Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Gemini Effect, by Chuck Grossart

A poorly disposed of container of a biological warfare virus shows up and leads to infection that starts with rats and quickly moves to humans. The President's national security advisor is a Russian spy. The Vice President figures this out but doesn't do too well at stopping the problem. Carolyn Ridenour is a biological warfare expert who gets involved with figuring out the nature of the virus, working with military Colonel Garrett Hoffman. Things go badly across the spectrum and the book ends setting up a second volume. Which I most certainly will not read.

The Gemini Effect

Younger, by Suzanne Munshower

Imagine you're a 57 year old woman working in the public relations business specializing in the beauty industry: not surprising if you'd feel anxious about getting fired and having to find a new position in an arena where the superficiality of looking young is the core business. That's where hero Anna Wallingham is when she's given a shady offer to try out a product line that will make her look years younger. Murders occur, mayhem ensures.

This was an okay read.


Bring It, by Seeley James

In this second novel in Mr. James' series featuring Pia Sabel, our hero finds herself in yet another complicated situation in the field. There's not much more to say than I did about the prior novel; still enjoyable and I'm planning on reading the next in the collection.

Bring It (Sabel Security Thriller Book 2)

Brainfluence, by Roger Dooley

There's really not much to this book, just sixty brief chapters each of which saying a bit about how to use an approach to marketing and sales that is roughly based on behavioral research. The title uses the word neuroscience, but there's little real science in this book. Imagine if someone leafed through a few year's of The Week and curated out those articles that have anything to do with consumer behavior as a reflection of how people tend to think, then applied each to a business scenario.

Still, there are some good notions in the book, and I wish I'd bought it in hardcopy rather than on Kindle just so it would be easier to leaf through occasionally or share with others.

Not great, certainly not worth the price, but there's probably some value to it.

Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing

The Geneva Decision, by Seeley James

This is the first in a fun, lightweight series featuring Pia Sabel as the hero. Sabel is a wealthy former Olympian who takes over her father's security business and immediately inserts herself into the field. Without much in the way of field experience.

This isn't fine literature but it is a great distraction and an excellent entry in the genre. I plan to read the series.

The Geneva Decision (Sabel Security Thrillers Book 1)

My Rebbe, by Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Steinsaltz's biography of Rabbi Menachem Mendal Schneerson, known to many as "the Lubavitcher Rebbe," starts off with an interesting history of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The "Rebbe" was actually the seventh head of the movement, and Steinsaltz starts off with the first, Rabbi Schneur Zalman.

Rabbi Zalman came up with Chabad in 1755 as an acronym for chochmah, binah and da'at, or wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. Steinsaltz gives a good overview of the leaders who followed.

Anyone of any religious background who lived in New York City from the 1950s through early 1990s would have been familiar with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as he was an influential character in the city.  Some of his believers were said to have thought he would be the Mashiach, the messiah discussed in the Bible (Old Testament).  In Jewish belief, the mashiach isn't a savior (ala Christ) but rather a human being, a political leader, and someone who's development will be an indicator of a messianic age (imagine an End of Days without the plagues). [1]

Clearly Steinsaltz is a deeply committed fan of the Rebbe. Yet he describes the Rebbe as a relatively poor administrator. Or perhaps that was a part of his approach: to be so ambiguous in direction and over-demanding as a leader so as to force the really good ideas to survive. I found this objectivity refreshing.

[1] Interested in the notion of Mashiach? See: Isaiah 2, 11, 42, 59:20; Jeremiah 23, 30, 33, 48:47, 49:39; Ezekiel 38:16; Hosea 3:4, 3:5; Micah 4; Zephaniah 3:9; Zechariah 14:9; Daniel 10:14.

My Rebbe

The Black Mile, by Mark Dawson

This police procedural is set in London in the 1940s. The hero is Charlie Murphy, an unfriendly and somewhat obsessive cop in a family of far more successful and pleasant police officers: his father and older brother Frank. Women are brutally murdered and Charlie has an opportunity to leap ahead in his career.

