Book Review: Big Data at Work

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 27-12-2013

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big_dataBig Data at Work
Tom Davenport
Harvard Business Review Press
February 2014

ARC provided by NetGalley

Big data. What is it and why the heck do we keep hearing people talk about it? Hasn’t it been around for years and years? Haven’t we always looked at data? Yes..and no. In Big Data at Work author Tom Davenport, expert in analytics, shares with us that at one time he too thought big data was just a retread of old information. But then he started looking into it and he discovered…big data is new. In this book Davenport tells us in a concise, nonsense, and nontechnical way of what big data is and why it should matter to us.

Davenport starts us at the very beginning of explaining in simple, easy to understand terms and illustrations as to what big data is and why it’s different from regular analytics. Big data, as Davenport explains, consists of unstructured data–such as comments on a feedback form; is made up of 100 terabytes or more of information; and that it is a continuous flow of data, it doesn’t stop just because a survey ends. Davenport clearly explains to us that not everyone will need big data or people to analyze it, but walks us through the different aspects that might be of interest to us, why it matters, and how we can go about implementing it in our own businesses. He shares with us how companies the size of Netflix and Google are using big data to help change their approach at how they interact with their users, but even more importantly he shares with us how startups are utilizing big data to get ahead of their peers.

Even more importantly for me, Davenport explains to readers about how to get people on board with wanting to examine big data and how to build a strategy and framework into implementing it. I say it’s the most important for me, because so many authors put out pie in the sky dreams or hopes, or suggest things that are only practical for businesses the size of Google. Davenport instead talks about how to do this on a practical small scale and gives us examples of how it has worked for different groups already in existence.

For anyone that is interested in the study of data, whether big or small, and how you can utilize it in your place of work, this is a must have book. Davenport’s clear and concise terminology will help you understand it and explain it to others that you work with, even if they think that data crunching is looking at 2 spreadsheets at a time. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and it will definitely have a place on my book shelf.

Book Review: One Summer: America, 1927

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 22-12-2013

Picture 2One Summer: America, 1927
Bill Bryson
Doubleday
October 2013

Review copy provided by publisher

One summer. One third of the year. Just over a hundred days. You wouldn’t think that the world could change that much during that time….but you’d be wrong. The summer of 1927 changed the world. Charles Lindbergh, an unknown pilot, became the first man to fly nonstop across the Atlantic in late May of 1927. And that was just the beginning. Babe Ruth was beginning his quest to break the home run record, which he would do later that year with sixty. The first true “talking picture,” The Jazz Singer featuring Al Jolson, changes the movie industry forever. The Great Mississippi Flood that caused widespread disaster and panic that affected over 700,000 people. Al Capone continues his empire with a string of murders and corruption. And the stage is set for the Great Depression.

This is a year that changed the world and Bill Bryson captures every event, the people involved, and the strange occurrences with a drop of humor, an eye for detail, and his ability to tell a deft and moving story. Reading Bryson’s latest book is like sitting down at the table with you favorite uncle and a few of his friends. You know the ones that know a little bit about everything, have met everyone, and love telling a good story. Bryson introduces us to every event, every person, and everything that was of interest or weirdness for that year ranging from baseball to flights to fights to gangsters and more. Even better is that Bryson ties everything together. You’ll see connections that you never though about before, pieces that fit just right in the course of this book.

There are just so many different stories that you could tell from this book, so many things that changed. I could write for pages and never be able to tell everything, even the favorite parts. But, for everything that happened though, Lindbergh is at the heart of this book. His flight kicked off this amazing year and created a firestorm throughout the world. His flight, his story, introduces us to media frenzy’s, sparked innovations in the aviation industry among others including the movies, and more. Bryson expertly weaves all of this together expertly, showing us how things are connected and how this summer…this one summer in 1927 catapulted the United States to new heights in the world.

I’ve been a fan of Bryson’s since a friend introduced me to a “Walk in the Woods” and I haven’t regretted a moment since. Being able to reread his books is like talking to an old friend. And reading new ones is like being introduced to another friend in a tight group. If you’re a fan of Bryson, a fan of history…heck it doesn’t matter what you are, pick up this book. You won’t regret it for a moment. 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The User Experience Team of One

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 21-12-2013

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Picture 2The User Experience Team of One
Leah Buley
O’Reilly Press

Review copy provided by O’Reilly Press

There are plenty of books on user experience, heck there are probably 5 more being written right now. So why should you read Leah Buley’s “The User Experience Team of One?” Not only is this a well written book, but Leah also fills a current void in the UX literature, which is some of the challenges that someone might face trying to start a UX program at their POW. Leah not only answers addresses this challenge, but also provides a solid framework of how to construct a plan, gain support from your colleagues, and how to show management that this is a worthwhile pursuit.

