What am I working on?

On My Bookshelf

Ulysses by James Joyce

The funniest book I can barely understand. Though acclaimed as one of the best pieces of literature of all time, I am struggling through this book. I forced myself to read the first hundred pages, assuming I wasn’t meant to understand a word — but the funny thing is, once I reached page 200 or so, I realized I actually had a jist of what was going on, though it’s hard to sort through if you’re a first-time Joyce reader like I am. I’ve laughed, gotten angry, been stirred up with passion, and had feelings of nostalgia so far. Still about 150 pages to go, but I’ve noticed that by comparison, all of my other reading has become easier to digest. It helps that I was raised Catholic to understand a lot of the themes. Probably wil finish this book in a week or so.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

An amazing book (my second time around) and the polar opposite of Ulysses in terms of readability. I tend to run out of brainpower when it’s exerted all day and I wanted to be “productive” in a way that I’d still enjoy myself and not grow to hate reading. The Ender and Shadow Sagas are addicting stories and do an excellent job putting into words what is very hard to describe — what it’s like to be intelligent and misunderstood, especially as a child. They also surprisingly cover a lot of stuff on leadership and decision-making.

The Virgin Way by Richard Branson

A few chapters in, I must say, it’s a decent book, but so far I like Losing My Virginity better. I can’t fully judge the work until I’m finished, but it seems like most of the value from this book will in learning how Branson interprets already common, though counterintuitive leadership strategies and specific examples from his adventures and misadventures as the owner and founder of the Virgin line of companies.

The Sketchnote Handbook: the illustrated guide to visual note taking by Mike Rohde

I need variety in my life. As a lifelong learner, I’m always looking to expand my repertoire of skills, and as Daniel Pink would agree, right-brain skills are what will differentiate future leaders from normies. First impression being through the first few chapters: the book is more for inspiration than it is for groundbreaking ideas. It reminds me of the book, Steal Like An Artist, in that it is short, practical, and is itself a piece of art. Just looking at the sketches in the book gives me ideas that I can start to use immediately.

Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza

I recently injured my hip (more on that later) doing kettlebell swings and I became interested in body functionality. Ideally we get these things right the first time to prevent injury, but if you are overzealous and stubborn like I am, sometimes you have to do things backwards — in my case, rehabbing from injury. I’m only through the first few chapters, but I’m confident that I have proper form when doing basic movements and my pain has reduced to the point of being able to train (wisely) while my hip heals.

Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country by Andrew Bacevich

We are at war again with a new terrorist group called ISIS in the Middle East, and I must say, it’s about time I educate myself about United States foreign policy. This is the first of many books I intend to read on American history that doesn’t come from mainstream media, especially about the past four decades, inspired from a MOOC I am enrolled in (listed below). I’ve also one-clicked (love Amazon) Voice From Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009 and A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East–from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

Manifesting Your Spirit by Graham Cooke

A surprisingly dense book, as simple as it reads. I made the mistake of reading one of Graham Cooke’s books quickly without doing the exercises, and as a result felt encouraged, but gained little in the line of long-term, measurable benefit to my spiritual life and intellect. This time, I decided to take it slower and to really do as he recommends, and no joke, the first chapter of the book is worth the price of the book alone, if you will take the time to do the exercise.

Growing in the Prophetic: A practical biblical guide to dreams, visions, and spiritual gifts by Mike Bickle

There seem to be two extremes in the church: those that focus only on the Word, but operate without power (no signs and wonders, no healings, no accurate prophetic words or Godly revelation) and those that focus only on the gifts of the Spirit (but not used with Scriptural backing or wisdom). Bickle’s ministry, which has since grown into the International House of Prayer movement seems to bridge this gap, as they operate very powerfully in the gifts, but also back their actions quite extensively with Scripture, and carefully deliberate how to wisely use supernatural giftings. As someone that likes to look into the Scriptures to verify a preacher’s words, I’ve already enjoyed that Bickle includes PDF downloads of his extensive notes on the sermons he preaches. As someone who seeks to grow my own prophetic gifting and knowledge, I’m looking forward to the message this book will impart.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, A Discourse Upon The Origin And The Foundation Of The Inequality Among Mankind by Jean Jacques Rousseau, Politics by Aristotle, Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

