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Freedom(TM)

January 31st, 2010 37 comments

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‚Äôs 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.
Freedom (TM)

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Omnivore’s Dilemma

January 22nd, 2010 69 comments

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:
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

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The Backchannel

January 3rd, 2010 8 comments

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.

The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever

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Release It

December 20th, 2007 2 comments

Congrats to local tech guru Michael Nygard – his book Release It! has been named a Jolt Finalist. Way to go Mike! In case you haven’t noticed, Pragmatic Bookshelf has some awfully good titles…

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No Fluff Just Stuff Anthology 2007

March 17th, 2007 2 comments

NFJS Anthology Cover

I’m a huge fan of the No Fluff Just Stuff tour (yeah, I know – I could be seen as “biased”) and I’ve wholeheartedly recommended it to many, many people over the years. For those of you who have (inexplicably) ignored my advice, you can get a flavor of what a typical symposium is like by reading the latest and greatest No Fluff Just Stuff Anthology, Volume II. That’s right, for a low low price, you can have your very own copy of what will, I’m sure, be lauded as one of *the* great works of the 21st century (to point, the chapter on usability is top notch!) But don’t just take my word for it, see what Neal “let’s-see-how-many-books-I-can-write-in-one-year” Ford (otherwise known as the cat wrangler of the anthology) has to say here. You can order your very own copy from the Prags or Amazon (don’t forget, Anthologies make *great* gifts). Enjoy!

Congrats PaD!

January 28th, 2007 No comments

I want to extend a heartfelt congratulations to Venkat Subramaniam and Andy Hunt on Practices of an Agile Developer being named a 2007 Jolt Product Excellence Finalist! I was lucky enough to get an early look at PaD and I can’t recommend it enough. In case you missed it, Pragmatic Bookshelf has been on quite a run of late – Chad Fowler‘s Rails Recipes was also named a finalist and this will mark the third year in a row that a Prag book as made the list (they’ve won two for the record). Anyway, a big W00T to Venkat, Andy, and Chad!!

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ZeroLogik Podcast

October 9th, 2006 No comments

Ryan and I were delighted to chat with the lads from ZeroLogik late last week and the results have been posted. As you might guess, we discussed Pro Ajax and Java Frameworks along with a plethora of current events. If you want a sense of how glamorous writing is, you’ll want to give this a listen ;) Despite some technical glitches (our call dropped a couple of times) a good time was had by all! Thanks again to ZeroLogik for having us on and before you crank it up, please keep in mind they carry the explicit tag…

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Ajax Books

July 30th, 2006 No comments

By now, it should be obvious that there are quite a few books out there on Ajax…and it seems like new one’s are published every day! In case you were curious, Michael Mahemoff (author of Ajax Design Patterns and proprietor of AjaxPatterns.org) has added a list of books to his popular site. Enjoy!

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Pro Ajax and Java Frameworks

July 15th, 2006 2 comments

Ryan and I are proud to announce our second collaboration, Pro Ajax and Java Frameworks! We just got our author copies so I expect it will be available shortly from the major retailers. This book largely picks up where Foundations ends: after a general Ajax overview, we cover some common tools (including my new favorite Firebug) then we discuss a number of frameworks (Dojo, Prototype, script.aculo.us, DWR, etc). Once we’ve covered the client side goodness, we walk readers through integrating Ajax into common Java frameworks including Struts, JSF, Tapestry, and Spring.

We’ve been thrilled with how well received Foundations has been and we hope people learn as much from reading Pro Ajax as we did writing it!

Pro Ajax and Java Frameworks

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FoA Bits and Pieces

June 29th, 2006 No comments

Ryan and I had a rather interesting package waiting for us yesterday – a translated copy of Foundations of Ajax (I think Korean, but we’re not really sure). I dig the new cover and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty cool to see our book in a different language!

Here are a couple of pix:

Foundations Translation Front Cover

Foundations Translation Back Cover

There’s also a new review on Javalobby. I would like to say that at least a few of the examples run without a Servlet container ;) and given this particular site’s audience, I’m betting people will be just fine. We certainly could have delved into patterns a bit more and I would direct people to Christian Gross’ Ajax Patterns and Best Practices and Michael Mahemoff‘s Ajax Design Patterns (also check out his excellent Ajax Patterns web site).

All in all, a pretty positive review. As I’ve mentioned before, given more time, we would have written some examples in some other server side languages. I was happy to hear that the book has helped the reviewer (Schalk Neethling) and thanks for noticing the tools chapters – lots of people seem to miss those somehow!

By the way, that *was* Ryan on Future Tense a while back talking about Ajax…

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