All posts by mikebostan

A citizen of the world.

Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami

My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.

This is one of the early books of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, written in 1988. It is the fourth in a series, but can be read as a stand-alone story as well. The book follows the phantasmagorical adventures of the protagonist, a freelance journalist, trying to decipher the mysterious disappearance of a loved woman.

The entire story is surreal, with a magic hotel and parallel worlds, different realities, foretelling dreams, the Sheep Man, murder of a call-girl, a clairvoyant teenager girl and many other bizarre things. That Murakami can introduce all those in a single plot, making a captivating story, is absolute genius.

The story is so far from the present reality,  so mind-boggling, with so many concepts that are changed or reinterpreted, that the writing and the stories of Murakami are truly unique.

With this writer, the reader either likes it or drops it. However, Murakami enjoyed a global success with his novels, so I would recommend a try.

[Featured picture: Infinity Rooms by Yayoi Kusama]

The Game – Neil Strauss

In life, people tend to wait for good things to come to them. And by waiting, they miss out. Usually, what you wish for doesn’t fall in your lap; it falls somewhere nearby, and you have to recognize it, stand up, and put in the time and work it takes to get to it. This isn’t because the universe is cruel. It’s because the universe is smart. It has its own cat-string theory and knows we don’t appreciate things that fall into our laps.

This is not an average book. You either love it or leave it.

There are professionals for every service, and the one described in this book is professional seduction for average-looking guys. Neil Strauss writes his story of how he got involved into this world, gradually evolving from newbie to master, meeting celebrities and giving seminars, basically exposing it through his own experiences. The nice part is how he found at the end a lovely lady to stay with, leaving back all the one-night stands.

A rich man doesn’t need to tell you he’s rich.

Professional seducers are guys/girls who use psychological tricks to attract and allure women. While it sounds unethical and childish, there is a proven rate of success which is good food for thought. Those tricks are not lies or cheats, but studied methods tried and tested over many evenings, which sometimes work.

Of course, the method has several important limitations. First, it helps getting to talk with a lady and get her attention, but actually staying in a couple is a totally different matter. Secondly, those methods were developed for US women and because of cultural changes, they could backfire spectacularly in other countries. Thirdly, their vocabulary is kind of teenage-ish, with AFC (average frustrated chump), PUA (pick-up artist) and PUG (pick-up guru).

While all mysterious and Don Juan-esque, the advice given is quite common sense: attraction is not physical, but mainly psychological; look clean; social pressure matters (attract friends of the lady first, make her advice group like you); etc.

The book is, obviously, misogynist and offensive, but also a cautionary tale. Not all bling-bling is what it looks like. As always, do not confuse the presented ideas with the author’s system of beliefs. You can entertain an idea without agreeing with it. Also, this is not a book of how to sleep with women.

It is divided in three parts: first part, where he presents the nice part of this seduction world; second one, where biographies and stories of various seduction artists are presented; and third, where he shows that many professionals self-destruct, because chasing women without settling becomes a soulless, lonely existence.

There are many ways to interpret this book: a study of human mating rituals, a world of self-destructing late teenagers, a misogynist eulogy (but there are woman seducers as well), a way to better understand the traps of seduction world or just a help to get talking with a crush you have. It is for the reader to decide.

Night Soldiers – Alan Furst

Spying came to him as making love comes to other men. It is his belief, in fact, that his father may have had relations with the Okhrana, the czar’s intelligence service, though his murder by the Turks was haphazard—simply one act in a village slaughter. But Avram knew them, whether they were Turkish Aghas or British officers, he always understood how they worked, where their vulnerabilities lay.

Night Soldiers is the first book in a long series, 14 books, of espionage novels in Europe starting in the 1930s and through World War II. It is a fictional story following Khristo Stoianev, a Bulgarian, who is recruited by NKVD, sent to Spain during the civil war, then escaped to Paris. The action moves all around Europe, from Bulgaria to Moscow, from Madrid to Paris, to Switzerland.

Gritty spy story in World World Two.

Spying activities of Bolsheviks, Spanish civil war factions, underground activities of French patriots, Nazi Gestapo are all presented through the eyes of the protagonist, in a gritty, tense and grey atmosphere.

In 1934, Stoianev sees his brother beaten to death by local fascists, so takes refuge with the communists, being sent for training in Moscow. He is then sent to Spain during the civil war. The Soviet purges caught him there, where he escapes, fleeing to Paris, but he still cannot shake the long hand of NKVD. The action moves then briefly to the US where the OSS is formed, then back to Europe with the French resistance. The transition between stories is smooth and the reader can feel the tense atmosphere from each country caught in the war.

The writing is captivating, with an imaginative, but not overly complicated plot. Despite presenting sometimes the mundane of life, Alan Furst keeps the reader on the edge. You can feel the tension brought by war and spying, just waiting for the moment to be discovered or to make a mistake.

The decisions of the main characters are well explained, seem genuine and keep the story compact. The reader knows in every moment why a character decided to act in a certain way, what is their motivation, desires. The character creation and the atmosphere created is top notch.

A recommended read for long winter nights.

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Whenever I finished filming a movie, I felt my job was only half done. Every film had to be nurtured in the marketplace. You can have the greatest movie in the world, but if you don’t get it out there, if people don’t know about it, you have nothing.

This is the autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger, starting with his childhood in Austria, his first bodybuilding contests, going to the United States, becoming best bodybuilder, then becoming actor, one of the best paid in Hollywood, then businessman, owing city blocks and airplanes, then governor of California. An impressive story by all accounts.

By what Arnold does best is being inspirational, with many, many good quotes in the book. Some readers might know his speech, the 6 rules for success.

1. Trust yourself

2. Break some rules (not the law)

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

4. Ignore the naysayers

5. Work like hell

6. Give something back

Here is an inspirational video, the original speech and the transcript of the speech.

A giant among men

What is impressive about him is the tenacity, the discipline, the ambition and the cold calculations done to succeed. Arnold went well beyond what was necessary to win.

For example, he went to public bodybuilding demonstrations, in parks and prisons, growing the field. Of course, he gained the titles, he was the one growing the bodybuilding business, bringing money and fame for all involved, including referees and competitors. For movies, I quoted him, saying that making the movie is only half the job, the other job being promoting it. Being Governor of California was not a fluke, Arnold going to the Republic Party conferences years ahead his bid to be elected.

He started his first business when he was still competing as bodybuilder, renting apartments. He gradually expanded his real estate, earning millions from his business.

He really left no stone unturned when fighting for a goal he set for himself. His great breakthrough was the acting career and he talks most about coming to the United States and trying to succeed. Bodybuilding was not enough for this man.

He read books, took English classes, business classes, acting classes, everything in his power to become an actor. And like Sylvester Stallone, he never accepted anything less than the main role. He believed in his star and pulled others to do the same.

Arnold was a social butterfly, knowing all the main Hollywood starts BEFORE his first movie. He names dozens of famous people as friends, so his social reach must have been exceptional.

Of course, his book, like any autobiography, shows only his best part, leaving aside failures. The first part of the book talks about his childhood, forming years, coming to America and his first years. The second part is as governor of California and it is mostly on politics, unattractive for some readers.

Overall, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man of contrasts: he has high discipline for himself, but he cannot be faithful to his wife; he is a bodybuilder, but smokes cigars; he is an environmentalist, but drives a Hummer.

His book is widely considered one of the best inspirational stories that one can read and I fully recommend it.

[Featured picture by Gage Skidmore]

Regulation of the Power Sector – Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga (ed.)

Grids limit the operation of the electricity system in many ways. The most typical limitation is congestion, which occurs when the maximum current that can be handled by a line or other facility is reached, thus determining the amount of electric power that can flow through the element in question. The underlying cause for the limitation may be thermal, and therefore dependent upon the physical characteristics of the facility. It may also be related to the characteristics of system operation as a whole; for instance, provisions to guarantee security in the system’s dynamic response to disturbances or to stability-related problems that usually increase with line length.

Another typical grid constraint is the need to maintain voltages within certain limits at all nodes, which may call for connecting generating units near the node experiencing problems. The maximum allowable short-circuit power established may also limit grid configuration. Generally speaking,
the main effect of grid constraints is to condition system operation and in so doing to cause deviations from economically optimum operation. The most common constraints in distribution grids are related to voltage and maximum line capacity.

“Regulation of the Power Sector” is a comprehensive technical book on the electricity sector, aimed at specialists and advanced students. It encompasses several scholarly fields, including law, economics, regulation, physics and political science.

It is divided into 14 chapters, as follows: I. Technology and Operation of Electric Power Systems; II. Power System Economics; III. Electricity Regulation: Principles and Institutions; IV. Monopoly Regulation; V. Electricity Distribution; VI. Electricity Transmission; VII. Electricity Generation and Wholesale Markets; VIII. Electricity Tariffs; IX. Electricity Retailing; X. Regional Markets; XI. Environmental Regulation; XII. Security of Generation Supply in Electricity Markets; XIII. Electricity and Gas; XIV. Challenges in Power Sector Regulation.

