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eric kraus

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100 Books in a Year Reflection

I’ve received a lot of questions on my 2018 goal of reading 100 books, so thought I would pull some of the frequent questions together in a single place with answers.

How did you create the time to read all of these books?
First, it came with a commitment towards the goal, followed by a break down of measurable outcomes.   In doing the math, I knew I needed to read (avg) 2 books per week and at my pace of reading – it drove a rough estimate of how many pages per day/hour.  Ultimately, it meant I needed to get up a little earlier and use some free/evening/weekend time to accomplish it. There’s no easy button when it comes to things like this.

Why did you do this?
A colleague shared that he was starting a similar goal.  One of the best ways to accomplish a goal is to make it publicly known and have others hold you accountable.  For the record, a month in, I discovered that we had different definitions of how we defined “a book” – needless to say, we had different goals…but at that point I was already 10-15% done, so wasn’t going to back down.

Did you have a favorite book?
I really enjoyed most of these books, for different reasons.  It’s hard to narrow down to a single book given the different categories.

Favorite Biography: Alexander Hamilton
Favorite Science: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Favorite Business: Principles

How did you choose which books to read?
Lots of books came as recommendations from friends/colleagues and from recommendations on Good Reads as I logged them.

Where did you buy books? 100 books would be like $2-3K – right?
I purchased about half of the books new and the other half a mix of used with a few audio books in there too.  Towards the end I was much more price conscious as well.

What is your book goal for 2019?
No book goal for 2019, at least not by volume.  It will be more of an as-I-want-to-read year.

What was the most difficult book to read?
Hands down – The Origin of Species.  I know this was written A LONG time ago, by a scientist, but I found it very repetitive and dated – it repeated the same things over and over again – likely because it was written by a scientist a long time ago who likely was repetitive.

Personal note:  I have to thank my wife and kids for supporting me on this goal. It seems silly and cliché to say this, but they understood how important it was and were incredibly supportive as I carried books around the house with me, read through movies and dragged them through used books stores every other weekend.  You guys rock!

Fun Facts
-Average book was about 200 pages (estimate)
-Longest book was Hamilton’s biography: 738 pages (and the font was tiny)
-Total page count was easily over 20,000
-I started in March, so actual achievement took apprx 300 days
-Average reading 67 pages / day
-Only a small handful of fiction books (Happy Potter, Julius Caesar, etc)
-Estimate I spent around $1000 (well worth it)

Chinese – Week 12

I am starting week 12 of my New Year’s Resolution to learn Mandarin Chinese and a lot has changed over the last 10 weeks since my last post.

Quick update on current status:

-currently studying lesson 10 (the last lesson) in the Integrated Chinese Level 1 book. I have been pacing at about 1 lesson per week which was aggressive, but comfortable given my time investment.
-by the end of lesson 10, I will know and be able to recognize over 600 Chinese words/characters
-in addition to individual words, I have learned many basic grammar structures and sentence patterns

Some reflection on the first three months of study:

-the biggest key is to find a rhythm and stick to the routine. my routine: wake up at 5:30am, study listening/pronunciation practice until 7:00am. before bed 30 min of practice listening and/or reading sentences from TCB app (more on that later)
-find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. for me, learning new vocab has been very easy, but becoming quick in translating English or fluid in speaking full sentences has taken more effort. this awareness has given me direction in what to focus on when I am practicing.
-reduce the noise. you can quickly become overwhelmed trying to learn every new word possible. stick with learning new vocab with context – this is why a good book/study course is invaluable. here’s what I’ve been using.



-find some way to practice what you are learning outside of your coursework, but make sure it is appropriate for your level. I do two things: every week participate in a meet up group that speaks Chinese for 2 hours, read Chinese news on The Chairman’s Bao (TCB) app. I absolutely love this app. It allows you to filter the news articles to just those written to your level, you can listen to someone speak the text and there is an easy way to search on characters your don’t know to look them up.

Chinese – Week 2

Quick update as I’m wrapping up my 2nd week of formal Chinese study.

