kindle or paper books

I have gone backwards and forwards many times over whether to buy books in print or electronically via Amazon Kindle. I think I’ve finally come to a conclusion though!
Many people who have switched to eBooks and their favourite ebook reader who I know do a lot of traveling. It makes sense to carry the books you want to read on a Kindle rather than in your suitcase or backpack, and of course with a Kindle device/app you have access to your entire catalogue of ebooks in case you want to re-read or reference something.

But there’s something about paper that I still like. There are certain situations when a paper book still beats an ebook.

The problem I have had with books is I read too many of them! Especially non-fiction. Quite often I would read a book, and after a week forgotten most things about it. I’m sure if there was something important it would be in the back of my memory waiting to jump out when it was needed – but I did kind of feel I was waisting my time doing all the reading. I tried underlining sections, keeping notes in the inside cover – but as soon as I finished the book and put it back on the shelf that was it. I didn’t pick it up to review those notes or highlights.

This is where Kindle really wins. All of the highlights and notes you make while reading with the Kindle app get stored and synchronized to http://kindle.amazon.com
Now once a week – usually first thing on a Monday I can click through and review all the highlights from the books I’ve read electronically and remember all the important points. A really good thing to do before you get yourself deep into the working week as you can remember what’s important to you and plan accordingly.

I don’t actually own a Kindle device yet. I’ve got an iPad 1.0 with the Kindle App installed, plus make use of the apps on my iPhone and Windows Phone 7.
I’m still not sure it’s a good idea to read on the iPad before bedtime – the bright light and all not being too good for you. I’ve also started reading more fiction before bedtime as well, which fits in nicely – so I’m probably going to stick to Kindle App for non-fiction, and paper for fiction and bedtime reading.

I can just dream that one day when you buy a paper version of a book you get the electronic version as well. If publishers want to stop amazon eating their dinner it’s something they should consider.

Book: Killing Floor – Lee Child

Wow – this is the first fiction book I’ve read since Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, which I read a week after it was published! I hurt my ankle playing football (soccer) on Thursday and that meant this weekend was not going to be spent on the golf course or on my bike. Sophie has been mad for all the Lee Child/Jack Reacher books and so I asked her to recommend me one to read on Friday evening. By Sunday afternoon I’d finished it!

Lee Child - Killing Floor

If you enjoy simple to read, fast paced, action books – this is one for you! I’m not going to try and do a proper review as I’m not much of a literary critic, but I enjoyed it so much I’ve got another one in the series next to my bed to get ready to start.

It was also really nice reading some fiction before bed instead of a business book. I think I actually slept better this weekend than I had done for a long time. Need to switch off sometimes.

Mixergy Top 10 Interviews

I’ve been watching Mixergy for as long as I can remember. Andrew Warner is a machine in putting out quality interviews nearly every working day. I sometimes think I might miss an important interview because I miss a few of them now and again.

I wrote some code that would find out how many times a url has been mentioned on Twitter or Shared/Liked on Facebook. I realized I could use this to put together a Top 10 Mixergy interviews based on social sharing.

So here are the top 10 in terms of Tweets and Facebook Likes:

1, The Master Of Power, Seduction And War – with Robert Green

2, Would WordPress Sue The Maker Of Thesis, A Leading WordPress Theme? – with Chris Pearson and Matt Mullenweg

3, 37signals Is Selling Sortfolio. What Happened? – with Jason Fried

4, How Khan Academy Is Changing Education With Videos Made In A Closet – with Salman Khan

5, Blasphemy & Revelation – with David Heinemeier Hansson

6, $80,000 A Month In App Sales By Outsourcing EVERYTHING – with Mike Moon and Quoc Bui

7, Sun Microsystems’ Pioneering Co-Founder Gives A Rare Interview – with Scott McNealy

8, Zaarly: How To Get 100,000 Subscribers In 3.5 Months – with Bo Fishback

9, The Story Of Groupon: From Failure To An Industry-Changing, Profit Machine – with Andrew Mason

10, How To Build A Profitable Education Business – with Laura Roeder

If people are interested I can upload a bigger leaderboard.

