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Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Supercrunchers is a book about statistics.  The main premise is that human beings who rely on their judgment can make serious errors simply because we are blind to our own bias.  It's the old story of numbers don't lie.

Ian Ayres discusses projects and marketing research that have used statistics to come to conclusions.   He goes over some surprising places that they are used from web design, serving up pages in real time and adjusting to whichever pages get the best responses to statistics programs that can choose winning movie scripts.  Personally I'm skeptical of the last.  If statistics can solve the Napoleon Dynamite problem then I'll be on board. Just for the record I love Napoleon Dynamite, hated I Heart Huckabees and was neutral about Lost in Translation.

When I read this book a couple weeks ago I was completely thrilled about it, I blew through it in a couple of days, even staying up a bit late to read it.  Now that time has passed though I'm not so sure it was worth the time.  I guess I'm just getting burnt on pop-econ and need to give this genre a rest for a while.

What genre is leaving you the most unfulfilled lately?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Best American Short Stories 2008

Who doesn't love a good short story?  A novel is like a marriage, when you get started on something as thick as your wrist you're making a commitment, saying you'll be there to the end, through the slow bits, the overextended dialogue, the what was that scene doing in there anyway moments, all of them.  When you read a novel you're doing it as much so that you have a trophy on your wall, or in our modern world so that you have another post on your blog.

Short stories though, those are like quick dates.  Some are outstanding and life transforming and some are completely forgettable.  No one ever talks about them, unless you're giving a quick weekend update to your coworkers but they still have the power to slowly transform you just a bit from who you were on Friday afternoon.

The Best American series is a series of books that compiles short pieces of writing into several volumes, some of the volumes are essays, sports writing, travel writing and the list goes on and on.  I'm so glad that in our electronic age there is  a place to go to celebrate the short printed word.  Like most e-connected people I do most of my reading online now.  Sadly most of it doesn't even approach literature, it's mostly about staying informed and not about becoming connected with my fellow man.  Strange how reading and writing, activities done in such solitude have are one of the best ways to connect and share.

One of the things that I loved most about the book is that at the end they had interviews with all the authors, some gave up more than others about the origins and process that brought birth to their story, some just had a few sentences, but what they all had in common was the fact that there was a process, some feedback and some major revision that happened before a masterwork short story can be put out into the world.

Yes I liked most of the stories, so much so that I bought the whole series going back to 1990.  From when I graduated from high school to today in literature, stacked up beside my bookshelf.  I plan on supporting this series going forward and would even like to subscribe to a few literary journals.  I hope the tradition of working over 7500 or so words of fiction until they say something true about ourselves never dies.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No More Spam!

So I've eliminated the spam problem with a Wordpress upgrade!

It was quite an experience to get the upgrade done,  I've never done any website administration and it turned into a two day project.

My first step was to download the newest version of Wordpress but I had no idea how to get it onto my site.  I read some web tutorials about FTP servers and uploading to them.  In my mind an FTP server was some server that you loaded your stuff onto and then you somehow transferred it tor your site.  It took me quite a while to figure out that FTP is basically just another way to log into your site that requires a username and password and such and from there with the help of a Firefox plugin I just needed to drag and drop my files.

After I uploaded the new Wordpress I found out that I had 1600 spam comments.  I guess the Russians are really into following my minor life events and seeing what I'm reading.  There were so may spam comments that my browser refused to load the comment screen.  Unfortunately Wordpress doesn't have a delete comments button on the main administration page, you have to load the comments to delete them.  Of course there is another solution which is to load up your Wordpress database and go to town deleting them old school style in SQL.  I found this tutorial on how to proceed.

So of course at 2 AM with nothing better to do I decided to go to town and take on SQL database editing.  The first thing I had to learn was how to access the mysql program.  That was quite an adventure in clicking links all over my hosting sites administration page.  I finally found it in what turns out to be an intuitive location and launched the program.  I had to create a password to get in but as soon as I loaded it up it was pretty easy going from there.  That part of the experience reminded me of my days in community college computer class where one of the modules was on creating and querying databases, something I thought I'd never use and I guess still haven't since I didn't use the query function, I just deleted all the spam comments manually.

