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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

July-25-09

Amazon Kindle = Big Brother?

Posted by Robert Alonso under Books, Hardware, Opinions

In a future predicted by George Orwell’s “1984,” the government censors writing that it deems inappropriate and the population is left to read only what is approved. It seems Orwell was off by 25 years, but the dystopia he predicted may be beginning. Amazon recently deleted “1984” and “Animal Farm” from customer’s Kindle devices without notice or authorization. I consider this equivalent to a store clerk from a book store breaking into my house and taking a book that I purchased earlier that day. It is outrageous and portends a bleak, dystopian future.

Amazon has said that they mistakenly sold copies of the digital books without having the right to sell them. This may be true, but it still does not give them the right to delete them from personally owned devices. If this were allowed to stand as something that is acceptable corporate behavior, it would enable other companies to delete items from your computer, iPod or iPhone if they deem it to be pirated or objectionable for whatever reason. Now imagine a future where there are no paper copies of books, just electronic ones on devices like the Kindle. The government is taken over by, lets say left wingers, who want to eliminate all copies of Bill O’Reilly’s conservative books. They remotely delete them and all other conservative authors that they abhor. In that scenario, what can the regular guy do to get a balanced view of the world?

Amazon’s ill advised deletion should be the catalyst for congressional action. We need a Digital Rights Amendment that specifically details the rights of purchasers of digital content. It is outrageous to allow a corporation to go into our property and delete or take back something that you have paid for. It is also dangerous to a democratic society.

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon has apologized for his company’s action. Here is a quote from his apology:

Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

I accept his apology, but I do not accept his promise that Amazon will not delete books from end user devices going forward. I believe that the time is right for a law that prevents this type of abuse from occurring again in any form and from any source. What do you think?

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May-15-09

Biography of the Dollar

Posted by Robert Alonso under Books, Opinions

“Biography of the Dollar” by Craig Karmin is an excellent book that explains how the dollar rose to become the preeminent currency worldwide and why it is now under pressure from other currencies. The book was written and published prior to the current economic malaise, but I consider it indispensable reading for the meaningful insight that it will provide you. Through it, you will gain some understanding as to why all the economies of the world are hurting now that the United States is suffering.

The first chapter in the book deals with foreign exchange trading and the billions that are at stake. The author does this by going behind the scenes at FX Concepts; one of the leading currency trading firms in the U.S. The chapter is so well written that you feel that you are working at the company during some of the most stressful moments of trading. The second chapter covers the Bureau of Engraving and Printing which is the organization in charge of printing all the money in circulation. This chapter is fascinating and offers a unique behind-the-scenes look at how the dollar is made, distributed and tracked. The money ultimately makes its way back to the bureau where it is destroyed after it is too used to circulate. I also found the stories about crooks that have attempted to steal bills directly from the bureau riveting.

The third chapter is a history lesson on the rise of the dollar and the establishment of the Federal Reserve System. I found this chapter interesting and informative. In fact, it should be required reading for history and economics majors in college or maybe even in advanced high school history courses. The fourth chapter goes into great details into the economies of South American countries with an emphasis on Ecuador and its adoption of the dollar as its official currency. The dollarization of Ecuador led to economic stability in the country, but with some unforeseen costs. Chapter five gives us great detail about how Asian economies are now tied to the United States economy by way of their massive reserves of dollars. It also includes sobering information on how dangerous this is for both the Asian countries and the U.S.

The last chapter discusses a bank that allows United States citizens to save with the value stored in a foreign currency. The thinking behind these accounts is that the dollar is headed for a fall and having some of your assets in Euros or Yen might be a good idea. In general, the chapter deals with the potential fall of the dollar and the potential for other currencies to surpass the dollars preeminence. The current thinking is that the Yuan from China or even the Euro from the European Union may have a chance at displacing the dollar.

It will take much time for the dollar to lose its omnipotent position in the global economy, but it is not inconceivable that it could happen within a lifetime. If it does, it will have a huge impact on the country’s ability to borrow money, fund deficits and maintain trade imbalances. This is the book you should read if you want to understand economics at the global level—especially now with the global banking crises. It is thorough and informative, but does not require an advanced degree to understand. I give this book my highest recommendation and hope that new, updated versions are released regularly.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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September-12-08

Sway

Posted by Robert Alonso under Books, Opinions

“Sway – The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior” is an excellent read for all business people. When you finish the book, you’ll get the feeling of having experienced many of the sways that are discussed. It is very easy to get caught up in behavior that is detrimental to one’s business and personal life. The book explores many of the ways that we sabotage our relationships and suggests indirectly how to avoid them.

