Reading Chronicle

A log of things I've read, particularly those that didn't generate enough thoughts to warrant a full page of their own. The purpose is to allow me to gain the benefits of having an internal conversation about each, but without the pretension that I have anything significant to say.

A summary of this page is available. For more recent readings, see the 1997 chronicle.


Count Out Cholesterol
by Dr. Art Ulene
Dec 29, 1996

A clear presentation of the current knowledge about cholesterol. First explains that lowering cholesterol reduces heart disease risk for anyone with levels above 150, although it is particularly helpful for those with levels above 200. Then present an analysis of LDL and HDL (good and bad cholesterol) and explains what to do about them. In order of effectiveness the guidelines to follow in improving one's cholesterol are:
  1. eat little saturated fat; (fatty meat and many vegatable oils are bad);
  2. eat little cholesterol (meat, eggs, and shrimp are bad);
  3. eat more soluble fiber;
  4. exercise (helps only slightly).
The most difficult to follow is the third, as most products don't list their soluble (as opposed to insoluble) fiber content. The book gives tables, which I've distilled into the following list in approximately decreasing order of concentration of soluble fiber per calorie:
  1. pure oat bran, high-fiber or whole-wheat bran cereal;
  2. black-eyed peas;
  3. beans;
  4. oatmeal, cornmeal;
  5. peas, corn, zucchini, brussel sprouts;
  6. most fruits and vegetables)

Interestingly, many over-the-counter laxitives that contain psyllium hydrophilic mucilloid, like Metamucil, are soluble-fiber in pure form, and are very effective as a supplement, although the book recommends instead that one obtain the necessary fiber through one's diet where possible, for nutrional reasons.


Building Large Knowledge-based Systems
by Douglas B. Lenat and R.V. Guha
Dec 29, 1996

A 1990 status report on the Cyc project, describing how the most difficult concepts in human knowledge (belief, time, contradiction) are encoded into Cyc. It's similar to the way that object-oriented designers represent a problem domain, namely as a set of inherited classes and instances of those classes, although with a generalization that allows "inheritance" along any pointer, not just the one to the parent class.
    Cyc is a prototype language, like Self, rather than a class-based language. Most fields of the objects hold pointers to other objects, rather than methods. The work in designing Cyc has gone into the structuring of world knowledge into this fairly standard system, rather than into making a fancy new knowledge language.
    It's interesting that there's any point of comparison between a knowledge language and a programming language, much less this extreme similarity. It leads to thoughts about programming languages with some self-programming capabilities.
    Unfortunately, reading between the lines on the www.cyc.com web pages, it seems that the Cyc team hasn't done much in the last 5 years (since shortly after this book was written), mainly converted to a commercial basis, trying to make money off what they have already. One of the authors left in '95 to join apple, and there's no further talk that Cyc will start reading for itself; it now seems to be just another, albeit bigger, expert system.


Notebooks of the Mind
by Vera John-Steiner
Dec 28, 1996

A distillation of interviews with scores of creative people. Similar to Creativity, but not as lucid and complete. Comes to a subset of the same conclusions, such as that creative people are very persistent and motivated.


Selected Writings on Computing: A Personal Perspective
by Edsger W. Dijkstra
Dec 26, 1996

Essays, almost notes to himself, written by the famous programming-by-proof computer scientist. Reveals a typical albeit mathematically-minded man, who naturally finds mathy sorts of programming problems most interesting, and who makes the argument that if a program isn't a correct reflection of its requirements, it's fundamentally useless (despite most extant software to the contrary). Rather extreme, sort of boring, and unfortunately not even educational.


Dreamships
by Melissa Scott
Dec 14, 1996

A solid sci-fi, with interesting AI and VR, a nice cultural extrapolation, and interesting characters.


Memory
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Dec 8, 1996

Another Vorkosigan adventure, very satisfying with significant changes in the life of our hero, but probably only at its best for long-time readers of the series. More action and a better puzzle than Cetaganda.


