Blink is Malcolm Glaswell’s take on the art of making snap decisions that in many cases out perform a long, drawn out response. We’ve all been in situations where we thought, planned, and deliberated so long on something and it still ended up turning out wrong. Blink takes this phenomenon of “thin-slicing” and examines it from a variety of angles using interesting case studies, such as a fake statue sold to a museum after a year and a half of examination by experts only to be sniffed out by critics who instantly cringed from their gut reactions to the statue or the murder of a street youth by police officers too quick to draw the wrong conclusions.
Malcolm shows us how the brain can sometimes provide us will a surprising amount of insight in a split second that rival or out perform deliberate decisions and also how they can misfire or be manipulated by all the wrong ingredients. We’re given many case studies from the world of psychology and real life where extraneous impressions are stripped down to the essence whether it’s analyzing the stability of a marriage, reading facial expressions, or correctly assessing the risk of heart attack.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Women in Love is a continuation of DH Lawrence’s story of the Brangwen sisters first introduced in Rainbow. This novel revolves around the two Brangwen sisters and their loves, Gerald and Birkin who also share an unspoken love of each other. The novel takes an a completely different style from Rainbow. The first half is almost mystic. The scenes unfold like images from the garden of Eden mixed with pagan mysticism. The characters are unreal and yet real. The attraction Gerald and Birkin feel for each other, the tensions between the sisters and their lovers, and the strangely disjointed dialogue that rarely betrays the simmering primitive violent undercurrent of their emotions.
Women in Love / Cambridge Lawrence Edition (Penguin Classics) by D. H. Lawrence
Eyeless in Gaza is a novel exploring the spiritual roots of virtue and vice through Anthony and Brian. Anthony is shy and delicate, armored in intellectual cynicism and passivity. Anthony’s lack of conviction and moral cowardice lies in contrast to his outward beauty and intellectual powers. Brian is a kind and gentle soul with a debilitating stutter ridiculed by his friends as horse face. What Brian lacks in outward beauty is more than made up by his sensitiveness towards others, particularly Anthony, and almost puritan belief in self-restraint.
The novel is a collection of scenes chasing Anthony, the main protagonist, and Brian through adolescence, adulthood and finally middle age. Anthony is on a journey to find himself and confront his cowardice. Brian’s journey ends tragically in unrequited love and ultimate betrayal. The book is a reference to the biblical Samson, robbed of his once invincible strength, shorn of his hair with eyes burned out, chained to a pillar in the temple of his enemies as entertainment. Samson prays to God for strength bringing down the entire temple on himself and his enemies.
Huxley does an excellent job of capturing Anthony’s journey from a shy youth with a touch of innocence into middle-aged intellectual cynic who still struggles to find the moral courage to confront personal matters. The scene where Brian finally consoles Anthony about his mother’s death was really touching. Which is why I found Anthony’s character thoroughly revulsive as the story progressed, made all the worse in contrast with Brian who had the courage to stand up to others in moral affairs despite his debilitating stutter. In the end he becomes the victim of his own asceticism when he is robbed of his one true love.
Anthony is nothing like Samson. He is never able to muster courage and in the end becomes a mystic and pacifist who must find courage within himself for the first time to stand up for all that he believes in and all that he loves. However, the distastefulness of Anthony’s cowardice is only made so by the revelation that we all have moments when we can only wish we took a harder stand, those moments that feel so painful in retrospect when we looked on passively when we should have taken a stand.
Eyeless in Gaza
The Rainbow is a sensuous novel following three generations of Brangwens, a well to do farming family in the rural midlands of England, starting with Tom Brangwen, his Polish step daughter and finally Ursula (his grand daughter). D.H. Lawrence was a controversial writer of his time for his exploration of sensuality and this novel is no exception. As the book follows the three generations of Brangwens, the fulfillment of each individual becomes more sexual in nature. The beauty of this novel lies in the exploration of sensual fulfillment as social mores become more relaxed. However, as a novel of the early 20th century, there are no graphic depictions of sex but a more literary presentation rich in metaphors that come across stronger, leaving the reader with potent imagery mixing with our own imagination.
