Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dreamwalker by C.S. Friedman

Funny story here. I have read nearly every novel C(elia).S. Friedman has written, and they have always proved engrossing. When I began this blog, I had the second novel in the Magister trilogy sitting on my TBR shelf, and it was supposed to be about the fourth review I published, as soon as I read it. Still haven't read it. Mostly because I meant to go back and read the first book over again; it had been far too long between publishing dates, and I was pretty fuzzy about what had gone before. The third novel in the trilogy is out, and I never did buy it.

When I saw that Friedman had written either a stand alone novel or the beginning of a new series, then, I was overjoyed and I immediately took steps to acquire a copy of Dreamwalker.

I'm afraid that Friedman has finally sold out to the forces of evil. While, like everything else she has ever written, it is eminently readable, it's such a rehash of modern female protagonist based fiction that my jaded brain says, "Bleah."

Jessica Drake, or Jesse, is a girl living with her single mom and younger brother who has strange dreams, which she turns into paintings. When a mysterious stranger evinces interest in those paintings, and in Jesse's family, and Jesse discovers that she's not genetically related to anyone in her family, despite hospital records, the story gets rolling. Adolescent with heretofore undiscovered mystical powers - Check!

She goes online to find out if there may be other changelings like her, and encounters a pair of teenagers, Devon and Rita, who come from different backgrounds, he's the rich son of a doctor while Rita is a foster child, but have the same genetic mystery. Add a pair of friends she must learn to trust to succeed - Check!

When Jesse's brother, Tommy, is kidnapped by forces of evil from an alternate Earth (also Check!) and her family home is burned down, she and her friends find a way to sneak through the Gate between the worlds (yeah, like no one's ever tried that before, and the keepers of the gates are a bunch of dolts, this allegedly has been going on for centuries) to rescue him. In the early going, Rita appears to be jealous of the attention Devon pays to Jesse. Budding love triangle - Check!

When they ally with a band of rejected misfits living in the sewer system at their destination, they find out that the Gifts of the rulers of this alternate reality are the source of all of our legends of supernatural beings. A logical explanation for faeries, vampires and werewolves at last - Check!

Still trying to figure out the deal with the black Neanderthals who are enslaved by the master race. Probably Jesse and her friends will lead a slave revolt at some point in the saga. Wouldn't want to leave out any tropes. Shades of Spartacus!

A very quick read. We'll see if Friedman manages to bring the series up to her usual standards, or whether she falls into crass populism in the end, as the sequels arrive.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stealth Savings

I've found, over the years, that the best way to save and invest is to a) automate it, and b) save before you have a chance to spend it. I like to call this "stealth savings".

If you're fresh out of school, and just starting your career, you may think that you'll always have time to save later on..."someday". Unfortunately, "someday" seldom just leaps up and whacks you on the head with a two by four and gets your attention, so it's best to make "someday" today. This is actually the best possible time to start the saving and investing habit, and the best shot you've got at using the effect of compounding over time to grow your net worth.

You see, when you first start that new job as a new graduate (or for those of you starting career #3 later on), you have the chance to set up automatic payroll deductions before you even receive that first paycheck. The human tendency to rapidly grow accustomed to spending whatever amount of money you have in your checking account works in your favor, if you make sure that a certain percentage of your income is sent away before you ever see it, to go to work growing and compounding for you.

The first thing to fund at your new employer is your 401K plan. This subject has been thoroughly explored by personal finance bloggers for ages, but I'm just going to tell you what I told both of my children when they headed out on their own after college. At a bare minimum, contribute enough to your employer's 401K plan to take advantage of every bit of the match that they offer. I've seen a 50% match up to the first 6% contribution from a number of employers so often it's probably the "standard" that 401K custodians offer. Rule #1 - get every penny of matching funds that you can. It is FREE money, TAX FREE! Well, actually tax-deferred, but that's another day's topic.

There is absolutely no better way to get a guaranteed return on your investment. I can think of no other investment out there that will get you a 50% immediate return, before any compounding. Even if the matching percentage is lower, as long as it's better than the average returns of the equities market (historically between 8% and 12% long term), take the free money!

Now, I actually recommend allocating no less than 10% to your retirement - and some financial planners will recommend 15 - but you can spread that out between 401Ks, IRAs and Roth IRAs, if you have them set up. However, as a newly minted baccalaureate, you probably haven't gotten around to it yet, so the 401K is quick, easy, and painless.

After that, you'll get your first paycheck, and within a few months, you'll have become accustomed to living on the net amount, while happily knowing that your retirement is being at least partially funded and that you're getting better returns than anyone with a hot stock tip around the water cooler.

One other opportunity that's often made available by employers is called an ESOP (there are a couple other acronyms out there, too) or Employee Stock Ownership Plan/Program. These have sometimes gotten a bad rap because of companies like Enron that played fast and loose with the accounting, and encouraged their employees to invest heavily in the plan, as well as loading up their 401K with company stock. If you see this sort of hype happening at the company you're joining, RUN!

For most well-established companies, however, the risk involved in an ESOP plan is minimal, and the upside can be quite nice.

While I, personally, have never had an ESOP available where I worked, my wife has been able to take advantage of them twice in her career. And when Mama's happy...well, you know.

The first ESOP plan we encountered allowed her to put a certain amount of money in company stock, deducted regularly from her paycheck, and the company contributed a 100% match to purchase the stock, up to a maximum dollar figure which I can't recall just now - it was fifteen years ago. We were all over that like white on rice! We weren't exactly high rollers at that time, busily raising our family, but she contributed $25 a month, the company contributed $25, and the net effect was a 100% automatic return. Unless the stock's value went to zero, it was very difficult to lose money on the deal. By the way, the company she worked for was very stable, had been in business for decades, had a good business model, etc. That's not to say you shouldn't give this a shot if you're working for a high tech start up - just don't play with money you have to have to pay the bills. I'm sure Bill Gates' early employees are happy they took advantage of the stock plan at Microsoft.f

The first part of the stealth strategy, then, is participating in any automated savings plan, especially those that get matching money, offered by your employer. If you're self-employed, you're gonna have to do it the hard way.

