Book review: The Healthy Programmer.

The Healthy ProgrammerThis book is a practical guide for computer programmers (or any office worker) who want to get more fit and healthy. While the book is clearly geared towards computer programmers, it would only take a minor adjustment to call it something like “The Healthy Office Worker”. While the book uses the Agile programing methodology as a framework, (sprints, retrospectives, unit testing etc), the contents are relevant to anybody spending most of their work days sitting at a computer.

The book goes into a lot of detail, and is full of references, real life stories about programmers that have become more healthy, and practical goals and actions. While it is easy to read, it is detailed and comprehensive, covering topics such as workspace setup, diet, back and wrist pain, exercise and headaches.

The danger is that with so much detail and 19 practical goals, you may be a little overwhelmed. Having said that they are excellent goals and I think you should pick the ones that will work for you and not strive for all 19. One thing that did annoy me is the rather old fashioned notion of counting calories/reducing calories to lose weight. I personally believe that provided you eat the right calories you can eat as much you like and forget about the quantity of calories (basically high fat low carb). This approach has personally worked for me.

The book comes with a free iPhone app (I did not check it out but it is rated 4+), as well as a discussion forum on which the author comments.

Is it worth reading ?- yes most definitely (even if you are not a programer).
Is it going to improve your health and fitness? Well that is up to you.

You can buy the book here, the ebook is $24.

Disclaimer: I was given a free review copy, and I run 20km+ races on a regular basis.

Free PowerPoint templates

Here is a pretty cool website that I have been looking at: Slide Hunter, an online collection of free PowerPoint templates. There are almost 400 templates for download (and they are all free). Everything is indexed and categorised, and it’s easy to find the right slide for your presentation.

Here are two examples:

six-thinking-hats-powerpoint-template

6 Hats

free-brain-powerpoint-template-smart-background

Brain

The ones that I have looked at seem pretty good, and when you edit them all the graphics are seperate items, so you can easily move things around, change colours, customize fonts etc. Note that while you don’t have to register (it is optional and free), if you have not registered he askes you to post a tweet or Facebook update to download the templates.

If you really like the templates you can purchase and download the business pack, which is just over 100 slides, specifically focusing on business diagrams. This pack costs $49, but if you use this code 25PERCENT, you get a (suprisingly) 25% discount.

business pack

Some of the slides in the business pack.

Anyway it is worth checking out, there are some pretty cool slides there.

ps: I will given a free copy of the business pack for this review.

Presenter View; a quick tip

Here is a quick tip to make your PowerPoint presentations a little more effective. If you setup Presenter View, you can see a great summary of your presentation on your laptop screen, and show the regular presentation on the projector screen.

So when I give a presentation, I see something like this.

Presenter View
Presenter View

You can see which slide you are on, speaker notes, slide number, the next slide, timing etc.

Anyway, it is very simply to setup, just goto the slideshow menu and activate Presenter View. Note that it will only be available when you have an external monitor connected.

Presenter View
Presenter View

Shopping with Cybercellar; a lesson in customer service

First of all full disclosure; Cybercellar gave me a R100 discount voucher to try out their website with the aim of writing a blog post about it “if you feel that we are worth mentioning, we believe we are!, it will be appreciated.” Well they gave me R100 to spend on wine; of course I am going to use it!

And I am going to mention my experience because in some ways it was amazing, and in some ways about the worst I have ever experienced. But whatever happened, there are lessons here.

The story in brief.

The downhill experience…

  • I ordered 6 bottles of wine on the evening of 9 April, and according to the website I would get next day delivery.
  • On the late afternoon of the 10th, I received an email that the order had been shipped and I was given the tracking number.
  • Nothing arrived on the 10th or the 11th.
  • On the 12th I got a call from the courier saying that they were running late and would deliver to my home in the evening (a Friday).
  • Later that day I got another call from the courier saying they would not make Friday, but would deliver by 10am on Saturday (by which time I thought “yeah right”).
  • And of course nothing arrived on Saturday.

