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Book Review: SuperFreakonomics by Levitt & Dubner

Posted by jaystile on August 15, 2010

SuperFreakonomics

My friend from work loaned me SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Thanks buddy! I was really looking forward to reading it. Before I get to the review, I just wanted to point out that I was so astounded by Freakonomics that I pre-ordered SuperFreakonomics for another friend that loaned me the original Freakonomics.

I only have this to say, “I LOVE FREAKONOMICS!” The process of bringing economic research techniques to areas other than finance produce interesting results. If you’ve never read this type of book, you will be pleasantly surprised. Freakonomics investigates human behavior and try and unravel the reasons why people behave the way they do. They break down the behavior and find the incentives. I’m not going to go on too much, but I love it when people break down the conventional wisdom. While most people I’ve chatted with ranked SuperFreakonomics higher than Freakonomics, I would disagree. You can read my review on Freakonomics here.

There is only about 200 pages of content in the book and I read through it over the weekend. Lots of fun and worth your time. Enjoy!

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Book Review: Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Posted by jaystile on February 21, 2010

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald ©1996
After reading this book my opinion of Abraham Lincoln has been greatly diminished. You can consider me quite underwhelmed. After reading biographies of the founding fathers like John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington: Lincoln comes off more like one of our current politicians instead of the great leader that we were taught he was in school. I believe this book gives an accurate depiction of the life Abraham Lincoln. It is well cited (with 100 pages of citations for 600 pages of content). It is quite the marathon read and unfortunately, I did not enjoy it very much.

Lincoln’s life has been well documented, so I will not rehash it. You can read quite a bit about him on wikipedia, so I would like to share with you the things I found most interesting. At the age of eight he was given an ax and helped clear ‘the farm’ so they could plant. I think, “What today’s parents would say if you gave an eight year old boy and ax and told him to go clear some trees?” He was hired out by this father for hard manual labor. All this hard work made him immensely strong. Oddly, in contrast to his height and strength he had a high and shrill pitched voice. This is not the booming voice that I had expected. Lincoln only had a year or so of formal schooling but he really enjoyed reading (something I do admire).

Most of his skill as a lawyer was learned through practice not through study. He delegated most of his research to his law partners to cite precedence. He was very ambitious politically. I don’t approve of politically ambitious people. Their goal is to be in charge and they think they have the right to be in charge. C’est la vie. He helped found the Republican party and became their first candidate for President. This was not due to his great leadership, but because of his ability not to provide an opinion on any high profile topic. Due to his experience practicing law, Lincoln saw both sides of an argument. While I appreciate someone who is thoughtful, he often withheld his opinion if he knew it would damage him politically.

People are familiar with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This freed the slaves of the Rebels. What a lot of people don’t know is that it did not free the slaves of the border slaves states that remained with the Union. Another fact is that Lincoln preferred deportation instead of emancipation. He wished to compensate slave holders and relocate the slaves to Liberia. Emancipation was more of a gambit to get Rebels to rejoin the Union by fear of losing their slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was executed with extraordinary wartime powers. There was also the suspension of habeas corpus.

The following excerpts did not sit well with me

Much of the dissatisfaction with the Emancipation Proclamation was muted, because the President on September 24 issued another proclamation, which suspended the writ of habeas corpus throughout the country and authorized the arbitrary arrest of any person “guilty of any disloyal practice, affording aid and comfort to Rebels against the authority of the United States.”

When General David Hunter, in the Department of the South, attempted to raise black regiments in South Carolina, the President overruled him, stating that he “would employ all colored men as laborers, but would not promise to make soldiers of them.”

Convention prohibited him from taking an active part in most of the canvasses, but, with or without the President’s explicit approval, his aides did whatever was necessary to ensure the defeat of the Democrats. In Kentucky, General Burnside proclaimed martial law, and the imprisonment of Democratic candidates and voters helped secure the election of Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, a “Union Democrat” favored by the Lincoln Administration.

Thoughts on Terrorism
Lincoln was aware that his life was in danger. I admire him for continuing to go about his life. Its an interesting dichotomy. The few can bring terror to the many. The many cannot stand and say, “We are not scared for you are too few.” Therefore, we get full body scanners in airports.

In addition, he recognized that it was impossible for him to be fully protected. If a group of conspirators plotted his death, he said, “no vigilance could keep them out….A conspiracy to assassinate, if such there were, could easily obtain a pass to see me for any one or more of its instruments.”

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Book Review: My Life in France by Julia Child

Posted by jaystile on January 7, 2010

‘My Life in France’ by Julia Child with Alex Prud’Homme is an autobiography of Julia Child and her experiences in France. All in all, this was a pleasant story. If you’re not familiar with Julia Child, she was the hostess of ‘The French Chef’ on PBS for many years and is the co-author of ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. My family loves food and we love Julia Child. This story recounts many experiences in France with her husband Paul as she shares food with friends, family, and other people who love food.

