Sunday, April 04, 2021

Think Again by Adam Grant

Think Again by Adam Grant is a solid book with the subtitle The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know. Grant is an organizational psychologist who I've written on three prior books by and in this he writes about the need to rethink, to question individual, interpersonal, and collective beliefs and opinions. 

About individual rethinking, Grant notes that it not the changing of one's mind that's important, but the considering whether to change one's mind. With this type of scientific thinking, we refuse to let our ideas become ideologies. We embrace uncertainty and doubt, search for reasons why we might be wrong, and are happy to be wrong as we have learned something new. The opposite of this approach is to be arrogant, which keeps you blind to the things you could do differently. Grant also covers how an important thing is someone’s time horizon. Rather than wanting to be right at a given point, people should want to be right eventually. 

In terms of interpersonal rethinking, Grant covers persuasive listening, asking how someone formed an opinion rather than why they have that opinion and acknowledging common ground in disagreements. He notes how it’s good in a debate to show that you're trying to figure things out, and rather than approaching a debate with a straw man, poking holes in the weakest side of the other person's argument, people should perhaps start with a steel man, considering the strongest version of their argument. Psychologists have found that the person most likely to change your mind is you so often the best thing to do is get people to ask the question of how they feel about something. If you simply try to convince someone of something, them rejecting your argument will likely just make them most steadfast in theirs. Motivational interviewing is just that, a discussion with someone where they’re talking through their point of view and you’re listening to them. Great listeners are interested in making their audiences feel smart, and by listening, you're offering your attention. 

About collective rethinking, Grant covers group polarization reinforcing the stereotypes someone has. It’s ok to have caveats and contingencies to your opinions and the best work is often going to come not at first, but after multiple drafts and iterations. Additionally, he notes that we shouldn’t be asking kids “what they want to be when they grow up.” Jobs are not who people are, and it's better to ask what people like to do. Kids will be more excited about doing science than being scientists. Also, it’s good to have regular checkups with yourself to determine if you're in the right spot with your career or life and if what your spend your time on is the best use of that time. This will be force you to ask the question, and to prevent you from asking it too frequently.

Grant tells stories well in the book, starting off with smokejumpers in 1949 in Mann Gulch, Montana as a wildfire fast approached, and how being stuck in thinking vs. open to something new made all the difference.

Last Call by Elon Green

 Last Call by Elon Green chronicles the Last Call Killer who preyed on gay men in New York in the '80s and '90s and the book tells the story of the men who were killed and of violence against the gay community. 

Last Call starts in 1991 during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Gay people during this time were being targeted with violence, and police often responding with apathy. Many did not report crimes against them as they didn’t believe the system would protect them and they didn’t want to be outed. If someone was arrested and prosecuted for violence against gays, there was a common defense, going back to the '60s, of "gay panic." Defendants charged with murder or assault would claim that the shock of finding out someone gay drove them to temporary insanity. AIDS then increased anti-queer violence and in New York City, incidents of violence against gay people grew by 83% between 1985 and 1986. 

Amid this backdrop that he describes in Last Call, Green writes of a body being discovered in trash barrels off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1991. The dead man was Peter Stickney Anderson of Philadelphia and he had been killed after visiting a gay piano bar, the Townhouse, in New York City. Then in 1992, the New Jersey State Police contacted Pennsylvania State Troopers after they found a body stuffed in garbage bags and put in a trash barrel by the side of the road. The dead man was Thomas Mulcahy of Sudbury, Massachusetts. He had been in New York on business and also visited the Townhouse. In 1993, two more bodies of gay men were found in garbage bags by the side of the road. Anthony Marrero was a sex worker in New York City who was found by a New Jersey road and Michael Sakara, a Manhattan resident who was a regular at the Five Oaks gay bar in New York was found in trash barrels outside the village of Haverstraw, New York. The gay community was angry that more not being done to solve these murders and a task force started with members of various police departments and then after no success was quietly disbanded. 

