Thursday, November 26

Book Review: Managing Humans

Book Cover
Like many of the books I've read, Managing Humans is essentially a printed-out blog, and you can tell that pretty quickly by the terse, disjointed, and stream-of-consciousness hops from one chapter to the next. The first few chapters were rough enough to give me the impression (a) it was going to be painful to finish the book, and (b) I couldn't wait to rip it a new one when I reviewed it. However, it got better, so I'll have to save my ripping for another victim.

First, the bad. In the early chapters the author uses some hyperbolically fabricated scenarios involving over-the-top caricatures of personalities to assert that everybody you work with is an idiot and they can be categorized into these nice little buckets and since he's been doing this for so many years he knows all the angles and this is how it is and this is how you should deal with it. This preaching tone and one-sided view of things really left a bad taste in my mouth.

However, in later chapters the author seems to come back down to earth and realize there are other sides to every story and he speaks more in the tone of "this is how it happened in my particular situation and I think this was the best way to handle it." That sat a lot better with me. If I were a betting man, I would speculate that the early chapters, as blog posts, received some critical feedback and the author took it to heart in his future writings.

Having been around the block a few times, from the lowly sysadmin to the even lowlier CTO, I could relate to a lot of the author's parables and anecdotes. In some cases he's spot on and offers great advice, but in others he's rather short-sighted and preachy.

In summary I would recommend the book because it's always good to see your industry through somebody else's eyes, with the caveat that it's a bumpy road in the beginning, and expect that you'll be reading a blog on paper as opposed to a smooth-flowing book.

Wednesday, November 11

Book Review: Crush It!

Book Cover
I've never read a motivational self-help book, but I imagine this is what they are like. Gary compresses a lot of good content into a very small book, but there's a plethora of cheerleading. His core message can be boiled down to work really hard (crush it) and be honest with yourself and others (your DNA).

The chapters are peppered with humorous and inspiring anecdotes from Gary's childhood, which at times seem contradictory. For example, an early chapter tells of Gary's nearly poor and starving family splurging on two Star Wars action figures for his Christmas present, followed a couple chapters later by his father giving him $1,000 to set up a booth at a baseball card convention.

Gary tells a good story, and he has some great advice on leveraging Internet trends, especially the social networking aspect, to "build your brand." He's also adamant about breaking the mold, chasing after advertisers directly rather than hiding behind facades like Google's AdSense; go straight to the money source and cut out the middle man. I hear Gary speak at half of the conventions I attend (even had lunch with him at the last one) and I like him and his message. If you haven't seen him, head over to Google and find a couple of his videos. His Wine Library TV shows are great, but his keynotes are awe inspiring, especially FOWA Miami from a couple years back.

Unfortunately this book, like so many success stories I've read recently, subscribes to the theory of "this worked for me, so it's gotta work for you, right?" Gary says you should be working all the time, "until your eyes bleed," yet the jacket sports a quote from his bud Tim Ferris who only works four hours a week. Likewise Gary makes an off-the-cuff comment about real entrepreneurs not spending their time playing poker with their buds, an apparent jab at bazillionaire Jason Calacanis who seems addicted to the game.

Despite the sometimes seemingly-mixed messages, I do recommend this book because it's short and to the point and full of great advice. My only caveat is we can all learn from his experiences, but we can't all be Gary V.; there are many ways to succeed and Gary's isn't the only one.

Sunday, September 20

Book Review: Free

Book Cover
I downloaded Free on my Kindle because, well, it was free. I hadn't heard of the author before, nor any of his prior books, but I saw a promotional message somewhere - I don't even recall where - noting that Amazon was letting you download the book for free, so I did. And, I read it. And, it's good.

What's it all about? Well as the title might have hinted, it's about giving things away for free, and how that's a viable business. Sure, it's a little more complicated in that, but the book does a good job of explaining how Google gives away all it's services for free but still makes a metric butt-load of money, how companies like PosgreSQL give their database away for free and charge for premium reliable on-call support, how free is killing some industries (recording industry, newspapers) but uplifting others (iTunes, Craig's List).

I'm jotting down this review from a slightly stale memory, so I'm only scratching the surface of the topics covered. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy - a free one if you can find it, of course. I'll be considering the author's other books for my reading list now, which is yet another way free can make you (or him in this case) money.

Tuesday, August 25


If you've read the book Predictably Irrational about the irrational decisions we humans make when it comes to buying stuff, CA$HVERTISING will show you how to exploit those quirks to maximize your profit. I hate to make a cliche analogy (which I think I've used in a prior review) but it's really like The Art of War for advertising; it's a hundred or more little bite-sized chunks of tips and techniques for getting prospective customers to notice your ad, read it, and act on it. The author supports each nugget of wisdom with a plethora of studies and statistics. And, at the back of the book, it's all summed up in a nice concise checklist for your next propaganda endeavor. Even if you're not an advertiser or promoter (like me) it's worth a read just to open your eyes to the tricks and techniques being used to lure you into parting with your hard-earned money.

Tuesday, July 28

We value your money, not your satisfaction.

Warning, this is not a tech article. Today I'm going to rant about [stupid] business owners.

The backstory: A couple years ago, there was a quaint little mom-and-pop coffee shop near my office where I liked to spend my lunch breaks. I'd bring my bagged lunch, order a large coffee, enjoy the half-hour escape from my work day, and be on my way. It was such a pleasant experience that one day I decided to invite a few coworkers; four of them in fact. As we walked in the front door, the owner comes over and informs me that I'm no longer welcome to eat my bagged lunches there; in the future I must purchase and consume their food. She says this to me as I'm bringing four new customers into her business! Do you think I ever went back after that day? Nope.

Flash forward to today. I work from home now, and decided to break up the routine and try working the morning at another coffee shop, not quite a mom-and-pop, but a small local chain. I like this particular shop because it's right next to a bagel joint. I can pick up a piping-hot double-toasted eight-grain bagel with hummus, then step next door and order a big ole coffee to wash it down. That was the plan, but after I purchased my bagel and walked over to the coffee shop, I noticed a new sign on the front door. In big bold letters it read, "DEAR VALUED CUSTOMERS, NO OUTSIDE FOOD!" I walked right on by.

On the drive home I got to thinking exactly what is "valued" in that statement? Obviously it's not the satisfaction of the customers that enjoy a bagel and coffee in the morning. The only thing being valued there is taking money from customers that don't eat bagels, because all the rest were just alienated and driven away.

It pains me to say this, but I've taken bagged lunches from neighboring restaurants into several different Starbucks on hundreds of occasions and never once been harassed, and that's why the next time I have a craving for a tomato, mozzarella, and pesto sandwich with an iced latte, they'll be getting my business.