Sorry, no post here this month, but I just posted something to my Wattpad account. Hoping to get back into creative writing a little bit more – thanks for reading!
Sorry, no post here this month, but I just posted something to my Wattpad account. Hoping to get back into creative writing a little bit more – thanks for reading!
Now that summer has finally started for me (yes I know it’s already the end of August) hopefully the next one of these monthly reading lists will be longer… but for now I only have two recommendations.
Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang
category: science fiction
This is a… novella? Short story? Quick read, but super good! I’ve discussed this book on episode 7 of our podcast (which you should totally subscribe to), and we pretty much gushed over how great it is. Ted Chiang’s not really a conventional fiction writer, since he has a CS major and still works full-time as a technical writer, but I think that lends itself to a unique writing style that’s very refreshing. The story is about a female linguist who is helping the government to communicate with aliens – their way of thinking ends up influencing her way of thinking – as well as influencing the way the story is structured. I can’t really explain much else without giving too much away, but if you have an hour or two free, I’d highly recommend reading this! (You definitely don’t have to be a science fiction fanatic to enjoy this – I rarely read sci-fi but still found this amazing.)
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki
category: magical realism
Quick and dirty summary: a Japanese schoolgirl writes in her diary about wanting to commit suicide. Years later, an American-Canadian writer suffering from writer’s block finds her diary and tries to help her – through time?
If I’m honest, I almost put this book down halfway through because the pace was a bit slow for me. But the second half of the book definitely picks up and totally won me over!
Also, I didn’t realize this until I finished the book, but the author definitely put her own life experience in here. The writer character’s name is Ruth and her husband’s name if Oliver, and they both live in Vancouver and New York, which is the same as what the author does in real life! I guess this little tidbit doesn’t actually matter in the context of the story, but it does add a bit of magical pixie dust to this quasi-historical story!
Three things you should know about me:
Buzzfeed has been posting a lot of workout and weight-loss videos recently, and they always provide the participant’s body stats before and after the video. Usually, the participants will have lost weight and fat, but I always thought that idea was kind of a cop-out because if you take a sedentary person and put them on any sort of diet or exercise plan you’ll see results. Instead, I thought it’d be cool to compare some of the diet/workout plans from the different videos and see which one was the most effective.
The Workouts and Diets
We Lost 22% of Body Fast in 6 Weeks: personal training (each person has a personalized training and diet program). They’ll eat supplements and melatonin. Diet low in carbs.
90 Days of Working Out With P90X – LIFE/CHANGE: This one was simple – they jut followed P90X (didn’t follow the meal plan)
We Dieted Like Chris Pratt for 30 Days: Trainer used each man’s weight, body type, blood type, lipid profiling, stress level, and body fat to determine individualized plans for the guys. They ate the same thing every day for three weeks ( the fourth week was different – they got to have steak!), and they also did a regular workout routine (not really mentioned in the video).
Women Diet Like Kardashians for 30 Days: While each woman’s diet was highly individualized, the basis was: no gluten, no dairy, low carbs, lots of vegetables, and high protein. They also reduced caffeine, sugar, dairy, and alcohol intake.
Here’s my spreadsheet for reference:
The winners (bolded in the spreadsheet) are:
Pretty sad that P90X didn’t make it into the top list at all. I guess there are two lessons here:
These weren’t included because only one person did the plan and I thought that wasn’t enough data points, but they’re still interesting!
I Lost 40 lbs By Drinking Breakfast – Kane
Kane drank Soylent, ate fewer calories, then started working out.
I Tried a Diet And Fitness Plan Based On My DNA – Daysha
Daysha sent a sample of her DNA to a lab and got someone from FitnessGenes to explain the results to her (what types of foods to avoid, what time in the day to work out to see results). They then worked out together for 30 days.
Full disclosure: none of these books were actually read in June, but just between the time I last wrote a book review post and now.
How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
This has been on my list of books to read for a while, just because I’ve heard so many references to it. Since I’ve been super into the self-help mumbo jumbo lately, I completely ate it up. I love that Carnegie inserts both historical stories and stories from his students into the book – it definitely helps in applying concepts to a real-life setting.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson
category: historical non-fiction
Eh… this book was OK. There are some truly beautiful descriptions in it, but I’m of the opinion that it follows too many different characters around and has a sense of lack of cohesiveness. For example, even though they all do come together in the shipwreck, most of the characters never even see each other. Since this was the case, I would much rather have read a collection of independent stories that were bound together rather than jumping from person to person.
