Book Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company (Mandarin Companion)

I've often heard that the best way to learn any language is to spend a lot of time reading the language, particularly books. I really think that's true. So, given my interest in learning Mandarin (Chinese), I wanted to spend more time reading the language.

Now the challenge is always that until you know enough language, it's hard to read books at all, and if you have to keep looking up all the words, that gets painful pretty quickly too. I've heard that ideally, you want to already know about 90% of the words. You want to already know almost all of the common words and need to look up the words that are harder for you.

Now the problem with that is that most books that I could read like that were designed for children, and it's hard to keep your interest going when you're just reading children's books.

So, I was really excited to come across a series of graded readers for Mandarin. The first book I read was Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Curly Haired Company: Mandarin Companion Graded Readers Level 1 (Chinese Edition) by Renjun Yang (Adapter), Arthur Conan Doyle (Author), John Pasden (Editor).

Mandarin Companion Graded Readers

I was already familiar with John through his previous work on ChinesePod.com. I gather he's been the driving force in these readers. The description of the concept is as follows:

Mandarin Companion is a series of easy-to-read novels in Chinese that are fun to read and proven to accelerate language learning. Every book in the Mandarin Companion series is carefully written to use characters, words, and grammar that a learner is likely to know.

Level 1 is intended for Chinese learners at an upper-elementary level. Most learners will be able to approach this book after one to two years of formal study, depending on the learner and program. This series is designed to combine simplicity of characters with an easy-to-understand storyline which helps learners to expand their vocabularies and language comprehension abilities. The more they read, the better they will become at reading and grasping the Chinese language.

For those who can read some Chinese, this typical page should give you an idea of the level that the book uses:

This book is an adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story. In the book, Holmes is called "Gao Ming" (or Tall & Clever). I was surprised how much fun the book was, and how they managed to keep the twists and turns in the plot.

Bottom line?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Although I found it a bit repetitive and simplistic in places, I'd say that the level was perfect for me. I just had a few words here and there that I needed to look up, and, very conveniently, in the Kindle version, they've highlighted words they suspect you might not know, and you just click them to go to a definition, and you can return directly to where you were reading. I'll be reading more of these.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: The Science of Likability

A while back I purchased a number of Audible titles, thinking I'd listen to them as I traveled around. I grabbed a number of ones related to presentation and I thought I'd also check out some general self-improvement titles.

What I didn't realize, is although they had different titles, I'd basically bought a number of copies of essentially the same book, but with different titles. This was one of them.

The Science of Likability: 27 Studies to Master Charisma, Attract Friends, Captivate People, and Take Advantage of Human Psychology is a book by Partick King. This book is a 2017 update of a 2015 book that titled The Science of Likability: Charm, Wit, Humor, and the 16 Studies That Show You How to Master Them. 

However, it's not just this series of books. I was amazed how many other books by Patrick King I had inadvertently purchased. After listening to most of them, even though they all have different titles, so many basically deliver the same message.

And what is sad though, is that I didn't really find the message all that compelling in the first place. Many of the techniques that Patrick discussed seemed pretty cheesy to me. However, I'm sure there is an audience for this type of book. You only have to read the comments on Amazon to find how many people this sort of content helps.

I also have many introverted friends who I think would find many ideas in these books useful. If you are hesitant to join a group of people, or to enter a discussion, or to meet new people, or just to break the ice with someone you don't know, this could well be the book for you. While I find meeting and talking to new people quite invigorating, I do not underestimate how intimidated many people are about doing these things.

Bottom line?

I think I'm the wrong audience for Patrick's books. If however, you struggle with introversion and shudder when you think about talking to new people, etc. this book could well be for you.

Greg's rating: 5 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: The Little Book of Luck

One of the things that I love about digital books and audio books is how quickly I can go from a friend talking about one, to actually having it. This book is one of those. I can't actually remember who recommended this one but I recall looking it up immediately and purchasing it. It's The Little Book of Luck by Richard Wiseman.

Wiseman is a professor for public understanding of psychology in the UK. He states his interests as "unusual areas including deception, luck, humour, and the paranormal".

I don't share his interest in the paranormal. While it can mean things that are just quite out of the ordinary, the common usage of paranormal now tends to be things that aren't able to easily explained (at least right now), and that seem to break things like the laws of nature. I don't see any concrete evidence for any of those.

