Category Archives: Reading

Recent Reading: The Food Network, And The White House!

I haven’t posted much on books lately, here are two that are different:

  • Inside the Food Network. Definitely some gossip, but also a look at how businesses evolve and how the people that made them in the beginning couldn’t keep up with that evolution. A common problem/pattern. Bobby Flay seems to have been the most adaptable. Worth reading if you’re a Food Network fan.
  • Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies. I would wish for a better title, but it was worth reading. Starting in the 1940’s with Roosevelt through the early days of Nixon author and former Chief Usher J. B. Wood did a really good job of showing how the White House and it’s staff grew and changed and does an equally good job of describing how each First Family lived in the House – and did it in a way that felt fair, even classy at times. Some great stories. LBJ wanting a super powerful shower or he would move out. The Truman’s breaking a couple wooden bed slats. I read it because it popped up on my Kindle for $1.99, enjoyed it.

Review: The Year Without Pants

The Year Without Pants by Scott Berkun is about a former manager/now speaker and writer going to work for WordPress for a year. It was a must-read for me; I’m a fan of the authors writing as well as WordPress.

It’s supposed to about the future of work and maybe it is, but I think for me it was more about culture and that was ok, I think culture is maybe the most important thing when it comes to building something good. The WordPress culture is definitely interesting. Almost everyone works remote, until recently it was a flat structure and even now is only small teams, and you get a sense that they focus on what matters better than most companies.

The other part of the story is the journey for the author. It was a deliberate choice to change roles in his career for a while from independent to team manager, in part to reconnect and in part to see if theory would work in practice, with the sweetener that he got to write about the experience. You see places where he was clearly uncomfortable, like when he was working support tickets. You see the pain of every manager new to a company and a team trying to figure out who can and will do what, how things work, and how to decide what is most worth doing. You also see the challenges of going back to a role from earlier in a career. I liked this theme in the book because I identified with it, I just wish I had thought to make a deal to write a book when I did it!

It is worth reading just for the view into another culture. It’s worth reading if you use WordPress, as so many of do. There is no formula here, but plenty of ideas. Let me know if you read it, I’d like to hear what you think of it.

Ebooks From The Library–Overdrive Media Console

Recently I installed the Android version of the Overdrive Media Console on my Nexus 7. It’s a free app. Install via the Play store and it’s ready to go in a minute. You enter your zip code to help locate your library, pick the library you use, and then enter – at least where I live – my membership id, no password. That’s it for set up.

I’m not sure how big the ebook inventory is. It’s broken up into fiction and non-fiction, looks like a couple thousand books, maybe more – definitely a subset of the full print inventory. Browsing the catalog is about what you’d expect, lists of books with a cover image and a blurb. The catalog shows how many copies are available. If you want a book and it’s available you click, confirm, and then get routed to Amazon to download the book. If the book isn’t available you can place a hold and get added to the end of the waiting list.

The first couple I tried went smoothly, then I hit one that for some reason has to be downloaded to a different device and moved to the reader via USB cable. Strange. Of course since I didn’t quite understand the rules I checked out 3 (which seems to be the max) and then one of my holds became available. That would normally be good, but the books generally require that they stay checked out for 2 full weeks and the book on hold has to be checked out within 48 hours of being available. A minor issue given the cost!

My reads so far? The Profiler by Pat Brown (interesting, but dark – Criminal Minds without the bad guy ever getting caught), Artic Drift by Clive Cussler (the one that requires USB and may or may not get read), and The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. The one on hold that I didn’t get to read yet? Mission to Mars by Buzz Aldrin.

Blog Images and PNG Compression

I’m not terribly good at putting at least one image in every post. The images I do use are either screen captures from Snagit or photos from my phone.  I rarely do much in the way of editing them, a luxury of running a low key blog. As far as process, I typically just insert the image into Livewriter and let it do its magic. That works pretty well for me.

Below is a capture of some of the filenames of images on my blog. The filenames are blah. Does it matter? I hardly ever re-use an image and if I did, that would probably cue me to give it a more useful name. It just looks untidy to me, but I’m also debating for the kinds of posts I’m doing if it’s worth renaming them before I use them.

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The other part I was curious about was the file size. Especially for mobile users it’s nice to keep image files small so the pages load a bit faster. I took the image above and ran through PNGGauntlet and did see a small reduction, one worth doing if it was high volume, but debatable for what I’m doing.

