2011 Summarized – In Books

(Yes, I know it’s kinda late to be summarizing 2011 :-), but I still believe that if you have nothing important, intelligent or enriching to say, then it’s better not to say it. In other words, don’t blog just for the sake of blogging…)

Often what keeps me going through a tough day is looking forward to curling up in bed with a book at night. It is a fact (at least valid for the current state of human evolution) that we retain more of what we read in real, paper books, compared to e-books on a digital screen. Something to do with the tactile senses.

I read several interesting, thought provoking and highly influential books since last year (besides the usual classic Science Fiction). Some of the more noteworthy ones were:

  • 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot” by Prof. Richard Wiseman — I came across this in a reference at Coding Horror, and although I’m not a fan of non-fiction (and certainly not the How To sub-genre of non-fiction), I just picked up on a whim, and boy, was I hooked. I have been evangelizing it ever since, and more than a year later, I’m still discovering ways in which reading this book helped me break my [evil] habits and turned me into a better person.
  • “IGNORE EVERYBODY and 39 Other Keys to Creativity” by Hugh MacLeod — A friend recommended this to me (in fact, so strongly that she gave me her copy to read), and although sometimes a little opinionated, I found the advice very relevant to the times we live in, especially The Sex & Cash Theory.
  • I very quickly read “It’s not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be.” by Paul Arden. Although the book didn’t really resonate with me (maybe because I was still reeling from the in-your-face effects of IGNORE EVERYBODY), I found some of the ideas very insightful. For example, Paul made the case that out of five sales pitches in a week, the client is most likely to pick the one presented on Tuesday, because Monday was “too early, nothing to judge by”, Wednesday & Thursday were “like eating too much chocolate” and Friday was like “feeling sick”.
  • Meanwhile, Steve Jobs sadly passed away, and the time seemed to be right to read “The Steve Jobs Way: iLeadership for a New Generation” by Jay Elliot & William L. Simon. I found the book to be very balanced, using storytelling to draw focus on best practices and insights that can be applied in our own organizations. Highly recommended if you think you or your place of work could do with a fresh dose of [now legendary] iNspiration.
  • I then started reading “The Go-Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea” by Bob Burg & John David Mann, which was the first in a reading list recommended by Venkat during his inspiring talk at BarCampBangalore11 (#bcb11). This is a short book that extols the virtues of giving as the secret to success. If you’re in the business of making profit (who isn’t), this book will surely make you think.
  • There was some promising talk on Facebook about “Plunnge: Reinvention for the New Generation” by Rakesh Godhwani, so I got hold of a copy shortly after it was published. I’ve read many books, and no matter how badly they are written, no matter what subject they’ve been written on, I always find something, no matter how small, to learn from them. So over the years, I’ve never regretted reading a book (except maybe my school textbooks :-p ), but after a bit of a mental struggle, I was forced to admit Plunnge was the first one. Although the subject (essentially a collection of true stories about Indians giving up successful careers to pursue their true passions) is commendable, Mr. Godhwani’s attempt at writing is best described as “otherworldy”, and clouded the true potential of the book.  The writing is heavily biased & prejudiced, almost every single page has either a grammatical or semantic error (although I must concede that some of them are popular usage in corporate India) and there was just too much credit being given to individuals who were correcting their own bad initial career choices (most of all Mr. Godhwani himself – If there was one purpose this book served, it was that of being his personal catharsis). Apparently Peak Publish, headquartered in Derbyshire, U.K. is quite accommodating with the authors they pick. Initially I was so appalled I wanted to write to both publisher & author, but as I read on I realized that (a) the publishers published it, so obviously they didn’t find anything wrong with it, and (b) the author is so pleased with himself and the topic that obviously the finer details were not important to him. So what’s the point? Don’t let your filters fail, and skip this one.
  • To recover from “the Plunnge”, I went on a Malcolm Gladwell reading spree (who I think is a magnificent author), and read “Blink” and “Outliers” (which were somewhat related to the subject matter in “Freakonomics”) and that was time happily well spent. No matter where your interests or disinterests lie, if you’re human, you should read Gladwell.
  • A lot was happening around that time, and I thought it was a good time to revisit the old classic “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Johnson, probably the best piece of work written on dealing with Change.
  • Finally, I read the short story “Whispering Wind” by Frederick Forsyth (in his book of short stories called “The Veteran”) which I think is the perfect story. Forsyth fans and those discovering him now will equally be amazed at the level of excellence the Master Storyteller achieved with this story, especially considering that this isn’t one of the topics (or time periods) he usually writes about.
  • Recently I also finished reading “Bozo and the Storyteller” by Tom Glaister, which presents a unique, thought-provoking (and sometimes depressing) view of the human condition.

I got myself  a LightWedge to and will continue reading happily into the night…

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Happy New Year MMXI!

Happy New Year! If the 2012 Phenomenon is to be believed, then we have about 01 year, 11 months and 01 days before the world reboots. Must make the most of it.

On the brighter side, though:

 

In the last week, I have made substantial changes to the categories on the left, just to make them less cluttered and more meaningful. My apologies if this broke something that you had linked to. This was long overdue and any future changes would be relatively insignificant.

