Category Books

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

[Book Review] I kept bumping into excerpts from this book while I was in grad school, but just recently got around to reading the whole thing.

While I know nothing about COIN aside from what I read in grad school and gleaned from working with sundry folks overseas, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife certainly seems like a helluva sensible book – and not just on Vietnam or for historians, but for anyone interested in the performance of the U.S. and British armies, past, present, and future.

The author, John A. Nagl (retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel), examines the performance of the British Army in Malaya and the U.S. Army in Vietnam to gauge how effectively each organization learned and adapted to fighting a counter insurgency. The Brits come off rather well, having won their fight against communist guerrillas in what became Malaysia. The U.S. Army comes off much worse, appearing bureaucratic, ossified, and unable to change or adapt, even when ordered to change by higher-ups or shown how to adapt by junior officers.

Not just a historical examination, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife provides guidelines for helping any organization: bureaucratic, military, or otherwise; learn, adapt, and succeed when confronted by unexpected challenges. Pity this advice wasn’t better known or heeded in DC back in the aughts.


New ‘Konglish’ Category

UPDATE (11 July): The book has been approved for sale (!) and is slowly working its way through the Apple bureaucracy. It has yet to make it into iTunes, but is currently visible on the iTunes Preview website.

I’m adding a new section to the website today, in honor of my forthcoming book, 콩글리시 to English (Konglish to English), an education book intended for the Korean market and written entirely in Apple’s new iBooks Author.

The new section will consist of common 콩글리시/Konglish expressions and how best to translate and explain them in English. After visitors from the U.S., visitors from South Korea make up the largest readership for the blog and my 1stopKorea website. Adding this content, written partially in Korean, is a way of addressing that readership.

The new book, despite the use of the iBooks platform, marks a return to my roots. I’ve been researching and writing on Konglish since the mid-90s, making it the focus of my first book, 미국에선 안통하는 한국식 영어표현 (roughly: ‘Konglish expressions that won’t work in the U.S.), published way back in 1999 and, unfortunately, now out of print.

Please enjoy the new section and feel free to add any Konglish, including a translation/explanation, you come across. I’ll be adding the first few expressions shortly, but backdating them so they don’t completely take over the front page of the blog. Thanks, and enjoy!


Problems with Audio Files and Quizzes in Apple’s iBooks Author

After a brief hiatus, finally back at work and finishing up my first book using Apple’s new iBooks Author digital publishing platform. As this project winds down, a few new issues (for more writings on iBooks Author, head to the Digital Publishing section of the blog) have become evident.

First, as shown in the screenshots below, the audio controls differ markedly when switching between the portrait and landscape orientations. I prefer the portrait view’s smaller controller size and would love to be able to use that controller in both views. Unfortunately, if it can be done, I’ve yet to figure out how.

Second, if you look closely at the two screenshots, you’ll notice the portrait view has the recording I made for “during midnight” (a common Korean-English expression discussed in this book on Konglish). Unfortunately, the recording disappears when the book is switched to landscape view, a problem that happens at least one other time in the book. Despite deleting and reloading, plus numerous other attempted workarounds, I’m unable to fix the problem. This leaves a reader using only landscape view deprived of the book’s full content. I’m not sure why this happens, but it shouldn’t.


‘Escape from Camp 14’ and North Korean Defectors

UPDATE (January 2015): Per my original comments, below, you can’t always trust defector testimony, as became clear earlier this week when Shin Dong-hyuk, upon whom this book is based, recanted parts of his story. While this made North Korea very happy – Pyongyang quickly jumped on the story to help boost its campaign to discredit defectors and others that criticize North Korean human rights – the changes in Shin’s story in no way alter the existence of horrible human rights violations in North Korea.

UPDATE (5 December 2012): 60 Minutes recently did an interview with the subject and author of the book. Their report follows a remarkably similar story arc to that of the book, though it does provide more information on the ‘three generations punishment system’ begun under Kim Il-sung.

UPDATE (3 April): [Book Review] A swift kick to the gut – swift, because the book is engrossing (and short) enough to finish in a single sitting; a kick to the gut because you won’t sleep afterwards. The idea that slaves are still bred and raised in this day and age, while the rest of the world turns at least a semi-blind eye, is disgusting enough, when you mix in the conditions these children are forced to fight and survive under … well, this one will haunt you for a while.

