Book that I would NOT recommend: Disunited Nations: The Scramble for Power in an Ungoverned World

I noted this book shortly before it was released as someone I followed on Twitter recommended it. I forgot about it until someone brought it up again on Twitter, saying that if you haven’t read the book, you don’t live the 21st century. Ok, what a big endorsement! So I picked the book up and started reading. Oh boy, what a disappointment.

The author briefly discussed the past before going into details the state of a few countries such as China, Japan, France, Germany, etc…After each chapter for each country, he has a summary in the form of a report card that includes his position on each country on Borders, Resources, Demography, Military Might, Economy and Outlook. The introduction part is fine. My issues with the book started in the first chapter.

Overstating America’s involvement in WWII

“During the Imperial Age, the Europeans had been at each other’s throats” Peace among them had been possible only because of American involvement in World War II, American financial support in the postwar rebuilding effort, American strategic overwatch during the Cold War, and the de facto American subsidization of their economies since 1945 via the Order. Without the Americans, there could not be a European Union, much less a euro. And to thank the Americans, the Europeans decided to launch a common currency expressly designed to chip away at American preeminence in global trade and finance.

Excerpt From: Peter Zeihan. “Disunited Nations.” Apple Books.

While the US did contribute to the defeat of the Nazis in World War II, the claim that America was the sole deciding factor in World War II is a bit too much. The US didn’t get involved until the late stage of the war. More importantly, thousands of Europeans and Soviet Union citizens died to keep the Nazis at bay before defeating them. The condescending tone in the last sentence is cringe-worthy. It is at best debatable and likely incorrect. Not everything that everybody does is about the US.

On America’s role in “bailing out” Europe

The rise of the euro complicated European-American relations, particularly when the Europeans came to Washington hat in hand for help in dealing with the European Financial Crisis, a crisis that would have not been nearly as severe if not for the euro’s creation.

The problem I have with this is that the financial crisis started from the US and rippled throughout the world. Additionally, there is no substantiating evidence to back up the claim that EU crawled out of the crisis hole solely by virtue of the US.

On America’s military might over China

Any Chinese expansion that would replace (much less overturn) the American position doesn’t simply begin after a long American head start, but must overcome an American naval global footprint that would take over a century to establish through force of arms—a footprint that is not replicable without complete victory in a world-spanning war that somehow manages to leave the Chinese mainland untouched. This is meant less as a slam against the Chinese as it is a recognition of global naval realities. After all, aside from the Americans, no one floats even a single fully functional supercarrier, much less a supercarrier battle group, much less a global naval force.

Beyond carriers, China is indeed floating an impressive number of missile frigates and destroyers that combine reach and lethality, but what the Chinese fleet lacks is operational range. Of China’s three hundred–plus naval vessels, only one-ninth of them are major surface combatants that can operate over a thousand miles from shore (a little less than the distance from Shanghai to Tokyo) under ideal circumstances—ideal, as in no one shooting at them.

Excerpt From: Peter Zeihan. “Disunited Nations.” Apple Books.

The author made his claims about how the US is still superior to China in terms of military. However, if you read the book: The Kill Chain, which I reviewed here and which was written by the top advisor of John McCain, the then-chair of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, the picture cannot be more different. The author of the Kill Chain obviously knows what he was talking about as he was on the inside and he insisted that the US is going to be, if not already, behind China and time is running out. If I have to choose between Peter Zeihan and the guy who had access to classified military documents at the highest level in the government, I’ll pick the latter any day of the week. Here is what Christian Brose said, sorry for the long excerpts which, unfortunately, are necessary to make my point

“Cyberattacks would grind down the logistical movement of US forces into combat. The defenseless cargo ships and aircraft that would ferry much of that force across the Pacific would be attacked every step of the way. Satellites on which US forces depend for intelligence, communications, and global positioning would be blinded by lasers, shut down by high-energy jammers, or shot out of orbit altogether by antisatellite missiles. The command and control networks that manage the flow of critical information to US forces in combat would be broken apart and shattered by electronic attacks, cyberattacks, and missiles. Many US forces would be rendered deaf, dumb, and blind.”

“While these attacks were under way, America’s forward bases in places like Japan and Guam would be inundated with waves of precise ballistic and cruise missiles. The few defenses those bases have would quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of weapons coming at them, with many leaking through. Those bases would have no defense against China’s hypersonic weapons, which can maneuver unpredictably, fly at five times the speed of sound, and strike their targets within minutes of being launched. As all of these missiles slammed into US bases, they would destroy fighter jets and other aircraft on the ground before US pilots could even get them airborne. They would crater runways, blow up operations centers and fuel storage tanks, and render those US forward bases inoperable. If any aircraft did manage to escape the Chinese missiles, it would be forced to relocate to another base in the region, which itself would come under attack. It would look like a US evacuation.”

