Archive for the ‘books’ Category
My daughter’s Godmother is studying to be an MD, and has started her internship. Starting her internship coincided with her birthday, which meant that many of the presents she received were related to medicine. One of the gifts, which she gracefully allowed me to borrow before she read it was How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, MD.
Groopman’s book covers one subject which I love: heuristics and bias. Heuristics are the stuff the practice of medicine is made of, which makes it a little strange that this isn’t always taught. The influence of the intuitive, fast, effortless System 1 thinking versus the slower, conscious, System 2 thinking is reasonably well known. System 1 allows us to unconsciously come to conclusions based on the information at hand, as Groopman says: “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” The practice of medicine is such that most of the diseases encountered fit into a nice pattern, however it is also a burden which make cognitive bias possible. When a doctor sees nine patients who are suffering from flue symptoms, System 1 will quickly come to the conclusion that the diagnoses of the tenth patient with these symptoms is also flue, and will even ignore facts to the contrary. Read the rest of this entry »
I needed a way to be able to shamelessly plug the posts I recently bundled into the booklet “Write Something“. I want to build a list, and offering something which adds value for the subscriber is a good way to do this. There is a host of good material which you can use to help, so I won’t elaborate on that in this post.
I have a hosted WordPress.com blog, which means that I can’t run a local script to collect the mail addresses and mail them, so I turned to Google Docs’ Form functionality for the entry form, naturally I give them the option to download the booklet there, and I wanted to send the subscriber a message to thank them. In the Google tutorial: Simple Mail Merge they explain how to do a mail merge using the Script Editor. I wanted to go a little further and have it send a mail with thank you note and a link to each subscriber as soon as they filled in the form.
I was advised to read Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why by a social media guru who practically abandoned his – albeit limited to the Netherlands – stardom to pursue a position in a turning round a company who’s why was determined by governmental decree, and as such was fuzzy for customers and company. And I came to it with many preconceptions of cones and funnels, expecting it to be a Gladwellian book with limited practical application beyond creating awareness – which in some circles is already a Herculean task.
Sinek started by blowing my Anglo-American expectations out of the water by posing a question on the first page of the book. It acts as the first warning in the book to not take things at face value – the What and How – and go straight for the jugular: Inspiring with Why you are doing what you are doing. The nature of the thought is that our experience of the world is created “from the inside-out”, understanding that the Golden Circle has Why at the centre and the How and What are just the physical manifestations of Why we do things.
As examples he uses Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, the Wright brothers and a host of others for whom we already know What they did and shows us How they did it by being inspired with a reason – their Why. The stories he tells and the way he tells them influenced me and my story, and my answer to Why.
What’s you Why?
- Effortless Evolution – Jamie Smart
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My father walked into a charity shop in the UK. He wasn’t really looking for something, and went to browse the used books section. Which is were he found The Silver Pigs, by Lindsey Davis. Like me he’s a fan of crime novels and historical novels, so it was little wonder that he gave the book to me after finishing it.
This is the first book in the Falco series, albeit a revised version containing an author’s preface excusing the errors in previous version in particular the corrections which could not be performed due to their impact on the story. Naturally these are easily forgiven as these are not oversights, and are “[…] problems an author can face keeping up-to-date even after publication.” This was most amusing as I quickly spotted a glaring continuity error, alas I am a nitpicker.
The book itself is fun, and the protagonist Marcus Didius Falco wanders as the narrator through the Roman empire filling in the culture, environment and habits of Romans. He travels from Rome to Britannia touching briefly on the provinces which lie in between. As in a good crime novel it contains a victim, a love interest, a distraught client and a slightly less than obvious conclusion. The story’s power lies in the fact that all does not follow the formulaic story line that relies on a deus ex machina to rescue the story in the conclusion of the case.
An enjoyable read.
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I had heard of The Quants and wanted to buy it, after my father and I discussed how it was that all this money disappeared during the credit crisis I thought it might be wise to get an in depth view of the “China syndrome hedge fund catastrophe.” This is more than just a review of the book.
The first thing that I noticed were the multiple references to Ed Thorpe’s “Beat the Dealer”, a book on card counting Black Jack using a Hi-Lo method, and “Liar’s Poker“. Both books are on my bookshelf. Liar’s Poker highlights the years 1985-1987 as a trader at Salomon Brothers. There is some overlap between the characters of the book, such as John Meriwether who famously was challenged to a game of liar’s poker for 1 million dollars and replied: “If we’re going to play for those kind of numbers, I’d rather play for real money. Ten million dollars. No tears.”
