Reading Journal 2015 Week 2

This was a busy week. Hopefully we saw our low temperatures for the year. It’s hard to keep bedding under the cows, feed in the cows and water available to the cows. Much easier when they are on pasture. To make things harder I was introduced to Minecraft this week. That is, quite possibly, the greatest PG-rated time waster ever! I had to scramble to get any reading done. More in a minute.

I wanted to make a quick note about ebooks. I tend to read on my phone about half the time. When I have a paper book in my hand I also keep a pencil in hand (or mouth) to underline passages that impact me. I also scribble notes in the margins. I can highlight in an ebook and it’s easy to look through sections of a book I have highlighted but somehow…I…don’t. When I review an ebook I have read I tend to have many fewer notes than when I read a physical book. Sometimes, though, I think that is appropriate. Sometimes a book is a meal. Sometimes it’s just a cup of coffee.

Ten Acres Enough

What is the book about?
A change from city businessman to man in the business of farming. He wrote about stacking products and staggering harvest windows 100 years before permaculture was a word…cause he read about it from even older books. He even calls himself a book farmer.

TenAcresEnough

Is it a classic?
Anything people still read and discuss 150 years later is, necessarily, a classic. However, this could have been written last week. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting somebody who yearns for life in the country…making an honest living growing and selling small fruits and this book bore fruit all those years ago.

Will you read it again?
Quite probably. And soon. In fact, I think it’s worthy of a chapter-by-chapter reflection. Or maybe a topic by topic reflection.

Does it belong on your bookshelf?
This was one of those books that I knew about, had heard a thing or two about but never made the slightest attempt to read. One of Julie’s uncles gave it to me for Christmas…a very thoughtful gift. It will remain on my shelf both because I enjoyed it and plan to study it further and because I wish to honor Julie’s uncle Tim.

Can you relate a favorite passage?
Just one?

In chapter 2 he makes a long series of arguments to persuade the reader that land ownership is desirable. As you read here, remember he is violently opposed to debt. His argument includes this quotable quote:

Wheat grows and corn ripens though all the banks in the world may break, for seed-time and harvest is one of the divine promises to man, never to be broken, because of its divine origin. They grew and ripened before banks were invented, and will continue to do so when banks and railroad bonds shall have become obsolete.

He finishes his argument with this: It’s hard for the kids to sell it.

When all other guards give way, early memories of parental attachment to these ancestral acres, or tender reminiscences of childhood, will come in to stay the spoliation of the homestead, and make even the prodigal pause before giving up this portion of his inheritance.

Chapter 3 has one worthy of mention also. The world is full of prognostications even today. In the Old Testament, prophets who got it wrong got killed. Today the world is flooded with news of impending doom from all directions and there are no consequences for the Chicken Little prophets. I assume there were no consequences for fear-driven business advisers in the 1840’s either.

Twenty years ago nurserymen were advised to close up their sales and abandon their businesses, as they could soon have no customers for trees – everybody was supplied. But trees have continued to be planted from that day to this, and where hundreds were sold twenty years ago, thousands are disposed of now. Old-established nurseries have been planted. The nursery business has grown to a magnitude truly gigantic, because the market for fruit has been annually growing larger, and no business enlarges itself unless it is proved to be profitable.

Well, I might argue that last point. In an era of free money there is a lot of capital misallocation. But that’s a different book for a different day. Some of that free money gets thrown at projects that would, otherwise, not be funded then the money evaporates. Pets.com comes to mind.

At any rate, the future is unknown, business is risky and that’s why owners typically take home a higher percentage than employees. It’s their neck on the line. Everybody says there is no need for more trees but you, the risk taker, go ahead and pot up another batch. Will they sell? Will you sleep until they do?

Chapter 21 has a great quote about a man who started small, the need to start small and the strength that gives for growth. Of course, the gentleman in question, as many of the author’s mentors did, used manures to the greatest advantage. Put that poop to work!

His great success removed all doubt and disarmed all opposition. But even his was not achieved without unremitting industry and intelligent application of the mind. Neither his hands nor the manure did every thing. But manure lay at the foundation of the edifice: without it he would have toiled in vain to build up an ample fortune from the humblest of beginnings.

