Best books that I read in 2016

Happy New year folks! Someone asked a question on Hacker News on best books read in 2016. I put up my answer there and am cross posting the same here. Do check out the thread on HN, it contains a lot of interesting suggestions.

2016 was the year I ended up reading most books that I have ever read in any year of my life so far! I read a total of 60 books and you can find all of them on here (it has 59 books, one book that isn’t there is called Ray Dalio’s principles). The books I read in 2015 (a total of 34) is also on ShelfJoy. You can check out my all lists here

Out of these, I like the following the most:

  • The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch. It makes a bold claim that we will always be at the beginning of the infinite progress that lies ahead.
Read the rest

Why do this? Why create? Why pursue excellence?

Why do this?

I’m a nihilist. I don’t believe there’s any externally given meaning to our lives. Some people find the lack of an authority like God depressing, but I find it liberating. Devoid of any external guidance, humans truly have limitless potential and can do amazing things. There’s no one to say: ‘hey, that’s not allowed’. Whatever Physics doesn’t forbid is doable.

For me, what gets me up from bed every morning is to create things than nobody else has thought of before.

Why create?

Even though lives are meaningless, humans are cosmically significant. The knowledge and technology we create will eventually impact universe at a large scale. Say humans of future will be able to prevent sun from burning out or they’ll fly out to other stars. Humanity can exist indefinitely and can spread to the entire universe. It’s amazing to know that human creations can have an impact that would spans galaxies; and all acts of human creations – large or small – contribute to that human potential.… Read the rest

Welcome to India: a land where passion comes to die

I’ve lived in India all my life, and I’m not proud of my people. But I’m not giving up.

Here’s why.

Reality check for 1/7th of the world’s population

We Indians are 1.2 billion people on Earth. Yes, many of us are still extremely poor. But a lot of us in that fat middle and upper class have means beyond survival. Hundreds of millions of us have disposable incomes, we have weekends for ourselves when we go to movies and eat expensive popcorn. Yes, we have cars and ACs. Heck, now we even have Netflix, iPhones and Macbooks.

One would imagine that multiple hundreds of millions of this middle class will at least have a million passionate people. Or at least a hundred thousand people who aim for perfection in their chosen field. Or maybe ten thousand people who aim at being absolute best in the world. A thousand people who have dedicated their lives to making that tiny dent in the universe?… Read the rest

What is money?

Being a CEO and founder of a startup, I’ve been concerned with money in a variety of contexts. A company exists to make money and indeed that was one of the drivers in the days of starting Wingify. I wanted to make money by myself and was pretty happy when people paid for the first version of VWO. I remember my goal was to make roughly USD 1000 (equivalent of the last monthly salary I had drawn at my employer). VWO ended up making me multiple times my initial goal.

Last month at Wingify, we hit a million dollars of recurring revenue. I’m very happy that the team has been able to achieve this milestone, especially because we’re entirely bootstrapped and haven’t raised any outside investment. There has been a lot of enthusiasm about the million-dollar-a-month figure, and all Wingifighters are pumped up to convert the ‘m’ into a ‘b’.… Read the rest

Should I publish this on my blog?

It’s not depression, it’s sadness
I know by morning, I will forget
But for now, I’m pretty sure it’s sadness

Why be sad when the world’s beautiful
That’s lame, you know that, but it’s true
And it’s not depression, it’s worse than that

There’s nothing I’m searching for; zilch is what I seek
I have everything I wanted; I should be happy, but I’m not
But I know by morning, I will forget

A happy death is the one that’s sudden and unexpected
Not just for me, but for everyone I love
You shrug your shoulders, but I know you understand

What words do is the curing bit
It’s temporary, that’s okay
At least, you exist

I don’t want to die, I don’t want to live
It’s sad and amusing
But ultimately of no use

So what if this doesn’t impress you
I’m tied up, choked
I deserve a break

People talk, people plan
I, here, existing – endure
Wish it were depression, not sadness

Cheap laughs, grand plans
My life’s become what it always wanted
And yet here I am, writing about sadness

Must save the poem on my computer
All the emotion in the world doesn’t make this universe bother
Whether these words are spoken or not, it doesn’t care

