Dan_Brown_Origin_Review

Book Review: Origin – Another Dan Brown Disaster

Read Time: 4 Minutes

Overall: 4/10

Note: Mild spoiler alert, nothing that would take away from the actual storyline. 

Look, I tried very hard to come up with an opening paragraph to this post that would be kind or neutral at the very least. The best I could come up with was this:

“Dan Brown, the infamous author of the Da Vinci Code, is back at it again with Origin.”

Here’s the thing with Dan Brown. The man can certainly spin a yarn. He takes brilliant concepts and ideas, attempts to use them in thrilling plots, and proceeds to absolutely butcher them with writing skills that leave much to be desired.

I’m happy to announce that he’s back in full force with Origin, with astonishingly clumsy prose, not to mention the cringeworthy conversations that take place between the most mind-numbingly clichéd, robotic characters ever created.

The idea behind the Origin was conceptually fascinating—intriguing even—but that’s as far as it goes.

For one thing, quoting Princess Elsa from Disney’s Frozen was just one example of his bizarre attempts at infusing pop culture into the storyline. That mortifying experience was just the start to a brilliantly comical read, along with his blatant product placements. To add to this, the majority of the conversations in the book were jarring and out of place, and the encyclopaedic descriptions of various locations detracted from the storyline more than anything else.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the story itself was written in a grave tone, but Brown’s earnest efforts to be taken seriously with his incomprehensible metaphors, awkward and unrealistic conversations, and tendency to use superfluous descriptions were absolutely hilarious, I thought to myself as I typed furiously, much like a wild bear chopping wood, on the small, but well-spaced and responsive keyboard of my 13-inch laptop built with a solid metal chassis, perfect for dispersing heat. 

The storyline itself was disappointing to say the least. Brace yourself, because this might come as a shocker: Brown has recycled his stale, formulaic plot in exactly the same way as in his previous books.

You can see it coming from a mile away: The scavenger hunt across an ancient, historically rich city, to solve a puzzle that would be virtually impossible for most people, save for our unsung hero, Robert Langdon, who just happens to be perfectly qualified for the job. Langdon is a professor of religious iconology and symbology from Harvard University. But wait, he can’t do this on his own, he needs his dazzlingly gorgeous sidekick, Ambra Vidal, A.K.A “Ridiculously Hot Babe Number 5”.

Oddly enough, Brown took a dramatic deviation from his regular plot by failing to mention Langdon’s Mickey Mouse watch every few chapters. I almost grew anxious as I initially thought he had forgotten about it entirely, but I was not to be disappointed. I could breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the watch was alive and ticking.

Origin is certainly a page-turner, and yet the storyline fell flat, as it seemed a tad too unrealistic and didn’t get me as invested into the plot, compared to the previous books. The villain was a frightfully incompetent buffoon and was practically irrelevant, while the ending was mostly predictable, although the double twist was mildly refreshing.

It’s almost as if Dan Brown has a little cookie-cutter-like template for his books, and all he needs to do is to fill in the blanks and voila, the next best-seller is coming soon to a bookstore near you. That being said, I still find myself reading every book that comes out. I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps it’s the hilarity of Brown’s stylistic disasters that keeps me coming back for more.

To quote Professor Geoffrey Pullum (trust me, read his reviews, you won’t regret it) on an earlier Dan Brown novel:

“Angels and Demons is by no means a disappointment for those seeking a feast of ill-chosen word combinations, unintendedly bizarre similes, unnoticed self-contradictions, and occasional good old-fashioned sentence-mangling.”

It’s nice to know that if nothing else, Dan Brown has consistency going for him.

Here’s a quick breakdown of my ratings for Origin:

Cringe factor: 10/10

Overall, I’d say Dan Brown’s writing ruined what could have been a stellar masterpiece.  If you’re wondering if you should bother reading it, I’d say do it anyway, despite everything I’ve said, purely for the comic relief.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that my writing is nowhere near world class, but then again, I’m not a critically acclaimed novelist with millions of dollars in book sales. This begs the question—those “critics”, the ones who write the little blurbs that go on the dust covers of every Dan Brown novel, do they even bother reading the book?