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I’m trying to decide what I think on this. I think an image per post (or more) is worth trying to do and I’ll have to work at that. I think using small images is worth doing, but based on the file sizes and reductions I’m seeing I don’t know that it’s worth trying for the smallest images (but ideally I’ll find a way to make it happen without having to think about it). I think it’s nice to have meaningful filenames (and maybe a win for SEO), but I’m not enthused about remembering/having to do it every time. I like the way I do it now, I just wish I could get better/ideal results for the same effort – so I should look for tools or changes to the tools I use that might enable that. I’m also conscious that it might add a whole minute or two to the posting process if I just do it manually, not a lot of time even if I’m posting every day.

I draw an uneven comparison to woodworking and carpentry. It’s often perfectly ok to use ‘secondary’ wood for the parts that the user will never see, and it’s downright necessary to use nails and screws in construction rather than trying to dovetail and dado the studs for a wall in a house. It’s uneven because in both of those cases it would require extra effort and/or cost, where with software it should be possible to do it better for just about the same level of effort.

It’s not a wasted exercise for me, or hopefully for you reading this. I’ve spent a few minutes looking and thinking and what I have right now is functional, just not perfect. I’ll spend a few more minutes seeing if there is an add-in for Writer that will help or a better screen capture app as far as compression or something else, and then I’ll move on. I’d appreciate any ideas you have or experience with tools that might make my image process work better.

More on Finding Bad Links On Your Blog

Yesterday I mentioned using the Google Webmaster Tools to identify some bad URL’s here on the blog. I decided to do a little more checking to see what else might be wrong. First tool I found was http://www.brokenlinkcheck.com/, free for up to 3000 pages. I set it to run and waited a few minutes, when I checked back I had an assortment of 404 errors, timeouts, and bad hosts – more than a few!

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I started looking and a lot of them were in comments (the URL of the commenter). That’s almost impossible to maintain, but the good (or bad) part was that I saw I had managed to approve some spam comments and I needed to clean those up. There were quite a few links in posts that needed fixing too.

I saw fewer patterns than in the work from yesterday, so it was click the link, edit the post, find the bad URL and try to fix. Tedious or coffee work, depending on your mood.

I then checked to see what WordPress had for the problem and found Broken Link Checker. The reviews were decent with a few indicating it was a ‘heavy’ plug-in that decreased performance. I decided to give it a try anyway. It seems like an effective tool. It as number of configuration options, of which the only one I changed was to not check URL’s in comments – too much effort for too little return. The settings below are edited via the settings menu for the plug-in.

 

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Here is what the results look like:

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For each bad link you get these choices to fix the problem:

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In this case I did a quick search and found the content at a slightly different url so I selected ‘Edit URL’ and made the change.

I don’t know yet on performance. I see several options in the settings to help manage performance; one to only have it run when server load is below a threshold you set, another to limit the run time, and another to only have it run every x hours (72 by default).

Overall a nice plug-in after a first run, I’ll see how it holds up over the next month or two.

Fixing Bad Links Found Using Google Webmaster Tools

I’ve been doing various clean up tasks this week related to the blog, with part of that being a review of the Google Webmaster Tools results. One of the things I noticed is that I had some crawl errors (URL’s that generated a page not found error). Here is the first part of that information showing 15 errors:

 

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Drilling into the detail showed the 15 problematic URL’s. If you look you’ll see a pattern – something that looks like a ‘good’ URL followed by what looks like another web site (www.onetug.org at the end of the first one). I clicked through to the underlying post and looked at the html and the problem turned out to be simple, I had omitted the ‘http://’ when I entered the link (at least for the first few). Minus that prefix the current path is prepended, screwing up the URL. Not sure how I managed to enter them wrong, Live Writer is pretty good about fixing things like that as you go.

 

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With 15 to fix it wouldn’t be horrible to do one edit at a time. Click the link, get a 404, remove the ‘bad’ part of the URL, hit enter, go to edit mode, scan for a not-quite-right URL, change, save, go back to webmaster tools and mark as fixed. Or you could do an update against the table. Tempting, sort of, less so since it’s mySQL and not SQL Server. That seemed like a good reason to go look for another option and the first one I found was Search Regex, a plug-in for WordPress. I know the power of regex but am not a regex guru so had to spend a few minutes experimenting. The pattern I needed to find was ‘www’ with a leading double quote – see the screen shot below:

 

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Note: I know you know, but run a backup before you do this kind of thing!

