January 17, 2012

Just another job search manual

48 Days to the Work You Love48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book will help you if you're looking for a traditional job. It contains advice on resume writing and job search tactics, and a thorough section on interviewing skills.

But if "the work you love" is nontraditional -- freelance work or self-employment -- look elsewhere. Despite the author's admission that "the new normal" includes more such work, the job-hunting sections assume that "work" means a place on a corporate payroll. There are only two chapters about self-employment. The first spends a lot of time convincing you it can be done--but doesn't give details about how. The other offers a bunch of anecdotes, but no tactics for starting a business or advice for freelancers.

The sections on self-discovery -- figuring out who you are and what kind of work might be "the work you love" -- are also pretty flimsy. So look elsewhere if you're trying to discover what work is a good fit for you.

Some parts of this book are quite inspirational, but ultimately I can't recommend it. In addition to scattered typos ("tot" instead of "to" -- in all-caps, no less; an R missing from "unfotunately"), there's a clear lack of proofreading and fact-checking. The name of the famous missionary David Livingstone is misspelled, omitting the final E. The average time Americans spend in a job is variously given as 2.2 years and 3.2 years. One of them may be right, but which?

Most troubling to me is the repetition of the Shackleton advert myth. It only takes a Google to learn that this anecdote remains unsubstantiated despite the best efforts the Antarctic Circle organization to prove it. Miller's inclusion of this misinformation leads me to wonder what else in the book may be incorrect.

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January 13, 2012

Put it in your own words

Dictionaries, and dictionary apps,
are useful. But don't use them as crutches.
I recently read a book in which the author repeatedly employed what I call the "Webster cliche." This is the bit where the author brings up an element of his topic, and then, assuming the element is unfamiliar to the reader, writes something like this:

Webster's defines "element" as "one of the simple substances air, water, fire, and earth of which according to early natural philosophers the physical universe was composed."

Several problems can arise here, and I'm not talking about the fact that I picked a different definition of "element" than one would expect from the context of the first paragraph.

For starters, "Webster's" is an incomplete citation. The complete citation for the definition above would be: Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (10 Jan. 2012).

Yeah. We all know you meant that. But the idea is to not get a cease-and-desist letter from Merriam-Webster's copyright attorneys.

Difficulties protecting the Webster trademark led to a proliferation of dictionaries with the name "Webster" on them, to the point that by the middle of the twentieth century almost any dictionary might be labeled "Webster's," regardless of the thoroughness of its lexicography or its actual connection to the work of Noah Webster. Because of the diligence of the aforementioned attorneys, this problem has largely been cleared up.

I don't mean to imply that you can't use Willy Webster's Upteenth Unabridged if you want to. Just get the citation right. Or you could get two letters.

But citations lead to another problem. In the book I mentioned, the author employed the Webster cliche eleven times, all within in the first few chapters. It became repetitive and annoying.

But, you argue, one must ensure the reader understands what one means when one says "element."

True. Do that by telling the reader what you mean. Do it on your own authority. If you are writing a book, you are establishing yourself as an expert in the field. Be the expert. You don't need ol' Noah Webster or either of the Merriam brothers to do it for you. Just say it.

An element is any part that contributes to the whole.

January 9, 2012

Delightful adventure

The Windrider I: Divine Summons (The Windrider Saga)The Windrider I: Divine Summons by Rebecca P. Minor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This adventure story is centered around a couple of charming characters who are just annoying enough to be realistic, without being so annoying you don't want to spend time with them.

The funny thing is, as Vinyanel and Veranna annoy the blazes out of each other, they don't seem to realize that they're both annoying for the same reason: arrogance. Fortunately they have the level-headed Majestrin, whose gravitas anchors them. And since Vinyanel and Veranna both excel in their own ways -- he as a warrior and she as a prophetess -- we enjoy their company and forgive their flaws.

Minor has created a rich fantasy world and pulls off that trick that so many of us find so hard -- she's implied a long history of conflict between two races by letting us experience the results of the history through the lives of the characters. No long, boring expository passages here. The story moves along at a quick clip.

The prose is occasionally lofty and a bit stilted; this may be a feature some fans of High Fantasy will see as a plus. I found it a bit off-putting. But then, I feel the same way when Tolkien does it.

There are several plot elements to keep track of: an enemy invasion, the quest for a sacred chalice, the appointment of the king's new champion and the formation of a new band of dragon-riders. The connections between all things things are barely hinted at, yet the subtext tells me the connections must exist. I look forward to seeing how things come together in part two.

I also look forward to spending more time with my new friends.

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