Category Archives: Book Review

5 Things Frans Johansson says about innovation

medici affect johansson

You may not have heard of Medici before, but you’ve probably heard of the renaissance. The medici family hosted the round tables, the meetups, the social gatherings & mixers. They brought diverse artisans engineers & thinkers together, and the world hasn’t been the same since!

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In the Medici Effect, Frans dissects what this famous family did. His case studies include the likes of Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Orit Gadiesh, Marcus Samuelsson, George Soros & our own favorite Linus Torvalds,

What he discovered really surprised me.

1. Swim at the intersection

Hanging out with folks in your field is great. Whether you’re a physician, financial analyst, Ruby programmer, or artist. But it won’t expose us to enough new ideas. To get that, you need to hang out with those in other disciplines. Learn a language, take dance classes, try your hand at a new sport, or attend meetups of wedding planners or DJs. Whatever it takes to get out of your comfort zone is what will put you at the intersection.

Also: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

2. You need quantity to get quality

This was a very surprising finding of their research. One might think that greats like Albert Einstein were geniuses from the start. But it turns out one consistent factor between all these folks is the quantity of their attempts. They came up with many many ideas, and chased as many as they could. Of course they are only remembered for their successes, but this hides the underlying mathematics. It’s a numbers game in almost all of these cases.

Read: Are SQL Databases Dead?

3. Peel all the potatoes and cook them together

Peel one potato and cook it. Then peel another and cook it. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for efficiently preparing dinner does it? Turns out it’s also not great for innovating. Peel & prepare many ideas at once, and try to execute them in parallel if you can. That’s what these greats have done.

Related: Why generalists are better at scaling the web

4. Be ok with more failures

This is a tricky one. But Johansson puts in perspective with this key quote:

”Inaction is far worse than failure.”

Viewed that way, our caution about diving into a new idea seems more limiting. True it costs money, time & resources to pursue new ideas, ventures & startups. So be sure to reserve resources. That’s right spend that money & time carefully lest you run out before hitting on the big one.

He also says to be suspicious of low failure rates. In yourself or those you’re evaluating. This probably indicates you’re not risking enough, or trying new things constantly.

Read this: Why Oracle Won’t Kill MySQL

5. break out of your network

Your network is powerful to pursue your career, or following existing well traveled paths. But they can be an obstacle when forging new paths, which is what innovation is all about.

So break away from your networks. One way you can do this is by building a new one. But be sure to surround yourself with diverse cultures, upbringing, backgrounds & expertise.

Also: RDS or MySQL 10 Use Cases

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Lulzsec, Anonymous and the sorry state of internet security

zalgo text

If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you might not have heard of Anonymous, the headline grabbing hacker group that’s famous for attacking citibank, ebay, Sony, the FBI, CIA and the websites of various world governments.

Parmy Olson takes us on a ride, through tales that are riveting, and quite a bit scary for what they reveal about today’s internet, and the false sense of security we all have.

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Kids these days!

By now you’ve probably heard their names T-flow, Topiary, Sabu, & Kayla. And then there was AVunit, pwnsauce, Sup_g, and Havij. Cool characters, sitting at keyboards all over the world hatching menacing attacks, and seeming more organized than they actually were…

Topiary jumped into the role as spokesman for the group. Listening to this live hack only seems amusing in retrospect, now that the group has been brought down…

Read: Why devops talent is in short supply

For all the subcultures you’ve never heard of…

Today’s internet is rife with fascinating subcultures, many I’d never heard of. Parmy’s book on Anonymous takes us to the door of all these places, and gives us a candid peak at what goes on there. Kids these days are up to no good!

The bizarro Encyclopedia Dramatica is a wikipedia of weirdness. And then there’s Googledorks, a hackers delight of exploits (ways to break into systems online), and hacks.

And let’s not forget 4Chan the online community and forum that hatched Anonymous.

You thought Ascii Art was cool, but have you heard of zalgo text? That’s the text garbling software that created this posts image.

