fighting the lack of good ideas

google apps: the missing manual by nancy conner

Google Apps: The Missing Manual by Nancy Conner was a great book. In 2008.

Today? Not nearly so much. So much has changed in the Google landscape in the last few years (or even months) that, sadly, much of the content is now quaint, or just out-and-out wrong.

It’s too bad – because the book is very well written. It’s accessible to a variety of audiences, and one I would love to recommend to anyone interested in, or currently using, Google products.

However, with the passing of Gears and the free edition of Apps, this text is not nearly so helpful anymore – at least to me.

And with the constant stream of updates to the online apps coming from Google, it’s not going to be much better than a primer for anyone else.

Maybe Ms Conner will do an update – I hope so, because I bet it’d be a great resource [again]. But if Google continues to change direction and policy as they have so far, it would likely again be out-of-date too quickly.

Printed books about technology are fantastic – when they cover something static like Microsoft Office 2010 or compiler design or data structures and algorithms. For web sites and apps? Not so much.

mastery by robert greene

In Mastery, Robert Greene continues in the style of his excellent work, The 48 Laws of Power (which I previously reviewed and have been posting excerpts from).

Sadly, it is not quite to the level of The 48 Laws – though it still a good book. Unbeknownst to me, I’ve already been practicing most of what he preaches, starting with finding your niche. Oh, and following an apprenticeship path. And staying creative; and widening your horizons.

This is also, more or less, the path modeled by one of my previous employers, the Shodor Education Foundation through their Apprentice, Intern, and “Post-Bac” Staff programs (they have higher than “Post-Bac” staff, too – but that’s more in the “Master” level than getting to it).

I was hoping for something … well, maybe not “new” – but insightful-and-not-common-elsewhere. Perhaps I’m merely well-read already, but Mr Greene comes to roughly the same conclusion as Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers – 10,000 hours of concerted effort in learning, practicing, and presenting a given topic/field will tend to push you into the “Master” realm (review).

Through a series of case studies and repeated biographical highlights through the last ~300 years, the point is shown that while there are a few workable paths to Mastery – they’re all traversable by anyone who cares to take the time and effort to do so.

Timothy Ferriss’ series of “4 Hour” books (4-Hour Body, 4-Hour Workweek, & 4-Hour Chef) all showcase these exact traits, as well. While presented as “shortcuts for the rest of us”, if read without skimming, instead show that it is only through intense focus and hard work that you can arrive at the “4-Hour” destination.

Is Mastery a worthwhile read? Probably for most people.

Is it worth owning? Doubtful.

Grab a copy from your library (like I did) and read it. Reread it. Blog about it. Tweet it. Skim it. Then return it.

always say less than necessary – law 4 – #48laws by robert greene

Law 4

When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original it you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish. –Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power (review)

Proverbs 17:28

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.

deploying openstack by ken pepple

Where do I begin?

How about with this being perhaps the most overpriced tech book I have ever seen. At just under 70 pages, and a penny shy of $25, Deploying OpenStack by Ken Pepple exceeds the cost per page numbers I can remember from college. Wow.

Thankfully, I did NOT pay for this book – I was able to borrow it from my local library. I do feel sad, though, that anyone paid for this.

There are a couple nice diagrams wedged in the pages, but this is worse than a documentation dump from the various OpenStack sites. This is a sad example of an O’Reilly book – one I would never have dared think would have made it past their editor board, let alone be published for such an outrageous price.

There are also several amusing typos – including claiming that the test server he used for one deployment had a 1.4 Mhz CPU: Athlons were never measured below 600 Mhz that I can recall, and certainly the dual-core system he talked about should have been in Ghz.

At best, this is a published, overly-long blog post. At worst, it’s a pointless display of the hype surrounding “Cloud” – instead of giving lots of useful information, it’s stuck at the bare basics of the process, and frozen in time from more than a year ago! Given the rate of change in toolsets like this, there needs to not only be a lot more content in any printed work related to the technology, but also a planned cycle of releasing new editions – likely on the order of every year (or more) … especially in the early stages of a project/product.

Do yourself a HUGE favor: skip this book, and read the online documentation instead. You’ll be very glad you did.

conceal your intentions – law 3 – #48laws by robert greene

Law 3

Keep people off-balance and in the dark by never revealing the purpose behind your actions. If they have no clue what you are up to, they cannot prepare a defense. Guide them far enough down the wrong path, envelop them in enough smoke, and by the time they realize your intentions, it will be too late. –Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power (review)

intelligence and espionage – chapter 13 – the art of war

The Art of War

Chapter 13

Intelligence and Espionage

Generally, raising an army of 100,000 and advancing it 1000 li, the expenses to the people and the nation’s resources are 1000 gold pieces a day.

