Go APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur) with Guy Kawasaki & Shawn Welch – #bookreview #amwriting

APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book
Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch
(Nononina Press,
Kindle)

Okay, confession time. I know a bit about the book business—what used to be the book business.

Years ago, I was a freelance developmental book editor for a trio of well-known publishing houses; I’ve had a couple of book agents; books I wrote have been put into print by not-so-major publishers (and later dropped out of print); I’ve written hundreds of book reviews; and I’ve self-published a few books and ebooks: nonfiction, fiction and poetry.

To misquote the late actor-comedian W.C. Fields, on the whole, I’d rather be in self-publishing now.  There isn’t much of an alternative.

And not just basic self-publishing but artisanal self-publishing, which Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch define, in their well-written and well-designed new book, as “a new, cool form of publishing…authors lovingly crafting their books with total control over the process.”

Many writers, of course, already are trying to do that, often with abysmal results, because it’s not enough to commit a book to print (or its digital equivalent) and then wait for the world to recognize your genius and surge forward to buy it on Amazon.

To succeed in self-publishing, you really do have to be, as Kawasaki and Welch contend, an APE: an author, a publisher, and an entrepreneur. 

With APE, Kawasaki and Welch aim to “help people take control of their writing careers by publishing their books. The thesis of APE is simple but powerful: When a self-publisher successfully fills three roles—author, publisher and entrepreneur—the potential benefits are greater than with traditional publishing.”

There’s plenty of truth in that. Three publishers turned down my Vietnam War memoir Dark Signals, even after it received a prestigious award. And several other publishers did not bother to respond to my queries. So I published it myself as a CreateSpace paperback and Kindle ebook, both available through Amazon.

It has not been a runaway best-seller; I knew from the outset that I was writing for a limited audience: readers of military memoirs. Yet several hundred copies have been ordered thus far. And a book that I really needed to push out of my soul finally is out there for posterity, with five-star reviews.

No doubt I could have sold more copies at the outset if I had had APE in hand. Knowing the traditional book business is one thing. Knowing the new ways of book creation and marketing are quite another.   

Filling the three roles — author, publisher and entrepreneur — is “challenging, but they are not impossible—especially if people who have done it before explain it to you.” That’s the key premise behind APE. Kawasaki, a successful author, has become a successful self-publisher with help from Shawn Welch, and together, they are now offering up their hard-earned secrets in a 300-page book that many authors will want to read, repeatedly.

Indeed, many of us likely will value APE as a Chicago Manual of Style for self-publishing that also has entertaining writing and dozens of how-to tips thrown in for added value. APE is comprehensive. And it’s very realistic about what it takes to succeed as a self-published author.

Three points in particular stand out for me.

  1. Yes, I have been a professional editor and proofreader of books. But I still should never do the final edits and proofreading of my own text. (Neither should you.) “The self-edited author is as foolish as the self-medicated patient,” Guy Kawasaki points out. Indeed, I have had to create new editions of at least two of my ebooks, because I found glaring typos that I had completely overlooked while doing my “final” edits. As Kawasaki notes: “The going rate for copyediting is $35 per hour, and copyeditors can work their magic at the rate of roughly ten pages per hour (although this can vary depending on the complexity of the material), so you’ll pay approximately $1,000–$1,500 for a three-hundred-page manuscript. This is one of the dumbest places to try to save money, because poor copyediting destroys the quality of your book.” (Unfortunately, you will have to sell a lot of ebooks to cover that cost.)
  2. At least two of my CreateSpace books have boring covers. I am not a graphic artist, and I should not attempt to save money in the future by “designing” my own book covers or settling for one of the available “standard” covers. As Kawasaki notes: “Not to get too metaphysical, but a cover is a window into the soul of your book. In one quick glance, it needs to tell the story of your book and attract people to want to read it. Unless you’re a professional, hire a professional to create a great cover because, in spite of how the old saying goes, you can judge a book by its cover. Or at very least, people will judge a book by its cover.”
  3. While I have dabbled at business for many years, I am not much of an entrepreneur. And I don’t have the soul of a self-promoting guerilla marketer. I grew up believing modesty is a virtue. (Or, perhaps I merely had that notion spanked into my britches when I was an Eisenhower-era kid.) In any case, when my first books were published, others hired by the publishers did the editing, bragging, selling and distribution. Sometimes I talked to small groups of people and signed a few autographs. But mostly, I just stayed home, started a new project, and waited for the (small) checks to arrive. Now, in APE’s chapter on “How to Build an Enchanting Personal Brand,” Kawasaki states: “Call me idealistic, but your platform is only as good as your reality. If you suck as a person, your platform will suck too.” Cool. Memo to self: Improve personal enchantment platform immediately. (By the way, Guy and Shawn, I would add a comma between “suck” and “too.” You’re welcome.) Seriously, if we self-publish books, we have to sell ourselves to readers, right along with, and often ahead of, our books. And the eight chapters of APE’s “Entrepreneur” section provide excellent guidelines on how to do that.

