Books I Read in 2014

Often when you read interviews with business leaders, they get asked about their favorite book, or what they’re currently reading. Invariably the answer is some business tome, which led me to make this observation one day:

I try to read professional-type books every now and again. Invariably the business ones are an assortment of speeches (often including the sort of one-liners that work in a speech but sound really lame on a page) packaged together by a ghostwriter. There’s maybe a page worth of useful nuggets in 200 pages of text. Technical ones are far more useful, though not the best bedtime reading. Since I only get a chance to spend uninterrupted time with a *book* shortly before bed, I find single-topic blogs I can read in 20 minutes during the day better for personal tech education.

Here’s the one professional *book* I read this year: The Art of Community by Jono Bacon (O’Reilly). And to be honest, I haven’t really read it from front to back. I thumb through and read various sections that catch my eye at the time. Much of it is common sense, as least if you approach social media and community through the lens of dealing with actual people as opposed to marketing metrics. I was also looking for more advice on relevant platforms and tools than the book delivers–it’s really more about the mentality and social process required to build a community. Which made it one of those things I want to force-feed to a number of Corporate Marketing-type people in my life, since I know they would never read it on their own. The author also has a way with words that captures some complex thoughts quite nicely. Recommended.

The Black Count (in my tweet picture) by Tom Reiss (Broadway Books) is the biography of Alexandre Dumas Senior, the father of the novelist, and a soldier-hero of the French Revolution. It’s also a very interesting study of the changing conditions for people of African descent in France and in the French New World colonies before, during and after the Revolution. For me, it built very directly on what I took away from a book I read some years back, Crossing the Continent, by Robert Goodwin. (You can read my Amazon review of that book here.) Recommended for The Black Count.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Penguin Books). I’ve liked most of Brooks’ books, both fiction and non-fiction, but I think this and Seven Parts of Desire are my two favorites. This one is a fictionalized biography of one of the first native Americans to attend, and graduate from, Harvard, in the late 1600s. One detail that’s lingered with me comes at the very end of the book: a few hundred native Americans started at Harvard in that timeframe, but most died during their stint there, or shortly thereafter. She makes a pretty effective case that a sedentary lifestyle is a thoroughly unhealthy one. Time to get moving in 2015. ;-) Recommended.

Finally, there’s a completely obscure topic of medieval European history that’s captured my attention: the Albigensian Crusade (really crusades) that took place in southern France in the early 1200s. It was the first organized military action against non-Catholics on European soil, the reason the Office of the Inquisition AND the Domincan order were founded, and the event that changed France from a small state around Paris to the nation whose borders we know today. So it’s actually kind of a big deal.

My interest started because whenever the subject cropped up in something else I was reading, I noticed a very curious thing: if the book was in English, the heretics at the center of the Crusade were painted as happy, free-love proto-Protestants. If it was a French source, they were variously anti-social radical loonies, early counter-Reformationists trying to purify the Catholic Church, or Southern nationalists. Untangling the Rashomon effect has had me diving into a number of books in both French and English, most of which are so esoteric I won’t bother recommending them, but I did discover a good website, in English, which provides a good, accurate overview. The Cathar Inquisition section is quite an instructive read in light of the various elements of US surveillance and national security tactics of the last decade which have been in the news in 2014. It’s almost like we’ve been here before.

What are you reading in 2015?

By lcaywood

Deploying Out of Context: Behavioral Findings

I conducted a practical anthropology experiment recently: I wore an 18th century dress with a long train out to a masquerade-themed event, and then to a private party. Some of the things I learned about how unfamiliar things affect behavior were unexpected, and applicable outside the realm of retro fashion. I detail my findings below.


You get dressed every day. You’ve been doing it for years. You might give some thought in the morning to the design of how you will be presenting yourself that day, but probably almost none to the mechanics of getting dressed and moving about in your clothes.

You can do that because the clothes you own are designed for the social context AND the physical environment in which you operate. But change any of those things and you quickly find you have to adapt to all of them. Continue reading

If content is created, does it have to make a sound?

Amy Lewis just published a post I like a lot, “Consume and Be Thankful“. The executive summary is “Shut up and listen”. In other words, publishing content should not be the sole focus of being a community member, much less a leader. This is exactly the opposite approach advocated lately by Om Malik, Greg Ferro and others, challenging themselves and others to publish 30 blogs in 30 days.