So, here's the second part of my stealth strategy. Whenever you get a raise, put at least some of that raise into an automated savings/investment plan. You'll never miss the money this way. The least painless way to do this is, for example, if you get a 4% annual raise, instantly allocate 2% more to your 401K contribution. Then, you get half of the net raise in your take home pay, which you can spend on a few little rewards, or increase your lifestyle slightly, while half of the gross (pre tax) raise is going directly to your retirement plan. Do this regularly over your career and you'll be a happy camper when you're ready to retire.

Alternately, you can increase your contributions to an IRA or Roth account, if you've got one set up by now. Your financial planner should have gotten you all set up, right? Or, you can increase the money you're putting away in company stock. As long as it's not cutting into your basic living expense budget, it's usually a good strategy.

In our case, my wife went from contributing $25 a month to $50, then to $100, then $200, over about five years' time. When she finally left the company, she had a pretty substantial investment nest egg of their stock. Additionally, it paid quarterly dividends which were DRIP'd (see Get Rich Slowly's great article on DRIP investing) back into the plan. We ended up making a lot of money on that stock by the time it was all gone. We sold little bits of it here and there, to take advantage of other opportunities.

The second time she participated in an employee stock plan, it wasn't a "match" type of plan, but gave a fixed discount on the price of the stock for money contributed throughout the course of the year, purchased for her at the end of each plan year, based on the lowest price, either at the opening of the year, or at the closing of the year. Even if the stock went down in price, you couldn't lose money!

That plan also offered dividend reinvestment, but we declined it, and had them send my wife a dividend check every quarter, so she'd feel like she was getting some immediate, concrete benefit from the plan. Once every three months, she'd get a nice little "mad money" check from the company, and get to spend it on fun stuff for herself. Use whatever strategy motivates you best.

The point of this tale is not "Woohoo! Look how much money we made!", but that we did it without ever really noticing that the money was not in our budget, because we used the stealth tactics of a) automating the investments and b) investing the money before we ever got the chance to spend it. When you combine those tactics with the effects of free money from an employer match, price subsidy, the compounding effects of dividend reinvestment over time and price appreciation over time, you, too, can have powerful results.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Like a Mighty Army by David Weber

All right, I have to admit here that I'm finally getting a little tired of Weber's massive data dumps, especially on the subject of troop movements and supply logistics. I can't "see" where these forces are located on some map in my mind, and their only purpose seems to be to make this whole world more "real" in the minds of Weber and those who war game for fun and profit. Or is it what he does when he runs out of interesting plot twists and schemes?

The cast of characters alone runs over 80 pages, the glossary another twenty, with six pages of maps up front.

Has Weber reached the point of having nothing new to say? That would be truly sad, but we've seen it with authors before. And what is this "we" I'm spouting? Are the multiple POVs seeping into my brain?

Key takeaways from a nearly 700 page tome. The Empire of Charis continues to implement new manufacturing techniques, with one of the key elements being their establishment of a bureau of standard measurements, which assures interchangeability of parts for their weapons, as opposed to the individual craftsmanship that goes into each and every one of the Churchlands' weapons.

Hektor and Irys and Daivyn return to Corisande, Daivyn is acknowledged as crown prince, Irys elected to the Ruling Council, and Hektor and Irys are wed in a ceremony that binds Charis and Corisande tightly together. An attack by the Church's rakurai leaves both of them grievously wounded, and the only way to save Hektor is via Merlyn's "magic", which lets the two young folks in on the big cabal's secret - the true history of Safehold.

Merlyn, Nahrman and Owl decide to create another PICA, and imbue it with Merlyn's original personality and memories, but returning him to his original gender...and seijin Nimue is born.

Charis launches a major campaign in Siddarmark to take back all of the lands the Church conquered. Long story short, they manage to destroy a huge portion of the Army of God, both on land and at sea, with their new artillery pieces, ironclad ships, and breechloading rifles. The Church is trying to catch up to their methods, but it is difficult to overcome the proscriptions on technology.

Some of Weber's slipping in new names is funny, when you can catch them...a servant named Zheevys, a nobleman named Graem Kyr, the everpresent Nahrman Baytz come immediately to mind, though there are many others.

Nowhere near the end of this saga.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mythbusting Again

From U.S. News and World Report
Paying off debt before saving for retirement a bad choice
Some popular financial pundits urge people to pay off credit card and other non-mortgage debt before saving for retirement. Such advice is arguably the most costly mistake a future retiree can make. While every situation is unique, such blanket advice misses the mark for two reasons.

First, the vast majority of a retirement nest egg does not come from the money you save. It comes from the compounding returns earned off of the money you save.

Compounding requires time. Delaying retirement savings by even a few years can significantly reduce your savings decades later. Second, with today's interest rate environment, it's easy to lower the rates on most debt. From mortgage refinancing to credit cards with 0 percent introductory rates, the cost of debt can be dramatically reduced while you work to pay it off.

True, the vast majority of a retirement nest egg does not come from the amount saved, but from compounding returns over time. But what about the compounding interest on debt?

If you make the minimum payments on credit card debt at 18% or more, you'll end up paying for a long long time, and the interest will vastly outstrip any returns you're like to get, even in a bullish market. For my own long term calculations, I like to use 8% returns over the long haul, which is far more realistic than the 12% Dave Ramsey likes to use in his seminars. It is very very difficult to find a credit card that doesn't charge at least 12% interest, so even if you get Ramsey-like returns on your investments, you're only breaking even, not to mention what it's doing to your cash flow.

For example, on a credit card balance of $15,252 (the US average), at 18% interest, making a 2% minimum payment - and that's a constant payment of 305.04, not the decreasing approximately 2% minimum payment that appears on your statement- it will take you 94 months to pay it off, for a total expenditure of $28,674, nearly double the original amount. That figure gets worse if your interest rate is higher.

To end up with $28,674 in your retirement account over 94 months, at even the generous 12% returns touted by Dave Ramsey, you would need to contribute $185.22 each month. If you try to subtract that amount from the minimum payment you have to make on the credit card debt, you'll never pay the credit card off. The amount owed will simply grow unbounded, even without the extra charges the bank is going to whack you with for not paying the minimum.

And, I'd think it would be obvious to anyone with even a tiny knowledge of arithmetic that if you are only required to pay a 1% minimum on your credit card at 18% APR, once again you can never pay it off! The monthly interest exceeds the payments - just staying even requires a 1.5% minimum payment! At 12% interest and 12% return, your debt doesn't grow, but you pay on it forever, even if you don't run up more when the kids go off to college. Quite frankly, the numbers are more likely to be 6% to 8% return and 18% to 21% credit card interest, for most people.

