Also Seen at the Bookstore Last Night

In addition to Screw Calm and Get Angry, I also saw this at the Book City in Bloor West Village:

Sign on table of books: "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it"

Nice sentiment, but it scans better when the lines are broken up like this:

It is what you read
when you don’t have to
that determines
what you will be
when you can’t help it


Seen at “Book City” in Bloor West Village

Yet another variation on the “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme:

screw calm and get angry

Geek It Happened to Me

Catching Cory Doctorow’s “For the Win” Book Launch Tonight

for the win

Once again, my friend and former co-worker (I worked at his startup, OpenCola, during “The Bubble”) Cory Doctorow is holding the Canadian launch of his latest novel, For the Win.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb about the book:

In the virtual future, you must organize to survive

At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual “gold,” jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world’s poorest countries, where countless “gold farmers,” bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.

Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of “General Robotwalla.” In Shenzen, heart of China’s industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.

The ruthless forces arrayed against them are willing to use any means to protect their power—including blackmail, extortion, infiltration, violence, and even murder. To survive, Big Sister’s people must out-think the system. This will lead them to devise a plan to crash the economy of every virtual world at once—a Ponzi scheme combined with a brilliant hack that ends up being the biggest, funnest game of all.

Imbued with the same lively, subversive spirit and thrilling storytelling that made LITTLE BROTHER an international sensation, FOR THE WIN is a prophetic and inspiring call-to-arms for a new generation.

The event takes place tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Merril Collection of the Lillian H. Smith building (a.k.a. “The Library”) at 239 College Street, just east of Spadina. Perhaps a post-launch visit to Caplansky’s is in order.

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.


The World’s Most Terrifying Children’s Book

The blog Awful Library Books recently featured what I consider to be the world’s most terrifying children’s book: Don’t Make Me Go Back, Mommy: A Child’s Book About Satanic Ritual Abuse:

dont make me go back mommy

It would seem that Satanists have their own version of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”:

dont make me go back mommy 2

Form follows function in this book, with dreadful pencil-crayon illustrations matching the dreadful prose:

dont make me go back mommy 3

For more, see these articles in Awful Library Books: Satan for Kids and Satan for Kids, Part 2.


Confessions of a Public Speaker

public speaking

confessions of a public speaker

Sooner or later, unless you’re going to hide in a monastery or settle for entry-level jobs for the rest of your life, you will have to speak in front of a crowd of people. It may happen in front of a small circle of peers, a boardroom meeting, online or in front of an auditorium with thousands of people.

Whether you’re like me — I enjoy public speaking; it’s one way I get my jollies — or whether the thought of standing in front of a crowd to deliver a presentation turns your blood to ice, I think you’ll find Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker, both helpful and entertaining. I’ve been reading this book for a handful of reasons:

  • As a way to get myself fired up to take on three weeks of being a track lead at TechDays conferences in cities away from home: next week it’s Montreal, the week after that I’m in Ottawa, and finally, the week after that, Winnipeg.
  • To help crystallize my own thoughts on public speaking in order to give advice to my fellow programmers about speaking in front of crowds.
  • Because Scott Berkun’s a great writer and has some interesting (and often amusing) stories to tell.

At 240 small pages with decent-sized type and with Berkun’s storytelling style, Confessions of a Public Speaker is a pretty quick read. He provides insights, advice, tips and probably most important of all, true “road warrior” stories that come from his own 15 years of public speaking plus stories of disasters faced by other well-known public speakers. Topics covered in the book include:

  • It’s okay to get “the butterflies” before public speaking; the trick is getting them to fly in formation!
  • “Umm”, “Ahh” and other verbal placeholders that people use, and how to stop using them (I’m guilty of this one myself).
  • How to work a tough room, and why a “tough room” is often actually the fault of the room, not the audience.
  • A very important chapter titled The Science of Not Boring People
  • Why most speaker evaluations are useless (I may have to show this one to the folks at Microsoft; we use speaker evaluations all the time).
  • The little things pros do (Luckily, we do every one on the list at Microsoft!).
  • What to do if your talk sucks, what to do if things go wrong, and which of these your audience will notice.

Confessions of a Public Speaker is one of those rare books that’s both entertaining and immediately useful. I’m going to recommend it to my fellow evangelists, and I certainly recommend it to you as well! It’s available directly from O’Reilly in both paper and ebook formats (I went with the ebook, which is US$19.99 / CA$21.45 as of this writing) as well as from the usual suspects: Chapters/Indigo, and Amazon.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection and Global Nerdy.

It Happened to Me

On the Reading List

I’m a sucker for “big idea essay” books, so while wandering around Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighbourhood, I stopped by Elliott Bay Books and picked up a couple that I’d been meaning to read:

Cover of "X Saves the World"

The first was X Saves the World, Jeff Gordinier’s book inspired by his Details magazine screed Has Generation X Already Peaked? Here are the notes from the back cover:

Hi. If you’re read this far, the publisher of this book is pleased. Presumably there is something about X Saves the World that intrigues you, but you need an extra nudge. That’s what this paragraph is for. In these pages, Jeff Gordinier pursues an idea that is bold, fascinating and really entertaining. Generation X isn’t the bunch of “slackers” that you remember from way back in the early ‘90’s. Instead of squandering their hours in coffee shops and record stores for the past twenty years, Gen X has been busy…wait for it…rescuing American culture from a state of collapse! It’s true! From the way we watch moves to the way we make sense of a cracked political process to the way the whole world does business, the snarky but hardworking men and women born in the sixties and seventies are doing the quiet work of keeping America from sucking. Read the details inside this book. (Then give yourself an ironic pat on the back. You deserve it.)


The other book was The Tyranny of Dead Ideas, written by Matt Miller (who wrote The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America’s Problems in Ways Both Liberals and Conservatives Can Love).

From the book liner notes:

America is at a crossroads. In the face of global competition and rapid technological change, our economy is about to face its most severe test in nearly a century. Yet our leaders have failed to prepare us for what lies ahead because they are in the grip of a set of "dead ideas" about how a modern economy should work. They wrongly believe that

• our kids will earn more than we do
• free trade is always good, no matter who gets hurt
• employers should be responsible for health coverage
• taxes hurt the economy
• schools are a local matter
• money follows merit

These ways of thinking—dubious at best and often dead wrong—are on a collision course with economic developments that are irreversible.

Matt Miller, one of America’s most creative public-affairs thinkers, offers a unique blend of business-world acumen and public-policy vision to lay bare how this conventional wisdom holds our country back, and he introduces us to a new way of thinking—what he calls "tomorrow’s destined ideas"—that can reinvigorate our economy, our politics, and our day-to-day lives.

It is only by breaking the tyranny of dead ideas that we can move beyond the limits of today’s obsolete debates and reinvent American capitalism and democracy for the twenty-first century.

I’m going to start with X Saves the World. Have any of you read either of these books? Any comments?