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Reading language and format (2016 update)

About a year ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts where I reflected on the mix of languages I used when reading books between English, French and Spanish and about the format of the books I read, whether electronic or paper books. After having shared last week my 2016 reading list, this is just a short post to update the two tables I included in those posts:

Reading language

reading_language_2016

From 2010 to 2015 I read mostly in English. This is something I changed in the second half of 2015 and in this 2016 I have continued with a more balanced approach, with 42% of the books I read being in English, 33% in Spanish and 24% in French. I believe I will continue with a similar approach in this 2017.

Reading format

reading_format_2016

In 2016 I have continued with the same ratio of electronic to paper books than in the previous years. As I read more books in 2016 than in any other previous year, I have also read more electronic books, hopefully this will lead to the amortization of the e-reader I have in this year or the next (I estimated here its amortization in about 20 e-books read with it, the first batch of 10 already completed).

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (book review)

MurakamiHaruki Murakami is Japanese writer of World fame. Murakami happens to be a consistent runner since the early 1980s, about the same time as he went full-time with the process of becoming a professional writer. “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” (2007) is an autobiographical book in which the author not only explains what running means to him but also how he turned from running a bar to becoming a writer, from being a rather sedentary person to training about 60 km weekly, running at least a marathon a year for over 25 years, etc.

Murakami draws some parallels between running and writing:

  • Stop right at the point when you feel you can do more, both when writing and running. As he says to keep going you have to keep the rhythm, the most difficult part being starting and setting the pace.
  • The most important qualities for a novelist after talent: focus (“the ability to concentrate all your limited talents on whatever’s critical at the moment”) and endurance. These two can be applicable to practically every profession (e.g. “The Focused Leader” by Daniel Goleman at HBR).

There are some other passages that drew my attention while reading the book that I want to share:

Nobody remembers what stupid things I might have said back then, so they’re not about to quote them back at me”. (Think now about today’s social media)

“I’m struck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’t get that sort of system by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance.”

“Have you ever run sixty-two miles in a single day? […] I doubt I’ll try again, but who knows what the future may hold. Maybe someday, having forgotten my lesson, I’ll take up the challenge of an ultramarathon again” (No need to tell me that)

“[…] Thus the seasons come and go, and the years pass by. I’ll age one more year, and probably finish another novel. One by one. I’ll face the tasks before me and complete them the best I can. Focusing on each stride forward, but at the same time taking a long-range view scanning the scenery as far ahead as I can. I am, after all, a long-distance runner.”

If you are a frequent runner it is quite easy to relate to the author in several passages (1). In my case, it has been from the races he has taken part in (New York or Athens marathons), to the experiences lived in a 100 km ultra marathon, the thoughts or lack of them while running, the balance found in training, etc.

The book is rather light (about 180 pages in the version I have) and makes for a good reading, however, if he ever wins the literature Nobel prize it won’t be for this book. 🙂

(1) I guess that for a professional writer there may be several parts easy to relate to as well.

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Reading format

BooksIn a previous post, Reading language, I reflected on the mix of languages about the books that I read. This post, some days later, triggered the idea of taking a look at which format do I use when reading books; paper books or electronic books.

I have had a couple of electronic readers since some time ago. The first one being a gift received in 2010 (1) and the second one, a similar model I bought in 2013 to replace the previous model which got damaged. I have always thought that the business case for the electronic book was clear and positive: after just reading about 20 books in it the purchase was probably justified, especially if those books were classic ones, of which free copies are available in the net.

Find below the figures.

ReadingFormat

However, taking a look at the table above, the business case for me it has clearly not yet proven positive… In the past 5 years I have read less than 10 electronic books. So far, the cost of the 2 e-readers that I have had, plus the cost of the ebooks divided by the number of books I read in electronic format (a figure between 20 and 30 euros) surely exceeds the average cost of the books in paper format that I buy (which I haven’t calculated but must be between 10 and 20 euros).

What is actually the electronic book adoption trend nowadays? I found several articles. It seems that the high growth of the e-book market up to 2010 has more or less stopped. In this article from The New York Times, it is mentioned that about 30% of readers read a majority of books in electronic format, whereas this other one mentions that in terms of sales ebooks represent as well around 27-30%.

