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2018’s Books

2018 is winding to an end. Here’s a review of some of the books I’ve read this year and my thoughts on them.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf is an extremely powerful narrative on how the beauty myth keeps women oppressed. Over 90% of the people who suffer from eating disorders are women. Women are bombarded with the message that they are only as valuable and relevant as they are young and beautiful by corporations whose business depends on their consumers feeling inadequate. Wolf elaborates on how patriarchal societies reduce women to their looks when they threaten the existing power structure, and how women are unable to win in a society in which no woman can be eternally young, or without flaws. I found the book very eye-opening. It puts into words many of the truths that all women know from living. I disagree with the author that the beauty industry deliberately peddles an unrealistic beauty standard to keep women oppressed… I believe that the beauty industry’s incentive is simply money. However, the taunts that were and are used against powerful women or feminist activists every day, and the pressure that billions of women feel that men cannot even begin to fathom, that their worth is a ticking time bomb, reinforce the book’s truisms. I highly recommend this read to all women who have felt the pressure of the beauty myth, as it opened my eyes to the way I subconsciously behave because of society’s expectations, and to men so that they can even begin to understand the suffocating weight on women’s shoulders. I believe it is possible to extract ourselves from the beauty myth, and we will all be much better off once we have done so.

A blueprint on how to take a startup from an idea through the stages of an early to late stage startup to a Goliath. I thought this book provided a useful, comprehensive map on each step of a company’s growth. I recommend this to any aspiring tech entrepreneur, especially those thinking of making it in the cut-throat mobile phone app space. The book provides valuable insight and tips on the app market, and I will certainly be revisiting it in the future.

Initially this book came off as a narcissistic and annoying list of Dalio’s achievements, but Ray Dalio is an accomplished investor who has gained valuable experience in his lifetime. It was fascinating to hear about how he developed his own algorithms while the computer was still a nascent technology, and hear his story on predicting the 2008 financial crisis, his claim to fame. I also enjoyed hearing his story on how he gave McDonalds the green light on a new food item they wanted to sell, the chicken nugget, because his derivatives predictions on wheat and thus chicken prices indicated that the product would be profitable. In essence, he is indirectly responsible for the creation of the chicken nugget. For all his strengths, I found some of Dalio’s methods too Draconian. Some of his techniques to run a company, such as radical transparency so extreme that every employee had a ‘baseball card’ of their strengths and weaknesses, and requiring every meeting to be video taped, were too severe to my liking. However, I can appreciate the principles he has embodied, including radical transparency, embracing failure to learn, and building your company culture around a meritocracy. I’ve seen how playing politics can rot a team’s morale and I believe Dalio offers valuable insight on how to avoid that, albeit I would not take his suggestions to the degree that he has.

Sapiens was an extremely enlightening read. In full disclosure, I did find the middle of the book to be long and boring. However, the beginning and the end of the book brought some very new insights on the development of the human race. I think the most impactful fact I learned was that when sapiens began to cultivate wheat, it was less that sapiens tamed wheat, than wheat tamed mankind. The technological improvements that man made in the agricultural revolution and then industrial revolution may have increased man’s productivity, but decreased the happiness of the individual. The early sapiens who farmed wheat had an unhappier, less healthy, disease-ridden lifestyle laboring in the fields and had a less diverse and nutritionally-rich diet than their hunter-gatherer counterparts. I learned that the advancement of the human race has very often adversely affected the individual happiness, and that is a cost we have often paid without knowing, to this day.

A very short read, and very worthwhile. I highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with the feeling that their life is going nowhere. The core of essentialism is that if we are pulled in too many conflicting directions, then we will not be able to achieve the things that are most important to us. Instead of spreading ourselves thin, we should happily sacrifice the things less important (at least until for a certain predetermined period of time) to concentrate on the things that matter most to us. This book has changed my paradigm on how to spend my time and energy, and now I happily do my best to live an essentialist lifestyle in which I put my time and effort behind the things that matter most to me.

