The Rent is Too Damn High

The Rent is Too Damn High (2012) by Matthew Yglesias is a good short summary of the US’s housing issues.

Yglesias makes the point that the modern economy tends toward services and those services are best done by people in the same area. More people would move to high wage places like The Bay Area, Los Angeles or New York. But they don’t because zoning has made housing in those places too expensive. Instead people more to the Sunbelt where there is ample cheap housing.

Yglesias also mentions the work of Ed Glaeser on calculating the cost of zoning.

At 80 pages ‘The Rent is Too Damn High’ is an excellent short overview of an important issue.

The Barcelona Complex

The Barcelona Complex : Lionel Messi and the Making – And Unmaking – Of the World’s Greatest Soccer Club (2021) by Simon Kuper is an excellent, in depth portrait of the history of FC Barcelona over the past roughly 50 years.

The book starts with a portrait of Johan Cruyff and his impact on football and Barcelona. The Dutch superstar and his coach Rinus Michels altered football with excellent ball skills, rapid passing and players who could interchange between positions. After their incredible Ajax team Michels and then Cruyff went to Barcelona and won La Liga.

Cruyff returned to Barcelona as a manager and led them to four La Liga Championships and the European Cup in the early 1990s One of the players that Cruyff would coach was Pep Guardiola. Pep was a product of Barcelona’s academy, La Masia. Barca would stay at the top of La Liga throughout the 1990s and beyond.

Guardiola was then selected as a coach and a number of products of La Masia came through. Those players included Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Ienesta and Messi. Guardiola took Dutch total football and combined it with a set of incredibly talented players and in Messi one of the best of all time and produced absolutely incredible football. The Spanish players also won two Euros and a World Cup.

Kuper also extensively writes about how Barca operates as an institution with many, many members who elect the board and president. He writes about how the club is often actually run somewhat unprofessionally but with great affection.

Barca’s golden era from 2008 also coincided with a further rise in the money in football due to global audiences. So for some time Barca’s finances were in order. After the first core team around Xavi and Ienesta a second Barca super team with Messi, Suarez and Neymar as the MSN front row rose. MSN broke up when Neymar, probably the best player of his generation, left on an enormous transfer to PSG. Barca then had money to spend on transfers but these transfers repeatedly failed. Barca’s management’s lack of professionalism then came to deeply hurt the club. Along with the bad transfer’s Messi’s wages kept going up until he was earning what entire professional teams were being paid in many top division leagues. Then Covid 19 struck and Barca were in deep trouble. They now owe about 1 billion Euros. The Spanish FA demanded that teams keep their wages reasonable relative to their income. This was truly disastrous for Barca who had to lose Suarez to Atletico Madrid and then Griezmann this year. Since the book was written Messi then left for PSG.

Along with the change in players there was also a tactical change to counter Barca’s possesion football with gegenpressing as typified by Borussia Dortmund and counter attacking as done expertly by Real Madrid.

Kuper raises the possibility that Barca could go from a truly top club to an also ran. This has happened to AC Milan. It also happened to Liverpool and to Manchester United and Arsenal.

The Barcelona Complex is very well written and for any football fans it’s very much worth a read. Kuper’s extensive knowledge of football and his decades of writing about it make the book a real treat.

Old Joy

Old Joy (2006) is a surprisingly engaging film about two friends going on a weekend camping trip. It’s set in forests around Oregon. It’s worth a look for anyone who likes American Indie films.

Androids

Androids : The Team That Built the Android Operating System (2021) by Chet Haase is an excellent history of the team that built the remarkable Android Operating System. Everyday, like billions of other people on the planet I use my Android phone and it’s great to have a record like this of the fairly small team who created it. It’s not a business book but rather and engineering history book.

Haase is an engineer who worked on Android starting in 2010 and he got great access to the people involved in creating Android from 2004. Android started out as a company that was going to develop common software for cameras. Andy Rubin who had founded the mobile phone company Danger and Chris White who had worked on the WebTV project got together and started the company that would become Android. They quickly pivoted to working on a common OS for phones.

There are about 50 people mentioned in the book. Each gets a short bio, a description of how they got into the team and what they did. Most of the bios have when they learned to program. The book states that there were about 100 people working on Android when the 1.0 release came about.

Many of the people who worked on Android worked on WebTV, or at Palm, on BeOS or on Danger. It’s a really interesting just how many of them had worked together previously and how they had experience building an OS for a small device.

It is remarkable is how well the Google acquisition worked. The Android team seems to have been very wisely left alone by Google and they even had to work out ways to hire people to avoid Google’s normal hiring process of the time. Which is, in itself, also pretty interesting.

