Five of Thirty-Five: Best Books I’ve Read in 2018

Build-up to the Thirty Five book challenge here.

Here are the five best books I’ve read in 2018:

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Boy am I late to this party? My favourite book that I read this year is one that was written fifty eight years ago – the Montgomery bus boycott was only five years ago when this book was published.
I simply loved the characterisation of Scout Finch and her father Atticus, the lives they led, what they stood for – doing what they believe is right despite what others around them think. And I loved the way childhood back then is described. When this book ended, I had mixed feelings – I wanted to immediately start reading Go Set A Watchman, but then I also realised that once I finish that book, there wouldn’t be another Harper Lee book to read. I think I will pick it up in 2019.

The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
What is with me and reading decades old books? This one is even older than the last one. And once again I liked it so much because it depicts a teenager’s life in the fifties – the trials and tribulations that he faces in school and otherwise – the playing truant, the smoking & drinking, the flirting, the fights he picks up, and the way he misses his deceased younger brother. The story has a stream of melancholy running beneath all the bravado and boyish things that Holden Caulfield indulges in.

This time I was even sadder on finishing the book, since there is hardly anything else by J.D. Salinger that I can read to go back to this world.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (Mark Manson)
Fast forward in time, to a book written as if last week. The wife had bought this book (she likes buying and reading more recent books), had read a few chapters and kept it aside. I was looking for a short read, and so I picked it up.

It’s a sort of self-help book, which does not overdo the sugary sweet “believe in yourself”, “you can do it if you believe in it” of others of this category. In fact, it goes nicely against the grain of the self-help book culture, breaks down notions of being special, and most importantly, describes the problem of entitlement that most people of our generation face.

It’s such a must-read in my opinion, that I would call it the bitter gourd-kale smoothie which detoxes you, and should be administered multiple times.

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
One more from more than half a decade ago, this one is a love story. A super-rich, suave, gregarious man who is pining for his first love so much that he moves close to her, befriends her cousin, and tries to win her back. This has all the makings of a highly emotional Bollywood romantic drama. Perhaps so many of the films we have grown up on are in fact inspired by Fitzgerald’s novel.

I loved the passion of Jay Gatsby, the way the twenties’ lifestyle comes across in the party scenes, the car chases, the decadence and revelry. And I loved Daisy Buchanan’s character – because we saw her from the eyes of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, the narrator.

The Bastard of Istanbul (Elif Shafak)
A novel which is from a not too old yet not yesterday times – 2006. Elif Shafak is a popular novelist, and this is her first book that I read.

The book is about two girls, Asya and Armanoush. One of them is Turkish, the other Armenian. One of them lives in Istanbul, the other comes to Istanbul from the USA to find her roots. And it’s about the relationship that exists between the Armenian people and the Turkish people, especially with reference to the 1915 Armanian Genocide in the last years of the Ottoman Empire.

Having grown up listening to the India-Pakistan rivalry, and being exposed to other such rivalries like Palestine-Israel, South & North Korea, this relationship between the Armenians and the Turks intrigued me – the book is the first time I read about this incident. And it’s made me curious to find out more about Turkey, Armenia, and the Ottoman Empire.

Though the book meanders a bit towards the end, it’s a wonderful read. And I look forward to reading more by her – The Forty Rules of Love might be the next?

These were my five favourite books from 2018. I will soon write about the rest in brief. Stay tuned.

Thirty Five Books in Twenty Eighteen

The good folks (or the good app, sil vous plait) at Goodreads have duly informed me that I have completed my 2018 Reading Challenge of 35 books this year. Thirty five? How did that happen? When did I?

To tell you how I got to that number, I would have to rewind a bit to the beginning of 2018. Back in the old days of January 2018, the time of wide-eyed resolutions, high spirits, optimistic world views, I made a Keep note, where I wrote five things I wanted to accomplish in the year to come. Three were totally materialistic ones, and two were areas of self-development – one related to fitness, and one related to intellectual improvement. The latter of these was a (looking back now) humble “10 fiction and 6 non-fiction books”. Yes, I thought reading 16 books in a year was a lofty goal, worthy of being written alongside things like regular workouts and a new suit.

Well, it was lofty back then. And I was aware of this goal constantly. It was something I would enjoy doing, and something that would lessen the amount of Tsundoku in my life. So I kept up the streak of reading that had started a few months back. Before then I had enjoyed reading books, felt a minor sense of accomplishment on finishing one, but never kept track, and have been irregular with continuing books that I had started. As a result, I can proudly claim at least a dozen books to be a part of my “currently reading” category.

