Archive for category Books

On Being a Linchpin

Seth Godin - LinchpinThe highest level of management I’ve reached in my career is Operations Manager. It was a tough job, but I was successful. I was good at it. And it was an eye-opening experience for me.

When I started, I had nothing to go on but instinct, and as it turns out my instincts were good. The owner of the company was old school, all numbers. He was cut-throat – making the employees “happy” and “motivated” was my job, no matter what dumb-ass rule or restriction he put into place.

In other words, he didn’t give a fuck. He just wanted people to comply, and if you didn’t, you were out. He’ll find someone else.

Why do I bring this up? I am reading Linchpin by Seth Godin. It is a life-changing book, and not just because it brings to light shit I’ve suspected and known for years. The premise is that American business has trained us to be factory workers; a cog in the wheel so to speak, and business wants it that way. Everything from the creation of Public Schools (in their current form) at the turn of the century on down to the Hierarchical command-and-control business model has been designed to turn us into compliant factory workers. Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down. Public School in particular, is one giant exercise in learning how to comply. Think about it.

I’ve never fit into that model. I have always had a rebellious spirit, always had a place in my heart for iconoclasts and provocateurs, titles I can only dream of applying to myself someday.

All too often business people “lead” using fear and intimidation, and all too often people are afraid and intimidated. I don’t play that game. I am no one’s puppet. I think for myself.

In my current job, I have fired off e-mails, made phone calls, sent IM’s asking for why some asshole in our company (an equal, no less) is saying “no” to our customers when they should be saying “yes”. I’ve sent countless e-mails at 2 AM suggesting better ways of doing things, some of which go against our current practices. I have had numerous conversations about staying ahead of all my peers in my career development. I ask countless questions to make sure that the delivery of my next assignment is nothing less than perfect. This is what Godin refers to as my “art”. Kind of a cheesy concept if you ask me, but I understand where he is going with it. I am an artist. Artists are passionate; they take risks. All good artists go against the grain.

One would think, after hearing what I just described, you might say, “Oh well, damn Bryan, I want you to come work for me!”

Not most of my bosses throughout my career. Usually, my bosses think I’m a pain in the ass. Why? Because they usually want me to just show up on time, do my work, keep my mouth shut, and keep my head down, because thinking and working outside the box is a risk. With risk brings attention and (deep breath in), the “R” word . . . responsibility. If I take risks, according to our command-and-control expectations, it means that if something goes wrong, my boss has to answer for it, so it’s this Domino cancer-effect of everyone in the chain not wanting to go against the top-dog. If I take a risk and get burned, it’s my ass, then my bosses’ ass for not “controlling” me, ad infinitum until everyone’s whipped into submission. . . .

Show up on time, do your work, keep your mouth shut, and keep your head down.

But, let me tell you this, bosses and company owners: You want a guy like me. Do you really want a carbon-copy asshole just like the last person in that slot?

If you do, it’s quite possible you could be in, what Seth Godin calls, “a race to the bottom”. If you are running a cookie-cutter business where you just have cogs in your company, you are attempting to provide an ordinary service, and you are competing with others who are also ordinary. The only way of competing at “ordinary” is to be more ordinary (read: inexpensive) than the next asshole offering the same shit as you are. You want to be remarkable (another Godin word), and to be remarkable you need to be different.

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Born Standing Up – A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

Steve Martin - Born Standing UpI’ve been a fan of Steve Martin since I was a young boy and could enjoyed the silly animated kind of humor that accompanied daytime classic shows.  The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, and the Little Rascals all were staples and seemed to be on one of the seven TV channels during the day.  I would catch a glimpse here and there of Steve Martin as my parents or their friends talked about seeing him on TV.  What I saw of his antics on TV were right up my alley, and I even bought the 45 record (remember those?) of “King Tut” back in 1978.  I’ve enjoyed all of his movies over the years and my favorites were definitely the more silly ones like “The Jerk”, “The Man With Two Brains” and “Three Amigos”.

Now his book, “Born Standing Up – A Comic’s Life” came out in 2008.  I was looking for a new audio book and was definitely interested when I saw his name on this one.  I was even more intrigued when I saw that it was read by Steve Martin himself.

I always associated him with Saturday Night Live and one of those folks that went from that show directly to movies.  I didn’t realize that he was a successful stand up comic that was a guest host on SNL a number of times.

As a fan of his, I do have to say it was great to learn about his career from his own mouth.  My expectations of it were along the lines of high comedy with a touch of tough times thrown in.  I was greeted with the revelations that his career was painful, his family life was dysfunctional (but who’s isn’t?), and his comedy was his life in every way.  He worked his ass off refining, changing and inventing stand up comedy approaches.  He wanted to entertain and he wanted to succeed at all costs.  Eventually, with fame as his companion, he walked away from the stand up life that he made for himself.