Just to note, this is far from a perfect way of ranking the interviews – but it is *a* way. Some issues:
– earlier interviews probably didn’t have as many viewers so won’t have had as many tweets/likes
– newer interviews won’t have had as much time to get the clicks. This should hopefully be worked out if I did this again in 6 months time.
– bigger names to interview probably attract more tweets/likes. There are still many great interviews by lesser known people you should watch.
– I’d like to include some other signals – such as number of comments for each interview.

If you’d like me to run this against your site to figure out which of your pages are getting the most Likes/Tweets send me an email at nick.swan@gmail.com. It can even be run against a competitors site!!! This is useful for two reasons:

1, See which of your content attracts sharing
2, Compare your site against your competitors, and see what content of theirs promotes sharing!

Should you always try to turn your passion into a business?

I was out riding my bike the other day. The roads were wet and the wind was cold but I was loving it. As I made my way down a country road I started to think about how I could turn this re-found passion into a money making venture!

…I could start a blog about cycling…
…I could start a site where you could list all your different cycling routes in your area…
…I could start a daily deals site just for people who love biking…!

Whoa there a second fella! Just because you enjoy doing something does not mean you have to try and turn it into a money making venture. I’ve done this before – with golf. I tried starting a blog, a positive re-enforcement type site (www.3goodshots.com) and although they started gaining a tiny bit of traction, nether took off as much as I hoped. And as the sites didn’t do too well, I started to dislike golf too! When I did go out and play I was thinking about blog posts I could write, how to get more visitors etc etc. I blame Gary Vaynerchuk and his book Crush It to some degree! (you should still read it though, it is a good book 🙂 )

Since I’ve stopped trying to make web sites around golf I’ve started to enjoy it again.

Of course you do need to have a passion for what you do – my passion is around building things with code. I’m just going to be careful not to mix other passions up with coding quite so much in future. Make sure you pick your projects carefully.

Book review : Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields

Just before Christmas I finished reading Uncertainty by Jonathon Fields. It’s a really good book which I gave 5 stars on Amazon. It has also helped me work through a few issues such as ‘dealing with burnout’ and ‘being public about projects’.

Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields

The overall premise of the book is that people are scared of exposing and being judged on their work. And yet this is exactly what is needed by people who are working on new projects that aim to move things forward.

Constantly exposing yourself to judgement from others can be tiring, exhausting and even scary. People can even back away from this process and become really introverted about the work they are doing. The book also covers a number of things that can help with this such as creating routines and anchors to ensure you get your creative work done.

It also goes into some detail about looking after your body and mind, as without these being in a great state you will never be able to create good work. This is something I realized just before reading this book so it was nice to have it confirmed by someone else. It is common sense of course – but often when you are head down trying to get things done common sense goes out the window and you forget to do the most basic things such as eating healthy and exercising.

It’s also easy when you are head down, working hard, to head off in a direction you never wanted to go. As the book refers to it:

It’s easy, as a creator, to fall into the habit of showing up and simply doing the work every day without ever stopping to examine whether your current direction is truly serving your muse, your greater life, and your community.

Sometimes you need to step back from the process and evaluate if the work you are doing will get you to where you want to go. The hard thing for me at the moment though is figuring out where I want to go as it seems to change each time I think about it 🙂

Thoughts on burnout

I think at the end of 2011, maybe even the last 6 months of the year – I may have been suffering from burnout. Bad diet, lack of exercise, lack of socializing and feeling cut off left me feeling pretty de-motivated and down. I just wasn’t motivated to do anything. I first thought I was just being lazy, or disorganized – but when I didn’t even want do the things I really enjoy such as soccer or golf I thought I should re-evaluate everything I’m doing. I only really realized this might be burnout in December, and hopefully it is something that can be fixed by a few life style changes.

Below are some of the things I’ve been trying to change and some of the things I think I need to work on in 2012. I think every body’s situation is different – so there is no right or wrong answer for things like this. If it works – great, if not – try something else.

