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October 10, 2011

I don’t really understand why but lately I’ve been getting into the Science fiction track so here’s a few:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-Douglas Adams.  This was a pretty weird book, but also very clever and very ironic.  I saw the movie a few years ago which had turned me off the book, but now I’d sort of like to see it again.  I wasn’t just in love with the plot which included finding out the answer to the universe is 42 and that our world is actually run by white mice, but there were a great deal of one liners that made it worth reading.

Hunger Games-Suzanne Collins- I was pretty unsure about this one because I had been told the POV was of a girl and I thought it might have a heavy feminist slant, but I was wrong.  It really was very good.  Both main characters are really well done and it’s a pretty good story too.  The basics are that this world is divided into 12 districts which select two people from each to compete in these hunger games where the last person alive wins.

Foundation Part I- Issac Asimov–I really enjoyed this book.  There have been a few people who have read it and told me they didn’t like it mainly because of the jumps in time and many characters, etc.  That is a valid complaint and it stems from this book originally being five different short stories, but all based on the same plot line.  Basically the universe, which is almost completely settled and space travel is possible etc., is ruled with justice by the Empire.  This Empire is doomed to fail…at some point soon…and so a group of scientists settle on a far planet to begin reducing the inevitable dark age to come.  It goes through generations and also stages of development which I thought was very interesting.  I haven’t decided whether to read the rest of the books though.



September 14, 2011

The Prodigal God–Timothy Heller:  This is a pretty short book, but a pretty good one.  Basically Heller dissects the story of the prodigal son and relates it to the whole Christian faith.  He focuses a lot on the the second son who is usually overlooked, but may be the more important part of the story.

Siddhartha–Herman Hesse: Another fairly short book.  This reminded me a lot of the Alchemist.  The main character, Siddhartha, is looking for the meaning of life or salvation or finding his dream, etc.  He goes through a few stages of learning and even meets the Buddha.  The main point of the book is that no amount of learning or reading can replace the first hand knowledge of experience and that sometimes you just have to live and learn that way.  It was pretty good.

Life Together–Dietrich Bonhoeffer: This was an ok book, probably not the first Bonhoeffer you should read.  It was an instruction manual about what to do during each part of the day when living in community.  To me, Bonhoeffer was pretty strict and one dimensional, but there were still things to be gained, especially in regard to reading the Bible and in prayer.

Fooled by Randomness–Nassim Taleb: I talked about Black Swan earlier by Taleb and this one was pretty similar.  It was still about how statistics are not truly understood by very many people, and that even those people who do understand, like Taleb, are still sometimes fooled.  We, as humans, are just not wired to fully take into account all statistics, and therefore we sometimes do not act completely rationally.  I’d say read this one or Black Swan, they both have just about the same theme.

Another round of books

August 23, 2011

The Logic of Life-Tim Harford: This book is one of many in a category called Behavioral Economics that I like a lot.  This book like the others uses both real world examples(like those in Freakonomics) taken from observations in the real world and what I would call classroom experiments which are contrived and can be replicated in any classroom.  These type books show how some very odd behaviors can be rationally explained.  It doesn’t mean that we are rational from an objective point of view, but that we do act the way we do for some very specific reasons/incentives, etc.  Tim Harford also wrote a book called The Undercover Economist which is also very good and is more market oriented than “life” oriented.

Blue Ocean Strategy-W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne: This is a business book about shaping your company around “blue oceans.”  The premise is that most companies’ products are competing in red oceans, meaning contested market spaces.  Instead of competing in the red oceans where the only thing consumers want is more for less, the company should focus on opening up new market spaces, blue oceans, by differentiating their product by adding features that consumers want, and taking away features that are being fought over but are not really relevant(which sounds like common sense, but is tough to actually figure out).  The book gives very good examples and ways to implement the strategy.  I really took away a lot from this book after doing the market research and product development for my internship this summer and wish I had read it before I went.

The Prodigal God-Timothy Keller: A short book about the parable of the prodigal son and how most people miss one of the main focuses of the parable.  They understand the prodigal son and loving father, but they don’t dwell on the older son who is just as (if not more) important.  It is a very quick and easy read and Keller almost makes this one parable seem like the guiding tenet of the Bible or at least the Gospel.

The Wisdom of Crowds-James Surowiecki: Is a book on many subjects, but mainly economics and psychology.  The premise is that decisions by many are usually as good if not better than decisions by individuals, even if that individual is extremely smart.  Now a few parameters do have to be met:  that the group is diverse(meaning they have different knowledge from each other), decentralization(people can specialize and draw on local knowledge-and not have to all be working on the same thing), independence(they aren’t influenced by others), and a way to aggregate their individual decisions.  If groups have these four things than they usually are smarter even than the individuals that comprise it.  With this information he shows good decisions of crowds, bad decisions(when one of the criteria wasn’t met), and questions why we have individuals running say a corporation.  It was a very interesting book, especially after Taleb’s Black Swan.

