Consuming too much information can make you fat, clueless & dead – The Information Diet – #bookreview

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption
By Clay A. Johnson
(O’Reilly, hardback, list price $22.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)

In this controversial new book from O’Reilly Media, veteran software developer, open source guru and political advocate Clay A. Johnson makes the forceful argument that our current mania for consuming information is killing us, mentally and physically.

First, we are sitting too much and too long while consuming data from the Web, from TV, from smart phones, from books, and while driving around in our cars listening to blather on the radio.

And, much of what we are consuming is crap – the digital equivalent of high-fat junk food and raw sugar. Some of us now are driving ourselves to destructive distraction through gluttonous obsessions with tweets, status updates, downloads, videos,  instant messages, text messages, emails and restless Web surfing.

For instance, suppose a tweet just went by mentioning some kind of rumored problem with pig populations in Zambia, and you idly read it, processed it in your head, wasted a few more seconds of your life, and took another sip of your latte and took another bite of bagel while continuing to sit on your butt much longer than you intended.

Then you checked your Facebook account on your iPhone or iPad, took another sip of your latte, took another bite of bagel, and went back to Twitter and followed a link to what seemed to be a review of a movie you’ve already seen to see but turned out to be just a lame blog post about how Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich resemble certain characters in Avatar. Then you took another bite of bagel, another sip of latte and checked your email and followed a link to something about Lady Gaga.

More wasted time. More attention to generally useless information. More sedentary life gone by.

We now spend nearly 11 hours a day consuming – frequently gorging on – information, Johnson’s book points out. And it’s driving us to distraction – and killing us.

First, the physical dangers. Johnson notes: “In 2004, one physician coined the term Sedentary Death Syndrome to classify all the diseases that come from the sedentary state. The effects: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and yes, obesity. Some researchers are calling it the second largest threat to public health in America. What are we doing when we’re sedentary? Few of us are meditating. We’re consuming information.”

He continues: “New research points to sitting, especially amongst men, as a leading cause of death. Even if you exercise regularly, it turns out that sitting for long periods of time can be deadly.”

It’s also easy to lose track of time and lose control of time management while distracted by the free flow of information. Something unexpected or surprising or outrageous on the Web grabs your attention, and your carefully crafted to-do list for the day is shot to hell. And, relationships can be affected: “Just a quick check of email when we get home can often end up in evenings entirely lost to LCD screens…” instead of talking and paying attention to each other.

Then there’s the problem of “attention fatigue.” Writes Johnson: “About two years ago, I started to wonder: what the heck happened to my short-term memory? And where did my attention span go? I’ve written a little pithy 140-character tweet, sent it into the universe, and in no more than five minutes, I’ve received a reply. The only problem is, I’ve already forgotten what I wrote in the first place. I’ve had to go back, and look at what I said just five minutes ago to understand what the person replying to me is referencing.”

This book offers more dire warnings about consuming too much information. But the author also offers ideas and recommendations for achieving “Attention Fitness.” You can still have your information and consume it, too, in deliberate, conscious doses that are healthier for your mind, body and your participation in American democracy.

If you pay attention to this book long enough to actually think about what it points out and proposes, you may figure out how to get healthier again, how to regain your focus – and how to better understand the ways you are being duped by some of the misinformation constantly sucked into your head by your addiction.

You can become a more conscious and proactive consumer of information and not just another wasted – and life-wasting — data junkie.

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.

Cool Tools in the Kitchen – #cooking #kitchen #bookreview

Cool Tools in the Kitchen
By Kevin Kelly and Steven Leckart
(O’Reilly Media, available in EPUB format only, $2.99)

In most kitchens, “cool tools” can be anything from an apple slicer to a dough scraper to a cook book.

Cool Tools in the Kitchen focuses on a nice array of kitchen accessories that have been tested and found to be useful at home for experienced cooks, as well as those who want to re-think and improve their culinary equipment.

The book also should appeal to readers who are just getting started at cooking and want to set up an efficient and functional kitchen.

I am not much of a cook, but I found several items in this book that made me think I could become a better cook if I owned them.

My wife, a very experienced cook and aficionado of many things Julia Child, also read at this book, and frequently nodded in approval at the authors’ choices. She already has a nice selection of good kitchen tools. But she, too, ended up with a kitchen tools shopping list after considering this book’s product reviews.

Bon appétit!

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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.

 

Big presentation due? There’s a book for that – slide:ology #bookreview

slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
By Nancy Duarte
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle edition, list price $27.99)

Bet you were hoping I was about to say: “Big presentation due? There’s an app for that!”

There probably is, or will be soon.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just phone in your PowerPoint slides and audio and stay comfortably ensconced at a Starbucks in Waterloo, Iowa, while 50 managers and executives in Boston huddled in a poorly ventilated conference room and sweated while they marveled at your presentation?

