Thursday, July 28, 2016

Read a book monthly

Never Quit Learning: Read a book monthly

For one of my classes in high school, I wrote a paper on aspects of the Roman Empire. Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote one of the books that I needed. My school's small library did not have the book. Instead, I had to order my own copy of The Collected Works Of Josephus. When the large volume (about the size of a dictionary) came, I used it for probably thirty minutes! Still, it was a resource that I needed at the time. Today, if I needed to read Josephus again, I could simply utilize a free, online source.

Books have never been less expensive and more available than they are today. Even with today's online bookstores, you can't really appreciate how many books are published unless you visit a library or bookstore. I enjoy visiting a brick-and-mortar physical bookstore such as Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million. It is always interesting to me how books are available that no one ever buys. In the life cycle of traditionally published books, books that are prominently displayed at the front of the store one month may end up in the dollar bin later on, or at best, heavily discounted. Even sadder, I was at a charity thrift store, where donations of items are sold inexpensively, and saw 100 brand new copies of a book.

There are three basic formats for books: print, electronic, and audio.

Print

Printed books are traditionally how books have been published. Until the mid-1900s technologies did not exist to sell books in other formats. Even with the variety of technologies and devices available today, books and information printed on paper are still the most permanent and most portable. Print does not require software updates or electronic devices.

In 2000, my office gave me a new Palm Pilot. The Pilot was popular at the time and provided functionality to keep track of appointments, contacts, notes, and e-mail. I transferred all of my information into the device and it worked well ... until the battery died. There was not a way to replace the battery, and so I reverted back to a paper-based planning tool. I still use a paper-planning tool. Even if I still had the Palm Pilot today, most likely I could not retrieve the information in an electronic format to load into another, more contemporary device.

e-Books

Even though I still purchase books printed on paper, I also buy electronic books, known as “e-books.” E-books are convenient because they can be viewed on a variety of devices including computers, smart phones, tablets, and dedicated e-book readers. For books designed for Amazon.com's Kindle platform and for Apple's iBooks, content is available concurrently on all devices, so you can start reading on your computer and keep reading on your smart phone. E-books are also usually less expensive than their printed counterparts.

Soundview Executive Summaries provides succinct, four-page summaries of business books. One of the factors they use to rate books is shelf life. If a book covers content that is likely to be out-of-date in a short period of time, it has a short shelf life. Every four years, as part of the lead up to U.S. Presidential elections, a variety of political commentators, and increasingly the candidates themselves, publish books. Mitt Romney was the Republican candidate for President in 2012. The books about him are now available secondhand for as little as $0.01! Alternatively, books that cover broad topics can remain popular for years.

To help me decide on whether to purchase print books or e-books, I use the following criteria, created here as a flow chart.

Audio books

Audio books are especially useful when traveling, whether part of a daily commute or long trip. Audio books, like e-books, work across many platforms. However, unlike e-books, audio books are usually more expensive than printed books. The primary reason for this is due to the extra costs to produce and record the reading of the book.

Whether you purchase books new or used, or borrow from a library, take the time to read one professional book per month. In addition to books that may specifically focus on your area of expertise, many broad categories such as communication, marketing, sales, and personal improvement are beneficial to read.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Made to Stick - Reading Notes

This post is a summary of the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.


I first wrote about Made to Stick: Why ideas survive and others die in March, 2011. I later included the book on a list of paradigm-changing books in 2015.

The notes below are from my 2011 journal. I have been reviewing my journals for blog post ideas, and I thought this would be a good follow-up to the initial book review.

Chapter 1 - Simple


  • Have one core message stated at the outset.
  • Avoid decision paralysis - don't focus on all options.
  • The message should be compact - like proverbs.
  • Using existing knowledge, add new information with comparison (new movie ideas are compared to other movies).
  • Use metaphors.