 

 

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Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/websummit/22621354160/
Licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

Specialists vs Generalists, The Polymath Ideal

A Jack of All Trades or a Master of One: Specialists vs Generalists

The common saying, “jack of all trades, master of none”, seems to imply that specialisation is superior compared to dabbling in numerous fields. It’s incomplete however, and the actual quote conveys a different meaning:

“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”.

A capitalist society reveres the specialist; the more specialised you are, the more valued and respected you become, eventually leading to better remuneration. That being said, specialisation certainly has its place – there are countless specialists who have made significant contributions due to their in-depth knowledge in that specific area. In the medical field, for example, specialists are virtually a necessity as the field is simply too broad for individual mastery.

Benefits of being a specialist:

  • They are able to charge higher rates
  • They have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter
  • They can allocate all of their attention and focus on one field
  • They are regarded as experts in the field, and can act as consultants

The Case for the Generalist

Polymathy is severely underrated, especially in a capitalist economy that  idolises specialisation. I am certainly not against capitalism (we will get into this discussion in an upcoming post), but I do think that this is one of the drawbacks of the system.

If you are competent in a number or fields, you are essentially equipping yourself with a variety of resources and tools. Knowledge can be transferrable, and even applicable across disciplines – an advantage polymaths are able to capitalise on.

Benefits of being a polymath:

  • Talent in various fields
  • Able to apply knowledge gained in one field to another field
  • Ability to make connections easily
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Well rounded
  • Development in multiple areas
  • Able to apply skills in a variety of situations
  • Understand systems thinking or how concepts are interrelated
  • Yeah, this list is a lot longer than the benefits of being a specialist, I’m biased

Polymaths are able to draw upon their knowledge from multiple sources, enabling them to see and make connections that a specialist would not be able to. Innovation is often a result of combining ideas, and extending your areas of knowledge often assists in the process.

Robert Twigger (a British poet, writer and explorer), in his essay “Master of Many Trades“, summarises:

The real master has no tools at all, only a limitless capacity to improvise with what is to hand. The more fields of knowledge you cover, the greater your resources for improvisation.

Famous Polymaths of the Past and Present

Widely considered the epitome of polymathy, Leonardo da Vinci clearly illustrates the point I made above. He was an influential artist, inventor, engineer, botanist, writer, and sculptor, among other things, and it can be argued that he was able to do this because he was able to apply his knowledge from one area into the next.

Other examples from the time include Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo, while modern day polymaths include Tim Ferriss and Elon Musk.

For some interesting further reading, head over to “What Happened to the Polymaths? Some Modern Examples of Homo Universalis and How to Emulate Great Thinkers“. The article poses some interesting theories as to why there appear to be fewer modern polymaths.

“Use It or Lose It”

I’d also like to highlight another point that Twigger makes, about the common misconception that it is essential for one to be naturally gifted in order to succeed in this endeavour:

The fact that I succeeded where others were failing also gave me an important key to the secret of learning. There was nothing special about me, but I worked at it and I got it. One reason many people shy away from polymathic activity is that they think they can’t learn new skills. I believe we all can — and at any age too — but only if we keep learning. ‘Use it or lose it’ is the watchword of brain plasticity.

The Overachieving Brain Surgeon

Consider this: Can a specialist also be a generalist?

Let’s look at a hypothetical brain surgeon for a second. This surgeon is an example of a specialist, but let’s assume that he or she is also a guitar virtuoso, has a decent grasp on poker and chess and happens to be an excellent swimmer. Would the surgeon be still be considered a specialist or would they now be a generalist?

Firstly, do the terms “specialist” and “generalist” only apply to attributes that are relevant to the job market? I have not found a definitive answer to this question anywhere else so far, but I’m going to say that they are not.

