Monday, July 23, 2007

The Google Story

Over last few weeks, I read 'The Google Story', yeah its an old title but Google is still hot I guess. Its very well written and reads like a fiction. I personally do not know much about David A. Wise, author of this book but a quick google search yields good results and after reading 2 minutes, it comes out that he has done big things to write home about.

You can read more about him at

Google Story is about Google (Wow, really) and its founders viz. Sergey and Larry. It starts with these two folks being at Stanford as part of their Phd program and tracks them till 2005. This reads like pulp because of Google. Its so difficult to imagine what kind of growth they had and what kind of things they keep on doing. From a $80 IPO to > $500 share price and from a garage in Menlo park to the swanky Mountain View Googleplex, the book talks about it all.

By now, it would be redundant to say that one must read this. Its easier to read, simple day-to-day english, a little over 300 pages and talks about heroes. Some of the incidents like

".......... Larry and Sergey while flying to some place took a detour mid-air to meet AOL Europe chief so that they do not lose the deal to Yahoo...." or "...... in Google every one gets to spend 20 % of time on their pet projects, 1 day every week since in universities Profs get that....." and so many more of these.

It tracks each and every move of these two people and what they have gone through to get funds and how they were so reluctant to hire a CEO. Many wont know but the very idea of 'Page Rank' is based upon the concept of 'Paper Citations'. When you write a new paper, you mention a list of 'Citations' at the end, these are essentially other publications which you referred and in a way a method to Rank these papers. A paper which gets cited many times seems like a hightly rated paper. Larry used that to classify information.

Before he came up with that the two dominant search engines were

1. Altavista
2. Yahoo

Altavista was using the crawling approach where spiders would crawl the websites and index the pages. Yahoo on the other hand was using a more conservative but highly effective method of manually adding sites through directories. Both worked till web started to explode and it was getting more and more difficult to either crawl it well or cover it all through directories. Even if you are able to cover a decent portion, the results were not relevant.

Using Page Rank, Google ranks web pages depending upon how they are referred to. For example, this blog will be seen as much more trustworthy and relevant review if its on a higher PR site say Hindustantimes or some book review site. This is the core of PR but over time, this has been evolved and currently it uses thousands of variables to rate the relevancy.

One big thing which this book scores high is access to information. It reads like as if Vise was following these two people over years. And its so lucid and at times you would feel like listening to Page and Brin. I read the revised edition but still its about 2 years old. 2 years back Google was darling of town and everyone hated MS. Now no one is interested in MS (post hate stage) but there is a large lobby who has started to not-like (Pre Hate stage) Google, whether its issues of Privacy or monoply or because of their ever growing size and clout. Vise would do good if he writes another one on Google soon.

All in all, a must Read. 5/5

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Imperial Woman - Pearl S. Buck

Imperial Woman is a biographical story of Tzu Hsi (or Cixi), the last empress of China, written by Pearl S Buck. Tzu Hsi's claim to fame is that, she was a fierce, efficient, intelligent and a very controversial empress.

The story starts when Tzu Hsi is a child. Orchid is her childhood name. She is the daughter of a low-ranking Manchu official of Yehonala clan. As was the practice then, a set of young girls are chosen out of who, a wife and some cocubines are picked for the Emporer. Orchid and her cousin, Sakota are both picked as expected and go to stay in the Forbidden City - never to return. While Sakota is given a the rank of the Emporer's primary wife because, her elder sister was at a high rank, Orchid (now known as Yehonala) earns a high rank. To be noticed, she makes an effort to stand out. She bribes the enuches and is good to the Dowager Empress (Emporer's mother).

While Sakota gives birth to a girl, Yehonala gives birth to a boy and rises to the position of the "Fortunate Mother", the mother of the heir. Thru sheer guile and ambition, she continues to be the favorite of the Emporer. Pity is the only emotion she has for the sickly and weak Emporer. Her love is always for her kinsman - Jung Lu, to who she was betrothed. Jung Lu is a guard at the gates of Forbidden City.

Yehenola reads history, learns affairs of the state, painting and poetry. She takes interest in matters of state and the Emporer is soon dependent on her for most decisions. She learns to trust no one but only those closest to her. After the death of the Emporer, though She and Sakota together rise to the position of Regents, Yehenola is the de facto ruler. Yehenola gets the Title of Tzu Hsi (or Cixi, The empress of the eastern palaces) and Sakota gets the title of Tzu An ( or Cian,The empress of the western palaces)

There are rumors that her son is born thru Jung Lu. Her life and her son's life are in danger. The nation is under attack. She has to protect herself, her son and the Empire. With the demands of countries like France, England and Russia increasing, with the missionaries converting Chinese into Christians, with the number of rebels from within the nation increasing, there is unrest all around.

Tzu Hsi learns and grows as a ruler gaining the trust of her subjects. People call her "The old Budhha" - thus rising her to the position of God. In a time of great change and cultural upheaval in China, she is a relic of the past - always resisting change. The Boxer Rebellion marks the beginning of the end of Tzu Hsi.

The book is all lucid prose - it flows thru the story of Tzu Hsi, thru the death of her son, her crowning a nephew to be the next Emporer and when he fails, taking the throne back for herself. She grows old and begins to accept change as she realizes, she has no other way to retain her empire.

This book provides a good insight into a critical phase of Chinese History. After having read it, I'm tempted to visit the Forbidden city. The book is worth hunting for.

(Also Posted at: