Tag Archives: inspiration

The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality and Our Destiny Beyond Earth – Michio Kaku

The deep space transport uses a new type of propulsion system to send astronauts through space, called solar electric propulsion. The huge solar panels capture sunlight and convert it to electricity. This is used to strip away the electrons from a gas (like xenon), creating ions. An electric field then shoots these charged ions out one end of the engine, creating thrust. Unlike chemical engines, which can only fire for a few minutes, ion engines can slowly accelerate for months or even years.

The Future of Humanity is one of the best books on science and astrophysics published in English language. It is now already considered a classical book on futurism and cosmology.

The book starts imagining how humans may solve some of the technical challenges in exploring space. Transport, propulsion, habitats, the economics of trying to finance the space exploration, robots are discussed, using the latest scientific discoveries. A lesson in astrophysics is offered, explaining our sun system, galaxy and the universe at large. Towards the end of the book, the latest theories proposed to explain the universe as wee see it are described.

Michio Kaku is professor of theoretical physics in the City College of New York and a proponent of the string theory (theory in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings). He wrote several well-received books on futurism and physics.

It is an awe-inspiring call to try and reach the starts. The message of the book is to not forget the long term: expand beyond our native planet, otherwise the nature will overwhelm us. I am making an exception and will add another quote from this author, which I find revealing:

Looking back at those dark days, I am sometimes reminded of what happened to the great Chinese imperial fleet in the fifteenth century. Back then, the Chinese were the undisputed leaders in science and exploration. They invented gunpowder, the compass, and the printing press. They were unparalleled in military power and technology. Meanwhile, medieval Europe was wracked by religious wars and mired in inquisitions, witch trials, and superstition, and great scientists and visionaries like Giordano Bruno and Galileo were often either burned alive or placed under house arrest, their works banned. Europe, at the time, was a net importer of technology, not a source of innovation.

I devoured the book in about three days. It is easy to read, the concepts from physics are easy to follow, despite their complexity, and the ideas proposed feel innovative and optimistic. A great book, particularly for young adults, searching for a meaning in life.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information – Edward R. Tufte

Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.

This book is a classic of how to design a good graphic. It contains some of the most inspirational graphics ever seen and Tufte puts the basis of what makes informational design beautiful and practical.

The content is mostly graphs and charts from the 1970s (even though the second edition is from 2001), which contain the main ideas of a good or a bad chart, but more contemporary design would have been more entertaining.

Undoubtedly, the book is useful in teaching to avoid bad graphic design pitfalls, but it often looks at it would need an update.

The designs presented are elegant and powerful, but sometimes forget about the new displays of space, fonts, colours, images, movement.

I was impressed by the simplicity and power of some charts made in the 18th and 19th century, by pencil and rule. They expressed ideas so strongly, only using good use of images, numbers and space.

A good design cannot supplement bad information, but a good design can made good information, memorable.

Make your bed – Admiral William H. McRaven

None of us are immune from life’s tragic moments. Like the small rubber boat we had in basic SEAL training, it takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. You cannot paddle the boat alone. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depends on others.

The book is a powerful and succinct self-development book by the retired 4-star admiral, William McRaven. He gives several life advices based on his experience and SEAL training.

Admiral McRaven was the legendary head of the US SEALs, during the bin Laden operation. Apparently, he was much appreciated within the US special operations forces. His book is not a memoirs, but just a sum of good life advice.

Now President of the University of Texas at Austin, the author based his book on the commencement speech at the university in 2014.

His first advice is to start the day with an accomplished task, such as making the bed. Each accomplished task gives confidence and pulls another accomplished task in the day and so on.

I find his advice useful and wise. Success brings success indeed.

The biggest critique to the volume is its brevity, at only 173 small pages with large font. However, the book seems written by the admiral himself, as the style of writing is rather simple and straightforward; but nonetheless elegant.

The book has a beautiful hard cover, a timeless masterpiece.

A book I fully recommend reading for its beauty, simplicity and wisdom.