Chapter 2 - Unexpected


  • Get people's attention (surprise) and keep it (interest).
  • Expose the part of your message that is "uncommon sense" (surprise, unexpected, twist).
  • Create mystery to sustain attention (for example, wherever there are questions without obvious answers, unexpected journeys).
  • Curiosity is created whenever there is a knowledge gap.
  • Ideas should be provocative but not paralyzing.


Chapter 3 - Concrete


  • Life is not abstract.
  • Concrete language helps people, especially novices, understand new concepts.
  • Teachers take an existing schema and overlay a new layer of abstraction.
  • Concrete is memorable.
  • The more concrete the illustration, the better (more memorable). If an idea can connect with multiple areas of mental processing, the more "sticky" it will be.
  • Simulation is preferred to illustration.
  • Use props because they encourage brainstorming and comprehension.
  • Use specific examples rather than abstract statements.
  • "What the world needs is more fables."


Chapter 4 - Credible


  • Anti-authority - tell stories using real people, situations, and examples.
  • Remember the power of details - specific details make a claim real and more believable.
  • Translate statistics into meaningful, understandable units (1 out of 3 people in the U.S. vs 100,000,000 people in the U.S.).


Chapter 5 - Emotional


  • Focus on the individual - not the population.
  • When presented with charitable needs in Africa, people who read statistics gave less than those who read about a specific child.
  • Feeling and calculating are processed differently with different behaviors.
  • Semantic stretch occurs when an idea is overused (the word "unique" is no longer special).
  • Get self-interest into every headline or presentation. Spell out the benefit of the benefit. 
  • WIIFY = What's in it for you?
  • If people can imagine themselves doing something, they are more likely to actually do it.


Chapter 6 - Stories


  • Stories provide simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).
  • Stories let the audience mentally test how they would react - the audience is not passive.
  • Simulating past events is more helpful than predicting outcomes.
  • Mental practice done when visualizing a task from start to finish improves performance significantly. 
  • Mental practice produced two-thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice.
  • Stores put knowledge into a framework that is life-life.
  • "We must fight against the temptation to skip directly to the 'tips' and leave out the story."
  • Always be looking for stories to illustrate your content.
  • In a study, 63% of participants remembers stories, but only 5% statistics.


If you found this summary to be informative, I encourage you to buy the book and create your own notes.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Find answers on the Internet

Never quit learning - find answers on the Internet.
When I was eleven years old, my parents purchased a set of the 1980 edition World Book Encyclopedia. This multi-volume set included a book for each letter of the alphabet and also included some additional reference materials, including a two-volume dictionary. I loved these books. Whenever I had a question about something or when my brother would ask, “I wonder how they make that?” I would be found in our small family library reading about the answer. Although the World Book Encyclopedia is still published (the current edition is available for around $1,099.00), information changes so rapidly now that it seems like printed references would quickly become out-of-date.

Today, when I wonder about something, I conduct an Internet search. The top three general search sites are Bing, Google, and Yahoo! I use these interchangeably, with similar results for web searches, images, and news. Google is so popular that it has become a genericized trademark, a euphemism for searching online (e.g., “Just Google the answer.”).

My father taught computer technology at the university level. While the emphasis of computer science is software development and programming, my father's work was in the area of electronics and computer design, assembling various components onto a circuit board and then programming it for applied functionality, such as robotics. I grew up with computers and computer parts in the house. For a time, my father also built computers for others. I never had an interest in building computers, but was exposed early to computers and have always been an avid user of software.

Now, I have become the software help desk for my family. When they have a formatting question in Microsoft Word or a formula question in Microsoft Excel they call me. If I don't know the answer I search for it online, often while on the phone with them. When I inevitably asked, “Did you search for the answer online?” the answer is “No, it's easier to call you.”

For virtually any topic you can type, “How do I” followed by the topic:

  • How do I … create a HTML table? 
  • How do I … save a Keynote presentation as a PDF? 
  • How do I … get to the power settings on a Mac Air? 
  • How do I … make cream cheese frosting?


