Reading for the “Personal MBA” in 2009

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions as such, but a quick review of what I read in 2008 prompted me to commit to reading the Personal MBA Recommended Reading List in 2009.

grep "^2008" ~/reference/books/read | less

One unexpected side-effect of implementing GTD and swapping my pre-millennial cell phone for a Palm Treo was that I read about 50 additional books last year. Nearly all of these titles were genre fiction: mystery, suspense, crime, sci-fi, horror, etc. I’ve never been good at keeping track of multi-volume series or prolific authors, and I hate reading out of chronological order. Once I had an effective way to manage lists and convert them into actions, I really made up for lost time.

I feel a need. A need…to read!

Now that I have a proven workflow for dealing with reading lists, it makes sense to try applying it to the sort of self-improvement that the Personal MBA reading list represents, as opposed to simply reading lots of popular fiction. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that—I hope.) It took a bit of time and some regular expressions, but I soon discovered that most of the books on the Personal MBA list are available at the NYPL. Indeed, nine listed titles were sitting on shelves I pass by nearly every day.


I deliberately left home early this morning so I could spend a leisurely bus ride entering tasks in my Palm. I timed it well, arriving at the library just as patrons were admitted; I didn’t even have to break stride, much less wait in the cold. I worked my way down from the top floor, Palm in hand, and then used the self-service machine on the ground floor to check everything out. The guard at the exit was still getting settled at his station when I left, and actually did a double-take when he saw my stack of books. Thirty minutes later—I took the subway this time—I was home with my first batch of materials:

  1. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  2. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
  3. The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman
  4. Indispensable by Joe Calloway
  5. Growing Great Employees by Erika Andersen
  6. Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies by Nikos Mourkogiannis

The first three titles—Norman’s in particular—are books that I’d been meaning to read for years. (Only one was even on my “Someday/Maybe” list, though, so there’s still plenty of room for improvement in my system.)

What’s the Next Action?

Of course, except for peeking at the Norman book, I haven’t actually read anything yet. But that’s because I was doing the tasks I’d brainstormed on the first leg of my trip; my productivity halo remains untarnished for today.

This project should be an interesting test of my commitment to keep up with a reading list that actually requires serious, you know, reading. I’d say I’d post updates and book reviews to this blog as I go, but that would almost certainly be a lie. One New Year’s Resolutionesque project is probably too much as it is.

Clearly I need to listen to happier music

Another song meme, and another realization that I have a fairly depressing music collection.

If someone says is this okay you say?
Rest In PeaceJames Marsters
What would best describe your personality?
The Silence of DaylightKonami
What do you like in a guy/girl?
What is your life’s purpose?
BuzzB. Fleischmann
What is your motto?
Fresh DogMC Frontalot
What do your friends think of you?
Merry HappyKate Nash
What do you think about very often?
What do you think of your best friend?
Paging System OperatorBarcelona
What do you think of the person you like?
What is your life story?
Ballad For Dead FriendsDashboard Prophets
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Alone Again (Naturally)Gilbert O’Sullivan
What do you think when you see the person you like?
Pump Up the VolumeM/A/R/R/S
What do your parents think of you?
Seeker of Your LoveMelt Wizard
What will you dance to at your wedding?
Under PressureQueen and David Bowie
What will they play at your funeral?
EternityEnnio Morricone
What is your hobby/interest?
Mega Man 2The Minibosses
What is your biggest secret?
Following Her AroundSprites
What do you think of your friends?
Empty HousesGarry Schyman
What’s the worst thing that could happen?
Have You Forgotten the BombBarcelona
How will you die?
A Very Unlikely OccurrenceMC Frontalot
What is the one thing you regret?
The Queen And IJAMs
What makes you laugh?
Chewing GumTwilight Electric
What makes you cry?
Christmas Time is HereVince Guaraldi
Will you ever get married?
Bela Lugosi’s DeadBauhaus
What scares you the most?
God Is GodJuno Reactor
Does anyone like you?
Sister RayThe Velvet Underground
If you could go back in time, what would you change?
The Long WaitMorton Stevens
What hurts right now?
Pretending To Be AliveRed Delicious

Variety on “The Straw Men”

Variety describes the novel The Straw Men as a crime thriller about a detective brought out of retirement to solve a series of bizarre murders connected by dark conspiracy . Which makes me wonder if the intent is to make the least interesting of the novel’s three main characters the protagonist of the film version. That would solve one structural problem: the late Big Reveal of the novel is not possible to delay in a film without jumping through hoops. But it would also be boring. It’s the pulpier aspects that make the novel interesting IMHO.

