Sunday, December 10, 2017

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson was a solid book on someone with a remarkable range of interests, with Isaacson detailing well how da Vinci found his attention going in addition to art, to the fields of: anatomy, architecture, military engineering and weaponry, geology, birds, flying machines, canals and water flow, the playing and design of musical instruments, and putting on lavish extravaganzas at court.

Isaacson notes how da Vinci was certainly a genius, but also really worked to become that and chronicled his ideas in notebook form, with us today having some 7,200 pages available, perhaps a quarter of what he actually wrote. These notebooks are cited by Isaacson as the foundation of his book and one missive from the notebooks written of as an example of how wide-ranging were da Vinci's interests is his to-do list item to “describe the tongue of a woodpecker,” the output from which Isaacson has as the code of the book.

Isaacson writes of how he was very much an art for art’s sake person, one who preferred the conception of a piece of work to the execution of it, and continually tinkered with his creations, leaving much work unfinished, and kept the Mona Lisa with him till his death. The book details how da Vinci was basically self-taught, and how his painting used shading and blurry edges to show movement and dimension, and sculpture had twists and turns to accomplish the same dynamism. Isaacson writes of how da Vinci was just so curious about how things work and would doggedly pursue the answers, with the method to look carefully at things and separate out each detail. An example of this, which also aided in his artwork, was da Vinci's work in the field of anatomy, resulting in his incredibly precise writings about ratios in parts of the human body. Also, da Vinci worked hard at perspective in his art, keeping in mind people would view large works like The Last Supper from different vantage points.

In the conclusion to the book Isaacson notes da Vinci's ability to apply imagination to intellect and lists out what he views as lessons of Leonardo:

·         Be curious, relentlessly curious.
·         Seek knowledge for its own sake.
·         Retain a childlike sense of wonder.
·         Observe.
·         Start with the details.
·         See things unseen.
·         Go down rabbit holes.
·         Get distracted.
·         Respect facts.
·         Procrastinate.
·         Let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pursue perfection.
·         Think visually.
·         Avoid silos.
·         Let your reach exceed your grasp.
·         Indulge fantasy.
·         Create for yourself, not just for patrons.
·         Collaborate.
·         Make lists.
·         Take notes, on paper.
·         Be open to mystery.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz was a fairly interesting book on a fascinating topic.

The title is in reference to the work of Stephens-Davidowitz as an internet researcher and how what people do in searches more representative of them than what they say about themselves and the introduction includes mention of Google Trends, a tool that notes how frequently a word has been searched for in different locations and at different times. Also, the author writes quite a bit about large data sets, and how they enable someone to be very specific in pinpointing data with particular characteristics, and yet have that data set large enough to still be statistically significant. Also noted about big data sets is the curse of dimensionality, with enough data points, you’re going to get statistical outliers.

One thing I particularly liked from the book was mention of the doppelgänger concept that I've written about a couple of times, and how, given a large enough set of people, you should be able find someone similar to you, your doppelgänger. This idea is noted as working in medicine as well, an example being the site PatientsLikeMe. There's also quite a bit in the book about A/B testing and how data can take the form of words, with particular words used telling a particular story, such as how data can reveal usage in print of "the United States is..." vs "the United States are..." through time after the Civil War.

Another things that stood out to me was mention of how New Data is great in fields where there’s incomplete or outmoded ways and types of data. It's noted how the field of finance advanced enough that there's not much room for innovation, but in opposition to this, the story of Jeff Sedar, champion racehorse evaluator is told. He helped identify future triple crown winner American Pharoah based on the enlarged size of the left ventricle of the heart, with that as a predictor of success, assuming no contradictory data points.

The book brought to mind for me others I found compelling on similar topics and while it not one of my favorites in the area, it was an interesting and fast read.

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown was a solid book, with the subtitle referring to a Maya Angelou quote about belonging no place. Brown writes of how she at first disagreed with the idea, then later understood it as saying that belonging is when you show up as yourself, and as a result, you belong explicitly to yourself. It can be difficult to stand alone in the wilderness, but it's being true to your beliefs.

Brown notes towards the beginning of the book not feeling she belonged as part of her family growing up, the worst type of being an outsider, and goes on to write about four elements of true belonging:

1. People are hard to hate up close. Move in.
2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
3. Hold hands. With strangers.
4. Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.

In illustrating her third point, Brown tells the story of her driving in Houston and cars pulling to the side with news of the shuttle Challenger explosion. To the fourth point, she notes how strong back, soft front is a Buddhist principle, and back to the overarching idea of belonging, she covers how people should stop looking for confirmation they don't below, and to be aware of the difference between fitting in and true belonging.

Brown is a good writer and at the end of the book makes mention of additional writing being available on her website.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Paul and Me by A.E. Hotchner

Paul and Me by A.E. Hotchner was a really enjoyable to read book subtitled 53 Years of Adventures and Misadventures with My Pal Paul Newman.

The story of the two men could be described as a yarn, romp, or celebration of lives that Hotchner and his close friend lived in full. Newman's experiences as a champion race car driver and prolific actor are certainly chronicled, including how Slap Shot his favorite movie to make and the hijinks that Newman got into during it's filming, but the book focuses even more on the adventures of the two together.

Roughly half the book covers their charitable endeavors, which were just as gamely and entertainingly pursued as their leisurely pursuits, and it was great reading of how Newman used his celebrity for such good, both in the money he gave away and in the cache his name and personal involvement carried in getting things accomplished in the important causes he cared about.

Newman’s Own salad dressing was started as a lark in the barn and the two men fairly early on decided to have all profits go to charity, with when the book published in 2010, some $300M had been donated. Additionally, Newman came up with the idea for the Hole in the Wall Gang summer camps for critically ill children and the he and Hotchner made the camp a reality, and a model that's been copied by other camps worldwide.

Also covered in the book are the end of camp season galas that over a period of 18 years raised an additional $11M for charity, and the book a wonderful tale of great things done by the two, with the legacy carrying on after Newman's 2008 death, and Hotchner now at the age of 97.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson was close to the tenth book I've read from Bryson and certainly the longest, with at many times throughout the read my attention waning a bit.

The chapter I liked the most was the third, titled The Reverend Evan’s Universe about an amateur stargazer in Australia who looks for supernovae, or dying stars that collapse and then explode. What appealed to me about this particular section was the science blended together with a very human story, and Bryson writes stories of both adventure and people different than most exceptionally well.

Also interesting to me from the book was chapter thirteen, Bang, about an asteroid about a mile and a half wide that hit several million years ago where Manson, Iowa is, with the event known as the Manson impact. Bryson notes the passage of time filling the crater in and leading to a flat ground, something that makes entertaining how the impact attempted to be monetized in the area.