The final chapter is concerned with where to buy land; East vs. West. He is, obviously, in favor of buying in the east where the major population centers were. Land is more expensive but you can sell product for a higher price. Let’s just let him say it.

If my example be worth imitating, land should be obtained within cheap and daily access to any one of the great cities. If within reach of two, as mine is, all the better, as the location thus secures the choice of two markets.

…and later…

But choose as he may, locate as he will, he must not, as he hopes to succeed in growing the smaller fruits to profit, locate himself out of reach of a daily cash market. New York and Philadelphia may be likened to two huge bags of gold, always filled…

Who should read this book?
I think you should. You. Yes, you. If nothing else, this book will expand your vocabulary.

Take home messages:
Several themes stand out to me:

  • Avoid debt…banks are evil. Old Testament stuff. Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes…dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria!
  • Rely on your spouse as your teammate
  • Stagger production windows into high income produce
  • Plant the whole farm off the bat
  • Stack multiple crops in the same area (like Stefan Sobkowiak(you should buy that!))
  • Make an investment in fertility. He bought the farm for $1,000. Over the next two years he spent $200 each year to buy manure…40% of the farm value in manure. And you wonder why I spend so much time writing about manure…

And now for something completely different.

Minecraft

What is this book game about?
It’s an open world sandbox. Completely open. You can build, destroy, hunt, explore…just a sandbox. No missions. No quests. Just go. Do. If you want you can just build huge glass castles and breed rabbits. Whatever. I’m a 38 year old child. This game is a dream. It requires a certain level of genius to make a calculator out of Minecraft blocks though.

Is it a classic?
At 60 million copies sold? Yes. And for good reason. This game will inspire and direct gaming for years to come. It comes in at third place for game sales across all platforms following Tetris and Wii Sports. (Wii Sports? Seriously? I, like, literally can’t even.)

Will you read play it again?
Again and again. For a while anyway. I’m sure it will get old but it’s right up there with my favorite game of all time, X-Com UFO Defense. Oh, gosh! Imagine an alien invasion Minecraft world! Instead of zombies you could fight aliens! Instead of abandoned mines you could discover alien bases! If only I was a better programmer.

Does it belong on your bookshelf computer?
Obviously I think so. It’s PG. It’s appropriate for all ages. It’s a hoot. Why did I wait so long? Why was I born in 1976 instead of 2010? Why don’t I go out and buy 4 more computers so the kids and I can all play together? I mean, seriously! I could hook that up for about the price of a cow!

Can you relate a favorite passage or experience?
Favorite passage?

/kill @e[type=Creeper]

The best experience is easily repeatable. I mined out a bunch of materials, suited up in armor, grabbed a couple of swords and a few stacks of torches and ladders and explored the abandoned mine I found. I should clarify, if your character dies in game it’s not a huge deal. Your stuff stays where you died until you either return to pick it up or the garbage collector routine sweeps it up for you. But you don’t want to die. So my kids are gathered around as we light up the darkness. We hear zombies moaning somewhere around us. A giant spider hisses. Then…suddenly from deep in the darkness a skeleton starts firing arrows at me. I don’t know where I can step because the ground is uneven. I don’t know where the enemies are. My kids are screaming, the younger two run out of the room acting scared and being goofy, I fall in a hole, zombies fall on me while I hack and slash and….we all have a blast. Seriously. Most fun I have had gaming in years.

Who should read this book play this game?
Anybody who wants to have fun. I think this game opens a world of possibilities for my kids. Really. If there is one skill I would have my kids learn right now it would be OO programming. I don’t know what is coming next but I do know that right now, if they want a job that is in demand, something they can do that pays well with pleasant working conditions, something they could do right here at home to supplement farm income, I would encourage them to become software developers. That requires a solid foundation in math. I can say that over and over. I can tell my kids they need to know math. But if I show them something like this…if I show them the formulas involved in creating a landscape out of blocks and persisting that data…maybe then they will begin to pay attention. Or at least start asking me questions. There is a pretty high-energy video that asks “Is Minecraft is the ultimate educational tool?

