A View Through Glass

Rants and ravings of a curmudgeon of Generation Y

Category: reviews

A review of “Strapped” by Tamara Draut

One of the common problems with books about current events is that they may have a shelf-life. In the case of “Strapped: Why American’s 20- And 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead” by Tamara Draut, this appears to be the case. I should note that in this particular review I’m focusing on the 2005 edition that I read as opposed to the later 2007 edition which has some expanded content.

In “Strapped” Tamara Draut features seven chapters of which five are focused on the economy, one on political engagement, and the last one is a call for reform with suggestions. Since this book was written in the early 2000’s much of it is focused on Generation X, although Generation Y does get some mention from time to time. Unfortunately, the five chapters on the economy are also very much focused on the pre-Great Recession economy. As a result they have lost some of their relevancy or had some of the fundamentals change during the recession. The best example of this is the author’s treatment of credit card debt since many of the problems discussed were corrected with the passing of the Credit CARD Act of 2009. In some ways this means that the obsolescence of the book is a good thing since some of the problems have been resolved.

With regards to the other four chapters on the economy, unfortunately not much has changed. The examples also suffer the same problems that “Generation Debt” had in that readers may not be sympathetic. The author spends some time discussing student loan debt along with stagnant wages which were just exacerbated by the Great Recession. The high cost of housing also gets treatment and looking back on when the book was written we can see that some of that was due to the housing bubble that was developing, but even post-Great Recession the problem still largely remains. Finally, the author also focuses on the cost of raising children which continues to be a problem.

The remaining chapters are a bit of a mixed bag. The chapter on political engagement is a bit interesting since it is a look back on what the voting patterns were like before the Great Recession. The conclusions are likely irrelevant at this point in time since Generation X is now reaching middle age and associated changes in voting patterns. Generation Y voting patterns are briefly discussed, but at the time this book was written there really weren’t enough voting yet to really draw conclusions yet. Finally, the chapter featuring a call for reform has some interesting ideas, but they would need to be repacked for the current political climate to give them the time of day.

As a whole, the  book wasn’t bad, but it does show its age. The writing style for this book is very journalistic so it does read more like an extended article in a magazine and while sources are provided for many of the figures provided, they are sourced at the back of the book. If you approach this book as a snapshot of things before the Great Recession then you might find it interesting, but unfortunately outside of that the changes in the economy means that it is likely too dated provide compelling arguments.

A review of “The Millionaire Mind” by Thomas Stanley, PhD

“The Millionaire Mind” by Thomas Stanley, PhD is sadly similar to what I said in my earlier review of some of his previous books: while interesting on its own, if you have read any of his previous books then there isn’t that much new information here. Much of “The Millionaire Mind” breaks down the research that the author has done over the years into the prototypical millionaire next door and what their habits and lifestyle choices are that enable them to accumulate their high net worth. A lot of territory is covered here that is just brushed past in “The Millionaire Next Door” in much more depth with entire chapters being devoted to such topics as their vocation and choice of spouse.

It should be noted that in contrast to the previously reviewed book this one doesn’t offer much in the way of financial advice. “The Millionaire Next Door” offers some pretty sage advice with regards to how to get to be a millionaire while “Stop Acting Rich” could be useful to moderate any spending habits by reminding you that what you are doing is not necessarily what millionaires are doing. This book, on the other hand, kind of reads a bit more like a biography to an extent than a financial book in any way. There are some interesting anecdotes in this book that provide for some entertaining reading and could also be useful in fortifying your courage before doing something risky (i.e. starting your own business) but anyone coming here for financial advice is going to be disappointed.

To be honest, this is a tough review to write largely because even though this book is fairly thick all it really does it cover previously tread territory in more depth. This means that it is interesting to people that what to know about any given topic, but most likely, the average reader will find the book to be quite redundant.

