Category Archives: off topic

Best Books of 2011

Similar to last year, below are the top 5 books I’ve enjoyed most this year. They don’t have much to do with project management, but perhaps that’s a good thing.

Matterhorn/What Is It Like To Go To War – Karl Marlantes is doesn’t pull any punches as a writer. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford when he volunteered to go to Vietnam and his two books are essentially different reflections on the same experience. Matterhorn is a hands on book about war in Vietnam, fictional, but obviously drawing on deep personal experiences. What Is It Like To Go To War is part autobiography, part sermon on the same topic, recounting Marlantes’ experiences with brutal honesty (including cowardice, mistakes and prostitution) and once again given a vivid picture of Vietnam whilst also stating his own views on what war does to people and what society should do about it.

Decoded – I wouldn’t have thought I would enjoy Jay-Z’s autobiography nearly as much as I did, his life from dealing to fame is a great story, and he explains the lyrics of his songs in detail, decoding the slang and the meaning behind the lyrics.

In The Garden of Bests: Love, Terror and An American Family In Hilter’s Berlin – A well researched book with a sprinkling of fiction to chart the course of a university professor who President Roosevelt appointed as ambassador to Berlin just as Hitler was on the rise. It makes history real, and clearly shows that evil is not quite as black and white as it appeared in retrospect and how mixed the world’s reaction to it was, at least initially.

Scalper: Inside The World Of A Professional Ticket Tout – This is Kindle only, and part of Amazon’s effort to release shorter books on the platform for $1.99. This is a quick read on the practice of reselling tickets to sporting events told by a former tout. It goes deep into a subject you may not have thought much about and is short enough to retain interest in what is a fairly esoteric topic.

The Hunger Games Series – If you liked the Stig Larsson (Girl Who Played With Fire) series, you might enjoy this too. Like that series it’s coming out as a movie and is easy, but gripping reading. The first book is the best of the trilogy, and the ultimately ending is underwhelming, rushed and bizarre, but it’s a great story up to that point.

Turning Art Into Pie Charts

Fascinating visualization technique by the the British artist Arthur Buxton. Below he takes Monet’s paintings and turns them into pie charts based on dominant colors. Each pie chart represents a painting and the colors are in proportion to their use in the painting.

You can learn more about his art and purchase it online here.


I recently got back from a trip to Mongolia and some of the photos are below. You can see the Gobi desert, which was amazing for its complete lack of roads, just dirt tracks everywhere. In also was far less sandy than I expected though it was of course a barren landscape. The ‘event’ photos are from the Nadaam festival held each July in Mongolia to find the best wrestler, horse and archer. One of the most amazing things about Mongolia is how unchanged it is for the nomads who live in the countryside, with many of their traditions going back to the time of Ghengis Khan.

Innovation – Sno Bikes

An interesting innovation, after skiing and snow boarding comes the sno bike. I saw one on the slopes recently, although I believe commercial production ceased in 2008.

Off Topic – What People Are Searching For

An implication of the predictive feature that intenet search engines like Google and Bing now use is that you can tell what people are often searching for by entering the start of a general phrase into the search bar.

You can see a few below some are depressing, some are cute “how big will my puppy get?” and others border on the philosphical “how big is the universe?” to the existential “when will I die?” and the mundane “when to throw out make up?”

The Growth of China

Many news agencies reported today that China’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) now exceeds Japan’s GDP and that China’s GDP will exceed US GDP over the next few decades.

This verdict is mathematically true, but it’s important to point out just how different the China and US are. China has a massive population but very low GDP person whereas the US has less than 20% of the population of China, but over 10x the GDP per person.

On this basis the economies are so radically different that comparing them is virtually meaningless. El Salvador, Tukmenistan and Nambia are better comparison for China on a GDP per person basis. It just so happens that China happens to be massive, and that bumps up its GDP substantially.

Off Topic – Regrets of the Dying

Fascinating and concise, if slightly morbid post from someone who nursed patients in their final few weeks of life. What were the top five regrets she observed, and more importantly, how can you avoid them?