Enterprise Games – How to build a better 21st-century business with game mechanics – #business #bookreview

Enterprise Games: Using Game Mechanics to Build a Better Business
Michael Hugos
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

Can 21st-century games and gamers attack and destroy the top-down, assembly-line thinking that still keeps many businesses firmly rooted in the previous century?

 Michael Hugos’ compelling new book makes a solid case that they can. Game mechanics, he argues, can reshape how workers work, how organizations are managed, and how business goals get accomplished in today’s volatile global economy.

“Games and the associated technology we currently refer to as video games offer us more than just a diversion and escape from difficult times,” contends Hugos. “They offer us field-tested models to use for organizing companies and performing complex and creative tasks. They offer clear and compelling examples for how people can work together, build their careers, and earn a living in rapidly changing and unpredictable environments.”

Hugos, principal at the Center for Systems Innovation, offers his well-written views in a 199-page book “loosely divided into three parts.”

Part One focuses on “ideas and case studies to illustrate how games can provide operating models to follow for redesigning work.”

Part Two presents “a discussion of games and game mechanics that are relevant to the way work is done.” He includes “specific examples, pictures, and case studies to show how game techniques and technologies can be applied to the design of new business systems and workflows.”

Part Three “describes business and social impacts of combining technology from video games with in-house corporate systems, consumer technology, and cloud computing. The book concludes with a discussion about where this is all going and what it might mean for the future of work.”

During the coming months, Enterprise Games may spur many discussions and arguments at all levels of enterprise. And these may lead to some business-model reorganizations not only in Corporate America but elsewhere in the interconnected global economy.

For these changes to happen, however, many company leaders will have to stop thinking “top down” and learn to adapt “the four traits of a game…goal, rules, feedback system, and voluntary participation” to how they to structure and operate a business.

“We all have a sense of what a game is,” Hugos notes. But most of us also have been taught that “play” is not “work.” Enterprise Games shows how the two concepts can be brought together in ways that can make companies more competitive and more profitable in these uncertain times.

Si Dunn

Fitness for Geeks – A book that will knock you OFF your butt – #bookreview

Fitness for Geeks: Real Science, Great Nutrition, and Good Health
Bruce W. Perry
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $34.95; Kindle edition, list price $27.99)

You know it’s true: You spend way too much time at home and at the office just sitting on your back pockets, staring at computer screens.

You do have some mobile devices. But, to use them, you mostly just carry them into your favorite free WiFi coffee shop and then sit, eat bagels and drink coffee while you poke, occasionally twitch a finger and squint.

 Not much of a healthy workout, is it?

 Many of us now spend most of our days and nights engaged in what Bruce W. Perry calls “a marathon bout of sitting.” Indeed, toss in the time spent sitting in your car as you commute to and from work, and you are a perfect example of a modern lifestyle that some scientists now term “chair living.”

It’s time, says Perry, to move, to skip the elevator and take the stairs (two at a time, if possible) on your way to and from those chairs.

 It’s time to find the company fitness center and start using it. It’s time to pay closer attention to what and how much you are eating, especially while sitting, computing and commuting. And it’s time to realize that you are spending too much time in front of your computer or TV when you should be sleeping.

Perry, a software engineer, journalist and self-described “fitness geek” has written an entertaining, inspiring and downright helpful book that draws from “the many parallels between software design and fitness geekdom, such as the whole concept of antipatterns, or learning how to do something by studying how not to do it first.”

There are, he notes, many apps, websites and devices now that can help you track, calculate and chart effort, calories, distances, sleep and other fitness factors.  He even tosses in a few bits of code that can help you, for example, display the route and distance that you just covered on a bike ride

Now is the time for all good geeks to come to the aid of their chair-shaped, digitally softened bodies.

Fitness for Geeks is organized into 11 standalone chapters that you can read in any order, Perry says. The chapters are:

  1.  Fitness and the Human Codebase: Reboot Your Operating System
  2. Fitness Tools and Apps
  3. Food Chemistry Basics: Proteins, Fats, and Carbs
  4. Micronutrients: Vitamins, Minerals, and Phytochemicals
  5. Food Hacks: Finding and Choosing Food
  6. Food Timing: When to Eat, When to Fast
  7. The Other World: A.K.A Outside
  8. Hello, Gym! Finding Your Way Around the Fitness Facility
  9. Randomizing Fitness and the Importance of R & R
  10. Code Maintenance: Human Fueling and Supplements
  11. Lifestyle Hacks for Fitness

 There is no complete escape from chair living, of course. We still have to sit at our home computers, sit in front of our TVs, sit in our cars, sit at coffee shops, and sit, sit, sit at the office.

