Thoughts on Life

21 Books I Read in 2016

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I never used to read because I never seemed to be able to get into the books I read. I’m not sure if that was a symptom of being forced to read certain books in school or not, but this year I decided to change that. I started out by buying any book that interested me and got over reading nerdy books. It must have been a left over feeling of being made fun of for reading science fiction but I started out by reading a science fiction book. That ultimately led me to read a ton. This list isn’t a review for each but more so a list on which ones I liked/disliked. For 2015, here are the books that I read.

  1. Foundation by Isaac Asimov – 5/5 – An old, classic, and incredibly great science fiction book. I loved it because of the chess game of wits that Asimov put into the book.
  2. Foundation and the Empire by Isaac Asimov – 4/5 – This is the continuation of the Foundation series. A great book but I didn’t get quite into it like I did the first.
  3. Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – 4/5 – The last book in the Foundation Series. It was on par with its prior book of the series.
  4. Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku – 5/5 – This book blew me away. While there are some really far out there ideas, this book actually helped me a lot in thinking about our future and questioning certain premises. I’d say it largely influenced my thinking around Space and Genomics.
  5. Incognito by David Eagleman – 5/5 – A slow starter but ramps up by chapter 4 into something incredible. The experiments that Eagleman has performed to show the inner workings of “us” gave me a whole new perspective on who is really in control.
  6. Book of Physics & Astronomy by Cornelia Dean – 4/5 – Long read but incredibly fascinating. This book covers the history up until present day of some of the most astounding findings within the physics and astronomy field. I learned an incredible amount from this book.
  7. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey – 5/5 – I’m obsessed with this series. A science fiction book that takes place in the future of our solar system, this book literally sucked me in. I ready 3/4 of it in one sitting. The plot line, style of writing, and gripping mystery that all leads up to the end of the book makes it a truly special read. This series has me hooked.
  8. Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey – 5/5 – Like above, it’s just a great series. I love the vision and this series just gets me pumped. I wish we lived in a world that they’ve created.
  9. Abbadons Gate by James S.A. Corey – 5/5 – See above.
  10. Cibola Burns by James S.A. Corey – 5/5 – See above.
  11. Nemisis Games by James S.A. Corey – 5/5 – See above.
  12. The Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark – 4/5 – I didn’t think I was going to get into this book that much and while there were some dry spots that you have to grind through, this book was really rewarding intellectually. It postulates theories around our universe with in-depth explanations that, once again, put everything in perspective.
  13. Connectome by Sebastian Seung – 3.5/5 – This was a decent read but was dry. This is to be expected as it’s a book about the brain and the inner workings. I found many parts fascinating and loved the detail in Seung’s explanation on how memory and thoughts work.
  14. Atlas Shrugged by Aynd Rand – 5/5 – The entrepreneur “must read”. While the characters feel a little over played and sometimes too dramatics, the underlying message of the book was incredible. There were some things I disagreed with but many concepts that I completely embodied.
  15. Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan – 4/5 – Opening dialogue for this book will forever be engrained in my brain. Truly incredible dive into our solar system, this book covers many of the great discoveries we have made. There are parts that drag on a bit but it’s a really incredible book.
  16. Bold: How to Go Big by Peter Diamandis – 2/5 – I never seemed to really get into this book. I thought it was going to be more on futuristic thinking, a dive into different disruptions into industries, and exponential growth potential. Instead, a lot of the book talked about crowd funding and the likes. I didn’t glean much interesting insight from this one and wouldn’t recommend.
  17. Zero to One by Peter Thiel – 4/5 – Short read but delivers quality thinking into how to build up a company. While many concepts are widely known, the way some ideas that Thiel has used in his own businesses were delivered really struck a note. Worth reading if you’re ever going into business ventures.
  18. Choose Yourself by James Altucher – 3/5 – Picked this up for $1 after reading a Reddit comment about it. I’d say that there isn’t really anything spectacular about the book. It delivers a nice note of “follow your dreams” and talks a lot about Altucher’s personal business experience. I didn’t agree with probably 60%-70% of what he preaches, but it’s a book that will help you find your barometer on life and direction.
  19. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance – 5/5 – Christ, what a good book. I read this book in 2 sittings and couldn’t put it down. I know, I know… I’m a Musk fan boy. I honestly don’t care though. The drive, passion, and conviction that Musk has is unrivaled. Vance does a great job of telling the history of Musk and diving into the never ending massive challenges he has overcome.
  20. Player of Games by Iain Banks – 5/5 – Loved this sci-fi classic. This, like “Foundation” were incredibly fun to read for me primarily because of the mental games that are played. It delivers a nice dose of futuristic thinking while telling a gripping story line that showcases the inner workings of a chess-like genius.
  21. A Decoded Life by Craig Venter – 5/5 – Probably skewed the rating since I love genetics but this book was awesome. Venter goes into the history of his career, how he overcame massive problems, and how he is solving some of the worlds toughest problems. I especially like his personality that biases towards action. I’d love to meet the guy some day and, if I’m lucky enough, be able to compete in business against someone of his caliber. If you want a book that dives into how we’re accelerating the understanding of “us” as humans, this is a great one to pick up that never gets old.