Systems of Survival
by Jane Jacobs
Dec 7, 1996

A Platonic dialogue, repetitious but not redundant, about the idea that there are two fundamental bases for a moral system: the guardian syndrome, based on protecting territory; and the commercial syndrome, based on fairness. The book analyzes its single conclusion from all sides, with examples drawn from many real-life situations, and it certainly does fit the facts well. Many societal problems are best understood through this focus: in modern society, there must be a balance between the rule makers (the government as guardian of the rules) and the merchants (everyone else playing by the rules).
    The hardest point to accept is that there are no other moral systems than these two; after all if two, why not three, or four? What's so special about these? The book's thesis is that these two are the only self-consistent moral platforms, and that others are crippled to the degree that they deviate from one of these. Our system works because we've greatly separated government from commerce, with more clearly defined spheres of influence than most.
    Marxism, on the other hand, doesn't work, because it tries to mix the two. The philosophy is supposed to be that each contributes to society according to his ability, and receives according to his needs. This leads to a system where the government becomes both the guardian and implementer of commerce, resulting in irresolvable moral-system conflicts leading inevitably to government corruption and commercial inefficiency.


Master and Commander
by Patrick O'Brian
Nov 30, 1996

A rousing sea-faring adventure, first of a lengthy series. It's of the historical novel mold, somewhat accurately based upon naval logbooks, which makes the excitement of the action scenes that much more riveting. The most striking aspect of the book is the elaborate naval terminology, every page soaked with mysterious (to me) terms like sponger, bulwark, yard-arm, and larbowlines. The frequent indecipherable technical jargon might put off most readers, but for me it added atmosphere. Good character development, in a man's man sort of way.


Generous Death
by Nancy Pickard
Nov 21, 1996

A very good mystery. Jenny Cain is the best by far in my ongoing search for a tough but feminine heroine of the Kinsey Millhone mold. I prefer this sort of murder mystery, used to accentuate the lives of the living rather than focusing on darkness and death. Still, it's not as good as Sue Grafton's work, and Pickard's other books aren't as good as this one.


Diamond Age
by Neal Stephenson
Nov 16, 1996

An excellent technology sci-fi. Stephenson does a superb job of presenting a next-century culture, and how the ubiquitous presence of nanotech might be insinuated through society. The human element is not bad either. The first half of the book filled me with gee-whiz, what a vision! But the second half didn't add much more, and the story was good but not as wonderful as the scenery.
    I've read Stephenson's previous books Zodiac and Snow Crash, both were of the same mold. Breathtaking technological portraits, good action, a reasonably human-oriented plot. I'll have to check out his other book, The Big U.


Entoverse
by James P. Hogan
Nov 11, 1996

An good book with a bit of a new slant on virtual reality, but overlong in its descriptions. As some authors become older and settled they spend less time pruning their prose, perhaps because they're so famous their work will sell anyway; that certainly happened to Heinlein. And some authors always write sci-fi this way, thinking that the reader will be interested in how power conduits are routed in the next century. I don't know which Hogan is, but it makes for boring reading unless you've mastered the art of skimming the irrelevant parts.


Writing The Natural Way
by Gabriele Lusser Rico
Nov 9, 1996

A how-to development of "clustering", a technique that obviates writer's block. One draws pictures with lots of circled words and arrows showing relationships, willy-nilly painting a conceptual graph of the topic at hand. After doing this for a few minutes, the central ideas and the structure of the topic become apparent, so that one knows just where to start writing.
    I think this is a great technique, but I learn much from the book, because I already use a similar method: I write short sentence fragments and clauses, bits and pieces of ideas I think should go in the final text somewhere or other, and arrange them using a text editor, trying out different juxtapositions and adding new idea fragments that come to mind. Eventually I focus on the strongest organizing topics and write the text, throwing out those fragments that don't fit my final framework, and writing paragraphs based roughly on the others. Rarely does the actual phrasing of an idea fragment make it into the final text.


Creativity
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Nov 3, 1996

Wordy analysis of interviews with many creative individuals. Interesting for the revealed patterns about what makes up creativity. 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration is a common theme, raising the creative individual's chances of being in the right place at the right time. They're curious about everything (although over time that curiosity is focused into a narrow field in those who are most productive), and they are obsessively persistent.
    Curiosity is critical because creativity often results from the linking of ideas from commonly separate domains. The curious individual is interested in everything, always searching for links with what s/he already knows.
    To persist requires more than motivation for a final goal; the delay of gratification is so prolonged that the individual must have other reasons to stick with the day-to-day grind, and an acceptance of the fundamental solitude of that process. This is why an irrational obsession with a domain is so important in very creative people.
    The author mentions his widely known theory of "flow", which states that day-to-day enjoyment comes from doing things with 9 characteristics:
  1. There are clear goals every step of the way.
  2. There is immediate feedback to one's actions.
  3. There is a balance between challenges and skills.
  4. Action and awareness are merged.
  5. Distractions are excluded from conciousness.
  6. There is no worry of failure.
  7. Self-conciousness disappears.
  8. The sense of time becomes distorted.
  9. The activity becomes autotelic (an end in itself).

