Quarantine Summer Reading List

With kids going to back to school, such as it is, I thought I would offer up my small, but interesting Quarantine Summer Reading List. I chose a couple of books focused on Steve Jobs, another on Richard Garriott, and one for Jacques Pepin. It's not all biographies as I read most books in the Allan Quatermain series. Quatermain may not be most recognized character, but for many he's known as Indian Jones.

For Steve Jobs, I picked up Becoming Steve Jobs and Insanely Great. I've previously read the Walter Isaacson tome, and wanted some other perspectives.

First, it's clear that early in his career, Jobs was an absolutely terrible manager. He had to have things done his way, enjoyed creating chaos, believed he was the smartest person in the room and was very quick to call someone a bozo. He is/was ridiculously arrogant and self-centered with all sorts of entitlement issues.

Some times his style work. Most of the time it didn't. He had some great successes in the early days, but plenty of times things went off the rails. It's interesting to see the change, the maturity, the tempering of Jobs as a manager and leader. He still had plenty of other issues to contend with, and in my opinion had a lot of unenviable traits, but he did have some solid guidelines.

His idea of cutting back on product lines, or rigorously saying no to anything that distracted the focus of the company, and making products that were so advanced they came across as simplistic is something other people and companies are trying to emulate. People dismiss the Mac and iPad as being toys because they are so easy to operate. They're easy to operate because of how sophisticated they are; the technology disappears.

Many should know Richard Garriott from his Ultima series. There is no doubt of the impact those games had on the RPG genre, especially Ultima II-V. And I remember those games fondly.

His biography, Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark is 300 pages of Garriott patting himself on the back for his self-styled creative vision and genius.

Like Jobs, he takes credit for things he never did, or at best, he was merely an observer. As he describes different stages of his career, all the great ideas are his. When something fails, it was because someone else screwed up. He is very quick to dismiss critics and offer excuses for problems that arose with his games and his company.

As to the running of companies and being a manager, Richard spends more time trying to live the life of an adventurer than focusing of making his company and people successful. This is true for both Tabula Rasa with Destination Games and Shroud of the Avatar with Portalarium. He spends more time away going to space and visiting volcanoes than getting the job done.

He explains he has decades of experience in the industry, and since he did all the coding, design work, marketing, shipping and marketing of his early games, he is incredibly well rounded, for more so than 99% of the people in the industry. Unfortunately, there are no stories where Richard imparts this wisdom to others or serves as a mentor to the success of others. He has inspired others, but I can't say he's actually built them up.

Garriott is a good storyteller, and he puts himself at the center of every narrative.

For something different, there is The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin. Jacques is one of my all time favorite chefs. The small list of others include Julia Child, Ming Tsai, Rick Bayless and Martin Yan. To even be in the shadow of these greats would be an honor.

At the age of 13, young Jacques goes off to be a cooking apprentice when being a cook was considered a low level, menial job. He cut vegetables and did what he was told, day after day. He learned through "osmosis", creating muscle memory and following the process. And through that he began to learn.

Jacques made bold, perhaps even reckless decisions. With barely any money in his pocket he sets off for New York. Through relationships ends up partnering with Howard Johnson and his career blossoms. He learns the restaurant business, management, financing, production and many other skills that would forge his career. We also see the stage set for his relationship with Julia Child.

Since Jacques has been cooking longer than most people have been alive, including me, he has some wonderful wisdom to offer. You need to go deep into your art. Discussing a book deal or TV show after taking one cooking class boggles the mind.

Pepin is a master. A true master. He is always learning, always adapting, always changing his style. That is why he admits his cooking is a reflection of a point in time, his mood, and the ingredients available. Understand the “idea” behind the recipe, and use it as a point of departure.

It hasn't all been biographies though. There has been plenty of high adventure in the form of Allan Quatermain, the template for Indiana Jones. These are a series of compelling stories full of lost cities, the search for riches, supernatural powers and events, close calls, and a whole host of interesting characters. Like Jules Verne, these stories are under appreciated and have been so watered down as to be juvenile and even comical, when they are rich stories that capture the imagination and propel the reader on an exciting journey.

I've actually completed all the stories I've been able to find. I believe there are more in compendiums and compilations, so the search goes on.

As a final epic adventure, I've started One Thousand and One Nights, which can also go by the name of The Arabian Nights' Entertainments or The Book of A Thousand Nights and a Night.

While there is debate to the authorship and which stories are actually part of the collection, this is where we get the tales of Ali Baba, Aladdin, Sinbad and others. All of them brought to life through the tales of Scheherazade. Again, another great series of adventures that create the template for so many modern characters.

It's not quite an all over the place reading list, but it is diverse. Quatermain and Arabian Nights go together because of the adventure, mystical forces at play, and interesting characters. Great reading for every age.

Jobs, Garriott, and Pepin go together for different reasons. A lot can be learned from Jobs and Garriott, both good and bad. Some of their ideas and philosophy are worth considering, and perhaps emulating. Equally, many should be completely avoided and their opinions taken with a grain of salt.

Pepin shows the passion for his art and craft. The dedication is takes to become a master and inspire other.

In all cases, not every opportunity looks great when first presented, but you need to be ready to seize opportunities when they knock. Some times you need to be bold. Some times you need to be focused. And, it's better to be lucky than good.

As they say, it's 10% skill and 90% luck. But, you won't get anywhere without the skill.

