Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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06
Jun

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

  • Narrator: George Wilson – Good, but a bit slow
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Suspense
  • Writing: OK
  • Story: Poor
  • Time: 18 hours 7 minutes

The concept of this book, as detailed in its synopsis, was intriguing – that governments fundamentally control their citizens with fear.  Fear makes people look to their governments for safety and comfort and this is what gives a government its ultimate power.  The story is allegedly about the fact that the Cold War was a perfect basis for forming this dependency and level of control.  The implicit fear created by the concept of nuclear buildup and global destruction caused people to abdicate many of their natural freedoms to rules imposed by governments.  The problem, of course, is that the Cold War ended.  The story is about how old fears were replaced by new ones having to do mostly with health, global warming, rapid climate change, etc.

It sounded like a neat basis for a story to me.  Unfortunately, only about 20 minutes of this 18+ hour audio book covered this topic.  The rest of it was a preachy, long-winded story that was used as a boring platform for the author to broadcast his view of the sorry state of knowledge, research and the science of global warming, climate change and the management of natural habitat.  As it turns out, I actually agree with his beliefs – that we don’t know squat about this stuff and even blaming “greenhouse” emissions for massive changes in the planet is patently absurd – but that doesn’t mean that I wanted them hammered into my brain repeatedly over an 18 hour period (yes, it’s difficult for me to stop listening or reading, even when it’s this bad).

In its most basic form, the book is more like a screenplay than a novel.  This is to be somewhat expected from Michael Crichton, of course.  The story includes several “actors” that are complete stooges.  Sorta like the actor in a B horror movie that doesn’t see the obvious danger in going into the crypt at night when the audience can plainly see he’s gonna die in there.  The stooges are not only ignorant, but they’re unbelievably stupid too.  It takes them ages to get the points made by the hero in the story.  Some of them never get it.  Crichton puts them into situations that make no sense at all to demonstrate how difficult they are to convince, making the whole story a farce.  Of course, I understand the technique that Crichton is using here, he just gets too caught up in it, in my opinion.

I like Michael Crichton’s stories, in general.  Airframe was a particular favorite.  It’s too bad he chose to use this book as his pulpit for a topic not even representative of its title.  My only recommendation here is to stay away from it.

 June 6th, 2006  
 Will  
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19
May

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

I’m new to Christopher Moore and I picked this book up for a quick read on a plane ride after seeing it mentioned by complete strangers on a few web sites (now you know my standards).  If you insist on reading this book in a relatively public place like I did, be forewarned . . . I almost passed an entire baguette through my nose as I tried to suppress my laughter.  I’m not talking giggles, or even chuckles, but full blown tears-in-the-eyes, abdominal-muscle-pain kinda laughter.  Not always, of course, but frequently enough to make the book a complete blast.

The story is about a guy named Charlie Asher, a beta male in San Francisco who wakes up one morning to discover that he’s Death (that’s right, with a capital D).  The passage below is a good example of Moore’s writing – no worries, I’m not giving away anything . . .

“The Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was the perfect show-off of death machines.  It consisted of nearly three tons of steel stamped into a massively mawed high-tailed beast, lined with enough chrome to build a Terminator and still have parts left over – most of it in long, sharp strips that peeled off on impact and became lethal scythes to flay away pedestrian flesh.  Under the four headlights it sported two chrome bumper bullets that looked like unexploded torpedoes or triple-G-cup Madonna death boobs.  It had a noncollapseable steering column that would impale the driver upon any serious impact, electric windows that could pinch off a kid’s head, no seat belts and a 325 horsepower V8 with such appallingly bad fuel efficiency  that you could hear it trying to slurp liquefied dinosaurs out of the ground when it passed.  It had a top speed of a hundred and ten miles per hour, mushy, bargelike suspension that could in no way stabilize the car at that speed, and undersized power brakes that wouldn’t stop it either.  The fins jutting from the back were so high and sharp that the car was a lethal threat to pedestrians even when parked, and the whole package sat on tall, whitewall tires that looked, and generally handled, like oversized powdered doughnuts.  Detroit could not have achieved more deadly finned ostentatia if they’d covered a killer whale with rhinestones.  It was a masterpiece.”

Moore’s characters are terrific and the story is unusual.  I could hardly put it down, and that’s saying a lot since I have the reading speed of an average kindergartener.  Highly recommended.

 May 19th, 2006  
 Will  
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12
May

Seizing The Enigma by David Kahn

Narrator: Bernard Mayes – Good
Genre: Non Fiction – Military
Writing: Good
Story: Poor
Time: 13 hours 35 minutes 

I know very little about
cryptography or cryptology, but I’ve always been fascinated by stories of the
German Enigma cipher machine used before and during WWII and the efforts of the
Allies during the war to decode German messages.  When I found this book, I thought it would
help me get beyond the rudimentary knowledge that I have on the subject from
movies and anecdotes.  The good news is
that it did that, but at a price.