Escape from Camp 14 details the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, born to North Korean labor camp inmates occasionally allowed to breed as a reward for their hard work. The book cuts in and out of describing Shin’s life in the camp, North Korea in general, and Shin’s life during and after his escape. The sudden cuts from one story line to the next, in North Korea the main holidays are the birthdays of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il … aren’t quite that abrupt, but they do occasionally get in the way of the story. At times, it felt like the author was stretching to get a book out of a long magazine article, but while it affects the flow, it doesn’t detract from the overall strength and message of the book.

Whether as a download or an actual book, new to North Korea or not, this one is worth reading.


Apple’s new iBooks Author vs. Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite and new Creative Cloud

UPDATE (JAN 2014): I just published another ebook, this one heavily focused on images, and found little has changed over the past couple of years – Apple’s system is still far and away the easiest to use, resulting in a smoother, more appealing final product. Unfortunately, as before, IBooks Author only works on Apple products and proved essentially useless for developing a Kindle book. Given that my sales on Amazon dwarf my sales on all other platforms combined, this is a significant drawback.

Addressing that drawback by using the greater layout, template, and design controls of the Creative Cloud products also proved untenable for Kindle. Amazon prefers submissions formatted in Word, with very limited layout and design options. Essentially, the layout is confined to text, then an image, then more text. Anything involving more complicated, professional layouts proved impossible. Meaning my time spent with Adobe’s products was largely wasted.

In the end, given the project was for an image-focused ebook to be delivered via Amazon and Apple’s bookstores, Creative Suite wasn’t necessary. I used iBooks Author to create a book with a fairly sophisticated, magazine-style layout for iTunes. Then I took the text from that book, pasted it into a Word doc, then added back in the images, to create a book with the layout of a middle school English paper to use on Amazon. The easiest method would have been to just write everything in Word, but the Apple system is so simple to use, and looks so much better (at least for an image-heavy book), it was worth the extra work. The end result however, is readers using a Kindle will have a clunkier experience than those using an iPad or Mac.

UPDATE (29 JAN 2013):If you’re publishing for an iPad-only audience, a class or work team where everyone owns the device as part of the project, then iBooks Author is far easier and quicker for creating new content, especially if it contains video or audio. Even existing content can be easier to route through Author than the Adobe suite, unless you’re a skilled Adobe user with content already set up in one of the suite’s programs (e.g. InDesign, Dreamweaver, Captivate, etc.).

If you’re publishing with the intent of maximizing sales however, the market for Author-based books (iPad only) doesn’t compare with the reach of the Adobe tools (iPad, plus iPhone, Kindle and Nook, Windows, Blackberry, and, oh yeah, the entire Android universe). The upfront time to learn InDesign and the rest is considerable, but so is the advantage in market size. Plus, converting from a book/publication to an actual app is possible with the Adobe products, should you so desire (i.e. you’d like to include audio or video in your book, which is still a no-go for most e-readers but normal in apps). Again, it’s not easy, but it’s possible. With iBooks Author, it’s not possible to sell/distribute outside of books on the iPad .

While my personal experience is hardly the sole measure of iBooks, I sell more in a few days on Amazon than a month on iTunes/iBooks (plus there’s no irritating little “i” in front of everything). So, before you start development, carefully consider your goal for the project. If it is to distribute to a team of iPad owners, and/or you’d like to relatively quickly and easily include audio or video in your publication, iBooks Author is the natural choice. If your goal is sell to the widest possible audience, then, no matter how easy it is, Author is not the best choice. You’ll either need to dive into the Adobe morass (though the advent of Creative Cloud at least makes it cheaper than before), swear off the entire non-iPad world, or wait and hope Apple someday updates Author to allow for publishing to other platforms (to shouts of joy echoed around the planet).

UPDATE (23 OCT): My ‘pre-jinx’ from yesterday appears to have worked – Apple just announced an update to iBooks Author, which should address some of the issues mentioned below. I look forward to downloading and testing the latest version as soon as it’s available.

