Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (Book Review)

Groundswell is a really great survey book about the importance of social media for business. Here, the authors interpret social media as the groundswell, "a spontaneous movement of people using online tools to connect, take charge of their experience, and get what they need -- information, support, ideas, products, and bargaining power -- from each other."

The book is well-structured and begins at a high-level, defining the groundswell and why it's vital for businesses today. Next, the authors include case studies and go through various strategies for tapping into the groundswell. The final section includes tactical examples detailing how to implement social media initiatives and gain buy-in throughout an organization.

As you read the book, it's easy to tell that Groundswell pulls together a ton of relevant information, and the authors did an excellent job of leveraging data from their parent organization (Forrester Research) and gathering new information though many in-person, telephone, and email interviews.

I'd rank Groundswell as one of the best books that's been written to date about social media. Along with Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, it's the most useful text on the subject I've read.

As a final aside, it's worth noting and fitting that in my case I was compelled to read Groundswell after hearing about it, well, within the groundswell. Those who are familiar with LinkedIn know that the popular social networking site for professionals allows you to join Groups which feature Discussions. A few months ago I joined the LinkedIn Group Social Media Marketing, and, shortly after joining, I quickly noticed an active discussion entitled "What is your favorite book on the subject of Social Media Marketing?"

As of this writing, this discussion has generated 369 comments, with lots of great suggestions and back and forth. I haven't done a tally, but my sense is that Groundswell has received the most recommendations from people who have responded to this thread.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

She's Out of My League (Movie Review)

She's Out of My League is a mildly funny and easy-going-down comedy about an average guy named Kirk (played by Jay Baruchel) who finds himself dating Molly (Alice Eve), who's better looking, smarter, and more successful than he is. Basically, he's a 5 out of 10, and she's a 10.

The premise works because the characters are likable and we want them to work it out and be happy. This is true despite the fact that there are no real surprises here, and the plot paints by the usual romantic comedy numbers. I did like that the story took place in Pittsburgh, and that the writers gave Molly some substance -- she is ridiculously pretty, but she's not an airhead.

I recommend She's Out of My League if you're interested in a light romantic comedy with some probable rising stars, especially Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Connecting with Strangers on Social Media Sites

I love using social media sites to meet new professionals for networking and sharing ideas. LinkedIn and Twitter are my favorite social media sites for this, as they bring you into contact with a ton of people in all different fields and specialties.

Over the past few months, I've been trying to add new professional contacts and I've reached out to people I didn't previously know. At first, this was a little awkward, as I had to overcome my own hesitation about connecting with strangers. I was worried I was being too intrusive or even spamming people. I tried to balance this by being transparent about my intent to connect and never bothering anyone with duplicate messages or invitations.

Overall, this process has been rewarding and very positive, as the majority of people with whom I've interacted have been very receptive to networking and connecting on LinkedIn or Twitter, and I now am connected to many more interesting professional contacts that I would be otherwise through simple, organic network growth.

I'm interested in other perspectives about this. Do others also connect with strangers, or only with known friends and colleagues? Why?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week 2010 - Intent to Register

I recently discovered the Book Blogger Appreciation group which works to "recognize the hard work and contribution of book bloggers". Even more, the group also sponsors a Book Blogger Appreciation Week to recognize the contributions of book bloggers everywhere.

I'm by no means a full-time book blogger, but I comment about enough books here that I wanted to participate in their event. I also like the intent of the Book Blogger Appreciate group, and want to do my small part in publicizing their activity.

For the BBAW awards, there are several niche categories you may pick from to enroll your blog. After traversing the categories and looking at what I posted this past year, I decided to select the Best Nonfiction Book Blog category and have selected the following as representative review posts:

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna (Book Review)
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (Book Review)
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (Book Review)
Less by Marc Lesser (Book Review)
Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott (Book Review)

Bloggers are also invited to register in a featured category, and I selected Best Written Book Blog. Below are my selections:

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna (Book Review)
10 Reasons Why Memorial Day Is the Best Holiday
25 Days of Christmas (25 post blog series)
Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford (Book Review)
TiMER (Movie Review)

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's Your Favorite Version of the Leonard Cohen Song Hallelujah?

Lately, I've been hearing more and more covers of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah". This includes adaptations for TV, the movies, and special events, like the last Olympics and the recent Hope for Haiti fundraiser. The song was also performed by two recent American Idol finalists, Jason Castro (in 2008) and Lee DeWyze (this season, 2010). According to a Wikipedia article summarizing the song and the website The Leonard Cohen Files, the song has been covered by different artists almost 200 times. There's also a great blog post that goes into more detail about the many covers of Hallelujah, and suggests that it is now "the most overused song ever". Good stuff.

Anyway, after hearing DeWyze attempt the song last month, it got me thinking about the different versions of the song, and which interpretation I like the best.

For my part, while I appreciate the emotional intensity of the the Jeff Buckley version, I favor the controlled sincerity in the John Cale treatment, and I was really impressed when I heard Kate Voegele's version a short time ago. She brings a lot of fresh energy to the song, and I think helps make it accessible for a new, younger audience.

What about you? What's your favorite version of the song? To help you think through some of the options, I've listed some of the more famous cover versions below.

