The man behind the legend

“Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow”

There are so many things that we can learn from biographies, and this one is a prime example for that. This is an 834 pages book filled with everything imaginable about John D. Rockefeller. What his legendary demeanour was like, his decision makings in business, the way he carries himself throughout crisis, about his parenting style, his relationship with the people around him, his extended family and their dynamism and later their philanthropic activities, his difficult upbringing with a volatile father, and so much more.

He is notoriously calm and composed, a stoic and cautious character. He rarely speaks when it is not necessary, and thus he gives the controlled aura of a mysterious person. He is hugely reliable and resilient, famously frugal, daring in design but cautious in execution, strangely humble and compassionate for a man in his position, and above all he’s pious and devoutly religious. There are so much to learn from Rockefeller the person behind the legend.

The book also portrays vividly how raw the business world back then, which attracts a predatory style that became consolidated by the brutality of Rockefeller and his Standard Oil, which turned the wild west of oil capitalism into a monopoly. With this in mind, the book is also a lesson on free market capitalism, and how if left uninterrupted it can easily turns into a predatory capitalism that reach its pinnacle in a form of monopoly or near monopoly, like what happened with Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.

Indeed, this is not an all-rosy biography, as the great man himself can turn into the notorious robber baron that he became known for. This is why this book is such a thorough biography, it doesn’t show black or white, but it covers all the spectrum of colour that makes a Titan.

Old age wisdom taught through classic short stories

“Aesop’s Fables” by Aesop

This book is a collection of Aesop’s most famous fables. Some are so blunt and honest, like the story of the ass and the lap dog. Some are funny, such as the bear and the travellers. Some are well known, such as the boy who cried wolf. But most of them have some common traits: they are simple and inspirational, with lessons that have stood the test of time.

At the introduction of the book, G. K. Chesterton highlighted some interesting insights into the world of fables and fairy tales. Firstly, fables are stories about talking animals, plants, or forces of nature with human-like characteristics, while fairy tales are mostly human characters that involve good and evil traits and may or may not have magical capabilities.

Secondly, the fables in this book are not necessarily written by Aesop but rather collected by Aesop, just as Grimms’ fairy tales are well known as the best collection of fairy tales instead of written by the Grimm brothers.

Thirdly, the origin of the fables themselves are mostly lost in history and have since become anonymous, universal, and have been passed down from generation to generation, which is a common theme in the earliest human history.

And finally, through the analogies of animals we can learn so much about human emotions, about our shortcomings, about our hopes and dreams, about finding our place in the social hierarchy, about justice and injustice, about hard work that result to nothing if we doing it wrong and pure damn luck that result to everything, and so much more.

Here are some of my favourite moral stories from this book:

  • If you are wise you won’t be deceived by the innocent airs of those whom you have once found to be dangerous.
  • Notoriety is often mistaken for fame.
  • Look and see which way the wind blows before you commit yourself.
  • Persuasion is better than force.
  • Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.
  • Boasters brag most when they cannot be detected.
  • Better poverty without a care than wealth with its many obligations.
  • We may often be of more consequence in our own eyes than in the eyes of our neighbours.
  • Misfortune tests the sincerity of friendship.
  • Do not waste your pity on a scamp.
  • You cannot believe a liar even when he tells the truth.
  • Look before your leap.
  • Show gratitude where gratitude is due.
  • Give assistance, not advice, in a crisis.
  • They complain most who suffer least.
  • Do not attempt too much at once.
  • What is worth most is often valued least.
  • Heaven helps those who help themselves.
  • Revenge is a two-edged sword.
  • If you choose bad companions no one will believe that you are anything but bad yourself.
  • If you attempt what is beyond your power, your trouble will be wasted and you court not only misfortune but ridicule.
  • Injuries are never forgotten in the presence of those who caused them.
  • Precautions are useless after the event.
  • A man is known by the company he keeps.
  • Advantages that are dearly bought are doubtful blessings.
  • Servants don’t know a good master till they have served a worse.
  • It is no use being your own master unless you can stand up for yourself.
  • Think twice before you act.
  • Rude shocks await those who take to themselves the credit that is due to others.
  • It’s no use trying to hide what can’t be hidden.
  • What’s bred in the bone is sure to come out in the flesh.
  • There is no virtue in giving to others what is useless to oneself.
  • All men are more concerned to recover what they lose than to acquire what they lack.
  • Do not promise more than you can perform.
  • Happy is he who learns from the misfortunes of others.
  • Better servitude with safety than freedom with danger.
  • Those who pretend to be something they are not only make themselves ridiculous.

Imagine old age wisdom taught through hundreds of classic short stories. This is what this book is ultimately about. I enjoyed reading it so much.

The introductory history of The Freemasons

“A Brief History of the Freemasons” by Jasper Ridley

For a topic as shady as a secret society, a book needs to be super clear between facts, myths, and false stigmas, and should be able to present them all in a narrative that is clean and concise. This book just barely live up to that standard. In fact, it actually provides more [unnecessary] details that makes the puddle even muddier.

The book doesn’t feel like the history of the Freemasons per se, but rather the historical context of European politics during which the Freemasons were born, developed, and then rose to prominent. And the real history of the Freemasons themselves is scattered all over the narrative, and often appear with unnecessary revelation. Such as a whole series of mini-biographies of people’s activities that had nothing to do with Freemasonry, but with an ending of something like “he was a Freemason.” Or worse, after a long story it turns out that “he was not a freemason” after all.

Perhaps more disappointing for me, the book doesn’t really address all the hand gestures and the secretive rituals that they are infamous for. It doesn’t reveal when and why they build the lodges for, they just somehow appear in the story with no further elaboration. Or most importantly, the book doesn’t specify the main objectives of the existence of the Freemasons, or whether they are a centralised organisation with a leader on top or more like a franchise with regional bosses.

Although to be fair, in chapter 17 the book cited Dr. Eduard Emil Eckert’s book “The Order of Freemasons” that shows that the aim of the Freemasons is to overthrow the established religion and government in every country in the world (a bombastic statement that was cited without further explanation! A common thing for this book).

But I digress. I normally avoid these kind of books, because there cannot be a complete historical account about an organisation or society that remains secretive in nature. Not unless it is written by a former member or a whistleblower. But yet I still pick up this book, because in the old map of the old part of my city Jakarta, there are numerous buildings that were once blatantly named Freemasons Lodge. And I thought that I could pick up any background materials from this book, before I visit these places myself. For this purpose, this book provides me with the bare minimum.

The Freemasons were originally stone masons, builders of bridges and castles, that started off their organisation as a group of illegal trade union. They all accepted the doctrines of the Catholic Church, during the great battle between Vatican and the Protestant movements. But the organization then transformed between 1550 and 1700 to become an organisation of intellectual gentlemen who favoured religious tolerance and the simple thinking that a belief in God should replace theological doctrines. This, and their eventual meddling on politics, made them increasingly become the target of scrutiny and scapegoating (which, according to the book may or may not be justified).

Benjamin Franklin was a Freemason. Winston Churchill was a non-active member. Kemal Ataturk was a Freemason. Russia’s Peter the Great may or may not joined the Freemasons. Brazil’s Emperor Pedro I, Captain James Cook, Dr. Joseph Guillotin (the inventor of the Guillotine), General Douglas MacArthur were all a Freemason. 15 of the 41 US President (at the time of the writing) have been Freemasons. Some of the Cardinals in the Vatican were Freemasons. Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Alexander Flemming, and many more famous people were all Freemasons, while Mozart was very interested in Freemasonry, where 8 of his compositions had some connection with the subject.

What does this all tell us? Without the much-needed elaboration, absolutely nothing significant. Which makes this book feels like only touching the surface of a potentially revelationary findings. More readings are definitely required, but for an introduction I guess this book is suffice.

It didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature for nothing

“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway

The first read in 2022. A tale of perseverance during a difficult circumstance, as well as the struggle for meaning and success in life. Narrated through the simple story of a failing fisherman against his big fish. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated”, Santiago says, which is encouraging during this start of a possibly another turbulent year.

