Blog entries tagged with "books"

A public announcement

Monday, September 26th, 2011 at 10:19 pm

A few weeks ago I ordered some books online. While the trigger was Paranormality by Richard Wiseman, I also ordered two other books of his: Quirkology and 59 Seconds.

Quirkology was quite an interesting read, but it is 59 seconds (which I am currently halfway though) that surprised me. Most of this was because I didn’t fully realise that it was a self-help book, albeit a self-help book that is backed by peer-reviewed research. This should be the only kind of self-help book.

Take motivation for example. Research from large scale scientific studies found that techniques such as focusing on a role model, thinking about bad outcomes of missing the goal, trying to supress unhelpful thoughts, relying on willpower or fantasizing about reaching the goal are not effective.

On the other hand making a plan, telling other people, thinking about good things of achieving the goal, rewarding progress, and recording progress all signifigantly increases the likelihood of achieving the goal. Most of these involve writing, which other studies have found to be considerably more effective than simply talking or thinking about something.

So here are parts of a plan that I am sharing with the world to achieve a current goal of mine: losing weight.

  1. Reclaim the habit of cycling to work. I will allow three exceptions: it is raining enough that I would be soaked through, I need to head somewhere directly from work (ie not enought time to ride home to get the car), or mechanical issues that make the bike unsafe.

  2. Exercise every day. At bare minimum this is the above cycling to and from work, but on the weekend this means at least a 30 minute bike ride or going to the place mentioned in the next point.

  3. Going to the gym (yes, some would be very surprised to know that I know what one of those is) at minimum three times a week.

  4. Eating better. This fairly broad and covers avoiding take away and soft drinks, cooking for myself (but avoiding fats and sugary sauces) or resorting to healthy frozen/prepackaged meals.

As an aside, finding appropriate frozen/prepackaged meals has been an interesting journey. Many pasta type meals include parmesan for that delicious aroma while heating, but are actually passable. I would say that those that include rice are preferable. But then you get to those with “potato”, while not hard, I would consider these to be dwarf bread.

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Applying default deny to real life

Friday, June 25th, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Default deny is the security stance where anything that is not explicitly permitted, is forbidden. I use it all the time when writing code: extra form fields, ignore them, input doesn’t match, reject it, etc. It also fits in very nicely with defensive programming.

The opposite stance is default permit, number one of the six dumbest ideas in computer security.

In many aspects of my life I have been applying default permit. For example I used to buy up any vintage apple parts that were listed on ebay and I couldn’t walk past a secondhand book sale without buying a big handful of books.

Almost a year ago when I decided to downsize my computer collection I switched from default permit to default deny. I did this by starting to think about which items I wanted to keep, not about which items I could discard. The downsizing has continued in fits and starts, in some areas further than I had intended last year as I no longer have any PowerBooks or Newtons.

My other example above was books. I have a lot of books, specifically paperback novels, a mixture of fantasy, science fiction and action. But I have too many. Specifically too many to fit on the shelves so that they are doubled up.

A few weeks ago while listing some Apple parts on eBay I found that I was able to list items for free, so I grabbed quite a few books, photographed them and listed them. The books I selected first were mostly action and included a lot of spin-offs that were being mostly written by a secondary author, because of this I couldn’t see myself reading these books for a second time. Example of these include The Dreamers by David Eddings, the Dale Brown Dreamland collaborations, and Tom Clancy’s Net Force,

In hindsight this was default permit. I am going to get rid of a lot more books, but this time I will apply default deny. This means I will start by making a list of the books that I will read multiple times. This is a much smaller selective group that could contain everything by an author (Terry Pratchett is a clear candidate), or selected works from an author (early David Eddings, short story collections from Frederick Forsyth, Jeffrey Archer and Philip K. Dick).

Of course I will attempt to apply default deny to everything, not just computers and books, but I expect it will take time…

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Is everything I know about CSS wrong?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 at 7:52 pm

I don’t know that much about CSS anyway, but I now have a book to tell me.

This was a door prize at Monday’s Web Standards Group meeting where I listened to how the website for the Premier of Victoria was redone to better engage with users through the use of the open source CMS Joomla and the tie in with services such as Flickr and YouTube.

