52 Books a Year: #6 - Electronics For Dummies

Posted by Brian Wed, 07 Oct 2009 23:17:00 GMT

Electronics For Dummies
By Gordon McComb and Earl Boysen


It’s a Dummies book, written in the usual Dummies style, with all of the usual pros and cons that go with it. Not much more needs to be said. I was interested in learning some basic electronics so I picked this up and gave it a quick read. If you just want a basic understanding of the components you will use in simple electronics projects and how those components are used then this is an adequate introduction.

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52 Books a Year: #5 - All Marketers Are Liars

Posted by Brian Tue, 25 Aug 2009 01:31:00 GMT

All Marketers Are Liars
By Seth Godin


The title of All Marketers Are Liars is designed to be inflammatory, but nobody would buy a book called All Marketers Tell Stories. Godin explains that in today’s world most consumers have their needs completely met. Instead of trying to convince people that they need something, you need to associate some sort of story or narrative to your product that makes the consumer feel good when buying it. This requires much more targeted marketing than in the past.

Godin highlights the the difference between little white lies that help to tell a story around a product, and harmful lies that hurt society. For example, Nestle in the 1970’s advertised in Africa that formula was better for babies than breastfeeding and gave away samples of their product. This led to the death of countless children when the samples ran out and the family could not afford to buy more. This ties in to his belief of the necessity of integrity in marketing, a point that I whole-heartedly agree with. This integrity needs to extend to the story you are telling and your effort at making it authentic as well. If the company is not striving to bring the story to fruition in every way possible the consumer will feel cheated and leave. He uses the example of Cold Stone Creamery, which sells ice cream at a premium price in return for a fun customer experience. One way this is done is by having the employees break into song, but at many stores it is obvious that the employees have been ordered to sing. It sounds like a forced funeral dirge and the story becomes inauthentic. This obviously does not harm society like Nestle, but it does harm the company’s image.

This is the only book on marketing I have ever read so chances are good that Godin is standing on the shoulders of giants in many cases, but he does pull everything together into a very readable, informative and entertaining book. It is a quick read and highly recommended.

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52 Books a Year: #4 - The Gridlock Economy

Posted by Brian Sun, 26 Jul 2009 19:51:00 GMT

The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives
By Michael Heller


The tragedy of the commons is a commonly used rationale for more private ownership. The Gridlock Economy focuses on what happens when ownership is split up between too many parties, what Michael Heller refers to as a “tragedy of the anti-commons”. In this scenario a resource is split up between so many owners that nobody can capitalize on it.

The book begins by describing the continuum from tragedy of the commons to anti-commons and conjectures about the existence of an optimum at some point between them. From here, most of the book goes through various examples. For example, in pharmaceuticals many companies are patenting various genes. When a new drug is being developed it may require licensing many of these patents, but each patent owner holds out for as much money as possible, causing gridlock. The most pertinent example to today’s economy was how the large numbers of owners of various parts of a securitzed mortgage make reworking the loan very difficult. It is hard to contact all of the owners, let alone getting them to agree on anything.

Overall, The Gridlock Economy is a highly recommended read. The writing style was clear and concise and the message of balancing public and excessive private ownership is one that needs more thought in today’s economy.

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52 Books a Year: #3 - The Black Swan

Posted by Brian Fri, 03 Jul 2009 16:42:00 GMT

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
By Nassim Nicholas Taleb


I won’t dig into the details of Taleb’s argument in this review. If you want to investigate those details it won’t take you too long on Google, as this book has sparked a fairly large amount of discussion, some of it quite heated. His basic argument is that the gaussian models used to predict risk in financial markets are applied inappropriately to non-gaussian events. Risk is not a bell curve, but the convenience of pretending that it is has encouraged financial institutions to expose themselves to far more risk than they think. The delicious part of this is that the book was released in April 2007. Needless to say, Mr. Taleb has received quite a bit of attention since the financial markets imploded after the housing bubble. And yes, he did make a large sum of money in the crash by applying his methods.

I enjoyed the writing style, but it will off-putting for many. Taleb is aggressive in articulating his low opinion of most individuals in the financial system (as well as the French for some reason that is never explained). He also introduced me to two concepts that amused me greatly: “fuck you money” and the anti-resume. “Fuck you money” is a large some of money that allows you to maintain your desired lifestyle without employment or assistance. Basically, you can quit your job or turn down insulting offers with a big Fuck You with no worries about how it will affect your financial well-being. An anti-resume is simply a resume that states what you cannot or will not do. I’m considering using one when I search for my next job.

Overall, this book is definitely worth reading. You may not agree with what Taleb has to say or how he says it, but it will at least get you to think about it.

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52 Books a Year: #2 - Rapture For the Geeks

Posted by Brian Sat, 27 Jun 2009 02:02:00 GMT

Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ
By Richard Dooling


I picked this up on an impulse at the library while walking past the new arrivals display shelves. The title and cover called out for me to read it, even though I had no idea who Richard Dooling was. Unfortunately I listened and gave it a read. This review will be brief because absolutely nothing stood out about this book. Just go read something by Ray Kurzweil or Bill Joy if you wish to learn about the possibility for the technological singularity and role of humanity in such a future. The end of the book attempts to pull everything together into some view of the singularity as a religious phenomenon, but it never comes together into a coherent whole. The rest of the book is just a mediocre rehashing of the work of others. All in all, I’ve read twenty books so far this year and this at the bottom of the list.

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52 Books a Year: #1 - Ubuntu Hacks

Posted by Brian Sat, 20 Jun 2009 03:30:00 GMT

Ubuntu Hacks
By Kyle Rankin, Jonathan Oxer, Bill Childers

Ubuntu has an aggressive release schedule of every six months. This makes publishing up-to-date books very difficult for publishers, as Ubuntu Hacks shows. Even though it was released in June 2006 it is already very out of date, covering 6.06 (Dapper Drake), while the current release is 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope). A lot has changed in the Ubuntu since then, but with those considerations in mind Ubuntu Hacks is at least worth a flip through the TOC.

As with the other books in the O’Reilly Hacks Series, Ubuntu Hacks is not designed to be read cover-to-cover. Instead it walks you through accomplishing specific tasks, such as dual-booting Ubuntu and Windows or ripping DVDs. While these tasks are now dated in the details, they still provide a nice starting point and can give you fresh ideas on things to try. For example, it had never even occurred to me to create my own Ubuntu package, but I was able to see how straight forward the process is.

Overall, the book could badly use another edition, but it is still worth flipping through at the bookstore or library to see if anything jumps out at you. With the breadth of subjects covered the chances are good that there are at least of couple hacks that will rouse your interest.

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