Books I Read In 2015

When I was a kid, I read books. LOTS of books. I regularly knocked out the Texas Bluebonnet reading list, and even volunteered at my local library. As a grew up, I slowly lost this pastime, like many others do. So in January 2015, I used my Christmas money to purchase a Kindle Paperwhite for reasons.

Books I Read 2015

My goal for 2015 was to read 12 books. One per month, averaged out, since I knew I would go through periods of heavy reading and others where I’d be too busy. I’m pleased to report that I was successful, and slightly overachieved, with 13 books. I’ve always hated book reports, but I tried to include a little bit about the book and my thoughts on it below. You can also find me on Goodreads, if you want to keep up with everything there.

Books I Read In 2015 (in no particular order)

  1. Looking for Calvin and Hobbes – I loved the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip as a kid, and still do, so I was intrigued when I learned of the reclusiveness of its creator, Bill Watterson. This book charts author Nevin Martell’s quest to interview Mr. Watterson, and the things he learns along the way. It’s a great, easy read, and I’d highly recommend it for any Calvin and Hobbes fans.
  2. Word of Mouth Marketing – I received this book as a gift from attending one of SocialMedia.org’s events, and after posting about it online, author Andy Sernovitz sent me a box of 10 copies of the book, to pass along to whoever I deemed worthy. I did that, but I kept a copy for myself (and bought it for my Kindle) and try to re-read it at least once a year. If you work in marketing (regardless of your specialty) you should read this book with a highlighter and a notebook open.
  3. Living The Remote Dream – this was a new one, published by my online acquaintance Darren Murph. It’s a great read, pretty easy to get through in a weekend (the first time, at least). One of my professional goals for 2016 is to get back to a point where I have the freedom to choose to work remotely 100% of the time, and I enjoyed Darren’s practical tips in this book.
  4. You Have What It Takes – this is a super quick read, recommended by my friend Luke while recording an episode of the Paterfamilias Podcast. I’m a big fan of John Eldridge’s writing, and this is an awesome starting point for any new dad.
  5. The Reunion – this was a recreational read that I stumbled upon, and it was REALLY good. It’s purely fiction, but realistic fiction, and one that does have the ability to tug at your heartstrings a bit. I’d struggle to put together a quick synopsis, but mainly, it’s a story about how the things we do in life can come back to reward us at any time, I suppose.
  6. Email Marketing Rules – this was one of the “work-related” books that I picked up this year, and honestly, much of this was common sense or 101 level stuff. However, as someone who just launched an email marketing strategy, it was nice to get confirmation that I’m doing the right things.
  7. The 4 Seasons of Marriage – ranking in my “personal development” category, this was good and timely. My wife and I try to do a marriage enrichment course or weekend or something every other year, and I tackled this with the intention of going through it together. We haven’t (yet). The first half of the book is a glossary of sorts, outlining the various “seasons” and what they look/feel like, while the second half of the book is more tactical, giving tips on how to identify the season you’re in, and how to either stay in or escape from said season.
  8. Christianish – a spiritually thought-provoking book, I’ll confess I had a hard time getting through this one. The questions it asks are really good and appropriate, but I found it overall rather dry.
  9. How To Lose Weight At Work – yeah, this one was stupid. But then again, I tend to approach any weight loss content with that attitude. Probably why I keep gaining weight…
  10. The Martian – I got this on sale for $2 and figured why not. It was *really* good. I saw the film a couple of months after finishing the book, and while the film is pretty true to the book, the book is WAY better. I know that’s cliche, but most of the complaints I saw about the film (lack of focus on the science, etc) were addressed in the book. So definitely read this one if you liked the movie.
  11. Ready Player One – also on sale for $2, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am pleased to hear that Stephen Spielberg is working on a movie version. I’ll likely re-read this one in 2016, but the first time through was amazing. I really enjoy “future” content that’s only *just* in the future, and Ready Player One is like that. There’s not really anything in there that’s not theoretically possible, though it doesn’t completely exist today. Highly recommend this one for a recreational read.
  12. When Mockingbirds Sing – One of my recreational reads, this was a bit darker than I would normally read, but I enjoyed it so much I bought two of the author’s other books. It’s the fictional story of a town with a dark history, and had a touch of the spiritual within, as well. Extremely engaging, I thought the characters were well-built and the story overall captivating.
  13. Beautiful Outlaw – I told you I’m a John Eldredge fan, and this is one of my favorite books of his (right next to Wild at Heart). It’s a refreshing look at Jesus himself – outside of the normal “He’s the saviour” stuff, Eldredge hones in on some of the more interesting and exciting parts of Jesus. My favorite is his creativity/imagination. Jesus is who thought up dogs. And the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree. And the feeling of that first sip of coffee in the morning. My mind explodes in a new level of worship when I’m reminded that everything – EVERYTHING – that I love was created by Jesus, out of his creativity. Amazing. I can’t recommend this read enough.

