Reading – 2020

December 2020

November 2020

October 2020

  • The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz NOTES: a great escape, I’ve enjoyed every one of Larson’s books. Three quotes:
    • Page 154-155, on what Amazon calls “weasel words”: “… Finally, he attacked the cumbersome prose that so often marked official reports. ‘Let us have an end to phrases such as these’ and quoted two offenders: “It is also of importance to bear in mind the following considerations…”
      “Consideration should be given to the possibility of carrying into effect…” He wrote: “Most of these woolly phrases are mere padding, which can be left out altogether, or replaced by a single word. Let us not shrink from using the short expressive phrase, even if it is conversational…. The resulting prose may at first seem rough as compared with the flat surface of officialese jargon, but the saving of time will be great, while the discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clear thinking.”
    • On strategy and coherent actions, page 164, emphasis mine: “Goring himself was proving to be a problem. Easily distracted, he was unable to commit to a single, well-defined objective. He became convinced that by attacking a multitude of targets across a broad front, he could not only destroy the RAF Fighter Command but also cause such widespread chaos as to drive Churchill to surrender.”
    • Page 307, on focus and rest: “Roosevelt had received Churchill’s letter aboard the Tuscaloosa. He read it, but kept his impression of it to himself… I didn’t know for quite awhile what he was thinking about, if anything, Hopkins said, but then, I began to get the idea that he was refueling, the way he so often does when seems to be resting and carefree. So I didn’t ask him any questions. Then, one evening, he suddenly came out with it – the whole program.”
  • Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change NOTES: in progress.
  • H Is for Hawk NOTES: best kind of book: transported me to another world, I’ve never thought about having a hawk but now I want one.
  • Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual NOTES: ..
  • I Was Told It Would Get Easier NOTES: can’t remember where I was recommended this book but an easy, light-hearted look at the relationship between kids & parents as a kid approaches college age. A nice mental break.
  • The Fisherman’s Son NOTES: no notes / quotester from this one, just a short book with great pictures about surfing, the simple life, and conservation.
  • Enchiridion NOTES: maybe less of a book and more of a collection of short thoughts to meditate on. This is the book that James Stockdale references multiples times in “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot” (see below).

September 2020

  • ClutterFree Revolution: Simplify Your Stuff, Organize Your Life & Save the World NOTES: nothing life-changing, confirmed a number of things that somehow I had already figured out. Quotes / relevant bits:
    • On organizing: make sure like things are together, easy to find, easy to reach, and out of the way (proximity = urgency). I did this with my coffee making materials and it’s been awesome… filters, grounds, coffee maker, water container (to fill up coffee maker), all within arms reach. This principle probably also applies to software UX.
    • Page 97: On the refrigerator…. no quotes but a reminder to clean out the refrigerator on a quarterly basis… and to store infrequently used things (for whatever reason we have a giant jar of olives that I’m pretty sure no one ever touches) either way in the back or in a secondary refrigerator (we have one in the garage). Use clear containers for everything in the refrigerator.
  • From Here to Eternity NOTES: in progress.
  • Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot NOTES: coming soon…
  • House NOTES: no quotes but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the house building process, the woodworking, the comparisons to software development, and the stories about the people.