The first electromagnetic generator, invented by Michael Faraday in 1831.

The authors cover pretty much everything in terms of background in energy regulation, with a focus, but not exclusive, to European regulation and market design. The book reads as a manual and goes into detail in explaining why some regulatory decisions were taken. However, it does not push a message or contributes to the scholarly debate, it is more a stocktaking exercise.

The book makes the basis for the Regulation of the Power Sector course at the Florence School of Regulation, a 6-months intensive training for professionals in the area.

The authors are mostly academics and former regulators with plenty of practical examples. What is impressive is that they managed to have a very balanced approach in a highly divisive area.

The volume is not an easy read, some diagrams and formulas taking some time to digest, even for specialists. This is because the book encompasses a very wide range of fields, from formulas taken from the field physics to economic calculations.

For energy professionals, I commend the book, as a very comprehensive summary of energy regulation, theories and basics of the power system. It refreshes knowledge and fills some gaps, in a balanced way.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other – Sherry Turkle

Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.

This is a very thought engaging book, looking how communication technology changes our social interconnections. It is more than social media, the book looks at how people text instead of talk, hide behind an avatar, interact in video games, comment anonymously, have virtual pets and number hundreds of online friends.

In the first part, the book focuses more on social robots and how they help people: the elderly, to deal with attachment, loss of friends and isolation, children being in other countries or cities; and the children, for whom social robots are virtual pets. In the second part, the book looks at social networks and how mobile communication technologies are affecting human communication today.

An insightful book on social robots and the effect of mobile communication technologies and social media on human communication

The book is a well-researched, well-reasoned account, much based on interviews, of the changes that communication technology brings on social level. Some things are well-known, such as the profundity of the communication diminishes with the distance and complexity. For example, text says less than a phone call, and both less than a video. But there is more to that: a letter takes time and thought, while a quick SMS, which is also a text, gives much less information to receiver.

The author, Sherry Turkle, is an MIT technology and society professor, specialized in the effects of these new communication technologies and social robots on humans. She writes in consecutive books on these topics and the results of her interviews. You can watch some of her ideas on TED Talks as well.

In a way, the author long anticipated the problems with fake news, cognitive bias and confirmation bias that we are confronting today. She looks systematically at what could be the root causes of these dangerous symptoms.

This is a book that I  really recommend reading for the insightful conclusions that her interviews show.

[Feature photo by Fraser Smith]

Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World – Stuart Diamond

Debbie Simoncini-Rosenfeld, vice president of an insurance company, was trying to deal with her eight-year-old daughter, Jessica, “screaming and yelling” to stay up later than her 8:30 bedtime. Her daughter wanted to read later at night. So Debbie traded her daughter a 9:30 P.M. bedtime in exchange for no bare-belly shirts at school and no riding her bike in the street. Debbie valued her daughter’s decorum and safety more than a later bedtime; her daughter valued a later bedtime more than decorum and safety. “Children like to be involved in making the rules,” Debbie said. “If they get something, they will give up something.”

There are many books around talking about negotiation: win-win situations, strategies, how to relate, how to present, etc.. Authors offer trainings, games and motivational speeches, have a website and recommendations from famous people. This book is no exception. Except one: it is absolutely packed with examples.

This is the best part about the book: it has hundreds of examples, of real situations when trying a negotiation worked. It has really good advice. For example, negotiation for a better price is not possible in the shops of an airport, but it is possible wherever you talk with the owner or manager of a shop. This happens a lot in the street shops. However, sometimes all vendors have the same price for the same product or type of product. In this case, the simple question: why should I buy from you and not from the next shop? makes wonders. Simply asking if the price is negotiable is enough sometimes to open the door for an unexpected saving.

Trading and negotiating

The book is having one main principle: we are different and we value differently products or services. What is unimportant for him is valuable for her and viceversa. That makes the basis of trade: diversity in value we give to products and services.

Also, what matters is how things are perceived from the other side. It is always about the other side, because it is them whom you need to convince. Therefore, it is critical to understand what they want, what is valuable for them and what is not. Hence, listen to them and then make a proposal. There is always more to trade than appears at first sight.

Frankly, it is one of the best books, from any category, I have ever read. It has a good feeling after it, reading how people got what they wanted, how things got working.

[Featured picture by Australia High Commission, Suva – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade]