Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy by Anna Politkovskaya (2005)

This book is a sad memento to Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in Moscow in 2006. Occasionally paid and in some cases semi-starving military personnel handling atomic warheads, strategic submarines and the like? Army conscripts getting into unfortunate accidents? Corruption at all levels of government and society? Judges bought and still reappointed for further terms? You just watch all these unfold in this book. One of the chapters is a cautionary tale to any investors dabbling in securities investments in "developing" markets, detailing the "redistribution" (or to be more exact stealing) of government wealth into private hands in one of the provinces, and the coldblooded aggression and violence surrounding those events. The whole book paints a really bleak picture of the current political and economical climate of Russia.


The Demise of the Dollar... and Why It's Great For Your Investments by Addison Wiggin (2005)

This short book regurgitates the obvious, starting from the discussion on "fiat" vs. gold backed currency, through the faulty policies of the (banking cartel) Federal Reserve and the trade and budget deficits, showing how the once mighty US dollar is destined to fall. And maybe it is already losing its value faster than it can be seen from the official statistics, as inflation numbers maybe underestimating the real inflation by about 2%. Basic investment options are offered to take advantage of the demise of the dollar, including purchasing foreign currency (likely Euro) or currency options, buying foreign securities, and purchasing gold and gold producers. The problem with this book is the same as with the quoted Prechter's Conquer the Crash, while we can see how this can be applicable and partially unfolding, without exact timing this is no help to investment success. Unless timed perfectly, implementing the suggested strategies would likely be detrimental to your financial health (and this includes buying foreign securities which is the least "speculative" choice), if the dollar happens to strengthen during your holding period.


Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York by Adam Gopnik (2006)

Essays on New York, life and everything. Reflections on small events (the production details of a children's school play) and large events (the 9/11 attacks) take the writer and the reader on journeys of the mind. A pleasure.

Brief encounters with Che Guevara : stories by Fountain, Ben (2006)

A stories (mostly of Americans) set in places (third world hell holes) you likely would not want to be, exposing how humans stay human exhibiting the same old emotions, hunting for a deal, the almighty dollar and women. More the things look different at first glance, more they are the same later ...

Winning Through Intimidation by Robert J. Ringer (1973)

This is a somewhat different book from the later books of Mr. Ringer. Read this as a ready-made recipe on becoming a top-end real estate (or maybe even other kind of) broker. After taking classes at and graduating from the Screw U(niversity), it is established that there are three kinds of business people you interact with, the first is out for your blood and does not hide it, the second is out for your blood and hides it well, and the third says that he is not out for your blood and gets you at the end when lulled into relaxing, but all of them want to pay you zero commissions, and preferably make you do a lot of work for free. Steps to success:
+ Move from being intimidated, to being the intimidator yourself
+ Make sure that you have legal standing, sign contracts establishing relationships early.
+ Be a member of the "union" (as many states require to pay real estate brokers participating in transactions, even if there was no written agreement).
+ Participate in the closing with your own lawyer.
+ And it also helps if you are flying around in your personal LearJet :)
The interesting number from the book, is that the author earned about 3% commissions, which is not near the 6% "customary" at the time.


1776 by David McCullough (2005)

This book recreates the military action in the year of signing the American Declaration of Independence. Cluelessness is rampant with both armies, including the actions of both Washington and Howe, the two military leaders. Both sides are being led from blunder to blunder peppered with lucky breaks sometimes. Although the French help is mentioned many times, but the role of the Hessian (German) mercenaries on the British side I found suprising. Excellent character descriptions on Washington and many of the American officers. Enjoyable.


Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food by Eric Schlosser, Charles Wilson (2006)

The title here says at all. In this (maybe young adult oriented) book, the history of fast food from its humble beginnings by Hamburger Charlie to today's cooperation between Disney and McDonalds (both caterers to mass demands) and their grip on the US school food systems and in particular the bad health effects on the Alaskan Yupiks, unappetizing details provided as to the preparation of various fast (junk?) food including the disturbing details of growing and slaughtering of chickens, cows and pigs (in the best traditions of The Jungle) and the health problems associated with eating fast food regularly. The low paid workforce performing grueling work also inspires little confidence in the quality of service offered. After reading, you will be less eager to stop for your fast food fix, guaranteed. The final advice of the book is: "It is still not to late to walk OUT of the fast food place"


State of Fear by Michael Crichton (2004)

I didn't like the reading of the book (all woman presented had the same "intonations" ...), but the book itself is excellent. Makes you see in a different light "the facts" you are hearing on global warning, climate change and other issues pushed by academics, wealthy fanatics and their well endowed foundations, who all seem to be having an excellent time flying around the world (in many cases in private jets) to visit fundraisers and do their best to infuse fear into the general population of the climate events, while getting their own pictures on the pages of various magazines and earning excellent salaries (in some cases paid for by government funding). Would these people be willing to defend their turf by trying to cause some of these climate events themselves? As per the prologue, by Mr. Crichton's calculations, the people induced component of the global warming is well below 1 °F for the next hundred years, and being dwarfed by the natural cooling and warming cycles of the earth. Recommended.


Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China by by Rachel DeWoskin (2005)

This is a story of Rachel growing up as a person (as some of her friends questioning if this was for the better) and China changing into a capitalistic society. Rachel accidentally ended up finding a job with a foreign company in Beijing, after as per her own admission really no other employers were interested in her (although she did not speak Chinese, which one would have hoped for as she spent her childhood in Asia with her sinologist parents). In addition to being a office worker bee, she also become a fairly well known (at least in China) soap opera star playing the role a foreign "seductress". She also becomes an old hand in the Beijing expatriate community simply based on her long stay in the country, and the book offers observations on Chinese customs and culture, and a reflection on the living style of various members of the society. The book ends on a disturbing note, exposing the hatred for all things foreign, as displayed after the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. One wonders what is the "real" face of China and the Chinese like? ...

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino (1977)

Can one live in trees whole his life? Meet Cosimo, the hero of this utopian story set in the 18th century, who one day decided to revolt against his family and traditions, and set to live in the trees. (Of course there were trees and forests spreading around at that time, as the book states) He rules his estate, meets Napoleon, corresponds with celebrities, and even has a love affair up in the sky. The book's ending is unusually fitting too. Delightful read for both adults and children.


Rule #1: The Simple Strategy for Successful Investing in Only 15 Minutes a Week! by Phil Town (2006)

has Jim Cramer quoted on its cover, which should have been a warning sign. The author presents a confusing mix of approaches from Peter Lynch's One Up On Wall Street : How To Use What You Already Know To Make Money In The Market and Benjamin Graham's The Intelligent Investor sprinkled with some basic technical analysis. A claim of turning $1000 into $1000000 in only five years comes early in the book, representing an annual return of 300%, although the best case scenarios presented in the book might bring a 50%+ annual return. And the key expression to stress here is best case scenario. Basically the author selects a short list of companies with brands liked (including Harley Davidson and Starbucks), then demonstrates some basic historical financial filtering to arrive to preferred investments. It is suggested, that it is appropriate to invest in one and only one company at time, which makes this not dissimilar to casino gambling. It is not exactly clear based on what criteria the nicely performing examples were selected either, as some of them are not listed in original list of "strong brand name" companies. It is also not clear, if the author's offerings perform better than the Berkshire Hathaway stock price, considering the similarity of selection criteria. In this case, even those 15 minutes a week are wasted, as one could simply buy Berkshire Hathaway stock. While some discussions on the little benefit added by the various advisors offer value, other portions of the book have limited practical value. I would not recommend to anyone to try to follow the confusing directions given with their hard earned money.


The Testament by Eric Van Lustbader (2006)

A deadly wild goose chase through US and European cities for religious artifacts (including the Philosopher's Stone) ala "The Da Vinci Code". Maybe for a rainy day, maybe not even for that ...


Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of Modern Civilization by David Keys (2000)

describes how dramatic changes in 530s A.D. in the climate (likely caused by a major volcanic eruption in Krakatoa, Sumatra) and associated cold period and crop failures, and the plague spread by rodents from ancient African ports in the current day Somalia, led to the accelerated fall of the Roman Empire, the rise and fall of Avar Emprire (and Slav tribes as associated) rise and fall of the Persian Empire, the birth of Islam as a religion and as a violently conquering government ideology. In addition just in Euroasia, it triggered the Turkish conquest of much of Europe, created the "forgetten" Jewish state of Khazar, formulated England, Ireland, France, Spain as we know them today. In other parts of the world, there were major turmoils in China, Korea, Japan in the same period (based many of these same basic reasons as described above). In the Americas, multiple empires fall at the same time too (and created religious bloodbaths trying to appease the Gods), including the Teotihuacan, Tikal, Nascan, Moche, while other empires like Maya, Huari and Inca did spring up in those very same places. It should be noted that Anasazi society in the current day Arizona, US did survive these calamities and were able to accelerate their own development to fight the consequences.
So why is this relevant today? There are multiple volcanic areas with increasing activity around the world capable of producing magma multiple times of the quantity during the eruption in 535 A.D., including Yellowstone and Long Valley, CA in the US, near Naples in Italy and in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. An eruption of one of these super volcanoes, would abruptly change the world's current political and economical setup. There is a chance that some or many of the First World countries might survive in some form, but order in other locations would likely fully break down, sinking into utter chaos, as it did back in those times.

Action!: Nothing Happens Until Something Moves by Robert Ringer (2004)

is one of the several motivational books written by Mr. Ringer. It's 260+ pages are filled with various delightful anecdotes making the book an enjoyable read. The book's basic premise can be condensed to: only Action can bring results, the Law of Averages helps you getting more results as more actions were taken (think phone soliciting here), and the simplest and most rewarding action could be "asking, asking again, and again" in many circumstances. So take action now!


The Ruins by Scott Smith (2006)

I listened to this as an audio book, which probably enhanced the experience, as I liked how the story was read. This simple story leading a group of unprepared young vacationers into a nigthmare bringing out the best and worst of their characters, and makes one wonder how would strong one would be in similar situation in real life. Behind all leisurely vacation spots, there lurks real life, reaching out to steal a hat and sunglasses for a start and sometimes leading into something sinister and deadly. Recommended.


How to Get out of a Cellular Service Contract

from MyMoneyBlog, SmartMoney and wikiHow pages
Some of the methods which may catch your attention are:
+ wait until a "Terms Of Service" change from your provider potentially effecting you, and request a cancellation
+ say that you are moving to a location with no service provided
+ use a cellphone contract swapping site

Online invoicing/job tracking applications

from MyMoneyBlog article:

BlinkSale (free)
SideJobTrack (free)
FreshBooks (moped level free)


Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak, Robert D. Hare (2006)

Ever wondered of the behavior of a coworker or a family member showing strange signs? No suprise maybe, as psychopaths are amongst us, making 1% of the general population, and a good bit higher in white collar office environments. This collaboration between a criminal psychologist and an HR manager explains this phenomen, and offers some practical suggestions on improving hiring practices to help filter candidates better and personal suggestions on how to deal with and deflect the abuse. Basically try not to get into confrontations (in the open or behind closed doors) and document the issues risen and abusive behavior (maybe to use during your exit interview, as if used earlier your image of "complainer" would be proven). But your best option likely would be to simply run, as by definition psychopaths are better at politicking, as this is the only thing they do and can do, and it will be very hard to beat them at their own game ... An interesting tidbit form the book, apparently the selection criteria for succession plans in major corporation has lots in common with testing criteria determining psychopathic behavior.


The Coffeehouse Investor: How To Build Wealth, Ignore Wall Street, And Get On With Your Life by Bill Schultheis (1998)

is a promising little book, basically suggesting that one should ignore the day-to-day noise coming from Wall Street and concentrate the longer term results. The three tenents offered: asset allocation, index funds and appropriate savings. This detached approach is sound at a high level (unless you can make money on the day-to-day fluctation, competing with a good number of very smart people running hedge funds going after the same profits), you have to step up your timeframe into where is less competition. But the actual details on all three approaches are very mainstream and less sensible. On the index funds (which are offered instead of trying to figure out which mutual fund is the winner, I did like the Outfox-the-Box game, you can get better results than 80% of mutual funds pitched by simply indexing, and doing so, you would also join great number of pension funds, who are approaching the market this same way), it is said that you need to have large value, large growth, small value, small growth and international. Beside these being arbitrary (why not than get into international growth and value, and midcap growth and value, and all other combinations coming to mind), the yearly rebalancing (between these and/or between your stock and bond funds) is likely a bad idea, as trends in segments this large run usually much longer than one year. Although following the advices given in this book, you would be better off than other investors chasing hot mutual funds, there are even simplier approaches available for investors open to understand the nature of risks taken and the rewards offered, when investing in the market. As the mountain climbing methaphors are very apt in the book, maybe the author would serve us better sticking to books about climbing instead.


The Bug by Ellen Ullman (2003)

A story placed in the "dark ages" of personal computer based software development. With the introduction of complex windowing user interface and networked setups, nor mindset, nor tools are not prepared to deal with complexity. This is also the world a VC (venture capitalist) owned dysfunctional companies, driven by impossible demands and deadlines. Could one bug push a person through the edge? How about destroying a whole company? This book will give you a glance to the inner life of a small software development shop. The book also offers multiple actual(?) code samples illustrating the bug, which is quite unusual for a work of fiction.

Kept: A Comedy of Sex and Manners by Y. Euny Hong (2006)

is a humorous "only in America" (or maybe even "only in NY") story of a Korean royal descent girl, who becomes a courtesan to pay off accumulated debt, as being an aristocrat does not mean one has money too. From the Anthology of Pros (as in prostitutes) owned by an ex-ballerina Russian emigree, through the members of high society looking for companionship, to the gay only club (where there is a good number of non-gay members, because of social connections and companionship offered), this book will keep you entertained with its twists and opinions of all matters of class, race, art, society and more.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)

Losing a loved one is something you don't want to experience, but it will visit you anyway. In this memoir, Joan describes the empty place created with her husband's death, the irrational (and rationalized) thoughts on him suddenly coming back, and the pleasure and pain of associations of her late husband with people and places and times. A deeply personal and memorable story on grieving.


Everyman by Philip Roth (2006)

So how long does it take for a person to accept mortality? Is it a giant step taken at one time or lots of little steps taken during one's whole life? And is there indeed an acceptance or this is something, which our "self aware" selves just cannot comprehend fully. Short and sweet, some aspects of "everyman" lives inside each of us.


Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (2006)

This is a book, you will love or hate. I had to read one third of it, just to try to figure out, where to place it. I decided on conditional loving. The title of the book is a name play on several "stans" created after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The author tries to make the suggestion in the book, but a new Nabokov the author certainly is NOT. But the description of the new Russia (with the main character's love for all things "gansta" obtained, while a student of the "Accidental College" in the Midwest of US) is quite of an entertainment. While the "ruling class" (meaning local gansters, policians and connected parties) spends its days in alcoholic and narcotics daze, the other half (read the other 99%) quickly degrading into third world living conditions. If the confusion in the society in St. Leninsburg does not faze you, than certainly the great details on Absurdistan will. From the local prostitutes, who are only willing to provide services to Golly Burton (Halliburton) foreign employees (they are all here for the oil only), through the two ethnic groups being killed and killing each other (where the main difference between them seems to be the direction of the lower part of their Orthodox Christian church cross, in the best Swiftian traditions), to the local ruling class living in feudalistic conditions, one may start seeing at the world in a different light. The best bet is owning a foreing passport (preferably US, but EU would also do) allowing the holder to leave at any time (of course local rulers permitting), which are also for sale for a "modest" sum. The last pages of the book still keep up the suspense. Good for a light read.


Free electronic books for download/browsing

General books:
There are various sites listing available for free technical books:

Save Karyn: One Shopaholic's Journey to Debt and Back by Karyn Bosnak (2003)

Ever wondered how is shopaholic's day-to-day life is? You can have it all in great detail from shopping Bloomingdale's, buying Guccis, to facials and bikini waxing. And details on good dates and bad dates too, which in many cases are strangely being associated with restaurants as recommended in Zagat's. One wonders which has the worst impact, the spending beyond means (which was apparently a habit from teenage years) or showing off beyond means (maybe having a semi-clerical, semi-creative job like a show producer does not really "require" you to wear Gucci, Prada and whatever those other names were)? Of course these may not even be separated clearly from each other. But regardless, Karyn does have creative skills (including the accidentally discovered American Express credit refund policy, were refunds are processed right away, while purchases only posted the end of the billing cycle, making it a creative way to finance/roll-forward credit balance), and out of desparation with credit card debt and being jobless, she came up with the idea of Save Karyn website requesting readers to contribute some amount to help her paying out her $20,000.00 credit card debt (it should be mentioned, that she already was working with a credit counselor trying to pay down the debts), which became a recognized success. She posted progress on her site, with "Daily Buck" (how I saved a buck today) and fan/hate mail and replies. The website allowed her to pay off debt, write this book and other books, essentially transforming her from a low paid TV show producer to a somewhat recognized book author. Save Karyn was not the first "tipjar", begging website, that distinction seem to belong to SendMeADollar. At around the same time (2001-2002), OddTodd was also born, describing day-to-day existance of unemployed Todd. Her site also triggered satire, parody and hate sites, including Don'tSaveKaryn, SaveKayrnNot, Save Karyn's Complexion, Save Sheeba, and others (many of them disappeared or taken over spam sites, a good list of related sites is collected at Aid Kim Links), while Save Karyn is still being used pitching Karyn's newest book). There is also the Million Dollar Homepage since, marketing creativity is abound on the Net. Good for a light read.


Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America by John McWhorter (2005)

brings a different perspective on black and white race relations in the United States of America, how it arrived to today's state and what can/should be done to move forward.
(A disclaimer here, the author of the book is African-American, so even if someone disagrees with the conclusions, it maybe hard to call the book racist. And just feeling the need to point out this fact shows how charged this topic is).
The book is somewhere between a scholarly work and a book targeting a general audience. The author offers first hand observations and opinions on many topics in the book, including strong opinions on academic papers published by other authors.
The book contains three sections, the first details how this state of affairs came into existence, the second explains how it persists (as a "state of mind") and the third is what can be done to improve it.
The first section discusses how we arrived to this present state of affairs. First a historical lesson on black ghettos, they were by no means idyllic places, people did live in great poverty, but criminal behavior was an exception and not a rule, most people did work for a living and raised children in “traditional” families. Something changed at around 1970, as the author shows on the primer of Indianapolis, disintegrating whole communities. The academics give a whole lists of explanations (which are all refuted on the primers of Indianapolis and other communities):

  • the higher wage factory jobs moved away (only to bus riding distance in Indy)

  • housing discrimination didn't allow the blacks to move closer to the jobs (in Indy there was no need to move, as jobs are still reachable even by public transport)

  • the middle class moved away leaving no role models (the middle class actually became suspect in the new “culture”, and many other places didn't go to hell, because the richer folks left)

  • housing projects and high rise building invite chaos (strangely these same housing projects over went a steep downhill process transforming from a not really inviting places in the 1950s into a really uninviting ones in the 1990s)

  • highway construction killed thriving black neighborhoods (so here the dispersal is an issue, while the concentration is a problem with the high rises?)

  • drugs came in (as in somebody sending them in?)

The authors contention is that it was the open-ended welfare (allowing “reproductive choices” for teenage black women/mothers, meaning having multiple children in many cases from multiple fathers without finishing even high school and obtaining no education enabling them to work for living, and living in mostly women households, with the men/fathers not staying around, and also allowing men not to work the “menial” read: paying less than welfare, and would need to wake up early morning to get there, jobs) and the alienation against the “System”, the “Man” and the whitey (think gansta rap, Ebonics and casual gangland style killings here). Social activists pushed a great number of minorities on welfare during the 1970s and later, and even with the welfare reforms of 1996, the established lifestyles are not going away quickly (although some encouraging changes can be observed). And strangely the rap alienation also seems fashionable with non-minority young persons (together with the clothing choices and attitude towards life).
The second section describes how the therapeutic alienation persists as a “meme” (things were always bad for us, and we have to blame the “System”, and how Ebonics is the first language we speak, and English is just something forced on us by the “System”, and other similar trains of thoughts). Even many of the Civil Rights like actions simply became a caricature (the motion stayed, but the meaning is no longer there). The Black middle class mostly no longer sees discrimination in day-to-day life, in careers, in society, and indeed giving into discrimination would be considered as a betrayal to the values of the ancestors, who were able to carve out a dignified living in spite of real racist conditions. Scholarly works also trying to distort reality and advance their own propaganda, not recognizing the progress made since the Civil Rights era.
The third section offers steps on how to change the today's status quo. From affirmative action (which essentially serves little purpose helping minorities, as it mostly goes to students whose parents are already middle class, thus to be discontinued), through hip-hop (which advocates violence, defeatism, sexism and perpetuates the alienation, thus causing great harms to individuals and communities as a whole), to the need of having a new generation of black readers (who instead of dwelling on imaginary discrimination wrongs and trying to keep the whitey “on the hook” by discussing various failures, and provides real leadership improving integration in society, achieving and celebrating black successes).
Recommended for readers who are interested to understand these issues and how they can be improved.

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1943)

So how far one can be from the norms of the society before the society rejects them? Maybe not very far. Although the "hero" of the book does commit the unexcusable crime of killing another person, it seems that the main problem of the society with him is not this crime, but the fact of not fitting in. A short book making the reader think about small and large things.


Eclipse SWT/JFace 3.2.0 jars/libraries required for standalone (JFace) applications

There are some vague references at Eclipse Bugzilla and Eclipse Porting Notes to the list of dependencies required to run a standalone SWT/JFace application. After generating a skeleton JFace plugin application (as suggested at Manning's Sandbox), I found the following files needed to be added to a project to be able to run standalone (using Maven2 local installs in current project):

/* org.eclipse.jface.text_3.2.0.v20060605-1400.jar */

(replace detailed version numbers with earlier/later numbers accordingly)

When incorrect libraries are specified, when running, Eclipse simply displays:

"Could not find the main class"

with no additional information available on what exact dependencies are missing (??).

Hopefully Maven2 soon be updated with these libraries (including the proper dependencies between them ...)


Better Off : Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende (2004)

is an interesting tale on experimenting with living with minimal needed amount of technology amongst the "Minimites" (this is a nickname for an Amish group, who let the author join their settlement). The settlement adheres to Anabaptist traditions, living without the use of electricity, and powered machines (although machines are still being heavily used, in some cases built using parts from powered machines). At the same time, they are also open to receive benefits created by technology, e.g. it is considered proper to use the phone to call a trained doctor, when a midwife's skills are no longer considered sufficient during childbirth. As an interesting tidbit, as it comes out, that many (most?) Amish groups really playing with their own restrictions on the use of machines. Telephones cannot be in the house, but they can be in phonebooths in the settlement. Cars cannot be owned, but they can be rented. Only electric and gasoline powered machines are disallowed, leaving pneumatic and other type of machines for use.
The author takes a pragmatic approach, not using machines is really a means to "increase income, and lower expenses" allowing lesser workload necessiated for living. It seems, that expenses spent an acquiring machinery by farmers make farming an unprofitable enterprise. Also less dependency on machines strengthens the community requiring cooperation between members. So how this experiment turns out? Read the book to find out.


Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success by Rick Brandon, Marty Seldman (2004)

has a catchy title, but I quickly went through it, as it does not seem to offer much (or maybe the authors live in a different world ...). The basic premise seems to be that you can remain ethical (meaning that you do not hurt others much), and still get business done and move your career. The one chapter I somewhat liked was on Conversational Aikido. Following the advice the authors give in the book about reading other business books, if you have no time to spare, you maybe better off reading this book as summary at Executive Book Summaries.


Double Tap by Steve Martini (2005)

is a murder mystery featuring Paul Madriani and a not very talkative defendant with a seven years gap on his military resume, maybe even suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The name of the book comes from a military shooting tactic of two bullets fired in rapid succession. The victim's company receives significant contract from 3 letter government agencies. Doors are being closed on many things in the name of "national security". The description of court room proceedings is excellent, featuring a midget DA, who yet to lose a capital murder conviction. And the conclusion is very surprising (although one may consider it a bit abrupt).


More Than You Know by Michael J. Mauboussin (2006)

I'm not sure what to make of this book. Although it is a good introduction to some behavioral finance topics, unless you done some other reading, it maybe hard to correlate the behaviour of guppies, zebras, fruit flies, ant and bees with the happenings in the financial markets. The obligatory is also present, together with fat tails and the like. What is missing is how to use the information presented in the book can be used for making money in the market. The book offers 45 pages of references and notes, which can definitely be used by a student of this subject.


Sites discussing/rating medical providers (doctors/dentists)

Many of these sites are anonymous, because many medical providers are actively working on removing bad reviews.


Person-to-person lending

Person-to-person lending (or peer-to-peer finance) provides a way for person-to-person lending of limited funds. The risk is spread by requiring a good number of lenders for each loan. Some of the borrowers cannot go the "traditional" route, as banks will not extend credit to them, some hope to receive a better rate through peer-to-peer finance. Historical references are given to these circles of lending/borrowing in local settings with the participants knowing each other fairly well, although in my mind this is a significant difference as for the impersonal nature of the Internet, where you likely will not have a personal relationship with the other party. The concept is somewhat similar to microlending, which is has more of a charity angle, but offers fairly high repayment rate. The two companies noted are Prosper in the US and Zopa currently in UK, but coming to US. As per Information Week the charge-off rate for Zopa is only 0.05%, which is significantly lower than predicted, and also significantly lower than charge off rate for credit cards. The other interesting number from the article is the average return of 7%, which is below the average return in the stock market, making the concept somewhat less desirable (considering that these are unsecured loans).
There is also Kiva, offering market based lending for small business in the developing world.

Credit reallocation and credit limit increases

When searching and reading Fatwallet Forum, I learned that it is possible to reallocate/move existing credit limits between multiple credit cards from the same credit card company. So if you received a 0% balance transfer offer, it maybe possible to move existing credit limit from another card and receive a higher transfer. When doing this it is important to consider keeping old credit cards (even just with a minimal credit limit) around, as having old credit lines in good standing does help your credit score. As a sidenote, if you have your cards registered on the credit card company's website, it maybe possible to request a credit limit increase just by clicking on the "Limit Increase Request" button, and in some cases no additional information would be requested, and no credit report pulled.
Some other sites of interest are CreditBoards Forum, Credit Talk Forums (for credit related questions), FlyerTalk, Credit Info Center, Debtorboards and Creditcard Perks.


The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture by John Battelle (2005)

From Archie through Altavista (the first Internet search engine, where DEC executives were not wishing to see the light and grab the opportunity), AOL, Yahoo to GoTo.com (Overture) and Google the books offers an overview of development in the search on the Internet, arguing that this is likely just a beginning of a transformation on how we find and access information. Google is the 1000 pound gorilla in this game today, and is being described in somewhat less than ideal light. From the humble beginnings in a dorm room, living off the "free" bandwidth and computer parts of Stanford, through their various corporate actions, which do not seem to correspond to the often repeat "do no evil" slogan. Their stand on issues, like hiring practices, trademarks, advertising practices, privacy issues, dealings with the Chinese government, issues during their IPO and others many times bring them to the questionable side, although usually putting more money in the company's pocket on the way. But I guess repeating the mantra frequently, some could get brainwashed indeed ... Search and internet activity information stored about individuals by these private companies (in addition to the credit and medical information stored by other private companies) and the use of this information by other private companies and the government likely is to be cause for concern.

The American by Andrew Britton (2006)

The basic premise of the book is simple. A psychopath ex-Special Forces operative joins the radical islamists, and becomes their best weapon. It seems a bit too "current" in places. Although the plot sometimes is predictable, it does not become cliche. Reading it will keep you on the edge of whatever furniture you are currently occupying.


Open source password managers

Open source password managers (tested on Windows)

KeePass provides the best functionality of the packages noted. It has a nice looking UI, with ability to export data into txt, html, cvs. It also imports existing password data from other applications. The autofill setup is configurable, although the global auto-type hot-key didn't seem to work in all cases. Users may in particular like the mouse movement entropy based password generation.
Mirek's PINs provides a system wide hotkey to paste userid/password into browsers
based on URLs currently accessed. Special emphasis is given to the ability of setting expiry dates. Data can be saved in cleartext.
PasswordSafe has a long history. It offers various password generation options, the easily readable password generation is a nice touch, although would only be used if your digital backups disappear altogether. It is unclear how it connects to a browser, although there is "autotype" functionality? Data can be saved in cleartext.
Secure Data Manager (SDM) is developed in Java and available with Java WebStart. Provides basic functionality with less integration into Windows.
PasswordMaker offered as an extension for Firefox, IE, and others, also as a standalone version. It generates passwords based on a master password and site URL (and date and username too if needed). The generated passwords are not stored, always generated on the fly. So there is not way to print a list of userids/passwords, which could be considered a security feature. Is is also not clear what is the process of changing existing settings for a particular account, as those are also not stored? The current version also does not a way to keep existing passwords for certain sites.
KED Password Manager written in Python/GTK2, mainly targeting *nix based systems.


Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story by Kurt Eichenwald (2005)

Welcome to the world of smoke and mirrors! Based on the timeline presented in the book, Enron was cooking the books for longer then a decade, booking future revenues in current year, allowing executives to run money losing projects and receive enormous bonuses at the same time. And all this with very little or no words from their internal and external accountants and auditors. With many executives being visionary, which worked in earlier years moving Enron from a "simple" pipeline company into the political and international scene, the actual function of a corporation, as in making real profit for its shareholders, got lost in the shuffle. The offshore corporations created to hide money losing ledger entries of failing projects was simply a natural outgrowth of these previous practices, and probably most nobody even batted an eye, even if noticing them. Add to this the endless stream of individualistic corporate executives and their power struggles, and you got a page turner on your hand. Too bad that looking back at historical timelines does not help the workers and investors of Enron with their financial and emotional losses.


A Simple Plan by Scott B. Smith (1994)

Lets imagine that you and your friends found lots of stolen money. You know that the robbers and the police will be looking for it. So how far would you go to keep this a secret and protect your interests? not telling anybody is one thing, but would you go as far as to commit murder? Could one action lead to another going down a slippery slope? Good suspense.


The Untied States of America: Polarization, Fracturing, and Our Future by Juan Enriquez (2005)

is a book on an uncertain future for the USA. Many of the things, which keep the United States of America together are slowly losing ground, making possible an untied future which is hard to imagine today. There are frequent examples of countries breaking up and being created anew. Would the USA be an exception to this historical rule?


The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson (2002)

thinks an alternate history. How would the world look, if Europe would have been wiped out by Black Death in the beginning of the Middle Ages. Although it has a promising beginning, the writing didn't catch my attention, so I didn't finish reading the book.


Eldest (Inheritance, Book 2) by Christopher Paolini (2006)

is the second book in the trilogy. The Rider grows up and gets ready for the battle of this life.


Eragon (Inheritance, Book 1) by Christopher Paolini (2003)

is a surprising book by this young author. Tolkien's world shines through the book, but the addition of dragons makes approach unique. His imaginary world is less detailed than Tolkien's creation, but it still makes an excellent light read.


Jennifer Government by Max Barry (2004)

is a story on all powerful corporations knowing no limits. Although, I really liked Barry's other novel Company, this one I didn't finish reading.


Meth: America's Home-Cooked Menace by Dirk Johnson (2005)

is a chilling book on the growing meth abuse in America's Heartland. In some places, trying to contain these labs popping up consumes the major part of police budgets, and the problem just not letting up. Beside explosion hazard, the chemicals used eat themselves into the walls and structure, making the place a chemical hazard for years to come. The users are not fairing any better either, losing their health even after a short period of drug use.


Company: A Novel by Max Barry (2006)

Did you ever wonder what certain companies do? Why are departments of companies charge other departments in the same company? Or what happens in the boardrooms of companies? This book gives a very surprising answer for Zephyr.


Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of A Man Who Rescued A Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky (2004)

describes a fascinating adventure of collecting millions of Yiddish books (even pulling them from dumpsters on occasion). With this and other efforts, enough books were saved for Yiddish and its unique literature to survive.