I kept reading, kept keeping a note in another Keep note (I hadn’t re-discovered Goodreads then). Meanwhile, the good wife gifted me a Kindle for the birthday. And the tinkerer in me got down to getting all types of ebooks in my possession on to that device.

The speed with which I kept finishing books astounded me – I had never managed to complete books this fast. Somewhere around April or May, the figure of sixteen was crossed, and the Keep note kept getting longer and longer. A few months down the line, I realised I have a Goodreads account, and it’s so much better than using Google Books and an Android app I was using called My Library to keep track of books I own. Additionally, I could keep track of my reading status. Without writing the name of the books and authors in Keep.

And there was a reading challenge too! I needed one more number target, and this challenge thingie gave me that. I had finished 20 books by then, and going by that rate, I could have finished a total of maybe 27, maybe 29 books. I could have set the challenge at 30, and coasted nicely to the end. But what fun would that be? So, I decided on a nice round number like thirty five.

Why not thirty six? Because who wants to read an even three books a month? That’s boring.

The challenge stayed in the app. I had 15 days to go, and I realised I am two books short of the target, and didn’t have enough time for two whole books. I could have picked up two thin books and be done with it. But no, I didn’t. Well, I did pick up the 112-page play by Vijay Tendulkar, Khamosh! Adaalat Jaari Hai. But I also picked up William Dalrymple’s In Xanadu, which I managed to finish by Christmas. And the play took another couple of days. In between, I also finished the teeny-tiny The Adventure of the Dying Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle in this period, which can be discounted, lest the count actually reaches thirty six instead. And who would want that?

I have been spending the last few days leafing through some books (A Book of Simple Living by Ruskin Bond amongst others), and not really paying much heed to any need to finish n number of pages in m number of days. And thinking of how to share the list of books I have read with all of you.

Now that you have read through the enthralling story of How I Read Thirty Five Books in Twenty Eighteen, why don’t you go to the next post to read about the best ones I read.

Success

sunset-people-sun-men_blog
Just last week 13 Llama Studio went on a team lunch to Jughead’s at Marol. Much eating, drinking, and merrymaking ensued. The team talked, bonded, took selfies, groups selfies, chugged whatever liquids each one pleased, and ravaged through plates and plates of delicious food. In short, we had fun.

But there had to be some serious discussions as well along with the fun.

I have been thinking for the past few days about how I would define success for 13 Llama Studio. And I have finally settled on five metrics that will define if we are doing well.

  1. Volumes: the most obvious metric. Quantum of business. Amount of sales. Top line. Revenues. How much money we were able to extract from all our clients combined within a said period of time.
  2. Community: being known and appreciated in a product/developer community. With Prasad and I speaking at the Mumbai WordCamp, 13 Llama hosting quite a few WordPress meetups at our office, and sponsoring the Pune WordCamp, I think we have made a good beginning here.
  3. Clientelle: by design or by happenstance, we are strong in three verticals: Education, Healthcare, and Media. In September, we were able to say that we are working for a marquee name in each of these three verticals. We’ll expose these relationships later on when the time is right. 🙂
  4. Product Success: our key point of introduction when meeting someone new is that we are a product development studio, or more accurately a product development team for hire. We have tried our hands at projects which had the potential to be great products. Some of these were launched, and some of these could not be, for various reasons. Right now the team is working on three new product ideas, and we are gung-ho about making each of these a success.
  5. A Kick-Ass Team: And finally, the key ingredient that will make each of the above four a possibility. A team which is competent, dedicated, dynamic, always learning, always improving, and always ready for a challenge. I can confidently say that each of our team members has the potential to be a superhero that such teams comprise of, but there is still a journey ahead of each one of us before we can with full honesty say that we are superheroes. Also, the team isn’t complete yet. We are looking for superheroes, or potential superheroes who can take 13 Llama Studio to the heights we have dreamt of. So if you think you are someone who fits the bill and would love to work with us, 13 Llama Studio’s Careers Page.

Here’s to a bright and exciting future!

छपा: हिजरत से पहले

पढ़ने की आदत बचपन से ही लगी, थैंक्स टू हमारे दोनें चाचाजी, जिन्हें प्यार से हम मंझले और छोटे पापा कहते हैं.
और कलकत्ते में रहने वाला पढ़ाकू बालक जनवरी-फरवरी के पुस्तक मेले से अनभिज्ञ रह सकता है भला?

