January 08, 2005

Books/ Magazines Read in 2004

This time round, I've listed them by title and in alphabetical order. In addition, I've included a list of items that were almost read, i.e. I didn't complete them because I lost interest (it's funny, but it actually took conscious effort to give up a book halfway!)

My favourite reads are indicated in bold. All items were borrowed borrowed from NLB public libraries, unless otherwise indicated. Check the NLB Online Catalogue for availability.

Read in 2004
  1. 1982, Janine/ Alasdair Gray [You can’t miss this book – its cover features a drawing of an anatomically-correct man. I didn’t quite get this book, though I finished the book out of curiosity more than anything else]
  2. Analog Science Fiction & Fact/ Jan-Feb 04
  3. Analog Science Fiction & Fact/ Mar 04
  4. Analog Science Fiction & Fact/ Apr 04
  5. Analog Science Fiction & Fact/ Jun 04
  6. Analog Science Fiction & Fact/ Jul-Aug 04
  7. Analog Science Fiction & Fact/ Oct 04
  8. Analog Science Fiction & Fact/ Nov 04
  9. Angela's Ashes: A memoir of a childhood/ Frank McCourt [Call No. 929.20899162073 MAC. The Pulitzer prize winner that was made into a movie of the same title. It’s witty, sad, moving… ah, read it for yourself. Highly recommended, and so is its sequel – “‘Tis”]
  10. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Feb 03
  11. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Apr 03
  12. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Jul 03
  13. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Aug 03
  14. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Sept 03
  15. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Dec 03
  16. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Feb04
  17. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Mar 04
  18. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Apr - May 04
  19. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Jul 04
  20. Asimov's Science Fiction/ Sept 04
  21. Backfire: A history of friendly fire from ancient warfare to the present day/ Geoffrey Regan
  22. Becoming a manager: How new managers master the challenges of leadership/ Linda A. Hill [I'd go as far as to say all managers should read this book. Call No. 658.409 HIL -[BIZ]]
  23. Beyond certainty: The changing worlds of organizations/ Charles Handy [This book offers serious food for thought on organizations and management. Call No. 658.406 HAN -[BIZ]]
  24. Blood & water: Sabotaging Hitler's bomb/ Dan Kurzman
  25. Catcher in the rye/ J. D. Salinger
  26. Chaotic thoughts from the old millenium/ Sim Wong Hoo
  27. Chicago for dummies (2nd ed)/ Laura Tiebert & Kathleen Cantillon
  28. Citizen soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy beaches to the Bulge to the surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945/ Stephen E. Ambrose [If you love “Band of Brothers”, you’d love this one as well. Call No. 940.5421 AMB -[WAR]]
  29. Clinton on Clinton: A portrait of the President in his own words/ Bill Clinton (edited by Wayne Meyer)
  30. Collected stories of Vernor Vinge/ Vernor Vinge
  31. Command legacy: A tactical primer for junior leaders/ Lt. Col. Raymond A. Millen
  32. Complete Star Wars chronology/ Kevin J. Anderson
  33. Corporate turnaround: Nursing a sick company back to health/ Michael Teng
  34. Creating the full-service homework center in your library/ Cindy Mediavilla
  35. Deepness in the sky/ Vernor Vinge [Amazing ideas in this SciFi novel. Call No. VIN -[SF]]
  36. Deferring democracy: Promoting openness in authoritarian regimes/ Catharin E. Dalphino
  37. Don't sweat the small stuff...: Simple ways to keep the little things from taking over your life/ Richard Carlson [Personally, I need to read books like this to remind myself on what life is, or isn’t. Every married couple should own this book. Call No. 306.7 CAR]
  38. Dropsie Avenue: The neighbourhood/ Will Eisner [Graphic novel. A glimpse into city life in early post-war US. Call No. 741.5973 EIS -[ART]]
  39. Dune: The machine crusade/ Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson [This was disappointing. Somehow, all the Dune sequels just don’t quite have that kick of the first one]
  40. Engels: A very short introduction/ Terrell Carver
  41. Extreme management: What they teach at Harvard business school's advanced management programme/ Mark Stevens
  42. Fantasy & Science Fiction/ Sept 03
  43. Fantasy & Science Fiction/ Jun 04
  44. Fahrenheit 451/ Ray Bradbury [I liked this book for the very intriguing ideas. For one, a Fireman was a destroyer of books by fire. If not for the hype about Michael Moore’s film of the same title (though totally different content), I wouldn’t have read this one. Call No. BRA]
  45. Flags of our fathers/ James Bradley [I have a love-hate relationship with this book. I mean, I loved it but after reading it, I didn’t experience the same emotions when I look at the picture of the US Marines planting the flag on Iwo Jima. Call No. 940.5426 BRA -[WAR]]
  46. Frindle/ Andrew Clements [A Children’s book, for older children. Decided to read this after attending a workshop. Adults could learn a thing or two from this book. Call No. J CLE]
  47. Harnessing complexity/ Robert Axelrod & Michael D. Cohen
  48. Hellboy: Conquerer worm/ Mike Mignola
  49. Holes/ Louis Sachar [YP Fiction. This was my second reading. There are plots within plots. I loved it when all the seemingly unrelated plots all fell into place in the end. Call No. Y SAC]
  50. How to manage training: A guide to design & delivery for high performance/ Carolyn Nilson
  51. How to succeed at being yourself: Finding the confidence to fulfill your destiny/ Joyce Meyer
  52. How to talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere: The secrets of good communication/ Larry King [Now I know Larry’s secret to success as a broadcast journalist. Call No. 302.346 KIN]
  53. Liberty/ Stephen Coonts
  54. Library: An unquiet history/ Matthew Battles [Not everyone's cup of tea, but I think librarians ought to at least glance through it]
  55. MacArthur's undercover war: Spies, saboteurs, guerrillas & secret missions/ William B. Breuer
  56. Managing at the speed of change: How resilient managers succeed and prosper where others fail/ Daryl R. Conner
  57. Managing telework: Strategies for managing the virtual workforce/ Jack M. Nilles
  58. Maus: I, A survivor's tale: My father bleeds history/ Art Spiegelman [The story of the Holocaust, in graphic novel form. Call No. 741.5973 SPI -[ART]]
  59. Maus. II, A survivor's tale: And here my troubles began/ Art Spiegelman [The second and final part. Call No. 741.5973 SPI -[ART]]
  60. Microserfs/ Douglas Coupland [Highly entertaining and witty book. The title is a pun on “Microsoft”. Call No. COU]
  61. Midnight mass/ Paul Bowles
  62. Minor Miracles/ Will Eisner
  63. New thinking for the new millenium/ Edward De Bono
  64. New York: The big city/ Will Eisner
  65. Now all we need is a title: Famous book titles & how they got that way/ Andre Bernard [A must-read for all book lovers. Self-explanatory title. Call No. 820 BER]
  66. Overlord: General Pete Quesada & the triumph of tactical air power in World War II/ Thomas Alexander Hughes [An insight of the development of air power doctrine. It is a complementary read to the book “Citizen Soldier” by Stephan Ambrose. Gives you the other perspective to the war, from the pilot’s viewpoint. Call No. 940.54214 HUG -[WAR]]
  67. PC magazine Singapore/ Jul 04
  68. PC magazine Singapore/ Nov 04
  69. Prince of lost places/ Kathy Hepinstall
  70. Reinventing the brand: Can top brands survive the new market realities?/ Jean-Noël Kapferer
  71. Roverandom/ J.R. R. Tolkien (edited by Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond)
  72. Saucer/ Stephen Coonts
  73. Science goes to war: The search for the ultimate weapon, from Greek fire to Star Wars/ Ernest Volkman [Highly entertaining read about the development of warfare through the ages. This book reads like episodes from the Discovery Channel. Call No. 355.809 VOL]
