Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review: The Coming Storm

The Coming Storm The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel like Michael Lewis is a genius at finding interesting topics in nooks and crannies others would have never thought to look. This is another one, showing how basically Barry Myers, slated to be the next head of NOAA, could (and is likely to) suppress weather data, thereby literally killing people, if he is confirmed.

I don't doubt that Myers is basically a gangster. From what little I've read about him (aside from this book), it sounds like he is, and wouldn't flinch at trying to gain personally at the expenses of citizens. However, this book would have been more interesting if Lewis had interviewed someone else at Accuweather. He mentions that Myers declined an interview, which is understandable actually, but there are other board members and employees (and former employees).

I always figured the NWS collected the data, and then companies, like Accuweather, could run their analyses on it (as well as on other data from other countries), and come up with their products. Like market research agencies use demographic data. If Accuweather comes up with good info (or can convince people they do), then they can sell it.

Of course, saying idiotic statements like 'we don't need the NWS because Accuweather is better' is like saying we don't need the census data because Nielsen has more useful reports, but that doesn't mean the private company has no use.

Anyway, a lot of the information was maddening, and Myers is most likely a terrible choice for head of NOAA, but I also think this book could have used more input from the other side.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Review: The Xiaomi Way: Customer Engagement Strategies That Built One of the Largest Smartphone Companies in the World

The Xiaomi Way: Customer Engagement Strategies That Built One of the Largest Smartphone Companies in the World The Xiaomi Way: Customer Engagement Strategies That Built One of the Largest Smartphone Companies in the World by Li Wanqiang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure I would call this a general history of the company. Usually, when people write about a company that is still in operation (or a living person), they emphasize the fact that they were unbiased/had access to all papers/didn't have to give final approval to the subject/etc.etc.
I recently read two books about Alibaba and Jack Ma, and both of them dedicated the entire preface/first chapter to emphasizing this point.
Anyway, this book doesn't pretend to have any of this. However, it is also probably the only place we can find a history of Xiaomi in English, so it is interesting nonetheless.

I don't have too much experience with this brand, but when I lived in China, in 2014, it was certainly pervasive. We used the Xiaomibox (小米盒子)and still do on occasion, and I also still use mi-fit, and I definitely saw the cell phone around a lot.
The last chapter was odd. Mostly about his love for art. I imagine as an explanation for their style (maybe to counteract the accusations of copying?). Still, it was pretty interesting and made me want to read more about Muji.
Also, it was written in 2014. Since the company started in 2010, this means it basically covers the 1st half of the company's existence. Curious about the second half.

Bad points:
They NEVER did anything wrong. This is odd, but they don't mention one mistake they've made. An example:
An employee wanted to leave, so whenever he mentioned this, the boss would take him drinking until 5am, and do so for several nights in a row, until the employee felt guilty about wanting to leave. This is an interesting anecdote, but I doubt it would work with all employees. Anyway, I very much doubt any company of that size got by without any missteps. Alibaba certainly had plenty.
The quote: "Motorola invented the smartphone, but Nokia popularized it"(p. 15). I'm guessing this was a typo and was supposed to say "mobile phone". But this is a book about a smartphone company, so it stuck out.
Illustrations were not translated. So some of them are diagrams all in Chinese (p. 131, many others).
Some illustrations were just weird. (Figure 5.1, 5.2, etc.). Not sure what they mean.
Some contradictions, including two on one page (p.92: "we wanted to reach a mass market through conventional media" and then "This ad was for Xiaomi employees, Mi Fans and our partners."). Not that bad, but still made it confusing.
I do wish they had addressed the whole "copying Apple" issue (Lei Jun, Xiaomi's CEO, being called a "counterfeit Steve Jobs"). They seem to sidestep it, and just mention other inspirations (user input, Art, Muji).

Good points:
Very interesting to have an inside look at Xiaomi. I liked the analogy of using "air, ground and naval forces" to "attack the market".
Very interesting to see how they opened R&D to users and proceeded with their input. This seems to be the opposite of Apple. This could also account for the flak they get for being accused of "copying" other companies. Maybe their users just want better versions of whatever's out there.
Interesting to see how they tested their e-commerce on their own employees first, to see their reactions.
Interesting to see how they styled their customer service after Haidilao hotpot, since I'm a big fan of that chain --> Make employees love their job, and this will show.
Like the idea of "Mi homes". Like Apple stores, but not for sales, just after-sale service. So they're located in offices inside buildings, but very welcoming.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Review: The Impossible Fairy Tale

The Impossible Fairy Tale The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ok, I think I have to join all the other reviewers who have no idea what to make of this book. It was disturbing, and the writing style was odd but somehow catching. The second half made it more confusing, but also much more interesting. For some reason I really enjoyed the afterword.