This book really tries to bring home all the things that are wonderful about food & friends. It makes me just want to cook and share with everyone. I already do that quite a bit, but this just makes me want to do it more. So if you love Julia Child or if you love cooking go ahead and read this book. It’s a short read at 300 easy pages and worth the time. Bon Appetit.

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Book Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning French by Gail Stein

Posted by jaystile on December 13, 2009

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning French

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning French by Gail Stein is a French reference book. It groups commonly used words for a situation into lessons.

My opinion
I’m trying to learn French and in my efforts I’ve determined I’m not a big fan of this book. I only have negative views about this book. Let me preface these views with the fact that writing a book is difficult and especially a book to teach another language. I feel bad that I’m about to rip into Gail Stein’s hard work. However, it has some serious deficiencies. As a learning book, it stinks. Each chapter has tables of vocabulary words. It doesn’t give you a good feeling for the ebb and flow of the language. Just ‘hear are the words, memorize them’. It doesn’t build gradually with resuse and repetition of things you’ve learned. It’s more like: “do you remember that one word that was in that table in chapter 7? I hope so, because here it is again in chapter 20 in the exercise”. If you have ever read any of the ‘Head First’ series of technical books they do an excellent job of teaching and transferring the information. But as a reference book, they acknowledge they stink. I would’ve much preferred the ‘Head First’ type of teaching for a ‘Learning French’ book.

On to my next point, as a reference book, it also stinks. ‘Learning French’ is not my only reference for learning. I’m also using ‘Conversationl French’ by Pimsleur. Now, I’m a big fan of ‘Conversational French’. I’m on lesson 12 of 16 and plan on finishing and maybe purchasing the next set of CDs. In practicing my conversational French, I’ve run into words and phrases that I want to know more about. Mostly, the spelling of the words to help with the pronunciations that sometimes go to fast. But I can’t easily find the things I’m looking for in ‘Learning French’ so it fails there also.

In summary you can skip ‘Learning French’. Has anyone tried the Rosetta Stone for French? I’m hesitant to spend hundreds of dollars on software that isn’t going to work for me.

French, Conversational: Learn to Speak and Understand French with Pimsleur Language Programs

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Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller

Posted by jaystile on November 21, 2009


My friend recommended a book he had just finished reading that he was very excited about. The book is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller. I love it when people recommend books to me. My friend was so excited about it he bought me a copy and had it shipped to my house. Its nice to share the experience together and have a little discussion about it.

Overview
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a non-fiction tale of Donald Miller. It recounts a period in his life where he transitions from merely living to being alive. Mr. Miller had written a memoir about his early life. Someone decided they would like to make a movie about it. Mr. Miller realizes that the character ‘Don’ is really quite boring. This starts his journey to becoming a different person.

The analogy
This book revolves around one analogy, life is a story where you are the main character. What makes a good story? Well first, you need to sympathize with the main character. That means you root for the person who helps those close around him and his community. Second, the character must experience conflict and adversity. You don’t get that by sitting in front of the TV. One must put themselves out there and TRY to do something. Not only that, you have to keep trying until you succeed. A character only changes and grows through adversity and that is true for everyone.

My opinion
I like the analogy! If you’ve read my other posts on expert theory, my rants against television: I agree. Hard work and doing something make you feel good about your life. TV just wastes it. It made me think about my own life a little bit and what stories I would tell about it’s main character. I think I have a pretty good story, personally, not great, but pretty good.

There is something that was not well received. I’m an atheist and don’t believe in a higher power. I believe that people need to be honest with themselves and make the best use of the short amount of time they have. Donald Miller makes numerous references to god and faith. It was unnecessary to support the overall message of the book which is how to have a meaningful life through struggle and adversity. Finally, the title is garbage.

Summary
Go ahead and read this book. It is only 250 pages and a very easy read. You might even take something away from it that motivates you. Life takes you in different places and sometimes this is away from your friends. I would like it to be known that I miss my friend that sent me this book. He is a great person and I love him dearly.

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Book Review: Successful Real Estate Investing: How to Avoid the 75 Most Costly Mistakes Every Investor Makes by Robert Shemin

Posted by jaystile on November 15, 2009

Successful Real Estate Investing is a series of essays about the different mistakes the author has made in real estate. It’s worth a read if you plan on purchasing real estate as an investment. The key takeaways:

  • Pre paid Legal (PPL) is worth it
  • Get your contracts reviewed by said PPL
  • Never say that your LLC is just for asset protection
  • The rent has to come first
  • It’s more important to call the tenant’s previous landlord, not their current landlord
  • Inspect properties frequently
  • Buy properties within 30 minutes drive.
  • Get umbrella insurance
  • Don’t let fear cripple you into inaction
  • If you’re doing fancy financing, like lease-optioning to someone when you’re lease optioning the property, just be open about it.

