Book Notes — ‘Freedom,’ By Jonathan Franzen

Note: I have long kept written notes on index cards about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016 06 22 franzen purity

Purity
By Jonathan Franzen
Published: 2015
Read: April 2016
ISBN: 0374239215
Amazon link
Rating: 9/10

Brief recap: A novel about youth, ambition, and desire, packed with sharp cultural observations. I loved it, as I have loved most of Franzen’s fiction.

My notes:

  • The novel follows protagonist Pip Tyler as she seeks out direction in her life and tries to negotiate her relationship with her mother – and her father, who she didn’t know growing up.

  • While the novel is nearly 600 pages long, I found it to be extremely fast-paced, and loved the intricacy of the plot, with scences boucning between decades, both in the U.S. and in Germany.

  • I liked Franzen’s description of the geography in Bolivia, where part of the novel takes place.

  • I can’t excerpt it here because it present a major spolier, but the language describing one key character’s sudden demise was striking. I read that passage again and again.

  • My sense is that if you liked Franzen’s earlier works (as I did), such as “The Corrections” and “Freedoms,” you’ll like this one, too.

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In This Weeks’s Newley’s Notes: Stand-Up Desk Benefits; ‘Brexit’ Explainer; ‘Blade Runner’ Typography; the Business of Guns

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Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter in which I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal

India Relaxes Foreign Direct Investment Rules. This is big news for Apple, which may now be able to open its own stores in the country.

What I wrote at Newley.com

IPhone 6 Touchscreen Problems? You’re Not Alone – I’ve encountered a beguiling problem. It is driving me nuts. Have you experienced something like this? Lemme know.

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1) Stand-up desks are supposed to be healthier than ones at which you sit. But a recent study shows another benefit: greater productivity. That’s probably because standing makes workers more active and thus more comfortable, so they concentrate better.

2) Everything you always wanted to know about “Brexit” – the potential exit of Britain from the EU, set for a vote on Thurs. – but were afraid to ask:

– The New York Times has an explainer.

– The argument for leaving, as articulated by The Telegraph, is:

Once we have left and are no longer subject to the free movement of labour, popular worries about immigration will become a matter for the British government and for Parliament. This does not mean there will be no immigration; quite the contrary. People will be welcome to come and work in the country and visitors and tourists will flock here as they always have.

But we will control our own borders; we will let in who we want to come and contribute to our economy. And if the country does not like the way the Government is conducting its immigration policy then it can turf it out. As things stand, there is nothing that can be done.

And the argument for remaining, by The Economist:

The liberal Leavers are peddling an illusion. On contact with the reality of Brexit, their plans will fall apart. If Britain leaves the EU, it is likely to end up poorer, less open and less innovative. Far from reclaiming its global outlook, it will become less influential and more parochial. And without Britain, all of Europe would be worse off.

Start with the economy. Even those voting Leave accept that there will be short-term damage… More important, Britain is unlikely to thrive in the longer run either. Almost half of its exports go to Europe. Access to the single market is vital for the City and to attract foreign direct investment. Yet to maintain that access, Britain will have to observe EU regulations, contribute to the budget and accept the free movement of people—the very things that Leave says it must avoid. To pretend otherwise is to mislead.

(Thanks to Jake for the last two links.)

3) The New York Times has a disturbing look at thousands of people suffering psychotic symptoms who have banded together online, claiming they are victims of a vast conspiracy. Isn’t the internet awesome?

4) This painstakingly researched piece on the typography in “Blade Runner,” one of my favorite movies, is exceptional.

There is even an examination of newspaper fonts in the movie. Headline: “FARMING THE OCEANS, THE MOON AND ANTARCTICA.” Dek: “World Wide Computer Linkup Planned.”

5) Post-Orlando #longread of the week: “Making a Killing: The business and politics of selling guns,” by The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos.

Have a great week!

@Newley

P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here.

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IPhone 6 Touchscreen Problems? You’re Not Alone

2016-06-11iphone2.jpg

Shown above and online here are a series of Tweets about a very annoying experience I’m having with my iPhone 6, which I bought less than a year and a half ago, in February 2015.

The touchscreen has been intermittently failing for several weeks – sometimes it works as it should, and sometimes it’s unresponsive, with touches and swipes yielding no response.

There are many accounts online about similar issues with various models of the phone.

