Silent Whispers

Chasing Illusionary Butterflies!

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds- Book 7 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 9, 2018

A person is intelligent; people are stupid. Whoever once said that must have been referring to stock market manias. It’s incredible and disconcerting fact that, although first published in 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay describes trends and manias that are as relevant today as they were back then. Some things never change especially basic human nature. Dimension and magnitude may differ but basic traits remain the same. This 178 year old book is still just as timely as the day it was written. Key in the search words- stock market bubbles in Google, and almost all the resulting article will refer to this book. The relevance of this book transcends time and space barrier.

Often cited as the best book ever written about market psychology, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and162120 the Madness of Crowds includes Charles Mackay’s account of the three infamous financial manias – John Law’s Mississipi Scheme, the South Sea Bubble, and Tulipomania. These historic episodes confirm what all modern day investors know and yet often succumb to, that greed and fear have always been the driving forces of financial markets, and, furthermore, that being sensible and clever is no defence against the mesmeric allure of a popular craze with the wind behind it. Though the author had obvious benefit of hindsight, he has produced a record that is at once a deep accurate depiction of people psychology, herd mentality and a gripping historical document. We might have advanced by leaps and bounds in every sphere of life and yet the basic driving force of greed and fear retains its ubiquitous stronghold over we mortals.

The author, Charles Mackay (1812-1889), was a Scottish journalist and author.  This monumental book is heavily-researched and details historical anecdotes of the pitfalls of group behaviour. Throughout, he focuses on repeated episodes when entire societies got caught up in drummed up irrational hysterias and behaved as if the laws of science or economics had been temporarily suspended. As it happens, in every case, hope overcame reason, as folks labored under the delusion that this time was somehow different (sounds familiar, no?), that their form of cultural madness was unique and actually made sense. Modern social psychologists and economists have taken examples from this book to describe the dysfunctions of following the “Crowd”. That perpetual boom to bust behaviour in equity market is neatly demonstrated in the book.

The first story of the Mississippi Scheme details the life of John Law – the Scottish economist, banker, adventurer, murderer, royal advisor and exile who in 1716 established the Banque Generale, a state chartered bank with the power to issue unbacked paper currency. He thought that increasing the money in circulation would benefit commerce and like it always happens, his scheme was a spectacular success but a short lived one. Mr. Law also created Mississippi Company, a French colony trading precious metals. To kick-start the operation, he needed funds for which he issued shares and low-interest government bonds. Soon enough, shares in Mississippi went sky high as people were drawn to the lure of trading in gold and silver. A mania spread throughout the country as people of all classes jostled to get their names on the share register. The craze was such that Law was forced to issue more bank notes causing extreme inflation. As the craze went on, the bubble became unsustainable and burst. The company collapsed plunging France into an economic crisis. The scheme wasn’t bad as such but it was the irrational speculation of the people that led to the inflated price and ultimate collapse.

 … It was remarked at this time that Paris had never before been so full of objects of elegance and luxury. Statues, pictures, and tapestries were imported in great quantities from foreign countries, and found a ready market.

All those pretty trifles in the way of furniture and ornament which the French excel in manufacturing were no longer the exclusive playthings of the aristocracy, but were to be found in abundance in the houses of traders and the middle classes in general. Jewellery of the most costly description was brought to Paris as the most favourable mart;”…

The second story of South Sea Bubble is almost of similar shade. However, it took place in Britain and their lawmakers handled it in a better manner than their French royalty. Tulipmania, on the other hand feels almost unbelievable with stories like how Dutch people would sell their entire estate to convert it into a few Tulip bulbs believing the latter to be more precious than anything at their disposal. There is this funny anecdote of a sailor who ate a prize tulip bulb with his herring breakfast thinking it to be an onion and spent months in jail as a result.

People are prone to delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple; and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity.” …..

Looking closely, you will find a common thread in each mania. The initial proposition seems almost sensible with the common theme of new proposal heralded as a way to end poverty and allow anyone to make money without actually doing any hard work; and how each mania distorts the economy such that productive industries are damaged by the rush of capital to speculation. But we humans are too greedy to be stopped. Whether its Y2K bubble or 2008 financial crisis, we are still the same. Every few years/decades, we will witness the next boom and bout of collective madness. Who knows? The thing about manias is that it is hard to spot them until they are well underway. As an investor, our primary goal is to notice when this herd mentality occurs and to avoid being swept up in the “madness” that can often have disastrous results. Easier said than done but….

I will finish this must read book with the most wonderful quote “… millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one “ Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Happy reading, folks.  Onto the 8th. Cheers.

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TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking- Book 6 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 5, 2018

First, a confession. I am terrible at public speaking and totally petrified by the daunting but unavoidable prospect of making a passionate speech to a half eager, half yawning audience. It would fill up several pages if I start recounting how my previous attempts of public speaking had my legs wobbling, tongue swirling with rapid-fire ejaculation of gibberish words and confusion writ large on the faces of attentive listeners and not to forget; those dubious words of “tu acha bola”/ “you did good…” from my sincere friends! Yeah, right; as if I didn’t know! Phew! I did everything within my power to stay away from any public speaking platforms and look at the irony, somehow I have ended up in a profession/place where I need to be more vocal! Never mind…

ted-talksComing to the book, it’s been written by Chris Anderson, TED Curator. You all must have heard of TED talks, haven’t you? Just to give you a brief, since its beginning in 1984 as an annual Technology, Education, and Design conference, TED has evolved into a global phenomenon, inviting experts in all fields to present what TED calls “Ideas worth spreading.” The organization has grown and expanded like anything and they have a massive fan following. Their 18-minute (or shorter) talks are hugely popular, so much that they rack up more than 1 billion views each year. These TED Talks have become the pinnacle of public speaking.

