Archive for the ‘Book/movie Review’ Category

Less than three months ago I started a free trial subscription to Netflix.  Since then I have continued paying a minimal monthly fee ($7.99) to continue the service.

Netflix streams video (TV shows and movies) to subscribers like myself.  There are hardly any new releases, yet there are many films that missed my notice when they first appeared as video rentals months or years ago.  Some of these are most definitely putrid.  But a few are both interesting and entertaining.

One such tiny little gem is a low budget (est. $60,000, IMDB) independent comedy film titled, Memron.  In style, it reminds me of The Office.   It is sarcastic, cynical, mocking, and unpredictable.  It is also funny in a guilty pleasure sort of way.

Memron takes aim at Enron with its crooked executives and clueless employees.  At the start of the film, a text announcement mentions the 60,000 employees who have lost their jobs.  Memron, surviving in name only, sponsors “Where is my parachute,” career seminars to help former employees who are now unemployed and destitute.  After hearing a suggestion that they should start a business, a small group dreams up AirFlow, a company that sells fresh natural air.  The air is captured in plastic garbage bags at a local park, resulting in one arrest for theft of a natural resource.

The new Memron CEO (who was ordered by the ex-CEO  to spy on the group) steals the idea.  Airflow then makes millions for Memron.  At film’s end, company stock has rebounded making former executives filthy rich.

Actor Michael McShane portrays ex-con, ex-CEO and perpetual fraudster Ken Clay.  It is McShane’s film and he does a fine job in the lead role.  He isn’t memorable for any prior role, but he really nails this part.  Nor are any of the other actors recognizable except for Claire Forlani (who appears in a small role) and Tim Bagley.

This film is worth a view.  You will find it at Amazon and on Netflix.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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February 2 is Groundhog Day observed in North America.  As lived in folk culture, if a groundhog checks outside conditions this morning and sees its shadow, then six more weeks of winter are sure to follow.  If the sky is overcast and the groundhog can’t see its shadow, then spring is about to arrive.  A large Groundhog Day celebration is held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

Groundhog Day received a boost in popularity with the publication of the charming 1993 Harold Ramis film, Groundhog Day.  Bill Murray plays an exceedingly self-centered Phil Connors who must relive February 2 over and over again until learning to serve others instead of self.  I love the film, and consider it one of the finest ever made.

In the world of regulatory accounting, we can reflect on what a Groundhog Day forecast will predict, a longer time of winter or a new time of spring.  It seems as if we have been reliving (metaphorically, of course) a broken world of accounting.  Accounting is misapplied by corporate executives over and over again, leading to prolonged winters of scandal.  Large audit firms prolong this winter because they selfishly serve their own business interests instead of the public.

Of course we all know the forecast:  a longer time of winter.  There is nary a hint of changed conditions that would lead to selfless reporting of corporate financial results. We seem doomed to relive past cycles of accounting scandal.  Where is the accounting world’s Phil Connors?  Stuck in a time warp.  Just as are we.

Debit and credit  – – David Albrecht

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I’m a social media guy–blogging, tweeting, connecting via LinkedIn, and updating through a Facebook page.  Social media usage has helped transform me into a better listener and a kinder, gentler speaker.  That’s enough proof for me to believe that social media makes a person more social (although reliable research findings collaborate this conclusion).

I’m not the only one hooked on social media.  Hundreds of millions are active on Facebook, and someday the number might reach one billion.  And why do so many people use various social media?  It’s because human beings are social creatures.  We tend to do things in families and groups.  We like interacting.

There are benefits to being social, such as companionship, friendship, love, respect, and sharing information.  There are costs, too.  Some are unskilled at being social and alienate instead of befriend.  And others reveal too much, too often.  Although loose lips get kissed, they also sink ships.

Businesses are flocking to social media, and using it for marketing, communication, employee education and image branding.  The primary reason is increased profit.  However, a downside is starting to emerge.