I also enjoyed the negotiating tips that were in the appendix.

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Book Review: Soccer for Dummies by Michael Lewis

Posted by jaystile on September 28, 2009

Soccer for Dummies

Soccer for Dummies

Overview
My daughter has started playing soccer! Being the American man that I am, I realized that I had no idea how to play soccer. I know you tried to kick the ball in the goal but I didn’t know the rules. Soccer for Dummies was brought home from the local library and read from cover to cover. It contains many facts about MLS (Major League Soccer) from the 2000 time frame, when the book was published, so it was a little dated. It really tries to plug you into soccer culture and history. It could have used more diagrams when the rules were explained. There were fine textual descriptions of the rules, but a diagram would’ve been a much better way to transfer the information.

Conclusion
It turns out the kids soccer book I got for my daughter from the library explained the rules much better. Don’t forget to check the children’s section for information too! You could probably skip reading this book and just do an internet search if you’re suffering from the same dilemma: what are the rules for soccer?

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Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Posted by jaystile on September 25, 2009

Stranger in a Strange Land

Stranger in a Strange Land

Wow! I have some catching up to do. I don’t really have many repeat readers, but I try and keep the blog up to date for myself. My friend recommended ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ by Robert Heinlein to me (that was before he was finished with it). After he was done he said it kind of fizzled. I would tend to agree with him. I generally don’t really get into fiction that much but this definitely was an interesting thought experiment.

Valentine Michael Smith was born on Mars. His parents were part of the first exploration/colonization project. Everyone in the party had died which left him the owner of Mars and the heir to these successful adventurers fortunes. The next set of explorers brings him back to Earth. Valentine Michael Smith has been raised by Martians and demonstrates super human abilities due to his upbringing. He goes about a journey to understand what it is to be human.

I’ll cut to the chase, he learns what it means to be human. Additionally, he learns that humans have the potential to become so much more. He begins a sex cult and considers his friends part of his nest and teaches his ‘water brothers’ the super human abilities. He starts to gain many followers. Then he gives himself up to other religious people to kill him for being a heretic. But not before he cuts off his own thumb and his ‘water brothers’ grok him.

If I found something other than the thought experiment interesting it is the mindset of the author and trying to place yourself into his point of view. This book was first published in 1961. That means he was probably writing it in the late 50s. You will find that is full of misogynistic comments. The most offensive being “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault.” The women successfully attain such wonderful careers as nurse, secretary, or priestess. The next thing is that there is a planetary government like the United Nations that makes the United States impotent as far as their power and influence is concerned. This kind of mindset is still prevalent when you hear extremist conservatives mention ‘The New World Order’.

You could do worse than spend some time enjoying this book. It definitely shows it’s age but the thought experiment will make you think a little bit more about what it means to be human.

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Book Review: Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

Posted by jaystile on July 22, 2009

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy

Free Range Kids – Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry by Lenore Skenazy is a non-fiction book about parenting and allowing children to be independent. This book was a fun and entertaining read weighing in at just under 200 pages. It is slathered with humor and sarcasm just the way I like it when reading material breaking down ‘conventional wisdom (Did you know it is a derogatory term?)’. Lenore also keeps a blog http://freerangekids.wordpress.com with the latest triumphs and tragedies that confront Free Range Parents.

The TV is Lying to You
Lenore Skenazy talks about the over reporting and dramatization of abductions. If you watch (take your pick: CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Bones, Law & Order, Law & Order SVU) or the news there is a 100% chance are you are going to be bombarded by psychopathic monsters (and I’m not just talking about Bill O’Reilly). There is a reason for this. Fear, like sex, sells. Don’t believe me? Can you tell me the stories of JonBenet Ramsey, O.J. Simpson, and Caylee Anthony? Now, can you summarize Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist? I find, like Lenore, that people pay way too much attention to television and not enough to their actual neighborhood. It’s safe even if the TV says it is not. Crime statistics are available for your neighborhood.