Technology

I drastically narrowed the mobile apps I’m using to the following:
-Pleco – dictionary, stroke order, Live OCR add-on
-Translator app: Google Translate or Microsoft Translate
Anki – spaced repetition, flash cards

If you don’t have a tutor or course book, I would highly recommend both first. YouTube and “Learn Chinese” mobile apps are fun and entertaining, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed quickly without a lot of structure. I’m finding it more valuable to master the basics than to expand widely without understanding the foundations.

Words and Characters

I had originally set out a goal to learn 300 words for the HSK1 exam. More complex words are often 2 or more characters, so it’s reasonable to estimate this goal would be 500 or so characters.

I’m a few weeks in to studying and Anki tells me I already know 230 characters. This blew my mind. This also doesn’t include all the combinations of characters for numbers, months, days of week, etc.

I don’t think I’ll have any problem hitting my original goal. Measuring the number of words or characters is a fun fact, but in reality doesn’t really directly map to one’s ability to use words correctly in sentences. So, I’ll continue to monitor, but definitely no longer targeting a specific number goal. It could be 1000 by the end of the year.

Listening first

Per advice from my tutor (this is why you get a tutor), I have shifted my primary effort from word/character recognition learning first to building listening/speaking muscle memory first. For example, I had previously been approaching learning by mastering words by character recognition and then using those individual words to make sentences. For this reason, my reading/writing Chinese skill are actually pretty good. But when it comes to speaking, this tactical approach has been slowing me down.

Instead, I’m now working from the other way first: listening for “chunks” of sounds that are common phrases and learning to say those together well.

It’s important to do both, but starting bottom up has been more difficult for me for speaking skills, so this change has helped a lot.

Practice Practice Practice

I’ve been practicing speaking a lot by myself (early mornings and late nights) and listening to audio recordings that came work my coursework. But to get some more natural listening skills, I joined a local Chinese Language Study Group that meets weekly.

The group consists of varying degrees of fluency. Most people have been studying over a year, so I am by far a newbie. My vocab is massively limited compared to them, but everyone has been great about talking down to my level. It’s also good practice for hearing chucks of sentences you do recognize and trying to infer the remaining context.

Summary

All in all, making great progress. I am planning to make a video of myself soon, reading and speaking so I can measure progress. I can’t believe it’s only been 2-3 weeks of studying and can’t imagine what the next 4 weeks will bring! 再见!

Chinese – Self Study Week 2

I’m two weeks into my Chinese study and have made a lot of progress. I’ve also gathered a lot of useful tips and some lessons learned over my studying during my first week.

Goal

For starters, I’ve landed on an objective goal for 2019. I want to pass (minimally) the HSK 1 and hopefully the HSK 2 exams by the end of the calendar year. The HSK Chinese Proficiency exams are given to non-native Chinese speakers to evaluate their depth of understanding of the language.

There are 6 levels to the HSK. Each test involves listening and reading comprehension as well as writing in the later levels. It is stated that after passing HSK 4, someone is fluent Chinese.

HSK 2 will require that I understand (and can use) 300+ words characters in common sentence structures. Words in the Chinese are often made up of more than one character, so 300 words might be somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-500 characters.

Lessons from last week

While the YouTube videos and apps were all helpful in the beginning, they lack the structure that I know I will need to be successful. What I mean by structure is explaining the foundation of the language so that I can grow from it later – not just memorize phrases. It’s sort of the opposite of “Learn Chinese in just 10 minutes”

It’s like someone that throws a ball against a wall every day. He will get better at throwing, but not necessarily great at the game.

So, I’ve made two of important changes.

  1. abandoned most of the apps that I have been using for “content”
  2. hired a Chinese tutor
  3. focus on listening, speaking and reading – but not writing

The new plan

After the first meeting with my tutor, we’ve come up with a plan to achieve my goals of passing the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams. I’m optimistic. But it means most of the apps that I’ve been using will go out the door and we’re starting with the basics: Radicals.

From what I understand, Radicals are like indexers for Chinese characters. It’s how dictionaries are organized to find characters. It’s sort of like how in English, words are made up of letters. Chinese words are made up of Characters that are made up of combinations of Radicals. It’s way more complex than that, but for week 2…it’s good enough.

There are 214 Radicals and knowing the most common (or all) Radicals will make it easier to put them together to form the components of the Characters to build words/meaning.

