TV Shows I Watch and Recommend

Which TV shows you watched and liked recently is an uprising question in social meetups. I thought it might be interesting to write about it. I was not even a mild watcher till 2 years ago. TV for me has always been sports. And by sports, I mean tennis, pro wrestling (if you can call it sports) and cricket. Alternately, it could be a family get together. By all means, I am new to the phenomena of sitting alone and binge watching.

Things started to change around 2015-16 when I first watched Game of Thrones. Past 18 months have been particularly heavy. Below is the list of TV shows, and some movies, that I liked and recommend. Unlike books, it’s not a comprehensive list.

Game of Thrones: It was the first TV serial I watched. And remains THE show on the list. Not because it’s the best but because I watched and enjoyed it the most. NYT recently released a list of 20 best TV shows after The Sopranos, which I haven’t watched btw. And Game of Thrones didn’t make the list. While explaining why:

But its reputation for spectacle, sexposition and shocking twists overshadows the excellence of its storytelling, which has woven roughly 400 compelling subplots.

I couldn’t agree more. While I do enjoy the spectacle part, it’s the intricate details in its storytelling that make me come back to it again. To a point where I now practically judge people who say they love GoT but only watched it once. It remains the most grandiose show there is. You watch it enough number of times and you realize every dialogue is layered. That is hard, if not impossible, to unpack in a single watch. You have to immerse yourself into its world to truly enjoy it.

Season 4 edges out as my favorite though barely except season 7. Season 7 is my least favorite though/because it’s the most spectacular one. Blackwater (S2E9) had to be one of the best TV episodes ever made. Not just because of war scenes but the psychology that ensues them. Lena (Cersei) and Peter (Tyrion) are at their best in those 60 mins. To my money, they are also the two best actors on the show.

There is another reason why GoT is THE show for me. I love its music. My favorites are the Main Theme, The Rains of Castamere, Chaos is a Ladder, Mhysa and The Light of the Seven.

Friends: Here is a shocking, or not so shocking, disclaimer. I hadn’t watched Friends until last year. And last year I watched too much of it. To be honest I wouldn’t have enjoyed it before since most US-centric jokes would have lost on me. Netflix paid $100M to keep the show for 2019. I guess I am not alone.

It’s the best kind of home TV. Same familiar faces and voices, arguing/discussing their life troubles in a funny way while you are struggling through yours at the back of your head.

All 6 actors are too good on the show in terms of chemistry and delivery. To a point where I don’t think any of them has a comparable second act. Not even Jennifer.

Mad Men: A show most people seem to have missed especially my friends from Pakistan. If you are one of those people and you liked Tyrion in GoT, you will love this. Or should I say you will love Don Draper? It helps if you are interested in advertising. The pilot episode remains my favorite. And so does the end scene.

The show is about Ad Men from 60s who wanted to change and become better persons. It was the women on the show, however, who did change. Like Friends’ cast, I don’t think Jon Hamm has a good second act. For Elizabeth Moss, however, this was just the beginning.

Halt and Catch Fire: The show I liked the most from the first episode (I didn’t like GoT much in the beginning). And I have no idea why no one talks about it especially when most people I know seem to love computers. I absolutely love it. And there is a part of me that lives inside each of the four lead characters on the show.

Joe McMillan is the computers industry version of Tyrion and Don Draper. Still not convinced? It’s one of the three shows recommended by Marc Andreessen.

Rick And Morty: I started watching it because Naval loves it. I did enjoy it but certainly not as much as him.

Breaking Bad: This is arguably the best show when it comes to pace, build up and overall quality of each episode. I heard The Wired comes close but I haven’t watched that. You can’t take your eyes off it. If you enjoyed the thrill and speed of events in GoT season 7, Breaking Bad is the same except for what makes it thrilling is the drama and acting of the people in it. Rather than the dragons and dead people waking up.

Crown: Netflix attempted to pull an HBO with this. And they did pretty well. It’s slow to my taste but hey it’s about the British monarchy. I was reading Gandhi and Churchill when I started watching it first so I seem to have enjoyed the first season better.