This might have been an okay novel except for the ending. It felt as though a chapter was missing due to the extremely poor closure to the book. I'd have barely recommended it without this fault, but because of it I would suggest against this novel.

The Black Mile (Soho Noir Thrillers, #1)

Invasion, by Sean Platt and Johnny Truant

This novel is fast paced and dramatic. The hero is Meyer Dempsey, a wealthy man whose use of drugs has led him to build a bunker in Colorado to protect his family from an ill defined future risk. Fast moving orbs become visible in the sky causing people to imaging approaching aliens. As these become close enough to earth to be seen by the masses, riots erupt in the cities. Meyer seeks to bring his wife and two children, and their mother, his ex-wife, to his safe place. As you'd expect, things do not go quite according to plan.

Book two of this series is scheduled for publication on April 9th, 2015 and I've already made my pre-order.

Invasion (Alien Invasion Book 1)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Commitment, by Olav Maassen

This is a wonderful business book. It is also quite unusual. The (non-fiction) content is presented in a graphic novel style. I was a bit skeptical at first but it works very well. It overcomes one of the stumbling blocks to Goldratt's explanation of the theory of constraints -- here, the length and depth of narrative don't get overwhelming.  Maassen and his colleagues Chris Matts and Chris Geary use a very engaging approach to their topic. (Although Goldratt did go into far more depth in his text.)

That topic covered is the real options model. This approach has been used primarily in IT project management. Although folks have been writing about it since the late 1990s, it is not well known as a project management tool. This book seeks to explain the model and show how to use it.

Since most folks don't know about real options, instead of leaving you hanging, I'll say a bit about it if only to motivate readers to pick up this great book.

Most business folks understand at least the notion of financial options. Black, Scholes and Merton's model for pricing options won them (Scholes and Merton, Black had died by then) the 1997 Nobel Prize. The general idea was that given the current price of an underlying traded stock, the amount of time to expiration, the expected volatility of the stock price, and risk free interest rates, one could compute a fair option strike price.

Real options are the equivalent of the financial instrument taken to a project (the value of which takes the part of the underlying traded stock in a financial option). Importantly, if a stock option approaches its expiration date not in the money, it will expire un-exercised. So in a real project, if the expected outcome takes a turn for the worse, it too should not be exercised (i.e., the project would be cancelled, redirected, etc.).

Well now perhaps it is apparent why the graphic novel approach makes this much easier to explain. There's considerable emphasis and explanation of the importance of deferring decisions, also understanding risk in a project, and the difference between a commitment and an option.

If I'd have had this book a decade ago, it would have changed the way I approached project investment analysis at my job in a fundamental way.

For a reader who builds things, delivers things, or invests in things, this book is an eye opening introduction to an underused technique. This is a top-ten candidate for 2015.

By the way, a good follow-on read might be José Maria Gonçalves da Silva Prata Martins' thesis at Técnico Lisboa [1] because it covers real options applied to a real and significant project (the new Lisbon airport).

[1] Gonçalves da Silva, J. M. (2013). Real options as a tool for managing uncertainty in project management (Masters dissertation). Retrieved from,%2055583.pdf


The Martian, by Andy Weir

Wow, this is an outstanding novel. The premise is that our hero (and primary narrator), Mark Watney, is on a team of astronauts that lands on Mars. An accident leads to the crew to leave, thinking Watney dead. But he's not.

Watney is a mix of Robinson Crusoe and MacGyver.  Here's a sample from the book:
"I'm stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I'm dead. I'm in a Hab designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I'll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I'll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I'll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I'll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I'm f----d." 
The genre is sci-fi because, well after all, the hero's stuck on Mars. But this is more a story of resilience, inventiveness, and attitude as much as anything else.

Highly recommended!

The Martian