Bowling Alone [Book Review]


Bowling Alone feels like a textbook in disguise. It’s thick with 400 pages of reading material and 100 pages of backup references. It’s dense with the work written in ~ 8 point font and completely void of any humor wet your palette. And it’s very predictable. If you don’t want to read the rest of this review, you probably aren’t going to be interested in reading this book either.

You really need the motive to get through every chapter…..and I did NOT.

Of course, this book is not about bowling. The story goes is that the author, Robert Putnam, was trying to study isolation in cities and was interested in how to quantitatively measure this. One of the few ways is to determine what activities one can do alone, something that can be counted. Then he got the idea that people of all ages and types can bowl, and you don’t need anyone to bowl with. One can grab a lane, get a beer, and just bowl while watching the TVs on the far end of the lane. Thus, the term “bowling alone” became a catchy term in his research group, since the decline of bowling leagues conveniently correlated well with his social index values for various areas.

Thus, Bowling Alone, is about how we are becoming less involved in social activities, more isolated from one another, and even more self-centered and narcissist as a community. The major factors include a lack of faith in our current government,  more women moving away from their traditional stay-at-home roles,  and the invention of mass media isolating us from one another. Television is observed as THE #1 cause in these acts, allowing the easy access to effortless entertainment for the masses.

There is a philological worry that as we solve our societies’ problems of resources and the need for humans to work (as the robots do everything for us), the majority of humans will succumb to the effortless pleasure triggers of food, sex, sleep….. and of course television viewing. When that time comes, there’ll be enough media to entertain one for a lifetime without requiring others to make new content. Only the few, ambitious individuals (or maybe just robots) will create the machines and selflessly build the system for the masses, just to fulfill a sense of purpose…. kind of like in WALL-E, the movie.

But back to the book……

There are four sections to this book: What, Why, Why bother, and What next.

What – The individual chapters focus on topics in which we are less involved. And after the first two chapters… you get the idea; we aren’t participating as much without many exceptions. I excessively skimmed the second half of this section.

Why – This describes the cultural and technological changes that may have caused this shift, including the topics I described above. This is the most impressive portion of the book, and it’s interesting to read how an economist filters through the noise and possible exceptions to draw conclusions from highly noisy and multi-faceted environment. If you read anything from this book, focus on this section.

Why bother – There is a value labeled “social capital index” that Robert correlated with numerous benefits both economically and socially. The more you trust and can cooperate with your neighbors, the less you need to invest in security, insurance, lawyers, counseling, etc. When everyone is actively aware of their community, more opportunities are also available to those well connected. Politics no longer have to be solely a money-filled advertising game. But like the first section, the dead horse is beaten thoroughly into the grave. Besides the first and last chapters, just look at the graphs [more at the end].

What next – Two chapters focus on what society has done and can do to improve social capital. There is a long rambling of the 19th century and its workings in society that got us to where we, which we could learn from its mistakes and successes (but I skipped this chapter as well). The last chapter of the book is basically a conclusion about the main steps we can take to become more social and interconnected:

  • Make work places more family-friendly and community centered
  • Reduce commuting time and instead invest that time knowing your neighbors
  • Become more engaged in a spiritual community
  • Reduce your time in front of screens and more time in front of others
  • Increase participation in cultural activities and festivals with art as a medium
  • Heighten participation and leadership in local politics

There. Done. It felt like a textbook; I’ll write it like a little high school report. And don’t feel bad about skipping pages or chapters (which I did for almost all of the third section). There are plenty of graphs that summary pages at a time.

There are literally paragraphs that just regurgitate what you can easily see in the graphs in excruciating detail! Your time is valuable; get out and meet someone. And if you don’t know anyone, I highly  suggest as a way to get out and try something new.



A cool note: I moved to Minnesota, which is in the top 5 states in the nation with the highest social capital index. With the others being ND, SD, MT, and VT, I would assume MN is the only one with a major metropolitan area.

