Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Books

Investing

Don’t make money decision based on my ramblings, but somehow I’ve found myself in and around quite a few investment conversations lately so I wanted to share a couple things that have helped me.

  1. When I found Dave Ramsey’s “7 Baby Steps“, it solidified a lot of ideas and thoughts I had around saving for emergencies, getting out of debt, and saving for retirement. He has plenty of books, website material, and podcast episodes about it, but honestly, the list alone is a great guide for us because I didn’t need to be convinced that it made sense.
  2. If I only read one book about investing (and that’s not too far off), I would want it to be “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing” by John Bogle. It’s short and it’s simple. He repeatedly lays out statistics to show that buying individual stocks is a gambling hobby. Investing for the long term means buying and holding a total stock market index fund (or ETF) and maybe a total bond fund and a total international fund too. Yes, there will be flashes of success here and there where people beat the market in the short term, but the lasting, winning bet is a low cost index fund that covers the whole market. It’s nearly unbeatable, and it’s super easy.

Ask me in thirty or forty years how it worked out.

The Expanse

This summer, I decided to read book 1 of The Expanse series. I’d heard that the TV show was really good, but before watching that, I wanted to read the books.

Honestly I was disappointed by the first book. It started off slow and then I felt like I got tricked. Instead of sci-fi, I thought it was turning into a zombie book. Thankfully it was not. Zombies are dumb.

I only gave the first book 3 out of 5 stars, but it finished really strong so the second book got it’s chance. And boy am I glad I read that one. I was completely hooked and I’ve read all the way up to book 7 which was just released.

The story is set in a believable future where we’ve expanded out to various parts of the solar system. There are a lot of politics that play out between Earth, Mars, and people who have settled out on the asteroid belt and various habitable moons. The physics of space travel make sense. There’s no hyper space or warp drives. And then… well, then spoilers.

I’m almost done with the 7th book and then I think I’ll switch over to watch the TV show. Then I’ll just gobble up TV seasons and new books as they come out. If you enjoy sci-fi at all, I can’t recommend this series enough. I’m hard-pressed to think of another sci-fi series that has captured me like The Expanse has.

Childhood Books

endersgamecoverI was listening to an old Stuff You Should Know podcast and they briefly mentioned some of their favorite childhood books. It got me reminiscing about books from my own childhood. I know there are some great ones that I’m forgetting but the ones that stick out are:

  • The Hardy Boys
  • Tom Swift (the third and fourth series)
  • Ender’s Game

Those first two entries contain lots of books in them, but Ender’s Game is probably the single book that had the biggest effect on me. It such an epic read, especially as a 10-12 year old (but even now it’s great.) I credit that book with launching me off into a love of science fiction.

What are some of your favorites?

Book Quotes

wheeloftimelogoIt’s been a couple years since I’ve posted some of the text that I highlight while reading books on my Kindle. I’ll pick out a few good ones since the last one.

A Survival Guide for Life: How to Achieve Your Goals, Thrive in Adversity, and Grow in Character by Bear Grylls

  • If you can be the most enthusiastic person you know, then you won’t go far wrong.
  • Success almost always follows great attitude. The two attract each other.
  • How you speak about others speaks loudest about yourself.
  • The smart man and woman save the best for those they love. If we show our loved ones the most gratitude every day, then life will smile on us in return.

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

  • Reason is the first victim of strong emotion

The Well of Ascension: Book Two of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

  • Those who take lightly promises they make to those they love are people who find little lasting satisfaction in life. This is not an easy time in which to live. That does not mean that it has to be a difficult time to love, but it does mean that you will find unusual stresses upon your lives and your relationship.
  • When you can’t have both freedom and safety, which do you choose…?

The Wheel of Time Series by Robert Jordan

  • Any fool knows men and women think differently at times, but the biggest difference is this. Men forget, but never forgive; women forgive, but never forget.
  • Morgase claimed she had just made it up, her reply was “At my age, if I make it up, it’s still an old saying.”
  • Never make a plan without knowing as much as you can of the enemy. Never be afraid to change your plans when you receive new information. Never believe you know everything. And never wait to know everything.
  • Married life taught a man about women; or about one woman, anyway.
  • One nice thing I’ve noticed about getting older is that your body doesn’t seem to need its sleep as much anymore. Dying doesn’t take as much energy as growing, I guess.
  • Darkness cannot push back Light. Darkness exists only when Light fails, when it flees.

 

Star Wars

howstarwarsconqueredcoverI recently finished reading How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. The first half of the book talked about how the original trilogy came into being, but I enjoyed the second half more which talked about the cultural impact of the movies and why the prequels were flops. The biggest revelation to me was about why George Lucas keeps changing the movies as he releases them on different mediums: in his mind, the movies are a work in progress. He had to make a bunch of compromises to get them produced and as he has more technology and money available, he’s able to remove some of those compromises. Makes sense to me.

After reading the book, I wanted to rewatch the movies (at least the original trilogy.) I’m kind of a fringe Star Wars fan. I really enjoy the movies and can quote some of the famous lines, but I couldn’t have told you the full story arc. It’s impressive how well those movies hold up. The editing was well-paced and the special effects generally don’t look too bad. The battle maneuvers and tactics are the only thing that really makes me realize their age. People just stand up in the hallways and shoot at each other with some random ducking thrown in. And why can’t anybody use a sight on their rifle? Maybe you wouldn’t miss people at point blank range if you weren’t shooting from the hip!

Thank you to Ken for loaning me the BluRay edition of the movies!

