(This is a guest book review)
Reviewed by Stella Danker (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This book has one of the best first sentences I have read – “Miracles happen every day.” This is a book to be read slowly and mulled over, to keep close by as a guide, a book from which to extract wisdoms, and through which to create miracles.
There are gems to be mined here, if approached with an open mind and some patience. Better editing would have polished this gem to dazzle a wider audience than the converted like me.
This is my first Deepak Chopra book and there are more than 50 of them. Chopra is a master of the spiritual self-help genre and has been translated into 35 languages. He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians, among other things, and co-founder of
The Chopra Center for Wellbeing in southern California. He writes in this book, from a physics background as well, about the potential that exists in the energy of the universe and our personal power to shape our destinies and make our dreams come true. It is not an airy-fairy leap of faith he is asking of his reader. It is an intelligently put forth quantum leap. Time magazine has called him “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine”.
Chopra requests that the reader persists through the first part of the book and not be tempted to skip to the meaty offerings in the second part of the book. But that is exactly what the reader will want to do because the introduction through to Chapter Two should have been halved. I also urge the reader to persist but suggest that some skimming through would be a good idea.
The physics fascinates but is turgid. Some of the supporting examples are brilliant but some are banal. There are too many personal anecdotes that could have been easily told more succinctly to make an argument for how one thing leads to another seemingly
randomly but actually with a universal purpose to lead us to our destiny.
Chopra delivers the goods from Chapter 3 onwards and the reader is taken mesmerized on a magical, mystery ride though quantum physics to a place offering peace and possibilities. It is an uplifting book in these stressful economic doldrums in which we live. Even if you get nothing else out of this book, it teaches you how to meditate, and offers many mantras. This is a practice that will bring much peace.
There is also much wisdom on how to become extraordinary by understanding the local and non-local mind. “If you really want to break out of the mundane, you must learn to think and dream the impossible.”
Anything that ever happened did so because somebody set an intention for it. This is the “desire” part of the title. Strengthen this intention with a vision and you are on your way to creating a miracle. It has been said that when Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out of
a train in Durban, South Africa, because he was Indian, Gandhi closed his eyes and saw the British Empire crumbling halfway across the world.
There is no such thing as luck or a coincidence. Chopra writes: “Every coincidence becomes an opportunity for creativity. Every coincidence becomes an opportunity for you to become the person the universe intended you to be.” Coincidences are clues sent to us
by the universe. And his book makes us more aware of these and trust that they lead us to where we are meant to be.
Probably the best argument Chopra puts forward on how seemingly random events are synchronized to achieve a deliberate destiny or purpose is in the Big Bang. This is what he calls the Coincidence of the Universe. Absolutely nothing would exist if not
for a “remarkable set of coincidences.” The number of particles and the number of anti-particles had to be just so to begin the chain reactions that would create our planet and the galaxy. Just a little more of this or that, and the whole universe would have collapsed into itself.
The many references in the book to the ancient Vedic texts, the Sanskrit sutras, and to the Greek gods and goddesses are sheer poetry. You want to read this book. Can you pass up the chance that you might actually conjure up magic?
The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence
Stella Danker is a freelance journalist based in New York.]]>
A Black Swan is a reference to
a concept developed in an earlier book by Nassim Taleb on how people are bad at judging probabilities. For example, if they only see white swans they naturally assume that all swans are white. Until they see a black one. Black Swans in the financial world are extremely unlikely events that almost no one forsees, such as the mortgage crisis in 2008.
In “Stalking the Black Swan”, Mr Posner describes how one can use tools such as decision trees to help make decisions that are less gut feeling and more numerical. He uses several case studies such as the crash of credit card companies such as Providian and Capital One and how he had computed their value in the past using such decision trees.
Readers of this blog who are familiar with computer graphics will recognize the statistics and probability concepts quite easily. In fact, the author devotes an entire chapter to Monte Carlo simulation of these decision trees to ultimately compute the valuation of complex financial instruments such as the infamous Collateral Debt Obligations (CDOs) and how mistakes in assumptions such as historical housing pricing data could mislead people to assume that housing prices behaved as before and thus get burnt when the mortgages all crashed at the same time.
Interesting read for people familiar with elementary probability and statistics and gives an insight into how some analysts perform valuations of stocks.
Stalking the Black Swan is available on Amazon.]]>
I was driving in my car listening to NPR when the author Mr Mallaby came on air to discuss his book. Mr Mallaby is an interesting and exciting speaker. He makes a dry subject like finance come to life with interesting anecdotes and insider stories, making you feel as if you’re watching the history of hedge funds unfold right before your eyes.
