Book Review- The Index Card

The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be Complicated
by Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack

The Index Card

This book comes from the idea that you can fit all the financial advice you ever need on an index card. High price/fee advice is overrated and financial good choices are actually simple. Good advice. Here is the index card and the book’s chapters:


Book Review- Misbehaving

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
by Richard H. Thaler, 2015


Richard Thaler has had a front-row ticket to the shaping of the behavioral economics field. In fact, he’s probably driving the bus. Initially working with psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, Thaler helped define where the traditional model of economic thinking falls short. Humans aren’t Econs (economically rational utility-maximizers). Thaler’s initial work helped document many Supposedly Irrelevant Factors (according to economic theory) that significantly affect human decision-making. He was an outsider arguing for inclusion of behavioral factors at more traditional economic gatherings. Once the new field showed enough promise and more behavioral economists started doing research, the field took on a life of its own. Now, behavioral economics conferences are common, and I’m even presenting at a Behavioral Operations Conference in July. Thaler even became president of the American Economics Association in 2015 (a development which he describes as “the lunatics are running the asylum” in the book), and behavioral economic thinking has made its way into the U.S. and U.K. executive government policy groups.

Overall, funny and insightful. Worthwhile read.

Busy busy busy

-I am sprinting to finish two papers (“Mind the Gap: Coordinating Energy Efficiency and Demand Response” and “Linking Customer Behavior and Delay Announcements: Are Customers Really Rational?”) by July 24.

-I am presenting the delay announcements paper at the Behavioral Operations Conference this Friday in Madison, WI.

-After the conference, Maria and I are doing an amusement park tour of the Great Lakes region: Michigan’s Adventure, Canada’s Wonderland, Hersheypark, Dorney Park, possibly Wildwater Kingdom, and Cedar Point. We’ll also stop in Indiana Dunes State Park, Chicago, Detroit, Niagara Falls, Philadelphia (for a Phillies game), and Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We’ll be back in Bloomington on July 26. During the trip, I’ll frequently be finalizing the two papers above while Maria drives.

-After I get back, I am sprinting again to re-submit “Incentive-Compatible Prehospital Triage in Emergency Medical Services” by mid-August.

-As such, there won’t be many website posts for the next month or so.

-After that, I will be working on a project inspecting the behavioral aspects of staffing and turnover, a new energy project, and finishing up my NFL betting project.

Book Review- The Monopolists

The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game
by Mary Pilon, 2015

the monopolists

I don’t know any Americans that have not played Monopoly. Either you love it or you are wrong. I’ve covered some of the strategy before; I try hard to win when I play. This interesting book describes Monopoly’s backstory, which differs from Parker Brothers’ traditional tale. Various incarnations of the game existed for 30 years before Parker Brothers bought the rights, and the “inventor” of Monopoly, Charles Darrow, blatantly copied it from a friend. It originated as an anti-capitalist game called the Landlord’s Game. The book ends up focusing upon the legal drama of the board game Anti-Monopoly, which Parker Brothers sued for trademark infringement. After 10 years, Anti-Monopoly won the case on appeal, partially due to the reveal during the court proceedings of long-hidden history of the game. We bought a copy of the Anti-Monopoly game during our travels a year ago; you won’t see it in many game stores because Hasbro (which now owns Parker Brothers (and Milton Bradley)) has agreements with most stores to keep out the upstart. You can play Anti-Monopoly as a Monopolist (similar rules to Monopoly) or a Free-Marketer (where you charge more reasonable rents regardless of how many properties you own of a specific color).

If you like Monopoly, here are a few tangential games to try out:
Advance to Boardwalk
Monopoly Deal Card Game
Stock Exchange Add-On to Monopoly

Book Review- Napoleon’s Buttons

Napoleon’s Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History
by Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson, 2003

Napoleon's Buttons

(This is a guest book review from Maria Schwartzman)

Did the chemical structure of tin play a role in Napoleon’s defeat and retreat from Moscow in 1812? That is how this fascinating look at the role chemistry has played throughout history begins. The seventeen general molecules discussed (peppers, nutmeg, and cloves; ascorbic acid; glucose; cellulose; nitro compounds; silk and nylon; phenol; isoprene; dyes; wonder drugs; the pill; molecules of witchcraft; morphine, nicotine, and caffeine; oleic acid; salt; chlorocarbon compounds; and molecules versus malaria) are woven into a narrative explaining both the chemistry behind the molecules and the history and context surrounding them. The chemistry is easy to understand (it’s not overpowering but stays interesting for someone who already knows chemical structures) and the history is fascinating. The order of the molecules presented was obviously thought out, as later chapters reference people or ideas from earlier ones, fully melding concepts together. I would recommend the book if you are interested in history, medicine, chemistry, production, biology, current technology… or really anything to do with human interest in the past 5000 years.