Sometimes rebooting works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes locking the screen and then unlocking it again works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Perhaps most maddeningly, at times touches yield delayed actions, or massively sped-up ones. Sometimes the phone even suffers from phantom touches, with apps being opened or screens being swiped completely independently.

I tried erasing and restoring it as a new device, but that didn’t work. The problem persisted.

So I finally took it to an authorized service provider here in Singapore recently.

The tech quickly diagnosed the problem, noting that unfortunately, the phone is out of warranty.

It seems to be suffering from a hardware issue, she said, perhaps due to motherboard or display problems. She said it would cost as much as S$550 (about $400) to fix it, and that even then it would only have a ninety-day warranty, and the problem could persist. One option: I could sell the phone to them – for about $50.

I asked the tech and a more senior manager if this is a problem they see frequently, and they said they had seen it before.

Sadly, thus, I don’t have a fix to share. But if you’re similarly beset by the issue, just know this: You’re not alone.

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In This Week’s Newley’s Notes: Tech Stories from HK; Asian Godfathers; Ode to Trustafarians; Aging Goalkeepers; King Tut’s Meteoritic Dagger

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To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe!


Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal

Singapore’s Grab App Can Now Hail Lyft Cars in U.S.:

The latest step in a global ride-sharing alliance between rivals of Uber Technologies Inc. went into effect Thursday, allowing users of a popular Southeast Asia-focused transportation app to begin making car bookings via Lyft Inc. in the U.S.

I also spent Thurs. and Fri. in Hong Kong attending The WSJ’s Converge tech conference. In addition to posing for creepy pics with humanoid robots, I wrote some stories. To wit:

Microsoft Not Building Driverless Car But Wants to Help With Tech:

Microsoft Corp. isn’t building its own self-driving car, but is bullish on helping others with related technology, a senior executive said.

Southeast Asia Startup Scene Is Sunny, Investors Say:

Venture capitalists and investors attending the Converge technology conference in Hong Kong on Friday expressed optimism about the future of startups in Southeast Asia, despite significant challenges.

What I wrote at Newley.com

Book Notes — ‘Asian Godfathers,’ by Joe Studwell – Probably the best book I’ve ever read on Southeast Asia. Highly recommended.

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1) An interesting thread on Quora sure to appeal to productivity nerdz: “What is the most powerful tip you’ve gained from reading a self-help book?”

2) “Why I Quit My Job to Travel the World”, by Joe Veix at The New Yorker, is an excellent send-up of “digital nomad” (or, perhaps more fittingly, “trustifarian”) culture. It opens:

On paper, my life seemed great. I had a dream job, a swanky apartment, and a loving girlfriend. But something was off. I couldn’t bear being chained to my desk in a stuffy office any longer. So I decided to quit and travel the world, bringing only my passport, a small backpack, and my enormous trust fund.

I also like:

As a citizen of the world, I rarely get lonely. Everywhere I go, I meet such diverse groups of people. In hostels, I’ve shared beers with friendly British and Australian twenty-somethings. In hotels, I’ve sipped wine with friendly British and Australian forty-somethings. We all became lifelong friends, despite the language barriers.

And:

Of course, this “no reservations” life style isn’t for everyone. In many ways, it’s harder than the old corporate grind. Many stores don’t accept my Centurion card. Sometimes it’s difficult to get even one bar of cell service, which makes Instagramming more gelato a real struggle.

3) The Onion has a nice take on the passing of The Greatest: “Dozens Of Social Issues Thankful They Never Had To Go Toe-To-Toe With Muhammad Ali.”

4) Video of the week: Mexcian club Pachuca’s 43-year-old (yes, 43-year-old!) goalkeeper, Oscar “El Conejo” Perez, pulls off a triple save against Monterrey in his side’s the Mexican league title-winning game. Did I mention he’s 43?

5) So, King Tut’s dagger was made out of a meteorite. Here’s the original paper.

Reader feedback

Remember Flyover Country, the app I mentioned last week that provides geographic details on the land you’re flying over? Reader Mechum P. writes to point out that it does, indeed, work outside the U.S. “Flyover Country works everywhere! but it can be slow to download your routes,” he says. Thanks for the feedback.

Have a great week!

@Newley

P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here.

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Recent Stories: Grab <--> Lyft; Microsoft Exec on Self-Driving Cars; Venture Capital in Southeast Asia

I’m behind in sharing some of the stories I’ve been working on. Here are a few from last week.