I have to confess, however, that I didn't fully understand the style, and it probably needs to be read in the original language to be fully appreciated (or understood).

The first half had that ambience of pointlessness that I've come across in other contemporary Korean fiction, but the writing style definitely added to the general feeling of hopelessness. The second half was the oddest part. It was from a teacher's point of view, although I don't think it was the teacher from the first half, but rather the author herself, and the person she's talking to is the main character from the first half. Somewhat reminiscent of Pirandello's "Six characters in search of an Author", but here she finds her author and has some questions for her. At least that's how I saw it. Then again, maybe I'm wrong. The writing style was definitely not one of the clearest. Oddly enough I really liked the afterword.

4 stars, for now

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Monday, September 03, 2018

Review: The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This should probably be required reading not only for lawmakers, but for all voters (since lawmakers won't make uncomfortable changes without having voters on board).
It deals with Signaling in education, and the Sheepskin effect.
I'm not sure about the makeshift dialog of the final chapter. It's in a Socratic style (which tends to annoy me), although it's probably useful if some of the main points didn't stick the first time around.

Some of my notes:
Signaling exists, but not the only factor (Around 80% signaling, 20% not)
High school is almost always worth it.
College worth it if you're a decent student
Masters is almost never worth it.

Implications: If not signaling, if everyone gets a degree it's better. More education for everyone.
If signaling, if everyone gets a degree it's worse. Everyone is at the same level, so like no one got education.
Signaling is zero sum (it doesn't increase the pie). So, society doesn't benefit from more education if education is signaling.
Most education spending is useless, so--> make it harder to attend schools? Not for skills they will actually use in life (bad readers are better than illiterate people). For other subjects, Yes. Only the best should study Arts, Music, etc.
Signaling: If we subsidize diamond rings for marriage, the rich will find something else to show wealth. Diamond rings will be deemed worthless.
We are against child labor unless A) It is unpaid (internships must not be to company's benefit) or B) It is school (so, no real use for the future if 80% signaling)
If people were interested in cultural issues, they would find everything they need on the internet--> humanities is shoving cultural topics down the throats of the unwilling.
Most professors (around 51% for universities) are liberal, but most students tend to become more conservative the more they are educated.
More education raises levels of civic awareness and lowers racism and sexism. More education raises support for capitalism, free markets, and globalization.
More education makes individuals less religious, but makes society more religious.

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Saturday, September 01, 2018

Review: My Son's Girlfriend

My Son's Girlfriend My Son's Girlfriend by Mi-Kyung Jung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Giving another 4 stars, since Goodreads doesn't allow much subtlety in their rating system. Anyway, the translation seemed a bit shoddy at times, but overall I enjoyed this a lot.

Oddly enough, I kept guessing the gender of the narrator incorrectly at the beginning of each story for some reason. Not sure why.

My favorite is probably the last story, about a rival who has bested you at everything (including a little etymology of the word rival, which makes me wonder what the original version says in Korean), only to find out things are different and how it affects you. It's hard to make too many comments without giving it away.

But I really liked all of them, with the possible exception of the first story, which just didn't pull me in much.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

La sciamana di Chatsil by Tong-Ni Kim

La sciamana di ChatsilLa sciamana di Chatsil by Tong-Ni Kim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Molto interessante, una sciamana che vede suo figlio "posseduto dal demone Yasù", e il figlio cristiano che vuole convincere la sua mamma sciamana a convertirsi. Uno scontro di religioni e di generazioni diversi.

Mi chiedo se esiste ancora questo tipo di sciamanesimo in Corea. Sarebbe un peccato se non ci fosse più, ma mi ricordo d'aver intravisto alcuni pali totem come descritti nel libro nelle vicinanze di Busan diversi anni fa. Forse ci sono ancora sciamani come lei...


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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Calculated Risk by Katherine Neville

A Calculated RiskA Calculated Risk by Katherine Neville
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So, Verity Banks is a banker. Kislick Willingly is her boss. They work at Bank of the World.

I wish there had been more flashbacks to the Rothschilds. In fact, I could have done without the flash-forwards.

Some cool twists and turns, but overall not really worth it. 2 stars.

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