In the opening line of their advice, they say "paying off credit card and other non-mortgage debt", then they go on to talk about refinancing your mortgage as a solution. Are they advocating wrapping credit card debt into a new mortgage? I have no objection to refinancing a mortgage to get shorter terms and lower interest rates, when possible, but increasing the balance on what's already probably the biggest debt you owe isn't really such a good idea.

Psychologically, most people who refinance credit card debt, whether it's into a mortgage payment, or through some other debt consolidation tactic, end up running the credit cards right back up again in a very short time. From that standpoint alone, it's a very bad idea.

What about transferring the balance to a 0% introductory rate card? If...and it's a big IF...there are absolutely no fees for balance transfers, and IF the 0% rates last at least a year, and IF you divide the balance by 12 and make every equal payment, so that it's paid off within a year, it can be a great idea. Again, what really happens for most people is that they get the 0% interest for one year, and either make minimum payments and/or run the balance up higher with new purchases, and when the rate reverts to its default rate, they're worse off than they were before.

The best idea might be a "balanced" approach, where you contribute at least enough to your 401K plan to get the employer match - it's the risk-free yield you'll ever get, and then pay down your debt as aggressively as you can with what's left over. Note: people generally spend everything they have in the checking account if they don't have a spending plan (budget) in place, so I recommend getting a plan and working it asap.

Ok, rant complete. Have a nice day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

 Hines begins to do a really interesting thing in this book:

"Electronic books lacked the physical resonance of print. The words were nothing but a collection of zeroes and ones translated into a transient image on whatever screen you used to read them. We had always assumed that e-readers would be useless for libriomancy, that the variety of reading devices and the impermanence of the files would prevent anyone from tapping into that collective belief. Porter researchers wrote dire predictions about the dilution of our magic as more readers moved from print to electronic, whittling away at our pool of , belief."

There's a huge debate raging among bibliophiles these days. Some folks think that only the texture, odor, and smell of an actual printed book contribute deeply and profoundly to the reading experience. Others believe it's just the words, the collection of ideas, the narrative, that matters, and whether it's displayed on a screen or printed on a page makes no difference to the reader's pleasure. Personally, I'm leaning towards the latter camp, though I have wonderful memories of loaded bookshelves and mouldering libraries, antiquarian bookstores piled high with tomes. There's just something to be loved about being able to carry your entire collection of thousands of books on a device no bigger than a single paperback book, you know? I enjoy reading ebooks just as much as I do a traditionally bound chronicle. The debate, however, may shape the future of the reading experience forever. Only time will tell, and I love that Hines is addressing the debate's implications for his world here.

Hines introduces a new character, a teenager named Jeneta, who is serving as an intern to Isaac during summer camp, to help him with his research, and help Hines explore the ebook/libriomancy concept. Unfortunately, he doesn't really follow up on it in this book, though it appears he may do something more interesting later on.

I'm sensing a common plot gimmick here. Isaac encounters some ultra powerful enemy, and he's the only one in place to stop or slow them down, so he does something impulsive, dangerous and borderline stupid, and ends up very nearly dying. Only the magical healing powers of some artifact pulled from a book, the skills of some other libriomancer, or the love of his special dryad can pull him back from the brink of death each time it happens.

The long haul plot arc of the series seems to be about the "destroyers", beings from another reality trying to get into ours and get revenge, acquire bodies to possess, and gain power. Leader of the Porters Gutenberg probably knows more about these creatures than he's sharing. This time, a rogue magician has allied with some of Gutenberg's old enemies - Chinese libriomancers who were followers of the eastern inventor of movable type - to try to resurrect his son, who was one of the libriomancers killed by vampires in the first book, but he's being played for a fool by the destroyers.

Major battles ensue, and Isaac and Lena are right in the thick of things all the way. Still amusing, and it's really fun picking up on the SF and Fantasy references.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Nanny State Blues

Ranting variations on a theme

One of the persistent memes in US politics today is that people are essentially incapable of taking care of themselves, and thus the government must be called upon to take care of them – to act in their best interests. I’m not even going to get into the silliness of government officials knowing what’s best for anyone (and how do we know they're more qualified than the folks they're assigned to take care of?); that’s an entirely different discussion. I’m afraid that anyone with even a lick of sense and powers of observation would have to agree with the first principle here – a significant number of people are, quite frankly, not doing a good job of taking care of themselves, and really do need someone to take care of them; the matter of who should do so we’ll leave for another day.

Healthcare


One of the justifications for passing the silly ACA six years ago was that there were millions of uninsured people out there. A segment of the demographics counted was the young people who simply felt that they didn’t need health insurance, or that it was too expensive.

I’ve had some personal and anecdotal experience in that area, as I once worked for a company that offered really nice health insurance coverage at what I felt was a very reasonable price. A young coworker who was also a personal friend determined that he and his lovely wife were young and didn’t want to pay the premium for their coverage.

This was fine until she contracted a rare form of terminal cancer. Her illness and death left him not only emotionally but financially devastated, because he felt that he “couldn’t afford” his portion of the company subsidized the health insurance. How many of the health care bankruptcies in our country start with a tale much like this one?

Yet I am reluctant to endorse legislation which makes it mandatory for a person to purchase health care insurance. It seems a violation of their rights to me.

Retirement


Every other day in the media and the financial papers, it seems, there is another story about how Americans have only saved an average of $1000, $40000 or some other absurdly low figure in their 401Ks or IRAs. Surely something ought to be done about it, right? Honestly, I’m afraid many people are not quite bright enough to figure out that they really are going to need some money to retire on some day. Maybe they’re relying on hitting the MegaMillions jackpot at some point.

I’m sure a number of them say to themselves, “Some day, when I’m making $X a year, I’ll start to put money in a 401K. Some sweet day!” But for most of them, that day never quite rolls around, and when the kids are finally out of college and the nest is empty, they look around and think, “Wow! I really need to get to work on this retirement thing.”

So, the government proposes some mandatory retirement plan (I thought we already had a pyramid scheme mandatory plan called Social Security) like MyIRA, where they’ll put your money away in an account earmarked just for you. If you’re foolish enough to believe they can be trusted not to spend all of that money, too, I’m not sure your survival instincts are well-developed enough that you’re going to survive long enough to retire, so it may be a moot point.

