Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A proof that environmentally friendly behaviour makes economic sense

One thing I enjoy about living in Almaty, Kazakhstan is an abundant supply of fresh and tasty vegetables, fruits and berries - with so much sun and Uzbekistan (with several harvest a year) being relatively close one gets much better selection than in the Northern Europe.

I do the shopping of fruits and vegetables at the same small store run by a Tajik family. All the berries are packaged in plastic containers like this (and the rest of fruits and vegetables in the countless plastic bags) which come "for free":
It is not a secret that production and throwing away the plastic has created a gigantic problem for the nature - and it only gets worse. So what I did is basically re-using those plastic containers - washing them and bringing back to the family I buy berries from. I did it few times already - and the guys were positively surprised (recycling is not very "in" in Kazakhstan unfortunately).

What have I gotten in return besides a good feeling of doing something good for the environment? Discounts on every shopping I do there plus selection of the freshest stuff (the seller guys have become much more helpful and started to treat me with more special care "Do not take these tomatoes, let me pick better ones for you"). So, every time I go there I not only get a little bit less costly shopping, but also fresh selection - which means less potential waste and less need for an additional shopping.

Environmental behaviour can result in a win-win-win situation (for the seller, for the buyer and for the environment!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: Montessori from the Start

Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age ThreeMontessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three by Paula Polk Lillard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a practical guide for parents interested in quite famous Montessori's approach to children's education (this particular book focuses on the youngest age - from 0 to 3 years).

Its basic principles are: involve your child into your everyday activities, treat your child as a future adult helping him/her to develop independence and self-esteem, do not treat your child as a puppy or a doll to be taken care of, give your child place and time to focus on specific tasks without distructions, do not try to entertain your child so that he/she has "fun" at all times, provide patterns and predictability for your child, be consequent in your behaviour.

One quote to illustrate one of these principles:
“No” must mean no every time. “No” cannot mean “Ask me again and maybe I will give in.” Or “Scream loud enough, hit me, break something, tell me, ‘I hate you, you’re mean,’ embarrass me in a public place or at my in-laws and I might give you what you want.”
It is a lot of sensible principles in this book. However, as the quote above illustrates, this book can also make you as a young parent somewhat depressed - "Am I not a good parent then if I am not doing it all like that?" It is written as if raising a child would be the only task in the life of a parent. It solely focuses on what is good for your child and does not soften up this message by accepting that parents have their own wishes, they are sometimes (often) exhausted and need room for themselves, a child might have a younger/elder sibling which might make all the nice Montessori-like environment rather difficult to create at home etc.

Although authours say several times that "the brain research supports that...", they do not quote any specific studies. Instead, a lady called Montessori (who gave the name for this movement) is referred to many times - as if she were an ultimate expert in everything concerning children education. That was a bit too religious to my taste.

The frequent references to "monumental task of raising a child to make him or her a better human-being" seemed a bit too pathetic perhaps.

All in all, if one takes pragmatic approach to this book, tries to learn the new insights and treats it as one potential philosophy towards raising children (without stressing about potentially not being able to do it all "by-the-book"), it is a very nice and useful read for any parent.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Professional Service Firm

Professional Service FirmProfessional Service Firm by Mark C. Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good book, outlining some of the basic principles that one managing a (unit in a) professional service firm should remember, such as:
"If there is one single thing the professional service firms must do right it is attracting and retaining the highest-calibre individuals"

"Differentiation in the form of intellectual human capital is a barrier to new entrants"

"The highly competitive professional service firms will typically have a very low degree of client churn, as it becomes an indispensable part of the client’s value chain."

“The choice of client may dictate the professional development of the firm - it has to be made in full understanding that whatever else happens, the professional life of the firm will not be the same afterwards”

"The client relationships have “time economies”, the counterpart of industry’s “scale economies”. The firm does not need to incur acquisition, learning and start-up costs every time as with a new client."

"It is better to have an excellent general understanding of the issues facing a client and fashion the the professional service firm’s services to meet those needs rather than continuing to sell them the same solution to different problems. The power of the professional service firms is to customise, not to mass market."

"Most healthy PSFs compete on quality and not price. Their focus is achieving high enough levels of value added to sustain higher salaries that competitors and hence maintain the best professional talent."


I liked the systematic approach of the book: most of the principles (some of which are outlined in the quotes above) are substantiated by underlying economics, supported by charts or spreadsheet calculations.

The style of the book is rather dry, there are not that many examples - and those that are mainly come from the advertising industry. Many of the chapters are written with the focus on corporate finance, rather than company management - which might be too detailed if one is not concerned specifically about M&A.

All in all, a really good read and recommended for anyone willing to study economics of the service industry (as opposed to product-based companies / industrials that traditional economics focuses upon).

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Review: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management

When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital ManagementWhen Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management by Roger Lowenstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first, the book did not feel that easy to read: price-to-equity ratios, risk multipliers, derivatives, swap contracts... But the more I read the more it felt like a financial thriller, only more captivating and eye-opening.

The book tells the story of a darling of the Wall Street in the 1990s, the firm that attracted awe of investors, financial regulators, academia and business leaders in general. The firm which was called Long-Term Capital Management was established and ran by the cream of the cream in the U.S. financial industry and financial education. Its investment placements were based on sophisticated mathematical models developed largely by the founders themselves. The partners managed to raise huge amount of investment in a very short time (because everyone else was blindfolded by the partners' credentials) making it one of the most successful start-ups in history. At certain moments, the firm was managing rather astronomical volumes of investments.

