Friday, November 29, 2013

Neat Book Review #4: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

cover photo of The  Everything Store by Brad Stone
Plot summary
The book describes the founding of Amazon, beginning from the idea itself and Bezos leaving the Wall Street firm he was working at, all the way to last year. The author goes into all the details of this process including the various crises and successes that Amazon experienced throughout the years, the companies it brought, dismantled, and swallowed up, the relationships with its rivals, the chaos of the nineties, the power struggles in the company, its turnaround, and so on. At the same time this is also to a certain extent a personal and business biography of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Numerous details are provided about Bezos' idiosyncrasies: how he decided on the name "Amazon", where he slept on the way to Seattle, how he chooses employees, how he treats them, how he treats allies and long-time partners, how he behaves in meetings, details about his upbringing, etc.

My opinion
The book is well written, easy to read and provides great detail – perhaps even too much detail - about the business that is Amazon. The striking and perhaps disturbing part was, for me, the portrait of Amazon's founder and current president. To put it bluntly, I came out of this book with the impression that Bezos is a completely immoral, cold-hearted business man, who will not hesitate to stab a friend or business partner in the back if it benefits him. He is also a control freak with many emotional issues, and it seems that he will not be satisfied until he controls the entire business landscape in the United States and beyond. I don’t know if this is what the author intended to do, but the book does no favors to Bezos by describing him as a genius who is also a fitful megalomaniac. Therefore I am definitely not surprised that his wife wrote this rebuttal. The Guardian presents both sides and there she is quoted as saying:
"Readers should remember that Jeff was never interviewed for this book, and should also take note of how seldom these guesses about his feelings and motives are marked with a footnote indicating there is any other source to substantiate them."
So, while you should take this book with a grain of salt, you should also probably keep a wary eye on Amazon…which reminds me that yesterday this popped up in my feed. After reading the book, this kind of labor practice does not surprise me at all and seems to fit the Bezos profile described in the book quite well.

Pros: Well written and very detailed book about the business of Amazon and the way it is run by Bezos.

Cons: For me there were too many details, many of them superfluous. I don’t need to know what Bezos ate or where he slept, or what he exactly said to a recruit in the elevator. Also, the veracity of the grim accounts about Bezos may be in doubt – depends on who you believe.

Who should read it: Anyone interested in Amazon and/or Bezos

Bottom line: A fascinating read for those who wish to understand Amazon and Bezos and know more about them and their history.

Finally, I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!!
                                                                                                 


About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Google+ for Writers – Why You Should Join and Where to Start

As independent writers in this brave new age of publishing, we now know that we must promote our work by ourselves, and to do that we must engage with others on social platforms. Lately I've begun doing just that, and after filing a report about my acrimonious relationship with Facebook, I went off to try my luck with Google+. I am here to report that the results were better, much much better. In fact, I think I'm in love.


I love google+
Cuddling up with Google+
This post will try to explain what's so great about Google+, how it can benefit you as a writer, and how to start. The last part will mostly be links to other sites, since I get the impression that the issue of getting started on Google+ has already been explained quite well by other people. I'll be linking to simple, easy to follow guides for beginners.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Neat Book Review #3 : The Power of Consistency by Weldon Long


cover photo The Power of Consistency by Weldon Long

Plot summary
This book describes the theory and practice behind Weldon Long's amazing journey from high school dropout, derelict dad, and prison inmate to upright, wealthy, contributing member of the human community. The first three chapters are theoretical and deal primarily with the importance of the thoughts that dominate our stream of consciousness. Long emphasizes that thoughts produce feelings, which produce expectations that eventually come true. In other words, we indeed are what we think and our lives will never amount to more than our dreams. The second part of the book is more interesting and innovative and deals with the practice of turning your life around by preparing a "prosperity plan". The author details several steps such as describing our dreams in great detail, creating incredible focus (this really helped me!), and forging an emotional bond with the dreams and goals that we laid out in the previous steps, a bond that will keep us consistently on the path to our dreams and thus inevitably propel us towards their realization.

My opinion
I have read numerous self-help books in my life, perhaps close to two hundred (I needed them, believe me), and this has to be one of the best. A lot of self-help books tell what you should do but very few tell you exactly how to do it in such a clear and simple way. I'll say it again: The instructions for detailing your dreams, focusing, and creating the necessary emotional bond are clear, precise and easy to understand. Personally, I believe that taking complexity and making it simple is an act of genius, therefore, this is a book of genius. Thus, implementation of the practical principles detailed by Long is simple, easy and effective.
The fact that Long himself managed to use this system to extricate himself from such a hopeless and miserable situation proves to the reader that these principles really work and also serves as inspiration. As Long puts it: "If a loser like me managed to do it while in jail, surely you can too." And he's probably right. So all you have to do is start working on the exercises detailed in the book and see where it takes you. I'll confess that I was so fired up by the book that I started putting together my "prosperity plan" while I was reading, and I must admit that I have never been so focused in my life (though I haven't become a millionaire yet…). In fact, this new blog is part of fulfilling my dreams.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Handling the Author/Day Job Duality with Firefox Profiles

Statistically speaking, most writers still have to hold down a day job. For me that means juggling two personae that are quite different from one another. In my day job I am a serious, steady, experienced professional, but as a writer I'm a wild, free-spirited, child-god, creating worlds out of nothing, destroying them without mercy, and creating them all over again (well, that's how I feel, anyway). I recognize no limits as a writer. Since this is a new experience for me, as I detailed here, I'm finding it quite difficult to manage these two different personalities. If you are experiencing the same problem then here is one partial solution: use two different browser profiles, one for the writer in you and one for the day job. This also helps if you have to use two different Google accounts in the same browser, which can be bothersome after Google changed the login procedure (see here for more details).
Before getting into details of the solution I chose, it is worth mentioning other options:

1 - Using different versions of Firefox. This was the first thing I tried, but portable Firefox would not run in parallel with the desktop version and neither would Palemoon, although both are supposed to.

