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39 posts from May 2007

Books vs. Book Summaries

BooksJohn Moore offers up his thoughts in a post entitled "Business Book Liposuction" on his Brand Autopsy blog.  I've also mentioned before that I'm a big fan of the getAbstract service and how effective it is; I've probably read at least a dozen or so book summaries from getAbstract and still feel theirs is the best summary service around.

But I'd also be the first to admit that a summary service isn't the best solution for all types of books.  Will it work for some of the classics?  It depends on what your goal.  If you're looking to understand the essence of the story so that you can be "cocktail party smart", yes, you'll probably get what you need from a summary.  On the other hand, if you really want to see the finer details of the book and have an appreciation for how the author uses words to tell the story and create visuals, you're better off reading the original work.

I used to think this only applied to novels and other, dare I say, non-serious books.  For example, every business book could easily be compressed into a summary.  While I still believe that's true, I can think of one author in particular where the summary doesn't do the book justice: Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

I read Taleb's Fooled By Randomness late last year and reviewed it here.  Great book.  He was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book, The Black Swan.  As I started to read The Black Swan I noticed that getAbstract offered a summary of it. I read the summary last weekend, and although I'm sure it was both accurate and thorough, I didn't have the same sense of satisfaction I had when I finished reading Taleb's original work. That's when I realized that I truly enjoy all the little stories and side-bars he tends to fill his books with -- those elements simply cannot be recreated effectively in a summary, period.

So while I still love the getAbstract service, I've learned that there are occasions where it's still more enjoyable to read the book itself.  In the business book world, these cases will be few and far between for me, but it's important to note that they do exist!

P.S. -- I'll continue reading The Black Swan and will post a review shortly...

Are You Watching This?

TvDoes anyone remember that TV/online hybrid opportunity I was lobbying for last fallI figured ESPN would launch something like this, but like just about any other innovation, it's up to the little guy to figure it out.  The little guy I'm referring to in this case is a website I just discovered called

It's not the complete solution I was looking for, but it's an interesting start.  The free service alerts you to games of interest and lets you join a discussion forum for the game you're watching.  I'd still like to see them add some of the functionality I had in my original post, including more customization with access to live stats and video, especially for replays.  Yes, I know this opens up an enormous can of worms of rights issues, but what a great service it could be!  Also, private forums where it's just you and your friends arguing about the big game...that's a key feature they need to add, and should be able to charge for!

Sprint's Ambassador Program Rocks

SprintAfter almost 2 months of free Ambassador service from Sprint I have to admit that I'm hooked.  I'm dreading that day in September when Sprint ends my 6-month trial.

What's so great about it?:

The phone -- I love the form factor of the M610 they sent me.  It's small enough to slip into any size pocket and not too small so that it's easily lost.  It's also loaded with features.

The music -- I've been an XM subscriber for about a year now and figured I wouldn't get much use out of the Sirius service in this phone.  Wrong.  Not only do I use it almost as much as my XM device, it's much more reliable and portable than the XM player.  Yes, the channel selection is limited and yes, there are still the occasional skips as the signal synchs, but it's still a great part of the overall service.

The GPS -- I've never had a cellphone with GPS built into it before but boy is it handy!  The updates as you're driving probably aren't as precise as a dedicated GPS device, but it's definitely "good enough" (and then some) to help you find your way.

The camera -- Yeah, it's only a 2-megapixel camera, but it's not so much the quality of the photos as the rapid uploading and e-mail capabilities of the network that get my attention.  I've used the camera on a couple of trips now and e-mailing the pictures is not only easy but extremely fast.

Finally, there's the overall service.  I've tested this in Indiana, New York, New Jersey and Florida.  The results: great signal strength and very clear audio.

It really makes me wish I wasn't already signed up for another year or two for my family's cellphone plan at Cingular...  (Btw, Cingular has been an excellent carrier for my family over the last 3 years, and much, much better than the experience I had with Verizon!)

Oh Rats!: KFC's Consumer Video Plan

Rat_2At first I thought it was a joke...surely this story in USAToday about KFC using customer videos in an upcoming advertising campaign must be a very late April Fool's Day joke.

I'm a big proponent of customer content and advertising ideas like this, but doesn't it seem way to soon after the whole "rats in KFC/Taco Bell" issue that was all over the news (and remains alive and well on YouTube!)?

The whole rat fiasco was the first thing I thought of when I read this story.  Maybe KFC's advertising agency ought to reconsider the timing on this...

Dreaming In Code, by Scott Rosenberg

Dreaming_in_code_2 It's easy to see why Dreaming in Code has been such a hit. I just finished reading it and found it to be an extremely well written insider's look at a software development project.  Even if you're not that interested in the story behind the still unreleased Outlook killer, otherwise known as "Chandler", you'll find this to be a great overview of why the whole application/system development process can be so darned complicated.  In fact, you might find yourself wondering how any development team ever manages to get any product out the door!

Dreaming in Code is the story behind Mitch Kapor's latest dream of inventing a much better contact management tool than the world has ever seen before.  You can keep up with the team's progress via their website and blog, but if you're really curious and want to know the full history, you need to read the book as well.  There's also a companion website for the book at; it's full of great resources and an excellent example of how all book websites should be built.

Scott Rosenberg does a fantastic job of explaining the challenges, dilemmas, decisions and everything else that trips up most software development projects.  It took me back to my days, long ago, as a programmer writing code for point-of-sale systems at NCR in the 1980's.  It's funny (or maybe not so funny) how most of the same problems that plagued the teams I was part of  20 years ago still crop up on a regular basis today.  In fact, that's one of the more interesting aspects of this book and one that Rosenberg covers well by going back even further into the 1960's and IBM's System/360.

Here are a couple of excerpts that I found to be most insightful, the second of which is also quite relevant for those of us in the tech book publishing business:

Chandler was no different from the great majority of software projects.  It's rare for a group of software developers to work together on a series of projects over time; in this they are less like sports teams or military units or musical ensembles and more like the forces of pros who assemble to make a movie and then disperse and recombine for the next film.  So, while individual programmers and managers may carry with them a wealth of experience and knowledge of techniques that served them well in the past, each time they begin a new project with a new team, they are likely to end up pressing the reset button and having to devise a working process from first principles.

Joel Spolsky is quoted in the book and reports this about development methodologies:  ...the majority of developers don't read books about software development, they don't read web sites about software development, they don't even read Slashdot.  So they're never going to get this, no matter how much we keep writing about it.

What I liked best about this book though is that it's not just for programmers and other techies.  Rosenberg does a great job of writing everything in layman's terms so that even the most complex issue is readily understandable by all.  Read this book so that the next time your computer crashes or a new version of your favorite program has been delayed you'll have a better understanding of why it happened!

P.S. -- For anyone who cares, it's a little known fact that I came to the publishing world from the technology one.  I wrote code in Pascal, C and assembler for NCR from 1984 till 1990.  One of the two boxes I worked on, the NCR System 7000, was so long ago forgotten about that even Google can hardly find much about it.  The other one, the 2127 system, looks like this and is still in use in many grocery and drug stores.