The story is filled with his relationships, his hardships, his drive and the personal decisions he repeatedly made to guide his path toward his goal.  It is definitely an inspirational story, one that falls through the cracks in this regard.  He tells it in a very lucid and endearing way from beginning to end, and the nostalgia he feels for certain points in his life is apparent.  He shares his regrets and frustrations and expresses his pride without allowing himself to feel proud.

Overall the book was very good, but I would definitely recommend the audio version over the printed word.  The banjo riffs between chapters were Steve’s, and a few of the song verses in the book he sings.  Plus when repeating a joke or two from his many routines, you get that comedic timing from the master himself as it was meant to be, something a book can never convey.  My only negative about it is the fact that Steve reads it… as a book.  I expected so much more inflection and emotion.  This could be on me, though, as I listen to a lot of audio books and have an Audible account.  So I listen to people reading books that are professionals in this particular field.  Also, I only know Steve Martin, the “wild and crazy guy” and this may very well have been the real Steve Martin, the mature and mellow man.

I brought away a few things from this:

  1. I wish I could have seen him perform stand up live, as it must have been an experience.
  2. I just want to walk up to him, shake his hand, look him in the eye and say, “Great job.”
  3. I will never, ever, want my children to try to be stand up comics.  I think it may be less stress and work to become an astronaut.

If you enjoy Steve Martin’s work, I recommend learning more about what it took for him to get to where he is today… rich, famous, and a person for when his name is mentioned, I cannot help but smile.

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Finding Fideism (Fuh-day-ism)

I recently finished Martin Gardner‘s “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener”.

Gardner is a Fideist, which describes anyone who uses faith to come to certain truths. William James, John Dewey, Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegard, were considered to have some Fideist tendencies

I am of the opinion that there are two ways of interpreting the world around you: either through faith or through logic and reason. I am way on the side of the “logic and reason” part of the spectrum. I don’t believe in ghosts, angels, the Lost City of Atlantis, heaven or hell, or the vast majority of conspiracy theories.

The book was intriguing to me because I don’t use faith in my life, for anything except trustworthy mundane information that sane and reasonable people accept on faith. For example, I do not doubt the existence of the city of Paris, France even though I have never seen it. That I accept on faith.

So since this book was a description of the use of faith in life, I approached the book with some healthy skepticism.

All in all, for the most even-handed description of our existence in this universe, this is the book for you. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I can understand how it’s possible for reasonable people to take certain things on faith, or at least treat some of “the unknowable” with some healthy consideration or agnosticism.

Gardner does not give any credence to the God of Abraham or any man-made gods. He is a Fideist. He believes in God, but that this God does not really have any real interest in human affairs. God is simply out there, and there is wonder in considering the possibilities of the unknown. His writing is very matter-of-fact and states that we have to know that our understanding of the universe has limits, and therefore a healthy consideration of a world we cannot access is possible. And that this consideration should not turn you into a raving lunatic.

I’m talking to you, Fundamentalists.

I should point out that Fideists assign a high value to science and reason, but consider the possibilities. There are no faeries, no angels, no ghosts to a Fideist, because those things are supposed to be observable in the “natural world”. Fideists (or at least Gartner) go beyond that natural world and say that there may very well be a world beyond this one that we simply don’t know, or can’t know, and is at least worth considering.

What I got from the book is that I am more agnostic about the unknown than I thought. For example, I believe that when we die, man, that’s it. You rot and turn to dust. No Pearly Gates or fuckers playing harps on clouds. No “standing before God or Jesus [or enter deity of choice here] for your judgment”. That’s it, auf wiedersehen, good-bye, sayonara, it’s the end, close the book and all that.

I still hold true to that belief, but according to Fidesim, you can’t say that definitively. I still believe it, but I think a Fideist might say that life after death is “unlikely, but possible”.

I can respect that, provided one keeps a healthy sense of indifference to whatever one considers. One should not waste their time on fanciful hopes such as life after death.

Make this world a better place.

Next book: Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman.

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Dan Brown – The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol, by author Dan BrownNo worries, no spoilers of any kind.

My first Dan Brown experience was The Da Vinci Code.  I fell into the hype, and the book was highly suggested by a buddy.  I gave it a whirl, as much for the controversy that I was starting to hear, as well as the subject matter itself.  Religious debates aside, I really enjoyed the book.

Brown obviously had done a lot of research and combined volumes of fact, legend, speculation, ancient mysteries, Christian doctrine, symbology and secret societies and wrapped it into a story.  At times I felt like I should have been taking notes for future reference (cue the school days shudders) because, as the characters in the book worked through their predicaments, the interpretations mixed with facts of ancient mysteries were coming at me in rapid fire.  The characters and story were definitely good enough to keep me riveted, and I would spend hours on the computer Googling many items from the book.