This is not a one time read. For someone like me who needs to be better at this essential and amazing skill of public speaking, this book is more like a reference point which needs to be visited every now and then. According to the author, there is no one way to give a great talk and that’s because a key part of the appeal of a great talk is its freshness. He also acknowledges that almost everyone has experienced the fear of public speaking (partly due to the fear of reputation damage). He stresses the need to be yourself – to be authentic. This book is more about tools rather than rules.

The book is structured into 21 chapters, but those are broken down in five sections which deal with the five aspects of: TED Talk preparation; The Foundation; Talk Tools, Preparation Process; On Stage and Reflection. He explores five core tools in detail: connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation. There’re seven ideas on ending with power (pull back, call to action, personal commitment, values and vision, satisfying encapsulation, narrative symmetry and lyrical inspiration). Book reflects author’s decade of experience dealing with speakers. He covers important topics such as making a personal connection with audiences, explaining complicated subjects to laypeople, priming people to accept counter-intuitive ideas, and cultivating a sense of showmanship. He also addresses aspects of preparation, such as knowing what vocal styles to avoid, planning attire, and managing nervousness. It doesn’t cater solely to communications professionals but is relevant and useful to anyone who wishes to make a mark in public speaking. Chris is very thorough about how to structure an argument and rhetorically present the big idea. One of the most important points for me was to have only one idea per talk. Also the fact that, there need not be one certain method or approach to present a talk. There could be a number of different approaches for different folks and depending upon your strength and passion, anything can fly.

Book consistently harps on the importance of storytelling – to align multiple minds into a shared consciousness. Author urges you to discover what really excites you then show why it matters and flesh out each point with real examples. And to be unexpected and raise curiosity when you deliver your message. Audience empathy is central and jargon is banished with “you can only use the tools that your audience has access to”. Chris also talks about four styles to avoid including: the sales pitch, the ramble, the org bore and the inspiration performance (i.e. “park your ego”). Additionally, there’s a wealth of guidance on what to wear and help with managing nerves. Studded with psychological insights, TED Talks has some interesting material on voice and presence covering voice coaches’ advice on pitch, pace (130-170 words a minute), timbre, tone and prosody.

To sum up, this is a pretty good book providing you with much wider and interesting dimensions of the art of public speaking. The author has presented several examples from the best TED Talks and practical advice from great TED speakers. In all, he references 48 talks, and you can watch all of them in the Official TED Talk Guide Playlist.

Happy reading, folks.  Onto the 7th. Cheers.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring- Book 5 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 29, 2018

Once upon a time the famous physicist Albert Einstein was confronted by an overly concerned woman who sought advice on how to raise her small son to become a successful scientist. In particular she wanted to know what kinds of books she should read to her son.

“Fairy Tales,” Einstein responded without hesitation.

“Fine, but what else should I read to him after that?” the mother asked.

“More fairy tales,” Einstein stated.

“And after that?”

“Even more fairy tales,” replied the great scientist, and he waved his pipe like a wizard pronouncing a happy end to a long adventure.

(Source-Brainpickings)

Above story prompted me to go for this book. It is not an easy book to review. I mean, how would you review one of the most celebrated pieces of fiction/fantasy ever written, turned into a humongous series of movies, universally admired and acclaimed?! I was always a fan of Lord of the Ring (LOTR) trilogy; surreal visuals, depth of characters, scale & vision of the director and studio- just everything about the movie series felt grand. It wasn’t until recently that I felt like reading Harry Potters, Chronicle of Narnias & LOTRs of the world, having seen all these movies long back. Primary reason was, I wanted to explore all the literature genres hitherto untouched and secondly, being a part of Education field, I felt it might fire up my own creativity and give me some ideas as Einstein reiterated above.

“The Lord of the Rings” is often considered as the pinnacle of fantasy literature. Written by professor of lotr.jpglinguistics J.R.R. Tolkien, it is a high-fantasy epic- something that the movie series did much to cement in popular culture. The richness of the world Tolkien created is just stunning. A major portion of the book is devoted to telling the history of the places hobbit Frodo and his companions’ journey through and the people they encounter. It’s a large narrative about Middle Earth where everyone and everything has a story. Everything matters. Nothing feels as though it was just thrown in Frodo’s path errantly by Tolkien to further the plot. Tolkein’s descriptions of a place or of some particular race is so vivid and detailed that too often you find yourself pausing for a while and visualizing the entire picture. You could clearly see in your mind’s eyes landscape of the Shire in autumn as Frodo, Sam, and Pippin began their trek away from Bag End.

The book is set in a world created by Tolkien, called Middle Earth. From Hobbit holes to fiery mountains, The Fellowship of the Ring follows the journey of a misfit group on a noble mission to conquer evil. The main character, Frodo, inherits a magical ring that could cause the end of the world. With a fellowship of man, hobbit, elf, and dwarf alike, Frodo goes on a quest to Mt. Doom to destroy this ring. Along the way, he and his friends encounter many obstacles of astounding proportions, which they must deal with to finish their quest. The fantastical nature lends itself to the fairy-tale genre, but the complex nature of the plot can enthrall people of all ages. On one hand, it captures the attention of young readers with fantasy characters and at the same time, it pulls adults with messages of hope, persistence, and honor. The way Tolkien uses the characters to add atmosphere to the story is simply spellbinding. Take any character and you will find it highly detailed, physically and emotionally. The book is essentially just one huge road trip, which brings you from town to town. The journey is quite believable, and so you can understand the expedition more so, Tolkien created a map of Middle Earth, which is included with the books.

