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Entries in Books (42)

Tuesday
Jun282005

A Fez of the Heart: Mini Review

0156003937.jpgSeveral weeks ago, at a local rummage sale, I came across the book A Fez of the Heart by Jeremy Seal. It took a few moments to realize this paperback was one I'd purchased in 1994, lent to a friend, and never got back. So, I drove a hard bargain, and bought the book for 50 cents, happy to have a second chance at a reading it for the first time.

Jeremy Seal's account is a travelogue of his time spent in Turkey, searching for the origins and present day occurrences of a hat — the Fez. His interest in the fez brought him to Istanbul to begin a journey around Turkey, seeking actual wearers and historical information related to the country, the culture and its hats.

While I'm not an expert on Turkey, I enjoyed his description of the country and its history, particularly the end of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey. I learned a bit more about Turkey's history and the sometimes unusual blend of East and West, and of course quite a bit about Turkish headgear.

Probably the most interesting part of the book for me came at the 3/4 mark. Jeremy is given a hand-made Fez by an elderly hat maker and feels compelled to wear it on the street. As the Fez is technically "illegal" in Turkey and has cultural significance for Turks, this was a larger challenge than it might appear. Seal becomes quite self-conscious in his be-fezzed state, and receives added notice and scrutiny all the way back to his hotel — before removing and hiding his fez.

While Jeremy's travelogue-style account isn't what I'd consider a historical reference, it did increase me curiosity about Turkey's history. Several of the book's Amazon reviewers challenge Seal's history and information, so I do plan on exploring books like Turkish Reflections : A Biography of a Place by Mary lee Settle for more historical detail.

Still, historical accuracy and personal opinions of Seal aside, I looked forward to reading this book each night before bed, and passed the 100 page mark quickly. I found it an interesting perspective on Turkey, Turkish cultures and the Turkish people themselves.

As the book ended, I found myself drawn to learning more about the Turks and their country. I don't know if I'll have the honor of visiting Turkey, but I feel this book put the spark in my mind and heart to consider it, should the opportunity arise.

Friday
Jun172005

Accelerando as a Free e-book Download

accelerando.jpgLast night on Boing Boing I came across this tidbit about Charlie Stross, and his new novel Accelerando, he's releasing as a free Creative Commons download. Charlie is also releasing the book in paper form over at Amazon (and I suspect other outlets).

It'll be interesting to see how this works for Charlie. I know it's worked pretty well for Cory Doctorow, who has released all of his recent novels in e-book and paper formats, and has found his paper versions (paid versions) selling quite well as a result.

I've already grabbed the Creative Commons copy for Palm Doc, and have begun reading and enjoying Stross' story about Manfred Macx.

It's got the same feel as a Doctorow, Gibson or Stephenson novel, set slightly in the future and written from the point of view of someone who's into technology. Here's a snippet:

Manfred's on the road again, making strangers rich.

It's a hot summer Tuesday, and he's standing in the plaza in front of the Centraal Station with his eyeballs powered up and the sunlight jangling off the canal, motor scooters and kamikaze cyclists whizzing past and tourists chattering on every side. The square smells of water and dirt and hot metal and the fart-laden exhaust fumes of cold catalytic converters; the bells of trams ding in the background, and birds flock overhead. He glances up and grabs a pigeon, crops the shot, and squirts it at his weblog to show he's arrived. The bandwidth is good here, he realizes; and it's not just the bandwidth, it's the whole scene. Amsterdam is making him feel wanted already, even though he's fresh off the train from Schiphol: He's infected with the dynamic optimism of another time zone, another city. If the mood holds, someone out there is going to become very rich indeed.

He wonders who it's going to be.

* * *

Manfred sits on a stool out in the car park at the Brouwerij 't IJ, watching the articulated buses go by and drinking a third of a liter of lip-curlingly sour gueuze. His channels are jabbering away in a corner of his head-up display, throwing compressed infobursts of filtered press releases at him. They compete for his attention, bickering and rudely waving in front of the scenery. A couple of punks – maybe local, but more likely drifters lured to Amsterdam by the magnetic field of tolerance the Dutch beam across Europe like a pulsar – are laughing and chatting by a couple of battered mopeds in the far corner. A tourist boat putters by in the canal; the sails of the huge windmill overhead cast long, cool shadows across the road. The windmill is a machine for lifting water, turning wind power into dry land: trading energy for space, sixteenth-century style. Manfred is waiting for an invite to a party where he's going to meet a man he can talk to about trading energy for space, twenty-first-century style, and forget about his personal problems.

He's ignoring the instant messenger boxes, enjoying some low-bandwidth, high-sensation time with his beer and the pigeons, when a woman walks up to him, and says his name: "Manfred Macx?"

He glances up. The courier is an Effective Cyclist, all wind-burned smooth-running muscles clad in a paean to polymer technology: electric blue lycra and wasp yellow carbonate with a light speckling of anti collision LEDs and tight-packed air bags. She holds out a box for him. He pauses a moment, struck by the degree to which she resembles Pam, his ex-fiance.

