A classic, a zinger, and a dog

Some while ago I promised Steve Freeman a review of a big pile of books on my reading list. First instalment here - feedback on not one, but three books.

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Diligence, Ingenuity and Doing Right

Thanks to Steve Freeman for a great pair of book recommendations - Atul Gawande’s Complications (A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science) and Better (A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance).

Keen observation, great writing, and a mine of great stories about individuals and groups working in a field of particular “risk and consequence”, as Gawande memorably puts it.
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Reading week…

Back from a holiday (long walks in Swiss mountains) to look alarmingly at the pile of books that’s built up before and during my trip. I like the way some schools/colleges give their students a reading week half way through a long term*, though I think in my case a reading month would barely do it.

* Of course, as a student, generally the last thing on the plan for reading week was reading…

The cognitive style of the web

Courtesy of JP’s blog, a stimulating article by Nicholas Carr - Is Google Making Us Stupid? - along with a set of rejoinders on The Edge from the likes of George Dyson and Jaron Lanier.

I like the article a lot (it passes all my criteria for non-fiction writing I wrote about a couple of weeks back). There’s a self-consciously contrarian side to it that goes too far - Carr seems to suggest there’s an evil conspiracy amongst software developers in general and Google in particular to overthrow Civilization As We Know It. I don’t think there’s an argument with his key thesis - that the nature of the way we interact with information on the web, and the way it’s replacing the sustained narrative of the media of yore with a multiplicity of fragments of information, changes the way we structure our attention, and changes the structure of thought and hence the mind. I’m not going to comment on it directly (read it!), but here are some of the resonances that it evoked for me, from my own experience and from other bits of reading and thinking I’ve done over the past few years
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Instruction, Evidence, Interpretation, Opinion

These last couple of weeks I’ve found myself reading through a backlog of non-fiction, mostly on teams, organizations and social complexity. It’s been a mixed experience to say the least. I’ve found the insight-to-obvious ratio the lowest for a long time (maybe I just got unlucky on the books) but it got me thinking about what I’m looking for when I read non-fiction, and what maybe some of these authors aren’t paying attention to when they’re writing.
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With friends like these…

Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

Douglas Crockford has a book on JavaScript out. JavaScript: The Good Parts is a short (170 pages), information-rich, opinionated book on why JavaScript is a great programming language in spite of its major shortcomings. Crockford has been writing about JS for many years and is a primary advocate for the language. The book is a good all-in-one summary of JavaScript and its less salubrious corners, but it’s a book I can’t quite like.
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The joy of annotated bibliographies

Reading the new edition of Scott Berkun’s inspired book on project management (now called Making Things Happen), and (apart of course from the conviction and sheer good sense of the writing) I’m enjoying the bibliography. How often do you find yourself thinking that?

I’m a fan of annotated bibliographies - in general I’d much rather know why an author thinks a reference is worth following up, than wade through fake-scholarly pages of small print designed to demonstrate how much the author has read (and in many cases, written). If I’ve made it to that point in the book I’ll generally trust the writer to make a good recommendation (if I haven’t read the book/seen the film/etc.), or take pleasure in agreeing or disagreeing with them (if I have).

Prize for provocative recommendation goes to Kent Beck. I wonder how many if is original readers followed up on the recommendation for Cynthia Heimel’s Sex Tips for Girls in the biblio in Extreme Programming Explained (under attitude):

Genuine enthusiasm is the ultimate technique. With it, everything falls into place. Without it, forget it.

Sadly, this appears only in the first edition, not the second…

Here Comes Everybody

Good to see Clay Shirky blogging again. I’m looking forward to reading his book on group and social dynamics on the web, Here Comes Everybody