Will “Smart” Device Dependence Make You Increasingly Dumb?

I strolled into my favorite Austin Starbucks recently and noticed a startling sight. Every person standing in line or sitting at tables simultaneously had their head down as if in group prayer. All at the same moment were staring at their smartphones.

I pulled out my own phone, dramatically flipped it open, held it aloft, and waved it in silent protest. No one got the joke, because no one noticed.

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We’ve all seen people become panic-stricken and helpless when they realize they have lost or forgotten their “smart” device, or had it stolen. “Everything—my whole life—is on there!” one friend wailed recently. “All my pictures, my personal information, my contacts. And—oh, god–work emails! I don’t know what to do!” She kept frantically digging through her big purse, which also contained “everything,” including papers from work, so she could keep working at home after she got off work. When I called her phone from my phone, we found her “smart” phone buried deep beneath makeup containers and assorted other purse rubble.

Many people now use their smartphones for “everything,” from paying a restaurant check (after using the calculator function to split it and calculate the tip) to hailing an Uber ride and remotely controlling their home air conditioning. And, anytime a question is raised in a group, several people will circumvent natural debate or brainstorming by immediately going to Google and reading off some article titles and paragraphs.

Meanwhile, a few unrelated videos also will pop up and be shared:  Cat attacks python! Man sets shoes on fire by standing on hot coals! Ha-ha-ha!

The smartphone video distractions are only going to get worse. As AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson recently told Fortune magazine: “…mobile video…is the real deal,” adding: “Half our mobile network traffic is video now, and it’s really growing fast.”

So, recent statutes banning talking or texting on a digital device while driving are now far behind the curve of progress. (“Sorry, officer, I was not breaking the law. I was watching Game of Thrones while paying no attention to the traffic and scenery around me.”)

Perhaps it is time to ask yourself two serious questions. Are you losing touch with the real world as you become increasingly distracted by your smartphone? And will your growing dependence on its “smart”-ness make you correspondingly “dumb” over time?

Si Dunn

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Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business – #business #bookreview

Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business
Kit Seeborg and Andrea Meyer
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

“Huh? Sorry. What did you just say?

Welcome to our “always on” culture, where almost nobody pays full attention to anything anymore. Instead, we have  “continuous partial attention.” For example, people habitually, nervously, or irritatingly mess with handheld devices, social media, and other electronic distractions while you try to speak to them, teach them, sell them something, or promote a cause.

Welcome, as well, to a time when “[v]isual thinking has become more important in business, because we’re processing much more information [particularly nonlinear information] than ever before,” writers Kit Seeborg and Andrea Meyer point out in their new book.

“As a result, slide presentations have become the language of business,” they contend.

Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business is an engaging, nicely illustrated, comprehensive guide that shows you how to promote your business, organization, or cause using the popular online presentation site and social sharing network, SlideShare.

(You can set up a free SlideShare account at its website or sign in using your LinkedIn or Facebook account.).

Seeborg’s and Meyer’s new book also examines some of the key problems business presenters now face and how to overcome them.

“The challenge of an ‘always on’ culture is that by not wanting to miss anything, people are ignoring some part of everything they tune into at once,” they write. “ For the public speaker, this means you have some of  your audience’s attention, but not all of it. Your talk is competing with the outside activities of the networks of every person in your audience who has a smartphone or Internet-connected device.”

They add: “Because today’s audience is engaged in continuous partial attention, presenters must put in extra effort to compete for the mindshare of a distracted audience. One way to win more audience attention is to include engaging visual slides with your presentation and show them intermittently instead of in parallel with your talk.

“Think of your slideshow as adding percussive punctuation to a talk instead of performing a continuous accompaniment. A speaker might talk for several minutes or more without showing a visual image on the screen. Then, in order to reinforce a point or introduce a new point, the presenter shows a slide or video. In this case, the presenter uses the visual media to punctuate the talk, breaking it up, adding interest and variety. This is a very different style from the traditional use of a slideshow–running in parallel to the spoken presentation.”

The book’s eight chapters focus on how to create and deliver presentations using SlideShare. And many of the tips can be adapted to other types of presentations, as well.

