5 essential books for geeks…

Having seen some recommendations for what Wired considered the essential books for any geek, and found it a bit esoteric in recommending the original Dungeons & Dragons manual, for example, I thought I’d recommend the five books I have read, owned, re-read and recommended on numerous occasions as the core of my own geek libary. It’s not a definitive list, as I’m sure there are some great books I’ve yet to read, and it’s not focused on marketing, because that requires it’s own list.

So if someone was intending to spend a while on a desert island and wanted to be a fully certified geek by the time they got back, what would I recommend?

 

The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier by Bruce Sterling:

Originally published in 1992, Bruce Sterling does an amazing job of explaining the roots of how hacking became a target of law enforcement and media scare stories, in addition to describing the various groups involved, from hackers to law enforcement and civil libertarians.
And whilst the names and people involved may have changed in the last 20 years, it’s still relevant – the motivations and aims of each group continue to this day. By that, I don’t mean that all hackers are working towards some kind of common vision, but that there are certain traits and motivations which are shared by a signficant proportion. And a study of hacking forums released just last week backs that up.

 

Code 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig:

If you’re not taking an active role in the political and legal threats to the internet as it is today, or at least considering them and their implications, then you really, really, really need to read this book to understand that the ‘free’ internet as we consider it exists only because of the underlying code, and that can be changed, manipulated and controlled by govering interests, including Governments in particular.

 

Neuromancer and/or Pattern Recognition by William Gibson:

Picking the first major novel by the creator of cyberpunk isn’t exactly a radical suggestion, but when it comes to weaving fascinating stories with a technology thread, there are few equals. However, if the thought of science fiction, or the memory of Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic put you off, then it’s definitely worth trying Pattern Recognition, which is set in the modern day with a suspence/thriller approach. You’ll barely spot the references to technology as it’s as integrated to the story as it is to many of our lives now. And one of the other works I love by William Gibson was his collaboration on ‘The Difference Engine’, with Bruce Sterling. Yep, the one I first recommended.

 

Makers or Little Brother by Cory Doctorow:

Again we’re venturing into science fiction territory, but the best recommendation comes from my own family. After 10 years of playing with websites, it was reading Cory Doctorow that prompted my father to say that he finally understood why I kept going on about the web, social networks, 3D printing etc.

In the Gibson vein, both are strong stories which happen to have technology woven into them, and Makers is particularly relevant given the current economic situation, and my own predictions about 3D Printing. Little Brother is more accessible, and don’t be put off by anything that comes with a ‘teen’ label. Sometimes we forget how intelligent teenagers actually are, but Doctorow hasn’t.

 

Web Analytics an Hour a Day by Avinash Kaushik

The most practical and business-led recommendation isn’t exactly a hands-on guide to analytics product, despite the title. It’s actually a supremely good introduction to analytical thinking in general for businesses and websites, and then outlining the various useful metrics and methods to actually achieve progress, rather than just churning out pointless numbers for the sake of it. Google Analytics is used as the standard example for everything, but considering the fact it’s pretty much the default option as a free tool, that’s no bad thing, and all the information is transferable to whatever analytics package you prefer, but it means you can work directly on your own test site without spending any cash, for example. And it comes with a handy CD full of videos, podcasts and other info. So when the other books have inspired you to do something, now you’ll now whether that something is being successful or not.

 

And if you want to find out more without paying any money, then there’s

So those are my five (OK, stricly seven) books which form the core of my own geek library. They’re the ones I’d immediately replace if lost.

And while I could go on to recommend so many other great books, I’d rather read your recommendations for the must have geek books you love – so do leave a comment, as it’s not just me that will benefit…

#marketingmusicmondays

With the constant demands of content creation and digital marketing, plus an ever-increasing list of clients and commitments, I’m constantly looking at ways to be more efficient and effective in what I’m doing. But sometimes it can be a bit of a struggle as as someone still building up to an established business, and Monday’s are the trickiest day of the week as I try and get back up to speed after two days of spending more time with my family and less online.

So to keep things going on a Monday, I’m toying with regular #marketingmusicmondays – music is pretty important to me, and there’s even a song which already encapsulates my brand marketing for everything I do.

Oh, and I picked the title for the sake of alliteration, but hopefully they might get you kickstarted on a Monday if you’re a writer, blogger, small business owner etc as well…

So what’s the first song?

 

It’s Pearl Jam doing an acoustic version of a song which sums up in it’s title what we should really be trying to build with any business or marketing – even if we can never probably truly achieve it. But we don’t have to actually reach a ‘State of Love and Trust’ – we just have to be on the journey to ensure that our business or marketing plan is heading in the right direction and probably achieving a lot of our goals for building communities and engagement on the way!

