BTRIPP's Journal
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in BTRIPP's LiveJournal:

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    Tuesday, September 16th, 2014
    3:51 pm
    Is it "maturing" or "getting old"?
    Back when I was a kid ... heck, well into my 20's ... I was a 3-spoons of sugar in tea or coffee guy ... it had to not only be sweet, but have enough in there so it would have texture. And, while I would drink diet sodas (I had a perverse liking for the taste of saccharine and cyclamate - I still have flavor recall from drinking that stuff out of the old pointy Sucaryl bottle) ... including the original Tab and the nearly bizarre old-style Diet Doctor Pepper (you had to have been there) ... if it wasn't coming out of a can or bottle, it was probably getting sugar added (which results in my being hardly able to come down too hard on my Girls when I see them shoveling sugar into their tea ... I did the same at that age).

    This all comes to mind from my attending a networking event a week or so back. Now, as anybody paying any attention knows, I "don't drink", having quit cocktailing as of July 1, 1985 ... this is generally considered "a good thing" (although there certainly are a lot of days that would have been improved - from my perspective - by my crawling into a bottle of Gin or Tequila or Rum, etc.), but it often presents challenges at some networking events, where the focus is on LOTS of beer, or LOTS of wine, and maybe one lonely case of bottled water. Well, at this particular event they had beer, and some soda ... but it seemed like they had one 12-pack of Diet Coke, and a bunch of regular Coke and Sprite.

    My tastes over the years have seriously shifted away from the sweet, to the extent that I typically use just a half a pack of Sweet&Low in my coffee or iced tea ... an amount that my 18-year-old self would have considered below the threshold of perception. Well, there I was, really needing to wash down some pizza, and I was faced with a choice of beer (which, obviously, wasn't going to be happening) or regular soda. So, I grabbed a Coke.

    I could not drink it. I probably had 3 sips and then popped it into a trash can. I was shocked (not finishing food or beverages that I opt to take is not generally in my make up) ... but it was almost like a liquid candy, and just a general shock to the system. I'd seen stuff on the Web showing how much sugar was in regular soda, so I went a-Googling for the data, and it seems that in a 12oz can of Coke there is the equivalent (in corn syrup) of 10 sugar cubes, or about the same number of teaspoons. TEN ... or, if you want to get technical about it, 39g.

    No wonder that my "savory/salty/spicy" current palate went "ICK!" when subjected to that.

    But it made me wonder, did this happen by simply getting old(er), or is there some more commendable "maturity" factor at play here. I mean, I sort of weaned myself away from sugar (if not its chemical stand-ins) due to the calorie count. A can of regular soda runs about 150 calories, and in my soda-swilling heyday, I'd easily go through six to nine cans a day, which would represent a HUGE calorie hit if I was drinking "regular" ... but it's amazing to me how difficult it was to drink a single non-diet soda!

    Yeah, I know, you probably don't much care about my relationship to sweeteners, but I was so surprised at not being able to drink that Coke that I really had to process through it in here. "LiveJournal - therapy in public" and all that. Heh ...

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    Friday, September 12th, 2014
    7:05 am
    So sad ...
    Folks who know me, know that I rarely throw out anything that I might think would have eventual utility in some form (which, unfortunately, includes "costume elements", "sculpture or other art", and "MacGyver-esque emergency re-purposing"). Some accuse me of "hoarding", of course ... but I've always have considered it "respecting the former function" of equipment and tools, and being unwilling to callously cast aside what has been helpful in the past.

    However, in our current state of having to drastically down-scale our living arrangements, The Wife finally won out on The Big Technology Purge.

    The picture here shows a half-dozen computers, at least as many printers/scanners/faxes, and numerous CRT monitors and TV sets ... piled up in four Best Buy carts, awaiting their recycling fate. I must admit, Best Buy's program of just letting you drop stuff like this off for recycling works great ... we parked the UHaul van in their lot, grabbed shopping carts, loaded them up, and just parked everything over by their customer service counter. No hassles at all.

    We'd also loaded up a lot of my old Eschaton Book shipping supplies, and ran those down to Nature's Little Recyclers (who, by the way, just had a nice piece in the Chicagoist), which may be used to ship stuff, or may be used to feed the worms.

    Anyway, I wanted to note the passing of a lot of my stuff, some of which (like the large TV) have been with me for as much as 30 years (also note the big tower case ... that was my first "powerful" computer - with a 386 chip! - from nearly 20 years ago).

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    Thursday, September 11th, 2014
    8:14 am
    Well, here we are again ...
    Much like when the US Airways jet ditched in the Hudson in January 2009, which was something of a "coming out party" for Twitter (where images and the news scooped the "real" media by hours), 9/11 was something of the "finest moment" for LiveJournal.

    In 2001, LiveJournal was only a couple of years old ... Brad Fitzpatrick, brad, had started the service in 1999 to help keep up with his high school friends while at college, and folks were just finding their way over here from IRC and AOL (I joined in May 2000, as user #2663, having followed Ana Voog, ana, over with most of her AnaCam fans from the various IRC channels related to that). By September 2001, there were tens of thousands of users here, many very active through the day. When the attacks started happening, there was massive confusion out there, and the phone systems in and around New York and Washington started to bog down.

    LiveJournal users began to set up communications links through their journals, reaching out to who they could, as they could. Several were even directly affected by the attacks, banshee had not headed into her job in lower Manhattan yet that morning, and was watching it from Brooklyn ... and posting about it in real time. She had an eerie follow-up to this many years later ... her transit stop for getting to work in the subway directly beneath the World Trade Center, and she had dropped off some film for development at a store in the lower levels there some days before the attack. She was surprised, at some point after they'd dug down that far in the rubble, to get her pictures sent to her ... what a shock.

    Anyway, for those of us on LJ back then, it's hard to disassociate the 9/11 stuff from our experience of it in this context.

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    Sunday, September 7th, 2014
    11:50 am
    How the big boys are doing social ...
    This is another book that I reached out to the publishers (in this case, the good folks at McGraw Hill) to get a review copy. Cheryl and Mark Burgess' The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work sounded interesting, and I figured that it was something that would fit in with the general arc of my reviews.

    To be honest, I was a bit worried in the early chapters here that I'd been “suckered into” something, as the Burgesses are the principals of Blue Focus Marketing®, and that “®” is, along with their “™'ed” model, all over the introductory material here, and I was thinking “oh, great, another long-form commercial for somebody's company”. Fortunately, the pitch parts are largely limited to chapters 2 and 16, and the rest of the book not “branded”.

    Now, as regular readers of my reviews may recall, I have a system of using little bits of paper as bookmarks to get back to particularly interesting parts of a book – either for my own reference or for quotes for these reviews. While there isn't a “standard number” of these, I can recognize when there are more than average, and I found in excess of a dozen here (see pic ===>) … so there was a lot of stuff that I found worthy of marking.

    The book is in three sections, an introductory one which sets up the “social reality” and how it is, in the broad strokes, effecting businesses. The authors present their model for addressing “social employees”, “social executives” and “social customers and prospects” in this, but don't beat the reader over the head with it … and ultimately the take-away from this is that they're essentially defining their perspective, as a ground for what comes later in the book. There are several lists presented in various sections, and one here is particularly interesting: “The Six Most Irrational Concerns of Brands”, which is something of a cheat sheet for pushing Social programs on hesitant upper management, as it answers many of the points that would be holding them back from being on-board with these. It is also in this section that they start to define what they mean by the “social employee”:
    Today's consumers expect online engagement with brands, and they expect to be engaged in an authentic manner. Consumers don't want to speak to a brand; they want to speak to real people. The rules of engagement for interpersonal interaction between social employees and customers are still largely unwritten. It is a certainty that employee voices matter, and that a brand's reputation depends tremendously on how well its social employee representatives communicate with the outisde world.
    This role is further defined by another list: “Seven Characteristics of the Social Employee” -

    1. Engaged

    2. Expects Integration of the Personal and Professional

    3. Buys into the Brand's Story

    4. Born Collaborator

    5. Listens

    6. Customer-Centric

    7. Empowered Change Agent

    The second section of the book, which is likely to be the “meat” of this for most readers, takes a remarkably detailed look at the social programs of a half dozen major corporations, IBM, Adobe, Dell, Cisco, Southwest, and AT&T (plus a couple of others that I'd not heard of). One thing I did note here, these are all (minus Southwest) tech companies, which might be logical in that they'd be presented with more organic opportunities to “go social” than companies in other niches. It would have been interesting, if just for variety's sake, if the authors had tracked down some other sorts of companies who were “doing it right” (I'm recalling Gary Vaynerchuk's Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook as a source for numerous examples), but the focus here is very much on these tech big boys.