Again, I don’t believe in coercion to force people to buy government sponsored bonds and slow growth funds in a MyIRA, but someone’s got to beat them about the head and shoulders to wake them up, right?

Diet


What about recent legislation in New York which keeps those poor, coke-swilling fat folks from drinking too large a cup of sugar syrup? I mean, it’s painfully obvious that obesity has reached gargantuan (see what I did there?) proportions in the U.S.A these days. Someone ought to do something about it!

Maybe if we just require bigger (supersized?) nutritional labels on the food we buy in the convenience stores, people will be able to read them. I hadn’t realized there was a connection between Type II diabetes and myopia, but perhaps I’m just oblivious to the obvious.

Verily, verily, I give unto you the most obvious commandment of them all. In order to lose weight, you must “Exercise more and eat less”. I have a personal friend who lost over 150 pounds by following those two simple rules over a year’s time. A stunning transformation!

I’m pretty certain even a kindergarten child can understand the concept, so we are we a nation of fatties? It can’t be a matter of awareness, it has to be all about self-control. But should we cede to the government the right to determine our diet? What if I like chocolate cake? Should some bureaucratic be allowed to rip it from my grasp? He can take if from my cold, dead, hands, if he dares.

Safety


What about safety issues, like motorcycle helmet laws, seatbelt laws, the mandatory use of child safety seats? When you remove my automatic, cynical reaction which tells me that someone at Graco is lobbying their congresscritter to keep making stricter child safety seat laws which oh so coincidentally coincide with their introduction of the latest, greatest and…dare I say it?...more expensive model, there’s not a whole lot of there there.

First, I believe that wearing a helmet makes riding a motorcycle somewhat safer, or at least not quite as likely to result in massive head injuries. I never ride anywhere without one, and I would never let a passenger ride without one. But do we really have to tell adults that they must wear them or be cited? If you're over 21, and I tell you not to stick your face in the lion's mouth, my responsibility pretty much ends there, if you decide to do it anyway. Again, I think some senator's brother-in-law owns a helmet manufacturing company, and came up with a new way to drum up some business.

Don't even get me started on the new "overfill protection" propane tanks we all had to buy to replace our perfectly good old "unsafe" tanks.

Child safety seats I can actually support, to some degree, as we all have an obligation to protect the small and helpless in our care. But it just seems crazy that every other year a new study comes out telling us which way they have to face, directly contradicting last year's data. I think that if you're hurtling down the road a mile a minute in a great big pile of steel, Murphy's Law is eventually going to catch up with you, and people are going to get hurt, no matter which way their seat is pointing.

I'm actually amazed sometimes, as I cruise down the multi-lane freeways, that all these people, each with their own agenda, manage to navigate to and fro every day with as little mayhem as they do. Think about it.

Ok, I'll climb down off my soapbox for a bit now.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Flip this Zombie by Jesse Petersen

 It's a bit disappointing when an author begins with a good gimmick, but fails to follow through. Some of the Pratchett Discworld novels have lost their sense of humor at the midpoint, and Tom Kratman's very intriguing use of the final sentence of each chapter to set the scene for the first sentence in the next chapter was fun to dissect, until he abruptly stopped doing it. In the Living with the dead series, the really cute bit was the motivational saying at the beginning of each chapter; in Married with Zombies they were about marriage counseling and relationships, and this one started out with business slogans, but the connection to zombies became very tenuous after the first chapter, which had the heading, "Do what you love, and the zombies will follow."

Sarah and Dave have shifted south, just like the snowbirds, to Arizona to avoid the cold winters of the Northwest, and have established a reputation as very good zombie killers. They begin to hear rumors of "bionic" zombies, which are much more aware of their surroundings than ordinary shamblers, and faster, too. The pair are contacted by a scientist, Dr. Kevin Barnes, a survivor living in a pre-Apocalypse military facility and asked to help him by capturing zombies instead of killing them, they are initially reluctant to help, even though he shows them his serum which can restore zombie guinea pigs (I know, right?) back to normal life.

The clinching argument, however, turns out to be a hot shower for Sarah. Electricity and hot and cold running water have gotten scarce since the zombie plague, and the chance to get clean and smell good trumps all. During their first outing to capture a fresh zombie for Kevin, the duo rescue a 12 year old boy, Robby, who is being chased by a pair of zombies, and keep him from being eaten. He is so grateful to them that...Naw, he's actually a rotten little conniving brat who demands a share of the proceeds from the captured zombie which he "led to them." They end up dragging him back to the secret underground lair of the mad scientist, and he tags along on their next excursion as well.

Again, some fun zombie killing action, some snarky dialogue, and a believable protagonist duo make this an entertaining and very quick read - took me about three hours from start to finish.

And there's a sequel.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Grow Your Own in Pots by Kay Maguire


There was a time when the title of this book might have had an entirely different connotation in my life, but in my middle-aged state, we're simply talking about fresh vegetables, folks, so don't get your hopes up.

For very nearly as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of fresh vegetables from the garden, especially tomatoes, and since my wife and I bought our first house, we've always had a garden spot. I decided that this year I wanted to try growing some tomatoes in large pots along a sunny fence in our back yard, so I picked up Kay Maguire's book to make sure I'm doing things correctly.

Some good tomato growing tips:
  • Pollenate tomatoes by misting the flowers or shaking them to help set fruit
  • Companion plants for tomatoes are marigolds, borage and basil
  • Trim the plants down to one main stem until five "trusses" develop, then pinch back tops
  • Feed weekly with 5-5-10
This book has great illustrations of space-saving projects, with step by step instructions, and everything is esthetically pleasing as well as allegedly productive. One downside, however, is that Maguire doesn't do a very good job of defining terms for the non-professional gardener. Perhaps she's written a basic gardening book, and assumes we all will have read it prior to reading this one.

Some of instructions also seem contradictory. For example, in order to keep plants in pots more humid and reduce watering needs, she suggests clustering them all together in groups in a convenient spot. But to avoid garden pests, like bugs, from spreading from one plant to another, she tells us to keep space between them. Sounds more like an art form than a science, which I suppose is to be expected.