Must save it once again – CTRL-S
Because I’m a paranoid
How ironic that I call myself a nihilist

I might forget all this tomorrow
But people come, people go
Stuff happens, we die – await a miracle

PS: World’s mathematical, math exists
For all that Nihilism, one laugh is enough
It’s not depression, it’s absurdity – sadness and love combined into one… Read the rest

Strategy eats cool tech and culture for its lunch

Peter Drucker is famously attributed to have said culture eats strategy for breakfast. Every time I have a discussion with my entrepreneur friends, the discussion quickly gravitates towards what we think is fundamentally important for business success. The factors usually include technical skills, marketing capabilities, culture, hiring quality, and funding. I used to think that it was the team and culture that was most important (and certainly at Wingify, we give a lot of emphasis on building the right culture). But is culture enough?

Culture is a necessary, but not sufficient

The way I see it (and many others agree), culture isn’t just free beer and gourmet lunch. (in fact, I think too many “free” things might attract the wrong sorts of folks to your team). Culture is having motivated employees who believe that by showing up at work every day, they are making the world a better place. Culture is being devoid of distracting office politics, culture is believing that morality trumps profits, culture is like a flywheel that like minded people make it self-reinforcing.… Read the rest

What Philosophy should be about?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading two books recently. ‘How much is enough‘, the first one, is a sensible attack on money for money’s sake and the absurdity of it. The second one, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance‘ is a classic that I read for the second time. This time it became clear to me that the book on many levels was talking about the an ugly outcome of single-minded urbanization. It also questions the apparent superiority of intellect over aesthetics. Of course, the two books are about much more than what I’m describing here but the underlying thread was common – both books urged considering mankind’s total quality of experience, rather than just material wealth or technological / scientific progress.

The idea of rationality holding supreme power to describe the universe is a very strong one and has actually lead to a lot of progress in recent centuries in terms of increased lifespan and other comforts.… Read the rest

How increased automation could lead to a happier and more egalitarian society

First, watch this video titled ‘Humans Need Not Apply’.

Now answer this question: what would happen when all jobs that humans perform today will be automated?

The scenario of nobody having a job might seem fancy and theoretical at first, but it’s becoming more realistic with each passing day. Google, Uber, BMW, and a lot of other organizations are on track to release self driving vehicles as soon as next year. And as the video demonstrates so beautifully, this is not just happening to the transportation industry. Automation will impact every sphere of human activity – be it creative, mechanical, cognitive or managerial.

We live in a world of machine learning, APIs, exponentially improving technology, billion dollar disruptions. A lot of such innovations are about making humans redundant.

What will millions of jobless people do?

Taking transportation as an example again, as self-driving cars become commonplace we will rapidly have millions of jobless drivers who are unskilled.… Read the rest

The real use of money is to buy freedom

As the founder of a profitable software company, I happen to make more money than most office-goers of my age. There’s no shame or pride in admitting that. I don’t dislike money. Having quite a bit of it is simply a fact. Though there must be many thousands of people who have enormously more money than me, I consider myself lucky to have more than I need right now.

However, more than the money, what fascinates me is the nature of money, its ubiquity and how our behavior gets unknowingly influenced by it.

The insecurities attached with the money

I have grown up in a typical middle-class household where one is rightly nurtured into not being extravagant. I was taught to value money (which I thoroughly appreciate). Even though, in my childhood, I always got whatever I wanted, the truth is that I never wanted big, expensive toys. That attitude has lingered on to the present day.… Read the rest

Life as a question with no answers

The meaninglessness grips him by the throat at any moment of the day. Not caring about where he is and with whom is he, like a ferocious, prowling predator, the feeling arrives unannounced, rips apart his flesh and leaves him half-eaten, bleeding with not blood but streams of shameless, naked guilt. The guilt of meaningless existence.

He has been found caught in a swirling pool of this feeling at all sorts of places where the expected state of mind is one of the common moods such as joy, sadness, anticipation, reflection, or tens of others that people keep talking about. Instead, multiple times a day, what he feels is a sharp confusion followed by an invisible, choking paranoia that he’s going to die one day, and nobody really, truly, deeply cares about his existence. And why should they? They have their own lives to bother with.

Of course, he was not born with this feeling.… Read the rest