Finally, on the other hand, there is people like my wife, Luca; if she made the numbers for her reading habits, they would show that she reads books per dozens per year and that she reads a large majority of electronic books. She has a Kindle reader from Amazon, rather than a Sony e-reader as I do. This subtle difference may have a point in the shaping of habits: in the Kindle the shop is in the device itself. In a couple of clicks she has the book with her. In my case, I have to buy or download the books using a computer and then transfer the files from the computer to the reader. I guess that this subtle difference, which eases the availability of books for Kindle readers, may have a big impact.

Note: In 2013 I completed reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” which I started in electronic format, but after my e-reader got damaged I continued and completed in paper format (in the meantime, Luca had bought it in parallel in paper), hence the use of decimals.

(1) I received this gift at the end of 2010 from former work colleagues when I left my job in Madrid for Toulouse. I therefore include in the table for the mix of format, only the books from 2011 onwards (it is obvious that before 2011 all the books I read were in paper format).

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Reading language

In a previous post, Musings on objectives setting, I mentioned about reading:

I found that I am not that fast reader (in English and French and neither in Spanish!) nor all the books that I pick are that easy or short, so I linger every year around the 10 books.

BookShelfIn the second half of 2015 I was able to catch up with the objective by reading 2 books a month as intended. This demanded a rigorous approach, dedicating some time each night to reading (not that I didn’t enjoy it!).

I then reflected on the fact that of the last 8 books I read: 4 were in Spanish (plus 3 in English and 1 in French, a light novel by Saint-Exupéry). Did it help in that last reading rush that I read more books in Spanish than in 2014? In 2014 the mix of the books I read was 8 in English and 2 in Spanish. This reflection triggered the curiosity to find out the language mix of the books I read in the previous years, which I checked with the help of this blog (1). See below:

Booksperlanguage

I do not speak many languages, thus I cannot read all the books I read in their original languages (e.g. “The diary of a young girl” or “Crime and Punishment” lately). However, I try to read books in their original language when the authors write in English, Spanish or French, with few exceptions (normally due to availability of a book). When I cannot read one in the original language, I assume that the different translations to the languages I understand are as good (2) and I normally chose the Spanish version to ease the reading.

Seeing the mix above, in the last 6 years I have read more than three times as many books in English than in Spanish. This was intentional, since over a decade ago, in order to keep learning, improving, and to exercise the mind (3). I considered that each book I read in English (or now in French) met two objectives in one: using a different language and reading. It is only now that I reflect that by pushing myself to this exercise I might be reading a bit less than I could if I read always in Spanish, but I am happy with the mix and I think I will keep up with that policy.

I wonder whether you have similar reading language mixes or policies, feel free to comment below if you like.

(1) Either in a specific post about each year’s personal reading list or in the personal summary of each year provided some info of the books I read. However, in 2011 and 2010 I relied on a then available feature of LinkedIn which enabled you to track and comment books read, not active anymore. I retrieved some info of what books I read in those years via the book reviews I made in the blog but I was not able to retrieve all books from 2010 (over a dozen vs 11 I am able to track now).

(2) This may be a bold assumption, but I never go that far as to knowing or researching about how good translators are (may be I should!).

(3) Similar reasons are behind the fact of writing most of the posts in the blog in English: exercising, learning and improving, plus reaching a much wider audience (including foreign in-laws and friends).

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My 2015 reading list

In this post I wanted to share the list of books I read along the year (1) with a small comment for each one (2), links to Wikipedia articles about the book (if available) and to the authors (in case you want to read about them). I have also included a small rating from one to three “+” depending on how much do I recommend its reading:

