Monday, August 31, 2015

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

This is another one of those books that was deeply discounted in Popular. And since I've heard of it a few times (I'm not sure from where), I decided to give it a read.

To summarise The Gift of Fear, listening to your intuition can help save your life. That's the basic message. The other 327 pages (not including appendixes), are full of examples, as well as lists of what the author calls "Pre-Incident Indicators" or PINs. For example, he provides four general elements that can be used to predict the possibility of violence - JACA or (Perceived) Justification, (Perceived) Alternatives, (Perceived) Consequences and (Perceived) Ability. If a person feels that there is no other alternative to violence, and that he is justified and has the ability to carry it out, the odds that violence is used is much higher.

The latter half of the book deals with specific situations, such as aggressive employees, domestic violence, date stalkers, violent children and attacks against public speakers. These incidents are still remote to me, but they could be useful in the future, and in addition, it shows that even what we feel is the a scary threat can be managed.

Personally, I found the first half of the book the scariest, and the most informative. The talk about how people can used strategies such as forced teaming (using words like "us" and "we" even though I don't know them) to make me want to cooperate, plus the whole "girls must be nice" idea that's drummed into us, made me realise that in an attempt to be polite, I could be exposing myself to more danger. I like talking to people, and while I'm not going to become standoffish (it's too much a change for me), I will be more careful not to give out personal information in the future.

All in all, this was a very informative read, and I don't regret buying the book at all. When I go back to university, I will probably be leaving this book at home, for my younger siblings to read.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Black Star Canyon (The Complete First Season) by Creep Creepersin

I don't really have much experience with serials. So when I heard Creep Creepersin (CC) on a podcast, I asked him about it (I think it was something like, how do you write a serial? It sounds cool), and CC very generously offered me a copy. This was sometime ago, but because I was having school, I was a bit afraid to start, lest I couldn't stop.

Until one day, I was stuck on a plane. So I cracked open the ebook and began reading. When the first episode finished, I was a little hesitant as to whether I should continue, since the style of writing felt different to me. But then I saw the first hint and was hooked. I read on, and as the story got more and more melodramatic, the hints got harder and harder to figure out. I finished the first season not knowing anymore than when I started, but very intrigued as to what was happening.

Black Star Canyon starts with a murder, but unlike most mystery series I watch, things do not get clearer. Instead, as we get to know these over-the-top characters, things just get murkier. Who is hiding what? And then, another body is found. And the mayor's daughter is severely attacked. Who is behind all these mysterious crimes?

What I liked about this serial were the hints, which hooked me, then drove me crazy because I couldn't guess what was going on. The characters are definitely over the top, especially the mayor, and whether or not you like them is a personal preference. Personally, I like the cops, while the mayor and his family kind of grates on me.

Another thing that you'll either love or hate is the writing style. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's a very exaggerated feel. Kind of like a TV drama. It's very, very vivid, and I think because I was reading something that wrote in the opposite style (I think it was a non-fiction business book), it felt a little strange to me, at least until I got used to it.

All in all, this is a fun novel. You'll either love or hate the vivid prose and over-the-top characters, but one thing that'll probably hook you will be the serial format, with the hints at the end of every episode.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the author. I was not asked to give a review, but since I finished reading it, I figured I might as well give my honest opinion.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash by Brad Glosserman and Scott A Snyder

When I picked up this book, I was expecting a long, thoughtful discourse on how Japanese and South Koreans viewed themselves, and how that influenced their relationship. What I got, was not quite that.

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash seems to have devoted more space to interpreting various polls on how the countries view each other and themselves. I like the fact that they have data, but I was expecting more than just a book explaining the different poll results. There might have been other aspects, but this was my main impression of the book - that it's basically poll results.

For me, the most interesting part of the book would be the last two chapters, when the author took poll findings and tried to apply them to policy. Basically, the author thinks that Japan should take steps to improve relations by getting rid of what the polls says is the biggest obstacle in their relationship. Yup, that's the Takeshima/Dokdo islands. We actually discussed this in JLC, although my main takeaway was that this video existed.

Yeah... the debate I was expecting didn't really materialise, although that wasn't the fault of the teacher. He invited the Korean students to speak repeatedly, but they were all really diplomatic about it (I'm guessing they didn't want to risk their grades, even though this teacher was one of the most relaxed teachers in the school - those kids were serious about getting into Todai).

Basically, this book is not meant for beginners to Japan-South Korea politics (so, people like me). I appreciate that there was a lot of data, and that the authors took the time to explain it, but it felt dry to me, and the policies a bit too idealistic to come true.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

So early this year, I read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, when I mentioned this to one of my teachers, she recommended that I read Fooled by Randomness next, and then The Black Swan.  It took me a long time, but I finally read Fooled by Randomness, and I'll 'tackle' The Black Swan as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

Fooled by Randomness is written in a very conversational style, and basically makes the case that luck plays a much bigger role in our lives that we expect. We just tend to attribute it to other factors, due to things like survivors bias (but don't worry, you have to work hard if you want to take advantage when luck strikes. So don't stop working just yet).

The book talks about a variety of subjects related to risk and randomness, but the one part that stood out to me came really early in the book - Chapters 1 and 2, in fact. It's the part when Nassim Taleb compares a dentist and someone else (like a lottery winner) and concludes that on average, the dentist is richer. Why? Because the income for dentists don't change much, while only a few people win the lottery. So while the lottery winner may strike it rich (much richer than the dentist, in fact), on average, the average dentist is going to be the richer than the average lottery winner. His/her risk in life is smaller. It's kind of like what one of my teachers said, that if you want stability, you go for a job in the public service (in Japan anyway), but if you want to be rich, you start a company. The catch is that the job in the public service has very little risk, and you know how much you're going to get all the way till you retire. On the other hand, if you start your own business, you may go bankrupt, just break even, live comfortably, or strike it rich beyond your wildest dreams. Which job you choose is a matter of preference, really. There's no right or wrong.

Personally, I enjoyed the extreme conversational style of the book, although I'm not sure if I'd be able to hold myself in a conversation with the author (if I ever met him). There were lots of anecdotes, and lots of references to some guy called Popper. I should probably go read whatever the Popper guy wrote sometime too.