The book reminded me of playing the computer game “Capitalism” when I was 16 in which I would game the system by creating a company which produced a little profit and initially plowing that profit into buying companies by hostile takeovers on the mini stock market and then avoid the system creating more AI companies – it had a fixed number of AI companies and mergers would cause new AI companies to be created – by buying a controlling interest in the AI companies and forcing them to turn out high dividends until all the AI companies in the stock market were under my control. And leave the computer AIs to tend to the companies and all their business while the dividends pushed my company’s profit into 12 digits.
The Quants is less of a narrative than Liar’s Poker, much of it is carefully crafted from multiple interviews with most of the players, books, magazines and newspaper articles. The tale of hedge fund managers and traders taking ever increasing risk just to earn the same amount that they did the previous year is and as it notes “Hedge fund managers who’ve seen big losses can be especially dangerous. Investors […] may become demanding and impatient. … [T]here can be a significant incentive to push the limits of the fund’s capacity to generate large gains […] If a big loss is no worse than a small loss or meager gains […] the temptation to jack up the leverage and roll the dice can be powerful.”
Even the glaring warning of Meriwether’s LTCM failure in 1998, like Daedalus’ warning to Icarus, it was ignored by most of the hedge funds. “By 1998, nearly every bond arbitrage desk and fixed-income hedge fund on Wall Street had copied LTCM’s trades.” They were leveraged up to their eyeballs, and while making huge debts of their own they traded with the debts of others, bonds, collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps. Some hedge fund had leverages of 30 to 1, which means they borrowed $30 for each dollar they had as an asset. “Coming into 2008, hedge funds were in control of $2 trillion.” And the banks they were borrowing from had leverages of at least 9 to 1, because of fractional-reserve banking, these same banks “… Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, and Deutsche Bank, […] were rapidly transforming from staid white-shoe bank companies into hot-rod hedge fund vehicles fixated on the fast buck…” These banks had “… trillions more in leverage that juiced their returns like anabolic steroids.”
And it wasn’t just the banks, insurance companies go into the action too. These insurance companies insured the credit default swaps, “[i]f the value of the underlying asset insured by the swaps declined for whatever reason, the protection provider […] would have to put up more collateral, since the risk of default was higher.”
The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.
—Wall Street proverb
“… [T]here were legitimate concerns that as computer-driven trading reached unfathomable speeds, danger lurked. Many of these computer-driven funds were gravitating to a new breed of stock exchange called ‘dark pools’—secretive, computerized trading networks that match buy and sell orders for blocks of stocks in the frictionless ether of cyberspace. … In these invisible electronic pools, vast sums change hands beyond the eyes of regulators. While efforts were afoot to push the murky world of derivatives trading into the light of day, stock trading was sliding rapidly into the shadows.”
“The findings of behavioral finance .. had shown time and again that people don’t always make optimal choices when it comes to money […] [N]euroeconomics, was delving into the hardwiring of the brain to investigate why people often make decisions that aren’t rational […] Evidence was emerging that certain parts of the brain are subject to a ‘money illusion’ that blinds people to the impact of future events, such as the effect of inflation on the present value of cash—or the possibility of a speculative bubble bursting.”
To me it also looks like they were and still are blinded to money. Two great reads for the weekend.
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Bloody River Blues is a book by Jeffery Deaver which came from a second hand book store with another stack of Deaver books, when I arrived home I realized that I shouldn’t’ve bothered buying it – I already had a copy. When the mood strikes me I will often walk into a second hand book store and buy a stack of books by one known author or a stack of books from many different unknown authors.
John Pellam is an independent location scout who continually finds himself in trouble of some sorts, which is often connected to a woman. This time Pellam is not scouting for locations for an unmade movie, he is wrapping up the scouting for a movie which is being made. After witnessing a shooting he becomes the victim of over zealous police, and FBI. In the Lincoln Rhyme series you read an idealized view of the police, in the location scout series the police are often an incompetent mess or worse.
A good way to pass the time.
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Magic Street is another book which came from the rescued book stack. I’ve know Orson Scott Card for some time, although I have never read Enders Game, and had always wanted to read something of his. So when this literally landed in my lap I was happy to say the least.
Having not read anything by Card before I can’t tell you whether Magic Street is indicative of Card’s style. I was pleasantly surprised by the book. As you may know I don’t usually go for fantasy, I mostly enjoy hardcore science fiction. The story centers round the boy Mack Street, who is different from other boys, sweet and a little strange. The story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
A nice weird story.
Image source: Amazon