Review: The Machine That Changed The World

The Machine That Changed The World

The product of a large MIT study of the auto industry, The Machine That Changed The World attempts to tell the story of “lean production”. The two other production types of motor vehicles mentioned in the book are obvious: Handmade/custom “craft production”, only used for a handful of low-unit firms, and classic assembly line “mass production”. But what is “lean production”? This was and still is a hard question to answer. But in its attempt, the book is an excellent study of the car industry.

One hand, this is a masterpiece in many ways. It’s a very technical but also very accessible study. It shows the difference between the older and newer ways of auto production very clearly. And its anecdotes are good in and of themselves.

But it also has some pretty serious flaws. This book is not only dated, but also was released at the absolute peak of the Japanese market bubble. So its veneration of Japanese production when the industry had a huge tailwind and was yet to experience a massive stress test needs to be taken with a large quantity of salt.

That being said, while not the most definitive book on auto production, it’s still a great historical resource.

Review: Where The Crawdads Sing

Where The Crawdads Sing

One of the least Fuldapocalyptic and most mainstream novels I’ve recently reviewed, Delia Owens’ Where The Crawdads Sing is a historical novel in the marsh of North Carolina. It follows the life of Catherine “Kya” Clark as she grows up in a shack, falls in love, gets smarter, gets successful, and gets accused of murder.

The prose is beautifully written and deserves all its accolades. The ping-ponging of scenes from the time of the murder to the time of Kya’s youth that eventually get closer and closer starts off somewhat awkwardly, but smooths itself out by the end. The plot works fine for moving the story along.

The biggest problem I had was Kya’s development as a character. Her transformation from illiterate bumpkin to intelligent scientist/philosopher felt too fast and not credible enough for me. But that’s not enough to break the book. This is a bestseller that deserves to be a bestseller.

Prop Betting

One of the most revolutionary changes in sports betting in recent years has been the rise of player props (ie, will this player score? How much of Stat X will this player accomplish in the game? Will the final score be odd or even?) Veteran gambling reporter David Purdum talks about this paradigm shift in an ESPN column. Props began in popular culture as those goofy things they did in the Super Bowl, but have now risen up massively, displacing the old spreads, totals, and moneylines.

Although Purdum’s column talks about the NFL, props are something that can (and have) been done in any sport with a relevant stat. Looking at the upcoming English Premier League matches, I’m seeing between 400 and 550 props on each game. (There are already over 200 props at some books for NFL Week 1 games a month off from the writing of this post). I saw an array of props for an upcoming cricket match. During the dark sports days of Spring 2020, I was both bemused and a little impressed by seeing giant prop menus for Belarusian soccer matches.

Of course props have a downside too from a business perspective, and that’s that they amplify the sharp-soft clash greatly. Traditionally, the few sharp books have had fewer and tamer prop markets than the much larger number of soft ones. It’ll be interesting to see to what extent the player/team prop markets can be “sharpened” the way the main lines have been.

But as of now, it’s a very reasonable question to ask “how can you ensure a house edge on hundreds and hundreds of different markets [things to bet on]?” And the answer is often “you really can’t.” The approaches are frequently blunt: Low limits, high house shares compared to lines, and restricting/limiting people who consistently win.

Still, for better or worse, giant prop bet menus are here to stay and dominate.

Review: Wheels

Wheels

Arthur Hailey’s Wheels, published three years after Airport, turned its attention to the auto industry. While I’ve been a fairly new study to the aircraft industry, I’ve been interested in cars for much, much longer. So I knew I had to at least try this book. Especially because there are bizarrely few novels about the auto industry’s shenanigans. The biggest names are just this and The Betsy, which barely counts as a coherent book.

This is only somewhat more focused than Robbins’ scattershot, crazed novel. And it’s less focused than Airport. While that had a big broad soap opera and industry exposition that concluded with a rushed thriller plot, this is nothing but a Detroit drama. Or to be more specific, a series of Detroit dramas that range from car design to the struggles of a poor assembly line worker to the not-exactly-scintillating subject of middle class adultery.

I can respect this book for what it is-a lot of the research holds up, even if Hailey once again fell for futurist wonders being just around the corner (room-temperature superconductors in this case). It does work as a snapshot of an utterly rotten industry that was practically begging for the imports to come and whip it into shape (Published in 1971, the only reference to Japanese cars is a Subaru 360-esque “four wheeled motorcycle” that no one likes). But it doesn’t really work as a practical narrative.

The Business Gurus

The Sure Bet King featured sports betting touts, or pick-sellers, as its subject. Now I feel it right to turn to a very similar (to the point where there has to be substantial overlap) type of charlatan who has followed a similar path of thriving first on late night infomercials and then excelling on the internet.

I speak of course of the business guru, often called “fake gurus” by their critics (with good reason). First I feel obligated to note that unlike sports betting touts, their actual business model can be applied well. It consists of providing and selling teaching courses on starting and running businesses. These can and have been done legitimately, so there’s a substantial grey zone…

…in theory. In practice, the business gurus come in a type of scheme that makes them no better than Dr. Goldrush’s 1000 Star Guaranteed Lock Of The Century! The biggest part of this scheme is that the investment courses are sold as a get-rich-quick miracle, something that leads you to relax and leave that horrible job you have (of course, running a business as opposed to being an employee almost always means more work, but the gurus won’t tell you that). Just learn about real estate flipping/dropshipping/whatever, and you can be as rich as them.

The second-biggest part is that the gurus almost always make more money by selling these courses than they did by doing the business practices they supposedly teach. Which is understandable, as you rarely see real successful entrepreneurs running around hawking seminars.

Finally, the people who have braved the courses will often mention how shallow and insignificant the actual content within is. After all, once you’ve paid for the course, the actual content doesn’t matter to the gurus.

A Thousand Words: Snakes On A Plane

Snakes On A Plane

One of the first “internet meme movies”, the Samuel L. Jackson epic Snakes On A Plane has a title that, like The Death Of Stalin, describes the movie perfectly. As part of a convoluted scheme to eliminate a murder witness, a crate full of crazed snakes are set loose in a 747 flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles. And that’s basically the entire plot of the movie. This is not a character drama or deep film.

Thankfully, it is an enjoyable one. It’s actually an heir to the 1970s disaster movies more than anything else, which got plenty ridiculous by themselves. Embracing the ridiculousness, it serves as a wonderfully stupid and crazy spectacle. You’re not watching this for the sake of a good movie. You’re watching this for the sake of a fun one. And it’s very, very fun.

Review: The City, The Village

The City, The Village….

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi fancied himself a writer and authored a collection of “short stories” that were translated and complied under various names. The stories (if one can call them that) are extremely bizarre, an example of the depths to which dictators can sink in terms of writing. First, there is “The City”, a tirade against urban cities where such horrible things as music and sports interest people, as compared to the glory of “The Village” (where people are nice and so on…)

The most famous story in the collection is “The Suicide Of The Astronaut”, where an astronaut returns from a bare moon to the earth, where he cannot find a job due to not having the right skills. After trying and failing to impress a farmer with his knowledge of outer space, the astronaut kills himself (SPOILER ALERT).

The “Escape To Hell” story is only interesting in that Gaddafi seems to foreshadow his own later fate (not exactly a surprising one) by bringing up the execution of Mussolini. Other than that, it’s rambling incomprehensible gibberish, as is “The Blessed Herb and the Cursed Tree” and the navel-gazy “Death”. There’s a pseudo-environmentalist screed in “The Earth”, and finally a reversion to talking about Abrahamic figures in “The Cursed Family of Jacob and the Blessed Caravan”.

This is, well, something… It’s just not a good something. But you probably expected that.