Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review - Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Insightful, providing explanations and tactics for people that are somewhat introverted, shy or not. It is also useful for understanding others in your life, those who might need more downtime and quiet. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but I was less enthused as the book went on, as it transitioned from the scientific basis of introversion to real life stories and strategies."

View all my reviews

Review - What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect

What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn EffectWhat Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect by James R. Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The original text, minus the new chapters for this version, are generally excellent and insightful, nicely critiquing prior analyses of the Flynn effect, suggesting that the growth between generations can be partially explained by systems that increase abstraction and classification of the surrounding world. The new chapters, although somewhat insightful, generally seemed muddled, both intellectually and editorially.

View all my reviews

Review - Literary Occasions: Essays

Literary Occasions: EssaysLiterary Occasions: Essays by V.S. Naipaul
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From what I have read about him, Naipaul is a harsh person, so I approached this cautiously, but I found his prose thoroughly enjoyable, although I have currently shelved his fiction writing. I was interested in his perceptions as an outsider, an Indian immigrant in Trinidad, and then later as an immigrant to England on scholarship. In this I was completely gratified, as I felt it worked the empathy muscles extensively, expressed in clear prose.

View all my reviews

Review: How to Read and Why

How to Read and WhyHow to Read and Why by Harold Bloom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Professor Bloom is sometimes pooh-poohed for his support of the Western Canon, but for those not immersed in the humanities, the book is likely to be a signpost to a deeper understanding of literature. Bloom's explanation of Borges illuminated the latter author's fantastic twists, and I was impressed enough to decide to reach much of Bloom's other favorites, including Pynchon, McDonald, Morrison, and West.

View all my reviews

Review: The Affluent Society

The Affluent SocietyThe Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Galbraith's assessment of the 1950's economic scene, the populace's choices, and the then current reasons for the post-war boom, are particularly relevant to our choices today: Affluenza, the decaying environment, decreases in social services, worker rights, materialism, etc.

I disdain economic dogma, the economic beliefs that are so commonly bandied about, and seemingly plausible, but generally unproven and with little merit. Economics abounds with such things, and Galbraith's insights then are wholly relevant now, both as a critique of the current administration's policies, and as a guidepost for a better future.

View all my reviews

Review - The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time

The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our TimeThe Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time by John Kenneth Galbraith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very short read, but insightful and extremely compact. Galbraith lays out in overview a critique of the concepts taught in finance and economics, which are in reality, false, and that many of the high-minded ideas bandied about regarding management, financial, corporate and governmental, are simply self-serving beliefs with little merit. A few:

- Shareholder control of corporations

- Executive pay

- Separation of public and private

View all my reviews

Review - Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich

Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American RichWealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found Phillips writing of wealth and democracy illuminating, not because I was unaware of the degree to which wealth controls the government, but how it has changed over the years, and the degree to which war profiteering creates wealth. Reading this book, one can't help but notice that the past is repeating, and what it is repeating is ugly, corrupt, and wrong-headed.

As for others' criticisms that times are better for everyone, and that everyone does better when we all do better, that allowing egregious accumulation of wealth allows society to grow, well that is nonsense. I'm not an economics professional, although a member of an international economics honors society and a regular reader of economics books, but my own research indicates that such ideas, justifying gross inequality and the invisible hand, are false.

View all my reviews

Review - The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies

The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and SocietiesThe Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies by Scott E. Page
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Generally, I found the book most engaging for understanding perception, heuristics and decision making, although this did not seem to be the primary premise of the book. As for the writing, it was a bit long-winded, using analogies to make points, even though the concepts themselves are readily accessible without elucidation.

As to its purported focus, it provides academic, empirical, and statistical support for diversity, not necessarily racial or ethnic, with the premise being that diversity of viewpoint within groups is powerful, so much so that it trumps individual excellence.

View all my reviews

Review: Data Mining for Fund Raisers

Data Mining For Fund Raisers: How To Use Simple Statistics To Find The Gold In Your Donor Database   Even If You Hate Statistics: A Starter GuideData Mining For Fund Raisers: How To Use Simple Statistics To Find The Gold In Your Donor Database Even If You Hate Statistics: A Starter Guide by Peter B. Wylie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My spouse, a development researcher of high-net worth individuals, was given this book because she was the 'numbers' person in the office. Since my undergraduate was focused on lab-design, including analysis of results using statistics, I was intrigued and decided to read it. Considering my background, I found some of the material obvious, while others aspects were good refreshers on thinking in terms of statistics.

