While traveling in Europe for the next couple'o weeks, I will have uncertain Internet access. So I am leaving you with daily entertainment by Bill and Stephen, the technical and copy editors of my books published by Autodesk Press.
This is the sort of thing that keeps me in a good mood while spending a week entering in all their corrections in my thousand-page books.
Bill's words are in pencil; Stephen's in red ink...
(Click the image to view the full-size scan.)
It's easy to become a copy editor or technical editor for an AutoCAD book. The qualifications you need can be as few as these:
(Click the image for the full-size version.)
The red text belongs to the copy editor of my Using AutoCAD 2010 book, while the penciled text belongs to the technical editor.
It was 1988. The record player had been repaired. The repair depot was just blocks away, and I walked home, carrying the $400 Denon turntable in my arms. Across the street from my home, I stepped off the curb and twisted my ankle.
As I fell to the pavement, I thought the following thoughts in rapid succession (paraphrased):
"Uh no, not again."
"I just paid $$$ to repair my turntable."
"I need to protect it from being smashed on the pavement."
"I need to fall on my back so that my body can cushion the turntable."
I twisted my body, and then rolled to greet the pavement with my back. The turntable was secure in my arms, resting on my chest.
- - -
How long does it take to fall to the ground after twisting an ankle? A couple of seconds. In that time, I analyzed the problem, solved it, and carried out the solution. In the twenty years since, I have marvled often at how time slowed down for me during those coupla' seconds.
Reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, "blink," I learned that this is a common occurrence. Under great stress, some people find time slowing down for them as their minds and bodies race through solutions to the the fast-paced crisis confronting them. (For others, the opposite occurs: their minds and bodies slow down, they are unable to react, and the incident is over.)
This time-slows-down phenomenon is just one of many aspects of "blink" thinking described by Mr Gladwell through dozens of anecdotes.
The first tells of a newly discovered statue that the J Paul Getty Museum wanted desperately to prove their status as important in the museum peer group. All kinds of experts and scientific tests confirmed the authenticity of the $10 million sculpted marble. The museum paid up, but then other experts felt there was something wrong in that blink of an eye when they first laid eyes on the 2000-year-old marble.
Eventually, it was proved a fraud. For instance, the "old" look was achieved through the application of potato mold.
Mr Gladwell documents dozens of cases where "blink" thinking leads to correct -- but also incorrect -- conclusions. The "blink" impression is often correct when backed by years of experience; the impression is often wrong when made by those who lack experience, or have significant biases. For example, he cites a study that showed car dealers initially charging black men more, even though they had the same education, dress, and credit worthiness as white men. The initial impression was wrong.
He spends some time looking into figuring out just how little information is needed to come to a correct decision. For example, how much information do counselors need to determine whether a marriage will be successful? Not months worth of sessions, but just long enough to determine whether the spouses regard each other with contempt at times. Contempt is the #1 indicator of potential divorce.
His final story is of women breaking into symphony orchestras. At one time, it was the conductor's "blink" analysis that determined who would be allowed to play; typically women were not allowed, for they did not have the fortitude, according to the conductor's years of experience.
But then blind auditions came into being, where every indication of the player's identity was hidden, including that of sex. If there was the scrape of a high heel or a low-pitched cough, the auditioners were given new numbers and permitted to play again later. All that matters is the player's ability.
Mr Gladwell wonders if the same system should be used in courts of law, to eliminate the built-in bias by judges and jury of the accused. Hide the accused identifying features, perhaps by responding by keyboard through a one-way video link.
I read this book after I reading its competitor, "Think!" by Michael R LeGault. Mr LeGault condemns the "blink" thesis; I wonder if Mr LeGault finished reading Mr Gladwell's book, for he cheerfully admits that "blink" does not always work. As in my twisted ankle case, sometimes it does.
In short, snap judgments can be correct, but only when you have determined that you have a history of snap judgments that tend to be correct. After 20+ years in the CAD business, I have collected a certain amount of experience in evaluating the potential success of new business ventures. I recall the shocked look of a ceo showing me his new interactive 3D technology. I had asked him what he planned to do when his business failed, as I suspected it would. A year later, I knew it was failing, for the marketing was shifted from targeting it as an application to end users to targeting it as an API to developers.
(Here's a blink of mine: Twitter will fail, because people will tire of entering and reading brief sentences of others' usually dull lives. It seems to be failing already technologically with frequent service outages; the outages serve to alert its user base that their day can go as good, or better, without twittering.)
Perhaps the best news is that I find "blink" a far more interesting read than "Think." I gave up on "Think" about half way through; I read all of "blink" and look forward to reading his first volume, "The Tipping Point."
Published in 2005 by Back Bay Books
You can purchase this book through Amazon.com: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
It's a good question.
Several prospective purchasers of my brand-new What's Inside? AutoCAD 2010 ebook today asked me, "Will this also cover LT?" I've been telling them....
The ebook includes a page about what's new in AutoCAD LT. Autodesk has been keeping fairly mum on the new features in LT, since they don't actually want you buying it.
Essentially, they "turned on" a bunch of commands that already existed in earlier releases of AutoCAD (like Align and some Xref ones), plus added PDF import/export. I wrote the details in an earlier blog posting, "What's New in AutoCAD LT 2010."
So, why buy a book about the new features in AutoCAD 2010 when there are dozens of Weblogs parroting the new feature list issued by Autodesk? Here is one reason:
This is how Autodesk's Command and System Variable History provided with AutoCAD 2010 describes the changes to the 3dMove command:
In a 3D view, displays the 3D Move gizmo to aid in moving 3D objects a specified distance in a specified direction.
And here is the summary statement from my ebook on the changes made by AutoCAD 2010 to the same command:
3dMove now has longer axes, XYZ labels, and planar highlighting; adds a right-click shortcut menu with options; now works with point filters.
Another reason: detail. Below is a screen grab of a page that describes one of the new commands, 3dScale. (Click to see the full-size image.)
Other material you'll read in this ebook, but won't learn elsewhere:
(But, it does not cover programming issues.)
The 130-page What's Inside? AutoCAD 2010 ebook is available in PDF format for US$19.50 through its Web page at www.upfrontezine.com/wiaX .
The Reagan Diaries
Edited by Douglas Brinkley
Not every word in this book is reproduced from the diaries of Ronald Reagan while he was eight years the president of the United States (Jan 1981 - Jan 1989). Large sections are summarized by the editor; once in a while, ellipsis (...) censor state secrets.
In the early months, Reagan is amazed and dismayed at what presidents get to have, or go through. There was the first evening he got to watch a television program that had been previously recorded for him. We're talking 1981, when VCRs weren't found in homes. On the irritating side, there was the bulletproof vest the Secret Service had him wear when in public.
Then, the amazing things become commonplace. Late in the book, he complains of the fog that forces them to take vehicles on the long drive to his ranch, instead of the usual quick helicopter jaunt.
Reading this book gave me an appreciation of the politics currently progressing in the United States. Reagan describes how much the president is a figurehead, rather than the be-all and end-all that the candidates and their parties make them out to be. The real power lies in Congress; the president may suggest actions, make lots of phone calls, but but then only sign them into law, or vetoes some them. He doesn't run the country; Regan's frustration with Congress is a constant theme.
Primarily, the president is a pr guy. He spends most of his day in staff meetings and meeting people. Here is part of a typical day, this one being 25 October 1988:
NCS -- A letter from Gorbachev -- his is now President as well as Gen. Sec. Soviet shuttle is going up without a crew. We never did that. E. Germany has paid no reparations to Jews who went through the Holocaust. Mujahadeen are laying siege to Kabul. We have 17 Americans in our embassy there. Japan is upset by our wanting to sell rice to them. Then brief meeting with Pres. Conte of Guinea. He's making progress on the economy. He spoke eloquently about how great our Peace Corps volunteers are. Then some desk time & at 10:30 AM I left for Fort McNair where I addressed a large crowd of mil., veterans & officials on the 5th anniversary of our landing on Grenada. Then I signed legislation making dept. of Veterans Affairs a Cabinet position.
[Bill signings; photo sessions; received gift from refugees from USSR.]
At times, you get to
peer over his shoulder as history is being made. His 26 June 1985
visit with school teachers hoping to get into space is spooky:
East room a pleasant gathering -- 141 finalists in the competition to
choose the Am. Teacher who would be 1st teacher to go into space in
the shuttle come January.
We already know that
the following January 28, the "lucky" teacher, Mrs
McAuliffe, and six crew are killed when space shuttle Challenger blows
up following takeoff.