Even if you already know a lot about self-publishing and self-marketing books, if you’ll go APE, you can learn some profitable new tricks from Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch.

Si Dunn

Five Dark Riders – A novel rich with history, intrigue, action & romance – #fiction #bookreview

Five Dark Riders
Bill Sloan
(Zipp City Press, paperback, Kindle)

Bill Sloan is an acclaimed historian and veteran newspaper journalist previously nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also is one of America’s best writers of World War II Pacific-theater combat narratives. (His latest, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor, was published in April.)

With Five Dark Riders, his new “fact-based novel,” Sloan demonstrates that he can write engrossing, entertaining historical thrillers, as well.

Drawing upon President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s real-life 1936 trip to Dallas, Texas, Sloan has concocted an absorbing tale built around American domestic political intrigue, international espionage and an unfolding assassination plot.

In Sloan’s novel, Nazi agents have infiltrated a rural area of Texas where German immigrants first arrived in the 19th century, and pro-German culture and sympathies remain strong as Adolph Hitler continues to gain power. The agents’ goal is to assassinate FDR in Dallas, so Vice President John Nance Garner, an avowed isolationist, will take over the White House and keep the United States from going to war with Germany.

The only people who can stop the plot are two South Texans who don’t seem to stand much of a chance: Adam Wagner, a mildly disabled World War I combat veteran who now tends to his father’s sheep and goat farm in South Texas, and Elena Velasco, the beautiful and Anglo-distrusting daughter of an Hispanic family that operates a drugstore in a small Texas town.

Adam and Elena decipher the plot while trying to figure out who killed Elena’s cousin, Julio, who Adam had known since Julio was a baby. The local sheriff, an Anglo of German descent, has done little to investigate the young Mexican’s death, and now he has been duped by a close friend who secretly is at the center of the assassination plot. The sheriff has come to believe Adam may be Julio’s killer and may be involved in other crimes, as well. In reality, one of the Nazi agents killed Julio, and Adam and Elena have figured out how and why.

No one in authority, however, will listen to, nor believe, Adam and Elena and relay what they have discovered to the Secret Service. So, in desperation and with very few resources, the two South Texans begin a journey to Dallas to try to stop the plot themselves.

It’s a dangerous gamble. The Nazis want them dead. And the Secret Service has become aware that there may be some kind of plot against FDR and is trying to maintain very tight security in Texas. Meanwhile, the president’s protectors also are having trouble keeping track of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who keeps slipping away from them. And now they have been alerted to the movements of a suspicious, dangerous couple – Adam and Elena – who seem to keep trying to get close to the president, most likely to harm him.

It’s an excellent setup for a thrill-ride finish that’s full of history, intrigue, action, and romance.