Enter corporate espionage, a thriving industry.  Have you seen the movie Duplicity?  Clive Owen plays Ray Koval, formerly of MI6, and Julia Roberts plays Claire Stenwick, formerly of the CIA.  They now work for corporate rivals who employ their own spy networks.

Far less interesting than Duplicity is Broker, Trader, Lawyer, Spy: The Secret World, by Eamon Javers.  Javers’ book is a history of the corporate espionage business, which really does exist.  From page one of BTLS:

There was no way for [KPMG accountant] Enright to know that Hamilton was not at all who he suggested he was.  He couldn’t know that several clandestine operatives were right now following him from his office at KPMG Financial Advisory Services to the restaurant, working in an efficient tag-team relay to ensure that Enright wouldn’t spot anything unusual. And Enright certainly didn’t notice that, among the crowd of well-dressed international business people and tourists dining at Little Venice, one woman watched as he took his seat.  She, too, was working for Hamilton, and she was there to make sure Enright didn’t have backup of his own.

Enright did not.  He was way out of his league.  The British-born was just like millions of mid-level white collar workers around the world.  What did he know about espionage? But his position as a senior manager in corporate recovery gave him access to documents for which a wealthy client might pay millions of dollars.  Might lie for.  Might steal, if necessary.  And that client hired the man who called himself Nick Hamilton.  Hamilton’s team was a mix of American CIA veterans, former officers of the British MI5 security service, and young, adventure-seeking American college graduates.

They were corporate spies.

Oh, to be young, athletic and good looking again.  I might enjoy a spate of adventure.

Corporate espionage represents a serious threat to business, in general, and accounting/auditing firms in particular.  Although economic espionage is illegal, it has spawned a thriving industry.  Moreover, it is just a step removed from outsider fraud aimed at small to medium sized business.  Linda Kotze, in “Corporate Espionage Highlighted in the Movie Duplicity,”  describes the scope of the problem,

Research from consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, estimates that Corporate Espionage costs the world’s 1,000 largest companies in excess of US$45 billion  every year. Unfortunately, these surveys and estimates do not include the over 600,000 businesses in the US with more than 20 employees or the 98,000 companies with more than 100 employees.

Daniel J. Benny, a private investigator and security consultant has placed his PowerPoint presentation, “Corporate Espionage Countermeasures,” on-line.

Corporate espionage and corporate fraud from outsiders are serious threats.  Accounting/auditing firms are frequently targets of such espionage activities because of their access to inside corporate information.  That so  many businesses and employees are using social media just makes the job of spies that much easier.

Unpublished research reveals that both SMBEs and their accountants/auditors know next to nothing about combatting it.  Perhaps it is time they learned.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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Master accounting teacher Joe Hoyle (U of Richmond) asks and attempts to answer a very relevant question in, “Lessons from Dilbert,” on September 28 at his blog, Teaching:  Getting the Most from Your Students.  His essay is based on the first pane of a Dilbert cartoon from Scott Adams:

Pic credit: Scott Adams (9-28-2011)

I love this cartoon because Dilbert approaches an expert on garbage to find out about PowerPoint.  Is this an example of a simile or metaphor?  Have you ever heard the phrase, “Death by PowerPoint?”  Adams could also have used a funeral home operator or grave digger in his cartoon.

Hoyle goes on to offer two hints on a better PowerPoint presentation:  a maximum of ten words per slide, and ask a question on every slide.  He then admits he’ll use 50 PowerPoint slides in his next presentation.  I think questions are good, but ten words is a bit much.  50 slides is about 30 more than needed for a decent assassination.

When making a speech (or presentation), most of us metaphorically suck.  The best speeches (or lectures or presentations) rouse and inspire.  Although TED Talks do that, most of us don’t get asked to present a TED Talk because we are unable to rouse and inspire.

Twenty years ago, the knock on business and accounting education was that the building temperature was always ten degrees warmer than any other building on campus.  Why?  Heavy use of overhead projectors.  Today the knock is that business and accounting students nap longer and better in class than other students on campus due to heavy use of PowerPoint.  The same could be said about most business and accounting presentations out in the professional world.