A Short History of Nearly Everything can be a slog at times, but Bryson's voice definitely comes through in the writing and gives the sense that he enjoyed learning about what he covers in the book.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone was really a good book about Elizebeth Friedman, whose code breaking exploits on behalf of the US government began in WWI, continued during Prohibition where she helped capture smugglers, and through WWII with her instrumental in the breaking of Nazi spy rings in South America.

Fagone details how Friedman started in code breaking through a fairly remarkable turn of events, with her just out of college in 1916 meeting in Chicago a wealth eccentric named George Fabyan and taking a job at his Riverbank Laboratories investigating the works of William Shakespeare and whether it was really Francis Bacon who wrote them. While at Riverbank, she met William, her future husband and fellow acclaimed code breaker, and WWI began with the US brought into the war out of an intercepted message from the German Foreign Minister proposing an alliance between Germany and Mexico. William and Elizebeth began working at Riverbank for the military and for the first eight months of the war, they and their team did all the code breaking for every part of the government, with the two of them largely founding the field of cryptology, or looking to break the ciphers people used in sending coded messages.

Williams and Elizebeth married in 1917 during the war, left Riverbank in 1920, began raising two children, and continued working for the government, with Elizebeth largely focused on smugglers, and William eventually having his work revolve around decoding Japanese messages, and starting to show signs of depression and mental illness, brought on in part by the stress of his work. WWII began in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and there was almost immediately a great concern by the US government about Nazi influence in South America and Elizebeth between 1940-1945 combated German clandestine spy efforts to get a hold on the continent. William continued breaking Japanese codes, suffered a mental breakdown in early 1941 and was never really the same after, and in December 1941, the US declared war on Japan After Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on the US three days later.

Elizebeth was working on solving a next generation Enigma at the same time as British code breakers, cracked the machine and learned that Germany and Argentina were secretly working together, with her efforts helping force Argentina to split with Germany and greatly weaken them in South America. In addition to finding the information that would break spy rings in South America, Elizebeth also intercepted messages indicating German U-boats were targeted the RMS Queen Mary carrying 8,398 US servicemen and her intelligence was provided to the ship captain who evaded a U-boat laying in wait.

Elizebeth was part of the Coast Guard, but her work secret and J Edgar Hoover and his FBI would often take credit for her accomplishments, with another result of this that William for decades was solely noted as the force behind code breaking, and credited with the birth of the NSA, the part of the government that works in signal intelligence. Eventually Elizebeth began to receive more recognition for her work and William died in 1969 at the age of  78 and Elizebeth in 1980 at 88.

I found interesting from Fagone how the book came out of him finding a trove of Elizebeth Friedman letters in a library and previously enjoyed Fagone's book, Ingenious, and liked this even more, with both having excellent writing, and this one something that for myself was a more compelling topic with it being about a remarkable historical figure.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson was a solid read first of interest to me when I saw one of the blurbs on the back jacket written by Derek Sivers, author of the excellent Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur, and I enjoyed quite a bit the book from Manson, with some of the things that resonated with me noted below:

From Chapter 1 titled Don’t Try - The world wants you to care about everything, real success is only caring about the important things. Also, you shouldn’t spend too much energy thinking about what you don’t have.

From Chapter 2 titled Happiness is a Problem - A principle of the Buddha is that pain and loss are inevitable, one should let go of trying to resist them. Additionally from this chapter is to not hope for a life without problems, but try to have good problems, and happiness is from solving problems, along with the notion that who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.

From Chapter 3 titled You Are Not Special - Entitlement is a failed strategy and people should try to resist the tyranny of exceptionalism.

From Chapter 4 titled The Value of Suffering - We decide what our values are, either for better or worse.

From Chapter 5 titled You Are Always Choosing - It’s not always your fault when bad things happen, but you’re responsible for how you feel about and react to things.

From Chapter 6 titled You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I) - Growth is iterative, don’t try to be right about everything, just try to be a little less wrong tomorrow, and admit when you’re wrong.

From Chapter 7 titled Failure is the Way Forward - Don’t just sit there, do... anything.

From Chapter 8 titled The Importance of Saying No - When you choose a value for yourself, you reject alternate values. Also settling down into a life by definition means you’re rejecting alternate lives.

From Chapter 9 titled ... And Then You Die - Was about the death of his friend Josh in their late teens and noted that since we’re all going to die, you may as well do something and be productive.

Really a good book and additional writing from Manson can be found on his website.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was a lyrically written and excellent book from a geochemist, geobiologist, and professor who studies trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Jahren writes in the beginning how she grew up the daughter of a scientist in small town Minnesota, 100 miles from Minneapolis and how science appealed to her when young, with it being so much about doing and working with things.

The book is about science and Jahren's love of it, but even more so, it's about her life and a friendship and work partnership that she formed while still a graduate student. There's great tales of she and her colleague Bill acting as co-conspirators in life and work, and traveling the world, with after meeting at Berkeley, stops in Atlanta, Baltimore, the Arctic, Norway, and Hawaii. In many ways, the book is like a traveling road trip story featuring two people on the same wavelength, both in how they interacted with each other and with students, teaching them to get into the muck and dive into their work. Jahren describes her work partner as being someone eclectic, loyal, and interesting, and it's really compelling reading on him.

In relation to herself, Jahren writes of how she suffered from anxiety, mania, and debilitating depression and how after meeting her future husband, marrying, and becoming pregnant, how difficult it was to be off medication early in the pregnancy and she notes how a bipolar woman seven times more likely to have an episode while pregnant as when not.

Jahren also details how when her son was about to start school, she and her family moved to Europe for a year, and recounts the story of her partner in crime Bill coming to visit, with him on the heels of dealing with having his elderly father die. It's just a really great story of friendship and Jahren at the end writes of both her family and Bill having moved to Hawaii and she saying goodnight to her son, writing of it with the memorable phrase that "raising a child is essentially one long, slow agony of letting go" and then leaving for the lab to work with Bill, where she'll "use the other half of her heart."

Two additional things I enjoyed from the book were how Jahren uses one of my favorite words in doppelganger, and in the epilogue has an encouragement for people to plant a tree a year, perhaps an oak or something of a similar solid ilk.

The Best Team Money Can Buy from Molly Knight

The Best Team Money Can Buy from Molly Knight was a good read subtitled The Los Angeles Dodgers Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse.

The book was published in 2015 and covers the events leading up to the 2012 sale of the Dodgers by Frank McCourt to The Guggenheim Partners led by Mark Walter and then heavily focuses on the 2013 season and a bit on the 2014 campaign and it's aftermath.