Six long years later for Dan Brown fans and his next book is published, The Lost Symbol.  I just finished it.

If you take my paragraph above (starting with “Brown obviously had done…”), add in “science” to the first sentence, then substitute “was there” for “were definitely good enough to keep me riveted” in the last, then you have The Lost Symbol.

The story that everything else was wrapped around was very weak.  I have read all five of Dan Brown’s novels, and my one major critical point in his writing style is that he misleads the reader.  He writes them in the narrative style, injecting the character’s thoughts so the reader can “see” more of the character and what is going on as they decipher the mysteries.  Countless times in his novels, as a conversation is happening, a revelation is discovered, or a mystery is unlocked, Brown cuts off the conversation and switches scenes.  The character has that “AHA!!” moment that reveals a major plot piece.  Brown  then makes the reader wait pages, sometimes chapters, before unveiling what that revelation was… yet we follow the character through on their harrowing adventure not understanding WHY they are trying to frantically get to point B on the map, but the character knows.  That makes no sense to me, and I found it irritating to me at times in this book.  It would be like dining with my wife at a restaurant and having a phone call about something we were talking about.  Then I would stand suddenly, grab her hand, rush out to the car and drive for 35 minutes to get home, all the while not telling her why.  Believe me, if life happened as Brown writes, there might be a lot more unexpected revelations, but there also would be a lot more divorces and throats being punched.  Brown has to have faith in his readers that we would be just as anxious as the characters, and that a fake cliff hanger is not needed.  The story and the craft of good storytelling should be strong enough so as not to throw in an unseen twist just for the sake of an unseen twist.  It is cheap.  If that twist is revealed to the reader early on, but the characters are kept in the dark, a good narrative should accomplish the same goal.  The twist revealed here actually left me feeling cheated, and I was distracted for many pages as I kept thinking back to earlier in the book… and how Brown misled.

A number of elements of this story are similar to those in Da Vinci.  The protagonist, Robert Langdon, returns for his third novel (he was in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code), there is a strong, intelligent female character that is involved in the adventure side-by-side with Langdon, there is an uber-creepy villain (this one, also bald, is tattooed over his whole body, instead of an albino monk), and the supporting characters all have their own agenda where you try to figure out who to trust.

The meat of this novel is again in the mysteries, symbology and the interpretations of both. Brown does a better job in instructing the reader on opening the mind and changing our perception of the world we live in, than delivering characters that you care what fate awaits. Robert Langdon’s skepticism through the whole book becomes so annoying  that you wonder if Brown even remembers that this is the third novel he wrote him into.  Personally, if I were in Langdon’s shoes and encountered the events of Rome (Angels & Demons) then Paris (The Da Vinci Code) and experienced the puzzles that were “solved” in both, my skepticism would be long gone.  Hell, I’d be looking at my  water bottle and wondering what Poland Spring is really trying to tell the world.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. It doesn’t sound like it, but I did.  I enjoyed it for the science (noetic science plays a part), and the huge amount of factual trivia regarding Washington D.C., our Founding Fathers, the Freemasons, and some of the “secrets in plain view” in buildings in Washington.  I had many “that’s cool!” moments as I read some of these facts as the characters unraveled the puzzles before them.  I want to go back to Washington and see some of them for myself now.  You’ll never guess what fictional character has a sculpture on a cathedral in Washington!  I can’t imagine what else Brown had uncovered that didn’t even make it into the book.  Centuries of mysticism, beliefs, and persecution shaped how humankind has evolved thinking and has left the true meanings of original works shrouded in symbology and puzzles.

The main focus of this novel is perspective.  Brown impressively created the puzzles and interpretations about how objects, thoughts, words, spirituality, the human mind, and legends all can change monumentally if the perspective is changed.  Allegory is more of a character here than the actual characters, and that is welcome.  He avoids the heavy-handed religious overtones, and focuses on spirituality instead of the denominational aspects.  No true secrets were revealed in the pages, but Brown leaves the reader wondering “What if it were true?” again. To me, this makes The Lost Symbol a worthwhile read.  It allows us to explore what we are now, and what our forefathers had in mind when they built America, what the ancient scientists and philosophers studied before modern technology, and what today’s technology will really allow us to uncover.

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‘BoneMan’s Daughters’, a Review

BoneMan’s Daughters
By Ted Dekker

401 Pages
Center Street Publishing
Division of: Hachette Book Group

Page 2

Most of the time verifying and assessing intel was like looking at a circuit board through a telescope. Or like trying to open a tin of canned food with a tuba.

