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Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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10/30/2010

Various uses for the TweetDeck global filter feature

Category TweetDeck
When TweetDeck first came out, I quickly adopted it as my main Twitter client because it had versions for all the different platforms I had (Windows, iPhone, various machines in different locations).  I didn't have to try and get used to different clients in different places, which was a real advantage in my book.  But the one thing I didn't care for is that the Global Filter feature was only valid for your current session.  As soon as you closed TweetDeck, the filters went away, and you were faced with all the stuff you didn't want to see all over again.

But not too long ago, the Global Filters became persistent, and it's now one of my favorite features.  You can add in the text you never want to look at, and TweetDeck makes sure they don't show up.  

Here's the starting screen for the Global Filter settings:

A picture named M2

You have three different types of filtering you can do.  The first is filter out people who you don't want to see, the second is to remove tweets containing text, and the third covers tweets that come from specific sources.  So for example, here is my setting screen:

A picture named M3

As you can see, I'm not a fan of location service tweets, so those don't appear for me.  I also filter out the string "daily is out!", as I was getting annoyed with all those tweets about "buzz" aggregation newsletters that were "published."  I also filter messages that contain various characters that are not normally used when sending English language tweets.  

What I also like about the Global Filter feature is that it doesn't permanently remove those tweets from my feeds.  If I remove the filter, they would automatically and immediately appear again.

Here are some ideas for what you can do with filters that you may not have thought of:
  • Remove tweets from location services like Gowalla and Foursquare (From Sources or Containing Words)
  • Remove auto-tweets from different sites like RunKeeper (From Sources or Containing Words)
  • Remove trending items that don't interest you in the least but that seem to be of interest to others in your following group (Containing Words)
  • Temporarily remove people who are attending an event and/or tweeting heavily about something you don't want to read about (From People)
  • Remove some tweets in unfamiliar languages by filtering on the non-English characters - not 100% but helps a bit on people who tweet in more than one language (Containing Words)
  • Filter offending language (Containing Words)
I'm sure my list is far from comprehensive over what you can do with Global Filters in TweetDeck.  Do you have any tips or helpful hints that you use to filter out tweet trash?

10/28/2010

Should an Internet "kill switch" worry you if you've moved your company to the "cloud"?

Category Computer security cloud computing
There's been an attempt by Congress to introduce a new cyber security bill that would give the US government a wide degree of latitude in controlling the Internet in the event of a cyber-attack (or some other threat that I'm sure would be open to interpretation).  One of the common descriptions of this power is an Internet "kill switch," allowing the President to shut down sites and networks based on threat assessments from government security agencies.  It's also been reported that 61% of Americans would approve of giving the President such power.  While it might be easy for those who are technically adept to understand what a bad idea this can be, the general public doesn't quite see it that way.

But there's an angle to this that I haven't seen talked about much, and that's the potential collateral damage to a company or organization should a kill switch ever be used.  The bright and shiny IT concept these days is cloud computing.  Rather than maintain your own hardware and infrastructure to run your systems, you just move your computing and data to "the cloud" and let someone else manage it for you.  Your email, applications, and data reside on servers in locations that are unknown and irrelevant to you... All you have to do is key in a URL in your browser, and you can get to your data from anywhere and save oodles of money by letting someone else take care of it for you.

But think about it... Vendor X happens to be storing your data at a data center in the country of Attackistan, because resources are cheap in that mythical country.  But a criminal element also located in Attackistan launches a massive denial-of-service attack against government web sites, and the President throws the kill switch and stops all traffic from that country.  Your email? Sorry... Sales data? Not available... Critical company documents used to run your business? I hope someone had copies on their desktop PC...  For all intents and purposes, you might as well have been hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, because you've suffered a disaster that has effectively destroyed your IT capabilities.  But you can't even take your backups and move to a disaster recovery site, because you don't have backups any more.  The government controls whether your business lives or dies, and you are collateral damage.

I wonder how many businesses that moved or are moving to the cloud have considered this type of risk, and whether it's something that they're willing to accept?  You could try and make sure that your agreement specifies where your data is stored, but even that's not an assurance that a kill switch scenario wouldn't affect a US-based network for some reason.

