Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Book Review: What Would Google Do?

Once upon a time the 800 pound gorilla in the room was Microsoft. They had so much money and so many resources that companies were, rightly, afraid that Microsoft would enter their space and take away their market share.

This has actually happened to me. Once upon a time the executives at a company I was working at wanted to partner with Microsoft so they had them come in for a demo of our product that integrated with Exchange. The demo went well and Microsoft executives were impressed but the partnership never emerged. However about a year later there were rumblings in the industry that Microsoft was about to release a new version of Exchange that duplicated the functionality of our product. I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Now the 800 pound gorilla title has passed on to Google. Yes, they have the near unlimited resources that Microsoft has but they are more inclined to commodify your product by releasing their own free version. This is one of the topics that Jeff Jarvis explores in his book What Would Google Do?.

Jarvis boils down Google's strategy into his set of Google Rules:

1) The customer is always right
2) Be a platform others can build upon
3) Middlemen Are Doomed
4) Be Transparent
5) Small is the new big
6) The middleman is dead
7) Don't sell things, stuff sucks

Now these rules apply to more companies than just Google and by following them your organization can innovate like Google. I particularly liked the chapters on middlemen and don't sell atoms, sell electrons.

The book is well worth the read and I'm giving it a borrow rating. Also, I digested this book in audio book form and Mr. Jarvis does a great job of reading it as well.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Make Espresso

Saw this interesting video over on Boing Boing today. Kyle Glanville of Intelligentsia shows you how to make a great cup of espresso.

Espresso, Intelligentsia from Department of the 4th Dimension on Vimeo.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Starbucks Price Hikes

It looks like Starbucks is rolling out prices hikes in select locations across the US and Canada.

Hardest hit seem to be the tea drinkers as Starbucks is now charging a premium for it's new loose leave tea. A 50 cent hike is nearly a 33% increase in price. This reminds me of when Tim Hortons switched to steeped tea at their stores and started charging different prices for small, medium and large teas. This is in contrast to their former pricing scheme of charging a flat price for tea regardless of the size.

If any of your readers have noticed this trend I'd like to hear about it in the comments.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Book Review: Odd and the Frost Giants

After a couple of disappointing reads I had to go with someone I can trust and so I turned to Neil Gaiman. I picked up his latest kids book Odd And The Frost Giants.

In it the titular Odd, his name means edge of a blade in old Norse, is a 12 year old boy with a gimpy leg. He lives with his mother, step-father and step siblings in a Norse village. Odd feels out of place in his step-father's house so he decides to leave home. On his journey he encounters three talking animals, a fox, bear and eagle who involve him in an epic adventure in which he will have to travel to Asgard, the home of the Norse gods and defeat the Frost Giants so that Spring will return to Midgard (Earth).

As this is a book targeted towards kids it weighs in at a mere 128 pages which makes it a quick, albeit enjoyable read. The moral of the story is quite excellent as it shows young children that regardless of the fact they are young/small/weak they can still make a difference. The juxtaposition of the young child's feeling of weakness is exacerbated by the fact that the villain is a giant. To resolve the conflict Odd has to rely on his wits instead of physical strength.

I really did enjoy this book and I rate it as a buy for folks with young kids. I have to work on my voices a bit more before I read it to Anna. I have a pretty good handle on the bear, eagle and frost giant but my fox sure needs some work.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee

If you are anything like these guys and have 18 to 20 days to brew a cup of coffee...

How to Brew a Good Cup of Coffee from Ben Helfen on Vimeo.

Not sure if I can get past the mold part :)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Book Review: The Accidental Billionaires

Mark Zuckerberg is a dick! Or at least that is what reading The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal leads you to believe. It's hard not to reach this conclusion as it appears that Zuckerberg has screwed over many a person to get to where he is these days as the CEO of Facebook. Unfortunately, the author Ben Mezrich, was unable to get Zuckerberg to agree to an interview so we are dependent on what other people have to say about him. This is the main failing of this book as we don't get a full picture of what really happened behind the scenes.

My other gripe with the book is that Mezrich tries to sensationalize Zuckerberg's first attempt to create a Harvard centric clone of the Hot or Not website. In it his describes in exacting detailing how he downloads class photos from other Harvard web sites. Mezrich makes it sound like he is cracking the Enigma code but for those of us with technical savvy realize it is a dirt simple process. It is these first few pages which probably put me off for the rest of the book.

I have to pants this book as it is not a fair and balanced look at Mr. Zuckerberg. The book is a bit of a sensationalized tell all with bitter people pilling on.

This is the second book in a row I've pantsed. I'm looking for some good book recommendations so please leave some in the comics section.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Friday Book Review: Old Man Logan

At some point you would have to think that there are no more Wolverine stories to tell. The character has been in constant publication since his inception in 1974 not to mention the X-Men movie series and any number of animated tv shows. Currently Wolverine appears in at least five monthly comic books and guest stars in numerous others.

It is this overwhelming baggage that writer Mark Millar immediately jettisons in Wolverine: Old Man Logan. In this book we see Wolverine fifty years after some climatic event in which the worlds super villains banded together to eradicate the worlds super heroes paving the way for their rule of the USA. He is now a retired from the super hero business and living as a pacifist with his wife and two children. He hasn't fought since the villains did a number on him back during the culling of the heroes fifty years ago.

It is at this point that I have to stop to point out the two points of inspiration that this book draws from. Firstly, Millar is borrowing from himself when he takes a number of bits from his Wanted story. Both books are set post the take over of the world by super villains and both books are ultra-violent. Which makes me appreciate the irony of the situation as the main character is a pacifist.

Secondly, there is a thematic comparison between Old Man Logan and Frank Miller's, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. As both books deal with iconic characters coming out of retirement. However this book is nowhere near as good as the The Dark Knight Returns.

The plot of this book involves Logan (i.e. Wolverine) working on his farm to provide for the meager needs of his family. Sadly, the farm is falling behind on it's payments to the Hulk Gang. This leads to Logan taking a job to drive/ride shotgun for the now blind archer Hawkeye as he delivers a package. This will require the duo to drive cross country and cut through territories ruled by the Hulk Gang, the Kingpin, Dr. Doom and the President. Of course on the trip across country, hilarity ensues!

The trip across country unfolds like a typical movie plot with the two odd leads acting as the mis-matched couple. One a pacifist the other a potential drug runner. Sadly, the plot is not very exciting and it involves moving the protagonists from set piece to set piece. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if this was originally a movie script that Millar repositioned into a comic book by adding the trappings of the Marvel Universe.

The only two questions going into this book are what happened to Wolverine fifty years ago to make him into a pacifist. I won't ruin the reveal here but I found it to be unsatisfying. Millar tricks the reader into not thinking about incredibly unlikely the situation is as the deed itself is so overwhelmingly horrific. The other question is when will Logan give up his pacifist ways and embrace the Wolverine identity again. This isn't much of a mystery as you know from page one that it is going to happen.

The one thing I really liked in this book was Steve McNiven's art. The book has a very wide screen cinematic look. McNiven gets to imagine the Marvel Universe in the near future which allows him to play with the look of heroes and villains.

Unfortunately, McNiven's art can't save the shoddy writing in this book. The story is very predictable and in the end I have to pants this book. Maybe I've just grown immune to Millar's writing style which is a continual one upping of the violence level to absurd levels.