Book review: The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k

As part of getting to grips with an ever changing work environment, duties,line management, and other work-related ‘difficulties’ AND the very volatile political and cultural changes the world is being dragged through I have started reading some books that might help me to both understand myself and how I deal with, well, life.

To this end I’ve been reading some books that have either been recommended to me by someone I know and trust, or the Amazon algorithm showed me “you read this so we think you’d like this”, or I just like the cover. This book, by Mark Manson, is a bit of both … ‘The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k‘.

This book says it like it is. It’s a “dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today”, the book is an “antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected American society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.”

You quickly become accustomed and desensitised to the strong language in the book. Yes, there’s f**k and s**t everywhere, often used to strengthen the feeling of insecurity or lack of control, but it’s also used quite unnecessarily in many instances just for the shock factor. After the first chapter you’re at ease and almost ignore the language, but the language is part of what the book is about. Shock. Shock you into reflection and action.

“Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek. There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience.”

This is a book for the reader to engage in a meaningful and reflective way. By observing ourselves and how we act and react to the world around us we can begin to understand how we take on too much responsibility. 

I ought to say this book isn’t about how to avoid responsibility. It isn’t. It’s about how to identify things that are important in your life, and those that are not. It’s about choosing what you can do something about and the things you can’t, and how you handle the work, emotions, individuals, etc. that you feel you constantly battle against. How do the actions and motives of others affect you, how are they able dump their own inadequacies or responsibility on you and how you choose which to accept? 

The biggest take away I’ve had from this book is an clearer understanding of why I get stressed, or rather what influences I choose to accept that make me stressed. The latter half of the book is building you back up once the first half has taken you apart.

“At its core, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a book about finding what’s truly important to you and letting go of everything else. In the same way that [Mark] encourages limiting exposure to mindless distractions such as social media, television and technology, he encourages limiting concern over things that have little to no meaning or value in your life.” Huffington Post

As a Teaching and Learning Consultant / Senior Learning Technologist I find distraction as part of my work – unanswered emails, line management responsibilities, delayed or late learning resources, cancelled meetings or no-shows, etc. As work piles up or deadlines loom I feel it is my responsibility to manage these tasks, even if there are others who are or should be doing it too. I know I care too much about my work and I focus on the things I should perhaps trust to others, but I also know the results we should be aiming for and, should we miss them, I take it personally and get stuck in myself. This, as Manson says, may solve one problem but it is more likely to cause more further down the line.

This is why this has been a good book to read, and eye-opener into me and my priorities, and one I’ll no doubt return to in time. When read alongside or after Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull there are some powerful lessons we could each learn about ourselves, the place we work, and how we work with both.

The other book shown in the header image, ‘Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World‘ by Cal Newport, is next on my list. More soon, when I can concentrate long enough to not be distracted by all the… squirrel! Oh, the irony!

Image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Book Review: Ready Player One

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, some work related, some classic fiction (see my other blog, ‘100 school books‘), and some purely for pleasure. This is one of the latter, purely for pleasure.

‘Ready Player One’ (RPO) is the first book from Ernie Cline and, I must say, a brilliant one too. Taking an obvious passion for 80s pop culture and early games and gaming platforms, Cline has woven a view of a dystopian and gritty future into games and gaming lore, using Easter Eggs from games and films as a starting point to getting VR-enabled characters and a storyline into a complex story of, ultimately, loyalty and hard work. The story centres around a quest to find the Easter Eggs hidden inside the OASIS, a virtual reality platform used by everyone. And I mean everyone. It’s bigger than anything, including Governments (sound familiar?). Created by the mysterious James Halliday, OASIS is akin to a world where Facebook meets Second Life, but on a much larger scales then each of those has even thought or dreamed of. When Halliday dies and has no heir to his fortune, he leaves a simple quest … everything he has (including control of OASIS) will go to the person who finds the eggs and solves the riddles. There are three of them, and in the six years since his death no one has even found the first. The world is literally just waiting for the real quest to start, and ultimately end, before it moves on. 

And there starts the quest, the loyalty, the betrayal and the general quest to find and solve the puzzles. We focus on one person, his background, his avatar and his journeys through real-life and OASIS. Wade (real name) and his avatar (Parzival) come from the wrong side of life, orphaned and living with an uncaring aunt, he disappears to his hide-out and links to OASIS, where he is schooled and socialises. Wade progressed from a real school to a virtual one. 