Hallelujah - The Original
Leonard Cohen - Various Positions (1984)

Hallelujah - Famous Versions
John Cale - I'm Your Fan (1991)
Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
k.d. lang - Hymns of the 49th Parallel (2004)
Kate Voegele - Don't Look Away (2007)
Jason Castro - American Idol (2008)
Justin Timberlake & Matt Morris - Hope for Haiti Now (2010)
Lee DeWyze - American Idol (2010)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna (Book Review)

Often, the books that frighten me the most aren't horror novels. Instead, I'm more likely to be disturbed after reading texts detailing real-life threats, especially dangers that are under reported and not taken seriously.

So it's probably no surprise that Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA scared the hell out of me. As the text's title indicates, Superbug is all about MRSA, a bacterium responsible for a range of difficult-to-treat infections. MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus but is commonly labeled as staph, or, more appropriately, drug-resistant staph. It is especially dangerous because is has developed resistance to many antibiotic drugs that are normally used to counter bacterial infections. In this sense, MRSA has become more drug-resistant in part because of our societal overuse of antibiotics.

There are a variety of strains and manifestations of MRSA, from minor skin infections to severe necrotizing or flesh bacteria syndrome. The fear with MRSA, as author Maryn McKenna conveys, is that we may be approaching a MRSA strain, or superbug, that's untreatable.

The book doesn't offer much consolation or conclude with a silver bullet that's on its way to defeat MRSA, although the author does touch on some of the current research exploring MRSA vaccines and mentions some of the tactics used in preventive MRSA screening.

As a reading experience, Superbug was accessible and well-paced. The author smartly alternated between true stories of people with MRSA to more technical passages that delved into the history and science behind the bug. There were some spots that were a little too esoteric for me, but, overall, Maryn McKenna is a fluid and accomplished writer and I learned a lot.

In a media-saturated age that can't wait to report about the next pandemic, sometimes it's hard to know which looming diseases to take seriously. When I mentioned I was reading Superbug to a friend, he questioned the threat of MRSA and contended that, if it was so serious, I should probably know some people who had MRSA. I considered the claim but disputed the logic. I personally don't know anyone with HIV or Juvenile Diabetes, but that doesn't mean those conditions aren't serious. Ultimately, I think the facts and cases Maryn McKenna presents in Superbug speak for themselves, and we need to take MRSA seriously.

See Also:
Superbug - Offical Website

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Movie Roundup - Memorial Day 2010

I had a chance to watch three movies during the recent Memorial Day break. As it turned out, it was a case of really good, decent, and just so-so.

Whip It!
Whip It! was a lot of fun, with a quirky, indie feel and great performances. The movie follows Bliss (Ellen Page), a small town teen who joins a women's roller derby team in Austin, Texas. Drew Barrymore really impresses in her directorial debut -- the film has a lot of energy, the characters are believable, and the film avoids the girlsploitation trappings that might have been tempting or hard to avoid in a story about a provacative women's sport.

Bottom Line: Definitely recommended.

Date Night
Date Night was pure comfort food. Steve Carrell and Tina Fey are two of the funniest people on the planet, and you generally are guaranteed to be entertained when you watch one of their movies. They don't disappoint in Date Night, and even though the script isn't great, they wring as many laughs and funny moments as they can from the material.

Bottom Line: Worth seeing if you like Steve Carrell and Tina Fey but lower your expectations.

Couples Retreat
That Couples Retreat had some funny parts is the most I can say about it. I'm probably being generous, too, because I still revere Swingers and always give Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughan the benefit of the doubt. But this was just okay, and maybe not even that good.

Bottom Line: Steer clear unless you have to see everything starring Favreau and Vaughan.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (Book Review)

I first discovered Nick Hornby after a friend recommended I read High Fidelity. Like so many readers, I immediately loved the book and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites, in large part because Hornby centered the novel around pop music.

When I heard Hornby was returning to his roots in Juliet, Naked, with a new book about music and obsessive music fandom, I couldn't wait to read it.

In large part, Juliet, Naked delivers, and like almost every Hornby effort, the book is very readable and entertaining, with believable characters and crisp, funny dialogue. But High Fidelity it definitely is not. This book is darker and far more focused on regret and wasted time and youth. Duncan (the fan), Annie (Duncan's partner), and Tucker (the ex-rock star) are the three focus characters and have all arrived at middle-age with varying levels of regret at the time they wasted and how their lives turned out.

While you can argue that High Fidelity touched on the exact same themes, the characters in Juliet, Naked seemed stuck and unable to move past their regret, and they just weren't as interesting as Rob Gordon and the supporting cast in High Fidelity. Perhaps this is because Rob, for all his faults and top five lists, gets it in the end and moves on and grows, and that story is funnier and more affirming for it.

I do recommend Juliet, Naked, but I would steer new Hornby readers to his classic
High Fidelity first.

Reviews of Other Nick Hornby Books

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Slam by Nick Hornby

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Book Review)

I can't pretend that I've absorbed even half of what's in Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, but I feel wiser for having read it. This book is all about unpredictability, randomness, and the fundamental problem of forecasting -- that we believe past events repeat more than they do and that there is more order to actions than there really is.

After establishing the extent to which uncertainty figures in our lives, the author pulls back and offers up some ways to approach uncertainty and still live productively and without undue anxiety.

In the spirit of the text, I can't predict with any certainty that you'll like this, but I recommend it anyway!