Other times, we are
left out of history, such as his Berlin trip where he called on
Russian president Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." His
most famous statement isn't recorded by him.
And that's the flaw
with this book: eight years of diaries but little historical context;
just Mr Reagan and his daily remembrances -- more notetaking than
record keeping. At one point he chides himself for not writing more
fully of events. Names are mentioned, but we are not sure who they
are or what their importance is. A book like this needs footnotes to
keep readers informed.
My wife wondered if
there was any sign of his senility. Effectively none, I can report.
Two or three times repeats himself, or writes that he has forgotten
an item or name -- no more than what any of us would do.
He would became
forcefully upset when the media misrepresented him, such as when his
wife was accused of visiting a spiritualist.
This is not a book you sit and read for hours on end; it is too choppy. I read a couple pages every morning during breakfast, and that way got through the 780-page book in a year.
Published 2007 by HarperCollins
Copyrght by The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation
You can purchase this book through Amazon.com: The Reagan Diaries.
Travels as a Brussels Scout: One Man's View of Life in the European Union -- Fast, Funny, and Occasionally Furious
by Nick Middleton
Nick Middleton tours all of Europe in the initial years following the formation of the European Union. He gets the idea following a stint working for the EU -- "working" best placed in quotation marks. From three EU jobs in three countries, he finds that a job at the EU seems to consists solely of having meetings, writing reports, and waiting to have meetings or waiting on reports.
Another African gentleman acted as [Vienna-based UN office of iron and steel industry in Africa] Mr Im-Bham's second-in command. Although he didn't appear to do anything except read the paper, he was very friendly to me and proved to be an endless source of invaluable advice on the subject of vitamin supplements.
Otherwise, the Im-Bham office was staffed with a small entourage of typists and assistants, all of whom were female and all of whom were rather beautiful... Mr Im-Bham gave me a piece of his own advice. 'I don't mind what you do,' he said, ' as long as you observe the Golden Rule: don't touch my secretaries'.
What is the effect of the EU and its bureaucracy on its member countries, he wonders. He convinces his publisher to put up the cash, and is on his way. His state of the E-union report can be summed up as thusly: a highly opinionated travelogue.
At times, his observations made me wince -- such as his description of Luxembourg. Other times, crude, such as describing the problem of dog excrement on Parisian streets.
On rare occasion, his description is touching, such as his tour of the Undertaker's Museum in Vienna.
'There are three doctors at the deathbed,' my mentor informed me. He had trouble explaining why three doctors were needed, but if I understood him correctly, there was the family doctor and an official doctor and a third doctor who processed a [long] knife like the one in the case before us. 'Doctor number three makes stick in the heart,' he said simply. 'For one hundred crowns,' he added before moving on.
The great problem with this book is that it is more than ten years old, and much is changed today. For instance, now the Euro is universal, making the money exchange obsolete -- as do bank machines.
Some bits are still true today, such as the Dutch railway system not accepting credit cards or non-Dutch bank cards. Still, the book provides a snapshot in time of a continent in transition.
The Danish attitude to their cousins across the water seems to be summed up in an advertisement for the Copenhagen-Malmo high-speed ferry link. 'When in Copenhagen,' the flyer screamed, 'don't miss Sweden'.
Has the EU and its dictates had an effect on its member countries? No, according to Mr Middleton. Occasionally he comes across a local concern, such as the Austrians worrying that EU-approved chocolate must be made with the blood of bulls (bad rumour), or Italian taxi drivers worry that Brussels will force a color change on their vehicles.
"Europe is a fact only for journalists who write about it," he quotes a Polish journalist living in Italy. "It does not exist in Italy. The average Italian, he has no opinion of Europe. The European Union is about changing the color of taxis from yellow to white because Brussels says so. Nothing more."
Ten years later, Europeans have more to worry from the EU than the color of taxi cabs. The imposition of the Euro dramatically cut the standard of living, as merchants simply swapped the DM (deutsch mark) for the e (Euro) symbol, instantly doubling the cost of all goods in Germany.
xvi + 288 pages
Published in 1997 by Widenfeld & Nicolson
This book is available in softcover for $8.07 from Amazon.ccom. For more information or to puchase: Travels as a Brussels Scount
The Uses and Abuses of History
Canadian Margaret MacMillian writes about history; titles like "Paris 1919" and "Nixon in China" might be familiar to you.
In this book, she tackles the big picture of the telling history: how accurate should it be? For example, Winston Churchill was a remarkable leader during WWII; he also had undesirable behaviors, and following the war lost the election. (I recall when he died, our entire elementary school had to troop into the gymnasium and gaze at his enormous photograph while the principal talked about this unknown-to-us man.)
How accurate is history? I recall the propganda films we saw repeatedly in my hometown of Kitimat, a town whose life was dependent on the world's second largest aluminum smelter -- or, as they put it in those Cold War days, "second largest in the Free World." It was not until decades later we learned how representatives of Alcan forged 'X' signatures on behalf of natives, paving the way for the flooding of their valley for the hydroelectric power needed for smelting of alumina powder into aluminum metal.
How far should bias carry history? She notes several cases where modern reinterpretations place the now-dead in poor light, such as the pilots whose aircraft napalm-bombed the civilian population of Hamburg -- my mother lived through that time.
How mistaken is our recollection of history? She recounts an American statesman's recollection of being in FDR's office when the news broke of the Japanese bombardment of Pearl Harbor. When a secretary later checked his records, he hadn't been in Washington DC that day. Our seemingly-accurate memory fails us.
And sometimes history becomes too complex for us to cope with. Who really has a handle on the jigsaw pieces that make up the wrongs and retributions, the true victims and false victims of former Yugoslavia?
How far back should guilt be carried forward? She describes the effort of a nationalist organization to guilt the Canadian government into holding a state funeral for the last survivor of WWI. No one felt they could speak out against the ceremony -- not the government, the opposition, the media, nor the man int he street. None, except for the relatives of the last survivor, who wanted no part in this public spectacle that ultimately served as a marketing campaign for the nationalist organization.
It's not Ms MacMillan's job to answer these question, but to raise them and provide concrete examples of pros and cons. She raises our awareness of how history is used and abused by those in power -- and those wanting to be in power.
Unfortunately, she also abuses history, such as the underestimating the impact of religion; she writes assuredly of the belief in the probable insignificance of King David's empire and the small numbers of Israelists who emigrated from Egypt; this, despite of the archaeological evidence is just being uncovered. At times, even small details are wrong; she mentions the "large" role America played in the formation of the state of Israel, but not on the even larger role played by Britain.
Thus the reader ends up with a greater appreciation of the abuse of history, but then feels abused by Ms McMillian's own beliefs.
Published in 2008 by Viking Canada
Erin White of the Wall Street Journal interviews Sydney Finkelstein on Why Good Managers Make Bad Decisions. Here's a summary of some of the points made in this article that is worthwhile to read:
A reader writes:
I know writing as a skill is near and dear to your heart, but I’ve yet to see any articles/opinions/blogs on the current state of CAD documentation. You know, the technical documents, User’s Guides, tutorials, and other collateral that is delivered with the software to facilitate the installation and usage of the product. What’s your opinion of this side of the technology for the average CAD user?
I feel that documentation is going downhill in general, for these reasons:
Having written help files and books using beta software, I understand the difficulty of writing docs when the software is unfinished and still changing. But vendors could issue a Service Pack for the help file after the software ships.
Finally, there is the subtle difference between documentation that the doc writer thinks is well-done, and what the CAD user finds useful. That's an eternal conflict, due to differences in learning styles.
I'm at the halfway point updating a book that has sold the best for me, The Illustrated AutoCAD Quick Reference for AutoCAD 2010. This weekend, it's commands that begin with the letter "M."
A reader wrote recently:
I should mention that I bought a copy of your AutoCAD 2008 Quick Reference. The concise and compact format was exactly what I was looking for in an updated book. I am curious what the secret for writing such guides is; the hours invested in content seems staggering. Well done.
- D.B., Australia
I learned to write concisely during my five years at CADalyst magazine, where we forever were trying to cram too much text into too few pages.
I wrote the original Quick Ref in early 1991 for AutoCAD Release 12, still running primarily on DOS. The first edition of the book was a slim 265 pages, and I wrote it with the DOS version of WordPerfect, using its macro capabilities to automatically (1) prompt me for the text for each command; and then (2) format the text with styles.
