Thursday, 19 April 2007


Peopleware; Productive Projects and Teams
Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister
Note: This review is of a software development book, not a work of fiction. The book that is; the book's not a work of fiction. Neither is the review, I hope.

I've heard about this book very often from Joel, of He recommends it very highly, in fact one of his recommendations is on the back. This is also one of the first 'software development process' books that I've ever managed to read cover-to-cover, all the way through, and in only a day and a half. Usually these sorts of books are very dry, kind of suck and end up just annoying me.

This book is different, however.

Essentially, Peopleware is saying that any attempt to project manage software development is doomed to (painful) failure if it focuses on issues like technology or process and policy. The point is that like most things humans do, the problems are usually sociological. It's all a matter of getting different people to work together - understanding how they think and what is important to them at a very personal level is how you achieve this.

Joel makes a big deal of how important the office environment, particularly a quiet space with a door that shuts, is to any software developer. This book really makes that very clear. All 'knowledge' workers need some level of quiet and privacy, or there really is no point in having them around. The book took the discussion further and points the reader off towards Christopher Alexander, as the entire environment from the building down to the angle of the desk matters.

As an aside, if you haven't heard of Christopher Alexander, then go read about him. He has nothing to do with software development. He's a real architect. Not one of those pretentious software ones. Anyone who ever lives or works in a building should have some idea of what Alexander is on about.

I can't overstate this, if you currently manage software development; would like to some day manage software development; or are a software developer being managed, you really should read this book.

And the thing is, if you aren't in software development but can ignore the references while reading this book, you'll find it useful. The principles apply to any job where the workers are required to think independently to get anything useful done. If you think while working, this book is for you.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The Power and the Glory

The Power and the Glory
Graham Greene

Reviewing this book really seems a bit ridiculous. Who the hell am I to review this? If you haven't read it, go, go now. It's only 220 pages, won't take you a minute... Don't worry, I'll wait for you.

It also didn't occur to me that I was reading a 'Catholic book' over Easter weekend until I was nearly finished.

This isn't a book about the Catholic sacraments, or about religion or faith. It isn't even about persecution and martyrdom. The value and effect of all those is well understood. This is about something deeper: the moral ambivalence and ambiguities at the heart of everyone. All these characters fit together and draw so much from those around them - misinterpreting each others actions, intentions and clinging to the the symbolism of another person. Their individual actions are small. The overall result may be large, but often it isn't. In the end though, it doesn't matter. Labels are attached, conclusions are drawn, meaning is derived, and the world moves on.

Sunday, 8 April 2007


Some places and people really ain't worth remembering, but hey! At least I got some cool time lapse photos out of it...

Kind of a symbolic progression, actually.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

A Fire Upon the Deep

A Fire Upon the Deep
Vernor Vinge

This book was recommended to me about four years ago by a colleague at SoftLaw. It took me about that long to find it. If you're in Sydney, I can highly recommend the Galaxy bookstore on York St - thanks for putting me onto them, Jen!

The underlying premise interested me enough to keep an eye out for this book for four years. The galaxy is divided into zones. As you move up through the zones more advanced thought and science becomes available. From the Unthinking Depths, where rational thought is barely possible, through the Slow Zone, where there is no faster-than-light travel, to the Beyond, with faster-than-light travel and advanced artificial intelligence. To me this is still an interesting and novel view of the Universe. It provides both an extrinsic motivation common across individuals and species - to move up to a more glorious life that can't even be expressed at your current level - and also a danger and a fear. There is nothing worse than falling into a lower zone. Sounds religious doesn't it? And that is alluded to, although it would have been good to see that developed some more.

The rich potential of this premise left the book as a whole slightly disappointing.

Overall, the story is a quest. Which is another point in favour of my 'Sci-Fi is fantasy set in the future' hypothesis... A quest story is really a journey to the depths of the soul for all the major protagonists. For some of the characters in the story, this was handled very well. For others though you just didn't get the feeling of plumbing depths from which they could never return.

And so, just like Thomas Pynchon's 'Gravity's Rainbow' ruined David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' for me, so was 'A Fire Upon the Deep' ruined by Iain M. Banks' 'The Algebraist.'

To first world citizens, the world is no longer a huge and almost infinite place. Stories where a significant part of the dramatic weight to the quest is the enormous distance that must be travelled to cross a country no longer ring true. We can now fly to the other side of the world in less than 24 hours and for less than $3,000. The other side of the world no longer feels like an vast distance from where we started. But we are starting to stare up into the night sky and imagine just how far those other points of light are. Distances such that after 30 years a satellite has only just left our solar system.

Treks across this almost infinite emptyness are the things that amaze and scare us now. And unfortunately that was exactly the feeling 'A Fire Upon the Deep' failed to capture.

Don't get me wrong, it is a great Sci-Fi story, and the premise is very interesting. It just could have been so much more. Hence, the feeling of disappointment. If you're into Sci-Fi though, I would recommend it.

Shalimar the Clown

Shalimar the Clown
Salman Rushdie

This book appears to be about Kashmir and so of course runs into that eternal Rushdie question, 'How autobiographical is it?' And as usual, the answer is 'Not at all.' As someone else has put it (gotta love that attribution) this is as much about Kashmir as 'The Satanic Verses' is about Islam.

Instead, 'Shalimar the Clown' is about, well, Shalimar the Clown. This is a book in four parts all revolving around one central character, and his doomed love for a beautiful woman. And even though one part of this book is nominally told from his perspective, this character remains an enigma right to the last line of the last page. He is never truly revealed to you, and you never truly know him. Why does he cause so much pain? Does he feel pain himself? This is certainly not sloppy writing. How well can you ever know another person? How well can you know yourself?

On a mechanical note, the first part of this book was the hardest to get through, at least for me. It starts at the end, presenting you with disconnected characters and no explanations for their distance. Fortunately, this part is only forty pages. The book then dives back into the past and builds the motivation, making you believe. While all the time concealing the true motivation apparently at the heart of everything. But then after all, aren't we just a function of our past experiences? Are their truly any motivations beyond what has already happened to us?

Well! Overall, a very good book. Some of my friends have described Rushdie as a bit pretentious, and yes, I can see that. But, my criteria for a good book (or movie) is simply 'Does it keep me thinking once I've finished?' And on that standard this book passes. Although, 'The Moor's Last Sigh' is still my favourite of his.

Oh, and the Kashmir thing? My opinion is he writes in a setting he knows, and that is always subservient to what the book is 'about.' In this case a very significant percentage of his readers could never know the Kashmir he writes of. It is probably lost forever, just like the mind of Shalimar the Clown.

Book Reviews

I read a bit, nothing impressive, or unusual, but a few books. And I find it hard to keep track of which books I've read, when, and what I thought of them immediately after finishing them.

So, I'm going to start posting short reviews of books I read as I read them here, starting with the last two books I've read. With any review it can be hard to avoid giving away some crucial detail of the plot. And of course, everyone has a different view of what constitutes a crucial detail of the the plot. In my view, it shouldn't be possible to spoil a good book. It's not about what happens at the end, but what happens to the characters (and you) as you read...

Anyway, I will try to restrict what I reveal about the plot to only that which is revealed on the cover or in the first couple of pages. But if you're really sensitive to 'spoilers' watch out.