August 2020

  • Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior NOTES: read while backpacking around Mt. Hood. Part strategy, part history, part heroic story, many tragedies. Need to do more to read about Native American history.
  • What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen NOTES: pressure is good… stress is good.. in doses. Interesting re-reading my notes on this book while reading the book about Jim Stockdale, where he talks about pressure of a different kind. This is a powerful book for parents Quotes:
    • Page 111: “… I believe that we’re are seeing the result of the so-called Race to Nowhere — the achievement driven status culture that are kids are raised in. My clients have spent their childhoods and in particular, their adolescences putting their healthy development on hold, coached and managed by parents who are so fearful and anxious about helping their children succeed that there is simply no room for their children, my clients, to begin to know themselves. When they arrive at college, the wheels come off. They are so hard on themselves, and so out of touch with what they really care about — discovering their true interests is a foreign concept. There is such a push for perfection that normal life skills (learning time management, healthy sleep habits, adult responsibilities) are not in place. Substance abuse and other methods of self-medicating are rampant. Most of my students text with their parents multiple times a day and parents regularly run interference for them. Combine this with the incessant comparisons students make of themselves to others via social media, financial burdens and dread of graduation (for after a lifetime of curated education, graduation feels like falling off a cliff) and you have a perfect storm.”
    • Page 120, on chasing goals rather than developing competence: “.. Developing competence at an activity that one enjoys, making friends, finding meaning in life, and pursing a heartfelt religious path are examples of intrinsic goals. Getting high grades in school, making lots of money, achieving high status, and looking good to others are examples of extrinsic goals. Twenge argues convincingly that there has been a continual shift away from intrinsic toward extrinsic values in the culture at large and among young people in particular, promoted in part by the mass marketing of the consumer good through television and other media. She also refers to evidence that the pursuit of extrinsic goals at the expense of intrinsic goals correlates with anxiety and depression.”
    • On self vs. online self, page 138: “… We’re all doing exactly this, all the time now. Even before I began learning about Madison, I had started the process of erasing myself from the present world in favor of social media — carving out chunks of myself, stretching them into an online skeleton: two people from one, like some kind of medical miracle. I had been doing this for a long time, of my own volition. In the past few years, I’ve spent almost as much time constructing and maintaining my online self as I have my real human self. I’ve certainly spent more time on Instagram exercising my image than I have in the gym exercising my body.”
    • On kids & talking with parents, page 147: “… Consider this passage from the book Mind Change: ‘Teenagers who spoke with their parents over the phone or in person released similar amounts of oxytocin [an indication of bonding and well-being] and showed similar levels of cortisol [a marker of stress], indicative of a reduction in stress. In comparison, those who instant-messaged their parents released no oxytocin and had salivary cortisol levels as high as those who did not interact with their parents at all. Thus while the younger generation may favor non-oral modes of communication, when it comes to providing emotional support, messaging appears comparable to not speaking to anyone at all.”
    • On perfection, page 202: “… To make his point about the varying human responses to imperfection, Boyd uses three examples: Waterford crystal, pottery, and oriental rugs. At Waterford, Boyd explains, each piece of crystal is meticulously inspected, held up to the light, each surface appraised for the slightest crack or deformity. If any is spotted, the piece is immediately shattered. Boyd allows this imagery to sink in, allows the listener to picture the beautiful crystal being smashed against a hard object, the pieces swept away, punishment for a defect nearly invisible to the human eye. Then Boyd urges us to consider the slight space between those two wildly different outcomes. He says, ‘Notice how close perfection is to despair.’ Then he moves to pottery. As a potter’s hands move over clay, shaping the malleable form, occasionally a mistake is made, an unwanted alteration to the vision. But usually the potter will not throw away the clay; she will attempt to reshape the piece around the mistake, as it if had never happened. Then Boyd turns to the weavers who create the world’s most beautiful rugs. They spend hours creating designs by hand, and during this painstaking process, the shapes and angles often become lopsided, asymmetrical. However, this asymmetry is not considered a mistake to be eradicated or smoothed out. In fact, it is the opposite: this imperfection becomes the rug’s beauty, its uniqueness. This rug is unlike any other, and that is what makes it a coveted work. Boyd’s message asks a simple question os his listeners: in which way do we view imperfection? And again, notice how close perfection is to despair.”
    • On social media and image, page 236: “A searching energy permeates almost every young person’s social media. After all, what is a social feed if not a journal, but in digital, visual form? Perhaps the most important distinguishing feature of a social account is its public nature, the understanding each user has, from the moment of launch, that everything is for public consumption. But perhaps we are overstating the effect of this distinction: if in private, most of us allow ourselves to say or write certain truths we otherwise wouldn’t, then perhaps the reverse holds true. Perhaps we share things in public that we couldn’t offer in private. If we’ve accepted that we are different in private, is this not also true for how we reveal ourselves in public? And which version of ourselves is more real? As young people, we are trying to find our voice: trying out who we are, again and again, until something feels more accurate than the previous thing. Yet we rarely admit — or even recognize — that this is what we’re doing.
    • Last, page 298: “Maybe why is not the question to ask about Madison’s death. Or whether she deliberately chose this at all; that is other than in the very moment she started climbing the stairs. A definitive story is needed for those of us left behind, so we can feel better.
      Amid chaos, order and understanding feel paramount. We feel we must find a reason for why she jumped — a reason that makes sense to a healthy mind. But there is no one thing. There are rivers that merge and create a powerful current. And we can’t fully know why they all merged, right then, right there, around Maddy. Still, we can try to analyze each one, the way it bends and curves, what it turns into when it blends with another. We can do this, learn everything we can, how to talk to others their pain or our own, in the hope that fewer people get caught in this same, fierce swirl.”