A Review of “Generation Debt” by Anya Kamenetz

A couple days back I finished Generation Debt: How Our Future Was Sold Out for Student Loans, Bad Jobs, NoBenefits, and Tax Cuts for Rich Geezers–And How to Fight Back by Anya Kamenetz and quite frankly I had to let the book sit a couple days before writing this review simply because my thoughts on it are somewhat hard to pin down. On one hand the book is well written and the authors Yale education in journalism comes through as she is very upfront in the fact that she is biased towards a liberal ideology, she does present examples to justify her thoughts, and if you actually read the bibliography you can tell she actually did research for the book; but on the other hand, some of the cases she presents don’t exactly make for the strongest examples and that might help to explain the reviews this book gets on Amazon.com.

Now, as a whole I am quite sympathetic towards the author and I agree that most of the problems that she presents are problems that do affect members of Generation Y; however, on the same token, there are some cases in her book where she should have avoided using the case as it hurts her argument (e.g. maxed out their credit cards being “tourists in their own town”) which is used as ammunition against the book in the various one star reviews out there. It also doesn’t help that she does seem to fall for trap that the plural of anecdote is not data and there are a number of places where she hurts her case by not providing a larger data set.

Now, that said, I do think that each of the issues that she presents are valid issues that need to be addressed and I would be remiss if I didn’t admit to being a firm proponent of bringing back mandatory home economics classes for high school students to help avoid some of the very problems that she addresses. One of the big issues with Generation Y is that most people are largely financially illiterate (quick: if you have $1,000 on a credit card with 25% APR, how long and how much will you end up paying making only minimum payments?) and going back to my previous entry on why Generation Y Yuppies are unhappy, anyone that graduated from college during the recession had high chance of not getting a job fresh out of school which can impact them in the long run since most companies would rather hire the fresh graduates as opposed to the ones that graduated from school over one year ago.

All told, I would recommend reading the book if you get a chance since at a minimum is does enumerate the list of issues that affects Generation Y even if it does a very poor job in some cases of explaining why these are problems and defending the position. However, I do firmly agree with the advice she gives in the revised edition chapter “Looking Ahead”: pay off your debt, save money, and don’t spend more money than you make.

Following up on the Visionnaire fountain pen

Recently I posed a review of the Visionnaire fountain pen and given that a couple weeks have passed it seems a good time to followup. Since the Visionnaire was shipped to the general public, The Pen Addict reviewed it in Episode #83, a review appeared on Reddit, a comparison to the Leyica LY120 was made, as well as other Chinese fountain pens in general, a YouTube review was conducted, and some additional videos were made by another reviewer. Plus a number of backers have posed mini-reviews and comments on the Kickstarter page and while there have been some favorable comments, the vast majority of people posting on Kickstarter seems to be displeased the project and especially with the quality control or lack thereof. The creator of the project has also been very quiet and hasn’t addressed any of the comments on the quality control which I think is very telling. BHG Design has started a new Kickstarter campaign for a Visionnaire branded notebook that can include the pen and quite frankly I would advise anyone reading this to avoid the campaign.

I’ve tired to use the pen a couple more times since my initial review but the feed issues continue to be an issue and even when the feed is decent, the comment that I made about the pen feeling “top heavy” in the review applies and I find it hard to write with the pen for an extended period of time. Also, something that I failed to mention but other reviewers have which made me do an “Oh, yeah!” is that the pen doesn’t really have any good grip and over an extended priors of time I have found myself struggling to avoid it slipping while writing. Plus, the chrome plating continues to chip off and odds are given enough time I might have a copper pen instead of a chrome one.

In the event that you come across this post and are interested in starting to write with a fountain pen, my best advise would be to start the same way that I did: pick up a Lamy Safari (plus converter), some ink, and some decent paper and just start writing! If you also want to improve you handwriting then I suggest the following two books which I have been using myself:

Both of which do a good job of laying out the foundations after which it is just a matter of practicing enough to retrain yourself to write.

A review of the Visionnaire fountain pen

Introduction

This is a review of the Visionnaire fountain pen by Visionnaire design which I received through the Kickstarter campaign and I should start this review by noting that as of this time, I’ve been writing with a fountain pen for about one year and consider myself to be, at best, and advanced novice with regards to the wide variety of pens out there. However, a bad pen is a bad pen and this was a bad pen. The controversy that has come up around this particular Kickstarter is addressed at the end of the review to the best of my ability at the time of writing.

