Book Report: How to Win Friends and Influence People

This is a popular book about how to be well-liked. The good news is that there's some good advice in here. E.g., try to see things from the other person's point of view. The bad news is that some of this good advice is hard to follow. Sometimes you see things from the other person's point of view, and you realize that they must be some nutjob who will never come to their senses and we're all doomed. Then you realize you've gone to all this trouble to see things from their point of view and you still don't know how to influence this person.

The worse news is... This book has been out for a while. This book has been popular for a while. Many people already know its more straightforward advice. I suspect that so many people know about it that... the world has changed. This book's advice is now backfiring. I'm pretty sure it backfires when people try to use it on me. This book suggests addressing people by name—people tend to respond to their own name. The thing is... nowadays, I tend to respond to my name by flinching. I think Oh gee, someone is following this book's advice and is trying to turn on the charm. What are they up to?

You're also supposed to compliment people sincerely. Maybe that's how I picked up another tic—I flinch when people compliment me. Usually it means they're about to ask me for a favor. "Oh, gee, you're so much better at cleaning tile grout than I am... How would you feel about cleaning the shower?" According to this book's advice, you're also supposed to compliment people even when you don't especially want them to do something for you at the moment. But not many people do this, so I shy away when folks start dropping compliments. I don't think I'm the only one who does this.

You'd think that this book would just have me cringing. Actually, it was an interesting book. Ghe guy who wrote it had some good ideas about how to teach people. It does some interesting things with repetition. There's a summary at the end of each chapter. There was a blank page at the end of the book, and I was encouraged to note down how I'd applied the book's lessons. It was a library book, so I was tempted to make up some funny anecdotes for the amusement of the next person to check it out, but in the end I didn't think of any.

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Book Report: Slack

Today I was that guy on the bus who wears too much scent. Not my fault! An automatic air freshener squirted me. Now I know why "fresh" can mean "offensive". I am very fresh right now, in that sense. Not like the "fresh" in "fresh content". That means "recent". Or as the cool kids call it these days, "real time". As of 7:33pm PDT 2009.08.18 I still smell like a stack of urinal mints, which means that this news is in "real time". This news is as fresh as I smell. You might even be reading it sooner than you would expect. Maybe. Depending on how often you check this stuff.

Blogger (the service which runs this here blog and many others) announced pubsubhubbub support. This means that after I post one of these blog posts, lots of services can find out really quickly. (Well, they could do that before, but it would have involved checking my website really often, which would have been silly, because I don't update that often. But now those services that want to check for recent updates can use one "hub" to keep up with many many web sites. So they can be really fast.) But I can keep writing really slow. Though with all of this "real time" stuff going on, I have to remind myself to maintain slack. That's right, I remembered the topic of this blog post. This is a book report, and it is on Slack. Not as in the stark fist of "Bob". I mean the book about managing software projects.

Slack takes a common-sense view, arguing against various software-development snake oil schemes. It was written back in 2001... so I'm reading it kind of late. I'm not keeping up with the literature in "real time," you see. So, I read about old snake oil. Some of that snake oil is still around, but it uses a different vocabulary now. Folks no longer strive for Quality. (That's Quality with a capital Q.) They do still pour effort into optimizing things that don't need optimizing, using this as an excuse to ignore harder problems. But they don't call that Quality anymore. And since they're looking for excuses to ignore common sense, they'll probably ignore the advice of this book. Oh, what? What's the advice? OK.

Don't work too hard all the time--you'll burn out. Besides, if you need to sprint for a while, you won't be able to speed up if you were already sprinting.

Make middle managers talk to each other, not just to their underlings and overlings. The underlings in group A and the underlings in group B might not be so great at talking to each other. It's good if their managers can talk every so often just to exchange ideas and news.

Oh, there's more but you're probably bored. It's all such sensible advice. Not like the snake oil. Snake oil is exciting, in much the same way that it's exciting to get squirted by an automatic air freshener.

Oh man I hope this stuff washes off.

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Book Report: Getting to YES

This book is about negotiating agreements. You want mushroom pizza, they want bell pepper pizza, how do you figure out what to do? You look for middle ground, of course, and this book talks some about how to do this.

Perhaps more usefully, it talks about how to deal with people who want to "win" a negotiation. When I'm faced with high-pressure sales tactics, I just walk away. So far, that's been pretty easy--there's always been other places to go.

Ah, memories...

"Hi, I'm thinking of buying a pool table. Right now, I'm just calling around to find out about prices. I'm interested in blah blah blah describing specs blah blah blah. What would you charge for something like that?"

"$2300 if you order today."

I never called that place back. Maybe I should have once I got prices from other places. Maybe they would have negotiated; I never gave them a chance. This book talks about some ways that you can get past the high-pressure negotiating tactics to something more useful. If you're dealing with a professional salesperson, it might be as easy as asking them to stop.

