What I’ve been reading

I haven’t written a book review in a long time so I thought I’d just share what I’ve been reading lately.

  • Mark Coggins leads the technical evangelist team at Mozilla and as he’s someone I work with on a daily basis, I was curious about his books. I have to admit, I started with The Adventure of the Black Bishop because it was short but it was good enough to lead me to VULTURE CAPITAL which I enjoyed very much.
  • Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere by Will Richardson. While I really like my kids’ schools and teachers, I feel more and more like school isn’t the best way for all kids to learn. The focus is still very much on teacher directed learning, everyone learning the same thing and being able to recite it back. When that’s your alphabet and numbers, it feels very appropriate. When it’s US capitals or Canadian provinces, it doesn’t feel like the best way to learn that info. Will Richardson does a good job of explaining why and how schools could evolve but he doesn’t have the answer.
  • Fatal Exchange by Russell Blake. I’m an Amazon Prime member and so I can check out a book a month but I never see many of the “free” books that I’m interested in. This one was pretty good. It was a bit far fetched but complex enough, action packed enough and well written enough to be a good read. Gruesomely violent though.
  • Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic) series by Patricia Wrede. This is the wild west meets magic. It’s an alternate reality where magic animals (and magic wielding humans) exist and society is busy exploring the wild west of what we call the United States set in a technology age where trains and horses are used for transportation. The series was much more entertaining than I would have thought.
  • Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. I listened to this book. It’s been in my queue for a long time as something I “should” read. I was pleasantly surprised that it felt really relevant. I had a conversation with David Ascher shortly afterwards about changing the way things are done by creating a new group and I was pretty excited to tell him that Seth Godin agreed with him! I may need to buy the print version so I can take some good notes.

And then I’m working on these:

  • The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. Since my team is working on the long tail of apps for the Firefox Marketplace, I thought I should listen to the book about what the long tail really is. If I’m going to make it through it, I think I may have to buy the print edition. So far it’s been very focused on the economics of the supplier offering a long tail and I’m much more interested in the long tail from the individual creator’s point of view.
  • Escape Velocity by Geoffrey Moore. We’ve been using Geoffrey More’s Horizon model to describe projects at Mozilla. I’m finding it full of very thought provoking ideas. For example, “participating in low-power category, such as desktop computers, wire-line phone services, or e-mail, is an exercise in playing on the margins”. If you are in a low power category, life is just going to be hard. You need to create a new category if you want to deliver innovation. There’s even insights on staffing such as “organizations tend to leave the same people in place for the life of a line of business, which is often not good either for the business or the people”. And he goes on to talk about how different types of leaders and manager are required depending on the stage a project is in. More to come …

What do you recommend I read next?

How to check out free books on your Amazon Kindle

If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can check out one free book a month. However, Amazon doesn’t make it really easy for you to figure out which books are eligible to be checked out from the Owners’ Lending Library.

To see the list of books you can check out, search for “prime eligible” in Amazon Kindle Books.

If you find one you like, add it to your wishlist. Then on your Kindle, you can browse your wishlist and check it out.

Here’s a direct link to that search that you can use from your computer:

Amazon Prime Kindle Books

 

Book Review: Drive by Dan Pink

I really enjoyed Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink. I quote Dan Pink in just about every talk I give ever since I read his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

In Drive he talks about rewards as motivation and how they apply to the work place with some pretty startling results. It turns out that really big bonuses actually make us perform worse. People focus so much on the bonus that they get really nervous and do worse.

He also talks about the things that make us perform better like:

  • autonomy (self-direction and being engaged),
  • mastery (getting better at something) and
  • purpose.

He uses open source software projects of examples of how that works.

For an entertaining 10 minute version of the book check out this video:

(I wish I could do presentations like that. I am now working on that!)

Thanks to Barbara Hueppe for the pointer to the video. She passed it on as an excellent example of what motivates communities like Mozilla’s community.

Actually, a good book on fish

Did you know that not only are there entire books on fish, but there are entire books on single types of fish?