Another thing I’m changing, addresses my fear that the lack-of immersion will be a limiter for me to pick up the language. After talking with the tutor I’m going to relax a bit and not worry so much about the immersion and just focus on learning the basics solid for now. That’s easy enough.

The last big change in strategy is related to writing characters. Just like native-English speakers, many Chinese communicate via technology instead of handwritten letters. So, I won’t be focusing too much on writing characters, but will definitely continue focus on character identification for reading purposes.

Mobile Apps

I’m not kicking all of the apps to the curb. In fact, I’m doubling down on a few…specifically Anki. I launch Anki at least 3-4 times per day now. It’s a critical tool for the memorization process for new vocabulary/characters.

I am still using Pleco, but when on my tablet/computer, I am using ArchChinese a bit more lately to help with the construction of different characters.

So, for the time being, I am stopping my usage of ChinesePod, YoYoChinese, LingoDeer, etc. etc.

Summary/Progress

I’m really excited to be on a solid curriculum for the language and looking forward to seeing some of the building blocks coming together. For measurement sake, I’ll do my best to track my progress of what I’m learning.

New Radical Characters Learned: 48
Other Vocab: 10
Total Characters: 98

Chinese – Self Study Week 1

I just officially wrapped up my first week of self-study on Chinese. We’ll call this Self Study Week 1. 🙂 Here are some thoughts and lessons learned.

This week I tried to focus on just getting familiar with Chinese, resources, pinyin rules/exceptions and not really worrying too much about vocab or Chinese characters.

As I mentioned in the Learning/Resources post, I have been using the Anki mobile app for flash card studying – it is awesome.

The Anki Mobile app gives me stats about my how I am learning and automatically reminds me of things I need more work. It also gives me an idea of how well I am For example, today, I reviewed 40 cards including pinyin initials, finals, exceptions, some basic vocab and a few VERY basic sentences.

According to the app, the average amount of time I studied cards was 12.9 minutes per day (this obviously needs to increase). Also, the app is telling me that I am around 80% accurate on “learning” cards (new ones) and 92% accurate on cards I am “young” mastery on (ones I’ve been consistently accurate). The app then uses these statistics to ensure I continue to review the right cards until all of them reach mastery.

I’m a believer that the best progress is made when you work hard but push yourself beyond your limits. So, 80-90% in my bood is just about right. And it’s definitely time to push on.

The goal for next week is to start working on some basic vocab. “This”, “That”, “It”, “He” “Good”, “Bad”, etc. etc.

The ChinesePod app has a Newbie track that I’m going to follow fairly strictly until further notice. Unlike many of the other resources, this track has the right amount of foundation/basics and introduction of new content without jumping right into complex sentences. More to come.

Learning Chinese

As I’m working through my 2019 goal to learn Chinese, I am planning to gather some thoughts on my preparation and progress throughout the year.

Challenge
Like any foreign language, the key (and biggest challenge) to fluency, will be immersion. This is going to be especially difficult for a guy that doesn’t live in a native-Chinese speaking country, is not married to a Chinese woman, did not adopt Chinese children, doesn’t have any close Chinese-speaking friends/co-workers, etc. etc. I am working to mitigate a few of these (no, I’m not getting remarried or adopting). However, I am looking into resources like university classes, mentors, tutors, meetup groups, etc. Regardless, I am certain this single constraint will make/break the level of fluency I develop.

I have read online from several sources that knowing 200 Chinese characters/words will be enough to make someone “tourist aware” and knowing 500 or more words will allow someone to read 75% of Chinese literature. To be legally fluent, one needs to know 1,500-2,000 words…and most educated Chinese will understand 3,000+ words.

With this as a backdrop, I am setting my 2019 goal at learning 200 characters (also known as hanzi). I have no doubt I will exceed this from a pinyin/listening/speaking “word” perspective…but I also think it’s important to study Chinese characters (hanzi) along the way as well.

As much as possible, hanzi should be the preferred written form of Chinese.

Plan
The current plan is to learn as much as I can about the foundation of the language on my own. I now have a well established daily habit from working on my 2018 goal. So, I am hoping to piggyback on that habit for the first few months and work on learning “Newbie Mandarin”.

Chinese Newbie Resources

Ok, so if you know NOTHING about Mandarin (like me), you will literally be starting at Nǐ hǎo (hello). Here are some resource that I’m using and have found incredibly valuable.