His book More Money Than God details the history of the hedge fund industry from around the early part of the 20th century to the current recession of 2008. His basic premise is that small, boutique hedge funds that are not too big to fail are actually good for the economy as they provide liquidity to the market and generate the long sought after ‘alpha’, a measure of investor skill as opposed to ‘beta’ a measure of how well a stock performs just by the market rising. The early hedge funds generated alpha just by the fact that they sat in front of the SEC and got each company’s quarterly report by hand rather than waiting for them to be delivered by mail. This gave them a competitive advantage of a few hours to buy or sell a company’s stock before their competitors. As the market got more efficient and other people caught on to this innovation, new hedge funds came along and started trying fancier techniques like talking to clients of a company to see how well its doing, or estimating trends or even looking at stock ‘momentum’. With the event of the computer, hedge funds like Long Term Capital Management started doing things like finding correlated stocks that may trade in multiple exchanges where it may be too expensive in one exchange and too cheap in another and exploit these inefficiencies to their advantage. He finally describes the ultimate hedge fund of them all, Renaissance Technologies, that were founded by code breakers and statistical machine translation folks who use their advanced computer skills to analyze the stock market to generate ‘alpha’, in order to get uncorrelated returns from the market.
Mr Mallaby also shows the horrific consequences of hedge funds that got too big like LTCM that had overleveraged themselves and when it came time to liquidate, telegraphed their intent and became the victims of other traders who traded against their position. He also described how George Sorro’s Quantum Fund broke the currency pegs in the UK and during the Asian Financial crisis by borrowing more money than a large nations (like the UK’s) foreign reserve.
Although dry at times, it provides an interesting casual look into the world of hedge funds that is well research and an entertaining read. Recommended for people who are interested in finance that may not be in the field and are interested in knowing the backstory of what goes on.]]>
This action packed novel set in Niven’s Known Space universe, follows the migration of the Pak (of which humans were descended from in this universe) as they flee from the core explosion. The Pak come in two forms, a breeder form, which looks like early humans, and the protector form, which are short, bald, nearly immortal, neuter and blindingly smart post-adult versions of the Pak when they reach a certain stage of life. Unfortunately, the Pak are very protective of their breeder brood and destroy every civilization in their path.
The Fleet of Worlds gets a mysterious message from the G’woth, a communal mind alien species that resemble starfish or undersea vent dwelling worms. The human scouts arrive at the G’woth homeworld and find to their shock that they have developed from stone age to fusion power in a very short amount of time due to the works of their 16-pack communal mind brethren. The Puppeteers accompanying the humans are suitably alarmed but they decide that the Pak fleet is a bigger threat and head off to investigate.
I found this action packed novel a much nicer read than the first two (review here) and highly recommend it for Niven fans.]]>
This time, rather than set the story in the huge ring like orbiting structure created by aliens, Niven and Lerner build the back story about the Puppeteers – a race of cowardly horse like aliens with two heads that look like sock puppets. In the first of four books of the series Niven and Lerner tell the tale of how the Puppeteers capture and breed Humans to be their scouts since they are too cowardly leave their own planets on their own.
Then, in Juggler of Worlds, the story follows an ARM agent (Amalgamated Regional Militia a branch of the futuristic United Nations which has taken over government of an overcrowded earth), Simon Ausfaller who is born with smarts and paranoia. Fortunately for him, the ARM requires its agents to be paranoid in order to counter the nefarious schemes of aliens like the Puppeteers. The mad Puppeteer scout Nessus of Ringworld fame kidnaps Simon and brings him to the Puppeteer homeworlds, the Fleet of Worlds, where the aliens have started accelerating their planets out of the galaxy in order to escape some disaster originating from the center of the galaxy.
I so enjoyed the first two books that I also bought the next two, which I will review shortly. The last two books of the quartet were more entertaining than the first two, in my opinion.
Recommended for Ringworld fans. This series is relatively stand alone and can be read even if you know nothing about Ringworld or Niven’s Known Space universe.
As the title suggests, there is some zooming in to be done here, with layers upon layers of reality to unpeel. The story topic pivots around the use of virtual reality in the Culture and other so-called “Level Eight” civilizations. The gist of it is – there is a war in the virtual Afterlives over whether civilizations should run virtual Hells for their citizens or not. Most of the story is told around the viewpoint of an indentured woman in an emerging civilization. We follow her from her life as a miserable indentured servant to a cruel tyrant, to her death and sudden appearance in one of the Culture’s virtual worlds. What follows in an entertaining joy ride through the Culture from her point of view as she makes her way back to her home world to get revenge for her murder. Another thread is about a participant in the war over the Afterlives from the ‘anti-Hell’ side. His point of view is an endless series of wars vs the ‘pro-Hell’ side from low technological warfare with guns to running as combat software in a war machine in orbit around an embattled planet. The winner of the virtual war gets to decide what happens in “The Real” – whether all the civilizations that run the virtual Hells get to do as they please or have to be delete their unpleasant virtualities.
Mr Banks entertains constantly, from his usually whimsical names of the ships such as “Me, I’m Counting” to exciting descriptions of epic galactic engineering. I would highly recommend this one for fans of Mr Banks or even if you haven’t read any of the previous Culture novel. One caveat though – Mr Banks uses a lot of profanity and graphic violent imagery – not for the faint of heart. It is however, a high-tech adventure worth reading.