For those who are interested, there was a fairly large section on how to grow fruit trees, including citrus, in pots, which could come in handy in colder climates, where you could take the plants inside during the winter months, and back outdoors when the summer sun reappears.

I liked the projects where she grows sweet potatoes in those cloth grocery bags, cilantro in an old colander (drat, I threw mine away), and rows of lettuce in crates. Lots of great ideas here.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Around the Web

A book review of Marko Kloos' Terms of Enlistment on Marooned

Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

I knew this novel was going to be too short when I saw the page count (250) on my Nook as the story began. Ah well, I suppose it was exactly the number of words that needed to be written to tell the tale that must be told.

Mercy gets an unpleasant surprise when Adam's ex-wife, Christy, is fleeing from a former lover turned violent stalker and calls Adam for help. His sense of responsibility for his "pack" as alpha wolf forces him to let her seek refuge in the home which now belongs to him and Mercy. You can probably see that this is going to lead to fireworks, perhaps literal, from the moment it begins.

But Christy's stalker turns out to be far more dangerous than anticipated, and we get the first indication when the townhouse where she lived burns to the ground, killing four innocent bystanders.

About this time, one of the elven Grey Lords shows up at Adam and Mercy's, looking for his father's walking stick, which Mercy gave to Coyote to keep, after she used it to kill the river monster a couple of books ago. He threatens all sorts of dire consequences, oh so politely, as the fae are known to do things, if she fails to turn it over within a week.

Mercy begins trying to get in touch with Coyote - not something any sane person wants to do - and ends up in jail. Well, not that way, but she visits a "half-brother" of hers, Gary LaughingDog, where he's being held for stealing a police car and a case of expensive scotch, and asks him if he knows how to contact Coyote. Shortly after her visit, Gary has a vision of disaster unfolding and breaks out of lockup to warn Mercy, Adam and the pack.

When Christy's stalker turns up at Mercy's garage and demands that she be given back to him, our favorite shape shifter finds out that he's not even close to being human, and is an immensely powerful bad guy - Guayota. With a little help from Adam and Tad (half fae son of the Dark Smith), she manages to drive him off and kill one of his minions, but it's obvious to all concerned that they're going to have to deal with him more permanently at some point.

All of which, of course, leads up to a big battle scene at the end of the book, and some new possibilities forming for the overall plot arc.

Too short. More, please, for Mercy's sake!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hard as Nails by Dan Simmons

Simmons doesn't waste much time getting Joe Kurtz into trouble. It starts off innocently enough, with a visit to his PO, Peg O'Toole, but soon descends into madness when they are both attacked in the parking garage at her offices by a pair of gunmen, who leave Kurtz in the hospital with a bleeding head wound and Peg in a coma. Joe's enemies start piling on the minute he wakes up in the hospital, with a smack upside the head by O'Toole's wheelchair-bound uncle, a war hero who blames Kurtz for her being attacked, and being interrogated by a pair of detectives, one of whom used to be his close friend, and sometime lover, Rigby King.

Then, there's a whole slew of the usual suspects who may be ready to take Kurtz out of the picture, including Angelina Farino and Toma Gonzaga, heads of the local crime families, who may or may not have hired the legendary assassin, the Dane, to fix Joe's wagon permanently. Big Bore Redhawk, whom Kurtz embarrassed in Hard Freeze, a mysterious killer known as The Dodger, and maybe even a Yemeni terrorist or two are all gunning for him, plus a couple of folks we don't even suspect at first.

The whole mess centers around a battle for control of the heroin trade, and Kurtz ends up playing middleman in the final "negotiations". Some of it was quite predictable. I think I've just read too many stories - I know when a tried and true plot device is being pulled out of the cupboard and dusted off one more time. Plenty of violence and twisty plottings, some backstory on Kurtz' life in an orphanage, and just a hint of Joe beginning to trust at least a few folks in the world.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Milestone

Sometime during the night, this blog hit 100,000 page views. If they weren't all from Russian spambots, it would be almost impressive.

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

This has a hint of flavor similar to Heinlein's last couple of novels, The Number of the Beast, and To Sail Beyond the Sunset. Not from the standpoint of being stylistically like Heinlein, but from the philosophical writing idea that characters and objects in novels are part of a separate, perhaps parallel, reality to our own. At the end of Heinlein's career, he seemed almost to be thumbing his nose at his critics and saying, "Look, I can do whatever I want to with the characters I created, and if I want to have them all show up at a cosmic family reunion and love fest, I will, drat you!"

In Libriomancer, the protagonist, Isaac Vainio belongs to an order called the Porters, founded by Gutenberg himself, which consists mainly of magic users who can draw upon the reality created by the masses of readers of a given story, and pull from its pages pretty much any useful thing they desire, given some intrinsic limits on their power versus the potency of the objects. One of the fun things, from a long time fantasy and science fiction reader's point of view, with this book is recognizing the novels he refers to, which inspires a brief nostalgic moment or two along the way. Probably some of what Hines is going for here.

Isaac works as a librarian (good choice for a libriomancer). The backstory here is that he was training for fieldwork with the Porters and crossed some vaguely defined line within the organization, and has been exiled to a research-only role. When a trio of vampires shows up to attack him and trash the library, Isaac is forced into a more active role investigating why the undead have instigated a war with the Porters...or have they? He's helped in his journey by the surprisingly extant Ponce de Leon, a disgraced Porter, and Lena, a displaced dryad who has the hots for Isaac. As the story moves along, Hines, through Isaac's bumbling efforts, gets to explore the possibilities of libriomancy as Isaac tries things he's too ignorant to know he can't or shouldn't.

I've only read one other book by Hines, the first in a dungeon crawl series, though I have a couple of his paperbacks in my TBR pile, awaiting the acquisition of the first novel in the series before I start. Cleverness and light humour seem to be the key element in his writing, and this one managed to amuse me for a few hours, with a reasonably engaging hero. I've got the sequel on hold at the local library. We'll see how the series shapes up.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Myth of America's Decline by Josef Joffe

 For a while now, whenever I hear someone preaching a doom and gloom scenario, like the collapse of the economy, the total system crash of computers worldwide, or the disaster of global climate change, my first response is to try to figure out what they're selling. Hang on to your pocket books, folks, the hucksters are after your gold once again. If you hike to the headwaters of the source of the rumors of the dollar swirling 'round the drain, you'll usually find a hedge fund manager or a gold brokerage. When Y2K was the scare du jour, I'm pretty certain the generator salesmen were making out like bandits, and when I look at the carbon crazies' agenda, I see the sale of indulgences which rival the excesses of the early Popes, or heavy investments in "green" tech.