So that’s the list. I’ll be back in a year with my 2016 report. I try to keep a balance of personal development, spiritual development, professional development, and just fun recreational reads, to keep things interesting. Some of these I purchased, others I got through my IFTTT recipe that emails me when a book is free for Kindle.

If you have a book to recommend, leave it in the comments!

 

Wednesday Watch: Don’t Call It A Comeback

In today’s Wednesday Watch, our friend Andrew here is having a great evening, and is about to get lucky with Maria, who he’s just met. But don’t worry – he doesn’t get too far before he straight up dies. Luckily, Reginald is there to help him get his life back……sort of.

 

Wednesday Watch: Tall Tales Part II

If you’re a parent, you’ve been there: your kid asks a question, for which you would normally answer something along the lines of “because I said so”. However, it’s the fifteenth time your kid has asked this question, and you’re in a bit of a creative mood. Unable to resist the temptation, you craft an outrageous answer, which usually involves violence that the child would like to avoid. In today’s Wednesday Watch, one such story has been animated for your personal enjoyment.

 

Wednesday Watch: HENRi

Old becomes new in today’s Wednesday Watch called HENRi. This short film features an intelligent spaceship (played by Keir Dullea, known as 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Dr. David Bowman) decides that it should build itself a body, so it can feel more alive. Bonus appearance by Margot Kidder, of Superman fame.

 

Wednesday Watch: Wanderers

I’ve always been pestered by a bit of wanderlust – that nagging desire for something new, something unseen. Today’s Wednesday Watch is called Wanderers – it’s a short view of some real places around our solar system, narrated by Carl Sagan, reading an excerpt from his own reading of his book ‘Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space’ (1994, Random House, penguinrandomhouse.com/books/159735/pale-blue-dot-by-carl-sagan/).

What I’ve Learned After 21 Podcast Episodes

This January, I started a podcast, the Paterfamilias Podcast. I’d actually been trying to start a podcast for a few years. I tried with my good friend Rita El Khoury, but trying to match schedules around the globe just didn’t work out. I tried again with my friend Jason Harris, but even scheduling across two time zones in the same country proved challenging. So I grabbed two local guys and setup a microphone.

Paterfamilias Podcast

We’ve now published 21 episodes of the Paterfamilias Podcast, which focuses on three guys talking about the adventures of being a father, a husband, and a man. If you’re interested, we recorded our initial brainstorming session, and it’s a pretty fun listen. Over the last 42 weeks (we record/publish every other week) we’ve learned a few things that might help a new podcaster get started:

  1. Share The Editing Responsibilities – when we first started, I was responsible for all of the editing duties. While that made it simple, not having to transfer raw recordings around and all, it was an additional challenge on my time. We’ve since started rotating editing duties, and it’s worked out really well.
  2. Plan (a little) Ahead – when we started, we laid out an outline of the show – what it is, what it isn’t, overall structure, etc. Having this document available to refer back to has kept the show on track and helped us keep the quality up. We’ve also noticed that when we determine the topic for the show a few days in advance, the show turns out MUCH better.
  3. Streamline – I’ve gotten the recording/editing/publishing process pretty well streamlined. This made it significantly easier to teach Jason and Jaye how to do it all. We actually have it laid out in a step-by-step document, which can be shared or updated easily as things change. Depending on how many “umms” are in the episode, it now takes less than 2 hours to edit and publish, which is pretty good for a 30-45 minute podcast.
  4. Advertise – Once we publish an episode, I use Buffer to post about the show on my personal Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles repeatedly over the next two weeks (until the next episode). With Buffer, I’m able to set this up once, and have them spread out so as not to be annoying. I didn’t do this on one episode, to test, and it definitely makes an impact on listeners.
  5. Have Fun – while we keep an eye on the stats, and make changes if we see a drop, it’s not something we’re focused on. The focus is on getting together every other week and just hanging out with a microphone on. This keeps it fun, and something that we want to do, instead of something that we’re stuck committed to doing.

If you’re thinking about starting a podcast, there’s no better time than NOW to get going. Don’t focus on saving up for a full-blown equipment setup, or having the right voice. We record huddled around a single Blue Yeti microphone for now. Just start recording, and improve from there. In fact, I highly recommend recording your brainstorming session – it’s fun to listen back, and gives you a “practice” session for recording, editing, publishing that’s not crucial.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Paterfamilias Podcast and share it with your friends, too!