Ironically, despite its purpose to convince the reader to invest in Bitcoin, this book convinced me to do the opposite. It was a great read for understanding the pros & cons to each different type of cryptocurrency and why Bitcoin could be irrelevant in the near future as other cryptocurrencies with faster transaction times dominate. The author relies overly on the past performance of Bitcoin to predict its future, which if you believe in Warren Buffett’s style of investing, is faulty logic. Past performance does not necessarily dictate future performance. By the end of the book I was convinced that cryptocurrency has many benefits as a technology to offer, but the longevity of Bitcoin as a currency itself is dubious.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack is the best investment book I have ever read. I could not recommend this book more highly. I cannot possibly condense my review of this book into a paragraph; it deserves its own lengthy, considered post. In my opinion it is more accessible in practical advice than Graham’s The Intelligent Investor and yet more erudite in its classical teachings. It contains not only investment advice but the wisdom of a few of the wisest old, white men humanity has to offer. In all seriousness, I highly respect Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett, and not just for their approaches on investing and business. Charlie is one of the best thinkers I have had the pleasure of coming across, and I have learned immeasurably from this book. His points on blending multidisciplinary mental models and his approach to everything from investing to his philosophies on how to live life have changed my mental paradigms permanently. A long read, a heavy book (5.1 pounds), and absolutely worth it.

A fun read, smattered liberally with name-dropping and pleasantly vivid descriptions of how the uber powerful elite live and control the world. Altogether, it is not too surprising that most of the power in the world lies in the hands of a concentrated group of a few (men), usually in the military, government, or the top creme de la crop of businesses. At times it felt like junk food, fun to experience vicariously, but not the most focused. The book did reinforce how most of us who are not in this superclass are at the whimsy of those who are, how far removed the ordinary person is from true power, and how the decisions of the world are made in rooms where only a select few are invited.


Overall, I am satisfied with the selection I made as each as each book taught me something different. Fewer of the books I read this year were as fluffy or self-promoting as the ones I read last year, and a couple of them were profound. I learned it is not just the quantity of the books you read. The quality is arguably more important. Choose great thinkers, and you will learn immeasurably more. Last year, I tried to set a goal to read a certain number of books, and I learned that that can discourage choosing longer, heavier books. You only compete in what you measure. While reading a lot is always helpful, the number of books should not be the main criteria if it does not examine which books. Going forward, I’ll make a goal to read a list of specific books, not just a quantity.

I also now realize I have a tendency to read a lot of investment books, and I look forward to diversifying with more historical, philosophical, scientific, and fictional work next year. I feel like I notably understand far more in the topics I chose than last year, and that is rewarding. What I’ve learned is reflected in my maturity, in how I spend my time, and I’d like to think it’s stopped me from making some unwise mistakes. I look forward to reading more prolifically!

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Australia’s Shrinking Rainforests

If you know me, you know that I mostly shoot concrete jungles, but actual jungles are fascinating. Australia has some impressively weird flora and fauna. I was lucky enough to take a trip to the rainforest and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef! On the way, I saw green tree frogs, giant clams, sea turtles, a tree of fruit bats, and my personal favorite, several platypii.  The platypus is one of my favorite animals and I was so excited to finally see one in real life! (They don’t seem to notice humans if you stand still, which doesn’t bode well for their survival.) The most incredible part was that all of these lovely creatures were in the wild.


^ He’s so litto!

Australia has a reputation for being a place full of deadly creatures but it’s actually very safe. The most “dangerous” animal you’d be lucky to run across would be a jackal, but they avoid humans. Our wildlife tour guide, a Biology PhD with a gentle German accent, described how the only person who had died by snake bite in the past few years had essentially won himself a Darwin Award. He’d found a poisonous-looking snake in his yard, ignored its warning behavior, picked up the snake, and got bitten…. and then decided to pick it up again.

It’s amazing how much biodiversity exists in these small pockets of rainforest and coral. Before I visited Australia, I hadn’t seen many of the species that are native to the island, such as the cassowary and the wombat. It was a mind-bending experience seeing a wombat for the first time and realizing I had no idea what it was, or looking down through the clear water and appreciating just how massive giant clams really are.

It was a magical experience getting to see the wildlife in Australia’s rainforests and coral reefs. Even the plants there are incredibly diverse and different. Unfortunately the country’s small pockets of biodiversity are rapidly shrinking as the population of Australia explodes, and the animals’ habitats are threatened by the warmer climate change. For example, the derpy little platypus is now on the warning list for endangered species as Australia’s water pools shrink with the warming climate.