    One of the fascinating aspects of this survey is how differently this group of organizations went about addressing the social marketing impetus within their ranks. I was particularly interested in reading how IBM approached this, as they still have a rather “starched shirt” image, and one would not suspect that they were particularly eager to cede control over company messages, yet:
    Although expected to follow IBM's guidelines, employees' social activities are not centrally managed. This allows authentic dialogue to come about organically. According to IBM, over 400,000 employees engage the public, clients, and customers either through IBM-owned platforms … or external platforms ...
    That's nearly a half a million voices … with 26,000 individual blogs, 62,000 wikis, and communications traffic generating a whopping 50 million instant messages per day – all on their internal system. Add to this hundreds of thousands of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts, and that's a lot of company presence.

    The section on Adobe is interesting in how they evolved over time. From a “centralized” model, they moved to “distributed”, to “coordinated hub and spoke” to a “holistic” model. They've implemented what they call a “guardrail” approach for corporate guidelines for social interaction by their employees. Another “look under the hood” availed the reader here is a fascinating chart that maps social KPIs to businesses objectives as a model of how they measure their social results.

    The section on Dell deals with their Social Media and Communities (SMaC) group and their “university” social certification program. This program was envisioned to train 1,000 employees over a span of six months, but that had been exceeded within the first month – indicating the level of interest among the employee population.

    In the Cisco chapter, there's an unusual focus on process … and this is charted out in a “WWHW Wheel” (What-Why-How-When) which tracks employee buy-in through awareness to understanding to belief to action and to outcome, with more than a dozen steps in between.

    I wonder why AT&T is in the mix here, as they get a mere 4 pages discussing a blog program they'd implemented … given that all the other companies had much more material, it seems that this could have been edited out without lessening the book at all. Perhaps they're a current or potential client of the Burgesses and they didn't want to have them feel slighted by being left out.

    The third section of The Social Employee is something of a guide to implementation of what's gone before in the book. First looking at the “social executive” and what is involved in that role (including a list: “Seven Personalities of a Social Executive”), then on the need for educational support for training social workers, and look at various current platforms. The penultimate chapter deals with Content Marketing, giving examples of where this was done right, and another list, “Components of a Good Story”:

    1. Humanize

    2. Be Distinctive

    3. Keep It Simple

    4. Be Viral-Ready

    5. Transformation

    Those last two largely encompass “shareability” and the concept that “your content should leave the consumer in a different place than where they began”. The book finishes up with their branded (“®”/“™”) “10 Commandments of Brand Soul”.

    All in all, this book is a fascinating read in how it gets you inside these companies to see how they're managing large populations of employees. Unlike some other books aimed at company leaders, this doesn't have that “it won't do me any good because I don't run a big company” vibe - no doubt due to the “voyeuristic” aspects of getting to peek into the feature companies. The book has been out for a bit over a year at this point, so copies have worked their way into the used channel, but I'm guessing this can still be found in the business-oriented brick-and-mortar book vendors. Obviously, this one isn't for “all and sundry”, but if you find social media on the corporate level attractive, it's definitely something you should consider getting.

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    7:05 am
    Something I put up on Facebook this morning ...
    I caught a couple of minutes of Mad Men this morning ... and this was there:

    Don Draper: "We're going to sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us because we're creative - the least important, most important thing there is."

    Sounds like my life.

    I'm not even sure what the context was (except it sounded like the agency was in deep trouble), but the thrust of it was very much like my days. I have almost no "pattern" in my week, spending 12-18 hours at my desk every day, every day, every day - with the occasional networking event getting me out of the house, or the couple of hours each week that I manage to go out to the park to get some reading done. I work on web sites (the new TJ section of is going to be unveiled soon - I just need to change the site and internal link structure for the existing pages), I write blogs (my own, my reviews, Green Tech Chicago, and those few that I actually get paid for), I do PR materials and web outreach for Nature's Little Recyclers (I have a release going out today), I read site after site of "industry info", trying to keep up on a dozen or more areas that I might end up working in, and, of course, I research jobs and crank out resumes on a weekly basis.

    Unfortunately, all this "massive action" brings in only a drip-drip-drip of income, and we're faced with "the walls falling down around us" (almost literately at the moment), because of it.

    There's a popular adage that I've had thrown in my face more than once over the past few decades, initially attributed to Albert Einstein: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.", but I've run out of ideas of DIFFERENT things to do. Over the past five years, I've sent out somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 resumes and have managed to get less than a dozen actual interviews from that, and (obviously) no on-going jobs. Do I stop applying for jobs? I get nearly zero money from my writing and other efforts, do I stop these activities?

    I have skills spanning the whole "communications" spectrum, from graphic/design/photo chops, to audio/video skills, to writing in numerous contexts, to event planning (hell, I used to be a CMP), to editing and book development, to general management. But none of that seems to matter. In the current work market people are looking for particular gears to drop into particular slots in their machine ... the "ninja", the "rockstar", the "one trick pony" that's good for one function, and can be swapped out for the next hunk of meat as needed. I'm more a "swiss army knife", with functionality across a wide range of activities ... but it seems nobody needs that any more.

    And now we're over the edge of the financial abyss ... and all I can foresee is that I'm going to "sit at my desk and keep typing" as long as I still have a desk to sit at.

    What a nightmare. What a waste.

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    Saturday, September 6th, 2014
    1:12 pm
    "Free" ... tasting of reality
    I feel a need to apologize up front on this review … I try, I really do, to get around to reviewing books when they're still fresh in my mind, but I think this is the third attempt I've made, going back at least a month, to get this reviewed (I noticed that it's right there in the to-be-reviewed pile sitting next to my netbook in a pic accompanying a Swarm check in from August 8th) and my brain has “moved on”, leaving me to pick through impressions and little slips of paper bookmarking bits here. Sorry about that.

    Anyway, this was a delightful surprise to have found at the dollar store a while back … I know I've discussed that channel ad nauseam, but I'm still thrilled to find something like Chris Anderson's Free: The Future of a Radical Price at a price like that ($1 … not quite “free”, but close enough for my budget). If you don't know Anderson off the top of your head, he's the long-time Editor-in-Chief at Wired magazine, and the fellow who brought the world the highly influential concept of “the long tail” in his book by that name. In here, he is (obviously) looking at the trends to more and more free products and services, and how they fit into society in general, and how they can be sustained.

    He starts by digging a bit into marketing history, first looking at Jell-O at the turn of the last century. In this case, to introduce a new sort of product, which was having no success getting into the groceries of the time, the company developed free cookbooks that its salesmen would go door-to-door giving away, and following up with the grocers suggesting that there was likely to be a demand manifesting in the near future for the product. In two years it went from negligible sales to a million dollars of product (huge for 1904) and in the next 25 years they distributed a quarter billion cookbooks in support of the packaged gelatin product. Next he considers the Gillette razor story … in this case the blade maker didn't actually give away the razors – but they sold them to 3rd parties at such a low price that they (banks, etc.) could give them as freebies. And, of course, the razor without the blades was pretty useless, and men discovered that the disposable blades were a great convenience vs. keeping a traditional shaving blade sharp.

    He also looks at the psychology of “free” … one of the reasons that “micropayment” systems have not been the success that one might suspect they could be is that ANY payment triggers a mental “red flag”, referred to in the literature as mental transaction costs … even if something is being charged as minimal a fee as a penny, it requires “the mental energy of deciding if the whole thing is worth {it}” … so while these systems “minimize the economic choice of choices, they still have all the cognitive costs”
    So charging a price, any price, creates mental barrier that most people won't bother crossing. Free, in contrast, speeds right past that decision, increasing the number of people who will try something.
    … or as NYU lecturer Clay Shirky notes: “anyone offering content for free gains an advantage that can't be beaten, only matched”. “Free” takes the whole “is it worth it” questions off the table, perhaps even at a sub-conscious level.
    Give a product away and it can go viral. Charge a single cent for it and you're in an entirely different business, one of clawing and scratching for every customer.
    Anderson takes a spin through Moore's Law, and Mead's Law, and Alan Kay, who at Xerox's PARC in the 70's created the GUI that launched both the Macintosh and Windows (when first Apple and then IBM, respectively, stole the concept), on the concept that “a technologist's job is not to figure out what technology is good for … instead it is to make technology so cheap, easy to use, and ubiquitous that anybody can use it”. Things were heading towards a state where they were “too cheap to matter”.

