Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review: The Fountainhead


I recently completed the book The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Following is the review of the book:
Fountainhead is the story of an architect, named Howard Roark, who is extremely passionate about the field of architecture but his ideas about it are not in tune with the times in which he lives in. In his time the teachers in his college to the professional architects practicing business were all of the view that the field of building design and architecture has already reached its pinnacle of evolution and needs no further change from what the masters of the past have already established as the best approach to building design possible – namely the gothic architecture. Howard Roark was a modernist and did not endorse to the idea of gothic architecture and wanted to do the building design in a more modern way in tune with the demands of the present times. As a result, he is faced with several challenges while practicing architecture his own way. He wont get any contracts, he does not work if people don’t accept his design exactly as he designed it without any change, and there were people who worked against him to ensure he succumbs to the pain they inflict on him. Ayn Rand has very elegantly tried to convey the message that in this world most of us are mere second-handers who adopt the genius of one man and keeping towing to that line without wanting or accepting any change. When there comes a man who tries to bring in something new something different than the norm then the whole world goes against such a man – since that man represents the one that most of us mere humans are not – such a man is more able than any of the average men around him and so the world does not want to let him be since that man makes others realize that they are inferior than him. Such average mere mortals have low self-respect, no integrity and they endorse but one thing – that good of the community is more important than the good of the individual. An individual may be sacrificed for the good of the community if need be. Such people cannot stand alone and require support of the other like minded men. They only know to feed on the genius of the first handers – men like Howard Roark. Ayn Rand goes on to expound on the virtues of being selfish – to love oneself is not sin – but a primary duty of an individual toward himself. She goes on to mention that where there is some sacrifice being done by someone there is someone getting what is being sacrificed. In the name of religion and politics, in the name of brotherhood we come across several such people who vehemently try to emphasize to others the virtues of being unselfish and to practice sacrifice/renunciation.
Howard Roark says – I shall not live for any other man nor will I expect any man to live for me.
The philosophy behind this story is gripping and forces one to think about whether one has integrity or are we going to end up as one of the mere second handers.

The important characters are:
Howard Roark – the hero or the protagonist.
Dominique Francone – the heroine who loves Roark
Peter Keating – Roark’s college mate who starts with being a go-getter and then realizes that in his passion to succeed he has lost his integrity.
Gayle Wynand – the industrialist who is the alter ego of Howard Roark
Ellsworth Toohey – the villain – he feeds on the souls of the unsure the second hander population which needed some moral support from him and his guidance since they lacked their own decision their own integrity
Henry Cameron – an architect who Roark works for in his first job
Highly recommended. Even if one does not like the philosophy one should still read this book for the literary value it has – the prose of Howard Roark’s statement in the court, Ellsworth Toohey’s lecture to Peter Keating and in general the dialogues exchanged between the characters are very well composed and a pleasure to read.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Book Review: The Read-Aloud Handbook

 

The read-aloud handbook by Jim Trelease is a treatise on the importance of reading aloud books to your children (by parents or by teachers in classroom). Mr Trelease brings forth several examples of how some parents were able to inculcate into their kids the habit of reading by beginning to read to them from early childhood. I will try to summarize my own experience of following this idea with my kid Rushil (who is 3.5yrs old).

I don’t remember exactly when I started to read on a regular basis during bed time to Rushil but it was approximately around 1.5yrs of age and only recently around 2.5-3yr age Rushil has started to show very positive interest in the books and just wants me to continue to read to him one book after another. Nowadays I read to him for at least 30mins during bed time but that is the least and mostly I have to read 2 stories (either from one book or 2 books). We visit the library once a week on Saturday’s after him gym class and of late that has become a routine and Rushil has come to expect that on Saturday’s and going to library is a pleasure trip for him as he gets to pick books and also DVDs Smile there. We bring usually 2-5 books at a time with some books containing multiple stories. Apart from bedtime stories I also try to read to him while he is eating but that’s not a routine. Until now I have only been reading to him picture books and have also tried some chapter picture books (especially the Usborne anthologies ones which are picture books divided into chapters with about 70 pages for each story). I am yet to try reading a chapter from a Novel (like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White). Once we also brought an audio book collection from library of Fairy tales and I was pleasantly surprised that Rushil was listening to the story of the Ugly Duckling quite intently. The audio books can be a good variety to play in the car at times.