  • Don't just ask for their position--ask them the reasoning behind their position.
  • When they tell you things, listen. Don't get distracted thinking of what you're going to say next.
  • Ask them if you understand them correctly--re-state their position.
  • Tell them the reasoning behind your position. That might suggest some negotiation wiggle-room to them.

It's all good advice. I think most folks tend to do this anyhow. But it helps to spell out the steps--especially when you're dealing with sonmeone who isn't inclined to be so reasonable.

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Book Report: Too Cool To Be Forgotten

In this comic book, our hero goes under hypnosis and dreams he's back in high school. He gets a chance to get things right. It's nice enough.

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Book Report: The Air We Breathe

This was a fun novel. As with other Andrea Barrett novels, the heroes are scientists, so I'm inclined to be sympathetic. This novel is narrated in the first person plural, by a community of people. It talks about how ideas--and hysteria--can move through a community. It talks about learning circles, sort of leaderless classes in which people share what they know. There's also plenty of symbolism to keep the literary types amused. Check it out.

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Book Report: Goodnight, Irene

My internet service provider sent me an interesting email--in a few weeks, they will stop offering dialup service. Yes, my main computer is still on dialup. Stop laughing. It has an ethernet port, but its ethernet controller is some nonstandard thingy built into the motherboard, and I never found a Linux driver for it. A while back, I bought an ethernet card--which didn't fit in this ancient computer's ancient slots. I guess I could have looked around for an ancient ethernet card, but that was starting to sound like effort. But now, now, I am being spurred towards effort. And thinking about dialup. And thinking about the past. Oh, right, I'm supposed to be talking about the past, about "Goodnight Irene", a collection of Carol Lay's old comics.

This comic book is a romance (keep reading!) story about Irene. Irene was raised by a tribe in Africa into body modification, specifically into facial changes, such as lip disks. She comes to America and then the wacky hijinx ensue. Her friends include a bearded woman, Irma from Burma (who's very tall and has neck rings), a Fat Lady, and other, uhm, people of unusual appearance. There is love and betrayal, but it's pretty silly. Just when things have settled down a bit, a facsimile of Strong Bad's head appears. It doesn't make too much sense, but it makes enough. Check it out.

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Book Report: Botany of Desire

This book by Michael Polan was fun. It's about four domesticated plants, talking about how some plants survive not by being tenacious but rather delicious. Or maybe beautiful or nutritious or intoxicating. Something that encourages humans to cultivate the species. I enjoyed reading the book, but I didn't retain much. I wish I hadn't retained quite so much as I did, actually. At work, conversation turned to, as it sometimes does, the facilities necessary for a major marijuana "grow operation". (So difficult to distinguish from a computer data center--a large inside area, sealed environment, huge power consumption...) Thanks to this book, I was able to point out that you don't necessarily want to run the grow lights 24 hours a day--after a certain point in the growth cycle, you only want to run the lights just 12 hours a day. After I said that, everyone looked at me strangely, as if they were trying to figure out whether I had some home gardening hobby that I hadn't let on about. (I don't!)

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LJ People: Do not be alarmed

(If you have a LiveJournal and you befriended my account, I encourage you to stay awake through this post. The rest of you folks can fall asleep. Oh, but if you have your own domain, you might want to stay awake a little bit anyhow so that you can read about the mistake I made with OpenID. Then you can avoid making that same mistake yourself if you decide to use OpenID in the future.)

The short story: I dare you to befriend

The long story: is an OpenID provider. I am an OpenID ignoramus, but I'm getting better--I even went to a lecture! Thus I learned how I can use my own URL as my OpenID instead of, say, the maybe-it's-legit-but-who-can-tell, while still letting the folks at do all of the hard programming shme.

So I'm going to stop using the LJ account. I'm going to use instead. Sorry for the extra work. Sorry for the confusion.

See, some folks are early adopters: they start using technology before other people have figured it out. I am such an early adopter that I started using OpenID before I'd figured it out myself. I am so elite.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Even the Courts

Peter Sarrett wrote about that scary mine shaft accident in the Shelby Logan's Run game that happened a few years back. Playing these games, you hope that you won't sleepily run around someplace dangerous and injure yourself. There doesn't seem to be that much information about this accident out on the web--maybe because folks are respecting privacy. Maybe you're not supposed to post things if you're in the middle of a lawsuit?

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Book Report: Travesties

I walked partway home tonight; stopped on a narrow road. The streetlight wasn't on, but I was stopped by brilliance: some tree flowering full. Would I have noticed it if the road hadn't been darker than usual? I looked up at the blossoms, and beyond them the stars. And I thought let all the lights go out, I'd rather look at trees than lights.