    He then looks at Microsoft (which managed to keep its OS not free), and Yahoo & Google's search and email tussles, and then peeks in at YouTube and the issue of “bandwidth” (once metered by ISPs – for the young'uns out there). He then circles back around to tangible vs. intangible product with a look at the encyclopedia market. In 1991 Britannica was the leader of a $1.2 billion dollar industry, with annual sales in the neighborhood of $650 million of $1,000+ per set encyclopedias. In 1993 Mircosoft introduced Encarta for $99 … and by 1996 both the encyclopedia market as a whole, and Britannica's chunk of it had been halved (Microsoft had about $100 million of a $600 million category at that point). Of course, improvements in on-line connectivity and the arrival of Wikipedia put the final nails in that coffin, and by 2009 Microsoft had given up on Encarta … with what had been a billion dollar plus industry reduced to a free web service.

    The author introduces the economics term “network effects” to explain how this happens:
    In traditional markets, if there are three competitors, the number one company will get 60 percent share, number two will get 30 percent, and number three will get 5 percent. But in markets dominated by network effects, it can be closer to 95 percent, 5 percent, and 0 percent.
    He follows with the example of how Craigslist, with its very modest beginnings, ended up gutting the newspaper industry, as the free listings and wide audience of the web vehicle easily became more appealing than paying the rates of the former cash-cow of print classified ads.

    Free eventually gets around to looking at the economics of these realities, from the theories of a 19th century economist, whose “Bertrand Competition” implies that “In a competitive market, price falls to the marginal cost.”, this being a price just above the cost of production (which if you're talking something like MS Office, is the cost of a couple of CDs), to the reality that “every abundance creates a new scarcity”, and in the world of nearly limitless information, “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. This leads into a look at Maslow's “pyramid of needs” and Adam Smith's “the science of choice under scarcity”.

    Towards the end of the book, it moves into a number of “lists”, from a chapter where Anderson address a dozen or so “common complaints” about free models, to “Free Rules: The Ten Principles of Abundance Thinking” (the first of which is “If it's digital, sooner or later it's going to be free.”), to a chapter on “Freemium Tactics”, and “Fifty Business Models Built on Free”.

    Even though this has been out for five years, I never got the sense of this being “dated”, as it looks at the whole “Free” question from a standpoint that's fairly evergreen, using examples that have largely played out to a point where they're not in flux, and basing most of its arguments on long-standing economic theory. I thought it was a fascinating read, and if you're into marketing, economics, web stuff, and related areas, I'm pretty sure you'll find a lot of useful info in this. This original hardcover edition appears to be out of print, but Amazon has two “bargain” editions – hardcover and paperback – which are very reasonably priced. The new/used vendors, however, do have it, as low as a penny for a “like new” copy, so if this sounds interesting, you don't have a big barrier to picking it up!

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    Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014
    12:00 pm
    And then there was this ...
    EB-SC-4BAs long-time LiveJournal readers may recall, I used to write a LOT of poetry, and in the early years of LJ (the later years of my poetry writing) I'd post most of it up here, with the occasional audio of my doing readings.

    From about 1976 to 2007 I wrote in excess of 5,000 poems, with at least a dozen years featuring 250 poems each. Back in 1993 I'd started Eschaton Books to, initially, serve as a vehicle for publishing the little collections ("chapbooks") that I'd been putting out every now and again since the early 80's. Of course, my first "lesson" from Eschaton is that pretty much nobody actually BUYS poetry collections (unless they're forced to in a classroom setting, or pick up a book as a "souvenir" at a public reading), so we quickly "pivoted" from being a poetry press dedicated to my scribblings to being a "metaphysical publisher" which had a bit more market.

    While I continued churning out the chapbooks every couple of years (representing what I considered "the best 10%" of a two-year 500-poem output), I never made an effort to push out the whole of my writing - largely due to the costs involved. At the end of every year I did a 12-copy edition of xeroxed and comb-bound collection of that year's poems, primarily to secure copyright, and to get it into the hands of key friends and relatives ... but back then there never was an affordable way to get the mass of poems I'd been generating "into circulation".

    Well, now with things like Amazon's "CreateSpace" service, that's changed, and I can get nicely produced professional-looking bound editions of my work out there for no upfront costs other than about 12 hours of my time spent designing, setting, and proofing the books (actually, that is probably closer to 18-24 hours, as I've needed to extract the file contents for each poem from the long-abandoned .pfs format and into something currently readable ... this used to be a bigger issue, but the more recent versions of MS Word will open those files as an ASCII import, and I then just have to strip out the code from around the poem - a pain in the ass, for sure, but better than trying to scan and do OCR on thousands of sheets ... and before jumping into the current publishing push, I'd spent many nights over at Starbucks with my netbook with Word on it, converting years of old files into a format that I can then just cut-and-paste into MS Publisher).

    I also resurrected the Eschaton Books site ... again. Long-time readers might recall that when I was Director of Communications for Simuality/Liminati back in '08 and into '09, I'd shepherded a line of art books out (via LuLu's print-on-demand service) for the Avatrait gallery in Second Life, which we'd used the Eschaton ISBNs and name for. Unfortunately, that site was on the Simuality servers, and when they went out of business, the site evaporated, and over time (and hard drive crash after hard drive crash), I ended up losing track of (or just plain losing) the component files. So, I ended up re-building the site from the fragments I had into what you'll see at the current SITE ... unfortunately, the OLD Eschaton site (with our original books) seems to have totally been lost, which has forced me to go digging around on and grabbing page after page of old code, which I'll eventually use to re-build that "museum" presence on the new site.

    Anyway, in the month of August I got out four books ... POEMS : 1987, POEMS : 1988, POEMS : 1989, and POEMS : 1990 ... and I've just finished doing the 1991 book, which should be appearing in a few days. Click on the pic and go check them out! There are eventually going to be 20 or so volumes ... things are a bit hazy on the location of files from the front an back ends of that 1976-2007 run, and I may end up having to do some of that scanning/OCR to fill in the gaps ... which, as a friend on FB said, comes out as quite the "magnum opus".

    Yes, this is a bit of an "ego thing" ... but how many other people do you know who have written that many poems? Also, every time I get into reading this stuff I'm reminded of how much I, at least, like the poetry I wrote ... and I hate the thought of this all slowly fading to non-existence on the various floppy disks that currently hold the files. Of course, the "simmering pit of angst, stress, and rage" that informs my poems is not for everybody ... but it occurred to me that the growth of Death Metal, Black Metal, and assorted related genres might have opened up an audience ... and possibly provided a market for which my "bleeding out on the page" poems could be adapted as lyrics!

    Currently, if you're looking for samples, you'll have to deal with the "look inside" feature over on Amazon ... but I'm going to be adding ones on the site eventually (hey, there are only 168 hours in the week!), and possibly with some new reading files (I have a number over on YouTube that I could link to, but they're not "of the vintage" of the books yet).

    Oh, and there will eventually be Kindle editions of the books, but it's SUCH a pain in the ass formatting (or de-formatting) for Kindle that I've not been able to get one through there as yet. The new books have a particular "look" to them, involving a background graphic on most pages, and I can't do that on Kindle, so I'm trying to figure out some way to make it "more interesting" than just plain text-on-white there, but it's time that I'd rather spend getting more titles out. Maybe I'll just make the .pdf source files (or CreateSpace galleys) available through the Eschaton site.

    Anyway, this is HUGELY important to me (in a morbid sense, this is something that I was always holding out for "getting my affairs in order" before taking the dirt nap), and I hope that folks will consider checking them out.

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    Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014
    1:29 am
    Pity ...
    inmapYou see the colorful blob over there ===> that looks something like a brain? That's my "InMap" from LinkedIn, and, unfortunately, that's the last one I'm going to get as they've officially quit supporting it as of, well, yesterday.

    While you can click on that for a larger version, the downloadable one isn't as interesting/useful as the on-line one has been as each of those dots is one of my contacts on LinkedIn, and the web of lines is how they're all connected to each other. What's cool is how the thing self-organizes. I had NO input on this (there was an option to label the colors, but I never bothered), and it's just how the connections played out. That wispy grey area in the top left? Highschool contacts. That red extension towards the middle? Second Life people. That orange clump in the lower left? Folks connected to my old publishing company. And that purple "brain stem"? Those are all Empire Avenue players.