July 2020

June 2020

  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià’s elBulli NOTES: really interesting book. Karen and I watched an episode of Chef’s Table back a couple months ago which I think sparked an interest in this book. Loved the attention to detail, the science, the discipline, and thoughtfulness that went into the restaurant. Bummed I didn’t make there or even drive by during one my visits to BCN. Quote:
    • Page 19: “… Some of the things he says they’ve heard from Marc already: the unquestionable importance of arriving on time, the absolute need to drive carefully on the perilous road that leads to and from the restaurant… he tells them to buy a notebook and bring it every day in order to keep track of the new things they learn. Then he adds one item that comes as a surprise to those cooks who have worked in other highly regarded places: “I don’t want to hear anyone screaming in this restaurant. No one insults anyone else, no one belittles anyone else. If you have a criticism, you raise it calmly, in a meeting. We’re a team. And if I hear of anyone insulting anyone else, they’re out.”
  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History NOTES: SO many parallels to 2020 and COVID-19. A MUST read for anyone who doesn’t want history repeating. Quotes:
    • Page 262: “All real scientists exist on the frontier. Even the least ambitious among them deal with the unknown, in only one step beyond the known. The best among them move deep into ta wilderness region where they know almost nothing, when the very tools and techniques needed to clear the wilderness, to bring order to it, do not exist. There they probe in a disciplined way. There a single step can take them through the looking glass into a world that seems entirely different, and if they are at least partly correct their probing acts like a crystal to precipitate an order out of chaos, to create form, structure, and direction. A single step can also take one off a cliff.”
    • Page 293: “When Avery experimented, a colleague said, ‘His attitude had many similarities with the hunter in search of his prey. For the hunter, all the components, the rocks, the vegetation, the sky, are fraught with information and meanings that enable him to become part of the intimate world of his prey.’ Avery had a hunter’s patience. He could lie in wait for an hour, a day, a week, a month, a season. If the prey mattered enough, he could wait through an entire season and then another and then another. But he did not simply wait; he wasted not a single hour, he lotted, he observed, he learned. He learned his prey’s escape routes and closed them off; he found better and better vantage points; he bracketed the field through which the prey passed and kept tightening that field until, eventually, the prey had to pass through a noose…. ‘Whenever you fall, pick up something.’ And he often said, ‘Disappointment is my daily bread. I thrive on it.’
    • Page 394: “Those historians who have examined epidemics and analyzed how societies have responded to them have generally argued that those with power blamed the poor for their own suffering, and sometimes tried to stigmatize and isolate them. Those in power, historians have observed, often sought security in imposing order, which gave them some feeling of control, some feeling that the world still made sense.” Couldn’t be more true in 2020.
    • Page 432, an urge I’ve had before: “I am going to try my best to develop the opportunity for a year of study in some place as far removed from any question of ‘affairs or position’ as possible… I cannot make it too plain that for the coming year I am seeking no position in the conventional sense of the word. What I really want is… the rehabilitation of a more or less vacant mind.’ He was quitting everything, walking away from position, prestige, and money, walking into the wilderness with no guarantee of anything, stripping himself naked at the age of forty-four with a wife and two children. He was free.”
    • Page 435, on a bit of leadership and management that I tends towards to a fault: “… Unlike Avery, who broke his problems down into smaller ones that could be solved and who learned from each failure, Lewis seemed simply to be applying brute force, huge numbers of experiments. He sought to add other scientists with particular expertise to his team, but he did not define what precise role new people would play. Unlike Avery, who recruited people with specific skills to attack a specific question, Lewis seemed simply to want to throw resources at the problem, hoping someone would solve it.”
    • Page 461… DAMN: “So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet one most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate all within a society. Society cannot function if it is every man for himself. By definition, civilization cannot survive that. Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said it first, and best. ‘A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete.
      Only they will people be able to break it apart.'” The United States, in 2020, couldn’t be more opposite that statement.

May 2020

  • Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot NOTES: way back in 1995 I thought I wanted to be a pilot… turns out I probably could have but would have had a hard time being a family guy as well. This was a fun book that taught me about high pressure / low pressure, place lag, pilot communication (DECIDE!), airway beacons, and waypoints. Well worth the price of admission.
  • Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream NOTES: I remembered reading this as a magazine article in Wired years ago and bought it for my son and had to read it myself. Great story for young kids / teens who don’t fit the athlete / cool kid mold. Surprisingly even more relevant in the age of trump. Highly recommend.
  • Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics NOTES: kind of a slog of a book (almost 400) pages, it’s basically the history of soccer, viewed through the lens of many different countries that influenced the direction of soccer, which has a history probably as long as baseball does, but all of it happened outside the US. Great book for anyone who wants to know more about how soccer has evolved.

