Review: Book a Week with Jen

I’m a painfully slow reader.

I can only think of a few books I’ve read in under a week and some of my favorite books took me over a year to finish (I’m looking at you Cryptonomicon). I met Jen Miller through twitter in 2007. Back then she was working on a project reviewing 52 books in a year on her blog. The genres were all over the place from Julie and Julia to books on how to get into a threesome.

Why did she do it? Her grandfather died, her income had gone down, and she’d been dumped for the 3rd time in 12 months. Sometimes a project, ANY project, to focus your time can help get your mind off things.

I was aware she was doing the project, but I don’t think I read a single review. When she told me she was releasing the entire run of blog posts as an ebook I thought the work vs payoff ratio made it a worthwhile project for her (the writing was already complete), but was skeptical about how good it would be. I’m a big proponent of self publishing and selling digital goods as you know if you read my blog. Sometime last year she released Book a Week with Jen as an Amazon ebook for $2.99 and I downloaded it to my phone.

In retrospect it seems so dumb that I thought this would simply be 52 book reviews in a row. The book reviews are, of course, a vehicle for working out issues with love, career, and not fitting into the role others want for her. Each review is like an episode of a TV show where 90% is about the plot that week, but there’s this little sliver of time devoted to the overall story arc. You can’t skip any of the book reviews that sound boring because you’ll miss some important piece of the story. It’s great and it helped illustrate to me what separates writers from people who just write (like me). Part of it is a willingness to share their thoughts and problems. Jen and I have this increasingly common type of friendship where you have a bunch of asynchronous online messages back and forth and a few real life hangouts throughout the year. Book a Week with Jen gave me a clearer picture of who she is and who she was when we first met. Some chapters made me want to give her a hug. After others I felt happy knowing where she is now.

There’s a bunch of reasons to read Book a Week with Jen by Jen Miller, but the easiest is that it’s good.

I read the ebook when she released it months ago, so I’m a painfully slow reviewer as well.

Best Things this Year (2011)

Here are some best things I’ve come across this year. Not all are new, or even new to me, but they kicked ass in 2011

1. Kids Dungeon Adventure – A floortop RPG for pre-school age kids and their geeky parent(s). What started out as a little game with my daughter grew into a full fledged eproduct and side business. This project was life changing for me.

2. Notepadd++ – I used the same text editor for Windows for at least 11 years, Editpad. I finally decided to try Notepadd++ and was blown away by how much more I liked it. Color coding for almost any language and built in FTP are enough right there. Love it. Side note: Editpad was introduced to me by a college friend, Jonathan Meyer, who passed away soon after college. I often think about how much he’d love what is going on with the Internet over the last 10 years.

3. HTML5 – Have you seen how fast modern browsers can draw on an HTML5 canvas? Mobile browsers still need work, though.

4. Garageband for the iPad – I love the iLife Garageband, but the iPad version is amazing and portable. Check out the theme song I recorded for Rock the Animals with Sasha. At this point the song is a bigger hit than the game.

5. Thingiverse – I built a Makerbot Thing-o-Matic at work and have been obsessed with finding a use for it other than making crappy bottle openers.

6. Sword and Sworcery – Best iOS game of the year. It’s King’s Quest meets Punch Out while having coffee with David Lynch. Jim Guthrie’s music on it is amazing (listen).

7. Honoro Vera Garnacha – Best new wine I tried all year. It’s Spanish and only $8.99.

Honoro Vera Garnacha - Best new wine I tried this year
Honoro Vera Garnacha - Best new wine I tried this year

8. Movies – I don’t think I saw any new releases in 2011, but here are all the movies I liked that I saw this year in no particular order: The Kids are Alright, Blue Valentine, The Social Network, Kung Fu Panda, Catfish, Toy Story 3, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Scot Pilgrim vs. the World, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Shutter Island.

Launched: Evidensity for Highrise

HighriseFor the last few weeks I’ve been working on a new analytical dashboard tool for Highrise and it finally launches today! Read about it here.

In the launch post I talk about what makes Evidensity different from other tools and my worldview on sales dashboards:

  • Some people don’t want customizable line graphs
  • They want actionable intelligence about their data.
  • Sales pipelines are built on faulty assumptions and overly optimistic sales people
  • They should be built on historical data.
  • Your eyes and brain can handle it, so fit tons of data into one screen.

Creating a comma separated list

For years, whenever I have to create a comma separated list from an array I have been writing code that looks vaguely like this.

$first = true;
foreach($arr as $m) {

if ($first) {
$first = false;
}
else {
echo ",";
}
echo $m;
}

I’ve had it. There has to be a cleaner way than using $first to skip the comma on the first value. What am I doing wrong?

Spam as Spoken Word Poetry

This spam I got today on our lead generation form could easily pass for spoken word poetry at an open mic night.

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37signals Sent Me a Gift for Pwning their Leaderboards

This year I took an AK to the Answers leaderboard at 37signals, mostly answering Highrise questions. The Answers board is the best place to learn how to use Highrise because if you have a question there’s a good chance someone else has already asked it. I scoured it during our implementation in April, 2010 and continued to read it in case anything new came up. In that time I started helping people out and answering questions myself and this week I cracked #3 on their leaderboard.

I cracked the #3 spot this week
I cracked the #3 spot this week

On Wednesday a packaged was delivered to my office. I wasn’t expecting anything, but it’s not unusual for me to get random samples for us to test run from customers. I opened it up to find 6 beer glasses from 37signals.

6 premium beer glasses
6 premium beer glasses

The genius move of this is not the free gift for a good customer who gives back the company he’s already paying $150/month for business software. Any company can write a algorithmic trigger for x number of questions answered gets a t-shirt, if then else, etc. and come out a winner. The best part was the note that let me know they researched enough about me to know that I brew beer and would appreciate good beer glasses.

note from 37signals
Ben - Thank you for all your hard work on 37signals' Answers page! You've been a huge help to our customers. We hope you can use these glasses for your next home brew. Thanks again from the crew at 37signals.

I love great customer appreciation stories and for once I got to be in one. Thanks!