Thank You Index Exchange

After working at Index Exchange right out of school for nearly 4 years, I started to work for Amazon this month.

I still remember attending the on-campus recruitment event. It was a whole day event with hiring companies holding info sessions at separate lecture rooms. There were info sessions for Intel and another company called Index Exchange happening at the same time. I had already gotten a chance to speak with an Intel engineer so I decided to attend the session for Index Exchange.

The room was filled with no more than 20 people since the majority of the students attended info sessions from more well-known companies. The recruiters, Aaron de Wit and Jessica Apelowicz, were personable, engaging, and passionate. I never heard of Index Exchange nor knew anything about advertising technology but they seemed like the people I would enjoy working with. I went home that day and told my mom Index Exchange had made the best impression on me.

I was happy when I got the Intel interview. The question I got was about string manipulation. It was meant to be easy to just get me started. It was easy, but I couldn’t solve it.

After a few weeks, I got the Index Exchange interview. I read up on all the topics covered and made sure I was able to answer all the questions posted on Glassdoor. I asked for the interview to be delayed for 3 weeks so I could have more time to study. I was prepared. I passed the phone screen and got invited to the on-site interview. My interviewer was Roni Gordon, who unbeknown to me at the time, would be the engineering lead I would work closely with throughout my time at Index Exchange. I solved some coding challenges, answered a few questions on how I would test a product, and eagerly showed him my mobile app. The interview ended a few minutes early since there was a meeting he needed to run to.

When I got the offer the following day I was happy, probably not as happy as my mom, but very happy. I studied and was fully prepared but I was also fortunate. Graduating with a commerce undergrad degree, I rushed through my computer science major in two years. I never had any engineering internship or co-op experience as most computer science students had. I could have easily not passed the resume screening. I might not have even passed myself.

Fast forwarded to 4 years later, I’m no longer working at Index Exchange. I needed a change at this point of my career. I want to tackle different technical challenges and learn how other companies approach problems.

I joined Index Exchange as a solutions engineer before transitioning to a data engineer and had been on multiple teams. One thing that is constant is the people. The engineers, managers, directors, product managers, engineering leads, agile coaches, commercial and facilities teams are all eager to help. No matter how senior a person is, it’s literally one message away.

I love Index Exchange. The work environment is amazing and the people are the reason why. There are so many people I’m happy to have gotten to know. A lot of them have helped me, a lot of them I call friends, and one I call my girlfriend. You know who you are and I want to thank every one of you.

I’m excited to get started on my new journey with Amazon. I wish everyone the best at Index Exchange and keep in touch!

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason uses a collection of parables to give financial advice. The parables are revolved around a character named Arkad, a poor scribe who became the richest man in Babylon. Even though the book was written nearly a century ago, the principles still hold true today.

A part of all you earn is yours to keep

Some of us are fortunate to be in situations where we can keep a significant portion of what we earn. However, with rent, tuition, family obligations, and leisure, a majority of us might find ourselves in situations where our years of hard work do not result in much savings.

George advocates that everyone should put away at least one-tenth of their earnings to create an estate for their future. Rather than save your remaining earnings after you’ve paid out your expenses, first put away at least one-tenth of your earnings then plan out your expenses. Odds are you will be able to identify and cut down unnecessary spendings.

Even though saving for you and your family’s future is important, George also stresses the importance of enjoying your life in the present. Do not try to save more than what you can comfortably keep. Life is short and full of things to enjoy. Save at least one-tenth of your earnings and save more if you and your family can still live comfortably.

Learn to make your earnings work for you

If what you save can earn for you, then its children can also earn for you, which will enable you to multiply your wealth in the long run. Seek advice from those wise in managing money and handle your wealth accordingly.

For all the financial advices given, this is probably the hardest to accomplish. Finding a safe and profitable way to invest your money is easier said than done. You can place your earnings in your savings account which with inflation doesn’t increase your wealth by much. You can invest in stocks. However, different investment analysts recommend different stocks. You can place your earnings in index funds which can be a good option but it doesn’t yield high returns.

Learning to make your earnings work for you is important. However, I’ll say it’s more valuable to listen to what George advices not to do. Do not invest based on the advice of people who are not experts in the field they sell. Do not trust your own inexperience or desires in investment if it’s not based on sound reasoning and analysis. Do not chase after impossible earnings.

Don’t feel obliged to lend your money to any person

When you become wealthy, naturally a lot of your friends or relatives will seek your help financially. It’s human nature to feel a sense of obligation to help those who are close to you.

