Just over a year ago, I wrote about the interactive fiction fantasy book app I was working on. After much work by many people, we released it just a few weeks ago. It’s free, for iPad-only (so far). Please check it out and let me know what you think.
Kestrel is a choosable path story or novel for young adults where you make choices in behalf of the main character, altering how the story unfolds.
You get to decide where Kestrel goes, who she trusts, and how she reacts to the events around her. Depending on your choices, she can end up on either side of the conflict or weave a path along the middle.
Growing up on a farm where she can see the city lights at night, Kestrel dreams of a better future. One without cows. But in a world where two forces of magic are about to collide, Kestrel is about to be caught up in something that will change her world forever. And she may be the deciding factor.
The app currently has just one chapter. Each new chapter will be published as it becomes available. You will be able to buy each new chapter, or the whole book (and all future chapters) for a great discount until the book is complete.
Version 1.2 was just released today. It fixes a few more problems, including one occasional crash bug.
▸ Fixed another issue where the app could crash when tapping the next button at the top of the app.
▸ Increased the font size a bit when the device is in portrait orientation.
▸ Added a request for ratings, but hopefully in a way that isn’t annoying. If you’re annoyed, let me know. :)
A few months ago, two friends asked if I’d be interested in working on a book project with them. Jed is a successful artist and illustrator. Noelle is a brilliant writer and educational designer. They’ve worked together on several projects and wanted a programmer to help design a book app. I said yes before they stopped talking. :)
Here is one of Jed’s early designs:
It’s an interactive fiction fantasy story app, except that the plot is cohesive and targeted at a young adult audience. In many choosable path books, the endings were often very different from each other. For example, the plot might change from bank robbers to aliens depending on which door you went through. Also you died a lot.
In our story app, you nudge the main character in the direction you want her to go even as the story unfolds around her. The book remembers the choices you make and adjusts the text and artwork as you go along. Noelle is writing the same story more than 20 times and loving it. She’s been planning this story since high school.
A website is coming soon. We’re close to finishing the programming, art and writing for chapter one. Noelle is wrapping up chapter two in a few weeks.
The first thing I noticed about Raving Fans was how short it is. 132 pages of large fonts and lots of whitespace makes the book appear longer than it is. Many pages are more than half blank. The authors use a parable to help explain their suggestions and, without it, the book could probably be condensed to just a few pages.
That said, the content of the book is good. The basic outline is:
- Decide what you want.
- Discover what the customer wants.
- Deliver the vision plus one percent.
Alliteration aside, I would rephrase these points as:
- Envision the perfect customer experience and compare it to reality.
- Ask customers for feedback and adjust the vision as appropriate.
- Promise only what can be consistently delivered and then make slow, stead improvements.
The most helpful part of the book was the point about envisioning the completed picture before talking with customers, and then using their feedback to make refinements. This idea meshes well with other things I’ve read. It is very hard for normal people (those who don’t spend all day thinking about your product or service) to imagine what is possible. So giving them a context within which to make comments is very helpful.
One bad thing is the examples and situations in the book often seem contrived or unrealistic. I would have liked to see an appendix with references upon which the situations in the book are based. Otherwise, it feels like the authors took their theory and just made up examples to help explain it without any supporting evidence from a real company where their theory had been put into practice.
Overall, I don’t think I’ll be rereading Raving Fans. It’s light on content and most of what I learned can be summarized in one or two short paragraphs.
A few months ago, I joined a company called Imagine Learning that makes software to teach kids English. One thing I love about the company (it’s my second time working for them — yeah, long story :-) is that they choose a book each year, purchase a copy for every employee, and encourage them to read it. Last year’s book was Good To Great by Jim Collins which I was asked to read during my first few weeks on the job.
In short, the book is really good. The principles can be applied in non-work settings, to any group of people working toward a shared objective. The biggest downside is that, to be useful, those principles must be adopted by the leader of the group. The CEO of Imagine Learning is an advocate, which is one of things I like best about the company.
The principles, in the order in which they need to be applied, are:
- Leaders who are ambitious for the success of the company over themselves.
- Getting the right people into the company (and the wrong ones out) before making other decisions.
- Honest assessment of the present combined with optimism about the eventual future.
- Exclusive focus on a single idea at the intersection of passion, economics and being the best.
- Freedom and responsibility within a disciplined system.
- Selective use of technology to accelerate success.
Some excerpts should help illustrate why I like the book so much.
You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. (p13)
The purpose of compensation is not to ‘motivate’ the right behaviors from the wrong people but to get and keep the right people in the first place. (p50)
Put your best people on your biggest opportunities, not your biggest problems. (p58)
The entire management team would lay itself open to searing questions and challenges from [people] who dealt directly with customers. (p72)
Focusing solely on what you can potentially do better than any other organization is the only path to greatness. (p100)
The purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline. (p121)
Mediocrity results first and foremost from management failure, not technological failure. (p156)
If you want to build an enduring and financially successful company, I don’t know of a better place to start than Good To Great.
The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, written by Robert Kiyosaki, was the first book I read on the subject of investing. I’ve never thought of it as an incredibly well-written book, but it did get me thinking about money.
The three most valuable lessons I learned from reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad are:
- Assets make you money. Liabilities cost you money. To be rich, buy assets and avoid liabilities.
- Most decisions about money are driven by the emotions of fear and desire. Learn to make rational decisions.
- The more I know about something, the less risky my decisions become.
I believe these are incredibly valuable lessons to have learned. Notice, however, that I didn’t say anything about real estate. There is quite a bit about real estate and owning your own business in the book, but there isn’t really enough to act on. In fact, this was somewhat frustrating. I purchased two more of his books and his CashFlow 101 game, which I really like. The books started to get repetitive, so I stopped buying them.
Today, I stumbled on a thoroughly researched criticism of the book and it’s author by John Reed. Reed argues extensively that Kiyosaki is making up some of the major stories in the book and giving dangerous advice in others. I found his arguments and evidence pretty convincing.
However, I needed to learn those lessons. And it was better to do it by reading someone else’s experiences than to learn it myself the hard way. I still like the book, but would like to find a better one to recommend — one that doesn’t have ethical issues.
In the meantime, Rich Dad, Poor Dad is still one of the best books on higher-level thinking about finances and money. When I find a better book, I’ll be sure to mention it.
A few years ago, I picked up The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason because I was interested in learning about money. It’s an amazing subject really, and I wanted to know more about it. The book more than fulfilled my hopes.
Written in 1926, the book is a collection of stories set in ancient Babylon, chosen because many of the financial principles still in use today originated there. The book opens with the story of Bansir and his friend Kobbi. Both have worked hard for many years and yet seem to have nothing to show for it. As they discuss how they would like to possess some of the riches they see around them, Kobbi asks what I consider to be a question so obvious I was surprised it had never occurred to me, “Might we not find out how others acquire gold and do as they do?”