“A similar dynamic would play out with America’s sea bases. Once the war started, US aircraft carriers in the region would immediately turn east and sail away from China, intent on getting more than a thousand miles away from the opponent’s long-range anti-ship missiles. But from that far away, none of the aircraft on the flight deck would be capable of reaching their targets without aerial refueling, so the Navy would find itself on the horns of the same dilemma the Air Force faced: its stealthy fighter jets would be pushed so far back that they could only get to their targets with the help of non-stealthy, defenseless refueling aircraft that would be shot down in large numbers.”

That assessment was echoed by a bipartisan commission of military experts that McCain had established through legislation that year to provide an independent examination of US defense strategy. They rendered their judgment to Congress shortly after McCain’s death in 2018. “America’s military superiority… has eroded to a dangerous degree,” they wrote. “The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

On America making all strategic decisions for Europe!???

The only way the Europeans have ever discovered to prevent this never-ending cycle of wars is to change the game. To bring in an external security guarantor who forces everyone to be on the same side. Who makes all major strategic decisions for everyone. Who enables access to raw materials without needing to resort to war. Who allows for the mass export of Germany’s always destabilizing volumes of manufactured goods to somewhere beyond Europe. That’s the United States. That’s the Order.

Excuse me?

False claim on Germany’s electricity source

Germany receives less than 10 percent of its electricity needs from green power.

One quick check on Google can prove that this is false

Graph shows renewables share in gross power consumption 1990-2019. Graph: CLEW 2020.
Source: Clean Energy Wire

Overly optimistic view of the US

“OUTLOOK: The Americans excel at missing opportunities due to domestic squabbling, but there is nothing in what’s left of the international system that will threaten the American heartland either militarily or economically before 2050.”

This is the theme throughout the book. Peter Zeihan is overly optimistic and borderline delusional about the US’ outlook. It is still the richest country on Earth, but claiming that the country faces no military or economic threats before 2050 is simply wrong. China is projected to overtake the US economically in the near future. It is now the second biggest economy in the world and the gap is closing. As mentioned above, China’s military IS already a threat to the US. and it’s not me that said so. It’s the people who served at the highest level of the government that did.

I jumped into this book with excitement and curiosity which were quickly evaporated by bold yet unsubstantiated claims, omission of human factors, delusional outlook on the US, false statements and the condescending tone towards others. This book is music to the ears of the folks who claim that despite what is going on in the country, the US is still the greatest in the world. To others who are more pragmatic, especially those with international exposure like me, it is less so. To be fair, the world needs America, but as much as America needs the world. Despite all the advances and great things that this country produces, it faces monumental threats such as eroding global standing among allies, rising income inequality, outdated infrastructure, a dysfunctional government, voter suppression, corruption, bitter and severe divide in America’s society, healthcare, etc…

Not everyone who points out America’s shortcomings has malicious intent. Many, myself included, are forthcoming and honest about what America can do better because we want the country to improve and to be better. I’d not be here if I didn’t like America. I do love it less now, but it doesn’t mean I want it to fail. I want to see it succeed and to do so, I prefer folks saying “Look, America has problems, but we can fix them and be better” to “To hell with all problems, America is still the greatest”. Since this book is blindly and condescendingly pro America, it may as well be labeled that way.

To be fair, the book has some good thought-provoking bits, but they are not worth the time spent on 300 pages and the frustration I detailed above. Long post short, I would NOT recommend this book.

Book review: The Kill Chain: How Emerging Technologies Threaten America’s Military Dominance

I picked up this book after reading about it briefly on one of the news outlets. At first, I had a suspicion that it was a partisan book as everything was politicized nowadays in the US, but I still decided to give it a try. I am sure glad I did. The book was written by a senior advisor to John McCain, the former GOP chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The author’s tone and viewpoint throughout the book, in my opinion, were fair and made sense. He talked briefly about what he considered mistakes by both President Obama and Trump, in their failure to modernize the military and foreign relations policies. He tackled several aspects of the changing landscape that makes the US’s once insurmountable dominance on the verge of being completely eliminated, especially by China. He painstakingly explained why Russia and particularly China would present a peer and a threat that the US has never had before.

He used his insider knowledge and experience working under McCain to explain why even though the US spends billions of dollars a year on military and defense, it’s more about “how you spend money” than “how much money you spend”. A great deal of money is wasted every year by the bureaucracy, the corruption and the self-serving parties involved in the national defense business. While new technologies are already here, the US still plows an incredible amount of money into equipment, technologies and processes that belong to the past. Overall, this book is a wake-up call on how the US’s military is being left behind by arch rivals. It’s an informative read by someone who knew what he was talking about.