Stop being so competitive
I’ve always been a really competitive person. I used to think this was a really good thing, but now I’m not so sure. I thought being competitive gave you the motivation to push yourself, but recently I’ve started to think differently about this.
As you will read about shortly, I’ve started riding my bike again getting in some decent rides over the Christmas period. But as soon as I’ve done a few rides I start thinking about competitive cycling again – time trials, road races – things I used to do when I was a teenager. Compare this to my next door neighbour who regularly rides 50 miles a day and simply loves cycling. He has no interest in doing time trials or competing against other people – he just loves the activity for what it is.
This competitiveness not only covers sport though. Being on Facebook, Twitter and sites like Hacker News – people generally only post about the good things they are up to. Startups they’ve just sold or a great holiday they have just been on. While it’s great to read these things sometimes, on a miserable grey Monday morning in December the last thing I want to read about is someone who has just arrived for 2 weeks in the Caribbean. This is part jealousy and part “Keeping up with the Jones’s” – but I feel as though by spending time on these other sites you can start wanting to live someone else’s life.
Also it is important to remember life is definitely not a race. Someone posted on Hacker News the other day about being 30 and not feeling as though they have accomplished anything!!! 30?! Give me a break – you’ve got many, many years ahead of you. The media reports on people like Mark Zuckerberg as though they are the norm…every 20 something should be having success like Facebook. But if you try to compare yourself to Zuckerberg you will be trying to live his life and not your own.

Take your time, focus on what makes you happy, and work on things that you find interesting.

Hard physical exercise – get outside
As mentioned above I have been getting out on my bike doing between 20-25 miles every other day. I’ve also entered the Reading half marathon which takes place in April. I don’t enjoy running as much as cycling, but a half marathon is something I want to do. The cycling is much more important – it gets me out of the house, into the fresh air, into nature and not thinking about work and computers. Over the past couple of bike rides:
1, I got lost for an hour and ended up walking 3 miles down a muddy bridal way seeing some pretty awesome country side
2, Nearly got knocked off by a bunch of deer – but was amazing seeing them all
3, Pushed myself to the limit climbing up some pretty big hills (big for me anyway!)

The good thing about going down country roads is there are quite a few potholes and so you need to concentrate all the time. This stops your mind wandering back to day to day crap and keeps you focused on the task – as Jonathon Fields mentioned in his book this is itself a type of meditation.

I’ve not really played any golf for 3 months which is strange. A long trip away, crappy weather and lack of motivation hasn’t helped. I feel I need to take the competitiveness away from my golf and just enjoy it for what it is. Also you get a long time inbetween each shot in golf, and I found earlier this year in the 5-10 mins between each shot I was thinking about work. This isn’t really what you want to happen when golf is supposed to be the thing that relaxes you. I am hoping a mixture of golf and cycling in 2012 will be ideal as golf is quite a social sport and cycling is really great exercise and takes my mind off things.

Work the patterns I want to
I tried to be a morning person, and it just wasn’t working for me. My girlfriend is a teacher and unfortunately this means her alarm goes off at 6:15am each day. For the past few months I’ve been trying to get up at the same time and work a normal day eg 9-5. As many of you who know me will testify I’ve tried some pretty weird sleep patterns before such as polyphasic sleeping. During doing this I always noticed that I got more work done during the hours of evening and nightime, and I was the same at University. I never made it into the library as it was always closed when I wanted to do work at 10pm at night!
I think I’m the same now. Rather than try and force myself to work normal 9-5 hours, I’m going to work when I’m motivated and this has generally meant starting around 7pm after dinner.

Tidy office
I think mess creates confusion, and for someone that suffers with probable ADD – any kind of distraction is not good. My office seems to constantly be a mess – and Sophie always laughs when she asks what I’m going to be doing today and I say cleaning my office 🙂 But when you work from home you end up with papers, books, notes etc all over the place and trying to keep it in order is a job within itself. But when the office is tidier I think my mind definitely seems clearer and I feel I can concentrate more. I’m trying to move stuff out of the office to make it more minimal.

Plants – green stuff! I bought a couple of plants to put around the office. So far so good – I can’t say they’ve made a massive difference, but at least they take up space on my desk that can’t be taken up by notes and rubbish as noted above!

Seek feedback
When I started working on sites and product ideas many years ago I’d be telling anyone who’d listen how great they were going to be and what they’d do. Obviously not everything turns out to be a roaring success – but revealing ideas early gives people the chance to try your things out and give you feedback (both good and bad). There is nothing more motivating than getting feedback – and if you leave your release cycle too long and work away on things in solitude it can become easy to become very introverted about what you do. Get things out there, get feedback and ideas from your friends and colleagues.

