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Four Hour Workweek Review

I just finished reading the four hour work week book. It was gifted to me by a friend who said "Let me know what you think." So, I figure a blog post review is in order and this is it.

The Good

The focus of the book is to organize your life so that your income is on autopilot and you don't have to slave away at hours on end. There are a ton of business books I've read that focus on similar topics. This is the holy grail of business ownership. Build the business up so that it can work without you and generate enough profits so you just sit back and let the money roll In with no worries.

The book talks about cheap ways you can introduce a product with high sales margins, but low cost. It provides cheap ways to experiment with different sales approaches before you even have a product; and change things to see if you can optimize your conversion rates. Such experimentation is good. Figuring out what works at low outlay is also good.

The Bad

Much of the books talks about how travel can help you live cheaper. I haven't decided if this is the author stroking his own ego or useful information to some people. I hate to travel! With a passion! The portions of the book that focus on the authors travel success did not capture my interest.

One of the tenants of the book is to realize what you are doing and how much of it is unimportant. The next step is to then outsource the important stuff. I believe this is the right approach taken in moderation; but I do not believe that every aspect of a business should be outsourced. For a tech business-like mine-to offer some value, there needs to be some internal core competency. Our knowledge and experience is part of the value we bring to the table. Not everything should be outsourced.

The Ugly

A lot of the book's suggestions seem to fall into a morally gray area. I feel many of his suggestions are to operate under the letter of the law and not in the spirit of the law. Abuse the system instead of trying to improve it.

As one example, the author speaks about how he won an athletic competition-wrestling or kickboxing or something like that-by going on a water diet to lose weight during the weigh in. Once he was entered into a certain weight class; he then started doing things to bulk right back up before the competition, putting his competition weight in a higher class. It is easy to push someone out of the circle when you're a weight class above them. Such actions are not in the spirit of the competition.

In a different part of the book he provides a way for you to convince your boss that you should be able to work from remotely. During a trial period, you'll be working in part at home and in part at work. He explicitly recommends that you do everything in your power to make sure that your off-site time is significantly more efficient than your on-site time. He stops short of telling you to goof off at work; but that is the insanitation. He also suggests that you work harder while at home to help highlight the differences in output.

The suggestion to purposely skew output in order to highlight the differences between off-site and on-site time gives me a nervous discomfort. When I'm working for a client, or for myself, I always like to put my best foot forward. I'd like to think I was the same when working as an employee-so many years ago.

On the flip side; I find it hard to imagine that many people have to do any "fudging" of the numbers to make work from home look more efficient. I almost always work remotely from my home office, but a current client has negotiated some on-site time. At one of the recent on-site days, instead of spending 10 hours doing "real" work for them, I spent 6 hours in transit, 6 hours in meetings, 1 hour at a group lunch, and 1 hour of doing real work. The hour of work wasn't even contiguous; driving down efficiency. You can improve productivity significantly by avoiding the busy work; but there is no need to be underhanded about it.

Where do I fit in?

I can't figure out if I'm living the dream or building my own prison. I love spending my days building Flex Components for Flextras; and I specifically tried to orchestrate that business so I could spend more time coding. I don't even mind helping clients with their problems and fixing bugs. But, I haven't been able to grow the business to a point where I can turn down every consulting gig. I want to get the business to the point where I can hire staff to help get things going. It's not there yet. I believe that the business model needs some morphing to grow and we're working on making that happen now. 2011 is a year in transition.

All in all, it's a lot of hard work to get things to the point where they can work on autopilot. This isn't denied in the book, but it brushes over that fact; and alludes to the fact that the jump from "Wage Slave" to "The New Rich" is going to be smooth.

Gil's All Fright Diner - Review

The Gist

I just read Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Think Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets Dawn of the Dead and you got the gist of it.

Duke the Werewolf and Earl the Vampire stop for a bite to eat at Gil's All Night Diner, an out of the way small town eatery. Then the zombies attack. The steward at the diner hires them to fix her zombie problem. And lay a gas line.

While addressing the Zombie problem, Duke and Earl uncover a ghost dog, a spirit trapped in an eight ball, and a cult determined the bring about Armageddon. A running theme through the book is that "Towns with movie theaters" don't have cults. The antagonist is named Tammy which doesn't hurt.

Duke and Earl are the perfect satirical comedy team. Duke has the attitude of "I'm gonna do what I gotta do to get the job done." While Earl does the same thing, but only grudgingly.

Here are a random passages from the book

[during the first zombie attack]
... Loretta returned "Where's your friend?"
[Duke the Werewolf] nodded toward the mound of moaning dead bodies.
"I'm really sorry about your friend there. How about a free slice of apple pie?"

