Monthly Archives: January 2017

Book Review – Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman, 1985

Written over thirty years ago, this diatribe rallies one against the tyranny of television. Public discourse becomes entertainment instead of rigorous debate when a culture moves from the printed word to the picture box. I do feel that much of what is said is true, and it’s even more true nowadays with the internet around to amuse us to death. I read Technopoly in a seminar in college and this pairs nicely. Here are two quotes from the last chapter that seem especially prescient. In the first, he compares the dystopias of George Orwell (1984) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), both of which you should read.

What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

In America, Orwell’s prophecies are of small relevance, but Huxley’s are well under way toward being realized. For America is engaged in the world’s most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions made possible by the electric plug. This is an experiment that began slowly and modestly in the mid-nineteenth century and has now, in the latter half of the twentieth, reached a perverse maturity in America’s consuming love-affair with television. As nowhere else in the world, Americans have moved far and fast in bringing to a close the age of the slow-moving printed word, and have granted to television sovereignty over all of their institutions. By ushering in the Age of Television, America has given the world the clearest available glimpse of the Huxleyan future.

While he may miss on the importance of the computer, he does hit on the promise and letdown of Big Data:

Although I believe the computer to be a vastly overrated technology, I mention it here because, clearly, Americans have accorded it their customary mindless inattention; which means they will use it as they are told, without a whimper. Thus, a central thesis of computer technology—that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data—will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved.

It is somewhat amusing that I read this book through an electronic medium (book on tape) instead of in book form.

Amazon Link: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Indiana is not a fan of solar

Indiana energy bill would eliminate net metering, move to ‘buy-all, sell-all’ solar model

New bill would eliminate net metering, which is not unheard of and is a common attack across the country. However, I’ve never heard of “buy-all, sell-all” where your generated power must be sold to the utility at “avoided cost” and then bought back from the utility at retail rates. Basically, you end up paying about 5-7 cents per kWh to use the power you generate on your roof.

I imagine this is a ridiculous first offer in a negotiation process so that when the utilities “settle” for just eliminating net metering, the solar advocates can claim they staved off the worst.

NFL Picks – Super Bowl 2016

The model picks the Patriots (equally good on offense and defense) by 1 over the Falcons (exceptional at offense), unfortunately. Does pick the Falcons against the spread, though.

Overall Against the Spread: 105-132
Week 2: 8-8
Week 3: 10-6
Week 4: 6-9
Week 5: 5-8 (1 push)
Week 6: 7-6 (2 pushes)
Week 7: 3-11 (1 game not bet)
Week 8: 6-7
Week 9: 5-6 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 10: 8-6
Week 11: 7-4 (1 game not bet, 2 pushes)
Week 12: 5-10 (1 push)
Week 13: 4-11
Week 14: 8-8
Week 15: 5-9 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 16: 7-9
Week 17: 7-8 (1 push)
Wild Card: 0-4
Division: 2-2
Conference: 2-0

Book Review – Get Rich with Dividends

Get Rich with Dividends: A Proven System for Earning Double-Digit Returns
by Marc Lichtenfeld, 2012

A starter guide to the dividend growth movement. I’ve already been reading a few blogs on dividend growth (Sure Dividend is my favorite), and this book confirms the thoughts I’m reading elsewhere. I’m hoping that my (currently) relatively modest holdings with grow with the power of dividend growth over the years. Companies that have a decent dividend yield with a high dividend growth rate and sustainable payout ratio are good candidates for a long term buy-and-hold portfolio. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, and Coca Cola are good options for such portfolios. This book suggests a higher starting yield (4.7% or more) than I’m used to, but I think many stocks with 2-4% starting yields are still good. I’m open to investment discussions and information sharing, if anyone is interested.

Amazon Link: Get Rich with Dividends: A Proven System for Earning Double-Digit Returns

NFL Picks – Conference Round 2016

Overall Against the Spread: 103-132
Week 2: 8-8
Week 3: 10-6
Week 4: 6-9
Week 5: 5-8 (1 push)
Week 6: 7-6 (2 pushes)
Week 7: 3-11 (1 game not bet)
Week 8: 6-7
Week 9: 5-6 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 10: 8-6
Week 11: 7-4 (1 game not bet, 2 pushes)
Week 12: 5-10 (1 push)
Week 13: 4-11
Week 14: 8-8
Week 15: 5-9 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 16: 7-9
Week 17: 7-8 (1 push)
Wild Card: 0-4
Division: 2-2

Book Review – Ahead of the Curve

Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution
by Brian Kenny, 2016

We (Maria and I) met Brian Kenny at the 2013 SABR Analytics conference. He was the keynote speaker, and advocated such things at knuckleball academies (to train knuckleball pitchers), bullpenning (using your bullpen more effectively and moving away from the dominance of the starting pitcher), and a information-saavy managerial staff to replace intuitive managers. He’s incredibly well-spoken and brings that to his work on ESPN and MLB Network, and now to his book.

Kill the win. Kill the save. Don’t sign big-money free agents. All are topics in this book, but I think the overwhelming theme is that we need to halt the tyranny of backward-thinking sports media that constantly attacks and belittles analytical thinking. Great book.

Pairs well with Moneyball, obviously (my reading of that one pre-dates when I was writing book reviews for my website). Also pairs well with Big Data Baseball, Mathletics, How to Measure Anything, and Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Amazon Link: Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution

NFL Picks – Division Round 2016

Ha, I doubt it, but there’s a chance switching from Python 2 to Python 3 mid-season introduced a bug into my code. The results have been awful since then. 0-4 wild card. Ha. Just keep chugging.

Overall Against the Spread: 101-130
Week 2: 8-8
Week 3: 10-6
Week 4: 6-9
Week 5: 5-8 (1 push)
Week 6: 7-6 (2 pushes)
Week 7: 3-11 (1 game not bet)
Week 8: 6-7
Week 9: 5-6 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 10: 8-6
Week 11: 7-4 (1 game not bet, 2 pushes)
Week 12: 5-10 (1 push)
Week 13: 4-11
Week 14: 8-8
Week 15: 5-9 (1 game not bet, 1 push)
Week 16: 7-9
Week 17: 7-8 (1 push)
Wild Card: 0-4