Books I read in 2020

I realised that I have left this blog empty for the entire year of 2020. There’s no one to blame but myself for choosing to prioritise other activities over populating this blog. I console myself by giving me a pat on the back as I prioritised fruitful activities in 2020.

In the year 2020 I chose to re-skill myself in the cyber-security domain. I thought cyber-security is a growing industry, and it’s importance was further made evident during the months where Covid-19 disrupted how everyone lives and works. Covid-19, as the key impetus for digital transformation in many industries, showed how useful tech is. With more use cases, there are also more potential for abuse and hence the need for cybersecurity.

I read a total of 9 books (as far as I can trace back), of which four (or five?) are cyber-security related books. The one that straddles between cyber and non-cyber is on “Mastering Go”, for me to pick up the syntax of programming in Go Lang. A very interesting read, although I have yet to do any programming in Go. On the other hand, despite no books clocked for Python, I began programming in Python to automate tasks for productivity. I had read websites for Python instead.

I also learnt to stop books when I didn’t feel like continuing, instead of pushing through half-heartedly. Two books fall into this category: (1) The Power of Agency and (2) Why are we yelling – the art of productive disagreement. This doesn’t mean the books are not a good read or are useless. I find that some authoring styles do not fit well for me to learn and understand, and let’s face it, some books have content we probably have been exposed to through other books we read previously. Hence there isn’t much reason for us to continue books if we don’t find any additional value.

One of the books I read which was rather interesting was on “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. I recall how it introduced a concept that seems to suggest that the pursuit of positivity is an inherently negative journey, while the acceptance that life has negativity is positively liberating. I also find myself questioning whether I should be bothered about some events in my life, and it serves as a periodic reminder to re-think. re-evaluate and drop f*cks given. Life is too hectic to give a f*ck about everything; there are people who deserve that time and attention instead. Family for example. I recommended the book to a friend who reads widely, and I would recommend this to anyone who wants to find a book to read. It is an easy read, and won’t take too much of your time.

The final book I read in 2020, and concluded on 2 Jan 2021, was “Bitcoin Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. Originally I had expected the book to go deeper into Bitcoin, but the book reads like an account of what has occurred that lead two individuals to put millions into Bitcoin and that led to them becoming Billionaires. I fast-tracked through many parts of the book as I wasn’t interested in the details of what happened in their lives, but it was an easy enough read for me to find the main points. I grew interested in Bitcoin because a fellow colleague who knew more spoke to me about it. In the past, I thought Bitcoin was a fad and probably a bubble. I knew I didn’t know enough, so I did not go into it. The mistake I made was not learning even after knowing I did not know enough. Hence I am catching up on my knowledge in crypto-currency.

Moving forward, there are a few books which I thought I wanted to read in 2021. I thought I could perhaps list them here, and see how many I eventually clocked in 2021.

  1. Cryptoassets: The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond by Chris Burniske
  2. Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies by Andreas M. Antonopoulos
  3. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  4. When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  5. The Code of an Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani
  6. Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christians
  7. Mastery by George Leonard
  8. Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink
  9. Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

(1) and (2) were recommended by a colleague, and I see it as an extension of my Bitcoin education.

(3) to (9) were recommended in various Medium articles. Over the years my reading list has changed. Initially I started on numerous productivity books, then management books. Couple of years ago I read some Data Analytics, but still focusing on books that teach me soft skills for work (management AND productivity). In 2020, I focused on books that give me knowledge for hard skills. In 2021, I thought I would read widely and expose myself to different topics instead. That is why I thought of adding (3) and (9) to the list.

The list is not all on my reading list though. However I thought that I shouldn’t be too ambitious, and try for a more achievable nine instead.

This isn’t a New Year’s resolution. Those never ever worked for me. I think I should keep reading simple, and it is more fun that way. Fun also means I will be more likely to achieve it.

Books I read in 2019

This post acts as a refresher for myself to account for the time I spent reading books this year. In the past, I had attempted to read one book a month and I succeeded for one year only. This year I did not hit one book per month, but I thought it was still a respectable amount.

The eight books I read this year and my rough comments are as follows below. I will probably do a more in depth reflection in the individual posts.

[Jan 19] Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono and the Gates Foundation rock the world with OKRs

The book discusses how to set Objectives and Key Reports (OKRs) across the organisation in a way that they are meaningful. I liked how the book introduces OKRs for all levels, and how the subordinate’s OKRs are influenced by the manager’s OKRs. I also liked how the book talks about transparency for OKRs and how easily someone within the company can see what others are working on. This could potentially be the answer to reducing duplicate innovation efforts within a company.

[Feb 19] Data Analytics for Business Managers (Havard Business Review)

I read this book in order to have a better viewpoint of what Data Analytics entails. This is an easy to read book which guides managers to the fundamentals of data analytics. Using the contents from this book, I proceeded to write a Data Analytics paper at my workplace to start getting them to think about Data Analytics.

[May 19] What got you here won’t get you there

My wife bought me this book as part of the Valentine’s Day present. This book was a good wake up call. I had achieved success at my workplace but I needed to develop myself differently in order to get further. I have a mindmap of this and I will be putting up a reflection post on the book in the future.

