Sunday, February 19, 2017

John Agostinelli Explains the American Real Estate Ponzi Scheme

John Agostinelli talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book with Chris Michaud, Easy Money and the American Real Estate Ponzi Scheme: From Your Pocket to Theirs, the Insiders' View of the Great Housing Recession, and How It's Happening Again.



“Just because a lender tells you, you can qualify up to a certain maximum doesn’t mean you should spend the maximum.” ~John Agostinelli

John and Chris have a combined total of some five decades’ worth of experience in the real estate industry, with John starting off in the banking industry then becoming a speculative homes seller, and when the market began declining in 2005 he began soliciting banks for an increasing foreclosure inventory, selling lots of foreclosed properties. It was then that he noticed the disconnect between what the media was reporting about the 2008 real estate bubble collapse and what the reasons were, based on John being an insider and as a man in the field, and this was the main reason for his writing Easy Money with Chris, to reveal the real reasons to the public. Chris, for his part, was the president-elect of the Maine Association of Realtors as well as owned several offices and a real estate broker in three states.

Easy Money talks about the true factors behind the 2008 real estate bubble, such as poor government housing policy, the Community Reinvestment Act and the Federal Reserve rate manipulation, among others, as well about the factors that helped cause it which still exist today, such as lax underwriting standards. The “artificiality” of the ease with which individuals can get houses is what is referred to as the "Ponzi" scheme in the title.

John noted that real estate operates in cycles of around eighteen years, and what made the 2008 crisis was that the amplitude was a lot greater than it had been in the past, resulting in a high peak that was beyond what would have been typical and a corresponding deeper trough, while the market is presently on the rise, to peak at 2020. Real estate prices are market-driven and follow the rules of basic supply-and-demand economics, with the increases to the peaks “feeding themselves.” That said, John points out that he talks about the market on a national basis, that the actual position of the market on the cycle can differ from place to place and that even a lot of people in the industry aren’t aware of these cycles.

John and Chris hope to educate homebuyers with the book, and where individuals are concerned, John noted that some people, when they realize they are in mortgage debt to an amount greater than that which their property is worth, no longer pay off their mortgages, which increases the number of defaults. He also noted that, if government figures are believed, real estate appreciation is just 0.3% greater than that of the inflation rate, and that government housing policy is a great driver for the exaggeration of peaks and troughs. John also remarked that, the more money that is put down on a mortgage, the less likely that person is to default, and that he and his fellow brokers are concerned about the 57% allowable debt-to-income ratios of would-be homeowners, the requirement of 3.5% down payment and those with credit scores as low as 580 to apply to buy houses, as individuals with these characteristics are unlikely to be able to afford a house.

To individuals, John advises becoming knowledgeable about real estate and the issues around it. Both John and Chris advise their clients to shoot for a maximum of 80% of what the banks say one can afford, to allow for a cushion if such things as emergencies, such as a reduction in work hours or some sort of immediate repair, come up. John also advises that people don’t “keep up with the Joneses” unless they can well and truly afford it, and in John’s opinion people get something that they can’t really afford because of the present mentality of “everyone deserves a trophy.”

Purchase from Amazon: Easy Money and the American Real Estate Ponzi Scheme: From Your Pocket to Theirs, the Insiders' View of the Great Housing Recession, and How It's Happening Again by John Agostinelli and Chris Michaud

Monday, February 13, 2017

Royston Guest on Building and Growing a Business

Royston Guest talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Built to Grow: How to Deliver Accelerated, Sustained and Profitable Business Growth.



“There are no crowds lining the extra mile.” ~Royston Guest 

Royston left school at the age of sixteen to get into an apprenticeship program that led him to leading a construction project at the age of nineteen, and in addition to all the skills he learned, Royston also got into visioning and planning for the future. He was then involved in several projects in the United States before getting involved in mergers and acquisitions in the United Kingdom, which was where he came from. It was when he received a check for USD 100,000 that he got the idea to use the money to create a consultancy niche business that would enable others to grow their businesses, and it was from there that Pti Worldwide was created. Pti helps grow businesses as well as does people development in the form of leadership training and sales transformation.

