Book Review: “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough

David McCullough is a master writer in biographies. I have read a few of his books including John Adams and Harry Truman. This book is no exception. A wonderfully written and researched book about two of most important people in 20th century – the Wright brothers.

My Key Takeaways:
– Wilbur’s original plan to go to Yale was destroyed when he got smashed on his front face by a hockey stick in the hand of a future serial killer. Hard to speculate if it’s intentional or accidental.
– Wright brothers are really brave to put their lives on the line to test flights – their invention.
– They picked Kittyhawk, a place seven hundred of miles away from Dayton Ohio, as the place of experimentation to try out their flying machines, overcoming the sever wind, hunger and most notably mosquito attack.
– Wright brothers are the the good old entrepreneurs funding their own new adventure using their the money they earned from the their bike shop. They didn’t want to accept any potential “venture” fund from others.
– The mechanical know how may have come from their years of repairing bicycles. But their ambition didn’t stop at bicycles. At that time, automobiles were starting but they have their eyes on something bigger – an ultimate flying machine.
– The tragic story of the crashing the plane and having the passenger killed and ended up injuring Orville himself takes lots of guts.
– Having to interest the French people seemed to show the lack of vision of the US government, which eventually made a comeback in recognizing their accomplishments.
– Orville lived long enough, until 1948, to witness the use of jet engine in planes that broke sound speed and two World Wars which deployed the planes of their original invention.
– Like all good inventions, people would take advantage of it if they can get away with it. Both Wilbur and Orville had to defend their patents in courts in order to protect their intellectual property.
– Neither Orville nor Wilbur ever got married but their little sister, Katharine did eventually get married at age of 51 against Orville’s will (don’t know why) but died 3 years after at age of 54. Orville refused to talk with her until her dying days. She played a huge role on nursing Orville to health after his crash and supported her two brothers’ adventure throughout.
– Like all disruptive inventions, it’s much easier when you know someone has done it and there is a model to follow. I believe the airplane’s invention is the same. Had it not been the Wright Brother’s invention, the world may be delayed in inventing the plane. Just think how inconvenient not having the airplane.
The Five facts about The Wright Brothers were outlined by the author David McCullough himself: 1) Didn’t have much but they had books. Both are avid readers. 2) A pond hockey injury helped forever change human history. 3) Wilbur and Orville were budget conscious and self-sufficient. 4) Nobody in America seemed to care, but the French took notice. 5) The Wright Brothers were forever sons of Ohio.

This is a great book if you want to know how about the two of greatest inventors of the 20th century:

Book Review: “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World” by Adam Grant

“Originals” by definition: A thing of singular or unique character; a person who is different from other people in an appealing or interesting way; a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity. They take the road less traveled, championing a set of novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better, as opposed to “conformists.”

– Originals are not necessarily reckless risk takers. In most cases, they keep the day job before plunging into their new adventures, as in the case of Warby Parker. “They take the risk out of risk-taking.”

– Employees who use Chrome or Firefox tend to be happier – they tend to be non-conformists as they need to take to the effort to install new applications on their computer.As non-conformists – rejecting defaults – they tend to enjoy their work.

– Child prodigies tend to be conformists, hence not able to change the world.

– Being the first movers does not guarantee success. Sometimes being a second mover could be a better position.

– Originals aren’t very good in judging their own work, but they do kiss lots of frogs to find the prince. E.g. Shakespeare produced 37 plays and 154 sonnets, Picasso produce more than 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, and 12,000 drawings.

– Managers don’t evaluate well original ideas unless they started out generating their own ideas. Have an open mind first before judging. But don’t try to evaluate ideas outside of your area expertise as Steve Jobs on Segway.

– Having artistic hobbies like music playing, drawing arts, crafts, writing, performing (amateur acting) increases the odds of winning a Nobel prize.

– Use Sarick Effect to argue the negatives (why you shouldn’t invest in my company) may disarm your potential investor. Reverse psychology.

