Walter Reade .net

Business Geek, Family Geek

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29 September 2013 0 Comments

Review: All The Truth That’s In Me

All The Truth That's In MeI’ve been a long-time friend of author Julie Berry. Her third novel – All The Truth That’s In Me – was just released. Of course I purchased a copy, even though I was fairly confident I’m not the book’s target audience.

I was worried I had made a mistake. The book is written in a prose I am not accustom to, and I didn’t find myself terribly engaged after the first 50 pages or so.

Out of courtesy, I decided to finish the book . (Okay, in reality I was afraid I might get asked how I liked the book. At least if I finished it, I could get by with saying it was, “Nice.”)

Let me be very direct and to the point: The book is outstanding.

As I continued my reading, I found myself needing to turn the pages. What I wrongly believed was a simple story transformed into one of multiple dimensions and profound depth. I found myself fretting over tensions I was unsure could be satisfactorily resolved. I learned I had been cleverly deceived into making assumptions that were quite surprisingly (and skillfully) turned upside-down.

All The Truth That’s In Me is an amazing message of transformation – from darkness to light, from weakness to strength, from cruelty to redemption. I found my-(typically-non-emotional)-self choked up as I read the last few pages.

I’ve passed along the book to my two daughters (12 and 17). I believe that they, too, will love it. More importantly, this book covers some very serious topics worthy of discussion. I’m grateful that, while Julie Berry did not shy away from making the reader uncomfortable, she omitted anything remotely gratuitous and kept the novel well within the bounds of young adult readership.

3 July 2013 1 Comment

What I Read in June 2013

Accidental Genius, by Mark Levy (Paperback)

Accidental GeniusI often feel like I should write something. Unfortunately, I usually have no idea what I should write about, so I’m forced to devise stall tactics. In this case, what could be a more clever way to avoid writing than by reading a book on writing?

Accidental Genius is not actually a book about writing. It teaches you how to utilize writing to download information from your brain. Much in the same way that mind mapping can be a powerful way to generate ideas, the methods of free writing taught in this book can help you be more creative, more focused, and more productive. The book is an easy ready and you’ll learn techniques you can put into practice immediately.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Audio)

QuietI’m clearly an introvert. Not the “awkward-social-skills” type of introvert; rather, the “needs-solitude-and-reflection-to-recharge” type. My first impression when seeing this book was that it would be a whining session, how introverts are great but end up getting the short end of the stick.

I wasn’t even close.

Quiet outlines, in a very engaging manner, what exactly makes a person an introvert. I’m not talking (just) about characteristics and attributes, but the actual physiology behind introversion. If you’ve ever wondered what makes an introvert tick, or why some people can seem completely extroverted on a stage in front of 300 people yet seem awkward in small-group settings, this book is for you. I’d also highly recommend this book if you regularly interact with introverts (even if you yourself are one), and especially if you’re an extrovert with children who are introverts.

The Son, Philipp Meyer (Audio)

The SonThe article Philipp Meyer: An Obsessed Novelist’s Extreme Research in the Wall Street Journal (behind pay wall) piqued my interest in The Son.

It didn’t disappoint.

The story was gripping and the amount of detail provided was staggering. Just when it felt like things were slowing down, elements of the story started to come together like a vortex picking up speed. It was a full 20 minutes after I finished the last chapter before one of the clever elements of the plot occurred to me. I suspect I missed some, and am tempted to read the book again.

I listened to this audio version of this book. The multiple voice actors were outstanding. In fact, I generally listen to audio books with a 1.5 to 3.0 times speed-up. But these voice actors were so particularly outstanding that I listened to the entire book at normal speed.

A note of caution: This book can be very raw at times. You can read some of the reviews at Amazon.com to see others’ take on this.

1 June 2013 0 Comments

What I Read in May 2013

Dad Is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan (Audio)

Dad is FatJim Gaffigan has been my favorite comedian for a number of years now. I was introduced to him via his “Bacon” routine, and have been hooked ever since. If you have Netflix, I recommend you watch his specials, Beyond the Pale, King Baby, and Mr. Universe (which has the “Whale” routine!). He’s “family friendly” – I put that in quotes because he’s on the record as saying he hates that label – and our entire family laughs at his routines no matter how many times we see them.

Dad Is Fat is Jim Gaffigan’s first book, which I listened to on audio. It adds significantly to the experience having Jim do the narration. I don’t think Dad is Fat is on par with his stand-up routines in terms of humor, but I’m not sure that is what he is going for. While the book does contains a lot of humor, it also convers some topics that are clear annoyances to Jim (e.g., “Are you guys done yet?”) and aren’t necessarily intended to be funny.

