Category Archives: Things

Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage (Book Review)

I find many books on leadership to be fairy tales: Inspiring to read, but misleading about leadership that is actually effective in our real world. Real leadership — leadership that is based on evidence and science, and thus statistically more likely be effective in practice as opposed to “feel good leadership” — is less commonly found in leadership books. Mandella’s Way, written by Richard Stengel, a respected journalist, is one of the few books about leadership lessons from the real world presented with journalistic integrity.

Rating: ★★★★★

 

Your Brain At Work (Book Review)

Let me tell you a story about my friends Emily and Paul.

Emily and Paul were struggling in their demanding jobs and in managing their busy family life raising young children at home.

Emily, a marketing manager at a company, had recently earned a promotion to VP and was finding it challenging to supervise the team comprised of people who were her peers until recently. Paul, an independent software engineer and project manager, was running into problems completing the proposal for a software development project for his client, managing his subcontractors, and determining the best way to architect and implement the software product.

Their workdays were burdened with email overload, filled with meetings, and interrupted by phone calls at the most inopportune moments. They multitasked during meetings, responding to emails on their smartphones1 while missing important discussions and failing to pick on subtle (and some not so subtle) human interactions.

Life at home was no child’s play either. Their son, Josh, and daughter, Michelle, didn’t feel their parents understood them. The parents and children didn’t communicate on the same wavelength. This led to the parents and children talking over each other and having angry arguments.

So Emily and Paul turned to a consultant called D’Rock for help. By following his evidence-based, proven, scientific advice, Emily and Paul began to get increasingly better in their jobs, with family and in social settings.  They didn’t become perfect: They still made occasional mistakes, but fewer and smaller ones, and when they did, they recovered well.2

The improvements in their lives were measurable, major and memorable. Emily and Paul became highly successful in their jobs, solved the problems with their children at home and even developed a more enjoyable sex life!

How?

All this was possible because D’Rock was no ordinary consultant, but a neuromagician (stay with me here) — a superhero with who had the ability to give other people the power to change themselves for the better.

Here is the surprising twist to this story: D’Rock, the neurosuperhero character in this story is a real person called David Rock. He has even written a book that can help you overcome major challenges like Emily and Paul did.

Following David Rock’s advice will make you more successful in your professional, personal and social life. It is highly likely to make you a better computer programmer, a better project manager, a better people leader — better at pretty much every aspect of your job. It will make you smarter, more effective and happier. It will even enable you to fly. Ok. I’m joking about the flying part. Unless you are a pilot.

Before you ask me what drugs am I taking that have caused this flooding of dopamine into the synapses in my brain and is causing me these delusions, read the book Your Brain At Work and see if it changes your mind.

The book is enjoyable, educational and easy to learn from since it is written in the form of stories. That’s one of the best ways the human brain learns.

I highly recommend reading this book. Once every six months.

Rating: ★★★★★

  1. Doing emails on smartphone during a meeting, by the way, is a not-so-smart habit. []
  2. The path of steady progress is preferable to the pursuit of unattainable perfection. I call this the P5 principle. []

Tip: Use regular bars of soap to save money, time and help conserve the environment

Photo of bars of soap
Bars of soap

This article makes a case for using regular solid bars of soap and detergent powders instead of liquid soaps.

Soap bars are available all over the world at cheap prices. They are great for use at home and for travel.

Shower/Bath

Use a regular bar of (solid) soap while taking a shower every day instead of expensive liquid soaps. Using a regular bar of soap is cheaper, simpler and more environmentally-friendly than liquid body washes. A bar of soap is also easier to travel with: It avoids potential leakage of the liquid messing up your travel bag. Unlike liquids, it does not cause airport security hassles. All you need to do is dry it and carry it. If you lose or run out of your soap while traveling, no problem, just buy another. Its simple, minimal paper packaging is better for the environment than plastic bottles that liquids require. While taking a shower, you don’t have to waste time opening the bottle, pouring the liquid, closing the bottle and keeping the bottle clean. With a soap bar, you just pick it up from the soapstand, use it and put it back. Soaps bars are simple, convenient and stress-free.

Washing Hands

Wash your hands regularly with a regular bar of soap placed near the sink. There is no need to keep a liquid or gel there either. The liquid soap does make good sense in places like public restrooms where it is shared with strangers. Washing your hands after returning from the gym, after travel in public transportation and before cooking and eating is always a good idea. It is also a healthier, safer and cheaper alternative to keeping bottles of hand sanitizers at home.

