Re-review of Lost on Planet China

8 05 2010

Before going to China, Elínborg and I read Lost On Planet China by J. Maarten Troost to prepare us for what was to come.  We both really liked the book, it was both entertaining and interesting and a good preparation for our trip.  You can see my previous review here.

First I would like to restate that reading the book was a great preparation to visiting China.  What the book did was lowering almost all of my expectations of China.  The book displayed the people as rude  and difficult and I found the author, especially towards the beginning, to a bit like a baby that has leaving home for the first time without the knowledge that other people might be different from him self.

I can see now, after travelling through China for three weeks, that the author obviously chose to exaggerate quite a bit to be create a more compelling story.  After all, fiction is so much more exciting than ordinary life, so who can really blame him? 

To the author’s defense I’ve read that before the Olympics, Chinese authorities campaigned for a better behavior from Chinese citizens, hanging up signs and handing out pamphlets – no spitting on the street  and so on – so that might contribute to the discrepancy between our experience and his.

Of course we didn’t travel as extensively as Mr. Troost but I don’t think that really changes much.  As I’ve said before he seemed to like China more and more each day.  We definitely loved China and the Chinese people (as you can see here) the culture and the many historic sites in China – even though we thought that quite many of them were way over hyped.

Just to summarize, I would again highly recommend this book to anyone that intends to visit China.  It is highly entertaining and if nothing else, at least it will lower your expectations.  Like someone told me – happiness is nothing more than expectation management!

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Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W.C. Kim & R. Mauborgne

23 04 2010

blue_ocean Sophisticated models and analytical tools that assist in the creation of a corporate strategy in contested markets have been around for a while.  These models and tools help create what the authors of the book call “red ocean” strategies where the focus is on competing within the current market boundaries by monitoring the competition and seeking either differentiation of products and services or cost leadership.

“Blue oceans” however are new uncontested markets where the competition is weak or none existent and therefore irrelevant.  The reason that only a few companies are able to open up those uncontested markets, according to the authors, is the focus on red ocean strategies in the strategy process.

In this book the authors set forth analytical tools to help companies structure their strategy process in a way that can lead to the opening of highly profitable blue oceans.

I thought that the idea of blue oceans is rather straight forward and common sense stuff.  However it is valuable to see the idea formulated into a thorough process that can be easily emulated during the strategic process within companies.  I agree with the authors that companies must have capabilities in both red and blue oceans in order to reach excellence – otherwise they will never break out of the boundaries set by their perspective industries.

I found the book to be an easy read and a bit thin at times.  The examples in the book were quite interesting but I often get the feeling that you can always find examples to support any theory if you search hard enough.  I’m sure someone could show that Apples success is due to the fact that the employees wear jeans to work or that Microsoft is so successful just because a lot of their employees wear glasses.

But anyway, I thought it was an interesting book and would surely recommend it to anyone interesting in strategy and innovation but for the rest of you – just wait for the movie!

Previous book reviews can be found here.





A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

2 04 2010

BriefHistoryOfTime1

I have never really been interested in astronomy, cosmology nor physics but I happened to have a copy of this book in audio form so I gave it a try.  I can definitely say that I became fascinated by the book and its contents, listening to it twice in one week.

A Brief History of Time – From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking tells a story of how us humans have thought the universe to look like through the ages.  Hawking starts his tale when the common believe was that the earth was flat and carried by a tortoise and goes through the evolution of science and physics up until our times.  Along the way Hawking explains the theories as they are developed, theories like Copernicus’ theory of the earth orbiting the sun, the contributions of Galileo Galilei to astronomy, Newton’s laws of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity and finally newer theories in cosmology and quantum physics.  Hawking also speculates on what role a divine creator or god can have in the creation of the universe and in its workings there after.  This role changes drastically as science advances

Not only is Hawking one of the most brilliant minds of our era and a leading scientist in theoretical physics, he also has a fantastic ability to explain extremely complex theories in a simple manner – so simple that I got some them (I had to listen twice though :) – and this is one of the strengths of the book.  Hawking also has a good sense of humor in a nerdy kind of way, which fits the book perfectly. 