In 1999 the widow of Thomas Mulcahy retained a retired trooper to investigate the still unsolved murder of her husband and he and the widow contacted a member of the New Jersey State Police, Thomas Kuehn, who pledged to work on the cold case. In April of that year another New Jersey policeman watched a television show that noted a fingerprinting process called vacuum metal deposition, a way to lift hard to find prints off garbage bags. He told Kuehn about it, and Kuehn reached out to the Toronto Police Service as they had the technology to do this and said they would be willing to help. Kuehn and other members of a newly formed police task force sent to Toronto the garbage bags that Thomas Mulcahy and Michael Sakara were found in, and the evidence of the Mulcahy murder was in good condition, and prints lifted from the bags. Those prints were matched to Richard Rogers, a nurse living in Staten Island who in 1973 was arrested for the murder of his college roommate, Fred Spencer, and then acquitted. Then in 1988 he took someone home from a New York gay bar who accused Rogers of tying him up and drugging him, with Rogers in 1990 acquitted in court.

Rogers then was arrested after his prints found on the garbage bags and subsequent investigation into him and charged, tried, and convicted for the murders of Thomas Mulcahy and Anthony Marrero. He was not prosecuted for the murders of Peter Anderson and Michael Sakara, but evidence from their deaths was part of the trial and Rogers received two consecutive life terms. The book details the lives of the men and the gay community and how it treated and feels an important work.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal

Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal is a solid read subtitled New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World from the retired four-star U.S. General written with Dave Silverman, Chris Fussell, and Tantum Collins.

The book covers from when McChrystal in the Middle East in 2004 commanding the Joint Operations Task Force fighting Al Qaeda. Team of Teams notes early on how the Task Force had to evolve to match up with the terrorist group that was able to quickly shape shift as it lacked a standard hierarchy. McChrystal writes how the Task Force by 2008 transformed into a nimble and more effective organization, and his last assignment before his 2010 retirement from the military was as the four-star commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. 

The Task Force had to become more decentralized, with information freely shared and decisions able to be made quickly by many. McChrystal details how his forces had to take the characteristics of effective teams and then figure out how to create a team of teams, one with bonds between different teams. 

McChrystal details how something that had a large impact on creating this newly nimble organization where information shared freely was through the O&I, the Operations and Intelligence brief. He changed it from in 2003 being a small teleconference between a few different offices and bases to an important daily checkpoint and chance to share information. Investments were made in technology so it could be joined from around the globe and it given a strict schedule, occurring six days a week at 9:00AM EST and was never cancelled. The meeting acquired a daily rhythm, and McChrystal as the leader used it to model the behavior he wanted to see. To have people view the O&I as important, he had to demonstrate that he viewed it as important. He would always take the meeting in uniform against a plywood backdrop and writes in the book how he would stay focused, knowing that if he came across on camera as not engaged, that would signal to others they could do the same. Additionally, when someone would come onto the meeting to give an update, McChrystal would make a point of greeting people (often well below him in the hierarchy) by first name, and then thanking them after they finished and asking a question to reinforce that he was paying attention to their presentation. He avoided any type of sarcasm in the O&I, especially since it can be particularly damaging in a large meeting. 

A primary goal of the O&I was information sharing and by him sharing information with other teams that would join, it then led those teams to share. The meeting became the fusion of operations and intelligence that its name indicates and McChrystal writes that the positive consequences of liberal information sharing far outweighed the negatives. He also covers how they also had an embedding program, putting one person on a different team for six months, including taking field operators and putting them in intelligence roles, with those efforts leading to a more holistic understanding throughout the organization, people knowing what was going on. It was impossible for everyone to know everyone, but everyone needed to know someone on every team. Another term he used is shared consciousness, with it coming from strict, centralized forums for communication, extreme transparency, and the decentralization of managerial authority. Decision-making was pushed down the chain, no longer held at the top as once there shared consciousness throughout the org, decisions no longer need to be held for the top. The title of one of the later chapters of the book is Leading like a Gardener and McChrystal writes in it about that approach and fostering an environment for success. 