I do recommend the book, although I should mention he is unfortunately slightly less “family friendly” than when he is on stage. It’s certainly not excessive by any means; but, it is a bit unexpected (and unnecessary) when, for example, he calls his critics “dicks”.

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson (Audio)

The Psychopath TestI’m a Platinum subscriber at Audible.com. That means once a year I get a new infusion of audiobook credits to use. There’s only so many credits you can roll over to a new year, so at times I find myself using a number of credits to buy books which I don’t get to right away.

The Psychopath Test is one of those books that I downloaded some time ago but never listen to. If I remember correctly, I may have downloaded it thinking it might give me some insight to a particular individual I used to work with.

Once I finally got around to listening to it, I found it much more enjoyable than I had anticipated. The author – Jon Ronson – does a fantastic job introducing concepts and causing his readers to think through numerous narratives. (Jon Ronson also wrote The Men Who Stare at Goats, which I haven’t read. I wouldn’t have known this, except for the fact that Ronson mentions it a couple times in The Psychopath Test.)

Often with audiobooks, I’ll just listen when it’s convenient. With The Psychopath Test, I found myself going out of my way to find extra listening time. I highly recommend the book, and guarantee it will give you some things to think about.

Learning Python: Powerful Object-Oriented Programming, by Mark Lutz (Kindle)

Learning PythonI got this book because, well, I need to learn Python. There are a number of ways one can learn Python, e.g., free online tutorials, coding challenges, online courses, etc. Because of the large number of options, it’s sometimes difficult to know how to start. I don’t consider this book the best way to get started. It definitely won’t get you started quickly. But once you do get started, and want to better understand how and why this programming language works, Learning Python is an excellent resource. The key to making this book useful, is to know when to slow down and really understand what’s being presented, and went to take a step back and skim through the material.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, by David Foster Wallace (Audio)

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do AgainThe only reason I ever heard of David Foster Wallace was because a token online writing test that supposedly matched your writing style to another famous author’s. I was matched with David Foster Wallace. That is both flattering while at the same time somewhat troubling, since David Foster Wallace is obviously brilliant, but his writing style can sometimes be annoying, pretentious, and hard to follow.

Fortunately, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again didn’t exhibit those flaws. It’s a collection of essays that were published previously and includes topics such as visiting a state fair, tennis, and writing about a cruise ship vacation. Personally, most of the book was less than engaging. But the final essay, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, which is evidently one of his most famous essays, is worth the price of the entire book.

If I were a brilliant writer, I could articulate the reasons why this essay is so enjoyable. I’m not going to be able to do it justice. Part of it has to do with his ability to observe and describe what most of us miss. More importantly, David Foster Wallace has this incredible ability to explore thoughts, ideas, and concepts that you probably had at one point, but never quite pulled out of your sub-conscience. I’ve personally been on exactly one cruise, and his essay captured so many of the fleeting thoughts I tucked away without much consideration.

Fortunately, you can get this essay alone in Kindle format for a mere $1.99. I don’t think you can go wrong. I should say though, that I did listen to the audio version of this. And some of the reviewers on Amazon.com have mentioned a number of typos and the challenge of getting through all the footnotes in the Kindle edition. But, for two bucks, it’s worth the excursion.

Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton (Kindle)

Happy MoneyThis is not a book I’d typically purchase and read. Earlier this year I was taking a Coursera.org online class by Dan Ariely, the author of The Upside of Irrationality (and other books). In one of the email updates from the class this book was given a shout out and I pre-ordered it.

Anyone who’s somewhat familiar with behavioral economics won’t come away with any earth shattering revelations. But it’s a nice summary of all of the research around spending and happiness. It’s an easy read, and one that I can recommend if you feel there some opportunity these areas in your life.

When I get a spare moment, I’ll write up the key points.

13 May 2013 3 Comments

Happiest State?

An assignment for my “Intro to Data Science” course was to estimate which state was “happiest” based on twitter sentiment analysis. Words such as “adore, admire, fun, love, reassure” score positive, words such as “despair, harmful, mediocrity, upset” score negative.

I analyzed 300,000 tweets and came up with the following result. (Note: Darker red means happier sentiment.) Hawaii was the clear winner, but UT-WY-CO-KS-OK form a very strong region of positive sentiment tweets.

Happy State

In my analysis, LA and AL were the only two states that had a negative twitter sentiment, meaning, on average, there were more negative sentiment words than positive.

6 May 2013 0 Comments

Intro to Data Science – Twitter Sentiment

I started a new class from Coursera.orgIntroduction to Data Science by Bill Howe from the University of Washington – and I expect the 8-week course to be both challenging and rewarding.

The course covers method of handling and manipulating, analyzing, and visualizing massive data sets.