Some of you already have developed and honed an iPhone-it-in or iPad-it-in capability. But most of the world’s drafted or “volunteered” presenters still have not. They show up at work one day and are told they will have to prepare a presentation by next Tuesday that could make or break their job – or a whole department’s jobs.

No pressure. You know how to do this, right? Everyone else is tied up with projects and deadlines. So we’re counting on you. Have fun with it. Get creative! And have it ready for review and comments by 4 p.m. tomorrow.”

Published in 2008 and still attracting readers, slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations has gathered an array of pleased fans and good reviews, as well as some scathing reviews from a few detractors.

It is not a 1-2-3 how-to book that can help you throw together a slide show by tomorrow morning. Instead, it lives up, colorfully, to its subtitle: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations. It delves carefully into a wide array of topics related to the process of preparing slides that can connect with their intended audience. And it is heavily illustrated with examples.

If you are starting a new job or a new position where you will be expected to make presentations, you should consider spending some quality learning time with this book and keeping it handy. Get a jump now on developing the skills and knowledge you will need when crunch time suddenly hits.

This also applies if you are under increasing obligation to wow the bosses with charts and graphs and bullet points – or if you are thinking of becoming a presentations teacher or consultant. 

Developed by Nancy Duarte, a “widely recognized…leader in presentation development and design,” slide:ology is divided into 12 chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Creating a New Slide Ideology
  • Chapter 2: Creating Ideas, Not Slides
  • Chapter 3: Creating Diagrams
  • Chapter 4: Displaying Data
  • Chapter 5: Thinking Like a Designer
  • Chapter 6: Arranging Elements
  • Chapter 7: Using Visual Elements: Background, Color, and Text
  • Chapter 8: Using Visual Elements: Images
  • Chapter 9: Creating Movement
  • Chapter 10: Governing with Templates
  • Chapter 11: Interacting with Slides
  • Chapter 12: Manifesto: The Five Theses of the Power of a Presentation

The author cautions that “presentations all too often reflect the agenda of the presenter rather than build a connection with the audience.”

And, if your job includes meeting with customers: “In many instances, presentations are the last impression a customer has of a company before closing a business deal.”

Indeed, elaborate hundred-million-dollar advertising and branding campaigns can be neutralized by a single lame presentation on a laptop computer right at the critical moment, she warns.

You will not want to be the one who created that dud slide show.

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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.

PDF Explained – A lot more happens than meets the eye – #programming #bookreview

PDF Explained
By John Whitington
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $9.99)

For many of us, a PDF is a PDF. And a file is just a file. As data goes by.

We give little thought to what actually happens when we download and read — or use word processing software to produce — a document in Portable Document Format, PDF, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard for document exchange.

Yet as John Whitington, author of this informative and important new book, notes: “A typical PDF file contains many thousands of objects, multiple compression mechanisms, different font formats, and a mixture of vector and raster graphics together with a wide variety of metadata and ancillary content.”

Whitington’s clearly written and appropriately illustrated work is aimed at four specific groups of readers:

  1. “Adobe Acrobat users who want to understand the reasons behind the facilities it provides, rather than just how to use them. For example: encryption options, trim and crop boxes, and page labels.”
  2. “Power users who want to use command-line software to process PDF documents in batches by merging, splitting, and optimizing them.”
  3. “Programmers writing code to read, edit, or create PDF files.”
  4. “Industry professionals in search, electronic publishing, and printing who want to understand how to use PDF’s metadata and workflow features to build coherent systems.”

One of the first hands-on things you do in this book is build a small document in PDF from scratch using a simple text editor and pdftk, a free, open-source command line tool for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Unix. (Spoiler alert: The document will display the traditional “Hello, World!”)

Following the introduction and the chapter on building a simple PDF from scratch, the remaining eight chapters explore: 

  • File structure
  • Document structure
  • Graphics
  • Text and fonts
  • Document metadata and navigation
  • Encrypted documents
  • Working with pdftk
  • PDF software and documentation

 Whitington has the right background and credentials for creating PDF Explained.

He is, according to the book’s biographical blurb, “the author of one of the few complete PDF implementations, CamlPDF, which implements the PDF file format from the bit level up. After graduating from the University of Cambridge, he founded Coherent Graphics Ltd, developers of command line PDF tools for Windows, Mac OS X, and Unix, and the Proview PDF Editor for Mac OS X.”

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.

To the edge of the cosmos & beyond: The Manga Guide to the Universe – #bookreview

The Manga Guide to the Universe
By Kenji Ishikawa, Kiyoshi Kawabata, and Verte Corp.
(No Starch Press, paperback, list price $19.95)

There was a time long ago, in a decade far, far away, when I really wanted to be an astronomer.

