Monthly Archives: January 2013

Book: Information is Beautiful

Information is Beautiful
This book appeared in the US with a crazy cover and a boastful name. This is the polite, understated, grey British edition.

Inspiring & Unique.
256 pages, ★★★★★

David McCandless is the unrivalled king of printed infographics. Here are a few of the 256 pages that he and his talented team created:

Snake Oil?
Some supplements are more effective than others. I love how green tea comes out on top here.
I love this comprehensive left/right government summary, too. This single chart could replace much of the political theory syllabus taught up until high school.
Simple & thought-provoking

Information Is Beautiful is a five-star design book with a purpose. It condenses reams of information into 256 pages of brightly-coloured, highly-accurate, informative beauty.

Information is Beautiful inspired me to make some infographics of my own. ★★★★★


Also consider:

  3. //

Book: An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy

An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy
This book is advertised for $155 on the publisher’s website.

Just too scholarly. Buddhism backwards.
434 pages, ★

I’m a follower of the Venerable Master Chin Kung, a Buddhist teacher from Anhui Province in China. One highly memorable thing I learned from his lectures (which are all on YouTube), is the distinction between 学佛 (xue-fo) and 佛学 (fo-xue).

The distinction is much clearer in Chinese than English. The former, 学佛, describes the study of Buddhism with practice and spiritual belief. We can these students “Buddhists”. The latter, 佛学, describes Buddhism as an academic subject like chemistry. We can call those students “Buddhologists”. Even more beautifully, in Chinese, the words for “Buddhist” and “Buddhologist” are palindromes, implying that the latter of these opposing groups has learned Buddhism backwards.

The Venerable Master Chin Kung said:


In English, roughly:

We are Buddhists, not Buddhologists. To treat Buddhism as an academic subject amounts to learning nothing at all! When modern people make the mistake of studying Buddhism without practicing it in their everyday lives, they are failing to grasp Buddhism’s fundamental concepts [of compassion in our everyday lives]. This method is rotten to the core. Buddhology will forever be the wrong way to learn Buddhism.

Given that one of my most-respected teachers said that, how can I give this book any more than one star? It was also dry, academic, picky, and boring. Buddhism is supposed to make you feel good, but this book fails at that, too. Read Tiny Buddha or An Open Heart by the Dalai Lama instead. 

Infographic: Mineral Water Compositions by Brand

Mineral Water Composition by Brand
Volvic and Brecon Carreg are the winners.

This one’s more informative than beautiful.

Five aspects determine the taste of water (

  • pH (plotted on x axis)
  • Nitrate content (all were acceptably low, so I omitted this data from the chart)
  • Total Dissolved Solids, TDS (gives water heaviness and a lingering aftertaste, plotted on y axis)
  • Hardness (the hardness equation yields results that correlate with TDS very strongly; I thus omitted hardness and plotted TDS)
  • Carbonation (degree of fizziness, i.e. the presence of bubbles. None of these waters are carbonated).


Infographic: Melbourne Petrol Price Cycles 2012

Melbourne Petrol Prices 2012
Petrol prices in Melbourne follow an extremely predictable 15-day cycle. (+/- 2 days).

The difference between “low” and “high” is about $11 on an average tank of fuel.

Data crowd-sourced from self-observation and several price-monitoring internet sites.

Share and enjoy!

Disclaimer: while Melbourne petrol prices have been cyclical for a long time, prices could (and do) deviate from this cycle occasionally due to unforeseen circumstances.

Book: The Thorn Birds

The Thorn Birds

Large and uneventful, just like Australia itself.
743 pages,

The Thorn Birds is a novel about a family who migrates to Australia by boat, then procreates. Not much else happens in 743 pages.

The Thorn Birds teaches me that 100 years of history (from 1850 to 1950) can be summarised as follows: they arrived, they had sex, and they killed all the rabbits. Compared to the founding of Communist China or the United States, this book makes the founding of Australia look like a walk in the park.

Admittedly, it’s because I recently read Mao’s Last Dancer, Wild Swans and Life and Death are Wearing Me Out that this book feels dull in comparison. Those three books were filled with revolution, massacres, political struggles and people tinkering on the verge of life and death. Reading about China’s Cultural Revolution numbed me somewhat to the delicate nuances and character developments in The Thorn Birds—just like how eating whole, raw chillies makes everything else taste bland for some time afterwards.

Maybe this book will make other books more enjoyable… Or maybe I’ll enjoy the fine character descriptions much more next time I read it. Either way, it’s going back on the shelf for a long time. ★★★