Built to Grow uses a model developed by Royston and Pti to grow businesses, and while some research and development is done where developing the model is concerned, the model was also developed through real-world, practical trial and error, which makes the model a very practical one from the standpoint of business building. This thus makes the book a valuable read for business owners as well as those who run businesses, as the model within works in the real world, regardless of business, in addition to being an all-encompassing methodology that covers all of the facets of running a business that will endure. Royston wrote it after being told several times to write a book that would encompass all of the practical ideas and methodologies he and his company created, and after realizing that he and Pti Worldwide could only reach so many people directly, hence the book’s being designed to reach far more people throughout the world.

Royston’s passion is helping businesses grow, and one of the things that enable a business to do that is relevance and how well customers feel they have been treated by the business. Roy then gave an example of a well-known fast food company’s evolution to fulfil the needs of their customers to stay relevant in the market, as well as a well-known toy company’s continued relevance over generations.

Royston notes that the main challenge faced by businesses are their acquisition, maximization, and retention (AMR) strategies, where acquisition refers to getting new customers, maximization refers to making the most of their existing customers and retention refers to minimizing the number of customers who end their relationship with the company - analogous to the front door, the building that the company is in, and the back door, respectively. Royston notes that most companies don’t realize these three parts of customer relationship and don’t create strategies around these, and this is where they run into trouble where expansion is concerned. Roy gave the analogy of a supermarket as an example of a company implementing these strategies where they are concerned.

To those who are somewhat struggling with their business, Royston recommends that they get back to the basics of the why, the compelling reason, behind the creation of their business in the first place, as everything else would fall in from there. Royston also points out that it is the people who go the extra mile, business wise, who drive the global economy, and remarks that it is his honor to help these people succeed.

Royston has a Facebook group, as well as a LinkedIn group, under his name, and in these groups, he gives out a lot of information on the various aspects of running and growing a business, including real-world case studies, to those who sign up for these.

Purchase from Amazon: Built to Grow: How to Deliver Accelerated, Sustained and Profitable Business Growth by Royston Guest

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Bill Schutt on the Nature of Cannibalism

Bill Schutt talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History.



“When people hear that I've written books on vampirism and cannibalism, nobody's really very surprised.” ~Bill Schutt

Bill grew up in New York and had always been interested in “animals, movies and the macabre,” and admits that he had every kind of pet imaginable while he was a child. He became a biologist, researching several different species of animals and, in particular, studied the three species of vampire bats. He got his post doctorate degree from the American Museum of Natural History and has been a college professor for some time. He admits that when it comes to his subjects, “the stranger, the better.”

Bill noted that Cannibalism is a follow-up to his earlier book, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood Feeding Creatures, and just as with Dark Banquet, Cannibalism seeks to demystify and de-sensationalize a topic that a lot of people find at least questionable, covering the totality of animal cannibalism as well as taking an objective viewpoint of human cannibalism. He was surprised to find that cannibalism was widespread and served functions other than purely survival in the animal world, and that cannibalism in human cultures likewise had reasons other than survival.

Bill wrote the book, Cannibalism to be accessible to the average person, injecting humor and making it as entertaining as possible, as most studies on cannibalism are either academic or sensationalized, and notes that the serious study of cannibalism only began in the 1980s.

In the natural world, cannibalism is found in every major animal group, which was different from the scientific “party line” and is more widespread amongst invertebrates than amongst vertebrates. Bill does admit that cannibalism reduces one’s own gene pool and can result in the spread of pathogens that have adapted to take advantage of cannibalism, but notes that there are some advantages that outweigh these concerns. Codfish, for example, eat their own eggs, as there are millions of these, as nourishment, and some fish eggs will actually never hatch (trophic eggs), as they are intended to become food for the newly-hatched hatchlings in the group they were laid in, which would give them a huge survival advantage. Sand tiger sharks produce one young in each of their ovaries which consume the eggs in that ovary as well as their smaller siblings, so that, when they come out, they are already well-nourished, practiced killers - a huge advantage for a predatory species. The females of some species of amphibians, caecilians, have skin that are consumed by their larvae, which thus gives nourishment to their young so they could have a better chance at survival, and male lions, when they take over a pride, kill and eat the cubs left over from the previous male so they could mate with the females, who will come into heat faster, and thus pass on his own genes.