The first class assignment was to use Python script to analyze the “sentiment” of a large number of Twitter posts. The assignment was not intended to be particularly sophisticated; rather, just to get a taste of what we can do with data science.

I captured about 175,000 tweets over a period of 30 minutes and used the 2,477 words and phrases found in the AFINN-111 list to score the sentiment of each tweet.

After removing all of the tweets with a sentiment of zero (i.e., they didn’t contain any words from AFINN-111), I plotted them in the following histogram. Positive sentiment tweets are marked in green, and negative in red. The further from the middle of the graph, the stronger the sentiment.

Again, this is not a sophisticated analysis (i.e., I didn’t clean up words by removing punctuation, etc.), but you can see that for the 170,000 tweets I analyzed, sentiment is more strongly positive.

TwitterSentimentAnalysis

The assignment has multiple parts. I’ll continue to post the highlights for this and other assignments from the course.

6 January 2013 0 Comments

Family Photo – U.P. Style

We were in Houghton, MI, (the UP – Upper Peninsula) last Thanksgiving visiting our friends. Here are two family photos that were taken during the traditional “get the Christmas tree” outing.

The first has a classic photobomb from their youngest. Which made us smile for the second shot.

Reade-Christmas-3

 

Reade-Christmas-2

20 July 2011 2 Comments

Paraprosdokians

SmileyI learned a new word today – Paraprosdokian!

From wikipedia:

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part.

Here are some favorites I’ve pulled from various sources:

  • Some people are like Slinkies … not really good for anything, but you can’t help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.
  • The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas!
  • When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.
  • I haven’t slept for ten days . . . because that would be too long.
  • If I could say a few words, I’d be a better public speaker.
  • Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
  • I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don’t know I’m using blanks.
  • She looks as though she’s been poured into her clothes, and forgot to say ‘when’.
  • I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening . . . but this wasn’t it.
  • I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.
  • The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.
  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  • A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.
  • I didn’t say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.
  • A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
  • Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
11 July 2011 0 Comments

Eternal Flame Falls

As part of our trip to Buffalo, NY, we took a hike to Eternal Flame Falls, which is located in Chestnut Ridge Park.

A small cave at the waterfall’s base emits enough natural gas to create an on-going 6-inch flame. Here’s a picture of the flame and then a Photosynth panorama I took with my iphone (using the Photosynth app).

Here are a few other pictures I took along the way.

7 July 2011 1 Comment

Fourth of July in the UP!

Our family spent the Independence Day weekend in Houghton, MI. We stayed with our long-time friends, the Shaws. It’s always a party with 4 adults, 6 children, and 2 dogs staying in one house!

This year, we took a hike up to Hungarian Falls. It was a nice hike, with lots of sharp drops-offs that provided the kids plenty of opportunities to startle the adults.

After the hike, we watched the fireworks at Lake Linden. It was quite an impressive show for an economically-depressed small town in Michigan. Stimulus money?

8 June 2011 0 Comments

Conversion Confidence Intervals

Almost all online campaigns need to be optimized. While there are a number of software packages available to assist you with this, most beginning internet marketers do it manually.

One of the most common questions is, “When do you know whether a test was successful or not?”

The precise answer is, “It depends.”

Obviously, the more data you collect, the more information you’ll have and the better decisions you can make.

But this is expensive.

You can run very short tests to save money, but the chances you’ll make bad decisions increases considerably.

There is a free online tool you can use to get a better feel for the statistical significance of a test you run. In other words, it will estimate the range of your result, allowing you to decide if it makes sense to continue a test.

The website is the Exact Binomial and Poisson Confidence Intervals page. (Don’t let the title scare you. It’s easy to use.)

Here is how you can use the page to determine whether you should stop or continue a test.

First, scroll to the bottom of the page and change the confidence interval from 95 to 90%. While 95% might be good for scientific research, it is just too expensive for most of the internet marketing you’ll be doing. (A 90% confidence interval means you’ll only be wrong about your decision 1 time out of 10.)

Binomial Confidence Interval

The actual calculation is easy. Go to the Binomial Confidence Interval section of the page. Enter the number of conversions you got from your landing pages in the top box, and the number of visitors to your page in the bottom box. Then click compute.

You’ll get back the exact ratio (in this case, 0.030, or 30%). The important numbers are below that. They represent the upper and lower estimate of how your page actually converts.

In this case, if you get 3 conversions after 100 visitors, your actual conversion may be as low as 0.8% and as high as 7.6%.

Binomial Confidence

So, should you continue your test? It depends!

If you’ve calculated an acceptable ROI at 4% conversion, it totally makes sense to continue the test. On the other hand, if you need a 7% conversion for an acceptable ROI, it probably makes sense to stop the test.

Have any questions? Leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you!