I don't expect that cloud computing is going to go away, because the dollar cost of that technology is very compelling to businesses looking to reduce cost.  But the cloud is certainly not all white and fluffy, and there are considerable risks, some of which have likely not even been considered.  I'm not sure that I'd sleep well at night knowing that a decision that could be made and implemented in seconds by our government could put me out of business without a second thought.

10/25/2010

Book Review - How to Build Buzz for Your Biz: Tap Into the Power of Social Media, Publicity, and Relationship Marketing to Grow Your Business by Wendy Kenney

Category Book Review Wendy Kenney How to Build Buzz for Your Biz: Tap Into the Power of Social Media Publicity and Relationship Marketing to Grow Your Business
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I got the opportunity to read and review How to Build Buzz for Your Biz: Tap Into the Power of Social Media, Publicity, and Relationship Marketing to Grow Your Business by Wendy Kenney this weekend, and it's a very good handbook for small business marketing.  The reason I say "small business" is that most of these techniques cost little or nothing to utilize, and the returns can be quite high.  Businesses of any size could (and should) be doing these things, but generally it's the small operator with little excess cash flow who is struggling to be heard in the market, and that's where the book focuses.

Contents:
Section 1 - Back to the Basics - Building Your Business Marketing Plan: Who's Your Ideal Customer?; Give 'Em What They Want, When They Want It; Girls (and Boys) Just Wanna Have Fun - Adding Value to the Experience; How to Reach Your Ideal Customers Now That You Know What They Want; Getting Customers Is Easy with Your Marketing GPS; The Big Marketing Mistake Business Owners Make and How to Avoid It
Section 2 - Social Media Marketing: How to Use Social Media to Build Buzz for Your Business; Knowing Where to Begin; Your Social Media Marketing Strategy; How to Use Twitter Effectively; How to Use Facebook Effectively; Your Website, the Doorway to Success; Blogs - From Yellow Pages Ads to Diaries; Get Listed and Get Results!; How to Get 9,000 Visitors on Your Website or Blog in Just One Day; Video Marketing - What's the Big Deal?
Section 3 - Publicity: 15 Ways to Generate Successful Publicity; Put Your Knowledge in a Book; Hold a Contest; Celebrate a Special Holiday or Create Your Own; How to Write a Press Release That Works; Sponsor a Good Cause; Give Away Free Samples
Section 4 - Relationship Marketing: It's Who You Know; The One Marketing Tool That Explodes Your Profits - Guaranteed!; How to Profit from Association Memberships
Section 5 - Where We're Headed: Mobile Marketing - the Future of Marketing Is Here
Appendix A - Twitter Resources; Appendix B - Monitoring Resources; Appendix C - Blogging Platforms; Appendix D - Directories; Appendix E - Press Release Websites
About the Author - Wendy Kenney

Kenney packs a lot of information in a relatively few number of pages.  I've read entire books devoted to just one of the topics listed above.  There are pros and cons to that.  The good thing is that for someone who is just getting started on something like Twitter or Facebook, you won't get bogged down in the minutiae.  On the other hand, there are a number of nuances to these tools that can't be covered in just a few pages, and thus you risk making some mistakes along the way.  But I'd contend it's generally better to get started and make a few mistakes, rather than do nothing for fear of not being perfect.

If you already have a background in social media tools like blogs and Twitter, you will probably know most of the information in section 2.  But even though I fall firmly into that category, there were still a couple of ideas I gleaned from the material.  I would also venture to guess that there are plenty of other things to learn in the other sections (I know I certainly did).  With Kenney's upbeat and positive style, the chapters are easy to absorb and apply to your own situations.

Bottom line, How to Build Buzz for Your Biz is a good choice for getting started on a cohesive marketing approach for your small business.  And even if you think you know all this already, you'll probably still pick up an idea or two that would more than pay for the cost of the book.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

10/23/2010

Book Review - Library of Dust by David Maisel

Category Book Review David Maisel Library of Dust
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I ran across a mention of this book on one of the blogs I follow... Library of Dust by David Maisel.  It's a *very* oversized coffee table book of photography focused on a peculiar topic: corroded copper cans of human remains.  Of course, the back story is what makes the topic interesting, and the photography is eye-catching.  Having said that, the writing is overly ethereal for my liking, and a few pictures of this sort go a long way.

