Thursday, October 15, 2009

What I've been reading

1. Little Children by Tom Perrotta: Very well crafted caricature of suburban life and very New Yorker-ish.

My definition of New Yorker-ish is at the end when "a bug crawls across the window" as the protagonist looks at it and "suddenly" the protagonists understands, e.g. (spoiler alert!):

But what he suddenly understood - it seemed so obvious now as if the truth had been jarred loose when his body hit the pavement - was that he'd never actually wanted to start a new life n the first place. (pg. 314)

Sarah smelled chocolate on Lucy's breath as she leaned forward to plant a soft kiss on the tip of her cute little nose. A vision came to her as her lips touched Lucy's skin, a sudden vivid awareness of the life they'd lead together from here on out, the hothouse intimacy of a single mother and her only child, the two of them sharing everything, breathing the same air, inflicting their moods on each other, best friends and bitter rivals, competing for attention, relying on each other for companionship, and probably unhealthy bond that for better and worse would become the center of both their identities ... (pg. 317)

2. Insanely Great by Steve Levy: An enjoyable read about the Macintosh.

3. Accidental Empires by Robert Cringely. Spectacularly wrong on the future of RISC chips and the demise of Steve Jobs -- all with the benefit of hindsight of course.

4. Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industy and Made Himslef the Richest Man in America by Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews. A little choppy as it made little leaps forward and backward in time but in the end even with all the details about Gates' life there is very little insight on how Microsoft really works. Yes, they are reactive to the market, i.e. see a product that has become popular and then try to make their own version better but left unexplained is how they do it e.g. spec design, etc. from a software designer's perspective. In a way it was very much like this Intel book.

What is also interesting is that all its competitors in the book: Borland, WordPerfect, Ashton-Tate are no longer around.

Also given Gates' propensity for being cheap - it tells of a story of how Gates at his height was hunting for a 50 cent coupon for ice cream and holding up the entire check out line - and his rule on only flying coach, why would Microsoft spend so extravagantly on software rollout events and Comdex parties? This question nagged at me throughout the book.

The only thing I'll quote is at the end:
"One thing economists are not good at is measuring productivity ... The output is not defined it's changing every time, and so the comparison is bogus." Was a business letter with five fancy fonts and a pie chart a more productive output than a dull typewritten sheet of text? Not even software could give a clear answer. (pg. 455)

5. The Roaring 80's by Adam Smith. This book is like a series of blog entries and random thoughts - very disjointed and unfocused and ended up skimming most of it. Was surprised to learn the following (pg. 26):

"What did you expect?" (Adam Smith asks Volcker about the change in policy to control inflation.)
"A better impact on public psychology and economic performance and a prompter effect in lowering interst rates and inflation expectations. You expected interest rates to go up in the aftermath, but I was so naive as to hope short-term interest rates alone would go higher. You would have had a great success if long-term rates didn't go up very much, or went up and came down again. But it didn't happen. Rates went up and stayed all the way along the line." .....
"Did you expect interest rates to go as high as they did?" I asked.
"No, I certainly didn't expect them to got to twenty-one percent."
"What did you expect?"
"That - twenty-one percent - would have been out of the ball park. The other thing that surprised you during that period - 1979 and the winter of 1980 - was that the assembled economic wisdom said we were on the edge of a recession, if not in one. Instead, with interest rates going up, and things getting tighter, the economy kept expanding. When you were guessing what interest rates might be, you wouldn't have assumed that the economy would be as strong as it was."
"Did you feel uneasy as you saw the rates go from twelve to fourteen to sixteen to eighteen percent?"
"Uneasy? The uneasiness over interest rates was moderated by the lack of evidence that the economy was collapsing. Inflation was getting worse - inflation of eighteen percent and interest rates at eighteen percent are in context - you had a higher inflation rate and a stronger economy."
"Did you expect that it would produce a recession?"
"No. Nobody realized it at the time, but the recession was created by credit controls. ... "
"If you had it to do over again, what would you do?"
"I wouldn't do credit controls, that's for sure. I went along with it but it was the administration's idea - Carters. ..."

The subsequent recession and the rise and then fall of interest rates moderated inflation and here Volcker held firm according to Adam Smith's account until July 1982 when he decided to ease monteary policy.

Always was under the impression that Volcker and the Fed knew what they were doing.

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