The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 by Richard J. Evans

The Pursuit of Power by Richard J. Evans is part of the acclaimed Penguin History of Europe series, covering the time between the fall of Napoleon and the outbreak of World War I. It provides an in-depth exploration of the social, technological, and political developments that shaped Europe during this era.

The book covers a wide range of topics, including the Industrial Revolution, the rise of nationalism, the growth of democracy, and the tensions that eventually led to World War I. It provides insights into the impact and timeline of these developments across different regions, which gives readers a holistic view of the interconnectedness of European countries.

The level of detail provided by Richard J. Evans is impressive. It includes a list of maps for topics such as the abolition of serfdom and railway building to help illustrate the different pace each region progresses. It shows how ideas spread and how decisions about adopting certain reforms can be critical to a country’s progress.

Summarizing 100 years of European history is no easy task, but Richard J. Evans has done a great job of explaining the complex forces that shaped Europe in the 19th century. One thing I would have done differently is to take notes when reading books with this amount of information provided. I find it hard to recollect some takeaways I had looking back now. Nonetheless, it’s a great book for readers looking to learn more about European history.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Let me now posit this: ‘dignity’ has to do crucially with a butler’s ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits.

The Remains of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is a novel that tells the first-person account of Stevens, a head butler at Darlington Hall. My wife recommended this book to me since she was impressed with the rave reviews of Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature. Although we typically read different genres, the book’s focus on the role of a butler caught my attention, particularly given my interest in the character of Alfred in The Dark Knight trilogy.

Stevens’ employer, Mr. Farraday, suggests he take some time off while he’s away. Despite his initial reluctance, Stevens decides to take a road trip to visit a former colleague, Miss Kenton, for whom he has fond feelings, but never confessed due to his interpretation of dignity. The story centers around Stevens’ pursuit of what dignity means and the qualities of a great butler. Through reflecting on his past experiences, Stevens demonstrates how he exhibits dignity and possesses the qualities of a great butler. However as the story nears the end, Stevens begins to doubt his interpretation of dignity, as he realizes that even though he has completely given himself to his profession and serving his employer, it came at the expense of hiding his own feelings and personal opinions.

“I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really — one has to ask oneself — what dignity is there in that?”

The Remains of the day by Kazuo Ishiguro

While I enjoyed the book’s focus on these topics, I found that not all of Stevens’ past experiences contributed meaningfully to his character development. At times, similar points were conveyed and reinforced by different experiences. However, I appreciated the book’s insights into the demanding nature of the butler profession and exploring what it means to have dignity.

Overall, The Remains of the Day offers a unique perspective on the role of a butler. While it may not appeal to all readers, its exploration of Stevens’ character and the demanding nature of his profession make it a worthwhile read for those interested in the topic.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

With the new year I’ve been thinking about how to better document my learnings from the books I’ve read. Writing doesn’t come easy to me, so each book review I wrote usually took quite some time for me to complete. Instead of no longer writing book reviews, I’ve decided to try out writing shorter reviews instead. I’ll try to limit myself to no more than 300 words to focus more on my takeaways and less on describing the plot.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson shows how Winston Churchill led UK during the Second World War. It gives accounts of how Churchill and his extended family was impacted by the war.

With Germany’s superior military strength, UK alone wasn’t going to be able to withstand Germany’s attacks long term. Churchill at the very outset understood the importance of getting US to become UK’s ally in order to tilt the war in UK’s favor. He communicated often with Franklin Roosevelt, US president at the time, on the the importance of US support to not only UK but to US as well.

Churchill’s leadership was instrumental as he rallied the British people to be fearless and to never surrender. He was resolute in his vision and made tough decisions to maximize the strengths of his team. This led to UK drastically increasing its arms productions which allowed UK to fortify its defense until US involvement in the war.

I enjoyed the story telling nature of the book where historical facts are presented to produce a compelling story. One aspect which I lost interest in is when the story centered too much on the lives of Churchill’s extended family. I find it taking away from the main plot while also not adding much insights. All in all this is a book I do enjoy reading for the most part, although since it’s not as focused as I would like it to be it’s not on my recommended list.

When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowestein details how a firm so widely regarded in the financial industry can collapse in a span of few months.

Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) was founded in 1994 by John Meriwether. Prior to LTCM, John worked at an investment bank, Salomon Brothers, as a bond trader before becoming the vice-chairman of the company. With his experience at Salomon Brothers and his mathematics background, John brought in various academics including Myron Scholes and Paul Merton, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics. This emphasis on computer research and data analysis was uncommon at the time and gave LTCM a mystique around how they identified investment opportunities.

Coupling extensive computer research along with the theory that bond yield spreads eventually converge, LTCM traders were confident in their analysis and made unparalleled returns in their first few years by being highly leveraged. With all the momentum on its side and LTCM being greatly heralded in the financial industry, LTCM traders became more reckless in their trading. They leveraged more, invested with their private funds, and started to enter markets they were not familiar with.

