Book review of “LinkedIn for Military”


LinkedIn for Military: A Warrior's Guide for Changing Careers

LinkedIn for Military: A Warrior’s Guide for Changing Careers provides tips on using the business social network LinkedIn tailored for veterans as they transition from military to civilian employment.  It covers how to convey your career experience in LinkedIn, writing your profile summary, avoiding military acronyms, how to use your contacts to expand your LinkedIn following, and tips on joining LinkedIn groups.

The surprising thing about this book is how short it is.  At 32 pages with 14 point font with generous spacing, this is really an article in book format.  Not that a book on best practices for LinkedIn needs to be very long, but I was expecting something more substantive.

For example, “chapter” 2 is about crafting a powerful LinkedIn summary for your profile.  There are helpful suggestions on how to go about having an elevator pitch for yourself and using your career highlights in your LinkedIn profile.  But it would have been even more helpful if the book included additional examples of strong summaries and bad ones.  Instead, each chapter only includes one or two examples, and they’re almost always Air Force examples.

One area that the book does not get into is how to share updates or posts with your LinkedIn network.  Posting information to LinkedIn periodically about your field can help reinforce your expertise and drive engagement within your business network.

The best tip in the book is that you should get some people to read your LinkedIn profile and tell you what they think.  That’s always good advice, and I would add onto it by saying you should try to get somebody without military experience to read it to make sure your military jargon is readable, and try to get somebody outside of your family to read it for an objective critique.

I liked the concept of a short book advising veterans about proper use of LinkedIn, but this book left me very underwhelmed.

Book review: Elephant Company offers compelling details


Cover of book about elephants in Burma in WWII and pre-war period

Marvelous.  For nonfiction, Vicki Croke has spun quite the yarn about Jim Williams (aka Bill Williams), elephant logging expert, and his life and times in the jungles of Burma.  Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II (published in 2014) reads almost like a novel.

In 1921, Williams signs on with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation as a forest assistant in the teak logging industry in Burma.  He supervises uzis who are the Burmese elephant handlers with multiple teams of elephants throughout his assigned territory.  He must contend with Harding, an older, grizzled Brit who likes giving newbies a hard time.  Williams is very sensitive to the needs of elephants and the Burmese people, often behaving more like biologist or sociologist than a corporate field manager.  He sets out to learn everything he can about elephants and their culture.  Eventually, Williams earns Harding’s respect.

Readers learn a great deal about working elephants in the process.  In Burma, the Asian elephant is domesticated up to a point—as somebody in the book suggests—domesticated for eight hours a day.  After working their shift, they go off to forage on their own and spend time with their elephant families.  In the morning they grudgingly report back to work, but seem to enjoy the cat-and-mouse relationship with their handlers.  We learn about elephant anatomy (for example, they can’t lie on their sides for long because of how their chest and lungs are configured), their habits (such as taking their time before river crossings until one female always steps forward to lead them across), but more importantly, their generosity of spirit, exhibited most vividly by Bandoola, the elephant hero of the book, who establishes a very close working relationship with Williams over the years, performing every logging and wartime assignment with enormous strength, responsiveness, and discernment.

Williams also meets a British woman, which isn’t an easy thing to do in the jungle, and they marry.  They are very compatible and both happy.  They experience hardships in the field, but like Williams, she is hale and hearty, and starts having children.

Then the war comes.  For those of you who are more interested in military history than in elephant husbandry, this book may not meet your expectations.  It takes a long time before this book gets to World War II.  When it comes, it is focused at first on the evacuation of women and children, which the elephants help with as pack animals.  The military wants to continue using elephants in that way, for hauling heavy loads during the war.  But Williams convinces them that elephants are smart enough that their skills be put to better use as master bridge builders.  That is the elephants’ primary contribution to the Allies in Burma during the war.  Do not read this book expecting a 20th century version of Hannibal’s elephant cavalry charge.  These are transport and engineering elephants, not cavalry elephants.

Croke’s respect for Williams, Bandoola, and elephants in general is evident throughout the book.  At a couple of points, the praise is laid on a bit thick, but it is difficult not come away with a similar respect for those depicted in the book.  For me, the highlight was the opportunity to learn about elephants and their interactions with humans in such fascinating detail.

Book Review: Cybersecurity for Everyone


Cybersecurity for Everyone: Securing your home or small business network by Terence L. Sadler is an informative guide to securing your electronic devices at home.

One risk of writing or speaking about cybersecurity is that it can quickly devolve into “gloom and doom” that terrifies audiences, sends them away chilled, but results in no behavioral changes among computer users.  Sadler’s approach is different, focusing less on threats and more on preventative measures.

Cybersecurity for Everyone compares information security to safe sex:  the only guarantee against contracting an STD is abstinence, and the only guarantee against a compromise of your network is to not have a computer.  Since there are no guarantees on computers, the best we can do is use appropriate prophylactics and practice safe habits.

