My review of ‘Keeping It Straight’

Bookcover

Patrick Rhone has undergone a remarkable transformation in the past year or so.

The longtime St. Paul technical consultant and Mac geek became a celebrated blogger with “Minimal Mac,” a Tumblr-based celebration of all that is elegant and streamlined in the Apple-related universe.

That led to “Enough,” a podcast cohosted by Britain-based Myke Hurley, serving as an auditory offshoot of “Minimal Mac.” Like the blog, the podcast has been a hit, garnering boffo iTunes Store rankings.

Now Patrick has become an author (after a trial run as a foreword writer in one my books, “iPad Means Business”).

Launching today, “Keeping It Straight: You, Me and Everything Else” is a polished-up collection of Web writing posted on a handful of Patrick’s sites — including Minimal Mac along with patrickrhone.com, therandompost.com and practicalopacity.com. There is fresh material, too.

Patrick had been hesitant to assemble his posts in book form. He doubted whether it was worthy of such treatment and had to be nudged (a core group of his friends and supporters took care of that).

I am glad he was because “Keeping It Straight” is scrumptious reading. The collection is a bit difficult to categorize since it is all over the map, but I see it as a series of life lessons for nerds and non-nerds — with autobiographical dollops.

As a tech geek, I naturally gravitate towards installments with technology flavoring.

Patrick’s section on “E-mail (And Other Things That Go ‘Ding’)” is one of the best tutorials on e-mail management I’ve read. So is the next section, “Back That Thang Up!” focused on the importance of data backups and how to do them effectively.

“Know your tools,” Patrick tells me, noting even the simplest-seeming of technology tools (such as the Macintosh’s TextEdit) can reveal heft and depth if thoroughly explored; good advice.

What are the three most important productivity tools? “The trash can, the delete key and the word ‘no,’ ” he writes.

Most of the book isn’t about tech, yet so much of it resonates with me.

I worry about money; Patrick shows me how to stop. I’m sometimes obsessed with material possessions; he makes a case for ruthlessly winnowing “stuff.” I do not make lists; Patrick tells me why I should start. I tend to towards introversion, as Patrick does, and I am amused at his uncanny ability to hide it (mirroring my own).

We are both “filers” married to “pilers.” We both put the car keys in the darndest places. We both love doing dishes while listening to spoken audio (Patrick prefers the BBC on Minnesota Public Radio, while I favor a certain Apple-y podcast with a mellifluous Minnesota cohost). We both delight in silence and solitude.

On the autobiographical front, as someone who is a bit ethnically exotic by white-Minnesota standards, I love this passage:

Take a look at me. If you were to have no knowledge of my ethnic background, what would you assume? My bet is that, if you are African-American, you will assume that I’m Black or Mixed. Those of Latino origin often assume I’m Latino. Don’t even get me started on the number of Palestinians and Lebanese who speak to me in native tongue and are surprised at my quizzical response. In fact, at a former job, I regularly had lunch with a Lebanese-American brother and sister for two years before it was revealed in casual conversation, to their utter disbelief, that I myself was not.

Parts of “Keeping It Straight” are heartbreaking. I knew Rodney O. Lain, the local Mac enthusiast and in-your-face tech writer who took his life in 2002, but Patrick knew him better, In his tribute to Rodney, I feel his grief.

This time, when he called to hang out, I was too busy. Between trying to manage being a full-time single dad, my consulting business, and way too many other seemingly important things, I had to decline. “Give me a call in a couple of weeks,” I said, “I’ll even buy.” Looking back, I still feel like that was the worst decision of my life.

Rodney O. Lain passed away a few days later on June 16th, 2002 — six years ago yesterday. He took his own life with a gun to the head sometime in the late night/early morning of the 15th and lived for one day more (I imagine just as a final “Fuck you” to the gun — He was that type of guy).

“Keeping It Straight” isn’t long; you’ll get through it in an evening, tops. Yet you’ll want to revisit it. Most people aspire to better themselves, but Patrick wants to better you. So pay attention; it’ll be worth your time, trust me.

Here’s the book-jacket summary of “Keeping It Straight”:

Life, living, can be complex. There’s work, family, and that big bucket of everything else. Hectic doesn’t come close to defining the pace of modern life. And yet within this whirlwind it’s often the simple things that bring us the greatest joy — if we could only find them in the clutter of our lives. It may not be necessary to give it all up and live in a cave, but it can sometimes seem like a good idea.

What can you do? Take a moment and think about you, me, and everything else.

“Keeping It Straight” is Patrick Rhone’s very personal mediation on his own life and experiences. His clear insights identify the jumble and distractions of life today and offer simple and useful advice on how to discover and focus on what really matters. This collection of short essays is filled with clear, direct, and useful observations on productivity, life, and living.

As a bonus, Patrick performs a service for fellow writers by assembling a dynamite list of books, blog posts and podcasts for those wrestling with the written word as I do. Thank you, Mr. Rhone, this will really come in handy.

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I’m Julio Ojeda-Zapata: nerd, boricua and technology journalist in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is my personal site.
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