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Book Reviews: Lateral

Introduction

May 23, 2004
The lateral reading section contains books not having anything explicitly to do with programming, but that I found contributed a lot to designs. Or to handling life in general, perhaps. (No comments yet)

The Lazy Way to Success

April 12, 2005
Fred Gratzon, Soma Press, 2003
Exceedingly well illustrated, beautiful layout, well written, funny and instructive. What else can I say? And if the author made this book from his hammock, as he claims, he must have a pretty well equipped hammock.

I do believe he's got a point most of the time, maybe even all of the time. He's also convinced me that trancendental meditation (I almost wrote "trancendental medication", whatever that is) is worth doing. I did learn it in my teens, but never did get the idea, so I guess it's worth trying again.

The book is highly recommended, but it's hard to get, since it's not distributed like other books. You can get it through Amazon, but I recommend you buy it directly from the author, as I did. It's cheap, it's quick and he even signs the book for you! (No comments yet)

The Prince

February 21, 2005
Nicolo Machiavelli, 1505, Constitution Society
(You can find this book in its entirety at http://www.constitution.org/mac/niccolo.htm .)

I'm beginning to realize I need to read up on management techniques and human relations, so I'm starting with the book that seems most applicable to software development nowadays. I'll add to this review as I go along and discover pearl after pearl.

Quote:
From this a general rule is drawn which never or rarely fails: that he who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because that predominancy has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.

I have committed this error years ago a couple of times. The way it works is that you support your project manager (for instance) in his rise to glory, feeding him technological information making him look good, only to get whacked real bad once he has used your knowledge to climb in the organization and feels safe. The last couple of years, I've taken care not to let a manager (or a coworker!) of any kind siphon off my knowledge, anonymize it, and then use it for their own glorification.

Quote:

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them. Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly, in such wise that the prince is endangered along with them.

It is necessary, therefore, if we desire to discuss this matter thoroughly, to inquire whether these innovators can rely on themselves or have to depend on others: that is to say, whether, to consummate their enterprise, have they to use prayers or can they use force? In the first instance they always succeed badly, and never compass anything; but when they can rely on themselves and use force, then they are rarely endangered. Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed. Besides the reasons mentioned, the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force.

This was a difficult, but very important, passage. What it says is that you're not going to be able to head-butt the "olde guarde" by superior reasoning if you don't have a weapon to force them with. In modern times, we can't really use spears and boiling tar and stuff, so we can only use management support as a "weapon". Now, read the above paragraphs a couple of times until you can equate it with your own crusade, and if it looks as if you aren't backed up with the necessary force, simply leave the battlefield. In other words: choose the fights you can win, walk out on the rest.

Quote:

When the duke occupied the Romagna he found it under the rule of weak masters, who rather plundered their subjects than ruled them, and gave them more cause for disunion than for union, so that the country was full of robbery, quarrels, and every kind of violence; and so, wishing to bring back peace and obedience to authority, he considered it necessary to give it a good governor. Thereupon he promoted Messer Ramiro d'Orco [de Lorqua], a swift and cruel man, to whom he gave the fullest power. This man in a short time restored peace and unity with the greatest success. Afterwards the duke considered that it was not advisable to confer such excessive authority, for he had no doubt but that he would become odious, so he set up a court of judgment in the country, under a most excellent president, wherein all cities had their advocates. And because he knew that the past severity had caused some hatred against himself, so, to clear himself in the minds of the people, and gain them entirely to himself, he desired to show that, if any cruelty had been practised, it had not originated with him, but in the natural sternness of the minister. Under this pretence he took Ramiro, and one morning caused him to be executed and left on the piazza at Cesena with the block and a bloody knife at his side. The barbarity of this spectacle caused the people to be at once satisfied and dismayed.

That was a wonderfully bloody passage I didn't want to withold from you. The modern equivalent would be the hiring of a management consultant to fire the excess workforce. The advantage being that there's no need for block and bloody knife, just for settling his charges and seeing him off.

Quote:
For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.

This one speaks for itself. (No comments yet)

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!

May 23, 2004
Vintage, 1985
Very refreshing. The situations he describes with committees talking superiour nonsense are very recognizeable. His intolerance for politics (even though he doesn't call it that) is refreshing. Amazingly, this is the first time I've seen somebody else admit to being unable to understand theoretical derivations without applying it to a concrete example while going along. I always thought that was my major intellectual weakness, but if he had the same "weakness", it can't be all that bad. The last chapter is about "cargo culture", which is also mentioned in Steve McConnells latest book (Professional Software Development) and a very good example to work into discussions and talks. There's not much concrete ideas to learn from this book, but it sure is a very reassuring story to read if you can identify with the manner of thinking and approaching problems (and people!). (7/2003) (No comments yet)

Consciousness Explained

May 23, 2004
Dennett, Penguin books, 1991
I'm working my way through this one for the second time now. What seems to be controversial in the field of neurophilosophy about the workings of the mind, seems just a good design when you look at it as software or wetware. The Orwellian model (and the Stalinesque model to a lesser degree) are nothing but good encapsulated object designs, if you think about it. (Read it and those terms will meme themselves into your existence.) Getting a good grip on the theories presented here seems to lead to much more elegant object designs in just about any type of software. (No, I'm not talking AI here, I'm talking real software.) (No comments yet)

Surgery of the Anus, Rectum and Colon, 4th ed.

May 23, 2004
J.C. Goligher, Bailliere-Tindall, 1980
If by "lateral reading" you mean reading books that are not directly connected to programming but gives you some stimulus to program more and better, then this book is the mother of all lateral reading. Whenever I get too close to it, I say to myself: "by gosh, I'm glad I'm a programmer now". I've also heard from a friend that programmed in my office for a while, that each look into this book made him a happier programmer. Or "happier to be a programmer", maybe. I'm not sure of the exact expression over the phone, since there were some retching sounds on the line. (1 comment)
 
 
(nevelsteen)
May 26, 2004
 Your description is ample in warning. I still have a waking horror of the book. Each highly detailed picture after the next of what I would consider... TOO MUCH INFORMATION!
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