Knight starts things off with a story of her going in January 2014 to Clayton Kershaw's Dallas-area home and being there when news broke of his seven year $215M contract extension with the Dodgers, and then after this, she begins the main part of the book by chronicling the dysfunction of the team under Frank and Jaime McCourt prior to their divorce that ultimately forced the sale of the team. She covers the mega-trade towards the end of the 2012 season for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox, and details well the following season and it's key contributors, including manager Don Mattingly, along with players Zack Greinke, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Kenley Jansen, Gonzalez, and especially Kershaw and Yasiel Puig.

It's a solid book about interesting characters, but suffers the fate that many sports books do in both aging quickly, and not having the most compelling finish possible, with a comparison being the Tom Verducci book The Cubs Way that was published in the offseason following Chicago's historic 2016 World Championship.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer was a interesting non-fiction tale of history and danger about the preservation of historical manuscripts in the African country of Mali.

The book centers on Abdel Kader Haidara, who followed in the footsteps of his father, a scholar and Islamic judicial authority who died in 1981 when Haidara was seventeen. He was named in his father's will as the custodian of the family library, and starting in 1985, worked on behalf of the Ahmed Baba Institute, purchasing manuscripts from people who had them in their homes and attempting to preserve and protect the precious documents against termites and the ravages of time. The manuscripts dated back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and contained African history, logic, astrology, music, medicine, and notions celebrating both humanity and religion.

Hammer wrote of how he in 2006 wrote a piece for the Smithsonian Magazine on Haidara and his efforts and at the time, the author saw the beginnings of Islamic fundamentalism in the area. The book covers how unrest in the region started to intensify in 2011 and in early 2012, Tuareg rebels took control of Timbuktu and instituted a harsh brand of Islamic governing with whippings and other atrocities. Islamist jihadis then took out the Tuaregs in July and put in place Shariah law and even more draconian measures including amputations, firing squads, and stonings as punishment for acts they deemed wrong.

With these extremists in power and trumpeting their interpretation of Islam as rejecting some of what the manuscripts contained, Haidara feared the documents could be destroyed for representing ideas counter to their notion of Islam and in the summer to fall of 2012 evacuated 270,000 of the 377,000 manuscripts in Timbuktu. The extremists grip on the region became tenuous as international pressure mounted and the French launched an offensive against the jihadis in early 2013. Of the roughly 100,000 manuscripts remaining hidden in Timbuktu, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fighters found and destroyed 4,000 of them, confirming to Haidara the importance of getting them out of the area and Haidara had the remaining documents go down the Niger River to safety. The French then defeated the jihadis in March 2013, taking back Mali.

While the book a story of a dangerous venture by Haidara successfully achieved, it's very much a historical read about what seems a horrible place to be, including the possibility of kidnapping of westerners for ransom money, and atrocities in the name of a view of a religion, with Hammer noting a terrorist attack at a Mali Radisson hotel in November 2015 that left nineteen dead. It's an informative and very interesting book, but also one that feels to portray that area of the world as one to avoid.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart by Mark Epstein

Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness by Mark Epstein was a book I heard about from 10% Happier by Dan Harris, with Epstein written of as one of the people who got Harris interested in the practice of meditation.

The title of Epstein's book refers to it being ok for for things to go wrong, just those things don't then have to become worse than they are. If bad events happen, they happen, if someone sad or feeling empty, it's not awful for them to feel that way and the toxic part isn't typically the situation, but the reaction to it.

Epstein writes of how "happiness comes from letting go," which reminds me of Harris describing meditating as looking dispassionately upon one's situation and feelings. Related to this, another idea from Epstein is how people can often get so caught up in their emotional reaction to a situation they become paralyzed, one approach would be for someone to look past the current spot and at the next thing to come. Additionally, Epstein touched on something Harris noted, meditation doesn't have to involve sitting quietly by oneself in a room, however it occurs, meditation is about being explicitly aware of surroundings and feelings, not overwhelmed by them, but aware.

The book definitely didn't feel as entertaining as 10% Happier, but was a quick read and had some interesting concepts to it.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

10% Happier by Dan Harris

10% Happier by Dan Harris was a really interesting book about meditation, with Harris telling his story of starting down the path towards trying it after being a news reporter suffering from anxiety and having a panic attack while on air at CBS's Good Morning America.  He recounts how he went to a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with depression, and Harris then was introduced to Mark Epstein, a writer, Buddhist, and psychiatrist who extolled to Harris the benefits of meditation.

Harris writes in the book how meditation is about mindfulness, defeating the negative voice in your head and people shouldn't over-dramatize meditation or the practice of meditating. He notes describing to others his goal in meditating to be 10% happier, and the time required simply five minutes a day, if more spent, that's great, if not, that's ok as well.

In terms of actual practice, meditation is described as sitting comfortably and just feeling your breath, when your attention wanders from it, forgive yourself and just return to focusing on the breath. It's about being in the present moment, not letting yourself be consumed by thoughts of the past or future, and viewing things with a remove, simply observing things as they are rather than having a huge emotional response to them.

Harris also writes in the book about attending a ten-day silent retreat in Marin County led by Joseph Goldstein. The first five days were difficult for him, and then after being encouraged to not struggle, or worry about the struggle so much, he had a breakthrough of sorts, not necessarily enlightenment, but something where he could see the benefit of being there. Several of the things that he noted as having taken from the retreat and speakers there were to ask "is this useful?" about a potential reaction of his to an problem or stressful situation and to respond to said difficult situation with the steps of (A) recognize it, (B) allow yourself to lean into it, (C) investigate your reaction to it, and (D) have a non-identification or non-emotional response to it. Additionally, Harris noted having learned from the retreat the practice of metta meditation, the directing positive thoughts towards another person, for instance with thinking about them and mentally wishing "may you be happy, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you live with ease" towards the person.

Towards the end of the book Harris writes more about others and the notion of having positive interactions with people and acknowledging their humanity, through things as simple as having a practice of making eye contact and smiling towards those he passes. Also noted is the idea of keeping in mind the question of "what matters most?" when considering a response to situations.

The book had a lot of interesting material and the writing of Mark Epstein seems a good place to go for someone wanting to learn more about meditation.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche

The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche was a fast and entertaining read with the subtitle A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime.

The book was published in 2004 and included as it's last chapter a feature (or slightly updated version of a feature) Langewiesche did for Vanity Fair in 2000 with "The Shipbreakers" on the largely manual tearing apart of ships in India. Additionally, The Outlaw Sea brought to mind a great 2014 story from Langewiesche titled "Salvage Beast" on Nick Sloane, a man whose business to board and attempt to either save or salvage the cargo from ships in distress.

One of the stories told in The Outlaw Law that stood out as particular interesting was on the 1994 sinking of the Baltic ferry The Estonia and how the people who had the best chance of survival just went, they didn't delay and took control of their fate, "they started early and moved fast, the mere act of getting dressed was enough to condemn people to death."