Also covered in Team of Teams is how systems need to be set up for adaptability, as what’s important is a structure, not a plan. You need to be able to adapt and not attached to procedure as procedures don't always work. He writes of commercial airline disasters caused in large part by pilots simply following procedure and not listening to other crew members. From these types of situations came Crew Resource Management in airline cockpits and McChrystal relates the positive stories of United Flight 232 in 1989 that had the plane's steering mechanism get destroyed in-flight and the crew working together to deal with the calamity and US Airways Flight 1549 that landed on the Hudson River in New York. Other stories in the book are about how Brigham and Women's Hospital treated victims of the Boston Marathon bombing and the SEAL snipers who saved Captain Phillips alongside the Maersk Alabama after the ship hijacked. It was a good book with compelling stories.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

A Shot in the Moonlight by Ben Montgomery

A Shot in the Moonlight by Ben Montgomery is an excellent book that recounts the story of George Dinning and has the subtitle How a Freed Slave and a Confederate Solider Fought for Justice in the Jim Crow South.

The book jacket notes how Dinning in 1897 became the first Black man in the South to beat a lynch mob in court. Dinning was from Southwestern Kentucky, near the Tennessee state line, and 10 years old in 1865 when slaves were declared to be free. The day was commemorated under the name The Eighth of August and the Ku Klux Klan then surfaced in December of that year. Dinning bought from his former slave owner David Dinning in 1877 the land on which he lived, paying off the debt by 1884. He built a house, had a farm, and raised a family. In January 1897 Dinning had 25 white men come to his house at night, wrongfully accuse him of stealing livestock and shooting at the house. Dinning returned fire and a white man in the group died. Dinning a day later turned himself into the Sheriff, and that day his wife and children were told by another mob of men to leave the property and it was then burned.

While Dinning was in custody, Kentucky Governor Bill Bradley was instrumental in keeping him alive. There was a long history of blacks being taken out of police custody and killed by white mobs so the Governor sent troops to Frankin to protect Dinning. Also, prior to his trial for murder, the Kentucky Senate passed an anti-lynching bill that was signed into law by the Governor. About halfway through the book, Montgomery introduces Colonel Bennett H. Young. He was a lawyer who was on the side of the South in the Civil War, robbing a bank in the town of St. Albans, Vermont to fund the war effort, and yet after it was over, he helped people of color. The jury in Dinning’s trial found him not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Public sentiment was that he shouldn't have been found guilty of anything and should be pardoned by the Governor. Bennett Young sent a telegram to the Governor urging a pardon, and then Bradley issued one, freeing Dinning two weeks after the verdict. 

Dinning moved with his family to Jeffersonville, Indiana and Young represented him in a suit against the men who came to his house that first night as well as those who came back when it burned down. It was the first time a black man brought suit for damages against a white mob and in Louisville in May 1899, Dinning was awarded $50,000, to be paid by the six men deemed most liable. This case paved the way for others in the South, including another by Dinning that was settled. Dinning changed his last name to Denning and grew old in Jeffersonville along with his wife Mollie, children, and grandchildren. The book closes with a man named  Anthony Denning, in 2019 in Jeffersonville where he grew up. His great-grandmother Mollie Denning died in 1944 close the age of eighty-nine and great-grandfather George died in 1930. 

It's a well-detailed and I'm sure thoroughly researched book that gives a solid telling of important events. Also, I thought excellent the bookends to the story, with the end having this mention of how the family legacy carried on, and in the beginning, Montgomery writing about the Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, which features a walkway through and under 800 coffin-sized steel boxes, each containing the name of an American county and the names of those lynched there, some 4,400 people.

Intangibles by Joan Ryan

Intangibles by Joan Ryan is a solid book subtitled Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry.

Ryan worked as a sports columnist in San Francisco and then as a media consultant with the Giants and the book centers around team chemistry in baseball. She makes the point that baseball would seem to be the sport where team chemistry the least important as the players are each completing tasks on their own, but there’s some fascinating stories she tells about team chemistry in the sport. Featured are the Giants of the late 1980s led by Roger Craig, with Mike Krukow, Dave Dravecky, Kevin Mitchell, and Will Clark, as well as later Giants teams with Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent.

In terms of the relationship with a coach, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is quoted as saying that players want to know three things about someone: Does he care about me? Can I trust him? Can he make me better? These ideas also are applicable to relationships between players. Ryan writes extensively about the bond that comes from having the back of your teammates, a principle that applies to soliders in combat, of course on a much more important level. Also, players will be more likely to come together and have team chemistry if they feel they’re a part of something important or in something together.  Also noted is oxytocin, which is released from the brain when someone has good feelings about something, and that people need to feel trusted and valued to have a team working effectively. 

