Tapri, Jaipur – The cool ‘hangout’

Finding a place that gives you a space to think, great ‘chai’ and good inspiration is an indescribable pleasure. Tapri in Jaipur (www.tapri.net) is one such place.

When we walked into this place, it was just starting its morning hours and it has an ethereal charm of unoccupied, beautifully decorated space.  The seats next to the big-windows overlooking a large open greanspace amidst of which Indian flag was swaying..  this was quite a site.

But what impressed me most is the dash of humour and a lot of thinking that Tapri has put into making their operation more environment friendly. We had paper straw, lampshades made of earthenware, chairs from locally available materials…  Great work Tapri team.

The interior..

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The green tea that came with timer..20190904-Jaipur Tapri-6

The earthen lampshades..

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Be couregeous!20190904-Jaipur Tapri-10

Kanwar Yatra

Captured this from my car window while traveling from Rishikesh to Delhi. Right from Rishikesh to Delhi, the road was full of colorful Kanwars and Kanwariys. Dancing, chanting, running.. this was a sight to behold.

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The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh

As a bibliophile who has been working on climate change for more than a decade, I found it surprising that there are very few books, especially mainstream books that talks about climate change. Well, this question bothered Amitav Ghosh as well and the result is a very erudite and immensely readable book: The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. He asks one overarching question: Why our mainstream authors are writing on climate change?

“Let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis fo culture and thus of the imagination.” – Amitav Ghosh

It is not that there are no books on climate change but they are far and few and often in science fiction category. Ghosh wants climate change, one of the biggest phenomenon affecting humanity, to find more prominence in mainstream literature.

“When we see a green lawn that has been watered with desalinated water, in Abu Dhabi or Southern California or some other environment where people had once been content to spend their water thrifty in nurturing a single vine or shrub, we are looking at an expression of a yearning that may have been midwifed in the novels of Jane Austen” – Amitav Ghosh

But this books is not all about the above-mentioned question. Ghosh explores climate change and its portrayal in history and culture. And, his exploration is a brilliant read. His first hand experience of storm in his student life in Delhi in 1978, to his rumination over Mumbai and its vulnerability showcase what an accomplished author can do when they decide to write about a topic that is often confined to technical reports and scientific journals.

His take on role of liberal individualism, colonisations, imperialism and the greed for “Power” and their impact on climate change spans an entire section of the book. This is very educative for those who have not been immersed in the climate change and politics of climate change.

There is also a very interesting comparison of IPCC and Laudata Si– Pope Francis’s letter to all churches. Ghosh analyses these two documents, both published in 2015. The result is very interesting read!

Bottomline, if you are afraid of reading the boring, jargon-strewn drab narration on climate change, this is the book that you must read.

Dell XPS 13 – Display driver issues and blank screen fix

Dell XPS 13 is the best windows laptop that you can buy, this is what every review said when it was launched. Still, you google the best laptop and you are bound to see this laptop in almost every list on the net. But the reality is different. Reviews don’t give you the real picture. In fact, most of the reviewers, claiming to be tech guru, just read out the spec sheet and do the comparison.

Dell XPS 13 range is marred with numerous problems right from the first edition to the latest model. I have written about the keyboard problem, the wifi problem, the sound card problem and what not. The sad part is that the solution provided by Dell is to replace the keyboard, or the motherboard if your device is in the warranty. But the warranty is only for a year. Recently, I struggled with my laptop when it display just went blank. The external monitor worked very well but not the inbuilt monitor. The online forums suggested many fixes: update the graphics driver, fresh installation, removing the battery, motherboard replacement.. .

Well, nothing worked perfectly other than the motherboard replacement, and that costs 200-400 USD. Forget about the solution, Dell guys are not able to figure out the problem. I found out a very low cost and effective solution if you are out of warranty and do not want to invest in a new motherboard. Get your motherboard completely cleaned, in fact, washed. You should not try to do it yourself but get a laptop technicians to do that. This solves the problem perfectly.


Google Pixel 3XL – Why You Should Not Buy This Phone

While Google might have pulled off all its magic to design their best possible consumer device, Google Pixel 3 but I would not recommend this phone for any Indian buyer. Their customer service is just pathetic.