The storyline has one single plot of Frodo traveling to Mt. Doom to destroy “The one ring”, leading into countless subplots, which add to the texture of the novels. The book includes a generous dose of poetry which adds to the depth of the plot. Each race has a distinct style of poetry. So for instance, if hobbits sing about their day to day lives then elves wax lyrical about beauty and timelessness. At times, these poems can be distracting but all in all, they also help in delving deep into the mindset of his races. Books introduces several fascinating creatures like dwarfs, Elfs, Orcs, Balrogs, Goblins etc with each of them having distinct characteristics. You will love some of them and hate with equal fervour some others.

If you are wondering about movie adaptation and how faithful was Peter Jackson to the books, then you are sure to find certain deviations. He did an incredible job of adapting such fantastical, epic and well-loved books, but there are many ways in which the stories and their telling differ. Some parts changed, minor characters given larger roles and the feel and pacing differ greatly. Movie has more action and adventure However, what Tolkien provides is a much different experience. In real time, almost, day by day, he is recounting what happened to his characters and he will not be rushed. He is not interested in where the story is going, but the journey itself. Thus, the landscape and the history are important to what he is doing. It gives a much greater sense of distances covered and time passed. The richness of his world starts to come alive once you start reading slowly and going with the pace of the author.

To sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It’s not a book written for kids. Taking a passage from brainpickings once again;  “I do not believe that I have ever written a children’s book,” the great Maurice Sendak once said in an interview. “I don’t write for children,” he told Colbert. “I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” This sentiment — the idea that designating certain types of literature as “children’s” is a choice entirely arbitrary and entirely made by adults”.

Do read the book and As Tolkien says, “Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else … may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.

Looking forward to see how the other two volumes hold up.

Happy reading, folks. Cheers.

 

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Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow- Book 4 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 24, 2018

Yuval Noah Harari is someone who makes history look very sexy. It’s not just about him being a historian but more about how he analyses and interprets history that makes you look at the entire subject in a completely new light. The book “Homo Deus” is a sequel to his first bestseller book  “Sapiens: Brief History of Human Kind”, which was an amazing book; one of the very best that I have ever read. Homo Deus” takes off where “Sapiens” left off; it is a “brief history of tomorrow.”

deusIn Sapiens, we read about how Homo-Sapiens progressed from hunter gatherers through the umpteen societal revolutions that took us to our current position whereas Homo Deus describes the possible futures we might envision. Harari builds a pretty solid and convincing case for how the world of technology might blend with or destroy Homo Sapiens in coming times. It is forward looking and speculative. This book is a wonderful blend of history, philosophy, science, religion, and economics into one cohesive narrative.

The book begins with “New Human Agenda”, raising questions like What will we strive for? Basically the world has done well for itself so far. We have controlled diseases, controlled poverty, reduced wars and have achieved many other scientific milestones. So what’s next?  We humans are never satisfied with our achievements. We simply crave for more, better, faster, different. Subsequent chapters ask and tries to answers thought-provoking questions like,

  • What is the difference between humans and all other animals?

  • How did our species conquer the world?

  •  Is Homo sapiens a superior life form, or just the local bully? What kind of world did humans create?

  •  How did humans become convinced that they not only control the world, but also give it meaning?

  •  How did humanism – the worship of humankind – become the most important religion of all?

  •  how humans created meaning for themselves through a framework of beliefs we call religion?

  •  Can humans go on running the world and giving it meaning?

  • How do biotechnology and artificial intelligence threaten humanism?

  • Who might inherit humankind, and what new religion might replace humanism?

  •  Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing?

  •  What’s more valuable — intelligence or consciousness?

  •  What will happen to society , politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

There are some scary propositions proposed in the book. The way humans are relentlessly moving forward, we are more likely to live longer and have super human qualities but it is most likely to be the preserve of the techno super-rich, the masters of the data universe. At the same time, there is a high possibility of redundancy of labour, supplanted by efficient machines that will create an enormous “useless class”, without economic or military purpose.

Sapiens evolved in the African savannah tens of thousands of years ago, and their algorithms are just not built to handle twenty-first-century data flows. We might try to upgrade the human data-processing system, but this may not be enough. The Internet-of-All-Things may soon create such huge and rapid data flows that even upgraded human algorithms would not be able to handle them. When cars replaced horse-drawn carriages, we didn’t upgrade the horses – we retired them. Perhaps it is time to do the same with Homo sapiens.”

“The individual will not be crushed by Big Brother; it will disintegrate from within. Today corporations and governments pay homage to my individuality and promise to provide medicine, education and entertainment customized to my unique needs and wishes. But in order to do so, corporations and governments first need to break me up into biochemical subsystems, monitor these subsystems with ubiquitous sensors and decipher their workings with powerful algorithms. In the process, the individual will transpire to be nothing but a religious fantasy.”

Harari has given a fascinating detail of the concept of humanism and how it came to be our new belief system. As per this concept, the meaning of life comes from each of us individually. Earlier the Gods and Godmen used to determine morality, the rights and wrongs but now humanism says that all we need to do is pay attention to what it is we think and feel. Take for examples, phrases like, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, “voter knows best”, “Always listen to your heart” or the most prophetic words uttered by all the corporate giants- “the customer is always right” etc. However, the all pervasive humanism is giving way to a new belief system that is slowly engulfing the worlds amidst the advancing technologies which may well become more powerful than humanism. He refers to it as “Dataism”.

He says that, “Dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing. This may strike you as some eccentric fringe notion, but in fact it has already conquered most of the scientific establishment. If humankind is indeed a single data-processing system, what is its output? Dataists would say that its output will be the creation of a new and even more efficient data-processing system, called the Internet-of-All-Things. Once this mission is accomplished, Homo sapiens will vanish.”

“If Kindle is upgraded with face recognition and biometric sensors, it will know how each sentence you read influenced your heart rate and blood pressure. It will know what made you laugh, what made you sad and what made you angry. Soon, books will read you while you are reading them.”

Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.

Dataists consider universe as an unrelenting flow of data, whereby each of us absorbs and emits countless bits of data daily. Ever noticed how each one of us consistently receive emails, text messages, read articles, and simultaneously produce our own data in response to these? If humanism put emphasis on the importance of feeling, sensing and having experiences, dataism tells you the importance of sharing experiences. Dataists believe in the importance of data being free and envisions a future where there is one all-encompassing data system which is all-knowing and all-powerful. Our meaning would then be established from merging with this system that is larger than ourselves. Should this occur, it would result in a shift in our focus from ourselves to a system that knows us better than we know ourselves.

I would also like to quote few striking quotes from the book:- “

In the twenty-first century, the third big project of humankind will be to acquire for us divine powers of creation and destruction, and upgrade Homo sapiens into Homo deus.

“For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined.”

As technology enables us to upgrade humans, overcome old age and find the key to happiness, won’t people care less about fictional gods, nations and corporations, and focus instead on deciphering the physical and biological reality?

Sapiens don’t behave according to a cold mathematical logic, but rather according to a warm social logic. We are ruled by emotions.

All large-scale human cooperation is ultimately based on our belief in imagined orders.

History isn’t a single narrative, but thousands of alternative narratives. Whenever we choose to tell one, we are also choosing to silence others.

But if you enter medical school today in the expectation of still being a family doctor in twenty years, maybe you should think again. With such a Watson around, there is not much need for Sherlocks.

There are no longer natural famines in the world; there are only political famines. If people in Syria, Sudan or Somalia starve to death, it is because some politician wants them to.

Fiction isn’t bad. It is vital. Without commonly accepted stories about things like money, states or corporations, no complex human society can function.

Individuals will become  just a collection of ‘biochemical subsystems’ monitored by global networks

On the other hand, if shit just happens, without any binding script or purpose, then humans too are not confined to any predetermined role. We can do anything we want — provided we can find a way. We are constrained by nothing except our own ignorance.

When the moment comes to choose between economic growth and ecological stability, politicians, CEOs and voters almost always prefer growth. In the twenty-first century, we shall have to do better if we are to avoid catastrophe.

For countless generations our biochemical system adapted to increasing our chances of survival and reproduction, not our happiness.

When you contemplate whom to marry, which career to pursue and whether to start a war, Dataism tells you that it would be a complete waste of time to climb a high mountain and watch the sun setting into the waves. It would be equally futile to visit a museum, write a private diary or have a heart-to-heart talk with a friend.

The upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths: biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of non-organic beings.

When genetic engineering and artificial intelligence reveal their full potential, liberalism, democracy and free markets might become as obsolete as flint knives, tape cassettes, Islam and communism.

Silencing annoying noises inside my head seems like a wonderful idea, provided it enables me to finally hear my deep authentic self. But if there is no authentic self, how do I decide which voices to silence and which to amplify?

Never in history did a government know so much about what’s going on in the world — yet few empires have botched things up as clumsily as the contemporary United States. It’s like a poker player who knows what cards his opponents hold, yet somehow still manages to lose round after round.

This is one gem of a book that engages with its reader on so many levels. Presented in an objective manner, this challenges you to go deep, take a deep breath and imagine all the possible consequences and a fast changing world. You can already witness changing job profiles, emergence of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, privacy cries and all the related stuffs. Homo Deus is so densely populated with ideas that will make you question the direction that the world is going in and whether you like it or not, you need to think accordingly. It’s more like unlearn all the learnings and relearn things just so that you remain in sync with changing dynamics. As Harari suggests that, “Since intelligence is decoupling from consciousness, and since non-conscious intelligence is developing at breakneck speed, humans must actively upgrade their minds if they want to stay in the game.” My suggestion, get a hold of both the books, Sapiens & Homo Deus and read deeply.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

 

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Grinding It Out- Book 3 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 19, 2018

“Columbus discovered America, Jefferson invented it, and Ray Kroc Big Mac’d it.” –Tom Robbins. Couldn’t be truer than that, isn’t it? Few entrepreneurs can claim to have radically changed the way we live, and Ray Kroc is one of them. “Grinding it out” is a fascinating read. It moves at a relentless pace, symbolic of the man the book is all about. As for the man, someone in the book aptly describes him- “He either enchants or antagonizes everyone he meets. But even his enemies agree there are three things Ray Kroc does damned well: sell hamburgers, make money, and tell stories.”

Like the products Ray Kroc sold all his life, this book is also same- Fast, Swift and tantalizing. He was a true revolutionary the way he brought numerous changes to fast food industry. Food service automation, advertising, franchising, shared national training etc were kind of things our civilization was not really aware of until Ray Kroc arrived on the scene. Ray Kroc founded not only a business but an empire. And to think of it, he started it at the ripe old age of 52- the age when people are normally thinking of retirement bliss. That makes his achievements all the more incredible.

41r1g2X8ttLTalking about the story, many readers might be surprised to know that it was not Ray Kroc who first started the McDonald chain. It was rather founded by the McDonald brothers in San Bernadino (near L.A.). McDonald’s was the first national hamburger chain in the US, founded in the 1940s. Ray Kroc was the man who grew the brand across the country. This book is amusingly written and a pretty fun read. In my view, the success of McDonald’s was primarily because of three factors:- 1) Assembly-line production- where food was made quickly and cheaply. 2) French fries- truly a turning point in the success of the business. 3) Good franchise model. Digging deeper, I will share some passages from the book giving us a glimpse of man’s vision, process and progression.

