May Quotes: “The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” (Bob Marley)

See here for a full list of my favorite quotes. Send me yours, I’m always looking for great ones.

When the student is ready, the master appears. – Buddhist Proverb

The older I get, the more I believe that learning (both informal, like among friends, and formal, like taking classes) is vital to staying young, becoming successful, and being happy.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

-Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Full poem here. A truly great one.

Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn. – Alfred in The Dark Knight

Scary but believable concept.

The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does. – Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code

Here are my highlights from The Talent Code (great book if you enjoy studying human behavior).

Without haste, but without rest – Goethe

Uh-huh. There’s a dirty joke in here about the old bull and the young bull…

Our greatest battles are those with our own minds – Jameson Frank

Could not agree more. Entrepreneurs please read this.

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind – Bertrand Russell

I loved this quote in high school. I like it less now. It’s always interesting to see your likes/dislikes change as you grow older.

Revenge is a dish best served cold

Robert Greene’s Law #36: Disdain things you cannot have – ignoring them is the best revenge. Here’s a full list of his 48 laws of power.

The competitor to be feared is the one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time – Henry Ford

I need to remember this.

The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for. – Bob Marley

Appreciate this insight more and more.

I always wonder why birds stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on the earth. Then I ask myself the same question – Harun Yahya

Why I try to see a new city every month. Still fail.

There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction – J.K. Rowling

Mm-hmm. Think many children-of-immigrants can attest to this.

You sound like a 17-year old guy who’s happy to get some pussy. I want you to sound like a 30-year old guy who likes to fuck. – D.O.C.

Ha-ha.

The wrong question to ask of a myth is whether it is true or false. The right question is whether it is living or dead, whether it still speaks to our condition. – Richard Holloway

An insight I would not have appreciated when I was younger. Wonder what other insights will reveal themselves in time.

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. – Blaise Pascal

One that is beautiful as much for its phrasing as its insight.

1-Page Cheatsheet: John Ratey’s Spark

spark-book-coverI started documenting and summarizing books using a concept I called the “Good Life guides”. Here are some examples. How can we take a nonfiction book’s lessons and apply them to live a good life?

However, the guides were too time-consuming and I wasn’t enjoying the creation process, so I’m trying something simpler and more straightforward where I take the most interesting findings, facts, and snippets, and pack them into a “1-page cheatsheet”.

Comes out to about 1000 words, which is closer to 3 pages, but oh well :)

HERE WE GO!

I chose Spark because it came highly recommended by Steve Pavlina and I’m always looking for motivation to exercise more.

John Ratey is a psychiatry prof at Harvard Med School. His book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain [Amazon] is about the tremendous benefits of exercise, specifically cardio-intensive activities like running and biking. Through a combination of interviews, frontline work as a clinic researcher, and extensive analysis of the latest scientific literature, it concludes that frequent, moderate-to-high intensity cardio permanently improves not only physical health, but mental and psychological health too.

LESSONS AND HIGHLIGHTS

1. Exercise helps your body utilize energy more efficiently

One of the ways exercise optimizes energy usage is by triggering the production of more receptors for insulin. In the body, having more receptors means better use of blood glucose and stronger cells. Best of all, the receptors stay there, which means the newfound efficiency gets built in.

2. Regular exercise helps you:

A. Be more social

Studies show that by adding physical activity to our lives, we become more socially active—it boosts our confidence and provides an opportunity to meet people. The vigor and motivation that exercise brings helps us establish and maintain social connections.

B. Calm down

As for the trait, the majority of studies show that aerobic exercise significantly alleviates symptoms of any anxiety disorder. But exercise also helps the average person reduce normal feelings of anxiousness.

C. Fight depression

In Britain, doctors now use exercise as a first-line treatment for depression, but it’s vastly underutilized in the United States, and that’s a shame.

D. Improve focus

Paradoxically, one of the best treatment strategies for ADHD involves establishing extremely rigid structure. Over the years, I’ve heard countless parents offer the same observation about their ADHD children: Johnny is so much better when he’s doing tae kwon do.

