Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams

This is a self-help book from the author of the Dilbert cartoon. I find Dilbert enormously funny, probably because I worked for many years in a large company that gave me cause to resonate with so many of the silly situations at which Mr. Adams pokes fun. But this isn't meant to be a humor book (although it is amusing at times); it is meant to be taken seriously.  I'd say it is more interesting and helpful than not.

The key notions include being selfish enough to take care of yourself and your finances well enough that you're then positioned to take care of others. Mr. Adams spends many words explaining his use of selfish in this context; it isn't grabbing the last donut in the box. His ordered list might look like this:

  1. Eat right to maximize energy; exercise to further improve your energy. This will allow you to be more productive, creative, positive, etc.
  2. Improve the odds that you'll have good luck. Mr. Adams provides many examples and the net is, develop multiple skills. You needn't be great at any of them, but having a bit of capability across a number of domains is a game changer at generating luck.
  3. Perhaps just to set up some tension and controversy, Mr. Adams asserts that goals are for losers, winners use systems. He explains the notion of systems in detail.
  4. Most of the auto-biographical content describe his many failures and motivates the notions that failures are okay and that you have to learn from them.
In one part of the book [p111ff], Mr. Adams discussed cognitive traps that allow folks to be taken advantage of or sub optimally negotiate. He provided a list, but didn't explain any of them in detail. This is very unfortunate; while it would have added a very long chapter to the book, it would have been worthwhile.

This is light reading with good advice and some humor. Not an academic treatise, but probably useful because it is so accessible and easy to read.

NYPD Red 4, by James Patterson

I was still looking for light reading, and this sequel to "NYPD Red 3" was available, so here we are.

This book has more plot twists than the prior, so much so that I won't even bother getting into it.

The relationship between the two detective heroes, Zach and Kylie, turns out to be a dominant theme in the book. It reminds me of television detective series like Moonlighting and Castle, where solving the mystery was an equal partner to the relationship tension between the lead characters.

Still, it was a fun light read, and I will keep reading the series as long as the library stocks the books.

Monday, May 23, 2016

NYPD Red 3, by James Patterson

I jumped in to the third installment of this series only because it is the one my spouse just finished reading and I was looking for some low effort entertainment.

The concept is that NYPD Red is a police unit that handles very politically connected situations. In this book, a billionaire who can affect the mayor's campaign financing is the key. Alden's son has gone missing, Alden doesn't care to report this to the police, and the plot thickens.

Our heroes are Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald.  Zach is romantically involved with police psychologist Cheryl, and worries about how she perceives his relationship with Kylie, which whom he'd previously had a serious relationship. Kylie's husband is in rehab and their relationship is tenuous.

I enjoyed the plot. A bit more "romancy" than I'd prefer, but not enough to drop the book.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What to Do When It's Your Turn, by Seth Godin

Do you remember the book, What Color is Your Parachute? It was big in the late 1970s. This book is, to me, a more mature version of it, updated for the times, and more crisp. (My comments on the 1979 edition, not the latest update.)

It is, however, otherwise difficult to describe. It isn't about anything precisely, it is just supportive of the reader taking chances and risks, and following their passions. I recommend it to my class of college seniors and juniors. I'm just not sure they get it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them, by Peter Mallouk

I admit that I was skeptical about Mr. Mallouk's book, expecting just an advertisement for his company, Creative Planning, and not providing much real value. I was wrong. The book delivers exactly what it promises, a fairly compelling story in favor of buy and hold investing.

The mistakes that are covered:
  1. Market timing. Or trying to do so. Mr. Mallouk shines a light on so called experts and calls them out as charlatans.
  2. Active trading. Between buying high and selling low, and trading costs, he makes a case for index investing.
  3. Misunderstanding performance. This section is really about not believing what you see in the press.
  4. Letting yourself get in the way. Another way of saying, buy and hold.
  5. Working with the wrong advisor. Mostly a discussion of conflicting interests and the value of a fiduciary advisor.
How about guidance? The title doesn't promise guidance, it only promises to illuminate big mistakes. It does just what it says. Yes, there are a few pages on how to think about a portfolio, but they are very basic. For example, the "I need 7 percent to hit my long-term goal" portfolio comprises 25% large cap US, 15% small cap US, and 20% international stocks, and 25% US and 15% international bonds.  Nothing too earth shattering here. Not much of a discussion about the relative benefit or problem with a market capitalization -based index.