The chapters are:

  • Chapter 1: Visual Thinking – Focuses on visual communications in business.
  • Chapter 2: Getting Started – How to set up a free or Pro SlideShare account, upload presentations, and share with others.
  • Chapter 3: Events and Public Speaking – How to get more comfortable speaking before an audience (start small), how to be well prepared, and how to publicize your presentation.
  • Chapter 4: Content Marketing – You have many options, and SlideShare supports documents, PDFs, videos, and audio files, as well as slide presentations.
  • Chapter 5: Sell, Sell, Sell – How to make the most of encounters with buyers “short on time,” which now includes just about everybody.
  • Chapter 6: Research and Collaboration – Researching what’s available on SlideShare and using the site to collaborate with others.
  • Chapter 7: Recruiting, Hiring, and Getting Hired – How a visual résumé and portfolio can supplement a traditional résumé or curriculum vitae to produce a “full professional presence.”
  • Chapter 8: Organizational Outreach and Communication – Offers case studies and presentation how-to tips for startups, nonprofits, journalists, and government agencies.

One thing not covered in detail is “presentation design guidance.” The authors leave that area to other specialists. But you can get some good design ideas from many of the slides they present to illustrate their text.

If you are ready to try SlideShare or improve your skills at using it, Present Yourself can be a handy, helpful go-to guide for getting things done.

Si Dunn

Developing with Google+ –A handy how-to guide for working with the Google+ Platform – #programming #bookreview

Developing with Google+
Jennifer Murphy
(O’Reilly/Google Press, paperbackKindle)

Ready to integrate Google+ with an existing website? Eager to build your own Google+ social application? This well-written and nicely illustrated how-to guide can get you started.

Jennifer Murphy’s new book shows you, step by step, how to become “comfortable digging into Google+” and its application programming interface (API).

“The Google+ platform has three categories of features,” notes the author, who works at Google.

“The three categories of the Google+ platform are social plugins, like the +1 button, RESTful web services, which provide read access to Google+ data, and hangout applications, for writing your own real[-] time collaboration apps. Additionally, the RESTful web services can be used in a couple of ways. You can either access public data directly when you know what you’re looking for, or you can use OAuth2.0 to access your user’s data on Google+.”

The 91-page book is divided into six chapters that follow the progress of a fictional company ( humorously named “Baking Disasters”) as it adds all of the features of the Google+ platform to its website.

The chapters are:

  1. Introduction
  2. Social Plugins
  3. Public Data APIs
  4. OAuth-Enabled APIs
  5. Collaborative Baking with Hangout Apps
  6. Wrapping Up the Baked Goods

Depending on how experienced you are with developing on social platforms, the book is structured so you can easily skip around to the parts that are new to you. Or you can work through the processes one step and one chapter at a time.

Si Dunn

Get  more information here:  paperbackKindle

The Connected Company – Restructure now or die in today’s hyperconnected economy – #bookreview

The Connected Company
Dave Gray, with Thomas Vander Wal
(O’Reilly,
hardbackKindle)

If you buy only one business management book this year, make it this one. It’s that good, and definitely timely.

Whether your organization chart stretches across continents or consists of just you, your smart phone and your computer, you can learn important insights and paths for new action from Dave Gray’s and Thomas Vander Wal’s well-written book.

“Competitive intensity is rising all over the world,” they emphasize. “Global competition and the Web have given customers more choices than they have ever had before. This means that customers can choose from an ever-widening set of choices, and it seems that variety only breeds more variety. The more choices that become available, the more choices it seems that people want.”

At the same time, like it or not: “The balance of power is shifting from companies to the networks that surround them. Connected, communicating customers and employees have more choices, and more amplified voices, than ever before. They have more knowledge than ever before. These trends are only increasing with time. This means the network—customers, partners, and employees—will increasingly set the agenda, determine the parameters, and make the decisions about how they interact with companies.”

And: “By changing the way we create, access, and share information, social networks are changing the power structure in society.”

Today, one negative tweet, blog post, or video that goes viral can wreak havoc within a company (or political campaign), disrupt careers, damage or destroy expensive advertising campaigns, and turn potential and existing customers away in droves.