This semi-automation saved me much time; not such a time saver, however, was the frequent flipping between text and graphics modes, to see what the page layout was looking like. (It was the equivalent of entering commands only in AutoCAD's text window, and then pressing F2 every so often to see the result in the drawing window. When you don't know about cars, traveling by donkey seems pretty good.)
Generating the table of contents took WordPerfect a half-hour, with the floppy discs grinding away on my Victor 9000 desktop computer. Each correction to the TOC meant waiting another half-hour; today, PageMager generates TOCs of 1000-page books in under a minute.
(I not only write the book, but also typeset it. In fact, I write in typeset mode. When I finish writing a book, it is ready for the printers; this really speeds things up.)
Sometimes technology leapfrogs. For the first decade, I submitted laser printouts to the publisher, Delmar Publishing (dba Autodesk Press), by overnight courier. The printing house would photograph each page, and then etch steel plates with the images -- 8 or 16 pages per plate. In those days, the quality of the laser printer was crucial, but not great; nowadays, laser printers have fabulous print quality, but it no longer matters: I simply ftp a 15MB 2400dpi PDF file to Delmar in ten minutes.
I don't recall exactly how long the first edition took to write; it was probably 2-3 months. Since then, I tend to generate the annual updates in 3-4 weeks, typically working overtime 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week.
Battling the Page Count
The biggest problem is the page count. With each new release of AutoCAD, the book grows by 64 pages, and the book becomes less "quick." Every year, I have to be ever more creative in figuring out how to keep down the page count.
One year, I combined related commands, such as DxfIn/DxfOut, onto one page. Another year, I reduced the screen grabs from 48% of their original size to 42%.
This year, the publisher and I decided to increase the page dimensions (called the "trim size") to keep the page count at 1,008. But what will we do next year?
In the meantime, I am busy learning how new commands operate and figure out subtle changes made to existing commands. Autodesk Press and I have set in place plans to ship the book the same day that Autodesk ships AutoCAD 2010 in late March.
As the premier hater of the CUI [AutoCAD's customize user interface] and figuring the ribbon only makes it worse, why shouldn't I buy this e-book.
Even if I never use it, it is still a good deal as I am helping support you for more good stuff down the road. It is a short road as I am now 66 and hope to retire before long.
I agree. The other day, I was trying out IntelliCAD-based progeCAD, and found that it still uses the old AutoCAD system of simply dragging toolbar buttons into the drawing area to create new toolbars. Wonderfully easy!
I took the CUI chapter out of Tailoring AutoCAD 2009 ebook to create a more affordable, stand alone ebook: Tailoring AutoCAD CUI 2009 is 130 pages long, is priced at $19.50, and covers all changes and additions to CUI, like ribbon tabs and panels, menu browser, quick access toolbar, quick properties palettes, and rollover tooltips.
More info and purchasing instructions are at www.upfrontezine.com/cui9.
The Tailoring AutoCAD 2009 ebook is now available for purchase for US$42.00. The 8th Edition is 420 pages long, and has these changes:
The Web page www.upfrontezine.com/ta9 has more on this new edition, including information on how to purchase it -- through PayPal or by mail.
Note to Educators
eBooks are a great way to fight back against the high cost of textbooks on behalf of your students. upFront.eZine Publishing offers significant discounts for bulk sales of our ebooks. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, including tips on how to keep students from copying ebooks illegally.
TIP: Wondering how to handle the ribbon? For students new to AutoCAD, the ribbon is no problem. For existing students, however, switch AutoCAD's workspace to "AutoCAD Legacy" to vanquish the ribbon, and bring back the familiar menu bar and toolbars.
Reader David Flood noticed that Google's SketchUp evangelist Aidan Chopra has a placeholder for the next edition of his Google SketchUp X for Dummies for release on 2 September.
"I've got to assume that SketchUp 7 (the rumored newly architect-focused one) is imminent before mid-September," he feels. It's always a good thing when one of the world's largest non-CAD software companies releases a major update to its CAD software.
As for the September ship date, it could be. Or not. Book publishers sometimes schedule publication dates far in advance and so there is sometimes no relation to the software's ship date. SolidWorks author Matt Lombard was scorned publicly by Amazon because of similar actions by his publisher:
(This is not a photoshop job; I saw the scornful text on Amazon with mine own eyes. The title has since reverted to the proper one.)
Sometimes, technical editor Bill Fane uses commands as excuses for jokes. Here's one for the Stretch command:
And one for the Time command:
Once in a rare while, copy editor Stephen Dunning manages one. His contribution for the Trim command.
Notice that he alerts us his humour through the use of the :) happy face.
Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey
by Russ Conway
When my wife and I watch Deutsche Welle television over the Internet, we chuckle each time the news reader announces the sports report, for inevitable it begins with the words, "Today in football [soccer] action..." In Germany, sports means soccer; in Canada, we are just as one-dimensional: sports means hockey.
Russ Conway was puzzled when former hockey greats mentioned to him how difficult it was to live on their small pensions. The medical bills in particular were hard to pay; their bodies had been damaged by the game they loved. Why were these heroes not financially cared for in their retirement years?
Mr Conway was the sport reporter for a small newspaper in America -- the Eagle Tribune of Lawrence MA -- and so he was ignored when he began to investigate the Curious Case of the Tiny Pensions. As he asked questions, he was blocked; when he questioned the status pro, he was told to stop -- by his fellow reporters. They loved "The Eagle," because Mr Eagleson could do no wrong.
I recall listening to sports radio at the time, where commentators agreed with each other that they knew The Eagle, he was a great guy, and they sounded embarassed by Conway's accusations. The problem, I suspect, is that sports reporters (1) have a pack mentality, which is revealed by the same (aka safe) questions they ask after every game; (2) are living with their heros; and (3) have no experience in confronting ethical issues.
But beyond the backslapping and handouts, there was a dark side to this hockey super-agent. It is told as an early story, when the young Mr Eagleson had a paper route. If you deliver my papers for me, he told a pair of naifs, I'll buy you a treat at the coffee shop. The naive boys did the work; the crafty Allan never showed. This childhood story became the template for Mr Eagleson's future dealings. Hockey stars agreed to do the work; The Eagle kept their rewards to himself, even when it came to long-term disability payments owed to players.
The most famous hockey series serves an another illustration. The purpose of the Canada-Russia series in 1970 was to boost the pensions of participating hockey players. Revenue was to come from ticket sales, tv rights, and advertising on the boards of the hockey rinks. But the profits went largely into the pocket of Mr Eagleson; the players received almost nothing. Perhaps he got his cues from the entertainment industry; record companies manage to bill expenses to musicians with amounts approaching their royalties.
In public, he said, "Everyone who knows me knows I'm careful with not only my money but with my clients' money and with the association money." In three years, he or his companies earned 1.85 million, at a time when a new player netted $40,000 a year from having Eaglson as his agent. A typical tactic: rent six parking places to Hockey Canada, and another four to the hockey players union -- in parking lot that held only four cars, and at a 33% premium over other nearby lots. It's illegal in Toronto, but he got away with it.
Eventually, Mr Conway's series of investigative articles began to catch the public's attention, as previously cowed hockey stars began to speak up. Even then, most other hockey reporters were keen to stay in the good graces of Mr Eaglson, and his largess (paid by fees charged to hockey players), and his carefully controlled access to hockey news.
While Canadian officials blocked or ignored Mr Conway's findings, the Americans did not. Mr Eagleson was eventually charged with racketeering and violating US labor law. Later, the Canadians also charged him with theft of funds.
Mr Conway's book on how Alan Eagleson smilingly ripped off hockey players is as important a book as Bernstein and Woodward's, "All the President's Men". The difference? Americans don't care about hockey, even though this is largely an American story. One big difference: the sports media was complicit with Eagleson, unlike the Nixon saga. This book is a useful reminder that when "everyone agrees on the facts," the facts may be myths.
Published by McFarlane Walter & Ross in 1995; updated in 1997
xvi + 324 pages
Available in softcover for $1.00 from Amazon.com. For more information or to puchase: Game Misconduct
The Stories of English
by David Crystal
I write for a living, and I write in English. A history of the English language is of interest to me, because of this:I have wondered why a relatively new language like English has such complex grammar. True, we have just one word for "the," whereas the French have three (le, la, and les), and the Germans have 16 different grammatical situations that determine if der, die, or das is employed.
Thus I was pleased to receive "The Stories of English" as a Christmas present from my son. The title is unfortunate, for this book is a history, and I suppose in that manner tells the stories of how English came to be. And a complex story it is, hence the complexity of English grammar.