And I can totally agree with this based on my initial experience thus far. It’s not “in your face” or anything, but my friends circle is definitely growing at a faster pace than it was when I moved to MI over 3 years ago. It’s that, or I just got better at making friends.

This is what I call “exercising my extrovert muscles!”


Going Solo [Book Review]


Going Solo is a book that I picked up at the same time that I purchased Bowling Alone. While the latter book is focused on social and community trends from the 1950s-2000, this book covers a bit more into the 2010’s in a different perspective. Both play narratives towards the trend of isolation of humankind. However, Going Solo specifically pertains to the act of humans choosing to live alone without having friends and family as roommates/housemates.

Note: Between the two books, this was the easiest to read and finish (hence why I’m reviewing it first). However, it’s hard to state if I’ve learned a significant amount after completing it.

The first sections of the book are dedicated to the mental struggles on singles due to the social pressures to have a partner.

“No one wants to die alone.”

“It’s sad that you don’t have someone to come home to.”

“Having kids with my spouse is the most momentous achievement I have.”

As a result, society tends to look down upon those who live alone, as if they are inflicted with a mental disorder or curse. On the flip side, employers will discriminate singles and even expect those without a family to work harder because they “have more free time.”

However, as our society has taken care of our social and financial needs, individuals are choosing to live in their individual homes due to many reasons. This includes those that opt out of having a partner or a family. And despite such stereotypes, these individuals typically have a more active social life. This is not just limited to the US with its strong sense of individualism and self-worth, but it’s also present in socialist Europe and many Asian countries with interdependent societies.

I moved to a city with one of the largest percentages of people that live alone. 43% in Minneapolis, MN. And now I’m one of them.


It makes sense to live by yourself, if you are a young professional just starting out in a new career. But these percentages account for all adult age groups. Of course, it’s not all dependent on the individual’s choice. Including myself, many just see it as (and hope that it’s just) a phase that we go through until we meet a partner we are comfortable with. We no longer have a financial incentive to live with others. Those that are hurt from prior relationships are less inclined to rush back into another one. It’s safer emotionally to live alone.

Living alone also gives those a sense of sanctuary and maintains a sense of self-worth and identity. This is true especially this age where we are so hyper-connected in such an artificial way.

There are also worries for those aging alone. The ugly truth is that women typically outlive their husbands by ~10 years, with those being the most detrimental to their mental health. Those that did not have a partner may have a stronger social circle that can better assist during their golden years.

While friends, family, and community groups are there to support those in old age and sickness, it’s not perfect. Urban centers are working around how to improve infrastructure and programs that are beneficial to solo individuals of all ages. Building convenient, compact housing close to downtown and commercial sectors can catalyze local networking optimal for a healthy community for all its members of all ages and backgrounds.

Why am I living alone?

I’ve lived with roommates for 4 years and a wife for 5 years afterwards. After my divorce, despite the higher cost, I was blessed with the opportunity to live alone. It did feel miserable at first, but I’ve slowly come to appreciate the many advantages that I have never experienced before. I could decorate and plan activities without compromise, and I have more control over the spatial state of my belongings. It brings me peace, not having to worry about coming home to any unwelcome surprises.


And if I don’t find a partner, I know that life alone isn’t as bad as other may think it is. I have more control over my life, career, and hobbies. And I always keep life interesting.

The Signal and the Noise

One of the differences between a textbook and a well-written non-fiction novel is their emphasis on applications. Textbooks are well-known for being very cut and dry, with a few generic “examples” for students to practice on. To get a real taste on where these theories are applied, one must venture elsewhere. Thus, if I was a professor, I would recommend a textbook and a novel for my students to read side-by-side.

If I taught statistics and forecasting, I would definitely put this on the top of my novel choices. I’m just going to put it right out there:

The Signal and the Noise is very well written.