Billions: I don’t have many words for it. It’s brilliant. Just watch it.

Silicon Valley: Season 5 was a major let down. The formula that made it hilarious now seems repetitive. Season 1 was the best.

The Last Kingdom: Its Game of Thrones mins the 400 subplots. If you only enjoy the spectacle part of GoT, you will like this. I only watched the first season.

Ozark: You will like it if you like Breaking Bad.

Sharp Objects: Amazing visual storytelling. I enjoyed it but I had to see certain scenes immediately again. The ending will shock you.

Stranger Things: Probably the best Netflix original serial.

House of Cards: I only recommend the first two seasons. I didn’t watch the last one.

Succession: Recommended by Marc Andreessen. Much like Billions but set inside a media empire.

Narcos: Season 3 somehow was just as good as the first two.

Peaky Blinders: I don’t remember much except for the fact that I was enjoying it at the time.

13 Reasons Why: An important topic especially for concerned parents like me. Season 2 was not good.

Fauda: A useful perspective on the Israel/Palestine conflict while you enjoy an action-filled drama.

Black Mirror: Obvious. Though some episodes are meh.

World War 2:

The Defenders:

Jessica Jones: My favorite Marvel character.

Hitler’s Circle of Evil: Brilliant.

Money Heist: Probably the best crime series I watched.

Sacred Games: First Netflix original in India. Damn good.

Little Things: Romantic, light and funny.

Movies: I don’t watch many. Ones I remember enjoying recently are The Black Panther, The Incredibles 2, Fight Club, Warrior, Fahrenheit 9/11, Argo, and Schindler’s List.

Bollywood: The industry is filled with under the hood gems if you can get past the masala romance. Angry Indian Goddesses, Sulemani Keeda, Udta Punjab, Ankur Aurora Murder Case, and Drishyam will blow your mind. Kapoor and Sons have to be Fawad Khan’s best act to date. Others I enjoyed are Braily ki Barfi, Lunch Box, TE3N, Madari, Bombay Talkies, Shahid, A Wednesday and Rajma Chawal.

Book List 2018

2018 was a weird year for me when it comes to reading. I was unable to enjoy/read books that I wanted to read e.g. Black Swan, The Rational Optimist etc. That made me fundamentally unhappy. How come I am not reading books recommended by Naval? Out of frustration, I started reading ones I knew I can finish and hence will make me feel better. Most of these latter books, however, were not fun because there wasn’t anything new for me. My over-reliance on audible for the most part of the year made matters worse.

At the beginning of last year, I was enjoying audio books. Which made me believe that I am better at listening than reading. In hindsight, though listening was just easy. Also, certain books are good for listening e.g. history and topics you already have a grasp but want to expand upon. But for topics new to you, listening is probably not the right format. At least that’s what I learned about myself.

Also, audible subscription allowed me to have any book I want anytime I want to without necessarily paying for it at the moment. Which resulted in I not buying books from local bookstalls. Something I now realize was a constant cause of anxiety. I like buying books just as much as reading them. Sometimes even more. I have lowered my audible subscription ever since and spent the resulting savings to buy some paper books.

With that said, one thing I realized while writing this post is things were not as bad. I did enjoy quite a few books this year. Writing puts things in perspective. Reading is a first world problem after all. And I feel lucky to have it in my life.

Below is the list of books in order of format I read them in i.e. paper, kindle and audible. And are linked accordingly. I am listing books I feel comfortable talking about, finished or not.

The Innovator’s Dilemma I first read it back in 2010. Bought the hardcover version the year before just to put on my book shelve. Picked up out of frustration of not being able to read Black Swan. And for the weekend I was lost in the worlds of disk drives, excavators and steel mills.

Apart from Zero to One, maybe, this is my favorite business book. It’s also the best product management book out there. A core part of a PM’s job is to figure out what not to do. The book has a lot to say about that.

Thinking Fast And Slow Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.