Leverage allows you to invest money which you don’t have. However, on the down side, you can suffer great losses if your investment doesn’t pan out. With the financial crisis in 1997 and 1998, this impacted many markets and LTCM quickly found all its leveraged positions plummeting in value. From a net worth of 3.6 billion, LTCM lost all its value in a span of few months and entered bankruptcy as it watches Russia defaulted on its currency bonds.

The key takeaway I walked away is the importance of discipline when it comes to trading. During a bull run, people often times fell into a trap of having a sense of invincibility and will start to make uncharacteristic trades in an effort to yield higher returns. The most consistent thing is uncertainty and even though market research is important, the future is not a simple extension of past trends.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The president of the United States is one of the most powerful positions held in the world. With so much power to influence both domestic and global policies, it comes with great responsibility, pressure, and scrutiny. Being someone who doesn’t follow politics closely, I still question the reasoning behind certain policies. However with so many things that happen behind the scenes and the well-coined term of playing politics, I wonder what considerations are made when drafting a bill.

A Promised Land is the first part of a two-volume memoir on Barack Obama. It goes over how Obama got into politics, how he raised through the ranks to become POTUS, and what goes into the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden.

My biggest takeaway is the amount of work and coordination that goes into passing a bill. Politicians belong to different parties and everyone has their self interests no matter if it’s supporting their own party interest or to poll well in their next local election. This means that oftentimes the best crafted out bills have to be watered down from giving out concessions to convince senators, especially from opposing parties, to support the bill. It speaks not only to the US political system, as it’s just a microcosm of society, where people can prioritize their self-interest over public interest.

The filibuster is a powerful legislative device in the United States Senate. Senate rules permit a senator or senators to speak for as long as they wish and on any topic they choose, unless “three-fifths of the Senators duly chosen and sworn” bring debate to a close by invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII.

I couldn’t believe it when I read about filibuster. A method where you never end your side of the debate to delay or entirely prevent a decision from being made. Talking endlessly in order to prevent an unfavourable outcome sounds immature especially in politics when the stakes are so high. Obama went in depth on how his team needed to give out concessions to senators in order to gain their support. This shows the difficulty in crafting a bill and that securing votes is just as important especially when filibuster is taken into account.

Obama talked extensively about the sacrifice his family had to make to support his political career. In a marriage, responsibilities are often divided where one person works and the other takes care of the family. It’s important to know that both roles are vital to a family and that staying at home shouldn’t be valued any less than the role of providing for the family. In fact, the person staying at home is usually the one making the bigger sacrifice and should be valued and appreciated. When your partner or parent is the president of the United States, you instantly lost the normalcy you are accustomed to, you have to relocate and travel to support political campaigns, and you might need to give up your career goals.

I throughly enjoyed A Promised Land by Barack Obama. Books like this which gives me a unique perspective and experience always rank high on my list. Obama provides a lot of details which can at times appear dragged out but it also helps paint a clearer picture of the lifestyle of the first family of the United States. I’m looking forward to the second volume of the memoir and will also be picking up Becoming by Michelle Obama.

1984 by George Orwell

Whenever a conversation at work mentioned 1984, it seemed like a novel was always brought up and an understanding was shared among the people who got the reference. Although I tend not to read fiction, there came a time when I decided to add it to my reading list despite knowing as much about the book as its title can possibly suggest.

1984 by George Orwell takes place in a dystopian setting where the Party, a totalitarian government led by the Big Brother, closely monitors everyone’s actions and demands complete loyalty.

There is the Ministry of Truth, which rather than upholding the truth, dictates what the truth is. This is achieved by the constant rewriting and falsifying of past records to serve the Party. The ministry also created a new language, Newspeak, to limit the thoughts that can possibly be expressed. One of the words introduced is doublethink, which is the practice of believing in contradicting statements while forgetting that the contradiction exists. The truth is constantly changing and any level of questioning can quickly caused your entire existence to be erased.

The Party eliminates any rebellious thoughts through the Ministry of Love. It instills love to the Big Brother through mass surveillance, fear, and torture. The Thought Police are the secret police who discovers and punishes thoughts unapproved by the Party. People who show any level of opposition through their actions, words, facial expressions, or even what was said in their dreams are brought to the Ministry of Love where they’ll learn to love the Big Brother.

Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth, is not contempt with the current way of living. Although Winston is adept at conforming outwardly to appear loyal to the Party, his rebellious desire grows with each passing day.

Julia, who also works for the Ministry of Truth, confessed her love to Winston in secrecy one day. They quickly became lovers and would spend time together out of the view of surveillance. Winston and Julia agreed that when they get caught, there’s one thing the Party can’t take away from them, which is their love towards each other.