In short, English is what you get when you mix Norse (primarily from Denmark), Saxon (primarily from northern Germany), Norman (France,) and Celtic (from Ireland). Anglo is dog's breakfast. Curiously, the little Latin that is in English comes through Norman, even though England was occupied by the Roman army. (Anglo-Saxon can mean "England german.")
Mr Crystal's primary thesis is that slang is as important to English as is "proper speech." Normal usage encompasses local isms, formal speech, idioms, and more. He points out that the foreign speaker (politely called "an ESL speaker" -- english as a second language -- here in Canada) is easily identified through the use of consistently formal English. It may be correct usage, but it just don't sound right. Unknowingly, we mix idioms and correct speech; perhaps the best example is the weatherman, who can say, "Further outlook is for frequent showers over the next several days, so get yer brawlies out.
That ESL speakers have difficulty with English's infamous "th" becomes clear when you slowly pronounce two similar words:
-- THIN, the 'th' is pronounced with the tongue at the front and sides of the mouth.
-- THAT, along with the 'th', there is also a bit of an 'r' rolled in the throat, even though the word contains no 'r'.
Mr Crystal feels that the impact of idiom on language is often ignored by his fellow linguists, and so he incorporates it in this book. But it is also a history of the English language, from the earliest writing of around 500AD -- Old English -- through the Middle English of the Middle Ages, about 1000AD to 1500AD, and to today's Modern English.
Old English is unrecognizable to us, both in the alphabet and the spelling of words. If you are Scottish, you might recognize 'kirk,' which is Old English for 'church'. 'Mordor' is well-known from The Lord of the Rings, from which we get our word, 'murder.' (But the Old English mordor is a Cain-like murder, a secret killing of someone just because of who they are, and not what they've done.) Most other words are even less recognizable: in some areas of England, 'rood' meant 'cross'; in others, 'rode'.
While we emphasize word order, Old English used suffixes to indicate subject-object-verb. Linguist have a hard time with Old English, for it has only about three million written words; contrast that with the output of Charles Dickens: he alone wrote four million. Added to the relative rarity is the problem of errors made by scribes, and local dialects mixing up the spelling of words.
Middle English is merely the transition period from Old to Modern, and much of Middle English is recognizable to us, even if it appears odd. One question Mr Crystal asks is why French did not replace Anglo, when the French ruled the country following the Battle of Hastings in 1066? England was an occupied country,and so the French rulers did not mix with the English peasants. Any intermarriage tended to have an English wife, at whose feet the children learned their language. And the French speakers were outnumbered by about 1.5 million to 5-10 thousand. Just think: French could have become the universal working language of this world, instead of English.
Why does the Queen of English have her dialect? She avoids the guttural stop, something persons of prestige chose to avoid so as to distance themselves from regional speakers. Pronounce 'Gatwick' by stopping briefly after the 'a' to exclude the 't'. Pronounce it again, this time deliberately including the 't' -- and it sounds different. The first uses a guttural stop; the second is known as "Received Pronunciation" -- the Queen's English.
This book is interesting, but too detailed. Clearly, Mr Crystal loves his field of expertise, but the 584 pages could be easily given the Reader's Digest treatment with little loss. Thus, I found myself skimming the book, jumping past detailed comparisons of Old and Modern English.
Published by Allen Lane/Penguin Books in 2004
Available in softcover for $11.96 from Amazon.com. For more information or to puchase: The Stories of English
The Weimar Republic: Through the Lens of the Press
by Torsten Palmer and Hendrik Neubauer
My parents were born in Germany (b. 1924 and b. 1932) during the time of the Weimar Republic, and so I am curious of the history that affected their early years. For my dad, it meant being drafted into the Germany army the day he was due to travel, barefoot, from his dad's rural farm to university on full scholarship; for my mom, the deprivation of living her early teen years in the heavily bombed city of Hamburg.
(Weimar Republic is named after the town of Weimar, where in 1919 Germany's post-war constitution was written.)
How did Germany come to elect a fascist government keen on expanding its territory to most of Europe by war? This heavy book illustrates the progress from the end of the First World War to the start of the Second -- or rather, lack of progress, that descent from impotent democracy into hardcore fascism.
Palmer and Neubauer access photographs from the newspapers and magazines of the time to richly illustrate the difficulties in forming a stable democratic government following WWI. You read this book by reading the detailed captions -- of the good times and bad, primarily in Berlin and primarily in the 1920s and 30s.
After the end of WWI, German soldiers felt humiliated that (1) the government admitted defeat in a war the soldiers thought they could still win; (2) the armies had their weapons reduced to a minimum, with tanks destroyed and ships sunk; and that (3) they were now essentially unemployed. Their revolt against the government fermented the start of German instability. Add to that, the victors imposed heavy financial penalties on Germany, making it impossible to pay soldiers, and difficult to rebuild the country's own infrastructure and societal supports. The byproduct was huge inflation, making money ever worthless.
Through all this, the democratic governments were weak. They failed to obtain majorities in elections, and so the German people went to the polls every few months as opportunist opposition parties made their attempts at power, or the German president Hindenburg decided change was necessary.
Two groups became particularly powerful, primarily through their use of gangster tactics: the Communists and the National Socialists. If the population wouldn't vote for them, then they intimidated the people by beating them up. As centrist parties failed to get the country on even keel, the parties at extreme ends of the political spectrum appeared to be the best of a bad lot. By 1933, Adolf Hitler (whose party initially lost several elections) was made head of a political coalition; once he had power, he could rewrite the country's laws and then have them passed by vote and by intimidation. If the legislative buildings happened to burn down, well that was because tough new laws hadn't been passed.
Of the two, the National Socialists were considered the lesser of two evils, because Germans could see the horrors that the Communists were already imposing on Russia. They did not know, however, the horrors that the Nazis would soon impose the German people themselves, whether they be Jews, Gypsies, or homosexuals. In the case of young German civilians, like my mom, they suffered from the countereffects of Nazi warmongering, as the Allies targeted Hamburg and Dresden for aerial firebombing with Napalm, and then the war's aftermath of near starvation. (This book does not document the Nazi's extermination programs and concentration camps, as those came later.)
This was an utterly fascinating book to me. In particular, the wealth of expressive pictures by professional news photographers gives insight into the lives of a people that ordinary text cannot project.
Published in 2000 by Koenemann
Available in hardcover for $29.95 from Amazon.com. Click for more information or to purchase The Weimar Republic Through the Lens of the Press (Decades of the 20th Century)
The Case for Freedom: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny & Terror
by Natan Sharansky with Ron Dermer
I initially picked up this book from Chapters (the Canadian equivalent of Borders), because it was $2 on the discount pile. But when I got to reading it, I found it very well written.
Natan Sharansky makes one point over and over: only when democracy rules in a country are its people truly free. His reasoning is:
In a democracy, the leaders rule at the whim of the people. To return to power every 4-6 years, popularly-elected leaders need to cater to the electorate. The best way to do that is to ensure the freedom, prosperity, and security of the nation. In short, prime ministers and presidents bribe their own people with kindness.
In contrast, dictators are answerable to no one, and fear loss of power. Thus they enslave the people through psychological and physical warfare. All power and wealth is consumed by the dictators' need to stay in power. In addition, dictators paint other countries as the enemy in order to shift the focus away from themselves. In short, dictators are at war with their own people.
(Naturally, it easy to find exceptions, such as when elections are "stolen," a cry we hear often these days.) But, in general, democratic countries don't declare war on other democratic countries. Mr Sharansky insists that world peace is achievable if every country were to become democratic.
The book is also part biography. He describes his times in the terrible Soviet gulag. The hard work of his wife in getting the Communist government to allow him to be the first to emigrate to Israel. The surprising snake in the garden of Israel. The frustrations of repeated "peace" deals with Palestinians.
For example, he was shocked at the politicism within the Israeli population. If you were not in favor of something, you were seen as against it -- no neutral positions permitted. After he was allowed to leave Russia, Mr Sharansky arrived in his garden of Eden (Israel), and then went into politics solely to assist Jewish emigration out of despotic countries. Because he held no view for or against negotiations with Palestinians, he was branded as pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. It shook him to his core that this attitude would prevail in an democratic country -- the serpent in his Eden.
