Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chrome extension

We have a chrome extension now. Try it out here
As usual this happened when I was trying to solve a problem that hampered the book search experience.
Amazon is a great place to look for books but there is no way to know what the prices are like in India so this extension lets me know what the prices are with a click of the button.
Here is a screenshot. Its simple, easy to use, very very functional and should just work wherever books are sold.

Let us know what you think.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A lot of improvements: A few major ones and a couple of minor ones

We have been hard at work the last couple of weeks to add features that will make the book searching experience a lot easier and faster.

We have three major updates to KBookSearch.
1) Faster search
2) Knowledge panel
3) List of bestsellers

For example searching for Steve Jobs is a lot faster. Try it out.
The panel on the right will give you more info about the book and let you know what other books people search for. You might not notice it immediately but it makes a huge difference to the experience.

We also have a list of bestsellers on the front page so that you have something to read right away and of course we will keep bringing you reviews of books that we think should be read on the blog.

We also have a couple of small improvements
The editions are now mentioned in the search results so you know straight away that the book is a paperback, hardback and the year of publication.
Also in every place we could think of the Author's name has been made searchable. What this means in plain english is that if you click on the Author KbookSearch will do the search.

Let us know what you think of the features in the comments.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs is A sublime biography. Its beautifully written and presents Steve Jobs in all his avatars. From a megalomaniac to a supreme charmer. I read this in a single stretch in one go so so that must mean something.
Isaacson brings out the contradictions of a man at the cutting of technology who lived like a monk nonetheless. A man who repeatedly says that its not about the money but becomes a millionaire and cheats his best friend Steve Wozniak out of his fair share of the profits. The way he disregards authority but is the most commanding person around himself. How even though he liked to hack other people's work(telephone lines and the like) and wouldn't allow the same to his products.(People will screw things up if they can open them)
It is also an intriguing look at his years of failure, after he was ousted from Apple and went on to found NeXT. The creation of Pixar is present as well. It is an intriguing look at the dynamics and how he ran it differently from the way he ran Apple. The segment on the thought process behind the now iconic Stanford commencement address is fantastic. The book also talks about his reality distortion field, his obsession with zen like minimalism in his designs and what shaped him as a kid. 
The more I read it the more I discovered that he was a scumbag. Like most great leaders he had a hint of the bastard about him. The guy who comes out looking the best in the entire book surprisingly turns out be Bill Gates and my admiration for him grew by leaps and bounds the more I read.
This is a good read even for those not enamored by Apple and Steve Jobs. It hooks you in right from the start and you are immersed in it. You wonder why they took the decisions that they took and how the same man could be the paragon of charm and yet be a backstabber.
You can buy Steve Jobs here.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka

Chinaman is about Sri Lanka seen through the eyes of a disgruntled whisky loving 60 year old cricket fanatic.
The sportswriter is on the lookout for the finest bowler he has ever seen Pradeep Matthew but no one seems to know where he is. Slowly though he finds clues and meets a lot of people. Throughout the old man regales us with tales of his life. Chinaman is genuinely funny and contains insights into the Sri Lankan way of life and does a better job of talking about Cricket than any book I have read. As you read it though you realize that a lot of it applies to every race.
The cricket itself is described with great verve and a morbid attention to detail but again its the humor that really stands out.
Chinaman melds fiction and fact with such deftness that you really do not know where the fiction begins and ends. Anecdotes abound. In this alternate history every cricketer who made an impact on Sri Lankan cricket turns out in some way to be indebted to Pradeep Matthew's insight. (Fiction but you buy it, because you are totally hooked to what is happening)
Its a gem of a book written with passion and fire. An absolute masterclass. If you enjoy cricket, here is a book that should go straight into your must read pile.(Even if you do not have must read pile like I do, you should read it nonetheless).

You can buy Chinaman here.