Responsibility & Independence
Kids want to be independent. I don’t know how many times my preschoolers (soon to start Kindergarten!) have shouted, “NO, DAD! I CAN DO IT MYSELF!” A key notion in this book is about giving your kids responsibility and independence commensurate with their ability. You teach your child the skills they need to know then you allow them to practice what they’ve learned. For instance, my oldest daughter uses the super sharp vegetable peeler and helps peel carrots for dinner. That is because I taught her how. Supervised her a couple of times and then let her do it herself. Did you know what happened? SHE CUT HERSELF! A cheap lesson. A few tears and a band-aide later we were back peeling vegetables. But she is so happy when she gets to help make dinner. As Lenore put it she learned ‘self-confidence’ not ‘parent-supplied-confidence’ (a.k.a. Here is your trophy for being second winner!) When we take walks in the evening I have my daughters take turns telling me when it is safe to cross. Teach them the skills and let them practice. It is hard to let go but they keep showing me they are smarter than I give them credit for.

Stranger Danger!
Again, on our walks we talk about strangers. Dad asks, “Is it OK to talk to strangers?” My kids say, “Yes.” Dad says, “That’s right!” Another key theme in Lenore’s book is that not every stranger is a going to snatch you away as soon as Mom & Dad aren’t looking. Some parents might be aghast, “YOU SHOULD NEVER LET YOU CHILD TALK TO STRANGERS!” Yeah, you see… that’s just dumb. Back to the principle of not assuming people are crazy child snatchers. One positive note about my kids talking to strangers is that the strangers want to talk back! I’ve met many normal (non kiddie snatchers) in my neighborhood because they are happy to talk to little girls (even if their dad is a scary stranger). Again, it is important to teach your children the skills they need in case they are confronted with that creepy person. Dad asks, “Do we ever go near a strangers car?” Kids say, “No.” Dad asks, “Do we ever go anywhere with a stranger?” Kids say, “No.” Dad asks, “Would mom and dad ever send a stranger to come and get you?” Kids say, “No.” Dad says, “That’s right I would send … ” and I give them examples of the people we know that we would send to get them. What are the chances that my girls are going to need to use their skill of not going away with a stranger? About 1:1500000. They should know these things just in case. Just like using “Stop, Drop, and Roll”, “Get out of the house first if there is a fire, go to the neighbors, then dial 911”, “If you get lost just sit down and we’ll find you or ask a STRANGER for help”.

Odds of Dying

Odds of Dying


Calculating the Odds or Parenting by Evidence
I tried to find a reference and failed about how people can’t tell the difference between 1:1000 odds and 1:100000. It ‘feels’ the same to them. Maybe this is why parents don’t want to let their kids outside because they can’t tell that being abducted by a stranger (odds 1:1500000) is statistically insignificant. What parents really need to be worried about are things like obesity, getting exercise, wearing helmets and seatbelts, and sunblock. OH! What is this? Here is some evidence to back up my assertion. This is a nice little article talking the about the odds of dying. I’m laying out the odds for the top five ways you are going to die.

  1. Heart Disease: 1-in-5
  2. Cancer: 1-in-7
  3. Stroke: 1-in-23
  4. Accidental Injury: 1-in-36
  5. Motor Vehicle Accident:1-in-100

I’m personally hoping for the 1:79746 Lightning Strike on my 120th birthday. So… controlling obesity, getting exercise, wearing helmets and seatbelts, and sunblock helps cut into those odds. And I even get to let my daughters out to play on the sidewalk all by themselves.

This book was a great little read and helps bring things back into perspective as a parent. There are so many experts out there trying to scare you into using the products or captivating you while TV stations try to sell you other products. So, turn off the TV, boot the kids outside, and start reading.

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Book Review: Julie & Julia – My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell

Posted by jaystile on June 30, 2009

Julie & Julia – My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell ©2005. I don’t usually read books my wife has laying around, but since I know she is going to drag me to the movie version I would at least be able to smugly say, “The book was much better.” This book covers the adventures of Julie Powell as she tries to cook every recipe in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child in one year. She kept a blog about her exploits that were then organized into a book.

There were definitely some humorous moments in the book describing the anxiety of butchering her first lobster. And the detailed disasters of many failed attempts at completing the recipes. All the writing about the trials and tribulations of cooking kept me entertained. Her personal life and that of her friends kind of disgusted me. Although I’m reading her personal thoughts and feelings (which if everyone knew what I thought would probably be equally disgusted) I couldn’t help but think, “This woman has not matured emotionally since she was 15.” It is important for everyone to nurture the different aspects of their person and I think she learned that by the end of her experience. And the part in the book where maggots and flies overcome her kitchen/loft because she hasn’t washed the drainage rack for her dishes grossed me out. What that says to me is, “We’ll do the dishes but we are too lazy to dry and put them away.” I hate that kind of laziness. It’s disgusting. Yes, everyone is tired and no one wants to do work. Too bad. Come home. Make dinner. Do your chores for the day. Shower up. Kiss your lover goodnight. Then do it all again the next day.

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