100 things I learned and did in 2021

  1. Everybody’s anal is different from one another. It’s linings, the anoderm, is like the finger print where each individuals have unique characteristics. Oh hi, didn’t see you there, welcome to 100 things in 2021!
  2. So where were we? Ah yes, anoderm. There’s now actually a smart toilet that can scan our anal to track our digestive system and its, uhm, end product. It can even detect whether we unknowingly have diseases that we aren’t aware about. Nope, that’s super normal. You know where we can take this right? We already have finger print scanner, and retina scanner, we might just be years away from anal scanner to get into a secret bunk or whatever. And I bet the first one to create it will be a Japanese company.
  3. 75% of the real estate of our amygdala part of the brain (the survivor mode or fight-or-flight function) are reserved for negative emotions. This is because our amygdala needs to take account of any possible danger that can happen to us, including all the bad things, for preventive measures. But this also means that whenever our amygdala is triggered it will most likely generate negative thoughts, which are often more severe or more dramatic than the reality. Hence, remember that whenever we start to (or frequently) think of negative thoughts, our brain is actually triggering a survivor mode. Try to figure out the possible culprit(s), resolve them, and your negative thoughts will disappear. It can be as menial as lack of sleep or hungry.
  4. So as it turns out Covid-19 is still a big problem in 2021, but the light at the end of the tunnel sure looks increasingly closer. Which brings us to my next fact. The word “influenza” comes from an Italian word, influenza, that means “influence.” But what’s influence got to do with the disease? As it turns out we once thought that the disease of “influenza” was influenced by a misalignment of the stars and planets. If you’re laughing now, us humans didn’t know what precisely a virus was until the 20th century, so for millennia we were genuinely baffled with this unseen force. And to be fair, the Greek physician Hippocrates did write about an annual outbreak of a disease with symptoms really sounded like influenza, where the disease always coincide with the appearance of the star cluster know as the Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters). Intrigued? Here’s the kicker, in the Northern Hemisphere (where Greece is) the Pleiades is seen in the fall and winter months, usually a high season for flu (or maybe, just maybe, the “high season” is indeed caused by the stars and not the cold weather).
  5. Genetics is a warning, not a sentence. We can still “catch” a genetic disease or can avoid them altogether depending on how we take care of our health in that particular area. So for example, have a “strong diabetic gene”? Avoid excessive sugar, and you should be fine. Have a “cancer gene”? Live healthy and avoid cancer-triggering foods. Chronic masturbator? Yeah, that’s not a genetic thing buddy.
  6. Have you ever felt that time moves faster once we get older? One of the possible answers to that is called the proportional theory, which suggests that time seems to speed up as we grow older because the more years we live they become smaller percentages of the amount of time we’ve been alive. For example, 1 year is a big deal for a 2 year old (it’s 50% of their entire life) but 1 year is nothing for a 50 year old (only 2% of their entire life), that’s also why 3 years of high school feels long but 3 years of working life just went pass that quickly.
  7. Before he became famous for psychology, Sigmund Freud once obsessed with finding eel’s testicles. Yes you heard that right. He went so far as opening up 400 dead eels, and even then he couldn’t find it (there’s a potential joke in this sentence, but dammit I can’t think of one). In fact, he’s pretty obsessed with sexual organs that he said that whatever he sees he sees a penis (umbrella? Penis. Golf stick? Penis. Freakin bamboo? You get the idea). And he experienced himself his famous theory of odeapus complex when at the age of 3 he saw her mother naked and was aroused by it. You know, maybe, juuust maybe, he build his whole psychological theories based on his own sick mind and behaviour, but present it as a problem for EVERYONE.
  8. In the spirit of negligently combining two sets of statistics to create a story out of nowhere, there are 48 million kangaroos in Australia and only around 3.5 million people in Uruguay. So, if for some reason the kangaroos decide to invade Uruguay, each Uruguayans will have to fight 14 kangaroos. Epic movie idea alert! Or more realistically (realistically?) there are twice as much as horse as it is humans in Mongolia. So, watch out for them coup attempts.
  9. How many books, music, movies, TV shows, etc are there ever in existence in the world? According to technologist and co-founding editor of Wired Magazine, Kevin Kelly, from the days of Sumerian clay tablets until recent times, we have published at least 310 million books, 1.4 billion articles and essays, 3.5 trillion images, 180 songs, 330,000 movies, 60 trillion public web pages, and 1 billion hours of videos, short films, TV shows (And we dare to still complain to be bored?). Kelly then elaborates, if fully digitized, this whole thing could be compressed onto around 50-petabyte of hard disks. Just how big is that? 10 years ago 50-petabyte will use up a building about the size of a small-town library, while today it would fill our bedroom. Or about the size of yo mama.
  10. This is where it gets exciting, Kelly predicts that with tomorrow’s technology it could all fit into our phone someday. Every. single. information known. in history! Kelly even mention the possibility of these information to plug directly into our brain with thin white cords (hey everything’s possible). Indeed he’s one of the proponents of technological evolution, and he even argues that the rise of AI are already happening around us without us realising it, and that it’s not a dark gloomy threat to society where a robot uprising could take place. Here’s more on that, in his phenomenal book The Inevitable.
  11. In the book Kelly also points out something interesting, that Google’s AI purchases is not to make its search engine better but the other way around, its search engine is teaching the AI to get better. “Every time you type a query, click on a search-generated link, or create a link on the web, you are training the Google AI. For example, when you type “Easter Bunny” into the image search bar and then click on the most Easter Bunny–looking image, you are teaching the AI what an Easter Bunny looks like.” Kelly then predicts that by 2026 Google’s main product will not be search engine but AI.
  12. Speaking of Google, when we try to search a particular news in Google’s search engine, the result will come out differently for each person. For example if we type: Benghazi. If we’re left-leaning and often open left-leaning news and opinions, our google search will find news and opinion on Benghazi from left-leaning sources. Likewise, if we’re right-leaning, we’ll get right-leaning results. And if we’re not political, we’ll get travel websites on Benghazi.
  13. The age of consent in Japan is among the 3rd lowest in the world. Can you guess how low it is? It’s 13 year old. The rule was set in 1907, and the Penal Code of Japan have not been changed ever since, including on age of consent, despite many protests. By comparison, the age of consent of the Philippines used to be 12, but after a widespread outcry a proposal was passed only in 2020 to raise the age of consent to 16. This low age of consent in Japan partly explains the common fetishization of young girls in Japan, with its hostess café and its kawaii anime, which according to the law is not weird, not weird at all. If you’re wondering why do these countries have age of consent around 12, it is because the first law that set legal age of consent was English law in 1275, which set the age at 12. Meanwhile, the oldest age of consent in the world is Tunisia with 20 years old. Just in case you’re curious, the lowest age of consent in the world right now is Nigeria at 11, followed by Angola at 12, and then Japan along with Burkina Faso, Comoros, and Niger at 13. Vatican also has a low age of consent of 12. So, if you happen to spot prince Andrew in those places, you know why.
  14. Lobsters have been around, in one form or another, much longer than the dinosaurs. While dinosaurs existed until 65 million years ago, lobsters have been around since 350 million years ago. Meanwhile, the modern form of humans have only existed in the past 200,000 years. Speaking of humans, it is said that there used to be 14 different types of human species, but only 1 survived. Makes you wonder doesn’t it what really happened with the other 13 human species? (another epic movie idea alert!)
  15. The original pregnancy test was called a “rabbit test” and it awfully involved real rabbits, in which they always die in the end. So in the 1920s, scientists discovered a hormone in our body know as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) that can be found early in pregnancy. It was later discovered that when injected into certain animals, the hCG would also produce changes in the animal ovaries. While the first test was performed on mice, in 1931 Maurice H. Friedman perfected the test by using rabbits, and thus the rabbit test was born. The mechanism is as follows: human urine was injected into a rabbit and 48 hours later the rabbit was killed and its ovaries will show whether it contains hCG (aka whether the owner of the urine was pregnant or not). But this horror show ended when the first home pregnancy tests were approved in 1976, with modern pregnancy tests are still based on measuring the amount of hCG present in urine or blood. By the way, if a male pees on a pregnancy test and the result is positive, it could be an indicator that he has testicular cancer. It is because the same hormone in pregnancy, the hCG, is present in testicular cancer.
  16. Neuroscientists have discovered that people who use Botox, which prevents them from making facial expressions such as sad and anger, seem to be less anger-prone than those who don’t. It is because the very act of frowning actually triggers the amygdala (remember the 75% negative emotions). Now imagine how your daily lives looks like if you can smile all the time, nay, laughing out loud by reading through trashy jokes? Mic drop, I rest my case.
  17. The doll “Teddy bear” was inspired by an incident occurred with Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and an actual bear. So one day during a bear hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902, a suite of Roosevelt’s attendants chase, cornered, hit, and tied a black bear to a willow tree. They then called Roosevelt to the site and suggested the president to shoot the bear. However, Roosevelt refused to shoot as he deem this move was unsportsmanlike. The incident became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in a 6 November 1902 edition of the Washington Post, which initially painted the bear as an adult black bear but latter issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter. Morris Michtom saw the cartoon and was inspired to create a tiny soft bear cub and put it in his shop window with a sign “Teddy’s bear”, after sending one bear toy to the president and received the permission to use his name. The toy became instant hit, and Michtom proceeded to found the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. which became the largest doll-making company in the US during the post-World War 2 baby boom era.
  18. One of the biggest mysteries in the entire archaeological record is the doubling of the size of human brain over a period of 2 million years. Nobody knows what happened. But curiously, there’s one bizarre argument by Terrence McKenna that at first will make us laugh, but then makes us seriously think: At about the same period of time, rain forest receded into grass lands and monkeys started to come down from the trees and experimenting with different types of food source. One of the new sources were the bugs that they find behind cow shit, and most importantly they also find mushrooms in the cow shit that they eat (yes, that’s right, magic mushroom). McKenna argues that trippin monkeys experienced brain stimulation that were so wild and out of this world that through time their brain expanded. So we’re the product of trippin monkeys!
  19. If we hit our knees against a chair, why does our instinct is to rub our bruised knees with our hand? Besides for potential comedic purposes, as it turns out the non painful sensation of rubbing the bruise competes with the actual pain of the bruise for the same neural signaling pathways that report back to our brain. So, the more we rub the less bandwidth is left for the pain signals. Not sure whether it would work on a gunshot wound though, or stepping on a Lego piece (perhaps super intense rubbing will do).
  20. The Romans was able to build the Colosseum thanks to urine tax. It was called vectigal urinae, and it was imposed after that period of time when Rome had just went through a financial crisis that was caused by Nero’s extravagances, and a tumultuous period that came after that, with Vespasian became the 4th Emperor in the year of the Four Emperors (I checked, and no, not the inspiration for the name of the scooter). Now, urine was a pretty useful commodity (commodity?) back then. Although the Romans knew about soap, they consciously use urine more as a cleansing tool because of the ammonia present in urine, which removes the grease and stain in clothes. In fact, urine were collected from public urinals where chamber pots taken to the laundry site to be mixed with water to wash clothes. Oh just imagine the lovely fragrance. Oh wait, but there’s more. Romans also used urine to whiten their teeth (dude), to soften leather, to remove bits of animal flesh and hair sticking to animal hides, and also used as a fertilizer. So, as I was saying, a useful commodity. Hence, a tax on its collection and usage, where a large portion of them was eventually used to finance the construction of the Colosseum in 72 AD.
  21. Have you ever wondered why some people can spot the hidden message in a cassette played backwards, or see the face of Jesus or the Virgin Mary in objects or food, or see the Siberian husky saying “I love you”, or see any shape from the clouds? Psychologists call this Pareidolia, the tendency to see or hear things in totally random objects or sounds. It is because our brains are geared to try to make sense out of randomness, to find order in the chaos. Because the unknown is scary, we like to feel that there is intention and meaning to anything that we don’t understand to make us feel safe. The same logic applies for the emergence of conspiracy theories in the absence of news. So yes, we really do see the world the way we want to see it, regardless of the reality, and sometimes that involve collective perceptions.