Ryan writes as well about different personality types on a team, and how there's different types both needed and that can work together effectively. The best for team chemistry are super-carriers, with baseball nomad Jonny Gomes cited as an example of someone who actively cared about his teammates. There's also super-disruptors, and it's interesting to read of how Ryan describes Giants superstar Barry Bonds as not one. He wasn’t a great teammate in the super-carrier sense, but he performed on the field and his fairly aloof behavior didn’t negatively impact the team. Jeff Kent is cited as his teammate who was the same way, they weren’t personable with each other or their other teammates, but they both wanted to win, produced individually, and had each other's back when needed. The worst is the complainer looking for recruits. The second worst is the malingerer, the person who always needs to rest or is mildly hurt, not sacrificing. Seven archetypes that Ryan notes are the sparkplug, the sage, the kid, the enforcer, the buddy, the warrior, and the jester. Also, Warriors star Steph Curry is mentioned the rare super-carrier who has all seven archetypes.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Icebound by Andrea Pitzer

 Icebound by Andrea Pitzer is subtitled Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World and tells the story of sixteenth-century Dutch explorer William Barents and sixteen other men who on Barents' third polar exploration, lost their ship off the frozen coast of Nova Zembla, in what's now known as the Barents Sea. They spent the winter stranded and then the following summer set our to return to civilization, not on their still-stuck-in-the-ice vessel, but two small boats that would have to navigate icy and often frozen waters. 

The first trip taken by Barents north from Amsterdam was in 1594, with subsequent journeys each of the next two years. The idea behind the voyages was to discover a northern trade route to China, one hopefully via the "open polar sea" that many believed at the top of the world. On Barents' first trip, the boat he was on sailed north from Amsterdam and followed the Norwegian coastline to Russia, reaching the island of Nova Zembla hundreds of miles above the Russian mainland and farther north than any ship had ever reached from Europe. This initial voyage gave optimism for sailing past Nova Zembla and continuing on to the Far East. The second trip was designed to actually make it to China and establish trade. They ran into ice and turned back, believing they simply needed to time their departure better. It's remarkable that the ice he encountered on the first two voyages didn't make Barents more inclined to think about or prepare for ice on the third. 

The fateful voyage left in May 1596, with Barents the navigator and Jacob van Heemskerck the captain. They first went to Spitsbergen Island before continuing on to Nova Zembla, going over top of the island, reaching the Kara Sea. The boat got pinned in the ice late August, and remained stuck there, with little in the way of provisions for a winter stay. The men started framing a cabin on Nova Zembla, contending with the elements, polar bears, a lack of food, and crucially, a lack of vitamin C to head off scurvy. They moved into the cabin in mid-October, suffering terribly and surviving from trapping foxes, which not only provided food but amounts of the vitamin C the men desperately needed. Over the winter they had no sunlight at all, save for a false sunlight in late January, which came as the result of something that came to be known as the Novaya Zemlya effect, an inversion layer in polar regions that causes the sunlight to bend and refract above the horizon the sun actually sits below. The sun finally came out in late April and after having several crewmembers die on Nova Zembla, the men left on two small boats in mid-June 1957, leaving their ship behind.

They went back over top of Nova Zembla, staying close to the shore and going down to Vaigach Island just off the coast of Russia and Barents, who was one of the older members of the voyage, died shortly after they started back. The crew had many harrowing episodes working their way through ice, often having to bring the boats up onto solid ground to avoid being crushed in the ice. They also had to deal with polar bears stalking them and in late July came across their first encounter with civilization, in the form of two ships with Russian sailors. The Russians gave them some food and then after they separated, the two boats came across the spoon-wart plant, high in vitamin C and a tremendous help in combating their rampant scurvy. It was still very rough going as they continued on, but they came across additional Russian sailors, trading gold coins they had for provisions. They sailed across 160 miles of open water, landing at Kanin Nos, then reached Kildin Island late August and were told that Dutch ships were at Kola (near Murmansk, Russia). There they reunited with someone who had set out with them on his own ship the prior year, and who brought the remaining crew back to Amsterdam, where they recounted their remarkable tale of survival.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline is a follow-up to his 2011 debut novel Ready Player One that became a best-seller and was adapted into a 2018 Steven Spielberg movie.