As usual I was also taking photos. However as there were so many people the talks were not held in the back room where my 28mm lens works quite nicely, they were held in the main room and the lens struggled. The April meeting was also in the main room and the 50mm f/1.8 lens I borrowed worked quite well. Especially across the room to where the speakers were.

I’ll be keeping an eye out on eBay for a 50mm lens. In order of preference: the f/1.4, an original f/1.8 and then the II f/1.8.

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My notes on Peopleware

Friday, March 28th, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Earlier in the year I re-read Peopleware and I finally got around to comparing my notes with Hamish’s.

Here are my notes, in the form of quotes:

  • “Managers jeopardize product quality by setting unreachable deadlines. They don’t think about their action in such terms; they think rather that what they’re doing is throwing down and interesting challenge to their workers, something to help them strive for excellence.” – page 20
  • “Quality, far beyond that required by the end user, is a means to higher productivity.” – page 22
  • “Quality is free, but only to those who are willing to pay heavily for it.” – page 23
  • “The manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.” – page 34
  • “People cannot work effectively if their workspace is too enclosed or too exposed. A good workspace strikes the balance. … You feel more comfortable in a workspace if there is a wall behind you. … There should be no blank wall closer than eight feet in front of you. … You should not be able to hear noises very different from the kind you make, from your workplace. Your workspace should be sufficiently enclosed to cut out noises which are a different kind from the ones you make. There is some evidence that one can concentrate on a task better if people around him are doing the same thing, not something else. … Workspaces should allow you to face in different directions – A Pattern Language” – page 85-85
  • “The business we’re in is more sociological than technological, more dependent on worker’s abilities to communicate with each other than their abilities to communicate with machines. So the hiring process needs to focus on at least some sociological and human communication traits. The best way we’ve discovered to do this is through the use of auditions for job candidates.” – page 103
  • “Of course, if your people aren’t smart enough to think their way through their work, the work will fail. No Methodology will help. Worse still, Methodologies can do grievous damage to efforts in which the people are fully competent.” – page 116
  • “The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment” – page 126
  • “… If you say the product absolutely has to be out the door by some arbitrary date, they will ask, “Why? Will the universe grind to a halt if we’re late? Will the company fold? Will the nation slide into the sea? Will Western Civilization break down?”" – page 138
  • “The fundamental response to change is not logical, but emotional” – page 197
  • “If the key learning doesn’t happen at the top and it doesn’t happen at the bottom, then it has to occur somewhere in the middle. That meas the most natural learning center for most organizations is at the level of the much-maligned institution, middle management. This squares exactly with our own observation that successful learning organziations are always characterized by strong middle management.” – page 212
  • “The ultimate management sin is wasting people’s time. It sounds like this should be an easy sin to avoid, but it isn’t. You have some needs of your own as a manager, and these needs may run squarely against your intention to preserve and use wisely the time of the people working under you.” – page 215

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Peopleware re-read

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008 at 9:02 pm

As planned, four years after first reading it, I have finished re-reading Peopleware.

I actually finished reading it last night, and tonight I went through it writing down my notes along with relevant quotes. Since Hamish also wants to read the book (for the first time) I am not going to say any more. Instead I will wait and compare my notes with his.

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The recruitment process for developers

Sunday, December 16th, 2007 at 1:18 pm

Last night I finished reading through Joel Spolsky’s book on recruiting developers, Smart and Gets Things Done.

This was a bad move as I started thinking back over my involvement in the recruitment process at work, seeing what rang true and what didn’t. In itself this was good. What was bad was that it prevented me from getting to sleep.

The most useful thing about the book (and in his articles where I had already read much of what is in the book, but had forgotten) is that Joel is not afraid to state the truths that many seem reluctant to acknowledge. For example:

  • Not all developers are created equal and they are far from interchangeable; and
  • It is better to say no and live with a vacancy than to fill it with someone who has no positive effect on the team.

The final chapter is not really about recruiting new developers, it is about fixing an existing team. To be honest this chapter alone is much more relevant to me than the six repceeding chapters.

I picked up two main points from this chapter:

  • Get rid of the underperformers that are wasting the resources of the team; and
  • Provide sufficient information that enables people to identify with the goal so they will want to perform the task, the Identity Management Method.

