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Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It: Wisdom of the Great Philosophers on How to Live
Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It: Wisdom of the Great Philosophers on How to Live
by Daniel M. Klein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.15
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You may learn something new about the art of living. If not you may at least have a couple of good laughs., November 4, 2015
I have been an avid reader of Daniel Klien's books (mostly for their high quality humor), especially those written with his former coauthor Thomas Cathcart. When Klein wrote his solo book "Travels with Epicurus," I eagerly bought a copy, only to be sorely disappointed. The book was a pale imitation of the shorter, but more thought provoking philosophical travelogue "Reclaiming Epicurus" by Luke Slattery. Klein's book wasn't humorous either. Rather his was a book glamorizing old age and romanticizing the way older people spend time reminiscing. No problem with that. But does it have to be glamorized? The author had a stern point of view: if you don't enjoy your old age as an older person is supposed to, then you are missing out. You are somehow a fake if you continue to be a vigorous participant in life when you should be in retreat. Don't you know your station in life?

This is somewhat in line with Epicurean thinking. While Stoics like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca were full participants in life and fearlessly faced its glories and ignominies until their last day on earth, Epicurus thought he was going to find happiness in a secluded compound, exorcising everything he thought would make his life uncomfortable in the long run. His vision of paradise was a sort of Playboy mansion sans wine, sans sex, and sans song, and sans good food. Omar Khayyam's nightmare. The grandeur of everyday life as is somehow eluded Epicurus. No wonder, he was anointed by Klein as the patron saint of life in retreat.

So it is with some reluctance I bought this book. I'm glad I did. The old (I mean pre-Travels-With-Epicurus) Klein is back. And what a welcome relief it is! Starting with the title, "Every time I Find the Meaning of Life They Change it", humor is back. In this book, Klein uses humor and personal points of view rather than prescriptions to explain the philosophy of life. Thankfully the philosophy he expounds in this book is not confined to that of Epicurus but extended to the more joyful modern hedonists such as David Pearce as well.

The book is based on "Pithies", the quotes Klein collected in his earlier days. It covers a wide range of philosophical thought, all concerned about the art of living: Epicureanism, hedonism, stoicism, pessimism, existentialism, empiricism, nihilism, absurdism, humanism, spiritualism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, moral philosophy, political philosophy, social philosophy, analytic philosophy, atheism, logical positivism, rationalism, monism, materialism, Christian realism and even biblical thoughts find a place, however brief, in this book.

The book is based quotes that were collected over a period of several years by the author when he was young. Because they are from a wide range of philosophers and others, it is difficult to write a comprehensive review of the book. What Klein does is to start each "chapter" with a quote such as:
"If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different reality system." (William James)
and then in the following few pages explains his thoughts on the quote. In the end, we get a panoramic view of the art of life from several perspectives that all blend into a somewhat unified theory of the art of living.

There are also some really funny jokes in the book (as is the case with his pre-Travels books) such as the one about the man who hasn't been to Minsk, and another one about a Sardar going to Mumbai.

An afternoon spent reading "Every time I Find the Meaning of Life They Change it" is an afternoon well spent. You may learn something new about the art of living. If not you may at least have a couple of good laughs.

R for Marketing Research and Analytics (Use R!)
R for Marketing Research and Analytics (Use R!)
by Christopher N. Chapman
Edition: Paperback
Price: $58.49
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent companion for data analysis and analytics for marketing researchers, March 28, 2015
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There are many things to commend about this book.

First and foremost, this is the first major and successful attempt to present analytic techniques to marketing researchers from a modern perspective. It replaces the standard multivariate technique books used by marketing researchers (starting with Paul Green in the 1970s and ending with the currently in print Hair, Tatham et al.). There are some excellent contemporary books on analytics relevant to marketing researchers such as "An Introduction to Statistical Learning" by James, Witten, Hastie and Tibshirani, and "Applied Predictive Modeling" by Kuhn and Johnson. However, they are not directly designed to address marketing research issues. This book is. The advantage to this book being specific is that it can address the problems specific to marketing researchers rather than dealing with such issues tangentially.