You hear about it all the time but it’s different to see the animals in front of you, right next to areas decimated by deforestation and covered in cows on dairy farms that are losing money. It’s tragic. If I ever get the chance to one day, I’d love to do more to help protect these creatures and the little remaining biodiversity on our earth.

If you are interested, please donate with me to protect the rainforest by purchasing land for conservation!


^Fern or tree?

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Seneca on the Shortness of Life

Seneca’s writing induced a fundamental paradigm shift for me, especially in what to fret about. For most of my adult life, I have always been concerned that I wouldn’t achieve what I dreamed of. During a conversation with a friend over dinner in which I vented about my fears, my friend recommended that I read this book instead. According to Seneca, I shouldn’t worry about what he calls greatness. I should worry exclusively about wasting time.

“Seneca on the Shortness of Life” is a foray into Stoicism and its belief in overcoming human nature. Some interesting notes:

  • The most powerful/highly-stationed men desire leisure above all else. In a society that worships the status and power of these men, they want nothing more than their own free time.
  • We squander time through “groundless sorrow, foolish joy… the seductions of society; how little of your own was left to you.” This resonated with me, thinking about the countless hours I’ve spent in angst over problems made up in my own head.
  • “But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs nor fears the next day… [he has] enjoyed everything to repletion.” “Whatever time was available… none of it lay fallow and neglected, none of it under another’s control.”

According to Seneca, humans get enough time, but we squander most of it, and so long as we do that, it doesn’t matter if we live a thousand years, as that time will never be enough. In order to make the most of our time, we must guard and plan our time scrupulously.

Also according to Seneca, poor uses of time include drinking, lust, sports, obsessing over possessions, beauty, laziness, music, banquets, useless knowledge. He claims that only philosophy is truly alive. Time eradicates all other signs of greatness (monuments, wealth) but does not damage philosophy that is transferred like memes to future generations, and that through the studying philosophy, you can make the most of your own life and extract the greatest value from the time you are given.

I highly recommend this read, particularly for anyone who finds themselves preoccupied or worried about how to make the most of their life. It’s a short read. Just an hour with this book can alter your perspective on what matters.


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Deep Work by Cal Newport Notes

The best students understood the role intensity plays in productivity and therefore went out of their way to maximize their concentration.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

This theory tells us that your world is the outcome of what you pay attention to, so consider for a moment the type of mental world constructed when you dedicated significant time to deep endeavors. There’s a gravity and sense of importance inherent in deep work. If you spend enough time in this state, your mind will understand your world as rich in meaning and importance. Such concentration hijacks your attention, preventing you from noticing the many smaller and less pleasant things that unavoidably and persistently populate our lives.

This danger is especially pronounced in knowledge work, which due to its dependence of ubiquitous connectivity generates a devastatingly appealing buffet of distraction, which if given enough attention leaches meaning and importance from the world constructed by your mind. When you lose focus, your mind tends to fix on what could be wrong with your life instead of what’s right. A workday driven by the shallow, from a neurological perspective, is likely to be a draining and upsetting day, even if most of the shallow things that capture your attention seem harmless or fun.

“I’ll choose my targets with care… then give them my rapt attention. In short, I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.”

Most people assumed (and still do) that relaxation makes them happy. We want to work less and more time in the hammock. But the results from Csikszentmihalyi’s ESM studies revel that most people have this wrong: Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flowing activities they have built-in goals, feedback rules and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one’s work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Human beings, it seems, are at their best when immersed deeply in something challenging.

Any pursuit – be in physical or cognitive – that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.

Within the overall structure of a project there is always room for individuality and craftsmanship… One hundred years from now, our engineering may seem as archaic as the techniques used by medieval cathedral builders seem to today’s civil engineers, while our craftsmanship will still be honored.

You don’t need a rarified job; you need instead a rarified approach to your work.

A similar potential for craftsmanship can be found in most skilled jobs in the information economy. Whether you’re a writer, marketer, consultant, or lawyer: Your work is your craft, and if you hone your ability and apply it with respect and care, then like the skilled wheelwright you can generate meaning in the daily efforts of your professional life.