Threat from Russia and China with their technological advances

“As it stood, the Chinese Communist Party knew far more about the US military and its vulnerabilities than the American people and their elected representatives did.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“That assessment was echoed by a bipartisan commission of military experts that McCain had established through legislation that year to provide an independent examination of US defense strategy. They rendered their judgment to Congress shortly after McCain’s death in 2018. “America’s military superiority… has eroded to a dangerous degree,” they wrote. “The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“One story from a Ukrainian officer stuck with me. His fellow commander was known to the Little Green Men as a highly effective fighter. One day during the conflict, the man’s mother received a call from someone claiming to be the Ukrainian authorities, who informed her that her son had been badly wounded in action in eastern Ukraine. She immediately did what any mother would do: she called her son’s mobile phone. Little did she know that the call she had received was from Russian operatives who had gotten a hold of her son’s cell phone number but knew that he rarely used the phone for operational security reasons. This Ukrainian commander, being a good son, quickly called his mother back, which enabled the Little Green Men to geolocate his position. Seconds later, while still on the phone, he was killed in a barrage of precision rocket artillery.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Cyberattacks would grind down the logistical movement of US forces into combat. The defenseless cargo ships and aircraft that would ferry much of that force across the Pacific would be attacked every step of the way. Satellites on which US forces depend for intelligence, communications, and global positioning would be blinded by lasers, shut down by high-energy jammers, or shot out of orbit altogether by antisatellite missiles. The command and control networks that manage the flow of critical information to US forces in combat would be broken apart and shattered by electronic attacks, cyberattacks, and missiles. Many US forces would be rendered deaf, dumb, and blind.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

How outdated US’s military is

“And yet, when members of our military put on their uniforms and report for duty, hardly any of this technology is available to them. Instead, they consistently have to do dangerous and important jobs with technology that might be many years behind what they use in their daily lives. This was reinforced again for me at a major Air Force conference last year, where I spoke on a panel about how new technology could help build better networks of military systems. An airman in the audience asked the panel how this would be possible when most servicemembers currently deal regularly with long network outages that leave them disconnected from email and the internet. Nearly everyone in the audience, more than one thousand people, erupted in applause.

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“It is a story of how the worlds of national defense and high technology in America increasingly grew apart. At a deeper level, it is also a story of how the United States was spoiled by its own dominance—a cautionary tale of how a prolonged period without real geopolitical competition bred a false sense of invincibility. In short, it is a story of how the United States got ambushed by the future.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“The bigger issue is that most of these allegedly information age military systems struggle to share information and communicate directly with one another to a degree that would shock most Americans. For example, the F-22 and F-35A fighter jets cannot directly share basic airborne positioning and targeting data despite the fact that they are both Air Force programs and built by the same company. They were architected with different means of processing and transmitting information that are not compatible. It is as if one speaks Greek, and the other speaks Latin.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Unlike some leading American technology companies, Nvidia is open to doing business with the Department of Defense. I asked how many of its graphics processing units were operating on fielded US military systems. I was not surprised by the answer: none.

As the answer suggests, most US military systems are many years behind the state-of-the-art technology that commercial companies such as Nvidia are developing. The most capable computer onboard a US military system is the core processor in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has earned it the nickname “the flying supercomputer.” The processor can perform 400 billion operations per second.1 By comparison, the Nvidia DRIVE AGX Pegasus can conduct 320 trillion operations per second right onboard a commercial car or truck.2 That is eight hundred times more processing power.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“The information that most US military machines collect is not actually processed onboard the machine itself. It is either stored on the system and then processed hours or even days later when the machine returns from its mission. Or it is streamed back to an operations center in real time, terabyte by terabyte, which places a huge burden on military communications networks. Either way, it is the job of humans, not machines, to comb through most of that data and find the relevant bits of information. In 2020, that is the full-time job of literally tens of thousands of members of the US military. When they are off-duty, they may use Nvidia’s technology to play video games or even assist them on their drive home. But in uniform, they are essentially doing the same jobs that their grandparents did in World War II.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“A friend of mine who recently did targeting in the US military told me that the best way his unit could get on one page in identifying a target was with Google Maps. They had to gather up all of their different streams of information about the target from their assorted sensor platforms, come to a time-consuming decision on where the target actually was located, and literally drop a pin in Google Maps to direct their shooters where on earth to fire their weapons. This was around the time that the Google employees wrote their open letter to their leadership demanding that the company cut ties with the Department of Defense lest their technology contribute to lethal military operations. “If those folks only knew how many bombs the US military has dropped using Google Maps,” my friend told me, “their heads would explode.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

How a great deal of money is wasted every year on military spending and how much bureaucracy there is in Washington