Second, Chapman and Feit do not deal with marketing research problems from an academic perspective with artificial scenarios. Their examples are of the type a marketing researcher would deal with on a day-to-day basis. When I first saw that the authors use generated data as opposed to real-life data to illustrate the techniques, I had misgivings. It is easy enough to create contrived datasets to solve imagined problems; in real life, datasets are not always that cooperative. The authors have not fallen into this trap and they have generated datasets skillfully to illustrate the points they are trying to make.

Third, as a modern take on traditional bivariate and multivariate techniques, Chapman and Feit present Bayesian methods, which are becoming increasingly popular. I believe Bayesian methods (especially with the advent of R) will soon be part of mainstream data analysis in marketing research. The book includes sections on many relatively newer (in any case, less frequently used) techniques such as random forest and naïve Bayes.

Fourth, in several places Chapman and Feit explore the implications and extensions of basic techniques, which I have not found in other comparable texts. As an example, while discussing factor analysis, they discuss how to use factor analysis to create perceptual maps.. Such extensions are seldom discussed explicitly in other texts dealing with factor analysis.

Fifth, the book is comprehensive. It covers all aspects of analysis a beginning or intermediate marketing researcher or analyst is likely to encounter. Although initially I wondered if it was necessary to devote a third of the book to basic statistics and R, it does provide a good foundation for data manipulation.

Sixth, the writing is clear. This is not a technical book and it is not meant to be. This makes the book widely accessible to marketing researchers with different proficiencies in mathematics. I also liked the fact that Chapman and Feit point out the limitations of traditional techniques like confidence intervals.

Finally, the authors do a good job of teaching the R language and graphics to beginners. The book is not unique in that respect because many other books do an equally good job when it comes to teaching R and graphics.

Some standard techniques (neither numerous, nor serious) are missing from this book. A case in point is linear discriminant analysis. While logistic regression (which is included in the book) can be seen as an alternative to LDA, there are several instances where LDA is a better alternative. Other missing topics include correspondence analysis and maxdiff. But it is the authors’ prerogative to choose what goes into their book and Chapman and Feit’s coverage is comprehensive enough for most purposes.

While the authors do indirectly bring up validation issues and deal with them, they do not treat validation as a systematic and explicit part of using any technique. They devote less than a single page to the widespread problem of overfitting and touch upon bootstrapping only minimally while discussing PLS/SEM. I am not sure if they discuss bias-variance tradeoff and cross-validation seriously at all. I believe, as we move into the era of big data, samples drawn from an unknown population, do-it-yourself research and the like, validation issues become critical and they should be a part of any analyst’s thinking. Most users of the techniques know much more about “R-squared” and “number of hits” etc., than about the perils of overfitting, about model bias or about the reproducibility of the results. For many decades we had no alternative. Programming was complicated, datasets were small and computer time was expensive. Now we don’t have any of these limitations and I believe validating results should not be optional or an afterthought but an integral part of data analysis.

Despite the title, which emphasizes R, the book is more about data analysis and analytics. "Data Analysis and Analytics for Marketing Research With R" would have been a more appropriate title for this book. The book has a lot to teach about analysis whether you are interested in R or not.

While I wish the book had dealt more systematically with validation issues, what it does it does well. Beginning and intermediate researchers who need to analyze data will be hard put to find a better source than this book; learning R in the process is a big bonus. I highly recommend this book to beginning and intermediate researchers seriously interested in data analysis and analytic techniques.

Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden
Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden
by Karen Maezen Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.36
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All that is ever required of us is that we lift one foot in front of the other. End of story., February 10, 2015
Many earlier zen books in English such as Suzuki's "Zen Mind Beginner's Mind" or Maezumi's "Appreciate Your Life" were mostly edited transcripts of the talks of zen masters whose mother tongue was not English. While they conveyed the essence of zen simply and directly, they were not conceived and crafted as books. They were meaningful, inspirational, and authentic, but not poetic.

Paradise in Plain Sight is different. It is a beautifully written book on the essence of zen. The book is well conceived and elegantly crafted (sometimes self-consciously so). Karen Miller's writing is simple and yet poetic.