  22. There’s a weak spot in Earth’s magnetic field, which is located above the southern Atlantic Ocean, that has been increasing in size over the last 200 years and it is starting to split in two. But no need to panic, as this is not a cause for concern for those of us in the ground, as the “South Atlantic Anomaly” only affects satellites and other spacecraft that pass through that area between South America and Southern Africa, because the higher quantities of charged solar particles seep through the field there can cause malfunctions in computers and circuitry. So what causes it? Julien Aubert, a geomagnetism expert from the Paris Institute of Earth Physics, argues that it might have connection to 2 gigantic blobs of dense rock buried 1800 miles inside the Earth, where due to their makeup the blobs disturb the liquid metal in the outer core that generates the magnetic field. What are those 2 blobs? According to Qian Yuan, a researcher studying godynamics at Arizona State University, the blobs are remnants of an ancient planet called Theia that struck Earth in its infancy 4/5 billion years ago. The same collision that helped create the moon. In other words, there’s a piece of other planet stuck inside our planet!
  23. According to Greek mythology, us humans were originally created with two faces, four arms, and four legs (similar to two people standing back to back). But then my boy Zeus was afraid of what people can do, and so he split humans into two separate parts and put them miles apart, and thus condemning them to spend the rest of their lives searching for their other halves. That’s hauntingly beautiful.
  24. You know the deck of playing cards? Here’s an interesting fact about it. It has 52 cards in total, for 52 weeks in the year. It has 2 colours black and red, that represent day and night. It has 4 suits of diamond heart spade and club, for 4 seasons (13 weeks per season). 12 court cards represents the 12 months. And if we add each of the cards (ace + ace + ace + ace + two + two + two + two + and so on) we will get 364. The card game is also an agricultural calendar that tells us about the weeks and the seasons. From king’s week, followed by queen’s week, then Jack’s week, all the way down to AS week, then changed seasons and start over with a new colour. And the 2 jokers? They are used in leap years.
  25. Speaking of calendar, did you know why July and August both have 31 days in a month? So, to recap from previous years’ facts, Roman dictator Julius Caesar inserted the month of “July” (after his name) snap bang in the middle of lovely summer, in honour of, well, himself. And decades later Emperor Augustus also inserted another month right after July in the summer and named it, well, you know what it’s called, also in honour of himself. But why does the month of August also have 31 days like July? Wasn’t it supposed to be intermittently between 30 days and 31 days? Well as it turns out emperor August and his giant ego did not want “his month” to have one day less than “Julius Caesar’s month” so he insisted on also having 31 days, leaving September with 30 days, October with 31 days, November with 30 and December with 31, which add up to 367 days in leap year or three 31 days from August-December instead of two. So where did he steal/deduct the extra 1 day from? From poor month of February, where nobody would notice anyway (you didn’t, did you?) because 1 day is already nicked for Leap Year mechanism. That’s why we have 29 days in Leap Year instead of the normal 30 days.
  26. The name Arctic literally means “bear”, while Antarctica means “no bear.” Makes it easier doesn’t it to remember which continent has the polar bear and which one’s not (with the Antarctica has penguins instead). Which brings us to the next fact. This year, scientists from Imperial College London have discovered an abnormal chemical in some samples of Penguin feces, a chemical called phosphine, that is rarely ever found on Earth. In fact this chemical can usually be found 38 million miles away in the clouds of Venus (more on this later). Of course, there are a lot (like a lot, a lot) more further research that needed to be conducted, but researchers are excited on the potential possibility that Penguins are actually a creature originated from Venus (another epic movie idea alert!).
  27. Muslims in Mecca perform Tawaf (circling the Ka’abah 7 times) in a counterclockwise motion. But did you know why counterclockwise? The rationale behind this is blood circulation in our body in an counterclockwise flow. Even our electrons rotate counterclockwise around the nucleus. But wait, there’s more. The moon rotates around the Earth also in a counterclockwise motion, while the Earth itself rotates in a counterclockwise motion. Do you know what motion does the Earth rotate around the sun? It’s counterclockwise also! In fact the galaxies in the space rotate in a counterclockwise motion. So actually the only sequence that is wrong or move against the crowd is the clock’s clockwise movement, but that’s because the first clocks were sundials, where, as the Earth rotates counter-clockwise, from our point of view on the clocks the sun appears to move across the sky in a clockwise direction.
  28. While a completely full bladder is capable of holding around 1 liter of fluid, a healthy bladder can usually hold only 300-400 ml of urine during the day and 800 ml at night. But the urge to urinate already occurs when the bladder contains about 200 ml of urine, while the level where we start to pee dancing varies for different people.
  29. Speed camera was initially invented to speed cars up, not slow them down. It was created by a Dutch engineer named Maurice Gatsonides, Europe’s first professional rally driver, who designed the speed camera (the Gatsometer) to measure and improve his speed around corners. But Gatso soon realized that his invention could also be used to catch speeding motorists, and so he founded Gatsometer BV in 1958 and gradually refine the device until today. The “Gatso 24” is now installed in more than 40 countries. Ironically, Gastonides often caught by his own speed cameras and get hefty fines, because he still love speeding. Fuckin legend.
  30. A brain-scan study in 2010 led by researchers at Yale University identified some intriguing interactions between our working-memory (aka the network of brain systems) and the amygdala (hey it’s them again!). The study concluded that the function of amygdala is increased (or triggered) during periods of working-memory overload, which indicate a cause-and-effect between information overload and psychological stress. The study also found that working-memory overload can also cause diminished activity in multiple brain regions that regulate negative emotion and negative self-concept, which means our brain’s ability to keep negative thoughts and self-appraisals under control may be weakened when our working memory is overload, while overload may also dampened our brain’s ability to properly weigh and interpret information. In addition, a brain buried in information overload will often try to make sense of the chaos by fitting it into a “structure of meaning”, a some kind of jigsaw puzzle of beliefs that is heavily influenced by the opinions of our peers and social connections. In other words, when flooded by information overload we might stop to seek further information, may even shut out conflicting information, and instead starting to rely on the safety of our social networks. Sounds familiar?
  31. In addition, a recent research study done by psychologist Michael Greenstein found that angry people were not only more susceptible to misinformation, but they’re also more likely to use that misinformation as a guide for their decision making and actions. While information and confidence are traditionally correlated, in angry people this link followed an opposite trajectory, where as they got more false information, they became more confident. This is because in a state of anger they confuse their heightened state of emotion (alertness, awareness, mind firing on all cylinders) for heightened cognitive capabilities. In other words, while alcohol impairs memory, anger gives us false memories. Anger makes us dumber.
  32. That’s why Cambridge Analytica’s amygdala-triggering tactics with Trump, Brexit, etc (practically flooding the world with fake news) are ingeniously evil. It also explains why their information-overloaded supporters are highly stressed, thus easy to trigger and become generally angry, thus find it difficult to weigh information logically.
  33. Which brings us to a survey conducted by YouGov for Oxford University, where it showed that in England people who voted for Brexit are nearly 7 percentage points less likely to get vaccinated for Covid-19 compared with those who voted to stay. The same pattern emerge in the US, where the least vaccinated counties are all, you guessed it right, Trump supporters. Moreover, in my country Indonesia the majority of people who don’t believe in vaccine are the supporters of the equally right-wing candidate (surprise surprise) in the last election, Prabowo. There’s an article that analyse why a lot of Republicans in particular reject Covid-19, which in a nutshell conclude that “while both parties are guilty of confirmation bias, those on the right are more likely to treat the unknown with fear and hostility” and “when someone provides evidence contrary to their beliefs, the typical Conservative is more likely to become defensive.”
  34. Curiously, according to a research done by psychiatrist Gail Saltz, the average conservative has a larger right amygdala (which makes perfect sense after what we’ve learned), while liberals have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus (the part of the brain responsible for taking in new information and using them in decision making). This obviously raises an intriguing follow up question, does the shape of our brain dictate our political views? Well, as a matter of fact yes it does.
  35. Now as far as I know, this hasn’t been tested yet but in light of the previous fact, someone should really scientifically test this: SJW Fish Mouth Syndrome. This is quite possibly the most bizarrely funny thing I’ve learned this year. Go on, google it. Does the shape of our mouth can also determine our political views, I wonder? Speaking of SJW (Social Justice Warrior), and their cancel culture, whatever happens with free speech? I mean they defend Charlie Hebdo with all their might, in the name of “free speech”, an asshole publisher that loves to deeply insult other people’s sacred religion or letting Dutch-Hitler Geert Wilders to have a speaking platform, but now we can’t even call a man “him” and a woman “her” if they’re somehow insulted by it? Heck, they even want to cancel Caitlyn Jenner for speaking that trans girls in women’s sports is unfair. Meanwhile some African American SJW become racist themselves towards Asians, and did not see the irony when confronted for their white racism on multiple interviews. This is one of those cases where the causes started out noble and for the right reasons, but went too far that it turned the victims (or supporters) into perpetrators.
  36. Quick, name the 4 teenage mutant ninja turtle characters: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. Nice. Now, how many people know that these 4 characters are named after 4 renaissance artists, with Leonardo being Leonardo da Vinci? Quite a lot, I presume. But did you know that none of these 4 renaissance artists were married? In fact 3 out of these 4 people are gay. Guess which one is not the gay one? I’ll give the answer later. (Well, actually there’s no point of creating an unnecessary suspense. It’s Raphael).
  37. The tools in Bronze Age (3300-1200 BC) were mostly made of stone, while Bronze tools reached its peak during the Iron Age (1200 BC – 100 BC). The Iron Age is generally considered ended with the Roman Conquests and was succeeded by Antiquity and then the Middle Ages. What about the era before Bronze Age? It was the Stone Age (Roughly began 2.6 million years ago and ended around 3300 BC), where woods were the predominant tool. Moreover, we’re now live in a Glass Age (1300 – present), Steel Age (1800s – present), Aluminum Age (1800s – present), and Plastic Age (1907 – present). But (you know where this is going don’t you?) glass artifacts were already discovered in ancient Egypt in 1350 BC and the Romans was the first to produce transparent glass. Yeah me too, I’m so confused right now.
  38. When we lie, our noses really do get bigger. Just like Pinocchio. Well not really that long or obvious, but what happen is guilt causes blood to flow to the erectile tissue in the nose. This is an automatic reflex and explains who those who are not very good at lying often expose themselves away by touching or scratching their (can’t believe that I’m going to say this) erect noses.
  39. There are 5493 minerals that have been named in the world, half of which are named after the person who found them. My favourite got to be Welshite, named after Wilfred Welsh. There’s also a variety of rock called taconite, which I think is the funnest mineral name. But can you guess why it is named in such way? They are named after the Taconic Mountains in New York, although there’s actually a place in Minnesota called Taconite, which is named after a mine that contains the said minerals. Sounds like a fun place to be in on Tuesdays.
  40. In the Banyakole tribe of Uganda, when a couple is about to get married the bride’s aunt must have sex with the groom, to test his potency. Riiight. So, The Banyakole people are the inhabitants of the traditional Bantu Kingdom, a kingdom dated as far back as the 15th century. They are located in South-western Uganda, east of Lake Edward, and as you can see are known for their unique marriage rights. The rights start at a very early age of 9, it is when the aunt teaches a girl every single thing she needs to know about her role as a woman and a wife. Virginity in this culture is very important, as well as being fat. Wait, what? Yes, in this culture fat is sexy, and by the age of 9 these girls go through a fattening process (eating beef, drinking milk, etc – or what I refer as “any ordinary evening”) to attract a husband. And then, we arrive at the day of the wedding. After the bull is slaughtered and the feast is done, comes the part where the bride and groom consummate the marriage. But first, the aunt test the bride to confirm her virginity, which includes no knowledge of sex. And then the aunt have sex with the groom to test his potency and to take note of what the groom likes sexually, so that she can teach them to her niece. Sure, that wouldn’t be awkward at all at the family gathering.
