Category Archives: Books

Either you’re trying to make something spectacular with no compromises or you’re not. And if you’re not, Musk considers you a failure.

Of all the entrepreneurs in the world, none have the same ambition that Elon has to make the future into the present. For that I have a ton of admiration. Science fiction has given us plenty of ideas about what the future might look like with advanced robotics, AI, and city scapes but few people take it upon themselves to make those movie props real.

Musk is taking it upon himself to lead the world into a future where humans live in space, colonize Mars, have self driving electric cars, solar power everywhere, underground highways, 500mph vacuum tube transport, and digitally connected brains.  These are visions that millions of people around the world cheer on as we continue to be let down by the dreary future many of us perceive (where are our flying cars?).

The book about Elon Musk provides some insight into the character that it takes to build this kind of future – a level of determination that few in this world have.  It’s inspiring in a way that I never expected.  His leadership drives people to work all hours of the day, give up weekends to solve technical problems, while he himself is leading by example. There is a work ethic, doggedness and hustle in him that is exceedingly rare and it rubs off on those who work for him and those who are inspired by him.

As an idol Musk raises the bar of all us dreaming entrepreneurs. Can we take the Silicon Valley approach to business and disrupt the entrenched industries? Can we find ways to create better products at 1/10th the price. Where are the opportunities to challenge the accepted status quo and upend the antiquated regulations that stifle innovation. Can we justify the feasibility of our ideas by boiling down to the basic laws of physics? How can we as leaders continually identify the critical path and work to unblock it?

What I came away with most from the book is that, if you’re willing to work hard on things you can tackle hard problems. However success of this magnitude require stepping stones.  SpaceX couldn’t have started without the success of PayPal which in turn wouldn’t have happened without Zip2.  It’s worth noting that Zip2 was not a trivial undertaking at the time, it wasn’t a get rich quick scheme like affiliate marketing, blogging or YouTube stardom is today.  Zip2 was a meaningful attempt to get more businesses on the internet, but it started small enough in scope that few employees were required to bootstrap the company.  Musk did start with very little in those days – sleeping at the office, showers at the YMCA and a frugal food budgets.

The world needs more people like Elon Musk who are willing to take risks on bold ideas and provide the sheer will and determination to see them come to life.  It will be a fantastic future.

There’s no doubt that programmers are lazy people.  Anything that can be automated is, copy/paste code – you got it!

There is another trait of programmers that they assume because they can program in one language well, and have touched a few other languages over the years they can quickly learn a new language on the job.

Programmers are arrogant about their own skills.

The article What If Cars Were Rented Like We Hire Programmers? exemplifies the problem though their analogy is not accurate.  A programmers job is more like the mechanic or factory worker building the car.  If you had built or fixed only Subaru Imprezas for 10 years then you are not amazingly qualified to fix Fords.  If Ford is looking to hire, they know that there are 1000’s of mechanics more experienced on their cars in the pool.

I say this because after several years of writing Javascript, learning on the job, I finally decided to pick up a book.  The first thing I learned was just how much I didn’t know.

More programmers need to read books to master the skills they need on the job instead of relying on Stack Overflow and Google to solve all their problems when they arrise.

The thing to watch out for is the situation where you read someone else’s code and say to yourself “I have no idea how this works, or what it does”.  As a programmer that should be a red flag – you don’t completely grasp the language syntax.

If you don’t have a complete handle on the syntax of a language chances are you also don’t know how to write idiomatic code.  Without those two things mastered the code you do write will be poorly organized and buggy. The next programmer to come along to work on your code will hate you.  You will be that guy who everyone bitches about for writing bad code.

Bite the bullet, read a book from time to time.  Always be Learning.

 

Recently a potentially huge opportunity landed in my lap.  The most interesting thing about it isn’t that I was able to see the opportunity and was in a position to seize it, it is that other people not only didn’t take the same opportunity when it was presented to them, but they ran in the other direction.

We both saw completely different things in this opportunity.  To me it is a low risk business opportunity with limited up front costs, in partnership with someone with the skills and business network to make it successful.  The other person perceived massive risk with an untrustworthy business partner who would somehow rob all their money.

How can two people (same age, similar backgrounds) have such polar opposite reactions to a potential business opportunity?

The biggest thing is that having read lots of books about success – Think and Grow Rich, by Napolean Hill, Richest Man in Babylon, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and many others.  And having been to networking events with hundreds of ambitious entrepreneurs I was able to quickly put this guy into a category.  He has all the personality traits of the prototypical successful entrepreneur.  To such a degree that I knew if he wasn’t already wealthy it was inevitable that he would be in the future.  And I had both the technical skills and the business savvyness to relate with him.

The other person was weird-ed out by someone with lots of different things on the go.  Anyone who on a whim would get into the iPhone apps business is too surreal to be believed and it raised red flags.  Anyone with money to spend on side projects must be doing something sketchy.  It was all too out of the ordinary to be real.

It’s still too early to tell how all this will pan out, but that is the life of an entrepreneur.  Take lots of calculated risks.