From my perspective, the debate about whether it is better to be a specialist or a generalist is quite irrelevant because they are not mutually exclusive. Why choose a side when you can have the best of both worlds?

What do you think? Would you rather choose a side, and if so why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Intro to investing

Intro to Investing – Get Your Money to Work For You

Imagine for a moment that you’re at a ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

You’re standing at the peak of the mountain, looking down into the beautiful valley below. For no clear reason whatsoever, you decide to make a snowball and chuck it at your friend’s face. Just kidding. You actually roll it down the steep slope of the mountain and begin your observation.

As it starts rolling down, the snowball begins to gradually pick up speed. It’s an innocent little snowball at first, and then all of a sudden, it starts accumulating more and more snow and grows larger at a increasing rate. It becomes huge and uncontrollable, and when you realise the amount of damage the snowball could cause, you decide to leg it before anyone notices you.

Notice how the snowball started off really small but grew rapidly without you having to do anything at all. The steeper the slope of the mountain, the faster the snowball would grow right?

Now imagine if you could do this with money.

The Power of Compound Interest

This is essentially the main idea behind investment. The snowball is your money, and the mountain is the investment vehicle that you choose. The steeper the mountain, the faster the snowball will grow. The “mountain” could be stocks, bonds, and a hundred other examples, but for now let’s just focus on the idea of the snowball effect.

The snowball effect would be compound interest, and that’s the topic of today’s post.

Basically, that little anecdote about the snowball was my way of understanding compound interest. It’s an extremely simple, yet powerful concept, which, once understood, can be applied to your wealth to allow it to grow pretty much automatically.

Let’s begin with simple interest, which is the most basic form of interest. If you have $100 in the bank with a simple interest rate of 10% (Note: Banks usually use compound interest, not simple interest), at the end of every year, you would receive a flat $10 dollars.

The table below demonstrates the example.

Beginning Investment  $                100.00
Interest Rate Per Year (In Percentage)                             10
Results/ Future Value:
Year 1  $             110.00
Year 2  $             120.00
Year 3  $             130.00
Year 4  $             140.00
Year 5  $             150.00
Year 6  $             160.00
Year 7  $             170.00
Year 8  $             180.00
Year 9  $             190.00
Year 10  $             200.00

Compare this with compound interest, which would give you 10% on the cumulative balance of that year. So if you had $100 to start with, in year 1, you’d receive $10. In year 2, you would receive 10% of the cumulative balance, which is now $110. So this, year, you’d get $11, bringing your cumulative total to $121.

Here’s another table to the rescue. Over 10 years, this is how your initial $100 would grow, completely untouched.

Beginning Investment $100.00
Interest Rate Per Year
(In Percentage)
           10
Results/ Future Value:
Year 1 $110.00
Year 2 $121.00
Year 3 $133.10
Year 4 $146.41
Year 5 $161.05
Year 6 $177.16
Year 7 $194.87
Year 8 $214.36
Year 9 $235.79
Year 10 $259.37

At the end of 10 years, you end up with $259 dollars. That’s 29.5% more than than what you would have received from just simple interest. Over time, compound interest is extraordinarily powerful. At the end of 50 years,that same $100 turns into an astounding $11 739.09, whereas with simple interest, it would be a measly $600.

I’ve created an Excel sheet of a compound interest calculator which you can download and adjust all the values to see the effect of compounding. Alternatively, you can simply Google “compound interest calculator”, but this one shows you exactly how much the initial amount grows each year like in the example above.

Download: Compound Interest Calculator

Now that you understand the concept of compound interest and why it is so powerful, I’ll introduce you to the easiest way to get started with investing, even if you have no knowledge at all. That will be coming up in the next post, in which I will be explaining exchange traded funds or ETFs and how you can use them to start your investment journey.