This book was listed on a “suggested summer reading list” developed by the DePauw librarians, and was recommended by one of the biochemistry professors. I enjoyed it very much. It is a fairly quick read (I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the chemical structures) and is well written.

Links 20160629: Thoughts on the Renewable Revolution

End of the era of baseline power plants?

[Hydro storage at the Helms Pumped Storage Plant, located 50 miles east of Fresno,] which began operating in 1984, was supported by regulators because it was assumed there would be excess power at night from California’s baseload nuclear power plants. Now the opposite is occurring. As more and more solar power gets connected to the grid both in front of and behind the meter, there is the potential for excess power being generated in the middle of the day. The 1,212-megawatt Helms project and other sources of energy storage can be used to absorb excess solar power and dispatch it later in a flexible manner when consumers need the power.

Good discussion of effect of tax credits and grid parity on renewables. Currently, wind can bid negative prices in and still make money if the market clears in the negative $/MWh range, because of tax credits. When the tax credits expire and renewables dominate the grid, what do the markets clear at? How do renewable developers make money if peaks are eliminated from the load curve? They’re not making much money installing the power, as a race to the bottom has dropped payments to installers.

Solar plus storage: With SolarCity deal, Tesla aims to speed clean energy transition.

In order to solve the sustainable energy problem, you need sustainable energy generation, you need storage because of the intermittency of solar and wind, and then you need to have electric transport,” he said. “Those are the three ingredients we need to have a good future, so that’s kind of how I think about things — not that we’re an automotive company or anything like that. -Musk

The Rise of the Regional Solar Installer. I’m finding it more and more likely that the most prominent national solar installers today are putting all the work/money into developing cheap solar power. In a few years, a new company will swoop in (perhaps from these regional installers), use the ‘lessons learned’ from the current solar developers, and use a demonstrably better business plan to corner the market. Thus, it is possible that the big gorilla of the solar industry will not be one of the national names you may have already heard.

The Orator’s Parable

The Orator’s Parable, by Doug Samuelson, available on page 66 here.

“He literally doesn’t know the first thing about pubic speaking.”

“And what is that?” Brett inquired, even more surprised.

“Forget about what you want to say,” Ben smiled.

“What?” Brett blurted.

“Focusing on what you want to say is a distraction, or worse,” Ben explained. “You want to focus on what you want the audience to remember.”

Brett took a moment to absorb this.

“This has several advantages,” Ben elaborated. “First of all, you figure out who your audience is and try to meet them where they are – that is, start with what you’re pretty sure they know and believe and build from there. You emphasize major points more, repeat them several times, and make sure they’re clearly and simply – memorably – worded. Write your conclusion first, then your introduction, and make sure the conclusion summarizes your key point in a short, catchy phrase that they’ll remember if they remember nothing else. Then you build from introduction to conclusion in the order that’s easiest to follow, not the order that makes the most sense to you. This also means you time it so that if a session chair might cut you off, you make sure to get the conclusion in even if your delivery runs longer than you intended.”

Book Review- Content

Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future
by Cory Doctorow, 2008


Cory Doctorow cares more about copyright, digital rights management, and fair use policies than you do. So reading his takes on the topic was pretty interesting. He makes a lot of good points about the unsustainable nature of current producer/consumer dynamic in the digital age.

This is a collection of his published essays and works, and I would have preferred a more edited version. He discusses many of the same topics in sequential essays, rehashing much of the same motivation and examples each time. If, by the end of the book, you do not know that he provides free ebook copies of his books on his website, you were clearly not paying attention the 10 times he told you. That said, it was good overall and provided insights into topics about which I had previously not paid much attention.