Nate Silver takes some of the most prevalent theories in probability and applies them to our everyday lives. Some of these topics the author has had first-hand experience in, including sports betting and political campaigns. Others topics not in his background are analyzed with similar theories but adapted to their own methodologies. What makes each of these topics different from one another, and how well we can predict them, is about the known data and theory that is applied to statistical models.

One of the most well-celebrated achievements in applied statistics is meteorology. Humankind has come a long way in modeling how the weather behaves based on “initial conditions” and how those will impact tomorrow’s forecast. In addition, we can easily collect essential input data that our model requires (including temperature, humidity, pressure). Thus, we can accurately predict  where and when hurricanes and storms will hit.

This is in contrast to stock market pricing, which the data and theories are very noisy and unknown. It’s one of the reasons why it’s best just to invest in the S&P 500 [what some may call “boring” stocks] than it is to pitch it towards “active investors;” no one can consistently beat the market without utilizing inside information [see my review on the novel Black Edge].  In addition, the stock market will react and change based on your predictions. This will change the price of the stock because you created demand. When one buys a stock, regardless of how good it is, it looks more favorable and the price typically rises. And when it rises, other people may buy that stock. This can result in a perpetuated cycle that can inflate the bubble and continue at the incentive of other’s financial’s interest until the system can’t ignore the truth….and the bubble bursts. Everyone rushes their money out, and the price plummets on a stock that no one wants to buy anymore.

And then there are topics where we are desperately seeking signal. Earthquakes and acts of war/terror are such examples and are covered in their own chapters. There’s no successful theory to understand when these occurrences will, but we can nevertheless theorize insight on how often such events will occur. We can look back and understand how often magnitude 8 earthquakes happen in each area of the US, and this information can give us financial insight on how well to reinforce new buildings in each city.

….. I could write a lot more on the other topics covered, but then there would be no incentive to read the book anymore.

The book does have a lot of insights, and it is never biased. For example, on the chapter on global warming, the author’s two cents on if it exists is ‘yes….and somewhat no.’ There are a lot of side views to each arguments, almost playing devil’s advocate on occasion to truly create a neutral viewpoint. In contrast, this does lengthen the chapters, and discussions can be drawn out at times. Around the last 20% of the book, I’ve found myself skimming a bit more than I felt proud of admitting to. But there are plenty of images and graphs to illustrate the points that Nate wants to relay to his audience. And there are a lot of graphics, roughly 1 image for every 3-5 pages, which is definitely a good thing and constantly steers you back into on topic.


New Logo

If you have read my blog over the last few months, you may have noticed that the logo has slightly changed. In general, I really like the aperture symbol, and I am constantly thinking of getting a small tattoo of it on my right shoulder blade…. right behind the one with the long scar on the front side from surgery.

Oh yeah, I got my plate removed last November! That was a really busy month….. surgery, interviews, Japan, Thanksgiving. Things are finally starting to settle down.

But anyway, back to the aperture symbol!

An aperture is a controlled opening in an imaging system to control how much light enters the camera. If you open up the aperture, more light comes in, and you don’t have to expose the film or CCD array as long to get an appropriate image. However, the larger the aperture system, the faster objects become more blurry as they get out-of-focus. The smaller the aperture, the sharper the background appears to the camera.

This is why the pinhole camera was the first, and ideal, camera. With an “infinitesimally small hole” as an aperture, a lens system is not even needed and everything is in focus. However, the TIME required to capture one image with these systems makes them impractical for most applications.

If you “google” the term aperture, you’ll notice that most aperture symbols are illustrated with six “wings” (I’m not sure of the actual name of them). This results in the standard hexagon symbol insert as a result. Of course, most optical engineers would prefer a circle instead of a polygon, since the corners of the opening would result in more stray light and changing the f-stop value of your image (making more of the image that is out-of-focus more blurry).

But of course, these wings are never straight edges. Curved wings make a more uniform, circle-light opening. No surprise there…..less parts means cheaper design.