The last third of the book becomes a bit repetitive as he writes about Helsinki, Oslo, and other repated attempts to find peace with the unpeaceful neighbours. He was involved in some of these events; for others, he was a spectator. He details some of the shams that took place. He expresses his frustration at giving the PLO billions in aid in exchange for a promise of peace in the future. He feels that peace would be achieved if the Palestinian government were expected to first implement peace, and then receive the benefits from peace.
Published in 2004 by BBS Public Affairs
Available in hardcover for $26.95 from Amazon.com.Click the link for more information: The Case for Freedom
The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder
by Charlotte Gray
Canada isn't as renown for its museums as are other countries. Before I flew my family to Washington DC, my wife demanded, "This better be worth it!" After three days in the Smithsonians, the demand changed: "When do we get to come back?" And we were not alone. The capital city was inundated by school groups from around the USA.
Here in Canada, we tend to visit the local museums in the small centers. The big ones in the capital city of Ottawa just aren't a destination. I'm not sure why; it just isn't. Families rather fly to Disneyland.
To alleviate the problem, Saran Angel conceived a book to bring the museum to the family. "The Museum Called Canada" pretends to be 25 rooms of Canadian history, lavishly illustrated with photographs of artifacts from many museums throughout Canada.
As such, the book gives a snapshot of Canadian history, from the pre-historic to the fairly recent. Given its 818 pages, you would think it were comprehensive. But with roughly just one (as most two) photos per page, I got left wanting more. But then, I suppose that is better than being so overwhelmed with content that I feel numb and disinterested -- such as reading (working!) my way through The New Yorker's mammoth volume that contains all cartoons they every published.
One solution might be to have 25 volumes, instead of one volume with 25 rooms. But who would buy such an ecyclopaedic effort and its associated price tag?
Charlotte Gray was employed to write an essay for each room. Sometimes her writing helps me gain an appreciation for the era; other times, her speculation leaves me shaking my head, specially when she uses the phrase, "must have," a strong indication of guessing. I'm just not that much into guessing. Her sentence constructs tend to have the leftwing tinge common to Canadian writing, such as sympathy for the bruised protestor.
In the end, I am not sure that this book was written for Canadians. We know too much of our history that is missing from this volume. It is best for those living outside our country, whose heads tend to be filled with myths of seal clubbing and "Who's your president-- er, prime minister?" (Stephen Harper) and "Your currency is American, right?" (no) and "It must be cold where you live." (one week of snow in winter). Certainly, Americans might be interested in a different point of view on the War of 1812.
As I explain to my kids, foreigners tend to be as aware of Canada as we are of Guatemala -- vaguely aware of where its located, and that's about it. Perhaps this book can help turn up the meter on the awareness dial.
Published by Random House Canada in 2004
In hardcover for $19.50 from Amazon.com; also available used. The Museum Called Canada
The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling More of Less
by Chris Anderson
Perhaps the most influential business book of 2007, the title of the book, The Long Tail, has become part of the English language. In his best-selling book, Chris Anderson attempts to puts forth this business case:
1. The Internet reduces to nearly zero the cost of marketing and distribution of digital goods.
2. Inversely, the amount of shelf space for digital goods is nearly infinite.
3. Hence, it is now possible to profit from the sale of very low-demand goods -- those items that populate the end of the long tail.
(At the front of the long tail are high-volume sales, such as blockbuster movies, hit records, and this season's must-have toys. In the middle are things that sell all the time, such as potatoes, shoes, and gasoline. At the end, in the thinnest part of the tail, are custom wedding dresses, hometown bands, and rarely viewed DVDs.)
Mr Anderson repeatedly provides examples of Amazon (vs Borders), NetFlix (vs Blockbuster), and Rhapsody (vs Tower Records). Each of these online retailers has found they can make significant income by stocking books, movies, and albums that the physical stores cannot. They benefit from the low cost of distribution and high shelf space offered by the Internet.
This is great stuff, I thought to myself, and I cheered as I read lines like these:
-- What we thought was the rising tide of common culture actually turned out the be less about the triumph of Hollywood talent, and more to do with the shepherding effect of broadcast distribution. (p.4)
-- ...the Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance.... (p.11)
-- For too long we've been suffering the tyranny of lowest-common denominator fare... Many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-demand matching -- a market response to inefficient distribution. (p.16)
As a personal example, I am thrilled that I can again buy jazz music records (MP3 files, actually) made on the ECM label through Amazon.com -- music that no store in my community of 140,000 stocks.
Mr Anderson does not say that the long tail will replace blockbusters and hits; rather it is a new option that we never had access to before. We still need the mega-grocery, clothing, and automobile chains to efficiently sell us everyday products that are sold physically.
But there is the complimentary reality -- that of the author, producer, and musician. This reality is ignored by Mr Anderson. For you see, it is only the Amazons and NetFlix's of the world that benefit from the long tail. While they may make 25% extra revenue from selling things that have very little demand, the producer of those things are making very little money. It looks like this:
A: Amazon makes millions from selling millions of long-tail items that sell just one item per week or month.
Not-A: Millions of producers of long-tail items are making close to $0 from selling just one item per week or month -- less the 40% Amazon takes for itself.
Mr Anderson never answers the question: where is the demand for creating long tail items, except for these cases:
a. It's a hobby, and so no profit is expected.
b. It's a once-popular item that has already paid for itself, and so any profit is residual.
c. It's the result of a long-tail producer being deluded by "The Long Tail" book.
From personal experence, I know that Amazon has no time for long-tail producers such as myself. It will not stock my line of ebooks because I need to have at least 1,000 titles (not copies, but titles!) before they will show any interest. (My collection currently numbers just over 40 titles -- 960 left to go.)
So, yes, the Long Tail exists, but like other economic systems (whether capitalism or communism), it only profits the very few at the top. For everyone else, it's just another case of the many toiling for the few.
Published by Hyperion in 2006
In hardcover for $16.47 from Amazon.com; also available used. Click for more information: [amazon.com]
iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon
by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith
The "Woz" tells how he invented the personal computer, co-founded Apple Computer, and had fun doing it. I was fortunate to hear Steve Wozniak in person at last year's SolidWorks event. It was fascinating to hear him describe his life story in condensed fashion. Clearly, he uses the same script each time he is paid to give the talk, but hearing this lively pioneer of our industry is a bonus.
And the book is the expanded version of his stock talk. We learn about him growing up in geek heaven -- the military technology corporations that were the forerunners of today's Silicon Valley. Working for HP and being very hesitant about quitting to work full-time with Steve Jobs on making and selling the Apple I and II -- the very first computer personal enough for "anyone" to buy it.
I am unsure if anyone has diagnosed Mr Wozniak: his excessive love of jokes combined with his desire to work intensely on his own makes for an interesting character. (While at the University of Colorado, he wrote a program that kicked the paper out every printer on campus.) It leads to perfectionism, such as the impossible compact diskette electronics he came up with, as well as multiple divorces and marriages.
This is one of those important books for better understanding the history of personal computers and Silicon Valley. But the writing style can become tiring at time. Here's a sample: "But I did it, and I did it well. If I am going to do something, I always try to do it well." It would have been great if ghost author Gina Smith had edited out some of those "I"s.
Published in 2006 by W. W. Norton
In hardcover for $17.13 from Amazon.com; also available used. Click for more information about iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It [amazon.com]
Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley
by Derek Hayes
I love maps, especially old ones, and I am not sure why. It may have to do with my need to see the big picture; I did lousy in school when teachers began with details and worked their way out. Maps provide the big picture, and old maps put the world in an even bigger picture of historical context.
Thus I was very excited to see a historical atlas of Vancouver (Canada) and the lower Fraser Valley (where I live). Unlike other ancient map books that simply throw together a hundred pages of scanned in maps, this book is a beautiful labour of love. Each two-page spread has old maps, descriptive text, and -- as the bonus -- scans of historical artifacts.
For instance, "A Streetcar System" has color and black-white streetcar route maps from the 1920s, photo of a 1929 streetcar, and a reproduction of cover of a 1907 promotional brochure. The 300-mile system was ripped out in the 1950s, and one hundred years later, there is talk of reusing the old trackbeds to again extend transit into the lower Fraser Valley.
Of particular interest to me are the early days of my current home town, as well as "Reclaiming Sumas Lake." This shallow, mosquito-ravaged lake was drained in 1923 to reuse the lakebed for 25 thousand acres of farmland. The position of the lake influenced surveys of the earlier railroads, which travel at an odd angle to other geography in the area, such as the mighty Fraser River, Sumas Mountain, and the border with the United States -- which, inturn, affects the locations of services today. All because of a lake that no longer exists.