April 2020

March 2020

  • Managing Oneself (Harvard Business Review Classics) NOTES: I thought it was longer (only 55 small pages) and you can find it for free online (link) but a good read, especially given where I’m at in life. Quotes:
    • Page 3: “The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations…” Reminds me of the “Thinking in Bets” book I just read… Have been thinking a bunch about “resulting” and whether the decision was good or bad… or the result was good or bad (lots of luck involved in the second).
    • Page 34: “What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: 1) what does the situation require? 2) Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contributions to what needs to be done? And finally, what results have to be achieved to make a difference? Consider the experience of a newly appointed hospital administrator. The hospital was big and prestigious but it had been coasting on its reputation for 30 years. The new administrator decided that his contribution should be to establish a standard of excellent in one important area within two years. He chose to focus on the emergency room, which was big, visible, and sloppy. He decided that every patient who came into the ER had to be seen by a qualified nurse within 60 seconds. Within 12 months, the hospital’s emergency room had become a model for all hospitals in the United States, and within another 2 years, the whole hospital had been transformed.” Feels like a combination of a great OKR and a concrete / coherent strategy.
    • Page 46: “We hear a great deal of talk about the midlife crisis of the executive. It is mostly boredom. At 45, most executives have reached the peak of their business careers and they know it. After 30 years of doing very much the same kind of work, they are very good at their jobs. But they are not learning or contributing or deriving challenge and satisfaction from the job. And yet they are still likely to face another 20 if not 25 years of work. That is why managing oneself increasingly leads one to begin a second career. There are three ways to start a second career. The first is actually to start one. Often this takes nothing more than moving from one kind of organization to another: the divisional controller in a large corporation, for instance, becomes the controller of a medium size hospital. But there are also growing numbers of people who move into different lines of work altogether: the business executive or government official who enters the ministry at 45, for instance; or the midlevel manager who leaves corporate life after 20 years to attend law school and become a small-town attorney.” Sounds haltingly close to where I’m at…
    • Page 52: “… another reason to developer a second major interest, and to develop it early. No one can expect to live very long without experiencing a serious setback in his or her life work. There is the competent engineer who is passed over for promotion at age 45. There is the competent college professor who realizes at age 42 that she will never get a professorship at a big university, even though she may be fully qualified for it. There are tragedies in one’s family life: the breakup of one’s marriage or the loss of a child. At such times, a second major interest, not just a hobby, may make all the difference…. The overwhelming majority of people did not expect anything but to stay in their ‘proper station’ as an old English prayer has it. The only mobility was downward mobility.”
  • The Battle of Mogadishu: Firsthand Accounts from the Men of Task Force Ranger NOTES: Had the privilege to meet and get to know one of the men mentioned in the book, he let me borrow it from his bookshelf. Great read if you liked Black Hawk Down.
  • Why Honor Matters NOTES: not sure if I agree with the idea of honor cultures but the author does a good job of trying to persuade me… and there’s a lot of good that comes from tight community that I could learn from. Quotes:
    • Page 55: “Brown’s unspoken assumption is that we ought to live in a way that maximizes the probability of a long life, no matter the cost. An experience like bungee jumping or backcountry camping or skydiving is deemed ‘excessively’ or ‘irrationally’ risky because it marginally increases the probability of an early death. But what if the activities like backcountry camping and skydiving and scuba diving and others are part of what makes life worth living in the first place? A sense of adventure is not a vice; it’s a virtue. Imagine how impoverished your life would be if you systematically excluded any behavior that carried the slightest threat of physical harm. No wonder stories about honor stirs the public imagination! Many of us recognize and connect with the spirit of adventure, even as we sense it receding in our own experience.”
    • Page 59: “… Ferdinand Tonnies distinguished between two types of social relations. The first – gemeinschaft – is sometimes translated as ‘community’, but like many German words has no good translation. People who relate in this way regard themselves as part of the community whose value can’t be reduced to its individual parts. They have common goals and values, and they don’t make a clean distinction between what’s good for them as individuals and what’s good for the group as a whole. Examples of gemeinschaft include the family, army units, sports teams, and religious communities. Within these groups, there is plenty of competition among individuals, but they are working for a common purpose and share some basic standards for how to evaluate people’s behavior and characters.”
    • Page 75: “A part of Boston Strong is pride in the inspired work of those involved in responding to the event – the bystanders, the other runners, the Boston Athletic Association volunteers, the first responders, the medical staff at the finish line, the doctors and nurses and support staff in the hospitals, police from all responding agencies, fire, National Guard; in short, everyone who helped. From their dedicated, selfless work springs inspiration. Another part of Boston Strong is an expression of resilience – that people, including those directly and indirectly injured, those involved in the response, and the community as a whole will come back, stronger than ever, going on with their lives and hopes and dreams. And a part of Boston Strong is an expression of unwillingness to be intimidated. This is a forward-looking form of resilience – the community refuses to cower, to be deterred or diverted from its ongoing work and life and hopes and dreams. Boston Strong is, thus, both about response and about recovery.”
    • Page 207, on BAM (“Becoming a Man”) and it’s six core values: “The values are integrity (‘My values equal my actions; I am a man of my word’), accountability ‘I am responsible for the consequences of my actions whether intended or unintended; I take ownership for what I do and avoid projecting blame’), positive anger expression (‘I learn that anger is a normal emotion that needs to be expressed; how I express my anger is a choice, whether as a savage or as a warrior’), self-determination (‘I pursue my goals in the face of adversity’), respect for womanhood (‘I am more mindful and respectful in how I interact with women; I strive to be a self-liberator and not an oppressor’), and visionary goal setting (‘I create a vision for myself, for who I am, and how I want to be seen in the world; I create a vision that is focused on making my community and the world a better place’)”
    • Page 217: “At the same time, there’s a smugness to the most triumphalist champions of liberalism, an elitist ‘let-them-eat-dignity’ quality, that ignores or undervalues, the serious problems of modern life, especially for the least educated and least fortunate. The resurgence of Far Right nationalism in the United States and Western Europe has exposed the inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities of our culture of dignity. These movements didn’t emerge out of nowhere. Human beings crave communal connections, they crave purpose and meaning and see to identify with movements, causes, and groups. This is a well-documented fact of human psychology. The policies and social structure of the dignity culture place all the moral emphasis on the individual, which, along with the depersonalizing forces of industrialization, has left many people feeling list, alienated, humiliated, and seething with resentment. That void, the lack meaning, community, and forms of identification, will get filled somehow. The question is how it gets filled, what we identify with, how we derive meaning and purpose from our lives.”