As Mr.Kroc writes-  “The San Bernadino restaurant was a typical drive-in. It developed a terrific business, especially among teenagers. But after World War II, the brothers realized that they were running hard just to stay in one place. They weren’t building volume even though their parking lot was always full. So they did a courageous thing. They closed that successful restaurant in 1948 and reopened it a short time later with a radically different kind of operation. It was a restaurant stripped down to the minimum in service and menu, the prototype for legions of fast-food units that later would spread across the land. Hamburgers, fries and beverages were prepared on an assembly line basis, and to the amazement of everyone, Mac and Dick McDonald included, the thing worked! Of course, the simplicity of the procedure allowed the McDonalds to concentrate on quality in every step, and that was the trick. When I saw it working that day in 1954, I felt like some latter-day Newton who’d just had an Idaho potato caromed off his skull.”

On the subject of French fries, Kroc writes “Now, to most people, a french-fried potato is a pretty uninspiring object. It’s fodder, something to kill time between chewing bites of hamburger and swallows of milk shake. That’s your ordinary french fry. The McDonald’s french fry was in an entirely different league. They lavished attention on it. I didn’t know it then, but one day I would, too. The french fry would become almost sacrosanct for me, its preparation a ritual to be followed religiously.” Looking back, Kroc writes “The quality of our french fries was a large part of McDonald’s success.”

In a twisted kind of way, Ray Kroc standardized American food taste. Initiating McDonald’s franchising system was a real masterstroke. He was an instinctive leader who brought entrepreneurs into a structure that both forced them to conform to high standards of quality and service and freed them to operate as independent business people. Last I knew, McDonald’s had more than 35000 franchises all over the world. That says something about the success of his model. I still can’t get over the fact that he was 52 years old when he first started rolling out McDonald’s across the country. He spent the next 20+ years of his life expanding McDonald’s to 4,000 stores across the world. A bit like Sam Walton (Walmart), Ray Kroc built a system that kept on growing, long after he retired.

Before discovering his true calling, Kroc peddled ribbon novelties, paper cups, and underwater Florida real estate, and played piano in now-forgotten orchestras. But life grew sweet in the Fifties after the fateful trip to California–even if “”you lose a lot of your friends on the way up”” as well as a wife or two. Not a man to waste time in idle regrets (“I had no time to bother with emotional stress”), Ray Kroc was in business of selling multimixers for making milk-shakes before getting involved with McDonalds. When he first heard about San Bernadino McDonald’s restaurant buying a lot of Multimixers from him, and he decided to meet the owners. In his words- “When I flew back to Chicago that fateful day in 1954, I had a freshly signed contract with the McDonald brothers in my briefcase. I was a battle-scarred veteran of the business wars, but I was still eager to go into action. I was 52 years old. I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns. But I was convinced that the best was still ahead of me. I was still green and growing.” Some enthusiasm!!

About his sales technique, Kroc writes, “My cup sales kept growing as I learned how to plan my work and work my plan. My confidence grew at the same rate. I found that my customers appreciated a straightforward approach”.

His words about Stress management technique is also something to read twice and imbibe- “I learned then how to keep problems from crushing me. I refused to worry about more than one thing at a time, and I would not let useless fretting about a problem, no matter how important, keep me from sleeping. This is easier said than done. I did it through my own brand of self-hypnosis. I may have read a book on the subject, I don’t remember, but in any case I worked out a system that allowed me to turn off nervous tension and shut out nagging questions when I went to bed. I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be bright and fresh and able to deal with customers in the morning. I would think of my mind as being a blackboard full of messages, most of them urgent, and I practised imagining a hand with an eraser wiping that blackboard clean. I made my mind completely blank. If a thought began to appear, zap! I’d wipe it out before it could form. Then I would relax my body, beginning at the back of my neck and continuing on down, shoulders, arms, torso, legs, to the tips of my toes. By this time, I would be asleep. I learned to do this procedure rather rapidly.”

As for his personal life, his first wife just wasn’t supportive enough of his business endeavours, so that didn’t work out. Second wife was decent but too mild and unexciting for his high octane self. His third wife was someone he propositioned while she was still married to her previous husband, a McDonald’s franchisee! Kroc makes no apologies for this behaviour, his attitude being: when it’s right it’s right.

Talking about his writing style, Kroc has a sparky, energetic and humorous writing style. Its very business-man like. Straight. To the point. I am tempted to share his writing style here. It might feel like hot, crunchy, crispy French fries to your literary buds.

About San Bernadino, the site of the first McDonald’s, Kroc writes “Now San Bernadino is on the edge of the desert, remember, and you could probably put its average annual precipitation in a martini glass and still have room for an olive.” Oh Man, I loved this line!

About hamburgers, Kroc writes “Consider, for example, the hamburger bun. It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun. Yet, is it any more unusual to find grace in the texture and softly curved silhouette of a bun than to reflect lovingly on the hackles of a favourite fishing fly? Or the arrangement of textures and colours in a butterfly’s wing? Not if you are a McDonald’s man. Not if you view the bun as an essential material in the art of serving a great many meals fast. Then this plump yeasty mass becomes an object worthy of sober study.” Yeah, hamburger can be defined poetically too!!

On real estate “Finding locations for McDonald’s is the most creatively fulfilling thing I can imagine. I go out and check out a piece of property. It’s nothing but bare ground, not producing a damned thing for anybody. I put a building on it, and the operator gets into business there employing fifty or a hundred people, and there is new business for the garbage man, the landscape man, and the people who sell the meat and buns and potatoes and other things. So out of that bare piece of ground comes a store that does, say, a million dollars a year in business. Let me tell you, it’s a great satisfaction to see that happen.”