Oh my GOD! That is funny. Open a tin of canned food with a tuba. LOL Holy shit I can’t stop laughing. I’m being sarcastic. That’s stupid. A tin of canned food? LOL Now THAT is funny. Not a tin can. Not a can of tuna. A tin of canned food. Sorry excuse for a metaphor. I understand humor was the target but that target was badly missed. And yes the second sentence of his is a sentence fragment but remember…it’s creative writing.

Page 10

Let me set this one up for you. The driver mentioned in the following passage is a soldier driving a Humvee in Iraq and they’re taking fire. Is his reaction warranted? Take a look.

“Crap!” The driver, who had been fixated on the convoy’s tracks, slammed on the brakes. “Crap, down, down, down!”

LOL Crap? LOL I’m not saying that EVERYONE curses. However, when someone is shooting a rocket at your vehicle, I have a feeling that “crap” isn’t a response that would be given. Crap. I guess he thought the exclamation point after “crap” would” really drive the point home and make it rough. LOL It’s also funny too: Crap, down, down, down! Well I don’t know anyone who can shit, up, up, up. Ancient Irish proverb say: You can’t shite higher than your arse. I think that “Crap…down, down, down,” would have worked better. Ohhhhh fire trucks, they’re shooting at us again. What the French toast is wrong with those people!? When is this freakin’ war gonna end?

Page 17

I’ll set this one up too. The following is two teen-aged girls talking.

“Uh-huh, just the freakin beginning, what did I freaking tell you?”

“Is everything freaking with you?”

LOL You know…I wouldn’t even hang out with a girl that had a potty mouth like that. Little bitch. If she’s going to talk like a truck driver, let her hang with truck drivers! She wouldn’t need me as a friggin friend.

Page 25

The following is in reference to a soldier who was attacked during the Humvee Crap Rocket incident.

His memory of the firefight lit up his mind like a bomb blast.

Let me be the first to use a grown up word. Give me a fuckin break. Lit up his mind like a bomb blast? Let’s get real…seriously. That is so hoakie.

His eyelids fluttered open to see a dimly lit room.

I HATE people who have seeing eyelids. Don’t those people get on your nerves?

Page 34

A crew cut topped Assistant Director in Charge’s large square head,…

I wonder if he tried to make that sentence sound like an abortion, or does writing shit like that just come natural to him?

Page 39

They had a male killer who weighed roughly a hundred and seventy to two hundred pounds, wore Brahma boots, and drove a Ford F-150 pickup. Helpful, but by no means isolating. In the Republic of Texas, everybody wore boots and drove trucks and could sing “Dixie” from memory.

LOL Ok, I see the boots and the truck. Where the FUCK does singin Dixie come in? LOL That is just flat out stupid. So here’s what we’ll do. We’ll stake out all the karaoke bars and wait for a guy to drive up in an F-150 and if he’s wearing boots, we’ll follow him inside. If he sings Dixie and DOESN’T look at the monitor…he’s our man! Arrest ‘im! The murderin son of a bitch.
I wish I were in the land of cotton, where knowin how to write has bennnnn forgotten…

Page 68

Ok, on this page the military guy held captive decides to give his captors the wrong street address of his wife and daughter. He’s going to give them an address that doesn’t exist. In this day and age that is just fucking stupid. You could Mapquest the address or go to USPS.com to find if it’s valid.

Page 69

Ok, LOL, he gives them the wrong address and the following ensues:

The radio crackled. Soon. Only seconds had passed. They’d planned this down to the last detail.

“The address doesn’t exist,” a voice said in Arabic.

NO SHIT! LOL They planned it to the LAST detail. Umm, let’s have a computer handy to check the address JUST in case he doesn’t tell us the truth and gives us a fake one! LOL Very dumb.

Page 86

His legs shook as if they were in a blender.

Wouldn’t your legs get mauled if they were in a blender? Sure they’d shake but…I don’t get it.

I read 102 pages of this masterpiece. My conclusion? I’m not sure there is a story. IF there is one, it’s well hidden. I THINK he’s trying to hint that the military guy in custody IS the Boneman but that makes no sense. The Boneman is in prison when this is happening. Now, it’s brought out that the man in prison might NOT be the Boneman. Ok. However, when the military man is forced to kill people the same way the Boneman did, it’s AFTER the Boneman murders. So, IF the author wants you to think the military man is the Boneman and the man in prison isn’t…it’s idiotic. The story…for lack of a better word…sucks. As you can see, the writing isn’t the tightest. So, hence, therefore…don’t waste time with this shit. I feel there is an attempt here to be suspenseful but it fails worse than any Oprah Winfrey weight loss plan.

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