February 2020

  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts NOTES: really enjoyed this book, lots of things to incorporate into regular thinking. Quotes:
    • Page 7, the story of the goal line interception in Seahawks / Patriots Super Bowl: “Carroll got unlucky. He had control over the quality of the play-call decision, but not over how it turned out. It was exactly because he didn’t get a favorable result that he took the heat. He called a play that had a high percentage of ending in a game-winning touchdown or an incomplete pass… He made a good-quality decision that got a bad result…. He was a victim of our tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome. Poker players have a word for this: ‘resulting’.
    • Page 19, a book to read: “In addition to everything else he accomplished, John von Neumann is also the father of game theory. After finishing his day job on the Manhattan Project, he collaborated with Oskar Morgenstern to publish Theory of Games and Economic Behavior in 1944. The Boston Public Library’s list of the ‘100 Most Influential Books of the Century’ includes Theory of Games.”
    • Page 65, on betting as a way of sussing out how certain someone is: “Then your friend says, ‘Wanna bet?’ Suddenly, you’re not so sure. The challenge puts you on your heels, causing you to back off your declaration and question the belief that you just declared with such assurance.
      When someone challenges us to bet on a belief, signaling their confidence that our belief is inaccurate in some way, ideally it triggers us to vet the belief, taking an inventory of the evidence that informed us.