    Finally, the author looks for common formative experiences of creative individuals. There's a weak but significant correlation, that many of them had supportive families with high expectations, which stimulated curiosity, and at the same time experienced social rejection or feelings of being outcast, which stimulated self-reliance and perserverance. When such a curious-persistant person develops an obsession with some domain early in life, great things can result.


Elvenbane
by Andre Norton and Mercedes Lackey
Oct 25, 1996

A new series with the recognizable touch of these fantasy masters. Slave girl makes good through discovery of personal power and fast friends. Rousing mindless fare.


The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman
Oct 20, 1996

A new fantasy alternate world, where everyone has a daemon, sort of like a familiar. It's nice to see a new venue, and it's fairly well done, but there's a faint miasma of evil over this universe that left me disturbed; not just a truth-beats-evil gung ho fantasy.


Voices Of Hope
by David Feintuch
Oct 5, 1996

Interesting portrayal a near future in which most of New York is occupied by a gang culture. The cultural projection is the best part, and the action is good, but the technology is ho hum, with the computer hacking scenes being particularly overmetaphorized. A solid adventure.


Cetaganda
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Sep 30, 1996

A Vorkosigan adventure, all of which are about the same. Our superintelligent dwarf hero (sounds like Mongo, doesn't it) boldly shoves aside tradition and inserts himself into court intrigue through virtuostic verbal prevarication, finally solving the underlying mystery and staving off a war. I like them but this sort of verbal fencing is to most people very dull.


Bleeding In The Eye Of A Brainstorm,
Shadow Of A Broken Man
by George C. Chesbro
Sep 13, 1996

From the Mongo Mystery series. These have the tough but caring detective (who happens to be a dwarf), paralleling my favorite Sue Grafton formula (her Kinsey Millhone is a tough but caring detective who happens to be female). Mongo is entertaining, but is more depressing than Kinsey, with the formula including graphic torture of the hero, and a common theme of occult, drugs, or insanity, always something to show the seamy side of NYC mental life.


Dreadnought!
by Diane Carey
Sep 11, 1996

An Original Star Trek book. Enjoyable action adventure of Lt. Piper, with perhaps purposedly inaccurate heroic portrayals of the regulars as seen through her eyes.


To Engineer Is Human
by Henry Petroski
Sep 10, 1996

A discussion of the human element in engineering, and the concomitant lack of rationality in something on which lives depend. Gives case studies where the rules of thumb built up by the engineering culture to guarantee safety were exceeded to catastrophic effect, and in general shows that the industry goes through cycles of playing it safe and then pushing the limits until a disaster happens.
    A light book, 227 pages devoted to supporting a few key points about how engineering is really done.


Cold Allies
by Patricia Anthony
Sep 8, 1996

Near future warfare with UFO involvement. Too fragmented a convergent novel, too unsuccessful an attempt to verbally paint the mystery of the aliens, for me. Is an award winner, but nevertheless bored and vaguely disturbed me.


Demons
by J.M.Dillard
Sep 5, 1996

An Original Star Trek book. A bit wooden, formulaically marching our heros through the steps of saving the universe. About like seeing a medium-quality TV episode.


Whipping Star
by Frank Herbert
Sep 2, 1996

Mediocre sci-fi with shallow characters but an organized plot. Less an action story than a mystery, resolved at the end with a mediocre twist.


1000 Most Challenging Words
by Norman W. Schur
Aug 25, 1996

Too bad this covers only 1000 words, because it has the type of coverage every dictionary entry should: tidbits about provenance, ideas that help in remembering the word, and a discussion of its use in realistic contexts. In other words, this is a source for learning how to use words, rather than one for puzzling out the meaning of those you've read. Very interesting, although the 1000 words chosen are a bit rarified.


