Decisive Review: Can Decision-Making Be Improved?

I love reading non-fiction. At least half of everything I read is non-fiction. Sometimes, I’ll 6259977find a book I like on a particular subject and end up doing a deep dive with several more books. A recent example was decision science. After being completely fascinated by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, I discovered that there is an entire academic field dedicated to studying decision-making. This lead me to pick up Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath.

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Like many other business and life help books, Decisive does not bury the lead. The framework the Heath brothers have developed is explained in the first chapter. However, the explanations and examples covered in the rest of the book were informative and helped me to understand how the framework could be applied.

Two of the principles from the book, I found myself applying in real life as I faced a decision about where to live. I had to look for housing online, so I was particularly concerned about making a good decision. One big idea was that you should avoid making yes/no decisions about a single idea. The best plan is to make a decision about the solution to a problem, with several options for what that solution might look like. So, in the case of finding a place to live, I focused on all of the possible types of housing I could look for, not approving one choice.

The book also had a lot of good information about how to find information. It went into a lot of detail in what kinds of questions to ask and examined why people often don’t get the answers they need. The authors offered evidence for why very specific questions are the most helpful. For example, ask, “how many times in the last two months could you not find a nearby place to park?” vs. “do you have problems with parking?”. I felt that this was extremely practical advice to takeaway from this book.

The writing in the book did a good job of breaking up passages on theory with interesting case studies and anecdotes. The Heath brothers infused a punchy sense of humor throughout the book as well that livened up the writing style. Clearly, the authors took pains to make sure that they informed the reader without being boring.

Recommending ‘helpful’ books can be tricky. It isn’t always obvious who will be open to advice. That’s why I can only say that I enjoyed this book as a reading experience, and I feel that I walked away having learned something I could apply to my own life. That’s my recommendation for you.

3450744What about you? Do you like non-fiction? Have you read any books about decision science? After Decisive and Blink, the next in my queue is Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. What’s next on your to-read pile?

Beautiful Boulder

For about a month now, I’ve been living in Boulder, Colorado. My summer internship means I get to spend June- August basking in the sunny, not too hot weather and the beautiful mountains.

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The Flatirons, Boulder’s pride and joy.

Settling into Boulder, I’ve been struck by how beautiful it really is here. Not an experienced hiker myself, I have gone on a few “nature walks” in my neighborhood and in the mountains. I’m obsessed with the beautiful flowers that grow wild here, in the mountains and planted in front yards.

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I even checked a book out from the library to help me identify flowers.

While the wildness here is stunning, I also found a great art museum. The Leaning Tree Museum of Western Art is a few miles from downtown Boulder, and I took a picnic one Saturday to explore. Outside the museum there is a statue garden full of life size, bronze icons of the West. There were bears and buffalo, mountain lions, and statues of the Native Americans who lived in Colorado.

 

Beyond the sculpture garden there was a two-story art museum full of western art. The paintings depicted virtually every aspect of live in the Western plains. The collection was excellent, and many of the pieces were magnificent. I really enjoyed seeing such a specialized type of art, and such excellent examples of it.

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So far, I’ve gotten a taste of what Boulder has to offer, but there is still more to explore. Historic downtown Pearl Street is home to tons of cute shops and great restaurants and bars that I am slowly working my way through. And there are sure to be hidden gems everywhere. Hopefully I will have another update from beautiful Boulder soon!

What I Read in January

Winter break and the surge of productivity that comes with the start of a new year have left me feeling exhilarated. Specifically, I am super pumped about reading in 2016. My classes are scheduled to involve quite a bit of reading, but I powered through the first two novels assigned. Adding to my reading high are five (!) other books I finished this month. Usually, I am lucky to read two books a month. This may be a new personal best.

Before I dive back into the sea of school and job search, I wanted to take a minute to share my thoughts on these books. In the future I may write more about them, but I want to make sure I am getting real time thoughts out there about the books I am reading.

So, here are my January book reviews.

Hour of Mischief by Aimee Hyndman

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Starring an extremely feisty thief who goes on an end-of-the-world stopping adventure with the God of Mischief, this was a steampunk fantasy novel that I felt bridged the gap between young adult and “proper” adult really well. It was good, escapist fun. I liked that even amidst the fighting and shenanigans, there were some moments that did make me think. It’s the first in a series, so I look forward to the next release.

Funny story about the author: she and I actually went to high school together. Meaning I brag about her success to pretty much everyone. Totally unbiased though, I liked this book and if you are into fantasy you probably will too.