Wheel of Time Recap

wheeloftimeOn August 15, 2014, I started reading the Wheel of Time book series. I had heard that it was good and decided to give the first book a try. After I finished it and was hooked, I realized that there are 14 books in the series and it’s pretty much a single story. The series seem almost arbitrarily divided into individual books. If you include the prequel (which I’m reading now), it’s 11,916 pages long, but it so totally worth the effort and time. The story starts off so simple and small and ends up enormous and complex in a glorious way. If you enjoy fantasy, I recommend that you check it out. It’s a big commitment and the writing isn’t always perfect, but it’s extremely good.

The writing actually gets better towards the end. Robert Jordan created the series and wrote the first 11 books in the series but he died before he could finish it. One of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson, was asked to finish it. He picked up Robert Jordan’s notes and did a wonderful job with the end of the story. He kept the style much the same but got rid of a few annoyances I had with Jordan’s writing.

I’m a bit surprised that this hasn’t turned into a Game of Thrones-style TV series. The Wikipedia page for the book series indicates that some TV deals are supposedly in the works but that doesn’t mean much. Hopefully something will eventually come out… and hopefully it does the books justice.

Now it’s time to pick a new book. It has been so long since I’ve read anything other than this series that it’s going to feel really weird to switch gears. Thank you all for the various recommendations that you’ve given me. My general algorithm for picking a new book is to look at my Good Reads “to read” list, sort by average rating, and then find the highest rated one that my library has in ebook format. Looking at that list, I think I might cleanse my pallet with a little non-fiction and check out “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe“.

Vocabulary Builder

vocabularybuilderI love the dictionary feature of Kindles and find that I’m much more likely to look up a word using the Kindle than I was when I read paper books. I’m not sure how much my vocabulary has actually expanded, but I can pretend that I’m learning something.

Newer Kindles keep a list of all the words that you look up in the dictionary while you are reading. Here are some of the words I’ve looked up.

The list goes on, but I’m starting to have flashbacks of the ACTs. Also, I don’t remember the definitions to most of these so apparently it isn’t working very well. The Kindle does have a feature that builds flashcards out of this word list if you really want to get serious about it.

More Blog Books

This blog has been running every (week)day since July of 2002. Along the way, I’ve been collecting the posts, the moblog/Instagram photos, and the tweets into books which cover one year each. I just finished off the books for 2012-2014 and this is getting to be quite the pile of dead tree. Most of the recent books are around 600 pages each. As I’ve said before, I don’t really think anybody is going to buy their own copy and probably they won’t even be read, but it’s kind of fun for me to have them sitting on my shelf. If I keep this blog up for the next 30 years, this is going to get a bit ridiculous though.

But imagine opening a trunk somewhere and finding a daily journal from one of your great great grandfathers. That would be pretty cool right? Unfortunately my descendants will be a bit disappointed when they read some of the drivel here, but still, there might be something that makes them read a few posts.

Or will books just be a novelty at that point? Would it be better to save these off as PDFs? How on earth would you make sure that a PDF file got handed down to your great great grandchild? How do we even pass this stuff down to our kids? I have 3.2TB of data backed up to CrashPlan right now. Is Elijah really expected to sift through that and find the good parts? I have no good answer to this. Instead, I offer you pictures of my custom dead trees.

book2014 bookshelf2014

Kindle Family Library

kindlefamilyTyla and I get most of our Kindle books from our libraries awesome digital section, but every once in a while, there are some specific books that we end up buying. We each have our own Kindles tied to our own accounts, so sometimes that has meant buying a book twice and that’s annoying.

To address this exact situation, Amazon has launched the Kindle Family Library. You can now specify one other adult as your partner and you can see all of each other’s books!

It can be a tad bit tricky to set up and manage if you have older devices but the newer ones handle it beautifully. Amazon has a help page that describes what each version of the Kindle is capable of in regards to this feature.

We don’t use this often, but when we do, I love it!

The Martian and Mistborn

I’ve been reading some fantastic books lately, but I realized that I haven’t written a lot about them. The three best ones in the last year or so are:

1) The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss – I’ve already written once about this trilogy. The only negative point is that the third book isn’t finished yet and the first two were so good that it’s almost physically painful to wait for the third one! I heard someone say, “If you haven’t read these books or you didn’t like it, then you’re not my friend.” I won’t go quite that far, but this is one of my top three recommendations right now. You can listen to an interview with the author on the Triangulation podcast. (2,581 four and five star reviews on Amazon)

2) The Martian by Andy Weir – Technically I suppose this is sci-fi but it’s set very close to present day and is based on as much current science as possible. Tiny spoiler but in the first page or two, you realize that an astronaut gets stranded on Mars (they think he’s dead) and then he has to try and survive. It’s a bit like Robinson Crusoe on Mars. You can listen to an interview with the author on the Triangulation podcast. (4,271 four and five star reviews on Amazon)

3) Mistborn Trilogy  by Brandon Sanderson – This one is the most heavily fantasy/sci-fi of the bunch but it’s another solid recommendation. The basic concept is that there are a small subset of the population that can use various ingested metals to have a single simple super-power and an even smaller group can use all of the super-powers. The setting is a pre-technology world with an evil overlord and there are rumblings of a revolution which most people think is impossible. If I didn’t have so many other pressing responsibilities in my life, I could envision binging on three straight books. Fantastic storytelling! (980 four and five star reviews on Amazon)

If I had to pick just one book to recommend, it would probably be The Martian because it probably appeals to the broadest swath of readers. Or you can just wait a few years for a movie to come out. After the success of Gravity, I don’t see how they won’t make a movie of The Martian. Do yourself a favor and read it now.