For more on this take a look at another blog post I wrote recently:
Keeping projects and goals public or private

Just because the Internet has allowed us to work from home and in solitude doesn’t mean we have to be lonely when working on stuff – get your ideas out there and get talking to people about them.

Work on a quick side project
Related to the above – sometimes we do find ourselves working on a large part of a project which can’t be revealed to others yet (should this be broken down into smaller chunks?). Or maybe you are just bored of something right now. So work on a quick side project – build something that will take 2-3 days (a weekend) and put it out there. Shout about it publicly, get some ideas and feedback from people – and then either dump it or perhaps take it forward in some more spare time. So many times I did this in the past where I chose a project which enabled me to learn some new tech – and then we ended up building that or using it in one of our core products.

Thanks Gabriel Weinberg for this one.

Get out and meet people
Well I’ve been getting out of the house more since getting back on my bike, but I’ve not been so good on the people side of things. For the past few months I’ve been trying to find events and networking things going on that I’d be interested in. Living in Reading and being so close to London certainly gives plenty of options – but I have developed a really bad habit of signing up to things with the full intention of going, but when it came time to leave the house and attend the event I’d rather jump into bed and sleep or hide in my office.
I’m going to make a real effort in 2012 to do something once a week whether it’s dinner with a friend or a presentation/networking events. I’m hoping as exercise and other work practices kick in my motivation to get out and attend these events will increase.

SAD syndrome
I do kind of remember feeling similar in previous Autumns and Winters. This might be ‘old wives tales’ but my two sisters who I caught up with on Christmas day are/were nurses and mentioned about people born in the Winter months (apparently called Winter babies) are susceptible to feeling down in Autumn and Winter. As the days are shorter, weather is crappy and skies are grey I’d have thought this would affect anybody no matter what month you were born in, but apparently if you are a Winter baby you are more likely to be affected. The answer provided was one of those blue light devices to get over SAD. I’m thinking more about moving to Spain for 4-5 months of every year – but if you own one of those blue light things and they’ve worked for you please let me know.

So…
Lots of notes, thoughts and hypothesis there. A lot more than I was intending to write so if you have got this far thanks for staying with it.

Has anybody else had similar issues, and tried things I’ve described above? What are your tips for dealing with burnout? Or do you think burnout is something made up by people just being lazy? Interested in all opinions and views.

Todo Lists, apps, and paper

Hello everybody, Merry Christmas – I hope santa brought you everything you wanted. I’ve been spending Boxing day catching up on a few videos online I’ve been meaning to watch. The highlight of today was the interview Kevin Rose did for his Foundation show with Jesse Jacobs.

I really liked his thoughts about using paper for capturing notes, thoughts, and managing what you want to get done each day. I definitely struggle with ADD and like the theory about how using a paper based solution can help.

I’ve been trying various solutions. Trello, Evernote, Onenote, Remember The Milk, Wunderlist etc etc I also keep switching from paper to electronic solutions, and then back to paper again.
I think these various electronic solutions (espcially Evernote) still have a space in my life for capturing content from the web, but not day to day management of what I want to get done. For this I’m returning back to my little moleskin pad. The one good things I did learn from using Trello was an interview Joel Spolsky did for helping publicise the app. The theory that you should only have 2 things to work on next and 3 other things for that day. You have 2 things for next instread of 1 just so you can switch if you get bored. Going to give this a try for the next few weeks and see how I get on.

Keeping projects and goals public or private?

I do not feel as though I’ve been as productive in 2011 as I have in previous years. There are various reasons and excuses I could give you for this but I’ll save you the moaning and just explain what I’m going to do about it.

I always used to speak quite loudly about my projects, plans and goals – telling anyone in earshot about the next great thing I was working on. Some of them I’d see through to the end and some would drop by the wayside. I read a blog post by Derek Sivers a little while ago titled ‘Shut up! Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them’:

http://sivers.org/zipit

Firstly Derek is an amazing writer, has an awesome book – but most importantly always says what works for him might not work for you.
After reading the article above I started to think this may be the reason why some of my projects fell by the wayside. As I’d been talking about them to friends and colleagues I wondered if I had fallen foul and tricked my brain I’d already accomplished something.