UPDATE (22 OCT): iBooks Author came out in January and, except for a quick update right after release, we’ve seen no updates since. If the software is going to become a legitimate competitor to the Adobe suite, instead of just another “hobby”, Apple needs to up the pace, at the very least by addressing the bugs outlined below. If not, between the bugs and the limited, iTunes-only publishing option, Author is quickly going to wither on the vine – an outcome benefiting no one outside Adobe.

Previous postings focused on initial impressions from working with Apple’s new iBooks Author and on the challenge iBooks Author (hereafter just called Author because I’m tired of typing the little i in front of everything) may eventually pose to Adobe, especially to Captivate and elements of Creative Suite. This posting takes a more direct look at comparing Author with Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite.

First off, Author is completely free, both to download the software and with no additional per book up-charges, aside from iTunes’ normal cut. Though the included templates are still limited, additional third-party templates are becoming available for purchase, including Book Palette in the App Store and from (well done on being the first to jump on that URL). As mentioned in previous postings and reader comments, the software still has bugs (e.g. quizzes, Help Center, odd layout issues, oversized audio playback controls, etc.) but is intuitive and easy to put to work.


The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda

[Book Review] Leaves the reader angry, frustrated, and fed up. Not however, because the book is bad, precisely because it is so clear, detailed, and powerful, making the best case I’ve seen yet for why torture doesn’t work and the U.S. shouldn’t be doing it.

The book was written by Ali Soufan, one of the FBI’s former top Arabic interrogators, one seemingly involved in every investigation from the East African embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, to 9/11, Gitmo, and beyond. As the book progresses, you can feel the steady increase in the author’s frustration and tension with the bureaucratic, DC way of doing things, including torture, versus being allowed to use his experience, training, linguistic, and cultural knowledge. In the end, completely frustrated and only days after being referred to as, “the future of the FBI,” by the FBI director, the author resigned and left the government.

While the DC bureaucracy in general comes out looking pretty bad, between the author’s reporting and the CIA-mandated redactions (left in the book as black lines through sentence after sentence, page after page of text, including through publicly available Congressional testimony), the CIA comes out looking like bumbling, arrogant, bureaucratic assholes (admittedly, not that hard, but still). State, at least in Yemen, doesn’t come out looking too good either, but the main beating is laid on Langley.

The book has some errors that detract from its credibility, mainly the Soviets invading Pakistan, instead of Afghanistan, on page 26, and the occasional confusion of the words “dessert” and “desert.” Still, overall, and in spite of the anger and frustration the reporting causes in the reader, well worth your time.


First Three Weeks with iBooks Author

UPDATE (10 March): Narration capability? There really isn’t any. While the OS has a built in text-to-speech reader, this is English-only on the system I’m using to write my current book, meaning it only reads some of the words. Given the book I’m writing is partly in Korean (and I’m sure I’m not the only person writing a language book), having the system skip whole phrases and sentences as it reads is less than desirable and makes QCing my work a hassle. Being able to add my own narration would make for a more educational, friendlier, and less robotic product.

Using widgets, I can add audio files, but the amount of space the player takes up is too large, at least for my purposes. All I want is a small play/pause button next to a headline, and the option to have the audio start automatically upon page load. If someone would like to listen, they have that option, if not, I’m not wasting a lot of screen space on an unused player.

I may be the only person on the planet who likes Adobe Captivate’s built-in voice recording and editing features, functionality I would love to see incorporated into Author, along with the smaller player mentioned above. This would allow me to do most of my work in one program, plus build in an unobtrusive option for sound/narration. Instead, as it stands now, I’ve got to use another program for creating and editing my sound files, then paste them into Author (an admittedly easy process), then devote a relatively large section of the screen to a player some or most readers may never use. Not optimal, but forgivable in software as yet only two months old.

Help Center? As you can see from the screenshot, there appear to be some issues with Help Center integration. You can still read enough to get the info you need, but this is obviously not what you want. Hopefully, this will get fixed quickly in a future release.

[ORIGINAL POST] Here are a few initial impressions after three weeks working with Apple’s new iBooks Author program:

  • First off, it is very intuitive and easy to use, almost like something designed by Apple … oh, right.
  • Why is there no option to view the book on a computer? If the books created by the program are meant to be textbooks, then presumably students are going to use the books for reports, and therefore want to copy and paste citations directly into a paper, not retype things they saw on their iPad. I get it that the software is meant to help sell iPads, but it seems overly restrictive to prevent textbooks from appearing on computers. Hopefully this restriction will soon go the way of the old ‘no iTunes on Windows’ idea.
  • The existing templates are nice; adding more in future updates would be even nicer.
  • As an author, I’d like to be able to preview the book, especially the widgets used for quizzing, on my computer without having to hook up an iPad every single time. Why not have an emulator allowing writers to see/test their book, preferably on all versions of the iPad, without having to track down and hook up a version of every last one ever manufactured?
  • Why no option to print? This is an issue I also have with iBooks in general, plus Kindle and Nook. If I, as an author, have no problem with someone printing out my work, and the purchaser/customer would like to print it, who is Apple/Amazon/B&N to prevent that? I would specifically like to make a book with handouts available for teachers to print, copy, and distribute to students – why can’t I do this? And yes, I get it that handouts are not required if everyone in class has an iPad, but that classroom is not my reality.

I’m sure I’ll discover more issues, both good and bad, as I continue to work with what appears to be a great addition to the writer/publisher toolkit. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for reading; feel free to put your comments below.


The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War

[Book Review] Thick. I’ve always enjoyed Halberstam’s work and this book is no exception, with well-sourced, evocative writing that brings alive the subject and keeps the reader interested long into the night.

At over 660 pages, this will not be a quick weekend read, but the insight and enjoyment make the book worth tackling. The portrayal of MacArthur alone is worth the price of entry, as is the discussion of U.S. failures to see and understand China’s entry into the war, despite numerous warnings (feel free to insert parallels to Pearl Harbor and 9/11 here).

I should have reviewed this in 2007 when I first read it. Apologies for the delay in highlighting this worthwhile, enjoyable work.


Apple’s new iBooks Author, a shot at Adobe?

I finally got a chance to download and play around with Apple’s new software for writing textbooks and similar works – iBooks Author. So far, I’m impressed with the ease of use. Instead of wasting hours trying to figure the thing out (yes, that means you, Adobe), you can get to work literally within minutes – Apple traits I’m always happy to see, irritating little i in front of everything, aside.

What is most interesting about the new software though, is how it mimics functionality from Adobe Captivate (software for designing e-learning packages), Flash, and Acrobat. The Apple software is still quite new and rudimentary, it hardly replaces any of Adobe’s big ticket items, but it is a very strong start and, at free, certainly priced right. It’s got review quizzes and interactivity like Captivate and Flash, it can save and distribute PDFs, like Acrobat, and it does everything far easier and for hundreds of dollars less than Adobe.

Does this mean I’m ready to dump Captivate and the rest of the Adobe core? Certainly not. But, as an author of textbooks, books, and e-learning modules, I am adding iBooks Author to the mix, especially for publishing on iTunes. Apple’s latest isn’t a threat to Adobe (or Lectora), yet, and it may fade to the back burner as Apple focuses on other projects, but if Apple keeps plugging away and releasing the software for free, Adobe is finally going to be in a fight with someone it can’t buy off or bury. Maybe then, consumers and authors will finally catch a break.

For related reviews, please see First Three Weeks with iBooks Author and Kindle vs. Nook vs. iBook – My Experience with Ebook Publishing.


Kim Jong-nam Predicts Trouble for Kid Brother, the New Ruler of North Korea

UPDATE (22 January): The Guardian has an updated, more in-depth story on the book and its interviews with Kim Jong-nam. You can check it out here.

There’s been a flurry of reporting (The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times) the past couple of days about a new Japanese book purportedly based on interviews with Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-il’s eldest son and older half-brother of Kim Jong-eun, North Korea’s new ruler.

The Tokyo-based journalist who wrote the book, Yoji Gomi, says it is based on email exchanges and interviews with Kim Jong-nam over a period of years. In it, the older brother reportedly calls the third-generation succession a “joke” and expects Jong-eun will be nothing more than a figurehead. Not exactly a shocking prediction, but interesting given the reported source. If true, this book offers some of the most interesting insight into North Korea since that written by Kim Jong-il’s former sushi chef – a Japanese cook now on the run from NK ‘security’ services.