Rescuing a bad situation…

  • On Saturday afternoon I sent a complaint email to Cybercellar, expecting a response on Monday.
  • That afternoon the CEO (Johann) called me and offered to personally deliver my order on Sunday (they are in Paarl – 76km away to my house)
  • On Sunday morning Johann arrived with my 6 bottles of wine, and a bottle of Springfield Sav Blanc (yummy), and told me that when the courier eventually delivered my actual order it was mine to keep as well.

In summary the courier messed up my delivery (it eventually arrived on Monday – almost a week late), and Cybercellar gave me 7 bottles of wine as an apology personally delivered by the CEO on a Sunday.

And finally the lessons.

  • As Johann and I agreed it was the courier that messed up (and not Cyberceller themselves), but we also agreed that as a customer it was not my problem who messed up. He took ownership and fixed the problem.
  • You can turn a customer around by turning a negative experience into a positive one.
  • Sh*t happens, but it is what you do about it that makes a difference. Service excellence is shown at its best when things go wrong.

Will I purchase from them again? Yes; not because of the order experience, but because of the amazing way they fixed the problem.

Finally, their website is great, they have a massive selection of wine, and you get R50 off your first order.

DEVONThink or Evernote?

I have been a paid user of Evernote for a couple of years and have always found it to be a very good service. However I have become recently more and more frustrated in it, in particular changing the MAC interface to a complex and unintuitive interface, and the reliability of the sycing between the cloud and the IOS app. So I have been looking for an alternative, and I think I may have found it in DEVONThink pro.

Since both DEVONThink and Evernote are used to store and find pretty much anything stored in notebooks (e.g. notes, documents, images, PDF etc), they pretty much do the same thing. In some ways DEVONThink does it much better than Evernote, but there are a few limitations as well.

Here is a feature comparison (this is not an exhaustive list of all the features, just what I consider to be most important for me), and some general comments after. While I have tried to keep this feature comparison as objective as possible, it is based on my own experience. Versions compared are Evernote v5.0.6 (MAC) and DevonThink Pro v2.5.1.

Feature Evernote DEVONThink
Platform Cross platform Mac and iOS only
Groups Notebooks can be stored in a single group (Evernote calls them stacks), but they cannot be nested in multiple levels Notebooks can be stored in groups, and groups can be nested.Notes can also be replicated and stored in multiple folders. EG I have a single list of items I need for photoshoots which is stored in both my photography and my travel folder.Smart groups allow for documents in different folders to be visible in a single place. For example I can view all WIP documents in a single place.
Tagging Tags supported Tags and labels (WIP, completed etc) supported
Browser plugins Yes Yes
Email notes directly to a notebook Yes No
Mobile Sync Over the air Over the air (mac to mac), but only via wifi for IOS. Note that version 2 of IOS is due soon which will support over the air sync. Of course the wifi sync is super-fast (since only the local network is involved).It is easy to select which notes or notebooks to sync (just replicate them to a “mobile sync” folder).You can also sync to dropbox and webdav
File formats Evernote; propriety format with limited export ability. Notes are all regular file formats (pdf, jpg, rtf etc), so it is easy to get the notes out should you wish to migrate the notes somewhere else
Search Saved searches supported. Search is slow Saved searches supported via smart groups. Search is super-fast
3rd Party support Lots of 3rd party applications that connect to Evernote, as well as apps created by them (eg Hello and Food app) Applescript support allows for extension of capability into other applications.
Editing internal editor Limited Since the files are stored in the file system, you can use any external editor (e.g. Textedit for RTF, preview for images etc). However the internal editor generally good enough.
Sharing Yes and very easy Yes but a little more complex
Note templates No Yes (eg: new agenda)
Size limits Limits depending if you have a free or paid package, but very generous limits. Since the files are stored on the computer, no limits
Costs Free and paid versions (annual fees) Pay for s/w, but no subscription costs, but it will take about 3 years to break even in cost compared to Evernote
Mobile version offline access (iPhone) Supported, but I never could get it to reliably work (at last check it told me that I had about 100tb used when I actually had about 100mb used) Supported via wifi

And now for some subjective comments.

