Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I write like...

I never really thought about my writing style. Actually, I never really thought I had one. In school I was always better in science than in literature; mathematics has been my favorite subject, while every attempt to produce an interesting essay was a disaster. That is why many of my relatives found it extremely surprising that I started managing my own blog dedicated not only to reading but to writing. And writing for me is now a passion almost as strong as reading. After finishing a novel I just can't wait to pour my thoughts in my blog while they are fresh. The results are not always admirable but I believe that practice makes perfect so I keep struggling. 

While browsing through other literary blogs I found an interesting website, which analyses your writing style and compares it to an existing author. In you can paste any writing you have done - an essay, a blog post, memoirs, basically whatever you feel like it. To be honest, I tried many times because I was never satisfied with the answer as I kept getting authors I hadn't heard. One time I got George Orwell and another time I got Jane Austen. However, the posts I pasted for these results were related to 1984 and Pride and Prejudice respectively. Which, of course, does prove that is not a powerful analyzing tool but at least it is fun. 

Finally, after trying almost all of my posts I found a trend. Several times the result was H.P. Lovecraft. I didn't know who that was or what he was writing about but since I was copying his style unintentionally, I decided to check him out. I was shocked by the result:

Howard Philips Lovecraft, born in 1890, is an American horror, fantasy, and science fiction writer. His guiding literary principle, cosmic horror refers to the idea that life is incomprehensible to the human mind and the universe is fundamentally alien. Regarded as one of the best horror authors, Lovecraft focuses on themes such as forbidden knowledge, fate, inherited guilt, and civilization under threat.

Okay, the least I can say about this result is that it is largely weird. First and foremost, I do not enjoy horror and fantasy novels. To be honest, I believe the only horror and fantasy novel I have read remains Harry Potter, which is may be scary for a 10 year old. Secondly, his principle, cosmic horror, doesn't match my believes or perceptions in any way. Indeed I insist that life is comprehensible through two routes - knowledge and experience. Finally, the themes he focuses on are fundamentally important but still, they are quite common to many authors. 

As I mentioned, the tool analyzes the themes in your post and the language used. Maybe on some level Lovecraft and I use a common set of words or tend to express our ideas in a similar way. Still, I do not believe I will be reading any of his novels. The only thing I quite enjoy about him is his name. :)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano

Whoever believed physics and literature cannot coexist together is proven wrong by the Italian physicist and future successful writer Paolo Giordano. His first novel, The Solitude of Prime Numbers is the shaking story of two confused and lost souls, two suffering creatures trying to find their place in the world.

Surprisingly, Giordano's profession is as far from literature as one can imagine. Born in 1982, the young writer is a certificated physicist, working on a PhD in elementary particles. Despite the dry and purely scientific matter of his studies, his imagination, style of writing, and use of language are vivid, empowering, and inspiring. Of course, you can easily tell that this is his first literary work. I must admit, though, that the young Italian has a potential to delight us with some masterpiece in the near future. 

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is about Aliche and Matia - two lonely people deeply connected by the dramatic events that shaped their life. While skiing in the mountain Aliche falls and badly hurts her foot. As a result, she becomes lame for life. The girl expresses her insecurity and depression in anorexie; she hides her feelings behind the photo camera and isolates from the surrounding world. Matia is ashamed of his retarded twin sister and leaves her alone in the park. After she disappears, Matia starts cutting himself with sharp objects and dives into mathematics. Aliche and Matia meet in high school and immediately find a powerful connection between each other. Both of them have experienced tragic events; both have found an unhealthy way to deal with their guilt and insecurities; both of them are like prime numbers - they are only divisible by 1 and by themselves. Yet, some prime numbers are twins - they are separated by 2: 3 and 5; 11 and 13; 17 and 19. In the same way Matia and Aliche are twins, destined to be close to each other, yet never really be together. 

