Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three Books

For Christmas this year I received as a gift a book titled, 'The Coffeehouse Investor.' It is a primer for investors looking to simplify their portfolio-management tactics. The book is thin, 168 pages, with large print and a lot of white space.

The author's entire message can be boiled down to three points:

1. Allocate your assets (stocks, bonds, cash) according to your age and risk tolerance.
2. Approximate the stock market average.
3. Save.

The above is intended as the author's rejoinder to those who believe that, with enough research and gut instinct, the market can be consistently beaten which, according to historical statistical analysis, is a longshot. So: buy into a couple of index funds and let 'em ride. Done.

How boring is that? Yet, the author makes a compelling case...essentially saying that unless you are an alpha-type who is sure you can make a living beating the casino, dumb it down and find less-stressful ways to fill your free time.

The book reminded me of another I once read, called 'The Shangri-La Diet.' This one is 224 pages, and the author achieved this with anecdotes and even more white space than the aforementioned investment primer.

The author's entire message can be boiled down to three points:

1. Eat less.
2. Enable this by ingesting two strategically-timed tablespoons of extra light olive oil every day.
3. Exercise more.

The basic idea here is that by taking in a portion of your daily calories with a flavorless substance (another suggestion is sugar water, which is a downright bad idea), you effectively stunt your hunger cravings and, over time, shrink your 'need' for unnecessary food.

Boring. But simple and effective. For the record, it is the only diet choreography with which I have ever had real success. The effect is likely psychological, but who cares? It worked for me.

If by some hideous twist of fate you have read this far, some variation of this question has arisen in your mind: Is this not a music blog?


As you well know (and as has been expounded upon in these very pages), the world of music commerce and exploration is almost unrecognizable from that of the turn of the millennium. Preferences, media, and tastemaking have split into fractions. The possibilities are ever-more rich yet complex. Some folks find the handles difficult to grasp.

If I were to write a book about the subject, I'd just do what I do: go on and on with the usual bloviation, shaggy-dog stories, and non sequiturs. Somewhere in all this I would bury my message, which can be boiled down to three points:

1. Read reviews.
2. Subscribe to an on-demand streaming service.
3. Listen.

The subjects of investment, dieting, and music exploration, all have something in common: These worlds are well-populated with entrepreneurs who want to sell you something. Such salespeople include T. Rowe Price, Valerie Bertinelli, Jimmy Iovine, and thousands more.

Music exploration needn't be about directionless and day-killing exercises in site hopping. I, for one, have no interest in or patience for lurching among artist pages, YouTube, MySpace, LaLa, and blog aggregators just to run smack-dab into poor functionality, amateurish navigational tools, and worst of all, the infuriating 30-second sample.

The streaming, on-demand music service (e.g. Rhapsody) is a simple solution: a one-stop shopping center. Read your reviews, develop your wish list, then take it to your subscription service and listen to your heart's content. This way you can buy what you know you like rather than gamble on the unknown.

I'll admit to being amazed that more people don't do this. But to be fair, there are two shortcomings: many folks balk at spending money to stream music they do not then own. Also, there are gaps in the streaming services' catalog offerings.

To the former concern: Think of it as spending the price of one CD per month so that you can approach the buying of music with laser-like accuracy and efficiency. Gambling on the unknown is a thing of the past.

To the latter: Yes, some music won't be there. Some older obscure stuff is lying dormant in dusty storage rooms, not deemed worthy of reissue in any form. Other music is held captive by gatekeepers who like to keep their moats filled and stocked with predators.

My favorite such commerce inhibitor is Drag City. Fine label, talented roster. However, their music can only be heard by purchasing CDs or 99-cent individual tracks at a handful of outlets. I know of no way of hearing the entirety of any of their albums before committing to buy, other than piracy, of course. As Drag City has essentially established my choice as a) pay before hearing, or b) steal, I choose c) neither.

My poster boy in this ongoing struggle is Drag City artist Bill Callahan, aka Smog. I own the one song of his I have heard, 'Dirty Pants,' which I procured from a music magazine sampler CD. I've read a lot of good things about him, and that one song tells me he is someone I want to listen to further.

But the man has put out over a dozen albums (not to mention ep's and one-offs) as Smog and, more recently, several more under his own name. Instinct tells me he would be an artist whose output I would want to distill into, say, a couple dozen favorite tracks. The only way I can do that is to spend, what, $200? Or steal? Sorry, Bill. But hey, I'm just one honest but tight-wadded music-hungry consumer. I am sure there are no others like me.

(To be fair, it's their content. They are well within their rights to play keep-away with their potential audience.)

To those of you who can now imagine how my book on music exploration would read, you've probably already figured out the ending: there is way more good music out there than we can discover in a lifetime. So go with on-demand, read some reviews, and be happy with the wide swaths of choices before you. There has never been a better time to be a music-lover.

PS...I tried out Spotify, the UK-based on-demand service not yet available in this country. I think I understand some of the hype. There are holes in their catalog, too, but the functionality is way ahead of Rhapsody's. I encountered a much cleaner, more elegant interface, and the delivery speed was outstanding. Sounded great, too. Terrific product.


Seth Roberts said...

I don't remember saying "Exercise more" in The Shangri-La Diet. I'm glad it worked for you.

Veronica Fever said...


In all honesty I could only recall two points in your book, but felt the need to come up with a third for a bit of consistency in a posting otherwise devoid of it. Cheers.


Henk said...

A fantastic blog