Ready Player Two picks up where the first book left off, and as this review notes, it "trades the fun and wish fulfillment of its predecessor for a fundamentally flawed, inconsistent quest towards the singularity." 

The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley

 The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley is a very detailed book originally published in 1964, one which I became interested in from mention of Malcolm X in the book King of the World on Muhammad Ali. 

Malcolm X's autobiography traces his life, starting in Lansing, Michigan to then, shortly after he became a teenager, hustling in Boston and later New York City. He went to jail for robbery in his early 20s, and while incarcerated, was introduced to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and his Nation of Islam. Malcolm X started writing letters daily to Muhammad and also read voraciously over his seven years in prison.

After his release, Malcolm X began recruiting to get people to join the Nation of Islam, helped establish new temples, and became a minister himself. He became well known as he proselytized for the words of Muhammad and the idea of blacks needing to separate from whites. Eventually there grew to be a resentment of Malcolm X, a belief by some that his speaking of the Nation of Islam and teachings of Muhammad was actually about himself, and eventually Muhammad cast Malcolm X out of the Nation. 

This led to him going through a transformation, one where statements by Malcolm X on race changed and he set aside his prior preaching about racial separation and began to speak of how whites and blacks could live together. The story of Malcolm X feels an incomplete one, as there likely much more he would had added on the subject of race relations had he not been murdered by Nation of Islam members loyal to Elijah Muhammad.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Road From Raqqa by Jordan Ritter Conn

The Road from Raqqa by Jordan Ritter Conn is a compelling book on Riyad and Bashar Al-Kasem, brothers born in Raqqa, Syria and who remained close as their paths diverged. Riyad moved to the United States, eventually opening a restaurant outside Nashville, and Bashar stayed behind and later fled his war-torn Raqqa.

As Riyad became an adult, he felt the need to leave Syria and its despot leader, President Hafez al-Assad. He got the opportunity to come to the United States and landed in Los Angeles in 1990. It was interesting reading of how kind many strangers were to him and he married several years later, then became a U.S. citizen in 1996. After September 11, 2001, he encountered more racism then when he first arrived in the U.S., and eventually he and his family moved to her hometown of Hendersonville just outside Nashville. Riyad opened a restaurant, Cafe Rakka, that was featured on an October 2010 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and remains open today.

Bashar visited Riyad in America, coming to California just prior to 9/11, and then was effectively forced out of the country and back to Raqqa after being arrested for a minor immigration violation. Trouble came to Syria starting with the Arab Spring in 2011, with people protesting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, son of Hafez al-Assad. The protests moved beyond people wanting freedom from al-Assad to a situation with various factions coming into the country and fighting for power. Raqqa in 2013 fell to rebels, with eventually ISIS, known as Daesh in Raqqa, taking control of the city. Bashar and his family lived in fear of Daesh in the daytime, and in fear of the bombs dropped on the city by U.S.-backed coalition forces at nighttime. In 2015, he and his family fled Syria, first to Turkey, then took the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, eventually settling in Germany. Daesh was forced out of Raqqa by coalition troops in 2017, and the United Nations estimated 80% of the city uninhabitable. 

The book is a really good tale well-told, with it a sort of survival story about Riyad and Bashar, and also about immigration, war, refugees, and people's attitudes towards their fellow man, both in the U.S. and abroad. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

 A Promised Land by Barack Obama is a well-written book that covers a tremendous amount of ground. The book jacket includes mention of the reach and limits of presidential power, U.S. partisan politics, international diplomacy, the 2008 financial crisis, passage of the Affordable Care Act, and the raid that killed Bid Laden. The jacket then closes with how the book captures Obama’s conviction that democracy not a gift, but something founded on empathy and common understanding built together, day by day.