However, this book tackled "luck".

I've spent quite a bit of time in Asian communities over the last decade and "luck" is something that all these communities seem to have a profound belief in, and seek out. Try selling a house number 24 to a Chinese person compared to selling them a house number 8. Lots of "luck" with that.

Clearly, I don't believe that "luck" is a thing. And while Wiseman doesn't come out and say that directly, he does give plenty of hints that what appears to be luck is often just a positive view of something that's happened.

I like the way that the book talks about ways to view the world, and basically, building an optimistic outlook all the time.

It's only a short book and while you could read the whole thing in half an hour if you rushed through it, it's worth spending some time contemplating his ideas.

Bottom line?

I didn't expect to but I did enjoy reading this small book,  and it's a pretty easy read. I was really expecting more but it might be just the thing to brighten your day.

Greg's rating: 6 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: Pro Power BI Architecture

One of my Kiwi buddies who specializes in Power BI is Reza Rad. I was pleased to see he had a set of eBooks now on Power BI but was especially happy to see he had a book called Pro Power BI Architecture.

There are lots of books around to discuss how to use Power BI but there's been a real lack of books on architecting solutions using Power BI. So if you want to learn to develop dashboards or reports, this isn't the book for you. Reza has other books for that.

I enjoyed reading the book and I liked the degree of coverage it gave to these topics.

If you are looking for ways to integrate Power BI into your solutions architecture, this book is a pretty good starting point.

What I was really hoping for though, was more info on administration. Mind you, the book doesn't claim to provide that. I keep getting asked about materials around administration issues. Perhaps that's another edition for Reza to consider. But the architects who need high level overviews of all the key topics should be pretty happy.

Bottom line?

I enjoyed reading this book, and it's a pretty easy read. Great for architects considering Power BI.

Greg's rating: 7 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: The Happy Mind

Over the years, I've been really interested in what makes people happy in life. I'm always fascinated by people who think that wealth, products, properties, the latest handbag or car, new partner, etc. will make them happy. I'm sure the media has tried to tell them that, but it's never been true.

I've had friends all colleagues all across the wealth spectrum, and I can say without any doubt in my mind, that some of the richest people I know are also some of the most unhappy. Worse, I've seen money destroy families so many times.

Now I'm not trying to say that poverty makes you happy either. It can lead to serious consequences. Debt can be worse. I've always advised family and friends against debt wherever possible.

If you are in debt, you have no control over your life.

Apart from money, what else?

I know though that money isn't the only issue around happiness. I've often spent a lot of time thinking about this issue, and why people keep chasing things that won't make them happy anyway, be it new material possessions, a new partner, or whatever. They spend their lives thinking that if they just get that next thing, life will be better. Here's a hint: it probably won't be.

I have always admired my friends that live simple happy lives.

I was intrigued to see a new book called The Happy Mind: A Simple Guide to Living a Happier Life Starting Today by Kevin Horsley and Louis Fourie. It's published by Tck Publishing.

Kevin Horsley (@KevinHorsley on Twitter) is an interesting guy. He writes quite a bit on brain techniques and memory. I'm not as interested in his topics on how to remember long lists of things (like the list of US presidents), although I'm sure some people would love that. But I was fascinated to see a book dedicated to thoughts on just how to be happy.

Louis seems to write on a wide variety of topics, from this to paleo to economics in South Africa.

The book is easy to read. It has a discussion on happiness right up front and defines what that looks like. Then for comparison, it dives into what unhappiness really looks like in practice. There are many, many good lessons in those sections.

I don't share his religious views (although they were only lightly mentioned) but I particularly liked the discussion on how pleasure isn't happiness, yet it's often mistaken for it.

And then the book breaks into a significant number of short discussions on a whole range of happiness-related topics.

Bottom line?

I enjoyed reading this book, and many times, it made me stop, pause, and think. That's all I can ask for in a book like this. I enjoyed it and I think it contains many great life lessons.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: Why we get fat and what to do about it by Gary Taubes

Weight has been an area of interest for me for a very long time, given my struggles with it. All throughout the 1980s, I wish I'd known what I do know now. Gary Taube's book Why we get fat and what to do about it was a seminal work in this area, helping to remove the nonsense that's been peddled as "science" and "medicine" for decades.

I was already pretty much across most of Gary's work before I listened to this as an audiobook, but it helped me to see where much of his thinking had come from.