    The main green/blue/purple area are marketing, job search, social media, and press contacts (that purple edge to the blue area is almost all Tribune folks). This took nearly 2 hours to generate, largely because, in that main area, "everybody knows everybody", so there are no doubt thousands of connecting lines. Heck, the program even commented "you have a very complex map" and offered to email me when it was done!

    I'm guessing that, because of charts like mine, running the Map function was a major resource drain for LinkedIn, and since this didn't seem to have gone beyond a "that's cool!" level of utility (in the outlying areas it IS interesting to see who's connected to who, but in the main groups, you can't really track the individual connections), and so they're pulling the plug on it. I think I posted up an earlier download of this, and figured I'd share it now, as it's the last one coming out.

    I wish I could have downloaded the interactive version with all the names on it, but that didn't seem to be an option, so I indulged my OCD and did a few dozen screen grabs of a reasonably zoomed in view of the map, and then cut-and-pasted them into a very large file (54mb) that I'll have for future reference.

    Sorry if you see this and get a serious hankering to have one for yourself, since they're shutting it down ... but you might be able to coax yours (assuming you're on LinkedIn) over at

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    Thursday, August 28th, 2014
    2:38 pm
    That hurt ...

    For some reason my system's video card doesn't much like Facebook, and will crash if I'm using the mouse wheel to scroll though the posts (if I use the mouse to drag the bar on the side, not so much). Every so often it will get into a cycle of crashing and recovering, crashing and recovering, trying to re-load Firefox (read: Facebook - as it almost never happens on any other page), and then generating a BSOD.

    Usually, this is just a temporary pain in the ass, having to wait for the computer to reboot, but every once in a while, when I get the system back up FireFox has lost track of where it was.

    I think I had over 100 tabs open in three browser sessions ... ALL OF WHICH disappeared.

    I had three projects (hence the 3 sessions) I was going to work on this afternoon and now have lost EVERYTHING that I'd been researching for them.

    I really, really, really hate it when this happens. I have FireFox set to start on its previous state, but somehow whatever Facebook was doing to freak out the video card must have sufficiently scrambled everything that all I got was single FireFox tab.

    Hell, it also seems to have wiped everything from FireFox's "memory", as I'm not getting my usual auto-fill hints. Crap.

    I don't know what to do. It's going to take me HOURS to try to get back what I had up ... and ready to work on.

    Days like this I wish I was still drinking ... because "crawling into a bottle" sounds like a swell idea right about now.

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    Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
    10:05 pm
    "Shall we play a game?"
    In the words of the classic '80s film "WarGames" ...
    "Shall we play a game?"

    The other day over on Facebook, I ran into the sort of meme that used to run happily through LiveJournal, back in the day ... and it occurred to me that I might as well re-post it here!

    Here are the official rules:
    "FB tag game! In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard. They don't have to be the 'right' books or great works of literature, just books that have stayed with you in some way." ... this then went on to dictate various "tagging" that needed to happen, but hooey on that.

    Now, I didn't spend very long on digging, so there might be things which are embarrassingly absent from the list, but these popped up, some of which are still kicking around my head many decades since I read them:

    Ten Books that Shaped My Life:
    1. H.P. Lovecraft - The Dreamquest of the Unknown Kadeth
    2. G.Gordon Liddy - Will
    3. Douglas Sharon - Wizard of the Four Winds
    4. P.D. Ouspensky - In Search of the Miraculous
    5. G.I. Gurdjieff - Meetings with Remarkable Men
    6. Rupert Sheldrake - A New Science of Life / The Presence of the Past
    7. John Anthony West - Serpent in the Sky
    8. Idries Shah - The Commanding Self
    9. Philip K. Dick - UBIK
    10. Serge Kahili King - Urban Shaman
    ... have at it!

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    Monday, August 25th, 2014
    2:39 am
    Interesting, but very biased ...
    As regular readers will appreciate, I've bitched a lot about the run of “business books” that I've ended up getting from the “Early Reviewer” program. It's not that I mind getting the genre (I do, after all, put in “requests” for those titles), but month after month it seemed like I'd always get the business book rather than any other sort of book that I might have indicated wanting.. As such, this month's book, Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas by John Pollack was a bit of fresh air … being a book more or less about writing.

    I have a couple of qualms with this book, one being minor – the title – the body of the book does not really frame the subject of analogies in the context of being a “Shortcut” (although, one could obviously follow a twisty route to get to the point where one argued that an analogy was a “shortcut” from getting one's audience from mental point A to mental point B), and I sort of kept waiting for Pollack to get around to setting that up. I also had a “huh?” response to the cover, although I suppose the dominoes featured refer to the “domino theory” from the Vietnam war (mentioned in the book), with the middle one having the pips replaced with a winky emoticon – an analogy in and of itself, I suppose (although it didn't really work for me).

    The second is a bit more personal, and philosophical, and can be expressed as a caveat: if your political stance is somewhere to the right of the smarmy Left-loving mass media, be prepared to be outright insulted at least a half dozen times through the book. Pollack was a speech writer for President Clinton, and his loyalties for the liberal end of the spectrum are very clear … but in a way that is so off-the-cuff that one has to wonder if he's just another liberal who never exits the cesspool of Washington (or New York, or San Francisco) leftism, so assumes those muddy waters are just “the world as it is” … much like the famous quote about Nixon's 1972 historic landslide election (over McGovern) by New Yorker writer Pauline Kael: “Nobody I know voted for him!”. Repeatedly, he will shift from a very interesting, informative piece of exposition about how analogies work in various situations to a snarky hostile attack on some conservative figure. In only one case does he follow one of these muggings with a weak admission that “his side” is also guilty of similar “sins”. I suspect that this is yet another example of the Left's regular version of “frat house sexism”, assuming that everybody you're writing for has the same biases you do, and figuring you'll be scoring points by a “clever” attack that everybody can giggle about and agree what troglodytes those Republicans are. The fact that the tone shifts so dramatically in these attacks makes me assume that his editors “were in on the joke”, since it would have improved the book to have excised them, and yet there they are.

    These grievances having been aired, the rest of the book is interesting enough, drawing on literary, historical, and psychological sources to illustrate how analogies work in theory, and classic cases where they were key elements of famous speeches, etc. Pollack posits a model in which “the most persuasive analogies achieve five things:
    1. Use the familiar to explain something less familiar.

    2. Highlight similarities and obscure differences.

    3. Identify useful abstractions.

    4. Tell a coherent story.

    5. Resonate emotionally
    He takes these and “picks apart” several famous inventions and developments (as well as commercials and speeches) according to that model, including examples involving Copernicus, Gutenberg, Darwin, Ford's Edsel, Berners-Lee's “web”, and exchanges between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

    One element that I found fascinating is his relating the function of analogies to brain patterns revealed in the research of neuroscientist Benjamin Bergen of UCSD, which strongly reminded me of the Neuro-Linguistic Psychology materials I've read (although I don't believe Bergen's involved in that field).
    “... {words} will trigger the firing of neurons that, to one degree or another, echo patterns created by … actual experiences in our lives, or secondary knowledge of such experiences. According to Bergen's research and that of others, this is because we are using much of the same basic equipment in the brain to imagine {something} as we do when we actually see {that thing}. Similarly, if you are told to think about the actual motions you make in opening your front door, your brain will fire many of the same neurons as it does when you actually do open your door, except that in the imagined scenario, the brain inhibits the actual execution of those motions.”
    Pollack takes this research to suggest an “analogical instinct” where the words shape the reality, and so are very influential in manipulating people's world views. To illustrate this, some famed speeches of history are examined, including Churchill's “Finest Hour” broadcasts, and Martin Luther King's “I Have a Dream” speech. Interestingly, both of these men were students of oratory, and the language structures involved. Churchill even published a paper on the subject. Another example provided is how Franklin Roosevelt had to “sell” the American people on the idea of throwing in behind England at the start of WW2 … using an analogy of lending one's neighbor a hose to help put out a fire in his house as a way to frame the huge expenditures that he was trying to get approved by Congress.

    In the closing chapters the author bemoans how linguistic subtleties such as analogies have been progressively “dumbed down” out of the educational mainstream, including having the “analogies” section of the SAT exam removed by the College Board in 2005, replaced by an essay section. He quotes New York Times write Adam Cohen on this:
    “Intentionally misleading comparisons are becoming the dominant mode of public discourse ... the ability to tell true analogies from false ones has never been more important.” While every American should be able to write well … “... we would be better off with a nation of analogists.”
    Shortcut is one of the rare “Early Reviewer” titles which actually arrived “early”, and it's still a couple of weeks from official publication. It will, no doubt, be out in the better-stocked brick-and-mortar locations mid-September, but the on-line big boys have it for pre-order, presently at about a 25% discount from cover price. Again, where this book fails is in its insensitivity to its (author's) biases, and how you will like it will no doubt depend on how deep you are into leftist groupthink. I suspect that most conservative readers would give it a “C” for interesting ideas and analysis, while your garden-variety liberal would gleefully give it an “A” for those factors, plus playing to their “in group” snickering. As noted above, a firmer hand on the editorial tiller could have fixed this problem by saying “no” to the partisan broadsides ... but “permissiveness” is a hallmark of that camp, so what can one expect.