"Earl shoved with all his might, but all the unnatural strength of the undead couldn't fit the steamer trunk into the back seat of a used Volvo." ( The steamer trunk is Earl's daytime bed of course )

"...Tammy flipped through the latest edition of Crazy Ctharl's Hard to Find Sorcerous Emporium. The catalogue was a necessity for the modern high priestess. In the Dark Ages, finding fresh mandrake root or the spleen of a virgin wasn't all that hard. In the twentieth century, who had the time to dig around beneath a hangman's tree of figure out what a spleen even looked liked? Crazy Ctharl's catalogue was a lifesaver.'

"No boys after nine-thirty. It was another of her dad's dumb rules. She could hang out with Chad late at night, just as long as it wasn't in her bedroom. Never mind that it was the one place in the world they'd never do any of the things her dad objected to.... Parental rules had little to do with Logic."

"The world was a bad TV show stuck in reruns and in desperate need of cancellation. Which was why she was so looking forward to ending it."

Final Thoughts

For a young adult book this book had a lot more sex, swearing and death than I was expecting. But it's all presented in a manner similar to what you might find in a Far Side cartoon. The tone is light-hearted and kept me consistently amused. I hope they turn this into a movie. It'd be a lot of fun.

The First Shannara Trilogy

Strongly inspired by Lord of the Rings, an overworked lawyer took some of his 'spare time' in the late 70s to create a tolkien-esque fantasy story about a post-apocalyptic world. There are two surprises, here. First, he he did what very few authors do. He finished his book! Second, he actually devoted some time to shop it to a publisher. There is, however, no surprise that, once published, the book went to number 1 on the New York times best-seller list.

Terry Brooks was the author and his first book was The Sword of Shannara.

My older brother me the first book when I was in grammar school. He said "A lot of my friends are reading this, so I figured it be at your level." He was right, I was immediately entranced by the Ohmsford's adventures through the southland, eastland, westland, and northland. Everything you'd want from a fantasy book is in here including gnomes, elves, dwarfs, wringwraiths skull bearers, Gandalf The Wizard Allanon the Druid, magic talismans, and a whole lot of action. All these races were formed from what remained of humans after the great wars which almost wiped out the world. In an effort to lose myself in something other than binge drinking, I picked up these books from my past for another read.

In the first book, Allanon (The gandalf Character) shows up at the Shire Shady Vale to convince Frodo and Sam Shea and Flick that they are the heir to the Shannara legacy. Jerle Shannara was an elven king from long ago. Only Shea can wield the Sword of Shannara against the evil of Sauron

They do some travelling and meet up at the dwarf city, where they decide the best way to retrieve the sword from the hands of the enemy is for a small band to sneak in. Two elves, the valemen (Shea and Flick), a dwarf, Allanon, a borderman, and another human go forth. They have a lot of adventures, get lost along the way, meet new people, and eventually Shea finds himself battling the Warlock Lord in the northland while Gnome armies march south. It has a happy ending, relatively.

Since Brook's world is built on top of ours, a few pieces of our technology show up, such as a flashlight (used by the King of The Silver River) and the remenants of a huge skyscraper. There is also some type of "beast" which is half machine. I couldn't figure out exactly what it was, but it sounded like a cross between a tank and a spider. These items don't detract from the fantasy world, however. If anything, they just add to Brook's unique vision. The technological things are never named, only described.

Unfortunately, this book drags at times and the chapters are way too long (often ~50 pages). Terry Brooks had great ideas but is still an amateur author. However, if you like Fantasy and Lord of the Rings, then you'll find a lot to love here. Thankfully, Terry's writing improved tremendously for his second book, the elfstones of Shannara. Fast forward 50 years and Allanon must once again call upon the Ohmsfords. This time, it's Wil, Shea's grandson who must help. Demons are breaking through the Forbidding (a magical prison) and the Ellcrys must be reborn. This book tones down the great explanations of battle in favor of a drastic flight in search of Blood Fire where the Ellcrys can be reborn. This book was a page-turner and I couldn't put it down.

Every step of the way the demons are hot on the trail of Wil and Amberle (the Elven girl who carries the Ellcrys seed). There is a lot of death in this one. And not the death stemming from war (although that happens too). It is the type of "5 people walk into a room and four walk out" death as the demons close in on Wil and Amberle and their shrinking party of Elven protectors. And Wil has problems using the elfstones. Can he regain control? Sure, but there is a price...

And that price is the Wishsong of Shannara. Cursed upon his children, they have magic in their voices. Wish for it, sing for it and you get it. Allanon needs the help of Brin in this third book to defeat the illiad, a living book that is the root of all evil. This book is the shortest of the three, and surprisingly, spends more time on Jair's (Brin's brother) adventures than on Brin. That said, Jair's adventure is much more interesting even if the Druid leaves him behind, adventure seems to find him. He races to perform a task for the King of the Silver River, to stop the pollution of the river, and to ultimately save his sister.

By, this time, Brooks had three books in print and a steady recurring stream. I think he has pushed out a book every year or so since then, many of them in the Land of Shannara. With the success of LOR movies, it's a wonder we don't have a Sword of Shannara coming soon.

I'm moving onto the next Shannara series "Heritage" which comprises of four books (all one story).

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