Even if you are in a position to lend your money, always take a step back and evaluate. Does the person who you are trusting your money with have a track record of handling money successfully? Are there valid reasons for you to be confident in the person’s ability to pay you back? And is lending your money the best way you can help this person? If the answer to any of the questions is no, find other ways to help. When a relationship involves a large sum of money, it can destroy relationships including with friends and family. Think carefully before you trust someone with your money.

Summary

The Richest Man in Babylon contains many valuable financial advices. Despite being a quick read with only 100+ pages, it can feel dragged out with many parables emphasizing the same set of financial principles. It’s a book I would recommend since it can have a positive impact on how you handle your wealth. If you are into the investment side of things and enjoy a deep dive on it, I would recommend The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Whenever I go shopping, Nike is the one store that I always visit. I love Nike’s simplistic logo along with its casual and sporty look. However, when it comes to Nike’s history, all I do know is it’s the largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel and it sponsors many of the NBA players I follow.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is a memoir on how Phil founded Nike and grew it to the empire we know today. As one of the most successful entrepreneurs, Phil didn’t emphasize his contributions. On the contrary, he simply tells the story of Nike and might even give you the impression that he was just lucky to be surrounded by geniuses who propelled him. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Luck plays a big role. Yes, I’d like to publicly acknowledge the power of luck. Athletes get lucky, poets get lucky, businesses get lucky. Hard work is critical, a good team is essential, brains and determination are invaluable, but luck may decide the outcome. Some people might not call it luck. They might call it Tao, or Logos, or Jñāna, or Dharma. Or Spirit. Or God. Put it this way. The harder you work, the better your Tao.

Phil Knight

Phil Knight was lucky. When Phil asked to be the US distributor for Onitsuka, a Japanese shoe company, they agreed to it based on Phil’s lie that he represented Blue Ribbons, a company he made up on the spot. His track and field coach at Oregon, Bill Bowerman, was a mad genius at experimenting with shoe designs who was also the Olympic track and field US head coach. His reputation and charisma alone garnered respect in the shoe industry and his constant pursuant of a more performant shoe was a competitive advantage which set Nike apart from its competitors. Phil didn’t approach Bowerman to be his partner. Bowerman was the one who asked to be in on the partnership after Phil sent Bowerman shoe samples from Onitsuka.

Phil’s first full time employee, Jeff Johnson, happened to be another mad genius who worked tirelessly and took care of sales, advertising, customer retention, store opening, you name it with minimum leadership and oversight from Phil. These are just a few examples of how lucky Phil was.

However, if you read closely, you will see the brilliance of Phil Knight. Phil was a kid who loved running whose final year entrepreneurship project claimed that Japanese running shoes can make deep cuts into the shoe market similar to how Japanese cameras did. Unlike the majority of us, his crazy idea didn’t end with the course. He did his research, understood the shoe market, and identified Onitsuka Tiger as the shoes he wanted to distribute. Then he flew to Japan alone.

Bill Bowerman saw Phil as someone he wanted to partner with and asked for Phil to have controlling stakes of the company. His number one full time employee, Jeff Johnson, had nonstop ideas on how to improve the business. Phil unlike many managers we see today, did not micromanage and instead allowed Jeff the autonomy to maximize his impact. Phil greatly appreciates and values those around him and you can clearly tell from how he described each of those he worked with.

For all the great qualities that Phil possess, one of the most important is his persistence to accomplish his dream. There were the times when Onitsuka did not deliver the initial Tiger shoe samples for more than a year, when Kitami, Onisuka’s export manager, went behind their agreed contract and planned to replace Nike with a different US distributor, and when Onitsuka was looking for a distributor who had a store on the east coast which Nike didn’t have. These were all valid excuses that nearly all of us would have used to give up. But Phil didn’t, he pushed forward, got a group of people to work together and resolved one challenge at a time.

Shoe Dog is by far my favorite memoir. Phil Knight is an excellent writer and was able to reflect on his past with such truthfulness. I learned a lot about the type of challenges that come along with starting a company. Shoe Dog is one of my top book recommendations and I hope you will enjoy it.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

My parents escaped Việt Nam on a boat so their children could grow up in freedom.

Our parent-child relationship is one that we seldom reflect upon. In the illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui examines her relationship with her parents and how their history of having to live through the Indochina wars have impacted who they are today.

Thi Bui is a novelist born in Vietnam, three months before the end of the Vietnam war. In an effort to become closer to her parents, Thi began to inquire about her family’s background and their journey of escaping to the United States as refugees in 1978.