The Visionnaire, uncapped

The Visionnaire, uncapped

 

Review

This particular  Visionnaire pen came from the Kickstarter campaign and I was fortunate enough to receive the pen for the $37 “early bird” pricing instead of the $45 level. The pen is currently listed at the Visionnaire Shop as having a normal pricing of $85 but is currently reduced to $49 and I should start by saying that even the $37 dollars I paid is too much by my standards.

What Kickstarter backers received

What Kickstarter backers received

The packaging overall is nice enough and the pen is shipped in a cigar tube with the Visionnaire logo and a microfiber bag is included for the pen. This is a nice touch; however, oddly enough the pen was inside of a plastic bag in the microfiber bag. For Kickstaters a thank you note with a “Founders Club” card and a small box of five half-sized black cartridges were included. The converter (not pictured) was shipped in the pen itself and was wedged in quite tightly. This didn’t bother me that much since I prefer to use the converter; however, it is worth noting.

Overall, I am a fan of the aesthetics of the pen and the clean lines are one of the reasons that I backed the Kickstater as I thought the chrome version of the pen looked quite sharp when coupled with the metal nib. Obviously the looks are not for everyone, for myself personally it is an attractive design. Weight-wise it is the heaviest fountain pen I have and a good deal of that weight seems to be in the cap of the pen as opposed to being evenly distributed. While I was writing I actually found this to be an issue as the pen does feel “top heavy” for lack of a better term. Adornments of the pen is limited to “VISIONNAIRE” inscribed around the base of the cap and the cap presents a fair degree of resistance when being removed and goes back on the pen with a satisfying click. As might be expected for a shiny metal pen, it does pick up finger prints during use which could bother some people.

For testing purposes I filled the pen with Omas Black ink with the initial plan of using the pen for about of week of regular use and reporting my findings. During the initial filling I noticed that the twisting the piston that it seemed to wobble around and was loose in the converter. While this didn’t present any issues during testing, but is a behavior I have not seen in the Lamy Z24 Converter. Initially things seemed to go well and the pen had good flow and while the nib is rounded off so I was really able to practice my italics hand, for general taking notes and other tasks it was performing decently enough. When not using the pen it was either being kept on top of the pad of paper I use for keeping notes throughout the day, or in the pen pocket of the sport coat I was wearing.

Writing samples from Visonnaire, Lamy Vista 1.1mm nib, and Sailor 1911 Music Nib

Writing samples from Visonnaire, Lamy Vista 1.1mm nib, and Sailor 1911 Music Nib

Above (click for a larger picture) is a writing sample that I did from the Visionnaire, a Lamy Vista with a 1.1mm nib, and a Sailor 1911S with a 14kt gold music nib. Two things should standout from this sample, 1) is that I need to keep working on my penmanship and 2) the Visionnaire sample has spots where there should be ink, but there is not. This is a problem that developed after a morning of light use and by the time I left work for the day I had already decided against continuing to use the Visionnaire since was having major feed issues.

Visionnaire Nib, "Iridium Point Germany"

Visionnaire Nib, “Iridium Point Germany”

The nib is a generic “Iridium Point Germany” which doesn’t really mean much of anything. The nib is pointed so I was not able to really get anything close to the italic hand I’ve been working on and when I examined it with a 10x loupe I noticed nib is misaligned with the feed and the breather hole is just slightly misaligned with the feed channel. This strikes me as a quality control issue that should not exist on a $37/45/49/81 pen. I checked the Lamy Vista (list price $35) and the Sailor 1911 (list price $195) and didn’t observe this issue in either of them.

Flaking chrome plating can be seen after one day of use

Flaking chrome plating can be seen after one day of use

Much more damning to me is the fact that by the end of the day, the chrome plating was already starting to flake off of the pen. As you can see from the above picture, it is around the name engraving and if this was limited to a single spot I could forgive it as potentially being a manufacturing defect. However on my pen it has also started in other spots near the engraving which makes it more of a concern for me as this strikes me as something that should be noticed during product development. If engraving is going to cause the pen to be prone to losing the plating in that area, why release it anyway? This is also very worrisome given that the Kickstarter campaign made a point of comparing the Visionnaire to Waterman, Parker, and MontBlanc pens that retail for $160 and up which is part of the reason why I included the Sailor 1911 in the writing sample. One could make a case that the higher end pens are over priced, but generally those higher prices do ensure a certain degree of quality in the product that you receive.