And then it all failed. It required an unlikely cooperation of the largest Wall Street banks to avoid a larger financial shock, similar to what happened in 2008 after the fall of Lehman.

There are many lessons to draw from this book:

Financial lessons:
- There is a big difference between investing and gambling. Similarity is that the risk is involved in both.
- Quantifying and estimating risks does not equal avoiding them- one should not mix up these two

Management/business lessons:
- An assembled dream team is the best one can make - it would attract the other dream players, clients and investors alike. Everyone wants to be part of success and it is contagious
- Loyalty and companionship is something that can and shall be fostered
- Risk-taking in a company shall be checked and balanced (to a certain extent)

Personal lessons:
- Greed and hubris have their big limits - you can only go further that much with them

A great example of how a book based on investigative journalism shall be written.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Hansa Liidu ajalugu. Varjatud ülemvõim

Hansa Liidu ajalugu. Varjatud ülemvõimHansa Liidu ajalugu. Varjatud ülemvõim by Gisela Graichen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sain targemaks. Kohati oli põnev lugeda, mismoodi Keskaja Euroopas kaubandus rahvaid ja linnu ühendas.

Kuid sellel teemal oleks saanud kirjutada nii palju huvitavamalt. Peatükid ei ole omavahel väga hästi seotud (viis autorit on sellesse panustanud ja kirjutamise kvaliteet on varieeruv). Üldiselt pigem kuiv ja pigem akadeemiline tekst. Oli ka tunda, et kirjutasid puhtalt ajaloolis-humanitaaria taustaga inimesed, kelle arusaam majandusest ja ärist on võrdlemisi tagasihoidlik - Hansa Liidu kaubanduse sisemine dünaamika ei tulnud kusagilt kuigi hästi välja ja jäi väga pinnapealseks. Ka tõlge saksa keelest eesti keelde tundus kohati nõrk.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book Review: Marjustini sajand

Marjustini sajandMarjustini sajand by Marju Lauristin, Ene Hion, Margot Visnap
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marju Lauristin on olnud üks parimaid Õpetajaid mu elus. Siiamaani on meeles tema sõnad ühelt loengult: "Ülikool ei õpeta teadmisi. Ülikool õpetab mõtlema". Seetõttu tekkis suur soov see raamat läbi lugeda.

See on väga hea raamat. Siiras, mitmekülgne, õpetlik, mõtlema panev. Väga huvitav oli lugeda Lauristini vanemate tegude motiivide tagamõtetest, Marju Lauristini noorpõlve Tallinnast ja Tartust, taasiseseisvunud Eesti esimese valitsuse tegutsemistest, Euroopa Parlamendi siseelust. Oli kuidagi soe tunne lugeda Tartust ülikoolinnana 1960-1970-ndatel - sest tekkis nii palju paralleele mu enda Tartuga ülikoolilinnana 2000-ndatel (seda eelkõige mõtete vabadust ja lennukust, teadmiste himu rahuldust pakkuva paigana).

Ainuke suurem puudus minu silmis on ehk see, et kohati said Marjustini elu teatud perioodid kajastatud kuidagi justkui kiirustades - oleks tahtnud teada rohkem! Näiteks mis oli ühe Nõukogude Eesti teaduslabori juhataja tavaline tööpäev? Missugused nägid välja 1992.-1994.aastate valitsuse kabinetiistungid? Samas on selge, et nii rikast ja mitmekesist elu elanud inimese biograafiaraamatut kirjutades tuleb paratamatult teha valikuid.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Review: Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys

Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of BoysRaising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“On the one hand, we expect boys to do things they’re developmentally not ready to do, and to be tough ‘little men’ when they’re really just little boys who need goodbye hugs and affection. On the other hand, when they behave in cruel and thoughtless ways, we say, ‘Oh, boys will be boys.’ We let them off the hook over issues of respect and consideration for others.”

I really enjoyed this book. It is written by two psychologists with PhD who practised counselling of troubled boys for many years. It is written well, supported by many examples from authors' practice. What makes this book so trustworthy for me is that I as a former (teenage) boy could recognise past me in many of the chapters and examples of the book.

Wish to appear tough and impress others (other boys, girls, even adults) led me - like many other boys - to some sort of street gang sub-culture in the past. And only eventual realisation of its fakeness as well as good books have derailed me from that path in good time (not some of my former "mates" though - who ended up in jail).

Boys have emotions - just as many and as diverse as girls. The way boys express emotions is different though. Educating boys on possible source of different emotions is as important as educating them on math or writing skills.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the books I wanted to read for a long time. Classics of the genre that influenced several of the PC games I played, films I watched and books I read (when I had more time for such).

Beautiful language, epic story, diverse and rich world of Middle-Earth.

Interestingly, I kept on recalling my lectures on semiotics from the university times - and Vladimir Propp's standard elements of a fairy tale in particular - while reading Tolkien. And indeed - on one hand, it is nothing more than a simple fairy tale, with elements such as the battle of the Good and the Bad, quests, helpers, passes etc. On the other hand, this is probably why it can be called a masterpiece of a genre: Tolkien uses standard elements of a tale in a skillfully systematic and thorough way, enriched by countless colourful details.

And I cannot help noting after having read the book - although it has nothing to do with the book itself - that the film trilogy from 2000s was exceptionally good. I have probably enjoyed the film trilogy even more.

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