The book describes in detail many different parts of the Android system and who worked on them and how they came about. The Dalvik VM, the UI widgets, the home screen, the messaging program, the mail program for the device, the browser, the media toolkit, the basic drawing routines, the battery monitoring and more. The detail is definitely needed.

Android is often said to have changed from a Blackberry clone to an iOS clone. There is no doubt iOS affected Android, but as the book points Android changed to be more iOS like in 3 months because the design was so well done and the team was ready for changes to come.

It’s really interesting to ponder why Android came out of Silicon Valley and Google rather than from Nokia or RIM. The book describes how it came about and has an excellent series of quotes from the team about why it succeeded and they say “it was the right product at the right time”. But there are other factors that the book also points out.

Androids is an excellent read and a real credit to Haase. It does get a little repetitive in parts, but that’s part of recording where each person came from and which machine they learned to code on. Androids is very much worth a read for anyone interested in this kind of history and who wants to learn about the creation of a hugely successful operating system.

The Bridges at Toko-ri

The Bridges at Toko-ri (1954) directed by Mark Robson is an American war film set on a US carrier in the Korean War. The film was based on a book by Robert Michener. It stars William Holden, Gracy Kelly, Fred March and Mickey Rooney.

The film shows just how hard landing jet aircraft on carriers was and also how important pilot rescue was.

It’s interesting to see how a film like Topgun was made in an earlier era.

It’s an interesting period piece now and a well done film.

In Our Time

Men. Bulls. Booze. Death. War. Sparse prose. You can probably guess who wrote it.

In Our Time (1925) by Ernest Hemingway is a collection of super short stories and is Hemingway’s first public collection. The pieces are so short it’s almost poetry. But it also makes it a little hard to get into. The stories explore themes that Hemingway would later explore in much more detail. But it’s still good.

Land Use Without Zoning

Land Use Without Zoning (1972) by Bernard Siegan is a classic book on how zoning has made housing more expensive, made land use worse and how it should be abolished. Siegan was a law professor at UCSD.

Land Use Without Zoning is available to borrow and read electronically from the Internet Archive.

Ziegan looks extensively at Houston, then a booming city that had no zoning but that managed to have fairly cheap housing. Today Houston is a booming city that has grown from 1.7 million people to 6.5 million people without a big housing price rise. Clearly the lack of zoning has worked in Houston.

Ziegan points out that while Houston doesn’t have zoning it has quite a lot of restrictive covenants in many areas that are similar to zoning rules but are an agreement where the owners of the land can vote to end the rules if most of them decide to do so. There are also areas without covenants that also do well. Ziegan also points out that the great worries that people have about a lack of zoning have not come to pass in Houston.

It is, however, worth noting that while Houston has done very well with affordable housing so has Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), which does have zoning. Both cities have been allowed to spread and have allowed people to build housing and that seems to have kept prices down. Houston’s average house price is 226K against DFW’s 270K though.

It is interesting to see Siegan make his arguments from a legal perspective. The work that Ed Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko did with their NBER paper ‘The Impact of Zoning on Housing Affordability’ has a clever way to quantify the price impact.

Land Use Without Zoning is a really interesting book to read, however it is hard going. It’s quite well written but there are few people who will be enthralled by reading about various zoning legal challenges.

Land Use Without Zoning really is very much worth reading. Siegan’s arguments make a lot of sense and when housing in many cities around the world has become unaffordable for he provides a method that very much appears to reduce house prices without great impact.

The Trouble with You

The Trouble with You (2018) is a French comedy directed Pierre Salvadori. Yvonne is a police officer who is now a widower after her husband died working as a police officer. She discovers that he was crooked and finds out that a man who was framed for a crime her husband staged is about to come out of jail. Against the advice of another policeman who knew about her husband she gets involved with the framed man.

The film is fun, well acted and is really very funny in parts. The Trouble with You is well worth a look.

Days of the Bagnold Summer

Days of the Bagnold Summer (2019) is a charming, well done comedy about a teenager and his mum. The film is directed by Simon Bird who starred in the hilarious Inbetweeners. Daniel Bagnold is a metal head teenager played by Earl Cave and Sue is his librarian mother played by Monica Dolan.

To say much more about the film would give away too much.

The film has some insight and is fun. It’s well worth a look.

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library (2020) by Matt Haig is a well written book from Haig with a clever promise. The setup for the book is definitely well done.

However, the book lacks something to make it all really work well together. It would be hard no to get engrossed in the early part of the book but it’s also hard to not be a bit sick of it by the end.

It’ll be interesting to see if it gets made into a TV series or a movie. The premise almost seems set up for being done that way.

The Midnight Library isn’t a bad book, worth a read for fans of Haigh.