At the end of the day though, I can forgive some issues such as the plating if the pen was a respectable writer and when I backed the project I was hoping that for $37 I would get a pen that was comparable to the Lamy Vista that I use every day. This pen is not comparable and when using it, it seemed to be a step backwards from the Lamy Vista.

Save your money, avoid this pen.

 

Controversy

At this point I should address the controversy that has been surrounding this pen and I would like to start by saying that baring reading the updates on Kickstarter I generally avoid reading the comments and thus didn’t really find out about some of this until after the pen had arrived. As near as I can tell, this could have rose out of the Fountain Pen Network Forums discussion of the pen or could have come from the Kickstarter comments where one of the members from the Fountain Pen Network has been posting. To be honest, I can’t tell for sure which came first and in some ways it really doesn’t matter. The bigger issue is that a very good case is being built (see Reddit and DanteBertana.com) for the pen having been a pen that is already being produced in China and is being resold for a very tidy profit.

The link that I have been seeing the most to is that of a “High-end Fountain Pen” being produced by Leyica and listed on Alibaba.com. These pens have a FOB price of $0.85 to $4 a piece depending upon the order size and while I don’t know what the per-pen mark-up to cover the shipping would be, I can’t imagine that I would add a significant amount. A better link than the one usually given is to a “roller pen” in Leycia supplier section from which I captured the following screen shots since these links tend to break,

Screen shot from Alibaba.com showing "Visionnaire-like" pen manufactured by Leycia

Screen shot from Alibaba.com showing “Visionnaire-like” pen manufactured by Leycia

 

Open and closed profile images of the Leycia Visionnaire-like pen

Open and closed profile images of the Leycia Visionnaire-like pen

 

Packaging by Leycia of the Visionnaire-like pen, the third image is remarkably similar to what I received

Packaging by Leycia of the Visionnaire-like pen, the third image is remarkably similar to what I received

whether or not this pen was produced prior to the Kickstarter campaign remains to be seen. It is no secret that the pen is produced in China and the project’s FAQ even admits as much:

My manufacturing partner is located in China.

The lower overhead cost and large production quantities allows the Visionnaire to be made of high quality parts, have a perfect fit and finish, and being offered at a lower price point.

and in the Kickstarter comments the accusation that the pen was sourced through Leyica / Alibaba made its way back to the project creator which lead to the following being posted on November 14, 2013,

I am going to address these concerns direct. I do not have to disclose any information in regards to my manufacturing partner. I have clearly state again and again that I have designed the Visionnaire pen. I have sent over MY designs to my manufacturing partner to have it made earlier this year. I have visited my manufacturing partner in China (using my own savings) to see the process and its quality of product. It is now being replicated and copied by certain companies on Alibaba. It DOES NOT COST $1 to manufacture and produce. Like I said, the custom tube packaging alone costs more than $5 to make. What makes anyone think that having a pen custom made along with its molding costs, shipped to the USA, having paid customs, packaged, and reshipped out to the would costs that amount? It does not come free with no costs or labor.

The next day conflicting posts where made,

Thanks for your inquiry regarding the model LY120.

Yes, it is brand new design this year. Though it is designed by one of my customer,we have get authorization to advise on Alibaba. So it is not involving infringement. Before we offer an quotation,please advise below questions:

followed by,

I have Leyica’s catalog (PDF) published in 2011, listing this pen. The rep I talked to, told me, they been selling this pen since 2009. I looked at metadata on some of the pictures on Alibaba, they were taken in 2007.

So I’m not really sure what to believe. On one hand, given the fairly lax intellectual property right law in China, I would not at all be surprised that a manufacture would take the design of the pen and start reproducing it on their own. But on the other hand having held the packaging in my hand I find it very hard to believe that it could $5 to produce and if it really did cost that much, someone over paid by a large margin. Having looked around the Alibaba site it is really hard to say one way or another given how disorganized things there seem to be.

For now I’m reserving judgement with regards to if pen was being produced prior to the Kickstarter or not since there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence either way. Plus, the pen had enough issues standing on its own that it is moot in some ways as well, avoid the pen simply because there are better ones out there for your money.