E. Fight unhealthy addictions

In smokers, just five minutes of intense exercise can be beneficial. Nicotine is an oddball among addictive substances as it works as a stimulant and a relaxant at the same time. Exercise fights the urge to smoke because in addition to smoothly increasing dopamine it also lowers anxiety, tension, and stress levels—the physical irritability that makes people so grouchy when they’re trying to quit. Exercise can fend off cravings for fifty minutes and double or triple the interval to the next cigarette.

F. Make better decisions

…the participants reported that an entire range of behavior related to self-regulation took a turn for the better. Not only did they steadily increase their visits to the gym, they reported that they smoked less, drank less caffeine and alcohol, ate more healthy food and less junk food, curbed impulse spending and overspending, and lost their tempers less often.

G. Have healthier babies

Exercise seems to be more than just not harmful, though. In one study, Clapp compared thirty-four newborns of exercisers to thirty-one of sedentary mothers five days after birth. There’s only so much you can do to gauge behavior at this early stage, but the babies from the exercise group “performed” better on two of six tests: they were more responsive to stimuli and better able to quiet themselves following a disturbance of sound or light. Clapp sees this as significant because it suggests that infants of exercising mothers are more neurologically developed than their counterparts from sedentary mothers.

H. Live longer!

If your brain isn’t actively growing, then it’s dying. Exercise is one of the few ways to counter the process of aging because it slows down the natural decline of the stress threshold.

[A subject I’m personally very interested in. Here are my resources on living forever]

3. How much and what types of exercise?

#1: AEROBIC. Exercise four days a week, varying from thirty minutes to an hour, at 60 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate.

#2: STRENGTH. Hit the weights or resistance machines twice a week, doing three sets of your exercises at weights that allows you to do ten to fifteen repetitions in each set.

#3: BALANCE AND FLEXIBILITY. Focus on these abilities twice a week for thirty minutes or so. Yoga, Pilates, tai chi, martial arts, and dance all involve these skills, which are important to staying agile.

#4: MENTAL EXERCISE: KEEP LEARNING. My advice here is to keep challenging your mind. You know by now that exercise prepares your neurons to connect, while mental stimulation allows your brain to capitalize on that readiness. It’s no coincidence that study after study shows that the more education you have, the more likely you are to hang onto your cognitive abilities and stave off dementia

Doing a mix of low, medium, and high intensity exercise is important as they all do different (good) things for your brain & body

FUN FACTS

  • It turns out that marijuana, exercise, and chocolate all activate these same receptors in the brain.
  • As an illustration of the power of drugs, consider that while sex increases dopamine levels 50 to 100 percent, cocaine sends dopamine skyrocketing 300 to 800 percent beyond normal levels.
  • The brain is made up of more than 50 percent fat, so fats are important too, as long as they’re the right kind. Trans fat, animal fat, and hydrogenated oils gum up the works, but the omega-3s found in fish are enormously beneficial
  • The one proven way to live longer is to consume fewer calories—at least if you’re a lab rat. In experiments in which rodents eat 30 percent fewer calories, they live up to 40 percent longer than animals allowed to eat as much as they want.
  • Low-carb diets may help you lose weight, but they’re not good for your brain. Whole grains have complex carbohydrates that supply a steady flow of energy rather than the spike and crash of simple sugars, and they’re necessary to transport amino acids such as tryptophan into the brain.
  • Vitamin D is being recognized not only for its importance in strengthening bones but also as a measure against cancer and Parkinson’s. I would recommend 1000 IU (international units) of vitamin D…I would also recommend taking vitamin B with at least 800 mg of folate, which improves memory and processing speed.

Here’s a list of all 1-page cheatsheets, and a list of all books!

May: Books I finished and my Ever-notebook of articles + highlights

These are the books I finished in March, April, and May. It was a slower period than January and February.

