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Showing posts with the label Book Reviews

### Book Review: Invent and Wander

I am not usually a fan of biographies.  The narcissist in me says there is no one better to learn from but myself.  I have always hold in admiration for  Jeff Bezos  however, having interned for Amazon.com during my university years.   Invent and Wander , written by the man himself, is a great summary of Bezos' philosophies on running his businesses -- namely Amazon, but also The Washington Post and Blue Origin.  In particular, a few points caught my eye:  Go long: Amazon.com is focused on the long term, and I mean really long term.  Bezos even raised the eyebrows of his shareholders on numerous occasions by sacrificing short term profits for what he believed to be worthy long term investments (Marketplace, AWS, Amazon Prime)   Focus on customers: F ocus on customers' needs, sometimes even before they know it. If you are obsessed with your customers instead of your competition, you will innovate much more.  This was how voluntary price reductions and refunds came about.  You wi

### Book Review: Beyond Infinity

Geeking out is something I yearn to do from time to time. Having seen a documentary on infinity from Netflix last year, I decided to pick up a book on the topic.  Beyond Infinity , by  Eugenia Cheng , is an excellent guide delving into this mind-boggling notion. In this book, Cheng explores some key aspects of infinity that challenge our intuition and understanding of mathematics: Numbers Numbers Numbers, natural, rational, irrational and real:   Cheng explains that these number sets are infinite in nature but some are "more infinite" than others.  For instance, the set of natural numbers are smaller than its superset of rational numbers, which in turn are smaller than the set of real numbers.  So far so good?  But...  Infinity is but an abstract notion: It certainly is not a number   to which the rules of arithmetics apply: ∞ + 1 = ∞ (addition/subtraction does not apply) 2  ⋅  ∞ = ∞ (neither does multiplication/division) 1/∞ = 0 (in the sense of limits which touches on the f

### Book Review: Atomic Habits

I recently finished a good book,  Atomic Habits , by James Clear.  It is clear by now that my book reviews have also been doubling as book summaries for future reference.  This is a delightful read as the author uses his personal experience to illustrate his theories.  The arguments are logical and generally well explained.  Here are some key points to note:   What is a habit? It is a solution to a recurring problem in life. A habit helps us solve problems with as little energy as possible.  Habits consist of four parts: cue, craving, response and rewards.  To create a good habit, make the cue obvious, the craving attractive, the response easy and the reward satisfying.  To lose a bad habit, simply do the reverse Never underestimate the compounding effects of habit : Habits are usually small changes in our behavior that may not bring immediate benefits when deployed.  However, just like compound interest for your money, when applied over time, good habits will yield wonders for your li

### Book Review: The Magic of Thinking Big

I recently finished a self-help book called  The Magic of Thinking Big ,  by David Schwartz.  The title caught my attention as I have had first-hand experience on the topic.  My expectation from the book was to see if there are consistent means to induce big thinking and in turn, derive its benefits.  It turned out there is no magic pill on how to think big. Instead Dr Schwartz provided a few lifehacks that resonated with me:  Believe you can and so you can. Self belief is key to success.  If you believe you are good enough, then you are on the right track to attaining results.  This message reminded me of Morpheus telling Neo in the Matrix , "Don't think you are. Know you are." This has been my mantra for some time so the chapter served as a good reinforcement on self belief. On the flip side, if you believe you cannot, that is equally self-fulfilling    There is no excuse for mediocrity.  Whether it is health, intelligence or the age-old "age" (pun intended),

### Book Review: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

I have always prided myself on leading a meaningful life.  Neither a Nobel laureate nor celebrity, but there is a sense of "balance" that makes my days mostly enjoyable.  A strong career, adequate finances, a loving family and fun hobbies all contribute to the experience.  Though not by design, I have perhaps a become a "generalist" in life.  I finished the book,  Range , a couple months ago and enjoyed it immensely.  David Epstein did a superb job highlighting the importance of generalists in today's world. Here are my key takeaways:  The book started by comparing two schools of thoughts on raising successful athletes.  Tiger Woods vs Roger Federer , two undisputed all-time greats in their respective genres. What is more, Woods represented the deliberate training camp while Federer was exposed to a range of sports both from a young age.  This clever comparison intrigued me to find out whether range can prevail over focused deliberate training. Epstein believes

### What is Genius? Part IV - Grit

Thomas Edison once said "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." He is best known for the invention of the electric lightbulb, and had more than a thousand patents under his belt.  Edison wanted to convey that hard work and perseverance, more than anything, are needed for greatness.  These days I think of "perspiration" as grit.  Angela Duckworth, a best selling author and speaker, defines grit as  passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement.  It is not just hard work, but   toiling relentlessly on a passion you stay loyal to despite ups and downs.  Especially the downs. It was generally believed that grit is somewhat genetic, but we now know it is mostly an acquired trait.  Just like IQ tests, Duckworth created a grit scale , which computes a subject's passion and perseverance ratings before yielding a final grit score.  It is often easy to overlook the role of passion in shaping grit. Passion is what