Review of “The Millionaire Next Door” and “Stop Acting Rich” by Thomas Stanley, PhD

This review covers two books by Thomas J. Stanley, PhD, namely The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy and Stop Acting Rich: …And Start Living Like A Real Millionaire and while both of these books are quite interesting in their own right, there is also a bit of redundancy between the two of them.

“The Millionaire Next Door” presents the research of Thomas J. Stanley, PhD and William D. Danko, PhD into the habits and behaviors of millionaires as well as high earning individuals. The book presents the concept of prodigious accumulator of wealth (PAW), average accumulator of wealth (AAW), and under accumulator of wealth (UAW). The book also defines the following formula to determine where you lie the with regards to PAW, AAW, or UAW:

Expected Net Worth = ([Age] * [Net Household Income]) / 10

If your net worth is greater than the expected net worth then congratulations! You are a PAW! There do appear to be some flaws with this formula though as someone in their mid to late twenties might have more than the expected net worth, but is still considered an UAW by Stanley and Danko. I suspect that the formula is skewed more towards individuals in their forties and later but this is not disclosed in the book.

Much of the rest of the book is devoted towards comparing the differences between PAWs and UAWs and a lot of it boils down to frugality and living below your means as opposed to at or above your means. Since this book is one of the ones that really started me down the road towards pushing for increasing my savings rates, I am biased towards it in a possible manner. However, it is a fairly interesting read and does give a good over view of what it takes to move from a UAW to an AAW to a PAW.

This stands in contrast to “Stop Acting Rich” which is effectively a continuation of “The Millionaire Next Door” and while interesting, you can easily pass by without loosing much. Much of the book is devoted to comparisons between UAWs and PAWs with regards to how they dress, what they drink, and so forth. While this is interesting and is interesting enough that it might be worth picking up at the library I would be hard pressed to recommend someone actually buy the book for the content. Much of it boils down to “Be frugal” and to not spend money to keep up with the Joneses.

The writing between the two books is quite strong and flows quite well. “Stop Acting Rich” does run a bit longer than “The Millionaire Next Door” but in all honestly “Stop Acting Rich” is effectively a continuation of “The Millionaire Next Door.” “The Millionaire Next Door” is definitively one to read if you haven’t already and “Stop Acting Rich” might be worth picking up at the library if you like “The Millionaire Next Door,” but I would be hard pressed to recommend you pick it up as well.

A Review of “A Million Bucks by 30” by Alan Corey

The other day I finished A Million Bucks by 30: How to Overcome a Crap Job, Stingy Parents, and a Useless Degree to Become a Millionaire Before (or After) Turning Thirty by Alan Corey this book proved to be another very quick read weighing in at 211 pages which are formatted to not have that much actual text per page. But enough about the statistics of the page, how’s the content? Meh.

The summary of the book does look pretty interesting: a college graduate with a degree in “Management of Information Systems” moves to New York City with the goal of making $1,000,000 by age 30 and the book chronicles how he went about pulling it off. Plus, h0w can you resit the bold “WARNING: Do not attempt to use this book unless you are prepared to become filthy rich.” on the back cover?

Well, the problem lies in the execution: as a financial guide the advice pretty much boils down to live frugally and to flip real estate and as a memoir it is just too sparsely written to really hold your attention for that long. Plus, some of the fugal living tips – “Extreme Cheapskate Strategy” in the book’s phrasing – are of dubious legality, such as reusing popcorn bags, or are pretty obvious, such as using the library.

One of the financial tips that I did think was clever was to open up a second savings account that you have limited access to and have money be deposited directly out of your paycheck to it. The logic being somewhat along the same lines as automatic deposits to retirement accounts: if you are saving automatically and accessing the money is hard, odds are you aren’t going to spend it. The author is a big advocate of spending less money than you make in order to maximize your savings, but as others have also said of the book, he is quite extreme and I don’t think most people would be up his savings techniques.

