Review: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future

May 30, 2017

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance



I cringed many times as I read through this book – there are parts which are more of a hagiography than a biography. It was expected as some of the reviews pointed out that book is written by a fan boy. However, by the end of the book, I came to a different conclusion. Vance is playing to the galleries. Elon Musk is an awe inspiring figure for many. Vance is looking to sell his book to the same crowd. So, he paints the picture that his audience wants – with some warts.

However, there is sufficient information in the book that can allow a reader to draw her own conclusions. I particularly love the appendices. Vance needs to be credited for leaving Musk’s statements as they were.

This book does a good job of painting a picture of how Musk is – Driven, analytical, hard working, brusque etc. It also does a good job of unearthing details of his childhood which had a bearing on how he came to be.

However, it does a poor job of telling us how he made SpaceX and Tesla to their current positions. There are hints throughout: hard work and hard drive, working from basic physics up, setting up clear targets, focus on what to do with setbacks rather than allocating blame, hiring and retaining great talent etc. But that is not the main narrative. The narrative is that of the person rather than his amazing work. In that, this book is a bit disappointing. It still doesn’t explain well enough why Musk succeeded where others failed. It doesn’t come anywhere near explaining how he did it two times – simultaneously!

5 Fantasy fiction books I am eagerly waiting for

November 7, 2016

I love fantasy fiction.

A part of my love is because it’s fantasy. There is a world very different from our own – the laws of physics are different or simply give precedence to magic. There are creatures and phenomenon which are interesting to imagine and to think through.  At the same time, there is a high degree of internal consistency and that appeals to the part of mind that likes coherence. In short, there is a break from the familiar.

Another part of my love is because the characters remain human no matter how fantastic their powers may be. There is a struggle that the main character(s) go through – against their own failings, other people, situations, society/political systems etc. Each of these struggles is familiar in a some way and there is a takeaway from them for my own life. In short, there is something intensely familiar.

Still another part of my love is the scale of these books. Some of are massive epics, where the detail of the world building is awe inspiring. Tolkein, GRRM, Robin Hobb, Robert Jordon are some names that jump to my mind when I think of amazing detailing. But what also stands out is the scale of the crisis – world at risk/freedom at risk/country at risk etc. Such stories tug at imagination like a gale force wind.

So, over time I have read a fairly large number of fantasy fiction books of various kinds. Many of them are favorites. Most of them are series of books that are long done and I could go from the first to last without any interruption. For eg the Wheel of time series. But, some of them are ongoing series and I have been waiting eagerly for the next installment in the tale. Each one of them is a fantastic book series that I would recommend highly. Here I list 5 and also note down why I am eager to read the next book. I have linked each one of these to their Goodread’s page. Each of them has a high rating even before it’s released! That just goes to show how eagerly many people are waiting for these books.

The first two books stand out for the fast pace of action:

The Last Metal: This is a continuation of the fantastic Mistborn series. I rate the first book as one of the best fantasy books ever. It built into a great three book series. Its extension into the next three books is not so great. Still, they have been good page turners. The magic world is colliding with the science world and a sheriff like character is keeping a watch at the interface. Keeping his side is a muscleman who makes very interesting “trades”. The last book promises a climax where this clash gets resolved. Not a book that I would line up to buy but would certainly be on my weekend reading list, the moment it gets released.

Peace Talks: Another Sheriff and this time keeping an eye on the interface between our world and the magical world. Harry Dresden is indefatigable – no matter how hard he is hit, he keeps taking it until he hits back. Think Rocky with a magic duster and s staff. Each novel throws up a harder challenge than the last and Harry rustles up something to better it. Another page turner that doesn’t disappoint.

The next three belong to a different orbit. The characters are deep. The struggles are portrayed deeply. And more than one character is shown deeply. If the first two were akin to pulp fiction, these are like literature.