Sadler suggests starting with router security.  Until reading this book, I did not realize how vulnerable to intrusion typical residential routers can be, or that superior models and configurations are available.  One thing computer owners can do is to blacklist all electronic devices but their own, or expressly whitelist their own devices.  Sadler also suggests using a service like OpenDNS for home internet security.  A few suggestions in the book may go overboard, but I’m glad to know what the best practices are so I can make informed decisions, rather than mindlessly renewing my anti-virus protection every year and patting myself on the back for it.

The book is a pretty quick read, and it provides valuable context for understanding of cyber threats and safety measures.  It came out in late 2014, but is still fresh.  There are some tables and lists of resources that will probably become dated quickly or already have, but I mostly skipped over sections.  To me, the more important takeaway was the basic point that amping up your security at home is feasible and affordable without sacrificing performance.

As for the title, this book isn’t really “Cybersecurity for Everyone.”  It’s more like “Cybersecurity for Fairly Technically Literate People,” or “Cybersecurity for Whoever It Is in Your House That Installs Stuff.”  Much of it would sail over the heads of people who don’t already have some interest or knowledge of technology.  Furthermore, the subtitle of the book adds “or small business network,” but the tips within are truly geared toward a household, not to businesses.

Book review: Savanna charms


Secrets of the Savanna

After studying lions in Botswana and writing their better known Cry of the Kalahari, naturalists Mark and Delia Owens left for Zambia.  There the Owenses dedicated themselves to further animal research, mostly into the lives of a dwindling elephant population.  The 2006 memoir Secrets of the Savanna recounts their work and the close shaves they had there.

Poaching leads to fewer elephants, a larger number of orphans, and a dissolution of typical elephant society.  The authors document how the absence of adult females and matriarchs results in earlier pregnancies for orphaned females.  They tell us the story of the orphaned Gift, who becomes a mother too early and whose daughter suffers from her inexperience.

The Owenses also tell stories of their youth as they correspond to elements of the animal kingdom.  For example, Mark relates his father’s death and his own wanderings outside the U.S. to solitary males in other species like lions and elephants.  Delia tells a story of fun and safety in numbers as a teenage female and relates that to life in the elephant herd.  Their share sweet passages about their respective upbringings in Ohio and Georgia.

But like all social mammals, the couple realizes that it’s time to migrate home.  As they plan to leave Zambia, corrupt officials make plans to swoop in and take over their research station.  The research project has created jobs and given locals alternatives to poaching for ivory.  The corrupt officials want to end the research program so the locals will have no alternative but to poach again on their behalf.  It’s a frightening prospect, but the book ends on an optimistic note as one of the local program supporters is able to restore aspects of the project.

Secrets of the Savanna is a well-written book with charming scenes and prose.  While the subject matter of the threatened elephants is gut-wrenching, the Owenses plant enough seeds of hope for a rebound in the population.


Book review: how tech enables smart cities

Rio de Janiero's control room

Rio de Janiero’s control room

Anthony Townsend has blended the history of city planning and high-tech innovation and what it means for the future in Smart Cities:  Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia (2013).

A “smart city” is a city that taps into the power of the internet of things, mobile devices, and big data to improve public services, provide officials with better information, and to realize cost savings.  An example is deploying internet connected sensors to monitor leaks in city water infrastructure and ping officials for repairs.

A challenge to widespread knowledge and adoption of the smart city concept is the amount of salesmanship lurking behind it.  Much of what is written about smart cities originates from press releases by big companies like IBM and Cisco.  They are selling major systems like a control room for Rio de Janeiro to monitor its neighborhoods like NASA would monitor a space launch.

Townsend describes these high-profile smart city examples but also puts them in historical context.  Townsend is generally supportive of smart city innovations, but he is balanced.  He points out flaws, bugs, and risks in certain solutions.  He also explains smaller elements of smart city planning that are more practical for adoption.  Townsend’s context and balance make Smart Cities a valuable resource to cut through the clutter of big businesses’ marketing materials.

Chapter 1 tells a pleasant story in London in 1851 about building the Crystal Palace, an early microcosm of a smart city solution.  The Crystal Palace had precise climate controls through ventilation based on readings from 14 thermostats.  It’s an early model that also serves as a future vision:  an ecosystem where tiny devices trigger appropriate system-wide responses to improve urban living.

Chapter 5, “Tinkering Toward Utopia,” tracks the recent history of app development that has helped connect city dwellers and visitors.  Apps such as Foursquare and Meetup have demonstrated how social apps can thrive when they are tied to specific places like cities.

Chapter 9, “Buggy, Brittle, and Bugged” does a good (and ominous) job of highlighting the risks of large systems that are heavily dependent on technology that is prone to bugs, breaches, and interruptions.