There are stories about a secret organization called the Brotherhood whose focus is to take down the Party. O’Brien, an inner member of the Party, was believed by Winston to be working for the Brotherhood. Winston’s suspicious appears to be validated when O’Brien asked Winston and Julia the sacrifice they are willing to make to overthrow the Party.

Winston and Julia continued to meet up in their hiding place until one day when they got caught by the Thought Police. To Winston’s surprise, the person who disciplines him is O’Brien. O’Brien then carried out physical and mental tortures on Winston. The goal is not to extract information, which Winston had already given all up, but to completely remove any thoughts against the Party. Even though Winston was able to stick with his beliefs during the initial torturing, he finally betrayed his love for Julia when he was brought to Room 101, the dreaded room where you are faced with your deepest fears. Winston was then released before his eventual execution.

Winston and Julia encountered each other one day. They both confessed that they had betrayed each other, which when you do, you don’t feel the same way about the other person. They no longer have feelings for each other and went their separate ways. As Winston was about to get executed, Winston thought to himself that he had finally won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

It’s hard to put into words the feeling of reading 1984. I was expecting Winston to find his way to the Brotherhood and to overthrow the Big Brother. However, there came a time when I realized that there is no way out. It makes you ponder what can happen if a group of intelligent people with a pure pursuit of power has the technology and resource to perform mass surveillance on the public.

I’m still amazed at George Orwell’s ability to provide such in depth details on how a dystopian world with a totalitarian government will look like. Contrary to the usual endings where the protagonist will achieve certain level of victory, an ending of complete defeat of the protagonist’s character is not only thrilling for the readers but also fitting for the dystopian setting.

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

I had used the 5 Minutes Journal (5MJ) for nearly 3 years since I read Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. 5MJ is great especially for people who want to try out journaling. It only takes up 5 minutes of your day and the structured questions you have to answer helps you prime your state of mind for the rest of the day.

The structure 5MJ provides is also its constraint. For several months, I found myself going into autopilot when filling out my journal. I had been answering the same questions on a daily basis for the past several years and when you get too used to something, you tend to skip over any thought process.

I want my journal to be much more, to be tailor made for me, so if I want to elaborate on a memorable experience I’ll have plenty of room to do so. An idea popped into my mind, why don’t I experiment with a notebook layout that will work for me and build my own journal? I quickly jot down my idea and didn’t give it much further thought.

A few weeks afterwards, my brother asked me what I thought about A Gentleman in Moscow and The Bullet Journal Method. I really enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow but I completely forgot I have bought The Bullet Journal Method awhile back. It didn’t take me long once I started to read The Bullet Journal Method before I realized I got it all wrong. There isn’t any perfect notebook layout. Everyone has different needs and each person’s need is constantly evolving as they advance into different stages of their lives. Rather than look for a perfect notebook layout, look for a journal method that is adaptive to any scenario.

This is where the bullet journal method comes in. The bullet journal method is a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system which aims to help you live an intentional life. It provides you a proven method and four building blocks for you to journal effectively.


The index serves as a table of content for you to quickly locate different sections of your journal. For example, you can have a section to keep track of your reading list and you will simply record in your index the reading list and the corresponding pages numbers.

Future Log

The future log keeps track of any tasks or events you have in the future. Similar to context switching, the more things you have on your mind, the harder it is for you to focus on the task at hand. Future log notes down your future commitments so you can be more focused on the present.

Monthly Log

At the beginning of each month, you will migrate the current month from the future log into a monthly log. The monthly log consists of two pages, a calendar view and a task view. Now is the time to act on that commitment you had previously note down for the current month.

Daily Log

Daily log is where you will do the bulk of your journaling. In the morning, write down any task or event you have for the day. Review what you have on the monthly log and see if anything can be worked on today. At the end of the day, it’s time for you to reflect on what happened throughout the day and to examine whether you have completed your tasks or if they need to be rescheduled or even removed. Be mindful of only working on tasks that are meaningful to you. If there’s a task that you keep putting off, see if you truly find value in completing it.

With the four building blocks, you have the minimal structure to build on top off to customize your journal. For example, as part of my daily log, I’ll note down what I’m grateful for and elaborate on memorable events that happened throughout the day. I also have a section for my reading list and the Spanish songs I’m learning.

The customizable aspect is what makes the bullet journal method stands out. There is a big bullet journal community with lots of examples on how people apply the bullet journal method. Learn more about it, experiment, and do what works for you.

How I Prepared for the Amazon Interview

Since I started to work for Amazon as a data engineer, some friends have asked me how I prepared for the Amazon interview. I have organized the list of resources gathered during my interview preparation and will also share my interview experience.