I’m not going to pretend that I understood everything in the book but I think that I got a good deal.  The theories get more complex after Einstein’s theory of relativity but I felt that I could follow all along while listening even though I’m not sure I could explain any of it to another person ;)

When reading a paper book one can always read slowly, re-read hectic lines and pause to digest the content as is necessary when reading about as complex matters as in this book.  This is not so easy when listening to an audio book and that is one of the faults of this form.  While listening to this book I had to stop often, rewind and listen again and still I didn’t feel like I got it all and therefore I listened to the book again a few days later.  I’m sure that I’ll read the book again later in a paper form and enjoying the pictures will be a big plus!

The only fault with the (audio) book in my opinion was the reading – by no other than Michael Jackson – though probably not THE late Michael Jackson that first comes to mind.  It felt at times like Jackson was reading the book for the first time.  This part should definitely have been done better.

All in all the book was fantastic and I’m sure that I’ll be looking for other books  by Mr. Hawking in the future.  I would recommend it to anyone curious about the world we live in, how it came about, how it evolved and how it will end.

Previous book reviews can be found here.





Lonely Planet – Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Travel Guide

28 03 2010

southeast-asia Before going on our trip we bought the latest Lonely Planet – Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Travel Guide (14th Ed.), published in March 2008.  The book contains separate chapters on each of the countries in South East Asia and for each country it lists the main cities, towns and other notable places.  For each of those places place it in turn lists the main activities, main sights, accommodation options and eateries and lists the prices for everything above.

We thought we would be all set with this book as it covered all the four countries that we planned to visit and we were not alone with that thought.  A great majority of the people we have seen on the road have been carrying this same book. 

I can only say for us that we were greatly disappointed.  We weren’t satisfied with this book at all!  It focuses mainly on accommodation and where to eat but less on what is really interesting in the places it recommends so it hardly passes as a travel guide – its more of a hostel/guesthouse/restaurant directory.  If the book would have been a good hostel/guesthouse/restaurant directory we wouldn’t have any complaints but it wasn’t at all.  The info it gave was too out-dated for that, the prices were way wrong and the descriptions were often inaccurate.  Maybe we should have known better, buying a book that was one and a half year old at the time but it was the latest version and we didn’t give it a second thought.

Before the trip I had read a lot of reviews that complained about Lonely Planet and this book might be the reason.  If we were repeating the same trip we would not buy this book.  We probably wouldn’t even take it if it would be given to us!  Therefore we really can’t recommend this book for anyone unless they have a brand new version. 

We however bought the Lonely Planet – Vietnam book while in Cambodia and that one was very good.  It had good descriptions on every place we visited with a lot more info than the shoestring book and the info was very accurate and thorough.

If we would have known then what we know now we would have bought the Lonely Planet – Thailand book before leaving home – so that we could plan the first couple of weeks.  For the ten days we spent in Cambodia we didn’t really need a guide book and we really liked the Vietnam book we bought in Cambodia so I guess we would buy that one again – or the Rough Guide – Vietnam. 

By the way, they sell a lot of really cheap copies in Cambodia (we saw them in Vietnam as well) so keep that in mind.  The copies are of decent quality but the maps, pictures and drawings are nothing special.  What is good about them is the price, a Lonely Planet book that costs around $20 on Amazon is available for just $3-4 in Cambodia.  With that kind of an investment it is easy just to leave the book behind when you don’t need it anymore.  Of course the downside is that they are illegal so you wouldn’t be buying those books, would you?

For the ten days we spent in Laos we didn’t really need a book but we would have liked to travel more in Laos and then we would surely need a guide book and I guess that the Lonely Planet – Laos is as good as any but just to get the comparison it might be a good idea to get the Rough Guide – Laos for cheap in Vietnam before entering Laos.

For the China part of our trip we have purchased Lonely Planet – China and it looks good but the real judgment will be handed out after we have used it in China.





The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

26 03 2010

small.DAWKINS_The God Delusion Richard Dawkins is an atheist and has been very active in public debates about religion, both in the UK and in the US.  He has both written books and hosted TV shows where he scrutinizes religion and argues all religion is harmful and that atheism is the only way forward.

In this book, The God Delusion, Dawkins has two main goals: first “To raise consciousness to the fact that being an atheist is a realistic aspiration” and secondly, to convince believers, from any faith-system, that there is almost certainly no god and therefore they should convert to atheism.

In the book Dawkins tries to answer questions like – Is it possible that God created the universe? Why do almost all civilizations have some sort of a faith system? Do we need god to be moral? Aren’t we better off having a god to console us?  Is it possible that there is no God?