Langewiesche is an excellent writer whose work feels to be very much worthy of seeking out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Algorithms to Live By from Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

Algorithms to Live By from Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths was an interesting book with the subtitle The Computer Science of Human Decisions.

Christian and Griffiths note in the introduction that human algorithm design is about "searching for better solutions to the challenges people encounter every day" and while they cover quite a bit of additional ground, below are the concepts from the book that resonated the most with me...

Optimal stopping - if someone looking to decide on something, whether it be a job, an apartment, or a spouse, the right amount of time (whether measured in actual time or in options looked at) is 37%. Once they've looked at 37% of the choices, or for that percentage of the time allocated to searching, the right course of action is to then choose the best option come across. This percentage is noted in the book as also applying in a different way... by taking this approach, someone has a 37% chance of making the best choice, and as they continue searching past this in time elapsed or options viewed, their odds of getting the best choice don't deviate much from 37%. Also interesting in this chapter was mention of looking for parking and how one expert notes that parking occupancy ideally should be at 85%, and when parking occupancy goes from 90% to 95%, it doubles the amount of search time for a spot.

Explore / exploit - when early in something, someone should explore alternatives, when settled in, they should exploit what they know they like.

Sorting / searching - in many cases it's easier to just search rather than spend the time on sort.

Caching - the thing most likely to be looked for is the last thing used, thus it's best to cache that recently used thing so it's easily and quickly accessible.

Constraint relaxation - if someone vexed by a difficult and complex problem, they should take away some of the complexity and solve the problem they wish existed, then they've got something to work with and could add back in complexity.

Computational kindness - people prefer receiving a constrained problem, it's better to make a suggestion than to simply say to someone that whatever they want to do is fine.

Algorithms to Live By was a weighty read at times and I found some sections to grab my attention much more than others, but it definitely had some interesting concepts to it for someone willing to spend the time.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Make Your Bed by William McRaven

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World by William McRaven was a very short (about an hour to read) book from the retired U.S. Navy Admiral and written out of a 2014 commencement speech on ten principles he learned in Navy Seal training...

1. Start your day with a task completed.
2. You can't go it alone.
3. Only the size of your heart matters.
4. Life's not fair - drive on.
5. Failure can make you stronger.
6. You must dare greatly.
7. Stand up to the bullies.
8. Rise to the occasion.
9. Give people hope.
10. Never, ever quit.

The principles that resonated with me the most were the first, fourth, and tenth, with the tenth a fairly obvious one as to why it's important and first about starting your day with an accomplishment, something that can be built upon or even if nothing else goes right, something that got done out of the day.

The fourth principle about life not being fair was memorable with it's mention of how Navy drill instructors in San Diego would have people run from the beach to the water and get soaked, then roll in sand, and spend the rest of their training day as a "sugar cookie," caked in sand and extremely uncomfortable. What's key is that this directive was done sometimes as punishment for a mistake, and sometimes just because, to teach the valuable lesson that life's not always fair, you have to accept that and continue moving forward. Even if nothing else was of value from the book, this idea alone an important one.

Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant was a really good, and somewhat gutting to read book. Written by the Facebook COO, Sandberg, and psychology professor, Grant, Option B has Grant's research into resiliency along with Sandberg's story about life since the death of her husband and father of two children, Dave Goldberg.

The main premise from the title is that if in any situation, the preferred option A not available, someone has to make the most out of option B, they basically have no choice but to move forward, and the option B idea was quoted by Sandberg in a Facebook post 30 days after Goldberg's death.

One concept that was particularly of interest to me from the book was attributed to psychologist Martin Seligman with how three P's can stunt recovery: Personalization - the belief that we're at fault in our calamities, Pervasiveness - the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life, and Permanence - the belief that the effects of a horrible event will last forever. Additionally, below are the chapter titles, along with ideas that struck me from each.

Chapter 1 - Breathing again... includes how children are uniquely resilient and can move forward to be happy after a tragedy.

Chapter 2 - Kicking the elephant out of the room, acknowledge it... includes how when interacting with someone who has suffered tragedy it can be good rather than to ask "how are you?" to ask "how are you, today?"

Chapter 3 - The platinum role of friendship... includes the importance of being willing to be there for others.

Chapter 4 - Self-compassion and self-confidence... includes how writing helped Sandberg through some of the toughest times.

Chapter 5 - Bouncing forward... includes how there can be growth from tragedy, and that someone's death does not have to be the end of their story.

Chapter 6 - Taking back joy... includes the need for a focus on others, having happiness for them and with them.

Chapter 7 - Raising resilient kids... includes four core beliefs that help kids be resilient: that they have some control over their lives, they can learn from failure, they matter as human beings, and they have real strengths to rely on and share. Also notes how nostalgia can and should be a pleasant state of mind.

Chapter 8 - Finding strength together

Chapter 9 - Failing and learning at work

Chapter 10 - To love and laugh again

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fly by Wire by William Langewiesche

Fly by Wire by William Langewiesche was an excellent book about the landing by Captain Sully Sullenberger of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York January 15, 2009.

I've previously posted about a couple of great stories for Vanity Fair done by Langewiesche and in Fly by Wire he covers multiple topics pertaining to the successful landing of the Airbus A320 after it hit a flock of Canada geese and had both engines fail. There's interesting material on the history of the industry and airplane accidents as well as near accidents, especially those involving gliding without engine power as Sullenberger did. Referenced was a 20-minute, 34,500-foot, 90-mile glide over the Pacific in August 2001 with Captain Robert Piche in command after his airplane sprung a fuel leak and ran out.

Langewiesche recounts Sullenberger's three minute and twenty one second glide to the Hudson landing, and how it successful due to both Sullenberger's skill and fly-by-wire system the airplane operated with. Fly-by-wire is the working together of electrical control circuits and digital computers and detailed in the book is how the modern jetliner started with Bernard Ziegler building on behalf of Airbus in Europe a commercial airplane not for the top 10% of pilots like Sullenberger appears to be, but for the other 90%. The A320 is designed with flight envelope protections so that it will stop itself from doing things deemed beyond the limits of what it should and these systems were still fully functional after the bird strike killed power to the engines, making the landing on the Hudson one where Sullenberger made the right decisions and the flight control systems executed them, with keeping the airline positioned correctly all the way to the water landing.

The parts of the book about the modern commercial jet were interesting and the flight and rescue compelling, with stories of communication with air traffic control and passenger heroics, including the father of five who held someone else's baby for the crash. The plane was then in the water for four minutes until the first small ferries and rescue boats arrived, eventually getting all 150 passengers and 5 crew members off without a single fatality.