      • How do I know this?
      • Where did I get this information?
      • Who did I get it from?
      • Where is the quality of my sources?
      • How much do I trust them?
      • How up to date is my information?
      • How much information do I have that is relevant to the belief?
      • What other things like this have I been confident about that turned out not to be true?
      • What are the other plausible alternatives?
      • What do I know about the person challenging my belief?
      • What is their view of how credible my opinion is?
      • What do they know that I don’t know?
      • What is their level of expertise?
      • What am I missing?
    • Page 73: “By communicating our own uncertainty when sharing beliefs with others, we are inviting the people in our lives to act like scientists with us. This advances our beliefs at a faster clip because we miss out on fewer opportunities to get new information, information that would help us to calibrate the beliefs that we have.”
    • Page 109: “Changing the routine is hard and takes work. But we can leverage our natural tendency to derive some of our self-esteem by how we compare to our peers. Just as Duhigg recommends respecting the habit loop, we can also respect that we are built for competition, and that our self-narrative doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Keep the reward of feeling like we are doing well compared to our peers, but change the features by which we compare ourselves: be a better credit-giver than your peers, more willing than others to admit mistakes, more willing to explore possible reasons for an outcome with an open mind, even, and especially if that might cast you in a bad light or shine a good light on someone else.”
    • Page 129, on the buddy system and decision making and confirmation bias: “Lerner and Tetlock offer insight into what should be included in the group agreement to avoid confirmatory thought and promote exploratory though. Complex and open-minded thought is most likely to be activated when decision makers learn prior to forming any opinions that they will be accountable to an audience a) whose views are unknown, b) who is interested in accuracy, c) who is reasonably well-informed, and d) who has a legitimate reason for inquiring into the reasons behind participants’ judgements / choices…. groups can improve the thinking of individual decision-makers when the individuals are accountable to a group whose interest is accuracy.” Emphasis mine.
    • Page 136: “Being in an environment where the challenge of the bet is always looming works to reduce motivated reasoning. Such an environment changes the frame through which we view disconfirming information, reinforcing the frame change that our truthseeking group rewards. Evidence that might contradict a believe we hold is no longer viewed through as hurtful a frame. Rather, it is viewed as helpful because it can improve our chances of making a better bet. And winning a bet triggers a reinforcing positive update.”
    • Page 138: “To get a more objective view of the world, we need environment that exposes us to alternate hypotheses and different perspectives. That doesn’t apply only to the world around us: to view ourselves in a more realistic way, we need other people to feel in our blind spots. We already know why we’re right. What we need help with why we are wrong. A group with diverse viewpoints can help us by sharing the work suggested in the previous two chapters to combat motivated reasoning about beliefs and biased outcome fielding. When we think in bets we run through a series of questions to examine the accuracy of our beliefs. For example: 1) Why might my belief not be true? 2) What other evidence might be out there bearing on my belief? 3) Are there similar areas I can look toward to gauge whether similar beliefs to mine are true? 4) What sources of information could I have missed or minimized on the way to reaching my belief? 5) What are the reasons someone else could have a different belief, what’s their support, and why might they be right instead of me? 6) What other perspectives are there as to why things turned out the way they did?
    • Page 167: on decision making, not outcomes: “Many expert poker players often omit the outcome when seeking advice about their play. This became such a natural habit that I didn’t realize, until I started conducting poker seminars for players newer to the game, that this was not the norm for everyone. When I used hands I had played as illustrations, I would describe up to the decision point I was discussing no further, leaving off how the hand ended. This was, after all, how I had been trained by my poker group. When we finished the discussion, it was jarring to watch a room full of people look at me like I had left them teetering on the edge of the cliff. Wait! How did the hand turn out? I gave them the red pill: It doesn’t matter.”
    • Page 172, on having better discussions: “First, express uncertainty. Uncertainty not only improves truth seeking within groups but also invite everyone around us to share helpful information and dissenting opinions. Fear of being wrong or of having to suggest someone else is wrong, countervails the social contract of confirmation, often causing people to withhold valuable insight and opinions from us. If we start by making clear our own uncertainty, our audience is more likely to understand that any discussion that follows will not involve right versus wrong, maximizing our truth seeking exchanges with those outside our charter group. When we are in a position of influence over an enterprise’s hiring and culture, the same ideas apply. Hiring to a truth seeking charter and shaping a culture that rewards people for exploratory thought and expression of diverse viewpoints will serve enterprise well.”
    • Page 173, on better discussions, leading with assent: “When we lead with assent, our listeners will be more open to any dissent that might follow. In addition, when the information is presented as supplementing rather than negating what has come before, our listeners will be much more open to what we have to say… “And” is an offer to contribute. “But” is a denial and repudiation of working before.