If I start explaining how much I enjoyed and loved the book, this whole blog wouldn't be enough. As a story, the plot might seem trivial to you. I will controvert this argument by pointing out - the novel is not about the plot; it is about the feelings and expressions of two lost souls; about their endless, sometimes desperate search of a place in the world; about the rock bottom they hit before managing to get up and keep walking. All people experience shaking and tragic moments in their lives. I call them defining and changing. Defining - because the hardest times reveal the kind of person one really is; changing - because if one is to survive, one has to change and adapt.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers is real and inspiring. It is hardly a positive and light novel. However, do not be tempted by her easy language to call it an easy read. If you look closely between the lines, you will find (at least I did) a deep and profound understanding of the human nature and feelings. Giordano creates a novel about depression, guilt, and insecurity. However, The Solitude of Prime Numbers for me is highly optimistic as it proves that whatever one passes through, one can always find the right way (or the right person) to continue fighting. Aliche and Matia are those people for each other. Their story is inspiring and after finishing the novel I didn't feel depressed or low. Instead, I felt a powerful feeling slowly spreading through my body. A feeling that I can beat everything. 

PS: If this hasn't convinced you to buy the book, try looking at the picture of the author. So cute isn't he? And smart!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Man is the Measure of All Things - the Biography of Pericles

Protagoras, the eminent Greek philosopher and the first and most famous of the sophists said Man is the Measure of All Things. Konrad Haemmerling uses this sentence as a headline of the biography of Pericles.

Konrad Haemmerling, a German writer, was born in the end of the 19th century. With a profound knowledge and understanding of the Greek culture, norms, and traditions, he gives us the biography of the famous Athenian politician. Throughout his rule, Pericles adopts a different, peaceful politics. His regime is characterized by a stress on the development of philosophy, knowledge, and ethics. What's more, Pericles supports the construction of many of the eminent buildings in Athens, including the Parthenon. Instead of focusing on battles and conquests, the politician preaches the advantages of peace; his regime is a democratic one, where all Athenians are given an equal opportunity to participate in the political, economic, and social life. Under Pericles's courtesy flourish the works and ideas of Socrates, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, and Euripides. Unfortunately, Athens at that time is characterized by jealousy, factious actions, defamations, and greed. Pericles becomes a victim of these trends and the Athenians are deprived of one of their cleverest and most capable leaders.

To be honest, I had a difficult time reading Pericles. Haemmerling's style is rather complex to comprehend due to the large amount of thorough descriptions. Personally, I admire the author's extensive knowledge about Greek customs and traditions. Still, I was rather repelled by the extensive focus on rituals, holidays, and sacrifices, which although contribute to a comprehensive picture of the Athenian society, seemed at times repetitive and rather irrelevant to the story.

If you fancy historical biographies, you are going to enjoy Pericles by Konrad Haemmerling. However, if you are headed to the sea side, I strongly recommend you take a lighter reading. The complex philosophies about the purpose of life and death are not really compatible with the carefree life under the sun.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Freemium - The Business Model of the 21st Century

Have you always wondered what the secret of  Google, Yahoo, and Facebook is? How a company that essentially offers all of its products for free, has managed to turn itself into a multi-billion corporation? The answer comes in Free by Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson, born in 1961, is the editor-in-chief of Wired, an American magazine and on-line periodical, which reports on how technology affects culture, the economics, and politics. He has a degree in Physics from the George Washington University. His first book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less or More argues that products with a low demand or low sales volume make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the distribution channel is relatively large. His newest book Free: The Future of a Radical Price examines the rise of an economic system, where products and services are given for free. By exploring this new business model Anderson proves that Free is the only possible future and a future that offers endless and unlimited possibilities to improve and share.

The main distinction Anderson draws is that the 20th century model is about the economics of atoms, while the 21st century one - about the economics of bits. With the development of bandwidth, storage, and processing technology has become faster, better, and cheaper. The marginal cost of reaching another user online is close to zero; in other words it is too low to meter. The reason that digital costs degrease at a faster rate is that most of their inputs are in fact intellectual - ideas propagate virtually without limits and without cost. Thus, the incentive to turn things digital is because they operate faster and they are quickly accelerating. Bits have the property of making everything cost less and do more. Information becomes cheaper because the cost of extracting it gets lower and lower (take Wikipedia as an example). In the 21st century economics model information wants to be free and unrestricted. Abundance thinking is the new trend; that is people must embrace waste in the digital world, because the cost of distribution is very low to even matter.

You might ask: how to make money on something that is essentially free? Anderson gives a clear answer - it takes creativity and innovation to adapt to this new business model, because it is the model of the future. Companies look at their portfolio of products and services and price some of them at a cost of zero (or close to it) to make other products on which they make healthy profits more valuable. The 20th century is full of such examples. Gillette started giving away razors for free only to stimulate demand for the blades, without which the razors were useless. Think about free cell phones, which come with a monthly contract, cheap video consoles with expensive games, or free fancy coffee makers at offices, which require superior coffee sachets. If we get to think about it, free is everywhere around us. The biggest challenge is how to make it work in our advantage.