Really a well written book by Langewiesche on a fascinating topic.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbbar

Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a good book about Abdul-Jabbar's long friendship with and admiration of John Wooden. Covered is Wooden recruiting the high-school phenom Lew Alcindor to UCLA, their four years together there and the challenges Alcindor faced due to his race, his conversion to Islam at 24-years-old and taking the Abdul-Jabbar name, and the ongoing friendship between the two men until Wooden's death in 2010 at 99-years-old.

I've long admired Wooden, have posted on him and writing about him a number of times, and enjoyed quite a bit the stories from Abdul-Jabbar about Wooden. These included how with basketball he was about preparation and practice, controlling what you can control, and with people he always tried to see the best in them, despite any evidence to the contrary. One anecdote in the book I particularly liked had Wooden talking to Abdul-Jabbar about his love of westerns because of the clear good guy and bad guy, with the good guy always doing the right thing. Kareem noted how that's not realistic, to which Wooden agreed that it's not, but could be.

I also was struck by Abdul-Jabbar's story about the photo on the back cover of the book, with Abdul-Jabbar helping Wooden walk across the court at Pauley Pavilion in 2007 and feeling proud to be there for him.

The book is a nice read about both men and includes quotes from Wooden at the beginning of each chapter:

"A coach' primary function should not be to make better players, but to make better people."

"A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment."

"Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"

"You can do more good by being good than any other way."

"Things work out best for people who make the best of the way things work out."

"Friendship is two-sided. It isn't a friend a friend just because someone's doing nice things for you. That's a nice person. There's friendship when you do for each other. It's like marriage, it's two-sided."

"Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Anything You Want by Derek Sivers was a solid book that took less than two hours to read and features the subtitle 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur.

Sivers in the book tells his story of starting the online music store CD Baby in 1998 and the things I took away seemed to fall into two primary areas, customer focus and how to run your business (with these ideas also applicable to someone simply doing work).

In terms of customer focus, Sivers early on notes how he started the business to sell his own music, then agreed to sell through the site music from others who also didn't have distribution deals with major companies, and that became his focus. With this, his two customer bases were musicians selling through his site and people who would purchase CDs on it. Several of the concepts that stood out the most to me from Sivers around customer focus were the following...


1. Be transparent - Sivers covers how purchasers and musicians whose music he selling deserved to know what was going on with the business that existed because of them.

2. Make your decisions be about your customers - with this notion of how choices should be guided, Sivers makes mention of both having the business remain operational and when it should expand. In terms of a business overall, Sivers notes that if your business there to solve a customer problem and that problem goes away, your business should either stop or change. About expansion, Sivers writes that your customer doesn't care if you expand so your decision of whether to do so should be driven by how it could serve customers, either existing or new. Part of this serving of customers and expansion is you should be prepared to get larger, if you do want to grow a customer base, you have to have the business be prepared to handle those new customers, and not have service degrade as a result of the increased volume.

3. Pay close attention to how you deal with people - Sivers covers how you should recognize that those you deal with are people like you, and treat them as such. This matters whether in a room with someone, on the phone, or communicating in any form, including electronically. Also on this subject of working with people is the idea of little things that can thrill customers or just make them happy. Sivers recounts the story of an email he wrote to go out to each customer at time of CD shipment... with it a humorous message about employees carrying the CD on a pillow and then shipping via private jet, something to bring a smile to customers' faces. Additionally, Sivers noted adding to the website store a countdown clock to when the last FedEx shipment of the day is and simply having employees quickly picking up the phone when someone calls.

Sivers in the book also very much wrote about how you run your business, with below the things that stood out to me...

Don't be a slave to a plan - Sivers write of how in many cases, you should just start doing something, you don't need a war chest of money or a full end-to-end plan, if you have an idea, start it, then you can see where it goes. Additionally, he notes the importance of being willing to change course and quotes entrepreneur Steve Blake as saying "no business plan survives first contact with customers."

Know what things are important to you - Sivers covered in the book the idea of being, not having, and to have a firm view of what makes you happy. He states that for him, it was creating useful things that benefited others, and that those things require his creative input to come about.

Think about how you decide what you do - this general topic is covered a few different ways in the book. One is that you should do the things you want to do. Sivers notes how your response to whether you want to do something should be either "hell yeah," or "no," as we're all busy and if your response to whether you want to do something simply a tepid "yes," it's better to say "no." Additionally, Sivers writes of how you especially if you're in a position of being able to do so, you should do the things you're good at and want to do, and have others do the rest if they're good at them and want to do them. He notes how CEOs don't necessarily have to be the high-powered-meeting people, if they want to spend their time on something else and can do so, they should. The last thing to mention from the book on this topic of decisions and involvement is around delegation as Sivers recounts the story of having situations come up that would require a decision of how to respond, coming up with the answer, then having a staff meeting to explain the situation and response that should occur, asking  someone to write it up in a manual, and letting people know they can follow that guide.

It was a really interesting book from Sivers and at the end of it he notes how if people like, they should feel free to reach out to him via his website to ask questions, share any stories, or just say hello.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg was a really interesting book that I picked up after previously reading and writing about Smarter Faster Better also from Duhigg.

The Power of Habit covers how habits are a powerful driver of automatic behavior, and contains a few different concepts from Duhigg that stood out to me... with underneath those, stories from the book used to illustrate them:

1. Habits follow the principle of (A) cue, (B) response, and then (C) reward.
2. Habits can be changed by replacing them with new ones.
3. Making one habit change, if it a keystone habit, can lead to other changes.
4. Belief that a habit can take hold is essential to the success of that.
5. Organizational habits can form in the same manner as individual habits.
6. People respond to familiarity, both in what they like and habits they form.
7. Habits form best when there's a social tie that helps enable it.


Tony Dungy-coached football teams – recounts how Dungy would have players in a game focus on simple execution, or response, done well when they see certain game situations, or cues... which brought to mind for me a quote from Arizona Cardinals coach Tom Moore around focusing on “the relentless execution of fundamentals.”

Household cleaning product Febreze – around Procter & Gamble positioning Febreze usage as the final thing done after cleaning, with it as a sort of reward a more powerful motivator than if the positioning something to avoid a negative in the elimination of odors… an idea that made me think of towards rather than away motivated people.

Pepsodent toothpaste and the introduction of it – covers Pepsodent entering the market a hundred years ago with both a clear cue and reward for usage of the product. In terms of the cue, it was noted that people should pay attention to the film on their teeth they can physically feel with their tongue prior to brushing. Additionally detailed was the physical reward, to the point of a craving, which comes when the film gone after brushing and the mouth has a distinct post-brushing feeling from a citric acid ingredient in the toothpaste.

