Book Reviews, etc.

Eating With The Enemy, and Pitching the Blogger

Well, it has been a while since I reviewed a book here at Orient Lodge. With all the different emails, blog posts and social media messages to read, I rarely find or make time for reading books, though I do find time to read plenty of pitches for books that some publicist really thinks I should review here.

Most of the pitches get filed away in my PR folder without a response, however every once in a while a pitch comes along that sounds interesting. Often they are for books about technology or social media that are written by friends of mine. It isn’t very often that I review books about guys in New Jersey who run BBQ shacks and engage in diplomacy with the North Koreans.

Some of that is because there just aren’t many books out there like that. In fact, as best as I can tell, Eating with the Enemy is one of a kind. It has been an enjoyable read by the side of the pool during my few free moments. Not only is the story well written and compelling, but there are some important words of wisdom hidden in the text, particularly for those interested in social media.

Bobby Egan, who runs a BBQ shack in Hackensack NJ, talks about growing up in a mob controlled neighborhood. When you wanted something, you didn’t just sit down with someone and get right to business. You spent time. You got to know the person you wanted to do business with. You chatted about how things were going, about their family, maybe about how the Giants or Nets were playing. If you developed a sense of trust with the person, you might get around to broaching the business issue eventually.

Bobby talks about the same thing in terms of dealing with the North Koreans. You don’t just sit down at the table and start talking about nuclear weapons. Instead, you have a steak. You go catch a Nets game. You try to explain American idioms. Slowly you develop a trusted relationship and can start talking about more serious issues.

Some of the social media experts out there might learn a lesson from Bobby. For that matter, so might a lot of the publicists pitching books that I don’t expect I’ll ever read.

With that, let me digress. Tony Viardo is the publicist that sent me the pitch for Eating with the Enemy. His pitch started off “My Name is Tony Viardo and I’m heading up public awareness for a new memoir entitled ‘Eating with the Enemy’ by Bobby Egan. I’d like to offer you a free copy for your review, in order to perhaps post your opinions about it on your site; I believe it would interest your unique audience.”

Okay, Tony probably got down to business much more quickly than Bobby would have, but there is a difference between emails from publicists and steaks in Hackensack. Yet Tony is clear about what he wants. He wants people talking about Bobby’s book. He tries to appeal to people that have a special feeling for their audience. Yeah, that’s me. I’ve got a unique audience. They’re a great group. There are mommy bloggers from the Philippines. There are political bloggers from around the United States and there are all kinds of bloggers searching to get their story out and/or perhaps make a little money on the side. It is a great bunch and I value the interaction I have with my audience.

So, I don’t want to steer my readers wrong. I’m not going to review some book that I’m not excited about and tell people it is good. Instead, I’m going to spend time reading the book and thinking about how much I enjoyed it and whether or not I think my readers will. I think a lot of my readers would really like this book. For that matter, as I’ve read parts of it by the pool, I’ve described sections to my wife and we’ve talked about other people that we think would enjoy the book.

So, if you’re looking for a good book, check out Eating with the Enemy. If you’re looking for a good publicist, spend a little time getting to know Tony to see if maybe he is a good fit for you, and if you’re looking for me to review a book or a product, spend a little time getting to know me and my audience and then let’s talk.

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The Design of Design

How does Frederick P. Brooks new book, The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist compare to his classic, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition)? How much time do I want to spend trying to find out?

These were questions I asked myself as I received an email from his publicist asking if I would review the new book. I decided that it was a book I wanted to review and I wanted to look at the whole book, and not just a sample chapter or portions online. As I noted before, I’m pretty picky about which books I take time to review, and while the new book might be really great, it could also be a big disappointment and not live up to the previous book. The Mythical Man-Month is a book of mythic proportions. It is a book that I used to require any developers working for me to read. It sits in a special place in my book case. It is a tough act to follow. Nonetheless, I took the plunge, and asked the publicist for a review copy of the new book, and I’m glad I did.

I received my copy of The Design of Design earlier this week. I’ve been taking time here and there to read it and still have a long way to go. However, I’ve read enough already to state that it deserves its place next to the Mythical Man-Month. It takes a broader view and is applicable not only to those of us working in computers, but to people involved in any sort of design. As an example, it provides a great contrast between computer design and other types of design such as architecture.

