Book Review: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The Armored Saint (The Sacred Throne, #1)The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is a fantasy book that every woman and girl should read. The main character is such a believable character and I think we can think of a number of women in our lives that are as brave and bold as her.

This book is a fast read. Only took me a couple of hours to read. However, those few hours went by way too fast. The style is easy to read and could certainty be read by anyone in middle school or older (based on the style). As the blurb about the book states, this world is a pretty dark place. if this was set in the future, it’d certainly be a dystopian future. The world is controlled by a puritanical religious order with strict rules about how people should live. Which includes roles for everyone and a religiously entrenched Patriarchy.

Heliose chafes under the Order, as its called, because she doesn’t want to be controlled by a husband nor does she think the Order is truly just. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the villagers, don’t truly believe in the religion as deeply as they should to avoid the Order’s wrath.

Heliose causes change by being herself. By standing up for what she believes in, even if it causes her and her loved one’s pain. However, she’s truly altruistic in this (even if they get hurt) because she’s doing this for them or her love for them. This is complicated by who she loves, which is something society rejects.

I cannot wait for the sequel to this book. It was a fun book dealing with weighty societal issues, done in a sensitive way, in an engaging world, with an exciting climax. Highly recommend for generally light quick reading.

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Review: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of TraumaThe Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book after reading Lost Connections. I discussed Lost Connections with my therapist and he recommended this book to me. I have to say this book is emotionally difficult to read. The author does everything he can to make the book easy to consume. I think just about anyone would be able to read this book, but there are some difficult medical terms and you need to remember some acronyms, but beyond that, it’s fairly easy.

This book focuses more exclusively on trauma and recovering from trauma, while Lost Connections is about depression. So if you’ve read that book, then think of this as a book on the trauma section in that book.

If you’ve experienced trauma in your life this book will likely cause you to feel anxiety as you read it. However, I think it’s more important for you to read this book than anyone else, because it provides you with tools to discuss with a therapist. I would suggest pairing this book with some meditation and to read it over the span of several weeks rather than sitting down and plowing through the book. I also suggest that you plan some time after you read to decompress and think about what’s happened. Meditation will certainly help with that.

On to the book itself. It provides a great history of psychology and psychiatry from the start (with fewer details) and in great detail from the late ’70’s to 2014 (when the book was published). The author goes into great detail about the history of PTSD for soldiers and how he was able to successfully apply the same treatments that were effective (or more effective) with soldiers to children that have had traumatic experiences.

He goes into great detail explaining that the body is essentially trapped in the moment that the traumatic event happens. That people who are having flashbacks or are triggered are physiologically going back to the moment of the event. This means their brains are literally shut down in some ways. That their heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline are all acting as if they are currently in the traumatic experience. The brain that shuts down always includes the part that is capable of telling the difference between past and present. This is a key part of treating PTSD, you need to get the person grounded back in reality for them to process the trauma at all.

In terms of Triggers and micro-triggers, he doesn’t directly deal with them in a way that would support a conversation with a tumblr that is aggressively anti-triggering. However, he does talk about how to deal with being triggered. First, if events do trigger something, you need to get treatment for it. You need to find someone that you can trust. Then together you can come up with a treatment plan.

Many of those techniques do not include medicine. They include meditation, Yoga (in many cases it works best if you do therapeutic Yoga – since some positions in Yoga can trigger people that have been raped), a therapy that uses rapid eye movement while talking about the event in a safe environment, and many others. The author went from being a strong advocate of better living through chemistry, but has moved into spaces that help people manage it.

The reason the book is called The Body Keeps the Score, is that you need to heal the body and mind to heal the person. It requires a holistic approach.

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Review: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected SolutionsLost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First of all you need to go into this book with an open mind. Skepticism on what he has to say is perfectly acceptable, but if you do not go into this with an open mind, you’re not willing to listen to what he’s saying. I read some of the 1 star reviews on Amazon and I believe that a lot of them really missed what he was trying to say with this book.

One thing you must be open to, is that our current pill happy society may actually be incorrect in using pills to address depression. That we may need to change how we live to address our depression and work with other people to get rid of it. It seems pretty ground breaking but this is supported with a lot of research. A full 30% of this book is foot notes (according to my Kindle). There are some foot notes that reference a full dozen different papers to support a given statement. This, for a layman’s pop-sci book, is pretty unheard of. I’ve read books by both scientists and science communicators and I’ve never been overwhelmed with evidence like I have in this book.