Si Dunn

Steven Saylor’s ‘The Seven Wonders’ – A fine intro to Gordianus the Finder, famous sleuth of ancient Rome – #bookreview #in #mystery #fiction

The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World
Steven Saylor
(Minotaur Books, hardback, list price $25.99; Kindle edition, $12.99)

To be honest, until I picked up this book, I had paid zero attention to best-selling author Steven Saylor’s long-running Roma Sub Rosa series of mysteries set in ancient times, in the Roman Empire. The hero in that series’ 10 novels and two short story collections is Gordianus the Finder, Rome’s most sought-after investigator.

I’ve never been keen on stories (or movies) where people run around in togas and sandals, swear upon assorted gods and goddesses, and kill each other with swords or poisons.

Also, my notion of private detectives has tended to go back only as far as Sherlock Holmes. I’ve mainly been a Spenser/Marlowe/Hammer kind of guy. You know, fists and firearms, not swords and sandals.

The Seven Wonders, the new “prequel” to the Roma Sub Rosa series, has, however, just expanded my horizon quite a bit. Saylor has created a mystery- and adventure-packed tale that introduces Gordianus as a young man, before he has assumed the mantle of “The Finder” from his father.

The tale is set in 92 B.C., a time when the Roman Empire still dominates Greece. But rumors of war are afoot (literally), spies are everywhere, and even the most seemingly trustworthy friend cannot really be trusted amid all of the anti-Roman political intrigue.

It is also the year when Gordianus has reached – and at last crossed – the dividing line between childhood and getting to wear the “manly toga” of an adult. He’s now ready to leave home – Rome – and have some adventures.

He soon gets much more than he expects as he travels with his tutor and travel guide, the aging Antipater of Sidon, “one of the most celebrated poets in the world, famed not only for the elegance of his verses but for the almost magical way he could produce them impromptu, as if drawn from the aether.”

A real figure in history, Antipater has been given at least some of the credit for coming up with the famous list of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In the novel, the poet leaves Rome under mysterious circumstances but takes Gordianus along as he revisits each of the Seven Wonders. He carefully tutors the young Roman, yet things quickly and repeatedly go awry. At their first stop, for example, the Greeks’ wondrous Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, a young girl drops dead unexpectedly during a major celebration. And Gordianus stealthily investigates, using skills learned from his father, a man who “called himself Finder, because men hired him to find the truth.”

The Finder’s son soon determines that the young girl was murdered. Meanwhile, another young girl has been blamed and will die if Gordianus can’t solve his first case fast enough. He succeeds in a clever way, kills his first bad guy, and also has his first sexual encounter, thanks to the sensuous generosity of a beautiful slave woman who has helped him trap the murderer.  

There are then six more Wonders to see, and at each stop, Saylor provides the reader with mysteries rich in history, legend, danger, plot twists and engrossing entertainment as the youthful Gordianus struggles to puzzle them out.

Steven Saylor, who lives in Berkeley, California, and Austin, Texas, is a rare kind of writer, one who deftly blends scholarly detail with fast-paced fiction and makes dead worlds seem to come alive again.

I’m now a Spenser/Marlowe/Hammer/Gordianus kind of guy when it comes to detective fiction. And, thanks to this clever prequel, I’m ready to stop ignoring and start reading the Roma Sub Rosa series.

The Seven Wonders will be available starting June 5, 2012 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now also available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

The Developer’s Code – Good advice to live & work by – #programming #bookreview #in

The Developer’s Code: What Real Programmers Do
By Ka Wai Cheung, edited by Brian P. Hogan
(Pragmatic Bookshelf, paperback, list price $29.00)

When Ka Wai Chung is asked to describe what he does for a living, he sometimes responds: “I am a nonaccredited, overly logical psychologist, therapist, mechanic, diplomat, businessman, and teacher working in an industry that is still defining itself each and every day.”

In other words, he works in software development as a programmer. (He is a founding partner at the Chicago-based web development firm We Are Mammoth, Inc.)

