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).

Book Review: The Little Things: Why You Really Should Sweat the Small Stuff

The title of this book caught my eye. I'm sure it's intended to be a play on the title of  Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and it's all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson. I reviewed that book here.

So this one is The Little Things: Why You Really Should Sweat the Small Stuff by Andy Andrews.

Andrews tends to write small (and short) books that get pretty much to the point. This one also does the same. I saw a large number of people taking about how much they enjoyed it, but for me, it fell flat. In Carlson's book, there were great messages about how easy it is to have your life overcrowded, particularly with things that in the end really don't matter.

Andrews takes the opposite view that so many of these little things really are critical. He spends ages talking about how an air rifle played a key part in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and how a handful of nails was critical in the Battle of Waterloo.

We've all seen situations where significant things fall apart for the lack of attention to small detail. And Andrews clearly shows examples of this.

It's a pretty quick read, and at least he doesn't belabour the points.

I just ended up feeling pretty unconvinced, but noting other reviews, I seem to be in the minority. I just didn't find any real revelations here.

Greg's rating: 6 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn 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: No Ordinary Disruption

I mentioned in a previous post about how one of my colleagues Orin Thomas is a prolific reader and every time I talk to him, he suggests more books that I should read. Another one in that category was No Ordinary Disruption One by Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, and Jonathan Woetzel. The sub-title is The four forces breaking all the trends.

The authors claim that our intuition on how the world works could be very wrong. I suspect that the degree of change in the accuracy of our perception is a recent, and accelerating thing. In the book, they are summarizing years of research they have done at the McKinsey Global Institute.

It's amazing today how many businesses that have been large, solid, and around for a long time, are suddenly almost swept aside by relatively new competitors. Suddenly, the world feels different. It is going to be very, very different.

What I particularly like in this book is the way that they've analyzed what's going on in China. The rise and rise of Chinese technology is a passionate interest of mine, and I'm surprised how little attention it's getting in the West today. I think we ignore it at our extreme peril, particularly financially. So many things that I see going on in China are so very disruptive. I hear people scoff at some of the quality of what they're doing, but I heard exactly the same thing about Japanese products in the 1960's and 1970's. By the 1980's, everyone was taking notice of the Japanese.

If you don't realize that technologies that are now constructing skyscrapers at three stories per day (yes 57 stories in 19 days), and others that are 3D printing entire houses, are going to be here in the near future, you aren't watching what's going on.

What we in the West aren't seeing is where the real growth is going to come from in the future. An example they give is that a single regional city in China (Tianjin) will have a GDP as large as Sweden by 2025.

I loved the way that the authors note that cities that most executives would be hard pressed to even find on a map today, will have most of the economic growth in the next decade.

The four main trends that they've mentioned are a big shift away from North Atlantic trade, across to emerging markets; the way the world is aging; the effects of ongoing urbanization; and obviously, the impacts of technological change.

But it's not all about China and emerging markets. There are other significant disruptions taking place. For example, who, in the 1980's, would have tipped the USA as the world's largest oil producer, rather than some countries in the Middle East or Russia?

The first chapter contains the essence of the book. It's a fairly straightforward read, and covers the main points of the whole book. The rest of the book is a much heavier read, with all the statistics and analytics, but interesting nonetheless.

My main concern right now, is that the upcoming disruption is very different to anything we've seen in the past, and we're nowhere near ready for it.

Bottom line?

This book is interesting and it's another one that I'm glad Orin suggested to me. I have a deep interest in these things, and this was yet another set of opinions that were worth considering.

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: Shrill (Notes from a loud woman)

I've also tackled a number of non-technical and non-scientific books recently. On that I'd heard good things about was Shrill (Notes from a loud woman) by Lindy West.

First note about this book is that it's full of NSFW (not suitable for work) words, so be warned if that would offend you.

As well as being loud, Lindy has spent her life being big. I'd say that's shaped her world view as much as anything else. Having been big much of my own life, I can directly relate to so many things she says.

Weight is one of the last great "acceptable" forms of discrimination in the world today. That's largely because when doctors and others haven't been able to cure it, they have to blame someone, so they blame the victim, and presume they must have just eaten too much, not exercised enough, or just don't have any willpower. Yet of my many friends, the heavy people that I are often the ones with the strongest willpower, and often excelling at every aspect of their lives except weight. One day, society will come to understand that obesity is an illness, and I think largely caused by excess carbohydrates, even though that's exactly what stupid guidelines have told us to eat over the years. But I digress.

Lindy had me almost crying at times, yet laughing so hard at other times. An NPR review called her "our fat, ferocious, and funny avenging angel". I'd put that as pretty close to the mark.

She's dealt with appalling situations and managed to still come back out with a sense of humor. It's surprising that she still has  decency towards those around her.

Bottom line?

I liked it. She's brash and loud, willing to challenge stereotypes, and tackle nonsense head-on.

Greg's rating: 8 out of 10

Note: as an Amazon Associate I earn 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).