And that's what I like about history: it helps explain "Why?"
History also puts things in perspective. Today, we travel between Abbotsford and Chilliwack by freeway in 20 minutes; in 1910, a driver set a record by driving the distance in 130 minutes. Another driver that year was fined $10 for speeding at 12mph.
Even more perspective is gained from the many dream plans included in this book, the maps and plans of real estate developers who imagined great things for their newly purchased properties -- whether industrial sites, massive housing developments, or secondary airports. All of which either failed, or are quite unimportant today.
This helps us remember that today's enthusiastic excitement can be tomorrow's failure.
The book is exhaustive, but wonderfully so. Naturally, it will be of interest to those familiar with this beautiful part of Canada, but also to those who enjoy history -- a thoroughly illustrated history.
Published in 2005 by Douglas & McIntyre
In large-format paperback for $26.50 from Amazon.ca; also available used.
Click for more information about Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley [amazon.ca]
Think! Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye
by Michael R LeGault
This book "Think!" was written in reaction to "Blink!", an earlier book that endorsed quick, emotional, gut-level decision making. The author of "Think," Michael LeGault, begs to differ: many problems in society today, he opines, are the fault of quick, emotional, instant decision making. In contrast, he espouses decisions that are thoughtful and rational.
Some chapter titles in Part One provide a feeling for his point of view:
4. Feeding the Feel-good Monster.
5. The Rise of the Political and Correct, the Fall of the Smart and Quick
7. "I'm Too Busy," the Myth of Stress and Information Overload.
In reality, you're going to employ both approaches. It is important to bring knowledge and wisdom to bare on decisions; but other times, you gotta go with your feelings 'cause you just don't got enough data at hand.
I like that he is against the current climate change hysteria, but not so keen that he minimized the influence of religion on people's thought making process. Christianity, for instance, merges Jewish mysticism with Greek logic, which prepped thinkers like Newton and Pascal. At best, he can only report that they dabbled in spirituality.
Which is a loss to the reader, for spirituality to these men was more than irrational feelings. It informed their world view, making possible the advances in human understanding, because they sought them out. Their line of thinking would have gone along these lines:
1. God exists.
2. Therefore there are reasons for how the world works.
3. Therefore there are rational bases for all activity, biological and otherwise.
4. Therefore there are rules that underpin the rationality.
5. Therefore I can discover these rules.
For thinkers like Newton and Pascal, ignoring spirituality may have led to a no-go process of thinking: no God, no reason, no rationality, no rules, nothing to discover.
Nevertheless, I found Part One to be good reading, and I heartedly endorse the first third of the book. But then Mr LeGault bogs down in Part Two. Entitled "Inspiration," it briefly describes numerous great thinkers that have become cliched. His collection of names and their stories are overly familiar to all of us: Einstein, Copernicus, Shakespeare, Edison, Newton... Far more interesting would have been great thinkers we've rarely heard of. I began to feel that the publisher asked the author to bulk up the page count.
I began to skip through Part Two's remaining chapters, and early into Part Three I blinked and gave up on this book. Part Three is "Fixes" -- the longest part and the most tedious. Mr LeGault looses the rationality that he preached about in Part One, and resorts to guesswork of what might fix our screwed-up society. Teachers will not be pleased of his criticism of modern classroom techniques.
Published in 2006 by Threshold Editions
viii + 356 pages
In paperback for $16.47 from Amazon.com; also available used. Click for more information about Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye
Design: Innovate, Differentiate, Communicate
by Tom Peters
When it comes to enthusiasm, Tom Peters is #1 in the business. "Design" is one of the Tom Peters Essentials series, a slim volume that colorfully condenses concepts from his older book, "Re-image." (The other titles in the series are Leadership, Talent, and Trends.)
Designed in the bright Dorling Kindersley manner, the pages of this book explode in color, graphics, and overlaid text -- as a book about design should do.
As CAD users, we appreciate design. There is functional design, where we make sure it works. As engineers, we l-o-v-e functional design with its precise equations, tables of allowable values, and tolerances.
Then there is the badly-named industrial design, the other half, the surface that covers the functional design, the curves and sheens that make people lust after iPods and iPhones. This is what Mr Peters is writing about.
It is his contention that design is the future. Design is no longer an afterthought, no longer a cost center, no longer a frown. It's now the heart and soul, the value generator, the smile.
Design is everywhere, even in areas you may not have thought of; but Mr Peters has thought of it. "Why," he asks, "do hotel beds have to give him a backache?" (One hotel chain is now so proud of its excellent beds that it will sell them to you.) Other examples: Starbucks is not about coffee; Porsche is not about commuting.
In short, your customers have an experience when they deal with you. What do you change to make their experience wonderful? From the moment they drive into your parking lot... until they leave, purchase(s) in hand. And afterwards.
I'll throw out some words that occur in large, bold text throughout the book: Uniqueness. Alter. Adventure. Obsess about beauty. Design = Soul.
If you love design, this book will perk you up. After reading it once, remember to go back in six months to read it all over again.
Published in 2005 by Dorling Kindersley
In paperback for $10.20 from Amazon.com; also available used. Click for more information about Design (Tom Peters Essentials)
The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea
by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge
This is a small hardcover book that briskly took me through the history of the corporation. The idea is that investors pool their money, hire a manager to employ the money, and then enjoy the profit. The concept goes back to Babylonian times, but not until the 1700s do the British add a twist: that those who invest the money should not be liable beyond the amounts they invested. The practical outcome was that you could loose all your investment funds, but not your house.
Despite being a short book, the two authors thoroughly describe the slow development of the corporation -- as more rights were granted it, and as it became easier to incorporate. In some countries are artificial persons, who have rights and obligations, can be sued, and pay taxes.
The authors are even-handed, both praising the largess and condemning the greed of corporations. Corporations tend to be ahead of governments in providing workers with benefits, such as health plans and pensions. But Enron-like greed can be just as likely.
The oldest corporation in the world is/was the Hudson's Bay Company, now a chain of department stores in Canada owned by an American private investment house. (Mr Micklethwait is also the author of The Right Nation: Why America is Different.)
Published in 2003 by The Modern Library
Now in paperback for $10.17 from Amazon.com; also available used.
Click for more information about The Company[amazon.com]
Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip
by Jim Rogers
The ultimate road trip this was, as Jim Rogers and his new wife Piage drive spend three years driving through 116 countries -- as well as fly or barge, as necessary. The total would have been higher, but there were a couple of countries that would not let them in, such as Iran. And no stop in Antarctic.
They were fortunate in having Mercedes-Benz custom make their vehicle for them: a bright yellow SLK built onto the chassis of the G-500 SUV. On his previous around the world trip on motorcycle, Mr Rogers found (1) diesel fuel is universal, and (2) every country has a Mercedes dealer, due to the love that dictators have for the vehicle. The idea was to create such a unique and highly visible vehicle --yet one that could be repaired and fueled anywhere -- that the couple would have an easier time getting through countries. In just about all cases, the tactic worked.
The book is an enjoyable read as a travel adventure book. I learned a little bit about 116 countries. But the book falls down in its tag-lined promise: "Profitable lessons from a record-setting drive around the world." Mr Rogers is a global investor, and I hoped to get some investment lessons from him. No such luck: the best he could come up with was, "Buy low, sell high; but don't immediately buy something else after selling."
Towards the end of the book -- about half way up South America -- it seems that he is getting tired of writing. There are fewer exciting stories, more lists of cities driven through. The second largest country in the world is reduced to a single page -- and half of that is about the Alaska highway. Canada was his last country before returning home to the USA.
By the end of the book, he admits that the number of disinvestments equaled the number of investments. Repeatedly, he is disappointed at what he hoped would be a newly developing country with ground floor investment opportunities.
So, don't read this book for investment advice, read it for the adventure. (His most recent book, published last year, is A Bull in China.)
Published in 2003 by Random House
Now in paperback for $10.17 from Amazon.com; also available as a downloadable audio book.
Click for more information about Adventure Capitalist [amazon.com]
In an earlier post, I reported that my latest print book was listed on Amazon.com, but not yet available to buy. That's now changed...
The full-color, 304-page Learning Autodesk Inventor 2008: The 2D to 3D Transition Handbook paperback book can now be purcahsed for $46.70 (and free shipping!)