The idea behind freemium is pretty obvious, once you come to think about it - a few paying customers subsidize a large group of non-paying.  At some point people realize they have more money than time; hence ready to pay for something to get it more quickly then to wait for a while and get it for free. The risk of producing it yourself is that you are not even paying yourself the minimum wage and you might not get what you want at the end. And all the other customers, who do not wish to spend the money, benefit for free. A media model of Free is also very popular - a third party (the advertiser) subsidizes content (the media); the listener or the viewer gets it at no charge. This relates not only to TV and radio, but also to paid media (newspapers, magazines, cable TV) allowing them to be much cheaper than they actually would be.

Of course, one of the biggest losers in the 20th century used to be the music industry. The profits from selling CDs fell dramatically with the availability of music online. However, enterprising producers found a way to generate profits - they made all the music available online, thus increasing awareness, reputation, and attention. They earned money from merchandizing, advertising, and concerts. And the biggest music fans still continued to buy CDs.

Google is the biggest corporation that built a working economic model around free - essentially all of its services, from search, e-mail, to Google Maps are free. So how does Google management succeeded in turning it into a multi-billion corporation? First, it introduced countless new and free services to increase attachment to the company. And second, it used customized advertising to reach the relevant customer market. Google's data costs are lower and fall faster than any other company due to economies of scale; thus the more free products and services they offer, the bigger their profits are. Even we, as free users, contribute to Google's success - every blog post improves Google search, every click on Google maps tells more about consumer behavior, and every sent e-mail is a clue to a human network of connections. In addition, the Google Ads program ensures that advertising messages reach the relevant customers. Clever and simple.

Chris Anderson's book offers much more interesting examples, pros and cons around the concept of Free and its future. I strongly recommend it to all those of you interested in business, economics, and marketing. For those of you not that passionate about the area, I still believe it will be an intellectually stimulating reading. Of course, as the title of the book, I downloaded it for free from Regardless of the free online copy, the hard $29.99 copy of Free:The Future of a Radical Price debuted as number 12 on the New York Times Best Seller List. Proving Anderson's point that business can actually make money on Free; it just takes bravery and creativity.

If you get to think about it, even with my blog post Anderson is getting free advertising, which increases attention and awareness about his book and works well for his reputation. Only one of the many examples how Free can be used to generate profits. Something to think about if we are to become the future leaders of tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Catching the Wolf of Wall Street - The Sequel

Much less cynical and vulgar. Much more honest and descriptive. Catching the Wolf of Wall Street, the sequel of the famous autobiography The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort is quite different from the first novel.

The Wolf of Wall Street was brutal and shocking, answering the vital question How to spend a billion of dollars on drugs and prostitutes? It described the senseless and corrupted life of a clever man, who used his intelligence to manage frauds with securities. We see Jordan as a ruthless alcoholic and drug addict, who doesn't value any social norms and morals - the only rule he follows is the rule of capitalism - earn as much as you can at the expense of others. The result is a disaster - he loses his family, his freedom, and his self respect.
In Catching the Wolf of Wall Street we meet a different Jordan - not the vulgar and ruthless broker, who stole more money than the GDP of a small country but a Jordan who realizes the degree of his mistakes and attempts to fix them; a Jordan filled with regret and remorse.  I enjoyed the sequel better because it is the agony and the ecstasy of a tragic character - one who became a victim of power, glory, and avarice only to be reborn a sincere, honest, and faithful man.

Catching the Wolf of Wall Street begins where the first novel left us off - excited and impatient to understand Jordan's destiny after he was detained by the police. In the sequel throughout endless interrogations with the FBI crew (including Gregory Coleman, the FBI agent obsessed with Belfort's life and the reason for his denouncement) the protagonist shares his path - from meant to be a dentist to one of the most powerful brokers in history.  In that sense Catching the Wolf of Wall Street is a manual of the destructive power of money, glory, and abundance - Belfort transformed from an innocent, naive, and ambitious boy into a ruthless man, who doesn't value any boundaries; who doesn't express any compassion or sympathy; who sacrifices his humanity in favor of the seemingly ideal and glamorous life of the rich and the successful. Quite familiar, huh?

