Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Memories from the world of birding

I was delighted to bump a memory-affirming reference today while boning up on my bird calls and songs - tis the season after all! In reviewing American Goldfinch vs. Lesser Goldfinch vs. Pine Siskin (all regulars in my neighborhood), I noticed one of the AMGO recordings was captured by none other than vaunted bird expert and field guide author David Sibley, in the state of New York in May, 1981. This date fits perfectly with my memories of him, as we were both hanging around Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology at that time. The blog "Birding is Fun" allowed me to share this recollection in 2010, but one does at least occasionally wonder about the veracity of one's memories, so this was a real pleasure to encounter!
David Sibley's American Goldfinch recording is helpful from an educational standpoint, as well as providing a nice confirmation of my memories!

Friday, March 08, 2019

Review: The Fifth Risk

The Fifth Risk The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"What are the consequences if the people given control over our government have no idea how it works?" - This is the lead-in to the book's description on Amazon, and no doubt elsewhere. It's a scary notion, and with Michael Lewis doing the reporting, it is indeed frightening and depressing. HOWEVER, that's not why I loved this book. Lewis pulls apart the federal Departments of Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce, and reports on many of the details of what these departments do, and it is a vast range of activities. Lewis provide lots of coverage of big data and analytical science beginning to pervade the key functions of the government during the Obama administration.

You might be asking - what is the fifth risk? Well, you really have to read the book!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Review: The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education

The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education by Peter Hollins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Science of Self-Learning was a great read for me! The author, Peter Hollins, includes an appeal for a review, so I have put some time and thought into some of the book's positive attributes as well as a few things I found lacking. As someone who has done quite a bit of self-learning in recent years, it was comforting for me to encounter so many of the same techniques and methods which I have used. These include Cornell Notes, the Feynman method, and critical thinking, to name a few. It was great validation to find these and others in this book. What was missing? I was very surprised in the "reading" chapter to find no mention of the speed-reading tools commonly available these days. Two which I use regularly are Instapaper's tool as well as Kindle Fire's Word Runner. It seems all of the book's rather lengthy advice would apply only to conventional hard-copy books. And speaking of Kindle, this is the format I purchased "The Science of Self-Learning" - where is any comparison of this approach, including its note-taking/highlighting capabilities? Another shortcoming I found was the lack of mention of the popularity of the Pomodoro technique of learning, which centers around 25-minute spans of distraction-free focus. Instead we get Peter Drucker's (essentially the same) 50-minute method. Not a big difference but it makes it seem quite dated (as due a few other references like "civics" as an area of study). All in all, I am happy to rate the book at four stars, and the suggested improvements could elevate it to a fifth star.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Some advice, taken, on reading for the new year

I enjoy keeping up with Ryan Holiday (@RyanHoliday) and his thoughts, and subjects like stoicism and reading. In a recent Medium post, A reading list for becoming a better citizen and person, he had one bit of advice near the end that really caught my attention.

But if I had one final recommendation for reading this year, it would be this: Pick three or four books you’ve already read, that had a big impact on you, and read them again.
In my case, it was an easy choice, as I had already just purchased this classic: Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore (@geoffreyamoore). I will have comments in the coming days or weeks, but so far so good. This classic, originally published in the 80s, was revised five years ago, and the reading has been great, as I have really just begun, with lots of fun to follow!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When asked "what it's about", Anna Quindlen writes in the forward to the 75th anniversary edition, "The best anyone can say is that it is a story about what it means to be human." I've given many a five-star rating to books over the recent years - often figuring they had to be a five-star book for me to hang in there and finish them - but this one rises far, far above most of those other five-stars. I had heard of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" for many years, and fortunate enough to have received it as a gift this past holiday season, I dove in and had a hard time stopping, through its nearly 500 pages. Through laughs, tears, and more than a few pauses to look up words or cultural references from 100 years ago, I have never enjoyed a book more than this one. It is hardly a surprise that it found a place on the recent "PBS Great American Read Top 100" list.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Review: Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World

Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great book - combining my interests in birding and travel, and bringing to life the author's year-long effort to see half the world's bird species (or more). The fact that Noah Strycker hails from Western Oregon doesn't hurt either, and his connections with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are great for me, too. Here's a brief passage that mentions both, as well as leading to the trade-off between his objectives and those of the typical birder: "After leaving home in Oregon, not to return until this year was over, I’d landed in Ithaca to meet Tim Lenz, a full-time programmer for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website, eBird, which I was using to track my sightings for the year. Tim spends his free time birding his brains out and knew where to find the species I sought in New York, partly because he’d catalogued them all in eBird. He was wiry, precise, and about the same age as me. The two of us were near Cayuga Lake, looking for common birds such as Upland Sandpipers and American Black Ducks, when Tim received a WhatsApp message on his phone. 'Wow,' he said, suddenly at full attention. 'It looks like someone just reported a Brown Pelican flying over the lake. That’s, like, the first inland record for New York! We’ve got to go see that bird!'"

I was taking my time with this book for awhile, a "slow read" that is so interesting and well-written that it was not a book I wanted to zoom through. But after returning the borrowed hardcover, and buying my own ebook version, it was time to make some time. Here's another example to end with, this time of his advice from near the end of the book that I just love: "Know that the world is much friendlier than it often seems, and don’t be paranoid. Eat the street food—it’s tasty, cheap, and healthy—and talk with the vendors. If a problem can be resolved for $20, spend it and move on."

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Review: This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See

This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See by Seth Godin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had so much potential! It showed up on Amazon Charts out of the blue, as a nonfiction "most sold", and I bought it immediately. I began reading intensively soon after purchase, but about halfway through, I bogged down. And being honest with myself, although I have tried reading other books by Seth Godin, and remember being entranced by some of their ideas and examples, I eventually stop reading. Until "This is Marketing", I don't think I have ever finished one, even though his books are typically really small.

So what did I like this time? First and foremost, I was intrigued by Godin's idea of engendering "tension" in potential customers, the emotion they feel when the product or service you are offering, and the way it is communicated, leads to people who are no longer at ease with what they currently have. Godin recognizes, as he should, that there is a real, legitimate unmet need being filled, but it is his customer-eye view and the idea of growing tension, expressing it very well and in a unique way, at least for me.

Least? I realized about two-thirds of the way through that Godin insists, much of the time, on using a "second-person" voice that gets very annoying. I realize this point-of-view analysis (first, second, and third person) belongs more to the realm of fiction, but he pounds hard on the "you must do this" and "you have to do that" style, and it got very old to me. Yes, I am seeking a certain level of advice here, but treating me and other readers as helpless until now and his imparting of tremendous wisdom in commend form is naive. (I just noticed - he uses "You" twice in the book's subtitle.)

Another strong dislike? His choice of the NRA as a wonderful example of marketing excellence is ill-advised and not valid. This is one readers will have to stick around until near the end to find, so my guess is not that many will!

BTW the book has never appeared again on the most-sold Amazon Charts list, and I don't expect it to appear on the most-read list.

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