The Origin Of Virtue The combined mass of ants on the planet equals the combined mass of humans on earth. Also, ants are one of the most collaborative species on earth which is core to their survival.

Hit Refresh Satya Nadella on transforming Microsoft. The actual act is much better.

Influence The original work on the topic.

Hold Onto Your Kids You are not your kids’ best friend, mentor or role model. You are their parent. Hold onto that.

Remote

In Spite Of the Gods India (today’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives etc) once constituted a third of the world’s GDP.

Don’t Make Me Think Skimmed through again for a work project. Must-read book if you are designing for the web.

How to Fail at Almost Everything And Still Win Big There aren’t many books that are must read for everyone. This comes close.

Pakistan: A Hard Country Best book if you want to understand why things are the way they are in Pakistan. Helped me a lot while deciding to vote last year.

Fearless Salary Negotiation Things you do for love. Kidding aside, this is an important organizational skill regardless of your side on the table.

The Design Of Everyday Things A masterclass on product design. Don’t listen to it. Read it. Here is the Kindle link.

The Startup Of You Things to build your business and your career have an uncanny similarity.

Taking the Work Out of Networking Common sense stuff, well packaged.

Consider The Lobster And Other Essays I like reading or listening to David Foster Wallace.

A Life in Parts The real-life story of Walter White (from Breaking Bad).

Federer and Me Tennis used to be about wrist shots, court coverage, and soft touch volleys. Starting from Agassi it shifted towards power hitting from and behind the baseline. Federer and Nadal, of course, took it to a whole new level. The difference between Federer and other modern players is Federer is just as good at playing traditional tennis as he is at modern.

In a way, Federer connects tennis to its roots. So when he loses you feel like tennis is losing.

The Lessons of History Amazing.

This is Marketing Seth Godin has a message. But it’s repetitive if you follow his work. The book is no different.

How the Internet Happened The initial days of the web aka Web 1.0 are far more interesting than Web 2.0. Complement this with Halt and Catch Fire season 4.

The Courage to be Disliked I can’t recommend enough.

Emotional Intelligence

On power

Man’s Search for Meaning I first realized how minuscule my reading troubles are when I first listened to this. Must read.

American Kingpin The story of Ross (the man behind the Silk Road). Breathtaking.

You Need a Budget I will teach you to be rich, which I read last year, is better.

Long Story Short

Hit Makers A book I should have read instead of listening to.

Small Fry The book I literally enjoyed the most. I came for Steve Jobs stories and left wanting to hear more from Lisa instead.

Gandhi and Churchill The influence of political leaders, good and bad, is only clear in hindsight. While alive they are judged not for who they are but the information bubbles people seem to have developed about them. Yes, information bubbles are not new.

A Guide to Good Life Your best place to getting started with stoic philosophy.

Pre-suasion A followup to Influence. Equally good.

Digital Gold The history of Bitcoin.

Smart Money Smart Kids

All Joy and No Fun

The World of Ice and Fire Westeros before Robert Baratheon’s rebellion. Lots of dragons and incest marriages.

The Conspiracy How and why Peter Thiel destroyed Gawker.

Meditations Time old classic.

The Will Power Instinct

Presence

The Third Chimpanzee

Antifragile The only Naseem Taleb book I finished.

Unstoppable Like Maria Sharapova herself. Often times too good yet more often than not hard to bear.

The One Device Audible is the right format for this book. I couldn’t get through reading it in 2017.

In Defense of Food What you eat is way more than just calories. Also, nutrition is not exactly a science subject.

The Death of WCW The most important wrestling story of the past 25 years.

The God Delusion The book that legitimizes atheism.

Hiroshima

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen

Resilience Original work on the topic. Much better than Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s Option B.

Creative Selection Best product development book I read. It helps if you are an Apple fan.

The Billionaire Raj The story of India’s wealthiest from the 90s and beyond. Mukesh Ambani’s home has a built-in tennis court and a football ground. I wonder who plays over there?

The Story of India Best book on our ancestral history.