  74. Six degrees: The science of a connected age/ Duncan J. Watts
  75. Skydancer/ Geoffrey Archer
  76. So many books, so little time: A year of passionate reading/ Sara Nelson
  77. Strategy + Business/ Fall 04
  78. The age of unreason/ Charles Handy [Another must-read for those interested in the future development of organizations. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t set you thinking. Call No. 658.406 HAN -[BIZ]]
  79. The aviators (book viii): Brotherhood of war/ W. E. B. Griffin
  80. The Burying Field/ Kenneth Abel
  81. The chocolate war/ Robert Cromier [Another YP book I learnt from the same workshop. This has a bleak ending. Has been a recommended book for teens for ages. Call No. Y COR]
  82. The Cluetrain Manifesto: The end of business as usual/ Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger [Wish my colleagues at Corporate Communications would read this. Call No. 651.84678 CLU]
  83. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time/ Mark Haddon [Excellent YP book. I can now understand why this was on Amazon.com’s bestsellers’ list. A story that is told from the perspective of a boy afflicted with Asperger's syndrome. Don’t let the title fool you. It has a serious side to it. Call No. Y HAD]
  84. The Da Vinci code/ Dan Brown [Discovered this on the shelf one day. Honest! I didn’t specially reserve it for myself. Certainly a very entertaining read, though the ending was quite an anti-climax. Still, it’s not on the bestseller’s list for no reason. Call No. BRO]
  85. The Eyre affair/ Jasper Fforde [The beginning can be a bit slow, but stay the course, and you’ll find this a witty book, full of literary puns. Those who have read “Jan Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte would appreciate this one. Classified under “Mystery”. Call No. FFO -[MY]]
  86. The giver/ Lois Lowry [Another YP book that is considered a classic of sorts. This one has a Sci Fi theme. Call No. Y LOW]
  87. The league of extraordinary gentleman/ (novelisation by) K.J. Anderson
  88. The library's legal answer book/ Mary Minow & Tomas A. Lipinski
  89. The mammoth book of 20th century Science Fiction vol1/ Edited by David G. Hartwell
  90. The playboy book of science fiction [No, this does not contain erotic Sci Fi! The stories happened to be published in Playboy Magazine, that’s all. Hmm… I realized younger folks who grew up with the Internet as a given may not know what was all the hype about Playboy. Contains vintage Sci Fi stories]
  91. The power of losing control: Finding strength, meaning, & happiness in an out-of-control world/ Joe Caruso [One of the few books that really made a positive change in how I view life in general. Call No. 158.1 CAR]
  92. The remains of the day/ Kazuo Ishiguro [There are management insights to be learnt from this book! Call No. ISH]
  93. To the heart of the storm/ Will Eisner
  94. Under fire/ W. E. B. Griffin [I think the author has a thing against General Macarthur]
  95. Walden & Civil Disobedience/ Henry David Thoreau [I read this only because there were many references to it from “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Didn’t really take to this one. My personal collection. Bought it at a booksale]
  96. War music: An account of books 16 to 19 of Homer's Iliad/ Christopher Logue [This was really interesting. The author’s interpretation of parts of the Iliad that were more action-packed. Call No. 821.914 LOG]
  97. What if? The world's foremost military historians imagine what might have been/ (editor Robert Cowley)
  98. Where there's smoke/ Sandra Brown [Men should read Sandra Brown once in a while]
  99. Youth.sg: The state of youth in Singapore/ Ho Kong Chong, Jeffrey Yip
  100. Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance: An inquiry into values/ Robert M. Pirsig [This was recommended by a fellow online poetry group member. Excellent book! Those who appreciate Jostein Gaarder’s “Sophie’s World” would like this one. Call No. 973.920924 PIR]