I got Pixel 3XL on the day of its launch as my secondary device. Yes, Pixel or any android phone has a long way to go before it makes me switch completely from iPhone. The camera and the joy of using pure Android were two main reasons why I bought the phone. I had some manufacturing issue with my Original Pixel but luckily this was not having any manufacturing problem but I got some other problems.

The glass back panel is super fragile and all it took was one drop to get shattered. It got multiple cracks on its back cover, luckily there was a screen guard on my phone so display was not affected. I reached out to customer care and as I expected the back cover replacement was not part of the warranty; the cost of back cover replacement was approximately INR 4800. And, there was no way to get this done in Delhi. The device was to be sent back to Mumbai (the only repair centre in India) and it was expected to take 7 working days.

I place the order and it forget about 7 days it is more than 2 weeks and I am still waiting for the device. Had it been an iPhone, it would have been a complete different experience. Google has a service partnership with B2X.com which provide customer care support to several brands in much better way than Google has negotiated it for its Pixel phone.

If Google has to really make a dent in premier smart phone market they have to not only make a good product but ensure that overall experience they provide for the customer is a great one.

What I read in 2018 (fiction)

This list consists of the usual comfort and light reading (read crime fiction and thrillers). Yet, this year I tried to explore a few new authors and read a couple of Hindi books. There were two failed attempts at War and Peace and I managed to finish a couple of chapters of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaurd but really could not sustain the interest and enthusiasm for long in both the books. But they are still on my list for future. Someday! On the other front, I failed to go beyond my kindle and several books awaiting on my bookshelf remained untouched. Although, I did manage to read 3-4 books in their real form.

  • After the Crash by Michel Bussi: I spotted this book in Delhi World Book Fair. I had never read Michel Bussi but the glowing reviews made me pick it. The book did not disappoint. As the title suggest, the story revolves around a plane crash which left only one survivor: a baby girl. No body could ascertain the identity of this miracle baby but suddenly after 18 years of the crash the story took a very different turn. A good one time read with some good twists.
  • Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz: The Orphan X saga continues. My childhood love of action comics got rekindled with Orphan X series. This is fast, hyperbolic and action packed series where you know that you have an invincible hero; yet I love this series. I rate Orphan X better than Mitch Repp, Scot Harvath and other of that ilks. Looking to pick the next one as well in this series.
  • Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly: A typical Harry Bosch affair. Harry Bosch is undercover fighting ‘pill mills’. Harry Bosch and Michael Connelly do not disappoint usually. This one too did not.
  • Sanskaar by UR Ananthmurthy: This classic, originally written in Kannada, is thought provoking commentary on our traditions, rituals, moral and a society in transition. A Brahmin majority village struggles to deal with the death and last rites of a reprobate, rogue Brahmin who lived his life in complete opposition of what Brahmins preached.
  • The Whispering Room and The Crooked Staircase both by Dean Koontz: Both these books, part of the Jane Hawk series which started with a bang. The suspense and the plot got me hooked and I picked up one book after another. I am usually a character person so when I love a great character I often stick to the series. But in this case despite a good character like Jane Hawk I left the series midway. In The Crooked Staircase, when I came across two Indian characters Sanjay and Tanuja using dialogues such as “dear baap ji” some real gibberish Hindi sentences .. I was puzzled. Who talks like that! A little bit of research and feedback from any Indian would have given much more credibility. This puts a serious question mark on the research Dean did for his characters.
  • The Fallen by David Baldacci: The Amos Decker (Memory Man) series’s new instalment. Another pick just because I liked the character and had read all the previous books. Amos Decker series is turning out to be the best series by David Baldacci.
  • The Outsider by Stephen King: The latest from the master of horror and suspense, a police procedural with a super-natural angle to it. There is not much that goes wrong with a Stephen King book and this is no exception. A police procedural with kicking suspense.
  • A Killer’s Mind by Mike Omer: A new author and a new series. This is an okay read. I am not waiting for the next one.
  • The Escape by David Baldacci: My introduction to John Puller series. Cliched a bit but engaging. Average read.
  • Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent: This story of a possessive mother has a twist in the end that is worth the wait.
  • Perfect People by Peter James: This was an average sci-fi suspense (published in 2011) that I read this year. It was a strange coincidence because just a few weeks after this whole issue of gene-editing (gene-editing Chinese scientist) got the global attention. A rogue scientist creating Perfect People by gene-editing, this was the plot of this book! The book was quiet ahead of its time.