Draft No. 4 This will make you write better without necessarily talking about writing itself.

Bad Blood The story of Theranos. One of the best audible books of the year.

The Upstarts How Uber and Airbnb conquered the world. Better read it.

Just Kids Two kids turned artists living in NY without much cash. You can’t ask for a better story.

On Working Less and Other Productivity Ideas from Twitter

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Ryan Hover posted a question on Twitter asking what’s your favorite productivity hack. There are around 300 replies in the thread. And it’s a treasure trove. I will try to summarize the overarching themes here. Be sure to read the thread yourself (here is a nice coffee table book version of it).

I will start with something I am currently experimenting i.e. to be productive by having less work. Being a freelancer gives you room to work with more than just one company. While the time efficiency and resulting money is satisfying in the short run, it kind of gets you in a vicious cycle of hopping from one project to the next. You can’t go deep into any one task. In other words, you start to stretch yourself too thin. I first realized this when I stopped experiencing satisfaction in my work. The only thing keeping me going was money to time spent ratio. And I find that to be a negative sign. I have essentially cut down the number of projects I am working on at any given time.

Cutting down projects is deeply unsatisfying and kind of scary in the moment. The selected deep work has rewards that are obvious only in hindsight. The feeling of not trying hard enough makes you feel like you are missing out. This conversation between Naval and Kapil Gupta could not have been more timely. The argument here is hard work for the sake of hard work does not yield anything. You should work hard only on something that’s truly and uniquely enabled by you. If the thing you are working on could be done by someone else just as good as you, it’s not going to give you any leverage. A good indicator if you are working hard on the right stuff is work won’t feel like work to you. You will feel like playing.

Seemingly Naval and Gupta are not alone. The idea appeared in the twitter thread more than once. While the idea of having less work resonated with me the most, here are some repeated often with my unsolicited commentary:

The easiest way to increase your productivity is to lower your standards. David Allen, GTD — I haven’t read Allen’s book myself. But I have read/heard so much about it. I suspect by lowering your standard he means to work on an MVP version of the task in hand. Most often we are handicapped not by the task itself but by thinking how big it is. To start working, however, we need to think smaller.

No Social Media. Distraction-free environment — I can’t get any serious thinking done if my phone continues to buzz or while multitasking. But these creative tasks are only for 2-4 hours max depending on the day. I can multitask especially the organizational stuff pretty well.

Write tasks on scrap paper and put them in red paper holder. Put them in green when done — This is an interesting idea. Writing on paper is definitely more visceral.

Work as Play — If what you are doing does not feel like work you don’t need to plan around it.

Starting on Saturday and Sunday — I do start work on Sunday. Not anything intensive though. Just small things that can make Monday blues go away to some extent. It works most of the time.

Using social media to advantage. Tweet what you will be working on — I started using Makers a while back. I didn’t use it much. One thing I did notice though was the encouragement aspect from the community despite I being a sparse user. But I can’t generalize that to social media. It might just be something specific to Makers.

Eat, Exercise and Sleep really well — Definitely must for me. If two of these three are missing on any given day, my productivity level drops significantly.

Make Lists — I use them when I am overloaded with stuff to do. But I don’t like to have a preset agenda especially for the first couple of hours of the day.

Most important thing first — Definitely must if you are stressed out about some task in particular. To deal with it though you will have to lower your standard of what completing that task means (tip# 1).

Small goals every day — A variation of lowering your standard. Instead of one big lofty task, have smaller subtasks that you can complete on that day.

Doing the dishes — It does clear the mind.

Wake up early. Utilize mornings — I have mixed feelings about this. I do enjoy mornings but not necessarily because of work.

Have Kids — Kids are anti-bullshit agents. For big matters in life and for smaller ones.

Planning the day the night before — I have little experience with this. It gets recommended a lot.

Do not disturb — Obvious, for creative tasks.

Focus on sharp Razer than Swiss army knife — Building a sharp razor might be doable. There is no way you can make a Swiss army knife on any given day. Again, lower your standards.