Guess, I am going on and on. So winding it up, I must say, the story of Ray Kroc is nothing short of miraculous and inspiring and it goes to show that if you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, the right things happen. He proves that you’re never too old to be an entrepreneur. He was 52 when he started his McDonald’s gig, and he kept at it for another 20 years as the company took the country by storm. As Kroc loved to say, “Work is the meat in the hamburger of life. Perseverance will prevail every time over brains, education, and almost anything. PRESS On: Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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How I Made $2,000,000 In The Stock Market- Book 2 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 16, 2018

My second book of the year is “How I Made $2,000,000 In The Stock Market” by Nicolas Darvas. As usual, I came across the book through potent combo of Twitter & Goodreads. It was a pretty quick read. More of a trading text, a healthy portion of the book consists of editorial edition along with some Q&A with Darvas tossed in.

Talking about the author, Nicolas Darvas was a professional dancer who used to perform all around the world. Then as it often happens, he somewhat randomly got into the stock market through; yeah you guessed it right- a tip. Beginner’s luck. And then series of mishits. Sounds familiar, right?

Book’s primary appeal lies in the fact that Darvas was not a professional investor. It’s pretty crazy readinghow-i-made his progression chart. If you are interested in stock market, you can actually relate to all the mistakes he made along the way, how all the noise and rumours played havoc with his system and mental equilibrium and then subsequently he developed his own theory which helped him in making $2 million in 18 months, starting with a stake of less than $25,000. He paid no heed to where market was heading, no prediction or theories about economy in general. What got him hooked was how a particular stock behaves. It’s almost like a scrip reveals its story through its price-volume behaviour.

While reading this book, I was reminded of Jesse Livermore. As far as similarity between the two is concerned, Darvas traded by feel. Because of his professional dancing commitments, he was travelling all around the world so he would receive telegrams with clear instructions to his broker. Every day telegram would be sent to him containing minimal information like scrip names, price, close etc. Through this method, he learned to ‘feel’ the stock price, just as Lefèvre does in ‘Reminiscences of a Stock Operator’ with the ticker tape. Like Livermore, Darvas was also a plunger. He developed this knack of probing the market; that is buying a bit now, a bit more on confirmation and still more after that.

Another important learning for him (and is relevant to all we stock market addicts) was, you can’t get emotional about the market. In his words- “I accepted everything for what it was – not what I wanted it to be. I just stayed on the sidelines and waited for better times to come.”

I really loved the way Mr.Darvas compared stocks to people. Say, he describes the characteristics of some stocks in a very interesting method. For instance, some stocks are highly nervous, irritated and jumpy and the stock price goes all over. Other stocks are sedate and almost bovine. On a closer look, you can actually see that happening. He developed this “Box theory” where a stock trades in a certain price range. He kept watching this range with normal to above average volume depicting accumulation. Then as stock jumped to a new level, he would identify the next box where stock would subsequently find its high/low and made a new range. Once he was sure of higher highs in a new price range/box movement, he would make his move and try to buy at the bottom of the box and gradually increasing his position with every upmove.

Simultaneously Darvas started paying attention to fundamentals as well and connecting the dots. Like how a stock remains steadfast even during falling market, fighting the downtrend. As he checked the story further, he discovered such scrips were growing earnings. “Capital was flowing into these stocks, even in a bad market. This capital was following earning improvements as a dog follows a scent.” And so he married this fundamental idea to his technical box theory. The author says, “I would select stocks on their technical action in the market, but I would only buy them when I could give improving earning power as my fundamental reason for doing so.”

The author puts a strong emphasis on developing/having a set of rules to play the market and no matter what one must STICK to them. It’s fascinating to witness Darvas’ personal trading development along with the construction and refinement of his trading strategy. He kept shifting his course until he finally found the methodology which suited him best. Some people would find certain similarities between his Box theory and popular CANSLIM methodology that mixes fundamental and technical approach.

There is also a stark reminder of what usually happens when you start getting all cocky after initial success. In the story, after he earns his first half million, he goes back to NY to trade on Wall Street – almost immediately he loses his  practiced edge, web of rumours, gossips, heard on the street whispers etc start affecting his trading instinct and he forgets all his own rules and lessons. Back to zero. Not exactly but near-about. Wham! And that makes me think, with all these facilities that we have at our disposal, books/TV/Twitter/WA/Spams/Pumps/Forums etc etc, we are bound to become confused. Stay away. Keep distance. Focus. Period.

One disappointing thing is that the book does not explain his method in detail. Not concisely presented, methodology in bits and pieces over the timeline, you wish there was more written and explained in the book. All in all, a decent quick read.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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Origin by Dan Brown- Book 1 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 13, 2018

First, a confession. Dan Brown is my guilty pleasure. And second, you need a popcorn read during a 36 hours train journey that’s already running behind schedule by 24 hours! But if you want to sprint through an almost 500-page novel at breakneck pace and escape from thinking for a while, then it is very enjoyable. Coming back to my first read of the New year, this book “Origin” starts with two questions-

Where do we come from?

Where are we going?

The entire book revolves around these two questions amidst typical Dan Brown mumbo-jumbo of vivid locations, historical tie-ins, art, architecture and paintings. Though this time it’s Spain instead of usual Italy which was refreshing. So you come across Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid et al and I simply love all those geographic details along with historical tidbits.

originUnlike his last two books whose climax left a lot to be desired, Origin relies heavily on current events and hot topics to make it more relevant to today’s world. Hence you have topics like “fake news”, the advancement of technology and artificial intelligence, and the dark corners of the Internet. The plot plays on universal thoughts, fears and questions.

Then we have our own Harvard genius Robert Langdon swimming effortlessly through maze of Brown’s plots, codes and puzzles. I love all the information about history, science and religion which made it an interesting read for me. Also fascinating was the fact that you can actually look up the organizations mentioned in the book and find that they are all real.

As for the details, you know the Dan Brown formula – initiation of a mystery usually in a museum, church, famous building. Then Langdon meeting a young, vivacious, bright and successful woman. Then they run around to discover something that has a huge repercussion on our history and future.  Then you have age-old debate of Creationism Vs Evolution.