The Best We Could Do started with Thi in labor and concluded with Thi and her son, however the plot is mainly revolved around Thi’s parents, Bố and Má (father and mother in Vietnamese). The lives they led before they met each other were very different. Má’s father was the chief of public works for the government so she grew up living in a big house in Cambodia with servants, cooks, and gardeners. Má was always the top student in class and won many awards. On the other hand, Bố’s family had to survive by whatever means they had during the Second World War. One night Bố watched his father beat his mother and threw her out. As a result, Bố was never able to develop a close relationship with his parents.

Afraid of my father, craving safety and comfort. I had no idea that the terror I felt was only the long shadow of his own.

There were trouble in Cambodia where Vietnamese people were being killed, which forced Má’s family back to Vietnam. Bố looking to avoid joining the army, applied and passed the exams to join a teacher’s college, where he met Má. Even though Má’s family was not fond of Bố, they still ended up married. During the Vietnam war, bombings happened regularly and they had to survive skyrocketing inflation with fixed teachers’ salaries. Friends, neighbours, and students were killed and people including children were incentivized and taught to spy on each other including their parents.

There is no single story of that day, April 30, 1975. In Việt Nam today, among the victors, it is called Liberation Day. Overseas, among expats like my parents, it is remembered as the day we lost our country.

After South Vietnam lost the Vietnam war, living conditions were still poor. People in the south were name called and distrusted. Families were constantly monitored and could at any moment be separated. With the changed currency and inflation once again, there was a daily survival for food. Bố and Má then decided to flee Vietnam and was able to escape via boat and reached Malaysia in 1978.

The Best We Could Do is the first illustrated novel I’ve ever read. It’s an easy read and the graphics helped visualize the living conditions during the wars. The plot is well told and I’m impressed at how truthful Thi was at examining her vulnerabilities and her relationship with her parents. I enjoyed reading this book and I’ve learned a lot about Vietnam and got a glimpse of life during the Vietnam war.

Nine Pints by Rose George

This year hasn’t gone well for me in terms of keeping up with my writing routine. I’ve been spending lots of time reading data-related topics and practicing coding challenges to improve my technical skills as a data engineer. This along with my job moving to work from home 6 months ago due to COVID has made it challenging to keep up with my habits.

As I type and reflect, this made me further understand the importance of setting achievable goals and adjusting your mindset when your day to day routine is affected. Due to me moving out and gyms being closed due to COIVD, my goals of practicing piano and working out became hard to achieve. As I started to not keep up with these habits, it also negatively impacted my discipline to accomplish the rest of my weekly goals.

I’ve reflected on my goals and redefined it so it’s achievable and relevant. I’ll start with a low baseline and turn on the intensity after I’m accustomed to the frequency of the habits I’ve set for myself. Besides this, I’m going to dive back into meditation as I felt like I was not as good at dealing with distractions compared to when I was meditating. Hopefully, if you are in a similar scenario, you can also reflect and redefine your goals to see if this can help you get back to your routine.

BLOOD-PINTS

The first book I’ve read while working from home is Nine Pints by Rose George. It’s a book about blood which drew my interest as it’s such a vital part of me which I know so little about. Rose covered topics which includes the usage of leeches, blood transfusions, HIV, and menstruation.

Rose George is an English journalist and writer best known for her non-fiction, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. Rose’s ability to dive deep into a topic and her persistence to understands really shines through as she traveled to India, Nepal, South Africa, and the Canadian prairies to conduct her research.

Rose started out with a visit to a leech farm in Wales. The connection between leeches and blood seems apparent, however, I was still amazed to learn that leeches were widely used as a medical instrument and at times treated like a cure-all prescription in the 1800s. And even though it’s not popular now, leeches are still being used medically due to its natural abilities to increase blood circulation and to break up blood clots.

Moving to Canada, Rose investigated the business side of blood as well as the ethical and safety aspect of selling blood and plasma. When corporations are allowed to profit off of blood, they can take advantage of people in need and target people in poor neighborhoods. By paying the donors, it will also entice people to lie about their medical status which will put unsafe blood in the pipeline to be transfused.

Rose then went into great depth to talk about menstruation. It’s very insightful to learn about all the troubles that come with menstruation. For developing countries, this can be a huge issue. When Rose was in Nepal, she discovered that there’s a tradition of women having to sleep in slacks during their period due to the belief of women bringing bad luck when menstruating. A lot of the women interviewed were firm believers of the tradition as it’s usually passed down from their family and so engrained in their culture. Rose further talked about how unaffordable sanitary pads are to women in some regions which force women to use whatever they can find instead which can often lead to infections and diseases due to poor hygiene. This further highlights the importance of further education on menstruation especially in developing countries.