Obama notes how he wrote the first draft in longhand on legal pads. Related to this, it seems the work that went into his law degree likely helped shape his methodical approach to approaching problems by gathering information as well as honed his skills, first employed out of college as a lawyer and community organizer. He comes across as someone who is remarkable, but not someone that couldn’t be aspired to. He seems to care and put in the work, listening to viewpoints and trying to make the right decisions. He also mentions how the presidency a job, like those held by others, and our federal government a human enterprise. It was also interesting to read of how he describes Joe Biden, as someone decent, honest, loyal, and caring.

In writing about his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama covered the introduction of Sarah Palin as the Republican nomination for VP. He noted wondering if John McCain later regretted putting her on the ticket, helping further the political approach of criticism over understanding or knowledge, later morphing into the dangerous repudiation of truth and facts.

It's a good book and also includes mention of Obama's favorite photo from election night in 2008, a shot of people at the Lincoln Memorial listening on the radio to him give his speech at Grant Park in Chicago.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Walking Home by Lynn Schooler

Walking Home by Lynn Schooler is a compelling travelogue about the 2007 solo trek he took north from his hometown of Juneau, Alaska. He went via his single engine boat 170 miles from Juneau up to Lituya Bay and then by foot 60 miles up the wild and uninhabited coast towards Dry Bay and the Alsek River. 

Lituya Bay where Schooler first went is a fascinating area he notes as being treacherous to enter. Due to the tides, it can be like falling off a shelf as the water drops so precipitously between the open ocean and the Bay, and it’s easy to be thrown against a berm of rocks in the water. Schooler also writes about the 1958 8.3 magnitude earthquake in the region that triggered a rock slide at the end of Lituya Bay, causing a 1,720 foot high tsunami, the largest ever recorded. There were three boats in the Bay at the time of the tsunami, the Edrie piloted by Howard Ulrich with his son, the Sunmore with Orville and Mickey Wagner, and the Badger with Bill and Vivian Swanson. The Sunmore was lost and the other two boats made it. Schooler also tells the story of James Todd Huscroft, who arrived in Alaska in 1915 and several years later went to live in Lituya Bay as a hermit, welcoming visitors that would pass through in the summer months. Huscroft was sixty-four in 1936 when a 490-foot tsunami of unknown origin destroyed his garden, and he died three years later.

Leaving from Lituya Bay, Schooler trekked the coast over glacier rubble and river crossings requiring an inflatable boat he carried, enduring horrible weather rolling in from the Pacific, all with the knowledge that if he got hurt, there wasn’t a way to call for help. He went up past Cape Fairweather, crossed Grand Plateau Lake and then saw the first vestiges of where people had been somewhat recently, less than ten miles from Dry Bay, and decided to turn around for home. While walking back to Lituya Bay he came across a grizzly bear, spotting it standing perfectly still looking out to the ocean, behavior not normal for a grizzly, and then catching a scent of Schooler and walking walking at him, with almost a sideways gait. As it got within a few yards, it became clear that the bear had a deep cut over one eye, and stalked Schooler, who was told later by a biologist that the injured animal likely starving and had neurological damage. Schooler survived by making himself appearing large by raising his canopy up high and charged the bear, causing it to turn tail and run away. 

Along with the history of Lituya Bay, Schooler also writes about the Tlingit people that lived in the lands he traversed, and the book wraps up with him motoring the 170 miles back to Juneau, arriving the afternoon of the memorial for his friend Luisa Stoughton. It's an interesting travel story and well-told personal account.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Breath by James Nestor

Breath by James Nestor is an interesting book subtitled The New Science of a Lost Art. I came across Nestor from his book Free Divers and in this work he delves into the importance of breathing correctly, with his personal experience of how breathing incorrectly can impact health and how to do it better.

Breath through the nose - Nestor details the harm that came to his body from ten days of only mouth breathing, and then recovery after he switched to breathing in primarily through the nose. Problems stemming from mouth breathing include: sleep apnea, snoring, hypertension, cavities, periodontal disease, and bad breath. The book covers how many people have some form of breathing difficulty or resistance and focusing on breathing in through the nose can alleviate that. The nose cleans, heats, and moistens air for easier absorption. Nestor notes how forcing nose breathing at night can be accomplished by something as simple as a postage-sized piece of cloth medical tape over the center of the mouth.

