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Articles tagged with: Book Review

12
November
2016

Go Kiss the World

Book Review

Go Kiss the World

Author: Subroto Bagchi
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2008

Today India is recognized worldwide in the field of IT and software but this is not something that happened by chance. It didn't happen simply because government decided to open up the economy in the early 1990s. This reputation was built by hard work, dedication and good values of India's first generation of entrepreneurs. We are not talking about the Tatas or the Birlas. We are talking about entrepreneurs who came from India's middle class. This autobiography is about one such individual, Subroto Bagchi, who founded MindTree.

MindTree was founded in 1999 by ten entrepreneurs and Subroto was one of them. It was India's first venture-funded IT company that went towards IPO. When it went public in 2007, it was 103 times oversubscribed. Unlike many others, MindTree survived the dot-com crash and the business uncertainty that surrounded post-9/11 years. As David to Goliath, it beat bigger competitors in securing high-profile customers. How did they do it? Subroto tells this story in candid tones about himself and the company he built.

31
October
2016

Inviting Disaster

Book Review

Inviting Disaster

Author: James R. Chiles
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2008 (eBook edition)

We live in a complex world of machines that we've built for ourselves. While machines and their connected systems exist for our needs and service, they can sometimes go terribly wrong. They don't behave the way intended. Once they go rouge, they can't be controlled. What the world then sees is the fallout from a disaster no one expected. This book takes the reader through dozens of such disasters. The author narrates these disasters almost as if they're happening beside us. He explains the technical details. He describes the frantic attempts by those at the scene working on the dangerous edges of technology. In the process, he fills us with a sense of awe and respect for technology.

Yes, those of us who take technology for granted will be more respectful of it once we read this book. Going by the promise of Murphy's Law, many things can go wrong. The author notes that if such a law exists, we should be seeing lot more disasters. In reality, for every disaster that comes to front-page news, there are probably many more near misses that somehow did not run away to a disaster. Failures are likely and they do happen quite a lot in many systems. Due to built-in redundancies, good design and fail-safe mechanisms, many of them are caught early. But many small failures linking up together lead to a disaster. The author states, "A disaster occurs through a combination of poor maintenance, bad communication, and shortcuts. Slowly the strain builds."

7
September
2016

The Art of Designing Embedded Systems

Book Review

The Art of Designing Embedded Systems

Authors: Jack Ganssle
Publisher: Newnes, 2008 (Second Edition)

When I picked up this book, I half expected to read about a serious subject written in a serious textbook style. Within the first few paragraphs it was clear that this book surprises and interests, not least by its almost chatty informal style. It's a book written by an engineer for engineers. It's a book written by a practitioner with many years of solid experience. The author is not presenting here a theoretical framework or a wish list. He is rather condensing many years of experience from which readers can directly benefit. He gives loads of tips and tricks that engineers can start applying in their daily work.

The relevance of this book is of course obvious. Embedded systems are everywhere: in home electronics, in personal devices, in industrial automation and increasingly in tiny devices that are going to come in their billions as part of the Internet-of-Things. Now more than ever firmware developers need to learn from the experiences of others and adopt best practices. To learn from self-experience through mistakes and mishaps is something neither engineers nor their employers can afford.

14
August
2016

Storytelling with Data

Book Review

Storytelling with Data

Authors: Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
Publisher: Wiley, 2015

I've been doing a little bit of data visualization for the last couple of months. The intent has been to get insights that could trigger decisions to add business value. While I've produced dozens of charts in the process, I've at times wondered if there's a better way. That's when I picked up this book written by an ex-Google employee who employed best practices in visualization to assist the HR department in their recruitment process.

If oil is considered as liquid gold, data is cyber gold. In the Information Age of today, data is perhaps becoming more important than ever before. Yet data remains just a bunch of numbers if we don't see past them to understand causes, patterns, trends, forecasts, dependencies, correlations and contexts. Yes, data can tell a lot about the systems and the world they represent. It's therefore important to analyze data. If data is cyber gold, it's not available in a glittering form. It has to be mined, processed and polished.

1
August
2016

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Book Review

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Authors: Yuval Noah Harari
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2015

As a species, we are but one among millions of species on Earth. How is it that we are at the top of the food chain, more populous and more successful than any other species? Is it because we have bigger and better brains? Is it language that made the difference? Is it because we succeeded in forming complex social structures that other species were incapable of? Is it because we were curious about the world around us? In this captivating book, Harari sweeps grandly across the entire history of the human race, covering all these aspects of our progress and more. Where historical evidence is sketchy, he excites us with his imagination, not through fantasy but through clear logical explanation that makes sense. How is any of this relevant to modern engineers, you may ask.

Technology has given us power but what about happiness? Is mere economic growth fuelled by capitalism progress? Are we better off today with our myriad digital devices than our ancestors who wielded nothing more than stone tools? We live longer and have plenty to satisfy our desires, but are we happier than the first Homo sapiens? Are we right to measure progress based on the well being our species alone? Are we right to engineer genetically the future of our own species? These are the more interesting questions that Harari asks.

20
June
2016

Computer -- A History of the Information Machine

Book Review

Computer -- A History of the Information Machine

Authors: Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray, Nathan Ensmenger, Jeffrey R. Yost
Publisher: Westview Press, 2014

The computer may be just 150 years old but in this short time period it has made for itself a rich history. This is mainly because technological evolution happens at a much greater pace when compared against biological or geological evolution. To condense this history into a book of just twelve chapters is indeed a remarkable achievement. While computers are now essential to our culture and lifestyle, it's interesting to know how they got here. It's interesting to read about the scientists and engineers who made it happen. It's interesting to understand the processes and the historical backdrop that shaped the computer evolution. It's with this intention that I picked up this book and I was not disappointed.

For some of us, the history of the modern computer is not really a secret. We know that they evolved from desktop calculating machines. Then there were the expensive mainframes built on a monolithic architecture. Mainframes gave way to minicomputers, which in turn gave way to personal computers. Then computers became portable in the form of laptops and notebooks. They got interconnected via the Internet. More recently, smartphones more powerful than the first mainframes can fit in our pockets and talk to other devices wirelessly. While all these are familiar facts, the interesting parts are in the details of how such things came to pass.

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.

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