ChinesePod
I looked through a lot of online resources for learning Mandarin. A couple mentioned below. ChinesePod was recommended from several other English-native speakers and Ithought I would give it a try. It’s affordable given the amount of content that is on there. I also really like their style too. It’s not just the dry “this word means this word”. Instead, they leverage humor and natural dialog between people – very similar to how classroom or tutor learning would be.

Yoyo Chinese
I watched HOURS of videos on Youtube and learned so much from Yoyo Chinese. Yangyang’s delivery in her videos was awesome! I feel a bit guilty not subscribing to their service, but the ONLY reason is focus. I want to stick with one program and work through it. If there’s a chance I switch later – it’ll likely be to Yoyo Chinese.

I also highly recommend their pinyin chart.

Mobile Apps

Google Translate – phrase translation pronunciation
Pleco – dictionary and pronuciation.
AnkiMobile – flashcards. yes, expensive, but if you are serious about learning, spaced repetition and memorization will be a key
ChinesePod Pinyin Chart – quick way to validate pronunciations
HelloTalk – pairs you up with other people learning the language you are fluent in

Secondary apps (using for fun right now, not sure yet if they will be a core part of my learning).
Chineasy Cards – a fun, easy way to learn Chinese characters.
LingoDeer – a fun way to learning basic pinyin, vocab
WeChat – EVERYONE I meet on HelloTalk wants to chat on WeChat – only that my brand new acct is blocked for suspicious activity. *sigh*

Weekly Updates

Week 1 – 12/22 – Newbie stuff and pinyin

Week 2 – 12/29 – Radicals, tones and some basic sentences


2019 Goal: Learn Chinese

2018 was a crazy year! I got a late start on my New Year’s Resolution. In fact, I likely wouldn’t even have had one if it weren’t for a suggestion from a friend who was doing a similar activity.  “Sure! I’ll do that too!”

The idea was simple:  read 100 books in 2018.

Looking back, that was quite the audacious goal.  Along the way, I’ve received numerous questions about how I chose the topics, where I bought  my books, which was my favorite, etc.  I kept an ongoing list on my 100 Books in 2018 post; however, I’ll be doing a broader write up soon with answers to some of those questions.

On To 2019

2018 was a great year of learning.  I really value the knowledge I’ve gained and the stories I’ve been able to share because of the books I’ve read.  Truly – no regrets.  But honestly, I have no interest in setting another reading goal in a long while.  I’m on to my next project…and I’ve gotten the crazy idea to try and one-up myself for 2019.

That’s right, I’m going to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Wait… what?

Yeah – I don’t have a lot of details to share right now, but I promise to share more about my practice schedule, training resources, etc. etc. as I get going on this journey.

One might say this New Years Resolution is more like an experiment and a test of my commitment, than it is measuring a fixed outcome.  Something to find out: “how fluent can a full-time working parent in the USA get at Chinese in 1 year?”  I’ve heard of others doing it in 6 months….3 months?!

I’m not setting any unrealistic outcomes like that, but I am setting small milestones along the way to measure my progress.  And I’m not wasting any time.  Check out books #98, #99 and #100.

More to come!

Book: Works Well With Others


Works Well with Others: Shaking Hands, Shutting Up, and Other Crucial Skills in Business That No One Ever Teaches You

This was another used book store find…

A quick read, packed with tidbits on work politics, getting ahead and staying out of trouble. The book wasn’t based around a single “thing” you have to do to be successful. I think this added to my interest in the book (and wore out my highlighter). Expect a collection of thought-provoking perspectives through the journey/experiences of the author’s career change. Humor, honesty and simple concepts make it a quick and easy read.

Summary: this is another “definitely” on the recommendation list.  A fun book with straight-to-the-point tips for anyone changing careers or expanding their network within the same company.

Here is some of my favorite tips/advice from the book with my own additional take-aways…

 

Appearing/Being Successful

If you don’t screw up when you start, you are over-qualified. If you don’t learn from those mistakes, you are under-qualified.

Be aware of the Imposter Phenomenon: you aren’t as successful as you make others think you are. Everyone is an imposter to some degree. Everyone is weird and nervous too; some are just better at hiding it.

Discretion is a major discipline in an imposter strategy. Talking more will not earn someone’s worth.