In an economy increasingly service-driven, your factory-model training and mentality is now completely obsolete. You must be connected, you must stay engaged with customers and the rest of the world, and you must be able to respond to rumors and actual bad news as quickly and completely as you respond to orders from your best customers.

The Connected Company is organized into five parts that clearly spell out the problems and the achievable solutions.

  • Part One: Why change? – “Customers are adopting disruptive technologies faster than companies can adapt.” And: “Customers are connecting, forming networked communities that allow them to rapidly share information and self-organize into powerful interest groups.” To survive, you have to be more responsive to what they need and increasingly have the power to demand.
  • Part Two: What is a connected company? – “To adapt companies must operate not as machines but as learning organisms, purposefully interacting with their environment and continuously improving, based on experiments and feedback.”
    Part Three: How does a connected company work? – “A connected company learns and adapts by distributing control to the points of interaction with customers, where semi-autonomous pods pursue a common purpose supported by platforms that help them organize and coordinate their activities.”
  • Part Four: How do you lead a connected company? – “Connected companies are living, learning networks that live within larger networks. Power in networks comes from awareness and influence, not control. Leaders must create an environment of clarity, trust, and shared purpose, while management focuses on designing and tuning the system that supports learning and performance.”
  • Part Five: How do you get there from here? – “Connected companies today are the exception, not the rule. But as long as the environment is characterized by change and uncertainty, connected companies will have the advantage. There are four ways your company can start that journey today….”

The traditional hierarchy model of business structure still works when your markets remain stable. But when is the last time, lately, that that actually has happened? Companies divided into functions increasingly go awry in times of uncertainty, because those individual departments cannot adapt, change, and respond quickly enough. In the world of The Connected Company, “companies must organize differently. They must reorganize from hierarchies into holarchies, where every part can function as a whole unto itself.”

Gray and Vander Wal stress: “A connected company is flexible and resilient, able to adapt quickly to change. The path from divided to connected company is not simple or easy. But in an increasingly volatile world, it is also not optional.”

Fortunately, their book lays out some clear strategies and procedures, as well as imperatives,  for getting there.

Si Dunn

The Data Journalism Handbook – Get new skills for a new career that’s actually in demand – #bookreview

The Data Journalism Handbook: How Journalists Can Use Data to Improve the News
Edited by Jonathan Gray, Liliana Bounegru, and Lucy Chambers
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

Arise, ye downtrodden, unemployed newspaper and magazine writers and editors yearning to be working again as journalists. Data journalism apparently is hiring.

Data journalism? I didn’t know, either, until I read this intriguing and hopeful collection of essays, how-to reports, and case studies written by journalists now working as, or helping train, data journalists in the United States and other parts of the world.

Data journalism, according to Paul Bradshaw of Birmingham City University, combines “the traditional ‘nose for news’ and ability to tell a compelling story with the sheer scale and range of digital information now available.”

Traditional journalists should view that swelling tide of information not as a mind-numbing, overwhelming flood but ”as an opportunity,” says Mirko Lorenz of Deutsche Welle. “By using data, the job of journalists shifts its main focus from being the first ones to report to being the ones telling us what a certain development actually means.”

He adds: “Data journalists or data scientists… are already a sought-after group of employees, not only in the media. Companies and institutions around the world are looking for ‘sense makers’ and professionals who know how to dig through data and transform it into something tangible.”

So, how do you transform yourself from an ex-investigative reporter now working at a shoe store into a prizewinning data journalist?

A bit of training. And, a willingness to bend your stubborn brain in a few new directions, according to this excellent and eye-opening book.

Yes, you may still be able to use the inverted-pyramid writing style and the “five W’s and H” you learned in J-school. But more importantly, you will now need to show you have some good skills in (drum roll, please)…Microsoft Excel.

That’s it? No, not quite.

Google Docs, SQL, Python, Django, R, Ruby, Ruby on Rails, screen scrapers, graphics packages – these are just a few more of the working data journalists’ favorite things. Skills in some these, plus a journalism background, can help you become part of a team that finds, analyzes and presents information in a clear and graphical way.

