Freedom (TM) is Daniel Suarez’s followup to one of my favorite books of 2009 – Daemon. Required reading for last year’s Hackers B and B, Daemon is a geek friendly book that includes a main character using a perfectly realistic SQL attack to hack into a computer (there’s no “this is UNIX” moment from Jurassic Park here.) Suarez is to geek what Tom Clancy is to military: dead on details abound. I tore through Daemon and I hotly awaited the conclusion of his epic tale. I was not disappointed.
The Daemon is the creation of an ultra rich (mad?) genius game designer Matthew Sobol. When Sobol dies of brain cancer, he unleashes his program on the world where it reeks havoc. Throughout his first book, we’re lead to believe the Daemon is ultimately an evil creation but Freedom(TM) shows us the other side of Sobol’s work. Indeed, we find a new world order emerging as darknet members (people who’ve joined with the Daemon) form new communities committed to sustainability (it’s easy to see where Suarez was influenced by Omnivore’s Dilemma.) Of course the old guard fights back as it sees its power and influence begin to wane…
I don’t want to say too much and ruin anything, but if you’re a geek, a gamer, a programmer or just someone that likes a fast paced action filled book, well then Freedom(TM) is your cup of tea. Some may be put off by the heavy handed political commentary but I wouldn’t let that stop you from giving it a go. I hope this isn’t the last book from Suarez though he’s set the bar awfully high.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals has been on my reading list for quite some time now and over the holidays I finally got around to ordering it – as my first foray into the world of the Kindle. Yes, my dad came through in a big way and allowed me to join the likes of Neal Ford, Stu Halloway and Scott Davis…but back to Pollan’s book. Omnivore’s Dilemma starts with a simple question: where does our food come from? Pollan follows a humble hamburger back to the corn fields of Iowa and ultimately the oil fields of the Middle East showing us how the lack of diversity on the modern farm isn’t doing the farmers, the environment or our midsections any favors. No, it seems modern agriculture is designed to benefit large multinational corporations more than anything else. Shocking. Some will shun meat after reading about its processing but me, well I like a good burger. However, we’ll be picking up some grass fed beef from Thousand Hills shortly…
Part two explores the organic movement from the amazing synergy of a true farm ecosystem consisting of cows, chickens, pigs and grass working together in concert to the, shall we say, less noble minded large scale operations that see a market to tap. We consume a fair amount of organic food but there’s no comparison to what we get all summer long from our local CSA, Foxtail Farm. Thanks to Pollan, I’m more skeptical of the organic label though I still think its ultimately for the better and I’m even more convinced that supporting local growers is an important step – we get better food that’s produced in a more sustainable way.
The last part of Omnivore’s Dilemma looks at hunting and gathering with Pollan crafting an entire meal that he scavenged. He creates an amazing meal that reminds us that food isn’t just about shoveling sustenance into our maws – it’s about connecting with those we love. And it really is stunning what you can find if you know where to look though I won’t be hunting mushrooms anytime soon…
Omnivore’s Dilemma isn’t a new book but it’s still relevant and will definitely change how you approach food. I have a different mindset at the grocery store now and I try to follow Pollan’s advice on diet: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Whether you do all your shopping at Whole Foods or the quickie stop, arm yourself with Pollan’s teaching; you’ll eat better and ultimately you’ll feel better.
Updated to add cover image:
It’s a new year and one of my resolutions is to post more – and to write up my thoughts on the books I read throughout the year. Looking at my Recent Reads page, it’s obvious I’ve let that lag a bit… With that in mind here is the first of what I hope is a relatively steady stream of reviews.
Based on effusive praise from Kathy Sierra, I picked up Cliff “Beyond Bullet Points” Atkinson’s latest book, The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever. Atkinson‘s book is an exploration of how social media sites like Twitter are changing the landscape of public speaking and while I wasn’t quite as blown away as Kathy was, there certainly are some good points to be found in this quick read. I’ll start with the positive and then finish up with my criticisms.
I can understand why Kathy is so fond of this book – throughout, Atkinson reminds speakers of a vitally important lesson: it’s about your audience stupid. Too many speakers epitomize the “me me me” approach of presenting and that’s a recipe for failure. Though I find the “four tweet” model bit minimal (especially for longer talks), it is a useful exercise that I’ll be incorporating into my talk prep. Again, the notion here is to focus on your audience and really think about the key ideas you’re trying to communicate. I also like thinking about Twitter sized bites – making your talk “Twitter friendly” is valuable advice.
The concept of a presentation home page is rock solid and I think I’ll play with that as well; starting (and fostering) conversation should be the goal of a modern talk. Considering the wealth of ways people can consume information today, live presentations need to offer something compelling to capture an audience. Turning a talk into one leg of a more immersive experience is a worth exploring.
While there certainly were some strong points in The Backchannel, I felt it took too long to get to the key points which is ironic considering Atkinson’s repeated advice to do so in a presentation. I suspect there was an effort to inflate the page count a bit – the first half of the book could be condensed quite a bit. Case in point, I was surprised to see a chapter that was devoted almost entirely to setting up a Twitter account. A number of the graphics did little to add to the material, in many cases, they stated exactly what was already on the page. It also felt like the book was written on Twitter – so many of the sentences and paragraphs seemed to adhere to a 140 character limit.
Atkinson has a great list of ways the backchannel can blow up but not nearly enough advice on just how to recover when faced with those situations in real life. I understand he wants us speakers to *think* about how we’d handle that situation (and that’s great advice) but I was hoping for more of his thoughts here; I wanted more hard won experience from people who’ve lived to tell the tale. The backchannel blowup case studies were useful but again, I wanted more “here’s what they should have done…”
Though a bit light on content, the last couple of chapters make this book worth reading. Atkinson reminds us to focus on our audience and our message and he has some practical advice for dealing with the realities of modern presentations. Just as we can’t turn back the clock to when bullet point laden talks were the norm, we can’t put the Twitter genie back in the bottle. But we can do a better job of engaging and leveraging these tools to make more compelling presentations.