Financial Freedom: Start Investing As Early As You Can

Financial Freedom: Start Investing as Early as You Can

Getting your money to work for you is essentially what investment is all about, and it’s a crucial skill to learn, especially while you’re young.

Investment doesn’t have to be complicated or even difficult. In fact, it’s possible to automate your investments so that all you’ll need to do is some minimal management. I’ll go through all of this step-by-step in the upcoming posts, but for now I’ll explain exactly why investment is so important.

Start With the End in Sight

I tend to look at the end result or the endgame before I engage in any venture, and it’s the same approach I used for investment. I usually start by looking at my goals, and then finding a way to get there. I want to have flexibility in my future and I think that investments, when done right, can provide that. This could be true for you as well, which is one of the reasons why I believe that it’s highly beneficial to learn this skill.

Let’s take a look at my long-term goals:

  • Ensure a comfortable retirement
  • Financial freedom
  • Be location independent
  • Create a passive income stream which I could possibly live off if I ever needed to

Everything on that list is about having flexibility. I would say that it’s a priority for my life, but of course, this could vary from person to person. However, if your goals are similar to mine, you’ll definitely find investment to be an invaluable tool for your future.

Retiring as a Millionaire

One of the biggest fears for many in the working class is not having enough money to retire. This is where investment comes in. The important thing to note here is that you can have almost any job and still end up retiring in comfort. In fact, I’ll write a post explaining how you could become a millionaire (at least) with very little effort.

This might sound like a plug for some kind of get-rich-quick scam, but I’ll say right now that it couldn’t be further from the truth. It will take a long time to achieve this, decades even, but it’s entirely possible to retire as a millionaire regardless of the type of job you have. However, that’s beyond the scope of this post and I’ll come back to it soon.

Of course, having a higher paying job will get you there quicker, but the point is that by learning to invest your money, you could potentially have a career doing something you love even if it doesn’t necessarily pay very well, and still end up with a sizeable nest egg.

Flexibility and Financial Freedom

Financial freedom is a priority for me because I want to be able to make decisions out of preference, and not out of need. There’s a significant distinction between the two. For example, I want to be able to travel around the world for months at a time without having to worry about where my next paycheck will come from. I also would like to be able to make career choices based on what I like doing, rather than having to buckle down and stay in one place just because I’m dependent on the salary I’m being paid.

Start Investing Early

start-investing-early

To achieve that level of freedom and flexibility, it’s very important to start as early as possible, and that’s why this post is targeted at younger people (although anyone can benefit from it) simply because the potent combination of time and compounding you more potential to amass your wealth. I simply cannot stress how important it is to start investing as early as you possibly can.

I’m going to create a mini-series of posts about investment, which will cover topics such as:

  • Compound interest
  • ETFs
  • Warren Buffett’s approach to investing
  • How to pick stocks
  • Valuing a company
  • Investment resources
  • Setting up an investment account
  • Growth vs. value
  • Strategy and when to sell

Many young people who start getting their first paychecks spend most, if not all of it, very quickly. They hardly give a moment’s thought to investing that money, but if they did, they would be much better off and possibly enjoy a secure future. Once I learned about investing, I began to look at my expenditure in a new light.

This didn’t mean that I started obsessively saving money. Instead, I began to think in terms of opportunity cost and started spending on things I valued, while cutting down on things I valued a lot less. I go into much more detail about this in “A Simple Hack to Transform the Way You Spend“.

I’ll leave it at that for now, but follow along with the series and hopefully you’ll be able to confidently make your first investment and begin taking your first steps towards financial freedom.

How to Learn Any Skill in 20 Hours

Learn Any Skill With The 20 Hour Rule

Does It Really Take 10 000 Hours?

In his book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the 10 000 hour theory, which basically says that in order to master any skill, it takes 10 000 hours of deliberate practice. His research took the world by storm, and led to many studies, some of which claim to have disproved the theory. However, while I think there may be some truth to the 10 000 hour theory, this post is about becoming good at any skill, not necessarily becoming a master of the skill.