“Over the past two decades, during the peaks of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, multiple new weapons programs were started and ultimately canceled with nothing to show for them. The Center for Strategic and International Studies stopped counting the different programs at eighteen, acknowledging that the real number is far higher. All told, the Pentagon and Congress spent more than $59 billion on these programs during the 2000s and got no usable capability by the time the programs were canceled.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

Many companies resented making these changes, which they felt forced into. But change they did, and they often used their influence in Washington’s byzantine acquisition system to their own advantage: They underbid on contracts to develop technology and then overran on the actual costs and time to produce it. They promised things they could not deliver. And they used their political clout in the Pentagon and Congress to make it harder for new companies and new technologies to displace their programs of record. Put simply, the US government created incentives for defense companies to do the wrong things, and that is often what happened.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“That simply does not happen with US military systems, where hardware has always been king and software largely an afterthought. For most military systems, the schedule for hardware updates determines the schedule for software updates. After all, most of the companies building these systems are hardware companies, not software companies. This has created multiyear software development cycles that are doomed to failure. Think of how well your mobile device would work if its software and apps were updated only every several years. That’s how it is for military systems. I cannot tell you the number of defense programs I came across during my time in the Senate—on which the US government had spent billions of dollars over many years—that were failing for the simple reason that their builders were not proficient in how to develop suitable, scalable, adaptable, and constantly improving software. And the result, time and time again, is that members of the US military are handed equipment whose functionality is inferior to what they use in their everyday lives.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“A good example of how defense acquisition can go wrong is the Army’s attempt to buy a new pistol a few years ago. It issued a request for proposals that ran over 350 pages of cumbersome details and envisioned years of costly development and testing before soldiers would ever get a new sidearm. Even Army leaders were surprised. They learned about it when McCain and I told them, and then they were as outraged as we were. “We’re not figuring out the next lunar landing,” said an outraged General Mark Milley at the time, when he was chief of staff of the Army. “This is a pistol. Two years to test? At $17 million?” he vented. “You give me $17 million on a credit card, and I’ll call Cabela’s tonight, and I’ll outfit every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine with a pistol for $17 million. And I’ll get a discount on a bulk buy.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

“Even basic tasks that used to be routine bodily functions in Congress, such as passing a federal budget, have become nearly impossible. Indeed, over the past ten years, Congress has managed only once to pass spending legislation for the Department of Defense by the start of the fiscal year. When Congress fails to do its job in this way, it passes a “continuing resolution,” which requires the military to spend money on only the things it spent money on the prior year. Not only does this waste billions of dollars in misallocated resources, it literally locks the military into the past and prevents it from implementing its plans for the future. This is how the Department of Defense has spent nearly one thousand days of the past decade. The US military now plans to start each fiscal year without an appropriation of funding. Pentagon planners painstakingly negotiate contracts and structure programs to avoid critical payments in the first quarter of each fiscal year so they do not end up in breach of contract when they inevitably get stuck on a continuing resolution. Even then, problems arise. When Congress failed to pass a budget for six months at the start of the fiscal year, for example, the Navy had to renegotiate roughly ten thousand contracts, which senior Navy leaders estimated cost them roughly $5.8 billion in wasted buying power. That could have bought three destroyers.”

Excerpt From: Christian Brose. “The Kill Chain.” Apple Books.

Book: Tim Cook The Genius Who Took Apple To The Next Level

First of all, I own Apple stocks in my personal portfolio and I blogged many times about the company before. I picked up this book because I wanted to read something light and know more about the guy who runs the company which I admire and have a vested interest in. To be frank, the book was written by an author who seems to have a favorable view on Apple. Some suggested that his writing was biased towards the Cupertino-based company. I leave that to the readers to judge.

The book followed Tim Cook from his childhood in a small town in Alabama to his first job at IBM which was followed by one or two stints at others, before he ended up at Compaq. A fateful meeting with Steve Jobs shortly after he returned to the helm at Apple led to arguably one of Steve’s best hires at Apple who is now the CEO of the company. It’s interesting to read about Tim’s background in Alabama and the environment he grew up in. When he came to know his sexuality remains unclear from the book. What is clear is that his sexuality shapes his world view and what he declares as the best gift God gave him.

The majority of the book is about Apple under Tim’s leadership, even back to when he was only in charge of Apple’s supply chain. Some may be disappointed that the book doesn’t include more personal details or anecdotes on the man or any interview from the man himself. Nonetheless, he is known for being a private man and anyone’s privacy should be respected. If someone spends most of his awake time running a company, I think it’s fair to view him in the light of what others think of him and how he performs at work. Tim’s performance, when put in contrast to Steve Jobs’, should be more telling. While Steve is undoubtedly one of the best CEOs of all time, there are things that Tim did wouldn’t likely have been done by Steve such as the focus on environmental sustainability.

