The Phoenix Project is a bit of a strange book. It's part novel and part technical book, in which a hapless IT worker is promoted to VP of IT and hand...moreThe Phoenix Project is a bit of a strange book. It's part novel and part technical book, in which a hapless IT worker is promoted to VP of IT and handed ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. The book follows him as he tries to salvage his department and the company.
The situation and characters are painfully relatable. I sympathized more with Bill than any character in any book I've read recently, and I absolutely hated that Sarah more than any book villain, based entirely on her e-mails and who she decided to CC on them. Parts of the book felt copy and pasted directly out of parts of my career.
The first third of the book establishes the situation Bill is in. This portion of the book is incredibly engaging, I felt absolutely sucked in. Unfortunately, the book loses a lot of steam as soon as Bill actually starts to turn things around for his department. The main thesis of the book is that one can apply manufacturing principles to IT work to great success. This is not a new idea, it's the main thrust of the Lean movement. The problem is, rather than Bill going to the company manufacturing plant and learning these things himself, a super-wise sage Erik comes in and just tells Bill everything.
Erik is a complete Mary Sue for the author. Able to accurately predict everything everyone will say and do, almost flawless, and of course his primary character flaw is that he's eccentric (he eats granola bars totally weirdly you guys!!) and otherwise perfect. Bill constantly calls Erik to talk about what he's learned, or to ask questions, and Erik never tells him to fuck off because he's busy. He just dispenses the sage wisdom of Lean. It has a very cultish vibe, like a video produced by a weird religion or something.
I think there's a lot to learn from the book, but not as much about Lean as someone might get from the Poppendieck's classic Lean Software Development book. I also think there's a lot to enjoy about the book, but not as much as one might get from, like, The Da Vinci Code or whatever. In other words, the attempt to be both a technical book and a novel makes it inferior as either one.
The novel format and the short length make this a good book to give to someone working in a dysfunctional organization, without feeling like they're being handed a technical book. However, the preachy and somewhat dull writing of the "here's the Lean tutorial" bits I think might turn people off. That being said, a number of coworkers have found the situation extremely relatable, and are indeed using terminology directly from the book, and clearly making suggestions informed by it, so it does seem to have been at least somewhat effective.
Worth a read for fun, but if you're familiar with Lean development, you likely won't learn too terribly much.(less)
If you'd have told me a month ago that one of my most enjoyable reading experiences of the past year was going to be a biography of the guys who made...moreIf you'd have told me a month ago that one of my most enjoyable reading experiences of the past year was going to be a biography of the guys who made Doom, I'd have thought you were nuts. And yet, it is the case: Masters of Doom is absolutely fascinating, I couldn't put it down.
Masters of Doom follows John Carmack and John Romero independently at first, masterfully weaving their two separate stories about their childhoods and upbringing up until the moment the two actually meet. The book then introduces us to other characters as the Two Johns meet them. We meet Tom Hall, Adrian Carmack, Scott Miller, Sandy Petersen, American McGee, and many, many more key figures in the history of id Software.
We're taken through each game that id developed, even before it was id, and author David Kushner even provides a decent level of technical details about exactly what the major challenges were that Carmack's game engines solved and why they were so ground-breaking. All of the personal drama and turmoil is also covered, showing just how volatile the development of these games were.
The community that surrounded id Software and the burgeoning FPS genre, run-ins with various companies like Sierra and Microsoft, and the impact of id's games on the world are all covered in the perfect amount of detail. We're taken through id up through the development of Doom 3, as well as the absolutely fascinating events leading up to the release of one of gaming's biggest failures, Romero's Diakatana.
As someone who grew up playing Doom and similar games, I was amazed at how interesting the behind-the-scenes events were for the games I loved. I never would have expected the story to be this interesting, or the book covering it to be so expertly written. I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed playing games like Doom, as well as anyone who is interested in the video game industry in general. It was amazing to see just how important Romero's and Carmack's radically different personalities complemented each other, and how badly things fell apart for them when they split up.