Alcoa and how the aluminum company thrived – tells the story of how new CEO Paul O’Neill in 1987 came into his first public meeting and proclaimed a focus on workplace safety, while O'Neill also noted that it would be an indicator of habits across the institution. Duhigg covers how O'Neill saw that the company had bitter feelings between unions and management and viewed safety as an important goal everyone could agree on. Additionally, safety was a keystone habit, a simple and clear goal that could be measured easily, but also have execution towards it spread throughout the entire organization as for there to be zero injuries, it meant everything had to be working correctly. Part of the focus on safety involved management making the statement over and over that people throughout the company should feel free to speak up about things that they see that are important, and the positive by-product of this was as people would freely make suggestions around safety, it emboldened them to also highlight other things which they felt would improve the company. The focus on safety was a keystone habit, and from that grew a more positive company culture.

Alcoholics Anonymous and what’s caused it to be effective – Duhigg writes of how what AA espouses is very habit-based, and it focuses on replacing the routine for alcoholics from drinking to another activity. When someone faced with a cue that previously would have caused them to drink, the new routine is around meetings, sponsors, basically something other than drinking. Additionally noted in this section is how an important component of someone replacing a routine is to for them believe they can be successful at it, particularly in times of great stress. This belief can come through different forms and one that's covered is having an individual or group model to emulate that’s been successful. The thing to keep in mind as Duhigg writes of it is that a routine can’t just stop, but can be replaced by something else.

Michael Phelps and triggers and habits – covered here is how Phelps reacts to certain triggers, or cues, in advance of or during a race, and then his response. He’s practiced so long at what he’ll do that successful habits win the day. Part of this is how a successful reaction to a small cue which leads to a minor reward is a small win, something accomplished that builds on itself, very much related to this idea of belief building.

Starbucks and the habit of success – detailed by Duhigg is how the company extensively trains employees in how to react when difficult situations arise... with one Starbucks approach for dealing with angry customers the LATTE method: listen, acknowledge, take action, thank them, and explain why the problem occurred. Duhigg notes how these angry customers are like cues, inflection points that then should lead to specific responses, with those much more likely to occur if they’ve been anticipated and prepared for, through either formalized training or even just writing out what situations might happen and how to react. In terms of habit-building, it’s mentioned in the chapter that much of this training is around the keystone habit of willpower, which comes in finite amounts, so the training to build up willpower is important both because it’s hard to have in situations of prolonged stress and when you increase willpower in one area, that spills over into other areas of life. Also noted in this chapter is how self-discipline can be turned into an organizational habit and if people feel a sense of control about something, no matter how small, it means they need to exert less willpower to get through their day successfully and can be happier and more productive.

Rhode Island Hospital and the London Underground – covered by Duhigg here is, similar to how in the section on Alcoa, there should be an organizational culture where people at any level feel free to speak up about things they see. This organizational habit of openness can eliminate or at least mitigate the effects of internal fiefdoms and rivalries between groups and Duhigg notes in the stories of malpractice at the Rhode Island Hospital and the London Underground fire that a crisis can provide the best opportunity to change an organization, as it's then that change seen as most urgently needed.

Response to the song Hey Ya! and starting an exercise routine – Duhigg details how people like things that are familiar to them and in terms of music, notes how people didn't react favorably at first to the song Hey Ya! because it was so different than other music on the radio, and in order for the song to become popular, DJs would play it in between familiar songs. Duhigg also describes exercising and how people will often respond to the idea of doing it as being something done with friends, a familiar bonding activity.

The Montgomery bus boycott and Saddleback church – in this section, it's noted how community ties, both strong and weak (which extend further than strong ties), helped galvanize people behind Rosa Parks at the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott, a key event in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s also covered how this principle of both strong and weak ties being beneficial applies to job seekers and how the church Saddleback grew in large part through the groups that people would gather in within their homes, basically a combination of strong ties in small groups and weak ties while in a large church setting.

Duhigg in the book does a solid job of covering how people and organizations have the control to remake and replace habits and the key as he spells it out is to: identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner

The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner was an interesting and short book with the subtitle How we gain and lose influence. Keltner is a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and someone I heard of from a recent article about Warriors coach Steve Kerr that noted Keltner having attended a few Warriors practices and from the practices and spending time with Kerr, being struck by his positive application of power in his role as an NBA head coach.

Keltner writes on the first page of The Power Paradox that "we rise in power and make a difference due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst" and this idea of how power granted, and then what can occur with people who have varying levels of power is explored throughout the book. He defines power as making a difference in the world, altering the state of others, and notes how power most commonly isn't something that's grabbed, but given by groups to people to those who are acting in ways that advance the greater good. Specifically highlighted as key character traits that people gravitate towards those who apply them are: enthusiasm, kindness, focus, calmness, and openness, with enthusiasm the biggest indicator of someone that people will want to confer power upon.

Power as Keltner notes isn't about just grand things, but how we relate to and interact with others in our work and social lives. With that, the importance of empathy is prominently featured, both as an indicator of who will likely have power ascribed to them, and something needed once in a position of power. Keltner writes of how enduring power comes from: a focus on others through empathy, giving, expressing gratitude, and telling stories that unite. Additionally, he notes how the power of touch and simple contact between people can have an impact in creating a more dynamic connection between them.

The flip side as Keltner writes of it is how the the experience of power, minus a focus on others, leads to the abuse of power. He details out how if not worked with properly, power can lead to: empathy deficits and diminished moral sentiments, self-serving impulsivity, incivility and disrespect, and self-narratives of exceptionalism. Additionally, it's highlighted that if power held in this negative manner, it can make us blind to our moral missteps, but outraged at the same missteps taken by others.

The antidote if you will, that Keltner covers is that those in a position of power should: be aware of feelings of power, practice humility, stay focused on others and give, practice respect, and also attempt on a larger scale to change the psychological context of powerlessness. To this last point, Keltner writes of growing up in a poor neighborhood in Penryn, CA outside Sacramento, and prices of powerlessness, with the physical reaction of the body to dealing with constant stress and continual threat from those with power. This idea echos what Keltner mentions earlier in the book around how healthy relationships are going to occur when neither partner feels powerless. In writing of his neighbors from long ago and in other areas through the book, Keltner notes how those not in positions of power are much more attuned to the feelings of those with less power than them. Keltner covers well this idea that for many, once they've achieved power, the traits that likely helped them have it bestowed upon them are cast aside. This doesn't have to be the case, but just as someone should work at exercising the traits that will have groups put them in a position of power, it's key to then not let that power become a destructive force. Really an interesting book and a very fast read.

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel was an interesting book and eminently fast read about Christopher Knight, who spent 27 years living in the Maine wilderness with only two instances of contact with other people.