Tim’s actions on controversial issues such as the balance between profitability and protection of workers in the supply chain or privacy and the legal battle against FBI or his public confirmation on his sexuality should let readers know more about the man himself. Regarding his status as a CEO, Apple’s value has grown many times since he took over. The company once reached a market valuation of around $1.6 trillion. To manage a company with such operational complexity, a diverse set of products and services, a cut-throat competition and an unbridled level of scrutiny is no easy feat. No matter what you think about the book or the author’s allegedly favorable view on Apple, it’s hard to deny what Tim has brought to Apple.

“ Fast forward eight years, and under Cook’s leadership, Apple has been absolutely killing it. Since Jobs died, Apple reached the ultimate milestone, becoming the world’s first trillion-dollar company, making it the most valuable corporation in the world. Its stock has nearly tripled. Its cash reserves have more than quadrupled since 2010, to a record $267.2 billion—despite its spending nearly $220 billion in stock buybacks and dividends. For perspective, the U.S. government only has $271 billion cash on hand.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI [return on investment],” he said. And the same thinking applies to Apple’s environmental initiatives, worker safety, and other policies. “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock,” he snarled at the conservative investor. Afterward, the NCPPR issued a statement decrying Cook’s stance: “After today’s meeting, investors can be certain that Apple is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change.” But Cook, as always, stayed true to his principles.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI [return on investment],” he said. And the same thinking applies to Apple’s environmental initiatives, worker safety, and other policies. “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock,” he snarled at the conservative investor. Afterward, the NCPPR issued a statement decrying Cook’s stance: “After today’s meeting, investors can be certain that Apple is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change.” But Cook, as always, stayed true to his principles.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

Shortly after Cook was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2014, he personally told Representative Todd that Apple had no intention of investing in Alabama until the state passes anti-discrimination laws. “Citizens of Alabama can still be fired based on their sexual orientation,” Cook said. “We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it, and we can create a different future.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“Under Cook’s leadership, the amount of time that Apple’s inventory sat on the company’s balance sheet was reduced from months to mere days. In the seven months after he started work at Apple, thanks to Cook’s achievements slashing inventory turnover from thirty days to six, the company’s inventory stock was reduced from $400 million worth of unsold Macs down to just $78 million.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

To make sure that the computers shipped out to customers in an expedient manner over the all-important holiday season, Cook booked $100 million worth of air freight months in advance. This was unheard of, but it paid off in a big way. Not only did Apple get its products out to customers in a rapid fashion, but its rival PC makers, such as Compaq, suddenly found themselves struggling to secure shipping over the holidays.

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“This is really bad,” Cook said. “Someone should be in China driving this.” The meeting continued for another half hour before Cook looked directly at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, and asked, with deadly seriousness, “Why are you still here?” Khan immediately got up, left the meeting, drove to the airport, and booked a flight to China with no return date. He didn’t even stop at his home to pack a change of clothes.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“He took conference calls on Sunday nights, was replying to emails by 3:45 a.m., and was at his desk by 6 a.m. every morning. He worked twelve- or thirteen-hour days in the office, and then returned home to answer more emails.

“I would get a couple of emails from Tim between about 3:45 and 4:15 in the morning,” and “then from 4:30 to 6:00 it would go quiet,” said his colleague Bruce Sewell, Apple’s former general counsel. “That’s when he’s at home and eating breakfast, getting up, getting ready to go to the gym.” Then from about 6:15 onward he would be at work.

It wasn’t unheard of for Cook to fly to China, work three days without acknowledging the sixteen-hour time difference, fly back, land at 7 a.m., and be in the office for a meeting at 8:30. When he wasn’t flying to China to meet with Apple suppliers, he rarely left the state of California so that he could be available at a moment’s notice.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“Under Cook, Apple has taken a more hands-on role in launching initiatives targeting workers. In 2017 the company launched a new health awareness program intended for women working at its suppliers in India and China, offering access to services and education on self-examination for early cancer detection, nutrition, personal care, and maternal health. Jeff Williams said that by 2020, Apple hopes that this program will have reached one million women.