Lawrence’s presentation of love, marriage, aging, death and birth spanning across three generations is masterful. You can’t help but feel the pain of watching the lives of characters you come to love pass through their phases and finally coming to an end. Although, Lawrence was rarely recognized in his own time, his novels are surely literary works of the highest distinction and this book is no exception.
The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence
Founders at Work certainly lives up to expectations. If you’re looking for inspiration on how people bootstrapped themselves in the tech sector to wild success here it is. Now, as a chronicle of the nascent IT sector at this point in history, there are a lot of people who were at the right place at the right time, think early 90s computer science majors. You can dismiss them as one hit wonders, trying to extend that last hit by becoming venture capitalists or dreamers now working at smaller web shops like the rest of us, looking at smaller payouts. However, you can’t deny the fact that they did it and succeeded.
There’s not much you can learn from one hit wonders. Just remember that if you ever get in a position where you find yourself out of your league with a wild streak of luck, you have nothing to lose but to run with it as hard as you can take it and cash out quick but not too quick. However this book is littered with gems. One story that stood out to me the most was the story of Max Levchin, the co-founder of PayPayl. He originally set out to offer encryption software for the palm pilot which evolved into payments (the most direct application of the technology). Paypal was more of a demo rather than the end goal. What stood out to me was the fact that as the service grew traction, he focused on fraud prevention more than anything else and even dedicated his full attention with the help of a brilliant intern to track down common patterns and flags to prevent it. The versatility to see the true deal breaker of a service and tackle it effectively, that’s not luck.
James Hong of HotorNot (since sold off) was another funny one. What started off as a lark soon grew into a business but what caught me was the approach he took, like stopping some random guy on the street and asking him, “dude, did you see that new site ‘hot or not’, you need to check it out” or hosting images off of Yahoo! geocities to scale and finally convincing a hosting company to sponsor their infrastructure in exchange for publicity. That’s true entrepreneurship.
All these people rose up to the challenge and didn’t give up. They came up with some weird and unique solutions. It’s a story of inspiration and character. It makes you want to jump out of bed and start a company.
Founders at Work
Imagine a world of plenty where all the social ills that plague civilization are cured or relegated to irrelevance. It’s a world divided into castes, each bred to fully conform to their social stations. It’s a world where there are no parents and children are manufactured in vitro as batches of identical children. People are delivered state-sanctioned drugs that are more potent and non-addictive than anything known today and recreational, promiscuous sex is practiced as an acceptable way of life.
Lenina, an attractive blonde and Bernard, a scientist from the highest caste visit an American Indian reservation. It’s one of the few places in the new world where traditional families and procreation are allowed among the savages. It is here they discover John, who is one of them, raised in the hostile reservation as a savage. He is brought back to civilization to experience and be repulsed by the new world order presented to him.
This novel presents a sterilized world where everything is outwardly “perfect” yet woefully lacking. In the end John the Savage is able to arouse the masses to once again get in touch with their more human side. It is a satire and critique of modern society that is just as relevant today as it was decades ago when it was published.
Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley
Time Machine is a novel by H.G. Wells set in Victorian London documenting the amazing journey of a lone wolf scientist 800,000 years into the future of humanity. What he finds is not the utopia of advanced civilization he had hoped for but humans degenerated into the happy, simple-minded, and fragile Eloi who are descended from the upper class and the subterranean dwelling Morlocks. Over the course of history, Morlocks were trapped in an underground factory where they gradually lost their resistance to light, becoming a pale, ghostly tribe of cannibals that keep underground machines humming. They feed on the Eloi whom they hunt at night when they can escape the light. The protagonist must fight to get his time machine back from the Morlocks to return to his time.
I found the book to be a compelling read. The brilliance of this novel is how H.G. Wells frames the future. He doesn’t make wild guesses on the state of technology but instead extends history so far into the future that material comforts and economic system have transformed us into two separate races where technology no longer matters. It is a novel probably more relevant today than it was during its time as information technology and advances in agriculture and medication frees us to the point where we must seek our own ambitions and drives aside from that which would normally be stimulated from everyday survival and social dealings. Visions of utopia can become a living hell when it becomes reality.