In your interested in
cryptography and you feel there might be a slight gap in your knowledge of the
history and science for the period from 1914 through 1945, this is the book for
you.  It covers everything  including what the British sailors who
captured the first Enigma from a German U-Boat had for breakfast the day they
boarded the donor ship.  If I haven’t
already made it clear, it might be worth repeating.  This book includes an immense amount of
unnecessary detail – not only of cryptologic advances during the period, but
also of everything in the periphery of those developments. 

The narrator is British and
takes a while to get used to (if you’re American, that is).  The narration is fairly slow as well.  The writing is also from a British point of
view, giving the Poles, French and Americans only passing credit for their
contributions.

If you can find an abridged
version – say 50-100 pages long, it’d be worth a read.  If not, I can’t recommend it.  If after this poor endorsement, you insist on
giving it a try, stop reading here.  For
anyone interested in a few cool facts gleaned from the book, keep reading . . . 

  • The Poles were the first to apply mathematics to
    breaking complex coades and ciphers. 
    Prior to their work, all code-breaking was done through a
    brute-force method.  Early in the 20th
    century, while the Germans were developing advanced cryptographic
    techniques, only the Poles were able to keep up because they had their
    best mathematicians working on the problem while other countries continued
    to try to do things the old way. 
    The reason they were so far ahead was because they were the most
    threatened.  Shoehorned between the Soviet Union and German made fear the mother of
    invention.
  • The pole built huge, complex mechanical machines
    – computers, actually – that worked on breaking coded messages and finding
    clues in the messages themselves. 
    The British continued developing these machines during WWII.
  • The need to break the messages encoded by the
    Enigma cipher machine was huge. 
    During 1942, there were months
    when up to 150 British and American ships were being sunk in the Atlantic.
  • Each branch of the German military and the SS
    used different versions of the Enigma. 
    The Army, Luftwaffe and SS codes were broken fairly early in the
    war.  The naval code and process
    took until much later in the war to break and required the acquisition of
    a naval Enigma machine to be successful.
  • Breaking the Enigma is commonly credited with
    winning the battle of the Atlantic and, thus, winning the war in Europe.  After
    all, food to sustain the British had to come from North America and most
    of the armament, ammunition and men for the invasion of Europe came across
    the Atlantic.  This book points out, though, that by
    1943, the US was
    building ships so fast that the Germans could not put enough submarines in
    the Atlantic to sink enough tonnage to
    reverse the Allied advance.  Also,
    if the Germans were not defeated in early 1945, the first atomic bomb
    would have surely been used on the Germans and would have ultimately ended
    the war.  So, while breaking the
    Enigma certainly saved thousands of lives and caused the war to end a few
    months earlier, it was not reason for the Allied victory.
  • The British did an excellent job disguising the
    fact that they had captured an Enigma and were reading coded German
    messages.  They were very conscious of
    not anticipating too many German moves and even let some German targets
    move freely in the Atlantic so as not to
    give any indication of what they knew. 
    Churchill was actively involved in the use of the deciphered
    information and was gave many warnings about the abuse of their new
    knowledge.

In the end, the biggest
factor to breaking the Enigma – and this is likely true for breaking any secret
code at any time – is the hubris of the people who created and used it.  Throughout the war, the Germans ignored
signals that the Enigma and the coding processed used to create messages with
the Enigma, had been compromised.  These
signals were ignored, for the most part, because the Germans strongly felt
their system was unbreakable.  This
feeling of invincibility ultimately was the biggest failure in their system.

 May 12th, 2006  
 Will  
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21
Apr

Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly


I read about this book on Brad Feld’s Blog and had to pick it up.  I’m interested in the wisdom of all those qualified that are willing to teach how to get the most out of the short lives we have.  In this case, the qualified individual was Gene O’Kelly, a very successful CEO of KPMG who, at 53 years of age, became qualified when he was diagnosed with three months to live.  The book is his account of what he did during that time and perhaps more importantly, what he thought about.

With only three months to wrap up a lifetime and write a book, you can imagine that it’s not rich in detail or story.  He does an excellent job, in my opinion, of expressing his thoughts and what he went through in the short period before his death. 

To me, his points about not wasting energy on the stupid stuff and seeking out and taking advantage of “perfect moments,” had a big impact on me.

It’s a short book and definitely worth the read.

 April 21st, 2006  
 Will  
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07
Apr

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Narrator: Adam Grupper –
Excellent
Genre: Fiction – Legal
Thriller
Writing: Excellent
Story: Very Good
Time: 11 hours 35 minutes

This is a terrific
book.  The story isn’t entirely unique,
but it is distinct enough.  The writing
is terrific and, if you’re listening instead of reading, Adam Grupper is one of
the best narrators I’ve heard. 