Evernote

While the Evernote IOS application looks really nice, it is overly complex and cumbersome to use. In other words it looks pretty but is not friendly. When sync works it is great, but it constantly seems to be wanting to update notebooks, and the updates seemed to take forever. Of course it has online sync, whereas the DEVONThink products do not (yet – see below).

The PC desktop version is great, and the MAC version was until a recent update in which it became very unintuitive. I had to do an online search to find out how to do a simple thing like delete a notebook.

DEVONThink

The DEVONThink IOS application is very simple, but it is easy to use, search is accessibly (and fast), and navigation is really fast and easy. Sync can only be performed via wifi and not though the cloud (although a new version is due this year which will support sync via the cloud).

It reminds me of using the beautiful OmniFocus interface, similar, easy to use but powerful. This is a good companion product for the GTD junkies and OmniFocus users. While both are simple and intuitive, they are powerful products and have loads of useful features. It is not the cheapest products, but after using it for a few weeks you will wonder how you ever got by without it.

It integrates into almost anything, and getting information into and out of it is a breeze. I feel less “locked in” than with Evernote.

Overall (and yes I am coming from a grumpy Evernote experience), I think that DEVONThink is the winner, it will be my product of choice.

You can download a 30 evaluation version of DEVONThink, or the free version of Evernote and decide for yourself.

Disclosure: free license for both iPhone and MAC were provided by DEVONThink for my evaluation.

Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to publish a book

APE CoverAuthor, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to publish a book, by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

Although I would like to publish an ebook at some stage, it is not something that I am looking at doing right now, so the review copy on my Kindle sat there for quote a while before I got to browsing through it. When I eventually got to it, I read the entire book cover to cover in a single day.

This book is for anybody who has or is considering writing, publishing and distribution an ebook, and will save you hours of time and frustration. I have always thought the process of creating an ebook is pretty simple, but there is far more involved that I ever considered.

This book goes into a lot of detail describing the different publishing models, pitfalls to look out for (you will need more than 1 ISBN number), and plenty on the technical aspects of creating a functional and working ebook

There are plenty of links to online resources, including tons of free information on the book site itself (http://apethebook.com/), such as Microsoft Word templates, sample contracts and external links (there are over 350 hyperlinks in the book).

At just under 400 pages it is easy to get through, but it has tons of useful information. If you are planning on wrinting an ebook, I highly recommend you buy it and skim through it before you write a single word, and then jump into the details as you work through the different stages of creating and publishing your book.

Highly recommended, and at less than $10 for the Kindle version, a steal.

10 steps to creating a really strong story

Guest post by Jim Harvey

It sounds like a presentation trainer’s cliche, but it’s not. In business presentations, the story is the thing. There’s a skill and a structure to creating interesting and compelling narratives. A craft started in the verbal tradition by prehistoric man, developed by the ancient Greeks, sharpened by the French, the Italians, Spanish and British over centuries, is now made into a global, multi billion dollar industry by the Americans. Telling stories with a message is what people have always sought to do. And those who are good at it have real value in the places they live and work.

Children are brought up on stories with a beginning, middle and end. Adults expect a point, a message, interesting characters, love, laughter, joy, tears and pity, and are disappointed if they don’t get them. Then we go to school, university, college and work and all of the joy seems to disappear. And we get talked at. Why? Because people don’t apply the simplest of the story-telling crafts to the most important parts of their life. Story structure? Ignore it at your peril or understand that when you’ve got a strong story, everything else will follow. How do we do it then? Here’s a few thoughts:

  1. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ask ‘if I were them what would be interesting, useful and relevant to know and understand about this subject?’
  2. Brainstorm everything you could say on the subject onto a single piece of paper.
  3. Consult with key members of the audience about what it is they want to know, don’t want to know. Then decide what you absolutely have to tell them.
  4. Go back to your brainstorm and highlight those things that now will feature in your presentation and write your presentation objectives- In this presentation I will show X, Y and Z, and explain how we came to this decision. Then I will tell them exactly what I think they need to do and by when, to make the most of their investment.
  5. Build the storyboard- Act by act (See a classic 3-act structure) and keep on grinding until there’s a real rational, logical path through the presentation.
  6. Create a storyboard that tells the story with key scenes & content from each part.
  7. Create the visuals to support the storyboard.
  8. Add a high impact prologue (introduction) and epilogue (conclusion).
  9. Build your ‘script’ through rehearsal and repetition out loud rather than writing it out.
  10.  Write your script to the level you require (bullet points are best but in some very important or sensitive presentations you have to be scripted word for word).

Jim Harvey is the MD of Allcow Communications, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.

Five Tips to Deliver Exciting Speeches

I received this article in Patricia Fripp’s email newsletter, and I have reposted it with her permission.

Five Tips to Deliver Exciting Speeches

1. Open Hot, Close Hotter.

To grab audience attention and be remembered, start the presentation with a bang, not a limp “Thanks, it’s nice to be here.” The first (and last) 30 seconds have the most impact on the audience. Save any greetings and gratitude until they’ve already grabbed the audience with a powerful opening. And don’t end with a whimper. Remember your last words linger. Unfortunately, many speakers close with, “Are there any questions?” Wrong! Instead, say, “Before my closing remarks, what are your specific questions?” Answer them. Then close on a high note.

2. Get the Inside Scoop.

Attendees at one of my seminars, “How to Be a Coach to Your Client,” wanted to know how they can personalize and add excitement and color to the speeches they craft for others. How, they ask, can they get those invaluable inside stories? I suggested they do what I do—interview the client’s colleagues and family members. These people are familiar with the “stories” the speaker often tells, stories that have already been honed to what I call the “Hollywood model” (characters, dialogue, dramatic lesson learned). What insights and amusing stories do you share with family and friends? Your audiences will enjoy them.

3. Try Inside-Out Speaking.

Don’t write speeches to read. I ask my coaching clients questions. My goal is to pull out of them their ideas, stories, life experiences, philosophies, and examples through questions. Then my job is to help them organize, wordsmith, and deliver these comments with more drama. Although the client and I often end up with a script that can then be edited and tightened, the words grow out of our conversations. I call this “inside-out” speaking. My work represents a cleaned-up conversation; one the speaker is going to have with the audience. Of course, a script is not a conversation, but if it sounds conversational, it is far more appealing and much easier to deliver directly to the audience without reading it word for word. Emotional contact is impossible without eye contact.

4. Provide Five Magic Moments.

How are great speeches like classic Hollywood movies? Movie promoters say that a successful film has to have five magic moments for each viewer, though not necessarily the same five. When it does, people will talk about it and add enough energy to a paid advertising campaign to make it a hit.

Be sure each presentation has five great moments—dramatic, humorous, profound, or poignant—that the audience can relive in their minds later and repeat to their friends.

5. Avoid Borrowed Stories.

I urge you to create vivid, personal stories for your presentations. Imagine how I once felt, sitting in an audience of 18,000 people, listening to Barbara Bush describe a great story she had read in Chicken Soup for the Soul—my own story which made the point, “What you do speaks louder than what you say.” (Yes, I know Ralph Waldo Emerson said it first.) Did Barbara Bush mention it was my story? No.

But even if she had mentioned my name, I think she missed a huge opportunity with her speech. Back then; I imagined her sitting in bed going through stacks of books with a highlighter pen. Since then, I’ve realized that a speechwriter did the research and wrote her words. My point? I’m not upset she didn’t credit me. Just disappointed that someone with Barbara Bush’s incredible life experiences did not share them. I am sure she has more interesting topics and perceptions than reporting on a conversation I had with Bobby Lewis. That’s how audiences will feel if you repeat old stories.