Nine Pints is a very informative and insightful book on blood. It shines light on many aspects of blood that my review doesn’t cover. I’ll definitely recommend this book if you want to learn more about blood or want to read a different topic.

I started my blog as a way to document my learnings and improve my writing after I’ve read Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk, but I must say I really do enjoy writing again. 🙂

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

It’s been around 3 months since I published my previous blog post. I went back home to Taiwan for three weeks to attend my friend’s wedding and also spent a couple of days in Korea to visit my family there. After I returned to Toronto, I’ve started to get back to my usual routine this past month and I’m happy to be back.

How to Win Friends & Influence People is a book I read around 2 months ago. It’s harder to recall the details of the book but it also gives me a better idea of what I took away. After reviewing my notes, I remember that I find the book a bit dragged out with examples that often illustrate the principles in the best-case scenarios. To clarify I do believe the examples did indeed happen, it’s just that the outcome of some of the examples can easily be undesired under different circumstances.

All in all, I do find the book filled with many principles everyone can use and learn from. If you practice the principles it teaches, it can definitely be a very impactful book.

Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers

If you involve someone in the decision-making process, you will get better buy-in from that person. And if you let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers, the person will champion it.

This does not mean you should try to trick someone into coming up with an idea they don’t believe in. Instead, ask questions to help them see different perspectives that they might not have considered. They might end up with a different idea than you do and that’s ok. When a team is brainstorming ideas, the goal is to come up with the best decision possible.

In a performance-driven society where demonstrating your value can be the key to a promotion or a raise, you might think twice before giving other people credit for your idea. I’ll say try to help others grow, share the credit, contribute to a better work environment, and most likely, things will work out for you. 🙂

Throw down a challenge

For my 2019 resolutions, I’ve set weekly goals for me to accomplish. For example, I had practicing piano for 30 minutes 3 times a week as a weekly goal. It has helped me to keep my focus and to make incremental progress consistently.

Seeing the effects it had on myself, I’ve started to throw down challenges for my friends and colleagues. Usually, the conversation will start with a desire to achieve something. I’ll follow up with “when are you going to start doing this then?” This is very helpful to get people to start thinking about how their goal can be accomplished or for them to start listing out the reasons which prevent them from accomplishing it. Often times, the reasons listed are solvable. For example, the reason for not starting kickboxing can be having a foot injury. I’ll then follow up with questions such as “when will you fully recover?” and “when will you start rehabbing on a daily basis?” When you are trying to motivate people to accomplish their goals, the key is to get people to commit to an actionable step with a specific timeline.

Commitment secured! But don’t stop there! You want to help others achieve their goals. Remember to follow up and encourage. If a commitment is set for Thursday, ask the person to set up a phone reminder or even check up yourself. And when the person is able to deliver on their commitments, be happy for them and let them know about it.

Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to

Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to. This might sound counterintuitive as we often heard quotes such as respect is earned. However, if someone is given a reputation as a hard worker, the person will be incentivized to work harder to not let down the team and his own reputation. By giving others a fine reputation, you are also more likely to get him to listen to any constructive feedback you might have.

“the average person,” said Samuel Vauclain, then president of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, “can be led readily if you have his or her respect and if you show that you respect that person for some kind of ability.”

So rather than only giving people credit after they’ve earned it, try giving them a fine reputation to live up to until they have shown that it’s not warranted.

Summary

This is not a book I would recommend as I’m not a fan of the writing style. However, it is filled with principles that are beneficial when you practice them so I can see why this book is so popular. The principles it teaches definitely bring a lot of value so please don’t let me discourage you from reading it. 🙂

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

It depends on the genre and the occasion, but when people ask me for my book recommendations, Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss, and Educated by Tara Westover were often the first books that came to my mind. Now I’m adding Bad Blood to that list, if not at the top of the list.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley by John Carreyrou details the rise and fall of Theranos, a multibillion-dollar biotech startup founded by Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes was a Stanford dropout with a vision to make lab testing quicker and more accessible by requiring blood samples as small as a single drop. With the ease of the sampling procedure and the proclaimed 4 hours on average test result completion time, Theranos’s revolutionary device would allow lab testing to be done more frequently and for doctors to adjust drug prescriptions sooner if needed. This can lead to the early detection of diseases and save lives. Holmes’s charisma, determination, and relentless drive along with Theranos’s proprietary lab testing device attracted multiple credible investors and vaulted Theranos to a $10 billion peak valuation. There was only one problem. The technology never worked.

