Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" Review

Blue face
I was looking for some business book to listen to and burn one of my credits for an audio book. I came across Jamie Reidy's book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, glanced over its star rating (over four stars out of five according to other listeners) and promptly bought it. Read no reviews, did not actually check what the book was about. "Hey," I must have told myself "it's a business book, it's about selling techniques which I'm currently researching, it's about Pfizer (the Viagra manufacturer), this book must have some nice insights”.
The reader's voice  should have tipped me off that this wasn't the case since he sounded very much like Bertie Wooster from the Jeeves series.
There's a funny thing with expectations. Especially when these do not turn out to be true. The book starts with the author, an ex-military man, who is contacted by a hiring agent who is looking for people with Reidy's profile for for a job at Pfizer as a sales representative or sales rep. A sales rep job is to contact the physicians in a given area and pitch the rep’s company drugs to them. Reidy, not entirely convinced what he's getting into, interviews for the position and through a couple of lucky factors clicking in, he's hired. He proceeds to describe us the grueling three-week training camp that new reps are subjected to in order to transform them into a selling machine with the unified message that their drugs are the best and set ready to take over the clinical world. No room for chance. At this point I was feeling my own inadequacy  by comparing my commitment to that of these new reps. And then, from this lofty point the events quickly degenerate into a Dilbert cartoon. Once in the field, Reidy finds ways to slack off which he embraces with a gusto that I can only describe as appalling. If there was a Pfizer work ethics code, I guess he broke all the rules in it and then some. He only stops short of letting himself being seduced by a female doctor just because he figured it would hurt his long-term sales numbers. Unlike the denizens of the Dilbert strip, he's not oppressed by a clueless boss and organization; he slacks by choice, not by rebellion which is even worse. Now, he isn't cynical about all of this. He's witty and funny all throughout. So this book should be taken as a real-life humorous account, not a business book per se.
But things change once more. In the second half of the book he gets himself transferred and ends up in the then recently formed Viagra sales team. Now, here is what the whole book should have been about. He tells us about the Viagra working mechanism, the decisions that had to be made with the dosage, the overwhelming enthusiasm of both patients and doctors who left little actual sales talks, the reaction of reps of competing therapies and much more. This part still has many funny moments, but now with actual information. What's like to be a Viagra salesman? Here's how.
As mentioned, I got into this book with my mind as a blank slate; no prejudices, no information, nothing. In the great second epilogue to the audio book I was surprised to find out that this book was actually turned into a movie, co-staring Anne Hathaway nonetheless. Nice one Reidy! It came to me as a milder surprise to find out that the author was fired by his second drug employer, when they found out about the book. Sure, it says some embarrassing truths (if you believe Reidy's account, which I do), but does this book amounts to actual dismissal? My answer is no. This employer did exactly the opposite of what a mature, self criticizing person or company should have done. It should have taken the book as an excuse for actual reform and embraced Reidy as a figurehead employee; someone to be bragged about, rather than to be ashamed of.
Why does this surprise me less than the movie? It is because I have a small Pfizer story of my own. I found out that the local Pfizer headquarters  had an inferior internal service, which I happened to offer. I wrote them a proposal and, as an added bonus, I offered to donate a percentage of my profits from them to an HIV support foundation with no surcharge to Pfizer. The purchasing agent managed to hide herself behind bureaucracy and voicemail and I never heard from her again. I guess, they are not that interested in helping people after all.
Overall, a nice entertaining book, but be forewarned it is not a business book.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Audiobooks & I

Most of the book that I read nowadays are in audiobook format. My two sources for them are and I got into these sites when I had health problems some years back and their content has been a blessing ever since. Audiobooks let me get more reading done because, although listening to them is slower than actually reading the printed words, you can fit more of them by listening at odd times, say on the gym or while driving; you don't get demotivated by the prospect of getting through a large printed work, which can be intimidating when you first look at it and feel its weight; and because (I concluded this recently) the flow of the narrative is easier by listening than by fixing your gaze on a page; at least, this is true for me.

The Librivox site is my first stop when looking for audio books because all of their titles are free of charge. This is possible because volunteers read out of copyright books meaning you get most of the classics up to somewhere around the 1920s; there's Lovecraft for instance, but not all of his works. Some of the readers do have poor voices, but you can mostly get by with some patience.

Audible on the other hand is up to date with the latest titles and bestsellers. They do not have everything, but you're very likely to find what you're looking for or close. The site works through credits which you buy beforehand and apply them to the book of your choice. Depending on the plan, you could potentially get almost any title for less than $10 which favorably compares with a printed book. Plus, you get it right away by download. And that's not all: you also get a complementary subscription either to the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times in audio format (about 40 min. per day with the top news and most important articles), and what seems almost weekly offers and sales only available for members. The sales let me get even more value for my subscription. I should mention that you could select the title à la carte, but that's expensive.