So in 2011 I stopped talking about my plans and ideas, and therefore undertook a number of projects/ideas and built them quietly by myself. Some were shared internally with colleagues, but very little made it out into the public gaze. Generally in 2011 I do not feel as though I’ve produced enough.

Over the past month I’ve been reading Prof Richard Wiseman’s books, and in particular :59 Seconds. For me it is one of the most interesting books I recently read as it talks about many of the theories that self help books cover, and then shows how actual experiments undertaken prove or disprove if something works. In the chapter on motivation it covers 5 steps to increase the chance of finishing your projects or reaching your goals. I won’t mention them all as hopefully you will buy the book, but the one for interest in this blog post is ‘Tell other people about your goals’.

It is interesting, as Derek mentioned in his blog post that ‘Keeping things secret’ is also backed up by experiments and data. So which method to choose? Well I think you should try both – I think different methods will work for different people. Consider where you find yourself at the moment – if you feel you’ve been letting your projects and goals slip but you’ve been keeping them quite, go public with them and see if that gets you up and going.

Changing tact this week and going public with a project has been quite eye opening. I’ve been working on a new project called Swan Sites (the name may change but I’ve not been able to think of a better one yet!) I’ve been posting on Twitter about the project and linking to posts actually on Swan Sites that contain updates and already there has been :
– feedback on features
– an offer to help

The feedback and offers of assistance are so motivating. You could easily spend 6 months on something like Swan Sites before revealing it to the public. Without feedback, ideas and even usage from friends, colleagues and the world in general I think I would loose motivation and drop the project. Six months seems an eternity to me to work on something behind closed doors, even a few weeks seems like a long time. And I don’t think there is an issue with putting ideas out there and risking them being copied. I mean how many ideas are completely original anyway – certainly none of mine have ever been. They might be a mixture of existing things and concepts – and I’m a firm believer in the theory that ideas are worthless and execution is key.

So 2012 is going to be the year of going public with ideas and plans, plus small steps and iterations. My main project that I’m going to be focusing my spare time on will be Swan Sites, but I’m also going to use this principle with any projects I work on at Lightning Tools.

Sending emails from Heroku using SendGrid and Rails

Using : Ruby 1.9.2, Rails 3.1.3 – also using the cedar stack on Heroku
Please note : I’m new to all this Ruby on Rails stuff, I’m posting these articles so if I make mistakes hopefully people will point them out.

I’ve spent around half a day trying to get this to work so I hope by putting up this post a few others might be a bit more productive. I’m pretty sure I over complicated things originally as working from the start again to write this post – things have magically fallen into place and worked first time! The documentation on Heroku is confusing to say the least – one page says to do one thing, another says something different. But as of writing – this is how I got my Rails app running on Heroku to send out emails using the SendGrid addon.

I’m presuming you already have a Rails 3.1.3 application up and running on Heroku. My application simply stores friends birthdays, and I want to get an email notification each time a new friend is added.

1, From within your application directory in Terminal, run the following command:

heroku addons:add sendgrid:starter

2, In textmate, add a new .rb file called mail_setup.rb in config/initializers directory and paste in the following:

ActionMailer::Base.smtp_settings = {
:address => ‘smtp.sendgrid.net’,
:port => ‘587’,
:authentication => :plain,
:user_name => ENV[‘SENDGRID_USERNAME’],
:password => ENV[‘SENDGRID_PASSWORD’],
:domain => ‘heroku.com’
}
ActionMailer::Base.delivery_method = :smtp

3, Now add an ActionMailer to your rails project.

rails g mailer AdminMailer

4, In app/mailers/admin_mailer.rb add the following method:

def user_added
mail(:to => “your@email.com”, :subject => “New friend added”)
end

Obviously change your@email.com to wherever you want to receive the email 🙂

5, Now you can add, commit and push up to heroku

git add .
git commit -m “AdminMailer added”
git push heroku

6, We can now test to see if we can send an email by running console commands remotely on our Heroku app. At the terminal type:

heroku run console

7, And then try:
AdminMailer.user_added().deliver

Hopefully you will get an email delivered to your inbox!

8, Now to add this code so you get an email delivered whenever a friend is added, simply add this to the create method within your friends controller:

AdminMailer.user_added().deliver