What I read in 2018 (Non-fiction)

This post is almost a couple of months late. It was begging attention in my draft folder for at least six weeks. Finally here is the list of books that I manage to finish last year.

  • Conflicts of Interest by Sunita Narain : One of the most engaging and informative book that I read last year! Sunita Narain gave first person account of her fight against the corporate lobbies for better air quality, for saving environment and for our health. I would recommend everyone to read this book. Here is an interview that she gave about the book for more information. This book is also my favourite because it talks about many of the things that I have been working in different capacities in my professional life and I could connect very well with what she achieved and challenges she overcame.
  • Skin in the Game by Nicholas Nassim Taleb: This one is really hard hitting and showed mirror to experts and consultant in us. In one line, it told us to not give a hoot to anyone who does not have any skin in the game. This books if full of quotable quotes and can change the way you deal with your life and people around you. He also touched some controversial topics. For example, he minced no words in warning us agains the minority appeasement and how whole population is forced to submit to preferences of a tiny minority.
  • Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker: Taleb attacked Steven Pinker in his latest book “Skin in the Game” and I read these two books back to back. In fact, I read this one before Taleb’s. Taleb made some strong arguments and was brutal in his criticism of Pinker but this book is a rare achievement in scope and relevancy in today’s time. However, there is =a word of caution, Pinker has used his intellectual muscle power (and often questionable quantitative data) to give sanctity to some shitty rhetoric on pressing topics. He presents a very optimistic view of the world, yet misses some key concerns and challenges. For example, in is view we should be optimistic (and not feel guilty) that we would be able to solve climate change problem by geo-engineering.
  • Nine Alogrithms That Changed the Future by John MacCormick: Those who work on computer programming or are technology enthusiast will find the book very informative. I enjoyed reading about how search engine indexing, page ranking and public-key cryptography algos were developed.
  • Now: The Physics of Time by Richard Muller: One of those books that require attention and effort to justice to authors efforts and erudition. Richard Muller gives us the basics of space-time and then goes on to unfurl many topics from quantum physics, different space-time theories and then proposes his own theory of space-time. Highly recommended for anyone looking to get a more detailed understanding of space-time, physical theory of universe, blackholes..etc.

Rural kids need a better education

We have made some good progress in improving our literacy levels, sending more children to schools and reducing the percentage of dropouts. However, the quality of rural education remains a cause of concern (ASER 2017).

The quality of primary education is one of the most critical factors in shaping one’s life. Unfortunately, the quality of primary education in rural India is abysmal. Right from poor infrastructure to poor quality of teaching to indifferent attitude of teachers towards young students all are contributing to this horrible scenario.

Governments, corporates CSR wings, civil society institutions all have been doing their bits for improving quality of education but it is too little and mostly ineffective. These things achieve the marginal improvement but by no stretch of imagination you can see quality of primary schooling in rural India matching that of the urban counterparts. I am not talking about the big fancy, air-conditioned corporate backed up schools where kids go in chauffeur driven cars and their monthly fees is as high as salaries of general teachers. I am talking about just average urban schools.

Only 45 percent schools have more than two teachers. Only 55.8 percent schools in rural areas have functional electricity and merely 11 percent schools have functional computers (the numbers are for 2016-17, but situation has not improved much).

If you are a student studying in these government run primary schools in villages, you need to fight against all odds to get ahead in life. By sheer determination and hard-work many negate these obstacles and move ahead in life but a large majority of these student succumb to these systemic problems. It would not be an exaggeration to say that your primary education can define your future career and life.

It is not that the things cannot be changed, it is just that it has never been a high priority for policymakers. The attempts are half-hearted and ad-hoc.