Take home messages:
This really might be a paradigm shift in gaming. The Legend of Zelda was absolutely revolutionary in 1986. This is SO MUCH COOLER. I’m not supposed to be doing anything and I want to do everything. But I can’t. There isn’t time. But we (kids and I) can have a lot of fun, can learn about PC specs, networking, programming and how to kill creepers before they explode. When the kids who are playing this now learn to create their own games, look out!

A Year With Minecraft: Behind the Scenes at Mojang

What is this book about?
It’s history and biography of the staff at a small indie game studio.

Is it a classic?
I really don’t think so.

Will you read it again?
I really don’t think so. My kids might though there was one bad word in a narration about trying to meet public expectations.

Does it belong on your bookshelf?
No.

Can you relate a favorite passage?
Long story. I have known about Minecraft for a few years now and it is something I have avoided because I though it was just some kid thing. But it’s not. It’s built for the community. The developers are very responsive to the demands of the player community. The game was originally released in a very, very pre-release form. This allowed the developer (mainly Markus) to focus on features the community wanted the most. There are several passages that discuss this, comparing Minecraft to another game, Scrolls, that the company was developing at the time the book was being written. In fact, the book may be not-so-subtle advertising for that other game. Anyway…

Rather than bludgeon you with direct quotes spanning the entire book and repeating what I said above I want to talk about how it relates to me. I am really tuba-playing band nerd turned computer guy and father who pretends to be a farmer pretending to write about farming. I have pretended so well that I’m 40-50% of the way finished with a book on raising and selling a few pigs. Just a few pigs…done the way(s) we do it. But I seem to be stuck. Not exactly writer’s block but something like that. I don’t know what level of detail to include at certain points. I suppose I could follow the model used for Minecraft and release a discounted pre-release version of the book and rely on reader feedback to form the final version complete with free updates.

So I guess that makes my book review a not-so-subtle advertisement for a book I’m pretending to write.

Also, the book follows the company. The team. The people. That’s the focus. Markus Persson created an incredible game and did so at just the right time. But behind the scenes, Markus Persson also found an incredible group of people and was incredibly generous with them, building employee loyalty, making work fun and making it financially rewarding. That’s not luck…but it’s not to say that luck didn’t come into play.

One other thing struck me. I have had to sign contracts that say the company owns my creative works for the duration of my employment. I have also benefited greatly from my network of colleagues and my professional reputation. The following quotes tie those two ideas together.

We [Online photo service company] had a problem that needed solving and someone who knew Markus from a forum was aware that he had worked with that type of programming before.

…but actually hiring him was not easy…

It took almost a year to lure Markus from King.com to Jalbum, and the main reason he eventually accepted was that he wanted to work more on Minecraft. That’s was why a programming job was preferable to game developing at King, who also had rules against employees making games outside of work – especially if you charged for the game.

King lost a talented employee because they believe a lie. They believe ideas are scarce and valuable. Ideas are not scarce. Ideas are worthless. Everybody has ideas. But very few lock themselves in their home every evening for years to create something of their own. Ideas for projects are common. Finished projects are rare. Talented employees who can finish projects are gold. King screwed up. It looks like Mojang handles this differently but I only have one quote to back it up.

In the new premises, Mojang would come to have more workstations than employees, the thought being that other indie developers could use those empty seats.

I can’t even imagine. Data security? Code security? Network security? But they seem to believe making resources available to talented people is beneficial to all…so…they do it. Maybe they cultivate talent that way. What does it cost them? What does it benefit them?

How can I implement a similar sense of openness and support in our home? On our farm?

Finally, each person at Mojang carries a lot of responsibility. There aren’t big teams of people working together toward a common goal, there are individuals with individual assignments. I’m sure they bounce ideas off of each other and support each other but…

This way of working not only means that each person at Mojang have a lot of work on his or her hands; it’s also up to them to get it done. There is no one to hide behind. …People are working quietly and are persistently studying their computer screens. Diligence was the word coming to mind.