This book forces us to look at some very different causes for depression. One of the is trauma that we may or may not have dealt with in our childhoods. Just because it is A cause of depression, doesn’t mean it applies to everyone. There are certainly people that have dealt with childhood pain as well as some of the other causes like a soul crushing job with continual instability in keeping that job. Each of those are different causes of depression. In all, he lists 9 factors. I believe that there’s some of them that have actually impacted me in some way. From continual stress at home growing up to instability in jobs and a different set of values at work through my Lean Continuous Improvement training which just completely beat me down. I felt rather helpless in a lot of ways and I had no idea how to get out of it.

While reading this book, I’ve felt better than I’ve felt in a long time because he offers solutions to cases he describes. He explains people that were in bad situations and some of the solutions that helped them. Then he goes into great details to explain a large number of medically researched solutions that do not involve anti-depressants. This includes things like meditation, getting out in nature more, reconnecting with people through either support groups or something like a community garden. They are a lot more detailed than that. However, the important thing is that he describes cases with interviews, of where this has worked. In many cases with psychoanalysis but in some cases without.

The one thing that really helped was that you aren’t intended to do this alone. That you should seek out help and that one thing that is driving our depression is loneliness so the solution cannot be more of the same alone-ness. I’ve asked my wife to help me deal with my depression. Some of the things that we’ve committed to doing because of this book is to get to the coast at least monthly. To join an art class together, where we can meet new friends. She’s going to support me with playing hockey, as well as other things that we come up with from there.

I strongly recommend this book to people with any form of depression and I hope that you use this as a point to get help. Reach out and get a therapist, then, after you start to feel better, ask for help from friends to go with you when you start a new class or new organization. People generally know that you are depressed and being open about it and asking them for help will excite them. They want to help you (you know that I’m sure), but don’t know how to help you. This book can provide a language for you and your friends to discuss ways that you can get better.

You may always be depressed in some way, but you’ll be better overall.

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Review of Sam Sykes’ the City Stained Red

The City Stained Red (Bring Down Heaven, #1)The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. This definitely isn’t the high fantasy of Martin with big words, the biggest. This is the way that your DM talks to you while you’re playing a DnD campaign. Short, brutal, and with enough description to know how deep you are in the shit and let’s your imagination to fill in the rest. I mention a DM, because this books feels like someone took an incredibly chaotic DnD campaign and decided to turn it into a book. Where characters went off and did everything that you wouldn’t want them to do if you were running the campaign. It’s great. It’s funny, you love the characters, you care about what they are going through. Furthermore, this is generally a very tightly focused book on a single place without the massive world ending implications driving everyone to save everything. The characters are scared, in a horrible place, with crazy things going on that you don’t generally understand.

Sykes creates some really cool twists on existing fantasy character races, while makings new ones that blend seemlessly in his world. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that has had a hilariously absurd DnD session or that just wants a fun book that isn’t as weighty as a Rothfuss or Martin (weighty in terms of plot not size of book).

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Review of Lean Media

Lean Media: How to focus creativity, streamline production, and create media that audiences loveLean Media: How to focus creativity, streamline production, and create media that audiences love by Ian Lamont
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Normally, I wait until I finish most of the book to start a review. However, in this case there are some things that I must call out immediately after reading 39 pages of this book. Which, I almost put down this book after page 38, but since this was a review copy I felt obligated to continue. In Chapter 2, the author calls out a number of customer/advertiser behaviors that had negative impact on the media landscape, including sites like Craigslist which killed the classified section of news papers and saying that “some [customers] had gone as far as installing ad blockers.” This I found deeply problematic, because it starts with the premise that we, as consumers, should accept every ad thrown at us. The book never reflects as to why a customer would want to use an adblocker.
This is due to the fact that in chapter 3, the author explicitly explains he’s eliminating the Five Why’s methodology from the Lean Media tool kit. Let’s take a look at an example I saw on twitter the other day about the importance of the Five Why’s in this case.
Site: “You’re using an ad blocker, please Whitelist us”
User: Whitelists
Site: Hidden ad plays music and sound at full volume
User: Blacklists site

Here’s a way to use Five Why’s (you only need one) in this case.
Site: Why did you black list our site?
User: Because there was an obtrusive ad that I was unable to control, it started to use my speakers without my permission and since I couldn’t find it, I wasn’t able to mute it. My only recourse was to blacklist your site for violating my trust.

This single ad now has likely cost the repeated visits of this user and has reduced trust in sites that ask for users to whitelist their site. There is a clear lack of trust.

Ok, maybe that’s not a fair example. Let’s look at someone of the rationale the author users to throw it out as it reduces creativity. Paraphrasing here, some creative people are tyrannical and that seems to work for great creative processes. Well, given that many of these tyrannical personalities have been outed as sexual harassers lately and the Five Whys might have identified this as a risk, maybe that’s not a good answer. His other answer was to look at the Doom creative process and showed that tension was part of the reason why that game was great. Sure, it might work as a one off, like Doom, but the problem is that you want to build a long lasting company. If you allow that sort of toxicity in a company long term you risk driving off creative talent that are being overruled by those voices. Furthermore, this approach has been thoroughly debunked in the Agile software development community (which is an incredibly creative space in general and has just as many egos as game development (which is fundamentally software development)). There are frequent “Retrospectives” where the team asks what they can do better and the leaders are expected to go and fix the problems, which typically requires Root Cause analysis, where Five Why’s is a key tool to doing so.