It was a time, pre-Sputnik, when some astronomers still thought there might be beings building great canals on Mars and living in great cities beneath the clouds of Venus.

My observatory consisted of a clear, back yard view of the Milky Way, a small handheld telescope and an occasional outdated astronomy book borrowed from the local library.

It wasn’t that long ago. I’m still alive and still fascinated by the universe and its myriad mysteries and surprises.

The Manga Guide to the Universe, recently released by No Starch Press, is exactly the book I wish I had owned when I was much younger. This “cartoon guide to the cosmos” is packed with clearly explained, easily absorbed details about a wide array of astronomical and cosmological concepts.

The topics range from the early geocentric  (Earth-centered) and heliocentric (sun-centered) theories of the universe, to surface conditions on the solar system’s planets, the “blue shift” and “red shift” in the light from an object as it approaches or moves away, and “Occam’s razor” –“If two or more theories can explain the same phenomenon, then the simplest one is more likely to be correct.”

You may not be familiar with manga or “educational manga,” but many U.S. educators, reviewers and media outlets have been praising manga comic books as a fresh hope for getting today’s media-distracted, reading-resistant young people interested in science, mathematics and other tough subjects critical to America’s future.

Over the past four years, No Starch Press has been translating into English and publishing a series of Manga Guides originally from Japan. These books offer entertaining comic introductions to tough subjects such as calculus, physics, molecular biology, and relativity.

The comic books’ characters are Japanese youngsters, teens, and adults. And some of the illustrations have a few residual bits of Japanese language embedded (sometimes with translation added). But the English texts are well-translated, well-edited and reviewed for accuracy by experts.

In The Manga Guide to the Universe, the characters encounter a wide range of concepts that include how a star’s size, magnitude and temperature are related and how cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) is just one part of the evidence for the Big Bang theory of the universe’s origin and expansion.

And no comic book exploring the universe is, of course, complete without a clarifying discussion of the Friedmann-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker (FLRW) model of the cosmos. It holds that “the fate of the universe depends on the curvature of space, and that curvature has a one-to-one correspondence with the average density…of matter that currently exists in the universe….”

You don’t have to be a media-distracted, reading-resistant kid to enjoy, be challenged by, and learn from The Manga Guide to the Universe. Books like this can reach, teach and entertain students and casual readers of almost all ages. They might even help launch new careers and new discoveries as today’s readers grow into tomorrow’s scientists, researchers and leaders.

It’s a bit late for me to become an astronomer, of course. Yet it is not too late to study this book and look up at the heavens with a greater understanding and deeper appreciation. We now know much more than ever.

Still, the mysteries that remain to be discovered and deciphered extend from here to infinity…and, as that intrepid space adventurer Buzz Lightyear would tell us, beyond.

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.

The New Rules of Marketing & PR – More how-to from David Meerman Scott – #bookreview

The New Rules of Marketing & PR (3rd Edition)
How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases & Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly
By David Meerman Scott
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,
paperback, list price $19.95; Kindle edition, list price $19.95)

More than a quarter million copies of this book have been purchased since it first appeared in 2007, and it has been translated into more than 25 languages. David Meerman Scott clearly has some fans and has jarred some thinking in the marketing and public relations world.

So the updated advice, examples and how-to tips in his book’s third edition may be just what you need if you are in the process of starting up a business or trying to revamp and modernize your existing marketing approaches.

The updates include new examples and ideas drawn from the author’s many sessions with audiences around the world, as well as responses to posts in his well-known marketing and leadership blog, WebInkNow.

Two timely and important new chapters also have been added.

  • “Mobile Marketing: Reaching Buyers Wherever They Are” focuses on using “location-based mobile marketing” to reach buyers via “GPS-enabled mobile applications for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and other devices….”
  • And, “Marketing and PR in Real Time” makes the key point that “[i]f you pay attention to what’s happening in your marketplace and react instantly, you can insert yourself into stories as they unfold, generating market attention not possible if you want even a day to react.” Scott shows you how to do this.

The third edition is stronger than the previous two editions on answering “How do I get started?” For example, the book includes a new “Marketing & PR Strategy Planning Template” that is designed “to help people implement strategies for reaching buyers directly.”

Writes Scott: “I believe it’s essential to shift out of the marketer’s comfort zone of preaching about products and services….The marketing and PR strategy template is built on the same principle I use throughout this book: that understanding buyers and publishing information on the web especially for them drives action.”

The goal, he says, is to publish “valuable information” so “your content surfaces when buyers are looking for help solving their problems!”

This book likely will not be the only one you will need to help launch or modernize your marketing and public relations strategy. But David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR definitely should be at the top of your list and the one you read first.

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.