Almost-read in 2004
  1. The gossamer years: A diary of a noblewoman of Heian Japan/ Kagero Nikki (translated by Edward Seidensticker)
  2. The Bourne supremacy/ Robert Ludlum [Surprise, surprise! I actually gave up on a military thriller. The plot was too dated to be believable]
  3. La Salle & the discovery of the great west/ Francis Parkman

January 02, 2005

Angela's Ashes: A memoir of a childhood/ Frank McCourt

As the title says, it's an account of the author's childhood in improvished Ireland. One wonders how he managed to survive at all (I've inadvertently paraphrased the author's words) -- here's the second para of the opening page:
"When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood... Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."
On the same page, the third para just about sums up the essence of the book:
"People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bully schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.
Above all -- we were wet."
One does not have to be Irish or poor to appreciate this book. It's one of those "unputdownables" (I didn't invent this word!) -- you just keep looking forward to the next page, and the next, and when the story finally ends you feel a twinge of sadness that the tale has ended.

The writing style is conversational, spiced with colloquiums and laced with self-effacing humour. McCourt coveys the poverty, injustice and bleakness without moralising.

Some who read the story may feel genuine sadness in the death of his siblings. Or baulk over the terrible living conditions; feel a sense of injustice in the mockery of the poor by those who think that they are of a higher station. We may share a sense of brotherly pride when we read how the young ones share what little they have with each other. Perhaps we may laugh with the young Frank when he worries over what to tell the priest over his first confessional.

We may even find voyeuristic embarrassment over his discovery of what might be real love, as well as his fumbling explorations of his developing (but dogmatically repressed) adolescent sexuality. It wouldn't surprise me if we share his anger and hate over the man who took advantage of his mother's vulnerability.

A tragic and sad story, no doubt, yet ultimately it's really a story of hope. What makes it remarkable is that it's a real human story -- at least I don't doubt a word of McCourt's account of his childhood. Even if parts of it were made up, it made such wonderful reading that I can't imagine him making any part up. I can understand why it won the 1997 Pulitzer.

Angela's Ashes: A memoir of a childhood/ Frank McCourt
Call No.: 929.20899162073 MAC (General Non-Fiction section)

RELATED BOOKS available at NLB libraries:

  • coverThe sequel -- 'Tis: A memoir (Call No.: 974.710049162 MAC) -- is also an excellent read. It continues his story of his further coming-of-age in 1949 U.S.A.

  • coverAnother related book: A monk swimming by Malachy McCourt, brother of Frank McCourt (Call No.: 304.873 MAC)
At the time of this post, all 3 titles mentioned were available at NLB libraries, under the General Non-Fiction section.

Becoming a manager: How new managers master the challenges of leadership/ Linda A. Hill

An extremely insightful book to what it means to become a manager, particularly for "new" managers (e.g. been in management positions for a year or two). I highly recommend this to anyone involved in "management", particularly where you have to lead people.

The book deals with the transition, of a new manager, from an individual contributor/ specialist to being a manager. Though the research involved people in brokerage & IT industries, the problems & issues faced are the same -- trust me, I know.
The value of this book, I feel, is not so much in revealing anything new (most managers would instinctively know what the issues are when working with a team). What it did for me was to give me assurance that the trials and tribulations that I've gone through (some of which are daily occurances) are normal. That told me that I AM NOT ALONE! -- for management is a lonely business.

It also made me pay more attention to certain aspects of my job as a manager. This book took me sometime to finish (440 over pages) but a very readable book. Not overly academic.

Notes/ excerpts from the book (in bold) - Words in [ ] parenthesis are my own:

p3,6,8 - [In essence, there a very simple premise to being a manager. The Job Holder (i.e. subordinate) essentially does things with individual competencies while a Manager has to get things done through otherss. The manager's work is therefore highly dependant on their job holders' competencies. In many ways, it does reinforce the notion that effective managers focus much of their efforts in supporting and developing the capabilities of their job holders.]

p15/ 21/139 - [new mgrs "did not appreciate the distinction between being primarily responsible for people rather than the task" - This is significant. Hence the tendancy for managers is to micromanage (or at the other extreme, being too "hands-off") at the expense of developing staff competencies.]

p140 - [Managers, being competent individually, suddenly find that they are at the mercy of the subordinate's competency. Often, managers are also surprised that the subordinate is less skilled and motivated than they (the managers) were. The manager's competency is somewhat reduced, which is definitely scary & therefore stressful. Which was why some managers don't want to delegate because of the perceived further loss of power.]

