Monthly Archives: August 2017

Traveling Music: The Soundtrack to My Life and Times by Neil Peart – review

Traveling Music: The Soundtrack to My Life and TimesTraveling Music: The Soundtrack to My Life and Times by Neil Peart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this and another Peart memoir in a used book store and snapped them up because I really like his writing. Interesting format, this…Peart says “Since childhood, music has had the power to carry me away, and this is a song about some of the places it has carried me.” Interwoven with the songs he loaded into his CD changer on a solo road trip in 2003 from California to Big Bend National Park in Texas (and back), this is part playlist, part memoir. He talks about the songs he chose, sharing the history of the music and his history with them. And he talks about other extraneous experiences, musical and non…cycling in Africa, motorcycling between gigs in America.

There is a lot here that speaks to me…when young, he wanted something exciting to talk about at the family dinner table, and “I guess I spent the rest of my life making sure I always had something to talk about […]” and a later observation that ties to that:

How could anyone ever be bored in this world, when there was so much to be interested in, to learn, to contemplate? It seemed to me that knowledge was actually fun, in the sense of being entertaining…

So true! How could anyone ever be bored? (I cringe when I hear that word…and fell sorry for the lack of imagination that allows it to be said.)

Apart from one specific … act…he has interesting and eclectic tastes in music, and I liked reading about how he came to enjoy Sinatra, Gene Krupa, the Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, and more. How he held little appreciation for groups like the Rolling Stones who only pretended to be rebels because they conceded to changing their lyrics on the Ed Sullivan Show where The Doors, who were true rebels, refused to change their line in “Light My Fire” about the girl getting “much higher” (and were subsequently banned.) How he saw Woody Herman in a backwoods restaurant gig in the decline of his life, having to play those gigs because of IRS troubles. How he got rid of all of his vinyl LPs, holding onto maybe 100 of his treasures (I did the same, losing my 100 or so treasures to a fire in 2013…)

Reading how he hears Sinatra on Watertown is something I sadly can never seem to get (but I appreciate any insight to help me try):

Sinatra’s subtle, sincere expression of that character’s life carried all the emotional subtext Jake Holmes had woven into the lyrics so skillfully, reinforced by Bob Gaudio, Charles Callelo, and Joe Scott. For this listener, Watertown had more than stood the test of time, it had grown stronger, and remained not only a personal classic (the whole album perfect for in-helmet singing on a long bicycle or motorcycle ride), but also a great American work of art.

Okay, now I have to go find it and listen to it! I most likely won’t have the same reaction, but who knows? Same as with both Moby Grape and The Grateful Dead’s eponymous debut albums: I’ve never listened to Moby Grape and could never get into The Dead, but now I’m going to give them a shot. Same as with Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis…Peart piqued my curiosity.

He likes The Macallan…bonus points for that. He also …and it hurts to type this…likes..I can’t say it…{cringe} …Coldplay. Major points subtracted for that.

Something to ponder (on Jann Wenner on George Martin – the Beatles Martin – commenting on Brian Wilson…Wenner in the negative, Martin, the opposite):

Everyone’s personal opinion is worth the same, in religion, music, and politics, but some expert opinions are definitely more informed, more reflective, and more valuable.

I would say, probably on informed, possibly on reflective, but highly debatable on valuable. And on his reviews of his own performance, he asks himself What would I think of this if it wasn’t me? I keep seeing five-star rating “reviews” from authors on their own books and wonder if they’ve ever asked themselves that question!

So many well turned phrases pepper the text, one in particular I’ll share. When talking about Pasty Cline’s Heartaches collection album and a wandering soul slave to a sound of an “outward bound”

And what a sound that is, too, the distant blare of a train’s horn dopplering away in the night, and it echoing right back to my own childhood and all the way forward.

So, I have music to explore, and another book to read in a little while. I’ll thank Mr. Peart for the tacit recommendations.

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The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly – a gentle review

The Dream ManagerThe Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Richard Dawkins says in his Devil’s Chaplain:

Dawkins’ Law of the Conservation of Difficulty states that obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity. Physics is a genuinely difficult and profound subject, so physicists need to – and do – work hard to make their language as simple as possible (‘but no simpler,’ rightly insisted Einstein). Other academics – some would point the finger at continental schools of literary criticism and social science – suffer from what Peter Medawar (I think) called Physics Envy. They want to be thought profound, but their subject is actually rather easy and shallow, so they have to language it up to redress the balance.