  1. DSC_0342Profiles in Courage (by John F. Kennedy) (++): written by then senator Kennedy when he was convalescent from a back surgery in the 1950s, this book analyzes the context, figures and controvert decisions made by 8 different US senators mainly from the XIX century (from John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster… to Robert A. Taft), decisions that were not popular at the time in their constituencies but the politicians understood were needed to be taken and demanded courage to do so. For this book Kennedy obtained a Pulitzer prize in 1957. From the analysis, Kennedy extracts some lessons in the last chapter that are well encapsulated in the following dilemma: “[…] the loyalties of every Senator are distributed among his party, his state and section, his country and his conscience. On party issues his party loyalties are normally controlling. In regional disputes, his regional responsibilities will likely guide his course. It is on national issues, on matters of conscience which challenge party and regional loyalties, that the test of courage is presented.” 
  2. “El arte de ser padres” (by Fitzhugh Dodson) (++): a loan from my parents to help us in the quest of upbringing our daughter, the book, written in the late 1970s, did help in removing weight from some situations when the child was at the turn of being 2 years old. Among other things, it teaches you to get more relaxed, laid-back, not to enter into conflict trying to impose things, etc. It was also interesting to see how society and some social conventions have changed from the 1970s to today (e.g. drinking and smoking during pregnancy).
  3. TheSpiritOfStLouisThe Spirit of Saint Louis (by Charles A. Lindbergh) (++): this autobiographic book describes one of the great adventures of the XX century, the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic ocean in May 1927. For this book Lindbergh received a Pulitzer prize in 1954. The beginning of the book covers the days of Lindbergh working for the postal service of Robertson Aircraft Corporation and how he gets engaged into the race of who would be the first pilot(s) to cross the ocean. He later describes the conception, development and testing of the Ryan aircraft he flew for the feat. He finally gives a detailed account of the 33h30′ flight; hour by hour, alone, squeezed in his seat, with scarce food and water supplies, cold, flying day (within the clouds at times) and night, thrilling and semi-unconscious (asleep) at times, until he lands in Le Bourget. I wrote a post review the book, find it here.
  4. El General en su Laberinto (by Gabriel García Márquez) (+): this book is a novel trying to figure out how the last days of the Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar were. The characters, trips, locations, etc., are real. The dialogues, thoughts, feelings, are the work of Garcia Marquez. As always with Garcia Marquez, there are very vivid dialogues and reflections in the book by way of its characters, however this wasn’t the book I liked the most from him. On the hand, to get a better feeling and description of the last days of a person I very much preferred for the uneasiness it puts you as a reader The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy.
  5. Pensar con Arte (by Manuel Conthe) (++): this book shows how our minds work in their way of thinking with their biases and the situations that may arise. The concepts covered are similar to other books that I have read in the past (Thinking Fast and Slow, Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger or Poor Charlie’s Almanack), the originality here comes from the parallels and connections that the author brings and offers with the arts (literature, paint, cinema, music…), showing examples from different art craft.
  6. España 3.0: Necesitamos resetear el pais (by Javier Santiso) (+++): this book is call for action, for change, for resetting Spain into a country which bases its economy and growth on innovation, education and technology. It starts by offering a rather harsh and in my opinion good diagnostic of many of the ailments of the country. Then shows how several things do work in the country and how in previous occasions the country has raised up to similar challenges and it can and has to do so again. The sooner the better.
  7. The Diary of a young Girl (by Anne Frank) (++): the diary of a 13-year-old girl when she starts writing it and 15-year-old when it finishes, Anne Frank describes how she, her family and some others live day by day in hiding from the Nazis. Throughout the book there are many comments, appreciations, worries, misunderstandings, etc., very typical of that age. Despite of that, at some points of the book Anne provides a great example of resilience, attitude and hope: e.g. at times she reflects that all in all she cannot complain, she doesn’t lose time and imposes onto herself a rigorous studying and reading time schedules, etc. In that extent, her attitude and the diary reminded me of another book I have often seen recommended that I must read, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl, a jew imprisoned at a concentration camp.
  8. LeeLee (by Douglas Southall Freeman abridged version by Richard Harwell) (++): this is the biography of Rober E. Lee the general of the Army of Northern Virginia on the Confederate side during the US civil war. The book covers from the origins of the family, the birth and early education of Lee, his days at West Point where he specialized as an US army engineer, and how as the different states start seceding and viewing that his allegiance shall remain to Virginia he resigns from the US army. The book then describes the different battles, the style of Lee during the war and the surrender at Appomattox. Then it covers his final years as president of the Washington college in Lexington. For the extended version of this biography, Douglas Southall Freeman received a Pulitzer prize in 1935.
  9. commonstocksCommon stocks and uncommon profits and Other Writings (by Philip A. Fisher) (++): a classic book about investing strongly recommended by many, among others Warren Buffett. The first edition was written in 1950s, the edition I read dates from the 1970s and includes some reflections of what he wrote in the first one. The main contribution of the book is what the author calls the scuttlebutt (rumor, gossip) technique, that is the thorough research ground work an
    investor must make before investing in any stock by way of talking to sales men of competitor companies, customers, experts on the field, academics, management of the company, etc., and which he summarizes in 15 points. A quick takeaway from the book is that, if you lack the time to thoroughly proceed with the scuttlebutt, it might be better to leave for others, who have, the task of picking your stocks. The Other Writings included in the book relate to what is and how it was developed his investment philosophy and on whether the markets are efficient.
  10. The gospel of wealth and other timely essays (by Andrew Carnegie) (++): In the main essay of the book (The Gospel of Wealth), Carnegie, discusses the moral obligation of the wealthy to redistribute their wealth in life back to the society. He positions himself against charity and offers several options that would have a great impact in lifting those among the poor willing to work in their own progress: funding of educational institutions, hospitals, libraries, parks, monuments, etc. Other essays relate to whether the United States (the Republic) should or not follow the path of Britain in having colonies and dependencies (in relation to the Philippines), a speech explaining the arrangements of the American constitution, critiques on proposals for free trade agreements between Britain and its colonies, etc. A good review of business and politics at the end of the XIX century.
  11. Vol de nuit (“Night Flight”, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) (++):  in Saint-Exupéry’s second novel he describes the operations of an air mail business based in Buenos Aires and with aircraft incoming from different locations in South America. The book describes the difficulties of night flight at the time and of developing this new type of service. One particular flight under cyclonic conditions will put into question the whole operation and the different characters, the pilot, her wife, the line operations’ chief, radio operators, etc.