The first, on Grab’s integration with Lyft in the U.S., begins:

The latest step in a global ride-sharing alliance between rivals of Uber Technologies Inc. went into effect Thursday, allowing users of a popular Southeast Asia-focused transportation app to begin making car bookings via Lyft Inc. in the U.S.

Users of the app from GrabTaxi Holdings Pte. Ltd., which operates in 30 cities across six Southeast Asian countries, can now use the service to hail vehicles in more than 200 U.S. cities via Lyft. In December, Lyft said it was teaming up with Grab, as the company is known, after announcing a similar agreement with Chinese startup Didi Chuxing Technology Co. in September, bolstering the competitive field against the much larger Uber.

The second, on Microsoft, which I wrote while in Hong Kong for our Converge tech conference, begins:

Microsoft Corp. isn’t building its own self-driving car, but is bullish on helping others with related technology, a senior executive said.

“We won’t be building our own autonomous vehicle but we would like to enable autonomous vehicles and assisted driving as well,” said Peggy Johnson, who heads business development for the Redmond, Wash., tech titan, speaking at the Converge technology conference hosted by The Wall Street Journal and f.ounders in Hong Kong Friday.

Ms. Johnson said Microsoft has asked various auto makers what kind of technological applications they are looking for, whether it is working with Azure, its cloud-based service for businesses, Office 365, the cloud version of its productivity software suite, or its Windows operating system.

And finally, another from the conference: a look at how investors – such as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin – are increasingly pouring venture capital funds into Southeast Asia:

Venture capitalists and investors attending the Converge technology conference in Hong Kong on Friday expressed optimism about the future of startups in Southeast Asia, despite significant challenges.

“Between Southeast Asia and India there are about two billion people,” said Facebook Inc. co-founder Eduardo Saverin, speaking on a panel about investment opportunities in the region. “It’s arguably the fastest-growing internet market in the world.”

In the first quarter of this year, funding to companies in Singaporethe region’s startup hub–rose sharply to $199 million from $53.1 million a year earlier, according to Hong Kong-based AVCJ Research.

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Book Notes — ‘Asian Godfathers,’ by Joe Studwell

Note: I have long kept, on index cards, written notes about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016 06 01 asian godfathers

Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
By Joe Studwell
Published: Oct. 2007
Read: Nov. 2015
Amazon link

Brief recap: An incisive look at how Southeast Asia’s godfathers got rich by exploiting the region’s dysfunctional governments — and how local elites have used godfathers, in turn.

One of the best books, if not the very best, on the region that I’ve encountered; should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the history of modern Southeast Asia.

My notes:

  • The region’s godfathers — largely Chinese and Indians — emigrated to Southeast Asia before World War II, taking advantage of opportunities for concessions and monopolies from local political elites in exchange for not seeking their own political power. Typical godfather behavior would be, for example, to bribe local politicians for lucrative monopolies, which they then used to build their own fortunes. Local elites got a steady stream of incoming cash in return, and weren’t challenged in the governmental sphere.

  • Southeast Asia and Hong Kong have very few global brands because they employ “technology-less industrialization” — entrepreneurs seek rents and have monopolies, so don’t need to improve productivity or become globally competitive.

  • The economic landscape in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong is “shaped by the interaction of two historical forces: migration and colonization.” That is, migrants came to Southeast Asia and began building their riches by taking advantage of colonial systems.

  • Thailand’s Thaksin was a godfather who committed the sin of political ambition — and alienated his fellow godfathers.

  • Studwell is highly critical of Singapore despite the fact it is known globally for good governance and its outsized economic development. He argues that its small size makes comparisons with countries irrelevant, and that both the city-state and Hong Kong show that small cities with deep water ports and good banking facilities were always destined to flourish in the region, despite their very different political models. “As relatively easily managed city states, with highly motivated and purely immigrant populations,” Studwell writes, “Hong Kong and Singapore perform a simple economic trick: they arbitrage the relative economic inefficiency of their hinterlands. In other words, business comes to them because they perform certain tasks — principally services — a little better than surrounding countries.”

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Nick Lemann in The New Yorker on Thiel, Gawker, and press freedom in the U.S.