Build lung capacity – Along with how we breath in air, the book covers the importance of building lung capacity, through both physical exercise and breathing exercises. A slow and full exhalation of air is important as we need to get stale air out, and big, heavy breaths deplete our bodies of carbon dioxide, something beneficial to us in balance with oxygen. Slower, longer breaths is noted as what should be done, with Nestor extolling the benefits of breathing in through the nose for 5.5 seconds and out (can be through the mouth) for 5.5 seconds, totaling up to 5.5 breaths a minute. Doing this as a daily breath practice is described as a sort meditation for people who don’t want to meditate, and something that can be developed into a breathing habit.

Breath less – Nestor covers how hypoventilation training, breathing less, something that's been done by world class athletes back to Czech running star Emil Zatopek in the 1950s. Exhaling very long breaths, trying to keep the lungs roughly half full, trains them to do more with less. Also, this helps maintain that balance of carbon dioxide to oxygen, and can be an effective thing to do for people suffering from respiratory diseases. 

Chew more – It’s detailed how in prehistoric times, people breathed better, in part because their brains were less developed so the sinus cavities more developed. Additionally, they subsisted on a raw diet that required much more chewing, which developed the jaw, allowing full breath. As people evolved, nasal congestion became more prevalent due to small sinuses, a lack of space through which to breathe. Nestor covers how something as simple as chewing gum (he notes the hard sugar-free gum Falim) can help develop the jaw. This along with breathing exercises can help alleviate nasal congestion and make breathing easier. 

Try advanced techniques – Nestor covers Breathing+ techniques like Tummo or over breathing, exhaling all your air out, then holding the breath, to jump-start how you breathe. 

There’s a number of interesting ideas in the book, with perhaps the most basic and effective that of breathing in (very importantly, through the nose) for 5.5 seconds and out 5.5 seconds, totaling up to 5.5 breaths a minute. 

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Pappyland by Wright Thompson

 Pappyland by Wright Thompson is an excellent book subtitled A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last. Thompson is a writer for ESPN whose work I've posted on many times and in the book he covers Julian Van Winkle III, maker of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Along with writing about the person who would become his friend in Van Winkle, Thompson writes about his own life and family, with both men from the South, Thompson raised and living in Mississippi and Van Winkle in Kentucky. 

Thompson details how Van Winkle's grandfather started in whiskey in 1893 with a job at W.L. Weller & Sons distillery. He then made Old Fitzgerald whiskey at Stitzel-Weller and Van Winkle's father took over the company in 1964. The whiskey business went through a decline and the Van Winkle family sold Stitzel-Weller in 1972. 

The family didn't leave the business entirely, with mention of Julian Van Winkle III's friend Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey helping him keep things afloat. Thompson notes how a conglomerate that owned old barrels of Van Winkle whiskey didn't realize their value and sold to Van Winkle a large amount of what would turn into widely acclaimed bourbon. Buffalo Trace then reached out and formed a partnership to jointly make Pappy Van Winkle Private Reserve. It's also covered in the book how bourbon has to be made. The ingredients, or mash bill, have to be least 51% corn, and beyond this, most bourbon makers use rye or barley, but Van Winkle uses wheat.

As Thompson tells the story of Van Winkle and his friendship with him, he also writes personal narrative about his own life. He covers living in the South with all the connotations that carries, his father who he wrote about in the ESPN piece Holy Ground, and the pending birth of his daughter. The book is a powerful read about fine bourbon, place, family, meaning, and myth. Related to myth, one part of the book that struck me was about how in Van Winkle, Thompson writes of someone with a tremendous amount of mythology associated, but that doesn't let it consume him and overshadow living and enjoying life with those dear to him.

No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer

No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer is an interesting book co-written by the founder and CEO of Netflix along with the author of The Culture MapNo Rules Rules is about how Netflix looks to have top performance with a culture of what the authors describe as "freedom and responsibility." It's detailed in the book that this is to come from three concepts that enable and build on one another.