(1) You can find here: my 2012 reading list, 2013 (embedded in my summary of 2013) and 2014 ones.

(2) In this 2015 I have not written many dedicated posts about the books I have read (just one about the The Spirit of St. Louis), but I do not discard making a review of some of them in the future.

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The Roaring Nineties

 

The Roaring Nineties, Joseph E. Stiglitz.

The Roaring Nineties, Joseph E. Stiglitz.

Joseph E. Stiglitz (1) served and later chaired the  Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) during the Clinton Administration from 1993 to 1997. He was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal (1979) and he Nobel Prize in Economics (2001). After leaving the CEA he moved to the World Bank. He taught in the past at Stanford and now teaches in Columbia University. He also served at the OECD and several other positions to which he has been appointed throughout his career.

Stiglitz wrote “The Roaring Nineties” in 2003 to offer an insider’s view of economic policy making and the economic boom and bust of the nineties. I loved the book. I use to make some annotations and marks in the books I read. I counted the ones I made reading this book: 52.

Stiglitz is frank in admitting that all the focus that the Clinton administration had at the beginning of the term in passing laws to improve the living of the disfavored ones was suddenly put aside due to the mantra of deficit reduction. He openly regrets it several times throughout the book and offers some criticism on the administration he took part in and others before and after. Especially Reagan’s and Bush II’s.

Now, in 2014, there are many who brag about their seeing of the bubble that caused the financial crisis which burst between 2007-2009. It would be rather easy to see what they really said beforehand. See what Stiglitz published in 2003:

The huge tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were larger than the country could afford. The surplus of 2% of GDP of 2000 was converted in short order to a deficit of 5% of deficit – a huge turnaround in a short space of time. Americans were not saving enough to finance this deficit, and so the country, in effect, turned to the rest of the world. The country is living well beyond its means, borrowing more than a billion and a half dollars a day. […]

Households took on more debt because interest rates were low and they could afford it. But as interest rates inevitably rise as the economy strengthens, households will find it difficult to service their debt. This will be further aggravated in the years to come as large budget deficit means interest rates will be higher than they otherwise would be, putting an extra burden on the country. Many households will be forced into bankruptcy. Many will be forced to rein in their consumption. There is a strong risk that the real state bubble will break, or at the very least, prices will stagnate […] What is clear, however, is thar the Bush-Greenspan strategy, entailing greater reliance on low-interest rates and mortgage refinancing to maintain the economy through the period 2001-2004, and tax cuts for the rich, providing far less stimulus to the economy than would have been provided by investment tax credits or tax cuts for the poor, was a risky one, and has put the future of the American economy in jeopardy.” (emphasis is mine)

The risk then became an issue, which is still lasting 10 years later. This comes just in the preface of the book. Stiglitz specialization is information asymmetry. He gives some examples of such asymmetry in different passages of the book when analyzing errors, incentives, etc., in accounting, auditing, special interest agendas.

