Small person

Hell is Empty

Walt Longmire, Book 7

Of surprise to no one, including me, I enjoyed this book. I am very much enjoying Johnson's writing style, complete with historical references, literary quotes, and quick-witted responses.

This book was a bit different, in that the bad guys, well, were all bad guys. The actual deaths in this book were, well, righteous deaths, in self defense and by someone with intent to kill. There's one very major plot device that was entertainingly obvious, but acceptable, in the book. When I became aware of it early on, watching for the device to repeat itself made its appearance that more entertaining.

In this book, Walt nearly freezes to death. Again. You'd think that after nearly freezing to death saving the Cheyenne Nation the year before, he'd be less likely to put himself in the situation to do so again. But that's the thing about fictional characters: they can be larger than life, and survive.

And sometimes, you need someone larger than life to inspire you to do better in yours.

This, as all of the Longmire books, is highly recommended.

Related, at the end of the book is a list of character inspired books to read. I am uncertain if I'll read them all, but it's an interesting list:

  • From Walt: The Grapes of Wrath, Les Miserables, To Kill A Mockinbird, Moby-Dick, The Ox-Bow Incident, A Tale of Two Cities, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Three Musketeers, Don Quixote, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, anything by Anton Chekhov.
  • From Henry: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Cheyenne Autumn, War and Peace, The Things They Carried, Catch-22, The Sun Also Rises, The Blessing Way, Beyond Good and Evil, The Teachings of Don Juan, Heart of Darkness, The Human Comedy, The Art of War
  • From Vic: Justine, Concrete Charlie, Medea, The Kama Sutra, Henry and June, The Onion Field, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Zorba the Greek, Madame Bovary, Richie Ashburn's Phillies Trivia
  • From Ruby: The Holy Bible (The New Testament), The Pilgrim's Progress, Inferno, Paradise Lost, My Antonia, The Scarlet Letter, Walden, Poems of Emily Dickinson, My Friend Flicka, Our Town
  • From Dorothy: The Gastronomical Me, The French Chef Cookbook, Last Suppers: Famous Final Meals From Death Row, The Bonfire of Vanities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Something Fresh, The Sound and The Fury, The Maltese Falcon, Pride and Prejudice, Brideshead Revisited.
  • From Lucian: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Band of Brothers, All Quiet On The Western Front, The Virginian, The Basque History of the World, Hondo, Sackett, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Bobby Fisher: My 60 Memorable Games, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Quartered Safe Out Here
  • From Ferg: Riders of the Purple Sage, Kiss Me Deadly, Lonesome Dove, White Fang, A River Runs Through It, Kip Carey's Official Wyoming Fishing Guide

One reader additionally added: "I really like the postscript listing of these books, and I decided to try my hand at this game, looking for something to do with mountains, outdoors and great prose. And for titles not already mentioned by Johnson. Here's what I came up with: The Ice Palace (Tarjei Vesaas), The Book of Ebenezer le Page (G B Edwards), Butcher's Crossing (John Edward Williams), Trustee From the Toolroom (Nevil Shute), The Prince of Tides (Pat Conroy), High Fidelity (Nick Hornby), The Shipping News (Annie Proulx) (and "meh"), Far Far The Mountain Peak (John Masters), Himalaya Tigers (Fritz Rudolph), an Ansel Adams photo album"

Sledding Hill

Aw, yes. Down the sledding hill we go, while the weather is still below freezing.

That kid you see half way up the hill? Bottom of the gene pool. We were on our way down the hill, aiming right for the kid. Instead of, of, I don't know, GETTING OUT OF THE WAY, the kid watched as we almost slammed right into him. Only our deft maneuvers prevented us from taking this kid out at the knees.

Interviewing Users

THIS is a fantastic book to read to learn about how to interview someone for research, whether it's market research, user research or design research. If you're starting out in the area of interviewing users, or need to understand how to structure interviews, read this book, by Steve Portigal, published by Rosenfeld Media.

The book gives an overview of the interviewing process, including a warning about being sure you're looking for what the client really wants, which may actually just be validation for something already done (the "gaining insights" versus "persuading the company" dichotomy), as well as a very specific roadmap on how to prepare and conduct user interviews. I love the reference to satisficing, a term given to "good enough" solutions where yes, the pain point exists, but the pain is less annoying than the effort to fix it. How many products are there that solve satisficing (satisfying + suffice) problems? I'd say TONNES and WAY TOO MANY. And likely, "not a product to build a company around."

