Month: March 2016

Book A Month: When to Rob a Bank

After reading two serious books I figured it was time to read a light hearted book (my decision was also helped by the fact that this was the last of the four I got over the holidays and had no alternatives). If you haven’t heard of Steven Levitt or Stephen Dubner they are authors and an economist (Levitt) who mainly earned their fame with the book and then movie and podcast titled Freakonomics. With Freakonomics and now When to Rob a Bank, among others, the pair dives into economic driven observations. These observations and findings are a result of their blog with the same title which was then pooled together to form this book.

While it doesn’t sound very light hearted and enjoyable, Levitt and Dubner write in a very friendly and amusing way. Then couple that with stories ranging from when banks get robbed, to how tennis endorsement taxes impact which tournaments players compete in, to how professional poker works. The result is an entertaining yet informative read that it perfect for when you have a few free minutes here and there (the stories range in length from half a page to three pages). The way they formed the chapters also kept it enjoyable. For example, there’s a chapter on cheating which ranges from the blackjack table to relationships. So if one entry isn’t appealing to you, the next entry isn’t far off and will likely be something you are interested in.

Yes, at the end of the day you are paying for a collection of blog posts that are free and readily available online but these entries are the best of the lot and they added context and updates that you wouldn’t get with their blog.

I should mention that, even though they look at things from an economics perspective, it isn’t dry and as someone taking microeconomics and previously macro, it helped build a fuller understanding of a few topics. Plus there is a fantastic story at the end that is a must-read.

So long story short, give this book a go if you are looking for fun, interesting book to help pass the time. The movie, Freakonomics (where I first got to know them and on Netflix) is also a fun watch.

With a month and a half (I finished this book over a week ago) until I want to have read another book, I decided to pick up Titan by Ron Chernow which is roughly double in length (675 pages) the books I have been reading. John D. Rockefeller had a long and very successful life and Chernow was enlisted to write about every aspect of it, unlike Rockefeller biographers before him. Hopefully I’ll have read it before May comes.



Learning Lessons: The Hard Way

This is the short story of how I ended up soaking wet walking around Rice University in the pouring rain.

For the past week I have been looking forward to going to this event. It would be Max Levchin speaking to 300 people at Rice University. I’ve known who Max is for several years and for a good while I have been following him more closely thanks to Twitter. Seeing that he was hosting an event a stones throw from my own university, I knew I had to grab a ticket.

What ended up happening was I arrived on campus around 5:40 with the event set to take place at 6. After hastily looking up the exact location while at a red light, I found the closest parking garage and started walking. In the rain. Without an umbrella. While I was walking toward the auditorium, I thought it would be wise to double check that where I was headed was the correct direction. At this point I was completely soaked and had nothing to lose by taking my time and finding the correct location. As you might have already guessed, I was headed in the exact wrong direction. The auditorium that I thought I was heading to was more or less on the other side of campus.

While walking back to my car I decided to end the operation to teach myself a lesson or two. I have a bad habit of trusting my future self to be able to figure things out instead of letting my current self take an extra minute or two and properly prepare when going somewhere I have never been before. I have especially noticed this when visiting a college for the first time as Google is very good at getting you to campus but not to the specific building.

The key part here is that I had enough time to drive to the other parking garage, find a spot and make my way to the auditorium. There is no doubt in my mind that I could have made it. I would have been dripping wet and uncomfortable, but I could have made it. Instead I sat in my car and told myself I would not make this same mistake for the umpteenth time again. I need to put aside the excitement and properly prepare before heading out the door.


Book A Month: Philosophy and Google

The Consolations of Philosophy

Since I was able to finish up the Elon Musk biography halfway through January, I ended up starting and finishing The Consolations of Philosophy by Alan de Botton earlier than I thought I would. My experience with philosophy has been limited to hearing bits and pieces here and there throughout my life with no formal learning. Those bits and pieces are how I look at the world and how others’ points of view has influenced that. With that foundation in place, this book is the perfect next baby step into the scary world of philosophy.

In high school I had the option of taking philosophy but I opted for psychology mainly because I was worried with how hard it sounded. What de Botton does in his book is he takes six general concerns of life (unpopularity, not having enough money, etc.) and provides a helpful perspective by exploring how a famous philosopher tackled the concern. He does this by giving a back story on say Seneca and walks you through his knowledge until you get to the topic at hand. In doing it this way, it is easier to understand the lines of thinking, making it less intimidating.

If you are in the same boat I was in with having a limited exposure to philosophy, I would recommend you check out this book. It’s not perfect and there may be another book out there that would have connected with me better but that’s the hard thing about philosophy. For the first four sections, I didn’t particularly need consolation for them but as the book began to end I connected with a couple topics. So depending on where you are with your life you might connect with all of them or none of them. Regardless, the book is written well and I’m glad I read it. Last thing, while it was nice to have pictures on every other page, more than half of them were completely unnecessary.

How Google Works

With the entire month of February ahead of me, I picked up How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg.

This book offers an interesting look into (you guessed it) how Google works and more specifically, how it became such a successful company. The way that Eric, Jonathan, Larry and Sergey lead the company and approached obstacles and projects differently is the main driver of this business book. I say business book because it is not what I thought it was, a biography of how Google came to be. That isn’t to say it’s a dense, textbook read but it wasn’t like the Elon Musk book. Once I got past that disappointing realization, it was an interesting and thought provoking read. Don’t worry if you aren’t technically minded, they do a good job of teaching you what, say an API is and how it relates to the story and lesson.

Two things left me with a bad taste in my mouth after finishing it, however. The first being, there are a couple callouts (one using the employee’s name and the others not) that physically made me cringe while painfully reading through it. I was too busy trying to get past the section that I don’t remember what the callout was exactly but I think what happened is they were trying to make a joke (this book is full of them) but instead of being funny it comes off as very awkward. The other part that didn’t sit well with me was I would read a section on how unique and innovative their approach is and then on the next page there would be an extremely typical corporate-based approach. There’s nothing wrong with that tactic per se but it’s uncharacteristic and I’m surprised they hadn’t rethought the approach. It’s also made worse for me since I don’t plan on working at a typical corporation for any long period of time.

Excluding those two items, if you are an entrepreneur/business/technically minded person, give this book a go.

For March I am reading When to Rob a Bank: …And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I watched Freakonomics on Netflix and knew I had to read this, which is a collection of blog posts from their Freakonomics blog.

Talk to you when April rolls around,