Apple’s financial muscle also means that it is able to dictate many of the terms of business to its suppliers. In 2018, Apple forced one of its suppliers in the Philippines to repay a total of $1 million it had charged for recruitment fees for factory jobs. ”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“iOS 7 also brought Activation Lock, a feature that prevents lost or stolen devices from being wiped and reactivated without the owner’s iCloud password. Activation Lock makes the iPhone and iPad significantly less appealing to would-be thieves, who quickly realized that they would not be able to sell what essentially became the world’s most attractive brick as soon as it was no longer in the possession of its rightful owner. Police data published in 2014 revealed that iPhone thefts in San Francisco had fallen 38 percent since Activation Lock was made available in September 2013, while thefts in London and New York City had dropped 24 percent and 19 percent, respectively.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“Stefan Behling, a Foster partner who became one of the project leads, recalled Jobs’s specific demands: “He knew exactly what timber he wanted, but not just ‘I like oak’ or ‘I like maple.’ He knew it had to be quarter-cut. It had to be cut in the winter, ideally in January, to have the least amount of sap and sugar content. We were all sitting there, architects with gray hair, going, ‘Holy shit!’”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

“Even something as simple as using an Apple Watch to unlock your Mac, which is surprisingly complex behind the scenes, is a small but telling example of innovation in the Cook era. Like Cook himself, these improvements aren’t trumpeted as big breakthroughs, but they add up to a better experience and are leading the rest of the tech industry. Indeed, many may not realize that this is the way Apple has always operated; the big breakthroughs are rare, but smaller incremental improvements are common, and sometimes they add up to big new breakthrough products.”

Excerpt From: Leander Kahney;. “Tim Cook.” Apple Books.

Book Review: Samsung Rising

I picked up this book by accident yesterday and couldn’t put it down. It is a fascinating story that pulled the curtain a little bit into the mystery surrounding arguably the biggest company in South Korea and one of the tech behemoths of the world, Samsung. The book covered from the early days of Samsung, the background of its founder, BC Lee, to the transformation to one of the most important tech companies in the world. The chapters into Industrial Design and the marketing war against Apple in the US were highly interesting to me. It’s captivating to read about why the management structure, the low trust feature of Korean culture and the bureaucracy squandered what could have been lucrative opportunities for Samsung including the purchase of Android, music deals with label companies. A common theme throughout the book is how impossibly bureaucratic the company is as well as the complex relationship between the Korean government and the company. Finding a similar relationship between a corporation and a state in another country poses a tough challenge. The Korean government needs Samsung to advance innovation and keep the economy strong while Samsung needs favors from the government to keep the Lee family in control and out of jail.

Personally, I was working at an advertising agency in Vietnam and involved in a pitch with Cheil, an in-house agency for Samsung at the time. The urgency, the impossible deadlines and the last minute changes discussed in the book rang true to my personal experience. We received a request to pitch on Friday and were asked to present the next Monday. My friends to this day in the advertising world in Vietnam still complain about this aspect of working with Samsung.

If you are interested in learning about this company, how it is different from a publicly traded Western corporation and its history, this book is for you. I can’t help, but admire the tenacity and the effort put into this book by the author.

How Samsung came to positioning itself against Apple

“Samsung’s market researchers in the United States thought Apple’s “Think Different” motto was pompous and presumptuous. Their research suggested that Android users—who used Samsung products—considered themselves smart and independent in their choices. In contrast, they saw fans of Apple products as consumers who fancied themselves creative but were, in reality, sheep—followers. Samsung had decided to embrace the opposite strategy to Apple’s: tailoring a version of each product for everyone who wanted something different.”

Source: Samsung Rising

How the founder or the ruling family was treated

“When the chairman visited a Samsung manufacturing plant, employees were told to park behind the plant, as their cars were too ugly—apparently they offended his aesthetic sensibility. Mints were placed in the bathroom for employees to use, to sweeten their breath from the kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) that they ate at mealtimes. Employees were cautioned not to gaze down from the windows at the chairman when he arrived. Security guards lined the road, and when the chairman’s limousine pulled up, a long red carpet was rolled out.”

“One employee was charged with trying all the local restaurants in a city where the Lee family was to visit,” a former employee told me. “He’d write reports on their dishes and wines.”

“When the chairman and his family traveled to Germany, staying at the five-star Hotel Adlon in Berlin for a week of vacation in August 2004, Samsung booked the entire fourth and fifth floors and a full conference room, setting up a “situation room” where his aides could monitor the chairman’s every move and ensure his well-being.”

Source: Samsung Rising

Importance of Samsung to Korea’s economy

“According to crisis simulations I have carried out, if Electronics stocks fall by 70%, both Samsung Insurance and Samsung C&T will become bankrupt. It is an inevitable domino game. If Samsung Life Insurance and Samsung Fire Insurance become bankrupt, the entire insurance industry in South Korea goes into crisis. If employees at Samsung Group and all its supplier firms (whose exact number is unknown to the public) lose their jobs, unemployment rate in the country is estimated to rise by 7.1%. (Its current rate is 3.5%.)”

“If the Samsung Group were to fall, he goes on, the country’s National Pension Service, a major shareholder, would lose an estimated 19 trillion won (about $16.7 billion) in investment. And corporate taxes would decrease by an estimated 4 trillion won (about $3.5 billion). “If the entire Group falls, and with it multitudes of suppliers that depend solely on Samsung, South Korea’s biggest banks are at risk of insolvency.”