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    Wednesday, August 20th, 2014
    2:32 pm
    And now a word from our sponsors (?) ...
    We had some exciting news on the worm biz front, as Nature's Little Recyclers was selected by Accion to be one of the companies involved in the City's Seed Chicago program ... this is an outreach that various organizations related to the City have put together to help deserving start-ups get some funding. The difference is that the funding, rather than coming from tax revenues or foundation grants, is "crowd sourced" via Kickstarter. And, yes, NLR has been to that rodeo a few times already ... but we're hoping that with the backing of Seed Chicago we'll actually walk away with some funds this time. Here's the video:

    The actual NLR Kickstarter page is here: Building An Earthworm Factory.

    Every little bit helps ... so please drop by, and we'd really appreciate spreading that URL around via your social channels!

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    Sunday, August 17th, 2014
    9:12 am
    Fledging rituals ...
    Ah ... that little girl over there ===> is going off for college this morning. Of course, that picture is from a long time ago, but on some level, that's the mental image I have of Daughter No.1 (especially as that's the picture I use to take with me when I was on business trips).

    She grew up to be a brilliant young lady (she's starting, as an incoming freshman, in Caluclus III in one of the country's top Electrical & Computer Engineering programs), and is quite eager to get started with her college education. However, it only really struck me in the past week that she wasn't going to BE HERE any more except for on vacations, and that very soon she wasn't going to BE HERE at all. And, I'm not processing that data point particularly well.

    In our society, having a baby head off to college is pretty much like the fledgeling getting nudged out of the nest to start using those flight feathers. But there's no ritual to it ... it would be nice if we had a structured pathway to take all parties through the process.

    I think ritual is the one thing supporting organized religion. People need ritual, and they'll put up with all sorts of cognitive dissonance over plainly ridiculous mythologies to get it. I keep thinking that the world needs a non-religious "religion" ... one that won't ask you to believe absurdities (as Voltaire phrased it), but will provide you with the spiritual/emotional structure that the lower mind requires.

    It was almost as if the Universe was trying to help me through this process this morning. I got up and turned on the BBCA channel, and there was a science show dealing with in-vitro fertilization. Daughter No.1 was a product of the advanced IVF procedure "ICSI", which we ended up being able to get because The Wife at the time was an administrator at one of the hospitals that were running experimental tests of the system. The serendipity of having this "look back" to No.1's beginning on the morning that we're driving her off to college was notable ... hence my making a note of it in here.

    (Sigh) ... Daughter No.1 is my favorite among all the human fauna on this planet (well, Daughter No.2 is right up there too), and I'm sure going to miss having her around. Thank goodness for Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts!

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    Sunday, August 10th, 2014
    11:55 am
    "It ain't what you want, it's what you need."
    Here's another example of why I love picking up books at the dollar store … the odds of my getting Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food in any other context would be highly unlikely, but running into it amid the slim pickings (and very slim pickings for non-fiction) on the dollar store shelf made it a decided “why not?” add-in to my cart a couple of months back. Having spent the first decade plus of my career in food publicity, I do tend to have “food books” on my radar – but not to the extent that I particularly go looking for them – so I'm happy when an entertaining one comes my way.

    Ms. Lee's book (and, yes, her middle name is the number 8 … chosen to differentiate her from the other 10,000 “Jennifer Lee”s in the U.S., and reflecting Chinese numerology for good luck) is a delightful collection of "bits and pieces" (which appears to be the source meaning of “chop suey”) related to the expansion of Chinese food globally, and how fortune cookies play into that.

    The entry point for the narrative was a Powerball lottery draw back in 2005 … when 110 people (vs. a statistical likelihood of a bit less than 4) all came up with second-place winning tickets, with nearly identical numbers (104 of the 110 played the same, non-winning, sixth number). The winners were from all over the country, so there was unlikely some sort of conspiracy to defraud the lottery … but, naturally, an investigation was launched. From the lottery's perspective, having all those second-place winners was worse than having a bunch of first-place winners, since the big prize would have been split between the winners, while the second-place prizes were flat-rate six-figure pay-outs. By this point, you've no doubt guessed what turned out to have caused this mass of people playing a particular set of numbers – they had all decided to play numbers printed on the paper slips in fortune cookies, and that particular day the numbers in the cookies were substantially right.

    Lee was a reporter with the New York Times who frequently got assigned to Chinese-American cultural stories, and she got sent out on an epic road trip – visiting all the restaurants where winners had identified getting the fortune cookies bearing the winning numbers … visiting 42 states in all. One of the little factoids here that I found surprising is that there are more (primarily “mom & pop”) Chinese restaurants in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken locations combined … they are pretty much everywhere, woven through society, but in many ways only barely part of society. Lee traces the migration from various areas in China to the U.S. in different eras, both in relation to the titular pastry and in general.

    Some folks might find it surprising that the fortune cookie is not a “Chinese” thing. While it could be argued to be an “American thing”, the author's research eventually narrows down its origin to a particular Japanese “tea cake”, which used to come with Japanese writing on its “fortune”. This was brought over by Japanese immigrants in California, and had a small footprint of availability in Japanese settings there. The big change came with the Japanese internment in 1942. None of the Japanese-owned businesses continued in their original forms, with other Oriental groups taking over running them, or obtaining their resources. Among these were the machines for making the cookies, which suddenly were being produced with English copy, and being featured in Chinese restaurants.

    Credit Lee with jumping the gap back to the pre-Internment Japanese origins of the fortune cookie, as there was a lot of confusion of who/what/when as far as the “originator” in the Chinese community, with various claimants, but very little hard evidence. While the fortune cookie question is the frame on which the book hangs, it is just one thread here. It also covers immigration, culture, the spread of recipes, and the function played by Chinese restaurants in the last century in the U.S.

    Another “factoid” that I found of interest is that the reasonably ubiquitous delivery menu can be traced to a particular owner of a particular restaurant at a particular point in time. It amazes me that this model for getting food is as recent as it is (and, to be honest, I have a certain doubt about this being the start of delivery menus … as I was able to call and have subs delivered to my dorm room in college at about the same time), but Lee points to one place on Manhattan's upper west side where the owner decided that “If the customers didn't want to come to her, she would bring the food to them.” in November of 1976. The success that this one place was having soon exploded into nearly every Chinese (and other) restaurant adding phone ordered delivery to their business model. A related section later in the book discusses the dangers of being a food delivery person, with limited grasp of the language, in places like New York.

    The look into the “underworld” of Chinese restaurants is fascinating … from the cities in China where everybody has left to come to America (and sent home money to build big empty mansions), to the employment agencies and bus companies that exist to get (typically undocumented) workers to restaurant jobs around the country, to how these restaurants change hands (most move family-to-family as it is much easier than opening a new place with English-requiring forms and inspectors involved), and how various recipes evolved and moved across the country (and world). As noted above “chop suey” translates to “bits and pieces” and moved from California to the east coast, while General Tso's Chicken arose out east, and eventually moved on west (with many variations of the name … Lee goes to China to find the original home of the General in question, and spins a number of stories off of that). Generally speaking, none of these “American” Chinese dishes have direct equivalents in actual Chinese cooking, and that the standard “American style” that we're familiar with here has become a cuisine of its own, with restaurants opening around the world offering those dishes.

    A substantial side-story here was an idea that her editor at the Times came up with – determining “the best” Chinese restaurant in the world. Given the universality of “Chinese” restaurants around the planet, and the variability of style and influence, this was a huge challenge, but Lee visited candidates in Los Angeles, Lima, Paris, Singapore, London, Tokyo, Australia, San Francisco, Dubai, Seoul, Vancouver, Brazil, Mauritius, Mumbai, Jamaica, Rome, and New York, judging by a set of requirements to provide something of a baseline. The winner? A place located on the second floor of a suburban strip mall somewhere south of Vancouver, BC … go figure!