These cans start their story in the late 1800's.  The Oregon State Hospital was a mental asylum with a large number of inmates.  Up until 1910, those who died and were not claimed were buried on the grounds of the institution.  But expansion plans targeted the cemetery, and the bodies were dug up and cremated.  These remains were stored in copper cans and housed in a basement area of the hospital until the practice stopped in the 1970s.  Flooding in the basement drenched the forgotten cans, and the result was a kaleidoscope of color as the cans corroded.  Maisel was given permission to photograph these cans, and Library of Dust is the result.

The pictures are beautiful and stunning, to be sure.  But the layout of the book is strange.  Most of the pages have a picture on one side, and a nearly blank page facing it.  The only thing on that page is a minute number indicating the identification number assigned to the can.  Given that the whole book is only 108 pages to begin with, losing 30 pages to massive white space is a bit much.  On the pages devoted to narrative about the subject, the prose is heavy on the philosophy of life and death, the continued interaction with the remains with the containers, and so forth.  For me personally, it all seemed to be over-the-top in drama and imagery, as if the writers were trying to instill some additional significance to the objects being photographed.  I could have done without that.

As a library book, this was fine.  But I'm not sure I would have been happy paying $80 for this based on the contents.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/23/2010

Book Review - Zero History by William Gibson

Category Book Review William Gibson Zero History
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OK... I think Zero History by William Gibson will be the last book I attempt to read by the father of the cyberpunk genre.  Looking back at his last four novels I've read, they've all ended up in the 2 - 3 rating area.  I have no argument with Gibson's ability to paint a scene.  From the first page on, Zero History paints a very detailed picture of the characters and surroundings.  On the other hand, his story and plot leave me flat.  If anyone else tried to tell that same story in 400 pages, I would have said it was about 325 pages too long.  And even then I would have said it was a bit strange.

The novel revolves around an ad agency owner who is on the bleeding edge of fashion marketing psychology.  He hires a couple of people to track down some unknown designer who he wants to know more about.  Along the way, there's double-crosses, deadly competitors, and kidnappings.  Without getting into the deeper "meaning" of what Gibson is trying to say along the way, that's about the core of what happens.  And I'm still struggling with a lot of "so what" feelings now that I'm done.

My problem is that generally speaking, I don't read novels to analyze them for some significant and profound commentary on society by the author.  I read them primarily for entertainment.  Yes, I'm shallow... so sue me.  This "quirk" of mine makes me the wrong audience for Gibson's work, no matter how much I can appreciate his ability to paint with words.  So rather than beat myself up over spending hours only to be left wanting, I think I'll just scratch off Gibson's name from my list of authors I read, and we'll all be happier.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/23/2010

Book Review - Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson

Category Book Review Joe Simpson. Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival
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Even though I've never (and will never) climbed a snow covered mountain, I find myself drawn to books that chronicle man's attempt to survive climbing disasters.  A friend recommended I read Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson, one of the first books of that type.  It was a riveting read, with the story being written and told in the first person by the survivor of a accident that should have killed him.  What he did to survive was nothing short of amazing.

Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, decided to make an ascent on Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes.  At 21000 feet, this was no small mountain, but they traveled light, with only one additional person to keep watch on the camp while they made the climb.  What should have been a three day ascent turned into a nightmare when Simpson fell and broke his leg while on the descent.  Given the large number of crevasses and cliffs, his odds of making it down were slim, but Yates did what he could to get them both down.  During a maneuver in the midst of a storm, Simpson went over a cliff and had no way to communicate that to his partner who was on the other end of the rope.  Yates was unaware of the specific details of Simpson's predicament, but he knew he couldn't continue to support the weight of them both forever.  As he slowly lost his leverage, he had to make a decision... continue holding on and they would both fall and die, or cut the rope and send Simpson to an almost certain death.  He made the right decision by climbing standards and cut the rope, and then started his own painful and haunted descent back to base camp.