He starts off each chapter with various interesting quotes, and starts the first chapter with a quote from Francis Bacon:

[New ideas would come about] by a connexion and transferring of the observations of one Arte, to the uses of another, when the experience of several misteries shall fall under consideration of one mans minde.

I have always been fascinated by how new ideas come about as well as by the connections between people with different viewpoints. This is a book for a reading club with computer scientists, architects and fashion designers. (I would love to hear a fashion designer’s thoughts about this book.)

The question of where new ideas come from is one of those great questions that many great thinkers have pondered. The book seems to offer pointers in the right direction, but at least to me, the question remains somewhat intractable.

Brooks starts off by looking at a good look at the Rational Model of design. As I read through this section, my mind wandered to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. In many ways, the Tractatus is to twentieth century philosophy what the Rational Model of design is to design.

The final proposition of the Tractatus is “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”, and it seems as if something similar needs to be said of the Rational Model of design. Yet Wittgenstein went on to write the Philosophical Investigations, which explore so much more. Likewise, Brooks goes on to explore so much more in The Design of Design.

As Brooks explored the issues of the goals and desiderata of design, my mind wandered to the question of ‘What is Quality?’ It seems as if this book needs to be read alongside Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Another diversion my mind took as I read this was thinking about how both the Mythical Man Month, as well as The Design of Design relates to what is going on in the world of the Nokia N900, and for that matter in the broader areas of Linux development and cellphone development. When you get right down to it, the IBM System 360 was a much less powerful computer than the Nokia N900. Yet the System 360 went through a design process that everyone refers back to. What has the design process for the Nokia N900 really been like? What about the design process for Maemo or MeeGo?

Readers may suggest that these are very different situations, it is like comparing a The Cathedral and the Bazaar. I think this is an important point. The System 360 is a Cathedral and everything going on with cellphones, tablets, slates and Linux is a Bazaar. The Design of Design needs to take its place in the special section of beloved books wedged between Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Over the next few weeks, I expect The Design of Design will color my thinking about various topics I write about here. You should go out and get the book, read it, and share your thoughts.

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Review: Facebook Fairytales

We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so the only reading material around the house was either books we checked out of the local library or copies of Reader’s Digest. When my parents got divorced my mother headed off to college as part of her effort to build a new life for herself. She took a creative writing class and received a comment on her first paper that it read like a story from Reader’s Digest. My mother, not realizing this was intended as a put down, was very pleased.

Since those days, I’ve gone on to enjoy reading James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, and others that are a long way from my early literary explorations. Yet I still enjoy, from time to time, picking up a story that reads like it is from Reader’s Digest.

I read a lot of books about the nature of online social networking. Tara Hunt’s book The Whuffie Factor is one of the best books I’ve read about online social networking, especially for young sophisticated geeks living in silicon valley, silicon alley, or other places such people gather. Shel Israel’s book, Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods seems the best for older business people. Shiv Singh’s Social Media Marketing For Dummies is one of the best for marketers, and the best for the general population seems to be Leslie Poston’s Twitter for Dummies.

But if you want to find a book that truly captures the power of social media in a way that your beloved Reader’s Digest reading aunt who plays the church organ out in Kansas can understand, there is no better book than Emily Liebert’s Facebook Fairytales: Modern-Day Miracles to Inspire the Human Spirit. The stories read like Reader’s Digest stories, in a good way. They are simple, touching, well written stories about how people have used Facebook to connect with one another in special ways. They have stories about strangers becoming friends and helping one another through major life events. There are stories of adoption, organ donation and more.

So, if you are a young sophisticated geek living in a silicon region of our country and want to find a book which will communicate what is really important about what you do to your beloved aunt who is skeptical of all this online stuff, get her a copy of Facebook Fairytales. For that matter, if you are just an average reader who would like something simple and uplifting to balance out some of the bad news of the day, Facebook Fairytales might bring you a little joy as well.

As a final note, especially in terms of the latest government regulations about product endorsements: I have received copies of each of the books mentioned in this blog post by publicists looking for a good review. I actually receive many requests to review books, but I don’t like writing negative reviews, so I turn down many of the book review requests and only do occasional reviews of books that sound like I’m going to like them. That’s how I came to review Facebook Fairytales, and like the other books I’ve received to review, I’m pleased that it did not disappoint me.