Enjoy! :-)

Monday
Apr042005

The Happy Isles of Oceania

happy-isles.jpgNow and then, there are books that seem to carve out a space in my life, and connect to other experiences I'm having. These are also the kinds of books that I wish would keep on going for hundreds more pages.

Paul Theroux's Happy Isles of Oceania, Paddling The Pacific is one of those books for me. It's the last of Theroux's travel books that I hadn't read for one reason or another. Last year, I picked up a copy through the Amazon Marketplace and received a huge, 528-page hardcover a few weeks later. Even then I didn't begin the book, having already begun Theroux's Dark Star Safari.

So, this massive book sat on my shelf, awaiting the day I'd crack it open and start reading. That day came early in 2005, when I happened to remember and look at my copy of Happy Isles — so I took it from the shelf and begun digging in.

To start with I should to make it clear: I am a Paul Theroux fan who especially enjoys his travel writing. Paul has a way of describing a place, and characters living in that place which I can relate to and appreciate. But his style goes a bit further, mixing in his general observations, commentary on his own life and often very strong critique of the places and people he visits, and sometimes even of himself.

The idea behind Theroux's journey across the Pacific was to begin in Meganesia's New Zealand and Australia, then jump from island to island. He sees each island as a "star" scattered across the sky-like Pacific ocean. In the process of his travels, Paul shares his impressions of each country and its people, histories and oddities.

Now, this book in particular seems to contain even more critique than Paul's other books, probably related to the separation from his wife and discovery of possible cancer on his arm, experienced just prior to the start of his trip in 1991.

Theroux is at times pretty hard on the New Zealanders and Aussies with his commentary. He reserves some strong critique later in the book for French colonialism and nuclear testing in the Pacific and the building of resort hotel and golf course playgrounds on islands in the Pacific by the Japanese. He reserves some of his critique of missionaries and Mormons as he encounters them in the Pacific islands.

Some highlights of the book for me were his travels to the Savo Island egg fields in the Solomon Islands, Tonga, the contrast of cultures in Western and American Samoa, the comparison of perception and reality in Tahiti and his visit to the strange place that is Easter Island.

His description of the Hawaiian Islands was also quite interesting, especially his thoughts after spending 2 night stint in a $2,500 US dollar per day bungalow on Maui. Paul was alarmed at how quickly total luxury could spoiled him, so he left to spend a few nights camping on the beach nearby for a mere at $2.50 per day.

Overall the book provides good doses of information and history of places that are quite interesting. His critique challenged me to consider the impact visitors have had on these islands for the past 500 years.

Theroux's story of life on the water reminded me of thoughts I've had for the past year or two — how much of this junk I hang onto do I really need anyway? What could I do without? Would a simpler life free me from much of what I entangle myself with?

I recommend the book, but with the caveat that I am a fan of Theroux and probably have a strong bias toward his style of writing and description. Still, if you're curious about the Pacific from one man's perspective, I think it's worth a read.

Saturday
Mar122005

Clean Inboxes are Addicting

GTDThis week I've started re-reading David Allen's Getting Things Done this week. I'm only about 1/3 of the way through the book, yet I've found it very satisfying. I'm happy to report that for the first time in my memory, I had a completely empty work and personal email inbox on Friday after work.

Actually, I this is my first real 'reading' of GTD — in reality I'd only scanned the book the first time. After my initial scan, I took a few ideas and sort-of made use of them, but not fully. Last weekend I finally got to the point of feeling the need for something to help me better manage all that I had to get done. I saw GTD on my bookshelf and resolved to really read it this time. So I started reading again...

Wow!

While I've not fully sorted out the whole 43 folders idea just yet, nor have I completely integrated the principles David suggests. But rather than wait to complete the book, I decided to take one overarching idea away from my 2nd reading — to turn as many inputs as I could, into 'next action' tasks, then file those inputs for later reference (if needed).

I decided on Monday to first focus on email. I resolved to go through any open email in both my work and personal email clients and do one of 3 things:

1) Reply to the email. David Allen suggest that anything which takes 2 minutes or less can be dispatched immediately, so I followed this advice. I even dealt with some emails that took longer, just to trim down the list of unanswered emails.

2) Turn relevant info into next action tasks. I've recently switched from Palm Desktop to Apple iCal and really like the simplicity if offers. I created several new contextual categories suggested in GTD, and created many, many next actions. It really felt good to put those things into a solid place like iCal (synced to my Palm).

3) File processed emails. Finally I filed away emails I processed, and deleted or filed emails which really shouldn't have been there in the first place. It felt so good to see my email inbox shrink as the week progressed!

By the end of the day Friday, I had successfully emptied out both of my email inboxes. What a great feeling it is having an empty inbox! Even better was knowing that all of the latent tasks embedded in my emails had been turned into tasks in iCal.

Actually, using the GTD approach at work was very smooth, even though I know I've not yet got my head fully around all of the GTD principles. I felt productive and active without the nagging feeling that I was 'missing' something.