    • Page 188, on using time travel to make better decisions: “Business journalist and author Suzy Welch developed a popular tool known as 10 – 10 – 10 that has the effect of bringing future–us into more of our in the moment decisions. Every 10-10–10 process starts with the question: what are the consequences of each in 10 minutes? In 10 months? In 10 years? This set of questions triggers mental time travel that cues that accountability conversation.”
    • Page 199, on body signs and decision making: “By recognizing in advance these verbal and physiological signs that ticker watching is making us tilt, we can commit to develop certain habit routines at those moments. We can precommit to walk away from the situation when we feel the signs of tilt, whether it’s a fight with a spouse or child, aggravation in a work situation, or losing at a poker table. We can take some space till we calm down and get some perspective, recognizing that when we are on tilt, we aren’t decision fit.”
    • Page 222, tools for informing better decision making: “Backcasting and premortems complement each other. Backcasting imagines a positive future; a premortem imagines a negative future. We can’t create a complete picture without representing both a positive space and the negative space. Backcasting reveals the positive space. Premortems reveal the negative space. Backcasting is the cheerleader; a premortem is the heckler in the audience.”
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less NOTES: didn’t have a mental picture of what I learned or applied from this book but I bookmarked a ton of pages and in hindsight, it applies to or aligns with many of the things in life that I value or want to value. Quotes:
    • ….
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly NOTES: very late to the party with Anthony Bourdain but I loved this book and especially his attitude about cooking, hard work, and artists. Quotes:
    • Page 62-63: on the types of line cooks in the world: “… Finally, there are mercenaries, people who do it for cash and do it well. Cooks who, though they have little love or natural proclivity for cuisine, do it a high level because they are paid well to do it – and because they are professionals. Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman – not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen – though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying. And I’ll generally take a stand-up mercenary who takes pride in his professionalism over an artist any day. When I hear ‘artist’, I think of someone who doesn’t think it necessary to show up at work on time. More often than not artists efforts, convinced as they are of their own genius, are geared more to giving themselves a hard-on than satisfying the great majority fo dinner customers. Personally I’d rather eat food that tastes good and is an honest reflection of its ingredients than a three-foot-tall caprice constructed from lemongrass, lawn trimmings, coconuts, and red curry… When a job applicant starts telling me how Pacific Rim cuisine turns him on and inspires him, I see trouble coming. send me another Mexican dishwasher anytime. I can teach him to cook. I can’t teach character. Show up at work on time six months in a row and we’ll talk about red curry paste and lemongrass. Until then, I have four words for you: ‘Shut the fuck up.'”
    • Page 96… again on hard work: “… If Bigfoot (the name of a guy he was working for at the time) asked you a question and you didn’t know the answer, he always preferred an ‘I dunno’ to a long-winded series of qualified statements, speculation and half-truth. You kept Bigfoot informed of your movements. He would never allow himself to fall victim to a ‘managers syndrome’ – constantly watching the clock, wondering if and when his employees were going to show up. Where Bigfoot ruled, he knew when they were going to show up; fifteen minutes before start of shift. That’s when. Bigfoot understood – as I came to understand – that character is far more important than skills or employment history. And he recognized character – good and bad – brilliantly. He understood, and taught me, that a guy who shows up every day on time, never calls in sick and does what he said he was going to do is less likely to fuck you in the end than a guy who has an incredible resume but is less than reliable about arrival time. Skills can be taught. Character you either have or don’t have. Bigfoot understood that there are two types of people in the world: those who do what they say they’re going to do – and everyone else.”
    • Page 132: on learning to recognize failure, something that I’ve learned in 2019 and 2020, both in myself (should have resigned / realized that I wasn’t going to make it and then I learned what negligence in a software company looks like): “… What I learned at Tom’s was a sad lesson that has served me well in decades since: I learned to recognize failure. I saw, for the first time, how two beloved, funny and popular guys can end up less beloved, not so funny and much less popular after trying to do nothing more than what their friends told them they were good at… I found a job in the Post and jumped ship at the first opportunity.”
    • Page 256, story / chapter about Scott Bryan, which apparently inspired more than just me and mirrors some of the mistakes I’ve made / am making: “… Scott had some chops now. He was good on the line. He had a resume, some notable names and recommendations, working experience, exposure to France and French food. So did I, at that point in my career. I was good! I’d been to France! I had a CIA diploma – at a time when that was a pretty rare and impressive credential. So, what the hell happened? How come I’m not a three-star chef? Why don’t I have four sommeliers? Well, there are lots of reasons, but one reasons is that I went for the money. The first chef’s job that came long I grabbed. And the one after that and the one after that. Used to a certain quality of life – as divorcees like to call it, living in the style to which I’d grown accustomed – I was unwilling to take a step back and maybe learn a thing or two.
      Scott was smarter and more serious. He was more singleminded about what he wanted to do, and how well he wanted to do it. He began a sort of wandering apprenticeship, sensibly designed to build experience over a bank account… He went to work for Brendan Walsh… And for Scott, it was his version of the ‘the happy time’, a period when ‘everyone knew what we were doing was important. It was a team of cooks.'”

