Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Shoe Dog

Sunday, July 1st, 2018 | Books

Shoe Dog is a 2016 memoir by Phil Knight, founder of Nike.

Most of the story focuses on the early days, from just before he founded Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 to when he took Nike public in 1980. It feels like a true entrepreneurs story, grinding it out from selling trainers out of the back of his car, through the almost-bankruptcies and endless crises and eventual triumph.

It paints Nike in a good picture. They innovated, brought new shoes to the market, changed the industry. But then, any memoir is likely to do that. If you read Grinding It Out, Ray Kroc comes over as lovely guy. But I guess I want to believe because I genuinely love the stuff Nike makes. I’ve tried running in other people’s shoes and they’re not as comfortable.

When I bought my Nike holdall, it came with a label saying “we’ve been there since the beginning. For as long as we’ve been making shoes, we’ve been making bags.” I’m sure this is 100% true and not just a strategy to ward off buyer’s remorse. But it is weird that Knight didn’t mention bags anywhere in his book, even though he did talk about the launch of their apparel launch long after he had started selling shoes.

If you’re interested in the story of Nike, or you like tales of entrepreneurship, this is a good read. Otherwise, you’re probably not going to get much out of it.

Orange Is the New Black (book)

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018 | Books

I recently wrote about the TV show Orange Is the New Black. It’s based on a book by Piper Kerman, Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, which is a memoir of the time she served at Danbury prison camp.

Her memoir is way less exciting than the TV series. There is no starving out, no trips to the SHU and no riots. That’s no surprise, of course, as the show is a drama and not a documentary. However, many of the shows features are easy to connect back to the book.

You don’t get long detailed descriptions of what happened. You do get character development though, as Kerman comes to terms with the harm caused to so many communities by the drug trade. Overall, its an okay read. It maintained my interest throughout, but I wasn’t desperate to read the next chapter so I wouldn’t recommend it as a “must read”.

Ken Hom’s Complete Chinese Cookbook

Sunday, June 10th, 2018 | Books, Food

We’ve really enjoyed Ken Hom’s cookbook. We’ve been working our way through the 60-odd recipes we thought looked tasty over the past three or fours months and can now conclusively say that it is a winner.

All of the recipes have been easy to follow. A lot of them start the same way: by chopping up some meat and marinating it in a mixture of sesame oil, rice wine, soy sauce and corn flour. Then typically stir-fried with a variety of other ingredients.

If you’re looking for authentic Chinese food, this isn’t the book for you. The recipes are Westernised, which makes them both easy to cook and very tasty.

Sweet and sour pork.

Chicken and sweetcorn soup. It should have been chicken and spinach soup, but I cooked all of the spinach the day before and had to rely on stereotypes to fill in the blank.

Chicken with sesame seeds.

Braised fish.

The 50 Best Tips Ever for Triathlon

Saturday, June 9th, 2018 | Books

The 50 Best Tips EVER for Triathlon Swimming, Biking and Running is a book by Scott Welle. Welle is a motivational speaker and has completed half a dozen Ironman triathlon as well as ultramarathons and many other events.

I took some useful advice away from this book.

Welle argues that you should take it really easy up a hill and go as fast as you can down. Typically, you would think of climbing as hard and descending as some recovery time. But he points out that going 10% faster up a hill is not much faster, whereas 10% faster when descending makes a big difference.

He also argues that transition is not that important because it is so little of your time overall. It’s not that he suggests you ignore it: he does suggest some planning and rehearsal. But he argues you aren’t going to make big gains here because it’s such a small percentage of your race overall.

He shuns all the fancy bike accessories you can buy, except for some wheels and an aero helmet. The only essential you need after buying a good bike is a proper bike fit. And he shuns junk miles: everything should be really easy or really hard. Ideally, some of it should be on grass to be easier on the body.

Nutrition wise, he suggests eating 200-300 kcals per hour you will be racing. So, two hours before, take on 400-600 kcals of carbs, no protein, fibre or fat. During exercise, 200-400 kcals per hour depending on your body weight. And for recovery, use a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

Friday, June 8th, 2018 | Books, Business & Marketing

22 Immutable Laws of Marketing is a book by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It aims to present 22 “laws” which it says will cause you to fail if you violate.

The first law is that of leadership: it’s better to be first than to be better. It does seem true that often the first company to do something is the leader many years later. You can typically substitute “leading” for “first” to find out how created the market. And it’s true that I can’t name the second person to fly across the Atlantic. Although I was able to name the second person to walk on the moon (Buzz Aldrin).