I’m grouping these books together because they are all for the same purpose: to understand the basis of law and politics, so that I can be an informed and influential citizen when it comes time to make decisions or to lead others into making decisions. All of them were recommendations from one of the MOOCs I’m going to list below and I’m excited to add to my growing library. I’ve read excerpts from all so far, expecting that they would be ancient and that I would have to read between the lines to connect them to modern policy — but I’m surprised that a LOT of what I’ve read so far seems directly applicable to modern-day issues. One tip: do research on the edition and translation you decide to buy before you buy it. Not all translations are created equal, and not all publishers give a shit about giving you good value for your money. Sometimes erring on the expensive side is better than not. I personally would not risk buying an ebook, and if I could afford them (one day), I’d always be buying hardcover versions (if they are available) for longevity.

Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder by Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, Ph.D.

Kind of a no-brainer, given that Strengthsfinder 2.0 was and still is such a useful tool. The books themselves are short reads (actually as soon as this book came in the mail, I read almost all of it immediately), but the value of the book lies in taking the test. Yes, this means you should never purchase this book used unless the seller somehow didn’t use their included testing code. Business is written into our country’s future, and one of the best things we can do is to learn what our strengths are so we can cultivate them and build on or delegate our weaknesses.

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz

This is the 2014 update that I’ve been itching to read. I read this book a few years ago, and among dozens of others like it, I must say the first edition was stand-alone, the best networking book I’ve ever read. I’ve read some books in the past (especially on sales and networking) which sounded so good in theory, but when applied simply did not work. I love the motivational stuff, but I’ve come to be skeptical about generic claims that include no evidence (this is especially true when it comes to matters of spirituality). For this reason, I’ve started to like books that include data — think Influence by Cialdini, Make It Stick (various authors), Gallup’s Strengthsfinder books). Ferrazzi’s organization is one that seems to base its conclusions on scientific data — and for this reason, I’m excited to see what can be gained from this new edition.


MOOCs (massive open online courses) are the name of the game. It’s my personal opinion that the value of traditional college education is extremely overrated (my own bachelor’s degree is in the closet collecting dust, and frankly, I could have easily lied on any of my job interviews if I wanted to) and that true value comes from self-directed learning. MOOCs seem to provide the best of both worlds — classes from some of the world’s top-ranked universities at a self-directed pace). Did I mention that they are FREE? If you can get over the inability to motivate yourself to do assignments, these classes, if nothing else, are a doorway to unlimited learning and a way to connect with other like-minded thinkers worldwide.

Boston University: War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

I wrote about it earlier under my description of Bacevich’s book, but I’ll say again: as citizens of a country, we need to understand the history behind our government’s decisions if we are to be informed enough to make decisions on who we choose to be our leaders, or who we choose to lead. This is a first stab at a quest to understand American history, starting with the struggle in the Middle East, but later to expand to other time periods and other countries. We face an imminent terrorist threat that is largely a result of the decisions made by our leaders. I know we’re rich and most of us don’t have to face battle personally, but that seems like a great way to slip into mediocrity, if we blindly follow whatever our government tells us to do.

So far, I’ve found Bacevich to be extremely effective at keeping my attention, and though most of what he teaches is told in a storytelling format without sources, it opens doors to thought that can be independently verified and researched on our own. A lot of history is simply a scholar’s interpretation of the facts, and Bacevich is such a scholar, so he is the source. I devoured the videos the first day the course came out and found myself constantly clicking the class links just in case the next’s week’s videos came out early — which they didn’t, but which I also subsequently devoured immediately. I ordered some of the recommended books listed in the syllabus and am looking forward to reading them.

One critique: and this is probably common to many MOOCs. The testing is far too easy. There’s no way we’re ever going to retain the information if we simply watch the videos and then immediately click a few circles in a multiple choice format. I suppose that’s part of what you pay for when you go to a traditional university. Unless you are self-motivated, willing to look deeper than the minimum required material, and willing to study information that will never be graded (technically you can cheat if you want to by looking up all the answers immediately on Google), the course will be merely entertaining — which is nothing to sneeze at either.

I don’t necessarily find this problematic because I was never one to need a lot of guidance from the professor, but I wonder how accessible the professor is, given the potentially unlimited amount of students a MOOC can take in a single class at the same time.