I'm looking forward to finishing the remaining 2/3 of GTD in the next few weeks, taking notes in my Moleskine notebook for books I've started as a result of Bren Connelly's How to Read a Business Book postings. I'm finding that taking notes with books really helps me crystalize the concepts and better ingest them.

So, if you've considered the Getting Things Done approach but haven't taken steps to give it a full try, I recommend it. Even taking some of the principles to heart could positively impact your stress levels and work style.

For an interesting interview with David Allen on the concepts behind Getting Things Done, check out Richard Giles' Gadgets Show Podcast (39 min @ 13.6 MB).

Have a great weekend!

Monday
Feb142005

The Cluetrain Manifesto: A Refresher

cluetrain.gifLast week I re-discovered The Cluetrain Manifesto. I read the book four or so years ago, when it first came out. At the time it was quite a mind-shift for me. In my view, Cluetrain encapsulated what I saw and sensed was changing in the world, having been heavily involved in the internet part of that world since the mid-90s.

Fast forward to last week, when I heard a podcasted discussion with Doc Searls, (one of the 4 writers of Cluetrain) on Cameron Reilly & Mick Stanic's G'Day World Podcast. Doc provided wonderful background to the book, even offering his regret at blogging narrowly missing a mention in the book.

Inspired by this discussion with Doc, I scrounged up the free online version of The Cluetrain Manifesto, turned it into an iSilo book for my Tungsten E and began re-reading.

Wow, I'd forgotten just how direct and clear the message of this book was. Back in '99 and even 5 years later. The message certainly seems insightful in retrospect.

From the introduction:

What if the real attraction of the Internet is not its cutting-edge bells and whistles, its jazzy interface or any of the advanced technology that underlies its pipes and wires? What if, instead, the attraction is an atavistic throwback to the prehistoric human fascination with telling tales? Five thousand years ago, the marketplace was the hub of civilization, a place to which traders returned from remote lands with exotic spices, silks, monkeys, parrots, jewels -- and fabulous stories.

In many ways, the Internet more resembles an ancient bazaar than it fits the business models companies try to impose upon it. Millions have flocked to the Net in an incredibly short time, not because it was user-friendly -- it wasn’t -- but because it seemed to offer some intangible quality long missing in action from modern life. In sharp contrast to the alienation wrought by homogenized broadcast media, sterilized mass "culture," and the enforced anonymity of bureaucratic organizations, the Internet connected people to each other and provided a space in which the human voice would be rapidly rediscovered.

Or the opening statements of chapter 1, Internet Apocalypso:

We die.

You will never hear those words spoken in a television ad. Yet this central fact of human existence colors our world and how we perceive ourselves within it.

"Life is too short," we say, and it is. Too short for office politics, for busywork and pointless paper chases, for jumping through hoops and covering our asses, for trying to please, to not offend, for constantly struggling to achieve some ever-receding definition of success. Too short as well for worrying whether we bought the right suit, the right breakfast cereal, the right laptop computer, the right brand of underarm deodorant.

Life is too short because we die. Alone with ourselves, we sometimes stop to wonder what's important, really. Our kids, our friends, our lovers, our losses? Things change and change is often painful. People get "downsized," move away, the old neighborhood isn't what it used to be. Children get sick, get better, get bored, get on our nerves. They grow up hearing news of a world more frightening than anything in ancient fairy tales. The wicked witch won't really push you into the oven, honey, but watch out for AK-47s at recess.

Pretty amazing to come right out and say it — we all die. Life is short. As I grow oder I realize my time gets more valuable. There is no time for messing around — no time for bad TV shows or lousy books, no time to waste instead of spending it with my family, or doing what I love to do: communicate, design, write, read, sketch, think.

I'll leave today with one more excerpt from the introduction:

But companies don't like us human. They leverage our longing for their own ends. If we feel inadequate, there's a product that will fill the hole, a bit of fetishistic magic that will make us complete. Perhaps a new car would do the trick. Maybe a trip to the Caribbean or that new CD or a nice shiny set of Ginsu steak knives. Anything, everything, just get more stuff. Our role is to consume.

Of course, the new car alone is not enough. It must be made to represent something larger. Much larger. The blonde draped over the hood looks so much better than the old lady bitching about the dishes. Surely she'd understand our secret needs. And if we showed up with her at the big golf game, wouldn't the guys be impressed! Yeah, gotta get one-a those babies. This isn't about sex, it's about power — the greatest bait there ever was to seduce the powerless.

Or take it one slice closer to the bone. Leverage care. For the cost of a jar of peanut butter, you can be a Great Mom, the kind every kid would love to have. You can look out on your happy kids playing in that perfect suburban backyard and breathe a little sigh of contentment that life's so good, with not a wicked witch in sight. Just like on television.

Now that gets right to the bottom of things, doesn't it? We're human beings — so much more than just consumers, designed to consume product or services. The question I ask myself is, why do I settle, at one time or another, for being treated this way?

Good question.

My suggestion: if you haven't read Cluetrain yet, do so. If you've already read Cluetrain, read it again as a good refresher.

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