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8 Weeks of working remotely, and all’s well

I am now at the 8 week mark of working remotely, and I have to say, not only do I really like working from home, I would be fine if we kept working this way.

I have really adapted to this change and much prefer how my day is now structured.

Not being stuck in traffic has given me back 2 hours of my day. Every day.
I take multiple breaks during the day to take a short walk around the house, or stretch, or lift a set with the kettle bell, or use the resistance bands.
When the sun is out, I can eat lunch on the deck.
At the end of the day, I can exercise and be done before I would normally get home.
I am probably more productive than I was before since I really can't be interrupted. I know my automation project gets new features each week.
I can't be late for work or a meeting.
My dedicated internet connection is faster than the shared one in the office.
Slack and Zoom are pretty awesome.

I'm not saying I hate the idea of going back into the office. Or that I don't like working with my team.

The fact of the matter is, I spend 90% of my day with my headphones on either testing something or writing code to test something. I attend 1, maybe 2 meetings per day. When I need to ask for clarification, it's done in Slack. We are a very collaborative group, but even that is done through written communication. To that end, almost nothing has changed about the way I work. I test and communicate in almost the exact same way as before.

With technology like Slack and Zoom, if I need to "see" something, it's as easy as sharing the screen.

Taking all that together, my standard work day has barely changed. However, by working from home I've gained a dozen fringe benefits. The biggest win is more time overall and using that for exercise.

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Still playing Godville after all these years (10 to be precise)

Huzzah! Happy 10th anniversary to Godville!

My goodness has it been that long? And when I look at my stats, indeed it has. My little hero is 8 years and 9 months old. For all that time he has been slogging it out, battling monsters and bringing glory to my name. Except for the times when he's caught drunk in the tavern. I can excuse that though, I would have done the same thing.

So, congratulations to the great folks behind Godville. This really is a game that runs 5 days a week on my work machine. My little hero sits in a dedicated window on my screen, and keeps me up to date with all his adventures. I'm amused by his little puns. I appreciate the sculpture of empty beer bottles in my likeness as a tribute. And during these trying times, I love his eternal optimism.

Now, if we could just improve his battle skills in the arena.

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Chin up! It could always be worse

Even with the doom and gloom, you need to look on the bright side, things could always be worse. Not only could you work for a POS company like Wells Fargo, it could actually be the year 2000, which is the technology they seem to be using.

If this were 20 years, or even 10 years ago, things would truly be in upheaval. We have tools like Slack, Zoom, and others so we can hold conferences with dozens of people not only in different parts of the city, but different parts of the country. The technology to host that was abysmal 10 years ago.

We have an Internet backbone that can actually support this traffic. We previously had DSL, which was great at the time, and fast compared to dial-up, but egad, there is no way you could conduct business over that connection.

Sure, it can be a little saturated at peak times, but it's working 95% of time, so it's easy to host meetings, see people, share screens, draw on a virtual white board, and discuss complex topics, in real time, as though you were in the same location.

Sites and services are so easily connected through web portals. Even using a VPN solution is so much better than it used to be.

Let's not forget, we have the old standby of email, which is damn near instantaneous. It doesn't have the word instant in the name, but email still makes it across the country in seconds.

And we have file sharing like never before. With Google, Dropbox, iCloud, OneDrive, you can give files to people in the blink of an eye.

With that, we also have online Office. Google and Microsoft both have cloud versions, so you can still get on with tasks regardless of how powerful or not your computer happens to be.

Go back for a moment. Think back to 1999, and ticking over into 2000, when people thought their machines were going to reset, shut down, or explode because they weren't sure machines could handle the new year.

Make no mistake, it is tough for certain sectors of business. All the technology in the world doesn't help serve food to an empty restaurant.

But, let us be thankful for what we do have. We can easily connect to work. We can still do our jobs. We can still talk with our team. We can still write code, query databases, share files, and get work done. It's different, but it's working. And in my opinion, it's working well.

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Week #3 of working remotely – Build your workspace

We're at the start of week 3 for working remotely and I think just about everyone has found their rhythm. But, it has taken awhile, and one thing I heard from multiple people, they weren't prepared to work remotely for an extended period. The main problem? Nowhere to work.

We have people who work remotely and that's no issue. But, that's for a day. They can handle calls, or attend meetings, or put together a client proposal, but not everyone has a dedicated work machine or a dedicated work area. Working from the couch or kitchen table is fine for a few hours, but it's not going to do for several weeks.

Many people spent the weekend getting themselves set up for the long haul. Some just had to clear off a desk, while others had to race out and actually get a desk. Several people had to get full sized monitors. Some retrieved equipment from the office, others ended up ordering them. That's why so many monitors, mice, keyboards, headsets, and even full systems have been disappearing from inventory. I know Woot did a brisk trade for computer equipment.

Many people had to make a place for themselves. They needed a permanent work area in order to get back into the routine.

I'm lucky in this regard. I've already made comment that my home machine and work machine are the same. I rarely work from home, but when I've needed to do something, I wanted a familiar environment.

That's the problem a lot of people have just solved. They now have an area that is familiar, that allows them to have a routine, something puts them in the mindset of begin at the office.

It's the idea of, when I'm here, I'm working. This is my work space. You're not going to get that by wearing sweatpants and sitting on the couch.

Further, sitting at the kitchen table looking at a laptop screen for days on end is maddening. It will make being at home a dozen times worse. Setting up a space that feels right and works well will make this ordeal far more tolerable.

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