Bill noted that, in Europe, the Greeks were the first to make cannibalism a taboo, but that several human cultures around the world have no such taboos. Despite cannibalism being a taboo in Europe, due to Greek thought, cannibalism was commonplace there, as human body parts were consumed for medicinal reasons. Ritual cannibalism, of which funeral cannibalism is a part of, is more widespread, and Bill notes that, since culture is king, people learn through tradition to practice cannibalism, as well as that, when Westerners first encountered cultures that practiced ritual cannibalism, the members of those cultures were just as horrified to learn that Westerners buried their dead as the members of those cultures “simply” ate their dead. Bill also remarked that a researcher, Dr. Simon Underdown, believes that cannibalism may have helped reduce Neanderthal population due to a disease similar to the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which, in humans, could be caused by cannibalism, specifically the consumption of human brain material.

Bill has also written fiction, having brought out his first novel, Hell’s Gate, in June, 2016, and a second one, The Himalayan Codex, due out in June, 2017, and both feature his love of history and zoology. He notes that people should not just swallow the sensational aspects of cannibalism, noting, as an example, that polar bears have been cannibalizing their own cubs for thousands of years, rather than doing so only because climate change is impacting their species.

Purchase from Amazon: Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt

Steven Campbell on Making Your Mind Magnificent to Transform Your Life

Steven Campbell talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Making Your Mind Magnificent.



“While you’re talking to yourself, your brain is believing everything you tell it, without question.” ~Steven Campbell 

Steven started his career working in hospitals for twenty years, which gave him a good background in physiology, which he was taught in. He then got his Master’s degree in Information Systems and then began teaching computer courses. He has had a lifelong fascination with the brain, and over the years, he has taught students how to learn and how to study, including all that he learned about the brain in these courses. It was after he had retired from the academe that he began spreading the word about all that he had learned about learning and the brain, and he wrote the book in response to people asking him to write a book about the subject matter that he was speaking on, which was so powerful that psychologists attend his seminar, despite the fact that Steven doesn’t have a degree in psychology.

Steven noted that we human beings talk to ourselves thousands of times faster than normal verbal conversation, and that our self-talk comes in the form of images and feelings, rather than words. The brain, for its part, accepts without question that which it has been told, which means that, if it is told that it cannot do something, it will do its job and make sure that the person to whom it is a part of cannot do that thing. On the other hand, if the brain has been told that it can do something, it will likewise do its job and make sure that the person to whom it is a part of can do that thing, and will find ways of getting that thing done. Steven notes that the brain doesn’t care if what was told it is true, and refers to Phantoms in the Brain by Sandra Blakeslee and V.S. Ramachandran, which deals, in part, with the phenomenon of people still feeling limbs that have been amputated.

Steven remarked that psychology began with Freudianism, where it was believed that unresolved childhood conflicts were the source of one’s present-day behavior, after which behaviorism was initiated by Dr. B. F. Skinner, who theorized that one behaves the way one does because of cause and effect. This was then followed by theories that behavior is determined by one’s genes, and then by one’s environment (culture and the like). Steven notes that all of this stems from Dr. Albert Ellis’s book, A Guide to Rational Living, which was a cornerstone in cognitive psychology, which theorizes essentially that we are what we say to ourselves, and effectively says that all of the psychological theories previously brought up were all true. This is because everything one does today is primarily based on what one says to himself today, or what one is believing today, rather than due to cultural conditioning or events previously experienced in one’s life, which was a radical idea when it first came out in the 1960s. Dr. Ellis also theorized that how one feels about oneself doesn’t come from one’s past - from how one was raised, for example - but from one’s own beliefs about what has happened to oneself, and that these beliefs can be changed, with the feelings that will follow. This is based on neuroplasticity, which is a term coined by Dr. Eric Kandel in his book, In Search of Memory.