  41. The word “bank” is rooted from the Italian word “banco”, the word for bench. Why bench? This is because the money traders at the ports of Venice, Naples, and Genoa used to sit on a bench near the marketplace or port to provide financing to traders and merchants. In fact, the money changers in Lombardy had benches in the marketplace specifically for the exchange of money and bills. And if a banker failed, his bench will be broken by the populace, which from this occurrence we get the word for “bankrupt.”
  42. During the summer Olympics in Tokyo last July, Flora Duffy won the women’s triathlon by finishing over a minute ahead of the 2nd place finisher. What’s interesting was she represented Bermuda, an island nation with a population of only 63,000, and the triathlon event course (51 KM or 31.7 miles) is longer than the distance of Bermuda from end to end (40.2 KM or 25 miles). Just in case you’re wondering, the smallest population country to ever win gold at an Olympics is Liechtenstein in 1980 winter Olympics (current population 39,000).
  43. You know that “tongue map” widely taught in school, where each area of the tongue is responsible for one of the 4 basic tastes (sweet at the tip front, bitter at the back, salty at the sides of the front, and sour at the sides of the back)? Well that’s actually inaccurate. The map was published by a German research in 1901 but mistranslated by an influential Harvard psychologist Edwin Boring (I’m not boring, you’re boring), where in the original German it was said that these were areas of relative sensitivity to different tastes, but not absolute areas to taste these 4 taste buds, and all areas of the tongue can actually taste the 5 taste buds. Sorry, did I just say 5 instead of 4?
  44. As it turns out, there is a 5th basic taste bud confirmed by the protein receptors on the human tongue. The “founder” was Kinunae Ikeda, a professor of chemistry at Tokyo University in 1908, which named the taste bud “umami”. His discovery was formally confirmed as the true 5th taste in 2000 by researchers at the University of Miami. Umami can be found in monosodium glutamate, where professor Ikeda then sold his recipe for it to the Ajinomoto Company. Yes, that’s right, the 5th official taste bud comes from MSG.
  45. But don’t be misled, while humans have 5 BASIC taste buds, on average our tongue actually has around 9000 taste buds in total. Meanwhile, goats and pigs have 15,000, rabbits have 17,000, dogs have 1700, cats have 470, cows have 25,000 and sharks have 100,000. There’s 1 animal that has no taste bud, can you guess who? Snakes! So they’re not only cannot sleep with their eyes closed, they can’t taste a fucking thing either. More reason to get generally pissed off at life.
  46. A little side note, I learn this from Jeff Alworth in his book The Beer Bible on how to conduct a proper beer tasting (but the technique can be applied to anything). So the next time you eat anything, try holding off you breath first, eat the food, and taste it, before you start to breathe again and experience a burst of flavour. The holding the breath part will reduce the food into the mere basic taste buds in our tongue, because that’s the only 5 things we can taste while all that “flavour or taste” of the food or beverage comes from the smell. This is also why we “can’t taste our food” when we’re having a cold or flu that blocks our nose.
  47. Curiously, “taste” can also be influenced by perception. In 2011 Coca-Cola produced a special edition white can to raise money for polar bears protection. However, they soon had to discontinue the production because so many people complained about how it tasted. The thing is, the content of the can was exactly the same, but the white can somehow affected people on how they perceived the taste.
  48. One more thing about Coca-cola and its homies. An Israeli team of researchers published a 2014 study in Nature magazine, concluding that compounds like aspartame (artificial sweetener that is used in “diet” version of soda drinks) alter the makeup of out gut bacteria in such a way that over time could trigger glucose intolerance. If this situation occurs, it could lead to a greater risk of developing diabetes and obesity. So, if you want to lose weight, just drink water.
  49. The next time you’re watching a horror or thriller movie, when it gets too scary for you try not to close your eyes but instead close your ears. Because that’s where the movies get you. A study was conducted where a bunch of people were told to watch that shower scene from the movie Psycho but with the sound off, and their reaction was it wasn’t that scary anymore. But here’s why I write this point: it is not only the soundtrack in the horror movie that set the scary mood, but the 2nd layer of sound that we can’t even hear. It is called the infrasound, and it is few Hz (19 Hz or less) below the threshold of sound that humans can hear (20 Hz), but still impactful enough to make our body receptors feel on edge, uneasy, anxious, frightened or angry. That’s also why watching a horror or thriller movie in a cinema is way scarier than in TV, not because of the big screen but because of the louder surround sound audio. Now this might be Hollywood’s dirty little secret, but filmmaker Gaspar Noe admitted in an interview to intentionally use this technique (at 27 Hz, just above the limit for infrasound) in his film Irreversible. The movie Paranormal Activity was also rumored to use infrasound.
  50. When watching a rock concert/video, from Foo Fighters to the Who to Phil Collins, have you ever noticed the unusual name of the cymbals on the drum, Zildjian? That’s because it is an ancient name, where the company was founded in Constantinople in 1623. Not Istanbul, no no the Ottomans hasn’t even invaded yet, but Constantinople! They have been making cymbals for four centuries now. Now that’s mighty impressive.
  51. How tilted are the planets? Mercury 0 degree, Venus 177 degrees, Earth 23 degrees, Mars 25 degrees, Jupiter 3 degrees, Saturn 27 degrees, Uranus 98 degrees, Neptune 28 degrees. So with a 98 degrees angle Uranus is practically rotating on its side (from up to down), due to a collision with an Earth-sized object a long time ago. So yes it didn’t break or dissolved, just tilted heavily. Oh Uranus, you are a gift to comedy that keeps on giving. Oh one more thing, due to the chemical reactions inside them, when it rains in Uranus it rains diamonds (again, there’s a potential joke in this sentence but I can’t think of any).
  52. Speaking of planets, as mentioned in 100 things 2019 no 83-84, the climate in Venus used to be Earth-like before it experienced its own version of global warming around 700-750 million years ago after volcanic activity spewed out molten magma. After cooling off, the incidents formed a thick protective coating, which trapped the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and thus making its temperature to eventually jump to 462 degree Celsius (864 degree Fahrenheit). As a result, Venus now has a dense atmosphere containing 96.5% carbon dioxide with sulfuric acid downpours, which definitely make this planet inhospitable for us. Or is it? Astronomers have detected a gas 50 KM up from Venus’ surface called phosphine, which on Earth the presence of the gas is associated with life (like I have just mentioned earlier, found in Penguins). Hence, although nobody has yet been able to describe an abiotic pathway to phosphine, a life source on the atmosphere of Venus cannot be ruled out. And if life can indeed survive on the more-hospitable environment of Venus clouds, this can also open the future possibility of human settlements on a floating city above the clouds in Venus. Another new movie idea alert!
  53. Seabiscuit is one of my favourite movies of all time. The movie is adopted from a book written by Laura Hillenbrand by the same name, which was a true-story account of 4 failed lives (the horse, the jockey, the caretaker and the owner) that got together to create an amazing success story. But as it turns out, the author’s story is also equally moving. Hillenbrand had a recurring chronic fatigue that never went away, which left her often unable to function, even led her to failing in her college years. But something in the story of this “horse who could” that gripped and inspired her, so much so that she was able to write a magnificent story about the these 4 lives’ triumph of will. So, there’s actually 5 lives that was changed by the Seabiscuit story (warm hearts, warm hearts everywhere).
  54. You know that hair people used to have in the 18th century? That Mozart hair, the one that US Founding Fathers and French Noblemen wore. Did you know that they are all wigs? So in those times wigs were made from aging animal hairs and they were commonly used to cover up hair loss, which occur as a result of a massive outbreak of syphilis (but let’s just focus on the wig). To hide the unwanted odor of the animal hair, people use powders scented with the likes of lavender or orange, hence the name “powdered wig.” The trend disappeared almost abruptly, however, after a scarcity of flour in 1795 (for the powder) combined with British government’s move to tax hair powder to raise fund for, bizarrely, war against Napoleon Bonaparte (which the Brits won, so the tax may be justified).
  55. This one surprised and baffled me the most: there’s actually no single verse in the holy Qur’an that mention about the first spring of zamzam water. The holy sites of Safa and Marwa were mentioned in the verse Al Baqarah 2:158, but the story that involves zamzam water is often recited from other sources, like from various Hadiths. Curiously the story of Siti Hajar (PBUH) and the spring of zamzam water can be found in the Old Testament (Genesis 21), but the location in the verse was hundred kilometer away from Mecca, in Beersheba, Palestine (it’s still there in modern-day Israel, the site’s name is Abraham’s Well, which makes it more confusing and brings more questions than answers).
  56. Another potential clue lies in the way the Qibla of the oldest mosques in Mecca, Iraq and Egypt do not align facing Ka’abah in Mecca (as it normally should). And instead, the Qibla of the Wasit Mosque (built 705 A.D.), the Kufa Mosque (built about 698 A.D.), the Fustat Mosque in Cairo (built between 709-714 A.D.), and the Quba Mosque in Saudi Arabia all face a point north of Mecca. This has initially caused some Orientalists to assume that they may be aligned with Jerusalem (the official 1st Qibla), but the calculations suggest their Qibla face a point south of Jerusalem. So where do exactly the calculations pin point? Beersheba. This suggests the possibility that these older Mosques are aligned to a shrine in the area of Beersheba, since Beersheba was Abraham’s southern settlement, where he lived with his wife and whose 6 sons were the ancestors of Arabian tribes whom dwell in the region of the Southern Arabian Peninsula and Mecca. So, the big question for me is, surely a thesis this big will not go un-noticed, but yet there is little fanfare over it. So for those who knows the answer to this, please do tell me, as I’m genuinely interested to learn what am I missing here?
  57. Most of Earth’s water is inaccessible, they are buried deep inside the planet, pushed down when tectonic plates overlap, or simply held inside the mineral structure of the rocks. If these hidden water were to be released, it would fill the oceans 30 times over.
  58. The average human heart will beat around 2.5 billion times (with the average being 72 beats/minute spread over 60 years). It’s kinda eery to know the finite number of heartbeats, don’t you think? In fact, astronaut Neil Armstrong once joked that he was going to stop exercising because he didn’t want to use up his quota too quickly. But that’s not how it works. Exercising does make our heart beat faster in the short term, but the fitness effects on the body will resulted on the decrease of heart rate in general. Pro athletes, for instance, have average heart beat between 30-40 ish beats/minute. Or if you want an extreme example, a research conducted over 30 days in 2004 in Bangalore, India, showed that yogic meditation and breathing exercises led to a significant reduction in heart rate down to 10.7 beats/minute (daymn son, too low, that’s way too low).
  59. You think that Christianity is divided today with its many interpretations (from Catholicism to Orthodox to Advent to Latter-day Saints)? In the 2nd and 3rd century, there were Christians who naturally believed that there is only one God, but there were also other Christians who believed that there are two gods (the God of wrath and the God of love and mercy). Furthermore, while other such as Gnostic Christians insisted that there are 12 gods, another sect believed that there are 30, others said 365, all of whom insisted that their views were true and had been taught by Jesus and his followers. These different sects as you can imagine wrote different interpretation of the holy texts. And the debates cover a lot more grounds, including whether Jesus was the son of God, if Jesus’ death brought about the salvation of the world or not, and so on. Here’s more about the subject. These different versions of Christianity eventually disappeared after The First Council of Nicaea.
  60. Clouds are awesome. Clouds are calming. And it looks soft, floaty and light. So it shocked me when I learned that according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, that the average cumulus cloud weighs about 100 elephants (1 elephant = around 4000 to 6000 KG). Why elephant? Beats me (or as the joke says, Americans will use any unit of measurement other than the metric system). So, if a cumulus cloud weighs about 100 elephants, what about a big storm cloud? It’s around 200,000 elephants. But this is nothing compared with a hurricane, where a whole hurricane cloud can weigh 40 million elephants! Yeap, that’s how powerful a hurricane is, about 20 million tons.
  61. So obviously the next question would be, how can something that weigh that heavily can float in the sky? As it turns out the weight is distributed across a vast number of tiny water droplets and ice crystals that are spread over a relatively large area. For a perspective, the biggest droplets are less than 0.2 millimeter (0.008 inch) across, and we’d need a million of them to even make a teaspoon of water. Hence, planes can go through them almost effortlessly without being damaged. Moreover, clouds form on top of updrafts of warm air, where the rising air is stronger than the downward pressure of the water droplets, hence the clouds can float. But what about when the air cools? The droplets begin to drop and we, down below, received it as a rain.
