Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: Resonate

A few years back, I read (and reviewed) Nancy Duarte's slide:ology , a book about making presentations. I gave it a mixed review, saying that it was very pretty and perhaps useful in conveying some basics about how to use or not use Powerpoint, but that it focused too much on the slides, and not enough on the story, where clearly the latter is more important.

I guess I wasn't the only one to give her the same criticism, because Resonate is largely an answer to this concern. Duarte touts it as a prequel, and I'd argue it's the more important of the two for most people to read.

Duarte centers the book largely around the Hero's Journey (a sound concept for presentation structure), and then backs it up by analyzing a number of case examples from wide variety of speeches, breaking them down into components and showing how they align to this model. She then goes on to give a number of rules to follow when building presentation narratives. I like her "sparkline" model for visually breaking down presentations.

Overall I liked this book much more than Slideology, though I found it to have two downsides. The first is the same I complained about with the previous book: It's a very pretty, but very lightweight book. Almost as though someone built it out of a PowerPoint presentation to begin with, and filled in pieces of the text. As a result, it's very quick to get through (this may be a plus for some) but lightweight in numerous areas.

The second complaint I have about it is that Duarte doesn't delve into the differences in presenting to different kinds of audiences. She does say to tailor the talk to your audience, but doesn't talk about the dynamics of, say, presenting to superiors rather than subordinates; to a large group vs one-on-one, etc. (For example, when presenting to superiors at a large company, one has to be prepared for being sidelined with questions that you don't have the option of ignoring. If one of of these ends in a 10-minute time sink, then I find it useful to have "ripcord" slides that I can jettison to make time, and will have rehearsed ahead of time how to do a transition from slide 8 to slide 11 gracefully)

Still, even with these complaints, I think anybody but the most accomplished speakers will find something of use in this book.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Coffee Joulies review

I supported a kickstarter campaign a while back for an innovative idea: Coffee Joulies, stainless steel 'beans' filled with a special 'phase change material' that liquefies at 140 degrees, absorbing energy in the process (cooling your coffee) and later solidifies releasing energy (warming your coffee). Idea is that the coffee cools off to be drinkable sooner, but stays warm longer. Good for long drives, etc.

I finally received them in the mail recently, they look like this:

I did some testing on them and the results were not dramatic. I used matching ceramic travel mugs, with lids, and tested both with 2 thermometers, a coffee thermometer and an over thermometer:

I used exactly 1.5 cups of near boiling water and then charted temp over time. I used 3 of the joulies in one mug, and zero in the other.

There was a mild, noticeable effect. However, it wasn't dramatic. Initial temp was 180 in the non-joulie mug, and about 173 in the joulie mug. At the tail end of the experiment, there was about a 5 degree delta the other way, with the joulie mug being warmer.

So they work, right? Not necessarily.

Having those 3 objects in the mug is going to do two things:
(1) It will cool the liquid off at the outset because there's more heat exchange going on.
(2) It will change the overall volume of the resultant 'coffee + joulies' entity. Since the cooling has to do with heat exchange with the outside air (ok coffee <-> mug <-> air). The mug with the joulies is more full, and since the volume rises exponentially compared to surface area, a larger volume will cool more slowly. For an example of this, see THE MOLTEN CORE OF THE EARTH!

So, to know whether the phase change material actually makes a difference, versus say, throwing a handful of well polished rocks in there (see how medieval people kept their tootsies warm in bed), I'd have to do another experiment. Maybe if I have time in the coming days.

 So, I'd say the jury is still out. but I certainly didn't notice a huge dramatic effect. It may have been more pronounced with all five joulies in the cup, but now I'm sacrificing significant coffee volume, and I needs me the java.

[Update: Another thing that occurred to me is that the PCM liquification could probably be verified with the boiled-egg-spinning trick. Heat the joulie up, sit it next to a cool one, try and spin both of them like a top. The one with the liquid center shouldn't spin well]

[Update: Doh! Looks like BoingBoing beat me to posting a review AS I WAS WRITING THIS!. Looks like they concluded roughly the same thing]

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: Reamde

I just got done with Neal Stephenson's latest, Reamde: . I think I held my breath for the last 40 pages or so. Whew, what a ride.

