Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Brenden’s Booklist

April 27th, 2011 Comments off

Students don’t often have time to read a lot during the semester for obvious reasons.  As a result, I have had a number of people ask for me to make a list of the books I mention in class and that I find helpful/interesting so that they can reference the list at a later date (since course website access is blocked after the semester).  Here are some more books that I have found to be good reads of late (someone asked me how I read so much and I have to say that buying a Kindle has made me want to read so much more than when I bought regular books).  These are presented in no particular order other than as I remember them.

  1. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis.  This is perhaps the best book I’ve read in the last year on the economic meltdown.  It is great both in terms of readability and level of detail/understanding.  The author did a great job researching this book and presents it in a way that is easy to understand.  At focus here is how the incentives on Wall Street encouraged risk-taking behavior that ultimately collapsed when the housing market didn’t keep rising (many assumptions and models were based on housing prices never declining and some were based on prices never even leveling off for any period of time).
  2. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki. I first heard about this book (and its author) on a Minnesota Public Radio program. Kawasaki proved to be as strong at authoring as he was on the radio and this was a truly enjoyable and interesting read.  If you are tasked with finding/keeping/serving customers or members you will get a lot out of this book.  In particular, I really enjoyed the sections devoted to using online social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  The use of these tools to actually engage customers rather than just to serve as an electronic brochure is something that will separate great companies from good ones in the near future and the use of these tools (and new ones that aren’t even around yet) is sure to grow.
  3. No One Would Listen: A True Financial Thriller by Harry Markopolos is another great read.  I didn’t like it as much as The Big Short because Markopolos comes off as a bit egotistical (even moreso in person — I saw him speack at the MNCPA MBAC conference last June).  Markopolos is the guy that busted Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme.  Actually, he tried for years to get the SEC to investigate Madoff with little success and only once Madoff admitted to his crimes did Markopolos gain notoriety.  Prior to that he lived a life of fear for some time (he felt his life and the lives of his family members were in danger, in fact).  I have friends that thought this book was way bettter than The Big Short so it may just appeal to a different sort of person.  It was still worth reading to me, but just didn’t flow like The Big Short did.
  4. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Dan Pink.  This was an eye-opening book to someone that works in a field that is decidedly left-brain-based.  Pink’s point is that the left-brain functions so common to a field like accounting can often be replaced by technology/computers and a lot of what is left can be easily outsourced to developing nations. Pink has a new book out on motivation and he did a great TED Talk on it as well.
  5. Thank God It’s Monday: How to Create a Workplace You and Your Customers Love by Roxanne Emmerich.  This book is by a local woman and I first became aware of it last fall when it was featured on KARE-11 News.  She later wrote a short article for the MNCPA Footnote newsletter.  Building a workplace that employees love will automatically translate into a workplace that customers love.  The Balanced Scorecard tells us that and we can all identifiy places we have done business where we dreaded shopping and those where we loved shopping, simply because we could tell whether or not the employees were happy.  Emmerich does a great job of explaining how to set up a culture that accomplishes the goal of a happy workplace and a great place to do business.
  6. All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis by Joe Nocera.  I’m reading this one right now.  I still think The Big Short is a more engaging story (better written) but the details in this book are well researched and it is interesting in its own right.  I did find it to be more interesting in the last half of the book so if you find it discouraging early on, you should find that things pick up after that.  If you have to choose to read one book about the financial crisis, though, my money is on The Big Short.
  7. Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek.  We watched Sinek’s TED Talk on this same topic in class and the book is just as engaging while covering the same ground in more depth.  I have shared this book and video with others in my company and they have all provided great feedback and thanked me for doing so.  In hindsight, the ideas seem simple but they are obviously difficult to execute given how few companies have had success linking with their customers on the “why” of their products/services.
  8. The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam.  Like A Whole New Mind, mentioned above, this book takes the approach that we need to appeal to the right-brain when making decisions and in marketing our ideas.  You’ve all heard the saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and even those that think they can’t draw (like most accountants) can learn to use quick sketches to communicate and to make faster/better decisions.  Roam is a keynote speaker at the MNCPA Management & Business Advisors Conference in June. He has asked that audience members be provided whiteboards and markers to gain practice with the techniques he champions in his book (and a follow-up book) as he speaks.  It should be interesting. Note, that this book was TERRIBLE on the Kindle because the drawings were too small or jumbled up.  Get the paper edition if you buy this one.
  9. Dethroning the King: The Hostile Takeover of Anheuser-Busch, an American Icon by Julie MacIntosh. Is there any symbol of American marketing might bigger than Budweiser?  How is it that this company based in the heartland came to be swallowed up by InBev, a Belgian/Brazillan brewer? I loved this book and found it to be very engaging. Even with the outcome known, I found myself shaking my head at the missteps taken by the St. Louis-based brewer as globalization hit the industry.  The characters of the Busch family are exposed in great detail — they acted like Anheuser-Busch was a family company even though they had long ago become just minority shareholders incapable of stopping a takeover no matter how hard they tried.  In a story that is likely to be repeated in other industries the business world is changing and executives need to be aware of what happens outside company walls if they want to maintain power as other markets become as strong or even stronger than those dominated by American firms.
  10. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan.  A LinkedIn contact recommended this book.  It was a great read and may well change how you shop for food and what you choose to consume.  I know that I am more conscious of what I put into my body after reading this.
  11. Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes. I didn’t realize how impacted the science of food had been by politics until I read this book.  Lots of things that were known to German scientists some 70+ years ago were discounted after World War II because of political reasons and an unwillingness to trust anything German rather than for outright scientific reasons.  Taubes offers specific advice about what to eat (protein and complex carbohydrates) and what not to each (sugar, refinef flours, carbohydrates) if the goal is to lose fat and reduce weight.  Much of this advice contradicts what Americans have been told for 50+ years, even while as a nation we get fatter and fatter. There are scientific footnotes in this text, but Taubes wrote this more for laypeople becuase an earlier book was criticized for reading like a scientific journal.
  12. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl details his life as a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II.  In that environment, life takes on a very basic form and it is this experience that sets the stage for the prism through with Frankl sees life as a psychotherapist after the war.  We get a glimpse into human behavior that likely only exists in scenarios such as those of the concentration camps and I learned a lot about life and was forced to realize that all my complaints are ridiculously minor in comparison. I stumbled on this book because I was involved in a conversation on LinkedIn about “the best book I’ve ever read.”  I didn’t even contribute to the topic because I find it difficult to elevate any one book to “the best” one ever, but someone posted this gem and I’m quite glad I read it.
  13. Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. Somehow I got a free copy of this book on my Kindle last September before it was even released.  It’s like Amazon knew I’d find it interesting and that I’d share my experience with lots of people. It highlights this same phenomenon of information sharing and decentralized structures that the authors predict will be the wave of the future.  They argue that since customers are more empowered (consider the information consumers have now about nearly any product as compared to 20 years ago) that companies need to be as well.  For example, Best Buy is featured extensively in the book for their Twelpforce concept that has turned customer service into a proactive task and customer difficulty into an opportunity instead of a curse.  I loved reading this book but I’m guessing the challenge will be to get buy-in from the people that need to make the biggest changes: those entrenched in the IT department.  In my experience, IT policies can be terribly restrictive and I’m not sure how to get the ideas presented in Empowered into the hands of the people that need to change direction since, in a way, doing so is a threat to their existence.