Steven is, himself, a living lesson of the subject of his book, as he told himself for over 40 years, that he was terrible at mathematics, but he was forced to become good at math when he was assigned to become a math teacher. He became so good at it, particularly since he had applied what he knew about how the brain learned, that students began to favor his subject over those taught by other professors, and it was then that he began believing that he was good at math - a message that his brain took in, locked on and then operated accordingly. Steven points out that the brain doesn’t care if what is told it is true or not, and that one can change one’s life by changing what one tells one’s brain, and what one believes in, right now.

Steven notes that the brain, when people sleep, creates the connections amongst all of the things it has learned and recorded throughout the day, organizing and making sense out of all of the things learned. Based on the latest studies, the brain has a hundred billion neurons, each of which are connected to an average of ten thousand neurons. The brain thus has a pattern based on a hundred billion to the ten thousandth power [(100,000,000,000)^(10,000)], which is an enormous number and means that the brain is virtually unlimited in what it can learn. The primary element that thus holds people back from learning is the self-talk that people engage in, and the reason this is only coming up now is because it’s only now that the technology is available where we can see the brain actually operating.

Where physical statistics are concerned, Steven points out that the brain takes up only 2% of a person’s body weight but consumes 20% of a person’s energy, 20% of the air a person takes in, 25% of a person’s blood flow, 30% of the water a person takes in and 40% of the nutrients a person consumes.

In addition to presenting himself as a case study, Steven also mentioned an example of a dyslexic, troubled man who turned his life around after attending one of his seminars and was greatly impacted by the message of his talk. He also mentioned an example of a student who limited herself in math because of her own self-talk. Steven pointed out that one’s old life ended one second ago, and that one’s new life began one second ago.

Steven has a regular radio show on KOWS.FM 107.3, which starts at 9am Pacific time, every Wednesday morning.

Purchase from Amazon: Making Your Mind Magnificent by Steven Campbell

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Gary Stone Offers His Blueprint to Wealth

Gary Stone talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Blueprint to Wealth: Financial Freedom in 15 Minutes a Week.



“Spectators that watch from the sidelines never learn. You have to engage and you have to go through the journey, with all the ups and downs that come along with it.” ~Gary Stone

Gary started his career as a mainframe computer operator who became a salesperson, and after earning a lot of money, began figuring out how to best invest his money. He didn’t become a trader or some such, and all the lessons he learned after decades of investing and investigating on how to invest were hard-earned ones where he lost some and won some. He got hooked on technical analysis, which is looking at the price movement of stocks and indices, and in 1995, he started a business which combined his computer and mathematical skills with his interest in investing to provide software solutions to clients. He then immersed himself in mechanical investing, creating a “mechanical” investing system that alerts its user when to buy and sell, based on price movements in the financial markets.

Gary never thought about writing a book whose background theme is the power of compounding, which might be covered in some schools as a subject but which isn’t covered as extensively as it should be. He had a lot of clients over the years who had repeatedly encouraged him to write a book, and it was only after meeting two-time book author, Mark Douglas, that he finally set out to do so. It took Gary twelve years to finally bring out Blueprint to Wealth, along the way, writing another book that he didn’t publish because he wasn’t satisfied with the way that book turned out, since the investment instrument types have matured over those twelve years. Gary remarked that the research and checking the validity of the research took three years alone, and that the way he wrote the book evolved to the one that it presently uses, i.e., as a conversation between Gary and a fictional would-be investor, to be engaging to its reader.

Gary also defined some terms he used in the book:

  • Mutual Fund - a sum of money that is managed by a fund manager, who manages that money on behalf of the parties that provide the monies, dispersing these monies across one or more asset classes, of which stocks (equities), infrastructure, commercial property, private equity and bonds are some types.
  • Stock Exchange Index - a representation of how the overall stock market is performing. It is a composite value of several stocks that are included in that index. Examples of stock exchange indices are the S&P 400 and the Nasdaq 100.
  • Target Date Fund - a new type of mutual fund which is balanced amongst more than one kind of asset classes. The closer the fund is to its target date, the greater the percentage of the monies invested in riskier assets, such as equities, are transferred to less risky assets, such as bonds.
  • Bear Market - a market where the stock market is declining in value.
  • Bull Market - a market where the stock market is increasing in value.