Readers expecting something in the way of speculative sci-fi along the lines of Snowcrash or Diamond Age may find it comes up a bit short. The book certainly does a little exploration of "where might MMO's end up, but not to the degree that Stross' Halting State did. That said, it's not like the book won't reward the reader in other ways.

The book takes the reader on a wild ride that starts when some MMO gold farmers try their hand at virus writing to increase revenues, unwittingly tick off some Russian mobsters, who in turn tick off some middle easter terrorists, and then we're off... The rest is classic Stephenson white-knuckle adventure with the reader rooting for the heroes, and not always sure who's on which side.

Reamde: A Novel

Book Review: Alexander the Great and His Time

I was never much of a history buff in school, and so only had some passing knowledge of the history of Alexander the Great and the empire he created.

The author, Agnes Savill, does a decent job of covering Alexander's history both thoroughly and in an engaging style. If you are looking for an engaging summary of such, this could serve as the book to do it.

However, it should probably be taken with a large grain of salt. As I understand it, there are many points in Alexander's history that are debated. Savill claims to want to address these but so plainly gushes over any positive praise and so quickly dismisses any critical points of view, that she comes off as someone who is not only an Alexandrophile, but is so to the point of being incapable of listening to reason.

Alexander the Great and His Time

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Book Review: Business Model Generation

Business Model Generation is described as a tool to help imagine and craft new business models through use of  something called the "business model canvas", a framework for analyzing business models and considering "what if..." type questions around potential different models.

The book is very pretty. It seems cut from the same cloth as Slideology and others like it. Lots of pictures, pages with sparse text and varied typographical styles. This makes the book easy, even a pleasure, to proceed through, and the concepts easy to internalize.

Two complaints I have don't necessarily mean you should shy away from it, but take them into account. First, the book is too lightweight on, well, details around business models. It would be nice to see a few case studies where it at least went to business plan level. Its easy to imagine thousands of business models, but whether they'll fly or not, well, you need to put some numbers behind them. Secondly, where there are case studies, they are all after the fact. It would be nice if they picked examples of businesses they'd worked with so they had the before-after case, including how the process was used to dream up the new model, what worked, what didn't, etc.

These complaints aside, it's still an interesting book. I think it would be of most use as a framework for a group exercise. Say if you and a few collaborators are trying to do a brainstorm on new business models.

So, if with that in mind the book still sounds interesting, by all means pick it up. Just keep in mind that the detail work is left as an exercise to the reader.

 Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers

Monday, October 10, 2011

On publishers 'clearing out the attic'

James Bridle has an other excellent piece up about the evolution of text - or I should say the evolving value of text while text itself needn't evolve into other media. It's a good read if you are interested in text as a medium and/or a business.

Toward the tail end, he discusses the challenges to publishers bringing online their back catalogs of text - and how they must do things to add context to the work in today's connected world:

 As publishers spin up their digital and print-on-demand backlists, more and more is published with less and less context. These efforts amount to land-grabs and rights-squatting, without adding value. Works without TOCs, indexes, author bios, footnotes. Placing work in context is one of publishers’ primary tasks, stretching out to commissioning introductions, assembling background material, supporting biographies and critical studies. Design belongs here too: good book design, appropriate book design, as important now as it has ever been.

It struck me that this can easily apply to all those game publishers looking to sift through their back catalogs and re-publisher works onto new platforms and business models. Something to think about.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Review: The Age of Persuasion

Came across The Age of Persuasion at the library and picked it up. It was OK in some ways, poor in others.

The book is a history of modern day marketing, as seen through the eyes of an advertising copywriter turned broadcaster. It covers a lot of interesting history, rife with colorful examples, of advertising over the past century.