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays – Gen Tanabe, Kelly Tanabe

“IT APPEARS ALL YOUR CELLS ARE DEAD.”
Only shock prevented the tears from streaming down my face. My cells were dead. After being accepted into the competitive Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer research Program (SIMR), and spending approximately 170 hours of the past month manipulating human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), I was back to square one—with only one month of my internship remaining. How in the world was I going to make up for lost time?

This is a book presenting, as the title says, 50 essays that made the applicant being accepted at some of the top universities in the world, with fierce competition. After each essay, the evaluators’ comments are included.

The essays were absolutely fabulous. It was a pleasure to read life stories and motivations condensed in only 1 page. While still young and lacking a certain complexity of vocabulary (we are talking about 18-year olds!), the perfect organisation of information, of the message, of presenting someone in the best light, was amazing.

I was particularly impressed by the title of some stories, such as Puzzle and Science Sparks, which made the reader interested and wanting to explore the text. There are so many beautiful turn of phrases, motivations and development stories that it is simply inspirational to discover them.

The book has also 26 solid advices on writing, which can apply to everyone holding a pen or using a keyboard.

Overall, a beautiful and inspirational read.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE – Phil Knight

I thought back on my running career at Oregon. I’d competed with, and against, men far better, faster, more physically gifted. Many were future Olympians. And yet I’d trained myself to forget this unhappy fact. People reflexively assume that competition is always a good thing, that it always brings out the best in people, but that’s only true of people who can forget the competition. The art of competing, I’d learned from track, was the art of forgetting, and I now reminded myself of that fact. You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.

The book is a candid memoir by the founder of Nike, the sports shoes and apparel company. It starts with his travel around the world as a young graduate and concludes when the company was made public in the 1980s. The book presents in great detail the beginnings of now the largest sports company in the world.

This is indeed a great memoir, well-written, full of details and easy to follow. Apparently, JR Moehringer helped as ghostwriter. No wonder it was a best-seller, particularly because the owner of Nike never liked being in the spotlight.

Phil Knight starts his story when, as a young graduate of Stanford Business School, prepares to leave for a world voyage. The trip is hiding a business purpose as well, as he intends pass through Japan and propose selling rights in US from a Japanese manufacturer of sports shoes. This idea came from a university seminar.

His proposal succeeds and Knight gradually increases sales, while working as professor and later accountant. Being ditched by the Japanese manufacturer he is forced to produce his own shoes. And this is how Nike was created. The company always had financial problems, banks abandon him twice, legal challenges almost topple the company, he fights with US customs, but through sheer passion for the product and loyalty of men and women around him, the company succeeds.

It was amazing to see how much of a team work it was. The founder did not create the shoes, the clothes, the design, not even the name. All he did do very well was putting the right people in the right jobs and ensure loyalty of his employees.

As he often quotes in the book: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” A shy person, he prefers to be a strategist than a general, although his idol is American General Douglas MacArthur.

Phil Knight talks about his family as well, his wife and sons, his parents and sisters. He talks fondly about his wife and her sacrifice to let him work long hours. He regrets not staying longer with his sons. He recalls his daily evening calls with his father, talking business and how to fight the legal challenges.

Overall, a great book from a shy man who built a sports empire and made the world a little better.

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

Don’t think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work, or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life—and not merely life but another’s identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another’s soul—was obvious in its sacredness. Before operating on a patient’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.

This is the autobiographical story of an incredibly gifted person, Paul Kalanithi, written while he was dying of cancer, only in his thirties.

The author describes his life and morals, from childhood, to medical school, to his English degree at Cambridge, to operations as neurosurgeon and, finally, fighting cancer in his last weeks.

Paul Kalanithi was a truly extraordinary human being, valedictorian in high school, then Standford, Cambridge and the Yale School of Medicine. A neurosurgeon with great writing skills, dedicated to a have meaningful life. Paul finds out he has cancer and despite some minor improvements, he succumbs to the illness. Cancer took him in less than two years.

An inspiring sad story.