Shower Rocker – I-Venstar S406 Speaker Review

One of the [few] things that I miss about working at RadioShack is the endless samples of new gadgetry. Towards the end of my career at “The Shack”, we were really focused on audio, so I got new Bluetooth speakers all the time, like the SOL REPUBLIC DECK (a personal favorite), the Skullcandy Air Raid, or even the Beats Pill. So when  asked if I wanted to check out the new waterproof/shockproof I-Venstar S406 Bluetooth speaker, it was easy to say yes.

I-Venstar S406 Bluetooth Speaker

Confession: I’d never heard of I-Venstar before they reached out, and I probably would have passed them over while browsing or shopping. However, I’m definitely impressed.

The Physical Stuff

The S406 is a relatively small speaker, measuring in at 66mm x 66mm x 170mm (2.6in x 2.6in x 6.7in). Basically, about the same size as a tallboy beer can, only shaped into a rounded square. It has a silicone wrapping around it that provides some grip and durability, with speaker grilles all the way around. It’s also remarkably lightweight, at only 600g (21.1oz), but yet still feels well-built.

The buttons and NFC sensor are on one end, along with a small indicator light. You get a single multipurpose button that turns the speaker on/off, pauses/plays your music, and can answer an incoming phone call. You’ll also find a pair of buttons that skip track forward/backward when pressed once, or you can press and hold to adjust the volume. I would have preferred this to be swapped, so they do volume first, and hold for skip track, but that’s about the only complaint. The buttons are covered with the silicone skin of the rest of the speaker, but they’re raised and easy to find/press.

I-Venstar S406 Bluetooth Speaker

On the other end of the I-Venstar S406 is a thin silicone flap covering the 3.5mm auxiliary input port, along with the microUSB charging port and the full-size USB power outlet. You obviously wouldn’t want to do it in a wet environment, but you could use this speaker to charge your phone while it’s playing music, which is handy. The S406 has a 4,400 mAh internal battery, so you could charge most smartphones fully with a little bit leftover for the speaker.

Speaking of power, when you’re just using the speaker as a speaker, the battery is awesome. I’ve been using it while in the shower and getting ready (~30-45 min) every day for about 2 weeks and haven’t had to charge it yet.

The I-Venstar S406 is IPX4 rated for water resistance, which is defined aswater splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect“. As stated before, I’ve used this in the shower since I got it about two weeks ago. Granted, it’s sitting on a rather high built-in soapdish shelf, but it’s right below the shower head, so it still gets plenty wet. I haven’t noticed any degradation in sound quality, connection ability, or any other issues. I should note, the silicone flap on the bottom that covers the various ports is very thin, and you should make sure it sits completely flush with the rest of the bottom to preserve the water resistance.

I-Venstar S406 Bluetooth Speaker

 

I wouldn’t hesitate at all to take this speaker on a weekend camping trip – it even has a small metal hook on one side, and comes with a carabiner to attach it to your backpack or whatever. It also comes with a USB-to-microUSB cable and a 3.5mm auxiliary cable in the box, for power and audio.

Side Note: I’m really impressed with I-Venstar’s packaging, as well. It’s very professional and high quality – I wouldn’t hesitate to order these for gifts and just wrap the box as-is.

The Other Stuff

Thanks to the built-in NFC chip, pairing is a breeze. Just turn the speaker on and hold your phone’s NFC sensor over the S406’s and you’re ready to roll. It quickly reconnects to my Moto X 2014 as soon as I turn the speaker on.

The S406 has a built-in microphone, and the multipurpose button can be used to answer and end incoming phone calls. I’ve not used these functions, cause I don’t have a clue who I would want to talk to while I’m in the shower, but they’re there, nonetheless.

I-Venstar S406 Bluetooth Speaker

The sound quality is really pretty good, considering this is a <$40 speaker (at time of publishing). Using it in the shower, I typically keep the volume at around 50-60% to avoid being blasted out, and the quality at this range is really good, as well. It can get distorted if you max the volume out, but in most situations, you wouldn’t need it that loud, anyways.

WrapUp

The only real complaint that I have about the I-Venstar S406 is that it’s only available in black. I’d love to see some additional colors, or even swappable silicone skins. As a shower speaker, surely folks would love a white model, and outdoors folks would probably dig some brighter colors, or even camo. Easy way to expand the product line.

If you’re looking for a way to listen to music in the shower, the I-Venstar S406 is a great option. Sure, there are cheaper options, but they’re mostly smaller, produce poorer sound, or lack the volume/track change buttons to make them really useful. The battery life of this speaker is awesome, and it would make the perfect gift for an outdoors enthusiast who wants to bring some music with them.

Disclaimer: the I-Venstar S406 was provided to me by the company for this review. Also, this post contains affiliate links to the product listing on Amazon. Because I need to buy new gadgets, and the alternative is ugly banner ads.