Some of the other chapters aren’t as focused.  Specific topics overlap multiple chapters and previous themes are repeated seemingly at random.  The book would have benefited from better organized chapters with straightforward titles.

Still, there a lots of good nuggets and pearls of wisdom scattered throughout the book.  This book can help inspire innovative thinking among city leaders.  It is probably the best book about “smart cities” on the market.  Recommended for community leaders, civic hackers, government technology professionals, and city planners.

Review: BitCon makes the case against bitcoin


If you’ve ever been at a meeting or cocktail party where bitcoin comes up in the conversation, BitCon is required reading.  After reading Jeffrey Robinson’s book, you’ll be able to join the conversation with an actual understanding of bitcoins, warts and all, rather than relying solely on vapid news articles and tweets.

The book is extremely critical of bitcoin.  But even bitcoin fans owe it to themselves to read the book.  Robinson has done his homework, and can’t be written off as somebody who doesn’t understand bitcoin.  BitCon explains the fundamentals of bitcoin with easily understood terms and comparisons.  In one passage, Robinson sums up how transactions are verified by bitcoin miners:

What the miners do is put each individually identifiable transaction into an unalterable “block”—more computer code—which is then attached to all the other blocks that have come before it, to form a “blockchain.”  That’s a public ledger where every transaction is visible and set in stone.

BitCon builds on these descriptions by explaining what bitcoin is and what it isn’t.  In terms of the classic definition of money, bitcoin doesn’t meet the criteria of being a medium of exchange or a store of value.  Bitcoin is not a reliable store of value because its exchange rates are extremely volatile.  Would you feel confident taking out a mortgage in bitcoin?

It is not a medium of exchange because it is rarely used to buy goods and services (except in the dark web for underground purchases).  Most of the bitcoins in “circulation” aren’t circulated much.  They are held, hoarded, traded, and speculated by individuals hoping that the volatility will swing in their favor.  When bitcoins are used for dollar-denominated purchases, fees are added coming and going.

High-profile stories about merchants such as car dealers or universities accepting bitcoin are exaggerated and misleading.  Typically, those purchases are cases of a consumer with bitcoin who pay an intermediary bitcoin processor to convert the bitcoins to dollars to pay the merchant.  The headlines leave out the bitcoin converters were involved.

Robinson is a delightful curmudgeon.  There are several laugh-out-loud lines, which is rare for a nonfiction book about technology and money.  BitCon compares bitcoin supporters to a religious cult (and provides several quotes from articles and social media that justify the comparison), referring to them as “The Faithful.”  Vocal bitcoin fans on social media are the “Noise Machine.”  Whenever news or a comment by a high-profile entrepreneur could be interpreted as favorable to bitcoin, the Noise Machine circulates the story far and wide without context or nuance.  When somebody speaks unfavorably about bitcoin, the Noise Machine excoriates them as fools.

Although BitCon takes no prisoners against what Robinson calls “the pretend currency,” he suggests that the enduring and useful aspect of Bitcoin technology will be the blockchain.  A decentralized public ledger will have staying power in recordkeeping separate from currency.  However, BitCon doesn’t spend too much time justifying this assertion.  Many experts are quoted touting blockchain, but the practical advantages of the protocol aren’t fleshed out.  That’s the only weakness in an otherwise enjoyable and informative read.

How to sell your military skills to a civilian employer


Job Search

The book Job Search by Lt. Col. (Ret.) David G. Henderson provides good tips on the transition from the military to civilian employment. In Chapter 1, Henderson encourages readers to think about–and actually write down–what skills they have, what job preferences they have, and what goals they have. It may sound hokey, but it is a useful exercise that will prompt you to learn something about yourself.

The subtitle, “Marketing Your Military Experience,” refers to translating your military skills to a civilian hiring manager. This includes how to describe your experience and strengths on resumes. The book also includes smaller, practical tips; for example, avoid using military acronyms and don’t wear military dress shoes in civilian interviews.

The book is also helpful as a general employment guide with thoughtful suggestions on how to search for jobs and how to improve your resume. Henderson’s guidance is relevant to anybody seeking a second career or making a mid-life jump from one field to a very different field, because that’s essentially what military retirees are doing.

I read the 5th edition which was published in 2009. Even though the Internet had already been around for a long time then, the descriptions of online job searches in this book are quite dated. There are good resources listed for job searching, career assistance, and veteran support services, but some of the resources seem dated as well. The appendices are a bit too long and redundant bordering on fluff, but those pages can be skipped or skimmed.

This book is written from the point of view of a personnel officer attempting to help a servicemember who is within six months from retirement. However, I think it would be useful to veterans even several years after they have separated or retired from the military. Spend a few bucks to make sure you’re putting your best foot forward during a career transition!