Now going back to the book, the read-aloud handbook, it contains a list of books to be read aloud organized by the type of books and the kid’s age range. We can also find good lists on Amazon web site on which books to read to children of certain age. The list comes in handy in deciding which books are good to be read-aloud to children. In the first part of the book the author gives instances of several people who have written to him or spoken to him retelling their own experiences of reading to their students or children and the changes they witnessed in the kids. Also he mentions of research works which corroborate the fact that reading aloud to children is the best thing parents can do for their children’s education – by helping them build a solid foundation and imagination and most importantly inculcating in their kids the value of reading as a pleasure giving activity so that children are encouraged to read more as they grow. The book also recommends that parent’s themselves should lead by example by becoming avid readers. Reading aloud should also be done even after children start reading on their own. The book mentions of using close caption feature of TV while letting kids watch TV so that they also get to see the text together with what they hear – as this also may help in familiarizing the child with the sound and the text of words which will help them eventually in learning to read those text.

If you are a parent then it’s a good book to read to know about the values of reading aloud to your children.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

WattOS distro review

WattOS is a very fast Ubuntu based distro which i have started using now on my not-so-old laptop (Dell Vostro). I tried several re-mastered Ubuntu distros but somehow i was not getting the optimum performance out of my laptop. It was generally running slower than my work laptop which has windows XP and even though my Vostro has modest RAM and processor but even with Ubuntu (Gnome desktop one) i could see the processor being used upto 40% with just some apps in operation (an IDE, a terminal etc). Also the browsing speed was sub-par. With WattOS i see the performance on the same Vostro laptop very good. I hope this is going to remain stable. WattOS only supports 32 bit for now and even though my Vostro has Core 2 Duo (64 bit processor) i was ok with using a 32 bit distro too as even Ubuntu site mentions that 32 bit edition is more stable release. It uses LXDE/OpenBox desktop environment. WattOS uses the latest Ubuntu Linux as a basis using only the core system and then slowly adding base modules to ensure a small memory footprint, and speed.

I tried several distros before and even liked them but had it been a faster machine the distros like pinguy OS are very good and beautiful indeed but for my Vostro they were just too bulky. WattOS does not come with any games at all nor does it have several of the applications that come with the standard Ubuntu distribution but comes with bare minimal of the applications only - for office they have AbiWord, Leafpad for text editior, KeepassX for password management, fotoxx for photo management, Firefox as the default browser (which i replaced with Chromium), and then you have the Synaptic Package manager to add any other that you want. I will be using this system mostly for Java development and programming stuff and not for any document editing at all (as for those i have a windows 7 desktop) so i wont care too much about how complete a desktop it has and i will prefer if it does not have too many extra apps that i will not use like at all. So i am happy with the speed and performance of the machine and feel like my old laptop is rejuvenated. I wish i had found such an OS as wattOS earlier without having to waste my time in trying out others. Now my CPU usage under similar load conditions as perviously described is around 3% and memory usage is 1% (i have 4GB RAM).

Introduction excerpted from the WattOS site:
wattOS is a lightweight Linux operating system remastered from the core Ubuntu Linux build. It is a free operating system that focuses on a small footprint, low power, and a simple quick interface. Bring your old computer back to life again with a fresh install of wattOS!

Book notes: Designing Data-Intensive Applications: The Big Ideas Behind Reliable, Scalable, and Maintainable Systems, by Martin Kleppmann

My notes from the excellent book on how software has evolved to handle data from hierarchical databases to the NoSQL -  https://www.goodrea...