Alexander the Great by Peter Chrisp

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Yes, this was a picture book. But, I learned a lot that I didn’t know about Alexander the Great from it. Like that he named a city after his beloved horse Bucephalus. What I liked about the way this book was written was that it allowed the reader to make up their own mind about what kind of person Alexander the Great was. It gave the bad with the good and provided a variety of accounts and historical perspectives. Not bad for a picture book.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

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Another fantasy novel. This time with witches and fairies and magical kingdoms. I saw the movie a long time ago, and remembered really liking it. After reading the book, I honestly preferred the movie. The plot, especially the end, was more exciting, and the supporting characters were better developed. But, the book did give a bit more back-story to help me understand the world. And the writing style was lovely. Neil Gaiman is a legend for a reason, and his writing was what shone in this book.

Leave Your Mark by Aliza Licht

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Recommended to me by my friend Ashleigh over at ashleighreads.com, this was a memoir/ career advice mash up from the senior vice president of PR at DKNY, Aliza Licht. The casual, chatty tone helped make the reading experience less like a lecture and more like a pep talk. Plus, Licht included lots of actionable advice for every stage of a career, from finding your passion, to navigating office politics. I definitely felt that this was the right book to be reading with graduation fast approaching.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

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If Leave Your Mark gave me actual advice for the future, Hyperbole and a Half was there to sympathize with me where I am now. This book was hilarious. I was laughing out loud at pretty much every chapter. But deep down, this book speaks so many truths. It doesn’t shy away from hard life-stuff. Instead it deals with it using superb humor.

For school I read Erec by Hartmann von Aue translated by J.W. Thomas and Sundiata by D. T. Niane. Both were written around 1200. Plot heavy and rich, I enjoyed the stories. Sundiata is the story of a young king who unites the kingdom of Mali. The political intrigue and many folktales were really interesting. Erec, on the other hand, deals with a medieval German knight who wins, loses, and regains his honor. The scope of Erec was less broad, but the character studies of him and his wife Enite were more in depth. This semester I will have the chance to read several more medieval romances and stories from the African continent. As they are both new topics for me, I am excited to see what is next.

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Reading makes me happy, so I am pleased as punch with January. All of these books were pretty good too. February is the shortest month, but I hope to keep my streak going. And please let me know what you have been reading lately. I would love recommendations.

January Reads

One-Serving Apple Pie Ice Cream

I genuinely enjoy cooking. But just because I like it doesn’t mean that I always have time to whip up every recipe. Especially when it comes to dessert. Plus, when cooking for one, an entire cake or a dozen cookies start to look like a lot. Still, there are nights (or afternoons) when I just want something sweet and a little special. Those nights are where recipes like this apple pie ice cream topping come in handy.

Fast, easy, and delicious, I would eat this all year long.

Ingredients

Half of a medium sized apple (any variety you like)

Lemon juice

Sugar

Cinnamon

Butter

Apple juice

Ice cream

Equipment

Knife and cutting surface

Skillet

Spatula

Ice cream scoop or large spoon

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Directions

Dice your apple into one-inch pieces. They don’t have to be exact, you just want small, roughly even pieces. Add lemon juice as you go to prevent oxidation.

P1130069.jpgOnce you have the apple chopped, heat up a generous amount of butter in your skillet. You want to coat the bottom thoroughly. Margarine or sunflower seed oil would probably work here in a pinch, but the butter makes it so delicious in the end. I also splashed in a touch of apple juice for a little liquid and flavor. This isn’t necessary, however.

Now add the apple pieces to the hot skillet with lots of cinnamon. No measurement needed, just keep sprinkling cinnamon until you think it looks good. Then add about one tablespoon of sugar. Again, this doesn’t have to be exact, just eyeball it. I used regular white sugar, but brown sugar is fine as well.P1130070.jpg

Cook the apples on medium heat until they start to get soft. The butter and sugar will mix with every thing and begin to form a sort of caramel-like sauce. This is a very good thing. If it starts to bubble, however, turn your heat down some.

P1130072.jpgServe the cooked apples over a scoop of ice cream. Vanilla works fine, but I opted for walnut, and it was amazing. Get creative with what flavor combos you want.

P1130075.jpgClean up note: All of that delicious caramel sauce can become a clean up nightmare. To avoid, soak your pan immediately after you are finished and clean it as soon as it is cool enough. Then you should avoid any sticky mess.

If you are pressed for time or don’t have a stove: You can put the apple chunks, butter, sugar, and cinnamon in the microwave for a minute or a minute thirty seconds. You don’t get as swell of a caramel sauce, but it is still yummy and very very fast.