Interview with Erik Larson (he does a really great job of selling this book):
I started listening to podcasts when traveling to and from work last term, and I’ve found them to be a great way to relax even when I’m on the go. Google Play Music can automatically download the latest three episodes of the podcasts you’ve subscribed to when you’re connected to the internet so that that you can listen to them offline later. Below are the ones I’ve set to be automatically downloaded to my phone:
Bad With Money With Gaby Dunn
I’ve been a fan of JBU for a minute, and you already know I’m all about self-improvement, so when I heard that Gaby (“America’s deadbeat sweetheart”) was starting her own podcast about managing money I knew I had to listen. The episodes come out weekly, and the podcast is already on their second season. Even though I’m in a business program, I’ve realized I know amazingly little about personal finance. So even though I’m not exactly Gaby’s “target audience” (broke L.A. actors), I still find the episodes both hilarious and educational.
Dear Hank and John
If you don’t know who Hank and John Green are… do you even Internet. (TLDR: They’re brothers that run a ton of channels on Youtube relating to education like CrashCourse and SciShow. John Green is an author who wrote books like The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, while Hank Green is a business owner who runs a lot of conferences like Vidcon, Nerdcon, and most recently Podcon). In this podcast, they answer the Nation’s (their fans’) questions, talk about their lives, and give their weekly updates on Mars (Hank’s passion) and AFC Wimbledon (John’s passion…?) This is probably one of the least informative podcasts I listen to but one of my favourites anyway.
Call Your Girlfriend
I stumbled upon this podcast completely on accident. It’s two long-distance friends who do a podcast every week. They mostly talk about the news but give their own liberal takes on it. Sometimes they talk celebrity gossip, but lately, there’s been a lot of Trump-bashing.
Oh, My God, This Is My Favourite Podcast Of All Time. It’s a lot more heavily produced than the other ones because it’s a storytelling podcast, but that’s what makes it so good. Every episode has a new theme and includes a series of stories from different people. These stories are usually crazy; and with Snap’s sound effects and editing, it really does transport you to a different place. The goal of this podcast is to break down cultural, political, and religious barriers by telling everyone’s stories, and it really does such a good job of fulfilling this goal.
I don’t have too much to say about this podcast since I recently subscribed to it and they only have one episode out so far, but I’m expecting good things. It’s another storytelling podcast, but tells stories about – you guessed it – family ghosts. Check out the pilot if you’re interested!
Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice. Curtis Sittenfeld (who is a woman by the way!) was actually approached to write this as part of the Austen Project, where a group of writers take on the task of doing a modern retelling of each of Jane Austen’s books. In this world, Jane is a yoga instructor, Elizabeth (Liz) is a magazine writer, and Darcy and Chip are neurosurgeons. I absolutely adored this book, but a friend didn’t quite like it so much – I think it mostly depends on your own perception of how the P&P characters would have behaved in the real world.
Interview with Curtis Sittenfeld:
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
There has been so much hype around this book that I just had to give it a try. I definitely found following her advice step by step to be really helpful in decluttering my things!
You may remember I made a post on virtual assistants some time ago. I ended that post unsure of whether the AskSunday service would actually better my life. Now, three months later, I’m back to announce the results.
I mentioned in the last blog post that I had sent AskSunday my first request: to research volunteer opportunities relating to women I could take part in.
They responded with the necessary information within the timeline I gave them (48 hrs). The data collected was OK overall. The one thing that freaked me out a little was that they told me they needed more time to call the centres to find more information! (I had only given them 1 hour on the task). I felt like the volunteer centres wouldn’t take too kindly to my assistant calling to ask for volunteer details – it kind of defeated the purpose of the whole “give your time to the community” thing.
I gave them some more small tasks to do after that, but I couldn’t give them anything big because I would be paying $15/hr after the first three hours… ouch. Overall, I wasn’t too impressed with the quality of the products they returned either, although this could be a result of my instructions not being specific enough. Most importantly, even after I instructed them not to call after that first almost-fiasco, they continued to try to contact the leads they got from their research! At one point, they attempted to contact a potential employer; I freaked out.
Another thing that really bothered me was the fact that you don’t get a dedicated VA in the true sense of the word. You are assigned a contact in the company you can email and relay all your instructions to, but they don’t necessarily do the work themselves. They will have an entire team behind them, so your task will most likely be outsourced to someone else on the team. This means that a lot of information could be lost in the communication chain, and also that your VA never truly learns about your needs.