On the plus side, there are a ton of interesting factoids, and the authors seemed to have done their research. They cover the advertising side of the business and the factors motivating players in each strata of the business.

On the down side, there are three flaws I find with the book.

The first, which is minor and forgivable, and which can be seen by the cover art, is that the book is very much trying to ride the coattails of Madmen, focusing, and perhaps over-glorifying advertising's 'golden age'.

The second is that "marketing" is not the same thing as "advertising". If the book's tagline were "how advertising ate our culture", that'd be fine, but otherwise the authors perpetuate the myth that marketing is about ramming stuff down people's throats. It largely ignores the other half, which is figuring out what they want or need to begin with.

The third issue is that by seeing the world through an ad man's eyes, the book is too quick to ascribe too much value and too little blame to advertising in the influence that it has. Where they do cite negatives, it's always the other guys, the inept and evil ad men, not the creative good ones (which they likely include themselves in). I feel like it's really not so black and white.

If you can see past the negatives, there are some interesting data points and interesting bits of trivia here. Just make sure you take much of the book with a grain of salt.

The Age of Persuasion: How Marketing Ate Our Culture

More connected toy sightings

Early in the year I was saying we'd see more connected toys (see #5). I've noted a few on my radar and thought I'd call them out:

In addition, Sifteos have started shipping and several people are doing iPhone connected robot/vehicle toys like what AR Drone did last year. Tankbot is one example, or here's a comparable kickstarter project which I'm supporting.

All of these are continuing what started a number of years back with Webkinz, UBFunkeys and others, as I discussed here and here.

Will be interesting to watch this space.

Omegathon Junior!

The twins turned 8 recently and each wanted their own sleepover birthday party. Tom wanted his videogame themed, so I was put in charge. Since he had his circle of friends had all professed being SO awesome at videogames, I decided to put this to the test. I hope the penny arcade crew will forgive me for totally ripping off the Omegathon, their awesome contest held at Pax.

I wanted to have games that were easy to pick up and play, had play sessions under 5 minutes (because 5 minutes * 6 games * 6 kids, plus time for practice sessions, was going to be all time would allow for), and most importantly, covered a range of periods of gaming history.

We played 6 games, and the 6 boys were awarded between 1 and 6 points depending on their rank on each game. Final round was worth double points, and then the points were totalled.

Here's an account of what we put together. It was a TON of fun, the boys had a blast, and it was easy and inexpensive to put together.

Round 1: Pong

Well, to be accurate, it was "single player handball" on an APF TV Fun machine, my first game system that dad bought back in ~1978. It has several game modes, including a single player "handball". Since the rheostate on my player2 side was giving me trouble, we went with singple player, and then the kids competed to see who could score lowest in one minute of gameplay.

Round 2: Ladybug (on Colecovision)

The kids *loved* this game despite none of them having seen it, and especially loved discovering the secrets to the game (bonuses/extras/specials with the color changes over time, etc).

Round 3: Time Pilot (on Xbox360)

Moving forward, I picked this one because it's easy to pickup and fast to play. Also comparable in ways to Geowars, which we'd play later on.

Round 4: Peggle (on iPad)

Most of the boys had played this in one form or another. Another hit.

Round 5: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

They liked this game too, but only one of the boys had played it before and had somewhat of an advantage as a result. Maybe could have picked something obscure.

Round 6: Fruit Ninja Kinect

I left this one for last as I knew it'd be a double-point round, and the big push for the finish, and thus a chance to work off all the birthday cake sugar. It was hysterical to see them all pouring every last ounce of energy into the game's final seconds. (I'd post pics, but by this point kids were in their PJs and some parents might be paranoid about half-naked pics of their kids being posted).


In the end, Tom and one of his friends tied for the lead position.

All the kids were given trophies, which Alisa ordered a couple weeks ahead of time and which were dirt cheap. Here's a pic of one of them.

Anyhow, I hope this gives some other parents an idea to do the same sort of thing. The kids were already talking rematch at next year's Omegathon Junior when they went home the next day.