If you’re looking to dig a little deeper, browse over to know your meme, a sort of urban dictionary for internet subcultures.

Don’t forget the 47 rules of the internet. I’m still looking for rules two through thirty three. Does this have something to do with this 33?

Read: How to evaluate an independent consultant expert

With only a very thin blanket to secure us…

If you’re not already a touch paranoid with the risks of online banking, social networks and identity theft you will be after reading this tale.

Anonymous troublemakers were able to send SWAT teams to unsuspecting people’s homes, crowd source personal information, social engineer their way to facts about someone and then dox them publishing all that personal information online.

On the more technical side, many sites are vulnerable to SQL Injection a rather technical sounding method to trick websites into dumping the contents of their databases back to a hacker. There’s even an automated tool called sqlmap to help you with the dirty work.

And then there are the very illegal denial of service attack tools like the ominous sounding low orbit ion cannon. Please don’t try this at home!

Definitely the worst of all offenders are the botnets, swarms of infected computers that can be controlled from a central location, to wreak havoc on users and internet firms alike. Thanks Bill!

As a parting word, take a quick look at this instructional video on using backtrack5, a hacking & security testing tool…

Also: Why a killer title can make or break your content efforts

The older roots of hacking circa 80’s and 90’s

I remember back in the 80’s when War Games came out. It was a scary premise. With the cold war between the US and the former Soviet Union in full bloom, it felt very real.

The 90’s brought Clifford Stoll hunting a hacker through his computer systems in The Cuckoo’s Egg.

And then along comes Kevin Mitnick, turning his finger up at US agents, and wreaking his own havoc in his wake.

The anonymous story turns more political when they meet the likes of Julian Assange, but even that isn’t new. Remember the Pentagon Papers?

What’s really knew is how the internet has grown, but how computers have not gotten more secure through that period. It has all grown more brittle, with many websites, and personal computers steered by unsuspecting users.

Read: Why high availability is so very hard to deliver

Surprisingly soft landing

One thing that really surprised me in this tale, was the sentences many Anons received. The way the headlines read, this was real all-out warfare on governments and corporations a like. But reading the judgements, it appears judges had a different perspective.

Although there were certainly compromises of personal information, the group really wasn’t responsible for a huge amount of theft & fraud. Sure they took down some websites, but whom does that really harm. It makes great headlines, but the bigger systems behind the scenes are actually more secure than that.

”IRC is just the crap out of everyone’s minds…” – Topiary on words thought-typed in IRC chats

After flipping through to the end, it seems we’ve taken a ride through the internet underground, but not through the criminal underworld. That is out there surely, but it’s not run by this scattered team of recluse misfits.

Related: Why Airbnb didn’t have to fail

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Lessons from Locksmiths and the 99%

Just finished reading Dan Ariely’s new book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. What a great title for a book on cheating & lying.

Dishonesty is pretty easy to understand, isn’t it? We know when someone is being honest or not, and we ourselves are of course never dishonest? Or so we think.

Well your preexisting ideas about honesty are about to be turned upside down.
Ariely has an amazing storytelling ability that will leaving you scratching your head and saying – I hadn’t thought of that.

Conventional economics theory has it that people will be dishonest when there is low risk and it serves their economic interest. But it’s actually much much more complex.

He tells one story of how a cab driver lies about the fare in favor of himself, while at other times in favor of the passenger! Or for example the story of how soda & some cash are left in an office refrigerator. The sodas disappear, but the money remains.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion is that of law firms & billable hours. There is of course the question of what counts as a billable hour, and where the rounding happens. But what’s more accountability can and does become a measure of how much work gets done. So those who round down because they are more honest, may be perceived to be doing the least amount of work! Conflicts of interest indeed.

[quote]Sometimes conflicts of interest cloud our judgement and steer our thinking. In professions where we make recommendations and then also provide service based on those recommendations those may be difficult to eliminate. Consumers or businesses should make every effort to find service providers with the least conflicts.[/quote]

We’re a service provider ourselves. Wondering how we work? Take a peek at our Anatomy of a Performance Review to get insight.