P43 - [Learning how to be a manager was a formidable task. The managers in the study reported that they had to make sense of complex, often conflicting, and demanding expectations from both subordinates and their own bosses.]

p44 - "what it means to be a manager: in their own words" - [Table showing the different levels of expectations by different levels of people in the organisation. What was clear was that there was little overlap. E.g. New managers saw themselves as administrators but their subordinates expectation of the manager was to ensure the subordinate's "personal agenda were fulfilled". The manager's bosses saw the new manager as a business person.]

p88 - [Managers were often "promoted for their technical competence, not their mgt or interpersonal skills. Getting things done through a significant number of other pple takes a diff order of skills from working w just two or three people"; - "learning to exercise formal authority & to create a productive, satisfied workforce" was another challenge]

p116 - [On accepting diversity (i.e. Live w the good & not-so-good staff) - "you have a whole range of pple who are very marginal or poor performers, who have no business being there, all the way up to pple who can operate on their own." - This really sounded familar to me!]

Chapter 5 - [The inexperienced subordinate wants guidance; experienced ones want cooperation]

p133 - [On managing the problem subordinate - most new managers deem this as most stressful. It's very true. I'd say experienced managers also see this as a problem.]

p134 - [On non-performing subordinates - the most difficult situation was when the subordinate lacks ability or motivation. Or sometimes, the manager was the problem, as in having much too high expectations on their subordinates]

p. 167 - [Prime qualities the managers saw as part of managerial character:
  • Self confidence;
  • Willingness to accept responsibility;
  • Patience;
  • Empathy;
  • Ability to live with imperfect solutions
Most said such factors of temperament were critical in making the transition successfully.]

p.178 - Acquiring managerial competence meant sacrificing some of their technical competence. As managers learnt to delegate, their technical knowledge and ability grew obsolete [Which meant managers must upgrade skills and knowledge like everyone else]

p. 181 - managers had to learn that their subordinates were not all as motivated or competent as they themselves had been. Thus a major managerial responsibility was dealing with the problem employee.

Chpt 8 - "Critical resources for the First Year" - [Something HR peopel should note to get ideas or insights regarding the support structures for managers. E.g. peer networks were more critical than formal ones, e.g. between Job Holder and Reporting Officer.]

p 227 - Becoming a manager is both an intellectual and emotional exercise.

p229 - Becoming a manager required a profound psychological adjustment - a transformation. To make the psychological adjustment, they had to address four tasks:
  1. Learning what it means to be a manager;
  2. Developing interpersonal judgement;
  3. Gaining self-knowledge;
  4. Coping with stress and emotion.
Becoming a manager was largely a process of learning from experience. New managers could only grasp their new role and identity through action, not contemplation. The transformation was iterative, slow, difficult, both intellectually and emotionally.

p231 - The process of developing a manager is a paradoxical proposition. Those responsible for it cannot tell new managers what they need to know, even if they know what to tell them. And the (new) managers cannot understand what they have to say [until they have experienced it, which by then might not be as insightful - reminds me of this joke that says experience is something that you have when it's too late]

Chapter 9 - [Suggests ways to ease the transformation. Includes the content of mgt training, pedagogy.]

p 237 - "Is Management Really for Me?"

p. 238 - Criteria for selecting managers:
  • Technical,
  • Human,
  • Conceptual,
  • Analytical competence,
  • (Those who) find managerial work intrinsically rewarding,
  • (Those who) exhibit the managerial character
  • Display self-insight,
  • Penchant for learning,
  • Learning from experience,
  • Introspective and show resilience under stress.
p. 239 - How to select managers

p. 241 - Many companies found that motivation is the most common mistake for managerial failure. Have they sought or initiated tasks that were managerial? Do they seem to enjoy thinking about and working on people problems?

p244 - [Should also develop the new manager's superiors. Equip senior management to be better coaches.]

p283 - chapter 11: Building an effective team

p309 - [offers a sort of checklist, questions that a person can ask themself to assess their own suitability to be a manager.]

p325 - Mangement development should be viewed as 'Development of the fittest' rather than 'selection of the fittest'. It means encouraging self-directed learning, sponsoring stretch-assignments

Chpt 12 - [In developing a person, do you give an important task to someone who needs to develop these skills, or to one who already can do it (and thus assuring greater chances of success?) ]

p328 - it is not about throwing them into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim; it is about matching the indiv dev needs and capacities to a well-sequenced set of specific, meaningful opportunities. These allow performers to acquire expertise while also establish relationships with people who can help them make the most of those relationships.

p337 - Appendix: [Research design and methods. Explains her research strategy and methods, background. The research strategy can be desribed as "evoluntionary, qualitative, descriptive, and inductive." Includes a cover letter, the interview agenda, detailed explanation of how she went about observing, following them around.]