Once the rope was cut, Simpson plummeted to the snow field below, landing on his back briefly before the landing spot collapsed into a crevasse and he fell again.  That should have killed him, especially given the state of his leg and knee.  But amazingly he survived that fall with no additional injuries, and then started a slow, painful journey to base camp.  He did this with no food, water, or shelter, and only had a single leg to rely upon, as his other leg was now nothing but a useless appendage full of pain.  By crawling, hopping, and sliding over a number of days, he was able to arrive back in camp, nearly dead and the day before they were going to pack up and head back to Lima.

What struck me most about Touching the Void was how the will to survive can push us beyond limits that most of us couldn't even begin to imagine.  Simpson does an excellent job in capturing the mental and physical pain he endured, and it was hard not to be affected by his writing.  This book should definitely be on the reading list of anyone who climbs or is fascinated by men facing the limits of physical endurance and pushing through them.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/16/2010

Book Review - The Book of Biff #5: Split Personality by Chris Hallbeck

Category Book Review Chris Hallbeck The Book of Biff #5: Split Personality
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Although I've never seen Chris Hallbeck's Biff comic character, it only took one or two panels to know that his sense of humor would appeal to my geek side.  He offered me an electronic copy of The Book of Biff #5: Split Personality, and I quickly accepted.  It's not a long read, but it was a funny diversion with just enough strangeness to make you look at situations in a different light.

Hallbeck's Biff comics are different, to say the least.  Biff is a wordless "human"(?) that seems to spend most of his time trying strange and bizarre things.  Each of the comics are a single panel, have no other characters except for Biff, and Biff never speaks.  That's not to say that Biff isn't expressive, however.  There's Biff walking up the down escalator with the caption "Biff keeps getting kicked out of the mall for using the built-in stair climbing machines."  Or one of my favorites: "Biff was tired of having to restock the same shelf every day" as he's gluing the boxes onto the shelf.  Or "Biff realized that the new sheets were too small" as he's sawing a strip off his bed so they'll fit.

Not all the strips work for me, but someone else would probably find them funny.  Biff is bizarre, and Chris Hallbeck's humor definitely isn't for everyone.  But if you like your laughs on the off-beat side, you'll definitely find Biff over there.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

10/16/2010

Book Review - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

Category Book Review Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
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To finish up Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, I recently read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  I liked The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo immensely, but The Girl Who Played With Fire was a bit of a letdown.  It didn't have the same pace and intricacies, and the ending was a bit too far-fetched for me.  Hornet's Nest picks up right where Fire leaves off, with Lizbeth in the hospital and the doctors trying to save her life after the gunshot wound to the head.  Even though it's been determined that her brother was responsible for a number of deaths that she was suspected of, she's been charged with a number of other crimes associated with her attempt to find (and probably kill) her father.  So as soon as she's considered healed, she's to be carted off to prison to await trial.  Blomkvist's sister is serving as her lawyer, and of course trying to represent someone as cynical and untrusting as Lizbeth is difficult, to say the least.  It also doesn't help that some group is out to destroy evidence and eliminate Blomkvist before he can publish the full story that will clear Lizbeth and create a scandal that reaches to the highest levels of the Swedish government.  The story builds to a final confrontation in court between the prosecutor who wants to lock her away, a psychiatrist who wants the same, and her attorney, who has a few bombshells to let loose during the trial.

I was hoping for a rebound from Fire, one that would have me as fascinated as Dragon did.  But it was not to be.  Hornet's Nest seemed to drag in a number of spots, and the book could have been a third shorter without losing any of the story.  The second and more annoying thing to me was the final scene in the court room.  I'll leave open the possibility that what happened there is normal in the Swedish legal system.  But based on our own judicial system, most of what occurred would have never been allowed.  Both sides were withholding evidence from the other, and that led to a number of Perry Mason-like moments of high drama.  While it plays well in film and story-telling, it's a fantasy.  Police reports, medical reports, surveillance movies...  you name it.  Although it was emotionally satisfying to see Lizbeth get the justice she was seeking, I couldn't get past the fact that it wouldn't have happened that way.

