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Pocket reading list : Week 2, Sep

The Homeless Scientist Who Tried to Prove Selflessness Doesn't Exist - Dr. Price came up with an equation that quantified altruism, or it seemed like it for the most part. He developed a mathematical framework to understand the selfless behavior of various animals. This is the tale of what happened after.

The End of Gangs - A beautiful article about the gangs in Los Angeles, how they came to rule the streets there and how law enforcement finally figured out how to clean the streets and make neighborhoods safe again. I kept getting reminded of the TV show 'The Wire' as I was reading this, how empty lots becomes a cesspool for addicts, how streets are rules by gangs and the violence between gangs. It's also a story of how policing isn't just about beating the perpetrator with the other end of the stick but about community relations and foot work.

The Sign Language Interpreter of the Rappers - I was surprised to hear that deaf people went to concerts in the first place! I had an amazing experience a couple of days back, while sitting in a classical carnatic music concert. Music transcends languages and, in my opinion, is better at moving a person than visual images are. And I started wondering life would be without sound and without music. Nevertheless, even if the deaf cant hear the music, they still deserve to understand what the songs are about because songs have been an important medium to communicate many-a-human emotion. This is the story of a sign language interpreter who interprets rappers at concerts.

The Drug Cartels' IT Guy - Apparently, the drug lords in Mexico are so powerful that they have their own communication networks, so as to not be intercepted by the local authorities or the government. And of course, this means that they need the technical expertise setup and maintain said networks through towers and what not. This is a story of how the drug mafia (apparently) kidnaps local technicians working for comm. companies to make them work on the networks.

The Tragedy of the American Military - This is another brilliant article on the american military and the american public's perception of it. The american military has been touted as the world's mightiest and that's pretty much what the extent of the conversation is. For the well being of any government or organization, there needs to be a constant critique of it's functions and how it works but when it becomes idolized, the public starts to loose touch with the real organization and the organization starts feeling alienated from the general population.

The myopia boom - Atleast in my own country, India, I can see that there has been a drastic increase in the number of youngsters wearing prescription glasses because they are short-sighted. This isn't just restricted to India, it's a global pandemic. And the reason behind it isn't simply because kids these days are bookworks.

Ars moriendi - The art of dying is the art of living. Let me just leave it at that.

A Sea Change in Treating Heart Attacks - The sooner a patient is suffering a heart attack is put on the operating table and treated for his condition, the better his chances for recovery and life after treatment are. Doctors across the US started coming up with ways to decrease the time it takes from between when a patient arrives in the ambulance to when he can be put under the knife and his is a story of how they achieved it.

​If You Touch This Plant It Will Make You Vomit In Pure Agony - If I weren't doing astronomy, I'd probably be doing ecology or plant/animal biology. The sheer diversity of species, functions, appendages and what not amazes me. This is the story of a plant that stings you thereby injecting poison in you which will make you cry like a baby. Definitely on my to-do list!

Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality - A broad overview of the university system in the US, it's misgivings, the various problems that have arisen over the last several decades in america's attempt at giving every one an undergraduate degree. It's also a study of the skyrocketing price of college education, how it deincentivises the poor, how the various grants to help the poor aren't of much help and so on. It's brilliant and a must read for any aspiring academic who wants to change academia.

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on MOOCs.

For those of you who don't know, MOOC stands for Massively Open Online Course.

The internet is an awesome thing. It's making education free for all. Well, mostly free. But it's surprising at the width and depth of courses being offered online. And it looks like they are also having an impact on students, especially those from universities that are not top ranked. Students in all parts of the world can now get a first class education experience, thanks to courses offered by Stanford, MIT, Caltech, etc.

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On programmers.

I just watched this brilliant keynote today. It's a commentary on Programmers and the software development industry/ecosystem as a whole.



I am not going to give you a tl;dr version of the talk because it is a talk that I believe everyone should watch, that everyone should learn from. Instead, I am going to give my own parallel-ish views on programmers and programming.
As pointed out in the talk, there are mythical creatures in the software development industry who are revered as gods. Guido Van Rossum, the creator of Python, was given the title Benevolent Dictator For Life (BDFL). People flock around the creators of popular languages or libraries. They are god-like to most programmers and are treated like gods. By which, I mean to say, we assume they don't have flaws. That they are infallible. That they are perfect.
And alongside this belief in the infallibility of these Gods, we believe that they were born programmers. That programming is something that people are born wit…