[Jun 19] Rebel Talent: Why it pays to break the rules at work and in life

This book was an easy read. A friend passed the book to me after he was done with it. It resonated well with me because I had lived most of my work life questioning existing processes and wondering if we could do things better. The deviant in me was already well established by the time I got to the book. For those who are interested to know how the rebel in the book functions, this book will provide the case for everyone to become a rebel.

[Sep 19]Questions are the Answer

This is the first book I read off Michael Hyatt’s book club. The book discusses how asking the right questions matter the most. I found the book interesting, and it also explores ways of how we can encourage people at our workplaces to ask questions.

[Oct 19] You Can’t Have it All

This is the second book I read off the book club. This book is suitable for people who want to get promoted into management. It discusses two types of leaders: (1) expertise leaders and (2) spanning leaders. Expertise leaders are those who promote within your area of expertise, for example, sales or marketing. However the book also presents a case to suggest that we cannot expect to climb far by merely being an expertise leader. There will come a point in time we will have to take on roles that we are unfamiliar with, and we need to morph into a spanning leader. We need to be able to command respect with our subordinates who may have a higher expertise in their field. For example, a product engineer who eventually promoted into a general manager may find himself lacking in expertise in areas like finance, operations and sales etc. However by equipping ourselves with the skills of a spanning leader, we will be able to lead adequately. I find that the book gave me the added perspective of what I need to be more effective for future roles.

[Nov 19] Tim Cook: The genius who took Apply to the next level

This book is another easy read. It is based on the life of Tim Cook, who is Apple’s current CEO. He faced the tough job of trying to lead a company heavily in Steve Job’s shadows, and the book showed how he led it in his own way to greater heights. Several memorable themes within the book come to mind as I try to recall the contents. First, to be grounded in values. Second, making a difference to discrimination against gay people by standing out himself for public scrutiny despite being a rather private person. Thirdly, the application of Just in Time methodology for operations was Tim’s USP. His expertise which was learnt in Intel and honed over at other companies, proved valuable as the dots connected backwards when he was eventually hired in Apple.

[Dec 19] The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms

I am still midway through this book. This is the fourth book of the book club that I am involved in. Personally, the contents acted as a refresher to things I had already known, but I think would be valuable as I craft more reflection posts specific to the topic. I am currently at the topic of movement, where the book suggests that exercising increases our personal agency. I don’t deny it, but I am rather guilty of having let myself go over the past few months. I shall need to take an active step towards regaining my agency.

The New Ignorantsoup

For a long time I was toying with the idea of doing up a whole new WordPress site to store more professional material. In the course of my career, I have learnt many things professionally and personally and I thought it would be good to have a place to store these thoughts. I also toyed with the idea of being someone’s mentor, so that I can make a difference in someone’s career. But instead of becoming an actual person’s mentor, I asked myself “why not just store the lessons that I have learnt somewhere?”. I had been storing articles that I wanted to share in a personal facebook page. I thought I could go one step further, to include my own personal thoughts.

A quick discussion with a close friend made me realise that I could continue on my blog, since this is my online identity. Hence I took a few days to comb through my old content and removed those that were less professional. In the past, I wrote many posts on my own life, and my own less-mature thoughts about various issues. They were full of contention and many people have commented. For those which I thought were more mature, I kept them and those that were less-mature, I removed them. It was a wonderful experience looking at how much I have grown, but this time I wanted to build a more professional platform.

I also realised that the more professional content arose after I had started working. After I began working, I had less time to write about feelings and contentious articles. I wrote about job experiences and how those experiences made me feel. These articles were about leadership, determination (drive), management etc.

Subsequently, I will be archiving many mind maps that I have created after reading them in the past eight years, and I will also be doing some personal reflection on the pertinent lessons that each book holds. Hopefully these information would be useful to any one who is interested in advancing himself/herself personally and professionally. It is my desire to nurture a group of like-minded people who will share articles and resources and bring one another to greater heights.

A Chance to Reconnect After the Birth of my Son

It is nearly 10 months since my Son was born, and the whole experience was crazy, with most of the load borne by my Wife. Everyday was packed with things to do, whether it is feeding, cooking or washing. Or even the diaper change which has gone from tolerable to plain smelly, after my Son transited from a milk only diet to purée food.

It has not been easy for the parents. Because there is so much to do and also because my Son demands constant attention, we have yet to have time to ourselves. Everyday I am faced with getting instructions from my Wife to do this and that. After a while, it seems more of a work experience than a family. My Wife has not had it easy as well since my Son absolutely clings to her when she is around. He cries like an abandoned baby when my Wife walks a few m away, even when he is in my arms. So the Wife is preoccupied with handling the baby’s immediate needs, while I run baby errands.

Because of this, the Wife and I don’t get much time to talk to each other, aside from giving instructions, and planning what to do over the weekend for the baby. I Guess this is an experience that many parents feel with their first born. The stark contrast from initially married life to being a parent is a rude shock. Sometimes I wonder whether we are still considered as much in love as compared to when we were married.