However, before he died, he wrote this extraordinary book, talking about his life and eventual death, about time and meaningful things, about his patients and his family.

His writing is so fluid, words are well chosen, vocabulary is vast and he grasps such a deep understanding of things. The readers finds himself moved with emotion at every page.

It is an honour, a source of inspiration and a pleasure to read about humans pushing the boundaries of what can be done, to show true skillfulness and quality, and, above all, great strength of character and bravery.

The book is the Goodreads choice winner of 2016. I could not recommend it enough.

The Art of Manliness – Brett McKay and Kate McKay

Wanted, a man who is larger than his calling, who considers it a low estimate of his occupation to value it merely as a means of getting a living. Wanted, a man who sees self-development, education and culture, discipline and drill, character and manhood, in his occupation. Wanted, a man of courage who is not a coward in any part of his nature. Wanted, a man who is symmetrical, and not one-sided in his development, who has not sent all the energies of his being into one narrow specialty and allowed all the other branches of his life to wither and die. Wanted, a man who is broad, who does not take half views of things; a man who mixes common sense with his theories, who does not let a college education spoil him for practical, every-day life; a man who prefers substance to show, and one who regards his good name as a priceless treasure.

The book is a collection of texts: stories, letters, poems, speeches, aiming to teach a series of virtues in life. The volume is called The Art of Manliness, but the virtues presented can be actually  applied to anyone.

The seven virtues hailed for good life are: manliness, courage, industry, resolution, self-reliance, discipline and honour. For each, several texts of great persons, writers, adventurers, are presented, in order to explain and stimulate.

The Art of Manliness is largely a motivational book, showing past examples, stories, ideas, words of great men, to inspire the reader to be a better man. It draws from Greek and Roman writers, American founding fathers, Arctic and American Far-west explorers and thinkers of the 19th century,

The book is a great opportunity to be exposed to the classical literature, particularly to poems. It includes one of the very few poems I like, The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson. How much courage and discipline those people had! I quote some of it:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.

Overall, while not exceptional, the book is useful for inspiration, something to look up to, and, generally, as a compass of life. I took my time to read it.

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]

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]

How We Got Here: A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets – Andy Kessler

In 1642, 18-year-old Blaise Pascal, the son of a French tax collector, tired of waiting for his dad to come play a game of “le catch”. Blaise’s dad was what is known as a tax farmer, sort of a 17th century version of a loan shark, threat of broken bones and all. Tax farmers advanced tax money to the government and then had a license to collect taxes, hopefully “harvesting” more than they advanced. Elder Pascal was constantly busy calculating and tabulating his potential tax haul. To help him out, Blaise envisioned a mechanical device with wheels and cogs and gears and numeric dials that could sum up numbers to eight digits long. That’s 10 million francs. Dad must have been a top tax guy.

The book explains the history of technology, from the Industrial Revolution to contemporaneity, through the lenses of capitals and stocks. The books is written in a simple way and without much depth, kind of like Wikipedia is explaining. However, the connections it makes are genius and really make the reader think.

Andy Kessler, the author, worked for two decades in the banking and investor sector, from research analyst to hedge fund manager.

A brilliant and easy to follow history of technology, that connects the dots and makes you think.

The book is divided in 5 chapters: The Industrial Revolution; Early Capital Markets, Components Needed for Computing; Digital Computers and Modern Capital Markets.

Each chapter has small stories, linking to each other, explaining the creation and change of some concepts, laws, industries. The overall thematic is economics, trade and, partially, laws influencing trade, money, finance and national economies.

Andy Kessler explains in a simple and brilliant way very complex concepts, such as fractional reserve banking and the Corn Laws. While it doesn’t have depth, it has the right amount of detail to made the reader understand why things happened that way.

All those facts presented are freely available online, but Kessler put them together in a logical and consequential way. It is really a book that “connects the dots”.

It is rarely that a book has so much ingenuity, easiness of writing, clarity in thinking and presenting the facts. The book can be freely found on the author’s website. One of the few that I would read twice.