I’ve found a similar “Law” with too many business books. The less substantive, the more an author wants to dress up the product with, well, dressings. With parable/story presentations, the sad truth is that any real message is obscured in trite contrivances that are almost insulting to anyone with any intelligence (think Blanchard’s One- Minute fluff). When I see

“The secret within this story unveils…”

and the last line of the introduction

“…you are about to discover something that will change your life forever.”

… warning bells scream at me.

In setting the story, one character (the owner) can’t figure out why his hypothetical company has high turnover, and a manager says, “Let’s find out why.” The owner character asks, “How?” and the manager says, “We’ll ask them.”

“Huh!” grunted Greg. Clearly, this idea had never occurred to him.

Well…I suppose there are entrepreneurs who have been gifted with maybe a trust fund and have never had to have a tangible thought with respect to leading people and actually managing a company, but that pomposity in a modern age won’t get you far. Probably to some elected office, maybe, but that far.

So… this gem screamed at me:

In many ways, we are our dreams. But people stop dreaming because they get caught up in the hustle and bustle of surviving. And once we stop dreaming, we start to lead lives of quiet desperation, and little by little the passion and energy begin to disappear from our lives.

Yep. “Quiet desperation”. But that didn’t scream as loudly as

We all need it. Taking this kob has made me see that I need a Dream Manager, too. Everyone needs a Dream Manager. To a certain extent, we can do it for ourselves. But we all need someone who can help us articulate our dreams, determine the priority of our dreams, pull together a plan for the fulfillment of those dreams, and hold us accountable on a regular basis for the actions that help us achieve our dreams or hold us back from our dreams.

And that folks, is how you promote your cottage industry providing Dream Manager certification. The formula is time worn: take an established concept (let’s say… mentor), give it a new name (let’s say… Dream Manager), make up a bunch of (obviously contrived and unsubstantiated so as to avoid direct critique) revelations, and…voilà! Three page tracts don’t make money, but if you fluff them out to book size, you can!

The problem with this, as with similar compositions, is that the author oversimplifies and idealizes to hawk the product – “See how great these groundbreaking, life-changing, unbelievably so not intuitively obvious ideas are?!” (my words, not a quote from the book) – and even a dedicated reader is hard pressed to extract anything of value from this. (“Productivity is up. Costs are down. Who would have thought that these would be the benefits of teaching our employees to dream a little?” His words, quote from the book. Oh, please.)

There are no references or citations in this book. No backup. That belies any attempt at credibility, and it really is just one guy talking out loud (okay, writing out loud.) To anyone who has read anything about emotional intelligence (hopefully not, shudder, Goleman), or leadership, or even a good management book, nothing here will be new. And more than a little of it will be annoying.

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Puzzle Tov!: A Kosher Collection of Jewish Brainteasers, Puzzles, and Enigmas to Drive You Totally Mesghugenneh! by Peter Weisz – review

Puzzle Tov!: A Kosher Collection of Jewish Brainteasers, Puzzles, and Enigmas to Drive You Totally Mesghugenneh!Puzzle Tov!: A Kosher Collection of Jewish Brainteasers, Puzzles, and Enigmas to Drive You Totally Mesghugenneh! by Peter Weisz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I got this from the publisher through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Some classic puzzles recast and a few new to me (irrespective of the recasting). One line in the description says “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this book!”, but it helps to have Jewish knowledge to answer a few of the puzzles! A few of the solutions said the reader needed to take leaps of logic, but a few more didn’t make that claim yet should have – some of the answers came out of nowhere, solved with information that could not even be inferred. Still, it’s fun.

Formatting note: PDF is not the optimum way to read this.

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The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others by Tali Sharot – review

The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change OthersThe Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others by Tali Sharot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got an advance reader’s edition of this from the publisher Henry Holt & CO through LibraryThing. I’d read Ms. Sharot’s The Optimism Bias five years ago when I had just started a year-long management program and liked what she wrote, so requested the opportunity to read this. Even though this is an advance copy, and I quote from it below, I don’t think there will be substantial changes from the final publication.