My original symbol was made with 12 wings. However, I thought it looked a little goofy after a while….and made it a little less realistic to the original symbol. I still didn’t want 6 flaps, so I decided to alter the logo to an 8 wing design (the right). However, I probably should change the “overlapping scheme,” so that bottom flap doesn’t eat up so much space. Right?


In addition, I initially labeled my logo a “broken aperture.” With each wing set for a different aperture size, it gives a non-uniform opening to the camera. One could speculate that this would make some portions of the image blurry while keeping others sharp. However, the rays entering the system sees all portions of the aperture, so all objects in the camera’s sight would be equally as affected. I’ll have to look into the details sometime and give a more detailed explanation on the impact of a lopsided aperture on a camera.

On a side note….if your aperture breaks, please let a professional try to fix it. Optical components are one heck of a mess. And while I did learn a lot about how the inner working look inside a SLR lens system, including sliders, springs, and numerous lenses, it’s really not meant to be taken apart. A small piece of plastic snapped off and permanently closed my aperture, and a futile effort to fix what is long gone. Not only did the aperture not open, but the broken piece also messed up the gears that control the aperture system.


Sorry Alex…… I tried.

Sapiens [Book Review]

“What do we want to want?” (Page 414)

That is the question presented by the author, Yuval Noah Harari, at the end of this book. This is not to be confused with ‘What do we want,’ which are our current desires. This is more of a question about the direction our species is going. Once simple inhabitants on planet Earth, the human species has undergone a roller coaster of events that have brought us to where we currently are….and will also suggest where we are headed. And due to these “sudden shift” on a evolutionary time scale, we are confused on what makes us content, how we should act, and how science will shape our desires and expectations.


Sapiens is not necessarily a history book, but rather a sort of hybrid between social science and evolutionary science on the scale encompassing world history. It will illustrate topics with examples of a few staple empires, countries, and historically known individuals, but most of the book is based on social theories and over-arching trends that are not limited by borders. This involves the shifts from hunters-and-gatherers and the agricultural era to individualist capitalism and imagined communities.

The book starts out with initial social trends that you would expect from the books description: agriculture, money, religion, and so on. Of all of these, Yuval states that “money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised” (page 180). This idea morphs into how money, credit, and financial trust becomes the building block for how capitalism took over the world. This is how Europe was the powerhouse in the 1900’s, why almost every country works in capitalist markets, and how science was used as a tool to improve its edge.

While we would like to think that Science is just a pure pursuit of discovering unknown knowledge…. but it’s always been a political tool from the beginning of the industrial revolution (when it started to make a major impact). This is because science needs money….. a lot of it! And do you know who has money….. empires do. Biological excursions were paired with territorial expanse. Archaeology was a tool to bind the cultures of newly acquired territories. And ironically, nuclear bombs brought along one of the most peaceful times in human history.

I’m not going to lie…… this book does get dark. It spits in the face of our “accomplishment” and makes us ask ourselves “what is this all for?”


For examples, one of the topics that comes up over and over throughout Sapiens is that we are biological superstars. In economic terms, a superstar is someone who improves his/her stance at the cost of others. When you look at the overall trend of human’s healthy and safety, it does increase over time. However, the opposite can be said for the other living species on Earth. When humans have spread across the continents, a large majority of species (many of those larger than us) became extinct quite rapidly. Mammoths, giant ground sloths, elephant birds, and many other fellow mammals became extinct even before we started to bake bread. And with every expanse we made, the health of nearby plants and animals have diminished. This includes the cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals we breed, compress, and butcher to meet our newly found expectations of high meat consumption.

But looking back over how we have adapted, overcrowded the planet, and became mortal gods with respect to every other living being on the planet ……. the book concludes on the topic of happiness. From being a biological  design through evolution as strongly community-focused to individuals ripped from these desired bonds in the realm of “capitalistic freedom,” it’s hard to state if we were emotionally better off now than we were before agriculture. With many theories stating that happiness stems from brain biochemistry and societal expectations, along with the mind’s pattern to adjust our current status as the norm, it does ask us what is the whole point of our society’s gains.