I’m sure many of us reading RPO would recognise the idea of a virtual classroom, the concept it has matured and developed in RPO to the point where the brightest graduated from real-life classrooms to the OASIS / VR version. Whole schools exist in OASIS on a dedicated learning planet, ‘Ludus’, government-supplied VR headsets and equipment are available to students who are good enough for these schools, and it is from here Wade/Parzival can travel around OASIS. Travel is limited to those with enough credits, earned through quests or battles fought, or bought outright. Lessons are controlled, attendance is required and checked, too much absence could/would result in expulsion and having to return the VR headset, Wade’s only way of accessing OASIS and trying to solve the first clue to finding the Easter Eggs that will, he hopes, lead to the riches Halliday has left in escrow.

This is an awesome book, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even if, like me, the majority of references to 80s TV shows (US only) and games are completely lost the details and cleverness of the clues and Easter Eggs will not be lost on the reader, and the suspense of the twists near the end (no spoiler from me, just go read it) will totally grip you.

Oh, and I read this properly, paperback. It seemed respectful to the book subject to read it in paperback, as it would’ve been presented in the 80s, where the books is kind of set (despite actually being set in the year 2044).

It is also worth noting that this is also about to become a Stephen Spielberg monster film (in the good sense), but I would be highly cautious of how much of this complex story of the future and past he will be bale to get into 90-120 minutes. This could quite easily be a 6-10 part mini-series, and would probably do a cleaner job of being true to the book if it was, but I’ll wait for judgement until I see Spielberg’s version … 

Scores:
Held my interest: 9/10
Captured my imagination: 10/10
Worth reading: 10/10
Overall: 10/10

Image source: CG Society

Book Review: Webinar Master from Donald Taylor

I downloaded Don’s Webinar Master eBook the day it came out and ready pretty much all of it straight away. It came at a time when I am becoming more and more involved in webinars, both at work at WBS, my involvement with ALT and Learn Appeal, and as an observer/participant in learning-related online seminars.

“There is no real difference between the intimacy and informality of a conversation with friends and what you say online. You still need to be engaging, and to know your audience. If you are also fully prepared, you will do an excellent job.” Donald H Taylor, 2015

Don writes from nine nine years experience of developing and delivering online seminars for the Learning and Skills Group (LSG), so it’s pretty clear to say that Don has seen many changes to the technology and features available in the systems on offer. What strikes me about the book and what Don has written here is that the basic skills needed to plan and run an effective webinar haven’t changed – you still need to carefully plan for an audience who will have many more distractions  that usual, that will be quick to leave unless they are engaged, that will be slow to react or reluctant to ‘chat’ unless they are displeased, and that you will never know how you’re doing until it’s too late.

“I strongly believe that an effective webinar relies on live contributions from attendees. If your platform does not offer a chat area which everyone can contribute to, and read, then I would change platform.” Donald H Taylor, 2015

It isn’t easy, however, to be a ‘webinar master’, I don’t claim to be any good presenting, whether in person or online, but Don’s book covers enough for me, and indeed anyone, to learn a few more skills and to be aware of what will help take a simple presentation and make it an experience.

Book review: Learning with ‘e’s

On my shelf (virtual and real) are a series of books that I know I just don’t have time to read. I’ve recently started to use Shelfari to organise my real and virtual book shelf, where I can easily refer to books I’ve read, I am reading, or want/plan to read.

Indeed (if this embed works) here they are: 

However, from this list is Steve Wheeler’s latest/newest book Learning with ‘e’s. This is one book I am reading, enthusiastically. Taken from his blog, and enhanced with further reflection and writing, the book covers many aspects of current thinking and how we can plan for a better system of education and learning. Steve says:

“I believe that for educators everywhere, the challenge is to take devices that have the potential for great distraction and boldly appropriate them as tools that can inspire learners, focus their minds, and engage them in learning.”

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Steve on a few occasions over the last 5 or 6 years now as well many many tweets and RTs, and having the honour of sharing a taxi from Dundee to Edinburgh in 2011 with Donald Clark (… that was a taxi ride with a difference!). The book is an insight into his world of exploration and reflection, and well worth the cover price. My review, publicly displayed on Amazon, is:

“As someone who regularly reads and comments on Steve’s Learning With ‘E’s blog this book has more than lived up to my expectations. An explorer in more ways than one, Steve opens the readers mind to concepts and approaches to education, to learning, and to the state of our own fixation with technology, and lends us his caring hand to guide us through the quagmire that is the ‘future of technology in education’. Well structured and very articulate, Steve does not disappoint his readers, and opens our minds to more questions than we have answers to … but it is these questions we need to be asking if we are to improve our schools and universities.”

