Jason’s Ranting & Raving

Those who don’t read have no advantage over those who can’t.

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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An Avatar Postmortem: The Continuing Life of Jake Sulley

Posted by jaystile on January 17, 2010

I went and watched Avatar in 3D with my buddy. It was a visually splendid movie and I enjoyed it. I have to recommend not drinking the ‘small’ movie theater Coke because you’re not going to last until the end. At the end of the movie Jake Sulley has all kinds of life fulfillment. My question is, will he still feel that way in 10-20 years?

I’ve been having the ‘life fulfillment question’ conversation with many of my male friends. Many people don’t realize this but as men (as with women, but this is from me and my friends point of view) get older our choices become more limited. We graduate high school and our options are limitless. We then have to make a choice: college or work? Well, if you want to make a reasonable amount money working for someone else you need a degree. Starting college all your options are still wide open. You could be a doctor, lawyer, scientist, professor. You choose your degree and your field of expertise becomes much more limited and so do your job options. During college and early work years you’ll see/date/romance many women. You find your special someone (i.e. someone who puts up with your bullshit) a marriage is scheduled for the future. Your options have just become more limited. Now as a family you decide to put down roots and purchase a home. It’s a very exciting time, until you realize you now have golden handcuffs. Once again, you are limited. Limited by the places you can go. There will be no new apartments or switching states for a different job. Now you are hoping that your employer keeps you employed so that you can afford to keep your house. Chances are you’ll decide to have a family, because there is no one going back in your family tree that decided to ‘opt out’. Those who do ‘opt out’ don’t spread the compelling need to not-procreate.

In my point of view, once you have children you are now locked in. You are on autopilot until until the offspring are independent. Don’t lose your job because you don’t want to have to find a new job, sell the house, switch schools. There is a lot of pressure to keep the status quo. Now, back to Jake Sulley, he managed to make every choice and limit his options in about 3 months! It was a very exciting time. He chose a job (hunter), a mate (Neytiri), and a place to live. Yes, he had a great purpose and rescues the world. After they establish a new home and have kids, what does he do? Well, he goes out and hunts and then comes back home and what? What new choices does Jake Sulley get to make? He too is on autopilot until James Cameron comes up with a new adventure for him.

There should be a clear distinction between my questions and the choices I’ve made. Like most men, I made choices and I would make them again. My choices have been the correct ones. I enjoy the work that I do. I love my wife. My home is very nice. My children are awesome. The question is how does one avoid the monotony of maintaining the status quo for the good of the family? I don’t have an answer yet, but I’m working on it. I’ll let you know if I figure it out. I know it has something to do with goals and adventures in our free time (and nothing to do with the computer or television). The things I remember the most are the scenery during the ‘Elephant Rock Ride’ and trails I’ve hiked and the lobsters we steamed. I heard that they are already planning a sequel to Avatar, we’ll see what kind of life is in store for Jake Sulley.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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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Parenting: Budgeting for the Young and Old

Posted by jaystile on September 2, 2009

This is a follow-up post to my parenting post about children and money.

Everyone needs to budget based on their income! (I’m looking at you House of Representatives, Senate, and White House) I would guess that most people don’t budget because they simply do not know how. And if they try and learn most of the online tools require you fill out approximately fifty thousand items to come up with your budget. This can be a little overwhelming for someone who doesn’t want to make a budget in the first place. I like the 60% Solution!

If you’re too lazy to read the link here is the short version.
The 60% Solution for Adults