His new book is not about writing better code. And yet it is. It’s also about adopting a better approach to life and work so you can write better code and flourish in your career.

For jaded professionals, The Developer’s Code offers some astute advice for reinvigorating a weary career. If you are a newcomer still trying to get started in software development, the book is a handy guide to putting more order, efficiency and productivity into the way you program.

His 142-page book offers more than 50 short essays under major chapter heading such as “Motivation”, “Productivity”, “Complexity”, and “Clients.”

In essay #12, in the “Motivation” chapter, for example, Cheung counsels: “Test your software first thing in the morning. That’s when you’re the freshest and the most motivated to continue building something good.”

He adds: “During the day, we spend so much effort building software that we lose steam testing each piece we write. It gets hard to see the big picture as the day wears on. By late afternoon, we’re too close to the software. Our perception of what makes sense or feels right now competes with fatigue. Also, fatigue makes us miss the small details.”

Cheung’s advice rings true. I spent about 20 years immersed in software development, and I found that I typically did my best testing early in the morning, before co-workers and managers showed up.

Once the daily circus of meetings, banter and office politics got underway, it became increasingly difficult to code and test effectively as the day wore on and time to go home finally drew near – or passed.

Today, of course, it is possible to write and test code 24 hours a day without leaving your house or apartment. But many of Cheung’s gentle counselings apply to that situation, as well. We still need a good balance between work and life away from the job. If we tilt too much toward working long, disorganized hours, our accuracy and efficiency go down, deadlines slip, and project costs climb.

This is not a “how to code” book, of course. But it does not ignore the art of writing good code from scratch. At the same time, it also celebrates the vast array of tools others have written and made freely available.

“To that end,” Cheung writes, “building applications today feels a bit like going to a Walmart; maybe the open source movement is more like a Goodwill store. We can throw all of these great toolsets into our cart, hit the checkout line, and go. Once we get home, we can unwrap all these great bits of code, stitch them together with a helping of our own, and give life to an application. We can get to running software really, really fast today.”

His chapter titled “Clients” is especially important. He emphasizes: “Like any relationship, the client-programmer relationship is a continual work in progress. It gets better when each side of the table understands what matters to the other. Working with clients well starts with understanding the view from their end so that we can start to teach them how things work from ours.” (He includes advice for dealing with stubborn, unhappy clients, too.)

If  you’re serious about having or re-energizing a long-term career in software development, The Developer’s Code definitely should be high on your to-read list.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir. He is the author of an e-book detective novel, Erwin’s Law, now available in paperback, plus a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

The New London explosion – Two views of America’s worst school disaster – #bookreview #texas #history

 My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1937 New London School Explosion
By Ron Rozelle
(Texas A&M, hardback, list price $24.95; Kindle edition, list price $24.95)

 Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History
By David M. Brown and Michael Wereschagin
(Potomac Books, hardback, $29.95; Kindle edition, list price $29.95)

On March 18, 1937, in East Texas’ tiny New London community, a natural gas explosion killed some 300 students, teachers and others at London Junior-Senior High School.

Seventy-five years later, the exact death toll in America’s worst school disaster remains uncertain. But its grim lessons are relevant and timely again as school districts across the nation struggle to cut their operating expenses without endangering student safety. 

Briefly, at least, the New London catastrophe made world headlines. Even Adolph Hitler sent a message of condolence. One of the reporters who covered the explosion’s aftermath was a young Dallas newsman named Walter Cronkite.

But 1937 was a year full of troubling currents and undercurrents, including the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Germany, Italy and Japan as military powers, and the Roosevelt Administration’s continuing struggles to lift the American economy out of the Great Depression.

Across most of the world, the devastating event soon faded into the global swirl of tensions and distractions. 

But not in New London. The shock continued to run so deep, townspeople “refused to speak of the explosion or of its victims, to the press or even to each other,” Ron Rozelle notes in My Boys and Girls Are in There.