If you thought the first novel too vulgar you will be surprised - we hardly see any of Belfort's typical language in the sequel. Here he is calmer, more patient, and most importantly SOBER. His life proves an important point - you have to hit rock bottom before you start going up. And that is what he does. Even after spending 22 months in prison, Belfort manages to use his intelligence in a constructive way - now he is a motivational orator, teaching businessmen how to earn money without sacrificing ethics and integrity. Sounds ironic coming from the Wolf of Wall Street but who knows better than the man, who lost his family, betrayed his friends, went to federal jail, and still came back?

If you are wondering how he actually looks I posted a picture. Also, I believe the movie by Scorsese will be mainly derived from the second novel, as it will encompass a conversation between Belfort and Coleman, where the former shares his experiences.

@ Amazon: Catching the Wolf of Wall Street: More Incredible True Stories of Fortunes, Schemes, Parties, and Prison

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Wolf of Wall Street - Jordan Belfort

Brutal, cynical, vulgar, shocking, mind-blowing, sincere, honest, and real - this is the world of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Indeed one of the best contemporary novels I have read.

Jordan Belfort was born in 1962 in the USA. He is an American author, motivational speaker, and YES ex criminal. The Wolf of Wall Street, his autobiography, focuses on his rise and fall, from one of the smartest and most powerful brokers on WallStreet in the 90s to a drug, sex, and alcohol addict.

As a 31-year old multimillionaire stockbroker Belfort owned the scandalously famous brokerage firm Stratton Oakmant. His subordinates, hungry and vulgar young brokers, were given a script written by Belfort himself to persuade investors to buy stocks over the phone. The Wolf (his nickname at the time) used the popular "pump and dump" scheme, where stocks are artificially inflated through false positive messages. Once the overvalued stocks are dumped, the stock price falls and investors lose their money. For this fraud, as well as for money laundering and drug abuse he was arrested and spend 22 months in a federal prison. For almost 10 years he lived like a rock star - during the day he managed to earn more money than the average person earns per year. During the night he spent them on drugs, alcohol, and prostitutes. It seemed Belfort was a God's favorite as he miraculously escaped death several times: flying smashed the broker landed his helicopter in the back lawn, he sunk his expensive yacht, he crashed into more than 10 cars, and he sniffed a variety of drugs enough to kill a whale.

Due to his fraud and abuses Belfort separated from his wife Nadine and his children but they are now in a good relationship and share custody. In an interview Belfort claims he lives modestly in a three bedroom house in Manhattan. I don't know about you but this doesn't really sound modest to me. Anyhow, 50% of what he earns now covers his debt to deceived investors. Belfort says he is a clean man using his powerful rhetoric skills to lift the curtain in front of the life on WallStreet in the 90s - avid, ruthless, and brutal. In addition, Belfort travels around the world as a motivational speaker, teaching people to be successful without sacrificing integrity and ethics. There is a popular saying in Bulgaria that a wolf may change its appearance but never its nature. I sincerely hope that is not Belfort's case.

At the beginning, I have to admit I was shocked by the language. It was too brutal and vulgar and I believe I haven't heard that many curses from only person even in the most dangerous ghettos. Still, as the novel progressed, I realized that this brutality is the most appropriate approach to fully understanding Belfort's world. His life was indeed shocking and provocative. When reading The Wolf of Wall Street I kept thinking: I admire his honesty, his courage, and his strength. It takes a lot of manhood to stand up to your mistakes, to share your most embarrassing secrets, to admit to pushing your wife down the stairs or nearly killing your daughter, to falling asleep in a pile of cocaine, and to deceiving hundreds of people for personal benefit. What is more, Belfort doesn't attempt to defend himself, nor to blame others for his failures. He sincerely shares his experience without hiding even the most disgusting and gross events. So if you are repelled by his vulgarity and brutality think again. Do you want a soft, romantic, Holywood-type story or do you want the real thing? Because in life, no one is going to sugar-coat it for you - this is the life of the big money and power.

There is a sequel, Catching the Wolf of Wall Street. I don't have to tell you that I can't wait to finish this post and enjoy a little bit more of Belfort's brutal and scandalous, yet addictive and unique style.

For the sake of fun trivia, you should know that his life-story is being turned into a movie by Warner Brothers and Leo DiCaprio is set to star and Martin Scorsese - to direct. Can't wait!!!