Some calming inspiration…

Things have been busier than ever over the past few weeks, which makes me hugely thankful as someone who is mainly freelancing. And as a result, I’ve been reminding myself of various ways to keep inspired and avoid getting stressed.

Besides reading, videogames, and actually getting outside with my family, there are still some things which work whilst staying in front of a PC screen. Some research may suggest videos or images of cute animals helps lower stress levels, and I’m not averse to the odd lolcat, but I think the best thing I’ve found is a couple of minutes looking at ‘Interesting photos from the last 7 days‘ on Flickr.

It’s incredibly simple – a page of 9 photos which Flickr users found interesting. And the Reload button finds 9 more. And so on until infinity, or the next week presumably roles around.

But beyond the fact that most pages feature 9 amazing images on a huge variety of subjects, it’s also a calming and inspiring sign of how much amazing content is being uploaded onto the internet every second, minute, hour and day. Rather than feeling like the information overload of RSS and Twitter, the chatter of Facebook, or the audio-visual hullabaloo of Youtube, it’s just 9 simple images. No more, no less.

In some ways, it makes me question how complicated we actually need our information filters to be.

And on another level, it just helps me relax for a few moments – and it never takes long before I’m ready to get back to it!

Thank you and some free books for Christmas reading

It’s the season of goodwill, so it seems a perfect time to say thank you to everyone that’s visited my blog, followed or message me on social networks, or kindly referred me to potential new clients. Plus everyone that’s helped me set-up sites, answered my own questions, and anyone that’s come along to the #DPiP meetups or chatted at conferences etc.

And as times are financially tight for most people, and the cold weather for a lot of us is conducive to staying inside in the warm, I’ve put together a list of some books which I recommend, and are freely available for download (usually under a Creative Commons licence) – mainly because as much as I’d like to offer something I haven’t managed to come up with my own book as yet…

Obviously if you download them and enjoy them or get value from them, I’d encourage you to thank the author by buying a copy for a friend, maybe buying a copy to share in your business, or buying a copy for your local library, for example.

Note: Some of the links are to descriptions, others are directly to PDF downloads. And please check before assuming that any of the works are Creative Commons licenced.

And if you want to compare notes over Christmas, I’m just starting:

So get downloading, have a read, and maybe you’ll be inspired to help the author and your friends/colleagues/local neighbourhood. As an inspiration bonus, I’d also recommend checking out Cory Doctorow’s fictional novels – particularly Makers‘, ‘Little Brother, For The Win‘, and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

And if you’ve got recommendations you can share, or want to share your thoughts on any of the books listed, comments are much appreciated!

What if Mandela had tweeted?

Really nice talk at TEDx Youth in Manchester by Jonathan MacDonald - someone who is always interesting and has a talent for provoking thought…

Pretty inspirational in terms of the questions he’s asking, as well as the one he’s answering…

Remember – Technology is rarely the answer.

BMW’s new ‘Joy’ ad doesn’t have that effect on me…

I’ve always been a big fan of cars and motorcycles, coming in somewhere on the Steve McQueen/Jeremy Clarkson end of the spectrum, and I’ve liked a lot of BMW’s.

But their latest ad just really doesn’t work for me:

The problem is that it’s mixing two things badly, and comes across as incredibly patronising: ‘at BMW we make Joy’. No you don’t – you make cars and motorcycles which can evoke feelings of anything from happiness to sadness depending on the person, the situation and millions of other factors. I’ll choose whether I feel joy when someone in a BMW repmobile cuts me up.

And showing people enjoying your product only works if they are real people, and look like real people. I don’t share a lot of emotions with a hired actor from LA being towed in a car on the back of a truck for a morning.

Compare it with a car advert I love:

Now this inspires me to feel joy, because they let me recognise the icons I identify with from their range, the song is about chasing an impossible dream rather than assuming they’ve achieved it, and because their main character is a balding, mutton-chopped 70′s loon, rather than a perfectly groomed extra.

Attribution in advertising…

I’ve just been reading a great post on the Creative Review blog which covers a growing issue in advertising at the moment.

Namely, the increasing crossover between videos on Youtube, and mainstream advertising which may or may not have been inspired by the original.

Honda’s Let It Shine commercial led to similar thoughts from Carl and Dave.

And then there’s T-Mobile commercials, or Silent Discos?