No, his eyes are not really that piercingly blue. Nearly, but not quite.

Steve Wheeler: Learning with 'e's

Books vs eBooks: it’s about WHY as well as WHERE?

So, I buy books and eBooks. It’s not a massive revelation, but if all you read is websites like Mashable or The Verge it might seem unusual to do both.

What I see discussed about the difference between physical books and eBooks is about where we choose to read them. Plenty is written about where we read each type (and why) or how you buy or read them … but for me it’s also about why I buy and read them on the different formats.

I’ll own up to to it now and say that, yes, I do use a large online retailer for the majority of my books … I don’t have much spare money for this activity and I need to be careful about how much and how often I spend my money.

I am quite particular about the way I buy my books. I tend to buy fiction books to read on either my Kindle or using the Kindle App on my iPad. The Kindle is so much more flexible in its ease for carrying and holding than both the physical copy and iPad Kindle App (although I may have the iPad on me more often than the Kindle). I have all my Kindle books on my Kindle (I’ve still a long way to go before I start to find the limit on space), so it’s easy to choose my next book.

I’ve downloaded and enjoyed the whole series (12 so far) of The Frontier’s Saga (self-published, eBook-only science fiction), the Ben Hope series (again, self-published, eBook-only). I have enjoyed many other eBook-only independent author works that are either a series or very good one-offs. What attracted me to these eBooks were favourable reviews or I just took a punt and thought that £0.69 or £1.99 was easy money that I wouldn’t easily  miss if the book turned out to be a bit, well, naff. As it happened, they were really good so I went back for more. I would not have done that with a paperback book which would’ve easily been £5.99 or more, certainly not for a book that was part of a series.

Kindle books are so much more appealing when they are appropriately priced compared to the physical copy. I do not like, nor will buy, an eBook that is aggressively priced. In fact, eBooks that are only £1.00 cheaper than the paper copy is just plain rude in my book (pardon the pun) .. these are typically the type of non-fiction books I like.

But when it comes to non-fiction books, like reference books, textbooks, autobiographies, or other interesting fact-based novels … I like to have the physical version to hold, read, annotate, and put on my shelf (and yes, show-off). I’ve Sir Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds sitting alongside Julian Stodd’s The Social Leadership Handbook, Brian Chen’s Always On, and Oliver Quinlan’s Thinking Teacher. I’ve used those mini coloured post-it highlight things to tag pages or phrases I find important, or for sections I’ve annotated and want to reference again at some point.

I like having the physical copy for these kinds of books. Yes, I can do the same things in the Kindle version, but I still like the physical book. I also like the way they look on a bookshelf. It’s not a large collection, but it is growing, and I like to be able to see easily (and quickly) the way my reading habits change, grow, and are influenced by friends, colleagues, and my peers.

eBooks

What I wish, however, is that the publishing world would wake up to the opportunity to have their materials, their books, more widely read and shared. I would love to have the eBook edition of all my physical books so I have a choice of how, as well as where, to read them!

Last year, for my birthday, I was bought the complete (so far) set of 7 Game of Thrones books (paperbacks). Each one is a mammoth effort to hold as they’re so large. When I want to read in bed I prefer the ease and lightness of the Kindle. If I’m outside or in the conservatory I prefer the paperback. But unless I buy the eBook edition I don’t have this choice. I’ve read the first two books and now don’t want to read the rest as, well, the books are too damned heavy! If I had the Kindle versions as well though … ?

The year before I was given the complete set of Gone books by Michael Grant (soon to be a TV series I hope). I enjoyed the experience of reading these in paper form, but now I want to re-read them and just can’t be bothered to get the books out. I want to read them on my Kindle – there were some parts of the stories that I now know are not key to the plot (sorry, it’s true) so want to skip.

The other advantage of having paper and eBook editions, for me, is that I can swap between them based on where I am, or what mood I’m in. More importantly, I have the ability to make that choice.

For my 40th birthday my brother bought a USB turntable, so I can digitise my 80’s and 90’s music vinyl collection. This meant I didn’t have to buy (again) those albums that made my childhood and teenage years so wonderful. I have the vinyl LP or 12″ single to listen to in it’s original form (crackles and all), or the MP3 version on my iPod. I have that choice!