Let me quote some of the gems I had marked in his book:

“[…] one of the reasons that the invisible hand may be invisible is that it is simply not there”

“[…] “Voodoo” economics of Reagan, who somehow believed that by cutting taxes you could raise tax revenues […]”

“Developing countries were told to open their markets to every imaginable form of import […]. Meanwhile, we maintained stiff trade barriers and large subsidies of our own on behalf of U.S. farmers and agribusiness, thereby denying our market to the farmers of the Third World. […]

These were not the only examples of what struck those abroad as blatant hypocrisy.”

“We scolded the developing nations about their disrespect for intellectual property laws that we, too, had scorned in our days as a developing nation. (The United States didn’t get around to protecting the rights of foreign authors until 1891)”

“[…] the folly of the Reagan tax cuts. […] a theory scrawled on the back of a napkin, called the Laffer curve – after Arthur Laffer, who then was at the University of Chicago- which claimed  that as taxes got higher and higher, people worked less hard and saved less […]”

“Over the years, I have become convinced that the confidence argument is the last refuge of those who cannot find better arguments; when there is no direct evidence that deficits directly promote recovery or adversely affect growth, then they do so because of confidence.”

“Fiscal responsibility was supposed to be the province of the conservative Republicans, but after twelve years of fiscal profligacy, a tax cut that Reagan said would pay for itself through energizing the economy but did not, it was left to Clinton to do the dirty work, without the help of the Republicans, who voted unanimously against Clinton’s deficit reduction plan. Their opposition confirmed the more diabolic interpretation of the Reagan tax cuts. They didn’t really believe in supply-side economics, the theory that the tax cut would spur the economy so much that tax revenues would actually increase. Instead, they knew that there would be shortfalls, and they hoped that the shortfalls would force a cutback in government spending. The true agenda was thus to force large cutbacks in the size of government […]”

“[…] the IMF was founded, under the intellectual aegis of Keynes: to provide with the money necessary for expansionary fiscal policy in an economic downturn. But the IMF has forgotten its original mission […]”

“The New Economy-the innovations which continue to fuel the productivity growth and form the basis of this country’s long-run strength depend on the advances of science, on researches at universities and research labs, who work sixteen-hour days and more in the tireless search to try to understand the world in which we live. These are the people we should have been rewarding, and encouraging.”

I think that with these excerpts you get a glimpse of the directness of the book. It touches economic policies, creative accounting and accounting standards, conflicts of interests, incentives, the case study of Enron, employment, the role of central banks, the danger of quick adoptions of deregulation, corporate hypocrisy, globalization…

I strongly recommend the reading of this book (about 380 pages).

(1) You may follow him in Twitter.

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Time Value of Money

In courses about finance in the past, as part of job-related investment projections, for personal investments and as part of exercises related to posts in this blog I have discounted cash flows several times. Discounted? To those not initiated: it is about the time value of money.

Many course of finance start with the explanation of time value of money. You can find Wikipedia’s article here.

I recently came across the most descriptive and ancient (to my knowledge) explanation of the concept.

A bird in a hand is worth two in the bush”, Aesop, 600 B.C.

Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, Peter Bevelin.

Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, Peter Bevelin.

I found it while reading “Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger”, by Peter Bevelin, in which the author retrieved a passage from Warren Buffett’s 2000 Letter to the Shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway [PDF, 93KB, pg. 13]

Leaving aside tax factors, the formula we use for evaluating stocks and businesses is identical. Indeed, the formula for valuing all assets that are purchased for financial gain has been unchanged since it was first laid out by a very smart man in about 600 B.C. (though he wasn’t smart enough to know it was 600 B.C.).

The oracle was Aesop and his enduring, though somewhat incomplete, investment insight was “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” To flesh out this principle, you must answer only three questions. How certain are you that there are indeed birds in the bush? When will they emerge and how many will there be? What is the risk-free interest rate (which we consider to be the yield on long-term U.S. bonds)? If you can answer these three questions, you will know the maximum value of the bush ¾ and the maximum number of the birds you now possess that should be offered for it. And, of course, don’t literally think birds. Think dollars.

Aesop’s investment axiom, thus expanded and converted into dollars, is immutable. It applies to outlays for farms, oil royalties, bonds, stocks, lottery tickets, and manufacturing plants. And neither the advent of the steam engine, the harnessing of electricity nor the creation of the automobile changed the formula one iota — nor will the Internet. Just insert the correct numbers, and you can rank the attractiveness of all possible uses of capital throughout the universe.

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