Indeed, four decades passed before the first commemoration could be organized. And, 75 years after the school tragedy, some people still shudder when the explosion is mentioned. Pains and fears it created continue to be carried forward by survivors, witnesses, family members, and friends of the dead and injured.

“Sorrow is ambulatory, and refuses to be left behind,” writes Rozelle, an author and educator who grew up 80 miles from New London. Rozelle’s father was one of many volunteers who helped search the destroyed school for survivors and victims.

Rozelle’s book is written to read like a novel, yet its chapters arise from historical records, extensive follow-up research, and interviews with people who lost loved ones, survived injuries or otherwise were scarred.

Meanwhile, one of the authors of  Gone at 3:17, David M. Brown, also grew up in East Texas and has spent more than two decades interviewing New London survivors, rescuers and others. His co-writer, Michael Wereschagin, is a veteran journalist who has covered several large disasters. Their factual account likewise reads like a story. And, benefitting from doubled manpower, it offers some additional details on survivors, witnesses, investigations, and where victims were buried.

Both works are well-researched and well-written, and they bring fresh perspectives to the New London school explosion and its aftermath.  They also can be emotionally wrenching to read.

A key lesson from New London remains valid today as states struggle to reduce their school budgets. New London’s school was part of the London Consolidated School District, which may have been America’s richest rural school district in 1937. Tax revenues from oil production and related industries were plentiful. Indeed, London Junior-Senior High was the first secondary school in Texas to get electric lights for its football field. Yet, the superintendent and at least some of the board members still bore down hard on costs, to the point that money finally was put above student safety.

Late in 1936, the superintendent, with quiet approval from four board members, decided to disconnect the school from commercial natural gas and tap into a free, unregulated and widely available byproduct of gasoline refining: waste natural gas. Their hope was to save $250 a month.

Refineries pumped the waste gas back to oil rigs through networks of bleed-off lines, and rig operators were required to dispose of it. Most released it into the air through tall pipes, and the gas was burned, lighting the sky night and day with flaring orange flames.

“The practice of tapping into waste gas lines was something of an open secret in the oil patch,” Brown and Wereschagin write. Homeowners and business owners welded valves to some of the bleed-off lines, and they installed regulators to try to control gas pressures that varied widely. “With no one monitoring it, it came with no bill,” they note.

One pipeline passed 200 feet from New London’s school, and in 1937: “The [connection] crew had gone out in early January—a janitor, two bus drivers, and a welder the school had contracted….”

Blame for the blast often has been placed on the superintendent and on some of the board members he reported to. However, both of these new books highlight bad choices made by others, as well.

For example, refiners failed to enforce policies barring gas line taps, Brown and Wereschagin point out. And no one could smell the odorless gas as it leaked and collected in the school’s big basement, Rozelle emphasizes.

A single electrical spark from a basement light switch apparently set off the explosion.

Afterward, Texas quickly passed laws that might have been enacted sooner, if politics had not stood in the way. One law added a malodorant, “a distinctive, faintly repulsive scent,” to natural gas to provide as leak warning. Another law required “anyone working with gas connections be trained and certified as an engineer by the state.” Other states soon followed Texas’ action.

Today, Brown and Wereschagin stress,  most Americans “have never heard of the New London, Texas, school explosion” and have no idea how or why natural gas got its noxious smell.

These two timely books provide painful but important reminders why the New London school explosion and its grim lessons should never be forgotten.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available now in paperback. He is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

 

Programming Perl, 4th Ed. – The long-awaited update has arrived – #bookreview #programming #in #perl

Programming Perl, 4th Edition
By Tom Christiansen, brian d foy and Larry Wall, with Jon Orwant
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $54.99)

Since 1991, Programming Perl has been considered both the Bible of Perl and the go-to reference guide for those who use this popular “mixed heritage” programming language.

