The original Mindstorms

At Educating Programmers I talked to several people about Mindstorms. Not LEGO (though there’s a great deal to be said about that too), but the book, published in 1980 by Seymour Papert, in which he sets out a vision of learning inspired by the use of computers. It’s a book which most people present had heard of, of course, but I can’t recall anyone saying they’d actually read it. I encountered it in the mid-1980s, when my children were young, on the back of exploring many different programming languages and coming across Logo. It left a deep impression on me, and I was enthusiastic in talking about it, and lending my copy (too enthusiastic — would the last person I lent it to, please give it back? Thanks).
Read the rest of this entry »

Learning from Sondheim

Santa came early, and delivered Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat — lyrics from the musicals from 1954 to 1981, with (as the subtitle puts it) “attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes”. If you’re at all into theatre, musicals, music, or just writing, you’ll enjoy this book immensely (it’s nicely produced, too, and would make a great present - and no, I don;t have shares). But a couple of general things stand out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jazz, Agility, Innovation

I was intrigued when I heard about Adrian Cho’s book The Jazz Process: Collaboration, Innovation and Agility. Over the years I’ve enjoyed working on development projects with many, many colleagues who’ve astonished me with their musical intelligence and experience — as players of all sorts of music, composers, or simply with extraordinary deep knowledge. Late night talks with friends and fellow developers in the pub, at meet-ups and conferences, makes it clear that this is a widely accepted phenomenon. So when an active jazz musician who’s also a senior development manager at IBM writes a book on the subject, maybe — just maybe — there’ll be some useful insights, particularly about collaboration and innovation in a large organisation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Jackson: a Lost Masterpiece

But thankfully found again. Through a series of circumstances too complicated to relate, I’ve recovered (after its perambulations of six years or so) my copy of Michael (A) Jackson’s Software Requirements and Specifications: a lexicon of practice, principles and prejudices. (SRP in what follows)
Read the rest of this entry »

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Agile Development, Adoption

I’m reading - and enjoying - Alfie Kohn’s classic, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A, Praise, and Other Bribes. It’s definitely a one-issue book, but that’s not such a bad thing: what’s more, it’s one of those rare works which is both pleasurably readable and impeccably referenced: three hundred pages of text, a hundred of notes and bibliography, so if you want or need to follow up on the research results which inform every argument Kohn makes, you can. [1]
Read the rest of this entry »

Review of Richard Sennett - The Craftsman

The estimable John Nolan, with whom I’m in the habit of swapping book recommendations, waved Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman at me, saying “I’m half-way through the introduction, but it’s already making me think…”. Recommended, duly bought, and now some weeks later somewhat digested. This is a long time for me: not a reflection on the writing, which is conversational, urbane, knowledgeable. The quality of the discourse and the thinking behind it made me realise quickly that this was a book I wanted to spend some time with.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tech detox

So when it all gets too much … what do you do?

After finally solving the problem with SEF links in my Joomla/Mojoblog site yesterday morning, I’d had enough - of PHP, CMS systems, plug-ins, Chunks, Snippets, Rails, the whole lot. So a day and a half off-line has cleared my head.

Staying with Joseph last weekend rekindled my passion for food, so I’ve been cooking (a hat-tip to Joseph for an amazing asparagus and salsiccio pasta recipe). Reading - finished Geoff Dyer’s wonderfully evocative But Beautiful, and almost (so nearly) finished the amazing 2666 by Robert BolaƱo - at the point where I really don’t want it to end, I’m so into it. Playing, of course: there’ll be a (rare) musical blog shortly on Sor’s Op.6 studies, and the art of balancing the apparently simple with the intriguingly complex, and achieving perfection in the seemingly ordinary.

A visit to the RA’s impressive exhibition of prints by Kuniyoshi, with my daughter Evelyn and her partner. (Amazing colours, and in the earlier warrior prints in particular an overwhelming sense of movement. These were the original mass-media images, it was interesting to try to rewind my head to the days before screens, TV, video, films, where the only images were static ones).

Having been digging for a while, I found and downloaded a great performance of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, by the group Concerto Italiano. Immediate and vivid, and (unlike many performances) using small choral forces.

Helped of course by the gorgeous weather and a good bottle of wine! Head back in the game tomorrow, but it’s been a good weekend.

Science and retrospective coherence

Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions - a justly famous book on the nature of science - introduced the term “paradigm shift” into the study of the history of science and thereby into our common discourse. It’s one of those works that everyone talks about but - it seems - few have read: including, sorry to say, me, until this last few weeks.
Read the rest of this entry »

Krugman on Stross

Having raved about Charles Stross’ novel Halting State here, I was very pleased (thanks, alexis) to find out about the Crooked Timber blog seminar on his writing. Contributions by fellow writers, academics, economists (yes, that Paul Krugman), both a great overview of the author’s work (I still have the Merchant Princes series to look forward to) and a demonstration of how even popular and genre fiction can carry important ideas.

That was the year…

A small (and belated) selection of what worked for me in 2008…
Read the rest of this entry »