By the way, scientific studies have shown than more expensive, so called, anti-bacterial soap bars have no significant advantage over using regularsoap bars.1 It is the habit of washing regularly with soap that matters for good health, not whether your soap is anti-bacterial or not.

Shaving

I also recommend using a bar of shaving soap instead of shaving cremes and foams. It has earth-friendly benefits, travel convenience and cost savings similar to the ones I mentioned above for body washing soap bars. A bar of shaving soap lasts much longer than foams and shaving cremes that cost a lot more. It comes in minimal packaging, typically paper/cardboard and you don’t have to dispose off aerosol cans, tubes, etc.

Laundry, Where to buy

Soaps are available at very low cost, especially in bulk at online retailers like soap.com and at brick and mortar stores. They take up little space, are light and don’t go bad even in a couple of years, especially when stored in their dry, sealed packaging.

Also, inexpensive soap powders can save a lot of money over expensive liquid laundry detergents. For example, this Charlie’s Soap Powder – 2.64 lb Bag does 80 large loads of laundry, has excellent reviews on Amazon and costs $11 (with free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime)2 .

Some exceptions, Washing dishes by hand

For hand-dishwashing, I do prefer liquid gels. They are quite inexpensive and easy to use. That’s because they mix with the water quicker and lower the odds of the soap getting left on the dishes. I recommend Palmolive Ultra Pure and Clear Dish Liquid, which is also good3 for hand-washing merino wool clothes.

There are many tips available on the Web about using products that can help you be healthier, happier and environmentally-friendly while also saving you money. Reading tips on lifehacker.com inspired me to write this.

  1. FDA Panel: No Advantage to Antibacterial Soap: Advisory Panel Says Regular Soap and Water Just as Effective in Preventing Illness: http://www.webmd.com/news/20051020/fda-panel-no-advantage-to-antibacterial-soap  []
  2. When I wrote this article in 2010, Charlie’s Soap Powder – 2.64 lb used to cost under $11 and came in an environmentally-friendly cloth bag. I edited this article in December 2012 and now it costs $13 and comes in a plastic box. []
  3. Recommendations for washing merino wool clothes using Palmolive Dishwashing Liquid: 1. Morehouse Farm, 2. Pashmina International and 3. WikiHow  []

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Book Review)

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. It is a book about adventures, travels, cultures, customs, ancient wisdom, evolution, anatomy, biology, footwear, anthropology, friendships and human nature. It is also a book about long distance running.

Through the stories of his warm characters, Christopher McDougall teaches that long distance running is more about cooperation, camaraderie and caring than about competition. It reminded me of my favorite quote: Victory is winning others, not defeating others.

Rating: ★★★★★

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance (Book Review)

I’ve been reading the book SuperFreakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Like its predecessor, Freakonomics by the same authors, SuperFreakonomics is unputdownable once you start reading it.

What’s great about this book is that it argues against many things we believe to be true. Using statistics and challenging established wisdom, Levitt and Dubner make compelling arguments that give us fresh perspectives on knowledge we take for granted.

The authors cover a range of seemingly unrelated but interesting topics ranging from the economics of prostitution to the identifying potential terrorists using statistical data. The work of their colleague Sudhir Venkatesh, author of the gripping book Gang Leader for a Day is also featured in this book. They discuss the effectiveness of complex solutions like child safety seats (“car seats”) compared to simple solutions like seat belts. In their discussion of simple solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges like preventing and controlling hurricanes, they remind us that simple solutions are sometimes the most powerful and reliable.

There are numerous things in this book that many people will not agree with. This book does not claim to be an encyclopedia of correct, proven information. If you are looking for established science and facts, compared to the hypothesis and opinions presented in this book, even WikiPedia would be a more authoritative source of facts.  However, what I liked about this book is that reading it inspires and challenges the reader to think in new ways. In fact, the same methods this book uses to challenge other wisdom could be used to dispute the viewpoints of the people whose opinions are expressed in this book.

Whether you agree with all, some or none of their findings, reading their book will benefit you: It presents and encourages ways of finding different and better ways of conducting experiments and studies. It sparks new ways of thinking, even if you use the methods to challenge some of their own findings.