 You may dig up and present accurate data that reveals, for example, how tax dollars are being wasted by a certain school official, or how crime has increased in a particular neighborhood, or how extended drought is causing high unemployment among those who rely on lakes or rivers for income.

You might burrow deep into publically accessible data and come up with a story that changes the course of a major election or alters national discourse.

Who are today’s leading practitioners of data journalism? The New York Times, the Texas Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, the BBC, Zeit Online, and numerous others are cited in this book.

The Data Journalism Handbook grew out of MozFest 2011 and is a project of the European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

This book can show you “how data can be either the course of data journalism or a tool with which the story is told—or both.”

If you are looking for new ways to use journalism skills that you thought were outmoded, The Data Journalism Handbook can give you both hope and a clear roadmap toward a possible new career.

Si Dunn

The Art of Community, 2nd Edition – Creating online success in the social economy – #bookreview

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, 2nd Edition
Jono Bacon
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $39.99; Kindle edition, list price $34.99)

Whether you work for a large firm or operate a one-person shop built around an online presence, you should check out this newly updated guidebook on now to build, maintain and grow online communities.

Yes, it is a work focusing on organizational management — not exactly a topic that lights fires under reader excitement. Yet Bacon’s book is written smoothly and clearly, and it is rich with good ideas and good strategies that can help businesses, nonprofit organizations, and volunteer groups of virtually any size.

Creating an online community is not simply a matter of launching a website, sending out tweets and links, and then hoping and praying a few people will show up, hang out, participate, and occasionally buy something.

There are, Bacon says, effective planning strategies that can help you successfully enter, staying in, and succeed in the social economy. And, once you are there, it is vital to keep attracting new contributors.

“When your community kicks off, you’ll be way ahead if you can get down on paper its primary purpose goals,” he writes. Prior to launch, you need to clearly define its aims and its mission, the opportunities and areas of collaboration it can offer, and what skills will be needed in the community, he says.

These planning strategies can be effective, he adds, whether you want to build and maintain an online community for marketing products or services, or supporting a cause, or even developing open source software. (Bacon, an open source veteran, favors “fixed release cycles versus the release-when ready approach,” for several solid reasons important to a community built around an open-source product.)

A key lesson in his book is making sure that you create and maintain a sense of belonging in your online community. “If there is no belonging, there is no community,” Bacon emphasizes.

This book’s first edition in 2009 drew a good response from readers, and Bacon has both updated his text and brought in new materials for the second edition.

Three new chapters cover: (1) the major social media networks; (2) measuring community so you can track “the work your community or team commits to” and keep the work on track”; and (3) case studies “to help you develop your skills as a community manager.”

In a solo business, you are your community manager, as well as the proverbial chief cook and bottle washer. You create your products or services, you market them to the world, you fulfill orders or deliver services, and you also try to build, support and grow a community of followers, some of whom buy from you and others of whom help keep you inspired, grounded or focused.

In a larger business, however, your job title and sole focus may be “community manager.” The author, for example, is the community manager for the worldwide Ubuntu community. “Community management” is now a hot topic in the corporate world, and debates continue, Bacon says, on whether it is a marketing or engineering responsibility. “I firmly believe,” he emphasizes, “that community management is a tale with both marketing and engineering story lines flowing through it. If one is missing, community can feel unbalanced, misrepresented and ineffective.”

Even though your focus will be the online world, do not plan to base your whole community-building strategy around social media, Bacon warns. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others are, in his view, “just tools. There are many useful tools in the world that have become new and disruptive to our behavior, but few have been immersed in the sheer amount of hype, nonsensical ramblings, and just pure, unfiltered, salty bull that social media has.”

Some of the other tools to consider, he says, include discussion forums, email lists, IRC networks, and collaborative events such as online meetings and physical events where members gather, meet and interact in person.

The goal here, of course, is to maintain good communication, “the foundation of how your members work together, share goals and ambitions, and build social relationships with one another…[w]hen your members feel like they are disconnected from the community, they lose their sense of value,” he points out.