I used Search quite a few times until I had the right results. Once I had it matching correctly I added the replace pattern and hit Replace, which shows the before/after but doesn’t actually make the change. I missed the trailing period and the review let me see that on my first try. Fixed that, tested again, looked ok, so I did Replace & Save, and then a Search to confirm no more matches on the original search.

It only took about 10 minutes overall. I’ll check back in a day or two to see if the errors go away (or if I created new ones!). Not a huge win, but worth doing. If you’re blogging it’s worth signing up for the webmaster tools – free – just to see what Google sees about your site.

Kindle vs Library

Since I bought a Nexus 7 (two of them, I broke the first one) I’ve been interested to see if and how it would change my reading habits. I still have a preference for printed books, based mostly on a lifetime of reading a printed book a week, but also because I’ve always been a heavy user of the local library and I like to buy used books.

Having the tablet always with me definitely made me more likely to use it, compared to before when I had to go find one of the ones we purchased for the kids. Having my own meant it was charged when I wanted to use it!

I like that the Kindle app is available on my laptop, tablet, and phone, but in practice I do ‘real’ reading on the tablet – the other two would only be for look ups or desperation, neither feels comfortable for extended reading.

I’ve gotten used to reading on the Nexus, mostly. I like being able to look up words right then, with a print book I’ll infer or skip works I don’t know. Sometimes I’ll move a finger the wrong way and jump 50 pages, something that doesn’t happen in a printed book in quite the same way. Changing font size is handy.

But the most interesting part is the content. As a library user I read what I find during my visit. Occasionally I reserve a book,but the process always feels clunky,and even then I’m confined to what they have. I never thought about that constraint a lot (beyond technical books, which I’ve always had to purchase to get something fairly recent) until the holidays, when I was browsing and realized there were a few Spenser novels I had missed over the years. Here was stuff I wanted to read and just hadn’t, because the library didn’t have it.

On the other hand, I like the randomization of the library. I like wandering the aisles to just see what catches my eye. There are books I’ll get from the library that I wouldn’t pay for – I want to read them, but not sure or just not worth the investment to purchase. Amazon does recommendations, they do Top X by category, but they don’t do randomization well yet, and it’s hard to do well.

I read about the same amount, but what I read has shifted some, if only to be closer to what I want to read versus what I could find that was close. I feel like I’m both more focused and casting a wider net, if that makes any sense.

Books On The Desk

I read quite a bit and it’s rare that I don’t have a book or magazine with me in case I’m stuck waiting on some meeting to start. Most days at lunch I read for a few minutes too, just another way to get to my weekly goal of professional development. It’s typically technology, management, leadership type books, though occasionally it’s further afield – recently I was reading about writing grants for example.

I tend to throw whatever I’m reading on my desk. It reminds me to stay at it (not all these books are page turners after all), but I’ve also found that it is a useful way of starting conversations. It’s also interesting to see people ask (or you see them thinking) “why would you read that?”.

I wish I saw other people do this more. It feels like a lot of people are successful in the short term with no learning, or just in time learning. It’s a practical (or cynical) strategy, but it’s short sighted, there is no investment in “later”. Then again, maybe I just don’t seem them making that investment.

Marking Up Books

I like reading and while I read more on an e-reader than I used to, I still prefer the printed kind and with that comes some old fashioned thoughts about how books are treated. I’m on the flight to Seattle as I write this and I glanced across the aisle to see a man circling and underlining some stuff with a blue ink pen. Disgraceful! Sort of.

I don’t write in books, even with a highlighter (not counting workbooks, etc), because I was taught not to, along with not folding corners down to save my place, though I do from time to time lay a book open face down instead of using a bookmark. All those are designed to extend the life of the book and not intrude on the experience of the next reader, which I guess doesn’t matter as much if you’re going to be the only reader.

Thinking about the ebook angle, I still don’t expect to do much highlighting, but I wonder about the value of annotating thoughts when I read something I find interesting. What would it be like to come back to those years or decades later? Or what would it be like for my daughters to read or hear what I thought about a book years when they are further along in life. You could blog it or write it in a diary, but the immediacy/linkage of having it right there, that could be interesting.

Being a data guy,how would that get backed up? Archived and passed along to my family?

As far as the guy with the blue ink pen,as long as it not one of my books, who cares? He’s reading, and that’s better than not by a long way.