If you've invested the time to get through the first two books, definitely read this one to finish the story.  I realize that my view of the book is definitely in the minority of opinions expressed.  Your mileage may vary, and probably will.  I was just hoping for something similar in style and pace to the first book of the trilogy, and I didn't get it.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/15/2010

Book Review - The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

Category Book Review Michael Lewis The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine
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My innocence and belief in the foundations of free-market capitalism has slowly eroded over the last decade, starting with the implosion of Enron (where I worked) to the financial crisis we currently find ourselves in.  Michael Lewis's book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine continues that trend and shaved a few more layers off of my trust of government and corporations, specifically financial institutions.  Bottom line... greed is rampant, and there is no accountability left out there.

Lewis chronicles the meltdown of the sub-prime mortgage market, and subsequently the entire global financial system,  through the eyes and stories of a small number of individuals who were willing to say the emperor had no clothes.  They were convinced that the loan practices of mortgage lenders were seriously flawed, and that the availability of large adjustable mortgages with low teaser rates to people who couldn't afford them would cause high levels of default when the teaser rates expired.  Furthermore, these loans were being packaged and sold to others who would assume the risk, so there was no accountability in making sure the loan was sound, as the lender would not be on the hook over the life of the loan.  These loan bonds were then repackaged again into other "investment" instruments that were again bought and sold.  The complexity and opacity of the packages led the rating agencies to assign high ratings to instruments that were nothing more than junk.  You could think of it as a large Ponzi scheme, where everything worked so long as housing prices continued to increase.  But when prices went down, everything collapsed in spectacular fashion.

The people that Lewis follows established a way that they could short the mortgage bonds, something that hadn't been possible before.  They were lone (and obnoxious) voices in the wilderness, as no one could believe that these few individuals could see something that eluded the view of all the huge financial firms.  But when everything collapsed in September of 2008, they made *huge* profits while the multi-billion dollar financial firms lost tens of billions (and some went bankrupt).  But even having been proved right, they each suffered their own emotional breakdown and turmoil.  The magnitude of the collapse amazed even them, and left them wondering if there was any safe place left for their own money.  In their cases, money definitely didn't buy happiness.

The Big Short does a good job of chronicling the greed and ignorance of the finance industry, where profits were everything, and complete understanding of risks was non-existent.  I found it amazing that individuals who brought down companies single-handedly (one trader lost 9 *billion* dollars completely on his own) were still able to leave or resign with millions in their pockets.  Our government bailed out private firms and shifted their losses to us, the American taxpayer, because these firms had sabotaged the financial stability of the nation through their obsession with profits.  And ultimately, no one is really accountable, as those who had to "resign" did so with millions in payouts.

As with all books that look back like this, the knowledge of the outcome allows the story to be told in such a way that the eventual end seems predetermined to happen.  At the time, any single decision made along the way could have turned out differently and this specific story would have never been told and experienced.  Even so, Lewis weaves a compelling narrative of what *did* happen, and one can't help but be depressed at some level knowing that these lessons will soon be forgotten, new people will come up with new schemes driven by greed, and we'll repeat the cycle once again...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/12/2010

Amazon Kindle Singles - Interested to see how this plays out...

Category Everything else
Yesterday, Amazon announced a new program labeled "Kindle Singles":

Amazon to Launch “Kindle Singles”— Compelling Ideas Expressed at Their Natural Length

Kindle Singles, Which Can Be Twice the Length of a New Yorker Feature or as Much as a Few Chapters of a Typical Book, Coming Soon to the Kindle Store

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--(NASDAQ:AMZN)—Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century—works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the “heft” required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated—whether it’s a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch “Kindle Singles”—Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today’s announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.

“Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format,” said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. “With Kindle Singles, we’re reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we’re excited to see what they create.”

Like all Kindle content, Kindle Singles will be “Buy Once, Read Everywhere”—customers will be able to read them on Kindle, Kindle 3G, Kindle DX, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, Mac, PC, BlackBerry, and Android-based devices. Amazon's Whispersync technology syncs your place across devices, so you can pick up where you left off. In addition, with the Kindle Worry-Free Archive, Kindle Singles will be automatically backed up online in your Kindle library on Amazon where they can be re-downloaded wirelessly for free, anytime.