Chances are, if you are wondering about something, someone else in the world has also thought about it and published an answer online. Blogs, wikis, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and other websites will hold the answers. The challenge is that, just as every individual is different, each answer you find may differ in terms of its technical accuracy, application to your question, and relevance.

Internet browsers include functionality to save webpages as favorites. There are also several browser add-ons or applications for tablets and smart phones that permit you to quickly save or share a webpage for later reference. At the time of this writing, two popular are Evernote.com and GetPocket.com. Both feature accessibility across all of your devices. When you find useful answers save the page.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Master your tools

Never quit learning - master your tools



In France, there is evidence that even thousands of years ago people made visual records of their current events. It is likely that rock or pieces of charred wood were used to make these drawings. Throughout the world are other evidences that people have been drawing and writing for a long time. As technology advanced tools were refined and improved.


However, even when drawing on a cave wall with a charred stick, there's a right way and a wrong way to hold the stick. If you hold the charred end, only your hands will be left with evidence of your efforts. These early artists had to master their simple tools.

Mastery of tools is what separates amateurs from professionals. I love photography and have a digital single lens reflex camera (SLR) that enables me to customize the aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and many other parameters. Once I've taken several pictures, I can take the SD memory card out of the camera and transfer the photos to my computer where I can edit them using Adobe Photoshop or some other program. Like my SLR camera, Photoshop is replete with so many parameters and features that it take can many hours of study, reading, and experimentation to learn all of the different effects, tools, and ways to manipulate your images.


Most of the time, I just use my smart phone camera to take pictures. The native camera app allows me to edit the pictures as soon as I take them wherever I am. If I need a deeper level of editing, I can turn to any of the many photography apps I have installed. Most of these apps allow me to share photos directly to the Internet on Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, and other similar sites.

Even though I enjoy photography, I am not a professional photographer. The time and energy needed to master the SLR camera and sophisticated editing software does not interest me. I want to take and edit photos quickly. However, I have learned how to use the features of my phones camera and editing apps.

Benefits of mastering tools

Mastering your tools provides two benefits. 
  1. By taking advantage of shortcuts and built-in features, you can maximize your productivity. You can take repetitive actions faster and more efficiently. 
  2. Mastery of the tools you use will build your competency so that you not only have more skills, but can also share information with others.



Regardless of the technology you use, you can find tips by searching on the Internet. Additionally, most of the user manuals or online help sites will provide information on features and shortcuts.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Free image sites

This post is a review of several free image sites.


Last week I reviewed government image sites. If you are looking for high quality images - especially of military action and space - these sites are fantastic.

Several websites exist which provide stock photos at no cost, and there are no royalties required either.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Be willing to learn

Never quit learning - Be willing to learn


My mother-in-law has a couple of factors that present technological challenges for her. First, as an emigrant from South Korea, she does not speak much English. Second, as a senior citizen, she does not have the same technical fluency with computers, smart phones, and the like as my teenage old daughter does.

When her classic cell phone, a flip phone, stopped working, I suggested that she take my iPhone 4S. Although I like to think of myself as a generous son-in-law, my motivation was partly self-serving. By giving my phone to her, I could upgrade to a newer model.

My mother-in-law accepted the iPhone, but assured my wife and I that she only wanted to learn how to use it for phone calls and, she added, maybe to use Face Time, the built-in feature for video chatting, to speak with my wife. However, the next morning she told my wife that she wanted to download some apps to watch news from Korea.

Over the next few weeks my mother-in-law learned how to type on the phone's small on-screen keyboard (in Korean, by the way) and to even send emoticons to my wife when texting.
It is never to late to learn something new. The saying “You can't teach an old dog new tricks” is not really true, literally for animals or figuratively for people.

I once knew an elderly gentleman, Robert, who loved to learn. Robert started working on his doctorate of philosophy in history when he was 81 years old. Working through the curriculum over a few years, he graduated at the age of 85!