Interestingly, based on the soda story among others, it turns out people are less likely to be dishonest when cash is involved. So he wonders, as we become more of a cashless society, it may be that our moral compass slips? Still hot on the heels of our housing financial crisis it does make one wonder.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote was one where told the story of locking himself out of his apartment. After very quickly picking the lock he was surprised. The locksmith explained that doors are very easy to pick and open for a professional. You wouldn’t need locks for the 1% of people who are honest. Nor would you need them for the 1% of people who are thieves, they can pick your lock easily. Locks are for the 98% of people who are mostly honest, but might be tempted to be dishonest if the conditions are right. What he was also saying was that 99% of people are not completely perfectly honest.

Great read and excellent food for thought.

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Opportunity a day – career risk at bay

Free Agent. Stress Test. Avoid Sameness

As the globalization juggernaut rolls on, it continues to create more Detroits. Skills and perspectives quickly become obsolete.

What to do in the face of such change?

[quote]Small fires prevent the big burn[/quote]

So there’s your quick answer. Get the book if you want more!

Some related material: why is it so hard to find a mysql dba?.
Consulting 101 Guide – Finding Business :: Completing Engagements :: Growing business

Your Mentors

On this tour, a free agent needs mentors. Hoffman & Casnocha provide you with plenty from stories & lessons from some of the startup industry’s finest. Jack Dorsey, Mark Andreesen, Cheryl Sandberg, Rick Warren, Paul Graham, Jeff Bezos, Joi Ito and a few of their own running Paypal & Linkedin.

What you’ll love

Each chapter closes with concrete actionable advice. The authors carefully craft marching orders for you in the next day, next week and next month. Go ahead, give them a try.

[quote]Safe is the new risky – Phil Simon[/quote]

An executive summary of Startup of You

1. develop your strengths
- what do you find easy that others find difficult?
- diversify asset mix aka learn new skills

2. plan to be nimble
- pivot as you learn more
- always prepare a lifeboat contingency plan

3. work & develop your network
- hangout with those already on the road
- domain experts, people who know you & smart people

4. hustle for breakout opportunities

5. Embrace baby steps of risk
- bounds of unemployment – shocks that motivate
- adjust your strategy & pivot if need be

What’s next?

Had a taste and want more? If you’re a MySQL DBA we wrote an interview guide. Also check out our Oracle dba interview questions.

Want more? Check out our best of content compilation.

[quote]Only the paranoid survive. – Andy Grove[/quote]

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Pro Blogging with the Pros

I picked up a copy of the Problogger book and flipped to the Blog Promotion chapter.  In it they recommended – Create compilation pages.

I tried it

I crafted a new post, selected some of my blogs most popular material, organized it with nice punchy one line summaries, and after about 20 minutes posted it.  Hey what the heck, I’ll give it a try.

It Worked!

The page got tons of traffic, after I shared it around. It doubled my typical daily traffic & the bounce rate ended up being really low as almost half of the people who hit the page clicked something.  It wasn't only the traffic from this page, but people clicking on through to other content featured there. Simple advice, straightforward results.  This is what I'm looking for in a book on blogging.

You'll find it is full of this type actionable advice. That's why it's so valuable.

  • interlink within your posts – this is huge!
  • highlight related posts
  • quote important points as excerpts
  • ask questions and invite comments

There are other great chapters on Social Media to get your posts going viral, and of course the ever important monetization topic is covered nicely.

Go pickup a copy of this book.  It’s worth much more than the cover price for sure!

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Habits. We all have them. The good ones we celebrate, but the bad ones we struggle with. Duhigg’s book may introduce some ideas to those of us less familiar with behavioral sciences but it fails to effectively teach us how to form good habits and break the bad ones.