Using her decrepit zen garden as a metaphor, Karen Maezen Miller gently walks the reader through what it means to live in the now. I cannot do justice to her writing without mostly paraphrasing - should I say plagiarizing? - what she has to say about the spirit of zen.

Paradise is not perfection we are going to achieve some day. We cannot get there. We cannot fill a hole that doesn't exist. Just as a crescent moon or a half moon isn't lacking anything because it is not a full moon, the ground we stand on isn't lacking anything because it is not the same as our imagined version of what should be.

Paradise is the ground we stand on. Can we see it?

We can stand on the curb, turn it into crossroads branching into several directions, every direction unappealing and dangerous. We fail to see a many-splendored world arrayed at our feet and we think this isn't it this isn't it this isn't it. We have come looking for paradise. Will we recognize it when we are staring it in the face?

The path is not a road to somewhere but a way of living. The road seems merciless when the company we can keep nor avoid is our own. Yet this is how we live, until we learn how to make ourselves at home wherever we are. Fear holds us back from seeing the paradise in front of us.

What does it take to traverse the path and find paradise?

There are no secret formulas, none that work anyway. Don't turn away from what is in front of you. Every time we turn away from what is right in front of us we are headed in the wrong direction. So don't turn away. All that is ever required of us is that we lift one foot in front of the other. End of story.

The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity
The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity
by Norman Doidge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.97
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273 of 316 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brain plasticity, a cure for all that ails you? A skeptic at the door., January 28, 2015
The human brain can rewire itself. This phenomenon, known for almost a hundred years beginning with the work of Karl Lashley, is known as "plasticity" and was popularized by Norman Doidge's earlier book, "The Brain that Changes Itself". That book was based on contributions from several mainstream neuroscientists working in the field of brain plasticity.

In his new book, "The Brain's Way of Healing", he goes further. And much farther - to a realm that is difficult to distinguish from the realm of alternative medicine and New Age healing. The healing claims here include how an astonishing variety of ailments - Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, anxiety, concussion, autism, dyslexia, ADHD, migraine, arthritis, chronic pain, dementia, to name a few, I kid you not - can be cured by the application of "energy" such as light, sound and electrical stimulation. And they are all free of side effects.

The fact that the human body can cure itself even when medical science has given up is not new. As far back as the 1930's, Dr. Alexis Carrel, who won the Nobel Prize for pioneering vascular suturing techniques, documented in his book "Man the Unknown", how a group of patients without any hope prayed and healed themselves. Then there is the mystery of the placebo effect, the inert pill with no medicinal value that cures various ailments. So we know that the human body heals itself, even though we have not fully understood the mechanism through which it accomplishes this. Much of the explanation for the placebo effect does not go beyond naming the phenomenon in various ways.

This book ventures an explanation and claims that the techniques described in the book, used by isolated practitioners around the world from California to Canada to Australia, go beyond the placebo effect. Here is the physiological basis for the author's claim: You can use "energy" to stimulate your brain. Neuro-stimulation can reset your brain by powering up your cortex, empowering you to switch off your fight-or-flight reaction and switch on your social engagement system. This explanation is totally indistinguishable from the claims made by New Age healers. This is no scientific explanation. This is a scientific-sounding explanation of what the author believes has happened. It is hard to accept this kind of description as "scientific".

Do these therapies work? Dr. Doidge quotes practitioners and patients and has seen before and after photos. They all sound convincing. But the problem with this kind of evidence is that we know mostly of patients on whom the therapies worked. We don't know when, on how many and under what conditions the therapies didn't work. Doidge doesn't seem to document any contrary evidence or instances where the therapies fail to work. They all seem to work just fine, thank you.

On the other hand, I have no reason to believe that therapies like the ones described in the book do not work either. However, if the evidence has been so compelling and overwhelming, these therapies would be practiced more widely. In the absence of replicated published evidence, my view is a generous one: it is possible these therapies work.

I am not against what Doidge's proposed therapies. I would try them myself instead of taking drugs. But I would be cautious about the (what appears to be exaggerated) claims of their efficacy. Maybe they are the way of future medicine. Maybe not. It is just that, after reading the book, I am not convinced one way or the other.