I’m going to use learning the guitar as an example. When I suggest that someone try their hand at learning to play the instrument, people often say “I can’t do this. It’s going to take too much time to learn”.

I can tell you without a doubt, this is not true.

I’ve had numerous people ask me how long I’ve been playing the guitar, wondering if they can pick it up too. Whenever I say that I started at the age of eight, there’s usually a look of demoralisation. The usual response is:

“Okay, I’m never going to be able to do this”.

Deconstructing a Skill to Learn it Faster

It certainly did not take me 13 years to become “good”. In fact, I know numerous guitarists who started just a couple of years ago and are already light years ahead of me in terms of skill.

I have taught people with no prior knowledge how to play a song in under a week! Most people think they’re going to be stuck at the beginner “I can barely hold the strings” stage for a few weeks before they can start playing songs. Not true!

When I was being taught to play, it took me a couple of weeks before I was able to play a simple two-chord song. The reason my progress was so slow was because of the method in which I was taught. It was a very ineffective. Once I quit those lessons and taught myself to play, my progress was exponential because I changed the way I was learning the material. I started using the 80/20 rule which you can read about here.

Once I got to a level where I felt that I had enough knowledge to share, I deconstructed the way in which I had learned, removed all the useless bits, rearranged it, and began to teach it to people in the most effective way possible. In fact, if you deconstruct a skill before you learn it, you can pick it up much faster. I’ll get into this in a future post.

Introducing the 20 Hour Rule

For any skill, all you need is 20 hours.

20 hours! That’s nothing! Especially when compared to the 10 000 hour theory. In order to actually be able to start applying the skill, all it takes is 20 hours. Once you get past that threshold, you will experience that the skill starts to become drastically easier as time passes. This could be applied to anything! It could be a language, drawing, dance, public speaking, acting, chess, any kind of sport, and indeed, the guitar.

In fact, this raised an interesting thought to me. Many people have told me that they’re not good at drawing. So many people are quick to say, “I have no talent”. I wonder how many hours they actually put in. If they had just put in 20 hours of deliberate practice, they might have had a very different response.

I recently watched this TED talk (you can watch it below) and it basically puts everything that I had discovered before into words with an excellent structure. Josh Kaufman breaks it down extremely well and it is very helpful to gain an understanding of what to do. It’s an excellent talk and I definitely encourage you to watch it. He also mentions starting with the 10 000 hour theory and how he discovered his 20 hour method.

The ramifications of this discovery are incredible! You can pretty much learn anything you want, in a very short space of time. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Before you say “I’m not good at that”, ask yourself: Have I put at least 20 hours into it?

TL;DR

  • It takes only 20 hours to pick up a skill and be able to apply it at a functional level
  • 10 000 hours enables to you master a skill, not simply become good at it
  • If you deconstruct a skill into its various parts, rearrange it and focus on the most important things, you can pick up the skill much faster
  • Watch the TED talk, “The first 20 hours — how to learn anything | Josh Kaufman | TEDxCSU“. It’s an excellent talk, and highly recommended.

 

How to Study Less and Get Better Grades

How to Study Half as Much and Get Twice the Results

I have a very short attention span when it comes to studying. If it was anything else, like playing the guitar, learning a language, talking about interesting ideas etc., I could spend hours without getting bored. I sense you might agree here, so now that we’ve established that we all get bored with studying (and if you don’t, I’d like to do research on you, so leave me an email), this post details how I hacked my study sessions to ensure I study a lot less and at least achieve a distinction average.

Honestly, I could write a few posts on this because there are a number of tricks you can use to ensure that you study a lot less. However, much like the extremely powerful 80/20 principle I wrote about in this blog post “The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks“, I am going to give you my best tip. This is the 20% of my tool kit which provide me with 80% of my results.

Space Out Your Study Sessions

Okay, let’s get to it.