My first meme was somewhat disturbing

I followed the instructions for a meme on Elizabeth Bear’s LJ:

Put your music player on shuffle, and write down the first line of the first twenty songs. Post the poem that results. The first line of the twenty-first song is the title.

I let the music play in the background, letting the work on the meme act as a break timer while plowing through several thousand unread items in Google Reader. (Letting one obsessive Internet activity balance another appealed to me.) Once I discarded instrumentals, song mashups, and foreign-language stuff—which, taken together, were actually the majority of the songs selected—the “poem” came out like this:

Taking Samples from Other People’s Records is One of the Most Widespread and Controversial Aspects of Computer Music

An old cowpoke went riding out one dark and windy day
With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound
Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma
This is the greatest and best song in the world

Where were you on November 22, 1963
Look at what’s happened to me
Hey I’m not a young man any more
Well hello there little boy don’t be shy

You look like a perfect fit
A long long time ago
Tonight it’s very clear
I know all there is to know

I’ve been having a bad, bad day
What goes up may not come down
You are likely to be eaten by a grue
Here we go

Down in the boondocks
We’re the casualties
My sweet lord
He’s so fine

Further evidence that random can be good, and surprisingly cohesive, but also a little bit scary. (It comes across as much darker lyrically than the playlist is musically.)

The songs:

  1. Dean Reed – Ghost Riders in the Sky
  2. Blue Öyster Cult – Godzilla
  3. Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma
  4. Tenacious D – Tribute
  5. Steinski & Mass Media – The Motorcade Sped On
  6. Joey Scarbury – Believe It Or Not
  7. The Velvet Underground – I’m Not A Young Man Anymore
  8. Voltaire – BRAINS!
  9. Aimee Mann – Save Me
  10. Don McLean – American Pie
  11. Peter Cetera – Glory of Love
  12. Barcelona – I Know What You Think of Me
  13. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Cast [Marti Noxon] – The Parking Ticket
  14. The Minibosses – song c(asptan)
  15. MC Frontalot – It Is Pitch Dark
  16. Southside Reverb – Here We Go
  17. Billy Joe Royal – Down In The Boondocks
  18. Red Delicious – Casualties
  19. George Harrison – My Sweet Lord
  20. The Chiffons – He’s So Fine

The title is from the meta-mashup track f.d. by Dummy Run.

Why, yes, I *am* a huge nerd.

(Or, how catching up on Doctor Who led me to awk programming.)

I rarely watch television, but when I do, I tend to “read” the shows in some detail. I watch the episodes on DVD, and I break them down to cards as I do so. I take notes as I go, noting the main story beats and act breaks. At the end of each episode, I write a single-paragraph synopsis (analysis) and a single-paragraph review (opinion). Later, I do a little mini-essay on the overall arc (and, yes, structure) of the season.

Obviously, that’s pretty time-consuming, so I have made some effort to make the workflow as efficient as possible. Indeed, I actually have already partially automated the process, crafting a bash script for each DVD set that:

  1. Calls dvdbackup for each disc in the set.
  2. Invokes mencoder for triple-pass encoding of episodes into individual (and much smaller) AVI files using the Xvid codec.
  3. Deletes the original DVD backups.
  4. Creates a skeleton text file in AsciiDoc for each series, season and episode being processed.
  5. Writes wrapper scripts for each episode.

The end result is that when it’s time to watch, say, “Blink”, all I have to do is type ~/action/review/doctor-who/310 at the terminal prompt. The script will open my notes to the right place in vim and then start the video in mplayer.

Now, this seems perfectly straightforward to me. Indeed, thanks to tab-completion and a logical home directory structure modeled on GTD, running these scripts requires essentially no thought on my part. However, there is definitely something wrong with writing lots of very similar one-off scripts to set all this up in the first place. I’m not much of a programmer, but I do recognize the basic problem: stupid repetitive work.

My solution? I’m currently trying to learn AWK (actually, gawk) to automate the whole process based on just a tab-delimited text file that describes each season. If it works, I’ll have written a single, easily extended, data-driven program that writes programs to call programs.

Why, yes: I am a huge nerd.