– Procrastination may sometime yield a better idea: ML King’s “I have a dream” speech was completed just minutes before it began. In fact, “I have a dream” wasn’t written in the script until he was reminded by a lady shouting to him, “tell them about the dream.” Settlers (procrastinators) had a better odd of winning higher market share in business.

– Two life cycles of creativity: Young genius (conceptual thinking, done quickly) then old masters (experimental thinking, takes time to do trials and errors)- more sustainable.

– Frenemies with strong positive AND negative feelings toward us are much harder to handle like in the case of Susan Anthony and Lucy Stone in the suffrage movement. Hence enemies make better allies than frenemies.

– Later birth order (laterborns) in the family tends to become rebels – more original.

– Parents aren’t the best role models. Introducing other roles models to raise our children’s aspirations.

– To avoid groupthink, find a true dissenter, not just an acting one. The devil’s advocates must believe in his/her position to be effective. Polaroid failed because of groupthink that customers always want a hardcopy and lost the chance to develop digital cameras.

– Venting emotion may turn aggressive. The Serbia activists were trained to avoid venting. Venting focuses the attention on the perpetrator of injustice. Instead, reflect on the victims who have suffered.

– “Becoming originals is not the easiest path in the pursuit of happiness, but it leaves us perfectly poised for the happiness of pursuit.

This is an excellent book for those who want to be more original and creative. Some of the suggestions can help. Highly recommended.

5 Things to Know About a Psychopath – the Devil in Human Form

My toastmaster speech about 5 Things to Know About a Psychopath – the Devil in Human Form or H. H. Holmes

The original script is here: I had to cut short some of the contents to meet the 5~7-minute limit of a typical Toastmaster length.

Top 5 things to know about a psychopath – the devil in human form
Be forewarned that my talk today could be rated ‘PG-13’ and ‘R’ for vivid description of crimes. One of my favorite things to watch on TV shows are in crime, detective, thriller genres like Law and Order, Criminal Intent, Law and Order Special Victim Unit, and other reality crime shows like Snapped. If you know of any good detective, crime TV shows or movies, please let me know. The more gruesome the better.

1. Introduction of topic, Holmes, purpose of the talk
The topic of my speech today is “The five things to know about a psychopath – the devil in human form.” The devil I’m referring to here is a physician named, Henry Howard Holmes. He was the most notorious and America’s first serial killer around the end of 19th century, between year 1888 and 1896. Most of the materials come from this book I hold in my hand – “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. The devil here refers to Holmes, who you’ll soon know why he’s called a devil, and the White City refers to the beautiful World Columbus Expo in 1893. In my talk today, I will be focusing on this character, H. H. Holms. I will give a brief biography of Holmes then dive into the key takeaways from how to keep you and your family safe from someone like him.
(show picture)
Once again, I’m NOT here to glorify him or his actions but to learn from his actions and avoid being a victim to someone like him.

2. Brief biography of Holmes
Holmes was born in 1861 in New Hampshire as Herman Webster Mudgett to descendants of early English settlers. Father was a violent alcoholic. He was the 3rd of their 4 children. He excelled in academics, graduated in 1884 from University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery after two years at age of 21. While enrolled in school, he would steal cadavers, disfigured the bodies attempting to commit life insurance fraud. You can get away with a lot of things because of No DNA yet in those days. But the insurance companies were pretty good, better than police detectives.

At this time, he already married his first wife, Clara and had one daughter of 4 years old. Luckily for them, their marriage fell apart and Holmes moved to New York working odd jobs, then moved to Philadelphia after a boy died; he denied any involvement. Another boy died after taking medicine from the drugstore where he worked.

To avoid the previous scam victims catching on to him, he changed his name to Henry Holmes before he moved to Chicago in 1886. While still married to Clara, he married Myrta and had a daughter in a different town, freeing him to tend his “business” in Chicago.

In Chicago, he got a job in a drug store and “bought” the store from the widower of the owner after Mr. Holten died. The widower disappeared, presumably killed by Holmes.

