The Autobiography of Charles Darwin -- Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin beginning the process of writing Origin of Species. Impressed by his own "industry" that went into research:

When I see the list of books of all kinds which I read and abstracted, including whole series of Journals and Transactions, I am surprised at my industry.

The items that lead to breakthroughs are seemingly random. 15 months into the process a random read enabled him to solidify his thoughts:

In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work.

After the age of 30 he stopped being interested or entertained by poetry / Shakespeare / plays / music.

I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerable dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music...this curious and lamentable loss of the higher aesthetic tastes is all the odder, as books on history, biographies and travels and essays on all sorts of subjects interest me as much as ever they did.

Why does he think he was successful?

What is far more important, my love of natural science has been steady and ardent. This pure love has, however, been much aiided by the ambition to be esteemed by my feller naturalists.

Start with Why -- Simon Sinek

200 word book reviews

The thesis is that it's better for companies to promote themselves based off "why" they are doing what they do vs promoting their actual what (i.e. product) or how (i.e. features). Across the board this leads to more enthusiastic employees and customers and is just a better way to get the most out of your team and to inspire the industry.

Examples of companies that do a good job of leading with why include Apple (their why is going against convention...ironic in 2018 given this book was released in 2011), Southwest Airline (putting employees ahead of everything), Harley-Davidson (America). These companies are larger than their products as they have a meaning.

Made me stop and think of if we do a good enough job of expressing Rockerbox's why (my conclusion is we don't). Given that I agree with his thesis, this has me re-thinking how we communicate Rockerbox internally and externally.

I find that many non-fiction books are too long. They have one theme and expand on it for ~200 more pages than necessary. I felt this was about this book. It would've been better suited as a long form essay / blog post.

Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet -- Katie Hafner

200 word book reviews

Very fun book to read. In line with a lot of the "here is how this ground-breaking technology was invented" books that I've read of late.

I've noticed a few consistent themes across the types of projects that these books are about:

  • A large quantity people aren't required to invent a world changing technology. Instead, it's optimal to unite a small group of exceptionally talented people that get along with each-other.
  • The inventors of ground breaking technologies can rarely state in advance the end impact of the technology.
  • Often the biggest end benefit is widely divergent from what the initial thesis was (in the case of this book, email being the first big win as opposed to shared computer resources)

I love reading these types of books. I find them to be inspiring. Anytime I read about people who are willingly working through the night, not for monetary rewards or for recognition, but because they're just passionate about what they're doing -- that gets me excited.

The one unexpected aspect was that the technology to invent the internet wasn't even that complicated. Instead, the coordination of disparate groups, the standardization of protocols and the will to try were the primary impediments.

City of Thieves -- David Benioff

The start of my 200 word book reviews

I started and finished City of Thieves in the same day. Really entertaining book. High level, it's a story of two young boys (17 and 20) whose fates unexpectedly and (seemingly) unfortunately get tied together. They are forced by a Russian General to scour besieged WWII Leningrad (Piter) for a dozen eggs or face the punishment of death.

Benioff does a great job of combining humor next to the darkness and savagery of Leningrad during WWII. The contrasting personalities of the two protagonists, Lev (naive, shy, inexperienced in life and longing for some purpose) and Kolya (center of the party blabbermouth that no woman can resist) makes for great banter. Their conversations are profound and comedic at the same time.

The brutality of the Nazis against the Russians is stark and unrelenting. I'm amazed and confused that this fact can continue to surprise me.

The willingness of Russians to suffer and endure is remarkable and commendable. They seemingly rationalize life as a pendulum swinging between suffering and joy. The conclusion being, that you can't have one side without the other.

Digital Diet

As is the case every New Year, lots of people are posting their resolutions for the upcoming year. The classic ones involve working out more, starting a diet, reading more, drinking less booze, getting a new job etc. All of those are fine goals to have -- if you're trying any of those or anything else I wish you lots of success.

I've decided my resolution is a digital diet for January. Basically, I'm aiming to cut out entirely my consumption of digital media / entertainment. My current line of thinking defines digital media / entertainment as anything that consumes my time passively (vs interactively) that stems from a digital device. This includes:

  • News: Everything from the New York Times to ESPN to DrudgeReport. Basically anything that's optimizing to report as fast as they can to get new information to me.
  • Online content: These are all the blogs that I follow (I'm a big RSS guy) and sites like Medium. Also includes social media (Facebook, Twitter)
  • Videos / Movies / Streaming: TV, streaming services (youtube, Netflix, Hulu etc...) and movies. Basically any video that I could sit down to watch.
  • Podcasts: Deleted my podcast app. No more walking while listening to podcasts.
  • Music: No more music on my phone.

I've gone ahead and deleted tons of apps on my phone and blocked a lot of domains through iOS settings. On my computer I've logged out of most sites and also use a program called "SelfControl" that prevents me from visiting certain websites. The hardest thing was actually realizing that a lot of services that I use embed news in them (trying searching "Donald Trump" on Google without getting any news results). I'm using a Chrome Extension called Stylbot that automatically renders those sections of the site hidden via CSS (same with Linkedin's feed and news section).

I have no idea how this will go and I'm actually somewhat nervous. I imagine there will be times where I am at a loss for what to do. Even the little moments like when I wake up -- I'm so used to checking my phone. Anyways, I guess that's the entire point of this exercise. To revert to a surprisingly not so long ago time where these things weren't available to me.

While I will be able to post updates during the month, I won't be in a position to share them on any platform so I expect no one to be in a position to see my progress. That's ok.

Some caveats:

  • I'm keeping the Kindle on my phone. I get that there's some hypocrisy to this but I don't view reading as passive. That is, I'm not able to have a conversation with someone while I read which isn't the case with scrolling Twitter or watching Netflix.
  • I'm not cutting out news in its entirety. Might actually have to buy a newspaper or read a magazine.
  • I should call out that I don't view all digital consumption as inherently bad. I get a lot of amazing information and interactions out of Twitter. At the same time, I'm interested to see how my brain is given a month without it.
  • Not sure yet how I'll deal with content that's relevant for work. TBD.