Yes, Amazon now have the Matchbook feature where selected titles have the eBook edition available at considerably lower (if not free) price. This is controlled by the very publishers that are causing the problem in eBook prices in the first place!

Those of you who invest in the paper copy of The Really Useful #EdTechBook will also have the ability (if purchased from Amazon) to have the eBook edition for free through Matchbook, this is how strongly I feel about the crossover between howwhere, and why we read what we read!

image source: Francesco Minciotti (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Book review: The Social Leadership Handbook @julianstodd

“What we know today will get us to tomorrow, but we’ll have to learn more again tomorrow to keep ahead … welcome to the Social Age, where change is constant and we live in constant beta.”

I’ve never thought about learning like this before, other than I know I get bored quickly so find new things to keep me engaged and entertained. But, with the constant bombardment of new technologies, new networks, new applications to old techniques, etc. we are indeed in ‘constant beta’.

And I mean ‘we’ in the context of learning professionals (which I’m exploring with my next book project: follow here for news -#EdTechBook) that we need to not only keep up with developments but somehow keep ahead of them. I know this is near impossible, but we can at least be proactive in how we approach the changes, reflect on our own experiences, and make suggestions and engage with each other (and the students). From this will come better understanding and a clearer picture of what could be used, how, where, why, and (importantly) by whom. 

The Social Leadership Handbook This is why Julian Stodd’s book The Social Leadership Handbook is another book that has found it’s way on to my reading list.

Whilst Julian has clearly aimed the handbook at leaders and managers I see it resonating so closely with those of us who work across disciplines, as we often need to exhibit skills more aligned to management than technical.

“The Social Age is about high levels of engagement through informal, socially collaborative technology. It supports agility by allowing many and varied connections and the rapid iteration of ideas in communities that are ‘sense making’.”

Julian’s NET model is built around three themes, or dimensions. These are ‘narrative’, ‘engagement’, and ‘technology’. You see now why I think this is such an important book for learning professionals? Just this concept could be used to explain the role of a Learning technologist – we need to curate to share our knowledge (‘narrative’), we manage our networks, reputation, and communities (‘engagement’), and we use social collaboration and reach to learn more than we already know (‘technology’). And it doesn’t stop, we keep cycling through the three stages, not spending the same amount of time in each phase, each time we reach it, but moving and shaping our own learning, and thus the learning of those who we encounter and interact.

“Technology facilitates the experience, it facilitates learning, but doesn’t guarantee it … you can control the technology, but you can’t control the conversation, and when push comes to shove, it’s the conversation that counts. Technology is transient and adaptable. I can just bring my own device.”

I have not had chance to read the whole book properly but I know enough already that this will have an impact on hows I think about myself, my work, and how I approach the different elements: “the [NET Model] circle represents an agile journey .. once we have mastered the skills, we continue to refine them.

Main image source: Julian Stodd / SeaSalt Learning

Book Review: “Always On”

It’s been a while since my last book review, but that doesn’t mean I’ve not been keeping up to date with my reading list – if anything the list is getting longer (and the days shorter).

Brian Chen: Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future--and Locked Us InMy latest addition to the list is from Brian Chen – “Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future – and Locked Us In“.

It is clear to see all around us just what impact smartphones have had on society and, in my area of interest, learning. It has enabled truly mobile learning to take place – in the sense of mobile materials as well as mobile individuals – as well as interactions when we, the learner, wants it, not just when the course director wants it. Apple has taken something, developed it, marketed it, and let it loose on the world. You could argue about Apple and Steve Jobs’ intent and whether they knew what they had when it was first released, but it is the inclusion of the App Store and the developments the global community made that have helped steer and mould the direction the iPhone and subsequent smartphones took. 

“The iPhone unlocked a reality in which we can potentially have anything we want, anytime and anywhere. And as a result, everything has changed – from how people interact socially to how students learn in classrooms, and from how we do our jobs to how companies make products.”

With chapters like ‘Smarter or Dumber?’, ‘Disconnected’, and ‘iSpy: The End of Privacy’ this book is a comprehensive look at not only the technology but our own willingness to embrace it and include it in all aspects of our daily activities.