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

A Speaker for All Reasons™
527 Hugo Street
San Francisco, CA 94122 USA

Telephone: (415) 753-6556 (USA)
Fax: (415) 753-0914
Email: pfripp(at)ix.netcom.com

Charteo review – create custom slide decks

Here is an interesting way to create your presentations. It’s an online tool called Charteo, which allows you to create a custom slide deck based on a selection of over 10000 online slides. In summary, you pick and choose your slides and create a custom desk.

Select whatever slides you need, and once you are ready, checkout and it will create a downloadable PowerPoint presentation containing all your slide which you can then edit and customise as you wish.

Virtual deck

My virtual deck in progress.

You can either buy credits up front  and use them as you go, (starting at EUR 29 for 40 credits, scaling through to EUR 399 for unlimited credits).

They sell bundled slide decks to be customised for your own requirements. Eg the SWOT deck contains a selection of slides that would typically be used when doing a SWOT analysis. These decks can help you to rapidly put together presentations with a consistent feel (the bundles are also a lot cheaper than the bespoke decks).

Sample SWOT deck

Example of SWOT Bundled slide deck.

While I did not look through all their slides (they have over 10000), I had no difficulty finding suitable slides from my presentation. The website is also really easy and intuitive to use. Here is an example of it in use. Firstly a rough outline for a hypothetical speech:

Toastmasters Southern Africa

  • 9 countries
  • 9 divisions
  • 140 clubs
  • Club recognition
  • 10 goals
  • distinguished clubs
  • select distinguished clubs
  • president distinguished clubs

The trick with a tool like this is to firstly define your basic presentation layout and figure out what you are wanting to depict, and only then  use the website to find slides that match what you are trying to achieve. Otherwise you will find yourself falling in, and spending hours looking all the different layouts, and emerge having seen some great slides, but with little to show for it.

So here is how my slides look after I downloaded the sample deck and customised the content. I am really impressed at the quality of the slides. Start to finish took me about 20 minutes.

I think its a great tool that can help to make your presentations more effective (esp with the icons, graphing and charting slides), but I hesitate at the cost. At roughly EUR 4 per slide, it can quickly get expensive.

Would I use it for my everyday presentations? Probably not (simply because of cost). Would I use it for important business presentations where I can allocate budget? Absolutely; it will save you a lot of time and create some great decks.

It’s a pretty good tool, and I recommend that you give it a testdrive yourself.

Note that Charteo gave me 30 free credits to test with, which I used to create my test deck, and if you use the coupon code charteo10 in the provided field in the shopping cart, you will get a EUR 10 discount.

Just get out there

Two of my interests are photography and public speaking, which is why I follow the blogs of Both Darren LaCroix, who won the world champion of public speaking in 2001, and Jared Polin (aka the Fro), who is the most amazing photographer and teacher out of Philadelphia. They both have a lot in common:

  • Both are passionate about their respective professions
  • Both have excelled in their profession
  • Both give out there knowledge freely

And they both believe that the best way to improve is to immerse yourself and practise what you want to get better at!

Darren LaCroixIn the case of Darren:

 The more you work on your ‘talent,’ the more talent you’ll be given. What you have now is more than enough. Do you bury your talents or invest them? Want to speak in front of an audience of one thousand? Knock ‘em dead at a local service club and more will be given. In my early days of comedy, I had to perform better than those around me at the open mic nights to deserve the right to perform at a professional comedy show.

Darren is well known in the speaking circles for his mantra “stage time stage time stage time “.

And now from the froFro:

Do we ever reach a point where we can be satisfied with our work and don’t need to keep pushing ourselves to learn?…there’s always something more we can learn and I believe that deep down we all know that we should keep learning, studying and progressing as photographers and as people. It’s our own work that teaches us the most. “First, KEEP SHOOTING. If you don’t shoot, you will have a tougher time learning.

There is a clear message here. Stop thinking about getting better, take action! If you want to be a better speaker, speak at every opportunity. Record yourself, evaluate and improve on your speeches. It you want to be a great photographer, take photos. Examine them with a critical eye. See what really works, and what doesn’t.

What are your passions, and what are you doing to get better? Are you sitting at home, or getting out there?