What I'm Reading: Wednesday, May 1st

  • The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin
    This is the first Seth Godin book I've ever read. Over the years I have read a lot of things on his blog that were promoted in tweets and posts by almost everybody I follow online. I'm not sure why it took me so long to actually read one of his books. This book is well written and inspiring. I have thought similar things to what Seth writes about in The Icarus Deception but I was never able to clearly articulate those ideas. Seth is a great writer and has really helped me to open my mind to a number of new ideas and clarify many ideas that I was still trying to process.
  • The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra by Shin Takahashi & Iroha Inoue
    I teach an introductory course in game development to second year students where I work. It has proven to be a challenge due to the fact that many of them are not very far along in their mathematical studies. I don't believe that you need a couple of semesters of Calculus to learn Linear Algebra and I think I do an OK job of teaching the basics. I've never been able to find a book that was able to work in the context of this course until now. I'm going to test The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra as a textbook, along with the Unity 3D programming book I use, in the Fall 2013 semester. I think it will help students to more quickly grasp these concepts and gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter. If I remember I'll be sure to write a post-mortem after the course is over about how well the book served the needs of my students.

What I'm Reading: Friday, February 22nd

  • Design is a Job by Mike Monteiro
    I'm actually reading this for the third time along with some students in one of my courses. I can't say enough good things about this book. If you do any type of work in a field that involves client services you should read it. While Mike focuses on his experiences as a designer it's easy to apply his advice to any other small business or individual contracting situation. Read it. Seriously, it will change your life.
  • Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook
    I love Joy Division. I love New Order. I learned to play bass by playing along to their songs. Peter Hook is a huge musical influence on me (just wait for the Glider Excel dance EP in the near future). I was really excited to read this book and it didn't disappoint. It's a shame that Peter Hook has left New Order and that it doesn't seem they will be reuniting ever again. But, that is the present; this book covers the past. Hook gives an inside look into how the band operated and gives some insight into the personalities of everybody in the band through his recollections. It was neat to learn about the friends and collaborators that helped them along the way and it was frightening to realize just how short-lived the band's career really was. I like how Hook paints Ian Curtis as a complex person with many sides to his personality and he humanizes Ian in a way that most other historical Joy Division references don't. The book also shows that Hook is exactly as one would expect. He is completely rock and roll and kind of a dick...and that's fine. If you understand the current situation with the original members of New Order and read the book through that lens you'll find a lot of worthwhile information while looking past the personal issues that may have clouded Hook's memories.

Awkward

"I don't hate people. I just feel better when they aren't around." - Charles Bukowski

Being around other people is really difficult for me. I get horribly uncomfortable and self conscious. I usually spend days in advance of a social gathering planning how to best interact with people and then days afterward analyzing every word of every conversation. When I say that I "plan" I mean that I actually practice potential conversations, out loud with myself, that I think I might have with other people. I do this before phone calls as well.

"The picture you see is no portrait of me." - New Order

People that know me will probably think that I'm lying; my friends would probably say that I am extroverted, loud, and egotistical. People that meet me professionally, or through my teaching, would probably have a similar perspective of my personality (although with a lot less cursing). I have been trying to figure out why it is that I hate interacting with other people yet I seem to be pretty good at consistently putting myself into situations where I can meet new people. Some examples of behaviors that go against my inclination to climb into bed and curl up into a ball would be my regular involvement in conferences, coworking, and playing in bands. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that I teach for a living?

"If you set your expectations low you'll never be disappointed." - ?

I've done a lot of thinking about this and I'm not sure I have a really good answer. I think I am able to get over my fears and do these things because I feel as if I have nothing to lose. Since I already feel like any social interaction will be a total failure, and since I have already failed in my mind, why not just jump into the abyss head first? The fact that I feel socially awkward and want to avoid social interactions seems to provide me with the ability to put myself into awkward situations in the first place. I guess this makes me a masochist. This also doesn't seem to make much sense.

I also think that I like being alone in a group and pretending to be more socially involved than I am. I'm really good at meeting people just by showing up at a variety of places and events but I almost never turn those new connections into anything resembling a friendship. I might be good at meeting people but I'm terrible at making, and keeping, friends. My circle of friends is very small and shrinking as I get older.