University of Pennsylvania: Revolutionary Ideas: An Introduction to Legal and Political Philosophy by Alexander Guerrero

A beautifully designed course and an informative presentation by the professor. I have trouble learning just from the videos if I don’t pause them because he covers a lot of dense material fairly quickly. I’ve gained a lot from doing as much of the required reading as possible (above, I’ve listed many of the classic philosophical works) and there is a LOT of it. The lectures themselves will take you at most two to three hours a week, but the recommended reading will take up your entire week if you’re not careful.

I personally like this: tons of resources, lots of flexibility, no pressure. Again, one thing I’d like to see more of is better testing to help with retention. I suppose if we were to complete the final project, which seems extensive, we would get the most out of the course, but again — I have to see how the course progresses to see if I’m going to learn a lot.

Duke University: Think Again: How to Reason and Argue by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Ram Neta

Argument is a skill that I seek to develop. Having been in ministry on what appears to be a secular-dominated campus, I frequently had to make intellectual arguments both against detractors of my faith and in protection of my sheep. Funny enough, the professor of this class is an atheist.

So far I am mostly enjoying learning from his presentations, though the subject is a bit dry. I suppose philosophy and argument are meant to put people asleep, but I can tell that this professor takes time to make sure his presentations are the least boring they can possibly be.

Harvard University: AnatomyX: Musculoskeletal Cases

I’ve not yet started this course so I won’t comment on it. It fits in with my interests of strength training and rehabbing from injury.

Physical Activity

My main aim is to get to previous strength numbers without pain, but I’ve actually already begun to hit them again, while my hip heals. Here are my baseline numbers of the main lifts I include every week weighing 150 pounds:

Barbell Squat: 5 x 5 @ 455 lbs. I’ve been able to squat deeper and more deliberately, though at my prime, I was hitting 495. I feel good and will probably break past 500 in the next two months.

Barbell Deadlift: 5 x 5 @ 315 lbs. The most affected lift of my injury. I can hit 315 easily, but I tend to stop when my hip starts to hurt. My goal is to move back up to hitting 405 consistently and work up from there.

Barbell Bench Press: 5 x 5 @ 225 lbs. I’ve neglected bench press in favor of squat and deadlift, and also because I had suffered a shoulder injury. I’m currently implementing a few assistance exercises and have switched to dumbbells one day a week to hopefully get this number to move up to 315.

Overhead Press: 5 x 5 @ 145 lbs. Probably my most neglected muscle group — I had previously injured my shoulder, sidelining me from overhead workouts for several months, in which time I progressed greatly in squat and deadlift. Now the tables are turned, and my shoulders feel great, but I need to focus on maintaining my squat and deadlift numbers while nursing my injury improving my upper body).

Dumbbell Farmer’s Walk: 5 x 50 yard walk @ 105 lbs. I must say, this is the one exercise I do that makes me feel strong overall. It’s one thing to press heavy weight and quite another to carry it. The first Spartan Beast I did was very difficult because it was a LOT of loaded carries that I had never trained for previously. This time around, I have no problem carrying the heavy weight in terms of endurance, but my grip is the limiting factor. If I can get my grip to a point where I can hold 125 lb. dumbbells, I’d love to progress there. I’m sure I can walk it if I use straps, but I refuse to use them. It defeats the purpose.

Spartan Super in Sacramento — October 25

Competing is a sort of litmus test to see if the gym stuff is working, but it’s also a whole lot of fun. A friend of mine has done Tough Mudder with me, as well as two Spartan Races, and she semi-jokingly gets annoyed with me for being so happy during the entire race while everybody else is exhausted.

The way I see it, if we’re not performing in some capacity for stakes that matter (in this case, we artificially create deadlines by paying to run a race with a group of strangers), we won’t train our hardest during our downtime. Also, I’ve started to shift away from a bodybuilding philosophy to more of a functional strength philosophy. There’s lots of weak guys out there with big muscles, no endurance, and a bad attitude. While I am into sculpting my body to some degree, I’d rather be strong than cosmetically muscular.

And that’s that. Hope I gave you some ideas about reaching your goals. Comment or send me a message and let me know what you are working on.


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