Here's what you'll find inside:
Part I: Inventor for AutoCAD Users
1. AutoCAD User, Meet Autodesk Inventor
2. Get Your Feet Wet with Inventor
3. Inventor & AutoCAD, Similarities & Differences
Part II: 2D-to-3D Tutorials
4. Sketch to Part Tutorial
5. AutoCAD to Inventor Tutorial
6. Parts to Assemblies Tutorial
Part III: Viewing, Importing, and Exporting DWG Files
7. Working with AutoCAD Drawings in Inventor
8. Viewing AutoCAD Drawings with Inventor
9. Importing AutoCAD Drawings into Inventor
Part IV: Appendices
A. AutoCAD & Inventor Jargon
B. Inventor & AutoCAD: Import & Export Formats
(I don't make royalties on this book, because it was a lump-sum project. But if you use the above link to click through to Amazon.com, I'll make 4%.)
The book I worked on all summer has now appeared on amazon.com. Learning Autodesk Inventor 2008: The 2D to 3D Transition Handbook [amazon.com] is a 300-page "Inventor for AutoCAD users" style of book. Here's the table of contents:
Part I: Inventor for AutoCAD Users
1. AutoCAD User, Meet Autodesk Inventor
2. Get Your Feet Wet with Inventor
3. Inventor & AutoCAD, Similarities & Differences
Part II: 2D-to-3D Tutorials
4. Sketch to Part Tutorial
5. AutoCAD to Inventor Tutorial
6. Parts to Assemblies Tutorial
Part III: Viewing, Importing, and Exporting DWG Files
7. Working with AutoCAD Drawings in Inventor
8. Viewing AutoCAD Drawings with Inventor
9. Importing AutoCAD Drawings into Inventor
Part IV: Appendices
A. AutoCAD & Inventor Jargon
B. Inventor & AutoCAD: Import & Export Formats
I got asked to write the book because (1) I know AutoCAD and (2) I don't know Inventor -- the kind of person for whom this book is meant. But don't worry: Bill Fane was the technical editor, and he made sure I got things right. As well, some of his 3D solid models are used for tutorials.
I've just release two "new" CAD reference books:
-- Inside AutoCAD LT 2006, Volume 1: 2D Drafting is a beginner's tutorial for learning AutoCAD LT, Autodesk's cheapest CAD package. This PDF ebook works equally well with LT 2007 and 2008. It's 224 pages long and is priced at US$22.40. You can learn more about it from upfrontezine.com/ilt6-1.
-- Inside AutoCAD LT 2006, Volume 2: Management & Customization is the intermediate and advanced LT user's reference to CAD management and LT customization. Also works equally well with LT 2007 and 2008. At 158 pages, it's priced at US$15.80. Full table of contents and sample pages at upfrontezine.com/ilt6-2.
I put quotations marks around "new," because these two CAD reference books used to be a paperback book titled AutoCAD LT 2006: The Definitive Guide from WordWare Publishing. I split it into two ebook to make it cheaper to buy just one part of the book, as well as easier to download as a PDF file.
Was I ever surprised to learn that one of my print-only books was available as a free, downloadable PDF file.
My AutoCAD LT 2006: The Definitive Guide is published as a softcover book by Wordware Publishing, but Indoe Books is making it available free -- along with many other books. Indoe Books is run by M Tandiono (email@example.com) of Jakarta Indonesia.
And not a scan of the printed book, either, but the original PDF. Complete with a page of self-ads from Wordware at the back of the book.
What puzzles me is how they got hold of the original PDF. (Some authors, like me, today send their publisher their manuscripts as PDF files via FTP.) The PDF is in limited circulation. There should be just three copies of the file:
-- I have the original (dated Apr 2006).
-- the publisher has a copy, and added the page of advertising
-- the printing plant has a copy, printing it in July 2006.
The bootleg PDF has an origin date of Sept 2006. Why do I think it is a bootleg? Read how Indoe Books describes its service:
This site has many ebooks to download for FREE, yeah…it’s absolutely free. Disclaimer: You Must Delete all resources you downloaded from this site.
The IndoeBooks text file accompanying the download of my book contains this disclaimer:
You Must Delete all resources you downloaded from this site within 24 hours. If You like the Books Please buy original edition, otherwise laws problems take in hand by yourself. All resources offered by this website are collected through the internet and exchanged between peers for personal study. Use of any resources offered for commercial purposes is prohibited. Other wise you need to responsible for any consequences produced! We are only offer an environment of communion and study and We won't bear any legal responsibility for the resources.
I am working on contacting Wordware and Indoe Books.
My 3-4 visits to the hairdresser each year usually go like this:
Me (settling in chair, removing glasses, closing eyes).
Hairdresser (warming up for 20 minutes of conversation): "So what do you do?"
Me (bracing myself): "I write books."
Haidresser (expressing false interest): "That sounds interesting. What about?"
Me (knowing what's coming next): "Computers."
Hairdresser (works in silence for 19 minutes).
Bentley Systems sells Haestad Methods' books for as much as US$195, but now they're giving them away -- sort of.
-- Stormwater Conveyance Modeling and Design (regularly $195)
-- Wastewater Collection System Modeling and Design (regularly $195)
-- Advanced Water Distribution Modeling and Management (regularly $145)
... now free, when you download them as chapter files in PDF format from here.
Bill Fane is the technical editor for many of my books. This week he, copy editor Stephen Dunning, and myself are putting the finishing touches on my latest book. I've posted examples before on this blog of Humour By Bill and Stephen, but this may well be the most extreme example -- no doubt brought on by the relief of Yet Another Grueling Editing Spree come to an end.
In appendix A, I wrote (and my spell checker mis-corrected) the following:
Note: *) AutoCAD flummery called it “circular” but changed to “polar” many years ago.
In the markups returned to me this morning,I found that Bill made this correction:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Flummery (from the Welsh llymru) is a sweet soft pudding that is made from stewed fruit and thickened with cornstarch. Traditional British flummeries were kind of like porridge as they were often oatmeal based and cooked to achieve a smooth and gelatinous texture; often sugar and milk was added and occasionally orange flower water. The dish is typically bland in nature. The dish gained stature in the 17th century where it was prepared in elaborate molds and served with applause from the dining audience. The writer Bill Bryson, who has covered subjects as wide as travel, science and language use, described flummery as an early form of blancmange in his book Made in America.
Flummery is also an empty compliment, unsubstantial talk or writing, mumbo jumbo, rubbish talk, meaningless and pompous ceremonies, and nonsense.
In the novel "Dodsworth" by Sinclair Lewis, one of Dodsworth's favorite interjections: "Pfui! This is flummery!"
Another example of the word is in "The Trouble With Lichen" by John Wyndham, wherein he wrote:
“This is not the age of reason, this is the age of flummery, and the day of the devious approach. Reason’s gone into the backrooms where it works to devise means by which people can be induced to emote in the desired direction.”
And this, from http://www.schools.ash.org.au/thscompst/Australia/Flummery.html
Lemon Passionfruit Flummery
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup castor sugar
2 medium lemons
2 large passionfruit
1 tablespoon gelatine
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup cream, whipped
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and lemon-coloured. Grate the rind from the lemons and squeeze the juice. Stir the rind into the egg yolk mixture. Heat the juice to simmering point.
Soften the gelatine in the white wine then dissolve it in the heated lemon juice. Add the passionfruit pulp. Stir this spoonful by spoonful into the egg yolks, then stir in the whipped cream.
Lastly, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks and fold through. Spoon into a pretty glass bowl and chill until set.
Mr Fane concludes:
I’m guessing you probably meant “formerly”.
A fellow I know was ridding himself of old textbooks. As instructor at a technical college, he had three stacks of computer books next to his office divider, stacked four feet high.
I like getting old books, because they contain snippets of history. They're also interesting, because they are written from a point of view that seemed valid at the time. (Try this for an exercise: read Newsweek magazine from during the second world war.)
This stack of books has titles like "Learning AutoCAD Release 9" and "Programming VBA 2005." The one I picked out was a hardcover text titled, "Foundations of Computer-Aided Design" by Chinyere Onwubiko of Ohio State University. Copywritten in 1989, it was probably written in the 1987-988 time frame.
This book is not about learning how to use CAD commands. It's how to write your own CAD program. It contains programming code for manipulating and sorting vector entities -- all written in BASIC. These are some of the subjects it covers:
- geometric transformations
- parametric curves
- multivariable optimization
- finite element methods
- solid modeling systems
The book begins with the then-mandatory introduction to CAD hardware systems, including technical explanations of several kinds of CRT (cathode ray tube monitor) systems. Most of the photos are credited to Computervision. The text mentions several PC-CAD systems, including AutoCAD and one I hadn't heard of before: SuperCAD.