Protip: get the audiobook version of this book. It's read by none other than Wil Wheaton, who reads the text with an infectious gamer's excitement. Plus, he does voices, and his impersonations of public figures like Bill Clinton and Joseph Lieberman are hysterical. Wheaton reads Romero like a frat boy and Carmack light a robot, and when he reads high-minded academic documents, Wheaton takes on an unintentionally hilarious stereotypical English accent as well. Wheaton's narration contributed much to my enjoyment of the book, don't miss it.(less)
Fitness for Geeks is a cool idea, an O'Reilly book, targeted at geeks, all about staying healthy. As a geek who has lost 100 pounds in the last few ye...moreFitness for Geeks is a cool idea, an O'Reilly book, targeted at geeks, all about staying healthy. As a geek who has lost 100 pounds in the last few years and who wants to lose 40 more, this was the perfect book for me. Or so I thought.
The book is actually very disappointing. Despite clearly being targeted at geeks (it even includes a number of detailed references to programming), it's unsatisfying. A chapter on nutrients goes into extremely "geeky" detail about the chemical makeup of various foodstuffs, but none of it has any apparent practical applications - not much in the way of "do this, do that" kind of advice, just a bunch of "isn't that neat?!" facts.
It also contains a chapter, and many sections within later chapters, referencing available tools and web sites you can "geek out" on, or use to collect statistics and measurements. I understand where this comes from, my ability to closely monitor and study things mathematically was instrumental in my weight loss, but such material inherently dates the book - it's less than a year old, but already many of the tools mentioned have been supplanted by better ones. Material like that needs to be current, which means its better suited for a blog post than a printed book.
"Fitness for Geeks" is also full of an awful lot of woo. Party of my geeky nature is my tendency to be skeptical, so a lot of the pseudoscience about the Paleo diet (it has its benefits but it's got a LOT of problems) and the usual "buy only from local farmer's markets and whole foods" crap I found quite irritating. It's one thing to make these kinds of suggestions, but to assert their factual superiority with so little supporting scientific evidence is another matter, and it set my skeptic alarm bells ringing.
Good chapters on exercise routines, decent chapters on food, and a handful of good stuff on sleep were in the book, but were largely surrounded by filler that couldn't be turned into actionable tasks. The book left me wanting much, much more detail in terms of actual things I could do. How does a book like this not include some kind of FAQ with questions like "I've plateaued, what can I do?" or "What are some good snacks for the middle of the day?" How does the exercise section not include suggestions for alternatives to certain exercises for gyms that lack the equipment or for people with common injuries?
One chapter brings up intermittent fasting, but barely goes into any detail about it at all. Why even bring it up if all usable information about it is behind a Google-wall?
The book is also annoyingly written, with constant asides and inline data boxes so numerous that they actually occasionally make it difficult to just read the normal book part of the book. Speaking of which, DO NOT GET THE KINDLE VERSION. The constant formatting changes and layout adjustments make the Kindle version of the book literally unreadable - I had to re-purchase the book on O'Reilly's site to get a PDF version.
Overall, not that great, and inferior to spending a day or a couple lunch breaks Googling around. I wouldn't really recommend it, people who are looking to get healthy if they are not currently will find it sorely lacking in useful information (in favor of pointless factoids), and those who have adopted a healthy lifestyle will find it largely uninformative.
Great idea, weak execution. Perhaps a second edition is in order.(less)
It's a book about 4chan. In a way, it's a fantastic book, because if you want to read a book about 4chan, this is pretty much the only game in town. I...moreIt's a book about 4chan. In a way, it's a fantastic book, because if you want to read a book about 4chan, this is pretty much the only game in town. In another way, it's a book about 4chan.
The title implies it's about capital-A Anonymous, the semi-political group of scientology protestors/internet freedom fighters that grew out of 4chan and, while the book does cover that, that's only a very small portion of the entire book.
Most of the book is devoted to the formation of 4chan, it's history rooted in other chan boards, the various types of boards, and of course /b/. Lots of chapters are devoted to /b/'s raids like in Second Life and Habbo Hotel, and then eventually it gets to Project Chanology and other protests.
It's quite current - including some pretty recent lulzy material, though I was irritated during the covering of the Jessie Slaughter incident that no mention was made of the fact that Jessie's father died, which is a critical piece of the story.
Ultimately, the book sometimes seems desperate for content, and it's clear that not even the author thinks 4chan is really worthy of an entire book. But for the most part, it's an entertaining read, and as a longtime lurker on /b/, /v/, /tv/, and a few other boards, I found Cole's descriptions to be surprisingly adept.