Finkel wrote of how Knight grew up in Maine as part of a family that largely kept to themselves and told Finkel he hadn't fled any bad situation or harbored ill will towards anyone, but just left society. He in 1986 went on a solo road trip to Florida at twenty-years-old, then drove back to Maine, went past his house, left his car with an almost empty gas tank, and walked into the woods. Knight recounted to the author how a few weeks in, he spent one night in an unoccupied cabin, then never slept indoors again, and established camp less than 30 miles from his childhood home.

Knight was in a heavily forested area near North Pond lake and accessed his living room sized camp by slipping between large boulders, and survived by pilfering food and other supplies from nearby camps and unoccupied cabins. He said that during the almost three decades there he never lit a fire so as to avoid detection, and wouldn't leave for five or six months during the winter. Everything in Knight’s camp was stolen, including the mattress on box springs and metal bed frame and while there, he would read books, listen to a radio, and just do nothing. In frigid winter stretches he would go to sleep at 7:30, then wake at 2:00 so that he could get his blood flowing and not be asleep for the coldest part of the night.

Finkel wrote a bit about hermits and those that have lived apart from society and notes that Knight is perhaps the most solitary known person in all of human history. To this point, it’s stated in the book that Knight recounted how it was solitude he sought, and never felt alone, and his two interactions with other people were a shared hello with a passing hiker in the 1990s, and then two months before his time in the woods ended, stepping out of his camp upon hearing three people hiking just outside the entrance. The hikers later said that they knew they had come across the fabled hermit and thief, but felt he should be left alone, told Knight they wouldn’t report him, and didn’t come forward until after Knight was no longer in the woods.

Knight almost certainly would have remained in the camp and continued his lifestyle and practice of stealing what he needed, but was in April 2013 arrested while taking supplies from a summer camp. The Maine game warden who caught him and state trooper who took him in later noted that they believed his story and felt very sympathetic. Knight entered the Maine court system and was treated with leniency, with him pleading guilty to 13 counts of burglary, and not receiving any jail time. He went to live with his elderly mother, whom he noted as not contacting while in the woods to tell her he safe because of his shame about being a hermit and thief, and had to for a period of time either hold a job or go to school and report to a case manager, and appear in court monthly.

Finkel wrote a good book, but wraps it up on kind of a melancholy note about Knight becoming compliant and no longer defiant about his life, with him forced back into a society he left behind, and didn’t seem comfortable at all reentering.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Great Sports Illustrated writing by Jenkins & Ballard

There's been a few different stories from Sports Illustrated in recent months that have struck me as particularly outstanding, with one from Lee Jenkins on a high school baseball phenom and two basketball-related pieces from Chris Ballard.

The Jenkins feature was "Hunter Greene is the star baseball needs" on the Sherman Oaks, CA pitcher / shortstop and a cover story, with the most recent previous SI high school athlete cover subjects Jabari Parker, Sebastian Telfair, Bryce Harper, and LeBron James. I'm often captivated by writing about potential future stars and recall the Harper piece by Tom Verducci back in 2009.

The older of the two Ballard stories to note here was "'You Can't Give In': Monty Williams On Life After Tragedy" about the NBA coach whose wife died unexpectedly. The story of how Williams and their five kids dealt with the grief and have carried on with their lives in honor of Ingrid is a great one well told by Ballard.

The final piece to note here was the cover story from the latest SI issue, with Ballard writing "Steve Kerr's Absence: The True Test Of A Leader" about the Warriors' head coach. It's great stuff on Kerr, including him being a grinder, over-communicator, someone who works with people based on how they are and what they'll respond to, doesn't take himself too seriously, and is joyful and just plain likable. Ballard wrote a really compelling story and also interesting from it was mention of how Kerr last season brought into a pair of practices Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist from Cal who studies verbal cues and the dynamics of compassion, and Ballard notes as having played a role in how the filmmakers of Pixar's Inside Out looked at emotion.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston was a solid read about the search for the ruins of an undiscovered city deep in the La Mosquitia region of Honduras.

Preston provides the history of this remote Amazonian rainforest region and archaeologists being interested in it and exploration done there all the way back to the 1930s, with legends out of that about the Cuidad Blanca, or White City.

Recounted in the book is how he as a writer got invited to join a 2012 aerial mapping trip of a specific area within La Mosquita that was seen as a promising location of the city's ruins. The mapping effort was led by filmmaker Steve Elkins and utilized lidar, a technology that works like radar, bouncing lasers off the ground, in this case from a Cessna airline, to determine distance and find the existence of geologic features as well as structures. This aerial mapping appeared to confirm the existence of the city ruins and their location and then in 2015, Preston also was part of a ground expedition to survey the area, with Chris Fisher leading a team of archaeologists and financing provided in large part by filmmaker Bill Benenson.

The time on the ground in the jungle was recounted as quite dangerous, with the area containing poisonous snakes like the fer-de-lance, jaguars, disease, and drug cartel activity. Ruins were found and even from that, little known about the people who lived there, other than they weren't Mayan and their society basically vanished around 1,500 AD, the time the Spanish came to the Americas, bringing Europeans diseases the locals had never been exposed to and which decimated populations, even those that never came in direct contact with European explorers. Preston notes how it's said that a third of the native population across Hispaniola and the Caribbean died between 1494 and 1496 and it appears that whoever lived within this city abandoned it.

The book wraps up with how some members of the expedition team after returning home began to show as having acquired the tropical disease leishmaniasis, a third world one that as such has received scant attention and funding, but is noted in the book as being part of a group of third world diseases coming to the first world as a result of climate change. The Lost City of the Monkey God was somewhat sobering with this mention of how quickly native populations were decimated by disease, and the tale of disease troubles modern day expedition members faced upon their return, but it's also a great adventure tale told well by Preston.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann was a really good book with the subtitle The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. The book is split into three sections, with the first the story of the Osage Indians and deaths of many in and around the 1920s, the second on the FBI pursuit of the killers, and third an important postscript on the murders close to 100 years later.

Grann writes early in the book of how the Osage were considered the wealthiest people in the world per capita due to royalties from oil drilling on their Oklahoma land, which they had purchased after being pushed there by the federal government in the 1870s. Individual members of the tribe had a headright, or share in the mineral trust, and collectively they received in 1923 more than $30M, the equivalent of $400M today.

With the wealth of the Osage, there was a systematic exploitation of them, both by whites grossly overcharging for goods and services and the government denying many Osage of the ability to control their money. The Office of Indian Affairs could determine whether a particular member of the tribe capable of handling their funds, and if not, guardians, usually prominent whites, would do it. Full blooded Osage Indians were almost always declared unfit to handle their money and had guardians appointed over them, which led to the murders of tribe members as guardians would consolidate power over the headright funds and get at the money.