Without passing any judgment here on whether Dawkins is right or wrong, I thought it was a very interesting book in deed and entertaining at times.  Dawkins has a been debating the issue for years and his arguments are quite polished and his coverage of the topic thorough.

This is a topic that most humans think about at some point in their life and some minds are constantly on the subject.  This book comes from a side that is not very often heard and I think it is very healthy for anyone to read the book and familiarize them selves with its content, even if they don’t agree with the author.

The only fault I could find with the book is that sometimes Dawkins is too academic in his arguments and I sometimes felt that he was arguing for the arguments sake.  I also noticed that occasionally Dawkins interprets what people were actually thinking while saying certain things, which he has really no idea about.  He has plenty of good arguments and doesn’t need to add the bad ones as well.

I would recommend this book to anyone contemplating faith in any way or is having doubts of their own faith. I think that the book is also an excellent read for people that are interested in the public debate regarding faith and religion in modern society as it speaks the voice that is not too often heard in that same debate.





The Way of the World by Ron Suskind

11 03 2010

WayOfTheWorld The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism by Pulitzer price winning and bestselling author Ron Suskind is a very interesting and captivating book that covers topics that might seem dry and uninteresting to most people but the author manages to bring the story to life.  The book tells the stories of a few individuals: a Pakistani emigrant, Afghani exchange student, UN refugee commissioner, a CIA officer and Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan,  in the post 9/11 era of Bush’s War On Terror.

The individual stories all circle around three main topics, namely the Iraqi war and Iraq’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and thirdly the danger of terrorists acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction, mainly nuclear weapons.

The authors main message is that America has has lost its way in international politics and how the nation is perceived abroad.  Once it used to be a country that all others admired and deep down everyone wanted to live the American values of freedom, honesty, integrity, truth and justice for all.  But over the years, the author argues, America has strayed away from those values, both domestically and abroad.  This is the main reason America finds it self in the middle of an unwinnable war – the war on terror.

The way out of the mess America finds it in, according to the author, is to get back on that moral high ground and start living its own values that built America and made the country what it is.

I listened to the book in a audio book format and it was wonderfully read by Alan Sklar.  The book was interesting and very captivating all the way to the end.  The topics discussed in the book are not topics that I’m particularly interested in but never the less the book was very interesting and informative.  I can’t say whether all the author’s sources are good ones but after listening to the book I have to agree with the author’s main conclusion that America will be far better off if as a country it goes back to living the values of honesty, freedom, integrity, truth and justice for all – all the time, not just when convenient.





The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr

8 03 2010

bigswitchcover2thumb By accident I picked up The Big Switch – Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr.  I had nothing to read and saw the book laying at one of the hotels we were passing through without knowing anything about the book beforehand.  I really liked the book as it got me thinking about things that I hadn’t given too much thought before – and a bit of thinking is always good :)

In this the book the author discusses where computer technology and the internet are heading in the next few years. 

In the first part of the book the author talks about the development of electricity, how the production and distribution of electricity moved from a decentralized model where each company produced it’s own electricity to becoming a general utility delivered through a centralized network that anyone can tab into, cheaply and effortlessly.  The author then argues that computers, hardware and software and services, are heading the same way that electricity did – towards commoditization of IT.  This form of utility computing or cloud computing he calls the World Wide Computer – where computer networks talk together to create some form of a super computer for all to use.  We have seen this development in recent years with increasing number of services delivered “in the cloud” both to individuals and corporations.

In the second part of the book the author discusses what these changes really mean in a social and economic context.  He argues that today it might be the public that is profiting the most from the World Wide Computer through free services like facebook, Gmail and others.  But in the end everything is money driven and corporations will get a hold of this new arena, maybe at our expense.  However the development will unfold the change to utility computing will profoundly change our society as much as electricity did in the 19th century.

As I said in the beginning, I really liked this book as it brought ideas to my attention that I had not thought that deeply about before.  Even though you might not agree with the author on every point, the book is an interesting read that get you thinking about the future of the internet and computing in general and give you an idea about where future opportunities might await and what to avoid.

I would say that this book is a must read for all IT professionals.  It should also be very interesting for people interested in the internet and want to keep up with the latest development.  It is very accessible without much technical jargon so anyone should be able to pick it up and read – and enjoy.