### Book Review: The First 20 Hours - How to Learn Anything Fast

Continuous learning has been a cornerstone of my life.   Being an efficient learner is therefore important to me.  I often wonder about the best way to learn and end up "learning about learning" every so often.  No wonder I was naturally drawn to this book by best selling author, Josh Kaufman, given its catchy title. Kaufman first clears the air that devoting 20 hours of your life to something does not make your an expert in the field.  However, it allows you to become good enough and be confident in applying the skill being acquired.  He then distils his learning process into 10 steps: Identify a skill(s) that matters to you If multiple skills are desired, focus your energy on one skill at a time  Define a target level on "what is good enough" Deconstruct the skill into sub-skills  Ensure the right tools are available for learning Remove barriers to practice Make time to practice for at least 20 hours, preferably in regular intervals   Create fast feedback loops Pr

### Book Review: Outgrowing God

The year 2020 will certainly go down as a memorable one,  given our struggles to cope with a global pandemic.  When not out and about -- which was often -- I managed to pick up a great habit of reading at least 30 minutes every day.  This practice has given me relaxation, along with the joy of continually learning and gaining new insights to life.  Of numerous reads this year, I felt compelled to write a review on Outgrowing God , by Richard Dawkins.  If memory serves, I wrote a review on his earlier work, The God Delusion , back in 2009.  Indeed the two books have many similarities and it feels a bit deja vu to read his latest e-book.  Since taking a more leisurely stride in reading, no notes were taken along the way.  Relying on raw memory, Dawkins' key reasoning on why we do not need a god was:  Assuming the biblical recordings of Abrahamic God (in Judaism, Christianity and Islam) were largely accurate, and that itself is a big "if", the Almighty is simply too cruel,

### Book Review: Out of the Maze

It has been five years since my last post.  The 9 to 5 and life in generally have taken my attention elsewhere.  However, I still do my best to pick up the pen from time to time.  Although time is a luxury, I recently managed to squeeze in a quick read called Out of the Maze , by the famous author Spencer Johnson, who co-penned the bestseller  Who Moved My Cheese  some years ago. If Who Moved My Cheese challenges us to embrace change, then Out of the Maze tells us just how to do it.  While it is easier said than done for most people, the ideas preached are surprisingly easy to grasp. Some points may seem overly obvious but perhaps this is why so many overlook them.  The story of the mice, Hem and Haw, continue to take center stage in this sequel. A new star, Hope, joins the mix and becomes Hem's new companion in their quest to finding a new food supply.  The underlying message is to challenge our beliefs, especially those that are so deeply entrenched as facts in our mind.  We

### Book Review: Outliers: The Story of Success

A recent good read, which changed my perspective on what it takes to become a wild success in life. The  Outliers   is about how success is affected by external factors beyond individual characteristics. These factors include culture, social systems, even friends and families. Here are some highlights: The Matthew Effect  – Canadian professional hockey players are mostly born in the early months of a year because the age cutoff for tryouts is January 1st. These players when trying out during childhood, have months of physical development over their later-born counterparts. This is a huge advantage which gives successful candidates access to premium coaches and programmes for years, hence an ever increasing head-start eventually leading to professional careers. Similar patterns are found in Major League Baseball, English Premier League, among other sports leagues.  Even when it comes to school, kids born later in the year are at a slig

### Book Review: The World Without Us

Another great read called The World Without Us , this time on a best seller by Alan Weisman. This is a book that hypothesizes what would happen to Earth if mankind disappears overnight. It does not attempt to explain why and how humans can suddenly vanish.  Instead it tries to portray how cities and other man-made artifacts will collapse, in addition to how other lifeforms will adapt.  To illustrate its points, this piece utilizes vivid examples like the crumbling of New York City -- think Will Smith racing the red Camaro through a run-down and overgrown Times Square in  I Am Legend .  This publication has also inspired various TV series like  Life After People  on the History Channel.   Here are some interesting points: 1.    Our houses, built of the usual suspects (wood, clay, bricks), will fall easily to nature.  Their biggest enemy is water that seeps through the smallest cracks, thaws and freezes over time.  Although most roofs are waterproof, water can always find a way to rus

### Book Review: The God Delusion

Back in August, I wanted to do a deep dive on the origin of life. Well, my hectic 9 - 5 delayed this exercise by four months. Anyway, I started off by reading  The God Delusion , a bestseller written by the famous Richard Dawkins . This book not only defends atheism, but it goes so far as to attack the religious position. Here are some of the main principles explained: The God Hypothesis - Dawkins contends that if god really created life, then who created god in the first place? He goes on to remind us that the whole problem we started with was to explain the statistical improbability on the origin of life. Thus it makes no sense to take the god position because there is the larger problem of who designed the designer. In comparison, evolution by natural selection becomes a more probable and hence preferrable theory. Evolution of complex organs is possible - creationists argue that complex organs like the eye could not have evolved in a piecemeal fashion over time. This is be

### Book Review: A Brief History of Time

One of my favourite books is A Brief History of Time , written by Stephen Hawking. This book is famous like its author. Its wonder lies in the fact that the forefront of physics is portrayed in laymen's terms. Thus the theories behind quantum mechanics, relativity, black holes, time travel, and wormholes can all be comprehended by the average person. Every time I pick up this paperback, I feel humbled by the grandeur of our mysterious universe. Needless to say, the origin of the universe may just provide a clue to the birth of life. Of all the theories described in the book, I was most intrigued by Einstein's special theory of relativity. Before the dawn of the 20th Century, the Michelson-Morley experiment was conducted to substantiate the existence of a substance called "ether." Instead, it created a shock wave for the entire scientific community. Throughout the next twenty years, numerous futile attempts were made to explain the surprising results of the experime