1. Build up talent density The idea put forth in the book is to not have adequate performers in the company, but only exceptional ones, or "stunning colleagues." Part of the principle behind this is less than stunning employees will bring down the performance and morale of the rest of the team, and result in most of the management time required. Trying to have this talent density comes from both how hiring is done and how employees are managed. If someone not performing exceptionally, they may be let go and the authors describe Netflix as like a professional sports team, always seeking to have the very best in any role. The "keeper test" is that a manager should consider if they would fight to keep an employee if that person said they got an offer to leave. If they wouldn't fight hard to keep them, that person should probably be replaced. Tying into this, it's written that employees on a regular basis should ask their managers how hard they would fight to keep them. Around compensation, it's noted that Netflix for any creative role seeks to pay top of personal market, if the market for someone increases dramatically, the objective is to increase their salary dramatically. People are encouraged to take calls from recruiters, find out what they're being offered, and report that information back to Netflix so that people don't leave because of money they're worth, but not getting at Netflix. Additionally, Netflix doesn't pay bonuses, rather pays higher salaries, in part because as the business changes, what should be the bonus criteria can change as well. 

2. Increase candor It's detailed how to help improve performance within this talent-dense workforce, there's a focus on having employees having a high level of candor with one another. The idea is for people to say what they really think (with positive intent) and give candid and actionable feedback to people, feedback that can help the recipient and help the company. This should be done not just during performance review cycles, but frequently and in-person. Also, feedback provided to someone should take into account any regional differences in how feedback best delivered. Additionally, it's covered that feedback should go upwards in the management hierarchy as well as down and laterally. People are described as hired for their opinions, and part of their job is to provide them. The concept of "open the books" is put forth, being transparent and letting people know all the details of what's going on, including potential job losses due to restructuring and profit and loss information about the company that can only be released externally at certain times. 

3. Remove controls The third large concept from the book, one that certainly requires a high level of talent density to work, is to remove controls on things including vacations, expenses, and approvals. It's covered that the goal is to instill in managers the notion of leading with context, not control. Set the context of what good behavior is and if done effectively, people will model that behavior. Around expenses, the guideline described is "act in Netflix's best interest." Make sure there's decision-making freedom, just as how people were hired for their opinions, they were hired for their decision-making ability. It's noted that Netflix runs on the "informed captain" concept, people who spend the time on something are the ones who make the decisions on it, with the company designed to be loosely rather than tightly coupled and not have everything run top-down.

These three principles of increase talent density, increase candor, and remove controls are of course easier said that done, and it's interesting reading in the book of how Netflix is said to go about the effort.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Endurance by Alfred Lansing

 Endurance by Alfred Lansing from 1959 is a compelling book on the twenty-eight man Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Much of the material was from diaries written during the trip as well as interviews Lansing did with some of the men and it's great detail on an incredible story.

The goal of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic continent from east to west and it set out for the Pole from South Georgia Island, east of the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina, on board the Endurance in December 1914. The ship roughly a month into the expedition was locked in by ice in the Weddell Sea just outside the Antarctic Circle. Shackleton hoped that the ship would eventually break free and the Endurance and its crew drifted with the ice floes frozen around it. However, the ice began to crush the ship and the men abandoned ship in October 1915.

The crew took what provisions they could from the ship along with three small boats and drifted on the ice until April 1916. The ice pack they were on then began to break apart and the crew was forced onto the three boats and after several perilous days at sea landed on Elephant Island in the northern tip of Antarctica. 

Shackleton and several of his crew launched from Elephant Island April 24, 1916 for the 850-mile voyage back to South Georgia Island seeking rescue. The journey was exceedingly dangerous, both getting to the island and then safely landing on it, and they arrived on May 10, 522 days after leaving South Georgia. They then had to make a treacherous crossing over the top of the island, with Shackleton and two others walking into Stromness Whaling Station on May 21, 1916. The men there were familiar with the expedition and presumed all hands had been lost at sea, with it compelling reading in the book of Shackleton and his men walking from the center of South Georgia Island into the whaling encampment. The journey overland on South Georgia was the first recorded to have been done and Lansing notes that there wasn't another crossing of the island until almost 40 years later, and this done by expert climbers in proper gear.

Shackleton worked to secure a boat to return to Elephant Island to rescue the remaining crew and after several aborted attempts, picked them up on August 30, 1916. The book provides a great record of a remarkable battle to survive, with Shackleton and his men going from one almost impossible situation to another.