Publication of this newly updated edition is good news for the legions of programmers who use Perl every day or are in the process of learning it.

Programming Perl last was updated 12 years ago, just when Perl v5.6 was being released. The current Perl release is v5.14, and, as the authors note, “Perl v5.16 is coming out soon.” This 4th edition focuses on v5.14 and its major new features and improvements. But it also previews features that will be offered in v5.16.

The new edition (1130 pages) has several new chapters for Perl programmers, and a few now-out-of-date chapters and experiments have been removed. Among the updates are “greatly improved” Unicode support, “even better” regular expressions, and more emphasis on CPAN (the Comprehensive Perl Archive Network), to highlight just a few.

This is not a guide for programmers planning to tinker Perl 6. The authors contend: “Perl 6 is really a ‘kid sister’ language to Perl 5, and not just a major update to Perl 5 that version numbers have trained you to expect. This book isn’t about that other language. It’s still about Perl 5, the version that most people in the world (even the Perl 6 folks) are still using quite productively.”

Perl was “[i]nitially designed as a glue language for Unix,” they add. So there is a distinct Unix bias even at the “Hello World” level in this book, and this may leave some Windows-centric beginners lost, puzzled and turning to the web for basic tips on how to program in Perl on Windows machines.

Perl novices, in fact, should not start just with this book but add it once they know they plan to stick with Perl programming. The authors recommend beginning first with Learning Perl by Randal Schwartz, brian d foy, and Tom Phoenix. They also provide an extensive list of other documents and resources for beginning, intermediate and expert Perl programmers.

Nonetheless, the authors states that “Perl is an easy language to learn and use, and we hope to convince you that we’re right. One thing that’s easy about Perl is that you don’t have to say much before you say what you want to say.”

Easy to learn, yes. But there’s also a lot to learn, as this well-written, hefty book shows and illustrates.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. He also is a former newspaper and magazine photojournalist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System – #bookreview #in

The Trials of Eroy Brown: The Murder Case That Shook the Texas Prison System
By Michael Berryhill
(University of Texas, hardback, list price $29.95; paperback, list price $25.00)

A prizewinning journalist has dug deeply and impressively into a double killing that still haunts the Texas Department of Criminal Justice more than 30 years after it happened.

In 1981, a prison farm manager and a warden were killed by a black inmate who claimed self-defense. Many predicted the inmate, a convicted burglar and robber named Eroy Brown, would be executed.

But just a year earlier, Texas inmates had won a huge federal civil rights victory against “unrelenting cruelty” and brutal civil rights violations within the Texas prison system. In three trials that followed the killings, juries repeatedly considered the state’s evidence and found Brown innocent each time.

The verdicts, writes Berryhill, “marked the end of Jim Crow justice in Texas.” His account of Eroy Brown’s “astonishing” defense is based on trial documents, exhibits, and journalistic accounts and also draws upon Brown’s story told in his own words.

Berryhill, an excellent writer and researcher, chairs Texas Southern University’s journalism program. He previously has won a Texas Institute of Letters prize for nonfiction.

He has written for a number of well-known publications, including Harper’s, the New Republic, the Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times magazine.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.

Google+: The Missing Manual – #bookreview

Google+: The Missing Manual
By Kevin Purdy
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $14.99; Kindle edition, list price $11.99)

 I believe too much social media can rot the brain and waste many good hours of our lives. So, after I opened a Google+ account (mostly out of curiosity) a few weeks ago, I promptly let it sit unused.

I wasn’t sure what I could do with Google+ and how it might benefit me. Furthermore,  I felt that I was too busy to dig around on it, learn by blunder, and have to open a bunch of help screens and blog postings to try to find more information.

Most of all, I didn’t want to click or check the wrong box and start inviting hundreds of email contacts to join me on Google+. Particularly since there was absolutely nothing about me to see except one photo and a few bare words of “profile.”

Google+: The Missing Manual promises to deliver “the important stuff you need to know.” So I recently got a copy of it and gave Google+ another try.