Even though I was slowly getting turned off from AskSunday, I still loved the idea of a virtual assistant. Upon some more research, I decided to quit AskSunday and try Upwork.
Upwork is a website that matches freelancers with freelance jobs. Said freelancers are from all around the world; there are North American ones as well as Middle East ones. Some freelancers work for around minimum wage, but there are lots that are willing to work for as little as $1/hour!
I’ve since quit AskSunday and started using Upwork. I find that I get way better results for what I’m looking for, which is mostly web research and data compilation.
From my experience, here are how the two services compare:
· You don’t have to bother finding a new VA every time you need a task done as you just message your VA over Skype (or whatever other method of communication you’ve deemed best)
· More secure
· Good for small daily/weekly tasks
Con: This actually is pretty expensive ($15/hr)
· No minimum hours per week – when you need someone, you can hire them!
· The freelancers I’ve worked with tend to ask more questions which leads to results that are better suited to what I was looking for
· Can hire specifically for the skills you need (e.g. I usually specify high proficiency in Excel)
· Less expensive – up to $1/hr!
· Especially good for projects because you can pay them a fixed price for the entire project rather than going hourly
Con: This is considered less secure because you are hiring a stranger and have no vetting process but your own. I would not trust anyone on Upwork with my personal information.
Now that this experiment has officially concluded, I think I have added a very important tool to my arsenal. I would definitely recommend Upwork for tasks that are time-consuming, mindless, and can be easily outsourced. Maybe AskSunday would work better for someone in a higher income bracket.
This post was originally going to be about January’s reads, but because of the insane hours of the audit busy season, I’ve only managed to finish one book…
Dmitri Nasrallah is an author from Montreal Quebec, Canada. I met him at, of all things, an academic event. I was taking a Legal Studies elective at university which was cross-listed with an English course, and my professor ran a reading series, where the school brought in established authors to talk about their books and give writing advice to students. We got extra credit in her course for attending the events, so you can bet that I was at every single one of them.
I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned it on this blog now, but growing up I had always dreamed about becoming a professional writer. As I grew up though, I left that dream by the wayside in favour of less creative subjects (ahem accounting). That’s why it was so interesting to hear Nasrallah’s story. He wrote his first short story when he was 20 while taking a creative writing class. The creative writing class was his elective while he pursued a business degree. The similarity between his past and my present intrigued me, so much so that at the end of his reading I bought a copy of the only one of his books that was still in stock –
Niko, by Dmitri Nasrallah
Here’s a book trailer in French (the book has been published in both English and French):
Nasrallah signed the book for me, and with his blessing I started Niko’s journey.
Niko is a young boy who, with his father, leaves war-torn Lebanon in search for a brighter future. Niko has not yet started school at the beginning of the book, and by the end he is an adult. The story of immigration resonated with me and because I moved to Canada around the same time he did and was the same age as what he ended off at when I finished the book, I kept drawing parallels between my life and his. On the other hand, Niko’s history was a lot more coloured with violence and hardship than my own, so it was a little shocking to read about a man getting decapitated in Lebanon, then flip the page and be at a grocery store in Canada.
Favourite quote (this contains minor spoilers so you may want to stop here):
“They say you live in Canada. Tell me, how is your life now?”
“To be honest, it’s not so good.”
“You know,” Baba says, “when I sent you there, I thought you’d forget all about me and become a doctor. I thought you’d have everything waiting for you there, opportunities at your feet. You were supposed to go on and do great things.”
“Life is different there,” Niko shrugs. “There are too many rules, and no one is happy, but we all have a lot of money to live well and we all complain. I don’t know how to explain it, but even though there was no danger to our lives, we still found ways to make mistakes.”
“I’m disappointed to hear that.”
As the winter term starts, I wanted to share my study routine to hopefully inspire some procrastinators into changing their habits in the new year. I’m in my third year of university now, and my study routine has evolved as much as I have. I’m what you would call an amalgamation of a keen student and an extremely lazy one; I’m always starting to study just a tad too late but I’m always aiming for a high mark. The result of this is I tend to get very stressed before examinations. I found this method to be extremely effective in easing my stress levels, and it works for all subjects, from English to Science to Math. I hope it helps you too!
How to approach examinations
I never consider final exams different from midterms, from tests, or from quizzes. Even though some may impact your mark more than others, in the end, you should be putting your 110% into all of them.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
As with most people, I find it extremely difficult to remain focused on one task for an extended period of time. This is why I love the Pomodoro Technique. It consists of six steps (from Wikipedia):
Instead of a Pomodoro timer, you can just use your cell phone timer to keep track, or if you’re working on the computer you can use http://e.ggtimer.com/25min (change the “25min” to whatever length of time you want).
