Spy the Lie: Three Former CIA Officers Reveal Their Secrets to Uncloaking Deception review

Spy the Lie: Three Former CIA Officers Reveal Their Secrets to Uncloaking Deception

Spy the Lie: Three Former CIA Officers Reveal Their Secrets to Uncloaking Deception by Philip Houston

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book was…fine. It has some interesting techniques for interrogating people, but it seems like to use them in practice you have to have a fairly controlled environment. It is at least realistic that this isn’t going to make you a “human lie detector” and has some tips for asking your children questions which is only somewhat creepy.

Anyway, it was a fun read but not super practical.



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Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams review

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book about sleep at a time in my life when I’m fairly sleep-deprived (hi Baby Nick!), although it’s not as bad as when I read a book about airplane crashes while on an airplane. (for the record: I was OK reading the book, but watching the airplane scene of the movie Flight creeped me the heck out!)

Anyway, this is a really really good book that everyone should read. I’ve always been mildly interested in sleep, so I knew some of this stuff, but there was a ton of stuff I didn’t know and a lot of it was very interesting. The book is full of interesting studies that sound like they were pretty well done.

The upshot of the book is: sleep is really important and does a ton of stuff for your body, and getting less than you should impacts you in a ton of ways. Basically everyone needs between seven and nine hours a night. So prioritize sleep!

Now for the details I found particularly interesting:
– There are two main stages of sleep: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-REM). I knew this but I could never remember which is the important one, and the reason is that they’re both important! NREM is important for memory retention (moving short-term memories into longer-term storage), and REM sleep is important for “recharging” your ability to handle your own emotions and detect emotions in others.
– The easy way to tell whether you’re getting enough sleep is to answer these questions: after waking up in the morning, could you go back to sleep at 10 or 11 AM? And can you function without caffeine before noon? If the answers are “yes” or “no” respectively, you’re probably at least somewhat sleep deprived.
– Animals vary wildly in how much they sleep, even among similar species, and we don’t know why. (opossums sleep 50% longer than rats!) Also, fur seals have both NREM and REM sleep when they’re on land, but when in the water they stop having REM sleep, as far as we can tell.
– I had read that in the old days, people would sleep in two chunks, and in between they’d be awake for several hours. This is true, but it wasn’t nearly as universal as I had thought – it seems to have been just a Western European practice for a little while around the year 1700.
– Lack of REM sleep makes it harder to regulate your emotions (to which I said “hahahaha sob I know!”)
– Asking a teenager to wake up at 7 AM is like asking an adult to wake up at 4 or 5 AM, and high schools really really should start later in the morning than they do. (some high schools have moved back their start time to closer to 9 AM, which is great!)
– As we get older, we get less and less quality sleep, and this is responsible for some of the effects of old age, both physical and mental. People think that seniors need less sleep, but that’s only because it’s hard to tell how much quality sleep you’re getting – all evidence shows that seniors need as much quality sleep as other adults.
– NREM sleep is more concentrated near the beginning of your sleep period, while REM sleep is more concentrated near the end. So if you go to bed later than usual, you’re missing out on mostly NREM sleep, and if you wake up early, you’re missing out on mostly REM sleep.
– There’s an experimental protocol that stimulates the brain during NREM sleep that almost doubles the facts that people were able to remember the next day! They’ve also shown a lesser effect (around 40% improvement) just by emitting sounds in sync with brain waves, and even rocking the bed in sync with brain waves seems to improve NREM sleep.
– In a test of reaction time, people who got six hours of sleep per night for ten nights did as badly as people who had been awake for twenty-four hours!
– This link hasn’t been proven yet, but studies suggest that lack of NREM sleep may raise your risk for Alzheimer’s. Yikes!
– Switching to daylight saving time (i.e. losing an hour) leads to a spike in heart attacks the next day. Conversely, switching away from daylight saving time leads to a big drop in heart attacks. The same effect can be seen in traffic accidents.
– People who had gotten more sleep were rated as looking more healthy and more attractive 🙂
– There are only epidemiological studies (i.e. not double-blind and well-controlled), but there’s some evidence that nighttime shift work and the disrupting of circadian rhythms increase your odds of getting various cancers. Denmark has actually started to pay worker’s compensation to people who developed cancer after working night-shift work in government jobs.
– To get over emotional trauma, dreaming about the painful experience (which can be done with little emotion) seems to be necessary to get past it. PTSD seems to be a breakdown in the ability to do this – the brain keeps trying to dream about the painful event but it always has the strong emotions associated with it.
– Going without REM sleep impairs your ability to detect emotions in others – you tend to see the world as a more threatening place. (i.e. you become more paranoid) This is not a great thing for people who have night shift work, like nurses, doctors, and police officers!
– Waking people up in the middle of REM sleep makes them way more creative! (as measured by a test to find anagrams) And dreaming about a particular task does seem to make you much more able to find creative solutions to that task.
– I’ve read this before, but it still surprises me – the optimal sleeping temperature is around 65 degrees, which is cold!
– It seems like many children that have been diagnosed with ADHD may just be sleep-deprived. (obviously it’s hard to determine this on a large scale, but the symptoms are pretty similar, and the author’s estimate is that more than half of kids with ADHD fall into this bucket!)
– The big insurance company Aetna gives bonuses to their employees who wear sleep trackers and regularly get seven hours of sleep per night. (I applaud their efforts, but this is creepy)
– I understand narcolepsy a bit better now (the “sleep-wake” switch in the brain is unstable and easily gets triggered), and it sounds really hard to live with, especially since the treatment options we have today are not very good 😦