Regardless of what happens, the universe will still move along. There is most likely no god or after-life that is awaiting us after we die. We all just fight our unconscious pursuits to push farther than our current state, allowing  our “selfish genes” to do what is necessary to keep making more humans at the expense of our own health and satisfaction. But being gods growing in control over the physics and chemistry that can evolve us to a higher (or even a completely new) species, this brings us back to the question of “What do we want to want?” and how can we give homo sapiens a direction in our future. Science WILL change our futures, but we do have the power to influence on how it will unfold.

My conclusion………..Read this book!

I previously read Yuval’s second book Homo Deus, and I actually now regret reading that book first. However, both books have made a strong impact on how I see the world now.

Unless you’re a strong-minded individual who doesn’t like different view of the world…….Read this book!

There’s a reason why there is 4.6/5.0 rating on Amazon with over 5,500 reviewers.

And of course, if you are human …….. Read this book!

Sapiens [A preview]

Halfway through a book on the trends from social sciences through a historical perspective, and I ran across an interesting paragraph:

“So monotheism explains order, but is mystified by evil. Dualism explains evil, but is puzzled by order. There is one logical way of solving the riddle: ……there is a single omnipotent God ….. and He’s evil. But Nobody in history has had the stomach for such a belief.” (Sapiens. pp 221)

In a way, it would be an interesting religion; a preaching of a cruel god that plagues society. I would believe it, and it could have some really interesting perks.

Think about it…..

When you are alone in this world, life sucks. Your body gets older, while your environment is always asking more from you and never bringing any permanent satisfaction that it promises. This all occurs as you slowly succumb to entropy as it slowly takes everything away from you: your money, your mind, your body, your life.

The realization on life being a constant trial of pain against this deity would be a reason for others to come together. It’s not a praise to a higher order, but an acknowledgement that we are all against him together. Alternatively, it could lead to a banding of “community” to help improve everyone’s life, enhance your understanding of other’s pain, and a spiritual banding to survive the constant torture of this (or these) constantly cruel (Entropy-ic /Entropic?) deity.



Image Source:

Note: It’s the only decent image I found when I searched both “Entropy” and “Deity.” “Chaos” didn’t help. The next best image was the Crab Nebula……


It would be like Christians not believing that God or Jesus are waiting for you in the afterlife. They would only recognize the Devil and his presence influencing the Earth, constantly harassing us for his substance … or maybe just his amusement.

Looking back at my life, all of my favorite memories are not from random events from the world, but from when I have been blessed with those closest to me. Their love, friendship, and sacrifice that keeps me socially active…. and maybe too nice for my own good.

Instead of fighting over who’s “God” is better, we could all just come together and agree they all treat us like shit. We can focus on making the most of what we have in front of us …… instead of constantly wishing for what is not there ……. and will never be.

A Walk in the Woods [Book Review]

Back when I moved to Detroit, I was dating a soon-to-be physician’s assistant going to into the field of otolaryngology (my spell check wants to keep changing it to nanotechnology). After receiving the acceptance letter, she bought multiple textbooks on the subject. No grades to achieve, no tests to pass. She didn’t have an initial passion for studying the anatomy of ears, but there was an almost-dying passion to really excel at her first job. While most people would have enjoyed the freedom within the time window between college and career-dom, daily trips to the library were her priority. I truly didn’t understand it back then, but then I played an active role in steering my career path.

I got a new job! I am getting the f@#k out of Detroit and moving westward. The twin cities is a biker dream. I’m only a 4 hour drive from home. But most importantly, the position is a technically challenging opportunity utilizing specialty lasers known as VCSELs, short for Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers. Instead of fussing over the color of push buttons, I can work in more tantalizing subjects including LIDAR and atomic clocks! And while packing up my belongings, juggling the holidays, saying farewell to my strong friend groups, all while still working full-time, I celebrated …….. by purchasing an expensive, 550 page textbook on VCSELs!