The rural students, who need best of the teachers and the best teaching methodology to negate factors such as poor infrastructure, apathy of parents and poor affordability for any other remedial measures (such as tuitions, technology access etc) are taught by the poorest quality of teachers. One just needs to look at the quality of para-teachers and performance of full-time teachers in internal assessments. These kids don’t require temporary and inadequately trained para-teachers (Shiksamitras) but teachers who specially trained and qualified for improving learning outcomes.

The rural students hardly get any exposure to extra-curricular activities, labs or reading content to develop their personality. We surely can manage budget for ensuring the basic infrastructure such as a library, a basic science education kit.

The other major problem is the evaluation system in these schools. Students get to know where they stand only in matriculation examination. Before that, the assessments are just an eyewash. We need a third party assessment periodically at least once a year to understand their progress and take remedial measures.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home – The right smart speaker for you

India’s is often a neglected market for high-end and innovative consumer tech products. But gradually this is changing. Many of the latest consumer tech products are available in India after a few months oAmazon-Echo-Plus.jpegf global launch. But for one of the hottest and fast-growing consumer product ‘smart speakers’, it is quite a delayed launch in India. Amazon Echo was launched in November 214 and Google Home was launched in US in November 2016. Both of these smart speakers were not available officially in India till 2017.
Now, suddenly things have changed. Both Google Home and Amazon Echo are available in India and soon we may have Apple Homepod making an entry.
Now if you are looking to get your first smart speaker here in India, here are a few things that can help you in making an informed choice.
  • Not for audiophiles: First of all, if you are an audiophile, love your music pristine and high quality, these speakers are not meant for you. But these are good enough for most of the casual listeners and music lovers.
  • Unlimited music streaming: Both the speakers Google Home and Amazon Echo, have their in-house music streaming service: Google Music and Amazon Music. But both of these do not match the music collection of Saavn, which is available for both the speakers. Although for an ad-free music streaming experience you need to shell out 100-150 per month for these services. Amazon Music is available free for Amazon Prime members (Amazon speakers come with one year free Amazon Prime subscription).
  • Google Home is much more conversational and easy to converse with: Google Home beats Amazon Echo in its conversational ease. It leverages Google’s ecosystem and all the data Google has on you to provide you more relevant and accurate responses. You can get traffic details, weather, your google calendar integration etc. Amazon Echo does most of these things but Google Home is way ahead. Both of these are quite good at handling our Indian accent but initially, you may have to struggle a bit. But this should improve as both these companies are focusing on the Indian market.
  • Sound Quality: Out of all the smart speakers launched so far the best sounding smart speakers are Google Max and Apple Homepod. You can toss a coin to select one if you are bothered about which ecosystem (Google Vs Apple) you want to step in. But both of these are not yet launched. Out of all the versions that are available in India, Amazon Echo Plus sounds best. Google Home is decent but both Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Plus have superior sound quality.
  • Smart Home Capabilities: Both of these have quite advanced capabilities for interacting with our smart home devices (lights, air-conditioners, cctvs, streaming devices, smart tvs etc). But Amazon Echo Plus has an inbuilt hub for connecting many smart devices and Google Home does not have a hub. If you are relying on IFTT (www.iftt.com) for your automation, then you can read this article to know more about how these devices support IFTT.
  • Privacy Concerns: If you are concerned about privacy, my take is to go with Apple Homepod. Google is in data business and thrives on getting as much data as possible. Amazon data practices are not that great either. The only company that has a relatively better policy on privacy and willing to go an extra mile to save your data is Apple. However, you can see these links ( https://www.wired.com/story/amazon-echo-and-google-home-voice-data-delete/, https://fieldguide.gizmodo.com/how-to-lock-down-your-privacy-on-the-amazon-echo-and-go-1794697554,) for more information on how to safeguard your privacy while using these smart speakers.