    If I had a complaint about The Fortune Cookie Chronicles it's that it heads off in so many directions, and becomes more of a collection of divergent pieces about Chinese “stuff” (loosely related to food) than something with a solid story arc. This is all fascinating, mind you (she gets into things like comparing Chinese restaurants to open-source software vs. the fast food icons being the Microsofts, etc. ... and where the “classic” fortunes come from – it's not Confucius), but by the end I was feeling like it could have hung together better than it ultimately does.

    However, this is a minor quibble held up against the mass of incredibly interesting info that's in here. The book is very accessible, and pretty much “has something for everybody” in it. This has been out for a while (since 2008), and seems to still be in print in the paperback edition. Since it got into the dollar store channel, there are copies out there for a penny from the on-line new/used guys, including “like new” copies of the hardcover. This book was a great read for me (being a long-time fan of Chinese places), and if you're interested in any of the assorted sub-themes here, you'll probably like it as well.

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    Saturday, August 9th, 2014
    10:53 am
    Shaken, not stirred?
    This is one of those books that I “got wind of” on the Internet, and shot a review copy request off to the publisher. I'd been familiar with Tech Cocktail for years, and have attended numerous of their events, and even exhibited (with the folks) at their recent Startup Showcase ... so, when I saw posts regarding their co-founder Frank Gruber's new Startup Mixology: Tech Cocktail's Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success, I figured I'd reach out to the good folks at Wiley to get a copy.

    There is no great mystery in what the book's about (it's pretty much spelled out in the sub-title – although one might wonder “where are the drink recipes?” from just looking at the book's spine), it's about startups, with a particular focus on the tech side of things. As almost my entire career has been in and around startups, this certainly had my attention from the get-go.

    I've seen comments about this as being a “textbook” for the startup world, and while it is fairly inclusive of everything one needs to know or do (in the broad strokes, of course) to launch into an entrepreneurial effort, it's very much styled as a discussion … with Gruber being in first person for much of the book, and outlining his experiences and those of a long list of fellow business starters (with both positive and negative results). While I'd agree that this would be a great book for everybody considering starting a business to read, I think it would be challenging to base a course on.

    Startup Mixology is structured in six “parts”, which have two to four chapters each, these being broken up into specific topic sections, with side boxes featuring several dozen people, organizations, resources, etc., highlighting points in the various areas. I always feel like I'm being lazy when I do this (as you could get the info by flipping through the book or Amazon's “Look Inside” feature), but some books do well with a look at their “flow”, so here's how this is set up:
    Getting Started
          Entrepreneurial Mind
          Product-Market Fit
    Team And People
    Sales And Marketing
    Growth And Change
    Now, much of that list is pretty obvious, but other parts are less so … some of the examples, for example, in “Product-Market Fit” are telling, and led to some fairly dramatic “pivots” from some great idea that nobody needed to something that is wanted: “... if you don't listen to your customers … you might spend a lot of time, money, and energy building an amazing piece of art that never sees the light of day or helps anyone”. Another thing that might be surprising (especially to old-school types) is having “Celebration” deemed worthy of its own chapter. Needless to say, this isn't a “one size fits all” thing, and much of the chapter is given over to ways to determine what's right for one's own particular situation.

    Zappos' Tony Hsieh casts a noticeable shadow across the book, from penning its Foreword, to being the subject of various stories and examples. Notable among these is, in the Culture chapter, where the “10 core values” of Zappos are listed … oddly, this was only one of two things I bookmarked while reading through the book (again, the tone is more discursive than pedantic – leaving fewer “bits” to bring you here), but I'll spare you another list, especially as it's fairly specific to one business. However, Gruber does note: “Company culture matters. Whether you're a startup or a large organization, the people who make up your business and the culture that guides it are critical to success.” … and goes on to recommend Hsieh's book Delivering Happiness. Apparently Hsieh is also responsible for Tech Cocktail moving out to Las Vegas, as he leads “The Downtown Project”, which is revitalization/investment effort to bring tech and related businesses to Sin City.

    Having been in a number of startups, there are parts here which are both amusingly familiar, and poking at still-tender emotional scars. While almost all of the “Bootstrapping” chapter was painfully recognizable from my own career path, one thing that stood out in the Funding chapter was the concept of needing to build in a “fudge factor” in determining what sort of dollars you're looking for – as much as 50% over what your original estimates are – plus the aspect of “founder tuition”, citing the example of one gal who estimated that she'd “wasted half of her initial $1 million in angel funding on her own mistakes”.

    Obviously, this is not a Pollyanna-esque tract on the wonders of starting your own business. Much of the “philosophical” underpinnings are based on “lean startup methodology”, and the “fail fast” school of thought, and there are cautionary tales throughout, and a “The Harsh Reality” section in each chapter (even in the “Success” chapter!). This does provide one with a very informed look at what hazards are out there, in a wide range of contexts and situations, and offers up examples of companies that have made it as well as those who didn't.

    Again, the conversational approach that Gruber takes in Startup Mixology makes this a quite accessible, if not necessarily “breezy”, read – while providing a wealth of assembled wisdom from the individuals and companies discussed. This just came out at the end of June, so the business-oriented brick-and-mortar book vendors should certainly have it available, and the on-line big boys are currently offering it at about a quarter off of cover. If you have an interest in business in general, startup ventures in particular, or related fields, I think you'll get a lot out of this.

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    Friday, August 1st, 2014
    7:05 pm
    Self-indulgence ...
    IMG_3752rI'm sort of a freak ... {but you KNEW that} ... in terms of how I relate to sensory input. Back when I was trying to get some traction with network marketing, I was coached to try to, essentially, "cold read" prospects and figure out what their "sensory mode" was, and then focus my pitch on whatever they were wired for - Visual, Auditory, Tactile, or Olfactory. I was never any good at this (some have posited that my paying sufficiently close attention to what somebody else is saying to get that info is outside my range of interpersonal interaction), but it did lead me to wonder what MY "sensory mode" was. After much reflection, I came up that it was based on taste, which has been suggested to me to be a mutual subset of tactile and olfactory senses. In my life, there are no pleasures quite so sublime as culinary pleasures.

    This is not particularly surprising, having grown up in the food industry (at one point I was credited with having almost "photographic recall" of the flavor profiles of thing I'd eaten), but it seems to be a far outlier for how people relate to their worlds.

    Of course, back when I was doing PR for blue-chip consumer food product clients, I had the pleasure of eating at restaurants on almost a daily (and frequently multiple times a day) basis. And ... well, one of the main things that has exited my life over the past decade or so has been my ability to indulge in restaurant meals. We've been so broke for so long, that I feel guilty getting 2-for-$2.50 hot dogs (with ersatz chili and cheese) from 7-11 ... and regularly refuse to go out with my family on their weekly Chili's outing, since I don't want to "waste" $15-20.00 (between food, beverage, tax, and gratuity) on food that I'm not particularly interested in eating.

    So, it is a MAJOR act of self-indulgence if I actually go and spend money on something for lunch (as opposed to having a couple of hard-boiled eggs or something at home). However, today is Friday, and on Fridays Lou Malnati's has an exquisite clam chowder, a bowl of which can be had for under four bucks all told. I had wanted to get some reading done this afternoon, so I blocked out time starting around 1pm, got a to-go order of the soup (bringing my own beverage from home), and headed out to the park (that's Mariano Park for those of you who don't follow me on Foursquare/Swarm ... which is right across from my building). What bliss!

    I don't know what it is, specifically, about Malnati's clam chowder that I like, but they describe it as "old style" ... it's thick, creamy, full of lots of clams, and has a closer profile to a cream soup than to a "fish soup", with a bisque-like finish. There are several "star items" on various menus that keep bringing me back to places, and this is certainly one of those. Anyway, between the soup and my beverage (dollar store drink mix, baby!), lunch came to just under $4.00, so I didn't have to beat myself up too much for the spendy indulgence.

    Needless to say, this all underscored to me what a cruel unrelenting Hell I've been living in since my employment situation fell apart all those many years (and thousands of resumes) ago. There is never anything good that doesn't throw a light on all the bad, but that's what it's been like in my head forever. (sigh)

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    Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
    11:09 am
    Wow ... wonder what happened ...
    LJUR140730I probably shouldn't pay attention to that Live Journal "user rating" thing ... but my OCD just gloms onto that number. It's a ranking, so the number is the "place" you're in, the smaller number the better.

    And between yesterday and today that went from being 11,000-something to being 36,000-something. That's a huge jump (drop). Wonder what the heck that was about.