I can certainly rely on my kids to complete specific tasks. But this is, I think, more. These people are all passionate about their job. If Markus wrote Minecraft in the right place at the right time, these people are also in the right place at the right time…at the right company. I need to ensure that my kids feel similarly. I need my kids to feel rewarded and inspired. I need my kids to feel the impact of their work financially, ecologically and in our community. How do I do that? Mojang uses twitter to get feedback from millions of gamers. I don’t have that marketing reach…but still I have to make them believe. Why else would they pour their heart and soul into the work?

…creates positive peer pressure. If you stand up in front of a group and tell them what you are going to do, then you also have an obligation to the group to deliver. I think that’s the best form of organization you can create as a manager, to get the team to organize themselves and set their own goals.

That’s why I announce publicly that I’m going to finish a book each week and report on it here. So how can I cast vision into my children? How can I help them see the tremendous amount of work there is to do here, prevent them from feeling overwhelmed by breaking it down into smaller parts and encourage them to stand in front of the family and take ownership of it?

Ask me again in a few years.

Who should read this book?
I guess people like me. I have always played video games and it’s pretty cool to see through a foggy window into that world. It’s so different than the simple financial or health utility programs I have been involved with. Gamers are harder to please than the SEC and are extremely fickle. These people handle it well.

Take home messages:
I enjoyed reading this book though I really only gave it about 4 hours. It’s light reading…details on the people behind a game I am having fun playing. I found the most value in their unwavering openness, honesty and hard work. They appear to have a lot of fun working together but they do work together. They are inspired. They share a common vision. They reap the rewards. As I mentioned, I seek application of that here at home.

Favorite Blog Post of the Week

You have to know I read a TON of blog posts throughout the week. I’ll leave out the blogs about the SQL Server OPENROWSET() function to retrieve data from XML files. That’s pretty cool but doesn’t compare to cow manure.

The most personally challenging post I read this week was by my friend at SailorsSmallFarm. I didn’t comment on her blog post which is somewhat unusual, especially since she was kind enough to mention me in her post (What does “skookum” mean? Apparently it’s Chinook for “neato”). I wanted to reply to her closing question but I couldn’t find the right words.

So now, I just need to make it happen, and then…how am I going to get the pig’s paddock to be multi-functional?

I tend to be a problem solver but I think sometimes I just need to be supportive. That’s what Julie says anyway. Maybe what she needs is what she has…plus a few nut and berry plants…plus some reassurance from a friend 2200 miles away. Cause that would be cool. So…”Right on SSF. Things are looking great! You have been working hard and it shows. I can’t wait to see what you do next!”

I have started reading Cottage Economy and a couple of others I’ll report on next week. Until then, please give me some feedback on this post. I read a lot. Like, a lot, lot. Especially in the winter. I like to share with my readers when I find a book that helps a farmer out. But I also like to be entertained so I include links to movies and music and, apparently, video games. Fun books too. Please let me know if there are questions I can answer for you or if you have any suggestions to help make this format more meaningful. Would pictures of the books help?

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26 thoughts on “Reading Journal 2015 Week 2

  1. I have also read through Ten Acres Enough a couple of times and have enjoyed it as well.
    Rather than cows, sheep are our ruminant of choice on our small place in PA.
    I enjoy reading of your struggles to balance the health of your land, animals and relationships. One thing for sure is that all three are always evolving, take plenty of attention and are worth the effort.

    • I was listening to Ben Faulk on The Survival Podcast this week. He joked that the smallest cow is a goose. Henderson said something similar in The Farming Ladder.

      It is hard to keep things in balance. It seems that my relationship with Julie is the first place we show wear. She’s my barometer.

  2. Whoa, eeerrch! The showstopper here is the blab on the pig book you are writing! I can’t wait! I recently wrote a LONG comment that included wanting more detailed pig info. I never posted it because I was going to pare it down so it wasn’t so long but haven’t had time yet so will post it anyway and if you skip forward towards the bottom of Wednesday I tell you what I would like to read about pigs and know that I am excited about a first? book for you!

    Ten Acres Enough sounds like a good book, I think SSF mentioned it in her comments recently too so it was creeping in on my radar. Great take home messages!! I like the idea of topic reflection and look forward to hearing more about this book on your blog.