This book is dived up into two primary sections: philosophy and practice. The philosophy section is relatively short and provides a solid foundation for those just beginning to work with UX. This section walks us through the history of UX (tracing it back to the 18th century), the theory and philosophy of UX, and how to grow your career within the UX field.

The primary bulk of the book however, is devoted to putting UX into practice. Leah walks through some basic tools of the UX trade. While none of them are covered in depth, it does give a good basic understanding of how a tool works, such as the different types of surveys that might be conducted. What is even more important to me however, is that Leah doesn’t just focus on UX as being a webdesign only tool. Instead she offers tips and advice that can be used for any project, including redesigning an office space or even just the layout of computers. She also offers good practical advice on how to administer these tips and tricks remotely, which is important if you’re part of a larger company or offering your services to clients in different states.

As I mentioned above, Leah offers good advice on how to get buy in from the rest of the organization, which is often the biggest challenge in the UX world. She offers great advice on how to explain UX and immerse folks in the process from the beginning to help build support.

If you’re interested in UX or already involved in the field, this is a good resource to have handy. While some of what’s offered might be old hat to seasoned professionals, I’m willing to bet that Leah offers some new ideas to put into practice. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars, and it definitely has a place on my shelf.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

Book review: Alliance

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 17-12-2013

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paladinAlliance: The Paladin Prophecy Book 2
Mark Frost
Random House Children’s
January 2014

ARC provided by NetGalley

Will West has been careful to live his life under the radar…at least up until he started going to school at the Center and discovers a conspiracy to let the Never-Was and it’s demons back into the world. Will and his friends manage to stop the Knights of Charlemagne just in time, but they face new challenges now. Its summertime and Will and his friends have discovered new information about the Knights…and about themselves. They must quickly figure out how to use their new abilities and figure out who their friends are…before they become foes in the upcoming battle.

Written by the co-creator of the TV series Twin Peaks, Mark Frost has created an engaging and exciting new series. This book kept me on the edge of my seat waiting and wondering what would happen to Will and his suitemates time and time again. With the first book I compared it to the Percy Jackson series, but I don’t think that’s the right comparison…because you see Frost creates engaging and vibrant characters of all shapes, sizes, and genders. Yes we mostly see the world from Will’s point of view, but the female characters are strong willed, independent, and do put themselves in just as much danger as the boys. And the boys don’t argue back! Well not all of the time at least. I would compare this series to more Brian K. Vaughn’s style of writing, like in Y the Last man or Saga. The characters and action are just that good.

This the type of series I’ve been looking for as a counterpart to the Percy Jackson series. The Percy series gives me heroes to root for; this series…gives me people to root for. To watch as they grow and change throughout the books. Yes they have powers and other abilities, but for the most part they act like real people. They aren’t necessarily dependent upon using their powers to solve the problems, instead they use their minds and the skills that they have as a group. And the characters, even the villainous ones, act like real kids…well as much like real kids as super geniuses can.

I would highly recommend this series to fans of Percy Jackson that are looking for something with a bit more depth to it. And for older fans that like Brian K. Vaughn’s writing style. I really enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 16-12-2013

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Picture 1Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened
Allie Brosh
Touchstone
October 2013

I don’t remember when I first came across Allie Brosh’s blog “Hyperbole and a Half,” but I do remember spending the rest of the evening reading previous blog posts and bookmarking and sharing my favorites. The way she writes, what she writes about, and her images just resonated with me (and clearly with millions of others) on a subatomic level. And while many of her posts are funny, there are others that are somewhat darker, like the ones where she shares about her depression, that resonated with me even more. The post that sticks in my mind the most is where she illustrates that describing depression, is like telling others your gold fish have died and they try to offer solutions to the problem. People want to help…but they don’t know how. it’s a post that I wish I could share with the world, so that they begin to understand some of what depression is about and that no matter how much we want to try, it can always be fixed.

What makes Brosh’s blog so appealing to so many people is the ease in which she tells the story. It feels like we’re sitting right next to her, sharing a drink with each other, swapping stories, and just being with one another during the bad times. To me this is the sign of a great writer, because I can easily relate to her. Her illustrations are also easy to relate to, because of their simplicity and bright colors.

If you’ve never read Allie’s blog before…don’t worry you’ll still fit right in. This book captures some of Allie’s best posts from her blog, including the ones on depression, as well as all new content. This book is a great read for anyone and I highly recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 14-12-2013

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Picture 4The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
Alan Bradley
Random House Publishing Group – Bantam Dell
January 2014

ARC provided by NetGalley

Flavia returns! And she’s out to solve her greatest mystery yet…what happened to her mother all those years ago?