  1. 60 percent: Monthly expenses — such as housing, food, utilities, insurance, Internet, transportation. This is the part most commonly thought of as a budget.
  2. 10 percent: Retirement — and if you’re doing it right, this is being automatically deducted from your paycheck for a 401(k) investment.
  3. 10 percent: Long-term savings or debt reduction. It’s best to invest this in something such as stocks or an index fund, and this can serve as your emergency fund. But if you are in debt (not including a home mortgage), I would advise that you use this portion of the budget to pay off your debts, and even draw some from the other categories such as retirement to increase this to about 20 percent for now. Once your debts are paid off, you can switch this to long-term savings. You still need to have an emergency fund, but while you’re in debt-reduction mode you can either create a small, temporary emergency fund out of the money from this category or the next.
  4. 10 percent: Short-term savings — this is for periodic expenses, such as auto maintenance or repairs, medical expenses (not including insurance premiums), appliances, home maintenance, birthday and Christmas gifts. For this savings account, be sure to spend the money when you need it — that’s what it’s for. When these expenses come up, you will have the money for them, instead of trying to pull them from other budget categories.
  5. 10 percent: Fun money — you can spend this on eating out, movies, comic books — whatever you want. Guilt free.

The 60% Solution for Children

  1. 60% – Long term savings. Car, College, or Wedding. There is a high probability that your child will want to have one of these in the future. The most important lesson for a child to learn is to save for the things that they want.
  2. 10% – Charity and gifts. Children will need to buy gifts for parents, siblings, and others. This will be a large part of their income and they will feel good when they can spend their own money on the people they love. If they are so inclined I like the charity of Heifer International for my charitable giving.
  3. 10% – Short term savings. Teach your children about planning ahead. So they can have a little extra money when back to school shopping to buy those clothes that you will not buy for them because they are dumb looking.
  4. 20% – Fun! Go ahead and spend on whatever you want after all they are kids still! (And you are making them save 60 cents of every dollar for college.

Do it! For my budget I’ve set up multiple savings accounts with online banks (like etrade.com; emigrantdirect.com; ingdirect.com). The money gets automatically transferred to individual accounts based on my budget categories when my paycheck arrives. For children you could use the envelopes method or setup online accounts for them. I’m more inclined to recommend the online accounts because they pay interest and it’s harder to get the money for an impulse shopping spree.

Envelopes This is an old-fashioned system that works. Have an envelope for groceries, gas and fun money. When going grocery shopping, bring the groceries envelope. You know how much is left in the envelope before you go grocery shopping. Spend the cash for groceries, and then you can easily see how much is left now. Simple, and no tracking necessary. When the money is gone, you’ve spent your budgeted amount. If necessary, you could transfer cash from one envelope to another, and there’s no need to adjust your budget.

Conclusion I personally subscribe to a more complex budget, but I’ve been using a budget tracked in a spreadsheet for at least the past seven years. What’s that you say? You cannot afford Microsoft Excel? Try the Free Open Source alternative OpenOffice. As you start keeping a budget it becomes more specific as you start planning for vacations, college funds, ‘soft retirement’. Budgeting is important to make sure you don’t get caught with you pants down when it’s time to buy new tires or rebuild the transmission, pay the max deductible for your health insurance because some a-hole ran you off the road on your bicycle and you had to go to the emergency room. Also, to make sure you know if you can afford a reoccurring monthly expense of hundreds of dollars for satellite tv, cable internet, and cellular phone service. If you’re not able to save you have not lived within your means. Time to get a roommate or move to the not so nice side of town.

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Outrage: Flash Trading is leeching profits from investors

Posted by jaystile on July 27, 2009

I started learning about flash trading when an accusation that the source code for these auto-trading applications was stolen. As I continued to read the news, I found another article describing how these auto-trading applications behave.

If you’re not willing to read the article, let me sum it up for you. The large brokerage houses get to look at all orders for 30 milliseconds before those orders are released for execution to the market. Their auto-trading programs inject trades (buying or canceling) before the original trade was executed. This is called ‘Flash Trading’. The injected trades can drive up the price of the stock you want to purchase or sell before you can sell. This takes some of the profit from you and gives it directly to one of the large brokerage firms. And they didn’t even have to do any research, just pay for the creation of smart algorithms.

I liken this to being able to place a bet on a roulette wheel just before the ball comes to rest. Except, you don’t have to use your own money. You get to borrow the bet placed by the other gamblers and take some of their winnings. Right now, I feel like the ‘other’ gambler. And I am pissed about it.

I suggest writing your representatives as a first step in exercising our democracy.
Senators: www.senate.gov
Representatives: www.house.gov

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