Gary remarks that, as an investor, the long-term horizon is one that is greater than fifteen or twenty years, which is the kind of horizon that people will take decades to retire should consider, while shorter-term horizons, such as those of five to seven years, would be more applicable to someone who are closer to retirement. He does differentiate between the way a trader and an investor would look at horizons, as a trader would consider a seven-year horizon as being a long-term one.

Gary notes that the argument behind “timing the market” is based on the finding that, if the ten best return days are removed from an index within a ten-year period, this will wipe out all of the accumulated returns for that ten-year period. This is the present conventional wisdom, but Gary also looked at what happened if the worst return days were removed from an index within a ten-year period and discovered that an investor would do better than if he stayed in the market all the time. Gary’s findings, when he removed both the ten best and ten worst days from an index, within a ten-year period, are that an investor would do very well when doing so. He noted that the best days occur in close proximity to when the worst days occur, and points out that his definition of “timing the market” is not doing so on a day-by-day basis but on a month-by-month or week-by-week basis, commenting that an investor, using the strategies he described in his book, only needs to change investments two or three times a year, which he calls “near passive, low effort” market timing.

Gary’s method is one where an investor doesn’t need to do value investing, where the investor goes through such documents as profit and loss statements, balance sheets and broker reports, which takes a lot of time, as all an investor needs to do is invest in an index exchange traded fund (ETF), which is effectively an index mutual fund listed on the stock exchange, as doing so invests across the stocks in the index. This has a bit of a safety net, as indexes don’t go to zero and indices are rigged to rise, as if a stock falls out due to a drop in its value it will be replaced, by the index custodians, with a stock that is rising in value.

Gary noted that it takes an average of 4.5 years for the stock market to recover, considering the investment of dividends into the stock market. Gary noted that he has two strategies to cover possible bear market losses, with one being investing in an index rather than in individual stocks, and then moving all of one’s investments into cash, and timing being the other investment strategy. Both of these strategies are described in greater detail in Blueprint to Wealth.

Gary notes that investing is more about psychology and getting the right mindset than anything else, pointing out that a hundred percent success rate will never happen where investing is concerned. Gary remarks that an investor thus needs to learn how to deal with losing money, and that an investor will have more losses than wins, but can have greater returns on his wins than losses. He also remarks that investors need to embrace the volatility of the stock market, as it gives the best returns at lowest cost, and invest in an ETF to build up their retirement funds, as they can cut fees by up to twenty times, compared to if they went into a mutual fund. Gary also remarked that becoming a successful investor enables one to become a better person, due to the needed development of the traits necessary to becoming a successful investor - surrender, empathy, big picture perspective, persistence and resilience.

Gary Stone’s,website is blueprinttowealth.com.

Purchase from Amazon: Blueprint to Wealth: Financial Freedom in 15 Minutes a Week, by Gary Stone

Friday, December 16, 2016

Felix Hartmann: Author of Dark Age, on Writing His Debut Novel

Felix Hartmann talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Dark Age.



“The best way to make somebody think, to expand their paradigm, is by telling them a story and then making them immersed in it, and then they start to question.” ~Felix Hartmann

Felix is an immigrant who came to the United States in 2008, and even before then, in his native Germany, he loved writing stories as a child, recalling that he rewrote J. R. R. Tolkien’s works as a child and had been writing stories since then. He started writing Dark Age in 2012, originally as a video game which he would create in conjunction with his programmer brother, and it was influenced by the Arab Spring that took place in that year. As Felix continued to develop the story, he got more and more involved in it, so much so that his storymaking ran far ahead of his brother’s capacity to develop it. Felix counts Shakespeare, George Orwell, T. A. Barron (who replied to an e-mail Felix sent him) and Mary Shelley as his literary influences.

Felix is attracted to books that make him think, hence is being attracted to the kind of literature that others would call “dark,” as he doesn’t believe in stories where the good guy is all good and where the evil guy is all evil, but are rather complex individuals whose flaws and strengths show why they are who they are. Felix remarks that dark themes enable a more complex and thorough investigation of humans as they are, enabling him to challenge the reader’s paradigms, rather than the somewhat shallow treatment they would get in a sunny kind of storyline, and also points out that, in all his reviews to date, nobody has commented that Dark Age is “just like (this book).”