We know the best collegiate educational practices involve engaging students through having them practice realistic exercises in class.  I have taken this route to becoming a popular and effective teacher.

Never-the-less, boring lecture (with or without PowerPoint) endures as the presentation style of choice by a majority of professors and business speakers.  There are only a very few who are great orators.  Through the power of their oratory, they are able to plant important lessons into the minds of their students.

So, how does one become a rousing and inspirational speaker (an orator)?  When I took freshman speech class many years ago, the objective of the class was to get us only to where we didn’t embarrass ourselves during a speech.  I didn’t learn much.  Through decades of trial and error, I’m not sure where I’m at.

I’m guessing that most great speakers don’t fully understand how they do it.  If they did, by now perhaps one would have tried to teach the rest of us.

The best book on the subject I’ve read is about sticky ideas.  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, is written by Chip and Dan Heath.  I do not know the Heaths, nor do I have any idea as to why they should be viewed as credible.  However, I have read much of the book and their ideas seem sound to me.  Keep in mind that I’m not a master orator, so may not be a good judge.

A review by Christopher Johnson summarizes the book’s key ideas as:

The authors cover 6 essential characteristics of ideas that last and impact those they come in contact with:

  1. The core message should be simple.
  2. Presentation should be unexpected.
  3. The imagery should be concrete.
  4. There must be credibility to the idea.
  5. People are emotional and ideas that stick should not forget the emotional element of “human-ness”
  6. Stories can carry ideas farther than facts and figures can.

If more professors, accountants and business speakers became rousing and inspirational speakers, there would be far fewer complaints about the boring use of PowerPoint.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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Accosting the Golden Spire, by D. Larry Crumbley

About a week ago or so, I received a package from Larry Crumbley containing one of his educational novels, Accosting the Golden Spire.  Last night I read it.  It was a fun read.

D. Larry Crumbley, CPA, Cr.FA, CFFA, FCPA, is the KPMG Endowed Professor at Louisiana State University.  A tax professor, he has been a prolific author.  He has written 55 books in whole or in part, including 13 educational novels.  He is the author (or co-author) of over 100 journal articles.  Honestly, it would take me a half dozen lifetimes to accomplish all that he has in one.

Larry is passionate about writing.  He is also very good.  Strike that, he is excellent, at least in his fiction works.

Why does he write educational novels? From a newspaper article reprinted on the LSU web site:

Crumbley said he writes novels about forensic accounting because people tend to learn better about a subject when it unfolds in the form of a story. “Hopefully, I’ve made forensic accountants popular, because the main characters in my novels are forensic accountants,” he said.

From the New York Times (April 17, 2011), Crumbley is quoted as saying,

All my novels have massive plots and I kill a lot of people.  If I teach a tax [or accounting] principle and it involves someone getting shot, people will remember that.

Larry has written 13 novels.  His first three (including Accosting the Golden Spire) were published in 1988, the most recent (Trap Doors and Trojan Horses) was published last year.  They include:

  • Dangerous Hoops: A Forensic Marketing Action Adventure
  • Big R: A Forensic Accounting Action Adventure
  • Trap Doors and Trojan Horses
  • Deadly Art Puzzle: Accounting for Murder
  • Simon the Incredible.
  • The Bottom Line is Betrayal
  • Costly Reflections in a Midas Mirror.
  • Accosting the Golden Spire
  • The Ultimate Rip-off: A Taxing Tale
  • Computer Encryptions in Whispering Caves
  • Chemistry in Whispering Caves
  • Nonprofit Sleuths: Follow the Money
  • Burmese Caper

Accosting the Golden Spire is not a great work of fiction.  It is, however, great entertainment.  There is a difference.  I only read great works when I am forced to, such as when they have been assigned for a literature class.  I read entertaining novels because I want to for the fun and enjoyment.  As I say, Accosting the Golden Spire is great entertainment.