Don’t delve too deep analyzing plot and scenes or else you will start finding cracks. And yes, the final act was kind of predictable but all in all, the book is pulpy, ridiculous and over the top fiction but entertaining as well.

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Hello There!!

Posted by Mrityunjay on January 11, 2018

3 years and 3 months! That’s how long it took me to update my blog again. pity. Anyways, let’s start afresh, shall we? 2017 was a momentous year for me. Personally as well as professionally. Finally shed the proud tag of being a bachelor and tied the knot. Professionally, my school project has started to shape up. Tiny steps yet but very much in right direction. My other passion stocks did really well but it has less to do with my skills and more with general trend of the market in the year gone by. Any idiot would have made money picking any random set of stocks. So pretty lucky that way being fully invested. Writing took a back seat and it feels like as if I have totally forgotten how to weave words. This blog which is was lying dormant since ages was screaming for revival so I kind of forced myself to write things.. Any thing.. Hence this post. So that was the brief about my life in the year 2017.

IMG-20171217-WA0011However, what I am more interested in talking about today is my reading practice last year. As can be seen from the picture, I managed to finish 27 books and almost 10,000 pages. It’s not really a great number if you look closely at so many other vociferous readers on goodreads but somehow I am pretty pumped up about it. It feels good, you know. Reading gives me so so much satisfaction. There is so much to know. The more you read, the more you realize you have so much more to know. Else it’s like a frog in the well story. As I turn older and start accumulating myriad experiences, reading in a strange sort of way crystallizes them all. Taking me to the far away land. In complete harmony with my increasing silence and solitude. Reading a passage, holding still, reflecting on certain ideas triggered by a nondescript sentence. The joy upon finding a paragraph that resonated with the cacophony of your silent being and this endless urge to be left alone with a book with no one in vicinity.

However, as like any sphere of life, it requires a bit of discipline. Not much. Just a tiny little bit. And it was as simple as it was profound. An Old Article by Shane (of farnamstreet fame- I just love this site) made me read every day instead of going whole hog one day and nothing, the very next. It brought some sort of tranquility and regularity. In nutshell, it was as easy as deciding on a certain number of pages as per your time, appetite and interest and you end up finishing a number of books every year. I somehow have this feeling that reading a minimum 25 pages a day made me a bit wiser and more broad minded.

Damn! Writing feels hard. This post feels more like an office draft. But yeah, I am trying to start scribbling again. I guess I am employing the trick of self commitment made in public domain. ;). Hope it sticks.

And people…do read, ok?. A lot. Flaunting on goodreads gives you more satisfaction than on FB. 😉

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A Reader’s Delight

Posted by Mrityunjay on October 4, 2014

“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” — Anne Lamott

Well, that’s what reading does. At least to me. September was a great month in terms of reading. I used to to be a voracious reader. I still am but mostly it’s been restricted to online reading. How I wish I could write reviews, feelings, reactions, lessons etc on whatever I read but then, procrastination is too good of an addiction to get rid of. Last month, I finished four books in places as usual or absurd as; my uni-dimensional room, near the sea-shore, in the train and even while talking to some boring people on phone. Reading tends to give you a huge high (Unless you are not reading Chetan Bhagat), making you totally unaware of what’s happening around and providing the oft-needed escape route from irritating reality which we all so secretly desire. So, this time, I was hooked to Survival/Adventure genre (May be something to do with my current mindset and also because ghost of Charles Darwin keeps reminding of importance of survival). I was looking for some real stories and not fiction which my life already has enough of! And once I had devoured one book, I wanted more…and more..First, I landed up with “Skeletons on the Zahara” by Dean King.

skeletons on the zaharaSo basically as one GoodReads review says, “Skeletons on the Zahara is a true story of twelve American sailors shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815. They faced incredible odds when they were captured by Arab nomads and sold into slavery. They crossed the Sahara (called the Zahara back then) and faced starvation, beatings, dehydration, sunburn, and hostile tribes. They did incredible things in order to survive.” That pretty much sums up the story line. Now, take your eyes off the screen for a minute and imagine the entire scenario. Think of the plight, travails, suffering and the mountain of the odds faced by the sailors in the unforgiving desert with temperature crossing fifty? Can you imagine the hardships? Did you just notice some lumps in your throat? if you did, just buy the book and read it.

Post reading, I googled about the entire expedition gone terribly wrong and about the authenticity of the voyage under the guidance of Captain James Riley. As the author claims, everything seems true. Dean King has undoubtedly done his research, personally visiting many details of locations that Riley had visited. This is an extraordinary detail of a survival journey gone haywire. Many a times, details were so lucid that I felt dehydrated while reading the book and needed a glass of water and the water never tasted this better. It’s a perfect tale of human suffering and human endurance, both assimilated in a way that we tend to realize that most of the details could be incomprehensible to the first world mind. I have always been very interested about far-flung places and historical events so that way, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Sahara, Morocco, facts about camels, cultural and theological aspects etc. It was also interesting to get a glimpse into social and anthropological insights into Arab culture circa 1815, a major part of which, unfortunately remains unchanged even now.

If you are a true literature aficionados you won’t find the writing style of Dean King very appealing. Sometimes, it felt rushed, some other times, it felt as if we could have done with some more details but then I liked it this way only. It was a prose told in a factual way. Queasy, dehydrating story of fate and pluck. Go, read it.

Second book was Escape from Camp 14” which is about escape and survival of a person born in North Korean political prisonescape 14 camp. it’s gut-wrenching story about a nation, possibly most isolated and draconian in nature. North Korea has largely remained an enigma to the outer world. We all are pretty much well aware of what is taking place in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia or other such regressive nations but North Korea has remained, by and large, a closed country. It’s isolated, belligerent, almost on the verge of bankruptcy and starving yet the world hears nothing about them. A wild estimate says, more than 2 lakhs people in this tiny peninsula are being held in it’s political prison camps with no respite in sight.