The findings and statistical data are presented in their approachable storytelling that everyone can enjoy. It is an entertaining, enlightening and even educational read. I recommend reading this book.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I thank HarperCollins for sending me a pre-release copy of the upcoming book for review. Below is a link to the book on Amazon. It will be released on October 20, 2009.

SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance

Vivo Barefoot Shoes by Terra Plana (Product Review)

Vivo Barefoot shoes by Terra Plana
Oak Black Oil Suede Vivo Barefoot shoes by Terra Plana

We spend most of our waking hours outside home wearing shoes. So it is important that the shoes be comfortable and promote good health of our feet and legs.

I’ve been regularly wearing a few different models of Vivo Barefoot shoes by Terra Plana for a few months now. They have become my footwear of choice.

I find them extremely comfortable and I feel that my feet and legs have become healthier as a result of wearing them. Compared to Vibram Five Fingers shoes, the Vivo Barefoot shoes have the look of regular shoes and can be worn in most social and formal occasions. The Vivo Barefoot shoes come in dozens of fashionable designs. My wife suggested the models I bought.

The Terra Plana Web page lists some benefits of barefoot shoes that I agree with:

  1. Strengthens the muscles in your feet.
  2. Realigns your natural posture.
  3. Feeling the ground, stimulates sensory perception.
  4. Flexes your feet as nature designed.

The�casual shoes I wear on evenings and weekends�are�Vivo Barefoot (Oak Black Oil Suede and Oak Dk Brown Oil Suede)�and so are the dress “formal” shoes I wear to work with a suit (Dharma Black Veg Tanned Leather). While Terra Plana does not currently make Vivo Barefoot�formal dress shoes, I find that their black and brown leather shoes are fine to wear with a suit and tie to work. The comfort and health benefits provided by these shoes make up for the fact that they are not fully formal looking dress shoes. I find that they provide better grip on the ground than dress shoes and are thus great for my walking commute to work in Midtown Manhattan.

For outdoor sports like hiking and running, I wear Vibram Five Fingers shoes, but for social occasions and for work I wear Vivo Barefoot shoes. I find that the Vivo Barefoot shoes and the Vibram Five Fingers shoes complement each other well. Walking in Vivo Barefoot shoes most of the time keeps my feet in healthy and fit condition for when I hike, run, or otherwise exercise in Vibram Five Fingers.

Oak Black Oil Suede Vivo Barefoot shoes by Terra Plana
Oak Black Oil Suede Vivo Barefoot shoes by Terra Plana

For further reading, I suggest a recent article in the New York Times that discusses Vivo Barefoot and Vibram Five Fingers.

One drawback is that these shoes are expensive (about $150 for a pair) but I was fortunate to be able to get mine much cheaper. I had gone to the Manhattan store wearing my Vibram Five Fingers shoes. That led to a conversation about barefoot shoes with the store salespeople who were friendly and they realized I was seriously interested in such shoes. I politely and respectfully requested the store sales agent for a discount. She seemed agreeable. I then offered to buy two pairs if she’d give me a good price. She kindly agreed and suggested that if I buy the previous models which had been replaced by the new models, she could give me an even better discount. I agreed. By this time the salespeople and I had a good rapport. Before she started the paperwork for the sale, I further asked I bought three pairs if she could give me an even better deal.�She agreed. So I purchased three pairs and got them pair much cheaper than the list price. In work and in personal life, negotiations should result in win/win for both sides and this was another negotiation that left both parties happy. (Note: I haven’t posted my purchase price here since that wouldn’t be fair. After negotiating a good deal it is not a good idea to publicize the terms.�Market conditions and other circumstances vary and I don’t want to mislead anyone about what price they could get. )

I highly recommend these shoes.

Rating: ★★★★★

Vibram Five Fingers Shoes For Hiking and Water Sports (Product Review)

Sometimes simplicity and minimalism provide wonderful experiences. The Vibram Five Fingers shoes are excellent for outdoor activities and for working out at the gym. The natural feeling that comes with being outdoors with these shoes enables the wearer to feel one with nature. Walking while wearing these shoes is a sensory experience that allows you to notice and feel the Earth.

Time Magazine named Vibram Five Fingers shoes among the best inventions of 2007 along with other products like the Apple iPhone.