It is also educational.  Crumbley’s formula seems to contain three ingredients:  (1) a story about taxes, fraud or auditing, (2) including several details about the tax, fraud or accounting issue, and (3) abruptly inserting a paragraph about some accounting issue that is unrelated to the storyline.  I can see how students would like the first two ingredients.  Ingredient 3, however, is annoying.

Can a student learn about accounting by reading one of Crumbley’s novels?  Yes, especially if it is about a fraud auditing issue. Will all students learn by reading a Crumbley novel?  I’m not so sure.  However, I think that most students will learn as much, if not more, from a Crubley novel than from a textbook.  More importantly, I think the lessons will be retained for a much longer period of time than from traditional instruction.

I like Accosting the Golden Spire, and think it can be used in an auditing or forensic accounting class.  If you are looking for something to freshen up your classes, then have them read this book and then evaluate what the investigator did correctly, and incorrectly.

Why do I like the novel?  It is entertaining, and as satisfying as many Hollywood movies.  This is not a dull, dry, boring  book.  The novel starts off which a character sketch of one of the bad guys (there are others).  This one kills a little dog (for peeing on his front door), in a a fit of temper hurls a brick through a restaurant’s front window because management wouldn’t seat him on a busy night, frames a professor for plagiarizing, and kills another professor.

It deals with a fraud investigation.  Of course, there’s the original fraud.  Then there’s the framing of the fraud investigator, the framing of the fraud originator (by another bad guy), and how the fraud investigator figures it all out.  And, it is competently written.  The plot has twists and turns, most of which I was unable to see coming.

I had enough enjoyment that I ordered his latest novel, Trap Doors and Trojan Horses.  I expect it to be entertaining, and I’m curious to see how his writing style evolved from 1988 to 2009.  As an indication of my sincerity, here’s the receipt from my order:

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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Don't buy this book.

Just finished reading Velocity: Combining Lean, Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints to Achieve Breakthrough Performance – A Business Novel, by Dee Jacob, Suzan Bergland and Jeff Cox.

I don’t like this book.  I won’t use it in a class, nor will I recommend that anyone read it.    Pitching a purchased book ($10) into the trash is exceedingly difficult for an accountant, but I might do it to Velocity.

Why did I read the book in the first place?  Bill Ellis (Furman U) said on AECM,

I’ve been assigning Goldratt’s The Goal in my intro managerial accounting classes. Lately I’ve started using … Velocity: Combining Lean, Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints to Achieve Breakthrough Performance, Dee Jacob, Suzan Bergland, Jeff Cox, for the intro class (business majors) and the cost class (accounting majors).

I’m always looking for ways to move accounting classes into the real world.  My motto is One should be able to do what one knows.  Sounds good, right?  It is more difficult that it appears, as I like to use short snippets of the real world inserted into a college course, a course that covers more than one theme and perhaps many topics.  It is an unaffordable luxury to devote an entire course to one lesson.

One approach is to take classes out into the real world via tours (very superficial) and service learning or internships.  Tours are superficial, and I doubt they are more effective as a good slide show.  Service learning can produce good results, but it is difficult to design short work experiences that lead to significant learning.  Internships aren’t designed to provide a few specific examples of lessons from a specific class.

Another approach would be to bring the real world to the classroom via speakers, readings and simulations.  A novel can hold a student’s attention and teach lessons in the context of real business events.  Although this approach doesn’t generate as much learning, it is efficient with respect to limited time.

I don’t like the book, and I won’t use it for any of my classes.   Velocity has only two good characteristics, which doesn’t make much of a case for purchasing the book.

  1. Quick read.  It doesn’t take long to read Velocity, despite being 300+ pages.  I noticed the small type and minimal spacing between lines, and thought I was in for an ordeal.  I wasn’t.
  2. Realistic depiction of working relationships.  Some of the protagonists liked each other, and were able to work together.  Others didn’t, risking reassignment or termination.  Moreover, I’ve met most of the personality types featured in this book.  Unrealistically, there are no jerks.