To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact digital-publications@amazon.com.

On the surface, this appears to have a number of interesting possibilities.  You could self-publish at shorter lengths, target the electronic reader audience, and hit most of the eReader platforms out there.  Not only could you write novellas and get them published, but also think about shorter, more targeted tech topics.

I'm going to email Amazon to get more information.  I'll let you know what I find out.

10/09/2010

Book Review - 27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies by Chris St. Hilaire with Lynette Padwa

Category Book Review Chris St. Hilaire Lynette Padwa 27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies
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How frustrating is it when you have a great idea or an important viewpoint, yet people don't seem to be rushing to support you?  Persuasion is an elusive skill, and it relies on more than just being "right."  I found that the book 27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences & Win Allies by Chris St. Hilaire with Lynette Padwa does a good job in offering up suggestions on how you can do much better in bringing people over to your side without resorting to physical violence. :)

Contents:
Focus on the Goal; Evaluate Egos; Soothe or Sidestep Other Egos; Manage Opposition by Giving It Nothing to Oppose; Make Your Weakness Your Strength; Find One Thing to Like About Everyone in the Room; Use the First Five Minutes to Make People Feel Safe; Stay in the Present; Recognize Their Reality; Make It About Choice, Fairness, and Accountability; Keep It Simple; Own the Language; Use Emotional Language; Make Sure Everyone's Invested; Get Third-Party Validation; Get a Couple of Numbers; Arm Your Advocates; Aim for the Undecideds; Avoid Absolutes and Hypotheticals; Learn How to Use Silence; Get Physical; Don't Say No, Say "Let's Try This"; Release Bad News Quickly and Good News Slowly; Challenge Bad Ideas by Challenging the Details; Play Devil's Advocate; Don't Change, "Adapt"; Be Your Own Pundit; Notes

St. Hilaire brings his experience in jury analysis as well as his Eastern philosophy and attitudes into play here.  He has managed strategy and messages for political campaigns, as well as founding a company that consults on jury selection.  These are obviously two areas where persuasion is a critical skill, and St. Hilaire has been successful at it.  Each "power" listed above is a separate chapter, which makes it very easy to pick a method and focus on it.  I appreciated the blend of explanation and example in each chapter.  It made for an effective approach for understanding the skill along with a instance of how it plays out.  

27 Powers of Persuasion avoids something I was a bit fearful of before I started reading.  It'd be very easy to go down the path of manipulation over persuasion, as the two can sometimes be dangerously close to each other.  But I didn't get that sense at all.  Yes, you can make people react in predictable ways with language and actions.  But that's just a basic reality of life.  You can try and convince people by yelling at them, or you can show that you understand their points and work to answer their questions.  Guess which one will be more effective?  You need to understand that if you want to succeed.  The book is also useful in giving you insight as to others may be trying to persuade you.  For instance, if you understand how owning the language predisposes you to think about a company or product, you can be more objective when it comes to making your own decisions.  And I can't help but think that FAR too many people and organizations have ignored the technique of releasing bad news quickly and good news slowly.  Trying to let bad news trickle out to avoid a "hit" only feeds the story and the media frenzy for a longer period of time.  If you take the hard hit up front, then the story can start to die down for lack of new information.  Then you can get on with resolving the situation.

27 Powers of Persuasion is a book that can pay for itself in a single critical situation at work when you have a lot at stake in a particular outcome.  I learned quite a bit from it, and I'll be returning to various chapters over time...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Author
Payment: Free

10/09/2010

Book Review - Star Island by Carl Hiaasen

Category Book Review Carl Hiaasen Star Island
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Carl Hiaasen is one of my "must read" authors, as I enjoy his wacky southern Florida-based novels.  His latest craziness is Star Island, and I finally made it to the top of the hold list at the library.  This was an enjoyable read, filled with off-beat characters and situations that could only happen in Florida.  But the edge that's normally part of a Hiaasen novel seemed to be missing this time.  I didn't find myself having to keep reading far beyond my bedtime.