I am giving the book three stars. I consider this as a neutral rather than a negative rating. If the claims in this book turn out to be mostly true, it deserves at least that many stars and the book deserves a wide audience; if they don't, no harm done.
Comment Comments (39) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2015 8:29 PM PDT

A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates
A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates
by Rand Corporation Rand Corporation
Edition: Paperback
Price: $54.18
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A very disturbing book, January 6, 2015
This is a very disturbing book. It encourages perverted lifestyles by describing deviates as "normal". Just because there are 100,000 deviates, it doesn't make it normal. Deviates don't become normal even if there are 100,000 of them.

Another serious problem with this book is that it is dated. Does the publisher really think random numbers have stood still since the book was published way back in 2001? Even a casual reader can tell numbers like 6578293, 98236820, and 98877529 are not as random as they once used to be. In fact, I wonder if they ever were.

While I was trying to decide whether to buy the book or not by reading the preview pages, I found that the publisher has callously removed page 7 from the preview. How is one supposed to decide when one cannot even get a feel for the material by reading the first few pages? How can one even know if the numbers are random if one is not allowed to read the first few pages?

No one is mentioned as the author of this book. One wonders what has the author got to conceal that he or she hides behind the anonymity of a corporation. Some reviewers have speculated that Rand actually refers to Ayn Rand. I am not so sure of that. Although initially it appears so, a close reading of the book suggests that Rand is actually Rand Paul, the Republican lawmaker. I have to admit though that both Ayn and Paul have similar libertarian views, making it difficult to tell them apart. But real scholars would have no difficulty in identifying the true author. Where are you Fred Mosteller when we need you to sort out the authorship?

I really really wanted to like this book. There is much to like in this book. In fact I was so excited to read the first few pages of random numbers that I thought I was going to give it a five star rating. But, for the reasons described above, I can't do that.

With a heavy heart I give this book a single star. However, if they bring out a second edition, I promise to keep and open mind while reviewing it.

Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff
Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff
Price: $2.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many books on simplification are good, but Discardia is awesome!, October 16, 2014
When I first came upon this book, I was ambivalent about its title. Neither its format nor the author’s writing style appealed to me. Yet, as I previewed the book, I noticed it had some interesting ideas. So I bought the book and I am glad I did. Discardia contributed more to simplifying my life and enhancing its value than almost any other book I had read on simplifying life.

Discardia took me several months to complete because it was about a different way of life. It is a “practice as you go along” book. I was interested in simplification, but for Dinah Sanders that is only a part of the equation. She asks the reader not just to get rid of stuff but also to replace it with “awesomeness.” To simplify one’s life and add awesomeness to it, one needs to follow three core principles: Decide and do, choose quality over quantity, and perpetually upgrade your life. Sanders elaborates these three principles in three different sections with 41 specific suggestions.

DECIDE AND DO. This part of the book provides guidelines for getting rid of stuff in your life that doesn’t add value any more: emails, all things you saved from your past, kitchen stuff, closet stuff, “just in case” stuff, and mental junk such as anger, resentment and depression.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY. This part discusses how, as we discard a huge quantity of unwanted stuff, we can replace it with quality stuff that we love and use. Sanders provides specific guidelines as to how to do this while overcoming mental barriers such as procrastination, hesitation and indecision. The suggestions range from replacing junk in your closet with quality items all the way to replacing mental junk with feelings and attitudes that make you awesome.

PERPETUAL UPGRADE. This part is about bringing balance and joy to your life as much as enhancing the quality of the stuff you use everyday. It is in this part of the book it becomes obvious that Sanders is not just talking about living with less stuff (an admirable aim in itself), but about an awesome way of life built on the foundation of a simplified life.

It is clear the author did not just set out to write a book because she could, but thought through, test drove and lived through the ideas she discusses in the book. The book is not written in a hurry but probably over a long period of time. One is constantly surprised at range of ideas she presents in the book. The ideas are easy to implement and produce immediate results. I also liked the fact that the author is an active part of modern life (as opposed some of the writers on simplification who live a sort of semi-withdrawn life) so I could easily relate to her.

