Monday, 31 May 2010

Book afterthought: “The Rickover Effect” by Theodore Rockwell

Score: 4.5/5

This book is an account of Admiral Hyman Rickover’s life in the navy written by one of his trusted subordinates Mr. Theodore Rockwell.  Though not well known by many outside of the Navy/Nuclear industry, Admiral Rickover drove the development of nuclear submarines and the thus the industries from which nuclear power generation became possible.  His determination, moral values, and multi dimensional personality both inspires and puzzles me.  There are nevertheless many great lessons from him.  Below is the story that stuck out the most for me.

In a class of physics students many years ago, nuclear physics was being taught by a famous professor named Frederick Seitz.  Among this class were some navy personnel, training for the nuclear projects they are to contribute to in the future.  During class, a gray-haired gentleman kept asking some fundamental and simple questions, causing some ridicule from classmates.  Even after 2 times explaining the same concept, the gentleman still replied “I still don’t understand, professor”.  To which the professor asked “would you like me to give you extra help every afternoon”?  The gentleman replied “that would be great professor, I much appreciate it”.

When the extra help session began, the professor, the gray-haired gentleman, and many classmates, including the ones who ridiculed the gentleman, were in it.  Apparently, the gentleman wasn’t the only one that didn’t understand the material, but he was the only one who was willing to admit it.

That gentleman was Hyman Rickover, “the Father of the Nuclear Navy”.

Book afterthought: “Getting Organized In the Google Era” by Douglas C. Merrill

Score: 4/5

This book was written by the former CIO of Google, teaching people how to use various tools (like Gmail and the iPhone) and best practices (like when to use paper and when to use digital tool) to thrive in today’s information overloaded lifestyle.  I found the recommendations helpful, though probably even more so for a non-techie.  The lesson I liked the most was about filtering information (i.e. skimming):

Reading every single word in a book, article, or anything else is much more time-consuming and more difficult, at least for me, than filtering that information.  And yet, it comes with the same risk of forgetting.  So you may as well filter.  It’s easier to do, and it’s easier on your brain – and you may need that extra brainpower later.

There will still be material that I read every single word for (like personal letters), but this lesson from the book reminded me that the risk of losing important info is generally no greater than the risk of forgetfulness, and that I should have confidence I will catch most of the goodness in the material by my skimming.  It’ll also help me remember better that which is worth remembering.

Book afterthought for “Linchpin” by Seth Godin

Score: 3/5

This book describes the characteristics of an indispensable individual in an organization.  No specific actions were outlined.  Rather, a set of principles and anecdotes were illustrate the point, which I liked.  Though an interesting read, I do find the book a bit repetitive.  The following is the one story that stuck out the most from the book:

Forty years ago, Richard Branson, who ultimately founded Virgin Air, found himself in a similar situation in an airport in the Caribbean.  They had just canceled his flight, the only flight that day.  Instead of freaking out about how essential the flight was, how badly his day was ruined, how his entire career was now in jeopardy, the young Branson walked across the airport to the charter desk and inquired about the cost of chartering a flight out of Puerto Rico.

Then he borrowed a portable blackboard and wrote, “Seats to Virgin Islands, $39.”  He went back to his gate, sold enough seats to his fellow passengers to completely cover his costs, and made it home on time.  Not to mention planting the seeds for the airline he’d start decades later.  Sounds like the kind of person you’d like to hire.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Video: Interview with Niall Ferguson, author of “The Ascent of Money”

The book “The Ascent of Money” is a general history about modern finance written by Harvard professor Niall Ferguson.  Here’s an hour interview with him:

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Video: (documentary) How Britain made the modern world

This documentary series consists of 6 episodes, each split into 5 youtube videos.  It’s a good intro to Britain’s modern history.  You can also find the book counterpart on Amazon.

Here’s the first part from the first episode (it seemed to have some issue for me, but the second part onward seemed find):