The author makes this prediction: "It is projected that in the future, 90% of CAD activities will be accomplished on the PC-CAD systems" (p. 32).
It may be summer time for us in the Northern Hemisphere, but that's no reason for me to stop working -- what with three kids in college and the equivalent.
I'm working on three book projects simultaneously, each different from the other. One is brand-new book due to come out at Autodesk University -- provided we meet the writing-editing-printing-distribution schedule.
This book is different in that it is brand-new book; most of my books are updates of earlier editions. But this one is completely new, and already the tech editor is complaining: "I rapidly went into 'deer in the headlights' mode." For example, he's suggesting that I "dive right in and work through a simple 1-hour example" in Chapter 1 or 2. That's okay, because we can easily move chunks around, and getting his viewpoint is important to making it a better book.
The second project is adapting one of my ebooks to a client, a CAD training center. They've asked me to customize this ebook for their software brand, and then to add more tutorials, as well as eventually add end-of-chapter questions and review exercises. They plan to go on a road trip, doing a series of seminars teaching CAD as a drafting tool, instead of teaching CAD as a series of commands. I like that idea.
And the third project is completely new to me. A video training firm is converting one my ebooks into a series of video tutorials. They've asked me to rewrite it in narration format. The words I write are the ones the professional voice actor reads word for word -- to match the movements in the video. Fortunately, I'm not involved in the video work.
This "translation" to narration format requires a different way of thinking, but it does takes me back to my high school days. It was a corny movie, but the book "The Happiest Millionaire" had a huge impact on me back then. The book was not in novel form; it was the actual screenplay -- and in Grade 8 or 9 it fascinated me. So much so that whenever we had a major writing assignment in English, I asked (and always received) permission to write my fiction in screenplay-format.
I've completed updating my ebook on rendering with AutoCAD 2008, and so Tailoring AutoCAD Rendering 2008 is now available. The update adds 62 pages, with these features:
* Expanded Materials palette (boy, is it expanded! I had to turn this subject into two chapters.)
* Web lights and how to get more .ies files from the Internet.
* Target-free spot and Web lights for easy placement of ceiling lights.
* Photometric rendering.
* New Sun&Sky background in the View command.
* New and expanded tutorials.
* Updated for all of AutoCAD 2008's 24 new and changed rendering commands and system variables.
This 202-page, 8-chapter e-book is in PDF format, has over 400 figures, and costs US$30.30. You can order through PayPal by going go the ebook's Web page and then clicking on the Buy This Book Now button (about halfway down the page). Or, send your cheque, money order, or purchase order to:
"Tailoring AutoCAD Rendering 2008"
34486 Donlyn Avenue
V2S 4W7 Canada
(Add $5 for delivery on CD by mail.)
You can learn more about theTailoring AutoCAD Rendering 2008 ebook from www.upfrontezine.com/tar8.
Perhaps due to the civic holiday in the USA, the bulk of initial orders are from overseas: Italy, Greece, Australia, United Kingdom, and Norway.
Jessie Scanlon of Business Week speaks with former Alias chief scientist Bill Buxton on his new book, Sketching User Experience.
While companies were very good at what Buxton calls "N+1" development, or pumping out improved versions of existing products, most were quite bad at developing the new products that are essential for sustainable long-term growth.
In the CAD business, "developing new products" is known as copying what everyone else is doing. CAD vendors see growth in PLM! Maintenance contacts! Stealing customers! Acquisitions!
Entire article is here: Why Products Fail.
One of the first paper-based books on AutoCAD 2008 is now shipping, and it's one of mine: The Illustrated AutoCAD 2008 Quick Reference (960 pages; Autodesk Press).
Reports my Acquisitions Editor: There is a copy of the book on my desk. It just arrived overnight from the printer. This is the earliest I every remember publishing this title. Sweet.
The second edition of "What's Inside? AutoCAD 2008" ebook is now available, one week after the software became available.
(The first edition was based on a beta of the software; the second edition adds eight pages of new and missing information, and corrects some errors.)
Introducing the first edition, I claimed it contained 2x more information than was available from Autodesk -- based on an informal survey. But now I have the hard number: this ebook gives 34% more info.
Autodesk "New Features Guide"
- lists 128 new and changed commands and system variables
- 74 smaller-size pages
- full color images
- printed on paper but no index
- free with purchase of AutoCAD 2008 (US$3,995 or less)
upFront.eZine Publishing "What's Inside? AutoCAD 2008"
- lists 172 new and changed commands and system variables
- 118 full-size pages
- full color images, plus comparisons with AutoCAD 2007
- fully searchable PDF file
The ebook is available for purchase through PayPal or by cheque. Details at its dedicated Web page.
In the world of AutoCAD, this week is already 2008: the software bevomes available for purchase on Friday. Meanwhile, two of my PDF ebooks are now up-to-date with AutoCAD 2008:
Tailoring Dynamic Blocks (US$9.90)
- I added a half page specific to 2008 (on tooltips).
- Otherwise, this ebook is unchanged, and is suitable for 2006, 7, and 8 users.
Tailoring AutoCAD CUI 2008 (US$13.20)
- completely updated for the redesigned Customize User Interface dialog box in 2008.
- new chapter on customizing the Dashboard.
The Web pages for both ebooks have links for ordering and paying through PayPal.
From Feburary through July, I'm busy updating my line of AutoCAD books for 2008:
The Illustrated AutoCAD 2008 Quick Reference
- I've completed updating it, and am waiting on tech editor Bill Fane's corrections.
- it's grown to 960 pages.
Using AutoCAD 2008: Basics
- I'll start updating this one in early April.
- I've been asked to keep it to 1,216 pages.
Tailoring Dynamic Blocks - updated and available now.
- Custom grips now display tooltips.
Tailoring CUI - I'm working right now on updating this ebook.
- changes to the user interface.
- addition of Dashboard customization.
- new drag and drop customization.
Tailoring Visual Styles.
- new Sun & Sky background effect.
- new support for DirectX drivers.
- new plotter emulation of shadows.
Tailoring AutoCAD Render.
- This is going to be a big one; the changes to the Materials palette alone are overwhelming.
- new -Render command.
- additions to the Materials palette.
- new support for compressed textures.
- new photometric lighting.
- support for IES files (web lights).
- new Sun & Sky background effect.
- new support for DirectX drivers.
- new plotter emulation of shadows.
Tailoring AutoCAD 2008
- changes to Options, Dashboard, Palettes, etc.
I won't need to update thes ebooks, because of no changes in AutoCAD 2008 to their topics:
The very first book on AutoCAD 2008 is now available from upFront.eZine Publishing. "What's Inside? AutoCAD 2008" details the new features and the changes -- all 152 of them.
The ebook has over 200 figures illustrating the changes, and includes commands not documented by Autodesk.
There's more details about the 110-page PDF ebook at eBooks.onLine, and you can purchase it for US$16.50 through Paypal. After AutoCAD 2008 ships, you get a free upgrade to the ebook with last-minute info.
Another new year, another new ebook.
The Animations with AutoCAD ebook that I mentioned a few days ago is now available for purchase (US$8.70).
To blow my horn a bit, this is the quickest I've ever written a new book -- four days. Plus one more day for editing, assisted by my dad. But then this ebook's only 58 pages. (My other record is for updating an existing book: I redid one of my AutoCAD LT books for WordWare Publishing in one day.) Naturally, you need to contrast that with the months it takes me to update my thousand-page books, like Using AutoCAD (Autodesk Press).
In the previous posting, I noted that the content of a book changes as I write it. As I lay down the words, I find that some topics get much bigger than I expected, while others shrink. With that in mind, the table of contents now looks like this:
1 — introduction to animations
2 — recording animations
3 — walking and flying
4 — the dashboard
appendix a — editing with moviemaker
appendix b — testing with gsb
Sales are off to a brisk start; one ATC has ordered 10 copies this morning. You can learn more about this ebook's contents and how to purchase from http://www.upfrontezine.com/awa/default.htm.
After just 36 hours of being released, this ebook on animation has already outsold my ebook on rendering with AutoCAD 2007 (Tailoring AutoCAD Render"). I wonder why that is? Perhaps:
- The animation book is 2x cheaper (I price my ebooks by the page).
- Or, animation is more complex than rendering (you can get a decent rendering out of AutoCAD without knowing anything about it).