    For a while I was writing this stuff down, and there was a time (not too long ago) when my "ranking" was in the upper 6,000s ... generally the number moves around a few dozen slots on a daily basis, but this was the biggest shift I can recall seeing. I mean, really, WHAT would cause me to suddenly (overnight) drop 25,000-some slots?

    I feel damaged. This is so confusing.

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    {edit... around 8:40pm}

    LJUR140730aOK, there must been some sort of glitch on LJ's part ... usually these don't update more than once in a day, and so that 25,000+ jump (drop) must have been some strange behind-the-scenes number crunching error ... if you look at the rankings, it's now showing me having gone up 26,180 slots!

    Hmmm ... considering that I was at 11,000-something yesterday, this means that I got ranked higher today despite the brief WTF? moment!

    Today was otherwise a crappy day in yet another crappy week (in yet another crappy month, in yet another crappy year, etc.), so I'll take whatever little glimmer of "happy" I can find ...

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    Monday, July 28th, 2014
    1:15 pm
    An oldie, but still a goodie ...
    As regular readers of this space will recognize, I've read a lot of Seth Godin's stuff … I'm about a dozen books in, but, frankly, that doesn't even qualify as most, as he's got 2-3 dozen books out at this point. Unleashing the Ideavirus: Stop Marketing AT People! Turn Your Ideas into Epidemics by Helping Your Customers Do the Marketing thing for You is another one that's been around for quite a while, having initially come out in 2000, but it, oddly, does not have the “dated” feel that other books (his included) that hail from the dawn of the “social media/marketing” era have hanging over them. I'm guessing that this is because Ideavirus is more of a book on theory than one based on case studies (although it illustrates various points with concrete examples, and nearly half the page count is taken up by the “Case Studies and Riffs” section). Plus, his spiels on “permission marketing”, etc. are pretty much evergreen in the current environment – which owes a lot to his vision of these trends.

    Admittedly, Godin tries in this book to seed a new vocabulary for the spread of ideas, and this may be “patient zero” for the concept of message virality, but it's probably just as well that his terms like “sneezers” and “hives” (or “word of mouse” - which is “word of mouth augmented by the power of online communication”) didn't catch on … although they are conceptually valid, and part of a complex of ideas that he defines as “the eight underlying variables in the ideavirus formula” (this latter is rather complex, and I'll spare you the details), which are: Sneezers, Hive, Velocity, Vector, Medium, Smoothness, Persistence, and Amplifier.

    Obviously, he'd sought to come up with a formula for creating “viral” content, but if you've got eight variables in play it becomes pretty unwieldy fast (admittedly he does say “No, I don't think you'll use it. But understanding the co-efficients makes it easier to see what's important and what's not.”), with a process that goes “multiply these five factors”, “divide by the sum of these two factors”, and “then multiply that by the product of these four factors” … sheesh! He does go on to pick apart he “dynamics” of these elements, so while it's very complicated, it's not unclear.

    Again, much of this cycles back to the “Permission Marketing” premise and “the sad decline of interruption marketing”:
    Unless you find a more cost-effective way to get your message out, your business is doomed. You can no longer survive by interrupting strangers with a message they don't want to hear, about a product they've never heard of, using methods that annoy them.”
    ...although I suspect that he might have imagined that “interruption marketing” (standard advertising modalities) would have faded more in the decade and a half since he wrote this than they have.

    That's brings me to one of the key dichotomies here, I think that history has shown that making something “go viral” is a lot more slippery proposition than Godin presents in Unleashing the Ideavirus. Perhaps if one was able to effectively manipulate the 8 variables of his “ideavirus formula” (in their assorted permutations of mathematical massage), one might be able to posit creating at least a low-level “infection” on a regular basis, but we've seen so many companies (and individuals) throw a lot of time, money, effort, and intent at creating “viral” messages, that I suspect there's a lot more luck (and/or accidental superpositioning of campaigns with random elements in the cultural zeitgeist – which is a more plausible explanation for everything from “Pet Rocks” in the 70's to “Gangnam Style” more recently, than any marketing brilliance) involved.

    On the other hand … this is one of those inspirational reads, that makes the reader (assuming, I suppose, that the reader is of the “marketing” persuasion) want to gear up for a major project of getting Sneezers of various sorts to sneeze the viral message across the Hive, etc., etc., etc. And even the case studies (at this point being pretty close to “ancient history” in some cases) bring value, as they're here to illustrate dynamics of the whole Ideavirus concept, rather than as examples of things that might be copyable in today's economy.

    At the end of the book Godin produces a list of “tactics” for generating “ideavirus” programs. He goes into more detail on each of these, but I thought the list was useful to give an idea of how he was envisioning this concept being put into action (on, I'm guessing, the agency level):
    • Make it virusworthy. {it needs to be “worth talking about”}

    • Expose the idea. {even if you have to pay the target influencers/“sneezers”}

    • Figure out what you want the sneezers to say. {controlling the message is important}

    • Give the sneezers the tools they need to spread the virus. {make it easy to disperse}

    • Once the consumer has volunteered his attention, get permission. {that's the name of the game, right?}

    • Amaze your audience so that they will reinforce the virus and keep it growing. {nurture your attention}

    • Admit that few viruses last forever. Embrace the lifecycle of the virus. {here again, I think the “zeitgeist” has a lot of influence of what works when}
    As noted, Unleashing the Ideavirus has been out a long time, but it is still in print, and could very well have earned itself a slot on the shelves of your local brick-and-mortar book vendor. However, you can also get a “very good” used copy for as little as 1¢ (plus $3.99 shipping) via the on-line big boys' new/used vendors (which is where I got mine), if you're wanting to be frugal. I really enjoyed this one, and if you're into marketing, communications, social media, etc., you'll likely find good stuff in here as well.

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    Sunday, July 27th, 2014
    6:06 pm
    Psi statistical analysis ...
    I'm not sure at this juncture what had triggered my ordering this book, but it's been sitting in the to-be-read pile(s) for quite a while. I've read/reviewed another of Dean Radin's books previously (Entangled Minds), and I seem to have been luke-warm towards that … which is likewise the case here. I'm sure I'd seen his The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena referenced elsewhere and it sounded interesting enough to snag off of Amazon … however, I also took a read through some of the reviews there – which, while 85% run 4-5 stars, many also pointed out the book being “dry”. Now, I don't particularly like to “prejudice” my reading of a book by delving too deeply into the reviews, but it did give me a context for the book, which was probably a good thing.

    One of my complaints about the previous book was that he was constantly in a defensive posture towards the skeptics, and that same sort of stance is at play here, not as blatantly, but he's constantly pushing advanced statistical analysis of the data to the forefront, which, while certainly providing a “scientific” edge to the material discussed, does leave the narrative a bit on the arid side. This is too bad, as (much like in the other book) the studies he is looking at are both fascinating and provocative, and could have been presented with a bit more “gee whiz!” than creeps in here. I have to think that there is a middle ground between a totally woo-woo “AMAZING PSYCHIC POWERS!” sort of pop presentation, and this, which for much of it has all the sexiness of a report on comparative bridge load bearing data (that in-between niche is, perhaps, the realm of Rupert Sheldrake, in whose books I think I first encountered the sort of meta-analysis of study results that is the backbone of The Conscious Universe).

    Meta-analysis is where researchers take the results of many experiments and analyze them in relation to the whole. This could be done (as in one illustration in the book), with taking a baseball player's batting stats over a number of seasons to come up with an over-all stat for his capabilities at the plate (the movie Money Ball was anchored on a lot of this kind of number crunching). Here, examples of numerous sorts of Psi experiments are looked at together to produce “meta” results. If you would pardon a rather extensive quote, I found the following both indicative of the “tone” of the book, and revealing of the sort of rather remarkable numbers involved:
          Figure 5.3 shows the hit-rate point estimates and 95 percent confidence intervals of each of the twenty-five studies. As indicated, the overall hit rate for the combined 762 sessions was 37 percent. This hit rate corresponds to odds against chance of about a trillion to one – even though the majority of the individual studies (fourteen of twenty-five) were not independently “successful” (their 95 percent confidence intervals included chance). This again demonstrates the value of combining all available studies as opposed to just a few selected experiments.
          To show that the psi ganzfeld effect is larger than it first appears, let's compare it with the results of a widely publicized medical study investigating whether aspirin could prevent heart attacks … That study was discontinued after six years because it had become abundantly clear that the aspirin treatment was effective, and it was considered unethical to keep the control group on placebo medication. This was widely publicized as a major medical breakthrough, but despite its practical importance, the magnitude of the aspirin effect is extremely small. Taking aspirin reduces the probability of a heart attack by a mere 0.8 percent compared with not taking aspirin (that's eight-tenths of one percentage point). This effect is about ten times smaller than the psi ganzfeld effect observed in the 1985 meta-analysis.
    I'll admit that the specifics of the math still are a bit hazy (the 95% confidence intervals, for instance), but everything in the book is pretty much drawn through that knothole. Radin isn't quite “so defensive” in this volume, but he's certainly eager to point out where other fields are able to take very weak results and move forward with them as “proof positive” for an effect.