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Wisdom from Elon Musk


Work super hard. Instead of getting an apartment, he rented a small office and slept on the couch, showered at the YMCA. 7 days a week, all the time. Girlfriend slept in the office. Every waking hour if you’re starting a company. If you’re working 100, and someone else is working 50, you’ll get twice as much done.

Attract great people. Join a group you respect or gather great people. A company is just a group of people that are gathered together to create a product or service. Dependent on how talented and hard working that group is, and the degree to which they are focused cohesively, that will determine the success of the company.

Focus on signal over noise. Are these efforts resulting in a better product or service?

Don’t just follow the trend. Rather than reasoning by analogy, boil things down to the fundamental truths and reason up from there. Figure out if something really makes sense or if it’s just something everyone else is doing.

Now is the time to take risk. Once you have a family, you start taking risk for not just yourself but your family as well. Take risks before you have those obligations. Do something bold. You won’t regret it.

Be rigorous in your self analysis. Be extremely tenacious. Work like hell. Put in 80-100 hour weeks.

Starting a business is not for everyone. Have a high pain threshold. Starting a company is like eating glass and staring into the abyss. When you first start a company, there’s a lot of optimism and things are great. Happiness, at first, is high. Then you encounter all sorts of issues, and happiness will steadily decline, and then you will go through a whole world of hurt. Eventually, if you succeed, and in most cases you will not succeed, and Tesla almost didn’t succeed, came very close to failure. After a long time, you will finally get back to happiness.

Whatever you’re doing is a great product or service. If you’re a new company, unless you’re in a new industry or new market. If it’s an untapped market, the standard is lower for your product or service. But if you’re entering anything where there’s existing marketplace against large entrenched competitors, then your service must be much better than theirs. It can’t be a little bit better, because then you put yourselves in the shoes of the consumer. And they say why would you buy it as a consumer. You’re going to buy a trusted brand, unless there’s a big difference. It’s got to be a lot better.

Constantly seek out criticism. A well thought-out critique of what you’re doing is as valuable as gold. Usually your friends know what’s wrong, but they don’t want to tell you because they don’t want to hurt you.

Obsessive nature toward the quality of the product

Like what you’re doing. You think about it even when you’re not working

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Notes from “Extreme Focus: 11 Keys to Laser Focus, Intensive Concentration, and Titanic Productivity” by Dominic Mann