Josef Joffe does a great job of cataloging decades of pessimistic prophesies which our aspiring or existing leaders shouted from the rooftops in order to get our attention, our votes, or our cash. I had little yellow stickers all over the place, marking relevant passages, and it's tough to capture more than a taste of it here.

However, most of you can remember some of the scenarios we allegedly faced, even when they have directly contradicted one another from decade to decade.

"in the 1980s...following a nuclear exchange, a smoke- and particle-laden atmosphere would thrust the world into a new ice age. As of the 1990s...having unleashed the fossil-fueled fire of industry, they were now reaping global warming."

I remember, of course, when Russia was getting the lead over us in the Arms Race, and they were going to be able to counter our massive nuclear arsenal at will, and overwhelm Europe with their communist regime. Then, Japan was going gangbusters, and was buying real estate, banks, and other businesses right and left, and we were soon to be overtaken by Empire of the Rising Sun. Then, when Europe finally united and created a new global currency - the Euro - the demise of the almighty dollar was at hand.

"To praise others is to prod America. Russia, Europe, Japan, et al. will overtake us, unless we labor hard to change our self-inflicted destiny. The basic diagnosis remains constant; only the prescription will vary according to the ideological preferences of the seer...dramatization and exaggeration, fibbing or even outright falsehood, are all part and parcel of the prophecy."

It was rather interesting to note this little tidbit about all the Cassandras:

"...psychologist Philip Tetlock, after a an exhaustive review of 82,000 predictions by 284 policy experts over twenty years...performed worse than if they had blindly pulled their forecasts out of a hat...'These experts never lose their reputations, or their jobs, just  because long shots are their business'..."

The reality of the situation is that the United States has gained such a lead on the competition that catching up is a gargantuan task, and not as likely to happen as quickly as our detractors would hope. The data on GDP of the top world's economies shows that the grand total of ALL of  Brazil, Russia, China, India and Japan's combined economies to equal that of the United States.

The United States far outweighs all the rest in its sheer military power and tonnage, especially that which can be projected over global distances. In combat-capable aircraft, we have 3591, with the next closest contender being China, with 2004 (2012 statistics), in naval aviation, we have 1,429 to China's 311, In tankers and transport aircraft, we have 1,318 with the next closest being all of NATO Europe at 411, with china falling to a distant 5th with 77. The only statistic in which the U.S. "loses" is total number of men under military arms, where China has us doubled.

So, if it comes to a land war on the Asian mainland, we may have some issues. (Shades of Princess Bride!)

Joffe coins a phrase (or perhaps files off the serial numbers on it) for the type of economic growth which has been seen in the past in Japan and other Asian nations, which China is now pursuing - "modernitarianism". This is a combination of rapid modernization, industrially and technologically, with the full planning, backing and control of the state government. When combined with a ready supply of cheap labor which can be easily encouraged to move from the countryside to the cities where the industries are located, it can produce amazing double-digit returns for some period of time, but eventually runs afoul of its inherent limitations, compared to free market capitalism.

"The stronger the state's grip, the more vulnerable the economy to political shocks."

"Once the long run irons out the cyclical kinks, it spells out an enduring message: There is no endless double-digit growth in economic history; what goes up, eventually comes down to 'normal.'...no other country has escaped from this history since the Industrial Revolution..."

"Unconventional ideas and intellectual risk taking grow not out of the Politburo but from below. The government can shower money on the chosen, funding particle accelerators and space exploration (Green Power?). Yet the hardware will grind and grate without the right 'software', call it 'culture of freedom' or 'intellectual anarchy'."

This is not to say that what we've seen in the past in the West is unrestricted free market capitalism (I'm not sure we've really ever had that, despite the anti-monopoly propaganda resulting from the Gilded Age and the Robber Barons).

"Yet Asia by no means has a historical monopoly on this type of Asian values (corruption and cronyism). Indeed, lavish rent seeking, as granted by the state to favored groups, has worked its insidious ways in the West, as well. The two rapid risers of the late nineteenth century - the United States and Imperial Germany - enjoyed myriad kindness as from the cornucopia of the state, be they monopolies, cartels, franchises, subsidies, import barriers, or the suppression of labor unrest...the magnificent success story of the West unfolded behind the high walls of the nation-state, with the quite visible hand of the government bestowing succor and privilege. China didn't invent this model."

One of the most oft-repeated messages of doom is that the United States educational system has fallen far behind that of the rest of the world, and that our children have become woefully underprepared for life in college and beyond.

"A recent classic reads, 'Last year, more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China. In India, the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000'...Unsurprisingly, the alarm went hand in glove with a call for a lot more federal aid to engineering education."

China's "engineers" would be considered technicians in the United States. Our engineering schools are, in all reality, far better than most of their foreign competitors.


Our Federal government gives $36 billion annually to universities just for science and engineering programs. That budget dwarfs those of Europe and Asia.

Joffe pens, "Doom determines the national interest and then opens the national purse."

I'm seeing a version of this in my home state of Idaho right now. There's a constant barrage of commercials and advertisements in the media, telling us what a horrible job we're doing educating our children, and claiming that some unbelievably high percentage of our children cannot perform at grade level in reading, writing and 'rithmetic. I the true purpose of all of this propaganda is to get us all to vote for higher school levies and to lobby our state legislators to pass higher budgets for higher education... and lower education, for that matter.

I have to wonder how our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad school system here managed to send my daughter off to university to graduate in three years with a bachelors degree in mathematics (she wanted to be a math teacher until she sat through her first education class and couldn't stomach the nonsense they were spouting), and equipped one of her classmates with a full ride scholarship to Yale, another a music performance scholarship to USC, just to mention a few.

Listen, I think competent teachers can do a lot of good, but the most reliable predictor I've seen in my admittedly unscientific study of educational outcomes is the extent of parental involvement, encouragement, and support in that endeavor. Over and over again, I used to see the same group of several dozen parents at youth football, city soccer league, orchestra concerts, choir rehearsals, PTA events, school open houses, recitals, and so on ad nauseum. We weren't all rich, and some were definitely barely hanging on to the middle class, but we all cared, we all sacrificed, and we all spent whatever time it took to make sure our kids were getting everything they could out of their education.