Before I jump into books, let me share my new experiment: a public Evernote notebook of all the articles I read and highlight. I use Clearly to accomplish this.

It’s a true representation of the text content I consume online – roughly 50% startups/tech, 20% China, 30% other (eg, sports, pop culture, psychology, science).

Here’s the link again.

I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  • I read a lot and have always wanted to share interesting articles, blogs, forums, podcasts, and videos with friends
  • I now have a permanent archive of every article I’ve read
  • I hope through sharing that readers will offer recommendations and feedback

I’d love to hear what you think, after you check it out. I will explore Flipboard’s create-your-own-magazine feature at some point. If you’re interested in doing something similar, I’m happy to help.

Books I’m reading

  • Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande [Amazon]
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville [Amazon]
  • Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success by Adam Grant [Amazon]
  • What Does China Think? by Mark Leonard [Amazon]

Books I finished

postcards-from-tomorrow-squarePostcards from Tomorrow Square by James Fallows [Amazon]. Great essays from a great writer on a variety of China topics: the environment; politics; manufacturing; pop culture and more. I first came across Fallows while reading his college admissions pieces in high school, and since then, I’ve enjoyed his clean, elegant prose, and his ability to combine a clear point-of-view with level-headed, thorough research. He’s also open about what he doesn’t know. You’ll enjoy this book if you want a buffet-style approach to understanding China’s myriad opportunities, peoples, and problems.

delivering-happinessDelivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh [Amazon]. Several friends independently recommended this book, plus they said it was a fast read, plus I’ve heard good things. It is indeed a fast read, with some great stories – Tony’s success speaks for itself. The first half – which covers Tony’s first startup LinkExchange and his early struggles with Zappos – is better than the second half. Not the best “startup textbook” if that’s what you’re looking for, because Tony is so unique that his secret sauce isn’t easily explained, but he gives it the old college try and you’ll certainly pick up a few tips (for me: a great culture takes care of everything else; be willing to go big on things you believe in; never stop having fun).

ready-player-oneReady Player One by Ernest Cline [Amazon]. Alan Tien recommended this book, and when I read fiction I tend towards sci-fi (recently enjoyed Name of the Wind). It’s well-written, packed with 80’s pop culture references, a classic David-v-Goliath, hometown-boy-does-good story.

I enjoy futuristic sci-fi – it’s one of my few guilty pleasures and I’m fascinated by smarter, more thoughtful peoples’ visions of the future (Ray Kurzweil is the man). Ernest doesn’t disappoint. If you enjoy the premise of Tron, you’ll like this book.

See here for a full list of books I’ve read since I’ve begun tracking.

What have you read and loved? Please share! Thanks as always for your time.

How I plan to become fluent in Chinese (in short: Skritter)

skritter-logoI drafted this post 10 weeks ago, after arriving in Shanghai, but never published it.

I intended to stay in Shanghai for 6 months, perhaps longer, but will now be going back to Silicon Valley by mid-June.

I’m publishing anyway because I hope my original plan, and suggested tips/tools/websites, can be helpful to others. The plan has worked well for me in the 3 months I’ve been here.

How well?

For one, the Chinese government administers a Mandarin test called the HSK (汉语水平考试). It’s like the Chinese TOEFL. There are 6 levels, from 1 (beginner) to 6 (expert).

To pass level 1, you need to read and write ~150 words. To pass level 6, you need to read and write ~5000 words. At this level, you’re essentially at native fluency.

When I first got to China, I could barely pass level 4 (~1200 words).

In 3 months of following the below plan, I can now pass level 5 and if I stayed around for 3 more months, I’m confident I could pass level 6.

Now, that’s not saying I’ll be truly fluent – getting there requires using the language (both verbal and written) on a close-to-fulltime basis, which is something I don’t do.

The people I’ve seen come closest to true fluency typically work in an all-Chinese office. Even with a Chinese girlfriend (which is a tactic, of sorts), your Chinese will plateau fairly quickly since most conversational Chinese is relatively superficial.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
SO HERE’S THE ORIGINAL POST
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’m glad to be spending time here in Shanghai.