This is the story of Shin Donghyuk who was not just born and brought up in one such camp but also managed to survive and escape to Sotuh Korea and then to USA. Truly Remarkable! While reading this story, you can almost imagine what must have gone through the Nazi concentration camps and Gulags run by Soviet Russia at the behest of Stalin. It was that brutal and inhumane. You can be forgiven for assuming that you were reading a dystopian novel. Being a citizen of a thriving democracy like India, it was hard to imagine people are still being made to live on planet Earth in that fashion. Just the notion of that possibility can give you worst nightmares. Damn it Man, I am so lucky to be an Indian.

From literature point of view, “Escape from Camp 14” is not at all beautiful. Written by Washington Post correspondent Blaine Harden, the book has more of a journalistic style of narration. I did expect more drama, more fluidity & lucidity in storytelling but it was not to be. At times, it felt pretty straight forward and bland but all in all, this book was a huge eye opener.

That was all about the first two books. Will cover 2 more in next post. To sum it up, what I find most exciting about survival stories is how you start feeling grateful to all that you have been provided with. When you read, hear and think about such stories, you feel amazed at what the human body and spirit can endure without breaking. I mean, I do 20 sets of Surya-Namaskar or Push-Ups and I feel like drinking water every few minutes lest I fall flat with exhaustion. But how the hell these guys could go for months walking through the desert with almost nothing to eat or drink. It’s almost unbelievable but don’t they say, truth is stranger than fiction?

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My Journey to the Unknown- Day 4 & 5

Posted by Mrityunjay on September 25, 2014

4th day:- I guess today was the least eventful day. Why? Goa, no? Self-explanatory. Rent a bike. Roam around. Just that, sun was at its most arrogant today. So a church, beach and a bit of jazz was all that was possible. Also, I realized I am more of a mountain person than a beach guy…Rest ‘Usual Goa’ stuff.. So there!

5th Day- Off to Belgaum. Left early morning. 150 kms from Panjim. Kadamba bus (Goa state transport). I was halfway through when I just didn’t like going further. I just felt I was rushing through things. Perhaps I was not. But I just felt like stopping there. In hindsight, I think I should not have accepted free flat/bike accommodation in Goa. Somehow that triggered comfort n laziness which in turn broke the momentum and rhythm. So I am on hold. Will go back to Mumbai, I guess.Panjim Church

Reflections so far! And notes to Myself:-

  • Yesterday I talked about total Expenses being 2100 or so. Yes, the idea was to have a budget trip and to be frugal. See..Point is, once you loosen your purse string, the world is at your feet. It’s only a matter of swiping your debit/credit card once and You can have best of resort and private cab and all. Money simple brings the business and the end consumer in direct contact removing all the intermediary factors. That works really fine in every other sector but for travel. While you travel, it’s these intermediary factors that provide you with real thrill, fun and experience. How else could I have met these folks like Bunty, Rakesh, Salim, Fishermen, those two ladies et al who actually enriched me with so many wonderful memories? Money facilitates not completes.
  • People- None I repeat none of the people that I asked for help, direction and other stuff refused me. It was incredible. Honest, grounded and traditional folks. Though I own minuscule element of cynicism and sarcasm floats through my veins, this entire trip makes me love Neanderthal even more. Homo sapiens, did you say? Oh puhleez, Let’s not flatter ourselves. At the same time, Best memories are those that you do not capture on camera. None of the people who I befriended had any pics clicked with me, nor any sort of phone number, Facebook thing exchanged. Sometimes it’s better this way. In any case over familiarity breeds contempt. Just memories and feel good factor.Karmali
  • My insomnia was not cured. But it doesn’t matter any more. I guess my mind and body is just not tired enough though mind seems to be in perpetual motion. As Dheeraj Rai had once suggested, “subah-subah 10 km daud ja or 100 km cycle chala le..apne aap bed pe gir jayega”! How wonderful of him! ‘Keep it simple stupid’ funda. Additionally, on Belgaum highway, a dhaabe wala told me “yaha ki coffee piyo..neend bhaag jayegi”. I said that’s the problem na. Neend ko laana hai.. his reply was- “insomnia is a disease of rich people!”..lol..I am not rich but his response made my day. .and dil ko behlaane ke liye ye khyal bura nahi hai…
  • Had a chance to interact with a group of different nationalities @Calangute/Baga till 2-3 in night. A Dutch/French/Argentine. Conversation ranged from Louis van Gaal, Robben, Van Persie, Total football, French Riviera, Marseilles, Bordeaux Wine fermentation/tasting process, Jean Reno, Carla Bruni to Argentine stagflation, Currency Devaluation, Messi, Di Maria, Erstwhile Dictatorship, Che Guevara and impact of Jorge Luis Borges etc and plenty more which I can’t really remember. There is only that much you can recollect when you are under the influence of strange liquids. It helped that both French n Argentine were as fluent in English as I was. ;).. . point is- Reading, GK, Literature and world cinema really helps. Personally for me, such conversations are just so rare and so fulfilling…

What Else? I guess, I have so much to talk and say..but all this looks like I was HereGyan..no point preaching or sounding so..I admit, certain things mentioned here are not possible for people with wifey/kids in tow..but any ways..thank you to all of you for allowing me to take you all to this..journey/adventure/experience/escape whatever you call it..Really Really appreciate it..Cheers.. Winding up..

P.S- I think, I am having ‘Travel Withdrawal Symptoms’ since coming back because my heart is feeling trance, tandava and tranquility all at the same time but then Didn’t Kurt Vonnegut say, “Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God”? Adios!

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