Becoming a manager: How new managers master the challenges of leadership/ Linda A. Hill
Call No.:
658.409 HIL -[BIZ] (Business section)

The remains of the day/ Kazuo Ishiguro

Before there were robots, there were English butlers!

I thought I'd find this book boring (I mean, how interesting can a butler's life be? Ok, maybe they tend to be witnesses to sordid affairs but I didn't think this was such a book). In any case, I was wrong -- it was an intriguing study of human relationships and emotions.

The book I borrowed was published by Penguin Longman (2000). The cover featured Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson (the 1993 movie of the same title). I admit the cover was the main reason why I picked up the book. I'd not seen the movie in its entirety (I vaguely remember the late Christopher Reeve had a part in it, or was I mistaken?)
I formed several impressions very quickly into the book:
  1. How in heck would an author with a Japanese name know so much about English butlers and their habits? The answer -- Ishiguro grew up, and was schooled, in Britain.
  2. English butlers (at least this particular one) have no life. They could sure use our SDU's services
  3. This wasn't just a novel about an English butler in post-war England -- this was a book illustrating management principles. I'd rename the book "The remains of the day: Lessons in management"

Notes & excerpts
(if the notes seem a little cryptic, go read the book!):

p32 - p38: The handling of the "tiger beneath table" incident - an example of how to act under pressure

p40 - An excellent example of how to handle difficult customers

p43 - On professionalism

p146 - On ways to find meaning & pride in our work. Or could it be a form of self delusion? Maybe. But then, it might not.

P148 - Examples of cultural differences in employer expecations of English butlers

p153 & 211- Showing how one could be blind to an employer's wrongdoing out of a sense of duty (i.e. sacking the jewish employees). The butler was making excuses for his employer whom he obviously respected. He considers it a professional honour to do what the employer instructions without question. From that incident, it made me respect the butler less. Up till that point, I thought he was a very admirable chap for sticking to his principles. However, as I considered further, I wondered how many of us would have the moral courage to say 'No' to our bosses, in today's context? Even Ms K. (played by Emma Thompson) vented anger on the butler, Stevens , rather than confront his employer. So in the final analysis, are we so different from the butler?

p162 - That sometimes bosses have to lose the pretence of rationality & show their human feelings

p188- A total lack of EQ by the butler!

p230 - Ms Kenton likes Stevens?

p193-4: On what makes a person dignified - "being dignified doesn't mean being high & mighty".

p206- The idea that implementing democracy without educating the masses is foolhardy

The novel was an intriguing insight to an aspect of English life not intially apparent to me. It was also a study into a very believable aspect of human behaviour, albeit brought to extremes by the Stevens character. I had mixed reactions towards him as a person, some not very flattering. However, by the end of the book, I felt sorry for him. He was, in my opinion, trying to make sense of the world as best as he could.

As much as he tried to detach himself from human emotions (his own coping mechanism towards the complexities of human relationships), in the end he reveals himself to be very human simply by showing regret.

Why did I say that? As D.H. Lawrence wrote about "Self Pity":
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

This book would make a great discussion topic for bookclubs. For further analysis of the characters, see this page from Sparknotes.com

The remains of the day/ Kazuo Ishiguro
Call No.: ISH (Adult Fiction section)

January 01, 2005

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age/ Duncan J. Watts

I read this book because it received a favourable review in Asimov's (or was it Analog?). If you're wondering if there's any relation to the "Six degrees to Kevin Bacon" game, well, yes, there is -- though this book does a lot more than just explaining the game.

Though I'm not into "Graph theory", "Network analysis" or "Social networks Mathematical models", I still found this book insightful. Certain chapters could be rather heavy going though. But there's enough "layperson" content for this book to be useful to non academics. There's a useful reference list on recommended readings, ranked by the author based on level of readability (i.e. whether you need a background in Network Theory or not).
I would've liked it better if the book explained how one could really tap on the effect of "social contagion of ideas". But to be fair, it did say there's much work to be done, and the author does a credible job of explaining a complex theory for laypersons.