Bose QC35s — Amazingly, I have never tried Noise Cancelling headphones as yet.

Being away from work when you are not working — If you are thinking about work while trying to do something else, it’s normally a sign of unfinished task. Finish that. The other way around is also true. That’s probably the reason I feel closer to work-life harmony promoted by Jeff Bezos compared to work-life balance. I find my mind to be too fragile to follow the arithmetics implied by balance.

Brain.fm — Haven’t tried as yet. I do listen to GoT music over and over. But not all the time.

Make Bed in the morning — A habit I learned from Tim Ferris. It gives you a sense of accomplishment within the first few mins of waking up. I feel off now when I don’t do it.

Going office early — When I used to have an office, I liked to go there before everyone else. And it did help.

Remote Work — I don’t know if being remote is more productive than going to the office. But it does save the costs and time associated with traveling to work. Which I can use more productively. I am also the kind of person who likes to organize himself so it does suit me better. But I know people for whom managing home office is a nightmare.

Sleep after lunchtime for 30 mins — Nap refreshes my mind every time. Problem with me is I can’t nap that easily.

Remote Work — I don’t know if being remote is more productive than going to an office. But it does save the costs and time associated with traveling to work. Which I can use more productively. I am also the kind of person who likes to organize himself so it does suit me better. But I know people for whom managing home office is a nightmare

Book List 2017

Last year I promised myself I won’t get stuck in any one book. If I am not enjoying a particular book, I will move on. Since I am a slow reader, this single act has enabled me to read whole a lot more books then I imagined. But again I didn’t read all these from page to page. And Audible has a fair share as well.

The books are ordered according to the format I read them i.e. Paper, Kindle, and Audible respectively. And are linked accordingly as well.

Sapiens The second best book I read this year. But probably the most important one since it inspired a lot of others on the list.

The Icarus Deception Skimmed through in two hours.

The Ultimate Sales Machine

Creativity I spend the most time on it without completing. Somehow I never connected to it which is a dangerous thing to say about a book praised so much. One possible explanation could be I read so much about it beforehand. It happened with The Hard Thing about Hard Things for me as well, a book I read after two years while it sat on my bookshelf staring at me every day. I will probably give it another try this year.

Elon Musk Breathtaking. But I still like Tim Urban’s blog series more which I read last year.

Option B Good. But not as good as Lean In. I dropped it halfway and picked up again to complete after one month.

The Sovereign Individual The book of the year for me.

Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders The Kindle version gets updated automatically with the new letter every year. I didn’t read all of them.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

Parenting Hacks

Go the F**k to Sleep For parents only. Audible version is more fun because of Samuel L. Jackson’s narration.

The Republic of Tea You can’t spend a $1 more worthwhile than this.

Love yourself like your life depends on it Just Ok.

Autobiography of a Yogi Left it early.

HTML 5 for Web Designers HTML 5 is so adequate.

Read this if you want to take great photographs So damn good.

Design is a Job Must read if you are a typical artist who does not like money/business talk.

The Road Ahead It’s amazing how wrong Bill Gates was about the Internet in the early 90s.

Don’t Make me Think

Tools of Titans I never finished any of Tim Ferriss’ books. Ever.

Sprint Yup, a sprint read.

The Inner Game of Tennis Best self-help book I read this year.

Between You and Me

The Master Algorithm Best overall book on AI. I didn’t get all of it the first time. Will probably pick up again this year.

The One Device Story of iPhone, I didn’t finish it.

Churchill

Lying

Our Final Invention A relatively fun read on a depressing topic.

The Third Wave

High Output Management Finally.

A Mind for Numbers Still reading.

The Dip Listened to it again this year. It’s short but powerful.

The Art of War Listened again for the third time. It’s amazing.

The War of Art Best book on controlling your sarcastic mind and getting back to work.

Steve Jobs This time in audio.

On Tennis Great, if you are a tennis or David Foster Wallace fan. I never seem to get enough of it.