बरसों तक हर बरस कलकत्ते के प्रचण्ड पुस्तक मेला, उर्फ़ बोई मैला, उर्फ़ बुक फेयर में लिटरली खाक छानी, क्योंकि उन दिनों ये धूल से लबालब कलकत्ता मैदान में आयोजित हुआ करता था.

और इसी मेले में एस्ट्रिक्स, टिनटिन, आर्चीज़, और चमकीली विदेशी किताबों के साथ एक छोटे-से हिंदी कोने में पाँच-छ: दुकानों पर हिंदी की किताबें बाँचने और खरीदने की लत पड़ी. उन्हीं दुकानों में से एक था राजकमल प्रकाशन. किताबों और लेखकों की मेरी पसंद की गहराई नापी, तो पाया कि सारा मेला एक तरफ और राजकमल का स्टॉल एक तरफ. साल-दर-साल मेले से आने वाले झोलों में राजकमल की किताबें ही आधी जगह लेती रहीं.

आज भी, कलकत्ते वाले मकान में भी, और यहाँ बंबई में मेरे हर घर के बदलाव पर मेरे साथ फिरने वाली मेरी निजी लाइब्रेरी में भी अधिकतर किताबें राजकमल की ही होंगी.

खैर, लंबी रही भूमिका. तो आज की डाक से मुझे मिला एक प्यारा तोहफा, राजकमल के दफ्तर से, जो कि आज मेरे रोमांच का कारण बना हुआ है. तोहफे में है, उनके द्वारा प्रकाशित किताब, वंदना राग की हिजरत से पहले, क्योंकि उस के कवर पे जो गुलमोहर के फूल की तसवीर है, वह खाकसार की खींची हुई है, एक प्रति रवीश कुमार की लप्रेक किताब, इश्क़ में शहर होना, क्योंकि मानार्थ, और एक चेक, जो कि उस गुलमोहर के फूल के सदके है.

rajkamal

A little bit o’ Fortune

Good news folks! The photo of mine of Lohagad/Lonavala titled ‘Bliss’ has been published in Fortune India magazine’s May issue.

www.flickr.com/photos/recaptured/4716846288

Here, pictures of the magazine’s pages:

Go buy your copy today 🙂

WordCamp 2015 Mumbai

It’s official.

I’m speaking at the WordCamp 2015 in Mumbai. It’s being held on the 7th and 8th of March 2015, at Manik Sabhagriha Auditorium in Bandra.

The topic of my talk is WordPress as the backbone of a mobile app.

Do try to make it if you’re interested in WordPress, mobile app development, PHP, or programming. It’s one of the most high-power events for software professionals in India, and you can expect to hear and meet inspiring professionals working in the WordPress ecosystem and in software development for the two days of the event. And it’s right next to the Bandra Candy’s if you need more incentive to attend 🙂

See you there.


Update: Prasad is speaking there as well. Now you have two reasons to come attend it 🙂

My Top 5 Electronic Devices

During my college days, my friends used to often call me Mr. Gadget. That’s because the desk in my hostel room always used to be covered in electronics, black wires, all jumbled up, and from within it, I used to draw devices like a Palm PDA, a CDMA USB dongle (this was 2005, so it was all red-hot-new!), and dazzle them all.

Years have passed, and so the gadgets have changed. But I have become more productive with them, and my relationship with them has become more meaningful than ‘the latest available, just out of curiosity’.

So here’s my top 5 gadget list that I’m using as of now.

1. The MacBook Pro
I had always been a PC user. Half of the time I was forced to use Windows. The other half I used different flavours of Linux, for some time Red Hat, some time Ubuntu, and most of the time OpenSuSE.

Well, that changed in the middle of 2011, when I finally decided to buy a MacBook. It’s a 13″ MacBook Pro, now souped up with 6GB RAM and an additional 120GB Intel SSD, which make it all the more fast and a pleasure to work with.

2. The Phones
At present I’m using a Karbonn A9+, which was a distress purchase from Croma, because my 4 year old Nexus One had refused to charge that day, and I needed a phone.

Before this, I was using a Motorola Defy+. An awesomely rugged phone, which did not fear water, dust, or any such thing specified in its manual. Too bad it had to go to the repair shop, because one night I dropped it from four feet and it landed face-down and its glass panel cracked. Gave an effect of an awesome psychedelic wallpaper though.

3. The Battery Pack
In this age of smartphones, where screen sizes are getting bigger and processors are getting faster, battery capacity is hardly able to keep up. Most smartphones die within 12 hours of charging them full.