Hence it was a valuable few hours of time during the recent 2nd year anniversary, where the Wife and I spent a night with the baby being taken care by my in laws. That was the first time in many months we sat down, just the two of us, to talk about how we feel, our thoughts and opinion about the things that are around us, on family, on work, on our aspirations. And it was invigorating.

That short two hours dinner on board the cruise – the in laws were on the cruise as well, so we took over the baby after the dinner, which explains the two hours – was magical. I felt like a married couple in love again, and the feeling was good. A Long lost feeling that made me feel happy and grateful that I was married to this woman, as opposed to the usual feeling of busyness over taking care of the baby.

I Guess, this also prolonged our sanity. To many more years of anniversary. Happy anniversary, my Wife, and hope we can keep our mind sane Long enough for our second child in a few years time.

My Grandfather’s Death

My Grandfather passed away at the start of this week, on 25 June 17. The funeral was completed today. My Grandfather’s death taught me two things, (1) Regret and (2) Appreciation.

When I was young, my parents brought me to my grandparent’s house weekly. My grandfather would never fail to buy my cousins and I a tube of mentos sweets each and we would happily finish the entire tube in the day. As I grew older, we grew more and more distant. ¬†Weekends became precious time to do what I want to do, to go on dates and hangouts with friends. Eventually, I only saw my grandparents during Chinese New Year and special family occasions like weddings or first month of new born babies.

When my grandfather was in ICU, I was very sad and I felt like I should have visited him more. Especially after having a baby and seeing how my parents and my wife’s parents, who are my baby’s grandparents, dote on him. I begin to realise how excited my grandparents were at my birth, and that they probably loved me as much as my parents loved my baby. I told my grandfather that once he has recovered and got back home, I would bring my son to visit him. Sadly, he didn’t make it. My grandfather’s death made me realise the amount of regret I have within me for not spending more time with him and not bringing my son to visit him more.

When my parents told me that the doctor asked for a meeting between my grandfather’s children, and that my grandfather might not make it, I felt terrible. It was unexpected. The first day when I visited him in the ICU, he was all smiles to see me. He raised his hand up and I took it. He spoke a lot, but I didn’t understand anything as he has difficulty articulating his words from the radiation therapy for cancer sometime back. But he was happy to see me. The second time I went, he was in a foul mood as the doctors had tied him up as he was trying to remove the breathing apparatus. He was delirious and probably didn’t know I was there. The third time I went, it was after we knew he might not make it after all. He had been given painkillers and he was sleeping peacefully with his mouth wide open to breathe. He didn’t wake up enough to know who was around. We spent the whole afternoon with him.

That evening, I went to see my son, who was with my in-laws in this difficult period. After dinner, I got a text that my grandfather might not make it. I rushed down in my car, praying and tearing. I wished I can make it in time. When I reached, my parents asked me to hold his hand and tell him I was here. His eyes were closed, seemingly not conscious. Yet after hearing that I was there, he grabbed my hand. That was the last piece of love that he gave me, and I would remember it for the rest of my life. It was fortunate that almost the whole family came. His daughters, son-in-laws and grandchildren. We all came to see him one last time. After some time, he seemed to be sleeping peacefully, and his children went to the lounge to rest. My eldest cousin noticed that his breathing was more than ten seconds apart. The nurses came to take his heartbeat, nothing. They brought the ECG machine in and it was recording 40+ beats per minute. Then 0, and we were bracing for the worse, and then it went back to 40. But it was not to be. Everyone rushed back to his bedside as the number dropped to the 30s, 20s and finally 0. The doctor came and pronounced him dead.

It was a peaceful death, and he passed away with most of his family beside him. I begin to appreciate the importance of family, and felt comforted that we all were there with him till the end. In some sense, it was his good fortune to have a huge family of people who all care for him and would drop what they were doing just to return to his deathbed.

For the past five days, the family united together. My grandfather had opted for a simple funeral ceremony based on his religion. While not everyone in the family belonged to the religion, most of us came together to conduct the daily prayers from 8 to 9pm. We chanted to give him the blessings and good karma, in the hope that he would be re-born into a good family. It was then I started to pay more attention to his religion, which my parents also were in due to my grandfather. But the main thing was that everyone came together, united in the belief that our prayers would bring him towards a good rebirth. The one hour prayer session wasn’t easy. It was long, but no one complained.

In the middle of the five day funeral, we also decided to reminisce the past. We got mentos for each of his grandchildren. Mine still sits next to me untouched, keeping it as a way to remember my grandfather a little more before I start to eat it.

The funeral had been completed and my grandfather cremated. We will not be able to see him anymore, but I took heart that he has taught me more in his death. I will spend more time with my grandmother and bring my son to see her more. I will also appreciate the family moments that I have, knowing that we cannot anticipate when the shared memory will be the last. I will also teach my son about his great grandfather and hope that he will value family and his own grandparents more than I had, so that he will not have any regrets.

Gong gong, thanks for the love. I love you, and I will always remember you.