Apple Pie Ice Cream

Groundswell Review

When picking up a book about online trends and technologies, I always look at the date it was published. The rate at which things move on the web makes even five years enough time for a book to become dated. So I had doubts when I saw Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Yi and Josh Bernoff was published in 2008. Eight years is an eternity on the inter-web. But, the book had been recommended to me by a professor, so I took the chance.

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The groundswell the book is constantly referring to is the mass of people online who are using social technologies like blogs, reviews, and forums to talk about companies and gather their own information. They represent the growing power of customers and individuals. Since the book was written, this trend has grown. People are banding together online in ever increasing numbers to threaten institutional power. The groundswell has grown much in the same way that it was predicted in the book. That is the real power of the book, that despite the number of years since it was published, its information is still relevant and compelling.

I actually liked that it was not quite up to date. The references to MySpace and Digg helped to remind me that the technology we use is constantly changing, so don’t get too attached to any one platform. It made me focus in on the theories being presented. And it reminded me to take all current predictions with the prescribed grain of salt. No matter what anyone says, the future is never certain.

Presented in an entirely readable way, anyone can understand and put into practice the theories espoused in the Groundswell. Case studies and academic knowledge were summed up and explained in groundbreaking ideas like: “don’t be stupid.” A lot of their advice might seem somewhat common sense, but the case studies and presentation of each point were what made them so understandable.

The overall tone of the book was very positive. I think that is part of what makes it a great book, especially for beginners. The encouragement to branch out and affirmative examples can help push someone to try something new. And no one will read this and feel shamed for not knowing something. However, I read it as a tad over optimistic. I think it glosses over some of the backlash and criticism companies do and will receive. But that doesn’t make these technologies not worth trying. I assume that was the point Yi and Bernoff were driving home.

Unlined by solid theories, I would easily categorize this book as a business book before aligning it with the niche of just social media. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, you will still be familiar with the technology in this book. Things like product reviews and support forums online seem as integral a part of the web now as Google. But they do represent a change in the business landscape from twenty years ago.

In the end, this isn’t a book about the Internet or technology. It is about a new way of thinking. I found it helpful and interesting for sure. Definitely recommended reading for others interested in the Web 2.0 revolution and social media. Or if you find yourself being thrust in the middle of it and feeling lost, this is a good starting place. It manages to present a lot information without being too boring or technical. Clear, easy writing helps the nuggets of wisdom in Groundswell shine.

As I continue my business education in school and out, I hope to find other books as useful and readable.

 

How to Not Stress About Air Travel

Almost universally, everyone agrees that the worst part of traveling is the traveling. Being in a new place is great, but getting there can often be a pain. And if you don’t travel regularly, it can be stressful, especially if you have to fly.

Years of in-flight experience have turned me into something of a road warrior. With holiday travel season approaching, I thought I would share my tips for a stress-free journey.

Stress Free Air Travel

There are three main components to any good airport experience: packing the right bags, getting to the airport, and navigating security. Once you can master those steps, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Packing the Right Bag

You should have 2-3 pieces of luggage: a carry-on, a personal item, and maybe a checked bag. Whether or not you check a bag depends of the kind of trip your taking. But keep in mind that it will usually cost extra. If you do decide to check, pack your liquids and gels in a plastic bag in that checked bag.

The most important bag for your trip is the carry on. It’s where you will put your clothes, shoes, etc. that you need. Instead of winging it, use a packing list to figure out what you need, and what you don’t. Find more packing tips here. As you are gathering items from your list, put them near your bag. Don’t start actually packing until you have everything together. That way you can pack everything for optimized use of space and make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.

There are a few key things that you will need to pack with security in mind. Once you hit the airport security tables, you are going to have about 2 minutes to unload all required objects into bins and go through the scanner. This means don’t pack your laptop at the bottom of your bag. You will be tempted to, but resist. Instead, pack your laptop, tablet, and e-reader near the top or in an easy to reach place in your briefcase/backpack. Not all airports make you take out e-readers and tablet computers (think iPads), but some do.

You also have to figure out where to put your liquids and gels bag. Every passenger is allowed a one-quart bag with liquids and gels inside. Each bottle can be up to 3.4 oz. or 100 ml. More details can be found here, but suffice it say that you will need travel sizes. I usually keep my bag in my backpack or the front pocket of my carry-on. Then, once I’m through security, I can move everything around to a better location. For example, my hand sanitizer and chap stick go straight back into the front pocket of my backpack or purse so I can use them on the plane. The baggie is just a temporary measure in the airport. Just make sure you know where you want to keep yours.

Getting to the Airport

All of this packing happens the night before your flight. But when the actual day arrives, getting your physical self to the airport can be one of the most stressful parts of flying. For domestic flights, you will want to arrive no less than an hour and a half before your scheduled departure time. And for international flights that goes up to at least two hours. Personally, I would suggest two hours for any flight unless you are leaving before seven am.