I kept walking, walked around a bend. This road is up in the hills, not up where Twin Peaks become peaks, but most of the way up there. So I walked around a bend, and in the gap between buildings, I looked out at a panorama--city lit up at night. There was a heat shimmer in the air, and the city twinkled. Streetlights, bridges lit up, places of business with their bright signs. And I thought let all the trees fall down, I'd rather look at lights.

I don't know what my point is. I had a nice walk home. Just another blogger going on about his day. Don't mind me. I'm just stalling because I don't have anything clever to say about "Travesties".

It's a play by Tom Stoppard.

The name-brand characters are James Joyce, Tristan Tzara, and Lenin. Joyce wrote a work which is famously unintelligible because it's so carefully crafted. Tzara wrote poems which are famously unintelligible because he created them through random methods. Lenin wrote works which are famously unintelligible because every two-bit political hack chooses to interpret them differently. Wait, I guess that last one is a symptom, not a cause of unintelligibility. Anyhow.

What happens when you throw these characters in a play loosely following the structure of the Importance of Being Earnest as remembered by a clotheshorse gone senile?

I'm not sure how well I followed this play. Maybe I'd have an easier time making sense of it if I'd seen it instead of just reading the script.

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Book Report: Fun Home

If my earlier snarky, whiny post about folks organizing a multi-day puzzle hunt in New Zealand made you think, "Ordinarily, this is just the kind of thing that would interest me, but Larry has talked me out of it," go look again. I posted some recently-arrived-mail from the organizers in which they give some clarification (and gently point out that I am the only person who can't solve their application puzzle :-).

Speaking of snarky, whiny posts:

There is a problem with autobiographical comics. I doubt that I am the first person to point out this problem. The problem is this: Given the list of possible topics for a comic book, the life story of a cartoonist is one of the less interesting. Alison Bechdel is good. Dykes to Watch Out For is a good comic. It is rollicking, packed to the rafters, an addictive soap... None of the characters in that comic is a cartoonist. Alison Bechdel's autobio comic Fun Home, on the other hand, drags. I dodged a lot of Alterative Comic Artist Autobiographies that were stinking up the place several years ago, so I guess I've been lucky overall.

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Book Report: Mixed Reviews

Somedays your quality of life is mixed, but a good discovery can brighten everything. Yesterday morning, my streetcar was late, my bus was late, my bus filled up, I had to sit on the floor of the bus, and a bird pooped on my head. But it was still a good morning! I found out that there was a tamale stand selling tamales for breakfast at the Civic Center farmers market. Yayy, tamales!

This, arguably, brings us to Mixed Reviews. It's a few short stories by Aaron Cometbus. They are sweet tales of love and squatting. If you like Cometbus, you will like this.

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Baby vs Bathwater: Fight!

Yesterday, I talked with Griff, who I'd seen at a couple of recent puzzle-hunt activites. Griff used to work at Microsoft. He may have interned there, since he mentioned, On the first day of summer, every intern there gets a puzzle. And it leads to a page which leads to a page which tells you about the intern puzzle hunt.

Today, I talked with another ex-Microsoftie, who said, "There's nothing fun at Microsoft." He seemed bitter. I thought about puzzle hunts. "Well, there's some fun--" I started. "Nothing fun at Microsoft," he repeated.

I hope that bitter ex-Microsofties don't end up rejecting all of their old culture. There's plenty I don't like about Microsoft. But producing elegant puzzles is good.

(Disclaimer: My opinions are mine. An example of an entity that does not necessarily share my opinions: my employer.)

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Book Report: The Hero's Walk

Anita Rau Badami wrote this family drama set in an India in transition. It's a difficult read because so many of the characters waste so much effort being mean to each other. You grit your teeth at them. But by the time you're done, you can say, "Yes, it's set in an India in transition" and nod wisely as if you've gained some insight into something.

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Book Report: Y the Last Man book 4 (Safeword)

It is another collection of "Y the Last Man" comics by Vaughn, Guerra et al.

There is a dumb story arc which uses a brainwashing attempt to give us a glimpse into the mind of the main character. Why do comic book writers think I am so eager to have a glimpse into the mind of the main character? I suspect that comic book writers are introspective and find the insides of their brains fascinating.

There is a good story arc that has a punk rock girl mechanic in it. It gives us glimpses into the minds of the main characters. I am grateful that it did so while those main characters were gallumphing around doing stuff.


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I was sitting on the streetcar and reading Martyr's Crossing by Amy Wilentz. A young lady sat down next to me and started reading Camus' The Stranger. And we rode on, a two-seat survey of literature about wrongfully-dead Arabs.

I made a mental note to read something cheerier soon.


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