Screw the fancy buildings and landscaping. Screw the computer labs. Screw the sports complexes, community centers, free school lunches, and teacher in-service days. None of that crap matters. Get the parents involved, make them responsible, and you'll see more success out of our schools. All the programs and educational theories in the world don't keep kids from failing. Families do.

If you think that  America is losing its edge, its competitive spirit, and its position as a leader in innovation:

"Today, the top three software companies in the world are American, so are eight of the top ten. Of the ten fastest-growing, six are American. There are no Chinese or Indian outfits in this lineup...There is no Chinese company among the top 100."

If you think all the smart folks coming here from overseas are heading back home with their newfound knowledge:

Of foreigners granted Ph.D.'s, 92% of Chinese recipients opted to stay in the U.S. after graduation, and 81% of Indians did the same. We are not suffering a brain drain, actually, we appear to be importing highly skilled, intelligent people.

So listen, folks, next time you hear how bad things are, and there's lots of shrieking how, "somebody's got to fix this"...check your pocketbooks. Someone is probably trying to sell you a bill of goods. America still Rocks!

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Undead Pool by Kim Harrison

 I really feel like I need to put together a plot synopsis, complete with spoilers, for this book, as a number of important things happen, I believe, for the future of The Hollows series. Rachel has been working security for Trent, while Quen is away guarding the girls at Ellasbeth's in San Francisco. The elven community is evidently not terribly happy about Trent's involvement with a daywalking demon, and this causes a great deal of the plot conflict.

Strange, powerful waves of wild magic begin to flow across Cincinnati, causing spells cast while they are in motion to behave erratically and usually destructively. Something about the magic is also putting the master, undead, vampires into a deep slumber, and their living minions are getting out of control, attacking humans indiscriminately. When Rachel and Trent investigate, they discover that the source of the wild magic seems to be Rachel's new ley line, and the waves are somehow following her in her travels around the city. But Rachel is not the person responsible for causing them, and as the surrounding city turns chaotic, she and her allies are forced to deal with the mess when the authorities are nearly powerless.

On the personal side, the growing attraction between Trent and Rachel is driving them both about half crazy, as they pretend it doesn't exist, for the sake of politics and "the children." Bis, the gargoyle, is growing larger and more skilled in riding the ley lines, Jenks' children are growing up and moving on, Ivy is trying to free her lover, Nina, from her possession by a powerful master vampire, Felix. And Newt, the insane elder stateswoman among demons, appears to be a little more savvy about the realities of the situation than anyone has previously given her credit for.

We get up close and personal with elven theology, when the leaders of the religion show up to confront Trent and ostensibly to help the FIB and IS get to the bottom of the wild magic attack on the city. We get to know the leader of the Free Vampires all too well, as he is involved right up to his bloodshot eyeballs.

To keep the vampires from dying, and the city from being destroyed, Rachel bites off far more power than she can chew, becomes all too closely acquainted with the Elvish Goddess, and risks ending up as nuts as Newt. She and Trent finally succumb to the inevitable, and suffer the consequences of angering the elven council, and the things Rachel must do to win permanently destroy her relationship with Algliarept, her demon mentor.

Seems like there's still some room to run in this series. Harrison still writes an entertaining yarn.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin


It's amazing how many of the principles that personal finance bloggers are using today are the same ones put forth by Poor Richard over two centuries ago. Of course, they showed up in The Richest Man in Babylon a while back, too...but that was actually not written during Nebuchadnezzar's reign, you know.

A great quote:

'Friends,' says he, 'the taxes are indeed very heavy; and, if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay, we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us by allowing an abatement.'

Remember..."God helps those that help themselves." Franklin

On the first of Franklin's virtues, Diligent Work,

"Sloth makes all things difficult...and...early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

I rather like,

"Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry..."

Another Franklin classic,

"Never leave that till to-morrow, which you can do to-day."

And perhaps more pointedly,

"Many, without labour, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock;"

Coming unarmed to a battle of wits, I see. LOL.

Ever hear a businessman say that if you want the job done right, you've got to do it yourself? Franklin says,

"If you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like,—serve yourself."

After hard work, Franklin's next recommended virtue is Frugality.

"If you would be wealthy, think of saving, as well as of getting."

"Beware of little expences;(sic) 'A small leak will sink a great ship', Poor Richard says."

"Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, have gone with a hungry belly, and half starved their families."

Wow, does that make you think of some folks running up the credit cards or what?

"If you would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some; for he that goes a borrowing, goes a sorrowing," says Franklin's alter ego, and, "Lying rides upon Debt's back."

A short work, readily available for download from Project Gutenberg, and well worth perusing. Far cheaper than Dave Ramsey's seminars.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hard Freeze by Dan Simmons

I feel almost like I'm detecting a formula here - Put Joe Kurtz up against at least two or three people or groups of people who want to kill him, and revel in the ensuing chaos. Things haven't settled down all that much since we last saw Joe, but he and his secretary, Arlene, are running a very successful internet business that finds high school sweethearts, and Arlene would like to expand into online wedding planning. Since their office building is being torn down by the city, she wants Joe to take some time to hunt up a new space for their business, and for him to find $35K to get things up and running.

In the meantime, Little Skag has decided to have Joe killed, and set some stupid and predictable killers on his trail, a trio known in Attica as The Three Stooges. Joe's number one informant, the homeless professor known as Pruno, sets Joe up to meet with John Frears, a man who is trying to find the former colleague of his, presumed dead, who tortured, raped and killed his teenaged daughter, and whom he recently saw alive and well in a nearby airport. The deceased Don Farino's daughter, Angelina, recently returned from Italy, wants to use Kurtz to help her eliminate a rival crime family from the picture. Kurtz also has some issues with Donnie, the man who got custody of his daughter, Rachel, after her mother was murdered and he went to prison for twelve years for the revenge killings of the perpetrators. Not to be forgotten, a corrupt cop named Brubaker has decided that Kurtz was responsible for the death of his former partner, also a corrupt cop, and is out for his own pound of flesh.

