Friday, November 10, 2006

Eragon

I hate Harry Potter.

I have read Fantasy books since I was 11 and feel that if I am not an expert, than I am a connoisseur. I have always thought that Fantasy books are an easy hit with young people, but these Harry Potter books are pabulum. There are hundreds of books that should appeal to kids and are better written. The latest example of this I ran into was The Inheritance Trilogy by Christopher Paolini. This was written by a teen and despite his youth, his abilities crush that of J.K. Rowling. They both found hits with their first attempts but despite having over 10 years on him, Paolini’s novel deals with more sophisticated issues and comes across much less childish. A great example of this is with the spells. Rowling uses the lamest of puns, while Paolini uses his own derivative of Latin. Eragon has greater action, moves quicker and, in general, has more sophisticated language, although nothing that grade school kids shouldn’t be able to follow.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Your Management Sucks: Why You Have to Declare War on Yourself . . . and Your Business by Mark Stevens

In reading this book I wasn't sure if it was going for a change management idea or some kind of management guidance. As is par for these books, they seem to be written for people who own their own businesses. I credit this to the fact that the writers are often small business owners themselves, so their experiences tend that way.

There were some good ideas in this book, including not relying on conventional wisdom. A great example was the idea that you pay for experience more than performance. For example, why pay more to a 40 year old man who has stopped rising in his career than a young go getter that is making an impact in the business. The book also discusses the idea of the rising star who plateaus rather than continuing to rise. Every time I have success at work, even if it is just a minor victory, I can find myself not trying as hard for the remainder of that day. I can see where this can be true for entire career.

I also enjoyed the idea of taking time as a manger to spend thinking about strategy. At work this is technically a required activity for all managers, but with all of the tactical things that need to get done it can be hard. In the book, he describes going into a forest and thinking. While I don't have access to something as nice as a quiet forest, I often use the time walking the dog at night to think about work in a more strategic less tactical manner. Shower time is my tactical opportunity, setting up my day, but the quiet walks with the dog really lets me think. Personally, this seems to work better in the winter, when there are fewer people out and the walks seem quieter.

In the end, the book was interesting, a quick read and, like most of these types, rather motivational.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blink: The Power of thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Let me start by describing what I am trying to accomplish here. Since November 2002 I have been keeping a list of every book that I read. It was mostly about a challenge I made to myself about a claim that I wanted to make. I said that I read over 30 books a year, but had little evidence of it. I can now prove this with a list of books that I have read. Starting last October when I attended a software conference where a number of authors spoke, I have been trying to round out my reading with a good number of business books. My hope was to create a quarterly book club at work. That hope has been dashed as I have repeatedly asked if anyone was interested and finding no takers.


So here we are. I will have a one man book club where I discuss some of my thoughts on the non-fiction books I read. Staring with the latest book: Blink.

I read Malcolm Gladwell's first hit, The Tipping Point a few weeks ago and was quite interested in the concepts found within. This led me to pick up Blink. This turned out to be another great book, but it wasn't until I sat down to write a review that I realized something. Business books almost all have the same general format, they start with amusing anecdotes about their subject and then move to ways where you can improve or implement. Blink and its cousin The Tipping Point never move to the latter part. They are informative, telling great stories and even backing it up with hard science, but they never teach you how to harness the principals laid out in their pages.

Blink teaches great things about how our minds work on a subconscious level. It explains why we are often incapable of providing a logical rational for any number of behaviors because we have none. It is useful to know the types of things that are "locked behind the door" f your unconscious, but they book is unclear on what to do about it. I walked away wanting to use this newfound power, but failing to find ways to do it.

Part of the problem with this book is that it as it even documents you can't change many of these thought processes. True understanding or knowledge can help give better snap insights but you can't just turn you subconscious off just by knowing about it. In some ways this is disturbing. If you associate certain images or words with violence, they are likely to remain so, despite your best efforts to shove them out. In the end the books best message is that you should embrace these snap insights and decisions. They are often as statistically to be correct. I know that when I have taken tests I always worked quickly, letting my mind tell me which ones I knew the answer to and which were going to be guesses no matter how long I stared at them. I am not a expert test taker, but some of the anxiety is removed when you grasp that you either have the answer or you're guessing rather than worrying over whether that arcane piece of knowledge is going to float to the surface.

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Monday, July 21, 2003

2 Books

This past weekend I finished 2 books: Pattern Recognition by William Gibson and Raving Fans by Kenneth Blanchard. Pattern Recognition was an odd book that mostly revolved around the world of advertising and commercialization of images. No nearly as techno-centric as Gibson's previous books and I have a feeling that if he hadn't have been the author it would be classified as regular fiction. It did make me think about the source of the images used to sell products and why the ones that work on me are successful. The book failed to engage me on either the topics of 9/11 or the plight of lives in post-Soviet Russia, two things it weaves into its plot almost unnecessarily.
Raving Fans was a book I read for work and was probably the most inane thing I have chanced across since college. The idea that Americans have low expectations when it comes to service strikes a chord with me. If I went to a store and they hit me with a baseball bat while making my purchase, I would be glad they didn't kill me, but not surprised. At the same time, I will never expect the level of service suggested in this book. In my opinion, most of the population are dumb as rocks and deserve to be treated as such. I love to purchase things on-line so as not to be exposed to people, whether or not they are bending over backwards to provide service to me. I also don't plan on changing my behavior to match the ideas presented. I work in an environment where my "customers" are fellow employees of the same company, and expect to receive the same level of forgiveness when it comes to interactions as I give. This will never work because it makes sense and requires most people to not be dumb as rocks and I already said they were. Never the less, I am sticking to my principals.

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