Shane Show argues the opposite in Smartcuts, where he claims research shows only 11% of first movers go on to maintain their status as the market leader. He says the big advantage of being second is that someone else has already figured out how to fix the big problems.

The book then talks about the category law: if you can’t be first, come up with a new category you can be first in. This is similar to what Peter Thiel says in Zero to One, where he urges people to carve out a tiny market to dominate rather than taking a small percentage of an existing one. For example, eBay started by specialising in collectables, and PayPal started by targetting eBay power sellers.

In terms of differentiation, you need to pick something that will put you on the opposite view of someone else. For example, you can’t say “quality” or “honesty” because everyone wants to say that and nobody will take the opposite view. You need to pick a segment or a view that other companies will disagree with.

The book also suggests you should stay specific. They repeatedly use the example of Donald Trump, having no idea he was going to go on to be president 25 years later. They discuss how he was initially successful but then went on to put his name on everything. And when you do everything you stand for nothing. Which is why he was already in $1.4 billion of debt.

Many of the books on marketing are timeless: they talk about the basics of human nature and these things don’t change. You would expect a book that talks about “immutable” laws would be the same. But it isn’t. It has dated. It was originally published in 1993 and shows its age.

Some of the predictions they make were incorrect, for example. The book claims that USA Today is entering a market too late. But, 25 years later, they’re doing well. They claim that because the market is already owned by other companies, Microsoft will never catch up with Lotus spreadsheets or WordPerfect. Of course, now most people have never heard of these programs and everyone uses Microsoft Office.

The idea that line extension is doomed seems somewhat flawed, too. Richard Branson’s Virgin group describes itself as a “brand based capital house” and gets into every market it can stick its name on. Clearly, they have been incredibly successful. It may not dominate the markets it enters, but with £20 billion in revenue it is hard to argue that what they do does not work.

There is definitely some good food for thought in there. But whether the game has changed, or whether the knowledge was just misapplied, some of the ideas just don’t fit the facts. So, we can at least conclude that the laws here are not immutable.

Psychology textbooks

Thursday, June 7th, 2018 | Books

I’ve spent the last year of my life reading a lot of psychology textbooks. In this post, I’m going to briefly discuss a few of them to help sort out the ones I liked from the ones I liked less.

An Introduction to Child Language Development

This is a short book by Susan Foster-Cohen. It has exercises and summaries thrown in but is otherwise just text. I didn’t find the summaries of each chapter very useful.

An Introduction to Developmental Psychology

Second edition edited by Alan Slater and Gavin Bremner. This is laid out in life sequences. However, the sequences are so broad that topics such as cognitive and language development are self-contained sub-chapters in themselves. It provides a good overview.

An Introduction to Stress & Health

This book by Hymie Anisman is a bit wall-to-wall text. However, it does provide a comprehensive discussion of the issues surrounding stress and health, including the concepts of appraisal and coping mechanisms.

Biological Psychology

Book by Marc Breedlove and Mark Rosenzweig. I did not get on with this one. It’s just walls of text.

Biological Psychology (12E)

This book by James Kalat is my favourite textbook on biological psychology. It is sometimes a little light on detail but covers all of the material and has lots of useful diagrams.

Cambridge Handbook of Child Language

This edited book by Edith Bavin has a large list of contributors. I only read the section on the usage-based theory of language by Michael Tomasello. It’s very wall-of-text but sufficiently concise that I managed to get through it while acquiring an understanding of Tomasello’s ideas.

Child Development

Useful because it goes through stages, but otherwise not that fun.

Handbook of Child Psychology

These books are huge and multilayered. The whole thing is edited by William Damon, but I only read volume two, edited by Deanna Kuhn and Robert Siegler. Specifically, I read the chapter grammar by Michael Maratsos. It’s heavy going, and a lot of text, but broken down into reasonable sections. It’s only worth reading if you really want to get into the detail.

This is an edited book by William Damon

Introduction to Biopsychology

This book by Pinel & Barness was the standard textbook used in our course. For good reason: it is well laid out and covers the main topics effectively.

Language Development: The Essential Readings

Edited book by Michael Tomasello and Elizabeth Bates. It’s a collection of papers compiled together. Most are laid out with roughly the same headings you would expect in a paper (method, results, development), but not always and the headings could be more clear. That apart, the papers are interesting and relevant. There is some author bias, though.

Lifespan Development

Sixth edition by Denise Boyd and Helen Bee. This book wasn’t ideal for our course because it is laid out in life stages, whereas we focused on topic areas. However, different topic areas were mostly in one chunk, such as cognitive development, so, in the end, it provided a concise overview. It’s quite well laid out for a textbook with good summaries and highlighted boxes.