  62. By now we all know that Eliud Kipchoge is the fastest person to ever run a full marathon, at the official time of 2:01:39 at the Berlin marathon 2018. But do you know the other end of record breaker of all time? I present to you the slowest person to run a marathon – which is right up my alley -, Shizo Kanakuri, at 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 32 minutes, and 20.3 seconds. So in 1912 Kanakuri ran the Stockholm marathon, but by then he was so exhausted after an 18 day journey from Japan to Sweden that after nearly 30 kilometers (19 miles) he stopped for a rest and asked at a local house for a glass of water. After drinking it, he fell asleep on the sofa and only woke up the next morning. Well, in 1967, at the age of 76, Kanakuri was invited to return to Stockholm and finish his run and become the longest person to ever complete a marathon run.
  63. Speaking of running, do you know why Kenyans are the best in running? More specifically, runners from the Kalenjin tribe (including Eliud Kipchoge). Well there’s arguably no better book to answer this than “Running with the Kenyans” by Adharanand Finn, where Finn lived and trained for months with the best of the best in the Mecca of running, Iten, Kenya (that resides in the Rift-Valley region where the Kalenjin people live). Here’s my review on the book, but the tl;dr version: The most stand out thing I noticed about the depiction of Iten is the poverty. It is a humble place with humble means, where children have no other choice than to go to school by running miles away from their village, barefooted, in a high altitude (2400 meters / 7900 ft. above sea level), on a hilly landscape, as a normal daily activity. While running barefooted force us to adjust our body to a proper form of running, running long distance to school every day in a difficult altitude means these children built their aerobic capacity from such an early age, which, according to a coach in Iten, Renato Canova, “[t]o build your aerobic house, to have enough of an endurance base to run long distances, takes about ten years.” Hence, he then elaborates, “by the time a Kenyan is sixteen, he has built his house.”
  64. Moreover, being a relatively under-developed place also plays an advantage to their success in this simplest and most common sport, where Kenyans live an incredibly active childhood by playing outdoors, eat a simple diet of ugali that is low fat but carbohydrate-rich (good fuel for running), have plenty of time to rest and recover (not much distractions), and have limited options of role models outside the successes of the athletics, which explains why running becomes the sole focus and dedication for plenty of aspiring youngsters. And while there are plenty of success stories coming out from Iten, these successful athletes mostly still live the same simple life afterwards to keep their edge, while those who succumbed to the lifestyle of the riches they quickly lost their edge.
  65. Let’s now talk about chakras. There are a total of 114 chakras in the body, with 2 outside the body and 112 within the body. Out of these 112 in the body, there are 7 major ones. For most people only 3 of these are active, with the remaining 4 are either mildly active or dormant. Now, we can live quite a complete physical life with just a few of chakras and don’t need to activate all 114. In fact, if we activate all of them we would have no sense of body at all. And that’s actually the purpose of yoga, to activate our energy system in such a way that our body consciousness is constantly being lowered until we can sit here in the body, but are no longer the body.
  66. In the 13th century Bohemia there was once lived a monk who was imprisoned and sentenced to death for breaking his vows. In exchange for sparring his life, the monk promised the monastery to write a book of all human knowledge, wait for it, in a single day! Allegedly, the monk made a deal with the devil to fulfill this promise, and the book eventually contains over 160 different animal skins, so huge that it needs 2 people to lift it. More importantly, the book offers a complete translation of the bible (from Latin) and other many texts including medical formulas, calendar, exorcism rituals, grammar, depiction of the devil, even a giant picture of the devil himself (heck, all in 1 day?!) The book has since become known as “The Devil’s Bible” or Codex Gigas, and it is now resided in Stockholm, in the National Library of Sweden.
  67. There’s an ancient city in Turkey that are completely underground, called the Derinkuyu underground city. Derinkuyu is believed to be 4000 years old and it was first discovered in modern time in 1962 by a farmer when he found a strange room while renovating his basement. When the contractors tore down a certain wall in the basement, that leads to a multiple paths that are 85 meters deep, with 11 floors, and multiple rooms that could house 20,000 people at once. The city has a complex ventilation system that let the humans and animals there breathe underground, it also has an impressive defense system to block off invaders from outside world.
  68. Archaeologists believe that the city was first carved underground by either ancient Hittites or ancient Phrygians, and was expanded and used by Orthodox Christians during the Byzantine-Arab wars between the 8th and 11th century, which is why numerous churches are found in the city. It then continued to expand in the 14th century when the locals were once again forced to evacuate underground during the Mongolian invasion, and again when the Byzantine Empire was overtaken by the Ottomans, where local Greek Christians found refuge in the city to practice their faith safely from the 15th century to well into the early 20th century when in 1923 Greece and Turkey agreed to expel the respective Turkish and Greek population. And since then the city was abandoned and forgotten until the farmer rediscovered it. It’s a pity that the farmer didn’t get to keep the city all to himself, but good news for the rest of us as we can now visit that place in Cappadocia area, before/after we take a hot air balloon (or just take a selfie from underground using #blessed, to give the misleading impression that we’re about to ride the balloon).
  69. Dragons are everywhere in pop culture that at one time it made my kids thought that dragon is (or at least was) real. But it’s not. Instead, anthropologist David E. Jones (who wrote the book An Instinct for Dragons) argues that belief in dragons is so widespread among different ancient cultures because evolution has embedded in the human mind an innate fear of predators. And here’s the kicker, the mythical dragon is actually the combination between the 3 most feared animals in ancient time: snake, big cats, and eagles. Hence, the snake-like long body, with 4 legs and wings to fly.
  70. Molotov did not invent the “Molotov cocktail”, instead they were named after him as an insult. So it all began in 1939 when as a Soviet foreign minister Molotov authorized the illegal invasion of Finland, just weeks after World War 2 had started. To invade Finland, Molotov claimed in radio broadcast the cluster bombs that the Soviet planes were dropping were actually food parcels to help feed starving Finns. But the Finns resisted through the bitter winter of 1940, with a secret weapon of handmade incendiary device that is made from a bottle filled with flammable liquid and stoppered with a wick. It is the same weapon that General Franco’s fascist troops used to defeat Soviet-built tanks that was supplied to the left-wing Republican government forces in their Spanish civil war. The Finns named this weapon “Molotov’s cocktails”, with the joke being they were a drink to go with his “food parcels.”
  71. Billions of years ago the world’s continents once lumped together into one. Do you know the name of the super-continent? If your answer is Pangea, you wouldn’t be 100% correct. In fact, Pangea was the 7th and the last series of super-continents that coagulated and split apart at regular intervals since the Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago, with Pangea only existed between 550 and 220 million years ago (which is relatively new in geological age). So what are the previous 6 super-continents? The first one is called Vaalbara (started forming around 3.6 billion years ago), then followed by Ur, Kenorland, Columbia, Rodonia, Pannotia, and finally Pangea. Each cycle took about 300 to 500 million years. (Yo mama is so old… something Vaalbara… ah crap, I’m losing it).
  72. You know that famous “V for Victory” hand gesture by Winston Churchill? Apparently, that gesture was a sign of Apophis-Tyhon, a god of destruction that is capable of overwhelming the energies of the Nazi swastika. The hand gesture was introduced to Churchill by Aleister Crowley, who was a cult leader of Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), a Masonic, mystical, magical type of organisation, which he joined in 1912 and eventually became its leader. The OTO even built a temple in Cefalu, Sicily, but they were later expelled from Italy by the Mussolini government in 1923, because they are accused of promoting orgies (which they totally did).
  73. Bizarrely, Crowley’s occult theories attracted various rock bands such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, and Ozzy Osbourne (his song “Mr Crowley is about, well, Crowley), while the famous Boleskine House where Crowley lived for a number of years would later became the property of Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist. Crowley also appeared on the Beatles album cover Sergeant Pepper (he’s the bald guy at the top row second from left). On a darker note, one of his American disciple was Charles Manson, who conducted massacres including killing actress Sharon Tate.
  74. But what’s all of this got to do with Churchill? Oh right, the hand gesture. So, during World War 2 Crowley was summoned by none other than Ian Fleming (the writer who created James Bond), but Fleming at the time was an officer in British Naval Intelligence, and he summoned Crowley to help the British consider how superstitions and mysticism among Nazi leaders could be taken advantage of by the Allies. And it was Crowley that suggested to Churchill, via Fleming, that he should use the V for Victory sign. So did the sign work? Well, the Nazis got defeated didn’t they?
  75. The word “mentor” comes from the Greek mythology Odyssey. So one day Odysseus left for the Trojan War, and he left his palace and his son Telemachus on the good hands of his friends Mentor and Eumaeus. Mentor was actually Athena (the goddess of wisdom) whom disguises herself as a friend of Odysseus and began her role to teach and advice Odysseus’ son Telemachus. By the way, here’s a good joke about Odyssey.
  76. Joe Biden was inaugurated last January as the 46th president of the United States of America (yeah, I know, it feels like a long time ago). But there’s actually only 45 US presidents in US history, and not 46. What gives? It was thanks to president Grover Cleveland, whom became the 22nd president in 1885-1889, got defeated in the next election (despite winning the popular vote – damn crooked electoral college system), and return to office as the 24th president in 1893-1897. He remains the only president in US history that served two non-consecutive terms in office. And as you can guess, I have a funny feeling that Grover Cleveland will be mentioned a lot in the near future, as a precedence, by a certain orange man and his cult followers.
  77. Do you know the limits in our body before we get dehydrated? A 150-pound (68 KG) person normally carries about 40 liters of water. That amount of water is fixed to within less than a liter, except in a woman’s menstrual cycle that can add and then subtract more than 2 liters of retained water. Now, according to calculations by US Army researchers in a wilderness medicine textbook, in theory we might last for about 7 days without water (but under ideal indoor conditions) before reaching a critical point. If we’re lost in a hot desert and travel only at night the survival time is cut short to only 23 hours, but if we also travel during the day the survival time is cut to 16 hours.
  78. So what’s going to happen in that 16 hours time? Ho boy, hang out tight because this is going to get ugly. If we lost a lot of fluids and fail to replace them, we start craving a drink and our kidney will begin to reabsorb fluid that would otherwise become urine. If that’s not enough, our body will start draining out fluid from our cells and send them into our veins and arteries to maintain the necessary volume of blood pumping through our body. This last adjustment will buy us some time, but our blood will eventually get so concentrated that our brain will start shrinking as fluid is sucked out by osmosis and tear delicate cerebral veins, which will ultimately kill us. Yeah, let me just pause for a minute to drink a glass of water.
  79. In all of the 3 movies of the Godfather, they never once mention the word “mafia.” This is because when filming in New York, they had to ask for a permission from the local gang, and the gang’s request is to not mention anything about mafia (and they also kindly “request” that the proceeds from the premier to be given to them, which the filmmaker so kindly did). The funny thing was, the many mafia-like gangs liked the movie so much that they begun to imitate the customs in the movies that was non-existence before, such as kissing each others at the cheek, and to start calling their leader the Godfather.
  80. The founder of Tibetan Buddhism was a Buddhist master from India named Atisha Dipankara. The most interesting part of his story is, before his journey to Tibet Dipankara went to Sumatra (in then Sriwijaya Empire, in the present-day Indonesia) to study from Lama Serlingpa (or also known as Dharmakirti). This is why Tibetans are so fond of Indonesia, and it shows the degree of power and influence that Nusantara had during the rule of the Sriwijaya Empire.
  81. There’s an island off the coast of Iran, called the Hormuz Island, that has a high concentration of iron oxide that gives the land a reddish hue colour. In places where the sand is even more redder, the waves in the sea become tinged with pink, while in some places the colour of the stones are blatantly rainbow. It’s a sight to be seen, and that’s why the island is also called Rainbow Island.