The secret is to break up your study into 25 minute intervals, with 5 minute breaks in between. So in an hour, you’d have 50 minutes of study time, and 10 minutes of break. It’s far more effective than the 3-hour long sessions that many people attempt. You can adjust that of course, I find that 20 minutes works best for me and I sometimes require 10 minute breaks for particularly heavy tasks.

The reasoning behind this is twofold:

1. I’m easily distracted when I study.

First I’m hungry, then I have to check Facebook because someone sent me a message, and… well you get the picture. The thing is, it’s hard to shut out distractions. Instead, you can work around it by giving yourself 5 minutes to do anything you want after a 25 minute session.

25 minutes isn’t that bad at all! In fact, you’ll find you’re flying through it faster than you think. This makes your hyper-focused on the task at hand. Knowing that you have a 5-minute break coming up every so often allows you to maintain an incredibly high level of focus for that 25 minutes.

2. Average concentration tends to take a heavy dip as the duration of study increases.

With this technique, you get to break up your study session so that you have a higher average level of concentration (I’ll explain this below).

The human brain has an attention span of roughly 20 minutes for most things, after which it sort of goes into a gentle slumber (flashback of history lessons in high school anyone?).

What do you remember the most of a study session? The beginning, the middle, or the end?

For most people, they remember the beginning, and the last thing they studied. The middle becomes a sort of fuzzy, mushy stew of information which is frustratingly hard to remember.

This is what happens when you study for long periods of time without regular breaks. You tend to remember the beginning and the end but not much of the middle. Concentration always takes a dip in the middle.

If you take a look at the graphs below (please excuse the poor illustrations, Microsoft Paint was all I had available), you’ll see what I mean. The first graph shows you how the average study session goes, with concentration taking a nose-dive soon after the first few minutes, usually ending up in pleasant daydreams and Facebook messages.

attention-curveCompare the graph above with the one below. You get a much higher level of average attention, because you have more frequent breaks, you’re have more beginnings and ends (thus you have improved recall) and you get to allow yourself some distraction every 25 minutes!average-attention

This is essentially the biggest secret that I have to improving your study sessions. You actually end up having to study a lot less because you understand things and remember them a lot better because each time you have a break, you come back refreshed and ready to tackle all that annoying material.

The Pomodoro Recipe

Here’s a quick outline of how you can structure your study session:

  • Start with the toughest material first, as you will get more tired with each session.
  • 4 sets of 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks, and then you get to have a 15-minute break before starting the next set of 4.
  • I sometimes do quick workouts during the breaks to get the blood flowing. This increases your energy levels as long as you don’t exert yourself too much.
  • I also break up study sessions into morning and evening sessions, at the times when I’m most alert. This way, it feels like I’ve had a massive break in between to recharge, but this depends on your preference.

Of course, the exact amount of time for the study period and break is up to you. I sometimes take 10 minute breaks if I’m working on something particularly tiring. However, sticking to the 25 and 5 rule is what I’ve found to be the most effective.

The Pomodoro timer

There are a few ways you can do this. You could just use a clock, but I prefer using a free app called Productivity Challenge Timer . You can of course use any Pomodoro app which are freely available, but I find this one highly engaging because of it’s funny descriptions and motivational goals that you have to unlock.

As usual, don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out yourself and let me know how it works for you! Better yet, if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear about it! Like I said, if there’s a way to do something quicker with less work, I’m in!

TL;DR

  • The Pomodoro technique is where you study in short bursts of 25 minutes and rest for 5 minutes.
  • This improves recall and increases the number of beginnings and ends in a study session, which is when people tend to remember the most things.
  • It makes it a lot easier to focus because you allow yourself 5 minutes to distract yourself and knowing that you have a break coming up every so often is very motivating.
  • Download a Pomodoro app and try it out for yourself! The Productivity Challenge Timer  is my personal favourite.
  • If you have any other suggestions or tools to improve your study sessions, let me know!