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Addicted to Energy: A Venture Capitalist's Perspective on How to Save Our Economy and Our Climate

It was over a decade ago, when I lived in Stamford that I used to visit the house of Elton Sherwin. He was a friend from church who shared some of my fascination with using technology to address social issues of the day. Climate change wasn’t as hot a topic back in those days, but we were both interested in how technology could be used to help us more efficiently use energy and he had a fascinating thermostat.

The typical thermostat checks to see if the temperature in a room is less than the desired temperature. If it is, the heat comes on. When the temperature goes above the desired temperature, the heat goes off. It is a very simple device. However, it is not the most efficient way of maintaining the desired temperature of a room. Different heat sources behave different ways. Forced hot air heats pretty quickly once it is turned on and stops heating pretty quickly when it is turned off. Electric heating has a little bit of a lag. It takes a little while for the elements to heat up when it gets turned on, and it takes a little while for them to cool off when they get turned off. Steam radiators can be even worse. It can take quite a while for them to get hot. Then, they stay hot long after the furnace has shut down.

Elton had a thermostat that would learn the behavior of the heating system and more efficiently control when to turn on and off the heat. Add to this the ability to have multiple zones and the ability to set different temperatures at different times, and you could have a much more efficient heating system that would keep all the rooms at much more desirable temperatures.

Elton moved out to California where he has been working as a venture capitalist for many years. So, it was little surprise when I learned about his new book, Addicted to Energy: A Venture Capitalist's Perspective on How to Save Our Economy and Our Climate

I have not had the opportunity to read it yet, but I took a quick look at some sections of it. For example, using the ‘Look Inside!’ functionality of Amazon, I randomly turned to page 85 with suggestion 25: “Post All Utility Bills on the Internet”. This is aimed at State Governments, and Elton observes that “without real data, your state will flounder and waste billions”. He poses questions like how much electricity, oil, and natural gas does each state building use? Who were the architects and HVAC contractors for the building? What is the cost per square foot to heat, cool, and light each building? He doesn’t ask how much each architect or HVAC contractor has contributed to the campaigns of various elected officials, but this is information a good researcher should be able to ferret out to get additional information.

What I like about this idea is that there is something for everyone. For the climate change activist, there is the desire to help governments reduce their carbon footprints. Yet even for the skeptic or denier, there is the aspect of reducing government waste and inefficiency and for the open government activist there is more data being made available for traditional journalists, bloggers, and anyone else who is interested in getting a better understanding of how the government is being run.

It seems like this is a great book to get for friends for the holidays, especially if you have friends running for Governor or involved in Gubernatorial campaigns.

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Social Influence and Coffee

Today, I received a review copy of Social Media Marketing For Dummies by Shiv Singh. I had heard Shiv speak at Digiday Social and was very impressed, so when his publisher asked if I wanted to review his book, I jumped at the chance.

I’m only part way into the book right now, so I will save my review for later. Instead, I’ll reflect a little bit on what he writes about and apply it to an event in my own life today. Several years ago, we got a Senseo Single-Serve Coffee Machine . It served us well over the years, but has not survived the hard water at our house all that well, even when we’ve tried decalcifying it.

The problems we’ve had with the Senseo is that it is out of stock, and the pods, which are sort of like coffee filled teabags are also sometimes hard to get. So, Kim wondered about getting a Bosch Tassimo Single-Serve Coffee Brewer , similar to what her folks have. To relate this back to Mr. Singh’s book, Kim’s parents acted as referent influencers on Kim’s initial considerations about buying a new coffee machine.

However, the coffee for those machines comes in little plastic cups that get thrown out; not very eco-friendly. We talked back and forth and decided that the Keurig Single-Cup Home-Brewing System might be more to our liking. Especially since you can get a Pod Holster for the machine and a Reusable Coffee Filter

I read through some of the reviews on Amazon and they all sounded pretty good. However, I found that this is usually the case on Amazon. They only people who review are people that really like the product and a few that really hate the product. It is probably fair to consider these online referent influencers. However, I asked Kim to check some of the foodie sites she goes to and she reported a thumbs up from these sites. Referring back to Mr. Singh’s book, these would probably be considered by us the expert influencers, although, in my mind, the line between referent and expert influencers is a bit fuzzy online.

In his book, Mr. Singh references John R. P. French and Bertram Raven’s work on social power. People interested in Social Media Marketing for Academics, might want to start there.

All of this begs the question, how do you get a cadre of social influencers online to support your brand? I look forward to getting more of Mr. Singh’s views on this as I read more of his book.

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