But chair living does not have to consume us and kill us. We can find the time to make better choices: Skip the escalator and the éclair; eat a carrot and take the stairs. And we can find tools that can help us enhance those choices – digital and physical. They are already out there. 

Mainly, we just have to make ourselves get off our butts for a little while each day and do something healthful with the time out of chair.

Bruce W. Perry’s new book can help you discover – yes, even program – a workable path to better living.

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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.

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works – A smart business startup guide – #bookreview

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works
By Ash Maurya
(O’Reilly, hardback, list price $24.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)

Starting a business soon?
Still sketching one out on cocktail napkins but getting ready to approach potential partners and staff?

Don’t launch without spending some well-focused time with the second edition of this thought-provoking and popular book.

If you have launched already and now have doubts about what you are trying to do, it’s not too late to consult Running Lean and pivot in a better direction. (The first edition was an ebook aimed mostly at those who create web-based products. This new edition adds tested new materials for a much wider business audience.)

The book’s goal is to help you “find a plan that works before running out of resources,” by “stress testing” Plan A and quickly moving to a new plan – even all the way to Plan Z and beyond – if your original schemes flounder.

Running Lean aims to provide “a better, faster way to vet new product ideas and build successful products” so you are able to make the best use of any startup’s most critical resource: time.

The book also is “about testing a vision by measuring how customers behave.” It is “about engaging customers throughout the product development cycle.” And, Ash Maurya writes, it is about getting your butt out of the building and away from your computer and your labs.

“You have to get out and directly engage customers.”

Furthermore, you have to push that engagement in a way that avoids the “classic product-centric approach [that] front-loads some customer involvement during the requirements-gathering phase but leaves the customer validation until after the software [or other product] is released. There is a large ‘middle’ when the startup disengages from customers for weeks or months while they build and test their solution,” Maurya emphasizes.

“During this time, it is quite possible for the startup to either build too much or be led astray from building what the customer wants.”

This excellent book, the first in O’Reilly’s new “Lean Series,” pulls together ideas from Steve Blank in The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Eric Ries in The Lean Startup, and others, as well as Ash Maurya’s multiple successes with startups. Eric Ries is the series editor.

Running Lean provides a well-structured guide to putting Lean Startup ™ principles directly to work in virtually any new business venture. And it could help you revitalize an existing enterprise, while you still have time and resources, if your current Plan A needs a Plan B, Plan C, or Plan Z, ASAP.

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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.

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.

Microsoft OneNote 2010 Plain & Simple – #bookreview #training

Microsoft OneNote® 2010 Plain & Simple
By Peter Weverka
(Microsoft Press, paperback, list price $24.99 ;  Kindle  $9.99)

Employee training is one of the first things cut during an economic downturn. And in today’s long-depressed employment market, you are expected to learn many different software packages on your own, at your own expense, before you apply for a job.

The Microsoft Plain & Simple book series represents a good and affordable way to learn how to use Windows 7, Microsoft Office and several individual Office products, including PowerPoint, Word and Excel.

This new addition to the series, Microsoft OneNote® 2010 Plain & Simple, helps you jump right into using OneNote 2010 with little explanation and virtually no “computerese.”

Unfortunately, if you’ve never seen or used OneNote, you aren’t given a clear, concise statement of exactly what the program does, until page 16: “The purpose of OneNote is to make it easier for you to record, store, organize, and find notes.”

A feature called “the ribbon” also is mentioned several times before it finally is specifically defined on page 6: “The ribbon is the assortment of tabs, buttons, and commands that appear along the top of the OneNote screen.”

These minor flaws aside, Microsoft OneNote® 2010 Plain & Simple does a fine job of showing new users how to dive right into using the program and mastering its features. The book is richly illustrated with screens, clearly numbered steps, and tips boxes, plus “Try This!” exercises, “Caution!” statements and “See Also” suggestions.