Much to my delight, my four year old sees the library as a treasure house of information. He’s not interested in the stories (although I push them every time), he just wants to head to the nonfiction section. Sometimes he has a topic in mind, but if not, we always end up looking at fish books.

This weekend, a book about sharks caught his eye, Sharks and Other Creatures of the Deep. As we read through it, I was really impressed at how much information they taught in a fun way. For example, they taught about ocean currents (and pollution) by talking about 29,000 rubber duckies that fell of a container ship in the Pacific and how they’ve been found from Hawaii to Greenland over time.

I think the best part of the book is the layout. It varies from page to page but really keeps little guys interested when they might not be able to follow whole pages of prose. (And even though I’d said I wasn’t going to read it right then, I found myself peering over his shoulder pointing things out.) And it’s not just about sharks … that was just the teaser.

(Last week the topic he was interested in was space, and with the librarians’ help, I managed to get my hands on a book I read over 25 years ago, The First Travel Guide to the Moon. That was fun.)

 

Random highlighting

The Kindle now lets you see what other readers have highlighted. I look forward to the day when I can filter this by what my friends have highlighted.

I find what people highlight in fiction books is baffling. For example, is this quote meaningful to you?

Jace didn’t take his eyes off Simon; there was an electric anger in his gaze, and a sort of challenge that made Simon long to hit him with something heavy. Like a pickup truck.

It was to many others. They highlighted it. Is it memorable because of the pickup truck? If not, why? If so, is that really the most memorable thing they’ve read today? If so, I have a few RSS feeds to recommend.

I love reading things my friends recommend through Twitter and Google Reader. Kindle highlights, which are not by friends but by everybody, have not been so interesting …

My new Audible books won’t load on my Android phone

Audible now has an Android app, yeah!

But recently, I couldn’t get my new books to show up on my phone. I followed all the steps in their support forums:

  1. Make sure you’re signed in with the right account.
  2. Refresh.
  3. Sign out, sign back in.
  4. Uninstall the app, reinstall.
  5. Uninstall, delete the AudibleActivation.sys file, reinstall.

Still nothing. I emailed support with everything I’d done and they told me to refresh.

So then I uninstalled, deleted the entire Audible directory from my SD card and reinstalled.

Now I can see my new books on my phone.

Just posted in case you are having the same problem. Hopefully Audible will also update their support forums.

How you can upgrade from a Kindle 2 to a Kindle 3 for less than $30

Kindle 2, Kindle 3 and iPad by andyi

Are you wondering if you should buy a Kindle 3 if you already have a Kindle 2? Or whether you should buy someone a Kindle 3 if they already have a Kindle 2?

The answer is yes. Not only is the Kindle 3 better than the Kindle 2 but you can also sell your used Kindle 2 on Ebay for about $160. Since a new Kindle 3G is only $189, that means you might upgrade your Kindle for less than $30!

5 other reasons to buy a Kindle 3 even if you already have a Kindle 2:

Comparing the screen quality of the Kindle 2 versus the Kindle 3 by OmegaPoint

  1. The picture is better.
  2. The pages turn faster. After using my Kindle 2 for so long, I’ve gotten used to hitting next page before I reach the end of the page because it takes a few seconds. The Kindle 3 turns pages much quicker.
  3. The battery lasts longer. My Kindle 2 battery lasts plenty long if I leave the wireless off. However, I like to keep my place synchronized on Amazon, so if I have a moment to read a few pages on my phone, it knows exactly where I left off on my Kindle.
  4. It’s smaller. It’s a bit smaller (half an inch in width and height) and lighter (1.5 ounces) but the screen is the same size.
  5. Someone else in the household can now have a Kindle with all the same books on it! (If you don’t sell it on eBay!)

Book Review: Food Rules

Food Rules by Michael Pollen is a good summary of many of his other books. It’s a set of 63 rules with a bit of explanation per rule. If you’ve never read any of his books, I’d probably recommend The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but if you’ve already read one or if you are just looking for a shorter read, Food Rules was good.

Some of the rules I liked were:

  • If you aren’t willing to eat an apple, you’re not hungry.
  • Eat no food whose ingredients you wouldn’t have at home.
  • Snacks should be unprocessed plant foods.