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
by Douglas Adams
Aug 21, 1996

From the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This style of humor misses the mark with me, as does most British humor. It's written for people who get the giggles when society's rules are bent behind it's back, all the while observing proper forms. For those of us less concerned with proper forms, the contrast seems incongruously artificial rather than incongruously funny.
    Those who have read Hitchhiker's don't have to unpuzzle my meaning; this book is cut from the same cloth. If you liked that you'll probably like this. For myself, I preferred Hitchhiker's; with alien-from-England settings there was less play off the myriad details of British life.


Advanced Methods in Neural Computing
by Philip D. Wasserman
Aug 18, 1996

Wide coverage of current thought on neural nets, sparse distributed memory (SDM), genetic algorithms (GA), and fuzzy logic. One has the feeling of overpaying in time learning his equations and terminology, for a plain meal of bare introduction to the concepts. But it does deliver on the basics.
    It seems that people still don't know what to do neural nets. The theory is still building up, as theory does, increment by increment behind the scenes. After another decade perhaps it'll advance far enough to form a base for the next experimental breakthrough. In the meantime, it's used hither-thither.
    GA seems more promising. This is a fundamental technique with advantages over previous methods in searching complex problem spaces. The tie-in to biological evolution is fascinating, although this book only hints at it. It takes better advantage of the powers of a computer, too, than do neural nets. Neural nets might someday let computers do for us what humans must do today, but GA will let computers do today things that we could never otherwise do. GA is a telescope for exploring unknown places.
    Fuzzy logic is the same as ever, a neat axiom flip that doesn't take one very far. It's a good hack, an addition to every programmer's tool kit for ad hoc problem solving, but not fundamentally exciting.


Disclosure
by Michael Crichton
Aug 15, 1996

Not quite as involving as his best, but still quite readable. However, in this case he's taken a tack that seems insensitive. Crichton proposes that women are just as likely to sexually harass men as the other way around, and bases his story on such a case. That's far-fetched, judging from the characters of the men and women in my experience. Many more of the men seem to have "only one thing on their minds."
    This unfortunate notion permeates the book with the odor of defending the exploiter at the expense of the exploited, statistically speaking. Still, it's a moderately successful exercise of the Crichton formula, with cameos from the virtual reality and the multimedia computer industries, a fair level of action, and a plot that knows where it's going.


Paths to Otherwhere
by James P. Hogan
Aug 13, 1996

A what-if based on the many worlds hypothesis. Good notions but quite stereotypical characters (naive scientist, suspicious security men, etc); reasonable action, but overall somewhat clumsy compared to the masters. On the whole, above average and enjoyable, as are all Hogan's books.


Battlefield Earth
by L.Ron Hubbard
Aug 8, 1996

The best space saga ever, the paperback is 1066 pages of pure pulp music. To many the category has no redeeming features, but if you're in the mood for adventure, and you don't mind squashing a few aliens and protecting some passive females along the way, escapism doesn't get any better than this. It rolls every type of sf action into one sweeping story: physical, psychological, financial, political.
    Of course, a lot of people can't get past the fact that the author is the creator of Dianetics. But this book doesn't breathe a word about such mundain matters, and the man was an author before he became a cult leader. So just try to forget about the possible connection, since it doesn't exist anyway.


Star Rebel
by F.M. Busby
Aug 2, 1996

A pulpy version of Ender's Game, where a youngster advances through the military to great ends; ok action but no science ideas of note.


The Middle of Nowhere
by David Gerrold
Aug 1, 1996

Sci-fi pulp action novel in the StarWolf series. Not bad, even has some interesting ideas about genetically advanced humans called Morthans; but it's not one of the greats.


Time and Again
by Clifford D. Simak
July 26, 1996

Adequate time travel story. Most interesting to me because although competent the author clearly doesn't have the mastery of a Heinlein. What little things make such a clear difference? Simak uses occasional effective imagery, the story moves along, and yet... I think it must be that his characters have too little history, and the story has little scientific or human interest; one just dogs the author's steps through a desire to reach the end.