Siddhartha-Herman Hesse This was a short book set in India during the time of the Buddha.  The main character, Siddhartha, not the Buddha, is trying to find Oneness, or peace.  He wanders around and tries different doctrines, different lifestyles, etc. attempting to find this peace.  This book reminded me a lot of the Alchemist, in that he has this steadfastness for following his goal no matter where that takes him, (and it takes him to a place similar to where the Alchemist went in my opinion).  It too has a bunch of good inspiring quotes too if you’re into that.  It really surprised me a lot though when I found out the guy who wrote this book was German.


August 11, 2011

The Girl who Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest-Steig Larson:  Well the series comes to an end in basically the way you expect.  These were entertaining, but I still thought not as good as the hype surrounding them.  I basically come out with Swedes have crazy sexual preferences and computer hackers can do anything they want to do and find anything they want to, which is a little frightening. 

The Black Swan-Nassim Taleb: Great book that relates to almost everything.  Taleb is a financial guy, but he is talking about uncertainty and risk and how we are almost always underestimating that risk.  He points to the Gaussian bell curve as one of the main reasons for this as it does not allow for black swans.  Black swans are events that are 1. Hard to predict  2. Have a large impact  3. Can be explained away after the fact in order to make them appear less random(even though they are extremely random).  So a Gaussian bell curve is good when a black swan is not possible like in a physical characteristics like a person’s height, but when looking at book sales, stock market, income distribution, etc Mandelbrotian fractals should be the base instead of a bell curve.  It sounds more complicated than it is…Taleb does a good job of explaining.

The Lost Symbol-Dan Brown: I’d recommend this over The Millenium series every day.  It is more of a page turner and has such an interesting story.  It’s about Freemasons and Washington DC and fusing science and religion.  One of my favorite things about it is that you don’t know how much is true, so I’ve probably spent two or three hours just researching various things in the book.  Anyway it was very exciting and very good.

Built to Last-Jim Collins: In this book, the authors looked at companies in America and picked the 20 best.  Then they picked 20 good ones to compare and attempted to find things to account for that difference.  What they said made the difference was having a core ideology and values that one stuck with throughout.  To tell the truth I’m a little skeptical, but it was a decent read anyway because it gave some good histories of companies like 3M which started out as a mining company but now has completely changed(but maintained it’s core ideology) and has made such a variety of things including Post it Notes, Scotch Tape, and Air Filters.  

Collapse-Jared Diamond:  It was about why societies sometimes collapsed.  Diamond reasoned it happened primarily through our killing of the environment through deforestation, not using resources correctly, too much population, etc.  He pointed out some early civilizations like the Mayans or the Vikings in Greenland who collapsed because of those reasons and then attempted to switch it to modern times comparing ancient chiefs using too many resources to create the Eastern Island statues to CEO’s being payed outrageous salaries.   While it had interesting points, he tried really hard to reason that we needed government to step in because we didn’t know what we were doing to the environment.  I think if he had stayed away from policy prescriptions he would have done better.  Essentially he was talking about Black Swans, but he didn’t know it and doesn’t know that since it happened that way in the past, it’s more likely to happen in some other way.  I also have come across some information that all is not exactly what he wrote.  I am indebted to this book though as it allowed me to get some needed sleep on the plane.

Back in the USSA

August 4, 2011

Well, after a total trip time of 39 hours I am back in good ole sparkle city with the family.

So this will be my final post on India.  However, I may continue to add some book summaries here since it’s pretty convenient.  Thanks to all that made this trip possible and all those who followed my journey.


Last thoughts on India

August 2, 2011

Well today is my last day of work and I’ll be leaving India tomorrow.  I just want to reflect on a few of the things I’ll miss and a few of the things I can’t wait to have again.

What I’ll miss about India:

The food, of course.  Eating a biryani with your hands is something pretty darn good.  I’ll also miss all the curry and spices that they use in every dish and then the dosas.  For beverages, I’ll mainly miss the fresh fruit juices, especially mango, that can almost be desert.

The people.  The people of India are what make India, India.  Therefore it should be no surprise that if you like a country, you like the people.  All the Indians I had extensive contact with were extremely generous(would never let me pay for anything), helpful(were always willing to give me a ride home or provide anything else I needed), informative(you wouldn’t believe how many questions I asked everyone), and patient(I was pretty slow in eating with my fingers and sometimes understanding what they were saying was a little difficult).  They were great to me.