“There is part of our digital lives that we can’t hack around, no matter how hard we try. As always-on participants, we trust that for-profit companies will use out data responsibly and ethically, and there is close to zero regulation over what businesses are allowed to do with our personal information. What are Microsoft or Google going to do, for example, with all these photos people posted everywhere? What if your photo showed up in a series of advertisements, or what if you were caught doing something somewhat sketchy and it made its way to a blog? And who is to say that smaller, seemingly innocent private companies won’t sell our information to larger groups, such as health insurance companies or marketing organizations?”

There is something for everyone in this book, and plenty to take away when looking at education, students, learning, and the always-on mentality of how we use the devices we own. With stories and anecdotes about games being developed in bedrooms that earn the developers thousands, if not millions, of dollars, to inspiring tales of bravery or survival, the iPhone and associated apps have made the device and the always-on mentality so integral to all parts of our lives and daily routines.

“Wolley’s incident ['Dan Wolley: Buried in Haiti rubble'] highlights an incredible social implication of the iPhone and other similar smartphones: an Internet-enabled device, with access to a wealth of apps offering a multitude of utilities, can potentially transform a person into an always-connected, all-knowing being. In Wolley’s case, an iPhone app turned him into an amateur medic that helped him survive a natural disaster.”

With learning and teaching being represented throughout the book there are some simple, yet effective, examples of how the smartphone revolution is having, or should be having, an affect on classrooms and how we use them, view them, and ensure they are used as an advantage, not distraction:

“If we can access any information anytime, anywhere in the world with a smartphone, then the way we learn in a classroom is due for an upgrade. Young, bright students (and, heck, the dimwitted ones too) are fully aware that the Internet opens a portal to a live stream of information that billions of minds crowdsource.”

All in all this is good book – heavy on the concentration on the iPhone itself (but then it’s expected as the book is about the iPhone, and the author writes for Wired on Apple products and news) but there is plenty here for me about the general trend of how mobile devices is having, and has had, an impact on modern cultures.

I don’t write anymore, I sketch #sketchnote

A couple of months ago I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments I should have had 25+ years ago at school. I have never been good at taking notes. Never.

At school I was always behind and struggling because I couldn’t keep up with my teachers and their dictated notes. I wasn’t alone with this, but it was still hard. At University it was the same, but it felt worse because everyone else wrote and kept amazing notes from lectures, demonstrations, field-trips, etc. I survived and gained my degree because I had generous friends who helped me when I needed it.

Now, with nearly 18+ years since graduation I’ve finally realised why I am still making rubbish notes in meetings, conferences, etc. (apart from the obvious reason that I suck at it). It’s the wrong medium for me. It’s not that my handwriting is so awful I can’t read it (which, unfortunately, it is) it’s that I don’t respond to those kinds of notes. Therefore I shouldn’t be trying to take notes like that.

I should be sketching, or rather taking ‘sketchnotes’. 

The Sketchnote HandbookI recently found The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde. Why, why, why hadn’t this been around all those years ago. All of a sudden I could think more clearly when taking notes (it’s about the ideas of the presentation, meeting, conference, etc.) rather than the specific content being presented. It’s about making visual clues to these ideas and how I respond to them when I look back after the event.

When was the last time you re-read your meeting notes and they made sense? When was the last time you shared your meeting or conference notes, willingly? With sketchnotes (as with written notes) your record of the event is still personal to you, and how or why you chose to record that idea or concept, but the result is something that others can use to enable their own recall or memory of the presentation.

The Sketchnote Handbook The Sketchnote Handbook The Sketchnote Handbook Sketchnote from April 2014 East Midlands Learning Technology Group Meeting

Last week I was able to put my test sketching to good use at the April East Midlands Learning Technology Group meeting. Previously my notes have been tweeted on the #emlt and to the @EastMidsLT, but last week I decided to sketch as the event progressed.

Clearly I have a long way to go to improve (perfect?) my own style, and work on my typeface and drawing skills, before I really want to share every one I produce, but it’s a skill I am enjoying learning and perfecting and testing.

Sketchnote from April 2014 East Midlands Learning Technology Group Meeting

One thing I will say about sketchnotes is that your sketchnote will look better, and mean more, when the event or presentation is well structured and easier to see how much space you will need, therefore how much space you can use. If you limit each sketch (and by association, each meeting or presentation) to a single or double page sketch, then you need to be sure you have enough space for the concepts you want to record. There will be nothing worse than, as you fill the page, you suddenly find you need a little more space.

PS. This is one book you’ll want in paper format. I don’t know how it renders on a Kindle or eBook devices but the whole book is sketched and a completely graphical and a wonderful book to flip through.