I was initially interested in simplification but not in being “awesome,” but by the time I finished reading the book, I began to see how attention to awesomeness supports simplification. Dinah Sanders presents a philosophy of life with simplification as the foundation and awesomeness as the edifice.

I have read several books on simplification. Many of them are good, but Discardia is awesome.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
by Walter Isaacson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.35
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An engaging history of the Digital Age: How it all started and how we got here, October 7, 2014
What would the world look like if we had no personal computers, no access to the Internet, no email or texting, no smart phones or ipads, and no Google? For most of us, especially those who are young, such a world would be unimaginable. Yet such a world existed just about 30 years ago.

How did the digital revolution start? How did we get here so fast? In his sprawling new book The Innovators, Walter Isaacson rightly points out that few of us know who invented the computer or the Internet. He takes us back to the past when it all started and walks with us to the present moment.

The romantic story of the digital revolution starts way back in the 1830s in England when the poet Lord Byron's daughter Ada Lovelace meets Charles Babbage and collaborates with him to make "analytical engines", now known as mechanical computers. It was Ada Lovelace who thought of computers as general purpose computing hardware devices that were run by software instructions.

It took a full century for these ideas to evolve and culminate into the US government funded ENIAC, the first modern day digital computer. Around the same time Alan Turing created the first electronic computer in the United Kingdom. US Defense Department funded the creation of the Internet.

The story of the digital revolution is told as a serial biography of innovators, scientists, hackers and geniuses. A fascinating tapestry of characters created the modern digital age. We learn how computer innovations progressed during the Industrial Revolution to WWII to the modern digital age. We learn about historical figures as well as familiar figures such as Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Linus Torvalds and Tim Berners-Lee, Steve Case, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The book is organized by specific digital technologies such as The Computer, Programming, The Microchip, Video Games, The Internet, The Personal Computer, Software, Online, and The Web.

Here some themes in this narrative that one cannot miss.

First, the digital revolution is not the result of a few isolated geniuses coming up with great ideas. The reality is that, while there are geniuses and visionaries, innovation is often the result of collaboration among different individuals, collaboration between the government, academics and independent visionaries, and it is the result of building on what others had done. The lone visionary changing the world is more a romantic idea than reality.

Second, women's contributions to the revolution have been historically ignored, and continue to be ignored. The book starts with the story of Ada Lovelace and ends with a chapter Ada Forever. She was so crucial for the development of computers. She was ignored in her lifetime because she was a woman and that has been continuing to happen.

How good is the book? One can quibble about who is included and who is excluded. One can quibble about the importance given to certain innovators at the expense of others, whom one might consider to be of greater importance. But this is a sweeping book, covering nearly 200 years of innovations. No matter who writes the book, no matter who is included or who is excluded, no matter who is given more prominence and who is given less, it is impossible to please everyone.

In the end, these questions remain. Did we learn something new about the digital revolution that we did not know before? Did we get a clearer picture of how we got here? Did we get a new perspective on how most innovations take place? Are we likely to keep coming back to this book from time to time? Most of all, were we kept interested in the subject chapter after chapter? For me, the answer to all these questions is yes.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control
The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control
by Walter Mischel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.45
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90 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on self-control thus far, by the man who started it all., September 25, 2014
The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel, the man who started it all, is a book on self-control, probably the best one on the subject thus far. This book is everything that the currently leading book on the subject (Willpower by Baumeister and Tierney) is not: intellectually coherent, scientifically sophisticated, and concerned more about sound reasoning than about sound bites.

Research on self-control was probably started in earnest in the 1960s with Walter Mischel's celebrated "Marshmallow Test". Children around the age of five were given a choice between one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later, a delay lasting up to 20 minutes. While some ate the marshmallow right away, others used different strategies to control themselves such as averting their gaze, pulling their hair, squirming, closing their eyes or just sniffing the marshmallow and putting it back. The implications of this research came to life when researchers went back to the same children several years later. They found children who exercised self-control and waited 15 or 20 minutes to double their payoff had higher grade point averages, made more money and were fitter (as measured by BMI) when they were adults.