The Time Machine (Penguin Classics) by H.G. Wells
The Audacity of Hope by Barak Obama is an unique and remarkable work that captures the essence of the man. The beauty of this book is its ability to capture Obama the father, the politician, and the American. It captures the driving forces in American politics from political parties, values, the Constitution, politics, opportunity, faith, race, globalization, and family.
The magic of this book is how it delves deeply into American core values with sweeping panoramas while maintaining the immediacy of someone on the front lines. The balance of this book sets it apart from similar works. Obama presents America to us as both an insider and outsider. He captures the immediacy of community struggles while presenting the greater campaign unfolding from the Senate floor.
Unlike his previous work, Dreams from My Father, the focus of this book is not Obama himself but American society and its future. We are no longer dealing with a young man on the brink of delivering to greater promise but a man who has to a great extent fulfilled that promise in the national arena. The book is tempered by the years of experience in the Illinois state legislature, as a lawyer, and instructor of law. He speaks with candor and conviction without preaching. Regardless of your political affiliation it’s a book worth reading to get an insight into our future President and something that peels away at all the hype and veneer of campaign politics.
He is unique in that he has a vision for America steeped in scholarship and experience with grass roots community organizing. As the incoming President you can’t help but hope that this man can deliver his vision in all its entirety when he does take office.
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Vintage) by Barack Obama
This book was a masterful journey coming full circle from George Bush Sr.’s unsuccessful second term bid, Clinton’s excursions into Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia to George Bush Jr.’s ascendance. The book presents a new kind of war, the precision-driven air strike that can immobilize a weaker enemy with brutal force without the massive innocent bloodshed that characterized the earlier campaigns of World War II. Strikers could take out communication centers in densely populated areas from hundreds of miles away. The only obstacles to wielding the power are more or less bureaucratic and political.
Halberstam again deftly presents the awkward dance of the Clinton Administration and the U.S. Military, where global political crises are framed and evaluated in terms of domestic political repercussions. It carries us through Clinton’s reluctant yet deepening involvement in conflicts spanning the developing world from Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti to Bosnia. Whereas the senior Bush largely succeeded in a military campaign of the Gulf War’s magnitude and successfully steered Russia toward a soft-landing from Soviet collapse, he failed miserably in the field of domestic economy. Clinton on the other hand, through all his trials and tribulations managed to revive and sustain the American economy while minimizing American military involvement abroad.
I found it deeply ironic that George W. Bush initially campaigned by criticizing Clinton’s escalating involvement in global conflicts and foreign affairs and that a man who had only travelled to Mexico and China would lead the America into a prolonged and tortuous war in Iraq, the same country that brought his father down.
The value of this book is not only in the scope and details showing new military dynamics at work on the global front but that it also foreshadowed the unravelling of everything achieved during the Clinton years. This book is highly relevant to not only contemporary politics because it helps frame the current American dilemma. Technology may help bring a swift military victory lead by precision air strikes at little human cost until ground forces are mobilized to sort out the political mess and wreckage that ensues. Perhaps the uncommon success of limited military campaigns during the Clinton years had emboldened George W. Bush to press on in the name of waging “war on terror” when in fact they would ill-prepared had they been victorious. I enjoyed reading this book and only wish David Halberstam had lived long enough to follow this important piece of work up.
War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals by David Halberstam
Been using as much free time as possible to read. It’s not that I haven’t been reading anything these past couple of years. If anything I’ve been reading tons of blogs and postings of various sorts. However, it’s apparent that the words you see on a screen are not the same as the words your read on a printed page. Books are simply a different beast as you concentrate across the span of several hundred pages as a narrative unfolds across the span of either hours or days. It just uses a different part of your brain. I like reading outside my current profession, which is programming. History, literature, and sometimes a little marketing or business.
Of course, reading takes up a lot of time and concentration so I no longer have that much time to watch many movies but I can definitely feel my brain really getting engaged. The funny thing is that since taking up reading in earnest, I’ve been performing much better at programming. Although, programming also involved a lot of writing and reading of code, they are completely different fields. However, it does seem to provide a tangible benefit.
I might cut back a little on my weekend reading though so I can work on some more weekend projects and maybe brush up a bit on technical stuff. I also need to catch up with some TV.