Despite Theranos’s high turnover rate and the apparent technology issues known internally, Theranos’s problems never made it to the public. With a culture of secrecy and intimidation, employees are often isolated from other departments. The computer network is closely monitored and confidentiality agreements are often presented when employees leave. In 2014, Holmes started gaining more popularity and appeared on the covers of reputable media companies including Fortune, Forbes, and the New York Times. However, Holmes and Theranos’s fate started to change when John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal received a tip from Adam Clapper, a pathologist who ran an industry blog.

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John Carreyrou is a two times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist best known for his reporting on corporate scandals. Carreyrou started investigating Theranos in late 2015 after he finished “Medicare Unmasked”, a project that forced the American government to release important Medicare data kept secret for decades.

The journey to uncover the truth behind Theranos’s deceptions was challenging to say the least. Barely any employees who’ve worked for Theranos in the past were willing to answer Carreyrou’s calls due to fear of reprimand from Holmes. And many of the few sources who were willing to speak on the condition of anonymity went silent after Holmes discovered their identities. Carreyrou himself was pressured multiple times to drop the story. When that didn’t work Holmes turned to Rupert Murdoch, the founder of The Wall Street Journal’s parent company who also happens to be the biggest investor in Theranos in 2015, to kill the story. Luckily Rupert rejected Holmes’s request citing that he trusted the paper’s editors to handle the matter fairly. The relentlessness that Holmes showed in shutting down this story further speaks to Carreyrou’s amazing investigative efforts.

Even though Bad Blood is a non-fiction but the clarity of facts and people’s accounts are so well encompassing that it feels like Carreyrou was looped in on every email and phone call. However, what I’m most impressed by is how matter of factly Carreyrou was able to tell this story. Carreyrou was able to cast his opinion aside and simply let the readers make their own conclusions with the series of facts presented.

I’ll say this is my most enjoyable read ever. The storyline is so compact and thrilling that it’s hard to put down the book. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do if you decide to learn how Holmes and Theranos were able to fake its way to a $10 billion valuation despite being in one of the most highly regulated industries.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I’m drawn to historical fiction and since A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is one of the few historical books on the discount bookshelf, I naturally picked it up hoping for a good read as I learn a few things about Russia. Granted, my Russian friend and coworker, Yuriy, quickly pointed out to me that I should not look to learn about Russia from a fictional book especially when it’s not written by someone with a Russian background. That, of course, did not stop me from asking him to clarify some of my newfound “knowledge” about Russia afterward.

A Gentleman in Moscow is a historical fiction that narrates the life of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. The story takes place after the Russia Revolution where the Count is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest at Moscow’s Metropol Hotel for writing a counter-revolutionary poem. The story then follows the Count to see how he’s able to navigate the different challenges one can have being confined to one location.

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Moscow’s Metropol Hotel is a real historic hotel known for being the largest extant Moscow hotel built before the Russian Revolution. The hotel was designed to be a cultural center with facilities such as a theatre and indoor stadiums. It was one of the most luxurious hotels at the beginning of the 20th century and often attracted wealthy and governmental figures.

Even though there might not be a better hotel one would want to get sentenced to house arrest at the time, a story centered on a protagonist’s life at a hotel for over 30 years can easily turn out to be dull. This story, however, works due to the character development of Count Rostov.

The Count is a know it all and the ultimate gentleman. He’s extremely well mannered and at the same time witty. He always knows what’s the best dish to order and the best wine to go with it. As he’s trying to master his newfound predicament, a little girl aged around 7, Nina, befriended him at his table during dinner one night. Nina would then explore the hotel with the Count and later bring him one of the most profound moments of his life.

Amor Towles is an American investment professional turned novelist best known for his novels, Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. You can tell from his novel how descriptive and detail-oriented he is. He says the Count “reviewed the menu in reverse order as was his habit, having learned from experience that giving consideration to appetizers before entrees can only lead to regret.” This is just an example of how masterful Amor Towles is at using descriptions to help us understand and connect with the characters.

I find Amor Towles’s writing style as a contrast to Stephen King’s. Whereas Stephen King writes with a more concise style, Amor Towles is more descriptive with his words. Often times I find myself immersed in how Amor Towles is able to describe certain mundane details to enrich our connections with the characters but at times I also found certain details unnecessarily elaborated. All in all, this is a book that I enjoyed reading which I learned something out of.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.