Source: Samsung Rising

Alleged origin of the name Galaxy

“Why the name “Galaxy”? Samsung has never publicly told the story. But over coffee in Palo Alto, California, former Samsung senior vice president Ed Ho told me about a $95 bottle of wine enjoyed by its top executives, the Terlato family’s “Galaxy” red blend. It inspired Samsung executives to later choose the name “Galaxy,” which had to them a premium ring, for their phones.”

Source: Samsung Rising

Samsung screwed up a chance to acquire Android

“One such story was rampant in Samsung’s offices. Android founder Andy Rubin offered to sell his operating system to Samsung in late 2004, as he told journalist Fred Vogelstein in the book Dogfight.”

“You and what army are going to go and create this? You have six people. Are you high?” was basically what the Android founders were told. Rubin found himself butting up against the Korean company’s preference for working with large corporations.

“They laughed me out of the boardroom. This happened two weeks before Google acquired us.”

Google paid an estimated $50 million for Android. The operating system would become the backbone of Google’s products on just about every non-Apple smartphone. Google vice president David Lawee later called it his company’s “best deal ever.”

What a missed opportunity for Samsung, employees thought. Samsung now depended on Google to power the software on its phones.”

Source: Samsung Rising

How Lee Kun Hee wanted his employees to focus on quality control

In March of that year, he ordered his employees to prepare a giant bonfire, a sort of purification ritual, near the mobile handset factory in Gumi, an industrial city in the south-central part of the country.

“The chairman summoned factory workers and engineers to a courtyard, assembling them in phalanxes against the barren, wheat-colored mountains. They were made to don headbands that read QUALITY FIRST. A banner over the courtyard read QUALITY IS MY PRIDE. A virtual mountain of cellphones, fax machines, and whatever else was deemed junk—over 140,000 devices worth $50 million—stood before them.

A few employees at the front approached a microphone, raised their right hand, and read pledges that they would treat quality control with the utmost seriousness. The chairman and his board of directors listened from a row of seats nearby.

At a prearranged signal, nine employees rummaged through the mounds of metal and plastic, hammering each phone or device into pieces and throwing the shattered remains into a pile.

Then they “covered the pile with a net and poured petrol on them,” Gordon Kim, human resources director, told me, and set them on fire. After they had melted and burned, a bulldozer razed the remains.”

“If you continue to make poor-quality products like these,” the chairman announced to the workers before him, “I’ll come back and do the same thing.” Some of the people who had designed and built the phones cried. It was “as if their babies had died,” Kim Seon-jeong, a former financial executive, told me. Moreover, to be humiliated like that before the Samsung “emperor” was the ultimate loss of face.”

Source: Samsung Rising

The challenge in working with Samsung

“They worked to inject more life into Samsung’s engineering jargon describing new products. A few weeks before each product launch, the team would receive a thick technical tome consisting of hundreds of pages. They had to tear through it, decipher it into everyday language, and select the top six or seven features to promote to consumers. Then, without being allowed to see the new phone before the launch, they’d crunch the engineering-speak into a PowerPoint presentation called a “product positioning document,” which they’d present to the agency.

Both Samsung’s team and 72andSunny were always racing the clock. Product unveilings, called “Unpacked” events, were typically held in March or April. The engineering manual arrived in February. Three times a week, Jo held a teleconference with the agencies to ensure everything was on track.”

Source: Samsung Rising

Book: When breath becomes air

I came across this book thanks to suggestions on this Twitter thread. So a shoutout to those who recommended it.

The book is a memoir penned by a dying young neurosurgeon named Paul Kalanithi. Paul was diagnosed with a lung cancer when he was on his way to earn a doctorship. He staged an inspiring battle against cancer while continuing to do what gave his life meaning. In the end, he passed away roughly two years after the first diagnosis and shortly after his daughter was born.

His life, his focus on his calling and the bond between him and his wife were inspiring to read. Though it left me in a downbeat mood for the obvious reason, I was glad that I picked up the book and through the words of the Kalanithi, went on a journey with them and learned from them.

I recalled listening to Steve Jobs saying that death reminded us how we were all going to die and it put everything we do into perspective. We only have one shot at life and need to make it count, no matter what it means to each of us. Reading the book plummeted me into realization and somewhat fear that life was too short. One moment, Paul was a marathon runner, a hotshot neurosugeon in California with a great family and a splendid career awaiting. The next moment, he found himself in a losing battle with death and powerless in his final days to the point that even eating was a torture.

Similar to all other book-related posts, below is the list of some of my favorite passages. I highly recommend you give this book a chance.