He then purchased an empty lot across the drugstore and built his three-story, block-wide hotel. It was so huge that it was called “The Castle” – later was called the “Murder Castle.” There were many rooms with some doors opened to brick walls, or can be opened from outside only. He event built a special life-size kiln like crematorium in the basement. There were special rooms where he did his evil deeds: a soundproof, air-tight room where he gassed his victims, and solid brick room with a trapdoor from the top where victims died of hunger or thirst and another secret hanging chamber.

His victims include his mistresses, employees or ex-employees, hotel guests. Keep in mind that in 1893, Chicago hosted the largest World Expo Exhibit where more than 26-million visitors attended the 200+ beautiful architectural master pieces including the first Ferris Wheel that is 24-story high. The chaos of city during the expo contribute to his playground as police was too busy to care about missing-person cases.

His fall came when he conveniently killed his helper, Benjamin Pitezel, for real after conning him into playing the life insurance scam. Pitezel kind of deserve it as he helped Holmes get rid of bodies by articulating the body, meaning stripping the skin and flesh off, then sell the remaining skeleton to doctors.

Then he proceeded to take his three children on a long trip, murdering one after another along the trip all the way to Toronto.
He was arrested in 1894, tipped off by a former cellmate whom Holmes neglected to pay off after an insurance scam. He was convicted of murdering his helper, Pitezel.

Overall, only 9 murders were confirmed but the number of victims has been estimated between 20 and 100. Holmes confessed to 27 murder before his death, some of them turned out alive.

3. Top 5 things to recognize a psychopath
The disclaimer here is that not all psychopaths are criminals or murders and not all criminals or murders are psychopaths. But psychopaths, in my opinion, is the most insidious kind because they’re easily among us, ready to strike.

1. Superficially charming: Possessed with a pair of blue eyes, charming, and seductive demeanor, he charmed many young girls into going home with him. Most of his drugstore customers were women and only ask for help.
2. Lying pathologically: Holmes lied about his names: it was Herman Mudgett, Henry Howard, Henry Gordon, Alexander Bond but mostly Henry Howard Holmes. He lied about his ancestry claiming belonged to a royal family in Europe. He lied about the where about of disappearing wife or girlfriends like marrying others to a foreign country. He lied about his wealth. At the end he lied about who he killed; I think he lost count himself.
3. Conning and manipulative: he keeps hiring and firing construction workers in building his castle and a human-size kiln, where he lured, murdered and cremate dozens of faire visitors. He tricked several people into taking out life insurance with him as the beneficiary.
4. Lack of remorse or guilt: he never showed any remorse for what he has done. He wrote a memoir while in jail to plead his innocence and make money off his notoriety.
5. Inflated sense of self worthy: he claimed to be the devil. He once declared “I was born with the devil in me. I was born with the evil standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”

4. The end of a killer
Holmes was convicted of 4 counts of murder in the first degrees, executed by hanging in 1896 at age of 34. He remained calm and charming until his moment of death.

Good news! The story of the “Devil in the White City” is being filmed and will be coming to a theater near you soon. The person who plays Holmes will be none other than the Best Actor of the last year’s Oscar – Leonardo DiCaprio, the same actor in, Titanic, Catch If You Can, Wolf of Wall Street, and The Revenant. It’s going to be good one. Can’t wait!

I hope you come away from my speech with better understanding of these five character traits of a psychopath to help you and your family safe from them. And if you happen to have these traits, I probably don’t want to know.

Book Review: “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer


The world and America seem to be moving toward the socialism for the last few decades. Of course, it didn’t happen in a straight forward manner. It’s like a pendulum that swung left and right every few years or so, depending on which party was in power. But now there is a few billionaire trying to change the course or slow down the move. Their money, or so-called “Dark Money,” were funneled to tax-free, politically-influenced foundation to fund the “conservative” movement. This is the story about them written by a mostly-liberal (leftist) writer, Jane Mayer.

The book started out in an emergency, secret meeting among the billionaires during Obama’s inauguration. There as a sense of urgency and despair on what Obama’s administration is capable of spreading – classic socialism.

The book gets very repetitive and boring toward the end, but a good book if your political view lean towards the left. Not so for the “right”-minded.