As someone that has read a large amount on the topic of Six Sigma, Lean, Agile, DevOps, and Creativity, I find a book that purports to be about Lean and Creative material content development that ignores the Five Why’s to be deeply problematic because it is ignoring Root Cause analysis because personalities that clash are important. In “Creativity Inc.” the history of Pixar, by Edwin Catmull one of the founders, the explicitly call out reigning in the egos was a key part of their success and that they use Lean and the Five Whys as part of their creative process. I propose that if a media giant like Pixar can figure out the best way to use Five Why’s in their methodology, then every media company can and should use it as well.

The remainder of Chapter three is problematic for two reasons. First the author argues that Data driven media companies are doomed to fail, which is an argument that warrants farther investigation. However, the example, Zynga, wasn’t done in by missing the mark with their data, what happened was that Facebook essentially killed Zynga by blocking most of the Mafia War links, the games themselves were going strong until Facebook interceded on behalf of other Facebook users. Second, since the author argues against being exclusively data driven and that there are these qualitative features that are unique to media ventures, but clearly the Five Why’s, an interview approach, can answer some of the questions. For example, the author poses the question, why did you leave after being on the site for 10 seconds. That’s literally the point of the Five Why’s and A/B testing, which are both qualitative and quantitative ways to answer that question.

Another point that is frustrating to me as a reader is that the author seems to be confusing “Media ventures” and “Creative Media” because many of the points the Author makes fall into media ventures, which are the firms, which could definitely benefit from all lean methodologies. Then turns around and argues that they are so unique, because creativity and basically argues that design is so purpose driven that it doesn’t count as creativity. This is patently false and books like Design Driven Innovation and Creative Confidence both call out some really great creative qualitative tools that are used in both lean and the even more data centric Six Sigma. The building on this point, one of the major areas of “creative” media the author talks about is newspaper articles and book editing. The latter is certainly not a creative process, it is a process though and that can be improved by lean.

Another problematic aspect of this book, is the general tone of the writing. There seems have been some past issue between the author and the operations side of the media business that he puts into this framework book. Maybe it was intended to come across as humorous or an in joke between fellow creators, but if I’m a creator and I want my media company to adopt Lean Media as a way of doing better media development, I’d want to feel comfortable giving this book to a member of that team as a rationale why we should change our management practices. Based on the tone of this book, I’d be unwilling to do that. These are cases where the author is 100% correct in what he is saying. For example, he’s arguing that a way to reduce waste (more on waste later), is to have smaller teams, because it improves the creative functions and those sales VPs are idiots. That might be 100% correct, however the tone misses the mark. Agile and DevOps make the exact same argument, but in a less antagonistic tone, which is significantly more effective in making the case to the creatives, the head creative (the pigs), and the operations team (the chickens) than the Lean Media approach. It does it through an old joke about a pig and a chicken wanting to open a restaurant called ham and eggs. The pig wants to have full control since he’s committed (Ham) while the chicken is only involved (eggs). This is a significant tonal shift that allows for the exact same conversation in a less confrontational way which allows this book to be shared between the main target audience and the media executives that may have to buy off on the management and cultural change.

After finally finishing the book, the real value of the book kicks in around page 70 where the author really starts to talk about how to analyze audience feedback. This is where the book stands out compared to just about every other high level Lean book I’ve read. The book provides much more explicit direction, but not tools, about who should be included, and generally how to use the feedback provided by various audience members. The book does parse out the different groups of people that you should try to get feedback from based on the phase and maturity of the media that you are developing and uses a few great examples of that towards the end.

I think this is clearly the strongest part of the authors Lean experience, but is still mostly intuition/experienced based rather than using some of the common tools already in use in the Lean space for dealing with feedback. One common tool I’ve used to analyze, group and include/discard feedback is called the KJ Analysis or Affinity Diagram, this would have been incredibly powerful to include in this discussion. It would have taken the book from a high level framework to a much more powerful tool than it is. It’s isn’t like the author is avoiding this either. He provides one or two tools throughout the book, with the Lean Media Project Planner being the most powerful and obviously useful of the tools.

I think based on the Author’s experience, adding tools to the second half of the book, providing more examples and showing how to use the Five Why’s to analyze the root cause of a failing project (which may indicate that the project needs to pivot) would be really powerful. I would recommend that the author shortens the first half of the book, and expands the second half. The second half is where the framework becomes more powerful.