2 - Using another browser. I'm pretty addicted to Firefox but I thought that Chrome would be a good choice for my writer's persona, since I wanted to begin working with google+. I figured this would be a natural fit. But in the final account, the lack of customization options in chrome defeated my best efforts to work with the browser. I severely missed the tabmixplus addon and a few other addons that really make life easier for me, especially when doing research for my writing.

Finally I came across the idea of using profiles. However, most guides, such as this official Mozilla explanation, direct you to use the command line to activate the profile manager. This I can do, but it's cumbersome and it bugged me that I had to use the command line for such a mundane task. The solution came in the form of an addon (of course) called profile switcher.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Neat Book Review #2: The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

cover photo The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

Plot summary
This book tells the story of a murder investigation in a German town near the end of the 17th century, ten years after the devastating Thirty Years' War. A murdered child is found, and the rabid commoners head towards the midwife's house for some quick and deadly justice. The town's hangman, Jacob, rushes to the scene and prevents the lynch at the last moment. But he soon has to do much more than that to save the woman's life: The town's elders wish to calm down the bloodthirsty populace and get back to business as usual. They demand an "investigation" of the suspect and Jacob is expected to torture the "witch" until she "confesses". The pressure rises as more children are kidnapped and murdered. Together with his headstrong daughter and the enlightened son of a doctor, Jacob tries to solve the riddle and strike a victory for rationality, common sense, and plain humanity in a sordid medieval town that severely lacks them – to put it mildly.

My opinion
Due to the historical setting, the book is pretty dark and depressing. The townspeople are extremely superstitious and cruel, appearing always ready to kill someone, (especially if that someone is a woman), and the only rational, likable people in the town are also the most reviled. The story has a very fast pace, there is almost never a dull moment, and the historical setting is a treat and completely and naturally embedded in the story. There is a great deal of fear, terror, and suspense, which at times reach almost unbearable levels (for me, at least). The only real disappointment I had came at the end – the entire story is filled with the rumor of superstitions, magic, and demons, yet the solution to the mystery is in the final count extremely mundane and, I thought, entirely at odds with the rest of the story.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How (not) to set up an author Facebook page



First, I must confess: For me, Facebook was hate at first sight. I hated the interface, which I found counter-intuitive and incomprehensible, I hated the color scheme, which I found depressing, and I hated the fact that nothing was obvious and everything I tried to do became a Kafkaesque journey into the twisted depths of  Facebook bureaucracy. In other words, my first foray into the Facebook-customer war zone ended in utter defeat. So, why go back? One word - marketing.

As I explained here, I am in the process of coming out as an author. I have decided that I want to make a living with my writing, and to do that I understand (duh) that I will have to sell my stories. So I must promote my work, and since all the big guns (Mark Coker, Joanna Penn, etc.)  say that social media is a very important, even crucial part of success, I find that I must engage in this form of marketing. I am not thrilled - like most authors, I am an introvert - but I am also determined to give it the best shot that I have, hoping to be surprised for the better by this new-fangled, social media thingy.

Initially, however, that is not how things worked out for me on Facebook. To spare you some grief, here is what I did and why you should not do this. I set out to open an author page. I had heard about pages, somewhere, and it made sense that if I'm an author, I must have an author page. That was my first mistake: assuming that what made sense to me would make sense to Facebook. My second mistake was not reading anything beforehand. I was so enthusiastic about getting started with my new career as an author, that I just jumped in. So I signed in with my author gmail, thereby opening a new Facebook account. This is the page that you signup on:

Monday, November 4, 2013

Neat Book Review #1: The Upside of Fear


cover photo of The Upside of Fear


Plot summary
This book describes the fall and rise of Weldon Long, a young man from Denver, who slipped from alcoholism and irresponsible fatherhood to robbery and attempted murder. He spent nearly ten years in different jails, during which he miraculously managed to climb out of his miserable life. Now he is a model citizen and a wealthy one too.
The book is written on a timeline, beginning from 1987 and ending at 2003, with an epilogue that brings the book up to date (2013). The events are described from the retrospective view of the author, who describes his feelings and thoughts at the time of their occurrence. The book does not enlarge upon the details of prison life, except for several incidents, so this is not a book about prison life. The book does describe the manner in which the author had a sudden enlightenment and how he acted upon this moment of clarity. However, the book is definitely not a detailed self-help guide.

My opinion
The book does not disappoint. The pace is swift and quite tense at times, making for a very good read. The book gives rare insight into the mind of a "bad" guy. The fact that such a man has managed to turn his life around is spectacular and can serve as inspiration to anyone who feels stuck and helpless, and that is the main benefit of this book in my view – inspiration. My only real problem was the lack of curiosity on the part of the author regarding the reasons for his turning out like he did. After all, he does have other brothers and sisters that are functioning, law-abiding citizens, so what made him so special? There is no answer to this question in the book and the author does not seem interested in finding one. As far as he is concerned, the past is past, overcome and best forgotten. I feel that this makes his character and the book somewhat one-dimensional.

Pros: inspirational, eminently readable

Cons: Lack of psychological insight

Who should read it: people who are going through a tough period in their lives and anyone else looking for inspiration.

Bottom line: Worth reading once, but I doubt I'll read it again.


About the author
Joab Cohen is the author of the psychological thriller The Jewminator and
the vegan action hero novel Captain Tofu and the Green Team (coming soon!)

Follow me on:
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