During the 1970s and particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, anyone with a weight issue was told to do three things:

  • Eat a bit less
  • Exercise more
  • Avoid fatty foods

They also had seemingly simple messages like it's all about "calories in vs calories out".

If you still think that's the answer to weight issues, you are part of the problem.

That's never been a solution, and it's led to an amazing variety of nonsense ever since it was discussed. Yet every time someone "failed" at doing this list of things, the answer wasn't "oh the list of things must be wrong", the response was that "that person just didn't have enough willpower", and to tell the person "it's your fault".

Weight is the only illness that's not treated properly because it's so easy to blame the victim. And usually, they're being blamed for not sticking with the advice that was never going to work. Lack of willpower is blamed but it makes no sense at all. Many overweight people have enormous willpower; I know many with far more willpower than the average person. So saying that is convenient, but simply not true.

It's also one of the last remaining legal forms of discrimination. Need to get on a plane with a wheelchair? No problems, we have lots of ways to help. Need a bigger seat? Oh, can't you just eat a bit less and exercise more?

But what about fat?

Fat has never been the problem, yet it was demonized by an entire industry, determined to keep you eating low-fat, sugar-laden, non-foods. When scientists saw clogged arteries present with heart attacks, etc. they presumed that the clogged arteries were what led to the heart attacks in the first place. But they needed to look deeper.

I've heard this described as going to house fires, always seeing firemen and firewomen there, and concluding that these firemen and firewomen must be what causes the fires in the first place.

It's nonsense. Always has been.

Even when people were pointing at the French and saying "how come they eat lots of fatty things, yet they don't get fat?", the answer kept coming back "oh but they just eat so much less of it". It never dawned on them that the fat was what stopped them eating too much in the first place.

And they'd argue that the Inuit people who were eating predominantly whale blubber, yet had amongst the lowest heart attack rates in the world, had to just be an anomaly.

The problem is everywhere though. Why is a latte with low-fat milk still often referred to as a skinny latte when it's more likely to cause you a weight problem than to fix one?

It was a similar deal with cholesterol. My father's generation was told to stop eating foods containing cholesterol because people had high cholesterol readings. The logic was that if you ate it, you'd increase your level. Seemed logical but again, that wasn't true either. Dietary cholesterol (i.e. the stuff you eat) pretty much goes right through you and isn't absorbed.

And exercise?

Exercise makes you feel great. No question. It's great for your heart and for your mood.

But if you are doing exercise to lose weight, you're pretty much wasting your time.

A bit of simple mathematics will show you how much exercise you'd have to do to remove how little excess food.

Check out gyms nowadays. They are all making very sure they don't claim that you'll lose weight if you attend. Because they know it's not true. They see the evidence every day.

Gary's Book?

Gary's book was one of the earlier works to really get stuck into the nonsense that has been peddled for so long. Too long, don't want to read?

Simple message: get rid of the carbs in your life

I can't tell you how much I wish I'd known that thirty years ago. I've seen so many people with so many issues, and so let down by the advice they received over those decades. Worse, many governments and doctors are still pushing those non-answers. I can't decide if it's because that's what they learned back in medical school (best case), or if it's because they are now ashamed to admit they were so wrong.

Bottom line?

I have so many friends whose lives I've seen completely transformed by doing this, not for some short-term fix that quickly gets undone, but real transformation.

This is one of the books that can make the core issues sink in.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Podcast Review: The Drop Out

I like serious investigative journalism that's released as podcasts. I enjoyed Serial with their story about Adnan Syed, and in a similar vein there's now The Drop Out from ABC Radio.

I'm surprised that I hadn't heard about Elizabeth Holmes or Theranos, or at least that if I had heard about them, I hadn't taken much notice of them. After listening to The Drop Out, I'm stunned that it hadn't been something I already knew all about.

It's a story of unyielding ambition, combined with bullying and deception. Holmes was described as the world's youngest self-made billionaire. She started the company at 19, and was the darling of the financial world, and of her backers who basically refused to listen to anything that questioned what she was saying. Those backers included some highly influential people.

The story of how George Shultz wouldn't believe his own nephew when he was trying to explain the issues showed how deeply people bought into what she was saying. Basically, they wanted to believe it.