I also have doubts about how much the author really understands of Lean and waste because the impression that I’ve gathered from reading this book is that waste reduction is primarily focused on the size of the team, not reducing defects, overwork, over processing, or any of those common waste types (for a translation from manufacturing to office waste reduction which applies more to media, I would recommend reading the Lean Office and Service Simplified). Complicating this, the author uses “lean team” to literally mean a team with only a few people in it, which is different than a team that embodies Lean practices.

I hope that the author takes this feedback to heart and makes improvements to the book like he says he intends to at the end. The back half was a fantastic dive into audience identification and how to use audience feedback. The first half where the author looked at the fundamentals of Lean is flawed and less than useful.

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Book Review of DevOps Handbook

The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology OrganizationsThe DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations by Gene Kim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me longer than was warranted to finish it. This was a fantastically written book that takes a large number of case studies provided by experts in the industry to argue for using the methodologies espoused in their first book the Phoenix Project. While that book was more akin to the Goal, this book was more related to a book like Lean Thinking. Providing case study after case study arguing with clear data and results from a variety of differently sized organization that this is an imperative if you want your business to scale in a structurally sound way.

This book doesn’t by beating you over the head with just the end result. Instead they walk through a series of different steps that any DevOps practitioner will need to follow to fully implement DevOps. However, the authors note that doing most of the steps in the book can really enact massive change in your organization. This book isn’t just for CIOs it is for anyone that has influence in an organization. In fact, the authors point out that many of the people driving these changes did it through their informal organizational authority rather than their hierarchical authority. In some cases they actually made these changes in spite of being directed to do the exact opposite by their leadership team.. In the end, these cases were wildly successful because of the bottoms up adoption where other groups decided they had to do the same thing, if they wanted to achieve similar results.

I highly recommend this book if your organization is struggling or if it is performing well. The tools in this book provide the best way to take a good team and make it a great team.

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Effective Tools for Managing Trump

I’m reading the book Messy The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives right now. The author is a economist that looks at some pretty interesting topics, I enjoyed his book about failure and how failing typically leads to better results later in life for people that have tired a venture and failed, compared to those ventures that kind of limp along as zombies.

In this book, which to some extent is a natural extension of the failing book, Tim Harford discusses how a lack of a fully formed plan can actually result in significantly better results. However, this isn’t universal and cannot be applied in every circumstance. It’s important to note that, but he outlines some pretty clear ways that this approach works extremely successfully. Ultimately, I think he shows that strong planning that meshes with flexibility and allows for both improvisation and innovation works the best.

He describes Rommel’s campaign in Africa during WWII as one of the best examples of how this can be successful. Rommel, basically went from battle to battle continually pressing in using controlled chaos to dominate the British.

This is something called the OODA loop, Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – which is a rapid response approach to dealing with a chaotic situation. You have to observe to understand what’s happening, orient your plan to take advantage of the situation, decide your course of action, and then act on that. The faster and shorter you can make this loop the more you can keep your opponents on their heels.

Trump’s campaign, the book is rather new, is another case in point where continually pressing attacks and not looking back can be effective. He was very successful in attacking Rubio for his robotic responses, attacking Jeb Bush for just about anything while using these attacks as a way to keep himself front and center on the news. The media had no idea how to deal with him, because it requires a lot of people to produce content and planning from senior leadership to manage what should be included in a given segment.

The groups that were able to handle Trump the best were smaller organizations with more flexibility like The Intercept and contributing writers like the Young Turks, and Shaun King. These people were able to be much more nimble and respond because they either had editorial freedom, or could push out an article on a daily basis without much need of oversight.

These are the same people that draw the most criticism from the central planners, similar to Rommel, in the DNC and Establishment Democrats. DNC wants to manage the resistance and plan how they are to address the Trump issue complete. This is doomed for failure the same reason the Jeb failed. It’s too reactionary and cares too much about it’s own “Optics.”

To truly combat Trump, you must use similar tactics, continually pressing attacks. Continually keeping him on his heels, force him to jump from one thing to another, without really being able to focus on anything of actual import. The next step is to completely tie the republican establishment to Trump in every article and work to ensure that they are also back on their heels reacting to Trumps reaction.

These attacks must, of course, be factual and use a policy informed with stories of people to counteract Trump. The Repeal of Obamacare is the best place to use this tactic as there’s a lot of misinformation about it and there’s a lot success stories. However, playing the victim card won’t work here, because Trump loves victims and he thrives when people feel victimized.

So, I’m going to start blogging more about these sorts of topics and trying to use this approach to engage the other side to see what happens. Could be terrifying, but it’s something that must be done.