INDIAN ENGINEERING DESIGN FORUM

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Articles tagged with: Book Review

11
April
2016

How Software Works

Book Review

How Software Works

Author: V. Anton Spraul
Publisher: No Starch Press, 2015

We are so used to technology these days that we hardly think about them. We rarely ask how they work because we are mostly interested in the convenience they bring. But sometimes we may get curious, especially as engineers, and start to ask how they work. Looking specifically at software, the "magic" is even deeper because they work silently and often in the background. They only give occasional indications to the user.

When I make online purchases with my credit card, how can I be sure that the transaction is secure? For that matter, how is trust established in such transactions? When I created an online account on any website, how are my passwords stored? How secure are the sensitive data that I store on the cloud? How is it that movies like Jurassic Park look so real while at the same time an entire movie like Toy Story or Wall-E can be animated by computers? How is it that video games can render scenes in real time? How can an entire movie fit on a single disc without much loss of visual quality? How is Google able to retrieve search results in split seconds? How is software able to find the best route from point A to point B on a map?

10
March
2016

Good To Great

Book Review

Good To Great

Author: Jim Collins
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2001

India is in the midst of a start-up revolution. Young engineers barely out of college are launching start-ups. Local start-ups such as OlaCabs and Flipkart are giving tough competition to big names from the world stage. Some even have made it big outside India and in this regard InMobi and Zomato come to mind. Yet, how many of our homegrown start-ups will ever become great? For that matter, can established players such as Infosys and TCS be considered great? How does one define greatness? What does it take to become great?

To say that Jim Collins has written this book would be misleading. He makes it clear that he had a team of twenty people who together put in 15,000 hours of research. Ideas and concepts on their own may not convince readers. He therefore starts clearly by putting forward his methods of research and criteria used to separate great companies from mediocre ones. Companies that showed better than market performance over a period of 15 years were deemed as great. Greatness was not linked to one particular CEO and his charisma. The goal was to identify a set of fundamental principles that were found to be common across great companies regardless of industry, technology or CEO.

24
January
2016

Bringing a Hardware Product to Market

Book Review

Bringing a Hardware Product to Market

Author: Elaine Chen
Publisher: Elaine Chen, 2015

Bangalore has been a start-up hub the last couple of years. It's not uncommon to find students graduating not just with a degree but also an idea for a start-up. I have met such fresh engineers at maker fairs, exhibitions and demo nights. They have a prototype that's usually on display. The prototype works. Next, they tell me that they are going to market or scaling up. Often they sound as if prototyping was the toughest part and the rest is merely tying up loose ends.

I guess this perception comes because they have not been exposed to the challenges of making a product or what it entails. They have no knowledge of the manufacturing process. They might have solved many technical problems in the prototyping phase. This gives them a sense of achievement and a false sense of completion. One of the greatest myths in the mind of an uninitiated inventor is to assume that the road from prototype to product is a simple straightforward step. Engineer and product management consultant Elaine Chen explains otherwise.

22
December
2015

Make: Electronics

Book Review

Make: Electronics

Author: Charles Platt
Publisher: O'Reilly, 2009

If there's one book that I should recommend to beginners of electronics, this one by Charles Platt would be it. In fact, it's so beautifully written that I kept asking myself why didn't I have such a book twenty years ago when I did my engineering. As a student, I had been made to learn a lot of theory that came complete with its dose of Fourier Series and Kirchoff's Laws. A handful of labs and a project did bring some practical exposure but this book turns the traditional approach to learning electronics on its head.

Subtitled as Learn by Discovery, this book presents the basics by way of simple experiments. Components are explained. Readers are guided through the connections. Wiring diagrams and schematics are presented cleanly without clutter. Theory is kept to a minimum and introduced only to clarify certain concepts. So who should read it?

11
December
2015

Einstein's Unfinished Symphony: Listening to the Sounds of Space-Time

Book Review

Einstein's Unfinished Symphony: Listening to the Sounds of Space-Time

Author: Marcia Bartusiak
Publisher: Joseph Henry Press, 2000

Last month the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Relativity has changed the way we understand the world around us and rewritten Newtonian laws of physics that stood for 300 years. It is therefore fitting that we review how far we have come in these hundred years and how much more we need to do. It is with this intention that I picked up Marcia Bartusiak's Einstein's Unfinished Symphony.

What is relativity? Newton formulated his laws on the assumption of an absolute space, space that's at rest. He also assumed that time itself was universal and synchronized across the universe. Einstein shattered these assumptions by showing that both space and time are relative concepts. Bartusiak takes us through this wonderful historical journey of the discovery of relativity and beyond. She points out the key milestones and the scientists who were key figures in these discoveries.

14
October
2015

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Book Review

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Penguin Books. 2006.

You are crossing a road. Suddenly a motorbike appears out of nowhere. Either you had been careless in crossing or the bike had been in your blind spot. You have no time to think. You have to react instantly. Our brain and thinking have evolved over centuries for exactly this kind of scenario. Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is about this aspect of our thinking that helps us to make instant decisions.

We can identify with two types of thinking. One is logical, based on facts and reasoning. This is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. We pride ourselves in our capacity to reason. The other type of thinking is intuitive. We sometimes do things that can't be explained. We go with our gut feeling because we felt it was the right thing to do. Blink is about the second type of thinking. Gladwell makes the point that judgements made in an instant can often excel deep thinking.

By this point, you may be wondering if Blink is worth reading, especially by scientific and engineering communities. Engineering is based on facts, measurements and numbers. There is no room for guesswork or gut feeling. An engineer doesn't approve a design for a bridge because it looked right. He approves it because the equations added up, because the models were stable, because the simulations passed in every scenario. Yet there are perhaps some scenarios where intuitive decision making can be useful. It is from this open-minded perspective that I picked up this book.

25
September
2015

The Myths of Innovation

Book Review

The Myths of Innovation

Author: Scott Berkun
Publisher: O'Reilly. 2010.

Innovation is a buzz word these days. Managers use it. Teams are told to adopt it. Companies send signals to their customers and competitors that they are doing it. No one wants to be left out and everyone wants to be part of the action. Yet innovation itself is vague because it can be interpreted in many ways. The idea of innovation gets lost in words and accepted jargon. Scott Berkun, having studied innovation at close quarters, gives us useful insights into innovation.

He clarifies what innovation is and what it isn't. He dispels many deeply held myths about innovation using anecdotal examples. While much of what he writes is not exactly revolutionary, it will be insightful to those who haven't studied innovation as a subject. For real innovators, it's not important that they know what innovation is because they are already innovating. It is their action that speaks more than studying about innovation.

25
August
2015

Smart Thinking: How to Think Big, Innovate and Outperform Your Rivals

Book Review

Smart Thinking: How to Think Big, Innovate and Outperform Your Rivals

Author: Art Markman
Publisher: Piatkus. 2012.

Smart Thinking is a book that combines practical tips backed by relevant research from the field of cognitive science. The author has done a remarkable job of explaining how the human mind works and what it takes to get the most out of it. He uses a wealth of analogies and anecdotes to bring his points across. He introduces each topic clearly and ends with neat summaries.