So, things get very complicated, very quickly, and it takes a lot of violence on Joe's part before he can keep his appointment with Arlene to go office hunting. Kurtz' unique combination of the direct approach and the subtle scheme make this an interesting and worthy sequel to Hard Case.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Around the Web

Borepatch has a book review up today.

One Smart Cookie by Debbi Fields

 When Debbi Fields was growing up, she had the feeling that all of her siblings were more special, more skilled, than she was, and it left her wanting to accomplish something that was truly her own. She had an underlying need to be a people pleaser, and she spent hours perfecting her own chocolate chip cookie recipe. As a young married woman, she would hand them out at social events to her husband, Randy's business associates, and eventually the crazy idea was born that maybe other people would pay good money to enjoy her cookies.

It wasn't easy, and convincing the bankers to loan them the money for Debbi's dream was tough, but she opened her first store in a shopping mall in Palo Alto in 1977 and her business eventually grew beyond her wildest dreams.

At one of Randy's meetings, she relates a story about a group of business executives who had asked ahead of time if Debbi was going to bake cookies for their meeting.

"Who better to ask? So I said to them, 'What would you think about my starting a business to sell these cookies to the public?'
'Bad idea,' they said, their mouths full of cookies, what had been a plateful only minutes earlier now reduced to crumbs they were artfully dabbing up with genteel thumbs. 'Never work,' they said. 'Forget it.'"

There are plenty of important points about customer service and business ethics one can learn from reading her book.

She worked at a Mervyn's as a teen, and was very well-liked and productive there. She says,
"At Mervyn's, I just kept pushing and striving, and they kept noticing. The more they acknowledged my efforts, the harder I tried to make things perfect. Some employees - I know from personal and sad experience - do not see the world in this way. I am making x amount per hour,  they figure, and therefore I will give them x percent of my effort. Why do people who think that way even bother to go to work in the first place?"

I always found that Debbi's philosophy of always working to make things better, of giving your entire effort, and not just the effort you feel your wage buys, to be very effective.

Like so many of us, Debbie was already experiencing, back in the 70s, the depersonalization of the shopping experience in the big box stores, and reminiscing fondly about spending time and money in an establishment where people really wanted to help you, and would likely know your name, and your family's history - not like the creepy big brother thing we've got going on now.

"...Randy's clients and my friends and both our families and lots of bankers were right in their belief that you didn't sell cookies in order to get rich. I didn't care about the money. It was an experience I wanted to create, some kind of gift to people - a lot of whom I felt were exactly like me, cheated of the emotional value of their money by big stores, fast food, systems without affection."

While still in her first location, Debby hired her first employee when she found someone at another business who "had a knack for engaging strangers in brief but delightful conversations".

"We had a terrific thing together, working side by side in the store. And as others joined us, they were brought into what amounted to a conspiracy to have a good time, to turn a job into play and make it at least a small joy to come to work every morning."

What a great corporate culture!

Debby relates to us a great governing principle, put simply, "The more we did for our customers, the more they did for us. I had always been taught that life was the other way around - that you had to make sure you got what was coming to you - but in practice the opposite was true."

In contrast to the way many franchises do business, Mrs. Fields doesn't just give employees the rote task of putting together a pre-portioned, bulk produced, assembly line style cookie.

"What we do is teach people all over the world, on four continents, how to be excellent, artful, instinctive bakers."

Her company's motto, "Good enough never is", encourages people to go above and beyond, to produce an excellent product, and never to settle for just good enough.

This book is chock full of not just chocolate chips, but tasty morsels of savvy business advice for anyone who really truly wants to chase their dreams of excellence.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In the President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler

 Ronald Kessler delivers a book about the inner workings of the Secret Service, dishes up some juicy presidential gossip, stale by this point, and delivers a few scathing criticisms of an organization which is responsible for keeping our democratically elected leaders alive. It's interesting that this book was written before the recent scandals involving parties and hookers and Secret Service agents on foreign assignment broke a couple of years ago. It just seems to me that in any organization, lack of good leadership and strong moral fiber leads to corruption, over and over again.

I'll not repeat all of the bad things that former agents related to Kessler about several former presidents and their family members, but none of them were all that shocking. Though serial womanizing would have taken some of them down to the dustbin of history if they had been caught at the time, we see in the light of Clinton's Lewinski scandal that such character defects are no longer even viewed by the public as detrimental to a president's reputation nor effectiveness.

One small bit I found interesting:

"While in office, Reagan never showed the effects of Alzheimer's disease, which ultimately led to his death. 'We had a hundred twenty agents on his detail, and he seemed to remember everyone's name,' (Agent) Smith says....But in March 1998, 'He would just stop in midsentence and forget what he was saying,' Chomicki recalls. 'Then he would just start a whole new story.'"

The Great Communicator falls.

And of minor personal interest:

Bush flew to a fundraiser in Boise, Idaho, and dined at the Charthouse in Garden City "on the banks of the Colorado River" Kessler writes.

LOL. Mr. Kessler needs a short geography lesson. Last time I checked the Colorado was not flowing through downtown Boise. The story of the Secret Service jumping two men in camo carrying guns on the banks of the Boise River didn't play out the way I expected. In Idaho, on that river, there are a lot of duck hunters, but the detainees had slightly more sinister motives, all unaware of the presence of the leader of the free world nearby.

All in all, an interesting viewpoint on one of our most important government agencies.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Streak

I want to apologize to those who come here looking strictly for my thoughts on fiction. This week, and part of the next appear to be coming up with non fiction. For some reason, it's been easier to finish those types of books for me than to slug my way through the latest novel, possibly because a couple of them turned out to be shorter than expected, but I should be back to an urban fantasy early next week.

Nikola Tesla by Sean Patrick

So, this book was not at all what I was expecting. I've been looking for a good biography of Tesla to enjoy for a while. He was an amazing man, responsible for many inventions, including A/C power generators, which we use today, and also somewhat of a mystery, as he is reputed to have invented some things that never saw the light of day again after his death, when his papers disappeared and/or were destroyed.

Instead, it contains a much abbreviated bio, sandwiched between Patrick's sales pitch for some other book he has written about how to harness your creativity and inner genius. I noticed he has some other purported biographies available on Amazon, which most likely are the same sort of thing. The most positive thing I can say about this book was that it was free.

Still searching for a good Tesla bio, for a reasonable fee.