Only later would I realize that our trip had added a new dimension to my understanding of the fact that brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful. Sometimes, they break

Source: when breath becomes air

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion. A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form. It was the relational aspect of humans—i.e., “human relationality”—that undergirded meaning.

Source: when breath becomes air

Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

Source: when breath becomes air

If the weight of mortality does not grow lighter, does it at least get more familiar?

Source: when breath becomes air

Everyone succumbs to finitude. I suspect I am not the only one who reaches this pluperfect state. Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed

Source: when breath becomes air

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Source: when breath becomes air

I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together.

Source: when breath becomes air

No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, “Let there be light!” You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur

Source: when breath becomes air

Book: What you do is who you are

I have heard about What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz for some time, but hadn’t had time to read it until this week. Here are my thoughts on the book after finishing it.

Ben laid out a few key points in building a culture and supported those points with several major historical examples including Genghis Khan, and with his own personal experience in a long illustrious career. Overall, the main thesis of the book is that to be a leader and build a culture, one must walk the talk and follow words with concrete actions, even though sometimes the choices are hard to make. Personally, there are several following minor points that I really like

The Japanese culture of craftsmanship and attention to detail begins with death.

If you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take your orders from your employer, and when you look in on your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time – so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employers and your parents

Shocking rules help drive folks to become more disciplined.

One of the examples used in the book is about Coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants from 2004 to 2015. He set the rule that said, “If you are on time, you are late”.

Culture and strategy do not compete

I have heard numerous times in business schools and the press that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. I actually never thought so. Both are important and influential to a company’s existence. They don’t compete with each other. I am glad to read that Ben agreed and articulated the point really well with examples.

Issues with the “don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution” mentality

We all have heard it before. One or more managers that we worked with instructed us to be proactive and solution-oriented by telling us to accompany a problem with a suggestion. There is a sound rationale behind that mentality. It forces the carrier of bad news to think of solutions and be engaged in finding a solution, instead of being a whiner or complainer. On the other side, there are problems in an organization that barely show up on the leadership’s radar and that are too complicated for one low-level staff to design a solution. The mentality in question implicitly and unexpectedly discourages folks from even discussing complicated issues since they are not confident in their solutions or they don’t have any.

Overall, the book provides great points in building culture, accompanied by examples from history, recent businesses and Ben’s own career. The core principles discussed in the book are nothing new, but the examples and the subtle minor points can be very interesting.

Book: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement

I came across this book on actress Hayley Atwell’s Instagram account and decided to pick it up. Boy, I couldn’t put it down. The book is about the three year journey of two reporters: Jodi and Megan, who spent hours and hours investigating, cross-checking and writing about the sexual harassments by powerful men towards women.

Reading the book, I came to know the challenges and difficulties the victims of sexual harassments had to encounter whether they came forward. If they don’t, they have to live with their nightmares for the rest of their lives and watch the culprits go unpunished. If they do, they have to face death threats, disruption into their job, life and their family’s.

Over a long dinner, she made clear why she was so scared to travel to Washington. Her family had been forced to hire twenty-four-hour private security. It was uncertain when it would be safe for them to return home. Ford had already experienced enough disruption and danger.

She pressed Play on her phone at the dinner table. “You lying fucking cunt!” came a voice from her phone. The lawyer told Ford she was right to be frightened by the messages and encouraged her to share them with the FBI. “You’ve got three months” another voice said. Others repeated similar phrases and sounded like they might have come from the same voice-altering machine, making her think they were somehow coordinated. “Don’t be messing with my boy, Brett”. “Don’t be messing with my boy, Trump”

I have been so baffled and stunned by the length by which people are willing to go for something that is not related to them personally at all. How can you threaten a stranger’s life for something that is not related to you?

It’s also inconceivable to read what powerful men like Harvey Weinstein could get away. Non-disclosure agreements were signed, inflicting acute restrictions on the victims who, in some cases, didn’t even have the copies of the NDAs. Here is an excerpt on Harvey Weinstein’s behavior

Each morning, Perkins, or whichever assistant from the London office was on the early shift, had to rouse the partially or fully nude Weinstein out of bed in his hotel room, and turn on his shower, as if he could not rotate the handle himself. Sometimes Weinstein tried to pull Perkins into bed with him, she recalled

Last but not least, I appreciate and admire the tenacity of the authors, their colleagues and editors for pursuing the stories despite the intimidation, intricacies and difficulties. At one point, the story was going to collapse since evidence was exceedingly hard to secure while there was no victim going on the record. Massive massive appreciation towards Ashley Judd and Laura Madden for taking the leap of faith to be the first women to go on record, paving the way for many others.

It’s sad and disappointing to see that despite advances in so many areas, we, as a race, still have sexual harassments all around the world. I am sure what is covered in the book is just the tip of the iceberg.