Filled with pages of stories from successful brands such as Pepsodent which Duhigg credits for turning the brushing of teeth into a daily routine; and perhaps more tenuous ones about leaders such as Paul O’ Neill, the CEO of Alcoa who purportedly turned around the fortunes of an ailing organisation by changing its safety practices.

From cue, routine to reward we must first identify the habit, then in a way that parallels the success of Alcoholic Anonymous, you replace the routine, keeping the cue and reward. In discussing the success of AA and others, he brings up the importance of belief in long term success of habit change. He references William James’ famous quote “Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create that fact”.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking that for the average business manager it lacked actionable advice of the kind you might find in a Jim Collins Good to Great or Chip Conley’s Peak. These books also have excellent story telling, but break things down in a very specific set of steps and attributes that an organization or individual can apply today.

Duhigg’s writing is easy to read and that’s probably the book’s greatest strength. Yet with most of it grounded more in interesting anecdotes than credible research, the examples unfortunately give for more entertaining reading than any deep insight.

Thank You for Arguing – Persuasion for fun and profit

thank you for arguing cover

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I first read about Heinrichs in a Bloomberg Businessweek piece on him. He’s quite a character, with high profile clients like Ogilvy & Mather and the Pentagon. Struck by some of his ideas, I decided to pickup Thank You for Arguing.

Related: AirBNB Didn’t Have to Fail – With AWS Outage

48 laws of soft power

Compiled into 25 very readable chapters, Heinrichs illustrates how to win trust through managing your voice with volume control for positive affect, verbal jousting and calling fouls, and mastering timing. Sure in the real world this is all going to require a lot of trial and error, and practice in the trenches. But his book serves as a very good guide along the way.

Also: 5 Conversational Ways to Evaluate Great Consultants

Don’t worry too much about Aristotle, Cicero or the classics you never learned in school. If anything they serve as a colorful highlight to his useful everyday illustrations.

Some examples worth recalling…

1. Have a disagreement at a meeting? Diffuse it with “let’s tweak it”.

2. Pay attention to your tenses:

o using past tense the conversation is trying to place blame
o using present tense you’re talking about values
o using future tense you’re considering choices and solutions

3. Pay attention to commonplaces – your audience’s beliefs and values

4. Effective argument works by:

o appealing to character (pathos) understand your audience’s personality
o using logic (logos)
o appealing to emotion (ethos)

Read this: RDS or MySQL – 10 Use Cases

[quote]
I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe–I believe what I believe is right. – George W. Bush
[/quote]

He has one whole chapter on Bushisms, which I found intriguing. Bush used code grooming to very strong effect. When speaking to different groups, he emphasized these code words in his sentences. With women, words like “I understand”, “peace”, “security” and “protecting”. With a military group words such as “never relent”, “we must not waver” and “not on my watch” were common. For religious audiences, “I believe” resonated strongly. He quotes a superb Bushism which in this light suddenly begins to sound powerful:

Check out: A CTO Should Never Do This

“I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe–I believe what I believe is right.”

Rhetoric indeed. I’ll be studying this book for months to come!

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To the ‘Microsoft Azure’ Cloud

To The Cloud: Powering An Enterprise introduces the concepts of cloud computing from a high-level and strategic standpoint. I’ve read quite a few tomes on cloud computing and I was interested to see how this one would stack up against the others.

The book is not too weighty in technical language so as not to be overwhelming and intimidating. However at ninety five pages, one might argue it is a bit sparse for a $30 book, if you purchase it at full price.

It is organized nicely around initiatives to get you moving with the cloud.

Chapter 1, Explore takes you through the process of understanding what the cloud is and what it has to offer.

Chapter 2, Envision puts you in the drivers seat, looking at the opportunities the cloud can offer in terms of solutions to current business problems.

Chapter 3, Enable discusses specifics of getting there, such as selecting a vendor or provider, training your team, and establishing new processes in your organization.

Finally in Chapter 4, we hit on real details of adopting the cloud in your organization. Will you move applications wholesale, or will you adopt a hybrid model? How will you redesign your applications to take care of automated scaling? What new security practices and processes will you put in place. The authors offer practical answers to these questions. At the end there is also an epilogue discussing emerging market opportunities for cloud computing, such as those in India.

