhaps the idea that most doctors want to provide a cure more than anything should keep our faith alive. But, do ask questions and do your own homework before.

Books in 2015

Last year I felt that I was not reading as many non-fiction books as I thought I should be reading.
At the end of the year - I still feel I did not read enough ! Perhaps this year ! Now there's an original resolution ! :)
I am not writing the full review of all the books I read; just a highlight or two in some books that stood out.
1. Everyday Calculus ( Oscar Fernandez ) - Simple loved this book ! Planning to write a full review soon !

2. The brain that changes itself ( Norma Doidge ) - 
Amazing book on the plasticity of the brain and how it uses maps and how the brain itself can be altered through learning, experience and thoughts. The section which talks about Dr. V. S. Ramachandran and the handling of phantom pain experienced by amputees from phantom limbs is eye opening. Amazing work.

The only thing that made me uneasy was the clear fact that there was extensive animal testing. I am not a hypocrite where animal testing is concerned nor am I blind to this phenomenon - it still made me queasy though.

3. Mindset ( Carol Dweck ) - Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset. I liked how the author described the two mindsets. While I don't think people tend to have only one mindset at a time - we can judge ourselves on where our predominant thoughts lie.

Fixed Mindset - Intelligence is constant. A desire to look smart can be counter productive because such people may not take up challenges for fear of not being instant-experts ! Do not like criticism.

Growth Mindset - Intelligence can be developed.  Enjoy challenges since they look at them as avenues to learn. Do not feel threatened by other people's success stories.

4. Power up your brain ( David Perlmutter, Alberto Villoldo ) - Didn't connect to this book but this point stood out for me. I didn't know this fact at all !

All of the mitochondrial DNA in your body is inherited solely from your mother' s lineage. That means that the source of energy that sustains your life is derived exclusively from the women in your family tree-your matrilineage.

5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing ( Marie Kondo ) - 

Was simply curious about a book on tidying up that could reach best sellers list and be talked about so much !!

While some of her pointers seem extreme, what stood out for me is the gist of the book -

" Connect with things that "spark joy" and firmly remove the rest !!" 

Tough advice may be - but it makes sense in a way,  the myriad mind-blogging storage solutions don't do.

6. Dataclysm ( Christian Rudder ) - One particular conclusion is sad although not surprising ! Seems men are only attracted to women in their 20s no matter what their own age is !

Calendar - December 2015

December 2015 - The original jpg is at the dropbox link shown below

December 2015

Related Posts with Thumbnails