Now, I’m not going to suggest that there’s a right or wrong answer for every instance. After all, ‘Bad artists copy, Great artists steal’, to quote Picasso. But it is important to keep in mind that the wrong decision is going to be increasingly messy – after all the sharing networked world feeds as much on negativity (perhaps moreso!) than positivity.

And the flipside is a mainstream adoption of the remix and mash-up which mainstream media is often fighting against. But the generally accepted online culture tends towards attribution in the majority of cases, whereas the professionals seem more reluctant in general to acknowledge the sources of inspiration.

Maybe it’s the tradition of seeing creativity as moments of divine inspiration, as eloquently discussed by Elizabeth Gilbert in a TED talk.

Why you should read ‘The Blue Sweater’ by Jacqueline Novogratz

If you’re involved or interested in charity, social good, business, management or leadership, then I highly recommend The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World having found it important enough to read it twice in the space of the few days I’ve had it!

And it’s not even about social media, web 2.0, or marketing. It’s far more important than that.

In all honesty, I wasn’t aware of Jacqueline Novogratz (here’s a Charlie Rose interview with Jacqueline) and her work, which includes founding the Acumen Fund, but I happened to see a post by Seth Godin which described it as important and essential – and then said Seth would buy a number of copies for bloggers to read and then pass on to their friends.

Which is how I ended up with an unexpected airmail package last week.

The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

The book is a partly a personal account of how Novogratz was motivated to apply the knowledge and processes of business, learned during her time Chase Manhattan Bank and the  Stanford Graduate School of Business, to begin micro-financing projects, having heard of the success of Professor Muhammed Yunus and the Grameem Bank, and starting by founding Duterimbere, a microfinance organisation in Rwanda.

Her account of her time in Africa, and the thought process behind the philosophy of combining charitable investment and entrepreneurship is enlightening, moving, at times harrowing, and importantly inspirational to produce actual results. The fact that Duterimbere spans both sides of the Rwandan Genocide, means that you’re presented with the humananity of women who worked to better the cause of poor women in the country, but were also caaught up in various ways in the genocide, whether as victim or as perpetrator.

It’s this honesty and moral ambiguity that had the greatest effect on me as I read the book – Jacqueline is brutally honest about her efforts to improve the situation of the poor, and especially where her well-intended efforts failed, particularly in her early attempts at building relationships with the women she needed to work with, or was trying to help – indeed she’s very honest about a number of mistakes made in her work with Duterimbere, and that’s probably why the organisation was able to celebrate it’s 20th anniversary in 2007, and survive the troubles which ripped Rwanda apart.

Suffice to say that the lessons of leadership and management contained in the book are applicable to any situation in which you’d like or need to be able to build successful working relationships with individuals or groups of people, regardless of their financial situation.

And it’s also the first book I’ve bought/received which my partner has voluntarily started reading – in this case before I’d even finished reading it!

And once I’ve done my duty in passing it on, I’ll be buying my own copy to refresh my memory on a regular basis:- The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World

When data can take your breath away

Wow.

Click through to Youtube to watch the video below in all it’s full-sized glory.

It’s a 24 hour observation of large airline flights condensed into just over a minute, found via Musings of an Opinionated Sod. And his closing sentence beautiful sums up how the ways we produce great content can, will, and has changed, whether it’s editorial, advertising or marketing, by making so much more information and so many more tools available:

‘If we open our eyes enough, we can see there’s real beauty in information, not to mention the fact we can make information, beautiful.’

Creative flow?

I recently watched an interesting TED presentation by Elizabeth Gilbert on ‘a new way to think about creativity’ (found via Lateral Action where there’s a good post about the content of the talk):

The presentation looks at how creativity was often assigned to divine assistance in historical times, and the benefits that approach had – and could still have.

And examples include dancers in Spain, who for one night might be seen as channelling that divine creativity, or an American poet who felt like she had to catch poems as they passed her by.

But the insight that people, including Gilbert, can work for a long time before having that moment of celebrated divine creativity struck a chord, and reminded me of another interesting TED talk:

It also ties into the idea of practice, and of 10,000 hours being about right for expertise in any field, as written about recently in Outliers: The Story of Success. (My own thoughts on Outliers)

As a writer/journalist/blogger/marketer/geek,  I’m always fascinated by insights into creativity and expertise – Lateral Action has proved a constant source of great insight, along with Springwise and many more sites (Many of them appear in my Google Reader Shared Items). All accompanied by music – usually Last.fm.

It did bring up one question on a marketing theme – with so many new social networks arriving, and so many new social media marketing experts appearing – how many people can honestly claim to be approaching 10,000 hours working in social media marketing or especially on a single social network?