My main priority is to really invest in learning Mandarin (汉语, which literally translates to “language of the Han”).

Why am I doing this?

Understanding my heritage – which comes through speaking the language – is important. There are of course career opportunities.

Also, I love learning languages! The process is tough but the results are immediate and tangible. You learn to think and express yourself in new ways.

People who intensively study languages show significant growth in areas of the brain. Interestingly, the same thing does not happen to med school students.

Immanuel Kant believed that when you do something like learn a new language, it connects you with a world that was inaccessible before. This “enlargement of thought” was a central and driving purpose of life and in theory put you closer to an all-knowing, all-speaking God.

While it was fun to be in Rio for 10 days, I would have experienced it on a deeper level had I understood Portuguese.

Here’s what I’ve been doing

1. Using Skritter to memorize HSK vocabulary

This is where you should start.

Skritter is an iPhone app, a Chinese character-writing game which *almost* makes the process of memorizing characters fun. It tracks your progress (I love seeing stats like how many new characters I learned last week) and adjusts to your skill level and progress.

As Tim Ferriss says, content is more important than process. I agree it’s a key part of any efficiency-maximizing language learning process.

It’s clear what words are needed to pass each HSK level. Here’s a great example. You just load those lists into Skritter and you’re on your way!

*Skritter is not cheap. There is a 15-day unlimited trial period, then you pay $14.99/mo for access. However, I use it 30-60 minutes a day and I can say it’s easily the best pound-for-pound language-learning-investment I’ve made

2. Private tutoring sessions

I take classes with That’s Mandarin last week. 3 sessions per week, 2 hours per session.

I chose them for 2 reasons:

1. Their classrooms were the nicest. Free coffee and tea. That they put so much attention into their learning space is indicative of their commitment to students

2. Their teachers had the most nuanced understanding of Chinese. As my friends know, I ask “Why” a lot, and they were able to answer more “Why” questions than other teachers

One teaching method they employ is to watch popular Chinese movies together, pausing after specific exchanges to discuss exactly what’s going on. For those that read Chinese, the movie we’re watching is 杜拉拉升职记.

Other language centers showed me outdated language books which still talked about stuff like SOEs and “iron rice bowls” (铁饭碗)…irrelevant crap from the 70s and 80s.

*Tutoring sessions are particularly helpful for taking characters I study in Skritter and learning to write/read/speak them in the right context

3. Reading, and lots of it

The HSK is primarily a reading test. There are writing, listening, and speaking components, but the most important skill is quick and thorough reading.

I’ve been reading the essays of a famous young Chinese blogger named Han Han (韩寒).

The software and tools I’m using

A. Skritter – as mentioned above, a critical piece of the puzzle; if you’re serious about learning Chinese, download Skritter now. Thanks to Linus for sharing it with me

B. Pleco – far and away the best iPhone Chinese dictionary

C. Han Han’s blog posts (eg, content you enjoy reading) – here’s a link to an English translation, which includes links to the original posts

D. FluentU – I enjoy using this to read and learn Chinese song lyrics

The biggest obstacles to reaching HSK 6

1. Shanghai is such an international city that I usually spend an entire day only speaking English. I hang out with few locals, and even then the conversation is 80% English

2. The people who reach fluency fastest are FORCED to use it. Sometimes this is a full-time, immersive language-learning environment. Other times it’s because they work in a Chinese-speaking office (which can be a GREAT forcing function). I have neither…

3. The distractions of the city itself. Shanghai is like New York – it can lead to too much socializing, too much headless-chicken-syndrome

If you’re interested in mastering Mandarin, please download Skritter!!

What language are you learning? What tools/methods do you find most helpful?

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Thanks to Morgan Freeman and Charles Srisuwananukorn for reminding me of this great poem. Gotta memorize it again! :)

Invictus was a solid movie, but I have no regrets waiting until I could torrent.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.