Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico

Sunday, May 19th, 2019 | Books, Food

Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico is a cookbook by Rick Stein that draws on recipes from the Southern United States (California area) and Mexico.

There are a lot of good recipes in here. That said, I never found the motivation to make a lot of the seafood dishes, instead opting for the easy taco options that I could make by marinating a meat of my choice and wrapping it up in tortillas.

I also made some salsa and guacamole, so we tended to do several days of tacos in a row so that I could make one big batch and enjoy it while it was still fresh.

12 Rules for Life

Friday, May 17th, 2019 | Books

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos is a book by Jordan B. Peterson.

He’s a controversial figure and I’ve written about this before. I can’t really work him out. He says some thought-provoking things and a lot of people who I respect have a lot of time for him. However, he also says a lot of silly things and digs himself into holes. Some would argue that people are misinterpreting him. But he makes a huge deal out of picking your words carefully, so saying he has been misinterpreted seems a feeble defence.

In any case, I read the book. He wrote a more academic book, Maps of Meaning and openly talks about the lessons he learnt from that, making this one a more popular and accessible read. That said, it’s not for those with a lack of concentration. There is a lot of philosophy in here and he doesn’t always do a good job of explaining what he means. Other parts are just a ramble.

He talks about hierarchies and how they are inescapable. Why? Because lobsters have them. And we’re only very distantly related to lobsters. Which is true. But then we also see a lot of rape and killing in the animal kingdom. Should we also accept these things are inevitable and just live with it? I see no such reason to be pessimistic. Society has been an incredibly powerful tool in overcoming these evils. Of course, we should strive to find a way that is compatible with human nature rather than fighting against it. But we often already do this.

Many of his rules I am on board with. Telling the truth, even when hard, is something I strive for. Sam Harris makes a similar argument in Lying. Pursuing what is meaningful in the long-term is another great rule. And assuming the person you are talking to knows something you don’t is good advice for anyone who doesn’t want to look really stupid at a later point in the conversation.

I think this is a book for fans. Peterson rose to prominence because he sticks by the evidence, even when the left tried to make that politically unsayable. And he continues to do that in this book. But he goes beyond that into ideology. And in a way so complicated that you have to like him to bother to keep reading.

Dietland

Thursday, May 16th, 2019 | Books

Dietland is a novel by Sarai Walker. It follows the adventure of an overweight protagonist as she explores the weight loss industry and has since been made into a TV series.

I tried to give it a good go but ultimately I couldn’t get into it. As an observational piece on the way society treats overweight people, it is very astute. However, as a piece of storytelling, it’s not so good and seemed to walk the line between a real-world novel and fantasy reality in a way that really jarred with me. I couldn’t quite suspend my disbelief.

Slow Cook Book

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 | Books, Food

The Slow Cook Book is a cookbook by Heather Whinney. It contains hundreds of recipes and all of them come with instructions for how to do it in a slow cooker, or using a more traditional method. This feature is great when you forget to put your slow cooker on and need to cook your dinner in a lot less time.

Some of the recipes are a little involved: there is 15-20 minutes of prep and pre-cooking in a pan before you put it into the cooker. However, once you get used to this and plan for it, it’s not too much hassle and comes in a predictable format.

The recipes are tasty. However, as is a problem with most slow cooker recipes, they tend to be very liquidy. And there is a lot of them. We’ve been doing one a week for probably over a year and still haven’t got the end.

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.