Live long and prosper, and follow me on twitter: @survivalcrziest.

 

Barcamp Bangalore 9

I’ll be attending Barcamp Bangalore 9 on 18 September, 2010. In fact, this time around I intend to present a talk as  well. Do stop by if you’re in town, there are a lot of interesting sessions lined up.

As far as this blog is concerned, I haven’t given up on it yet. It’s just moved a little lower down the priority list, but it will rise from the ashes 🙂

To blog or not to blog, that is the question

And a good one, too (usually when someone says it’s a “good question”, that’s because they don’t know the answer). I have a folder called BlogThis each of my e-mail clients (Outlook and Web), I use the same word to tag items in the virtual and physical world, I have a travel folder with the same name that I use to collect clippings and scribbled notes in, and a folder to collect messages and notes on my SmartPhone. Items are piling up and collecting dust (even if it is virtual) in each of these locations, waiting for me to one day free them from the bonds of the BlogThis tag.

I know I must get to it one day, because knowledge stored away in e-mails is, to steal a quote, technically persistent but instantly forgotten. Knowledge must be made search-able and instantly retrievable (not to mention fit for backup). And although social networking sites provide for posting of links and subsequent one-liner discussions on them, they are just too amorphous to be useful for this purpose.

At the same time, there simply isn’t enough time to write down everything. Would you rather do something new today or write about something you did yesterday? Both are useful in their own way, and a line must carefully be drawn. We spend a lot of our time doing mundane “maintenance” tasks, and some of it doing interesting “value addition” tasks. The idea is to maximize the latter, and one thing that I’m going to try to do is to not merely repeat what someone has already said (possibly in a different medium). Analysis is the key.

While looking for inspiration, I came across Google’s Steve Yegge‘s excellent post called You Should Write Blogs (which will make you want to Alt-Tab and start writing straightaway) and Jeff Atwood‘s post titled How To Achieve Ultimate Blog Success In One Easy Step (which will make you stop for a moment and think).

Enough blogging about blogging, let me get on with it now!

  • Step 1: Make a minimal blogging schedule
  • Step 2: Stick to it
  • Step 3: When in doubt, read this post again

I Survived, So I Must be Crazy

Well, it’s been a long time, and I owe an apology to the folks I so enthusiastically ranted about this blog to (and that includes you, dear reader). It started out as a big, interesting idea, but like most of my big, interesting ideas, it became too interesting first, and then too big (for me). I started running out of time and energy pretty quickly as real-world events started taking over.

I switched jobs in July last year, and the strict Internet policy at my new place of work restricts access to blogs and forums. Between that and driving to and from work, I was left with little T&E and an ever-growing backlog of stuff I wanted to write about.

And then I suffered the effects of acute dehydration at a rally race last October, which ended with a week-long stay at the hospital in December. It’s only last week that I finally caught up with my huge backlog of work.

I’m not sure what to do, there’s a lot I want to write about, but I doubt if I’ll be able to do it in a consistent way. And I don’t like that thought. I have lots of notes, but no time to fill in the gaps to make them complete. I’m trying to think of a workable plan to commit time to my writing, but in the meantime I guess these random spikes in the stats would have to do. Thanks for reading!

I came across this while looking for inspiration 🙂 : Growing Rich by Blogging is a High-Tech Fairy Tale

Also, someone sent me this, a scientifiic explanation of “enlightenment”:

OMG-WTF Spectrum

GUI, HCI, HFE, MMI

Interfaces, interfaces, interfaces. That’s what this section is all about. You may have access to the most powerful computer on Earth, but it is of little use if it doesn’t provide you an interface that lets you tell it what exactly you want it to do. In everyday life, we interact with many, many machines through user interfaces – not just computers and cellphones, but even alarm clocks, cars and microwave ovens.

User interfaces are as much of a psychology problem as a computer science problem, maybe even more.

I believe that user interfaces have an immense potential in the way we write computer programs. I’m talking about programs writing programs. We’ve come a long way since writing arcane commands on interpreter prompts but the more user-friendly programming interfaces become, the more people can translate their ideas into actions.

Finally, most computer interfaces today are 2-dimensional. In all probability, this is merely hereditary. Thinking “out of the box” requires a box, and boxes are 3-dimensional.

The following fields are closely interrelated:

  • GUI (Graphical User Interface)
  • HCI (Human-Computer Interaction, also referred to as CHI)
  • HFE (Human Factors Engineering)
  • MMI (Man-Machine Interface)

UPDATE: [2011-01-18] Rehashed this section and added:

Related:

References:

  • Handbook for Human Computer Interaction (2nd Edition), By Andrew Sears and Julie A. Jacko (CRC Press, 2007)

The Last Mile

This journal took much longer than it should have to get finished, but we have only one life, and opportunities have this bad habit of not sticking around for too long. Besides, I figured it wouldn’t make much difference to anybody’s life if I finished this later rather than sooner!

It took some effort carrying around all that I wanted to write in my head, but evidently my head is mostly empty and there was enough space to hold it all. So here it is, the last of the lot…