“You and I share a role.” – That’s the opening line of the Prologue (in the copy I got), and Ms. Sharot nearly derailed herself with me almost immediately because the first line in the second paragraph was “This duty we all share is to affect others.” I was puzzled as to how a “role” became a “duty”. I also had a hard time with a small point in her Prologue where she related how a campaign candidate (an expert in fear-mongering) “was affecting [her] thoughts.” Affecting is not influencing. But…it is captious of me to take issue with semantics in just the opener…

The eight major divisions in her book treat different ways in which our minds are influenced and how they resist influence. (I thought her subtitles describe more of the story. In “Does Evidence Change Belief (Priors) The Power of Confirmation and the Weakness of Data“, she discusses the challenge of overcoming confirmation bias – the prior condition. Humans tend to look for agreement with established views, taking interest when in agreement and ignoring when in disagreement. Nothing new there, but when Sharot called Twitter the “Amygdala of the Internet” – “tweeting is one of the most emotionally arousing activities you likely engage in on most days” – I had to temper my own disagreement bias. Once I stopped chuckling. She makes her case that with respect to similarities in observed responses “a large proportion of our behavior can be explained by commonalities, not differences” – 80 percent predicted by average response and 20 percent by individual differences. That agrees with my position that psychological assessments are statistical in nature, but also is at odds with my position that no one can predict with certainty anything about one person. 80 percent is higher than random, for sure.

On “Should You Scare People into Action? (Incentives) Moving with Pleasure and Freezing with Fear“, the data seem to indicate that the carrot is better than the stick in influencing others. I wasn’t keen on one of her illustrations in which a woman wanted to persuade her husband to visit a gym and the mentioning of a paunch didn’t work but a compliment (following a single visit) on his defined muscles motivated him? “As long as she made her increasing physical attraction to him clear, he kept going back,[…]” Are so many that shallow that that works? Anyway, we seem to like instant reward over future pain. Obvious statement, that, but goes to counter our illusion of rationale.

“How You Obtain Power by Letting Go (Agency) The Joy of Agency and the Fear of Losing Control” – even an illusion of choice invokes a perception of control, which can be influenced. Sharot talks about “the IKEA effect” – tendency to think a shelf one puts together is better than an identical one put together by someone else. (I had a side thought on that: my wife likes to say that fruit salad made by someone else tastes better than made by herself…a wee at odds with that IKEA thing!) “The message, perhaps ironically, is that to influence actions, you need to give people a sense of control. Eliminate the sense of agency and you get anger, frustration, and resistance. Expand people’s sense of influence over their word and you increase their motivation and compliance.”

People are naturally curious and often make the mistake of thinking that other people are equally curious about the same things. In “What Do People Really Want to Know? (Curiosity) The Value of Information and the Burden of Knowledge“, Sharot points out that our instinct being that if we have something (we think is) important to convey, other people would want to know, is wrong. This chapter has some valuable tools for engagement – at least being aware that we might need to reframe our message. Well, of course! Important lesson in reaching others is critically examining one’s own perspective in order to frame the message to the target audience. And perhaps not surprisingly, people tend to prefer to remain ignorant, even at terrible costs. To influence, we need to re-evaluate the value of the information we wish to communicate in terms of that audience – and make the message positive, or at least not negative.

It may seem obvious, but mental state has a huge effect on susceptibility to influence…particularly when the state is feeling threatened. In “What Happens to Minds Under Threat? (State) The Influence of Stress and the Ability to Overcome“, Sharot explains that being stressed or intimidated changes the way people process information and make decisions, often resulting in “playing it safe” when even a mild risk is the better approach.

The last two chapters involved the influence of what “Others” are thinking on us. The subtitle of “Why Do Babies Love iPhones?” is “The Strength of Social Learning and the Pursuit of Uniqueness“. Humans (and higher primates and other animal) initially learn from others by observation and “while we like to see ourselves as different [the paradox is that], we are also quick to adopt the views and preferences of those around us; …music…, …technology we use…, …names we give our children…” The lesson is to be mindful and carfeul when following others’ choices. And the second half of “Others” is “Is ‘Unanimous’ as Reassuring as It Sounds? How to Find Answers in an Unwise Crowd“. Sharot discusses James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, cautioning that crowd sourcing works only under specific conditions. And one must be extra careful to look at how a proposition is posed…how it is framed can affect the outcome (more my observation than in her writing.)

Ms. Sharot states something in her conclusion I’ve been saying for years, though with a little more academic oomph: “Evolution is slower than technology, and the principle organization of the brain has not experienced significant change since written language first appeared.”

Extensively sourced, Ms. Sharot packages only the proverbial tip of the influence iceberg, but she does it well in a conversational, easy read.

(I started this book in June, 2017 but set it aside to finish a couple of other ARCs. And I also set aside the early nits as unnecessarily picked!)

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