How does this phobia effect my teaching? Heavily. My nerves get frayed before each class and I find it difficult to maintain the energy-level and focus required to make it through teaching a course for an entire semester. Teaching is very hard for me. Almost everything is hard for me that requires involvement with others. I get tired quickly and lose interest quickly. I'm working to change this but I'm not sure I know how.

Is there a new year's resolution somewhere in here? Not really. Could this be a longer post? Absolutely, but I don't really want to write about this anymore. I didn't really have any point when I started writing this post but I think it all boils down to the following.

"Please realize that just because somebody looks like they have it together it doesn't mean that they do. They are, more than likely, struggling to hold it together just like everybody else." - Me

Generating Hope Update

I just wanted to post a quick update on my idea for a non-profit organization to help provide power to those in need during times of crisis (the working title is Generating Hope).

While I had the idea to organize a group to help during future natural disasters, Wayne Trojanowski went out and actually took care of people during the current one caused by Hurricane Sandy. Wayne has been organizing his efforts through Facebook and you can find out more about what he is doing now, and his plans for the future, on the Gift of Giving Organization page. Wayne is holding a foundational meeting for the organization on December 30th in Mount Holly, New Jersey. He's been so busy helping people he hasn't had time to get around to formalizing things until now. What Wayne is doing is super awesome and I plan to be in attendance to see how I can help out and explore any opportunities for collaboration.

Over the past few weeks I've put the idea for the "Generating Hope" to a number of friends and colleagues and had an overwhelmingly positive response. The success of the Gift of Giving Organization (formerly Generators for Sandy) in the wake of Sandy proves that this is an idea that can work and a service that is widely in need.

I have spoken with a friend who is a lawyer and he has agreed to help with formalizing the organization and to file for non-profit status. He also had some great ideas for local collaborations to get things off the ground and running. We are also working to identify and handle any issues of liability that could arise while offering these services. There are a number of areas that could expose both volunteers and those receiving the service to risk (gasoline, carbon monoxide, driving, etc) and we want to make sure that those bases are very well covered through a combination of insurance and proper training.

While power is the core service that this group will offer I would also like to explore adding items such as heat, food, water, and loaner cell phones to the list of items that the group could provide.

I am still doing this by myself and I could really use some other people dedicated to making this work. My current goals are to get the organization established by the end of January 2013, build a web presence, and have the first organizational meetings in February or March of 2013. In the meantime, I will be scheduling meetings with local Police, EMT, and Fire personnel to get input on how this organization can fit into their existing processes.

I want to move slow and deliberately and try to do this right. More updates to follow.

What I'm Reading: Tuesday, November 6th

  • Curly: An Illustrated Biography of the Superstooge by Joan Howard Maurer
    This was a nice follow-up to the Moe Howard autobiography. It was interesting to get some insight into Curly's life off-screen. Many people don't realize that he was nothing like his on-screen persona and that he was quite a tortured soul. There is a lot of overlap between the Moe and Curly books due to Joan Howard Maurer's involvement with both but they are still great reading for any fan of the 3 Stooges. Also, the forward is by Michael Jackson. Yes, that Michael Jackson.

  • Learning Node by Shelley Powers
    I realize there are a ton of good online resources for learning Node but I still prefer a book to help get me moving in the right direction when I'm learning something new.

Generating Hope

As hurricane Sandy moved into the New York area I was closely watching Twitter in hope of any sign that the devastation would not be as bad as predicted. As the full force of the storm passed over the area and power began to fail it wasn't long before I saw a tweet asking for a very specific type of help. A person that required electricity to power the medical device that helped to keep them alive was now relying on battery power and time was ticking.

Today I saw that NPR highlighted the needs of various vulnerable populations in the aftermath of the storm.

Amid all the problems, the elderly and physically disabled face special challenges. Many remain stranded in cold, dark high rises, in nursing homes, adult care facilities, worried about food and medicine and water. Some rely on electricity to power ventilators or recharge wheelchairs.

I have also read about heroic attempts to carry diesel fuel up many flights of stairs in hospitals to try to keep power flowing.