Kevin Purdy’s book, I am pleased to say, is well-organized for beginners and is proving easy to follow as I gradually enlarge my Google+ beachhead.

I am still trying to figure out how to add Google+ efficiently and effectively to my online social life, as well as my writing and editing business. At this point, I still like Twitter much better. But that fact, likely, is because I have been using it for several years and have devoted a lot of time and effort to writing tweets, sharing links, retweeting information and following interesting people.

Kevin Purdy’s book now is helping me make some choices before I click on some of the Google+ setup links and go crashing off into the digital weeds.

Here is how it’s structured:

  • Chapter 1: Getting Started
  • Chapter 2: Managing Contacts with Circles
  • Chapter 3: Streams, Sharing, and Privacy
  • Chapter 4: Notifications
  • Chapter 5: Sharing Photos and Videos
  • Chapter 6: Hanging Out
  • Chapter 7: Searching and Sparks
  • Chapter 8: Google+ Mobile
  • Chapter 9: Playing Games

With the book’s help, I have ventured forth and tried a few things that I might otherwise have avoided or misunderstood. And I now have more features listed to try out during my next opportunities to spend time with Google+.

I am, frankly, still pondering if — or how deeply — I want to invest my social media time in Google+. But Purdy makes the compelling case that “Google+ is more than just a way to connect with friends, family, and acquaintances online. It’s a smarter way of sharing online that’s tied into all the other Google services you might already use”–such as Gmail and Google Docs.

And: “What Google+ really does differently…is give you nearly total control over who can see each thing you put on Google+, and what kinds things you see and from whom.”

I rate this book a well-written keeper (1) for anyone trying to get started on Google+ and (2) for anyone who, like me, has jumped into it and is now trying to figure it out, feature by feature, during busy days.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

Make: Electronics -Learning by doing & messing things up – A fun how-to book #bookreview

Make: Electronics
By Charles Platt
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle edition, list price $27.99)

Okay, big confession time. I learned electronics back in the day when vacuum tubes were still state of the art, and ham radio hobbyists happily tinkered with World War II surplus aircraft radios, tank transmitters and telegraph keys that had thigh clamps so radio operators could communicate with HQ while bouncing around in Jeeps.

Electronics is still one of my hobbies. But I haven’t kept good pace with advancing technologies, and I don’t tackle as many do-it-yourself projects as I used to. I have a large cache of small electronics components stashed in plastic crates in a shed. And those crates seldom have been opened in recent years.

This book has changed that. Make: Electronics by Charles Platt has gotten me excited again about wiring up simple projects. It is not a new book. It was published in 2009. But it is still up to date in the teaching of electronics fundamentals. 

Platt’s book approaches electronics the same way I learned it, by burning things out, messing things up and then studying some of the theory, learning how to read schematic diagrams, and learning how be more careful and thoughtful as circuits are wired up. Of course, in my day, some mis-wired electronic projects literally caught on fire, and more than one exploded.

Platt’s how-to experiments, fortunately, use low voltages and low currents, typically 9-volt batteries or a few double-A batteries. The projects can be constructed on small breadboards or perforated boards or even built “dead-bug style,” where the leads of the components simply are soldered together without any other kind of support.

His well-organized and well-written book keeps its promise to be “a hands-on primer for the new electronics enthusiast.” But it can teach some new tricks to some old electronics hounds, as well.

Make: Electronics begins with a small shopping list. You will need a few inexpensive components and tools to get started. Then it moves into some very basic and classic experiments, such as touching a 9-volt battery to your tongue, making a battery with a lemon, using resistors to reduce the voltage in a circuit, applying too much voltage to an LED and burning it out, and shorting a small battery to feel its heat.

Some fundamental theories of electricity and electronics are introduced. Proper soldering is illustrated. And then, as more theory is examined and explained, the book’s experiments move into progressively more complex projects, such as amplifiers. By the end of the book, the reader is tinkering with basic robotics and microcontrollers.