  82. Have you ever wonder how the outer space sounds like? My first thought was like a giant hangar with huge echo, but apparently we can’t hear anything in space because it is vacuum. Now, that’s not to say that there’s no noise, but due to the lack of proper medium for sound to travel, humans are effectively deaf in space because our ears cannot register the low frequency sound. For example, there are gases in space that can be a medium for sound wave to travel, but interstellar gas is much less dense (only fewer than 2 atoms per cubic centimeter) than Earth’s atmosphere (which has 30 billion billion atoms per cubic centimeter). Hence, if we’re standing at the edge of an interstellar gas cloud and a sound came through, only a few atoms a second would reach our eardrums which is too little for us to hear anything. Even if we’re standing next to an exploding supernova, the density of the exploding gasses would decrease so rapidly that we would hear very little.
  83. Interestingly, on Earth a scream can travel about 1 KM (2/3 of a mile) before being absorbed by the air, while on Mars, where its atmosphere is only 1% as dense as ours, it would be inaudible at a distance of only 15 meters (50 feet). While we’re still on Mars, I find it difficult to digest that the size of Mars is only roughly half of the size of Earth. And thus its gravity is also half as forceful as on Earth, which I imagine should be fun to jump around in.
  84. You know the national flag of Scotland, that white X on top of a dark blue background? Apparently the flag is a homage to Saint Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland. But here’s the messed up part, X was the shape of a cross that hang Saint Andrew til his death. This reminds me of a meme where Jesus is asking “which part of my story that made you people think that I’m fond of crosses?”
  85. The world’s first mobile phone was created in 1902. But it has a tragic story, where the invention never got promoted by the public as people saw it as useless. Invented by a Kentucky farmer named Nathan Stubblefield to eliminate the cost of lengthy wires and with the idea to have a phone outside our home when going camping or travelling, this phone was not very mobile as it needed a lot of extra equipment to operate. The first prototype can only communicate at a distance of 36 meters, then amplified to 100 meters in 1901, before on 1 January 1902 (26 years after Alexander Graham Bell was granted his telephone patent) Stubblefield unveiled his invention to the public. However, people were not impressed with it, as the system was making too much noise. Shortly after, the Wireless Telephone Company went bankrupt, and the world needed to wait for another 82 years before Motorola launched the DynaTAC in 1984.
  86. There’s a group of people in Peru and Ecuador that are living in a tight-knit community and inter-married with each other, who are almost completely free of two fatal diseases: cancer and diabetes. But here’s the catch, they all are no taller than 4 feet (122 cm). Their dwarfism is due to a rare condition known as Laron Syndrome, an autosomal recessive disorder characterized by a lack of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) production in response to growth hormone. Hence, no growth: dwarfism, but also no excessive growth: no cancer. It is also reported that the people in the community are somewhat protected from aging and have extended healthspan, although curiously they don’t have extended lifespan, with people with Laron syndrome are disproportionately likely to die from accidents, epilepsy, and alcohol-related causes. But still, this community may unlock the key in our long battle with cancer.
  87. If the world’s energy resources are depleting and there are abundance green energy from the sun, wouldn’t solar energy be the logical solution? Of course, there are some places that are deprived of sunlight during winter, so why not put huge solar panels in a place where sunlight is guaranteed 365 days of the year, like, I dunno, in Sahara desert? First, let’s see the numbers. To provide enough solar power for the whole world it would take 51.4 billion of 350 W solar panels, which would take up an area the size of 115,625 square miles (around 299,467 square kilometers). As the Sahara desert is 3.6 million square miles in size (we can fit the entire US and still be left with some excess land), our giant solar farm would only take up 3.25% of it. So far so good.
  88. But here come the obstacles. The Sahara has an important function in our planet as the atmosphere heater (which is part of the reason that it is a desert). And as soon as we start collecting the sunlight we will effectively cool the desert down, which means that rain can return to the area and in turn it will create the environment where plants can grow again. The green Sahara may sound great, but as I mentioned earlier it has an important function in our planet, the second of which is fertilizing the Amazon with its dust that are blown over across the Atlantic. Sahara’s heat is also important to mediating Atlantic winds, which produce constant rainfall in the Amazon. Hence, a cooler Sahara may cause Amazon, the Earth’s lungs, to collapse. Weather cycles in the Americas could also be altered, with more frequent cyclones and hurricanes at the size of Hurricane Katrina.
  89. But don’t be discouraged just yet. The fact of the matter is, the Earth has 57.27 million square miles of land, with estimated of only 1% of its land is build up and human-occupied (cities and towns, not farmland). And as mentioned above, we only need the total of 115,625 square miles of area (or around 0.2% of Earth’s land) to power the entire world with solar panel. So maybe we can spread them around the planet instead of putting them all in 1 place. As the Peter Griffin meme says, why are we not funding this?
  90. Well, it’s the massive cost (and the objection from the Big Oil. But let’s just focus on the cost). A 350 W solar panel normally cost between $210-450 to install on our home. But to install them on a remote place such as the desert, we would need to build stands for the panels and transport them to the middle of nowhere (let’s say rough estimate of $450 per panel for the panel and delivery), and provide a new electric infrastructure over sand dunes and rocky grounds ($300 per panel), plus the cost for installation ($250 per panel), which would make the bulk pricing at nice round $1000 per panel. That would cost the total of $514 trillion, or roughly 23 times the size of the US economy (the no 1 in the world). Yikes. But if you solve this cost problem, I bet it would guarantee you a Nobel Prize (or an oil-industry-related “accident”).
  91. There’s a city in Germany that had long becomes a national inside-joke over its existence. The city is called Bielefeld, and it is Germany’s 18th largest city, with a population of more than 340,000 people. The joke was first occur in a posting to the on 16 May 1994 by a computer science student at the University of Kiel, by the name of Achim Held. When Achim Held’s friend met someone from Bielefeld at a student party in 1993, he said “Das gibt’s doch gar nicht” which means “I don’t believe it” but its literal translation can also mean “that does not exist” thus suggesting (ambiguously) that not only the claim wasn’t real, but also that the city isn’t real either. That simple word-pun spread throughout the German-speaking internet community that it becomes a national inside-joke even 20 years later when at the city’s 800th birthday in 2014, Bielefeld mayor Pit Clausen celebrated the long-running gag. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel chip in to the joke, when in November 2012 she mentioned about a town hall meeting she had attended in Bielefeld, adding “…if it exist at all” and “I had the impression that I was there.”
  92. It’s been quite some time now that we all know EQ is more important than IQ, that IQ doesn’t matter that much. But just by how much difference an IQ made? A study found that when IQ test scores are being correlated with how well people do in their careers, the highest estimate for how much difference an IQ makes is about 25%. A deeper analysis, however, suggests the impact may not be higher than 10% and can even be as low as 4%. This means that IQ alone at best leaves 75% of job success unexplained and at worst leaves 80%-96% of success to other factors other than IQ.
  93. By the way, have you ever wondered why high IQ people often have low EQ? There might not be any other person more qualified to answer this than Emotional Intelligence expert Daniel Goleman, who argued that mastery of technical pursuits demands long hours spent by working alone, which often begins in childhood or early teen years, a period of time when people normally learn vital social skills from interacting with friends. Hence, it is not a zero-sum problem like many may have thought, where we can still have both high IQ and EQ, depending on the training.
  94. According to a 2013 study, silence (aka not talking) for a minimum of 2 hours each day would encourage cell (neuron) regeneration in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, emotion, and learning. More neurons means stronger cognitive function, greater neuroplasticity, and an easier learning experience. Isn’t it convenient? Just shut up, and you’ll get neurologically smarter. This explains a lot of the opposite, the behaviour of those loud Karen type.
  95. Can you tell me when the world is going to end? No, it’s not prophecy, but it’s so much worse. It’s science, with its almost accurate predictions. So, from a lot of research and studies over the universe, scientists have concluded that our Sun is going to explode in 5 to 7 billion years’ time. When it does cease to exist, the Sun will first expand in size and exhaus all the hydrogen present at its core, and then it begins to shrink down and eventually become a dying star (a black hole). When that happens, life on our Solar System will end, including ours on Earth.
  96. In the Bahamas, whenever any shark gets caught of an object like a hook, they all go to see Cristina Zenato. Dubbed the “shark whisperer”, she’s a diver and a researcher that spends a lot of time looking at sharks, and one day a long time ago she saw a shark with a hook in its mouth, and she took it out. And ever since then, whenever there’s a shark that get a hook in its mouth they will instinctively go to see Cristina to get it fixed, even the ones that have never met her before. Nobody know how the shark knows, but apparently she has a good reputation among the sharks.
  97. Wanker of the year: This is nice and quick, all the SJW that went too far. A prime example for this is Insulate Britain. What a bunch of dumbasses. Person of the year: In a world where people get more easily offended without watching the whole thing or hearing the complete context, where cancel culture is the norm, where there seems to be no more room for healthy debates anymore, where people can no longer take a joke, and free speech is just reserved for Islamophobics, while at the same time overdramatisation and using the victim card a little too far seem to be the trend, I found the jokes of Dave Chappelle and the logical reasonings of Jordan Peterson as a breath of common sense (before you go Karen on me, watch their videos real closely and show me their direct attacks, if you can find one. If you do find it, then maybe I’ll change my mind). Moreover, in the sea of trashy contents on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube Shorts, etc I also found the sarcasm of Khaby Lame in pointing out the obvious flaws in them is just downright hilarious. And then there’s Rob Kenney, AKA Internet’s dad. Judging from the comments on his simple YouTube channel (about the stuffs that dads teach to their kids) and at other platforms, he seems to have made such a big impact on a lot of people who’ve lost their dad (like I did) or never had that fatherly figure in their lives. Bless his heart. But, I always have a soft spot for crazy adventurers, and this year I learned about the amazing story of Rosie Swale-Pope, who run around the world (yes, not on car like Jim Rogers did, not on a motorbike like Ewan McGreggor – both are amazing at their own right – or at the very least not on a bicycle, but RUNNING) after her husband passed away, stretching 20,000 miles in 5 years, carrying with her only a small cart for her to put all her stuff on. Her story is so amazing and out of this world (summarized in here). She’s a very kind human being as well, with her life’s story outside the 5 years running journey also equally amazing and inspiring. She’s my person of the year.
  98. Book of the year: This year I read 70 books, here’s a separate post dedicated on reflecting on this year’s reading. Ok I’ll wait, let me know when you’re done reading it. Done? So, as you can see R Kelly is the missing piece. Anyway, my favourites this year can be categorized into 2 types, the best story and the most impactful/enlightening. For the first type: Paulo Coelho’s biography, A Little Run Around the World, Money and Power, Running with the Kenyans, Bad Blood. For the 2nd type: Never Split the Difference, Factfulness, Originals, The Wahhabi Code, Essentialism, Quiet, The Inevitable. And the absolute number 1 book I’ve read this year? It’s got to be Paulo Coelho’s biography, it’s such an engaging and inspiring book that tells the story about one of the craziest life stories I’ve ever encountered (And oh by the way, the R Kelly thing I said above, yeah that’s a clickbait, sorry).
  99. You know that saying that our life flashes before our eyes before we died? Well, as it turns out it’s true in certain situation and there’s a scientific reasoning for it. It got to do with survival mechanism in an highly dangerous circumstance, where when confronted by danger our brain often rely on automatic decision making. So in the midst of a danger our brain will rifle through its entire memory system in search of a matching experience (and more importantly, to find a split-second solution for it) that our brain recorded without us aware of it. However, when we are confronted with something we have never experienced before (such as drowning or falling from a tall building), our brain will then very quickly pull out images from our memory. If the brain still hasn’t find anything useful, it will widen the search and thus opens the floodgate of every memories to come out at once in a matter of few seconds in a hail marry attempt to survive the fatality that is about to happen. Hence, the entire life’s worth of memory literally flashes before our eyes.
  100. I began this year’s post with an anus fact, so to make it a full circle (pun not intended) (well ok a little intended) I will end it with another anus fact, which is fairly useless but is apparently pretty viral. Did you know the human anus can stretch up to 7 inches (17 cm) before starting to get damaged, while for some reason a racoon can squeeze into a hole as tight as 4 inches (10 cm). So technically, just technically, you can fit almost 2 racoons up yo ass. Have a great 2022 everyone!