January 2020

  • Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home NOTES: a bit of escapism… I’ll never be 25 and single and able to travel the world but fun to read about someone who did. The only bookmark I made was on page 199 where he talked about the first and only (at the time) trip he made to South America to visit Torres del Paine in Argentina, which is “… home to tons of glaciers, glacial lakes, deep valleys, famous granite mountains, and beautiful pine forests”, which sounds like my kind of place.
  • Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones NOTES: great book, definitely has changed a number of things about my life in daily ways. Quotes / excerpts:
    • Page 19, on compounding habits: “Productivity Compounds: Accomplishing one extra task is a small feat on any given day, but it counts for a lot over an entire career. The effect of automating an old task or mastering a new skill can be even greater. The more tasks you can handle without thinking, the more your brain is free to focus on other areas. Stress Compounds: The frustration of a traffic jam. The weight of parenting responsibilities. The worry of making ends meet. The strain of slightly high blood pressure. By themselves, these common causes of stress are manageable. But when they persist for years, little stresses compound into serious health issues. Knowledge Compounds: Learning one new idea won’t make you a genius but a commitment to lifelong learning can be transformative. Furthermore, each book you read not only teaches you something new but also opens up different ways of thinking about old ideas. As Warren Buffett says, “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.” Negative thoughts compound. The more you think of yourself as worthless, stupid, or ugly, the more you condition yourself to interpret life that way. You get trapped in a thought loop. The same is true for how you think about others. Once you fall into the habit of seeing people as angry, unjust, or selfish, you see those kind of people everywhere. Relationships compound. People reflect your behavior back to you. The more you help others, the more others want to help you. Being a little bit nicer in each interaction can result in a network of broad and strong connections over time. Outrage Compounds. Riots, protests, and mass movements are rarely the result of a single event. Instead, a long series of micro-aggressions and daily aggravations slowly multiply until one event tips the scales and outrage spreads like wildfire.”
    • Page 23, on system vs. goals: “What’s the difference between systems and goals? … Goals are about the results you wan to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. If you’re a coach, your goal might be to win a championship. Your system is the way that you recruit players, manage your assistant coaches, and conduct practice. If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal might be to build a million dollar business. Your system is how you test product ideas, hire employees, and run marketing campaigns. If you’re a musician, your goal might be to play a new piece. Your system is how often you practice, how you break down and tackle difficult measures, and your method for receiving feedback from your instructor.
    • Page 35, on how you identify yourself: “When working for you, identity change can be a powerful force for self-improvement. When working against you, though, identity change can be a curse. Once you have adopted an identify, it can be easy to let your allegiance to it impact your ability to change. Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms (terrible in the morning, bad at math, always late, etc..) attached to their identify.”
    • Page 41: chapter summary: “There are three levels of change: outcome change, process change, and identity change. The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you want to become. Your identify emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity. The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results, but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.
    • Page 65, the Habits Scorecard, which you can get here.
    • Page 78: “.. Habits like ‘read more’ or ‘eat better’ are worthy causes, but these goals do not provide instruction on how and when to act. Be specific and clear: After I close the door.
      After I brush my teeth. After I sit down at the table. The specificity is important. The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific cue, the better your odds are that you will notice when the time comes to act. The 1st Law of Behavior Change is to make it obvious. Strategies like implementation intentions and habit stacking are among the most practical ways to create obvious cues for your habits and design a clear plan for when and where to take action.”
    • Page 85, on habits and cues: “Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out. Unfortunately, the environments where we live and work often make it easy not to do certain actions because there is no obvious cue to trigger, the behavior. It’s easy not to practice the guitar when it’s tucked away in the closet. It’s easy not to read a a book when the bookshelf is in the corner of the guest room. It’s easy not to take your vitamins when they are out of sight in the pantry. When the cues that spark a habit are subtle or hidden, they are easy to ignore.”
    • Page 160, on habits: “Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 percent of our actions on any given day are done out of habit. This is already a substantial percentage, but the true influence of your habits is even greater than these numbers suggested. Habits are automatic choices that influence the conscious decisions that follow. Yes, a habit can be complete din just a few seconds, but it can also shape the actions that you take for minutes or hours afterward. Habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway. They lead you down a path and, before you know it, you’re speeding toward the next behavior. It seems easer to continue what you are already doing than to start doing something different. You site through a bad movie for two hours.
      You keep snacking even when you’re already full. You check your phone for ‘just a second’ and soon you have spent twenty minutes staring at the screen. In this way, the habits you follow without thinking often determine the choices you make when you are thinking… Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. I refer to these little choices as decisive moments. The moment you decide between ordering takeout and cooking dinner. The moment you choose between driving your car or riding your bike. The moment you decide between starting your homework or grabbing the video game controller.”
    • Page 163: The Two Minute Rule: “The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one item of clothing away.
      And, as we have just discussed, this is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it. A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging but the first two minute should be easy.
      What you want is a gateway habit that naturally leads you down a more productive path.”
    • Page 174, on automating life habits: “When you automate as much as your life as possible, you can spend your effort on the tasks machines cannot yet do. Each habit that we hand over to the authority of technology frees up time and energy to pour into the next stage of growth…. Technology creates a level of convenience that enables you to act on your smallest whims and desires. At the mere suggestion of hunger, you can have food delivered to your door. At the slightest hint of boredom, you can get lost in the vast expanse of social media. When the effort requires to act on your desires becomes effectively zero, you can find yourself slipping into whatever impulse arrives at the moment. The downside of automation is that we can find ourselves jumping from easy task to easy task without making time for more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, work.”
    • Page 196-197, on habit tracking.. “Jerry Seinfeld reportedly uses a habit tracker to stick with his streak of writing jokes. In the documentary Comedian, he explains that his goal is simply to ‘never break the chain’ of writing jokes every day. IN other words, he is not focused on how good or bad a particular joke is or how inspired he feels. He is simply focused on showing up an adding to his streak. ‘Don’t break the chain’ is a powerful mantra. Don’t break the chain of sales calls and you’ll build a successful book of business. Don’t break the chain of workouts and you’ll get fit faster than you’d expect. Don’t break the chain of creating every day and you will end up with an impressive portfolio. Habit tracking is powerful because it leverages multiple Laws of Behavior Change. It simultaneously makes a behavior obvious, attractive, and satisfying.”
    • Page 201, on accountability partners and habits: “The comedian Margaret Cho writes a joke or song every day. She does the ‘song a day’ challenge with friend, which helps them both stay accountable. Knowing that someone is watching can be a powerful motivator. You are less likely to procrastinate to give up because there is an immediate cost. If you don’t follow through, perhaps they’ll see you as untrustworthy or lazy. Suddenly you are not only failing to uphold your promises to yourself, but also failing to uphold your promises to others.”
    • Page 224-225, on talent: “As you explore different options, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself to continually narrow in on the habits and areas that will be most satisfying to you: 1) what feels like fun to me, but work to others? The mark of whether you are made for a tasks is not whether you love it bu whether you can handle the pain of the task easier than most people. When are you enjoying yourself while other people are complaining?
      The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is the work you were made to do. 2) what makes me lose track of time? Flow is the mental state you enter when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away. This blend of happiness and peak performance is what athletes and performers experience when they are ‘in the zone.’ It is nearly impossible to experience a flow state and not find the task satisfying to at least some degree. 3) where do I get greater returns than the average person? We are continually comparing ourselves to those around us, and a behavior is more likely to be satisfying when the comparison is in our favor. 4) What comes naturally to me? For just a moment, ignore what you have been taught. Ignore what society has told you. Ignore what others expect of you. Look inside yourself and ask, ‘What feels natural to me?’ When have I felt alive? When I have felt like the real me? No internal judgments or people pleasing. No second guessing or criticism.
      Just feelings of engagement and enjoyment. Whenever you feel authentic and genuine, you are headed in the right direction.”
    • Page 236, loved this paragraph: “There have been a lot of sets that I haven’t felt like finishing, but I’ve never regretted doing the workout. There have been a lot of articles I haven’t felt like writing, but I’ve never regretted publishing on schedule. There have been a lot of days I’ve felt like relaxing, but I’ve never regretted showing up and working on something that was important to me. The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom.”

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