I have gone to the software engineer and the data engineer final round interviews. The interview processes are similar with both requiring you to know how to solve coding and system design problems and to demonstrate you have Amazon’s leadership principles. Data engineer interviews have an extra SQL component and will test your knowledge on how to design data pipelines depending on the reporting need requested. Software engineer interviews focus more on software design and on writing clean and maintainable code. If you just want the resources I’ve compiled for the Amazon interviews, please feel free to skip to the summary.

Online Assessment

Assuming you have passed the resume screening, the first round is the online assessment. It consists of two coding challenges, “describe your approach” questions to describe each of your solutions, and a work style survey.

For the coding challenges, you’ll get the type of questions that you see on LeetCode. I recommend doing LeetCode questions on a consistent basis. Spend an hour each day or every other day if you have less time but the key is to be consistent. As for the difficultly of the problems, I like to do medium difficulty questions exclusively. Medium difficultly questions reflect most closely what you would see in an interview and will help you learn some of the common coding concepts and approaches. If you are interviewing for a data engineer position, do all the LeetCode database questions for SQL practice.

After you have completed the coding challenges, you will be prompted to describe your approach and to state the big O runtime of your solutions. The online assessment will then conclude with a work style survey, which is a series of questions about your work style where you have to rank on a scale how much you agree or disagree with the statements. It’s intended to get an honest assessment of your work style so doesn’t require any preparations.

Phone Interview

Once you’ve passed the online assessment, you will advance to the phone interview round. The phone interview lasts for an hour which starts off with Amazon leadership questions for around 20 minutes and the remaining for a coding problem and time for any questions you may have for the interviewer. For the data engineer interviews, you will also get asked a few questions on SQL queries but the coding problem will be less difficult and require less time to complete.

Keep on doing the LeetCode problems to prepare for the technical portion of the interview. However, unlike the online assessment, you won’t necessarily be given an IDE, a method signature, or sample test cases. Practice solving problems on a text editor and ask questions to clarify the problem. Type out a few test cases and its expected output before you code so you can identify edge cases and let your interviewer correct any misunderstandings you might have early on.

Although this is a technical position, demonstrating Amazon’s Leadership Principles is just as important. Take some time to reflect on your experience and list out the projects and challenges that you’ve worked on. When you go over each Leadership Principle, assign the experiences which relate to it. Ideally you will have at least 3 experiences to talk about for each Leadership Principle. Search up your completed tasks if you have a ticketing system which keeps track of the work you’ve done. Often times, you’ll be able to discover things that you have overlooked or forgotten.

Once you have done the prep work, search up Amazon Leadership Principles questions. You can follow the STAR method when answering the questions, but essentially you are trying to describe a situation, what you did to improve it, and what resulted from your actions. Answer the questions out loud so you can mimic a real interview. Keep in mind that it’s very possible to have talked about an experience for an earlier interview question so be flexible with which aspects of a particular experience you highlight. As you practice more questions, you will become more articulate and better at answering the same questions with different experiences. If you don’t feel as confident with interviews, I suggest doing mock interviews with a friend.

In-Person Interview

The final round interview consists of five hour-long in-person interviews. For software engineer interviews, there are three coding rounds, one system design round and one round for Amazon Leadership Principles. For data engineer interviews, there are one coding round, one SQL queries plus scripting round, one system design round, one data modelling and ETL round, and one round for Amazon Leadership Principles. All the technical rounds will also have 20 minutes allocated for Amazon Leadership Principles questions and how you do in them is as important as how you do in the technical portion of the interviews.

The preparation is similar for what you would have done while preparing for the phone interview with the key difference being the extra system design and ETL rounds. I would recommend going through the Grokking the System Design Interview course early on as I find system design preparation is the most time consuming as engineers tend to have less experience designing complex systems.

For software engineers, you are expected to choose the right data structures and to apply good software designs. I’ve gotten questions where the interviewer simply tells me the type of system and the functionalities that need to be supported with nothing provided on the shared editor. In this case, you’ll need to determine which data structures to use, what kind of classes you will have, and how to adjust your solution and its design for any additional requirements. Be prepared to get a real life problem your interviewer is solving. You’ll need to verbalize how you will approach the problem so ask clarifying questions.

For data engineers, you are expected to be familiar with how to design data pipelines so read up on the common data concepts which I’ve shared in my preparation resource below. You don’t need to be an expert at any specific big data technology but you should be familiar with the tools available and what tradeoffs to consider when designing a data pipeline.


The Amazon interview is a long and rigorous process. If you are considering applying for Amazon or have already applied in the past, don’t get discouraged if you get rejected. Interviewing is a skill which requires practice. You can apply every 6 months to Amazon and through each preparation you’ll become more familiar with the process and the knowledge you’ve gained will be helpful for any jobs you wish to apply. Best of luck with your careers and feel free to download the Amazon interview preparation resources I’ve compiled.

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.


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.