The key in this case was that I was able to see the opportunity and had enough experience to take advantage of anything that came my way.  If it had been contract work – I already have a business set up, if it was a new business venture – I know a bit about what it takes to register and set it up.  I have enough practical experience with monetization, marketing, and sales strategies to be able to intelligently discuss them.

Luck comes to people who keep their eyes open for chance events and take action on them when they present themselves.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Earlier this week I downloaded a free kindle book. If you don’t have a kindle, install the desktop application or phone app. This is a book that everyone should read. It’s short – you can probably read the whole thing in less than 1 hour.

It’s called Do The Work by Steven Pressfield. Author of The War Of Art.

The book is for any artist, entrepreneur or anyone with a project to get through. It’s a kick in the ass to help you push through the enviable resistance you will encounter and how to find the support you need to finish.

In this day and age It’s easy to relax. We have machines that do all of the tedious work. Things like Roombas, dishwashers and wrinkle resistant clothes remove a lot of what used to take up the majority of people’s day. With all the free time that having those gadgets should give us most of it gets squandered with hours of TV watching.

Start something if you haven’t already. Use the tips in this book to actually finish it.

Get it free on Amazon.com -> Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

Just a couple of weeks ago I bought Seth Godin’s latest book “Poke The Box” for my Kindle.  It’s a really short book and took just an hour or two to get through but it was a great motivator.  Definitely the kind of book that I could read once or twice a year as a reminder to keep on getting stuff started.

The main premise of the book is that to be successful as an entrepreneur, or in any job really, is to continually just do stuff.  Get things started, put ideas out there and take the risks of failure head on.

I think though the big take away for me was the reframing of the word “start”.  The way Seth Godin puts it you haven’t really started anything until you have made it available in the market place for sale.  Until what you have built is available for people to buy what you have is just a hobby.

Once you do have something available in the marketplace is really when you can start with everything that really matters in business.  You can start testing things:

  • offers
  • price points
  • copywriting

Until you have started selling what you have, you really haven’t started anything.

The other big idea that Seth talks about in the book is the nature of most big business to become a factory like machine with little freedom to find better ways to do things, or to find and develop new areas for the business to be in.  Many businesses out there keep their employees restricted to doing their job and nothing more than what is asked of them.  Anything that may shake things up is discouraged.  Businesses that follow this pattern are doomed to be second-tier to the ones that are continually taking risks and developing fresh ideas.

Anyway it was a great read and I recommend checking it out on amazon.com.

Poke the Box By Seth Godin (amazon aff. link)

Product Advertising APIAmazon has a very comprehensive associate program that allows you to promote just about anything imaginable for any niche and earn commission for anything you refer. The size of the catalog is what makes Amazon such a great program. People make some good money promoting Amazon products.

There is a great Python library out there for accessing the other Amazon web services such as S3, and EC2 called boto. However it doesn’t support the Product Advertising API.

With the Product Advertising API you have access to everything that you can read on the Amazon site about each product. This includes the product description, images, editor reviews, customer reviews and ratings. This is a lot of great information that you could easily find a good use for with your websites.

So how do you get at this information from within a Python program? Well the complicated part is dealing with the authentication that Amazon has put in place. To make that a bit easier I used the connection component from boto.

Here’s a demonstration snippet of code that will print out the top 10 best selling books on Amazon right now.

Example Usage:

$ python AmazonSample.py
Glenn Becks Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine by Glenn Beck
Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies by Michelle Malkin
The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride, Book 1) by James Patterson
The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
South of Broad by Pat Conroy
Paranoia by Joseph Finder
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
The Shack [With Headphones] (Playaway Adult Nonfiction) by William P. Young
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

To use this code you’ll need an Amazon associate account and fill out the keys and tag needed for authentication.

Product Advertising API Python code:

#!/usr/bin/env python
# encoding: utf-8
"""
AmazonExample.py
 
Created by Matt Warren on 2009-08-17.
Copyright (c) 2009 HalOtis.com. All rights reserved.
"""
 
import urllib
try:
    from xml.etree import ET
except ImportError:
    from elementtree import ET
 
from boto.connection import AWSQueryConnection
 
AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID = 'YOUR ACCESS KEY'
AWS_ASSOCIATE_TAG = 'YOUR TAG'
AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY = 'YOUR SECRET KEY'
 
def amazon_top_for_category(browseNodeId):
    aws_conn = AWSQueryConnection(
        aws_access_key_id=AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID,
        aws_secret_access_key=AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY, is_secure=False,
        host='ecs.amazonaws.com')
    aws_conn.SignatureVersion = '2'
    params = dict(
        Service='AWSECommerceService',
        Version='2009-07-01',
        SignatureVersion=aws_conn.SignatureVersion,
        AWSAccessKeyId=AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID,
        AssociateTag=AWS_ASSOCIATE_TAG,
        Operation='ItemSearch',
        BrowseNode=browseNodeId,
        SearchIndex='Books',
        ResponseGroup='ItemAttributes,EditorialReview',
        Order='salesrank',
        Timestamp=time.strftime("%Y-%m-%dT%H:%M:%S", time.gmtime()))
    verb = 'GET'
    path = '/onca/xml'
    qs, signature = aws_conn.get_signature(params, verb, path)
    qs = path + '?' + qs + '&Signature=' + urllib.quote(signature)
    response = aws_conn._mexe(verb, qs, None, headers={})
    tree = ET.fromstring(response.read())
 