The book begins with the murder by gunshot of Anna Burkhart in May 1921, notes how her sister Minnie had died from an unexplained illness three years prior, and not long after Anna’s death, mother Lizzie, and other sister Rita died, with Rita’s death coming from her house being blown up along with husband Bill Smith and their servant Nettie Brookshire. There were other murders as well around this time, with the methods including additional fatal gunshots, poisonings, and someone found dead after being thrown from a train. Following the house bombing, the Osage saw that local law enforcement seemed uninterested, if not complicit, in the crimes and urged the Federal Government to investigate what would become known as the Osage Reign of Terror.

The second section of the book details FBI involvement in the case, coinciding with the rise of J. Edgar Hoover, who was newly in charge of the Bureau of Investigation in 1925 and dispatched agent Tom White to investigate the murders. White and his team built a case for the house bombing against Mollie Burkhart’s husband, a white man named Ernest Burkhart, and his uncle, the prominent cattleman William K. Hale, seen as a friend of the Osage and well connected politically. Headrights got passed along by inheritance and Mollie's family being targeted meant everything was getting passed to her, with the money then controlled by Ernest and Hale.

While the first parts of the book interesting, the third takes it to a different level with how it reveals the government stating the murders solved, declaring victory, and moving on, when killers very much remained free. The section switches to first person writing by Grann, with him finding the murder of W.W. Vaughn likely committed by H.G. Burt, a businessman and confidant of Hale's. Additionally, government accounts of the Reign of Terror have it from 1921 to 1926 and all about Hale, but Grann found cases of Osage being killed for their headrights as early as 1918 and late as 1931, while Hale in jail. The Bureau estimated 24 murders, but the number likely much higher and the death rates were particular high for Osage who had guardians in control of the wealth of more than one in the tribe. It was a much bigger story than Hoover wanted told and the book's ending includes a quote from an elderly current Osage with "this land is saturated with blood."

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg was about an interesting topic in the science of productivity and the book an excellent one, broken down into eight different chapters.

Chapter 1: Motivation - Duhigg writes of how a feeling of control about things big or small can generate motivation, with examples given both from how in Marine boot camp, recruits would have to problem solve with little direction and people in nursing homes would defy orders by doing things like arranging their rooms a certain way or trading the food they were supposed to eat. From this, people would develop a feeling of control over their destiny, often with a corresponding bias towards action.

Chapter 2: Teams - In this chapter it's noted how teams work best when members feel a level of psychological safety, that it's ok to both be an individual and make mistakes. Additionally important is that people feel comfortable speaking freely, that their sentiments are heard by others, and are sensitive to how their teammates feel.

Chapter 3: Focus - The chapter on Focus has two interesting stories of commercial airline situations, with the first Air France Flight 447 that crashed after leaving Rio de Janeiro in 2009 and second Quantas Flight 32 out of Singapore in 2010 that had disaster averted due to decisions made by the cockpit crew. In Flight 447, the pilots should have easily been able to keep the plane flying safely, but didn't, with cockpit voice recordings showing the pilot in charge becoming the victim of cognitive tunneling, where he didn't have any mental models, or stories, of problems that might occur so when they did, he just became confused and didn't react well. The Quantas flight on the other hand featured a pilot and crew who talked through scenarios that might occur before even boarding the plane. When cascading problems then started to occur in flight, they saw that the problems were so numerous and severe that the best mental model to work with wasn't how to deal with each issue, but rather to focus on what still did work on the plane, with the pilot later saying he reframed his view to thinking of himself flying a very basic Cessena airplane, and what would be required to land one successfully. The whole notion as Duhigg explains it is around the benefit of narrating to yourself your life events as they occur and constantly building models of the situations you're in and may face.

Chapter 4: Goal Setting - Covered in this chapter is how goals need to be a combination of wide-ranging stretch goals, and to-do lists that make up those goals. Duhigg gives the example of how SMART goals from General Electric when done poorly were simply at the to-do list level, with people focusing on checking items off, and not enough on whether the goal a worthwhile one to do. This notion of having worthwhile big picture goals very much related to the third chapter on mental modeling and creating stories of where you both want to wind up and situations you may encounter.

Chapter 5: Managing Others - Duhigg in this chapter on managing others cited a study begun in 1994 by Stanford professors James Baron and Michael Hannon, in which they examined Silicon Valley companies and found five different cultures: commitment model, star model, engineering model, bureaucratic model, and autocratic model companies. The commitment culture firms were by far the most successful as a whole, with these investing heavily invest in training of employees and then putting a lot of responsibility on them, creating a sense of ownership in their situation, an idea that brings to mind concepts from Duhigg's chapter one. Covered in the book is the reopening of the NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA as a GM-Toyota partnership and how workers were encouraged to pull cords to stop the assembly line and fix problems, a practice that would have been unheard of under the prior GM-only factor. Also cited was the FBI database program Sentinel, and how it was developed from a basis of what individual agents requested it do.

Chapter 6: Decision Making - This chapter covered how good decision making is about thinking probabilistically, envisioning various scenarios and the odds of each occurring, with those scenarios and odds coming from past events, another harkening back to the chapter on focus and mental models.

Chapter 7: Innovation - The subtitle of the Innovation chapter is How idea brokers and creative desperation saved Disney's Frozen and written of by Duhigg is how in the case of Frozen, the musical West Side Story, and successful scientific papers, people were taking conventional ideas from other settings and combining them in new ways. Covered is a 2011 study by university professors Brian Uzzi and Ben Jones of close to 18 million scientific papers which showed that the most popular papers, those cited by others, had a combination of different ideas from elsewhere. Also noted in this chapter is the idea of being sensitive to your own experiences as you work the creative process.

Chapter 8: Absorbing Data - This final chapter of the book covers how data most powerful if it's worked heavily with by the people who can impact it. Duhigg tells the story of a failing Cincinnati public school and how much data there was even when the school failing, but then how when teachers forced to work with the information, they conducted trials and experiments to see if the data would reflect improvement. The basic idea is that data matters when ownership is taken by the people who can impact it, especially if they're coming up with ideas they think will have an impact, running with them, then evaluating the results and course-correcting.

Also around this topic of how people interact with data is the notion of how solid decisions are more likely to be made when there's fewer choices, with 401K plan selection as an example, and the idea of the Engineering Design Process, the breaking up of problems or questions into sub problems or questions that can be tested and worked on as a methodical search for potential solutions. This section on choices and data makes me think of how TurboTax software works, it's a series of questions that walks someone through a process. The final thing that struck me from this chapter was Duhigg's mention that research has shown taking notes longhand more effective run via laptop as it's harder to do that way, people are interacting more closely with the material.

There's a lot of material covered by Duhigg in Smarter Faster Better and he does it in an engaging way and provides a number of things to consider out of the book.