Monday, December 31, 2018

Book Review: The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Word Is MurderThe Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book in the series of Detective Inspector Hawthorne's investigations. Author is narrating the story first hand as he too plays a part in the story. Author has signed up to write about a murder investigation that inspector Hawthorne has been working on.

The story begins with the a middle aged woman going to an funeral parlor to arrange for her funeral proceeds. A few hours after her meeting with the undertaker she is found strangled at her residence. Some items are missing to give an impression of burglary being the intent behind the murder. In the past (10 yrs ago) a child was killed in a road accident and the driver in the car was the same middle aged woman who is murdered. The lady's son is a famous actor in Hollywood and he flies down to London to attend his mother's funeral. On the day of the funeral the actor son also gets murdered in the most gruesome manner.

Metropolitan police hires consultant detective inspector Hawthorne to investigate this murder.

Inspector Hawthorne contacts the author to write a book about this investigation as it unfolds. The risk was that if someone else from Met solves the case before Hawthorne does then there will not be any point in writing a book. Author accompanies Hawthorne as he interviews all suspects. Eventually Hawthorne solves the mystery. This approach to writing is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson where Dr Watson writes about Holmes' investigations.

Overall the story is fast paced and not too long so it does well in retaining reader's attention. Looking forward to the second book in the series - the sentence is death - which is due for release in June 2019 in US.

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Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleHow to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great book .. it is full of common sense techniques on how a human being should interact, converse or deal with another human being. The book does not talk about any magical ways of influencing people, nor does influencing mean cheating people. It is about understanding what generally works with most humans and the results are a win-win for both parties who are interacting and not just one benefiting at the cost of the other.
I listened to the audio book so i could not take any notes then but thankfully several others on the internet have done. I am referring to and will elaborate some of the points in my own words (for examples on each of these points you should read the book as it is full of anecdotes related to each item below):
Part 1 - How to influence people:
When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.

The only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it.

1. Don't criticize instead tell others about what you find good in them. Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment. …. Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
2. Be honest in your appreciation. No one likes insincere praise (flattery).
3. Kindle the desire in the other person to want to do the thing you need them to do so you both benefit.

Part 2 - How to be liked by other people or make a good first impression:
1. Be genuinely interested in other person.
2. Smile while talking to others. It gives a positive impression and also makes the other person feel comfortable talking to you.
3. Remember a person's name (as that is the sweetest thing for them).
4. Be a good listener. Encourage the other person to talk about themselves. Many people like to talk about themselves.
5. Talk in terms of other person's interests - how what you are proposing to them will benefit them.
6. Make the other person feel important - and do it with sincerity. One way to do so will be to mention their good in front of others so they feel they are being recognized and will feel important that way. But we should only praise them for what we see as good in them sincerely.

Part 3 - How to win people to your way of thinking:
If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.

1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Don't argue.
2. Show respect for the other person's opinion. Never say - you are wrong. That will hurt their pride and they will become defensive.
3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. This goes a long way at times to prove to the other person that you are being honest.
4. Begin in a friendly way. Don't get to the complaint you have to tell the other person right away ... beginning in a friendly doing some loose talking before gently putting across your point of complaint will make the other person more receptive to your point of view.
5. Get the other person to saying - "yes"es. This is called the socrates way.
6. Let the other person do a great deal of talking.
7. Let the other person feel that the idea or ownership of the work is theirs.
8. Try to see other person's point of view.
9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
11. Dramatize your ideas.
12. Throw down a challenge (this works especially well for kids).

Part 4 - How to be a leader without offending or arousing resentment:
1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
2. Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly - so as to not hurt their pride.
3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person - this will soften the blow for the other person as they will realize that you too are not impeccable.
4. Let the other person save face.
5. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be "hearty in your appreciation and lavish in your praise".
6. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
7. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
8. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book Review: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The LotteryThe Lottery by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a village of 300 people, an annual ritual takes place called the lottery. All village folks, men, their wives and their children come join the occasion. Children collect stones and pile them up in a corner. Every family has a representative that picks a piece of paper from a black box. There is one paper that has a black dot in it, the rest are blank. The surprise is the winner in the lottery is stoned to death by the villagers as an act of sacrifice so the farmers get good corn produce that year. In the words of 77 years old Old Man Warner - "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".