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, and if you want to try to sleep better here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation, although there’s nothing earth-shattering there. I was planning on giving this book four stars because the laundry list of “things lack of sleep makes worse” got a little long (the book is on the long side at 360 pages), but the book was so interesting in general I had to give it five!

As I mentioned earlier, I’m trying to avoid buying from Amazon, so this was the first book I read on the Barnes & Noble Nook app. And it was totally fine and a perfectly reasonable substitute for Kindle!


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-I understand narcolepsy a bit better now (the “sleep-wake” switch in the brain is unstable and easily gets triggered), and it sounds really hard to live with, especially since the treatment options we have today are not very good 😦

Anyway, I highly recommend this book, and if you want to try to sleep better here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation, although there’s nothing earth-shattering there. I was planning on giving this book four stars because the laundry list of “things lack of sleep makes worse” got a little long (the book is on the long side at 360 pages), but the book was so interesting in general I had to give it five!

As I mentioned earlier, I’m trying to avoid buying from Amazon, so this was the first book I read on the Barnes & Noble Nook app. And it was totally fine and a perfectly reasonable substitute for Kindle!


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Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History review

Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History

Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History by Mike Pesca

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book was…fine. I think I didn’t appreciate it as much as I could of because I’m not a huge sports fan (plus I have a terrible memory), so a lot of the chapters were, I’m guessing, very clever about mentioning things that didn’t really happen, etc. But a lot of it was lost on me.

I bought the book because I saw Jon Bois wrote a chapter, and as expected “What If Basketball Rims Were Smaller Than Basketballs?” was funny! Other chapters I particularly enjoyed were:
– “What If Billie Jean King Had Lost to Bobby Riggs?” – I grew up in Houston and had heard of the Battle of the Sexes, but didn’t realize it was such a big deal at the time!
– “What If a Blimp Full of Money Had Exploded over World Track Headquarters in 1952?” – this one wasn’t super interesting but the premise is pretty hilarious 🙂
– “What If Baseball Teams Only Played Once a Week?” – I had read an article about this premise before (maybe by the same guy?) but it was still pretty interesting.
– “What If Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton’s Pass Hadn’t Gone Awry?” – Lots of interesting stuff about the New York Renaissance, an all-black professional basketball team in the 1940’s that almost got to join the NBA.
– “What If Game 7 of the 2016 World Series Had Turned Into Every Sports Movie Ever Made?” – pretty funny, even if I’m pretty sure I only got like 20% of the references 🙂


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How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler review

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler by Ryan North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Really fun read! Covers a wide range of technology, from domesticating animals to units of measurement to foods to chemistry to art. At first I was a little irritated that I didn’t think I could actually reinvent all this technology using just this book, but:
– some sections were more explicit than others in terms of “able-to-do-thisness”
– this is probably an unfair quibble for a book that’s telling you how to re-create civilization!

Some of the most interesting parts were technologies that humans totally could have invented way earlier if anyone had known about it, like using canaries in mines to detect carbon monoxide, vitamin C to prevent scurvy, and kilns. Turns out kilns are incredibly useful!

There’s even a real-life technology tree in the appendix (like in Civilization! but for real life!)

The book does strive for accuracy but as you might expect given the author, it is also full of jokes, which makes it more fun to read.

Since I have the paper edition of this, I read it in 20-minute or so segments at a time, which I actually recommend because otherwise I’m guessing it might seem like a bit much? But I enjoyed it a lot!