This gave rise to a new category of mobile electronics – the USB battery pack. You charge it at home when you charge your phone. When you leave home, you carry it along with you, and when your phone’s battery is about to die, you plug it in the battery pack and turn the pack on. Voila! Instant charging without being tied to a wall. It’s like carrying an extra bottle of charge along for when your Camelbak runs out of charge.

Mine is a CoolerMaster Choiix Power Fort 5.5Wh. Why did I buy this one? Because it’s tiny enough to fit in my pockets along with the phone, and it came in my budget.

4. The iPod
This was my first ever Apple device. And I bought it only because it offered me the largest capacity to store my entire music collection, and was still the best on the price/GB scale. Moreover, its battery has lasted me well, though it shows fatigue nowadays (This iPod Classic 120GB is 4 years old).

5. The Camera
I own a Nikon D90. In its time it was a game changer. And it’s not a bad performer now either. This isn’t a device I use daily, but it’s important enough for me to make the list.

Now, out of these 5, I have bought at least 3 (4 if you ignore the Karbonn and consider the Motorola) online – the laptop, the camera and the battery pack. In addition, I have bought innumerable memory cards, for the camera and for the phones, cables, chargers, flashguns, flash controllers, studio equipment, old lenses, new lenses, all online.

Yes, online. I believe that retail has matured enough in India for us to buy even high value things such as these, online. Except for maybe clothes, shoes etc. (where you would like to hold and feel the product, and maybe try it for fit), I think everything else can be bought online, what with trusted platforms like Flipkart, eBay, SmartShoppers ensuring that we get value for our product, get it in time, and any complaints we might have are resolved. Even though I haven’t yet, but people have been buying even clothes and shoes online, now that Jabong and Myntra are here.

There’s another reason I bought these things online. It’s cheaper. Yes, most of the time it’s cheaper than buying from a brick-and-mortar store. I’m not talking about the convenience of comparing and ordering, or about the opportunity cost of driving down to a store. I actually got these products for lesser rates than I would have gotten them offline. Many a times it’s because the vendor passes on some savings to us, but quite often it’s because I come across a deal. For example, the now almost famous laptop sale period on eBay, where I bought my MacBook and where I send my friends to buy their MacBooks from, or Flipkart’s birthday music giveaway.

There are three ways I find such deals:

  1. Mailers: eBay regularly sends out mailers with coupons for specific discounts on specific categories. I just try to time my purchases with the validity of these coupons.
  2. Sites: This is another way I get coupons and deals for my purchases: by looking for them online. There are quite a few coupon & deal aggregators online, like Cuponation.in, and a few others, where I look for deals for the product I’m looking for at the shop I’m looking to buy it at.
  3. Phone recharge: Vodafone and Reliance (that’s all I know of) often give out coupons of eBay and other shopping portals when you recharge your phone connection from their site. It’s quite handy when you have to buy something in the range of Rs. 300 to say Rs. 2000, because the discount is not a percentage, but it’s often a flat Rs. 100 discount.

Home, now.

www.flickr.com/photos/recaptured/8392302955/
Bombay. The city I have been in love with as long as I can remember. The city which has eluded me for long till a few weeks ago. And today, I have completed two weeks here.

I take this chance to welcome myself to Mumbai.

PS: If you’re around, I’d love to meet up for some conversation over coffee (or cutting chai maybe). Ping me on @hypnosh

The FizzBuzz Test

My attempt at the FizzBuzz coding test

While reading Jeff Atwood’s blogpost entitled Why Can’t Programmers Program? I thought of testing whether I can pass the simple FizzBuzz test for programming he mentions. You can read the details of the test on his blogpost.

So I wrote a script in PHP, the language I am currently active in, to do what the test asks us to do.

But then, why stop at just solving the problem when you can optimize code for timepass?

I began with a 24 line-long (without counting empty lines) chunk of indented code, using a simple for loop and a bunch of if statements. But then I wanted to reduce the size of the code, so I decided to use the shorthand for if, and get rid of variable assignments that don’t “do” anything really. Now I am down to 5 lines of code, including the two lines of the for loop.

Turns out I am a programmer (though not formally educated as a programmer), and a good one at that – I passed the FizzBuzz Test!! 🙂 Do I get a job as a programmer now? 😛

Here is the output of the script (yes, the script ran when you loaded this page):

[php]
for ($j = 1; $j<=100; $j++) {
$fizz = ( $j % 3 == 0 ? 1 : 0 );
$buzz = ( $j % 5 == 0 ? 1 : 0 );
echo ($fizz + $buzz == 0 ? “$j
” : ($fizz == 1 ? “Fizz” : “”).($buzz == 1 ? “Buzz” : “”).”
“);
}
[/php]