Tech Skills & the Job Market

November 15th, 2010 Comments off

Having taught for close to four years now, I’m still blown away by the lack of computer skills exhibited by a vast majority of students.  Despite my best efforts to encourage people to take advantage of our semester together to learn even basic Excel skills, few people include even basic formulas in their homework submissions and those that do, I suspect, knew Excel before they landed in my class. 

Against that backdrop comes some analysis from Hunter Richards at that looks at what skills employers desire in job listings. that looks at what skills employers desire in job listings.  As I’ve stated many times, though, the foundation starts and ends with Excel and Hunter repeats that in his anlaysis as well:

This article would be a whole lot shorter, and a lot less interesting, if I focused on the one product you absolutely must know — Microsoft Excel. Nearly one hundred percent of these employers mentioned Excel skills as a necessity. If you’re an accounting student and you don’t know about Excel, I advise you to stop reading this immediately and go learn it.

For those of you that have mastered Excel, please take a look at the other skills that are in demand.  As I’ve stated in class, I’d rather hire someone with demonstrable skills in the product(s) used at my company than someone with a high GPA or a college degree.  That’s the real world.  Take a look at Hunter’s analysis at this link::

Tweeting Students Earn Higher Grades

November 13th, 2010 Comments off

To the extent that tweeting during and outside of class can make students more engaged, I am not surprised to learn that it might lead to better outcomes. I know that when I attend conferences where I am able to tweet the highlights of each session I pay closer attention to the topic.  It keeps my mind from wandering to other things outside of the class I’m attending.

This being the case, it is interesting to me that so many faculty continue to ban the use of laptops and phones in class.  There are too many instructors stuck in the “we didn’t use them when I was in school” world.

Tweeting Students Earn Higher Grades Than Others in Classroom Experiment – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Textbook Rentals May Not Save Students Much

November 7th, 2010 Comments off

Photo credit: greenasian on Flickr

Well, the textbook rental program that is starting at Metropolitan State University may not be enough to save meaningful amount of money, it seems.  According this Associated Press piece, there are still several other factors impacting the textbook industry that may cause savings to be less than advertised.

About half the nation’s major college and university bookstores offered textbook rentals this fall, according to the National Association of College Stores, hoping to cut the $600-$900 students spend buying books each year. That’s roughly a fivefold increase from around 300 stores a year ago.