The Great Stagnation Repetitive if you are a regular reader of Marginal Revolution. Brilliant otherwise.

Think and Grow Rich

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World He is so misunderstood.

This is Water David Foster Wallace at his best.

In the Plex At times repetitive mainly because so much about Google is now common knowledge.

Debt

Codependent No More

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Principles

Tribes Repetitive if you are a regular reader of Seth Godin’s Blog. I bought it because I like listening to him every now and then.

The Singularity is Near

SuperIntelligence

Perennial Seller

Along the Way

God’s Debris Not recommended if you have strong religious beliefs.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

The Other Side of History You will love this if you liked Sapiens.

The Phoenix Project You know you are a nerd when the only novel you read in the whole year was about IT operations.

The Big Burn Sapiens has basically turned me into a history buff.

The Butterfly Effect The story of Porn and the Internet.

What If

The Obstacle is the Way I lost the count of how many times I have listened to this. The reason is most certainly personal though.

Writing Great Fiction

The Friendly Orange Glow Basically no one ever invented anything useful in this world.

Overdiagnosed My obsession with healthy living.

I will teach you to be Rich

The Wizard of Menlo Park Amazing.

 

Making Hard Choices

Nerves are good. They are a sign that you are onto something. The way to tackle them is not to assume that you are not nervous. But rather in accepting that you are.

Being emotional is fine too. Until you don’t dread. Let your emotions be genuine and come in short bursts.

You (or your life choices) don’t matter as much as you think you do. Most people will be fine with or without you.

Take good proteins just before. And exercise.

It’s going to be a rollercoaster ride. Be patient and humble as you move along.

Smart vs Hard Work

It’s a long standing debate which is yet to settle down. Perhaps because the proponents from both sides don’t understand each other. I am on the smart side. Being smart does not mean that you choose less effort over more. It’s about choosing better results. It has nothing to do with how much effort you put in, its more about the output you gain in result. Aren’t two the same thing or at least directly proportional? No, they aren’t. E.g. If I have an idea or concept which I need to translate so that someone else can understand. It’s better for me to put it in words than to sketch. Because I am better at writing than sketching. And even if I put more effort into the later, the end result will still be poor.

Doing smart work means putting your hard work in the right direction. It means finding your leverage and building on top of it.

For startups the leverage is normally an innovative product or marketing idea. From Breaking Smart:

There is a whole painful genre of entrepreneurial motivational commentary based on fetishizing the pain, blood and sweat of certain kinds of struggle into something sacred and noble. This is smarmy bullshit. You should not avoid hard work where it is the only path, but you SHOULD use every available trick and hack to mitigate the need for Sisyphean efforts.

Do read the entire newsletter.

Apple, now you are hurting me

I love iPad. More than any other product from Apple. And that says something because my work life is dependent on MacBook and iPhone. I cannot function without these two. I can, however, without an iPad. But I don’t want to. That’s the beauty of it. Yet, like so many other people, I can’t help to ignore it. And Apple is to blame for that.

Yesterday, Apple made an existing remarkable product even better. iPad Air was super awesome. Every iteration after that is plain brilliance. And yet that’s not iPad’s problem.

Ben Thompson wrote a three piece series on the topic back in 2013. The conclusion makes me cry even today:

The “why” of the iPad, then, lies in its magic. It’s in the experience, and, crucially, it’s in the apps.

The iPad is not an iPad, yet-another-Apple device to weigh down your bag and your wallet. Rather, it is whatever, and exactly, you need it to be.

If you are a musician, the iPad is your instrument, your studio.
If you are an artist, the iPad is your paint brush, your easel.
If you are a student, the iPad is your textbook.
If you are a child, the iPad is your storybook, or your entertainment.
If you are a grandma, the iPad is your connection to your family.

If you are human, the iPad is your magic wand. And, honestly, who does not want a magic wand? And why isn’t Apple selling it as such?

And yet Apple insists on selling me specs. A replacement for PC. I don’t want that. Since when you started championing corporate productivity, Apple?