Genetics clearly plays a role in the level of self-control one has. The message of the book is that genetics is not destiny. Willpower is a cognitive ability and, because our brains are much more plastic than had been imagined in the past, we can substantially increase this crucial ability to control ourselves. This book shows how to gain more self-control.

Paralleling Daniel Kahneman's model of "fast" and "slow" thinking, Mischel describes two systems in the brain: "hot" (limbic) and "cold" (prefrontal cortex). The hot system deals with immediate rewards and threats while the cold system deals with delayed consequences. The key to self-control is cooling the hot system where appropriate. We need to learn to activate our prefrontal cortex first before the limbic system kicks in.

Can we actually increase our self-control? Mischel's response is yes, if you believe you can and if you really want to. In other words, you can increase your self-control if you approach it with a mindset that believes that increasing self-control is possible as opposed to a helpless mindset that believes willpower is a limited resource over which you have no control. But just having the right mindset may not be enough. We need strategies to cool our warm system.

Commonly used strategies for self-control often include removing the source of temptations (don't have junk foods around, if you are trying to eat healthy) or surrounding yourself with people who do not eat junk food. But these strategies are likely to fail without effective pre-commitment. You can remove all cigarettes from sight and yet mooch them from others. You can clear junk food from the kitchen and yet help yourself to sugar-laden cookies in business meetings. Mischel suggests that we should use more robust strategies based on research. Some such strategies are:

* MAKE UP "IF...THEN" RULES. We tend to react to cues out of habit. Create new habits with new cues. IF I go to a restaurant, THEN I will start my meal with a salad. IF I get an email notification, THEN I will finish the next item on my to-do list before reading the email. When well-rehearsed and practiced, the desired behavior is triggered automatically without effort.

* COOL THE NOW, HEAT THE LATER. Vividly imagine the negative consequences of immediate gratification: Whenever you are tempted to smoke, visualize the picture of a cancerous lung. If you are tempted overeat, visualize the picture of a person who is unfit and out of shape.

* DISTANCE YOURSELF FROM THE SITUATION. Refer to yourself in the third person. Instead of saying "I've to finish the report by tomorrow", I can say "Chuck has to finish the report by tomorrow." This way you distance yourself and change your role to that of an observer. This makes the completion of the task easier.

* SHIFT YOUR FOCUS FROM HOT TO COOL PROPERTIES. Shift your attention from the hot to the not-so-hot attributes of the stimulus: Instead of looking at the chocolate as a tasty flavorful treat look at it as a brown square, wrapped in paper. By focusing your attention on the on the cool attributes of a stimulus, we can decrease its appeal.

What about all that talk we hear about willpower being a limited resource, the mysterious "ego energy" - whatever that is - being "depleted" fast dragging your willpower along with it (which you can apparently restore with the help of glucose) and the oft-quoted generalization that "willpower is like a muscle"? Mischel wisely ignores such half-baked and sound bite oriented interpretation of research data by Baumeister and associates and gently points to the work done by Carol Dweck of Stanford University, which suggests self-control is not a limited resource and one's mindset can affect one's level of self-control.

While the book summarizes relevant research leading to its conclusions, it is much more than that. It is part a self-help book and part a look back at the work of an eminent psychologist who, at 84 years age, has chosen to share his wisdom gained through a lifetime of research in his first-ever nonacademic book. A man with nothing prove after 55 years in the academe and over 200 publications to his credit, Walter Mischel wears his wisdom lightly. He says in the introduction that he imagined himself "having a leisurely conversation with you, the reader". What a conversation it is!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 20, 2015 3:43 PM PDT

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)
Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)
by Christian Rudder
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.44
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A smart book on many things. Well conceived, elegantly written., September 19, 2014
This is a smart book on many subjects.

This is a smart book on big data. Not because it tells us all that there is know about big data but it shows us how big data can do things that small data cannot. Big data derived from social media can relate what a person says to what a person does. Would we really have guessed that women judge men’s looks more harshly than men do about women’s? While men think that about 50% women have above average looks, women think only one guy in six looks “above average”.