So this made me wonder: how does Mr. Mallouk's firm justify its assets under management based fees? For picking five ETFs? For finding sector indices that compose the five portfolio asset groups in order to reduce market weighting impacts? Or for hand-holding that helps prevent mistake #4 (selling in a frenzy when the market declines)?

This is a good book. I could pick at some of the arguments, but my guess is that for 99% of individual investors, reading this would be valuable.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Wealth of Common Sense, by Ben Carlson

Mr. Carlson's book is intended to convince investors that simplicity trumps complexity. It is a fast read, and for folks who are well read on the topic there isn't much new news. For those who are trying to figure out how to manage investments, or if it is worth paying an investment firm a significant percentage of their assets for expert advice, this book can provide substantial value.

The net net messages are: most of the expert advice you might pay for is not, in the long term, all that useful. You should buy and hold (if you aren't likely to need the cash flow for several years) in the least expensive asset vehicles (e.g., ETFs). Don't sell just because the market crashed (it simply locks in your losses); ride it back up over the next few years.  Etc.

If Wes Gray's "DIY Financial Advisor" (which I highly recommend) is the advanced college class on getting the best results for the least cost and effort, then Mr. Carlson's book is the "investing 101" course on the topic.  For the right person, it will return value far in excess of the cost.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Explorers Guild: Volume One: A Passage to Shambhala, by Jon Baird

I really wanted to enjoy reading this book. I like the concept: an old-fashioned adventure novel. I like that the book intersperses panels of graphic novel into the text. I like that it feels written a hundred years ago and yet current.  I like the writing style with its rich and textured tone.

I'm not crazy about it being set in the late 1910's. But I do like the concept of searching for the mysterious city Shambhala.

You know at this point that there's a "but" coming your way. Here it is: but I just couldn't read this book. I made it to page 363 out of 763, not even half-way through. And I realized that I just do not care about what happens next.

I wasn't even curious enough to skip to the back pages to see what happened at the end.

For the right reader, this might be a fabulous story. Alas, not for me.

The Explorers Guild

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo

You'll want to read this book.

You'll want to read it because all your friends will have read it at some point, and because it will become a movie, and everyone will talk about it.

But mostly, you'll want to read it because it is just quite good.

But my label says, "fiction / suspense / fantasy." What's up with this fantasy thing?  What if you're not a "fantasy novel, unicorns and X-men" kind of person? Not to worry. The novel's setting is a different place than ours and also features folks with odd powers. But that's not really the story, or at least not all of it. Mostly it is the setting, and after just a few pages you won't notice that there are oddities here.  The story is about love and honor, revenge and greed, and the complex plot twists that amuse a reader.

It is just super fun; really a wonderful novel.  And great news: there will be a sequel!

Six of Crows

Sunday, February 21, 2016

We Learn Nothing, by Tim Kreider

I must become more particular concerning taking advice about books to read. Case in point: Mr. Kreider's collection of essays. One was insightful: "Lazy: a manifesto" does a good job arguing against over-scheduling one's time, and that the phrase "I'm so busy" is nothing about which to be proud.

Mr. Kreider is also a cartoonist. I'd not known that. Had I seen his drawings first, I'd not have read the book; I enjoy them even less than his writing.

There's a blurb on the cover of the paperback edition of this book. Judd Apatow (whose movies I don't love, so wasted on me, but still...) exclaims: "Heartbreaking, brutal, and hilarious." Bah, it was none of the above.

We Learn Nothing: Essays

Friday, February 19, 2016

Little Sister, by Giles O'Bryen

What a quirky little spy novel! The hero is the typically absurd brilliant PhD inventor slash special forces operator now retired and causing stress for the British secret service. The spy masters are believably cast as venal. A prototype device that enables heretofore unimagined levels of surveillance was mistakenly sold to an arms dealer, and our hero goes after it on his own in the clumsiest of ways. Meanwhile, the sales placement person who organized the deal also goes after it, hoping to sell it at a profit to the US NSA. Nothing goes well.

It was a pretty good novel, but not great. If you see it on the sales rack, pick it up for a long airplane ride or for the next time you're in a doctor's waiting room.

Little Sister (A James Palatine Novel Book 1)