Completing readings before class
When you read, don’t bother to try and understand every sentence or paragraph. If you’ve read to the end of the paragraph but don’t understand, just keep going. Your brain will have already tried to process this information so that when the professor brings it up in a lecture, you’ll be learning it for a second time, which is often a lot easier.
If your professor has notes or a Powerpoint presentation he or she refers to during the lecture, download it beforehand. This way, you can follow along from the beginning of class instead of rushing to find the right file. Also, it is important to actually download the file: you want to have it in a format that is easy to write/type notes on.
I’ll be honest, I do nothing here. Nobody has time to prep before and after class.
Before an exam
(As I’ve said before, I treat all exams equally, so these tips also apply for quizzes and tests.)
There are two pieces to my preparation for an exam. The first piece is to learn the theory of the course, and the second is to learn how to apply the theory. For every day that I am preparing, I will try to hit both pieces.
Learning the theory
If the exam covers a variety of chapters, I like to make the following chart to help keep myself organized:
This chart comes in especially handy for when you’re studying for a final that includes material you’ve already studied for the midterm. Instead of starting back at square one, you can focus your efforts on whatever the material that came after the midterm first, until you reach whichever step you stopped at for material before the midterm.
Finally, remember to do all seven steps on seven different days. If you manage to get all the way to the last step before the exam, you’re probably already a master of the material.
Applying the theory
One of the most helpful ways to study for an exam is to complete practice problems. Sometimes the professor will give these problems free to you, but sometimes you have to dig for them. Upper years who have taken the course will often have old midterms, and your school may have an exam bank that contains questions for practice. You can also go through homework or assignment problems the professor gave to you throughout the year. I always like to do all the new problems I can find and only do problems sets twice as a last resort. I wouldn’t do problems sets more than twice because by then your brain has likely already remembered the exact way to solve the problem and you’re no longer exercising your critical thinking skills.
If the problems come with a recommended time to complete them, time yourself and try to finish within that time frame. This will help you learn to complete problems in the expected amount of time as well as mimic the testing environment.
Also, the professor will often tell you how many questions you can expect on the exam.Try to do the same number of problems per day leading up to the exam. The day before the exam, aim to complete twice the amount of problems, and the day of the exam three times a number of problems.
And that’s it! I hope these tips were helpful. If you have any questions about my method, feel free to comment below. Also, let me know if you have any helpful study tips to share!
The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan
This book details the life of two sisters growing up in the slums of Paris and their journeys in taking on various jobs (ballet dancer, laundress, prostitute, etc.) The male characters are mostly used as symbolic props here, and the critical thoughts of the girls are the focal point. Nevertheless, the historical context of 19th century Paris forces the girls to at least partly rely on the various men in their lives. It was a beautiful if heartbreaking novel to read.
“I want to put my face in my hands, to howl, for me, for Antoinette, for all the women of Paris, for the burden of having what men desire, for the heaviness of knowing it is ours to give, that with our flesh we make our way in the world.”
The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss
I talked about this in my previous post about getting a virtual assistant (experiment is still going strong, by the way). This book is a “how to cut yourself away from the corporate world and achieve true happiness by running your own business and traveling” kind of book. After I finished it, I went through a bit of a Ferriss craze by listening to a bunch of his interviews (he also wrote “The 4-Hour Chef” and “The 4-Hour Body” but I didn’t get a chance to read those yet). I found a lot of his advice a little too extreme for me – some of it came off as pushing responsibility onto others rather than being accountable – but his confidence in his teachings reinforced a lot of the lessons that I already knew. High recommended read.
Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
I feel like this book is rich enough to be studied as part of a high school curriculum. Think Great Gatsby but with more in-depth characters and likeable storyline. It’s a very classy and clean read, which reflects the main character, Katey’s temperament. Katey slowly winds herself up Manhattan’s social ladder in an entirely hard-working and honest way – but not without temptations. The ending of the book’s various characters leads to a lot of discussion, so this would be a great book club read.
“You see that thirty-year-old blonde next to Jake? That’s his fiancée, Carrie Clapboard. Carrie moved all manner of heaven and earth to get into that chair. And soon she will happily oversee scullery maids and table settings and the reupholstering of antique chairs at three different houses; which is all well and good. But if I were your age, I wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to get into Carrie’s shoes – I’d be trying to figure out how to get into Jake’s.”