Rebecca Jarvis is the chief business, technology and economics consultant for ABC News and, along with her producers and researchers, takes you on a fascinating behind-the-scenes tale of what happened and how it all came unstuck. It's the result of years of research.

The Bottom Line?

Greg's Rating: 9 out of 10

I'd highly recommend that you listen to this, if you have the slightest interest in technology or business.

Book Review: Alibaba – The House that Jack Ma Built

You probably already know that I've been learning Mandarin for about 8 years now, and have a fascination with Chinese business and technology. Learning the language has made this more approachable for me.  The story of Jack Ma and Alibaba is one of the really interesting aspects of Chinese business today, so I was intrigued to read this book:

Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built by Duncan Hall

I ended up listening to the book via Audible rather than reading it.

Duncan Hall seems well placed to comment on this business. He was an early advisor to Jack Ma. He hasn't worked directly for Jack but he has obviously been close enough to watch the company closely.

The book is well written and explores much of Jack's younger days and shows a lot of detail about where his thinking is likely to have come from. I was particularly fascinated by his deep connections to Australia. I wasn't aware that he'd lived in Newcastle (New South Wales) for many months.

Duncan said he'd been living in China since the 1990's and this has given me great insights into the cultural issues that have helped Alibaba to flourish.

Given how long he's lived in China, I'm sure Duncan has a great grasp of the language by now. I really wish he had narrated the book himself.  Jim Meskimen is the book's narrator and while Jim has a great clear voice for narration, I struggled with the constant mangling of the Chinese words that were in the book.

For example, the word Xiao in the company name Xiao Mi is pronounced like the "Show" part of "Shower", not like something starting with "Zh". And it took me a while to realize when he said something that sounded like "Nerr Peng You" that he meant "girlfriend", which is pronounced more like the English "New Pung Yo".

Bottom line?

This book is quite fascinating and if you aren't already familiar with Alibaba and Jack Ma, I highly commend it to you. While things could always change, it's hard to describe how important they are likely to be in the new world order. If you don't know about them now, I'm sure you will in the future.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

Leigh Sales is a well-respected local journalist. I feel some affinity for her, as she's grown up in Queensland and often comments on things from her childhood that I clearly remember, even though Leigh is younger than me. I was fascinated to read her book Any Ordinary Day: Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life.

I decided to read her book before I knew anything about it at all. I knew it was "Any Ordinary Day". I hadn't realized it was "Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life", so it was quite an unexpected story for me.

You often (perhaps too often) hear about tragedies, terrorism outcomes, and disasters and about the people affected. What you don't usually hear much about, is what happens after the events.

In the book, Leigh talks about the aftermath of these events. She starts with a discussion about the Lindt Cafe Seige in Sydney and then moves through many stories about what's happened to people on the worst days of their lives, and what happens after.

I really appreciated the detail that Leigh went to in investigating the content for this book. She had really insightful interviews, not only with the survivors but also wonderful interviews with coroners, police, politicians, forensic counsellors, etc.

Leigh really peels back details that usually just aren't discussed, and I found it really quite compelling.

Bottom line?

This book is quite fascinating and takes you into discussions and details that I've never seen in other books. Hopefully, you won't be one of the people who have a similar story, but I suspect you'd be better prepared (if that's possible) by reading this book. At the very least, you might know more about how to work with or relate to people who are in these situations.

Greg's rating: 9 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).

Book Review: The Hard Thing About Hard Things

I recently read The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz. I was interested to read it because Ben is a well-known and experienced entrepreneur, based in the Silicon Valley area south of San Francisco. He offers advice on how to really run startups.

I loved the way that Horowitz addressed failure. Instead of taking the business school approach of telling you how things should be done, and assuming that you'll do everything correctly, he spends time telling you what to do after you've already screwed up.

I thought the advice that he delivers is quite realistic, and more importantly, helpful. It was interesting to see him asking you to embrace the struggle.

Many CEOs that I talk to feel like they're the only ones who must be struggling, and they often feel quite alone. Horowitz makes it very clear how much everyone in these roles struggles, and then provides ideas on what to do when you're in lousy situations.

Overall, I found this refreshing, and honest.

Bottom line?

This book is interesting and is certainly worth your time if you're looking to run a startup, or if you are already struggling to do so.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn (a pittance) from qualifying purchases but whether or not I recommend a book is unrelated to this. One day it might just help cover some of my site costs. (But given the rate, that's not really likely anyway).