(Not that I am currently following any of these rules!)

I also liked these reminders:

  • Eat until not hungry, not until full.
  • Put your fork down between bites.
  • Use smaller plates and glasses.
  • Eat at the table, and only eat when you are eating.
  • Cook your own junk food. (How often would you eat french fries if you had to cook them?)

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual was an entertaining and thoughtful read. It didn’t feel worth buying to me because it was so short so I’d recommend checking it out of the library. I got my copy through Paperbackswap and have already sent it on to somebody else.

Book Review: Dragon Keepers & Dragon Haven

A couple of weeks ago I asked for recommendations for dragon books. Then I was flipping through my Kindle books (I download a lot of free ones from Amazon) and I saw Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb. Amazon gave it away for a while and I downloaded it and never read it. I read it and I loved it. So I went to buy the sequel. I was quite willing to pay $9.99 – it’s still in hardback – for it but when I discovered it was $15 for a digital version I decided I wasn’t buying it. I checked all the local libraries and ended up on the waitlist. Last Saturday I was up in Fort Collins to meet friends and I found a copy in the Fort Collins library. I made my 3 year old run upstairs with me to make sure we got to it before any one else snagged it. I have to say I enjoyed Dragon Haven as much as the first book.

I feel like there’s been a lack of really good new science fiction and fantasy books (that aren’t about vampires and werewolves) and Dragon Keeper & Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb was just what I was craving.

Why did I enjoy it?

  • It’s definitely a fantasy book. There are dragons and people genetically change by either the world or the dragons. A what if book.
  • There’s life on the river – and I’m always fascinated by people living on water.
  • It’s got lots of different societies and social classes and I’m fascinated by how classes and societies interact. Robin Hobb also does a good job creating societies affected by having to live in trees and suffering from lots of genetic birth defects.
  • While it’s a fantasy book, things seemed based on science. It seems like it could be life on another planet or genetically altered life.
  • The character development is pretty good. There are lots of interesting characters, some more developed than others. Some a bit more naive (too naive?) than others. But all interesting. And some tension and romance thrown in for good measure.
  • There’s lots of strong female characters. I enjoy reading books about women and science fiction and fantasy books with strong female characters are less common than those with strong male characters. I think it’s one of the reasons that many of my favorite science fiction authors are women. (I also enjoy books with strong male characters. But it reminds me of this post I saw today. 64% of girls and 100% of boys draw scientists as men.)
  • There’s adventure – they are on a quest!
  • There’s intrigue, sabotage and mystery.

So if you like fantasy books and books about dragons, I recommend Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven.

Books to read if you liked How to Train Your Dragon

Photo by wili_hybrid. Taken in Ljubljana, Slovenia. http://www.flickr.com/photos/wili/2628869994/

I watched How to Train Your Dragon yesterday and I really enjoyed it. I plan on reading the How to Train Your Dragon book series. I started thinking of all the dragon books I’ve read … and realized that while I know a few really good series, I know fewer than I thought. (I must be forgetting some …)

Here’s the ones I’d recommend. Which ones would you add that I could read?

  1. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. This is my favorite series. Pern is a world settled by humans who have lost technology and discovered dragons. I really liked the Mellony series which started with Dragonsong. A young girl runs away runs away from home and discovers little dragons and a whole horde adopt her.
  2. Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen. Another series about a boy, Jakkin, who is forced to work in the dragon pits where they train dragons to fight. He steals a dragon egg to train his own dragon.
  3. Eragon. Most people know of this one from the movie. Eragon, a farm boy, finds a dragon egg and ends up bonding with the dragon. When his family is killed, he goes to war as the last dragon rider. My nine year old read the whole series. I have to admit I only read the first one. It’s written in a some what Tolkien style with a lot of history and names.

Others that have been recommended to me:

  1. Dragon’s Milk by Susan Fletcher. This is about a girl who needs some dragon milk to save her sister’s life. She has to negotiate with the dragons.

What dragon books would you add to the list?