Requiem
by Yoji Kondo
July 25, 1996

Yet another book of praise for Robert Heinlein. This one, more than others I've read, stirs me to envious admiration of the master. Heinlein practically single-handedly created the sci-fi genre, writing his first story on a whim, in 4 days, at the age of 32, to see if he could pay the bills that way; he chortled afterwards that they actually paid money for such stuff! But the most curious new fact for me was the frequent description of him as "courtly"; that seems like a desirable personality trait to cultivate, but I don't quite know what it means.


Conscience of the Beagle
by Patricia Anthony
July 24, 1996

A sci-fi embedded deeply in the head of a very troubled detective. The story's average, but the writing style is abrupt and hypnotically first-person. I'll be reading more of this author's work, or maybe I should pick up some Hemingway to see what really abrupt writing is like.


American Free Verse
by Walter Sutton
July 22, 1996

I've always wanted to know what the deal is with free verse. It doesn't really seem like poetry, is it just prose with funny line breaks? I learned that classic poetry has rhyme, meter, imagery, and form; free verse leaves out the rhyme. It seems a meager sort of poetry, and yet too ornate for prose. As I think Carl Sandburg said, poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. A perfect description of the incompletely evolved species, free verse.


The Lost World
by Michael Crichton
July 18, 1996

Sequel to Jurassic Park. If you step back and squint, it's hard to tell the differences in the stories. Action, dinosaurs, humans. Crichton is very comfortable with adventure writing, using a junior-high vocab and short sentences, many of which start with "And," to keep things moving.
    He's been in the habit of building the newest science news into his plots, and now he's also putting in a lot of cult ethics. Themes such as "don't litter," "women aren't bad at math," and so forth are demonstrated to be right thinking. It's good for someone to stand up straight and teach what's good and what's bad, especially since a lot of kids are going to read this. This slant annoys some people, they say that it's old-hat and preachy, but I think their attitude leads to a place from which only dark and twisted themes are visible.
    It's interesting to compare this book with the recent The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Both try to convince us that science is right and modern myths like crystal power are wrong, but one is fiction and the other nonfiction. I find the fiction more successful, both because it seems more likely to convince the reader, and because it is likely to have far more readers. It's enlightening that the best way to convince people of the importance of logical thought is not by using logical thought, but by using the more fundamental power of a rousing story.


The Death of Chaos
by L.E.Modesitt, Jr.
July 11, 1996

Sixth book in the Recluse Saga. These are peaceful fantasy adventures, which spend a lot of time with the characters riding from one place to another on dusty roads, eating lots of bread and cheese. They always make me hungry. I have no idea why I like them, except that they advocate a strong system of values, and they do have the occasional fireball and swordfight to keep me entertained. Most people would find them long and boring, I expect.


Sour Sweet
by Timothy Mo
July 6, 1996

A story of transplanted Chinese in London, centered around a waiter's wife. Their cultural compromises are fundamental and yet held to strict limits, painting a picture of a people of powerful realists. The contrasting description of the women from her own and others' viewpoints gives her a particularly well-lit characterization.
    The puzzle is why I like this while disliking the superficially similar Snow; both consider the plight of Asian immigrants to the west, and neither ignores the seamy sides of human character. Perhaps it's that Snow is preoccupied with the overplayed stuff of small-town gossip, while Sour Sweet details a mundane but realistically textured daily life. The back-cover blurb calls Sour Sweet a "comic" tale, which I don't see, but perhaps whatever wry aspect the reviewer perceives is what makes the tale so vibrant. Or perhaps it's just that Sour Sweet has more about my favorite subject, food.
    For whatever reason, I liked it. To give it a fair try, be sure to get to at least page 40; there's a change of pace around pg. 20 that can derail one before things really get rolling.


The Art and Craft of Poetry
by Michael Bugeja
July 6, 1996

Coverage of the different types of poetry and the process of writing a poem. Not satisfying at all, mainly because the examples drawn from the author's own work seem crude. Still, it gives me the thought that a better book be interesting, and there are a few quoted parts of others works. whatever reason, this book holds my closest thing so far to enjoyable


Master of the Five Magics
by Lyndon Hardy
July 2, 1996

Good fantasy adventure. Not too well written, but this is a classic for its development of the science behind magic. The sequels are similar.