Jono Bacon’s 539-page book can show you how to create and grow an online community into a rich source of new ideas, a reliable support network, and a strong and wide-reaching marketing force, whether you are selling something, promoting a cause, or developing and maintaining open-source software.

Si Dunn

NOOK Tablet: The Missing Manual (for NOOK Color, too) – #bookreview #in

Nook Tablet: The Missing Manual
By Preston Gralla
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $19.99; Kindle edition, list price $15.99)

Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Tablet and NOOK Color are stylish and powerful portable devices that blend the functions of e-reader and computer. They have many useful features, but they aren’t shipped with a detailed user manual. (B & N wants you to go to a support website.)

Preston Gralla, meanwhile, is a fine writer who has authored more than 40 books, including several in O’Reilly’s popular The Missing Manual™ series.

His latest, Nook Tablet: The Missing Manual, is both well written and heavily illustrated and does a fine job of showing and telling how to get the most from a NOOK Tablet and its cheaper, less powerful brother, the NOOK Color.

It would be nice for nervous new users, however, if the following assurance had been positioned much sooner in the book rather than on page 320: “Out of the box, the NOOK’s privacy and security settings are configured to make sure that you’re safe and secure. So most likely, you won’t need to change any settings.” (But Gralla then shows how to increase the default security, if you desire, by deleting cookies, deleting web browsing history, and blocking pop-ups.)

Gralla’s 471-page book has 17 chapters and three appendices and is organized into eight parts:

  • Part 1, The Basics – Covers setting up, charging and registering a NOOK, finding its plugs, microphone and controls, using and troubleshooting wi-fi, using a NOOK at a Barnes & Noble store, using gestures to control the device, changing your wallpaper, and other setup basics.
  • Part 2, Reading Books, Newspapers, and Magazines – Focuses on the NOOK’s reading tools, including how to use bookmarks and notes, how to change fonts and text sizes, and how to search inside a book, newspaper or magazine. Has a chapter on kids’ books and shows how a NOOK can read a children’s book aloud or record your own voice reading a book to your child or children.
  • Part 3, Buying, Borrowing, and Managing Your Library – Shows how to research and buy or borrow online reading materials and track them in your personal library.
  • Part 4, Apps, Movies, TV Shows, Music, Photographs, and Files – Starts with streaming media first, including Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. Then shows how to download and use apps. According to Gralla: “Anything you can do on a traditional tablet, you can do on your NOOK Tablet and NOOK Color. (And yes, that includes Angry Birds.)” This part also delves into how to get music, photographs, videos and documents into your NOOK and how to move files between your NOOK Tablet and your computer.
  • Part 5, The Web and Email – Shows how to browse the Web with a NOOK and how to send and receive email using virtually any of your email accounts.  Also shows how to manage your email with a NOOK and how the NOOK handles attachments such as documents, PDFs and photographs.
  • Part 6, Getting Social – Covers using the NOOK Friends app and using the NOOK on Facebook and Twitter. Also shows how to import and manage your Google, Gmail, and Facebook contacts.
  • Part 7, Advanced Topics  – Focuses on settings you can change and also how to “root” your NOOK. You can adjust sounds, customize the way the keyboard works, alter the settings of the Home screen and make other changes. If you choose to “root” your NOOK Tablet, you will “replace its operating system with a version of Android that lets you install any app you want (via the Android Market), something you can’t normally do with the NOOK.”  But Gralla notes: “Barnes & Noble frowns on this practice, which is why doing it voids the warranty.” B & N also has built “anti-rooting” technology into the NOOK Color, he adds. He carefully does not give you the exact steps for “rooting,” but mentions that such information can be found on the Web.
  • Part 8, Appendixes  – Appendix A focuses on “Maintenance and Troubleshooting.” Appendix B deals with “File Formats,” listing the file types a NOOK can handle. And Appendix C zeroes in on fun things to do with a NOOK while visiting a Barnes & Noble store, “such as read books free for an hour.”

If you are struggling to decide between a NOOK Tablet and a Kindle Fire (or some other device), books in O’Reilly’s The Missing Manual™ series can be a relatively affordable way to get the detailed information you need in a pleasant and helpful format.

If you’ve already ordered or received a NOOK, you likely need this book.

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.