So, now that you know when you want to be at the airport, you should determine how long it will take you to get there. Google Maps is a great tool for this. Look up the route ahead of time and there are options to send it to your phone (if you are on a computer) or to save it for later. At the very least, the airport you are headed to will be saved in your history for easy look up later. Preview the whole route to make sure the computer hasn’t decided to take you any weird ways. One time a friend and I got sent to cargo receiving and told to walk. That was no bueno.

Then, once you know about when to leave, set an alarm. That could be on your phone, or on an old fashioned alarm clock if you prefer. It is just easier to know that you don’t have to remember when to leave.

If you aren’t checking a bag, then you will also want to check in to your flight and get your boarding pass ahead of time as well. Save it on your phone or print it out up to 24 hours before take off. That will save you one line at the airport, so you can head straight for security upon arrival.

Navigating Security

This is it. The final hurtle to a successful trip. You’ve already got your bags ready to go, with everything you need easily accessible. But before you stride up confidently to the counter, there are a few do’s and don’ts of the security line.

  • Do bring a snack. Lots of people think food isn’t allowed, but solid food is just fine. Save yourself from overpriced airport food by throwing a PB&J or a granola bar into your bag.
  • Don’t forget to empty your water bottle. Planes are really dehydrating, so having plenty of water is a must. But only empty water bottles can go through security. Pack it empty, drink up, or if you forget, you can just dump the water in the bathroom sink at the airport.
  • Do wear shoes you can take off. If you are between the ages of 12 and 75, chances are you will be asked to remove your shoes. Your best bet is to wear slip ons of some kind. During the winter this can be tricky though, since you probably want your warm boots. If you have to wear lace up shoes of some kind, loosen the laces while you wait in line to make taking them off faster at the counter. Once you’re through the scanner, there will be a bench you can sit on to get your shoes laced back on nice and tight.
  • Don’t forget about watches, earrings, and other small jewelry. These are big culprits for scanner beeps. You probably wear them so much your forget that you have them on, so do a double check in line. Then place them all in your coat pocket (jackets have to go through the scanner anyway) or the front of your purse. That way they don’t accidentally get left behind in bins either.
  • Do empty your pockets. No matter how many times they announce this, someone always forgets. Best plan: don’t put anything into pants pockets until you are at the gate.

These simple tricks will get you in and out of the security line as fast as possible, but if you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask the TSA staff. They are there to help.

 

Especially around the holidays, flying can be a stressful time. Hopefully this cleared up a few of the mysteries of air travel, and will help you have a great next trip.

5 Podcasts for Every Occasion: Or Why I Can’t Live Without My Headphones

Since the rise of popular podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and Serial, I’ve been aware that out in the world, people were listening to podcasts for entertainment. My friends posted about new episodes on Facebook and Twitter. But I didn’t feel that my life had a place in it for audio-entertainment.

What is a PodcastThen I moved to Vienna for study abroad. Suddenly I had a 30-minute commute which meant sitting (or standing) on a subway train every day, and the need for something to help pass the time. It was high time to give podcasts a chance.

Starting with the familiar, I downloaded some episodes from people whose other work I knew, like CPG Grey’s Hello Internet and Freakonomics Radio by author Stephen J. Dubner. Then I went to the source of all knowledge, Google.

I found lots and lots of articles with the best 5-100 podcasts of every kind that I should definitely be listening to. Information overload was staring to set in, but a few descriptions caught my eye. I sampled for several weeks, trying anything that seemed interesting, and listening to the iTunes-generated related shows. Like any good love affair, I was in the middle before I knew what was happening, but I was completely hooked.

Before, I had struggled to think of times when I might listen to podcasts. Now, I listen all the time. Since starting on the train, I now have an episode or two playing at the gym, while walking to class, and to help keep me up on long drives. Pretty much every day is improved with the addition of a podcast.

I believe that there is a podcast for every person and occasion, so I thought I should share a few of my favorites with you.

When you want to learn about remarkable ladies…

The History Chicks

the-history-chicks-logo-200Two women, Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider, decided that leaving history to the boys was boring. So they started a podcast about all of the women in history in order to tell the stories of these extraordinary lives. And they called it the History Chicks. Each episode or minicast is entertaining, well researched, and fascinating.