(I acknowledge that I am guilty of using for the Command and Control Management Method.)

In my experience there are two reasons why getting buyin from the developers fails:

  • Management actually considers the developers to be all the same so they don’t need to know the goal, they can just churn out the code; or
  • There is no actual business goal to buy into. At most the goal is something like ’so and so said to do it’. That is no goal.

This time of year is full of tasks with arbitrary deadlines which, to me, fall into the category of not having a business goal. Why should we compromise on a solution to get it done by the end of the year? Will the stakeholders even look at it over the christmas/new year break? Will they even look at it before the end of January?

Getting it done by the end of the year just so a manager can tick a box is always a waste of effort. Either more effort will be spend in January fixing the problems introduced by the compromises that where made, or the problems will never get fixed which causes even more problems in the long run.

Enough of this rant.

This book is now on my list of books to get (I only borrowed the copy I read) and it has also given me another prompt to re-read Mythical Man Month and Peopleware.

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Maps of Midkemia

Monday, September 3rd, 2007 at 9:56 pm

Before last month’s OSDClub meeting I saw that Jacinta was holding a copy of Magician. Since this wasn’t the revised edition (which is the only one I have read) this led to a discussion of the differences of that book and the also revised Prince of the Blood.

One interesting thing Jacinta pointed out was that Salador was missing from the map in her book, even though it is featured as a significant stop between Krondor and Rillanon. So when I got home that night I looked at the maps in my books and it was present in all of them, as it is in this colourful map.

This also raised another point, there are a lot of places mentioned in the maps. But many of them haven’t been mentioned in any of the books to date (apart from the map itself). Will they be?

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Books, books and more books

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007 at 9:45 pm

Yesterday a bunch of books arrived from Amazon:

Today I recieved more books. This time a dozen secondhand novels that I bought off eBay that worked at at AU$4 each including postage.

Now I need to cover them, add them to my catalog on LibraryThing, and then find some time to read them.

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Eating lunch leads to Library Thing

Thursday, May 10th, 2007 at 10:35 pm

Last night Kirrily mentioned that she had created a flowchart about eating lunch at your desk so tonight I went off to find it on her Geek Etiquette site. Anyone who works in a shared office will see the truth in it, however I feel it is missing something. It doesn’t cover the case where you have a lunch that is stinkiest while being reheated and you take back to your desk because you do not want to eat in the now stunk out kitchen…

In the process of all this I checked out Kirrily’s profile on Library Thing. I started thinking that, although I built my own simple catalog, this could be useful in the same way that del.icio.us has been for my bookmarks. So I created an account…

…to find that I had already done so when I first got my barcode scanner and forgotten about it. The couple of books that were in the account were the ones that I had used when first playing around with a catalog of my own.

After I saw that the import function could extract ISBNs from an arbitrary chunk I test I copy and pasted the output from my catalog into it. 449 ISBNs were found and it is added 202 of them to my catalog as 200 is the limit for a free account (is that a boundary error?). Even though it does not satify my fundamental need for a catalog I may still pay the US$25 for a lifetime membership as it is yet another way to have an internet presence.

So what is my fundamental need for a catalog? Sorting by series and series order.

Along with the title, author and ISBN of each novel, I also have a series name and a number to represent the place the novel has in the series. Sorting by author, series, series number, then title gives me a list with two benefits; first it makes it easy to see which books in a series I do not have, and second, when printed out, this made rearranging my bookshelves signifigantly easier as I prefer to have them in chronological order.

Now that my bookshelves are mostly in order the second benefit is no longer as important and it limits the catalog to novels. I have plenty of other books that I should catalog.

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Stupid things, account creation, being greedy and The Big Con

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007 at 11:33 pm

Tonight was the first Melbourne Perl Mongers meeting since March. A few weeks ago I realised that the last time I posted about one of these meetings was at the start of last year so I decided that I would make an effort this month.