Each chapter is dedicated to one form of irrational behavior. This keeps things simple and makes the book easier to read and digest. The authors are two brothers; Ori and Rom Brafman. Their writing style is enjoyable and full of examples from real life studies that are easy to relate to. One of these involves first round NBA picks and how they are likely to perform versus other players with identical skills who are not first round picks. The answers are quite revealing and will teach you that it is important to be a better judge of skills and character.

Other examples in the books show how compensating people with bonuses can sometimes be detrimental to achieving the desired results. It turns out that we are more willing to help someone for free than we are to help if we are offered a token of appreciation that we do not value much. The authors and the studies that they cite contend that the brain processes altruistic responses in a distinct part of the brain that is often at odds with the part of the brain that wants compensation or pleasure. They maintain that these two areas of the brain compete when something is perceived as both altruistic and rewarding.

I recommend the book. You can get your copy at Amazon or other book stores everywhere.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting

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July-27-08

The Drunkard’s Walk

Posted by Robert Alonso under Books, Opinions

Leonard Mlodinow’s new book, “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives” is hard to categorize. It is a scientific book that describes and explains many of the ways that mathematics affects the human condition. It is also a motivational book because it encourages the reader not to allow negative events to shape their world view. You could even call it a business book since it can inspire a reader to succeed and even encourages behavior that does lead to business success.

One thing can be conclusively said about the book; it is brilliant. It shows that a brilliant person can mix good writing, historical context, scientific fact and inspirational advice in one very readable text. Mr. Mlodinow is not a novice at the enterprise of writing. He has written books with Stephen Hawkings (“A Briefer History of Time”) and has written books about Feynman and Euclid–both notable scientist in different fields.

The Drunkard’s Walkeffectively discusses the hidden role of chance in everyday situations. It also discusses the history of the study of probability and the stories of the people that moved it forward. Some of the names are well known and others not at all. I was personally amused by the story of Gerolamo Cardano who was born by accident and who was so frail that no one believed he would survive. He faced the Black Death plague and though his nurse and brothers died, he survived with some facial disfigurements. Against his father’s wishes he decided to study medicine. He had to support himself and chose to so with games of chance. This decision led to his writing, “Book on Games of Chance” which Mlodinow says covers card games, dice, backgammon and astragali. According to him, this book represented a beachhead on “the human quest to understand the nature of uncertainty.” Without repeating all of Cardano’s accomplishments or the significance of these here, I can tell you that the most amusing part of the story is that Cardano did not want his book published lest his competition in games of chance learn his many secrets.

Mlodinow teaches you probability and statistics and many other scientific facts and theories through stories that present a human dimension to the facts. It is this that makes the book fun to read and easy to recommend. What made the book extremely worthwhile to me as someone who runs a small business is a quote from the last chapter in the book: “What I’ve learned, above all, is to keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor to success is under our control: the number of at bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized. For even a coin weighted toward failure will sometimes land on success.”

You can get your copy at Amazonor other book stores everywhere.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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June-30-08

FL!P

Posted by Robert Alonso under Advice, Books, Opinions

With this subtitle: “How to Turn Everything You Know on Its Head–and Succeed Beyond Your Wildest Imaginings” how could you not buy this book? I certainly could not resist the urge to buy Peter Sheahan’s book. FL!P is an easy-to-read business book that encourages you to think of your business in a different way. If this happens, then the author has accomplished his goal and you have flipped.

The author chides the reader into thinking counterintuitively and into moving forward with action. He believes that today’s business environment requires that you do things Fast, Good, Cheap and then Add Something Extra. He warns readers of the dangers of complacency in the new global economy and also explains the dangers that the Internet has created for businesses that do not perform well. For example, if you did not satisfy a customer in the past, you could suffer from bad word of mouth that could affect ten or more people. With the Internet, the same dissatisfied customer could post information about his experience on a blog and affect the opinion of hundreds or thousands of people. I believe what Mr. Sheahan writes completely because I have posted comments on this blog about unsatisfactory experiences with preferredphoto.com and with the Maestro 4250 GPS and know that dozens of Google searches bring dozens of readers to those experiences every week.

Like most business books, some of the advice is obvious. For example, the book has a chapter on the fact that business is personal. This is obvious to anyone who has owned or managed a business. People do business with people they know and trust. Mr. Sheahan makes the point that one way to compete with the threat of cheaper global labor is to stress the fact that you are local and trustworthy. He uses as an example a laser eye surgery that he underwent. He had the choice of having it done for a fraction of the cost overseas, but chose a local doctor after the doctor explained to him that Sheahan’s condition meant something to the doctor and would affect him if he did not do it right. He told him that in a foreign country, the doctor would not be worried about his reputation or about any malpractice.

I recommend “FL!P” because it is a good and entertaining read, because it inspired me to action and because it is well researched. Buy a copy and read it, you won’t regret it.

You can get FL!P here.

Robert Alonso
Alonso Consulting, Inc.

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