Where writing the book is concerned, Felix began with a bare outline and then let the story grow based on that outline, giving an interaction with some villagers in his book as an example, as that scene wasn’t included in his original outline. He mentions that the first draft is likely not to be the way the story will finally turn out to be, and that authors should know the beginning, know the end and then think two or three steps ahead. He says that he did at least a dozen rounds of editing and that the edits should revolve around the needs of the story.

Felix doesn’t believe that one should have just one passion, but should have several, and it shows in his life in that, in addition to being passionate about writing, he is also presently in his last year as a college student and is setting up his own company. He also remarks that writing a novel in his second language was a good way to practice English, noting that his first draft had a lot of errors in it, where the English language is concerned. He also notes that English is the best market to write a book in, noting that he has readers in places like Japan and Africa. He encourages writers to go ahead and put their books out in the world and remarks that, had he put out Dark Age two years previously, he would have gotten good feedback that would enable him to bring out a better second book that much sooner. Felix decries the attitude that reading should only be done in school, pointing out that reading books enables the expansion of the mind.

Felix Hartmann’s website for his book, Dark Age, is darkagebook.com.

Purchase from Amazon: Dark Age by Felix Hatrmann


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Kathrine LaFleur on Moonlight Hunting, Book 2 of The Cardonian Chronicles Fantasy Series

Kathrine LaFleur talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about her book, Moonlight Hunting.



“One of the things I love about writing is when the characters take over and all I have to do is sit there and move the pen and they tell the story.” ~Kathrine LaFleur

Kathrine started writing early in life, and she counts, as her influences, Edward Ormondroyd, Edward Eager, Daphne du Maurier and Louise Penny. She dabbled in short stories before writing novels and only began writing with the intention of being an author around ten years ago, writing The Elephant Girl before writing the Cardonian Chronicles series. Kathrine admits that the series had had a lot of false starts, and that the plotline “came out of the characters,” rather than outlining an entire plot prior to writing the stories, which was a point of learning for her. She admits that writing the series required a lot more effort compared to the stories she had written before, because of more plotlines and characters to work on. The first book took a whole year to create, while writing the second book was somewhat easier. She needed to do a lot of research for her upcoming third book, as it takes place in the desert and she didn’t know much about desert environments.

Kathrine admits that she has been curious about telepathy since childhood, and she decided to make these natural in her world of Cardonia. She admits that the characters in the series come from people and characters whom she has known or read about, and her favorite is the protagonist, Moonlight, whom she remarks has her vulnerabilities and faults as well as strengths, just like ordinary people. Kathrine admits that writing about conflicts is somewhat difficult for her. That said, she admits that conflicts are necessary, particularly when she finds herself “writing in circles,” where the story then doesn’t progress.

Kathrine has a daily quota of pages to write, and she takes the time, after her day as a teacher, to go to a coffee shop where she reads for about an hour and then write for an hour or so before going home, preferring not to write at home because of all of the distractions there. Kathrine keeps notecards “around an inch thick” with notes on each character, as well as additional notes in her computer, which include details such as hair type and eye color, inventions they created and the like, to keep any loopholes from showing up. She admits that she’s concerned about maintaining consistency with what goes on amongst the characters rather than focusing on every single detail, and if these don’t correlate to reality, well, it’s not an issue for her since the book’s a work of fiction and the world within is her creation, after all.

With Moonlight Hunting, Kathrine has discovered that she’s capable of writing a fiction series, which seemed impossible for her to do five years ago. She hopes to write a mystery novel once she is done with the Cardonian Chronicles. To would-be authors, she says that it is better to try, (knowing that they might fail), than to not try at all, and that this could also apply to any dream that one has.

Kathrine LaFleur’s website for her book, Moonlight Hunting, is kathrinelafleur.com.

Purchase from Amazon: Moonlight Hunting, 2nd book of the Cardonian Chronicles, by Kathrine LaFleur