    There is a certain defensiveness implicit here, however, as pointing out how tiny effects shown against a placebo or in response to some influence sets up a case where the results of the various psi experiments start looking “pretty impressive” in comparison. It's not like these experiments are regularly racking up 75-80% hit rates when “chance” would be 20-25% … even the most hardened critics of psi would have a tough time maintaining their skepticism in the face of those sorts of numbers … but this example, at 37%, is about as good as it gets – about half better than the chance result of 25%. While that's good and it's hard to dismiss (especially in light of the statistical voodoo which comes up with figures like that “trillion to one”), it's not particularly wowing to the uninvolved. Where a ballplayer will be in the Hall of Fame if he “fails” 2 out of 3 trials, getting only a bit more than 1/3rd right when pure random selection would yield 1-in-4 “hits” comes across more as somewhat “interesting” than really “convincing”.

    However, these are the results that are there, and Radin strives to make do with them as best he can. Ultimately, the argument is more convincing than not, with the statistical analysis churning through responses to most challenges. One thing that I found interesting was the “file-drawer effect”, which is an argument that unsuccessful studies languish in files and don't get published (and added to the data in the meta-analysis). In most cases, the putative number of these unseen studies would have to be many times (often ridiculously so) more than all the published studies to be able reduce the effects of the analyzed data down to chance.

    The Conscious Universe is structured in four “thematic” sections – Motivation, Evidence, Understanding, and Implications – with “Evidence” being the bulk of the book. In this, the following are discussed and the data picked apart: Telepathy, Perception at a Distance, Perception Through Time, Mind-Matter Interaction, Mental Interactions with Living Organisms, Field Consciousness, Psi in the Casino, and Applications. The last two of these are fascinating in that there appear to be a ton of money being spent on Psi research within a handful of fields. Obviously, the Gaming industry wants to be able to manage any elements that could possibly effect its percentages, and there are some remarkably suggestive studies shown here (albeit with a rather small sample size as nearly all the big players were unwilling to discuss the subject with Radin). Other “applications” include the now-famous military studies, as well as ones done in the context of medicine and technology. There was even a 1982 experiment taking a non-investor psychic and having their stock picks go up against a group of 19 stock professionals … over the six-month study the psychic beat 18 of the 19's results, with an over-all gain of 17% for the psychic's stocks, vs. a 8% drop in the value of the stockbrokers! That's just one study with one psychic, but one wonders how many of the big investment houses might quietly have Psi divisions providing a different data stream than what shows up in the WSJ.

    Again, if you're looking for a “rah-rah!” book for things in the Psi filed, this will no doubt be a disappointment to you, but if you're interested into delving deeply into an analysis of the data that's out there (and some of these data sets cover vast numbers of studies over long periods of time), it's a fascinating read. Sure, I would have like to have some more “preaching to the choir” myself, but you have to respect Radin for his reticence for flag waving, and staying with the statistical analysis as much as he does.

    The Conscious Universe came out in 1997, and the 2009 paperback edition is still in print, and must be reasonably popular as the new/used guys don't have either it or the hardcover at massive discounts. The on-line sources currently have it for about 30% off of cover, which is what I went with on this. I found it an interesting read, and if you don't mind the “academic” dryness of the presentation, you are likely to get a lot of very good info here.

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    Friday, July 25th, 2014
    9:29 am
    Sometimes things are worse than you imagined ...
    I was somewhat surprised to have won this from the “Early Reviewer” program … as I've kvetched about in here repeatedly, I seem to get picked for business books when I request them, and it's interesting to get something of a different genre. Since the month this was offered, I didn't request any business books, it showed up … but I'm a bit unsure of how to define its specific genre. General Tony Zinni's (with Tony Koltz) Before the First Shots Are Fired: How America Can Win Or Lose Off The Battlefield is a bit of a memoir, a bit of a military history book, and a bit of a political broadside. Frankly, it reminds me quite a bit of another LTER book I reviewed some time back, Kip Hawley's Permanent Emergency, a look at the TSA that gave serious “behind the scenes” access to the reader.

    Zinni's Before the First Shots are Fired is, at base, the author's stance on what went wrong in various military situations, and what he believes could be done about it. A product of the Viet Nam war (he joined the Marines after graduating from college in 1965), he was a participant in numerous military and quasi-military events over the next several decades. The book starts out with a look at historical data … and it's amazing to think that in 1939 the total U.S. Military was 334,473 individuals (smaller than Romania's!) spread between the Army, Navy, and Marines (there were over 12 million by the end of WWII just six years later). Prior to WWII, we were generally not in a position to get in too much trouble (wars with Spain's colonies aside), but once the page turned from the end of that war and into the Cold War, we were all over the planet, and involved in everybody's business.
    {The Cold War} left us with military commitments that our forefathers could never have imagined possible. We fought limited wars, counterinsurgencies, and “police actions” in Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere. We supported armed struggles resisting communist takeover from Central America to Europe to Afghanistan to Southeast Asia. Clandestine operations helped overthrow communist or left-leaning governments in Iran and Central America.
    Unfortunately, these dirty little limited wars and military interventions turned out to be hard to manage. Our model was the “Good War” and we expected these new wars to play out according to that unambiguous model. They did not. They were messy, hard to define, and harder to sell, requiring tactics that in some cases seemed less than honorable – and not really true to American values. We supported dictators; we toppled governments; and we used clandestine methods to protect our interests and achieve our ends.
    One fascinating thing he notes is that every President had a military “doctrine”that was more-or-less formalized and served to guide military planning. What is somewhat creepy is that these, to a certain extent, never go away, so the strategic thrust of one administration is only modified by the next's (or subsequent), but never fully replaced.

    Of course, as one would expect from a book by a General, much of this is pretty solidly from that side of the table, and the stories he tells of the civilian side are pretty horrifying. Every administration is different, naturally enough, and some came in with “the best minds” on hand to run things, but others were fraught with cronyism and worse (such as the Obama team assigning jobs more on the basis of campaign fundraising than any expertise, or even familiarity, with doled out cabinet or diplomatic assignments). There is always some cross-intent conflict between the sides, but it's amazing how bad this sort of thing can get when the politicians are trying to play politics with soldiers … especially when the foreign excuse is largely a ploy for domestic results. I was, honestly, surprised with the rancor he reserved for G.W. Bush's administration … as it appears that the key players in that (he particularly has a thing for Rumsfeld) pretty much didn't care what the military thought, and they were going to run things their way.

    Zinni “lifts the curtain” on numerous conflicts and takes a look at the elements that were driving them, internationally, politically, and militarily. If you're a fan of military histories, these will be particularly of interest. However, the most fascinating thing here is how he frames “how we got here” … from a fairly isolationist, largely rural, nation protected by oceans on either flank, to “the world's policeman”, being pulled into nearly every conflict wherever on the globe it happens. He notes that the original form of the “Military-Industrial Complex” (a famous phrase from Eisenhower's “farewell address”) was the “military-industrial-congressional complex”, implicating Congress in a cycle that started with FDR's taking Depression-idled factories and turning them into the forges of “the arsenal of democracy” … which soon enough turned into local “pork” that was unlikely to be ever taken off the books by Representatives looking at re-election every 2 years.

    While he doesn't necessarily propose a solution for wresting control of foreign policy from the “military-industrial-congressional complex”, while protecting it as much as possible from the craven politicization of it by the executive branch, he does discuss what he sees as positive programs, and what he sees as being deeply negative.

    Before the First Shots are Fired should be appealing to fans of military history, political intrigue, world history, and associated fields. While not being an auto-biography per se, it also traces out an arc of a rather fascinating military career. Unlike many of the LTER selections, this one is actually early, and the book won't be appearing until September, but you can pre-order it from the on-line big boys, currently at about a 25% discount. While I think this book could have been a stronger statement (Zinni obviously has tried to avoid “nailing his thesis to the doors” here), it's a fascinating look at a lot of the “sausage making” that goes on behind the gorier headlines, and I would certainly recommend it to anybody with interests in these areas.

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