Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May's Book: O.P.E.N. Routine

O.P.E.N. Routine by Christopher Craft
Marketing (2013 - 105 pp.)

In O.P.E.N. Routine, Christopher Craft looks at his four elements of personal branding (Opportunity, Passion, Education, and Networking) in an easily readable, engaging little book. While the book does not cover much in the way of new ground, it sums up a lot of the current branding wisdom well, and also adds a lot of Craft's personal touches. (The Atlanta Falcons references are welcome to this football fan, for example.)

My favourite part of O.P.E.N. Routine is that it constantly forces the reader to look inward. What use is reading about personal branding if you aren't thinking about your own personal brand, after all? The six-part question on page 50, near the start of the "Passion" section, is one I answered in about two seconds, with the same answer for all six questions:

"1. What will keep you working through your body's desire to sleep?
2. What would you do every day without monetary compensation?
3. What activity makes you not care about your comfort zone?
4. What doesn't feel like work?
5. What feels right?
6. What's the one thing that makes you feel like nothing else matters?"

Quick, try to guess what I said. Similarly, there's an exercise at the end of the introduction imploring the reader to write a short essay and then email it to Chris. I did so and found it to be a fun exercise.

The "Networking" section can be underwhelming, although perhaps that should be credited to my pre-existing human resources training. Social media platforms are so new that any advice on how to navigate LinkedIn, Twitter and their ilk can only be preliminary no matter who is offering it. I knew most of what was in this section, more so than the others, although again, O.P.E.N. Routine is a pocket guide, not an atlas. Overall, it's a good read and a good way to spend a lazy day thinking without labouring.

Ease of Reading: 10
Educational Content: 5

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

San Jose State's Philosophy Department on MOOCs

A worthy read that discusses the very real pitfalls of one of higher education's fastest booming trends. I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much all of it. One of the greatest experiences of my life has been getting to know my professors on a personal level.

My Ever-Increasing Yet Still a Little Obscure Web Presence

"The White Apple" on Barnes & Noble - iTunes - Kobo
"I Drank the Toxic Cocktail" on Barnes & Noble - iTunes - Kobo
Me with my school team at the 2012 International Negotation Competition in Montreal
Me with a bunch of other students Maclean's on Campus (the moot court picture - I'm in the back)
RealGM Author Archive - a particularly in-depth feature article
Billfold Contributor Page
...and, of course, this blog.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"April"'s Book: The Professionals

I'm finally almost caught up. It feels good.


The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen
Thriller (2012 - 370 pp.)

This is Owen Laukkanen's first book, or at least first to be published on any kind of wide scale. It is about four university graduates who, unable to find jobs in this horrendous market, resort to kidnapping. The premise is great, as are Laukkanen's kidnappers, headed by (of course) one with a master's in English, Arthur Pender. His girlfriend and partner in crime, Marie McAllister, holds a history degree. As someone with a degree in history and English, I can attest to its being far from useless, but the satirical value alone deserves a smile.

Laukkanen's character development, foreshadowing, and grasp of American geography are among the defining features of the book. Each of his kidnappers share a multitude of experiences, something I think really binds the Millennial generation. Each event, from a kidnapping to which state's plates are on a given stolen car, builds toward the book's shocking climax that will not be divulged here. The book has virtually no falling action whatsoever, which does not present a problem. The plane and car chases across the United States are really well done, especially considering the Canadian-ness of the author (Canadian-ness and a certain affinity for the United States being traits I also possess). Some of the characters' flight patterns feel ill-conceived but that can be chalked up to the urgency they face rather than any authorial fault.

The few flaws are of the suspension of disbelief variety. How does a character who is genuinely shocked at the sight of a gun suddenly become such an adept street fighter less than a week later? How do some characters persist for days with gaping gunshot wounds, while others crumple and die in seconds? These and similar questions are perhaps best left unanswered. They do not take away from the enjoyment of the book, though, and are nowhere near as egregious as similar flaws found in the average James Bond movie. (Moonraker, of course, being in its own category altogether.)

As someone whose favourite character is Arthur Pender by a mile, and who found the kidnappers by far the most compelling characters (among the best scenes in the book are when their underlying motives and tensions surface), it is disappointing the next book will be about a police team I found uninspiring. Agents Stevens and Windermere play roughly the role Sandra Bullock's character does in Murder by Numbers. As much as I enjoyed The Professionals, I am unsure as to how excited I am to read Laukkanen's next book. Four university graduates, each with his or her own fun personality, turning to kidnapping, is a gripping story. A mismatched cop team... I suppose we will see.

Ease of Reading: 9
Educational Content: 2

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"March"'s Book: After the Welfare State

I'm beyond terrible at timing this year so far. I have the next couple weeks off so expect a lightning-speed comeback. Well, I hope.


After the Welfare State ed. Tom G. Palmer
Politics (2012 - 136 pp.)

As with almost any political book, suffice to say I agree with parts of it but not with other parts. As this is a compilation of essays rather than a monograph, with Tom G. Palmer writing only some of them (albeit certainly selecting the others in part due to their thematic consistency with his overarching thesis), that is to be expected. The title, and the subtitle "Politicians Stole Your Future... You Can Take It Back", provide a good five-second rundown of that thesis. Palmer and his American, Italian, Greek and British contemporaries take unbridled shots at the political establishment, big government, social programs, and what they see as the erosion of liberty since the nineteenth century.

Italy and Greece's economies emerge as easy targets. Decades of increased government control, along with a clientelist structure, are described very effectively in a way that would make any U.S. Senator blush. The doomsday warnings of America's economy heading in the Italian/Greek direction feel a little exaggerated, but only a little. Hidden between the usual comments about Social Security being a Ponzi scheme are very real concerns about reckless lending from banks that had no stake in the outcome of the home loans they underwrote and bought. The American Dream may not fade as quickly as Palmer and his contemporaries argue, yet 2011's US home ownership rates validate their claims. It is also worth mentioning that public healthcare has worked to varying degrees in Canada, Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden, among other countries. Whether it could succeed in a country with as many unique problems as America at this point can only be conjecture. A Dutch- or Swedish-style system may be in some other countries' futures.

The admittedly bachelor-level historian in me finds "Part II: The History of the Welfare State and What It Displaced" particularly interesting. "Bismarck's Legacy", Palmer's entry in this section, is an uncharacteristically scathing review of the Bismarck administration, which is usually more lauded. The connection between it and Adolf Hitler's regime feels tenuous at times, although the continuation of the social safety net is explained well. The essays on mutual aid societies were the most educational parts of the book to me, explaining a community I knew almost nothing about and am now very interested in learning about more. The big takeaway I get from this part is that people will voluntarily help each other even when there is no exertion of the coercive power of the state.

Like many a libertarian manifesto before it, and likely many after it, After the Welfare State does not explain exactly how people without money should be acquiring their healthcare or education. Perhaps my qualm in that regard is a sign of my own attachment to the restrained Canadian version of the welfare state Palmer fears.

Ease of Reading: 4 (much higher for those with history, political science, and/or economics backgrounds)
Educational Content: 8