Those in commotion internally and externally, those exhausted on the roads, and those unable to do their daily work are 700,000 families.

Two sides remain in standoff for several years in order to do battle for a decisive victory on a single day. Yet one refusing to outlay 100 pieces of gold and thereby does not know the enemy’s situation is the height of inhumanity. This one is not the general of the people, a help to the ruler, or the master of victory.

What enables the enlightened rulers and good generals to conquer the enemy at every move and achieve extraordinary success is foreknowledge. Foreknowledge cannot be elicited from ghosts and spirits; it cannot be inferred from comparison of previous events, or from the calculations of the heavens, but must be obtained from people who have knowledge of the enemy’s situation.

Therefore there are five kinds of spies used:
  • Local spies
  • Internal spies
  • Double spies
  • Dead spies
  • Living spies.

When all five are used, and no one knows their Way, it is called the divine organization, and is the ruler’s treasure.

  • For local spies, we use the enemy’s people.
  • For internal spies we use the enemy’s officials.
  • For double spies we use the enemy’s spies.
  • For dead spies we use agents to spread misinformation to the enemy.
  • For living spies, we use agents to return with reports.

Therefore, of those close to the army, none is closer than spies, no reward more generously given, and no matter in greater secrecy. Only the wisest ruler can use spies; only the most benevolent and upright general can use spies, and only the most alert and observant person can get the truth using spies.

It is subtle, subtle! There is nowhere that spies cannot be used. If a spy’s activities are leaked before they are to begin, the spy and those who know should be put to death.

Generally, if you want to attack an army, besiege a walled city, assassinate individuals, you must know the identities of the defending generals, assistants, associates, gate guards, and officers. You must have spies seek and learn them. You must seek enemy spies. Bribe them, and instruct and retain them.

Therefore, double spies can be obtained and used. From their knowledge, you can obtain local and internal spies. From their knowledge, the dead spies can spread misinformation to the enemy. From their knowledge, our living spies can be used as planned. The ruler must know these five kinds of espionage.

This knowledge depends on the double spies. Therefore, you must treat them with the utmost generosity. In ancient times, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I Chih, who served the house of Hsia; the rise of the Chou dynasty was due to Lu Ya, who served the house of Yin.

Therefore, enlightened rulers and good generals who are able to obtain intelligent agents as spies are certain for great achievements.

This is essential for warfare, and what the army depends on to move.

(main review)

the basque history of the world by mark kurlansky

I have long been interested in the Basque people; first introduced to them nearly 13 years ago in an introduction to terrorism class (a year and a half before it was “cool”) with the separatist group ETA.

So it was with great interest I grabbed The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky off the shelf of my local library recently.

Before continuing: wow – Mark’s writing is intensely engaging, wide-sweeping, and both in-line with some of my previous knowledge of the group, and builds and extends that view in new, exciting ways.

Kurlansky has had the opportunity to live in and among the Basque people for years, and brings a great deal of insight from interviews, papers, books, histories, etc that showcase the “Basqueness” of the people in eastern France and northern Spain – aka Basqueland – in contrast to the “Spanishness” of what we think of as modern Spain (and, to a lesser extent, the “Frenchness” of France). For example, it was the Basques who trained the English in whaling, built much of the armada which was damaged so severely in 1588. Basques also largely crewed the exploratory vessels of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan (indeed, the commander who brought Magellan’s mission to a completion after his death was a Basque).

For centuries, Basques have been stereotyped as reclusive, secret-keeping, quiet people. They have been known as smugglers across the France-Spain border, rural, and a nation of people who has never had their own country. For millenia they have lived in the same region of Europe – creating some of what has been frequently credited to others in modern industry: in addition to the aforementioned whaling activities, they also contributed to new steel industry by providing ideal iron ore both to their own factories and to the British blast furnaces in the 1800s which utilized the Bessemer process.

So many anecdotes, triva points, and fascinating facts and stories of the Basque people, region, and history are wrapped in The Basque History of the World, that to do true justice would require reading the book.

Interspersed through the pages are recipes for traditional Basque foods, terms, words, and phrases; having never visited that portion of the world in person, I feel like I have gotten a true taste of the people through this book.