Making Sense of Data and Statistics in Psychology

I think this was the first book I checked out of the library. It is by Brian Greer and Gerry Mulhern and appealed to me because it was relatively concise. However, it attempts to avoid teaching you the concepts straight up and instead uses lots of dialogues and round-about ways in the hope this will be more engaging. I couldn’t really get on board with it.

The Process of Research in Psychology

Nice introduction to research methods by Dawn McBride. I was able to read it all. It certainly doesn’t have the detail of books like Coolican’s, but it does give you a manageable amount.

Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology

Very good book by Hugh Coolican on conducting research, methodology, statistics and writing up. It’s reasonably light on the maths and instructions on using SPSS, but points you in the right direction. There are sample write-ups to follow, too.

Stress, Appraisal, and Coping

The original work by Lazarus & Folkman. It’s quite accessible for a classic piece of literature.

Stress, Cognition and Health

This book by Tony Cassidy provides a short and concise introduction to some of the theories behind stress and their impact on health. If you’re not too picky you can read through it in an hour or two and the topics are well organised.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Friday, April 13th, 2018 | Books

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel by Audrey Niffenegger, and a rare gift of one at that.

Like most great novels, it is a love story. In this case between Clare Abshire, a normal and well-to-do girl, and Henry DeTamble, a man who suffers from chrono-impairmen, which causes him to time travel randomly and unpredictably, living him to fight for his life in a variety of situations.

It sounds like science fiction, and technically it is. But it’s not for science fiction fans, so if sci-fi isn’t your thing, don’t let that put you off. It’s a love story through-and-through with interesting philosophy thrown in to boot.

I can’t honestly say I was gripped the whole way through. At first, the ideas are novel, which keeps it interesting. But, the middle of the novel dragged for me. I had to put in some willpower to keep reading.

The effort was well rewarded, though. The ending is powerful, moving and bittersweet. I don’t really do crying, but if anything came close, this was about it. If you enjoy fiction, this is well worth a read.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Sunday, March 25th, 2018 | Books

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a book by J. K. Rowling. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated Eddie Redmayne.

I had seen the film, which also stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt, but I wasn’t really sure how the original book would translate into an audiobook as it seemed like a picture book about monsters, something that wouldn’t lend itself well to being without said pictures.

But that wasn’t the case. In large part, because of the production values used. Each entry was accompanied by music and sound effects that added atmosphere. That, combined with my existing knowledge, provided a rich description.

It did make the entire thing quite short: around 2 hours. Which was fine; I like short books.

Triathlon: Winning at 70.3

Saturday, March 24th, 2018 | Books

Triathlon: Winning at 70.3: How to Dominate the Middle Distance is a book by Dan Golding.

Golding is the same guy that wrote Triathlon For Beginners, which I wrote about in December. I think that Winning at 70.3 is probably even better.

Although it is focused on middle distance triathlon (also known as 70.3 or half-ironman), I think this is worthwhile reading for anyone doing Olympic distance because it will put you in good habits. Sure, you can get away with less core strength training at Olympic. But do you want to get away with it, or do you want to stay injury free and put in place patterns that would allow you to move up if you ever wanted to? I would suggest the latter.

It’s not a beginners book, so if you’re not familiar with the basics of triathlon or the terminology, you might struggle. It’s not inaccessible, but it doesn’t break things down to anywhere near the same level as Golding’s other book.

For me, one of the most useful parts of the book was the specific exercises and tests to do. For example, how to measure your sweat rate so you know how much water to drink during a race. Others bit were a bit confusing. Golding talks about heart rate zones, for example, saying they are the “common” ones. But they don’t seem to map onto Garmin’s, or the 7 zones a lot of cyclists talk about, so it’s not clear how to incorporate them into training.

It’s also full of helpful tips, such as saving time by strategically weeing towards the end of your swim and thus avoiding the chance that you’ll have to go again.

All in all, an excellent guide to triathlon.

The Language Instinct

Friday, March 23rd, 2018 | Books

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language is a book by Steven Pinker.

I have raved about Steven Pinker before. How the Mind Works is a fascinating read and The Blank Slate has changed my worldview more than almost any other book. Along with two or three others, it is probably the more important book I have ever read.

Sadly, I could not get on with the The Language Instinct in the same was as Pinker’s other books. It was too technical for me, even as someone currently studying childhood language development (the book is about language more broadly, but can’t help but stray into development).

I found Pinker’s other books highly accessible, but, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get into this one. Ultimately, I had to give up.

I have no doubt that the many positive reviews about this book are accurate. If you understand the material, or just stick with it, perhaps you get a lot out of it. It just wasn’t the case for me.