The Star Beast,
Time For The Stars,
Farmer in the Sky
by Robert Heinlein
June 29, 1996

There are all old Heinlein stories, which means coming-of-age adventure tales with the master's touch. Farmer is my favorite. All are in the juvenile section of my local library, all have teenage boy protagonists, and all are adventure stories set in the future.
    I never before properly appreciated Heinlein's folksiness, with such delightful phrases as soil so rich that the plants grow so fast you just poke a seed in and step back quick before it hits you in the eye, and rooms not big enough to swing a cat in, and don't teach your grandfather how to suck eggs, boy. I don't know if his boyhood vernacular included all these, or if he sat up nights thinking of them. I do know they'll annoy many readers, but I happen to like them.
    But where Heinlein is undisputedly head and shoulders above most authors is in his integration of description into the flow of the story. He's a master at introducing facts about characters or the science of the future a little at a time, so that you don't realize how much the information is sneaking through despite the uninterrupted progress of the story. There's a lot of science in these books, with pretty impressive prognostication in some areas, given that they were written long before Sputnik.


The Fragile Species,
The Life of the Cell,
The Snail and the Medusa
by Lewis Thomas
June 21, 1996

Collections of essays on topics clustered around biology: old age, cooperation, health, nature, the mind. Engagingly written but certainly not concise. A particular masterpiece is his "memoir", which starts with his gametes and then flashbacks to the 3.7 billion-year-old bacterium that is all earthly life's common ancestor.
    Excellent waiting room material for those interested in science, but repetitious; the author's favorite topics are tediously revisited in different essays, especially in different volumes.


Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius
June 19, 1996

A slim but nevertheless extremely repetitious book, extolling the philosophy of Stoicism, as practiced by this Roman Emperor, born 121 AD. To wit: we'll all be dust soon enough, so let your reason serenely guide you in doing good deeds, not for personal gain. Don't pine for what you don't have, don't let the ideas of others lead you from what is right, be moderate and charitable.
    Interesting to hear such humble thoughts from the Emperor of the known universe.


Zen In The Art Of Writing
by Ray Bradbury
June 18, 1996

Essays, all in the Bradbury style, advising one to find one's muse, write with gusto, and write often. Not helpful to me, and I have never much liked his style anyway; too faux literary, with every word semi-alliterative or poetical while more lucid options are available.


How To Make It Big As A Consultant
by William A. Cohen
June 18, 1996

A good basic coverage of the topic, but most interesting for its integration of ethics into a business lifestyle. Unlike the usual discussions of critical but mostly-irrelevant life and death ethical dilemmas, Mr. Cohen shows how ethics and principles figure into everyday life. For instance, is it ethical to obscure the company name on one's badge at a tradeshow in order to pose as a customer at a competitor's booth? Such little moral decisions are the true battleground for one's soul, as most of us will never face choices like sacrificing our life to save a busload of children.
    Mr. Cohen gives no answers, only questions, but makes it clear that he operates from a position of principle: leaders (i.e. proprieters) are responsible for their followers (i.e. employees) before themselves; we all have a duty to society, brashly apparent for soldiers as a motto "to protect", but present also in business, to provide jobs and products.
    The book also recommends the technique of visualization, a method of daydreaming about an event to come so as to be motivated and prepared for it. Interesting because O'Connell's book, below, proposed the same technique. Both authors felt a need to justify such a "soft" technique for the hard-boiled business audience, but propose the idea with eagerness nevertheless.


55-word Stories
A Contest In The SB Paper
June 16, 1996

A contest for the best 55-word-or-less story challenged authors to creative solutions. The winning group had brief but clear plots, always with a twist. Each story fits into the attention span of the most distracted reader. One particular clever solution consisted of 50 one-word sentences, detailing fear in the night. Noise? Listen. Noise!
    I'd like to try my hand at these sometime, it's an excellent exercise. Dialog is mostly lacking, and character development minimal, but they can evoke real emotions and have surprisingly fleshed-out plots.


Writing to Learn
by William Zinsser
June 15, 1996

Teaches the craft of writing nonfiction, through excellent example quotes from diverse fields of science and art. An interesting smorgasbord, although not the sort of book one reads through in a sitting.
    Many of the authors quoted have a deep understanding of analogy rather than of merely clever turns of phrase; for instance a reference to a "watertight argument" then speaks of "foundering on a shoal of belief".
    Mr. Zinsser loves clarity and zest in writing. His underlying thesis, that students writing about the human side of what one studies is motivating, is convincing, but doesn't require as much discussion as he provides. After a short time the examples of excellence, by themselves, advance the argument more successfully.
    Mr. Zinnser's point is that the driest subjects are of interest when related to the human scale. Math can become an adventure to rival the search for the New World; geologic time scales become immediate for those who know where to look.