We all have things we missed in school, and for a long time I was missing history. Once I figured out that I could learn from podcasts, I thought it high time to try to fill in some of the history I was missing. I started off with the names I recognized. Women who’s claim to fame I was familiar with. But it was when I started listening to the episodes about women I had never heard of that I fully realized how great this podcast was. Graham and Vollenweider could start me at the very beginning of someone’s life and in an hour, I would have a new hero. They interweave commentary and a vivid historical backdrop into their stories. Because that is what every episode ultimately is, a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Their tagline is right; listening in no way resembles a boring old history class.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 48: Agatha Christie

Episode 23 – Margaret “Molly” Brown

Episode 22 : Katherine of Aragon

When you want to be more cultured…

Classical Classroom from Classical 91.7

classical_classroom_logoHost Dacia Clay’s big secret is that she doesn’t know very much about classical music. Which is good, because I don’t either. Every week she acts as the audience stand in, interviewing classical music experts, professors, and musicians from Houston Public Radio, around Texas, and all over the world. As she learns about what exactly makes up specific pieces of classical music, I, the listener, get to learn with her. It is a brilliant model to get even reluctant music students like myself really engaged with classical music, ranging from Hayden to Steve Reich.

Since living in Vienna, home of Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, etc., I have gotten serious about my desire to know more about classical music. And this podcast has helped so much. Not only have I been exposed to all kinds of pieces that I never would have otherwise heard, but I have also developed a much greater appreciation for the music as something beyond pleasant background listening. So, big thanks to the Classical Classroom for generally making me a happier, more cultured person.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 4: Leitmotif In Star Wars – Brett Mitchell

Episode 36: Catherine Lu welcomes the Year of the Horse with the Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto

Episode 106: Bach Halloween Spooktacular With Keith Weber

When you want your mind blown…

99 Percent Invisible from PRX

99percent_invisible_logoDescribed as a “tiny radio show about design,” 99 Percent Invisible is much more than that. Each episode tells the story of something in your life that you may have overlooked: an obscure historic event, an everyday object, a fantastic building, anything imaginable. The stories are lyrical, informative, and enchanting.

I stumbled onto 99 Percent Invisible based on someone else’s list of podcasts, but after one episode I was completely hooked. The stories were so interesting, and each episode was relevantly short. And who can resist the draw of Roman Mars’ velvety smooth voice? If you are the kind of person who looks at something ordinary and asks, who thought of that? then this is absolutely a podcast you should be listening to on a regular basis.

Episodes to start with:

163- The Gruen Effect

133- Port of Dallas

137- Good Bread

When you want a laugh…

No Such Thing as a Fish from QI

No_Such_Thing_as_a_Fish_logoOn the surface, this is a podcast where four people just talk about trivia for 40-45 minutes every week. And I would be totally down for that, because I love trivia that much. But even if you aren’t a trivia buff, you want to be listening to this show, because the QI elves are hilarious. And they have delightful British accents to charm my American ears.

Whenever I am on the way to do anything unpleasant I listen to this podcast, because I know it is guaranteed to make me laugh. I’ve flown through a huge portion of their backlogged episodes, and share this podcast with everyone. What could have more appeal than funny facts?

 

Just a note: The jokes are intended for an adult audience, but are not very explicit or completely unsafe for work. Just a bit off colour every now and again. I don’t know if any of you are planning to listen with the under 13 crowd, but just in case.

Episodes to start with:

Episode 69: No Such Thing As The Pamplona Guinea Pig Run

Episode 63: No Such Thing As An Anti-German Sock

Episode 59: No Such Thing As Old Mother Bastard

When you’re hungry…

Burnt Toast from Food52

Burnt_Toast_logoCovering everything that is talked about around the New York office of Food52, Burnt Toast is a podcast about all things food-related. From what to eat on a first date to how to host a dinner party, they’ve got you covered. The hosts are funny and personable, and the special guests are always great. Their wide variety of topics also includes a peek inside the food industry, which I find fascinating.

I’ve loved Food52’s website and recipes for a while now, so I was thrilled when they started podcasting. I’ve listened to every episode. This show matches the tone of the website pretty well, with the addition of soothing, soft voices. The editors and guests tell lots of funny stories, so even if you don’t have a deep love of dish washing, you can totally relate. Every episode I finish inspires me to cook something.

Episodes to start with:

When Ruth Reichl Comes to Dinner

Lunch is a Point of Honor

Food Didn’t Mean Anything to Me Then

 

Honorable mention goes to: the gut-wrenchingly funny podcast The Sporkful from WNYC. A hardy dose of humor paired with each 20-30 minute discussion of food.

 

I could talk on about this forever. But for now, I sincerely hope that this has inspired at least one person to try these podcasts, or just podcasts in general. They are an exciting new area, and have become a big part of my entertainment.

If you are already a listener, what podcasts do you like? Let me know in comments, and I’ll be sure to check them out.

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