Notes/ excerpts from the book (in bold) - Words in [ ] parenthesis are my own:

p162-7 - [Discussion on biological virus & computer virus: Ebola & melissa. Good overview. Very informative].

p196 - [Interesting story to the 1634 Dutch Tulip Bubble. The idea of "Social contagion", or the "epidemics of ideas". Some parallels to the Dot.com crash.]

p204 - [The idea of "Information cascades" - where individuals stop behaving like individuals & more like a coherent mass.]

p207 - [Examples of social experiments. Interesting & weird stuff by this researcher called Solomon Asch - proved that an individual starts having doubts when s/he is the minority.]

p224 - [Concept of "Social Contagion" - spread of beliefs & ideas.] "... a highly contingent process, the impact of a particular person's opinion depending, possibility dramatically, on the other opinions solicited."

p230 - [Suggestions on how to exploit knowledge to enhance the likelihood of a cascade.]

p235 - [About "cascades & percolation" - conditions necessary for global cascade]

p289 - Although the problem (of organisations) dealing with ambiguity is not fully understood, "it appears that a good strategy for building org that are capable of solving complex probs is to train indiv to react to ambiguity by searching thru their social netwks, rather than forcing them to build & contribute to centrally designed prob-solving tools & databases".

p292 - How the Sept 11 incident "exposed the hidden connections in the complex archictecture of modern life"

p(?) - Case study of the Toyota-Aisin crisis 1997. [How a fire at the Toyota factory almost ruined the company (the crisis affected Japan's economy), but yet intriguingly Toyota was able to recover back to normal production levels within days, even though there were no contingency plans in place.] The more "networked you are, the more subseptible to risks but the better you are at recovering".

p299 - The science of networks: "Distance is deceiving"

Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age/ Duncan J. Watts
- Call No.: 511.5 WAT (Non-fiction General collection)

(Re)inventing the brand: can top brands survive the new market realities?/ Jean-noël Kapferer

Published in 2001, translated from French. Marketing students would find this book useful, particularly if they are looking for case studies of European brands. The brands mentioned are: Adidas, Ariel, Décathlon, Coca-Cola, Orangina, Vache-Qui-Rit, Danone, L'Oréal, Nestlé, Nike, Nivea, Pepsi, Perrier, Peugeot, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Virgin, Vivendi, Volkswagen, Yoplait.

Notes/ Excerpts from the book (in bold) - Words in [ ] parenthesis are my own::

p. 59 - Advertising costs have soared but no tangible proof of the return of investment in those sums.

p. 69 - consumers are no longer the source of innovation & motivation that they once were (christensen 1999)

p. 74-77: The "service challenge"
  1. Don't waste their time
  2. Everything should be easy
  3. Recognise that different users have different needs
  4. Direct them to information at the level & amount they need
  5. The internet store is open 24 hours a day
  6. Allow users to communicate w other users freely on subjects of common interest
  7. 'Word of mouth' publicity
p. 83-84: [Talks about the "truths" of the internet economy -- I found it consistent with the " Cluetrain Manifesto".]
The internet has created a culture of partipation; direct access; fast response; truth (cracks are more likely to be made known); a "me" focus (consumers expect to be treated as individuals)

p. 97 - [I learnt that the word "portrait" comes from the french words "porter" (to carry) & "trait" (characteristics). Hence, "portrait" means "to carry certain characteristics".]

p. 123 - [Examples of how successful companies empower employees to leave their personal touch. E.g. Saturn mechanics leaving their personal notes on cars they have serviced.]

p. 135 - Studies show that "(market) penetration & loyalty are correlated" - i.e. (Advertising that involve customers either at emotive or rational level, image value syst, pdt push & in-store promotion -- all still relevant). Also, "in a world increasingly dominated by the Internet, the more virtual the goods & services on offer, the greater the need to re-emphasise tangible & sensory aspects, which are necessary catalysts for gen involvement."