2021 Book Reviews

In the quest of reading up all my pile of books, this year was a great year for curing my tsundoku, one book at a time: I’ve managed to read 70 books. Although there are some surprising misses in terms of the quality of the books, overall 5 stars hits still dominate my year.

I read from Epictetus to Lao Tzu, from Leo Tolstoy to Ernest Hemingway and Kahlil Gibran. I witnessed the rise of Goldman Sachs and the spectacular fall of Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos. I saw the gloomy past in the history of 1918 Influenza and a glimpse of a bright future in technology through The Inevitable. And learned a lot from the wisdom of Charlie Munger, Maria Popova, Peter Drucker, Steven Pressfield, and Goethe, and the no-nonsense approach of Jordan Peterson.

I also read several unbelievable life stories, such as Genghis Khan, Sam Walton, Pete Sampras, Leonardo Da Vinci, Aung San Suu Kyi, Jack Ma, and the craziest of them all, Paulo Coelho. Twice. The first one was his biography and the second one was his summary of what a great character should look like. Talking about crazy, I had the pleasure of reading 2 books by crazy grandmothers (crazy in the best possible sense of the word) that covers the big 2 themes in my current life: writing (Ann Lamott) and running (Rosie Swale-Pope).

Moreover, this year I read a lot of books on religion and its derivatives, from the birth of religious culture, to the misquotations in Christianity and exploitation of Islam by a certain sect, to the berating of religion by an anti-theist, the long history of the Papacy, to the understanding of spirituality by a famous guru, two books on meditation, one book on Yoga, to the ever beautiful texts of Upanishad and Dhammapada.

I also read 4 books on running, 2 books on minimalism, another book on healthy eating, and the last batch on my pile of parenting books. I read a book that explains a lot about the introvert-extrovert spectrum, taught me about how to see the world factfully and positively grounded, how to negotiate like an FBI hostage negotiator, how to see football from statistical perspective, and tick the box for my re-reading portion of the year by reading a childhood favourite that turned out to be a horror realisation of what went wrong during my younger years.

And then there are the regular names, whose books I have accumulated over the years and vow to read one of their books every year. I’m talking about Yuval Noah Hariri, Steven Pinker, Daniel Goleman, Dale Carnegie, Donald Robertson, Simon Sinek, Tony Robbins, and of course my 3 most favourite authors Ryan Holiday, Robert Greene, and Karen Armstrong.

In between the serious readings, I read the amusing, the funny, and the amazing ones, such as Stuff You Should Know, Let’s Play Doctor, the Second Book of General Ignorance, an inspiring book by Kobe Bryant, an amazing one about Pep Guardiola, and one huge book that talks nothing but beer.

Oh I had such a blast, and learned a lot along the way. Jim Kwik always says the best way to learn is by teaching it, while Richard Feynman developed a technique that ensures whatever it is that we’re learning, we’ll understand it better by sharing it.

Here are the complete list of books that I read in 2021, with my Feynman-technique-generated reviews on them:

  1. Enchiridion by Epictetus
  2. The Mamba Mentality by Kobe Bryant
  3. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (translated by James Legge)
  4. Maxims and Reflections by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  5. Insight Meditation by Joseph Goldstein
  6. Endure by Alex Hutchingson
  7. Alibaba by Duncan Clark
  8. A Calendar of Wisdom by Leo Tolstoy
  9. The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
  10. Perennial seller by Ryan Holiday
  11. Freedom from fear by Aung San Suu Kyi
  12. 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald
  13. The opposite of spoiled Ron Lieber
  14. The Philosophy Book by Will Buckingham et al
  15. The Daily Drucker by Peter F. Drucker
  16. Power and Money by William D. Cohan
  17. The Wahhabi Code by Terence Ward
  18. Quiet by Susan Cain
  19. Pep Guardiola by Guillem Balague
  20. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
  21. Factfulness by Hans Rosling
  22. Figuring by Maria Popova
  23. Stuff You Should Know by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant
  24. Made in America by Sam Walton
  25. Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  26. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  27. The Upanishads
  28. The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran
  29. The End of Faith by Sam Harris
  30. The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong
  31. Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Erhman
  32. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  33. The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel
  34. Introducing Chaos: A graphic guide by Ziauddin Sardar, Angela Adams, and Iwona Abrams
  35. Inner Engineering by Sadhguru
  36. Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
  37. Bank 3.0 by Brett King
  38. How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker
  39. Happy Gut by Vincent Pedre
  40. Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger and Peter D. Kaufman
  41. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  42. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson
  43. Develop Self Confidence, Improve Public Speaking by Dale Carnegie
  44. A Champion’s Mind by Pete Sampras
  45. Influenza: The hundred-year hunt to cure the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic by Dr. Jeremy Brown
  46. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris, Jeff Warren, and Carlye Adler
  47. Let’s Play Doctor by Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg
  48. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
  49. Mastery by Robert Greene
  50. In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the edge of chaos by Richard Lloyd Parry
  51. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
  52. The Second Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson
  53. Unshakable by Tony Robbins
  54. Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn
  55. Lagom by Niki Brantmark
  56. Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
  57. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway
  58. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
  59. A Warrior’s Life: A Biography of Paulo Coelho by Fernando Morais
  60. Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  61. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford
  62. Yoga: Your Home Practice Companion by Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre
  63. The Beer Bible by Jeff Alworth
  64. The One Minute Workout by Martin Gibala and Christopher Shulgan
  65. Just a Little Run Around the World by Rosie Swale Pope
  66. The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally
  67. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  68. Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho
  69. Originals by Adam Grant
  70. Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy by John Julius Norwich

Further reading: This is how I manage to read so many books.

How to read a book

Books compress a lifetime’s worth of someone’s most impactful knowledge into a format that demands just few hours of our time. They provide the ultimate ROI – Michael Simmons

The following is a summary of many reading techniques that I’ve read and implemented, including my own personal trial and errors that suited my temperament.

An average book takes 5 to 7 hours to read, at a normal speed. Break it down into 1 hour a day (or about 15% of the book each day), and we’ll read 1 book a week or 52 books at the end of the year.

Now 1 hour a day might sounds like a lot, but you can break it down further to 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night, or 3x of 20 minutes, etc. And if you miss your daily 15%, you can always catch up over the weekend. You can also read more than 15% to compensate the low days when you can only read little or nothing at all.

Just like we need to train our muscle before we can lift heavy weights, reading a book needs a mental muscle, which is also trainable. Stop using it, and you’ll lose it. So discipline and consistency to reach that 15% each day are the key. Remember that famous saying, we don’t have time but we make time.

But before you do any of that, start small first. From 1 book a month (around 15 minutes/3.5% reading per day that culminates with a total of 12 books a year), then 1 book every 2 weeks (30 minutes/7% reading per day, which totaled 26 books per year), then 3 books every month (45 minutes/10% reading per day, that’s 36 books per year), and eventually 4 books every month.

As we speak I started to throw in a 5th book for each month, with the 5th one usually a long book that needs a month to read (hence my magic number 60+ books read over a year).

In addition, to reach 1 book a week you can read 1 book at a time for a week, or 2 books at the same time for 2 weeks, or 3 books for 3 weeks, etc. I personally read different types of books in the mix of 2 or 3, so that I can switch between 2 or 3 different topics to avoid boredom. In this way I keep on reading forward, instead of taking a break altogether from reading.

Reading techniques

Now, after the logistics, let’s talk about the techniques. A toddler starts reading by learning to identify one letter. A slightly bigger child learns how to read a word. An older elementary school student learns how to read a sentence, which a majority of us stays in this level for the rest of our lives. But professionals go further, they learn how to read a paragraph in one go.

The speed in which we read should also varies. Just like driving a car, we should speed up in a dull highway, but drive slower in a place with the nice views. In other words, when reading a paragraph that is just full of gibberish space-filling words, you can go ahead and skim read it or skip it. But whenever there’s an impactful sentence, slow down, take notes, and re-read it if you must. That’s why the best books I’ve ever read are also the books that I read the slowest.

Moreover, there are some books that deserve to be read word by word, from cover to cover. There are some that only useful as a reference book and we read them to specifically find some findings or sentences. While there are others that only amount to be skim-read. And be careful with sunk-cost fallacy, where just because we have invested our time and money into this book, doesn’t mean we must finish the book when it’s no longer serve any purpose for us.

So, learn to read one paragraph at a time, skim read it, slow down when you hit upon good sentences, take a lot of notes, but you don’t need to read it word by word if you don’t need to. After all, do you remember the last paragraph that you read? It’s more about understanding the concept or the story, and not the word count.

Comprehension and retention

Jim Kwik says the best way to learn from a book is by teaching it. Because what’s the point of reading a book if you don’t understand it enough to explain it.

Now, teaching what we know from a book can either be direct, or indirect through mediums such as a book review. I tend to choose the latter, using the notes that I gathered as I read the book and turn them into a summary review. Hence, my ever growing book reviews (100+ reviews in just two years alone).

This is where we get our maximized Return On Investment (ROI) from the books, when we understand it enough to explain it to others, find gaps in our explanation, read the book back to find the answers to our knowledge gaps, and then refine our summary (this step is also known as the Feynman Technique).

And the best part of writing a review is when we forgot what’s the book is about, we can just read our summary review to refresh our memory.