So now I'm set, or wait maybe not.  I go to check out my nice new spam free site but I'm getting an error, cannot connect to database.  No problem, it's probably just an issue with me not closing the mySQL program or something so I go play a game of Warcraft III while I wait for it to close on it's own.  After the game ends, two games actually Warcraft III is like the chips that you can't have just one of, I check again and it's still down.  I then try logging into mySQL and logging off and then logging off my admin login but no luck.   So off to another tear through Google and Bing to find the solution.

The first two search pages are full of stories about this same error and about 80 percent of them are about Wordpress.  All the forum answers say it's a hosting issue and to contact your hosting company.  I was a bit suspicious though because so many of them were issues specifically with Wordpress and because I'd just been of course modifying my site.  On the third page I found a helpful post finally that said that the config file needs to have your SQL database password correct for Wordpress to connect.  Ah HA!  Hadn't I changed that password when I logged into the database?  Sure enough that was the problem, after a couple of false starts where I typed an extra apostrophe around the password it's working again, spam free.

To eliminate future spam I've taken the temporary measure of adding a registration requirement for spam prevention, if you want to comment just use the Facebook link in the about me page, I'll have a more permanent solution soon which I'm sure will be another learning adventure like either a captcha login or a question and answer plugin.  I've seen those but it's 5 AM and I'm not up for any more installing right now.  I really do see how programmers pull all nighters now though.  It's fascinating to start a project and I just want to see it all done, if I didn't have a job I have to go to I could spend three days tweaking my blog with barely a few hours of sleep.

If any of you need help installing Wordpress or upgrading an old version  let me know!  I'm a half expert by now.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nothing But the Truth by John Lescroart

I love yard sales.  There was a time in my life when it was new or nothing but now that I have children I've learned the value of a hard earned dollar.  There was a time when money was harder to come by (knock on wood it stays that way for a while) but all my money was mine.  No house payments, no car payment, and especially no kids poking holes in your living room flat screen or slashing holes in your leather couches.

So yes even though there is more money around than before less of it is mine to waste so yard sales provide a great opportunity to pick up some cheap literature.  I especially love those huge grab boxes of who knows what.  Where you can only see a few books on the top and if they look interesting enough it may be worth shelling out $25 to get the whole lot.

One such lot yielded a review copy of Nothing But the Truth.  It appears from Amazon that this book actually ended up published and under this name, it doesn't have too many comments and is way low on the sales ranks so it didn't break any records as far as I can tell.  I'd love to know how a review copy ended up sitting around in a box of books, there were a few others from this author so may this was a fan that wrote a nice Amazon review?  I actually got a couple of review copies of books this way so for your bibliophiles be sure to make your love of your favorite authors known on Amazon!

I read it simply to take a break from my literature and nonfiction streak.  It was nice to take a break from looking up words every couple of pages and having to research European history just to understand what's going on.  It's a simple tale, a lawyer has some family trouble, there is a murder, the lawyer solves the crime.  No it wasn't the greatest book written, and why don't bond traders, housewives, or web designers ever solve crimes?  Don't they have a little more free time than high powered defense attorneys anyway?

Steven King wrote “I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries."  Once in a while I like to say super size it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The 10 Commandments for Business Failure

This was a bargain book I picked up from Amazon.  Either this book is better than the bargain price would indicate or things are slow at work because I've already had two people borrow it.

This book was written by the head of Coca-Cola during the "New Coke" debacle.  Many of the best lessons are from his experience as an executive of the company during that time, it was the time dominated by cola wars, for any who are too young to remember cola advertising was on everything and in an obnoxious way.  Pepsi challenges were the centerpoint of state fairs and you couldn't breathe without knowing whether your oxygen was  sponsored by Coke or Pepsi.

Truthfully I found this book to be pretty light.  All the points about running a business such as don't lose your passion, listen to your customers,  don't send mixed messages to your customers, be willing to change your bureaucracy and so forth are pretty simple and well known.  I'd would have liked to see a more in depth look at the subjects.

For example listening to your customers and being responsive to feedback is a well known business success factor, but what gets in the way of companies doing that?  Cost, and how do you make decisions on when to listen to them and when to lose their business to a competitor?  Cost analysis based on good guesswork.  I would like to see more business books that aren't full of platitudes and more full of case scenarios of decision making.  I guess you don't find much of that outside of business school and more specifically finance school.

Oh well I guess the book serves it's purpose well enough for a feel good four hour read for corporate drones.  Other than that skip it and spend your time elsewhere.