As noted earlier, the way the author made most of his money was by flipping real estate in New Your City at a time when the market was going up. So needless to say a not insignificant degree of luck was also involved, although in the book the author also does appear to do have done a lot of work to identify potential locations in New York City where the neighborhoods were starting to improve. So points for doing the research and being to identify the neighborhoods, but the same token, I think the author makes things seem much easier than they actually are. Plus, given the current real estate market, could someone pull it off again?

With regards to the book as a memoir, well, a lot of time is spent in the early twenties and several chapters go by when the author is 24, but the in the last few chapters he wraps things up at 29 very quickly. Some of the stories in the book actually are quite amusing and I think and expanded of them could actually make for an entertaining memoir, but as this one stands it is quite thin.

So as it stands, I think the $0.01 I paid for the book at Goodwill was likely fair and for a quick read from your local library it might be worth a couple hours of your time, but the $13.95 price tag on the back cover is simply too much. The financial advice you can largely find on the internet in various blogs, and the memoir is just a bit too thin.

A Review of “The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay, PhD

Recently I finished reading The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay, PhD and found it to be an interesting, if short read. As you might be able to guess from the title, the book is targeted as those in their twenties and attempts to address things specifically to Millennials which means for those outside the target demographic might find it to be a bit thin. The book is divided in to three sections: “Work”, “Love”, and “The Brain and the Body.”

“Work” focuses on, well, work and it largely focused on encouraging readers to start building their career as opposed to working jobs that are either not challenging or outside of what they wish to do. For those in their early to mid-twenties this could be very useful as it gives a counter balance to the general trend in the media to call Millennials lazy or entitled. One of the later chapters in the “Brain and the body” section actually crosses over nicely into “Work” since it covers what many Millennials struggle with: dealing with the first job and building on the job confidence. Sadly, the section on work was largely a miss for me, but then considering I’m at the point where my career is “established” I’m not in the target audience.

The next section is “Love” which focuses more on anecdotes relating to dating, cohabitation, and avoiding “being in like.” All of it was largely sound advice, although barring issues related to not waiting too long to get married, I’m skeptical that there is really any new ground being broken here. In other-words, some of the advice seems like it has been around for awhile, although some of the stories do provide some good examples of what not to do and what can go wrong.

The last section is “The Brain and the Body” which I actually found to be one of the more interesting sections. The section includes lay explanations of brain development in twenty-somethings, which is still an area of active research (i.e. MIT Young Adult Development Project.) The science is a bit thin, but given the nature of the book, this is to be expected. I actually found the “Calm Yourself” chapter to be especially interesting since it was easy to see how explanations about brain development having a stabilizing effect on moods in revelation to the workplace applied since I was able to recognize the same patterns in myself. The author made some references to The Devil Wears Prada: A Novel by Lauren Weisberger (I only ever saw the movie, it wasn’t bad) and the “first boss from hell” seems to be a common motif that pops up every now and then regardless of the era, so it makes sense that brain development has some to do with the first boss being that bad and learning to deal with them.

“The Brain and the Body” section also included a signification reminder about biological development and the proverbial “biological clock” that puts an upper limit on when having kids is a viable options. As you might suspect the chapter includes the request cautionary tale couple with some information as to the odds of getting pregnant at various ages. Given that people are having children later these days due to careers, the economy, and so forth it is easy to see why it was included.

So as a whole, this book is definitively targeted more at early to middle twenties as opposed to late twenties or older. I joke when I started reading it that the book was more likely to be a review of what I screwed up in my twenties as opposed to viable advice given my being in the late twenties demographic. On the same token, there is some useful information that could be relevant to anyone in relation careers and supervisors might find those same sections useful for reviewing to see if they can give any insight into dealing with younger employees.

As I previously noted, I found this to be a very quick read. The book as a whole only weights in at 240 pages and of that, the actual content only runs 201 pages. The rest is taken up by the notes and acknowledgements. The notes do provide enough information to be a decent jumping off point if you want to do some more reading on some of the items that are mentioned in the text, but they do seem to be padding out the book a bit, although even the formatting of the actual content also likely pads out the page count a bit as well.

Still, it is an interesting enough read that if you were to see it at the library or discounted at a bookseller it might be worth picking up. The ideal target for this book is likely someone that is getting ready to move out, either from home or college in which case it might make a good gift idea.