As we enter 2016, I’ve got a small list of books that I want to read that is growing. Many of these revolve around genetics at the moment with a couple sci-books. In 2016, I’m hoping to read 30 books with a stretch goal of 40. Leave a comment if you have any that you think are worth reading!

4 Things I learned from Taking 3 Weeks Off

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I hate vacations. I start to get bored, loose my mind, twiddle my thumbs, surf the internet, etc. Being part of the startup world, there is the constant urge to always move out of either fear of failing or the high of hyper growth success. The longest vacation I’ve taken was 3 days in which I still checked emails each day and hopped on a couple conference calls (minus holidays). I’ve always stayed connected through email when on the go and have a constant sense of connectivity with what has felt like no escape. I set myself up for an “always on” state for the past 5 years.

And now, I’ve forced myself to take 3 weeks off as I transitioned jobs. No work emails, no conference calls, no distractions, and limited access to technology. Hell, I’ve spent a total of 3 hours on my computer in 3 weeks (unheard of!). It’s been uncomfortable to say the least but as I got used to it, it felt great to disconnect and get back to some roots. Through these last weeks, I’ve learned 5 key things.

1) Nature is your friend

I spend the majority of my days inside in front of a computer or in the car commuting. It’s inevitable being part of the startup world and living in a city. While there are ways to “escape” it all, it became clear to me that there is a world of difference between driving 15 miles out of the city to go to a hike and driving 3 hours to the middle of the mountains. Being intimate with nature helped me reset and feel grounded to the roots of what we’ve built in this world. I found that just sitting by an even flowing stream in the meadows away from it all helped reduce a lot of stress and provided a natural remedy to slowing down the ever present thoughts of scaling issues, growth targets, and delivering feature sets. Get out deep into nature every so often to gain some perspective. We’re quite small in the scheme of things.

2) Time with loved ones matter

My 3 week vacation started with my girlfriend graduating from medical school. It was a huge accomplishment for her and one that I was so excited to be there to witness. The following days, we spent a large portion of our time with friends, family, and each other. While a little crazy, it was great to feel part of a tight knit family again since we’re all spread out over the country. We spent evenings playing silly card games, drinking beers, and enjoying good laughs. While this point may seem obvious to many with tight families, it is a good reminder for those with distant families. You don’t miss what you have until it is gone.

3) Simple often feels better

6am to 12am is my normal schedule. It involves lots of decisions, complex ideas, strategic thinking, and vagueness. While on vacation, I was blessed to spend time with my good friend who owns a farm and a few fishing lakes. It’s quiet out there with only the water and wind making noise. We sat out on the lake, had a couple beers and fished for a few hours. It’s a simple activity with about 3 motions: cast, drink, reel. Soak up the sun, watch the afternoon thunderstorms brew of the mountains, and chat about whatever comes up, which often results in peaceful silence. I felt at peace knowing that I didn’t have to be somewhere or on a call. Simple felt calm. Simple felt present.

4) Being present gives clarity to the future

I worry about my future, setting myself up for success, providing for my future kids, contributing to the world, giving back, marriage, retiring, and more challenging things like going to space. I’m sure many others have often thoughts as well about these things. This vacation and the simple activities we did help tremendously on returning back to the present. By being pushed in doing simple activities and slowing down, it helped me lay out thoughts clearly that I needed for the future. It’s hard to be in the present when you need to know your calendar for the week, plan sprints and features months out, and save for retirement. Having foresight and planning for the future is incredibly important, but pulling yourself back to the present is equally as important to gaining clarity about the future. It’s a fine balancing act.

As someone who doesn’t take vacations often, I recommend trying more frequent micro-vacations. Especially if you’re in the startup world. As I start on another endeavor at a company in their “hypergrowth” period, it’s going to be my goal to take vacations more often. Hopefully others in the industry will as well!