Books I Read on Holidays

My busted shoulder did me a single favour over the Christmas-New Years period. It excused me from being useful at my sister’s new home, where she and my brother-in-law are frantically working to fix the place up before moving in.

It was probably a nasty shock to discover that I was not really useful for hoisting heavy things. Sorry, sis.

But I did get some reading done. Herewith my notes.

Congruent Exercise by Bill DeSimone is dumb. Radiantly dumb. I should pick it apart, but I just can’t be arsed.

If you are daft enough to buy it, please use the affiliate link; I deserve money back for wasted time. Avoid.

Patrick McKenzie’s Sell More Software: Website Conversion Optimization for Software Developers is an anthology of his “best hits” blog posts. McKenzie (also internet-famous as “patio11”) has an easy, chatty, folksy style and is capable of dropping nice witticisms. It’s a short, sharp, focused read. I can see myself returning to this book in future.

You can read almost all of it on his blog, but I figure $10 for the convenience of reading it on my Kindle was worth it. Recommended for anyone doing business online.

Scalability Rules: 50 Rules for Scaling Websites by Martin Abbott and Michael Fisher is merely OK. These two “scaling consultants” do spend a lot of time talking up their “scaling cube”, which doesn’t really add much to the discussion. I was also profoundly disturbed by the fact that their only form of research seems to be reading Wikipedia. Almost every citation is to a Wikipedia entry. That doesn’t fill me with much confidence.

The advice ranges from quite high level stuff (partitioning at an architectural level) down to the nitty-gritty (don’t use select * — someone please tell WordPress programmers this blinding insight). Still, it’s probably useful as a reference book.

Software Architecture in Practice (3rd Ed) by Bass, Clements and Kazman was my next stop. I’ve previously owned the 2nd edition.

The 3rd makes an important improvement: gone are the case studies. Being SEI case studies, they were heavy on US avionics projects from the 1970s and it was hard (some decades later) to relate to.

It’s important to note that the book covers broad ground. It’s not just architecture-as-a-set-of-options. That is, it’s not a catalogue of design alternatives that prospective architects should consider. To be certain, that’s part of what the book covers (through “architecture tactics” and the more commonly-recognised concept of a pattern language).

But it also discusses the broader context of software architecture. In that respect it would be a useful part of the library of a “proper” software architect. Bear in mind, however, that it is meant to be a text book. It can be read straight through, but doing so can be a bit tiring (trust me).

My only problem with the book is the contributed chapter 27, “Architectures for the Edge”. It’s a blob of hand-waving waffle that adds precisely zero value to the book, you may safely skip it.

Software for Your Head: Core Protocols for Creating and Maintaining Shared Vision by Jim and Michele McCarthy creeped me right the hell out, to the point where I couldn’t finish it. You can get a free and legal PDF copy from one a disciple’s site.

The “Core Protocols” are a strange group-therapeutic approach to team work. The problem is that the good (structured, mindful focus on working together in teams) is mingled with the batshit crazy (calling professional reservation of emotion “bigotry”, ra-ra Tony Robbins bullshit about how UNTAPPED RESOURCES OF GREATNESS LIE WITHIN).

Sprinkle thick lashings of overwritten blather, a very annoying layout and endless proselytising and I … I just couldn’t finish it.

Gerald Weinberg is a well-known writer in software circles; his books have languished in my various to-read lists for years. A terrible mistake, he’s a cracking good read. His The Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully is one of the most amusing and insightful books I’ve ever read. Recommended.

The followup book More Secrets of Consulting is not nearly as useful, unfortunately, but still quite readable. Weinberg wanders off the zany path and tries to browbeat interesting insights into a laboriously-constructed metaphor of a consultant’s “toolbox”.

If you’ve ever been mired in one of those tedious HR seminars about “personality colours” or you had a highschool teacher with a hardon for de Bono’s “six hats”, then you’ll recognise the form.

It’s still a passable read, but I wouldn’t have gone out of my way for it.

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