    I have successfully resisted games, other than the old-fashioned board and card ones, but now you sent a calculator! Could it be you are leading me down the path of game addiction? I wonder if it would fly on my mthly Financial Stmts if I added a footnote that “Calculations were completed on a Minecraft Piston Powered Mechanical Calculator” see if anyone notices lol !

    Fav Blog Post of the Wk is a good addition here and lookie at SSF with a new word of the week – new to me at least! I am always learning something new on your blog!

  3. Manure. Got it.

    Permaculture Orchard is on my list. Haven’t seen the dvd yet, have you? He’s going to be speaking in NZ really soon, just as they head into Spring. I would be thrilled to go back down there for that, but since he’s actually from Canada, maybe I should wait till he’s closer to home.

    I’ve put my ILLO request in for 10 Acres Enough – should be in my hands in a few weeks.

    I’ve been practicing “sick”. As in cool. Apparently. I’m told I don’t quite have the knack of it yet. I can’t get past my own generation’s use of “sick” as a negative thing – as in weird and twisted. The younger kid told me kindly the other day that perhaps people with grey hair just can’t pull of a piece of jargon like “sick”. I use “skookum” pretty often, but I think it’s a generation thing – my kids tell me they don’t know anyone their age who knows the word.

        • You can read it online. I know that’s not for everybody but…you can. I think that’s the link I posted in the…erm…post. Lots of post today. Maybe I should see what the postman brought me. I’ll keep you posted.

          • Yes, your link is readable online (cuz I started it late last night, despite have a request in for it). Also, Khaiti, you can ask your local library to bring it in from another library system – it’s called interlibrary loan, and it’s usually free. You just have to provide the title and author, they’ll do the legwork to find you a copy from somewhere in the US. It’s an awesome service.

          • Our interlibrary system is within Illinois only. In fact, I think it covers about half of the state now. Because I work in St. Louis I believe I can get a St. Louis library card. But I can’t get StL books from IL libraries…not that I know of anyway.

          • Wow. I’m shocked. The Saint Louis Public Library website is down, but other public libraries in the state seem to confirm what you’re saying. wow. I’d ask a clerk or librarian sometime when you get a chance. It is a service that is sometimes not widely advertised by staff as it can be time intensive and expensive (the books mostly get mailed), but does exist. I’ve had to remind new colleagues to offer the option when a requested book is not in our own system – they don’t know how to do it, so they don’t mention it to the patron. So it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

            The good news for Khaiti is that Wisconsin has the interlibrary loan service I’m talking about – except they call it “outerlibrary loan”. Khaiti, you’ll have to ask at the desk.

            In Canada, this service is available through any publicly funded library, and most universities as well. It’s only for print books and one cannot request books until they are a year old, to give patrons in the owning system fair dibs on it first, but otherwise, if my system doesn’t have a book I want and it’s available in a participating library somewhere in continental North America, I can borrow it. It can take a while, but it’s mostly free. Sometimes colleges will request a fee to cover costs. It looks like Wisconsin works the same way.

            I think it would be worth double checking with a librarian or info desk person at one of the bigger libraries – maybe in Saint Louis. The language on most website interlibrary loan pages is pretty vague. I suspect you’re correct though. On the upside, the reciprocal borrowing system in Illinois looks pretty good. We have a similar thing, but it’s got way more restrictions than yours.

  4. I meant to say earlier, there are a gazillion (OK, ten) books out there on Minecraft now, and I notice there’s a PS3 version out as well. Minecraft strategies and tips, official and otherwise, Minecraft Guide for Parents, construction and combat handbooks…I already waste enough time on the computer, I don’t even dare look at this game. I was bad enough with Tetris back in 1990 when the building I worked in only had 2 computers, and I regularly volunteered to be the person responsible for unlocking in the mornings just so I could get time on one of them to improve my score.

    • Not just books. Whole Youtube channels dedicated to it…by what must be the thousands. Channels…not videos. People trying to monetize their playtime. Kids and I have been watching OMGChad recently…he’s a personality I know from other media I consume from TWIT and does a good job.

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