How To Run Successful Projects
by Fergus O'Connell
June 12, 1996

An excellent primer in running a project. Thin, but packed with straightforward discussions of each issue from the beginning to the end of a software development project. A true how-to with checklists and specific advice on a variety of relevant topics.
    But don't look here for the silver bullet. The book outlines a good, solid, baseline technique, but has no real insight for the professional other than the solace that this is how everyone does it. Mr. O'Connell addresses the universe of design-and-then-implement projects, the kind of projects that Ed Yourdan in The Rise And Resurrection Of The American Programmer says are moving to the cheap development houses in India. This leaves unexplored the running of projects in the design-while-implementing Internet software universe.
    But this is a quibble about a small part of the process, in the context of the book just a section of chapter 2. Perhaps he'll elaborate in a sequel. In the meantime, this is an excellent overview of the project-management process.


Bringing Design to Software
edited by Terry Winograd
Pre-June 3, 1996

A set of essays on why software design should be treated as an independent field of study from programming. Not too meaty, but enjoyable, in no small degree due to the great graphic design of the book itself, from use of color in the title, to typeface (Palatino, I believe) to organization (alternating point-counterpoint chapters) to use of sketches and screen shots, to the 5x9 book format itself.
    A pleasure to read, but more for recreation than reference.


Pudd'nhead Wilson
by Mark Twain
May 20, 1996

A simple and slightly humorous story about racism and small town prejudice, with courtroom drama and a small scale triumphant ending. Very plain writing. At the head of each chapter are listed an entry or two from Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, aphorisms of the sort we often see attributed to Twain, such as "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits."


The Clock Winder
by Anne Tyler
May 18, 1996

A friend recommended this author to me as an advanced example of analogy use. Analogies are present, as in:
She tried picturing Mrs. Emerson as a machine. Sprung springs and stray bolts would be rattling around inside her. Her heart was a coiled metal band, about to pop loose with a twang. Why not? Everything else in the house had come apart.
The usages are straightforward and appropriate, but there's not too much to be learned here.
    It becomes apparent that the strong point this book is the plot, a cozy tale that pulls at the heartstrings. But I'm struck by the similarity between it and the movie from another of her books, The Accidental Tourist, and in fact by sameness foreshadowed by the titles of all her books. All seem to be about droll families vis-a-vis an unusual individual. I'd classify this author as a good writer, perhaps great for those to whom her well-carved-out storyline niche appeals.


Solving the Productivity Paradox
by Jessica Keyes
Pre-June 3, 1996

Disappointing. A rehash of the same old management pap: TQM, the high cost of maintenance, partnering. It could have been good but unclear platitudinous writing prevents that.


Software Engineering Productivity Handbook
edited by Jessica Keyes
Pre-June 3, 1996

A collection on varied productivity-improvement methods for software development. A couple are interesting, but as with all such efforts to condense an entire culture of development into a limited space (one chapter each), they are mere apercus rather than recipes for independent implementation.
    This book does make the point that there are a lot of people trying to solve the "productivity problem" and writing about their attempts, with several true-ringing descriptions of reasons for failure, but none that have really put their finger on the reasons for success. It could well be that none have really succeeded. And these people are doing the same thing over and over, yet another database or printer driver; there's little there for those of us at the innovative front lines who make a fundamentally different kind of system with every new project.


The Cleanroom Approach to Quality Software Development
by Michael Dyer
Pre-June 3, 1996

A compilation of statistical proof of and argument for the use of the cleanroom approach, rather than a how-to manual for those interested in duplicating the results. Articles from the literature are more useful for the latter. In fact, articles from the literature are more useful for the former as well, as they are better written and a more appropriate format for such summary presentation.
    In other words, for those convinced that cleanroom is another hocus-pocus development technique, this book will have little persuasive force to the contrary.
 
 
Substantive changes:
    June 3, 1996: created.
Copyright © 1996, Steve Colwell, All Rights Reserved
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