The book has helpful information on building a rapport with an interviewee, documenting the interview, asking question and optimizing the interview. There are parts on how to ask questions, how to prepare for an interview, and what to do when adjusting the interview with the not-quite-perfect-fit interviewee.

The book's only lack is in the "how to analyze the interview data," yet even that isn't bad. There's an overview on how to start analyzing provided, along with references for other books to read. The analysis of interview data a whole other book, so I'm unsurprised the topic wasn't fully covered here, and nor would I have expected it to be.

Interviewing Users is a great book. If I had to start interviewing people for gaining product or market insights, I would happily reread this book and use it as a guide.

The Advice I Didn't Give

A friend contacted me today and promptly stated, "I want to ask your advice, and when I ask this question, don't laugh at me."

I had not realized I was known for laughing at my friends' questions.

After I promised not to laugh at his question, he asked me,

Without sleeping less, how can I do more with my time?

What a zinger! And well phrased. He didn't ask how could he get more time: none of us can, we each have 23.9344699 hours in a day, no more, no fewer. He didn't offer to sacrifice one of the best activities you can do to keep healthy: sleep. He didn't ask what could he do: he asked how could he do. I immediately jumped to the obvious suggestions:

Remove tasks that are busy-work

Don't do anything that doesn't contribute to your one year, three year, five year, ten year and lifetime goals. Unfortunately, I rather assumed he had considered his lifetime goals, and had a plan for those year breakouts. I charged forward, undeterred.

Delegate to a personal assistant

If someone else can do it and you have the means, pay someone else to do it.

I recall reading a story about a man who had moved to a country with a lower cost of living than his home country. In his new location, hiring staff to do household chores and upkeep was common. He was uncomfortable displaying his wealth in such a way, and refused to hire help, doing his own chores and laundry instead. His neighbours soon resented him and his stingy ways. Later, he realized that hiring local staff and paying a fair wage, meant he was contributing to the local economy and able to share his success.

I think of this story often, when I feel guilty for paying someone to complete a task I know I can do, should do. I gave the advice anyway: if you haven't done the task yet, and still need it done, pay a fair wage and have someone else do it.

Commit to working quickly

Tasks fill up the time allotted, just as stuff will fill up the space allotted. Have an hour, and the tasks that should take you five minutes will take 59 minutes. There's some quantum physics space time continuum thingy working against you on that one.

Set a clock for seventeen minutes (or whatever your favourite prime number is) and work on a task as fast as you can for those seventeen minutes, then stop and take a break. Those breaks are great.

I don't know anyone who has failed to become more productive working quickly with this Pomodoro Technique. I also don't know anyone who has managed to stick to it for more than a month.

Use the small bits of unused time in your day

Oh, boy, I was on a roll with my friend. I was sure I had added HOURS to his day with my suggestions. I was sure he was on the other side of the electrons nodding at all this gold-level advice I was giving him. How could he not be?

Be productive when you’re standing in line, walking to the train, or commuting. Use the small bits of the day that are lost because you don’t have under-ten-minute tasks that can be done on the move. Don't play some game, I told him, use that time productively!

Schedule (and stick to) working out

Because after sleep, working out, moving, playing around at a park, physical movement is the best thing you can do for your own sanity and health.

Schedule relaxation time

If you're going to cram your day full, give yourself some down time and allow your mind to just float, relax, and be. Schedule a massage, take a long shower, take two showers, meditate, doodle, anything to let your mind wander.

And then, I thought, here's the diamond of all my advice. Here's where the heavens open up with golden light and the trumpets sound.

Stop doing crap things

If a task doesn't contribute to your well-being, stop doing it. Often times, that stopping is hard, impossibly hard. I might Miss Out On A Great Experience. Oh noes! I think, accompanied by some handwaving. If it doesn't bring joy or lead to joy in your life, stop doing it.

And after all that great advice, I sat back feeling pretty smart about myself. I asked him, "So, how'd I do?"

He had recently become a manager, and commented, "I always knew leading was hard, but I didn't fully understand the toll it takes until I became a manager. I mean, it's 99% captain obvious level decision making, but the act of making decisions all day is exhausting."

And I realized I hadn't given him the advice he needed most.

Be gentle with yourself

You'll make mistakes, trying to always make the right decision. You won't get it right 100% of the time. Work will ask for more and more of you. Ask for help, tell them no, commit to nothing new, set expectations quickly when you have bad news, stop trying to do more with your time, and in it all, be gentle with yourself.