It’s a beast, and it’s eating up my typical book-reading time! Hence, the lack of entries over the last couple months…….


This is NOT a review of that textbook. And you know what…. I don’t really think I will review it even when I do finish it. This entry is intended for a more lighthearted book: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. If this seems to ring a bell 1) Bill also wrote A Brief History of Nearly Everything which I reviewed but did not finish and 2) I have been wanting to review for a bit in my continuing pursuit of more long distance hiking insights.

This is about the Appalachian Trail (AT). How two men, both older and quite out-of-shape,  tackle a 2,000+ mile trail (of which Bill only did ~800 miles). They tackle excess backpacking weight. The trudge through snow and swamps. There are encounters with a wide variation of individuals on and off the trail. Snickers become staple meal items along their hike. And of course, they discuss the after-effects of being removed from civilization. How one recovers the appreciation of a warm shower and a soft bed, despite their condition.

As Bill mentions, “I was beginning to appreciate that the central feature of life on the Appalachian Trail is deprivation, that the whole point of the experience is to remove yourself so thoroughly from the conveniences of everyday life that the most ordinary things …. fill you with wonder and gratitude.” (Page 55)

In addition, you don’t need to hike the entire stretch of the AT to feel accomplished. <10% finish the hike on a yearly basis. Rather, the AT exists as a tool for one to gain a life-changing experience. It’s not about the miles; it’s more than a number. Whether it is to take a break from society, lose some excess weight, or just slow down and appreciate how beautiful and vast the wilderness truly is…..that’s when you have hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Last August, I backpacked portions of Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful subset of the AT. I hiked summits, swam in waterfalls, and wound up in beautiful, yet mysterious campsites. And most importantly, I did it alone. It was a pursuit to strengthen my independence and disconnect myself from society. I have learned that I need to be less dependent on my impact on others and their approval of me. Maybe it was how I was raised? Or maybe I was trying to prove a point after my failed marriage; that I am still worth something to those around me? Regardless, the experience was amazing, and I have improved. However, 5 nights was not enough…… stupid Hurricane!


Back to the book. You can tell there’s a modest shift halfway through the novel. This occurs after Bill stops hiking with his friend Katz after Shenandoah. While the book’s first half is more spiritual and personally insightful, along with a multitude of laughs from shared experiences and qualms between friends, the second half is more “historical.” Multiple chapters start out with a fact (a story, medical conditions, geographical knowledge) that leads to a small story on how a specific part of the trail unfolded. It became less of a seamless story and more of a rough stitch-together of personal experiences with “enticing” introductions. The last few chapters bring back the original flow of writing that Bill originally started the book with when he reunites with Katz in Maine (which they also did not finish).

But in one of these “detached chapters,” Bill brings up an interesting topic on the harmonious coexistence of human presence and tranquil wilderness. Where we tend to isolate the two beings from each other using territorial lines and fences, there was an earlier age where the AT ran side-by-side with farmlands and small towns. This has slowly disappeared not just from natural shifts in economics, but it also includes some disturbing stories of reckless human behavior stemming from politics and industrial advancement.

Still, despite everything going on in my life, I still finished the book in less than a month of receiving it as a Christmas present. A pleasant read, indeed.

Not going to lie, if I didn’t get this job at Vixar, I was planning on quitting my current role the following fall to do some traveling. Not the AT to be precise, but multiple locations over a year-long time-span. I would have went New Zealand in the Winter, traveled around the Southwest Horseshoe trails in the spring, experienced Iceland in the Summer (when it would be bearable….hopefully more than Norway in August), and backpacked the Colorado trail in the early months of Fall. I was investing in backpacking equipment, and reading these book for insight. But that will have to wait. A new, exciting chapter in my life is about to unfold, hopefully filled with unexpected and positive experiences!

I may be “cold and alone,” but I sure as hell going to keep life interesting!