Peter Weverka’s writing generally is clear and concise, and the book is divided into 20 chapters featuring small chunks of specific how-to information. The 241-page book also has a nicely detailed 15-page index.

OneNote 2010 has some screen changes and several new features that users of older versions may wish to learn, and this book can help.

“Unlike its predecessors, OneNote 2010 offer a Styles gallery for quickly formatting text and gives you the ability to create links between [OneNote] notebooks, sections, and pages so you can jump from place to place quickly,” the author notes.

“You can also dock OneNote to the side of the screen, which makes it easier to take notes from a Word document or web page.”

A new Page Versions command lets you summon older versions of a OneNote page. And the “Mini Translator” feature can translate a foreign word or phrase into English, and vice versa.

The Translation Options box displays all of the available To and From language pairs. If the language you need is not listed, a “Try This!” tip guides you to OneNote’s Research Task Pane, where you can find and add other languages.

“OneNote,” the author adds, works hand in glove with two other Microsoft Office 2010 applications: Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Outlook 2010.”

For example, you can use Word 2010 to open a OneNote 2010 page, and “[a]ll formats except styles transfer to the Word page.” The OneNote page also can be saved as a Word document.

Meanwhile, you can create Outlook 2010 tasks in OneNote without having to open Outlook. “And you can get information about a meeting directly from Outlook as well,” Weverka points out.

“Outlook offers the OneNote button for copying data from Outlook to OneNote. After you select an email message, meeting, contact, or task in Outlook, you can click the OneNote button to copy the item to OneNote.” In the process, you also get “a link that you can click to return to Outlook when you need to.”

Small starting glitches aside, this new addition to the “Plain & Simple” series solidly lives up to its billing as an “easy, colorful, SEE-HOW guide to OneNote,” a software tool you may need to learn for your next job or your present job or for boosting your productivity in your self-employment.

Si Dunn

Effective Time Management, Using Microsoft Outlook – #bookreview

Effective Time Management: Using Microsoft Outlook to Organize Your
Work and Personal Life
By Lothar Seiwert and Holger Woeltje
(Microsoft Press, list price $29.99, paperback; digital list price $23.99, Kindle)

To be honest, I never have liked Microsoft Outlook.

My first frustrating and confusing experiences with Outlook several years ago left me convinced that I had absolutely no reason to quit using paper desktop calendars and separate email programs.

But after reading Effective Time Management: Using Microsoft Outlook to Organize Your Work and Personal Life, I have decided to put Outlook back on my PC. I am now giving it another chance to help me exert some semblance of control over the events, meetings and messages in my days and nights.

The book’s authors, Lothar Seiwert and Holger Woeltje, are “two highly experienced time management experts from Germany, the largest national economy in Europe.”

Effective Time Management is nicely organized and well written. It also has an adequate number of screen shots, tips and step-by-step lists to help you get a handle on Outlook, even if you are, like me, a newcomer to its latest version.

Their 248-page book is divided into seven chapters. And, while the focus is on using Outlook 2010 to help you improve your time management skills, the authors helpfully include how-to steps for Outlook 2003 and 2007, as well.

The chapters are:

  1. How Not to Drown in the Email Flood
  2. How to Work More Effectively with Tasks and Priorities
  3. How to Gain More Time for What’s Essential with an Effective Week Planner
  4. How to Make Your Daily Planning Work in Real Life
  5. How to Schedule Meetings So They Are Convenient, Effective, and Fun
  6. How to use OneNote for Writing Goals, Jotting Down Ideas, and Keeping Notes
  7. How to Truly Benefit from This Book

The book’s one appendix is a list of recommended readings that deal with time management and keeping your productivity energy level high. And the 14-page index is well-detailed.

Seiwert and Woeltje recommend that you use Outlook to “plan your professional life and private life together…so that you avoid conflicting appointments…unless private planning is prohibited on your office computer or you don’t have access to it on the weekend or in the evening.”

They also recommend that you follow “the Kiesel Principle” so you can “gain more time for what matters most each week,” in your work life and your personal life.  “Take about 30 minutes to plan your week,” they explain. “Initially, it might take you longer, but after a few weeks, you will get used to it and it will become routine.”

It’s all about achieving a healthy balance in life – and using Microsoft Outlook to help you get there and stay there.

Si Dunn