Category Archive 'Current events'

Book review: War Reporting for Cowards

Current events

While biding my time during a long layover at O’Hare International Airport on my recent trip, I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon War Reporting for Cowards. It’s a short autobiographical work by Chris Ayers, a British finance and business journalist who found himself assigned to Iraq in 2004, embedded on the front lines with the US Marines.

Though Ayers doesn’t disappoint those expecting self-deprecating British humor, don’t think that this is a laugh-out-loud book that belongs on the “humor” shelf at Barnes & Noble. Nor is it a book that takes a particular stance on whether the war in Iraq was right or wrong.

Because he makes no pretenses about being a brave war journalist, what Ayers gives us is a rare look into the reality of being on the front lines of warfare, and I admire that he doesn’t hide his emotions, be they fear, terror, or admiration. He also found himself right in the middle of 9/11 while serving as the Wall Street journalist for the Times of London, and I appreciated his sincere portrayal of both the horror and surrealism of what was happening around him. Perhaps because we’re about the same age, I found myself relating to and chuckling at his observations and thoughts throughout the book.

War Reporting for Cowards is more of a general-interest book, but I found myself liking it well enough to recommend it here. Thanks for allowing me this non-finance-related post diversion.

Does consumerism drive innovation?

Current events, Personal finance

I’m traveling today so instead of writing something long here, I’ll turn your attention to an interesting contrarian paper that claims the US is in great position to continue to lead innovation thanks to our insatiable appetite for buying new gadgets. The academic paper, presented in late July, was mentioned in last week’s Economist under the title , but you can read the full original text at the author’s website as well.

While the paper might be light on hard data, I always like giving a chance to ideas that go against prevailing beliefs (in this case, that the US is dangerously lagging in math and science and up to our eyeballs in debt, and nothing good can come of either situation). Here’s an extended quote from the article:

[The] sort of upstream innovation (the big ideas of those scientists and engineers) most celebrated by those who fear its movement to China and India is the hardest to keep locked up in the domestic market [because innovation is not constrained by national borders].

The least internationally mobile innovation, on the other hand, is the downstream sort, where big ideas are made suitable for a local market. Mr Bhidé argues that this downstream innovation…is the most valuable kind and what America is best at. Moreover, perhaps the most important fact overlooked by the techno-nationalists…is that most of the value of innovations accrues to their users not their creators — and stays in the country where innovation is consumed. So if China and India do more invention, so much the better for American consumers. The most important part of innovation may be the willingness of consumers, whether individuals or firms, to try new products and services.

The article doesn’t mention if Bhidé addresses how we’ll pay other countries for driving all this high-tech innovation our way, but I’ll share my thoughts on this later once I’ve read his paper and given him a chance to explain.

Say it ain’t so…a credit card version of Monopoly?!

Current events, Personal finance

News broke a couple of days ago that Hasbro’s introduced in the UK and plans to roll out the same version next year to the US and Canada.

Ok, I understand that this is an attempt by those fine folks in marketing to capture a new audience with an “updated” version of the game…but am I already becoming an old fogey at my age by thinking this is, as the article says, “pop-cultural heresy”? Where’s the fun in sliding plastic cards in a little machine? Naw, you need the visceral joy of exchanging large sums of colorful bills back and forth between players and the banker to really “get” the game, right? Otherwise, why not just play a computer game version?

There’s a run on air conditioners in the Bay Area

Current events

Unless you live in a new mansion or upscale apartment, housing in the Bay Area doesn’t normally come with air conditioning. You don’t need it. Or that’s what we’ve been told. That is, until a heat wave hit this weekend. It hit 90 degrees F inside the house yesterday on the Peninsula, so we headed to the mall to cool down.

We drove to Stanford Shopping Center because they allow dogs in their stores; we couldn’t have left Lola at home. (French bulldogs, being a brachycephalic breed, don’t tolerate heat at all.) It was an ok solution, but since the thermometer in the car registered 104 degrees by the time we parked, walking between the stores in the outdoor mall wasn’t fun. Last night, even with all the windows open, the house didn’t cool down like it usually does.

Today, we broke down and decided to get an air conditioner. We headed to Home Depot as soon as it opened, only to discover that they’re all out of air conditioners all across the Bay Area! In fact, their next shipment was coming in on the 30th, for the smallest unit they had. A little more checking around and we found that Lowe’s still had 4 wall-unit A/Cs left in their San Bruno store. $189 for a 10K BTU unit which we’ve stuck in the second (guest) bedroom. We consider it money well spent for a small area of haven. Thank goodness our house is less than 1000 sq. ft., though I’ll be interested to see how much higher our electricity bill goes up this month. This way, when we leave the house, neither Lola nor the puppy we’re getting next month will suffer in the heat.

Still, I can’t help feeling like a wimp. People not so long ago had no such thing as air conditioning, and they survived. If we didn’t have to worry about our dogs’ health, I’d probably have foregone the purchase. How did they manage in the past?

Guess there is such a thing as frugal gambling

Current events

Heard on NPR this morning: a woman placed two $0.10 bets at Swartz Creek Raceway and won $21,584. That’s a CAGR of infinity according to my little calculator (starting amount $0.20, ending amount $21,584, # of years = 0.00002, assuming the whole thing took 10 minutes). Actually, I had no idea placing such low bets were even possible. She had to pick the top four finishers in the correct order, something called a Superfecta.