How to buy a book

Physical book is the best form of books, where we can touch it, smell it, and use them to decorate our little home library. But they might not be the most practical form. At first I too was a fundamentalist book reader, but then I downloaded the Kindle app in my phone and bought the same book that I already have the physical form, to compare them.

And it’s not hard to see the many advantages with using Kindle. I can spread my reading further throughout the day, such as while waiting for the lift, queuing at the supermarket cashier, and most importantly, when meeting with my friends and I’m the first to arrive (I’m always the first to come, in many different groups).

Furthermore, note taking becomes so much easier, all I do is to highlight the particular sentence that I want to note down, and it will appear in the notes section of the app. I can then copy them into the note-taking app. Using a kindle device also function the same way, where any reading that I left in Kindle for mobile I can immediately pick up where I left off in the Kindle device.

The kindle price of books also fluctuates like stock prices. So put all your targeted books into a wish list, and monitor that list closely. For me, when the price drops below $4.99 I might start to consider buying. Unless, of course, those books that I just must read now, I’ll buy it at the normal price.

With this strategy, around 2/3rd of the books that I own now is in the Kindle format, where in average I bought them at $2.99 – $4.99.

In conclusion

Reading is a form of habit. It requires a mental muscle and discipline, one that can be developed gradually like physical muscles. Once you stop using it, you’ll eventually lose it. But if you stick with the habit, an abundant range of knowledge come pouring in. All the dots suddenly become connected, all the orders appear between the chaos, and the world just makes a little bit more sense.

A meticulous history of Vatican’s politics

“Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy” by John Julius Norwich

Once upon a time, being a pope was the most politically powerful position in Europe. Back then, Vatican was a turbulent place with power struggles, territorial disputes, greed, coups, and betrayals. And scattered throughout the papacy’s history exist a role called antipope that functioned like an opposition leader, but with some antipopes eventually became more powerful than their respective reigning popes.

Back in those days the popes did not practice celibacy like today, some have mistresses, others were suspected to be gay, while one had a son whom later also became a pope. Indeed, controversies are in abundance in Vatican’s history, from one pope that was strongly suspected to be a woman, to the monetisation of sins (which ignited the protestant movement by Martin Luther), their complicated relationship with science (and its scientists such as Galileo), to the many volatile problems caused by the Knights Templar.

Moreover, although the Vatican and their 227 popes and 39 antipopes represent the leadership structure of the Catholic religion, their long history is more of a political history rather than a religious one, as they operate like any other monarchies across Europe. And more often than not, they played the central role in the continent’s geopolitics, such as approving the appointment of kings, getting kidnapped by Napoleon, exercising careful diplomacy with Hitler, and granting Spain the permission to colonise the Americas and Portugal to colonise Africa.

A line in the first paragraph of the first chapter in the book captures the essence of it all: “After nearly two thousand years of existence, the Papacy is the oldest continuing absolute monarchy in the world. To countless millions, the pope is the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the infallible interpreter of divine revelation. To millions more, he is the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies of Antichrist. What cannot be denied is that the Roman Catholic Church, of which he is the head, is as old as Christianity itself; all other Christian religions—and there are more than 22,000 of them—are offshoots or deviants from it.”

Love the institution or hate them as you may, but one thing is certain: the story of this long-reigning monarchy is so complex and interesting. Their survivorship puts the other monarchies into shame, they still keeps their darkest secrets unspilled even today (which in turn inspired so many conspiracy theories), and their wealth and power over one of the largest religions in the world are subject to awe and envy. And this 626 pages book covers their history so meticulously.

What it takes to be originals

“Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant

This is a well-researched book, written by a highly intelligent person. It challenges the common misconceptions of what it takes to be successful person in many different fields – from business, to social movement, politics, filmmaking, sports, even parenting – or as Adam Grant refers to as the originals.

So, what are the common misconceptions of originals?

Firstly, originals do not take a giant leap of faith or a high-risk-high-return strategy, where they risk everything they own into one basket. Phil Knight still works as an accountant when he first started to sell shoes out of the trunk of his car. Steve Wozniak still kept his job 1 year after he co-founded Apple. Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t drop out right away from their PhD program when they founded Google. Pierre Omidyar built eBay as a hobby, and he only left his job after his online marketplace was generating more money than his job. While Henry Ford still kept his job as a chief engineer for Thomas Edison, when he started his automotive empire.

Even Bill Gates, who is famous for dropping out of Harvard to start Microsoft, waited an entire year after selling his new software program as a sophomore before leaving school. Even then he didn’t “drop out” but instead applied for a leave of absence (which was formally approved by Harvard) and supported financially by his parents.

As Grant remarks, “Originals do vary in their attitudes toward risk. Some are skydiving gamblers; others are penny-pinching germophobes. To become original, you have to try something new, which means accepting some measure of risk. But the most successful originals are not the daredevils who leap before they look. They are the ones who reluctantly tiptoe to the edge of a cliff, calculate the rate of descent, triple-check their parachutes, and set up a safety net at the bottom just in case.” In fact, “[e]ntrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33 percent lower odds of failure than those who quit.”

Secondly, originals are not always that alpha character with convictions, and not the flawless beings with no negative emotions. Instead, they are humans with hopes, fear, doubts and fallibility just like the rest of us, but they make do with what they have. Michelangelo was initially scared when commissioned by the Pope to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. were not interested on being a public face, let alone a leader of a movement, but their respective circumstance inspired them to rise up to the occasion. And it took Copernicus 26 years to publish his findings that the Sun does not revolve around Earth, in fear of being ridiculed.

Thirdly, child prodigies, as it turns out, rarely go on to change the world. In fact many of history’s most prominent and influential people were not unusually gifted as children. This is because child prodigies excelled in their chosen field as the best in an already codified rules of established games, instead of coming up with something original or something new. In order words, they are masters of playing Mozart and Beethoven but they can not compose their own original music.

Fourthly, the first mover advantage is a myth, and that originals are “strategic procrastinators.” They are quick to start but slow to finish, or in other words they are more willing to let their ideas zimmer in procrastination until they got it perfectly rather than rushing in to be the first mover but with half-baked implementation (in fact, the first movers have 47% chance of failure, while improvers only have 8% chance of failure). Leonardo da Vinci is a prime example for strategic procrastinator, where, for example, it took him 16 years to finally finish the Mona Lisa painting. Or in business world, Facebook created a much long lasting social network after MySpace and Friendster, while Google waited for years after AltaVista and Yahoo have created their search engines but now they’re the undisputed number 1.

Indeed, originals procrastinate, they are scared, they are risk averse, most of them are ordinary people, and the book clearly shows how they become successful because – and not despite – of these traits.

The book also provides a lot of thought-provoking data findings that offer more dimensions into originals, which are just fun to explore. Such as why Firefox and Chrome users are likely to become more successful than Explorer and Safari users, the warning against premature scaling, how to use defensive pessimism, the case for being a tempered radical (where we disguise our radical goal into a trojan horse of temperance), the psychology of a first middle or last child, a cheeky point made using the Sarick Effect, why it’s often wiser to partner with enemies than frenemies, and in chapter 2 the book compares between a much-hyped start up that turned out to be bonkers (Segways) with a much-criticised TV concept that would become a global hit (Seinfeld) and why people judged these two completely wrong.

Perhaps the best feature of the book for me is that Grant is using a huge goldmine of data and conceptual theories in almost every other paragraph, and he illustrates them all using spot-on real-life examples to make his points across.

Theories such as the difference between conceptual innovator vs. experimental innovator: “Conceptual innovators formulate a big idea and set out to execute it. Experimental innovators solve problems through trial and error, learning and evolving as they go along”, and which historical figures fall into those 2 categories, and how they made the most out of it.

Or one the most enlightening theories for me, especially in this age of extreme polarisations, the concept of horizontal hostility: why the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike can form the basis of the most hostility. Such as vegans towards vegetarians, a deaf woman who won the Miss American crown but was protested by deaf activists because she isn’t “deaf enough”, a radical eco group dismissed a more mainstream Greenpeace movement, or how extreme liberals are more harsh towards moderate liberals than conservatives. The message is clear, according to Grant, “if you were a true believer you’d be all in. The more strongly you identify with an extreme group, the harder you seek to differentiate yourself from more moderate groups that threaten your values.”

Adam Grant is an electrifying human being. Just listen to his many talks or interviews and you can hear his brightness, passion and confidence channeled through his words. This book is the culmination of all of that, the embodiment of his life’s work that teaches us to see things beyond the common perceptions, and understand that the incremental steps toward becoming an original is not reserved only for the gifted. It is an exhilarating read right from the start, one of the most enlightening books I’ve ever read.

This is as close as it gets to a philosophy on writing

“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

This is a brutally honest account of someone who lives and breathes writing. It is part autobiography and part lessons on how to become a writer, by an established writer who actually teaches a writing class. “One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer”, Anne Lamott says. “You start seeing everything as material.”

And how to process that material is the absolute gem of this book, gem that has helped numerous writers along the years, gem that has made this book a go-to reference for writing even 25th anniversary edition later.

The first advice from her to the students is to write on, write everything from scratch, let it all out without worrying about structure, grammar, or even plot (that’s for phase 2, the editing part). The first draft of everything is shitty, as they say, and according to Lamott that’s part of the important process where ideas sporadically appear in our mind, and we write them all down in a messy first draft. This is why she puts notebooks in every room in her house, she even brings with her a notepad and a pen when walking the dog, so that any thoughts and ideas that spring up in her mind can be quickly jotted down and will not disappear.

Lamott then elaborates that we should not worry about perfection, because being a perfectionist prevents us for writing the first shitty draft in the first place, it puts so much pressure on us to produce them perfectly right from the start, which is impossible.

Which brings us to the next lesson. “Writing a first draft is very much like watching a Polaroid develop”, Lamott says. “You can’t – and, in fact, you’re not supposed to – know exactly what the picture is going to look like until it has finished developing. First you just point at what has your attention and take the picture.” Indeed, we could not have had any clue of what the story would look like when we first started, we just knew that there was something about this particular material that compelled us, and we stayed with it and focus on it long enough for it to show us what it was about.

And when the story has started to flow, nothing holds a story together better than a likeable narrator. As Lamott remarks, “If your narrator is someone whose take on things fascinates you, it isn’t really going to matter if nothing much happens for a long time. I could watch John Cleese or Anthony Hopkins do dishes for about an hour without needing much else to happen. Having a likable narrator is like having a great friend whose company you love, whose mind you love to pick, whose running commentary totally holds your attention, who makes you laugh out loud, whose lines you always want to steal.”

Lamott then spends the majority of the book providing beautifully written stories from her own life and her students’ life to illustrate what happens with the writing process in the real world. How mistakes were made and corrected, how forming a writing partnership can works wonder, and how the odds of our materials getting published is not really favourable, but why it does not really that matter.

Because one thing that I noticed about her writing class is that all the habits, tools, mentality, and attitude on writing are also good tools for approaching life in general. And in this sense, writing is almost therapeutical or can serve as a good habit for life, regardless of the result of the craft.

Perhaps the best analogy of her approach on writing and how to live our lives comes in the story of the origin of the title of this book: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.””