Officials rushed to move the most critically ill patients closer to an emergency generator. After midnight, doctors heard shouts in the hallway. The basement fuel pumps had stopped working, and medical residents, nurses and administrators formed a bucket brigade to ferry fuel up 13 flights to the main backup generators.

In processing these events I've decided to do the best I can to help protect people in danger of suffering serious medical complications or death from a sustained lack of power.

Generators to the Rescue

My plan is to start a non-profit volunteer organization to bring generators to those in need during times of crisis. The group would raise money to purchase the equipment and fuel needed to make this charge a reality. The group would also seek out volunteers that already own their own generators and are willing to use them to help others.

Over the next few weeks I plan to talk to a number of local first-responders and doctors to see if this type of service would be of value. If this seems to be an idea worth pursuing I will move forward with assembling a board of directors and formalizing the status of the organization. Long term I plan on publishing everything about the organization to the web so that, if successful, the idea can be easily copied in other areas of the country.

If you know anybody that would be in need of this service or anybody that might be in a position to volunteer with or advise the organization please don't hesitate to contact me. I need as much input as possible. I have never done anything like this before in my life.

Although it is too early to know exactly how things will operate I have included the following two lists that I brainstormed to get an idea of the organization's fundraising and operational needs.

Items Required

  • Honda mini-generators
  • Extension cords
  • Fuel canisters
  • Fuel
  • Covers for the generators so they can safely operate outside in inclement weather
  • Locks so the generators cannot be easily stolen while in use
  • Places to store the generators and other equipment when not in use
  • Insurance to cover liability and equipment.
  • Promotional materials
  • System to track people in need, generator usage, maintenance, and volunteers

Volunteers Required

  • Drivers to deliver, install, fuel, and pick-up generators
  • Mechanics to service the generators
  • Board of directors to advise on operations
  • Various positions to register those to be served by the organization, promote the service, fundraise, etc.

My idea is still in the very early stage but I want to try and move as quickly as possibly to get the ball rolling. I'll be sure to post updates as things progress.

What I'm Reading: Tuesday, October 9, 2012

  • Moe Howard & The 3 Stooges by Moe Howard[1]
    It’s really neat to read Moe’s perspective on the history of the Stooges. Recent books on the 3 Stooges seem to put forth a lot of accusations and create a number of scandals regarding their career and the deaths of Curly and Shemp. I’m inclined to believe Moe’s side of the story. Moe actually died in the process of writing this book and it was completed by his daughter. The book is long out of print but can be found used on Amazon and I’m sure there are copies in libraries.
  • A Drive into the Gap by Kevin Guilfoile
    I’m a Field Notes subscriber and this is the book that shipped with the Summer 2012 edition.

  1. I received The 3 Stooges: The Ultimate Collection for my birthday. So great if you are a 3 Stooges fan.  ↩

"You have to fall in love with your work."

Over the weekend I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I thought the documentary was excellent and I highly recommend that you watch it.

A number of things about Jiro's life and work ethic had a great impact on me. I think the following quote from Jiro was the most powerful.

Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably.

The documentary made me realize that I never decided on an occupation, my occupation decided on me. Growing up I used to say that it's more important to know what you don't want to do than what you do want to do. That philosophy has led me to a pretty good place in life. But that's just it, I feel like I have never tried to reach for any big goals. My approach to life has been to steer away from things I know I won't like and see where that leads me. Unfortunately, I think my philosophy has also kept me away from a lot of extremely rewarding opportunities due to a fear of failure.

Yes, I currently have a great job and, yes, I find my work to be fun and challenging. I just can't help but feel like something's missing. I want to chase big goals. I want to find the work I can fall in love with. I want to take smart risks for things I care about. I don't want to be a polymath anymore I want to be an artisan.

A shrimp dealer in the movie sums things up nicely.

These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren't thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro's, you are committing to a trade for life.

The film is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

(Quotes via IMDB)

What I'm Reading

From time to time I will post links to the books that I'm reading. My hope is that this will provide some additional context to the topics I'm writing about. These posts are purely informational and are not meant to be endorsements or reviews. The books may be good, they may be bad; all I'm saying is that I'm currently downloading this data into my brain.

Each book post will link to Amazon if you want more information or reader reviews. My Amazon affiliate code is embedded in each link so if you choose to buy the book by clicking through you will also be helping to support this site.