The core story revolves around a doped-out young singer by the name of Cherry Pye, her appearance double Ann DeLusia, and a paparazzo named Bang Abbott who is determined to get a picture of Pye all drugged up before she kills herself.  He figures that image will be worth a fortune after her death.  The main problem is that Pye's handlers are always one step ahead of him, making sure that it's DeLusia that's out in public as they deal with Pye's latest binge.  His obsession leads him to kidnap DeLusia (thinking she's Pye), only to find out that his plan failed yet again.  But he figures that he can still salvage the situation by offering a swap of Delusia for Pye and his public silence on the existence of a double, so long as he can get a six hour photo shoot with Pye.  Of course, nothing is ever that simple in a Hiaasen novel, as you have a huge bodyguard with a weed whacker for a prosthesis and a madman ex-governor (Skink for those who have read prior Hiaasen novels) who have their own agendas and methods of making them happen...

All the characters are pretty extreme or play to the stereotypes you'd expect.  Pye's manager/mom is overly protective of her, and refuses to acknowledge the extent of her daughter's "issues."  Pye is a brainless addict who's been manipulated and coddled to turn her into a star facade.  The person who is paying the bills and footing the cash is ruthless, and will do whatever it takes to make sure he gets his expected "return on investment."  And the double is the smartest one of the bunch, and just takes life as it rolls, and figures how she can get her revenge on the whole sick lot and perhaps even save Pye from self-destruction in the process.

Perhaps the reason I didn't find the edginess I normally expect is that Pye hits very close to reality with some of the entertainment headlines of late.  Skink and the bodyguard were way out there (and quite funny), but everyone else was a bit too real.  Was Star Island fun to read?  Yes.  Was it Hiaasen's best? No, but I'd still be happy to sit on the beach with a Corona and pass a few hours with the book.... especially a Florida beach.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/09/2010

Book Review - Sams Teach Yourself Google Voice in 10 Minutes by Nancy Conner

Category Book Review Nancy Conner Sams Teach Yourself Google Voice in 10 Minutes
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I've been a bit intrigued as to where Google is going with their voice offerings, so I snagged this title when it came into the local library... Sams Teach Yourself Google Voice in 10 Minutes by Nancy Conner.  I'm not ready to make Google Voice my main point of contact for phone calls, but this book opened my eyes to some of the possibilities.

Contents:
Welcome to Google Voice; Signing Up and Getting Started; Making a Call; Answering a Call; Using Voicemail; Working with Contacts and Groups; Text Messaging; Going Mobile; Billing and International Calls; Troubleshooting Google Voice; Index

It seems that Conner didn't miss much in this concise guide.  From knowing virtually nothing about the service, I was able to get a free Google phone number and configure it to take calls and transfer messages to places where I wanted to retrieve them.  As with most books in the Sams 10 Minute series, there are plenty of step-by-step instructions and screen captures, so the information is extremely practical and useful as soon as you read it.  I also can see it as a useful "quick reference" book to either add a new trick to your phone experience, as well as to go back and figure out how to do something you forgot about.

The only drawback to this book is that Google changes things at a rapid pace and without a lot of warning.  So there's a significant chance that the screen print or instruction you see on the page may not match exactly what you see when you try doing the same thing.  But that's not a fault of the author... It's just a reality of books that cover technical subjects like software.  Only time will tell how well the book ages.

I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to get past the "OK, I have a Google Voice number, what now?" phase and start using the offering as a significant part of their phone experience.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

10/04/2010

Yeah... It's a major rush when you see your actual book in print for the first time...

Category IBM/Lotus
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10/03/2010

Book Review - The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun

Category Book Review Scott Berkun The Myths of Innovation
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"Innovation" is a word that gets used so often in marketing hype that it seems to have lost its meaning.  Scott Berkun sets out to reclaim the word and offer up a true definition in his book The Myths of Innovation.  I found this book so compelling while reading it on my iPad that I ended up figuring out how to do highlighting as there were many points I wanted to remember and ponder.  