A passage from the piece worth worth highlighting:

Before the middle decades of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court didn’t find that the First Amendment gave the press extraordinary protection to publish private material about public figures, or secret government documents. As the press moved from its raffish Front Page period into at least trying to behave like a profession, the Court gave it steadily more protection. But today the American press has a profoundly different structure than it did in the Sullivan era. Established, professionalized news organizations make up a far smaller portion of the whole, and most are under economic stress. The roguish part of the press is proliferating. People like Nick Denton love to mock the mainstream media for being preachy and self-regarding, while taking full advantage of the protections that arrived during its brief period of general public esteem. Now the public likes the press less and less, and that invites a sustained reconsideration of the protections.

Read the whole thing.

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In This Week’s Newley’s Notes: Apple Stores in India; Subaru’s Memorable Marketing Campaign; Capybaras as Pets; Neanderthal stalagmite constructions

The latest edition of my email newsletter has gone out to subscribers. It’s pasted in below.

To get these weekly dispatches delivered to your inbox, sign up here. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s brief — and few people unsubscribe!


Hi friends,

Thanks for reading Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter where I share my WSJ stories, posts from my blog, and various interesting links.

What I wrote in The Wall Street Journal

“Indian Ministries Divide on Apple’s Retail Vision” – India’s minister for commerce and industry said today she supports waiving rules that could block Apple Inc.’s retail stores. Apple wants its own shops in India for brand visibility; it’s still unclear if that will happen.

What I wrote at Newley.com

Book Notes — ‘The One Thing,’ by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. For a while now, I’ve kept, on index cards, notes about many of the books I’ve read. I’ve decided to start sharing these notes as blog posts. Stay tuned for more.

5 items that are worth your time this week:

1) “How an Ad Campaign Made Lesbians Fall in Love with Subaru.” Fascinating. From the piece:

“When we did the research, we found pockets of the country like Northampton, Massachusetts, and Portland, Oregon, where the head of the household would be a single person—and often a women,” says Bennett. When Subaru marketers talked to these customers, they realized these women buying Subarus were lesbian.

And:

Many of them even felt an affinity with the name.

‘Subaru’ is the Japanese name for the Pleiades, a six-star constellation. When Kenji Kita, the CEO of Subaru’s parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, chose the name in 1954, he chose it to represent how six Japanese companies had merged to form Fuji Heavy Industries. But in English, the constellation is also known as the Seven Sisters—the same name as a group of American women’s colleges.

2) Great idea for an app: You can consult Flyover Country while in the air to learn about interesting geologic formations below your plane. More info here. (Note: It’s unclear to me if this works just in the U.S., or elsewhere, as well.)

3) This is an incredible. A Swiss graphic designer spent some 1,000 hours recreating all of 1977’s “Star Wars Episodie IV – A New Hope” – in a single, 123-meter-long, scrollable infographic. #Dedication

4) It appears that Neanderthals built constructions out of stalagmites deep inside a cave in France some 176,000 years ago. But no one knows what they were for. For more, here’s the original paper.

5) I was researching capybaras – yes, you read that right; they’ve been in the news – and came across this amazing video of two people who have made pets of the huge rodents. Here’s a video of the pair, Romeo and Tuff’n, going shopping.

Have a great week!

@Newley

P.S. If someone forwarded you this email, you can subscribe here.

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Book Notes — ‘The One Thing,’ by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

Note: I have long kept written notes on index cards about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016-01-02_one_thing

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
By Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
Published: April, 2013
Read: December, 2015
Amazon link.

Brief re-cap: This is a short book with a simple thesis: In every job, there is one single activity that you should focus on that will improve your value to your company or your customers. You should focus on that, above all else, even if it means neglecting other responsibilities, the authors argue.

I didn’t find this book revelatory, exactly, but it served as a useful reminder of the necessity of prioritizing the most crucial projects over all others.

My notes:

  • You must disabuse yourself of several common notions in order to have the biggest impact in your work and life. One is the idea that humans are adept at multitasking, that we can do it all. You can only ever concentrate on one thing at a time. So choose wisely.

    Another myth is the idea that willpower is available on demand. In fact, willpower decreases throughout the day, like a cellphone battery draining bit by bit. That means you must get your most important work done early in the day, while you’re still able to concentrate to the best of your abilities.

  • You should block out four hours on your calendar every day for your “one thing,” and treat it like an appointment that can’t be broken. Day after day of concentration on your most important work will yield big results down the line.
  • Embrace chaos. When you prioritize your “one thing,” some other stuff won’t get done. But that’s okay.
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