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The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay review

The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay

The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay by Harlan Ellison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So. Harlan Ellison wrote the original version of “The City on the Edge of Forever”, generally considered the best episode of the original Star Trek series (with “The Trouble With Tribbles” in a close second place), and a bunch of changes were made between the original draft and what aired. Gene Roddenberry said the original script was good but needed a lot of changes. This made Harlan Ellison extremely cranky, and so thirty years later(!) he wrote an essay about what happened.

People, his essay is 80 pages long (if the Kindle page numbers are to be believed, but let me tell you, it certainly felt that long!) and is quite the opening tirade. He’s very angry with Gene Roddenberry (who had passed away by the time the book was written, but Ellison holds nothing back), but also almost everyone involved with Star Trek. Except Leonard Nimoy. Leonard Nimoy was cool.

Ellison was a prolific scifi writer, and his original draft of the episode (which this book contains) is, in fact, quite good! But, to give one example, it starts with an Enterprise crew member selling drugs to another crew member and killing him shortly thereafter. It’s no surprise this got changed, because Gene Roddenberry’s/Star Trek’s vision of the future is pretty utopian.

Ellison brings up again and again that, after the fact, Gene Roddenberry said that his script had problems because “Scotty was dealing drugs”. While this is wrong (Scotty doesn’t actually appear in the episode), it’s not too far off from the truth, and I’m sure Roddenberry found them equally unacceptable. Which isn’t to say that this is an OK thing to say, it seems like a relatively minor point to me. But not to Ellison! He mentions it four separate times in the essay, and once in the endnotes.

Oh, did I mention the endnotes? His angry screed has no fewer than eleven endnotes.

So then you can read the first draft of the story and the next draft with more details, and then Act One of the final version of the script. Like I said, Ellison’s drafts are good and made for good reading.

Then there are eight afterwords by various people involved in Star Trek, presumably chosen because they side with Ellison. Although some of them, notably Water Koenig and Harlan Ellison, wrote pieces that are more along the lines of “hey, that first draft was really good! And then I guess there was some unpleasantness or something?”.

Anyway, it did not come as a surprise to me that the first sentence of Ellison’s Wikipedia page is “Harlan Jay Ellison was an American writer, known for … and for his outspoken, combative personality.”


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Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game review

Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game

Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game by Rob Neyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I heard about this book and downloaded a sample because it sounded pretty interesting to take a deep look at a single baseball game – I hadn’t read the previous books like this (Daniel Okrent’s Nine Innings, for example) but it seemed like a good framing device.

Then I saw the game in question was an Astros game and immediately(*) bought it 🙂

And it’s a fascinating book! I stopped flagging particularly interesting parts of the book because it was basically all interesting – it uses the game as a jumping-off point to talk about spin rate and Statcast, roster size, tanking, defensive shifts, Moneyball, juiced baseballs, modern pitcher management, utility players like Marwin Gonzalez, steroids, pace of game, and a bunch more.

Highly recommended if you’re at all interested in baseball – and for goodness sake, don’t read the summary because it spoils the outcome of the game!

(*) actually I downloaded the sample before Christmas, so I didn’t buy it then, but I bought it the next time I remembered about it afterwards 🙂

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Your Brain at Work review

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really interesting book about how your brain works and how you can use that knowledge to, umm, do stuff better! It’s like neurotrash but seems to be backed up by studies and whatnot.

These are probably all oversimplified a bit, but some of the interesting things I read:
– There’s that old adage that you can hold seven plus or minus 2 things in your head at a time. New research says it’s more like four things. That’s not a lot of things! And that’s why it’s hard to think about new ideas that don’t connect to existing ideas.
– There’s a phenomenon called “dual-task interference” where trying to do two tasks at the same time, even when both are very simple, can slow you down by 2x. Multitasking is not generally worth it!
– On a related note, constant emailing or text messaging reduces mental capacity by an average of ten IQ points!
– Your basal ganglia are good at picking up patterns without conscious awareness – one study showed people getting better at a task that repeated in very subtle ways that they couldn’t even describe afterwards!
– A study showed that picturing yourself doing a finger exercise increased muscle mass by 22 percent, close to the 30 percent you get for doing it for real! (but you have to stay mentally focused on doing the exercise)
– Naming your emotion can make you feel better. (this is a great thing to teach kids!)
– Under the SCARF model, there are five rewards/threats that your brain treats almost like survival issues. They are: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

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