Doing work too fast is a bad idea, but doing work too slowly is a terrible idea. Find the balance between preparation/due diligence and delivering on-time. Some times you need to slow down to speed up.  Other times you need to go faster and take risks.

Never ask for credit.  If you want full credit in a business role, find a different career.

 

Presentations

People that are more knowledgeable on subjects make more eye contact. Either learn more about the content or forcefully make more eye contact (ideally the former).

Be genuinely interested in what you are talking about… always.  You can’t fake interest or passion (see point above).

A story must always match an audience’s interest – not your own. Even if the content is yours, match the story to your audience.

Everyone in an audience starts out a presentation wanting to be inspired. They want you to succeed. Don’t take this as pressure, take it as comfort.

Nobody misses what was never there. Don’t over plan speeches, etc. Audiences don’t know your script. Know your topics, and talk naturally about them. When you try to memorize a script, you risk missing a part and throwing yourself off.

Passion is great, but too much passion is unprofessional. You sometimes benefit from undercutting (self-deprecating) your passion with reality. You don’t have to insult others or self-deprecate to build rapport – this is a sign of insecurity. Just stick with respectful reality.

 

Living with Time

Time itself can’t be managed. It can only be acknowledge or ignored. Time operates on it’s own. You live within it.

NEVER explain why you are late. People that make excuses do it because of habit. Don’t allow yourself to build a habit. Apologize (sincerely) and move on.

If you WANT to be on-time, you WILL be on-time. If it’s a must thing, nothing could be an excuse.  Late to your wedding?  Late to claim your lottery winnings?  An excuse acknowledges the level of importance you give…that’s why never explain why you are late.

 

Collaboration and Communication

A collaboration consists of two or more people better off together.

Every good collaboration starts with an admittance of strength(s) and weakness(es).

You want to work with someone smart, but not knowing the SAME things as you. You want some good tension.

Find someone not afraid to step on toes, but an excellent communicator. Communication is the key to getting to good work sooner.

Emails should be aggressive and clear. Concise without ambiguity.  Emails should not be a dumping ground for “diarrhea of the mind”.  State points and questions clearly and easy to read/understand.

Every time you write an email, think “How would Robert DeNiro write it?”

Never start a sentence with “Well…”   Never end with “thoughts”?

 

Politics and Conflict

If you’re struggling with a co-worker, find out, first, if they are purposefully out to get you. Maybe they don’t know? If they don’t know, be honest with simple facts on the issue.

Taking the high road is too safe, taking the low road is a sh*t show. Take the reality road: “this is how it is” road can be magical.

NEVER kill with kindness – it’s passive aggressive. Never fight. A battle can only happen when someone gets to win.  Even if you never get an answer, you will have demonstrated, “I see it” and that should earn you respect.

Always keep score in meetings.  Know who is talking, who takes notes, who interrupts, who never speaks, etc. Constantly ask yourself why for each of those roles.  Always question observations from hidden politics.

 

Book: Subtle Art of Not Giving


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F_ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

I’ll admit it, the title of this book and the assumption that a lot of cursing would be involved drew me to make the purchase. I didn’t expect the content to be revolutionary, but a different spin on the same old advice. No offense intended…because this is how most self-help books work. It was also the first book I listened to on Audible and for that part alone, it was not a disappointment.

The first third of the book reminded me of a stand up comic’s routine. I couldn’t stop laughing. I was listening to it while driving and it made three hours pass by in a second. The dry, sarcastic vulgar delivery was perfect for the “get over it” subject matter. The first part didn’t venture into solving problems, just calling out all the ridiculous things we care too much about.

If the book would have ended after the first few chapters, I would have been happy. However, my 100 Book goal required me to read [listen] to the end, so I stuck it out. In short, the middle of the book had some valuable content, some of it noted below. The last third of the book was quite repetitive.

Below are the main topics I took away from the book. Again, nothing earth shattering here, but the entertainment value was the worth the price alone.