This is a smart book data analysis. Not because there are no better books on the subject but Christian Rudder not only understands statistics well but can communicate it with elegance and clarity. For example, his description of what variance is, what it means and how it can lead to extraordinary conclusions like ‘having a small flaw is better than being perfect and so be yourself’ is so far removed from the mechanical way in which statistics is taught in schools and universities, you can’t but admire the ease with which Rudder takes the reader from simple data analysis to complex generalizations.

This is a smart book on research. Not because it teaches you how to do research but because it presents data that contradict current research findings. You will read here findings about race which you will not find anywhere else. If you are skeptical of the current social and psychological research, especially that comes out of the academe which is almost exclusively based convenience sample of a limited section of the society (WEIRD sample- White, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic), Dataclysm will confirm that your skepticism of academic research is well founded.

This is smart book on privacy. Not because it is polemical about privacy but it shows how we trade off privacy for convenience and its implications. Its value is in pointing out what exactly in happening to our privacy. You may not follow Rudder in never posting your children’s pictures online, but you may become more cautious about being careless about your privacy

This is a smart book on graphic presentation. Not because you will know a lot about graphic presentation after reading this book but because, if you are tired of seeing attractive but silly graphs that litter newspapers, journals and books, here you will find graphs that are deceptively simple looking yet communicate significant conclusions very effectively.

I can go on. But if you are not convinced by now that this is an elegantly conceived book, my adding more will not convince you either. This is not a definitive book on any one subject but a smart book on many subjects. Well conceived and well written.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2014 4:10 AM PDT

Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes
Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes
by Tom Rath
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.44
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Serious, sincere, and thoroughly humorless, August 15, 2014
This book is sincere and serious - and thoroughly humorless.

The author assumes that the current state of medical knowledge is final, came from the mountain, carved in stone. He doesn’t, for one moment, consider the fact that not too long ago doctors were endorsing smoking, advised patients that “fried eggs and steaks” for breakfast was an excellent idea and weren’t that concerned about sedentary life style.

The author’s faith is derived from an extensive reading and summarizing of recent medical research. Honest, this guy is serious and sincere. And prescription after prescription that rival the certainty of fundamentalists follows:

The book starts off well with intelligent observations: Choices count. Right choices over time greatly improve your odds of long and healthy life. Regardless of your age, you can make better choices in the moment. Half an hour exercise in the morning makes for better interactions all day. Make inactivity your enemy. Sleep well. Good advice all.

I thought I was going to like the book. And I did. Until the book started handing out rigid “truths” and prescriptions for living. Here are some: Every sip of coffee is a net gain for your health (Really? Every sip?) If you eat the bread it defeats the purpose of getting a salad. (I wonder how people in the Mediterranean and in France manage to be healthy.) Set a goal of eating a ratio of one gram of carbs for every one gram of protein. (Yea, I tried it and it excluded most things I currently eat. By the way I have been mostly sickness free for decades.) Banish sugar completely. Sugar is candy of cancer cells. (Would you really advise someone to go through life without ever tasting a cheesecake or chocolate mousse?) A meal should take at least 20 minutes. (Why not 15 minutes? Or 18 minutes? What exactly happens when you stretch you meal to 20 minutes?) Add bedroom-darkening curtains, cover any clocks or electronic devices. (Maybe not a bad advice, but not for everyone. I mostly sleep with translucent curtains which help wake up naturally in the morning without an alarm.) I can go on. But you get the idea. And then there are these: Stigmatize sinful foods. Television shortens your lifespan. Sleep to impress.

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating and that the author is not a puritan and would not be against moderation, he moves in quickly to dispel that notion and offers this observation: The belief that you can eat anything in moderation is dead wrong “The notion that it is OK to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.” So forget you can EVER taste any exotic or unusual food as you go through life, if it does not pass the nutritional value test of the author.

There is a lot of good advice in the book. But they are hopelessly contaminated by a naïve understanding of how medical research works, why what we believed to be true a decade ago is no longer true and why no one should be surprised if today’s research findings are overturned over the next decade.

Contrary to what the author seems to believe, while it may be a good idea to tilt our habits to correspond to the best available medical evidence at the moment, I believe it would be mistake to treat the current evidence as immutable truth and rearrange our lives to rigidly conform to it.

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