On Writing by Stephen King

My reading list was comprised of books recommended by friends, coworkers, and well-known CEOs online. I began to find that the books I read oftentimes end up having similar themes, so this time I decided to try something new. I went on Twitter and provided my book recommendations while at the same time requested people to provide me with theirs as well.

Here’s a list of books suggested to me via Twitter (thanks to Crystal):

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks
On Writing by Stephen King

Not only did I never hear about any of these books before, but I also have never thought about reading some of these topics. This is exactly what I wanted. Even though I write blog posts occasionally but it never occurred to me to read books on writing. Having read On Writing by Stephen King I plan to put more focus on my writing.

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Stephen King, a well-known author most known for his work in horror fiction, has more than 350 million copies of his books sold. Many films, which include The Green Mile which I have frequently watched in the past, were based on his books.

On Writing by Stephen King details how Stephen became the writer he is today followed by a few of his writing tips. Stephen has a way of writing that transitions story in an engaging yet concise manner. I would be reading about how Stephen is dealing with numerous publisher rejections to how Stephen found success with his first published novel, Carrie, in the span of my 30 minutes commute.

In regards to his writing tips, it is nothing new that you won’t find in a writing/grammar book. However, as someone who’s not a prolific writer, I do find some of it useful. There’s one advice in particular which I have already started applying in my previous blog post:

In expository pose, paragraphs can (and should) be neat and utilitarian. The ideal expository graf contains a topic sentence followed by others which explain or amplify the first.


Topic-sentence-followed-by-support-and-description insists that the writer organize his/her thoughts, and it also provides good insurance against wandering away from topic.

I’m still working on it but I find this simple advice very useful. Previously when I write, I break out to a new paragraph with no clear structure. Sometimes it can seem like I’m just spitting out words as it comes to my mind. But since reading On Writing, I spend more time thinking about how I should structure my paragraphs which helps me organize my thoughts.

Upon reading his advice, I immediately flipped back and started to see if Stephen practices what he preaches which he does. Each paragraph has a main point it’s trying to convey through its topic sentence supported by the remaining sentences. If a point only has two sentences then so be it. There’s no need to unnecessarily expand a paragraph longer than it’s needed to convey your message across.

Stephen King also provides a few more writing tips such as “the adverb is not your friend” and “one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is to never tell us a thing if you can show us” that you can learn more about in his book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and got some insights on the career path of a writer and some of the challenges that come with it. If you are someone interested in a writing career or someone who wants to learn more about writing, then I’ll recommend this book to you.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.

Upheaval by Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond is best known for his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1998. He is a polymath and is well versed in subjects including anthropology, ecology, geography, and evolutionary biology.

In his latest book, Upheaval, Jared examines if we can have a better understanding of national crises by drawing from our learnings from individual crises. Crisis therapists have studied how people navigate through crises for decades and have identified a set of core success factors in determining a person’s capability in navigating through a crisis. However, when it comes to national crises, there are limited studies due to its complexity and scale. Jared then applies these individual success factors on a few selected national crises to see if we can draw any parallels and have a better understanding of past national crises to make better decisions in the future.

Jared analyzes national crises from Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, and Australia. These are the nations that he has either lived in or is more familiar with through the experience of his friends or family. By no means is this a representative sample of all nations, which Jared himself points out. The nations are not only examined based on the success factors but also contrasted against each other to further analyze how a given factor can impact a crisis’ resolution.

Jared ends the book by mentioning how nations can learn from past mistakes and from other nations as well. Nations have various degrees of success in their implementations of systems such as health care, education, and transportation. Rather than reinventing the wheel, nations like individuals can learn from each other and better improve the lives of its people.

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I thoroughly enjoyed Jared Diamond’s Upheaval. History is an area where I’ve been weak in, which is part of the reason why I love reading books with some historical context. And to be able to learn more about 6 nations through one book makes it a very worthwhile read. Jared is masterful at explaining complex matters in simple terms. To condense the analysis of 6 national crises in a book under 500 pages is beyond impressive.

Although I enjoyed the book very much and would absolutely recommend it, I did not see the point of drawing parallelism from individual crises to national crises. Some of the analysis on the success factors do help bring more clarity to the understanding of national crises, but at times the connection seems forced. The importance of the factors can be examined more and some factors seem better to be left out.

If you are into history books like I am, I’ll recommend this book to you. It by no means give a holistic view of the national crisis, however, it is a great starting point for you to get exposed to these nations’ history.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.