1. Focus your energy on one thing and do it well. Don’t spread your resources (time, money, energy) too thin.
2. Multi-tasking decreases productivity by at least 40%. If you work 8 hours a day, that’s around 3 hours and 12 minutes worth of productivity that is wasted.
The Three F’s: Focusing, Filtering, and Forgetting (doing one thing at a time, delegating to avoid taking on too many tasks and overloading yourself with information, exercising taking breaks and clearing your head)
Focus on the handful of things that actually matter. The 20 percent of activities that result in 80 percent of the results. Eliminate or delegate the rest. To keep sharp, make sure you take time to exercise and clear your head.
Immunize Against Distractions
Be Proactive, Not reactive
In the long run, reactive people never achieve anything. Extreme focus requires proactivity. This means working toward a definitive objective.
Getting up early (4-6AM, common 5AM) allows you to be proactive in your day, have some peace, exercise (increses daily productivity by 23%).
Manage your energy, not your time. Get the difficult, important tasks out of the way in the morning.
Finish with the easiest, least cognitively demanding tasks.
Start off morning with writing or learning and exercising. End with social.
1. The World Health Organization says that a healthy diet improves prodcutivity by 20%.
2. Several studies have found that daily exercise boosts productivity by 23%.
3. It is well known fact that multitasking almost halves productivity, reducing it by 40%.
4. Majority of people waste at least one hour a day to distractions.
5. Almost all white collar workers spend significant time on social media and sites completely unrelated to work.
6. Workers are constantly interrupted, constantly check email, and constantly distract themselves.
By exericising each morning, eating healthy, sticking to work related activities, and completing tasks sequentially, you can boost your producitivity by 98%. You can double your productivity.
You need to be obsessed to be a champion.
Be obsessed about the things you want.
Concentrate all your thoughts on the great desire in your life. The concentration must be continuous, unceasing – every minute, every hour, every day, every week.
The ultra successful are obsessed. The ultra successful live in a state of extreme focus.
If you are not obsessed with what you are doing, you will find it difficult to sustain extreme focus.
Physical: Exercise, diet, sleep.
Eating a lot of carbs results in spikes in energy and drop in blood sugar after resulting in post-lunch slump or constant need for coffee. Results in “brain fog.”
Eat high-fat, moderate protein, low carb.
For carbs, eat low GI (low glcemic index) foods.
Result = you can effortlessly focus intensely for prolonged periods of time. The body has a constant source of energy (because fat takes some time to break down), and you have your next meal pre-installed (body fat). Which means consistent, constant energy throughout the day.
Sugar messes with your hunger sensations, which makes it hard to focus.
Fat is good for the brain. 60% of our brain is fat, and when we don’t eat enough fat, the brain starts harvesting itself for the materials needed to create neurotransmitters and essential brain chemicals. Good fats: coconut oil, nuts, avocados, olive oil, eggs, wild salmon, grass-fed meats.
Bad fats (trans fats): canola oil, sunlowers oil, etc. Cause inflammation in brain due to high Omega-6 fatty acid content.
Exercise literally grows the brain. Physical fitness boosts intellect. Increase birth of new nerve cells. Double the number of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Run on treadmill for an hour a day, five days a week (regimen recommended for average middle-aged adult).
Experiment: monkeys that did this learned twice as fast as other monkeys who did not. Increased blood flow to brain. It’s important to keep exercising to retain the benefits of exercise.
Exercise also increases sleep quality.
11. Flow: The human brain can only deal with a certain amount of information at any given time. (According to 2004 TED talk by Csikszentmihalyi, 110 bits of information per sec)
Listening to someone talk takes about 60 bites of information per second.
Flow is being in “the zone”
“The Zone” by Csik…. “Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.”
aka When your brain is fully immersed in the activity. There is no more attention to be allocated. One loses awareness of all else: time, people, distractions, basic bodily needs.
Another component to flow is having a clear goal and receiving immediate feedback. Enable one to adjust their performance.
Components of flow:
1. Knowing what to do
2. Knowing how to do it
3. Knowing how well you are doing it (i.e. instant feedback)
4. Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
5. High perceived challenged
6. High perceived skills
7. Freedom from distractions
Drive focus by recording productivity. Deep work (Cal Newport) is the “ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding tasks.”
Shallow work is work that is constantly interrupted or spent on tasks that are not as cognitively demanding, such as emails or meetings. Keeping track of how many hours of ultra-productive work we are doing motivates us to increase that number.
When you have a specific target in mind, you instinctively buckle down and become extremely focused.
12. Minimalism: Minimalism is a lifestyle free from the excesses of consumerism, from material possessions and clutter. Clear away distractions. Uncluttered and organized living.
Minimalist environments increase your available brainpower. A cluttered environment restricts your ability to concentrate and focus. If limits the information processing ability of your brain. To concentrate, process information, and focus as effectively as possible, a clean, minimalist environment is a MUST. (You’ll also be less irritable.)
13. Develop Habits, Develop Yourself.
You must become the kind of person who performs at the apex of their abilities. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
Habits have three components: Cue (trigger), routine, reward.
To change a habit, switch up one of the three.
14. Outsourcing work. Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to save you valuable time and energy and give you efficiency and speed.
Upwork: hire a virtual assistant and see how much of the 70-80% of tasks you can outsource. You can hire someone for $3-5 an hour.
15. Solitude
Extreme focus can only be achieved when we set aside blocks of time for complete solitude.
Carl Jung built a stone tower in the woods where nobody could disturb him, with no electricity, no running water, so nobody could disturb him. He would go for a few days at a time, and then even a months at a time. With nothing to interrupt or disturb him, extreme focus was inevitable.
16. Smart Drugs
Nootropics for cognitive enhancement.
Modafinil (aka Provigil)
17. Lifehacks
– Standing Desks led to up to 10% more productivity
– Get to sit once you’ve completed a certain task
– 20 minute nap is an effective energy booster
– 60-90 minute nap can have same effect as 8 hours of sleep in terms of improving memory test results
– Parkinson’s law: If the assignment is due tonight, you’ll finish it by tonight. Give yourself that same law for tasks.
– Create a distraction to-do list (postpone a certain urge to do after you get your important tasks done)
Once we get distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back to our original task.