But schools and publishing experts say the programs are expensive to start up and difficult to operate. In addition, there are complaints that rental prices are still too high, even though they can be as much as half the cost of a new book.

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Research Upends Traditional Thinking on Study Habits

September 19th, 2010 1 comment

Courtesy scui3asteveo on flickr

Here is an interesting article that challenges many of the long-held beliefs about how best to study/learn.  One of the most important lessons is that problem solving practice shouldn’t involve doing the same kinds of calculations repeatedly…it is important to mix up the problems to learn best:

“When students see a list of problems, all of the same kind, they know the strategy to use before they even read the problem,” said Dr. Rohrer. “That’s like riding a bike with training wheels.” With mixed practice, he added, “each problem is different from the last one, which means kids must learn how to choose the appropriate procedure — just like they had to do on the test.”

Another thought is that practice tests are useful:

“The idea is that forgetting is the friend of learning,” said Dr. Kornell. “When you forget something, it allows you to relearn, and do so effectively, the next time you see it.”

That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

As I’ve said, I think that students just need to know what works best for them.  To the extent that these tips help you do that they are useful…but since everyone learns in different ways there isn’t one “magic” method that will work for everyone.

Read more at this link: Mind – Research Upends Traditional Thinking on Study Habits –

Evernote for Windows

September 13th, 2010 Comments off

Here’s an interesting product that students may want to check out: Evernote.  From text notes to screenshots to audio files, this one application can help you stay organized.  I’d be interested to hear from students that use this to better understand the pros/cons in an accounting classroom setting.

Here is a video clip from CNN where Evernote is discussed:

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Textbook Rentals Close to Home

September 3rd, 2010 Comments off

It sounds like the U of M has started offering textbook rentals for some courses. You can read more at KARE-11 or watch the video below (the textbook story starts about 30 seconds in). Time will tell if this practice spreads, but I’d guess that even the notion of a paper-based textbook will seem quaint in 10-15 years (maybe sooner).

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Open-Source Textbooks? Part II

August 1st, 2010 1 comment

Courtesy of greenasian on Flickr

Over a year ago, I wrote about open source e-textbooks and I mentioned that I had trouble envisioning e-textbooks replacing paper-based books in a course like management accounting.  During that time I’ve read many things about the future of textbooks and I’m now of the opinion that limiting the thinking to things that exist today (like paper books and e-readers such as the Kindle) is probably dangerous.  I have a feeling that as states like California, some universities, and leaders with backgrounds in other industries (see below) push into open-source textbooks that can be modified to suit the needs of instructors everywhere that we’ll end up with something that looks/feels a lot like Wikipedia that will serve as the textbook of the future.

We won’t call it an “open-source textbook,” in my opinion.  Instead, the course material will be integrated into what we now see as learning management systems (such as D2L) and will be accessible through all kinds of devices including PCs, mobile phones, dedicated internet tablets, etc.  It just seems natural to me that learning will evolve in this direction as people that have grown up with technology think in different ways and use technology differently than those that have gone before them.

An interesting post (at this link: In School Systems, Slow Progress for Open-Source Textbooks via continues the discussion of where textbooks are heading.  This time, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems is behind an effort to do for learning what open-source software has done for computing.

Mr. McNealy, the fiery co-founder and former chief executive of Sun Microsystems, shuns basic math textbooks as bloated monstrosities: their price keeps rising while the core information inside of them stays the same.

“Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time,” Mr. McNealy says.

Early this year, Oracle, the database software maker, acquired Sun for $7.4 billion, leaving Mr. McNealy without a job. He has since decided to aim his energy and some money at Curriki, an online hub for free textbooks and other course material that he spearheaded six years ago.

I suppose we are years away from seeing things change at the university level, but it sure would be interesting to me if I had the ability to edit/add/clarify things in a textbook for my students.  I don’t know what kind of economic model would produce these works (one can’t expect experts to spend time writing for free…or can they?) but that is something that will get ironed out along the way when/if open-source products take off.

One Free Year of Amazon Prime for Students

July 12th, 2010 Comments off

I see that Amazon has launched a new site/product called “Amazon Student” where you can get free Amazon Prime (which give you free 2-day shipping on anything you buy sold by Amazon) for a year.  If you buy textbooks (or anything, I guess) from Amazon this could be a great value.  And it is free so what the heck…

Amazon Student

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What if you could rent college textbooks?

May 25th, 2010 Comments off

With St. Cloud State University starting up a textbook rental program I wonder how long it will be until other campuses do the same.  I have a feeling that any rental program will be relatively short-lived given that at some point colleges are sure to move to electronic textbooks instead of the paper versions.  I guess time will tell.

MinnPost – What if you could rent college textbooks? St. Cloud State will try it this summer.

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