The Koch brothers of the Koch Industries, Charles and David Koch played a huge role in the movement. The book went in great details of the Koch family and the patriarch, Fred Koch’s early business success through his connection to Hitler in building Hitler’s first oil refinery, a history that was buried and hidden from the public view. Of course, Fred’s early success paved the way the Koch family’s follow-on success in oil exploration field and becoming the second biggest private company in the U.S.

There were some stories about the upbringing of Charles, David Koch and the family feud among the brothers, especially between Frederick Koch, the unmarried single, vs. David and Charles. There were lawsuits against one another.

The Koch brothers seemed to have benefited the most from the last 8 years of Democrats stewardship, thanks to the bail out of 2008 started during George W. Bush’s presidency.

The book is separated into three parts in chronological order:
Part one is about “weaponizing” philantropy: the war of ideas frm 1970 to 2008. Part two goes into the “secret sponsors: covert operations” from 2009 to 2010. The final part three goes into the total combat: privatizing politics – a new battle plan.

This is a good book if you’re into politics. Not me. Don’t have the stomach for the silly political child plays.

Book Review: “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson


Two characters in this wonderfully written book – The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. The first character is Henry H. Holmes, a physician, a good liar but mostly a cold-blooded psychopath murderer. The other character is Daniel Burnham, a master architect that orchestrated the building of the many beautiful architectural wonders in the World Faire in Chicago in 1893. The connection between the two characters are not strong other than they happened to live in close proximity in the same neighborhood during the fair.

It’s a great book for people curious how the World’s Columbian Exposition – its beginning and the end and the people, the architects, the politicians who made it happen. Of course, you get to know about the two main characters in the book: H. H. Holms and Daniel Burnham. Very well researched and written. Always enjoyed Erik Larson’s book.

10 things you need to know about Henry Holmes:

1. He was charming, handsome with beautiful set of blue eyes and seductive to innocent young women. He could come up with many impressive lies like his name (loyalty connection), wealth (mostly borrowed), position (doctor) and his caring and benign demeanor.

2. A master of turning the attack around (Aikido): When confronted with his fraud or lies, he responds in gentle and good counter lies that seem to make the accusers apologetic.

3. Leaves little evidence (by the old standard). He’s adept at destroying the evidence. Having a custom gas chamber/vault and a crematorium in the basement allowed him to murder and get rid of bodies without incurring too much notice from others.

4. Uses little force. Hi modus operandi is mostly through trapping the person in a chamber and inject an nerve gas (chloroform) to kill.

5. Takes advantage of the environmental factors: a. Lots of visitors going into and out of the World Faire – police officers were too busy to handle missing people case. b. Living in a era where cadavers are difficult to acquire and bodies can be easily stolen, articulated, and acquired without too much scrutiny.

6. He has help: Pitizel, who and whose children he eventually murdered and got convicted of the crime. Ironic.

7. Got braver and braver when uncaught with murder one after another.

8. Never admitted to any crime but eventually equating himself to a devil as he saw himself physically evolving into one.

9. Henry H. Holmes was finally executed by hanging in 1896, after murdering confirmed 9, confessed 27 and up to 200 estimated, started as early as 1888.

10. He is a devil. Even he thought so himself: “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing — I was born with the ‘Evil One’ standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”
– H. H. Holmes[29][30]

On Burnham, here are the 5 things you need to know about him:
1. He organized and successfully completed the entire World Faire of 1893 just with 2 short years despite his poor health. The team had to overcome significant setbacks like the poor soil quality, political influences to bias the designs, and etc.

2. He knows how to hire the best people for the job. Frederic Olmsted for the landscaping, and John Root, his partner to architect the entire ground. When Root died in the middle of construction, he had to pick up the chief architect work.

3. Burnham was indicted when one of the buildings caught fire. Ironically, the attendance picked up after the fire which seemed to draw onlookers.

4. Despite the artistic success of the World Faire Buildings, the financials were not so good. Burnham had to face many inquiries and restrictions toward the end of the expo as the World Faire didn’t make enough money to pay for itself.

5. Burnham fostered the early thinking of an eco-responsible architecture. He was concerns with waste of building materials.

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