February did not open well for me. Late in January I was introduced, through a Youtube video by Wisecrack on the philosophy behind The Office probably the one TV show I can claim to absolutely love (other than Community, that is), to David Graeber’s book, Bullshit Jobs. My interest piqued, I got a hold of the book in no time through my Kindle.
While still halfway through the book, I couldn’t help looking into some more of Graeber’s writings. This led me to another book of his on a similarly interesting topic: Debt: The First 5000 Years. But because by then I had exhausted all of my book budget for the month, I decided on a lower cost alternative of accessing Debt – I signed up for an Audible account.
Before getting on with the frustrating sequence of events that was to follow from an otherwise mundane commercial experience, lately I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts. Around last year, during the bus rides going to work, I started listening to the Abroad In Japan podcast, where Youtuber Chris Broad and former English radio host Pete Donaldson talk about the ins and outs of life in Japan, something they consistently find a way to make interesting even for those who aren’t planning to visit anytime soon. However, as the pandemic put a stop to my commutes, my podcast listening also went on a break. That was, until recently, when I discovered Graham Stephan’s The Iced Coffee Hour, where he talks about personal finance and retail investing and interviews folks (usually alumni of CNBC Make It’s infamous Millenial Money series on Youtube) regarding their financial situation. Now I’ve been listening to podcasts during work, coding PHP and running computations on R all while jamming along to other favorites, including Cody Ko and Noel Miller’s The Tiny Meat Gang Podcast and Trevor Wallace and Michael Blaustein’s Stiff Socks.
After two months consuming hours of podcast content, I figured I might as well give audiobooks a try. Prior to this, my main argument against consuming audiobooks was the hassle of backtracking to past passages in the event that I lost my attention (which happens quite frequently to me, as I have the attention span of a goldfish), and the inability to highlight passages I found intriguing or especially well-written. Not to mention listening to audiobooks removed part of the experience of reading, which was seeing the actual words on the page. But for a book like Bullshit Jobs or Debt, I figured the differences wouldn’t amount to much, as I would be consuming them for their overall content, in nearly the same manner that I was listening to podcasts. It wasn’t as if I was going to be taking on a deeper, scholarly investigation into corporate red tape or the shady business practices of the men in suits.
So off to Audible I went, hoping to take advantage of the free one month membership access to test the waters and decide if the service is really for me. Up to now I’m still confused as to how the subscription works: do I get unlimited access to all audiobooks for fifteen dollars a month (like a Netflix for audiobooks), or do I get to purchase audiobook bargain prices with my membership (more of a Costco or SNR type of arrangement)? It looks like I’ll never find out, as after signing up on their website, I was directed to their app. And here is where the hitch begins: the app won’t recognize my just-created membership and kept badgering me to sign up for the exact same free trial I’d just enrolled into. Being the clueless consumer, I did so. But even after my second signup, the Audible store still would not recognize my membership, still would not count my credits, and still kept asking me to sign up.
At this point I was getting frustrated. I was quite ready to give up trying to get into Audible, but it would turn out that was the least of my worries. Signing up for Audible requires an Amazon account, the same Amazon account that I was using for my Kindle. Apparently my redundant signup triggered a switch in Amazon’s fraud detection systems and before I could complain about my Audible frustrations, Amazon had taken down my account. In order to retain access, I was asked to provide a copy of my latest bank statement (which I provided) and was asked to wait two business days for an Amazon representative to investigate my account activities and to give me further instructions. This was only the 2nd day of February; it is now the 8th of March as I’m writing this, and to date nobody at Amazon has made any attempt to contact me. Since the night of the incident, my Kindle account (along with all my books), have been inaccessible, leading me to the title of this blog post.
Halfway through Bullshit Jobs and nearly ninety percent into Faulkner’s Flags In The Dust (part of my long project to read through all of Faulkner’s works, both acclaimed and obscure), I was suddenly unable to proceed further with my reading while Amazon had my account on freeze. Which meant for the meantime, I was stuck to reading my print books indefinitely – a deal that’s not really half bad, considering less than 50% of my personal library remains unread, a number I intend to improve by the end of the year before I allow myself to purchase any more books.
This does, however, open up an interesting new counter-argument against the use of e-books. Current digital rights management (DRM) systems in place with e-book providers like Amazon’s Kindle, as well as Apple Books, Kobo, and other lesser-known services typically restrict the users from keeping a file copy of their e-books despite their having purchased it. The logic being that a file that a user can just take off the e-reader and upload elsewhere will lead to piracy, which makes sense. I am a hundred percent against piracy, but in the same manner that cryptocurrency investors tout the mantra, “not your keys, not your coin,” e-book reminders ought to remember that so long as you don’t hold a file copy of your e-books, then they’re technically not your books. Regardless of how much you may have spent your hard-earned cash for purchasing that book, Amazon can just shut you out completely from your own library. Something they have just done to me. At the moment I own just about twenty or so books on that Kindle, and most of them I got for free or with one dollar bargains on the Kindle online store. Regardless, until Amazon decides to let me back in, all that money spent accumulating a personal online library has functionally gone up in smoke. Thanks, Bezos.
So here we are again, back to reading print books after blowing seven thousand pesos on a Kindle less than a year ago. This month’s choices are all nonfiction, owing to my goal to diversify my reading at least a little ways out of a pure fiction diet that I first picked up a book in high school. My recent hype towards reaching a deeper understanding of personal finance and retail investment has directed me to Robert Schiller’s Irrational Exuberance, which is a sobering follow-up to the much more optimistic Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street, which I read last year. Whereas Malkiel in Random pretty much shrugs off bubbles like the Dot Com and Housing Bubbles as being mostly outliers wrought by over-speculation in otherwise efficient markets, Schiller presents them as being closer to, if not entirely, the norm. While happening at spaced-out intervals, markets tend to be less efficient than we’d be comfortable to admit, peopled as they are by mostly irrational players whose judgments are dictated more or less by personal gains at all cost. Schiller doesn’t entirely close off the possibility of making sound investment calls, but he warns us to the fact that the market is more likely to work against than in our favor, making intelligent valuation and risk management all the more important in a market that’s quickly becoming more volatile.
In the same vein, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb delivers a spicy condemnation in The Black Swan against hedge fund managers, economists, investment bankers, and even scholars and academic statisticians whose use of faulty statistics has led to such tragedies as the housing crash. Taleb calls out the Gaussian Curve – i.e., the omnipresent Normal Distribution – as the greatest intellectual fraud and warns against economic policies and general probability applications that actively ignore the occurrence of what he calls “black swans”: highly improbably events with the potential to overturn paradigms, or cause massive gains/losses. This was definitely an interesting read to have at hand at the exact moment the Gamestop fiasco was unfolding, in which a large hedge fund lost billions upon billions of dollars in a seemingly certain outcome, only to have their calculations overturned by a band of gamers and other internet randos on reddit. I can only imagine Taleb watching CNBC’s coverage of the whole damn mess and laughing his pants off.
Everything accounted for, February puts my total reads at 9 books, right on track for my goal to read 52 books this year (or one book per week). In terms of page count, however, that’s only a total of 3,208 pages for the year, or an average of 356.4 pages – still fifty pages short of my end goal of an average of 400 pages per book. It looks like I’m going to need to bump up my page count in the coming months.
This Month’s Books
- The Glass Universe, Dava Sobel
- Irrational Exuberance, Robert Schiller
- The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Eichmann In Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt
Featured image is a frame taken from Sid and Aya: Not a Love Story. Copyright owned by Viva Films.