    NS = tree.tag.split('}')[0][1:]
 
    for item in tree.find('{%s}Items'%NS).findall('{%s}Item'%NS):
        title = item.find('{%s}ItemAttributes'%NS).find('{%s}Title'%NS).text
        author = item.find('{%s}ItemAttributes'%NS).find('{%s}Author'%NS).text
        print title, 'by', author
 
if __name__ == '__main__':
    amazon_top_for_category(1000) #Amazon category number for US Books

Made to StickMade to stick is an absolutely brilliant book with tons of useful ideas and lessons. The concepts that Chip and Dan Heath teach in this book are usable in any context where you want to convey an idea to someone else.

I consider this book to be a must read for anyone that writes, or does public speaking, all teachers, and marketing professionals. Just about everyone can get something out of it.

The book is structured around SUCCESs:

Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotional
Stories

A message that has these 6 elements is likely to be much more memorable so long as it avoids the “curse of knowledge“.

The authors have tons of little anecdotes to share throughout the book. They examine Jared’s Subway advertisements, Aesop’s fables, and why Halloween was changed forever in the 80’s. The vast variety of stories really gets the point across. At the end of the book they review all the ideas quickly, by mentioning just the key phrases from each story. With each phase you realize just how much context you’re remembering.

For example, one of the stories to explain the Simple concept is about Clinton’s campaign slogan “It’s the economy, stupid.” The book tells the story about how one of the people on the campaign came up with three different ideas. Only “it’s the economy, stupid” really stuck. The simplicity of the message really resonated with voters and made a huge impact on the election results. At the end of the book they just have to mention the phrase “it’s the economy, stupid” and you get the point immediately.

The book is a goldmine for good ideas, excellent discussion points, fun stories, and interesting perspective. I had a hard time not talking about it with my girlfriend who wanted to read it after I’d finished.

Definitely check this one out.

The Long TailThe Long Tail by Chris Anderson is a book about niche markets. Chris investigates some of the newly opened markets due to the vastly decreased costs associated with digital inventory. For example, the Rhapsody Company sells subscription music service and maintains an absolutely monstrous library of music. The largest record stores on the planet might only carry 10 000 different albums, and the local Wal-Mart probably less than 1000 albums. Rhapsody, on the other hand has over 2 million songs.

The phrase the long tail refers to the chart that you’d get if you plotted products on the x-axis and sales on the y-axis and sorted the products by sales. The remarkable thing is that as far down the chart you look it never really gets to zero.

Looking at the music industry, something like 98% of the sales come from only 2% of the albums. The other 98% of albums out there however still have a market which is not being tapped by Wal-Mart and the local record store (for the most part). However, as access to more niche products becomes more accessible to everyday consumers the markets for those products grows.

It seems as though providing choice to consumers is a good thing. Not everyone wants to listen to the latest Brittany Spears album, or watch the biggest action film out of Hollywood. Given the choice some people will venture into more exotic musical tastes and start watching foreign films.

In multi-billion dollar industries like the movies, music, or books the other 2% of sales coming out of the bottom 98% of the market is still enough to make substantial amounts of money. The remarkable statistic from Rhapsody is that they sell a song from every album every month. Even the crazy artists that do for example punk remixes of children’s songs are still finding listeners.

I read this book looking for an angle. I wanted to find some secret undiscovered way to make tons of money. Well the book never had that hidden in the pages for me. It did however validate the approach to marketing that I’ve been taking. Given a big enough market place, you’ll find someone interested in what you have to sell.

The book was a fun read. The statistics were sometimes quite unexpected. Chris Anderson did 2 years of research for this book and it shows.

My only gripe about the book is that by the end it felt a bit repetitive.

Overall it’s definitely worth a read.

Millionaire MakerI read this book a while ago but never got around to writing a proper review of it. The valuable part of this book is the focus on actual numbers and learning some basic accounting. But it also contains a solid path to creating wealth from start to finish.

Loral Langemeier doesn’t believe in aggressive saving into retirement plans as a way to be wealthy. Her plan for creating millionaires is based on increasing the amount of cash producing assets to increase cash flow and passive income. She believes that her process for creating wealth is universal and anyone that follows the plan is guaranteed to see positive results.

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I have to admit that I’ve been obsessed with the book since I finished reading the first chapter. Tim Ferriss has taken a unique path in life and through this book he shares those things that he learned along the way.

Tim’s philosophy is what he calls Lifestyle Design. A process of determining first what you would like to have you life be, and then figuring out how to make it happen. The contrasting philosophy and one which most people in North America follow is what Tim refers to as the “Deferred Life Plan”, which entails going to school, then working for 20-30 years before retiring to the life you always wanted.

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