What I read in 2017 – Part 2 (Fiction)

I read a lot of fiction. Mostly crime-fiction, it is my guilty pleasure and companion on all my flights. Choosing what to read has been a very random decision. Sometimes I pick a book because I wanted to explore a new author or explore crime-fiction from a different country, language or theme.. And sometimes just because I synced my kindle with random books in my collection. Amidst all the crime-fiction I did read a couple of literary fiction, although I must confess that I had planned to read a lot more of literary fiction last year. If I look back at the books that I read last year, I explored several new authors and new series (from new or established authors) . So here goes the list of fiction that I read in 2017.

  • Poisonfeather by Matthew FitzSimmons– The second book in the Gibson Vaughn series. Gibson Vaughn is turning out to be an interesting new character. After reading The Short Drop, which got some good reviews on Amazon last year, I somewhat liked this character. Humane, emotional, troubled and super-hacker.
  • Cold Harbor by Matthew FitzSimmons – As mentioned above, I went ahead with the 3rd installment of the Vaughn series. A bit disappointed by the plot and the treatment but Vaughn did not let me drop this book unfinished.
  • Iron House by John Hart – There are very few popular crime-fiction writers who can write well. John Hart can blur the line between crime-fiction and literary fiction. If you have not read John Hart, you must explore his work. He is also the only author to have won two Edger Awards for his consecutive books.
  • Redemption Road by John Hart– The latest from John Hart and again he did not disappoint.
  • The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz– I discovered Gregg Hurwitz last year with Orphan X. Orphan X, the title character is a likable amalgamation of Jason Bourne, Mich Rapp, Will Robbie. Gregg Hurwitz surprised me with Orphan X (in fact impressed quite a few including Warner Brother who bought the rights for a movie series) and made me look forward to the new installment of this series. Fast paced, suspenseful and high-octane thrill ride.
  • IQ by Joe IDE-Isaiah Quintabe (IQ) is another character inspired by Sherlock Holmes, but in a very different setting and with a very different treatment. IQ, an orphan, exploring the accident that killed his brother, is lovable, street-smart and super-intelligent. The plot set in LA is quite engaging and realistic.
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty– This satire by Paul Beatty, is one of the most talked about books of 2016 and winner of Man Booker Prize 2016. Highly enjoyable, unlike some of the other award winning books who disappoint on this front.
  • Chitralekha by Bhagvaticharan Varma– This philosophical novel deals with sin, virtue, desire and passion and how circumstances enslave people. Recommended for anyone interested in reading good Hindi literature.
  • Disgrace by J M Coetzee– Nothing much to add about this book. Masterpiece. One of the best books of last 50 years.
  • The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz– Last year I read Dean Koontz for the first time and immediately I knew why he is rated as one of the best authors of suspense thriller genre. When I read the blurb of this book, it was an automatic choice: a new character (Jane Hawk), elements of sci-fi, and the usual Dean Koontz style of storytelling.
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz -A very intelligent whodunit that reminds us of Agatha Christie. A book within a book, a murder mystery within a murder mystery.. And a clever twist in the end.
  • The Trespasser by Tana French– Did not find anything great to talk about. Mediocre police procedural.
  • The Dry by Jane Harper– One of the better crime novels to hit the stand last year. It deservingly received rave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
  • Natchez Burning by Greg Iles: The first in the Natchez Burning trilogy. The expansive story that goes beyond the crime fiction genre to portray the racial hatred in this atmospheric thriller.
  • The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne -Another random pick based, which turned out to be a good read. A computational biologist turns investigators to prove his innocence in a murder case. Apart from him, the only other suspect is a wild bear; and our biologist discovers that the wild bear is innocent/being framed.
  • The Fix by David Baldacci – Another installment of Amos Decker.
  • Night School by Lee Child – Passable.
  • The Guilty by David Baldacci – Will Robbie series. Engaging.
  • 1st To Die by James Patterson – One of the earlier books of James Patterson. And it tells you why he became so successful.
  • The Girl Who Takes An Eye for An Eye by David Lagercrantz – Lisbeth Salander compelled me to read this as soon as it was out.
  • House of Spies by Daniel Silva – Daniel Silva gives a glimpse of international terror network in the latest book of Gabriel Allon series. Typical Daniel Silva stuff but nothing great.
  • Origin by Dan Brown– The latest from Dan Brown and it was a bit disappointing.