I read and listen to books
like an engineer – I hate sub-plots, back-stories and sidelines that distract
me from the main story line without a purpose. 
Or, those that drone on for too long. 
I realize that the sub-plots and background are part of the buildup of
the main story line, and I appreciate that, but so often there is way too much
detail presented.  Just get to the point
already!

Michael Connelly uses a
fabulous technique in this book to help the reader understand the context and
even the parallel story lines, without going into an absurd amount of
distracting detail.  I’ll leave it as a
surprise, and it may disappoint some, but I found it refreshing. 

Connelly does a nice job
with the thriller part of the story, too. 
While there was never a point, until the end, where I was at the edge of
my seat, he kept me curious and interested through the entire story – very few
peaks and valleys.  It was a nice change
of pace from the roller coaster ride that some thrillers take you on.

I highly recommend The
Lincoln Lawyer – check it out.

 April 7th, 2006  
 Will  
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28
Mar

Fantastic Voyage by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman

I’m a middle age guy. 
This is only true, at this point, if I actually live until I can see my 92
birthday.  I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the the fact that I’m
now finishing my life instead of starting it and I want to know more about
making sure that the rest of my life has neither a steep negative slope nor a
short duration.

The concept behind this book
is that within even my lifetime, medical and pharmaceutical science will
advance far enough to continually extend the life of the average person by . .
. forever.  Forever is an awfully long
time.  Let’s just say they are discussing
life extension for longer than any one of us can imagine.  The primary goal is to teach you how to
manage your diet, exercise and stress levels so that you can live until the
revolution in science that lets you live “forever” is discovered and then
approved by the FDA. 

Among geeks, I’m a
rarity.  I’m not a huge Kurzweil
fan.  I thought this book was going to be
like his usual pie-in-the-sky stuff.  I
was pleasantly surprised, though.  While
the basic concept of living forever is absurd, and it’s hard to imagine some of
the advancements he suggests happening in the next 50 years, most of the book
was full of practical suggestions and guides that made a lot of sense to me.

What to eat and when; what
supplements to take; stress management, lifestyle changes, and exercise are all
discussed in sufficient detail to make the program he suggests understandable
and easy to follow.  It’s not a diet, but
a way of life in terms of what you eat and drink, and how you take care of
yourself.  While I haven’t adopted the
full suggested regimen, I have modified my existing one, especially when it
comes to supplements, considerably to conform to his suggestions. 

The key here is that most of
the stuff he discusses is not new to anyone who reads on the topic of diet and
health in even a cursory fashion.  The
book is just a one-stop-shop of logical information.  Tables, charts and diagrams make everything
easy to understand and follow.  There’s
some extraneous stuff and some of his predictions for medial/pharmaceutical
breakthroughs need to be taken with a grain of salt, in my opinion, but
all-in-all it’s a good reference book for taking care of one’s self.

If you’re not really into
what you eat, this book will be a bore. 
If you are, though, the book is a great reference for information on
healthy living.  Mine’s got loads-o-dog-ears for the stuff important to me.

 March 28th, 2006  
 Will  
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23
Mar

Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn

I am a big fan of Audiobooks.  Every day I
spend loads of time in the car either commuting from one meeting to the
next or shuttling my kids around.  It’s amazing how many hours get
spent this way.  My wife introduced me to audiobooks several years
ago and I’ve listened to well over a hundred of them since then.

The latest was Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn.  An epic listen at something like 18.5 hours (scary that I knocked it off in two weeks).



I’ve always liked espionage/thrillers and was thus, very sorry to see
the cold war end Big Smile [:D]  What better fodder than the super-secrecy
of the cold war could there be to fabricate stories with.  I guess
terrorism is the next best thing and Flynn does a good job of creating
a super-human American spy/assassin (Mitch Rapp) who single-handedly
takes on the terrorists of the world.

Apparently, this is one of many in Flynn’s series of espionage book
with Rapp as his hero and it is the first one I’ve read.  Rapp is
certainly a great tough-guy hero and you find yourself behind him all
the way as he kills people – patriotic duty, of course.

I liked the book, although I wouldn’t say it’s one of my top 10, or
even 25, in this genre.  Flynn spends a lot of time wrenching an
incredible amount of detail out of some characters and situations which
often never gets used later in the story.  As a listener, I’m
happy to make the investment into a character’s thoughts, family and
heritage as long as it adds value to the story and doesn’t just take up
space.

On the positive side, Flynn keeps you guessing about the outcome to the
very end and creates some great, suspenseful situations while he leads
you down the path.

Maybe sometime in the future I’ll come up with some rating system, but
in the meantime, I’d recommend this book, but I wouldn’t put it at the
top of your reading stack.  I’ll certainly give one of the earliy
Flynn/Rapp books a try soon.

 March 23rd, 2006  
 Will  
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 6 Comments