Besides Vibram, some other companies also market shoes that provide a barefoot-like experience. Nike sells the Nike Free line of shoes, though the Vibram Five Fingers experience is much closer to being barefoot. A company called Terra Plana makes their Vivo Barefoot shoes. These shoes do provide a good level of protection and safety compared to walking truly barefoot. Personally, I would not be barefoot while hiking in the mountains or walking the streets of New York City, so these shoes provide me with an excellent balance of safety, comfort, good exercise and the thrill of a natural feeling.

According to Vibram, Nike and Terra Plana‘s separate marketing materials and others’ independent research, the barefoot-like experience provided by such shoes is good for the health of your feet and legs on the long term, since they allow your muscles and bones to get proper exercise that other shoes inhibit.

Since these shoes do not offer the cushioning via a thick sole of protection regular shoes do, you do need to be cautious while wearing them, especially while you are getting used to them. If you go hiking with these, consider taking along a pair of regular shoes as backup. I plan to go hiking wearing these and they will likely become my hiking shoes of choice, a position currently held by my Nike Free 3.0 shoes. I’ve hiked in the Georgia mountains wearing Nike Free 5.0 shoes and on a part of the Appalachian trail in New Jersey wearing the even thinner soled Nike Free 3.0 shoes. Those hikes included treading on sharp rocks and river crossings. Walking through water over the riverbed wearing barefoot-like shoes is such a soothing experience. I kept a pair of regular hiking shoes in my backpack as backup, but was able to complete the hikes without needing to resort to the backup shoes. Hiking wearing the Nike Free shoes that felt close to being barefoot was a wonderful zen like experience.


One drawback: Since the Vibram Five Fingers shoes look too unconventional, they are not suitable for wearing to many social events. A suggestion for Vibram: To some models, add a thin cloth or rubber film/layer on top that makes them look more like regular shoes from above while preserving the independent fingers movement on the bottom sole. Such a thin layer of film would be for looks only. Beneath it, the toes would still be independent. With that, people would be able to wear these shoes in many social situations.

I love Vibram Five Fingers shoes and highly recommend them. I wish that Vibram decides to make other versions of these shoes that will provide all the benefits these shoes do, but also look more like conventional shoes from top. If Vibram does so, they would become the shoes of my choice for all casual wear. It would be even more awesome if Vibram one day designs Five Fingers shoes that look like formal dress shoes from aboce. If they do that, various models of Five Fingers shoes would become my favorite shoes for almost all walks of life.

Rating: ★★★★½

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Book Review)

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was as enjoyable to read on the Amazon Kindle as it would have been in a printed book. I started reading it on the plane during my flight back to NYC from Charlotte after speaking at a conference there. It took two evenings to complete.

The story is gripping and emotional: It makes use of back references and coincidences that fit in well for such a story touching Eastern cultures and societies. The descriptions of Afghanistan make you feel like you can relate to the place that is foreign to many of us. The depiction of the immigrant community in the San Francisco Bay Area feels like a genuine experience. Even though the author relates the storyline to Afghan history giving the tale a realistic feel, he does not dwell much into narrating the actual historical events like a part-history book. Instead, the book focuses on the characters and the plot, making it a thrilling experience to read throughout. The story isn’t a light read: It describes some of life’s gruesome realities. Overall, while he does employ cultural stereotypes, the author has captured the essence of different cultures and represents them well.

In most parts, the story feels real, as if it was someone’s amazing autobiography. Some coincidences do, however feel too eerie to be true. I recommend it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Below is an introduction to the book in a video interview with the author.

YouTube Preview Image

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Book Review)

I just completed Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and found it an interesting book. (I listened to the unabridged audio book edition.)

This is a book written for the mass market written in a sensationalist style. If you are looking to learn about economics or are looking for facts proven by rigorous scientific study, this is not the book. However, what I liked about this book is its rogue approach of making almost heretic claims against established wisdom.

Whether you find the viewpoints the authors and collaborators of this book present to be believable or not, we do learn something important from reading this book: Conventional, established wisdom isn’t always gospel and needs to be challenged at appropriate times.

Parts of the book, especially the Chicago gang stories from the sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh are gripping like a novel. You will enjoy reading it. I recommend reading it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell (Book Review)

I enjoyed the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. (I listened to the unabridged audio book edition.)

The book is insightful and makes you think about thinking. Since childhood I’ve believed that intuition and emotions are the result of our minds doing subconscious analysis. The book does a good job of describing the benefits and perils of people’s split decisions and reactions.

Rating: ★★★★☆