So…

Thre was a decent turnout of around 15 people to listen to Paul talk about “Doing Stupid Things with Perl” and Jacinta talk about greediness and regular expressions. In between there was a sysadmin question (I didn’t get the name of who asked it) about the best way to go about rolling back system processes (eg creating a user account) midway if there was a failure. This turned into an interesting discussion of both how to reliably run a system process and various ways of keeping track of where the overall process was up to in order to run other processes to revert changes that had already been made.

I recall Paul, Leif and Kirrily contributing the most with suggestions of IPC::System::Simple to reliably run the processes and various state tracking and/or nesting structures to know how to roll back.

So what is with the title of this post?

The discussions in the pub briefly turned to confidence tricks and at the time I couldn’t remember the name of an excellent book on the subject.

First published in 1940, The Big Con is a book I picked up a few years ago that is considered to be a definitive work on the subject. I find the social engineering aspect of it all to be fascinating and I would cite the following two things as the source of my interest:

  • The Sting – the 1973 movie staring Robert Redford and Paul Newman that features the wire as the main con in order to get revenge for a murder
  • Hustle – a contemporary television show from the UK that “follows the fortunes of a gang of five expert con artists let loose on the streets of London”

There are other influences (such as the 2003 movie Matchstick Men), but those are the first ones that come to mind.

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I haven’t even read the first one!

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006 at 8:51 pm

Today I saw that there is a new version of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace by Lawrence Lessig. It is called Code v2 and the most interesting aspect is that the text of the original book was put up on a wiki for anyone to edit. These changes then made their way into the second version. Definitely on my list for the next time I place a book order.

Unfortunately I still need to read the original book which has been sitting on my bedside table for quite some time. Instead I have been working my way through the unread novels that I have…

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Three books by Lessig

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006 at 9:34 pm

Three books by Lawrence Lessig were waiting for me when I arrived home today:

I expect these to be very interesting to read. If I can find the time…

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Conference swag

Thursday, December 8th, 2005 at 7:58 pm

I have just sorted through the stuff I collected at the conference and threw most of it out except for:

A nice collection but now I need to find time to read the books…

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My name in print

Thursday, August 18th, 2005 at 7:14 pm

While I was waiting for a meeting to start today I started reading through my copy of Perl Best Practices and found that I was mentioned in the acknowledgements as I had reviewed the book back in March. It was a nice surprise as I wasn’t expecting it…

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Perl Best Practices

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005 at 10:46 pm

My copy of Perl Best Practices arrived today. Excellent…

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Perls of Wisdom

Friday, April 22nd, 2005 at 5:57 pm

On thing I forgot to say was that when I got home my copy of Perls of Wisdom by Randal Schwartz was sitting on the doorstep. Yet another book that I need to find time to read…

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Higher-Order Perl

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005 at 9:18 pm

A few weeks ago the book Higher-Order Perl by Mark Jason Dominus was released and my copy arrived yesterday. I have just finished covering it and now all I need to do is find some time to read it…

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The Design of Everyday Things

Sunday, April 17th, 2005 at 7:28 pm

Yesterday I finished reading The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. Since any decent material on usability (specifically in reagard to the web as that that is what I do) references concepts that can be traced back to this book I probably could have got by without reading it. Since I prefer to go to the source rather than rely on second, third or nth hand mutations I read it anyway and there was one point that I cannot recall being stressed enough elsewhere:

  • The design of a system should both make it easy for the user to correctly select the appropriate action for the desired output as well as the system preventing incorrect actions from being performed.

I think the next next book that I will read will be Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things which is also by Donald Norman. In fact I bought these two books at the same time to get a discount…

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The Art of UNIX Programming

Sunday, December 5th, 2004 at 10:18 pm

Rather than do anything productive today I finished off Exocet by Jack Higgins (for some straightforward action) and got stuck into The Art of UNIX Programming by Eric S. Raymond. I really should hold off and let other information digest in my brain as I explained yesterday but I couldn’t help myself…

Oh well back to a ‘normal’ work week tomorrow. I just wish it still wasn’t 26°C in my room…

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Hackers and Painters

Saturday, December 4th, 2004 at 8:59 am

Last night I finished reading the book that I started earlier in the week, Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham, and I’m realising it was probably a bad idea. Not that I’m saying there is anything wrong with the book… just that I have an information overload right now due to OSDC

Currently I am excellent at perl (what I do at work and mostly at home), passable at PHP (what this site and others is in) and for some time I have been comtemplating learning another language. This book has insipred me to choose Lisp and the LISP Primer looks like a good starting point.