Its a spring morning in 1951 and chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce and her family are waiting at the train station for the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet, who vanished so many years ago. But a mysterious stranger approaches Flavia and gives her a clue to unraveling many mysteries, including that of her own family. But his sudden death at the station makes this a dangerous game, and Flavia will need all of her wits about her and every ally she can find to solve this mystery…perhaps even the great Sir Winston Churchill will help along the way to find the killer.

I have to admit this is my first foray into the Flavia universe, but it definitely will not be my last. Alan Bradley has created a compelling character in Flavia, one who is reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, mixed with Hermione Granger. You can’t but help to follow along as she tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her mother and trying to find out what her mother was like, since she was so young when she vanished. But Bradley does leave of us on a bit of cliff hanger in this book. The revelations of what her mother’s mission was and what the enemy was up to, are left unclear and are only barely laid out. But I’m imagining (or at least hoping) that future books will give us more answers.

All in all that is an excellent book and I can’t wait to find out what happens next to Flavia and her family. Even if you haven’t read the other books in the series yet you can jump in relatively easily with this one without being too lost. I highly recommend this series to fans of Hermione Granger and Sherlock Holmes and anyone who is just interested in finding a good read. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars and eagerly await the next volume.

Book Review: Burn Bright (Dark Star no. 2)

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 07-12-2013

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Picture 2Burn Bright (Dark Star #2)
Disney-Hyperion
Bethany Frenette
February 2014

ARC provided by NetGalley

Audrey’s mom is the superhero Morning Star, who has saved the city more times than anyone can count. But Audrey discovered the truth, that she and her mom are a part of a group that fight demons and protect the world. And two months ago Audrey, not her mom, saved the world. Since then Audrey’s been training and getting to know her powers better…and oh yeah, dating her mom’s partner Leon. But a new threat has arrived and she is a Harrower named Susannah, a demon hell-bent on destroying the kin. Can Audrey figure out why Susannah is around and save the day again? Or will she discover things that were best left in the darkness?

I have to admit I was excited to see that Dark Star was just the first book in a series. Yes this book is probably most likely geared towards teenage girls, but come on! We’ve got a girl superhero. Do you know how often that happens? And one that isn’t about being the “perfect” girl or trying to be Superman or one of the other male characters. Instead she’s herself. A young, teenage girl attempting to figure out who she is, what powers she has, and just surviving normal everyday life. It’s a great type of book and character to have around. In this book we get to see that Audrey has grown into understanding a bit more about herself and the world around her. We also get to see that she is beginning to learn, that evil isn’t always evil…and good isn’t always good. That the line blurs often and sometimes sacrifices are made for the greater good of the world. And that’s what makes this book so different from other paranormal teen girl series. It isn’t the focus on makeup and trying to be older, its the focus on figuring out who they are and who they don’t want to be that makes this such a great series.

In the previous book one of the things I had the biggest problem with, was the romance angle between Aubrey and Leon. Not because it was a bad thing, but because in many ways it’s one thing that makes it harder to sell readers on. I’m glad to say that in this book, while the romance is still there, it’s matured. There’s not the constant need for contact or the giddiness of being in a relationship. It feels…natural. And for me as a male librarian, it makes it easier to see people on reading the book.

This is engaging and fast paced book, with just the right combination of paranormal and hero all thrown together. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’d recommend this to teen readers + and give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: The Kid The Immortal Life of Ted Williams

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Posted by Andrew | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 07-12-2013

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Picture 1The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams
Little, Brown, and Company
Ben Bradlee
December 2013

ARC provided by NetGalley
I was born long after Ted Williams stopped playing baseball and didn’t get into baseball until after he stopped signing and doing appearances. And yet….I remember hearing his name spoken with reverence and honor. The last player to ever hit .400 in a season. The player who spent 5 years of his baseball career, during his prime playing periods, serving as a pilot for the Marines in WWII and in Korea. The player that meant more to his team, his fans, and the world as just a ball player…but as a hero. Someone that we could admire and look up to. And in this book Ben Bradlee lays out the life of The Kid and holds nothing back.

Bradlee tells a compelling story of one of baseball’s all time greats. A man that was feared in the batting box til his final days and a man that was troubled in his personal life, with multiple marriages, bickering children, and a legacy that others tried to define for him. But in this book Bradlee tries to do Williams justice. He spent 10 years interviewing friends, family (including his daughters), former players, and any other primary source material he could get his hands on to share the full tale of Williams life. Even though this is a long book (over 800 pages!), Bradlee creates a compelling and well written story about Williams life. He shares the good, the bad, and the in between, so we get a full picture of who The Kid really was. And so that perhaps we might also understand that era a bit better as well.

Despite it’s length, this is a biography that is perfect for any fan of Ted Williams, baseball, sports biographies, or even just someone that likes biographies. It’s well written, and while long, is well worth the read. I give the book 5 out of 5 stars.