There are several reasons not to like Velocity.

  1. No fun.  It simply isn’t entertaining.  Not in the least.  Velocity is as interesting as an Intermediate Accounting textbook.  On second thought, it isn’t.
  2. You call this romance?  A romantic thread was added to the book.  There are two middle-aged people who date, which I doubt would capture the imagination of college students.  The romance is superfluous, and adds hardly any entertainment value to the book.  Mercifully, there is no hugging, kissing, or anything else.
  3. Not educational.  The theme of the book is how to merge lean production, six sigma quality, and the theory of constraints.  In Velocity the characters declare they have done it, but they don’t explain to the readers how this was done.
  4. Predictable plot.  A successful company falls apart over a three year period.  The management team concocts a miracle turn around strategy that produces strong profits within three months.  All live happily ever after.
  5. Unbelievable character.  A key character in the book is a troubled airplane pilot.  He also is the expert in applying the theory of constraints.  It is through his inspired teaching that the management team learns enough how to concoct the miracle strategy that saves the company.
  6. Hawking professional services.  Velocity is written by professionals from AGI-Goldratt Institute, who make their living teaching companies how to implement the theory of constraints into their business.  The book is intended to drum up demand for their consulting business.
  7. No accounting.  Accounting reports are referred to throughout the book.  However, the reports aren’t explained in detail, nor are they presented in exhibits.  Because accounting is important to the story, it should be included in more detail.
  8. Uninteresting food.  Shared meals and exotic food often play a key role in helping a novel seem entertaining.  The prominent dish featured in Velocity is called atomic buffalo turds.  Really.

George Bohan wrote a review of Velocity for the Agile Manufacturing Update blog.  He recommends skipping the first 150 pages.  He’s got a good point.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms, by Michelle Golden, is an excellent book to study from if you are thinking about doing more with social media.  And why should you do more with social media?  You will enhance your productivity, your career, and your life!  All professors, professional accountants, finance professionals and business students should do more with social media from a professional perspective.

I’ve had the book for three months now, and have settled into using it as a reference.  It’s so useful, I have one copy for my home office, and one for my university office.  It is a great book, and should I ever get a chance to teach a course in Social Media Marketing (e-mail if you want me to teach such a course at your school), this will be one of the assigned books.

Michelle Golden is the marketing guru to accounting and law firms.  You might be a reader of her Golden Practices Blog. Make every effort to hear her speak in person.

I’m bringing reviews of her book to you through the voices of other readers.

The first is by Professor Gary Schirr (Radford University, Virginia).  Schirr blogs at Service Co-Creation.  His review comes via video:

The other reviews are customer reviews at Amazon (here).  They are uniformly positive.

Please buy her book and read it!

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

P.S.  Another good review is here.

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Al Rosen, noted Canadian forensic accountant and IFRS opponent, has written Swindlers: Cons & Cheats and How to Protect Your Investment From Them.

I have not read the book, but I have viewed a promotional video in which Rosen hits on some of the unanswerable criticism of IFRS.  He lost the battle in Canada, but he has sage advice for Americans.

Everything points to a train wreck with U.S. adoption of IFRS.  But who knows, the special interests pushing it might be doing us a favor.

Debit and credit – – David Albrecht

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Sara McIntosh (a pseudonym) has published her first novel, Shell Games, a financial action/thriller.  It’s a good first novel, and well worth the time invested for reading. [ordering information]

Shell Games is a fun read for anyone.  Accountants, though, will receive an extra dose of enjoyment.  The plot is thrilling.  In some tense scenes, I found myself cheating a look at the final chapter to see how the story ends.

When considering the sub-genre of financial action/thriller novels that showcase the role of fraud auditor (aka financial sleuth or forensic accountant), there are few options.  Well, there has been only one serious option–The Devil’s Banker by Christopher Reich.  Shell Games is a pleasant contrast to the heavy international espionage of Reich.


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