Unfortunately the OSDC has inspired me to learn the basics of python which the Python Tutorial should give me. Naturally both of these languages will be added to my todo list alongside Java (because unfortunately if something happened to my position at Monash…) which means that I may never get around to any of them…

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More books to read

Tuesday, November 16th, 2004 at 6:21 pm

My most recent Amazon order arrived today giving me more books to read at some stage. They are:

Now to find the time to read them after I finish the other books in my to read list…

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Code Complete, Second Edition

Tuesday, August 24th, 2004 at 11:27 pm

My copy of Code Complete, Second Edition arrived today. It will be good to see what has been updated although I should probably finish reading other books I’ve had for a while such as Software Requirements

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Crossroads of Twilight

Tuesday, January 6th, 2004 at 9:37 am

I finished reading the tenth book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Crossroads of Twilight, and while it was very good I have one criticism, like Winter’s Heart the pace had dropped off a lot as there are a number of concurrent storylines that each get a signifigant amount of development…

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Accidental Empires

Sunday, November 23rd, 2003 at 2:03 am

I’m nearing the end of Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date by Robert X. Cringely. This was one of the books I bought in one of my recent splurges at Amazon, mainly because of what I remember about the tv specials Triumph of the Nerds and Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet.

There is a lot of history about the development of the personal computer that I was previously unaware of and it is interesting to note that it appears that failures were often due to poor management/marketing/timing/etc rather than deficiencies in the technology…

I also got around to watching Pirates of Silicon Valley.

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Books arrive…

Tuesday, October 21st, 2003 at 9:57 pm

One of my orders from Amazon arrived today:

  • Extreme Programming Explained
  • Extreme Programming Refactored
  • Peopleware
  • Code Complete

This time it came from Germany, last time I ordered from Amazon (Pragmatic Programmer, OO Perl) it came from Hong Kong.

Now all I have to do is find time to read them…

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Too much content, continued…

Tuesday, October 14th, 2003 at 1:01 am

Last night I decided to bite the bullet and ordered a bunch of books from Amazon. Even with the postage to Australia it still works about about two thirds of the price they would have been to buy them at bookshops locally.

I have also just spent the last three hours reading through more of the WikiWikiWeb. I didn’t realise the true extent of the software engineering discussion on there.

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Wiki’s are also good

Tuesday, October 7th, 2003 at 11:22 pm

At work today I was moving the style guide into the wiki which led me over to the original WikiWikiWeb to see if I could do an InterWiki link for Rob Pike (I included some quotes he made about software engineering in the style guide).

Anyway the point I am getting to is that it reminded me that I had been meaning to have a look at The Practice of Programming and it was interesting to see that a lot of other people share the view that all these ‘new’ software development techniques – ie Expert, Agile, Aspect, etc – are basically just a rewording of the practices that have been followed for some time.

I have also added Informal History Of Programming Ideas to my list of things to read…

Some other books that have been recommended to me are: * Peopleware * Code Complete

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Some background

Tuesday, September 30th, 2003 at 11:16 pm

For the past two years I have been working as a software developer at Monash University in the Flexible Learning and Teching Program whose main responsibility is the ongoing development and maintenance of the staff and student portal. Part time during my final year of my Computer Science degree (2002) and basically full time since then.

A lot of changes have happened during this time and as a team we are still trying to develop a robust and workable software development cycle. Some other members of the team and I have been trying to push this process forward, basically to make our own lives easier.

Over the past few months I have been reading a variety of materials that talk about different software engineering concepts and practices. Significantly:

  • The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master
  • The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering
    (Still relevant over 25 years since it was written)

I’ve also been reading Extreme Programming Explained plus a variety of sites (google is your friend), one I was put onto recently being Joel on Software.

So far it seems that most of the writings on software engineering are really just expressing old ideas (largely common sense) in a different way.

Other books that it has been recommended to read:

  • Code Complete: A Practical Handbook of Software Construction
  • Peopleware : Productive Projects and Teams

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