My great uncle Alban was also curious about new technologies. Long before the Internet existed as it does today, with a variety of online options for e-mail, he used a box that connected to his television to send e-mails to family members. He was in his eighties at the time.

Did Robert and Alban wait until they were octogenarians to adopt an attitude of continually learning? Of course not. An attitude of learning should be developed early in life. At whatever age you are now, you can choose to be willing to learn. What can you do today to adopt this attitude?

First, whenever you come across something that you are unfamiliar with, take the time to learn about it, whether that means finding a solution to a problem or increasing your knowledge. If you are reading and encounter a word you don't know, look it up or write it down to look up later. Even if you don't remember the definition later, taking this learning action will help you; it will strengthen your mental powers. Likewise, if someone mentions facts during a presentation, meeting, or sermon, ask for the reference and verify the source yourself.

Second, look for opportunities to learn. Books, webinars, classes, online articles, and so on are more available than ever. Many resources are free.


Third, be open to alternative points of view. We have a tendency to evaluate quickly when listening to others present their opinions. Take the time to understand where others are coming from. While others are speaking, try to refrain from already crafting a response. By taking the time to listen to others, you may learn something about them or the situation you are discussing.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Write your book in a weekend, Part 2

In a recent post I shared my notes from a webinar on this same topic, how to write your book in a weekend.


This post is based on notes from a couple of different webinars I attended in 2009 and 2010.

Reviewing my notes from several years ago has helped me recognize a couple of weaknesses in my note taking system. First, I realized I didn't always include the source information (like the name of the webinar or who sponsored) it. Second, my notes are not always as comprehensive as I would now find beneficial.

WRITE YOUR BOOK IN A WEEKEND

In this first set of notes on writing your book in a weekend, I failed to record the source. My notes are also brief, so I am using other information I've learned along the way to expand my notes.

Ask in a bookstore, "Where would I find a book on ___?" Traditional (e.g., Books-A-Million) and online (e.g., Amazon) bookstores have specific categories for books. The categories available in a traditional bookstore are also good starting points to further refine your categories online. In both cases, it is essential to have a clearly defined category for your book.

Collect source material. Start an online file and an offline file to save links, print out stories, and collect any type of information that might serve as content for your book. Most how-to books are full of examples, lists of steps, and application suggestions for readers.

What are 10 things readers want to know about? Make a list of the 10 areas of content readers are interested in. For example, a book on building your own house might have chapters on finding a contractor, developing house plans, and obtaining the appropriate permits for building.

Storyboard with bullet points. On a whiteboard, piece of paper, or new document, quickly make a list of points you would like to write about. Expand on the 10 things that readers are interested in.

Over a period of time, clarify, modify, and expand your outline. It is helpful to create "trigger sentences." If someone asks you about one of the chapter topics, what will you say?

Speak the book and transcribe. Once the outline is fully fleshed out, use an app to record the book by addressing each of bullet points in your outline. Find an online service to transcribe your spoken audio.

Theoretically, that's it to writing a book! Of course, there is a lot more detail to each of these steps, knowledge required to self-publish, and effort to write a book.

WRITING QUESTIONS

Use these questions to help clarify the purpose and audience for your book. These questions are also from my 2009 planner.


  • What kind of non-fiction book do you want to write?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What will make your book unique?
  • Why do you want to write a book? What is your vision for your book?
  • What is your budget for getting your book published?


WRITING A BOOK QUICKLY

Steve Harrison
BestSellerBlueprint.com

Steve Harrison's Bestseller Blueprint is a collaboration between Steve and author Jack Canfield on how to write you book. These notes are from my 2010 planner. It is interesting to see the similarities in the different approaches to writing a book.


  • Develop a theme - a big idea.
  • Create a table of contents and expand the outline.
  • Tips books are always popular. For example, 20 Tips to Retire Early.
  • Don't edit while you create.
  • Speak your book. 
  • Get it out there - version 1.0.
  • Commit to a publishing date publicly.