I listen to my audio books on an iPod.

Many of the books that I will be reviewing in the future will come from these sites. If you have not seen these I would advise you to take a look.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Puerh tea review

Puerh is a fermented tea from the Yunnan province of China.

I do not know what was in my head at the time, but when some family members of mine went to China it did not occur to me to ask them to bring back some tea; double my bad since they were going to the actual birthplace of tea bush and were some of the finest teas are cultivated, that is, Yunnan. Fortunately, they had more sense than me and brought me a small box with Puerh tea.

I never had this one before, but I did remember it was mentioned several times by Heinrich Harrer in his book Seven Years in Tibet. If I remember rightly, this tea is taken to Tibet in caravan and is packed in brick form for easier transportation. Once it gets there it is usually prepared with yak butter.

The tea which I received came in a nice flat square box with a magnetic closing lid. The tea itself is wrapped in thin white paper. Both the paper and the box are written with Chinese words which I cannot read. I assume they are the manufacturer's brand and probably some characteristics of the tea such as aging.

My tea was compressed in discus form. Though, technically not a black tea, its leaves are very dark and though compressed, they appear whole, not broken. To prepare yourself some tea, you have to chip  loose some leaves carefully with a knife as to make the least damage to them.

This tea can be steeped several times. I have now got it for several months, and have gotten about 2 1/2 L of great tasting tea for just 5 1/2 g of leaves. I do not think it can be stretched much more than this and still get a pleasurable beverage. I do not use a timer to measure the tea strength, but , I go mostly by feeling and by tasting small sips every minute or so. I do this for all of my teas. When I get the desired intensity, I remove the strainer with the leaves. Unlike some black teas, Puerh tea does not get bitter if you leave it too much in the water. In fact, if you're so inclined, you can get some really dark brews if you let it sit for long periods of time.

Despite stemming from green tea it tastes nothing like it. I would say it feels very close to a black one. So, what does it taste like? I guess the taste varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and according to aging, but the one I got tastes, get ready for this, like very lightly smoked mackerel. It is not unpleasant, quite the contrary. It is refreshing and gives nice sensations to the whole mouth. I would even say, that it has fine-grained wood  undertones. I have not taken a very close look , but I think it tastes even better as it cools down without, of course, letting it cool down completely. I find nothing unpleasant with the taste though I wouldn't say everybody, or even the majority of casual tea drinkes can find it appealing. It is neither easy nor difficult to get into it. For my part, by the second pot I was already hooked .  So far, I have had it with spicy foods and it mixes well. Unless, you brew it very lightly, I don't think it would go well with blander foods as I think it would overpower them.

I will not get into the health benefits of Puerh because, even if it had no health value, I would drink it for its own sake and because I don't fear comfortable making health recommendations. Besides, there are dozens of sites which tout the properties of this tea. Having said that, I will just mention two related issues that I came across. While reading For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose this caught my attention: "indeed if tea does ferment and fungus grows, a carcinogenic substance is produced". Knowing that Puerh is 'fermented' with microbes and probably funguses, it is not hard to put two and two together. So I went to the Google Scholar search page and typed in "Puerh carcinogenic". Fortunately, I found no paper that even hints to a possible connection, though   I did find many that point to the opposite direction exploring  Puerh's possible protective attributes. Whew!

I came across a big caveat. I began to notice that one  to three hours after drinking my usual full teapot I felt lightheadedness and very mild nausea. Nothing to worry about, I guess, but tea shouldn't have these kinds of aftereffects. Could be the caffeine, but this doesn't happen to me with black teas and Puerh doesn't have as much caffeine to begin with. I asked the employees at my local tea shop to see if they had experienced something like this and they told me that they had but with other teas and when they drink too much of them. One suggested it might be a blood pressure drop. Reducing the amount of leaves helps but I still get some aftereffects. Maybe not drinking as much in one sitting…

Overall, this is a tea that should be experienced, not because of any extraordinary quality of its own, but because it is so different from other teas. The taste might not be immediately pleasurable, but if you give it the chance to grow on you, you might end adding it to your regular set of teas or saving it for special occasions. If possible, shop around before committing yourself to any large quantity.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let's launch this blog.

My reasons for starting one: Firstly, I want to get better at writing and I figure that I might get some improvement by actually writing; secondly, I use speech recognition software and that also purportedly gets better by continued use; thirdly, I have come across some useful knowledge that might come in handy to someone else and blogging is a good medium for sharing; lastly, I want to try out the platform and perhaps get my own dent in the universe. In light of this, you'll have to excuse my missteps along the way, which may turn up to be fairly common.

From here on, I'll be writing about tea, chess, books, music, a little bit of technology, psychology perhaps and anything else that strikes my fancy and that might be of interest to someone else. So let's start, shall we?