In the plex by Steven Levy

If you ever wanted to find out how Google does what it does In The Plex is the book.
I have read a few Google stories and none are even remotely as good as this. Steven Levy was granted a lot of access and he made full use of it. The book is rich in detail and deftly puts together the way Google took search, a concept no one thought could be monetized successfully and turned it into a money spinning machine.
Many products are given short shrift but that is understandable given the scope and breadth of the tale. Levy paints the broad strokes using Search, Gmail, Android and Chrome as the anchors. He also takes us through what Google went through in China and how censorship and governmental controls made the time a tumultuous one. He talks about the impact that Google has had and the privacy concerns that crop up all time.
Its a brilliant, fascinating and intriguing read about what makes Google tick. It talks about its reliance on data above all else, its grandiose ambitions to make all information accessible and of course the don't be evil mantra. It lays out about how a feisty start up founded by two nerds and geeks with lofty ambitions actually succeeded and became the behemoth it is today. This is by far the definitive book on Google and an absolute cracker of a read.

You can buy In the plex here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford

Economics seems to be full of jargon, but once you get drill down to the fundamentals,  it is about who gets what.(or at least thats what Tim Harford says)
The Undercover Economist is what a book about a complex subject should be. Its clear, lucid, well written and once you read it you will never look at the world the same way again.
He talks about how companies price their goods(Different from how you think it works). Who gains most when Starbucks sells you a coffee near a metro station and he talks about the power of scarcity.  He takes problems and manages to distill their essence so that at once you understand how things work. He talks about why poor countries remain poor and how China became rich. He deals with why its hard to buy a good used car. There is a section on auctions that is breathtaking.
Economic terms come and go but they don't fly over your head. I actually understood most of what was being conveyed. Its really an effortless read. Now that I have had a chance to think about it, the thing that Harford does really well is talk about when Economists get things wrong sometimes to the detriment of the profession and the government. He does this most memorably with the auctions section where he talks about why certain auctions failed.
Tim Harford takes a subject which I quite frankly thought to be a purely academic one, breathes new life into it and turns it into an absolute page turner.

You can buy The Undercover Economist here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking fast and slow is the culmination of the decades of research of Daniel Kahneman and his  posthumous colleague Amos Tversky. (For the ones who give weight to awards Kahneman is a Psychologist who won a Nobel Prize in Economics, a strange quirk)
Daniel Kahneman talks about how minds are divided into two systems System 1 and System 2. System 1 is our intuition, the fast one, the quick and the default decision maker. System 2 is the rational one, the one that does the hard thinking. Kahneman of course makes the point that System1 and System2 are convenient abstractions and are only models that make it much easier to think about how the the mind works.
The best way to describe the book would be say that it resembles Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, only its a lot more rigorous.
He talks about several human fallacies and how man is in fact not rational but can be manipulated. He talks about experts in which fields are really experts. He points out that to truly become an expert one needs constant feedback so anyone who makes long term predictions is basically incompetent because he has no feedback. Anyone is just as qualified as he is to make an assessment. The political commentators are the example he takes. He also points that Mutual funds are a giant scam and that they are no better than monkeys when it comes to choosing stocks. (They are actually slightly worse).
He also talks about people being more risk averse than gain seekers. A person will take more chances to avoid losing than gaining something even though economically both might be the same. He places several examples but the one I remember is one about golfers. Most golfers will putt better when they have to save a bogey than when they have a chance for a birdie.(For the numerically inclined the difference is around 4%, a sizable difference in a game where tournaments are usually won by a one stroke lead).
He talks about intuition and gives clearest definition of intuition that I have encountered. He says that intuition is recognition very simply. He points that  a surgeon operating is no more special than a child recognizing a ball. (Admittedly this might be an over simplification but its a good definition nonetheless and a clear and simple one).
The book is also peppered with anecdotes on his collaboration with Amos Tversky and many other psychologists and economists. He also talks about the time he spent in the Israeli Army and how he was able to apply his training as a psychologist to the problems that he encountered. These lend the book a surprisingly melancholic feeling of someone who has carried out his life's work and laid bare his soul for all to see.
Its a fascinating book but its a long one as well at around 500 pages(I enjoyed it so I didn't really feel it). Daniel Kahneman writes extremely clearly and leaves absolutely no room for confusion. Too often non fiction books get caught in trying to use fancy verbiage which render the subject under consideration unintelligible.  If you don't feel upto reading Thinking fast and slow you might want to watch this talk Kahneman gave which sums up the book and his findings far better than I ever could. There are also a lot of extracts doing rounds on the web so you might want to check those out as well.