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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Moved to Austin

We recently moved to Austin - a.k.a. the capital of the lone star state Texas and Silicon Hills (due to its growing tech worker population). It is also touted as the #1 place to live in the US these days.

Things we love so far about our move here are:

  1. Warm place - it gets pretty hot during summer but coming from eastern part of India we have already seen such heat in summers and it did not feel any different.
  2. Warm people - one can feel the warmth and genteelness of locals when communicating with them. 
  3. Small town feel - things are newer but spread out so it is common to see large tracts of open spaces with trees and shrubs.
  4. Open spaces and greenery 
  5. Lakes and hills - there are lakes and on western part of Austin there are hills too. 
  6. Mostly newer buildings - in general most constructions seem relatively new.
  7. Far less crowded than Silicon Valley - less number of people in general but population is growing here as more people move from other more expensive parts of US to Austin.
  8. Far less traffic on road than Bay Area
  9. Most major tech employers present - though the number of positions open in those employers may be a fraction of their offices in Silicon Valley yet many of the big companies of the Bay Area have a significant presence in terms of the number of employees they have here.
  10. Lower cost of living - a gallon of gas is $1 cheaper, no state tax, no sales tax and things in general cost less. 
  11. Lower housing cost - it is higher than many other cities in Texas but still way lower compared to Bay Area.
  12. New construction homes - we can still find plenty new homes at close proximity to work places and good schools (though they are typically higher priced and price reduces as we move further away from where most jobs are).
  13. Excellent schools - schools get 1% of the 2+% property tax so they get good funding i think. Most schools seem to have newer campuses - at least the ones we saw did.
We got an apartment in the north eastern part of Austin bordering Round Rock city. The Round Rock ISD is 21st largest school district in Texas and has some very good schools. This part of Austin has all amenities (classes for kids, restaurants, cinemas etc) available at a short distance so it is quite convenient for families. Also this part of Austin is where most of the major employers have their offices, apart from downtown area of Austin. There is metro train that makes the commute to downtown convenient. 

We are yet to explore the city and all that it has to offer but from what we saw thus far we have found no reason to regret though we still miss our friends and our San Jose home in the Bay Area.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Book Review: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Sign of FourThe Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is the second Sherlock Holmes book after "A Study in Scarlet". This is the story in which Dr Watson meets his future wife Ms. Mary Morstan.

Mary's father was a colonel in the British army and was posted at Andaman and Nicobar Islands. When he returned to London he wrote to her to meet him in a hotel. But Captain Arthur Morstan went missing the day he was supposed to meet his daughter. Then Mary replied to an anonymous newspaper ad asking for her whereabouts and started receiving a pearl every year. The last one she received was the 6th year since she her father went missing and it came with a letter asking her to meet one Mr Thadius Sholto. It was then that Mary contacts Mr Sherlock Holmes to accompany her to the meeting.

Captain Morstan and his colleague Major John Sholto were told about the secret of a hidden treasure by a captive in the Andaman Islands named John Small in return for their help in arranging for a boat in which Small and his 3 Sikh friends will escape from Andaman Islands prison. But Major Sholto double-crossed everyone and stole the treasure for himself. He went back to London and lived a royal life.

Small with the help of a native islander named Tonga goes to London to take his revenge on both Sholto and Captain Morstan and to get the treasure back. Sherlock Holmes with his ingenious detection abilities, tracks Small down as he and Tonga try to escape on a boat.

The stories of Sherlock Holmes have been written in such an appealing fashion that even after so many years they still capture the imagination of the reader and are unputdownable.

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Book Review: Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time by Tynan

Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a TimeSuperhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time by Tynan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book about how building good habits and being consistent with those habits can make a man a superman. Author tells about about how he does it in this book. Here are some notes that i took:
1. When people learn that I write every single day, study a foreign language every day, work on my big projects every day, eat healthy every day, work out every other day, and maintain a consistent sleep schedule, they marvel at the deep well of self discipline that I have. In truth, though, it's all just habits that feel easy. Habits are the closest we can get to having superpowers.
2. Replacing just a few key negative habits with a few positive habits can easily be the difference between being mostly unhappy and being happy almost all of the time.
3. The benefit of a habit isn't the magnitude of each individual action you take, but the cumulative impact it will have on your life in the long term.
4. Missing two days of a habit is habit suicide. If missing one day reduces your chances of long-term success by a small amount like five percent, missing two days reduces it by forty percent or so. Three days missed and you may as well be starting over.
5. When you first miss a habit, the next occurrence of it should become a top priority. You must execute on that habit at any level possible. Do it perfectly if you can, but do it terribly if that's all you can handle. Just make sure that you do it.
6. Just like a marriage, any habit that's intended to last forever will require loyalty through good and bad, sickness and health.
7. Remember that the power of a habit isn't actually in the individual execution, but in the consistency. It is far far worse to skip doing something than to just do a horrible job of it.
8. So if you're trying to lose weight, evaluate yourself based on how well you stick to your plan rather than the number on the scale, especially in the short term.
9. Track your adherence to process, not your results.
10. Sometimes building small habits can build momentum and self-confidence that gives people the strength and motivation to tackle the larger ones.
11. The first phase of habits, countering your weaknesses, makes you the best version of yourself.
12. Exploring areas that “just aren't you” is how you expand how you define yourself and take things to the next level.
13. create habits to surround yourself with positive people. The way I did this was to create a habit of only hanging out with people who I wanted to become better friends with. Within half a year this changed my social circle significantly for the better.
14. Whether other people are doing smart things, dumb things, things that help us, or things that harm us, both parties can be best served through fostering compassion and minimizing focus on how wrong the other is.
15. “Remember that everyone is just doing their best and trying to be happy, just like you.”
16. Eating healthy food may be the single most important habit that you can cultivate.
17. Sugar and highly-refined grains are the most significantly unhealthy things in the standard diet. Eliminating those two groups of foods is about eighty percent of getting to a healthy diet.
18. Items to cut out include refined sugars (including all fruit juices), agave and maple syrups, and honey, and refined grains such as white flour, white rice, and white pasta.
19. increase your intake of complex carbohydrates, like brown rice, as well as natural simple carbohydrates like fruit.
20. The goal isn't to have a perfect diet in every way, but to eliminate the dozen or so foods that do the most damage, and to enjoy your diet enough to make it sustainable.
21. When you successfully tackle sugar and refined carbohydrates, you can turn your attention to fats. The greatest threat is consuming too many Omega-6 and Omega-9 fats. These are found in most cooking oils as well as non-pasture raised meat, eggs, and dairy.
22. limit your oil intake to coconut oil for cooking and dressing, olive oil for dressing, and grass-fed butter. Meat should be limited to grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture-raised pork and poultry and wild-caught fish.
23. experiment with extremely healthy foods like miso soup, kale, cruciferous vegetables, tempeh, nuts, and seeds.
24. I eat a sardine sandwich and tuna sandwich almost every day for lunch. Any time I'm running low on Ezekiel bread, spinach, hummus, or fish, I restock so that I'm never more than a few minutes away from a healthy meal.
25. The goal with good sleep is to get as much sleep as your body wants, probably around 8 hours on average, and to wake up without an alarm clock.
26. The first step towards a good sleep habit is creating a good sleep environment. The key components of a good sleep environment are complete darkness and silence.
27. The tipping point for me was reading the excellent book, the Willpower Instinct, which said that the two best practices for increasing willpower were working out and meditating every day.
28. There are a lot of purported benefits of meditation, all of which I'm sure are experienced by one person or another, but the most significant benefit I've derived is better impulse control.
29. Every day, just sit for five minutes in a quiet space, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. For the first minute or two, it can help to subvocalize, “breathe in.... breathe out... breathe in... breathe out...” Such a simple task is enough to keep your mind focused.
30. Your overriding goal is just to sit there for five minutes. Any time you do that, you have successfully meditated. When you notice that your mind starts thinking about something else, refocus on your breath.
31. The most tangible benefit I noticed from meditation was that it created a space in between feeling an impulse and acting on it.
32. Work out three days a week, doing three exercises each day. Monday is deadlifts, pullups, and rows. Wednesday is bench press, incline bench press, and curls. Friday is squat or leg press, straight-leg deadlift, and cable crunches. Deadlifts of both varieties are two sets of 4-6 reps, pullups are three sets of 4-6, everything else is three sets of 8-12.
33. Shifting your diet to 30-40% protein, including a shake one hour before working out, will help.
34. Ideas don't exist in a vacuum, so whatever outside influences we're exposed to become a part of our creation process and affect our output.
35. Our brains are lazy and we're creatures of habit. That means that without conscious effort, we will only do what is comfortable and familiar.
36. By making desirable behaviors comfortable and familiar, we can change them from being cumbersome and mentally taxing to comfortable and easy.
37. I noticed that having a clean and uncluttered living and working space makes it easier to think, helps keep my stress levels low, and improves my mood.
38. The essential habit of becoming a minimalist is the habit of regularly evaluating how your possessions either add to or detract from the conscious life you're living and then getting rid of those things that are burdensome.
39. Twice, then Quit is very simple. When you want to quit working for the first time, don't. Push through and work some more. The second time you want to quit, also don't quit. Push through again. The third time you want to quit, go ahead and quit. This habit is deceptively simple, but is very effective.
40. To truly exceed our normal capabilities, we must learn to use that willpower as efficiently as possible. To do that, we habitualize as much as possible, taking actions that previously consumed willpower and making them automatic.