When I first saw the 30in30 posts, my first thought was “Why?”, as in “Why write unless you have something you need to say?” Several blogger and writer friends have said that having an established discipline of writing at a certain time each day helps keep the juices flowing, and I can see how that would be so for some (although it’s not for me–I write only when driven to it by my muse). On the other hand, not everything you write needs to be published. (The editorial profession exists for good reason!) The discipline can be observed for one’s own purposes, but why dilute the quality of what you share with the rest of the world simply for the sake of hitting a self-imposed number? I’m admittedly more persnickety than most, but poor writing has made me ragequit books on otherwise interesting topics, and there are blogs where the Publish Or Perish mentality is so evident that the work involved in sifting through the volume of content for the quality nuggets is increasingly more trouble than it’s worth to me. Do yourself and your readers a favor: don’t be That Blogger. Write every day if it helps you, but unless you’re being paid by the word like Dickens (and let’s be honest, how many of us really like reading Dickens?) don’t be afraid to be a good editor too.

“Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.”  ― George Eliot

Which brings us to the reason Amy highlights for Shutting Up: listening. Being a good community member, like being a good friend, requires that you listen as well as talk. There’s also a need for overall balance within a community. Some will naturally listen more than they talk, and some, especially those known primarily as pundits or marketers, will talk a lot more. People have different goals for their community experiences, which drives their behavior in one direction or the other. But engagement, not monologues alone, tends to yield a richer and more productive experience for everyone involved.

“It is a great thing to know the season for speech and the season for silence” ― Seneca

*  *  *  *  *

On the sounds of silence…my favorite post from a truly inspired Usenet thread on John Cage’s 4’33”:

I made my own recording of 4’33” for a friend as a gift. I taped the sounds of walking out on a stage and sitting down, and some stopwatch noises. Following the directions for the duration of the score, I simply included three recordings from three places I’d “performed” the piece before (I don’t remember the order of the sections or the durations just at the moment) by including the ambient noise from all three locations:

In front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

By the carp pond at the Meiji Gardens in Tokyo.

A highway overpass somewhere west of Wendover, Utah.

It’s still my favorite recording. When I’ve got the time, I plan to replace the highway section with a recording from a windmill farm in the north of the Netherlands (once I can get a good recording).

Reflections on Armistice Day

I’m just off the plane from France, where I combined the OpenStack Summit with a family vacation. As we landed, the American flight attendant explained to the plane that it was Veteran’s Day in the U.S., which means that we thank our veterans for their service. I was bitterly amused.


In Europe November 11th is Armistice Day. It celebrates the day peace was made at the end of the “War To End All Wars”–WWI. When I lived in the Pas de Calais, where most of it was fought, it was still living memory for old folks, a somber day of wearing black and visiting graves, and remembering the horrors of that time, and being thankful for peace. I found it horribly ironic that this woman, who clearly had no notion of the history of this particular date, felt she was positioned to teach half the plane about it.

In the north of France, there are monuments to WWI dead in every village square. Every one. There were over a quarter of million dead, 160,000 or more of them French, from the Battle of Verdun alone. Various WWI artifacts still turn up when people do their gardening. And then there are the crumbling concrete bunkers from WWII all along the coast. And shell craters, grassed in but still visible, of the same vintage. People with old barns will tell you whether this or that hole was from the War of ’40, the War of ’14, or the War of ’70. (That’s 1870, yet another time that Germany marched through the Low Countries and the north of France.) At a Sunday dinner one time, my hostess, a teen during WWII, with memories of running for the backyard bomb shelter and making it with seconds to spare, made some flippant, offhand remark about Petain. Her stepmother, also present, spoke up very sharply: “You don’t know what it was like then, in the teens! Petain did what he could to save France!” That’s not a view you’ll ever find in any history book, of course. But maybe it was the lesser of two evils; in the grand scheme of things, who’s to say? Reality rarely presents obviously right or wrong choices.

Interesting, isn’t it, that instead of focusing on peace, we in the US ritualistically focus on the warriors, instead? From many, it sounds rote–lip-service patriotism that’s easily tossed off by those who have no notion of what it means. It occurs to me that because it’s been so long since we’ve had war in our own backyards, we tend, as a nation, to be rather blithe about involving ourselves–and our young men and women–in others’.

I have several friends who have fought overseas in the last decade. A few have alluded to their private struggles to come to terms with their experiences–only in the broadest of terms, but along with the stories from my European friends and their families, of Vietnamese friends and theirs…they’re all remarkably similar. There are plenty of difficult, even ugly decisions made in tortured circumstances, perhaps many more than moments of heroism–survival situations have their own moral logic. Shaping a narrative that attempts to rationalize that logic when in a peaceful context involves all manner of mental contortions, and then more mental energy to maintain it…

After WWI they spoke of shellshock, but no one knew what to do about it, and so millions of ex-soldiers and civilians alike suffered quietly on their own, sometimes turning on themselves–suicide was exceedingly high–others on those around them. Today we have a different name, PTSD, and an official catalogue of symptoms, but do little more about it than we did 100 years ago. My friends who served are still finding their way, with varying success, mostly on their own. This, to me, is as much a tragedy as all the rest.