Door’s of Stone: Hopefully, this will be end of the whirlwind that started with the Name of the wind. It was a debut novel that put the author in the same league as the best authors of the genre. It’s a coming of age story just like Harry Potter but this isn’t young adult fiction but fiction for grown ups. The plot moves at a good pace, the characters are deep and flawed and the setting is complex. It’s a gripping series and the third instalment is eagerly awaited. It currently ranks as the second most awaited book. That is no mean feat considering that the most awaited book has gotten a lot of publicity due to the TV series based on its series. This, in comparison, is still a relatively unknown gem.

Fool’s Quest: Robin Hobb is the best author I have read when it comes to detailing a character. The first person accounts of the lead character, Fitz, can get down to an agonizing second. And now there is another lead character, Bee, who is again very deep. If you liked Tolkein for the entire world he created, you would love Hobb for the entire inner world of the characters she paints. It is so excruciatingly detailed that you will feel every ache of the characters. This book is actually already published and I just got it. No long wait for this one.

Oathbringer: I started this list by one book by Brandon Sanderson and now finishing with another one of his. This will be the third book in a series and hopefully the last in the trilogy. Lots of rich and deep characters. Lots of actions and twists and turns. Sanderson takes another aspect of nature and infuses humans with it – just like the Mistborn series. The big difference between this and the first book in the list is that this one seems to have a lot more life in it. Mistborn series is starting to drag and coming to an end. This one is yet to peak.

So, there you have it. The best 5 upcoming books as I see them.

A noticeable absence is that of GRR Martin’s books. Those books are great too. I went through the first two with gusto and then paused having realised that the series is far from over. I couldn’t bear to wait for the next one after finishing the third one. So, I just stopped. I will wait until the series ends before starting from the beginning.

Which books are you waiting for?


Interesting Reads – 9 May 2016

May 9, 2016


P2P Lending volumes for April 2016. Lendinvest stands out while most others are struggling as institutional participants pull out.

“Internet Finance” in China. Key takeaways:

  1. China is the biggest market in the world for online lending.
  2. Most Banks are state owned and don’t offer many retail or SME products. Companies with 10,000 employees are too small to get credit! This created a lot of opportunity for internet finance businesses. Essentially, 5% of the Black economy moved online.
  3. A lot of people don’t have credit scores.
  4. Lots of ponzi schemes.


How fast should UI animations be?

Story of a startup designing for Apple Store.

Wish Mumbai borrowed such ideas that reduce our traffic menace.


May 5, 2016

Knowing something is great. But, it’s just one tool. A good one. A multi-purpose one. Like a wrench or a swiss army knife. But, it’s limited.

It doesn’t do the work of other tools.

Tools like action. No matter how much we think about it or read about it or talk about it; none of them substitute actual action. Results come from only action and nothing else.

Action gives experience. Experience put in words gives knowing. It becomes the basis of further thinking and actions. This makes the learning loop. This can also be limited.

Experience of the moment put in words diminishes it. It is immediately reduced to the familiar. Inevitably, description survives and experience fades. This has been variously described. For eg, a photograph of an object is not the object.

The loss in transcription can be a trivial one. For eg, a photograph of an object is still a good enough representation of it to be used as evidence in a court or for scientific experiments.

The loss in transcription can be a major one. An example is what is called jumping to conclusions. One event is taken as an example of a large set of similar events and a conclusion is drawn. We do it all the time:

I didn’t do well in that maths quiz – I must be weak in maths.

Humans have a tendency to make meaning of something just experienced. It is one of the things that sets us apart from animals. I guess this is what we can loosely call Intelligence. But, this super ability comes with limitations.

Being in action and pausing to think before making conclusions are two ways to work around the limitations of Knowing.


Interesting Reads – 9 April 2016

April 9, 2016

The Glengarry Glen Ross approach to bank sales doesn’t work. Agreed. True not only for Banking but all kind of sales.

Most Indians don’t realise that India leads the world in the payment systems. Just contrast Rs 5 for IMPS vs $ 6.95 in US. I have seen how NPCI did it in one case and they did a lot more than just rely on the large no of users in India.

Robo Advisory is pushing Big Banks to refocus, trip and adapt. JP Morgan this time.

The argument against plain chat as an interface.