Table of Contents:
The myth of epiphany; We understand the history of innovation; There is a method for innovation; People love new ideas; The lone inventor; Good ideas are hard to find; Your boss knows more about innovation than you; The best ideas win; Problems and solutions; Innovation is always good; Epilogue - Beyond hype and history; Creating thinking hacks; How to pitch an idea; How to stay motivated; Research and recommendations

One of the reasons this book resonated so deeply with me is due to my view of how people add importance to events that weren't critical at the time.  For instance, a particular battle may be touted as the turning point of a war, and a commander's decision a brave and ingenious move.  But the battle could have just as well been lost, no one would have written it up, and some other potential outcome would have decided the war.  We seem to think that the outcome we received was the only possible course, and that's incorrect.  Quoting Berkun: "Yes, when we look at any history timeline, we're encouraged to believe that other outcomes were impossible.  Because the events on timelines happened, regardless of how bizarre or unlikely, we view them today as predetermined."  I'm glad to see that Myths fights back against this common belief.

Looking more directly at innovation, Berkun reveals another myth that bugs me to no end. "The dilemma is that, at any moment, it's difficult to know whether we're witnessing progress or merely, in a hill-climbing distraction, a short-term gain with negative long-term consequences."  We can't know how things are going to turn out, and there are far too many examples of ideas and "innovations" that were found out later to have horrible long-term effects.  DDT, anyone?

Just one more example that caused me to do a "yes!" when I was reading... We attach major significance to objects that, at the time, were common.  The Rosetta Stone is thought to be one of the most significant discoveries and artifacts ever found.  But the text on the stone is nothing but basic, everyday communication to the people of the time.  It would be like someone discovering a piece of our junk mail 1000 years from now and declaring it a significant piece of 21st century communication.  Yet at the time, we throw it away.  Because we look at the Rosetta Stone as enabling us to decipher ancient languages, we tend to revere the stone itself.  But it's really just a common thing that happened to survive the centuries, and we've attached significance to the item that wasn't intended when it was first created.  

Berkun goes on in the later chapters to help you understand the true nature of innovation, as well has how the process of getting and developing ideas is available to any of us.  Coming away from reading Myths, you should understand that innovation is hard work, it's not a single event, and your ideas build upon the ideas of others.  In addition, what you think your idea is good for and what actually happens to it could be two entirely different things.  When the first HTML page was built and put on a network for sharing, no one could have imagined what the Internet would end up becoming.

The Myths of Innovation is a top-notch read, and one that you should plan on revisiting often...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free

10/02/2010

Book Review - The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Category Book Review Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Played With Fire
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Following up on my completion of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I launched immediately into the second book of Stieg Larsson's trilogy... The Girl Who Played With Fire.  I enjoyed the continuing story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as they both get wrapped up in a story involving sex trafficking in Sweden.  But in terms of comparison to Dragon Tattoo,  Fire seemed to drag significantly in the middle stages, and I definitely take points off for the ending.  That was pushing believability to the far outer edges...

Fire picks up at a point where you're not completely dependent on the first book to know what happens.  To fully understand the characters, you *do* need to have that background but it's not a direct continuation of the prior book.  Blomkvist becomes involved in a sex trade story when the two writers working on it for his newspaper are found murdered, along with Salander's state guardian who had abused her in the first book.  Because her fingerprints are found on the gun at the murder scene, she's the focus of a country-wide manhunt.  But she's conducting her own research into who killed who (along with Blomkvist), and has no intentions of turning herself in until she has answers.  Along the way, she uncovers some disturbing news about her past and her family, news that could end up exposing a major conspiracy at the highest levels of the Swedish government.

The books in Larsson's trilogy are not short, so you know  you're in for a fair bit of reading to get to the end.  The danger there is that you'll end up getting into some slow areas, and Fire is no exception.  It might be due to all the Swedish names and such, but it started to get a little difficult keeping track of all the players, and the action was just marking time.  In addition, any news about Salander takes a BIG hiatus in the middle of the book, and I kept wondering where she was fitting into the whole story.  Finally, the ending (which I won't go into so as to not spoil it for others) was too far-fetched for me.  I know Salander is a bit of a "super-woman", but still...

Even with my gripes, I'm still looking forward to reading The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.  These are good reads, and I'm enjoying them quite a bit.  I do find it a shame that Larsson didn't remain alive long enough to see his novels take off like they have.

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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