A Simple Definition of “Open”

I wrote this into an internal FAQ today:

Q: What does “open” really mean?

A: “Open” is used in a variety of ways. An “open” API is an interface that uses standard protocols, tools and models and that can be written to by customers and third-party developers. An API is not, by itself, “open source”. Open source describes a development model in which anyone at all is free to download, improve upon and, with the agreement of the developer community, contribute code to a particular project. It is common to use open source components, often from many different projects, as building blocks of a proprietary piece of commercial software. Increasingly, there are open source projects, including OpenStack and OpenDaylight, which seek to deliver a complete and wholly open solution.

I like it, but given how freighted the whole topic is, it seems rather daringly simple and straightforward. So, dear readers, what nuances, caveats and gotchas am I missing?

An Educational SDN Use Case


I was going to blog about Tom’s comments on the VMunderground Networking panel–which were the highlight of the panel, to me–during the week of VMworld. But I wanted to include the video, which only got posted recently. Fortunately for all, Tom has further elaborated his thoughts AND included the video on his own blog, which I’ve shared below.

Originally posted on The Networking Nerd:

During the VMUnderground Networking Panel, we had a great discussion about software defined networking (SDN) among other topics. Seems that SDN is a big unknown for many out there. One of the reasons for this is the lack of specific applications of the technology. OSPF and SQL are things that solve problems. Can the same be said of SDN? One specific question regarded how to use SDN in small-to-medium enterprise shops. I fired off an answer from my own experience:

Since then, I’ve had a few people using my example with regards to a great use case for SDN. I decided that I needed to develop it a bit more now that I’ve had time to think about it.

Schools are a great example of the kinds of “do more with less” organizations that are becoming more common. They have enterprise-class networks and needs and live off budgets that…

View original 611 more words

By lcaywood

On Success and Happiness

Robin Williams died today. Normally I don’t give much thought to celebrity deaths—what about all the other people who died today? is my usual unvoiced response to the expressions of sadness that promptly pour out on social media. But this one struck me for a few different reasons.

Much of my generation of Americans grew up with Williams in his most goofy and manic role, Mork from Ork. His later roles, even the relatively serious ones, continued to be driven by the manic motormouth compulsion that first brought him fame. They were leavened by an increasing humanity, but it was clear that giving free rein to his frenetic free association was what really energized him. I had the opportunity to see him live twice—he lived in Marin and would occasionally test out new material at a smallish club in San Francisco—and his barely contained energy, which would grow over the evening as he got going, was practically a force of a nature that swept everyone in the room along with him. It’s hard to imagine Williams surviving, yet alone thriving, in any other profession. Watching him live, I became convinced that Mork the alien was the real Williams, and that he spent much of his later years trying to figure out how to be human. His more touching moments on screen typically had to do with realizing and articulating a failure to be what other characters needed his to be. Continue reading

Response: Open Networking: The Whale That Swallowed SDN

Art Fewell, whose views I greatly respect, has written a very good post on Network World entitled “Open Networking: The Whale That Swallowed SDN“. It’s a great historical summary of SDN 2011-present, with some noteworthy areas of concern. I agree with the general thrust of Art’s thesis, yet at many points I found myself thinking “Yeah, but…” I started to write a few comments on the Network World page, but the comments turned into a page, so here we are.

Here’s what I really liked in Art’s piece: Continue reading

The Most Successful Network Startup of 2014

Continue reading

By lcaywood

Rant Addendum: Radical Deperimeterization

This is part 5 of an occasional series. The initial post is here.

At the end of my marketing rant a few weeks ago, I suggested that corporations might need to reimagine their places in the universe in order to be effective in the new marketing world order—not as central sources of information, but as minor nodes in a much larger network.

I know, I know. That’s kind of a big blow to the corporate ego. But let’s be honest, with few exceptions, potential and even actual users of your products just aren’t that into you. They may like your products just fine because they serve a useful purpose somehow. That’s a different thing than being into a “brand” in itself. But so what? Everybody talks about customer-centricity and solution selling, right? So what really needs to change?

Well, almost everything about how a typical corporation runs, really. Continue reading