Platt provides numerous helpful resources and references for further examination, as well.

The only disappointment for me is that radio-frequency projects are limited to the construction of a basic crystal radio. But the author deftly covers a lot of ground in his book, and even simple RF circuits admittedly are better handled by those who have mastered the fundamentals first. 

Bottom line, this book has some circuits I am eager to wire up, because I am in the mood to learn again. Plus, I already have a boatload of parts and tools in storage, just waiting to be used. 

With luck and attention to detail, maybe nothing I build this time will blow up.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer, and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

A best-seller for your thoughts: Thinking, Fast and Slow – #bookreview

Thinking, Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, hardback, list price $30.00; Kindle edition, list price $12.99)

Some of us do, but most of us don’t, have an attention shortage. We know how to pay attention. Indeed, these days, we try to pay attention to too many things at once. For example: texting while ordering a mocha, fumbling through a wallet for a credit card, bantering with the person in line behind us, and hearing the coffee barista call out: “Latte for Linda, ready at the bar!” as an ambulance screams by outside and we wonder what happened and who’s inside.

At many moments, our immediate thought processes are badly fragmented by our surroundings, our choices and the expanding reach of our technology. And other things likely may be going on inside our heads within those same attention-splintered instants: sad thoughts; something remembered undone at work; a memory from childhood; a sudden doubt there is a Devil or a God or a solution to America’s growing economic-cultural-political divide; a fear that the oven may not have been turned off when we left home.

We spend a lot of time living and rummaging around inside our heads and wishing we were smarter and better thinkers. So it is hardly a surprise that Daniel Kahneman’s new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, recently has been running high on best-seller charts and recently has received several prestigious plaudits as one of 2011’s best books.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman expands and expounds upon two modes of thinking previously identified by psychologists and he uses the simple labels, System 1 and System 2, previously assigned by psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West.

“System 1,” Kahneman says, “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.” This “fast” level is driven by intuition and emotion.

Meanwhile, “System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.” It is the “slow” thinking level where deliberation and logic hold sway.

These two “systems” do not exist in separate compartments within our brains, of course. They are convenient concepts for trying to better grasp how our thinking processes work and interact — and how they fail us, sometimes.

Writes Kahneman: “System 2 is the only one that can follow rules, compare objects on several attributes, and make deliberate choices between options. The automatic System 1 does not have these capabilities. System 1 detects simple relationships (‘they are all alike,” “the son is much taller than the father’) and excels at integrating information about one thing, but it does not deal with multiple distinct topics at once, nor is it adept at using purely statistical information.”

Daniel Kahneman is a psychologist – with a Nobel Prize in economic sciences. His writings challenging “the rational model of judgment and decision making” have won him acclaim as one of America’s “most important thinkers.” Thinking, Fast and Slow brings together “his many years of research and thinking in one book.”

It is not fast reading, and there have been some reader complaints about formatting glitches in the book’s Kindle edition.

But understanding the two thinking “systems” can help us make better judgments and decisions, Kahneman contends. Particularly if we can become more aware of “the marvels as well as the flaws of intuitive thought” and how Systems 1 and 2 interact within intuition.

States Kahneman: “System 1 is…the origin of much that we do wrong, but it is also the origin of most of what we do right—which is most of what we do,” he writes.

 What we must do better to “block errors that originate in System 1,” he argues, is learn how to learn how to “recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2.”

But “…it is much easier to identify a minefield when you observe others wandering into it than when you are about to do so.”

In many daily situations, you will have to make snap decisions straight out of System 1. Yet, where possible, particularly in business, investing and various critical areas of your personal life, you will be wise to slow down a bit, listen more to System 2 and learn how integrate its powers of logic and deliberation into your choices.

 Thinking, Fast and Slow can help you do this – while it changes the way you think about how you think.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.