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David Y. Zhang RSS Feed (Pasadena, California United States)

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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.29
2443 used & new from $0.01

36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad math and boring details, April 17, 2006
These bestseller econ and business books seem often to be just hit or miss to me. I enjoyed Freakomics and Rich Dad's Guide to Investing immensely, and learned a lot from both books. They had enough enough evidence to be convincing but little enough to be not dry. And although the latter belabored certain phrases like "The poor work for money; the rich make money work for them," I found it tolerable because the idea was central to the overall message of the book.

On the other hand, take "Tipping Point." What an awful book. It showed some initial signs of promise in talking about syphilis epidemics, and though I think the author treated thresholding a bit too novelly, I was willing to put up with it until Chapter 2. But then.. it got stuck in literally continuous pages of quotes of processes, such as "Person A was the ex-girlfriend of B, who's brother C was roommates with D, and D's father happened to be a business friend of E, so A was able to establish contact with E and start a business." Ok, once, to show the power of connections and the importance of seemingly overlooked acquaintances, would have been more than enough. Repeating this muliple times within a single chapter just gives the reader the perception that the author has nothing else interesting to talk about. Additionally, the evidence for the great power of "Connectors" was dubious at best. The best-connected people that the author gave examples of were connected to about 100 people (of a list of pseudo-random last names), while the average was 20-30, and the minimum was 5-10. He then tries to press the point that this is a huge difference.

But the simple matter of fact is that he has pretty much refuted his initial hypothesis. 100 vs 25 is a factor of 4, which is barely anything. Look at it statistically. If the average is 30, and the standard deviation is 15, then 100 is about 5 standard deviations above, which is high, but not that high. The distribution on number of acquaintances of last name on that list is certainly NOT normally distributed. If it's an exponential distribution (which seems reasonable an assumption to me), then 100 is only 2.3 standard deviations above average, and not at all that uncommon.

Finally, I believe that counting acquaintances as a measure of "connectness" is just wrong. The attribute that matters most for someone to be a connector isn't the sheer number of people he knows, it's the number of mutually exclusive acquaintances that he has. While there is definitely a positive correlation between total number of acquaintances and number of non-clique acquaintances, it'd be very wrong to assume that someone with 5 acquaintances on that list is not well connected, if the 5 acquaintances happen to be a clothes merchant in Iran, a diplomat in Germany, an actor in Hollywood, a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, and a scientist at JPL. In fact, that's the whole idea exclusive clubs at places like Harvard and Yale based on--Quality over quantity in acquaintances. A crack dealer in inner city Chicago may have more acquaintances than US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but he certainly doesn't have nearly as much influence or "connectedness."

Mother Night: A Novel
Mother Night: A Novel
by Kurt Vonnegut
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.12
126 used & new from $4.35

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars valor, August 6, 2003
This review is from: Mother Night: A Novel (Paperback)
I once heard this wonderful little quote:
"Valor is to do unwitnessed what we would like to do in front of the whole world."
I think this quote applies very aptly to the main character of this book--he traded his wife, his career, and his sanity for a hidden role in a noble cause. At this point many (possibly including the author) would disagree with me. After all, was he not a Nazi? If Germany had won the war, would he not have continued to rant on in his propanganda-filled shows?
Unlikely. Considering how even Russia found out about his status as an American spy, I dare say that his secret would not have remained one for long in the mirror scenario.
The ultimate result of his choice would have been ignominious death no matter what the outcome of the war.
Finally, what about "you could never have served the enemy as well as you served us?" The veracity of that statement is moot to debate because we are not given exact information on the nature of messages he sent. Even if the statement *was* true, the fault would lie with his recruitor and FDR, not himself. The path of being a Nazi propagandist was paved by those two--Campbell could have easily been a neutral playwright through the war, and emerged unscathed in either outcome of the war.
Thus, my contention is that Campbell was a true hero.

The Psychology of Persuasion: How To Persuade Others To Your Way Of Thinking
The Psychology of Persuasion: How To Persuade Others To Your Way Of Thinking
by Kevin Hogan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.29
94 used & new from $2.71

85 of 96 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Catch phrases and anecdotes in abundance, but not useful, November 19, 2002
It appears to be that this book is nothing more than a collection of catch-phrases thrown together in a haphazard fashion interlaced with anecdotes. For example, Hogan mentions many times in his book that Saddam Hussein is a villain, who uses the same tricks in persuasion as other great leaders. However, his examples are direly lacking in both scientific validity as well as relevance to the theme of the book. Instead of informing the readers *why* Hussein hold power and is able to persuade followers, Hogan uses very bad metaphors, which do nothing but show his own lack of scientific knowledge. In the beginning of Chapter 4, Hogan describes Saddam Hussein as "using and manipulating laws of gravity and aerodynamics...
In addition, Hogan's neat classification of everyone into various sub-categories is entirely too simplistic for the real world. In Chapter 6, he neatly files Americans into Belongers (37%), Emulators (20%), Achievers(18%), Societally Conscientious (22%), and Need Driven(3%). Well, I don't know about the other 200 million Americans, but I personally would like to think that being an "Achiever" doesn't disqualify me from being Societally Conscientious!
Hogan vacillates between walking a scientific path and an empirical one. While to an uninformed reader this trick would elevate his status to sage-level, who is to be revered for both his practical experience as well as his broad and deep knowledge into the bio-physical reasonings for human behavior, to anyone with a basic knowledge in biology or psychology, Hogan is simply reciting the Psych 101 textbook, and adding in his own warped view of the sciences. On page 222, Hogan describes physiology as "our actual body position...and the movement of our eyes." I'll bet that if anyone tries to answer that on a pop-quiz to the question, "What is physiology?" they're guaranteed to fail the quiz.
It is, at least for me, a truly disappointing book. My recommendation is to buy "The 48 Laws of Power" which focuses on an purely empirical approach.

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