A good and easy to read book.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Book Review: The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by Debbie Stier

The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SATThe Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by Debbie Stier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A book true to its name - uncovers some of the facts about SAT exam taken by 3 million students world wide. Author is a single mom with 2 kids. She works in book publishing industry and is an avid and a speed reader. She wanted to inspire her elder son Ethan by taking the SAT exam herself. A good SAT score is also a pre-requisite to getting scholarship. Being a single mom, author decides it was important that her son does well in SAT exam and be able to get some scholarship and admission to a good college. So she starts the perfect score project and she sets out to write a book on her experiences of taking the SAT exam in the year 2011. SAT exams are held 7 times in a year. She takes all 7 of those exams starting in January 2011. In the process she discovers other moms who were like her and did not consider it an oddity that she was taking SAT exam at the age of 47, just so she can inspire and work with her son to take it one day and do well in his exam. She reads several of the prep books for SAT exam on the market - from Kaplan (which was the earliest of its kind to come in the market), Princeton Review (which came next) and others. She concludes that the original material by the college board was the only good source to prepare with. The other prep books cannot get the same licensed material for the passages in the exam as college board can so they generally get some free material published ages ago (as such material won't have copyright restrictions) and this makes the exams in the prep books harder than the actual SAT exam. She also emphasizes on the use of paper and pencil to write the exam so one can practice with filling the circles (SAT exams are still conducted on paper as of this writing). Author tries different tutors for critical reading, grammar and math. She did up her score with all her attempts but still could not get a perfect score of 800 in any of the sections. She mentions that it is vain to invest too much time in preparing for essay writing as there is no guarantee if that will fetch a 12 marks instead of more commonly gotten 9 or 10. Instead students should focus more on math and answering critical reading comprehension questions correctly. Likewise she also mentions that preparing for vocabulary with the most frequently asked words for SAT should suffice and one will be wise to not put too much time in trying to learn a dictionary or learn advanced words or get vocabulary building books. There is not too much to be gained from such pursuits. SAT exams generally test the knowledge of vocabulary from the limited set of oft repeated words that appeared in the previous SAT exams. Another thing she mentions was her son became motivated to do well in his SAT exam after having visited college campus in the Spring of his Junior year. But on hindsight author feels it was too late and she should have taken her son earlier to visit college campuses. Another thing author learned was that skill at Math is not built overnight. In her final attempt she could get 560 out of 800 in math. She could not get beyond it as not that she did not know the answers but she was not fast enough in math. She says that Kumon is a worthwhile approach to practice math from younger years so one can build good speed with good understanding of math. Also she thinks the timed tests in Kumon are also great help in preparing students for SAT exam. She also mentions of some important prep websites that she discovered: - by Erica Meltzer who was also author's tutor. - by author's friend Catherine Johnson who was going to co-author the book and is also a mom like the author who took SAT herself. - a good site to practice math - this is author's website for this book.

I liked the interview between author and her son towards the end of the book. Author asks her son if he was at all inspired by her efforts and to which her son does say that he was and it meant a lot to him to have his mother work with him and be able to guide him during his preparations. Ethan wrote the exam twice and could up his score by 30 marks in his final attempt. This book is recommended for parents who want to learn about the exam so they can help their kids in the right time. Remember, higher SAT score also means good college and good scholarship.

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Book Review: The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz My rating: 5 of 5 stars This is the first book in the series of Detective Inspector Hawthorne...