What I read in 2017- 1 (Non-fiction)

Thanks to my sleeping disorder and the age-old habit of going to bed with a book or kindle, I did manage to finish 30 books this year. There are several books that I left midway or just finished a few chapters and dropped them (or put them on to-be-finished-later list). While crime-fiction remains my guilty pleasures and preferred genre for light reading/in the flight reading, this year, I ended up reading some thought-provoking non-fiction and literary fiction. Although, I feel bad that I could not read some of the most talked about books this year. Lincoln in the Bardo, The gene, When Breath Becomes Air.. although these are the books still on my reading list and I hope to finish them in 2018. So here is the list of books that I read in 2017(Non-fiction).

  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche – Undoubtedly one of the most impactful and thought-provoking book that I read this year. In fact, it was more than reading. Every page, every chapter that I read forced me to go through lengthy ruminations and introspection. I have already recommended this book to many people who want to explore Buddhism or are looking to find some meaning and solace in life. This profound book helps you live better, be a better human being by dissecting our final destination i.e. death. Many people pick this book in the fag end of their life when death starts staring at them, but this is the book one should read as early as possible to live a better life. Although the title has the word ‘dying’ in it but this is a book about living.
  • At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell – Almost 18 years back, I got to know Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus by serendipity. I found second hand copies of their works (Being and Nothingness and The Rebel) in old book shops in Patna. At that time I only knew these names because they appeared in some quotable quotes in some magazines or newspapers. Though I liked the Rebel but I could not manage to go beyond the first chapter of Being and Nothingness (It is rated one of the most difficult books to read) till recently. But both Camus and Sartre intrigued me and I went to read some of their popular works later. ‘At the Existentialist Cafe’ is an intimate and interesting narrative of leading figure of existentialist movement: Sarte, Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Heidegger and others. As the author puts it “Their ideas were interesting but their personal lives are more interesting than their ideas”. After reading the book, one gets a very different perspective about the entire existentialist philosophy.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben – A fascinating read. My two-years at IIFM introduced me to many things about trees and forest by forcing us to read those horribly written sleep-inducing technical text books. Reading them was a compulsion. But this is the book which makes it so much fun to explore trees and their ecosystem. I strongly suggest that this should be the first book that a person who is interested in trees and forest should read.
  • The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J Levitin A very good resource for anyone who is looking to get cutting edge brain science behind how people organize their life and work.
  • Profit Over People by Noam Chomsky The book reminds of our often misplaced faith in the infallibility of the unregulated market. He produces a scathing attack on neoliberalism and points out the major flaws. Very good read to understand the limitations of the market led development and how big corporates play the market.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Coates’s letter to his son shows us what does it mean to grow up as a black kid in today’s America. Coates writing is brilliant and his portrayal of black life in America raises many questions.
  • How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci – Last year, a friend talked very highly of The Antidote – Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking and I read it on his suggestion. This book got my interest piqued in stoicism. Pigliucci’s book popped in my book recommendations in Goodreads and I should thank Goodreads for that. This book clarified many of misconceptions about stoicism.

The Oraganized Mind

Despite my several attempts to oThe_Organized_Mind_hardcover_coverrganize information in different ways, I am still to find a way that works decently for me. My job frequently requires synthesizing a lot of information,  and to do that I need to quickly retrieve information, often stored in different digital formats across multiple machines.

Retrieving information is primarily a function of how one’s brain processes and organizes information, and how information is organized in physical or digital space. Poor organization puts a lot of stress on brain’s limited resources and I get frustrated when I am not able to recall something easily.

The frustration led me to invest in a comprehensive study of whatever that can help me in organizing stuff in a better way. The Konmari method, made popular by the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is great for un-cluttering the life but did not help me much in  managing information and how I can use or understand my mind so that I can organize better.

But The  Organized Mind does a great job in that regard. There are a lot of great tips but more than that it is also an exciting read on how our mind manages, organizes information. What I like most about the book that it goes beyond suggestions/tips and explains the rationale and science behind it. It surely makes my life a bit easier.