One of the problems I had with the book is that although it doesn’t really position itself as a Microsoft Cloud book per se, that is really what the book aims at.

For example, Microsoft Azure is sort of the default platform throughout the book, whereas in reality most folks think of Amazon Web Services to be the sort of default when talking about cloud computing. Although specifically, Azure is really a platform, while AWS is Infrastructure or raw iron, that can run Linux based Operating Systems, or Windows Azure stuff.

Of course having a trio of Microsoft executives as authors gives a strong hint to readers to expect some plugging but a rewrite of the title would probably manage readers’ expectations better.

The other missing piece with this book is a chapter on tackling new challenges in the cloud. Cloud Computing – Azure or otherwise, brings challenges with respect to hardware as using the cloud means deploying across shared resources. For example it’s hard to deploy a high-performance RAID array or SAN solution devoted to one server in the cloud. This is a challenge on AWS as well, and continues to be a major adoption hurdle. It’s part of the commoditization puzzle, but it’s as yet not completely solved. Such a chapter to discuss mitigating against virtual server failures, using redundancy, and cloud components to increase availability would be useful.

Lastly, I found it a bit disconcerting that all of the testimonials were from fellow CTOs and CIOs of big firms, not independents or other industry experts. For example I would have liked to see George Reese of Enstratus, Thorsten von Eicken from Rightscale or John Engates from Rackspace provide a comment or two on the book.

Overall the book is a decent primer if you’re looking for some guidance on Microsoft Azure Cloud. It is not a comprehensive introduction to cloud computing and you’d definitely need other resources to get the full picture. At such a hefty sticker price, my advice is to pick this one up at the bargain bin.

The Age of the Platform by Phil Simon

The Age of the Platform book coverI picked up Phil Simon’s The Age of the Platform after running into his blog, and some of his writing online. Simon is an interesting guy with an obvious strong technical background. He’s also an accomplished speaker and you can find several videos of his speaking online.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how it came to be. The book was funded through Kickstarter, an online platform for people to fund their creative projects. Perhaps it was Simon trying to drive home the point of his book. But it gets better, he self-published the book through Motion Publishing. Furthermore the book isn’t cheap for a paperback at $20. That said I admire that he has obviously eaten his own dog food, as the proverbial saying goes, and done it himself.

The premise of the book is that we’re entering a new age exemplified by four companies, namely Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple. He takes us through a quick history of each company, then illustrates their successes and how each of them have successfully created platforms to extend their reach. Continue reading

What Wouldn't Google Do?

What Would Google DoIn his latest book, What Would Google Do? Jeff Jarvis seems to have authored a gushing tribute to the search giant that has pledged to do no evil. He paints a very optimistic picture, and shows us over and over how Google has opened up industries, and how that same openness helps consumers like you and I.

Jarvis, if you don’t know him by name, has been a journalist for some time, but gained particular cred and notoriety when he blogged with the headline “Dell lies. Dell Sucks” after his horrible experiences with Dell computers and customer service.

While digging through Googly chapters, on Real Estate, Publishing, Entertainment, Shopping, Education and even Airlines, Jarvis serves up anecdotes on how a more open approach can help these industries adapt to a new business environment brought about by the Internet. He cites interesting examples like Gary Vaynerchuk, the creator of the hilarious and insanely popular winelibrary.tv show about wines, and now a public speaker on social media and brand building; and Brazilian author Paulo Coelho pirating his own works.

Taking the cue from some of these successes Jarvis goes on to propagate the idea that sharing and dishing out services for free is the way to make money. The irony that you have to buy his book for him to tell you that deserves a chuckle, and also raises the question of whether he himself buys all of that (pun inevitable). Indeed openness is great for consumers as most of us would agree. A level playing field increases competition, drives down prices for consumers. But it also drives down profits and margins. Continue reading