The culture.  I know that’s a huge indefinable topic, but India has a very special culture, which unites all Indians.  This manifests itself in religion(being Hindu is really more a way of life than a religion), in dress(Sarees), and their overall manner(accepting, but know it all).  I’ll also miss the moustaches!

The rain and scenery.  I never thought I’d say I would miss rain, but I will.  It really is beautiful when the rain is coming down so hard it cuts off the power in your home.  And having something almost every day and then getting thrown into the heat, I’m sure I’ll miss it.  The scenery part is mainly the coconut trees and the temples–which really are a part of the scenery, as colored as they sometimes are.

The cost of living.  Amanda and I would go out to the most expensive restaurants here and would each order a three course meal(starter, main course, and dessert) and it would cost $10 each, tops.  Sometimes just $10 for both of us.

What I’m ready for again:

Some food, of course, that doesn’t include rice or bread.  I’ve had enough rice and bread for a little while.  I’m also ready for some beef/a steak–a rarity.  And maybe, just maybe, a lettuce or spinach salad too.  Did I mention peaches?!

My family.  Everybody’s home, Laura, Jorge, JM, and the parentals, and I’m ready to get back to the laughter.

Hot water–I did have hot water in India, but only for an hour in the morning.  It’ll be nice to have it full time.

Tap water–it’ll be quite the luxury to be able to drink out of the tap.

Good roads and the opportunity to drive on them.  I have had absolutely no desire to drive on Indian roads because the roads are full of potholes, they drive on the wrong side, and they drive crazy(it’s like two schools of fish heading into each other and miraculously no one crashes).  But I’m ready to be on the road again.

Well, I loved India.  I want to mention a few more quick notes before leaving though.  Politically, they have a great start in that they have a strong constitution and pretty fair elections.  They do have lots of corruption that is a big hindrance.  Economically it has come a long way since Nehru and will continue to grow if the government can just let its people go.  Labor is cheap and ideas are plentiful.  Here is a very good article about how far India has come and what it must do to continue.  Culturally, it is the most rich and vibrant culture that I have come across.  There are so many things to see that I really wish I had another month here to travel, but maybe I’ll get that opportunity later.  Who knows…






July 30, 2011

I have spoken at least a little about the food here in India and I didn’t want to neglect the beverages.

Water-Unfortunately India’s water supply is not the cleanest.  Almost every restaurant, including our canteen, provides purified/filtered water, but we were instructed not to drink that either because it too is not that clean.  Therefore, bottled water has been the way to go.  I’m ready to drink out of the tap again.

Milk-Is readily available in India.  In fact, India is the largest producer of milk and so I’ve been able to find skim, regular, different flavors like strawberry, chocolate, mango, etc, and soy milks.  Also they have hot milk a lot of places and hot badam milk(which is almond flavored).

Fruit Juices-Fresh fruit juices like watermelon, grape, pineapple, musambi(sweet lime), mango, orange, and probably some I’m forgetting.  They also have the regular apple, orange, etc. that are bottled and they have a carrot and orange mix(zanahoria y naranja por mi hermana).

Soft Drinks-They don’t really have any special sodas.  They’re mostly the same, but are more bubbly and are made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

Hot Tea- They have coffee, but tea is definitely the more popular drink thanks to the Brits.  It is served at breakfast, between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner, and then sometimes after dinner as well.  It is almost always served with lots of milk and sugar.  Part of the reason for this is that they heat the milk, then add the sugar, then add the tea powder!  Usually they don’t even make real tea!  Anyways, it really is pretty good.

Alcoholic Beverages-I of course haven’t tried any of these, but I’ll describe anyway.  The biggest beer, by far, is Kingfisher.  It is available everywhere in the big(650 mL) bottles.  Compared to the soft drinks, or other beer, it’s flat.  It does have a hint of sweet taste though, which might account for the Indians liking it so much.  Indian wine, is growing mightily, but again seems to be too sweet.  I want to mention here that India is the world’s fastest growing alcohol market.  Read more here.

Coconut Water-How could I forget, I’m doing a project on this.  Fresh coconut water is available at every little store you go to.  This means it is available at a new location every 100 yards.  I’m not in love with the taste(I like a little sweeter), but it’s pretty good and I like watching them cut it up at the end so you can eat the fleshy part.

Milk Shakes-I’m not sure if this counts, but they are available in a pretty wide variety at every restaurant and they aren’t too bad!  Also they have a drink called sweet lassi, which is like a sweetened yogurt, but those are more like desert than traditional beverage.