Below is the synopsis I wrote at the time I read it:

Purpose of Book

* To provide a general outline of a statistically-oriented method to improve funding activities by mining your current donor database
* To provide general techniques for analyzing data, as well as provide cautions against bad techniques

How the Process Can Improve Endowment Activities

* Allows the organization to more accurately target quality prospects, either to increase participation rates, or to find major givers more inclined to donate
* Allows the organization to reduce costs, or more effectively use limited resources, i.e., phone smaller sets of people, limit the size of mailings, while increasing donations

Outline of Method (Non-Technical)

1. Export sample of donor database
2. Split sample into smaller components
3. Find relationships between donor features and giving
4. Select the significant variables
5. Develop scoring system
6. Validate findings
7. Test finding on limited appeals and compare results

Assumptions

* Assumes the donor data is extractable and randomized
* Requires export from donor database, or access via SQL
* Assumes additional software for statistics (DataDesk, SAS, SPSS)

Limitations

* Requires IT staff, analytical staff, donor contacts, and management to coordinate efforts
* Requires IT and analytical staff have adequate skills to implement
* Judges variables of data by both its intrinsic value and based upon its inclusion in database

View all my reviews

Reiew: Bleeding Edge

Bleeding EdgeBleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More complicated than Inherent Vice but accessible and modern like The Crying of Lot 49, Bleeding Edge combines technology subculture, a Jewish patter, and entertaining verbal wizardry into an enjoyable, involved novel.

View all my reviews

Review: Gangs of America

Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy (BK Currents)Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy by Ted Nace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazing insights into the founding and growth of, as well as the history of public opinion regarding, corporations. I repeatedly found myself astonished at the book's insights, those related to the creation and atrocities committed by the first corporations, the founding of the US and the impetus for the tea party, as well as the implications for the future.

View all my reviews

Review - Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Debt: The First 5,000 YearsDebt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An anthropologist reviews economic history in this wide-ranging exploration of the meaning of debt, guilt, human relationship, war, and slavery. I have read broadly in economics and finance, and I found this tome numerous insights thought-provoking. Graeber examines deeply the meaning of debt, its history, and possible future implications. Occasionally hard to grasp, his insights are deep, and I believe I have just finished a book that will help me understand and advocate for, in my own little way, better economic and financial policies.

View all my reviews

Review: Day of the Locust

Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the LocustMiss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Miss Lonelyhearts a few years ago, after reading a recommendation from Harold Bloom, and only just finished The Day of the Locust. The first I read too long ago to provide commentary; the second is a bit slow to start, eventually rising to a crescendo, its metaphorical 'day of the locust', a gratifying, dense and highly emotional end.

View all my reviews

Zero to One - Notes...

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the FutureZero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Insightful, but not really contrarian...

I have understood most of these concepts for several years, partially based on an insight provided in a beginning finance course. On the first day of class, the professor asked, "How do you make money?". The first answer was "word hard," the second answer was "provide services," but no one answered the best one, "control it." Now, one could control money, but over time I realized that it was control of a resource, essentially power, similar to monopoly, or simply an especially strong, market position.

Peter is a persuasive writer, but too often his expression of a belief is lopsided, and at least partially untrue. Yes, the companies he lauds are innovators, but later their innovation is often nothing more than market position, like buying up the entire supply chain before rivals. His example of people who believe in definite futures, as part of path to success, suffers from survivor bias; many entrepreneurs have definite concepts about the future and what they want to do, but most fail, we just don't hear about them.

I could go on, but I did enjoy the book, if for no other reason than it clarified my own thoughts about markets, and it is well-written.

As for the question, my answer would have been that inequality is the greatest threat to modern life. Although seemingly common now, since Occupy, I found the statistical negative correlations between inequality and quality of life measures back in 2003, and back then, it might have ruffled a few feathers. Also, it would be the toughest not because people do not believe it, but because the people I know and work with, as well as the people I have my closest relationships with, would see it as a personal attack. I work in finance, and some people I know and love are well-off.

View all my reviews

Men Don’t Want to Be Nurses. Their Wives Agree. - The New York Times

Responding to Men Don’t Want to Be Nurses. Their Wives Agree. in the NY Times: The US has some deeply ingrained aspects that make this sit...