p. 136 - 142: [Explains "upstream & downstream" advertising].
See p.142 for pointers for implementation:
  1. Brand energy must be focused downstream at contact points w customers
  2. Communities must become involved at behavioural level
  3. Must create public, inter-community commitment
  4. Encourage & create opportunities for 'dialogue' bet communities & marketing environments in the chain of recommendations
p. 143 - "Strategic energization matrix"

p. 149 - Examples of the "Cola Wars" - Sucidial brand strategy

p. 166 - "Marketing is an experimental discipline. It is simply not possible to know all the parameters in advance."

p. 179 - rejunivation is vital for a brand to stay competitive & "prototyping" (innovate/ new pdt) is vital to rejunivation

p. 180 - brand should make the consumer look good - not the company or brand - [Libraries ought to take note.]

p. 223 - brand is built on it's determination to promote it's distinctive values & mission

(Re)inventing the brand: can top brands survive the new market realities?/ Jean-noël Kapferer
Call No.: 658.827 KAP -[BIZ] (Business Collection)

The Power of Losing Control: Finding Strength, Meaning and Happiness in an Out-Of-Control World/ Joe Caruso

This book shifted my perspectives about "Control". It’s one of those books that I come across once in a while that makes an impact on how I work, think and live.

There's a story behind how I discovered the book: At a monthly manager's meeting, held in a library, my boss announced that I'd be taking over yet another library to manage (btw, in case you were wondering, that came with no extra pay). I was stressed me out, to say the least (not the pay but the fact that I was responsible for another branch). Then during break time, while walking back to the meeting room from the washroom, I chanced upon the book on the shelf -- the spine was facing out. I certainly was losing control, so naturally I picked it out.
The title itself was interesting – the power of losing control. Sounds oxymoronic, right? How could anyone gain power by losing control? What I understand now is that there wasn’t any power to exercise in the first place. As Caruso wrote, what we really have is an “Illusion of Control”.

Which reminds me of this song I learnt when I was about nine. I think it’s an old British marching song, which goes like this:
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile
If in your world you come across a snag,
Smile boys that’s the style
What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worthwhile, so—
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile
The book made a lot of sense to me. I could relate to it from my personal experiences. Also, the author should know a thing or two about what he is writing. After all, he is a cancer survivor and he has applied what he espouses. Plus the book has a label that says “As Seen on PUBLIC TELEVISION” so I knew this was something. The heck with “never judge a book by its cover”.

It's true that "The more you try to control, the less you actually do". I highly recommend this book.

Excerpts from the book (in bold) - Words in [ ] parenthesis are my own:

p. 75: The Four Rules of Engagement
  1. Everyone is always right
  2. Everyone’s greatest desire is to be right
  3. You can’t change another person’s mind
  4. You can help people shift their perspectives
[It’s very true, in my experience so far. I’ve not been a manager as long as some people have, but in whatever I’ve experienced, I know that very rarely was I able to change a person’s mind or personality. Almost impossible. I could not undo, in 2 hours or 2 months time, the opinions of that person that took perhaps 20, 30 or 40 years to form.

We prefer to stick with a circle of friends or colleagues because ultimately, they make us feel good. Not necessarily flattery of course. It could be that they validate what makes us think are important, that they share a common view – therefore validating our own perspectives and sense of self.]

p. 87: Leadership, because it is determined by those in our secondary world, is an out-of-control experience.

p. 88: “It’s not important that people like you” – “People like you because when they’re with you they like themselves better. They like you because being with you elevates their own meaning”.
[I need to think hard about this, in relation to how to promote reading and the use of libraries.]

Quote from the book:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”
~ Scottish writer W.H. Murray (The Scottish Himalayan Expedition)

p. 207: “… practice being more passionate about the solution and less passionate about the problems.”

p. 214: We must be more like parachute jumpers. The moment they jump off the plane, they knew they were never “on course”. While falling, they constantly adjusted and responded to the surroundings. What they had was an objective in mind (the spot to land) that never wavered.

The Power of Losing Control: Finding Strength, Meaning and Happiness in an Out-Of-Control World/ Joe Caruso
- Call No. 158.1 CAR (Non-fiction, General section)