-work towards something greater in your life. a greater purpose gives you the focus to care about the things that matter and not give a f*ck about the things that don’t
-adopt a sort of Grit (another book I read and enjoyed thoroughly) mentality. essentially, obsess about the things that do matter and accomplish them at all costs
-allow yourself a limited number of f*cks — use them wisely
-what f*cks you do give are what you care about the most (take note of these things)
-you have to spend some f*cks — otherwise you aren’t passionate about anything and will be seen as entitled
-you control your emotions — no one can make you anything (you allow emotions to happen)
-don’t let your emotions dictate your actions
-in the end, remember what 3yr olds and dogs have in common…
they both sh*t on your floor and you don’t give a f*ck (because you love them)

Despite the lackluster ending, I have recommended this book to several people. Almost all of which, have listened to it and summarized it the same as above.

Book: Principles


 

No doubt, Principles by Ray Dalio will have been one of my favorite read books of 2018 (and lifetime). It is long, but well worth the time investment it.

Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that requires us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river and we can’t avoid these encounters, we can only approach them in the best possible way
-Ray Dalio

The book is really three different parts (or separate books) bound together:
Part 1 is Ray’s personal story of his journey in creating Bridgewater Associates, an extremely success investment management firm that is responsible for over $160B in funds.
Part 2 is Life Principles, and is the meat of the reason you might buy the book. It’s organized as a list of Ray’s personal principles that he chooses to live his life by. Not just a list, it contains a wonderful thought-breakdown of how he came up with them, why they are important and how he approaches each one.
Part 3 is Work Principles, basically an application of his life principles, applied to work. There is less behind-the-scenes in this section of the book and more straight to the point.

How to Read it

Ray’s advice in the beginning of the book is sound. Don’t treat it as him being humble, he has actually bound three different books together in one, and doesn’t want you to waste your time. Here’s my own flavor of his advice:

  • if you don’t really care for his personal story, skip it. No one’s feelings will be hurt. As I’m not running my own business or in the investment business, there was not a lot of value I drew from this section (relative to the reason I bought the book) other than just fulfilling pure curiosity. Think of it like a brief memoir that helps you understand how principles came about
  • Life Principles is like a normal book…read it start/finish…this part has content that applies to everyone.
  • use the third part of the book, Work Principles, as a reference manual…don’t necessarily read it start/finish unless you just want to. Look back at it when you encounter situations at work and need suggestions for how to approach difficult encounters.

In order to fulfill my “read it” criteria for my 100 books goal, I ignored the advice above. No regrets, but I wanted to share the above because he was honest about his advice and others may not have the same goals as me. 

General Impression

For the most part, the rest of this summary/review focuses on the second section of the book: Life Principles. I could write pages and pages (I did in my journal) on the advice Ray leaves you with. In fact, I even started my own Life Principles project to begin documenting my own.

As mentioned above, this section is outlined very well but also goes deep into explaining why the principles are important in many aspects of life. It’s easy to read, immediately applicable and I found myself highlight entire paragraphs and pages and ultimately had a stop altogether – it was all good.

Like with many authors I’ve found in the business or self-help section, parts of their messaging can often get repetitive. That part is somewhat inevitable in Life Principles, where the principles all support one another and are intertwined. You might think that is what contributes to the size of this book; however, you would be wrong. It it packed with MANY (new) ideas – not just the same old tips repurposed in a new book.

My favorite concepts

To avoid this being an insanely long post, I will share some of my favorite takeaways in bullet form without any reflection (they are good enough on their own).

  • people will better admire your work if you can prevent them from becoming threatened or jealous
  • obsess with finding right, not being right
  • most people call something “bad” only because it is bad for them
  • don’t be embarrassed by your problems; be embarrassed by not working to solve them
  • don’t be afraid to fire yourself if you are not the right fit; lead yourself first, before you can lead others – Einstein was a genius, but would you want him on your basketball team?
  • humility is probably the most important skill
  • you can’t learn what you already know
  • be clear about whether you are arguing or seeking more information to understand better
  • before you make a statement ask yourself if you know everything there is to know to make a statement, if not – phrase it in a question
  • it is never harmful to hear an opposing viewpoint; it doesn’t threaten you to learn more
  • people often make decisions first and cherry-pick data to support their decision
  • focus, focus, focus on doing the must-do things very well (and first)

Again, this list is probably just 5% of what I noted and took away from just part two of the book. And I have already referred back to Work Principles once or twice in working with my teams through some difficult projects. Can’t say enough: highly recommend this one.

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