The book definitely paints as positive a portrait of 4chan as possible, frequently touching on the value of a completely anonymous place to post content. Stryker is, overall, eager to defend 4chan as much as possible, talking up the strengths of the board when appropriate, discussing with an even-handed fairness the more trollish behaviors such as raids, and rightfully calling 4chan out on some of it's shittiest incidents.
This book is like the anti book about Facebook, because it's about the site that is the anti-facebook. If you like internet culture or you know a little about 4chan but are afraid to visit yourself, the book is worth reading.(less)
When I was young, maybe 13 or 14, I picked up a book about a hacker named Kevin Mitnick. The book was called "The Fugitive Game" by Jonathan Littman....moreWhen I was young, maybe 13 or 14, I picked up a book about a hacker named Kevin Mitnick. The book was called "The Fugitive Game" by Jonathan Littman. Littman, who was able to talk to Mitnick while Kevin was in hiding, attempted to portray a fair and balanced view of Kevin Mitnick. He focused a great deal on the overzealous prosecution of Mitnick by the government and the general nonsense of the media portrayal of him, but he never presented Kevin in a particularly favorable light either. The Fugitive Game was one of the first nonfiction books I read as a kid, and I absolutely needed more. I tried reading "Takedown", the book by Tsutomu Shimomura, the eventual apprehender of Mitnick, but I found myself feeling like I was reading a book written by Darth Vader. Right or wrong, I had turned Mitnick into some kind of hero in my mind. Since then, I've had something of a fascination with Mitnick, watching the awful sequel to Hackers and reading his books The Art of Deception and The Art of Intrusion.
Ghost in the Wires is, for me, mana from above. Kevin Mitnick's entire life, from Kevin Mitnick's perspective. I found this book nothing short of enthralling. Every stage of his life, starting from his adolescent social engineering, up through his many different hacks that eventually led to him going into hiding, covering his time in Denver, Seattle, and Raleigh, and eventually his court case and imprisonment, is covered in great detail. Mitnick divulges huge amounts of details about his hacks, including the particular exploits used to perform many of the technological hacks as well as transcripts of conversations he had for his social engineering hacks.
He describes each piece of the puzzle, taking the reader step-by-step through acquiring each piece of information needed to complete a particular hack. This kind of detail probably isn't for everyone, but I loved it. Kevin is careful to explain the "why" of these pieces for laymen who don't understand what an "rhost" is, so the book would be readable for a non-techie, but I believe it would be far more satisfying from someone who works with computers or telecom.
The book is just stunning. I could barely put it down, and I found myself bummed when it was over, despite its 432-page length. When Kevin was describing how he decided where to move after Seattle, I felt a noticeable lump in my stomach drop when he decided on Raleigh, North Carolina, since I knew that's where he was eventually apprehended. I didn't want the adventure to be over, Kevin Mitnick is like Indiana Jones for someone with my nerdy tastes in technology.
If you're interested in hacking, computers, security, social engineering, or Kevin Mitnick in general, I simply cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's well-written, engaging, and downright fascinating. I think even someone who wasn't a Mitnick fanboy like myself would really enjoy it, though the hero-worship certainly makes it an even better experience.
Crowdsourcing is an informative book about the growing popularity of using large crowds to solve interesting problems or provide content. The term "cr...moreCrowdsourcing is an informative book about the growing popularity of using large crowds to solve interesting problems or provide content. The term "crowdsourcing" was actually coined by Jeff Howe, so this is a pretty authoritative book on the subject.
The book covers all sorts of things which fall under the very wide umbrella of crowdsourcing, such as Linux, Threadless, Myspace, Wikipedia, TopCoder, American Idol, iStockPhoto, and quite a great deal more.
The book is interesting, but never quite insightful. Most of the content is at a very superficial level, accurately describing the emergence of crowdsourcing in businesses, but without really providing a great deal of analysis of it. A few chapters provide advice for how to use crowdsourcing in your own business, but even these contradict themselves a bit. As a brief example, Howe tells the story of InnoCentive, a company that relies on the crowd to solve science stumpers. Howe points out cases where the solutions were found by people who were not scientists by training, but then in the section where he offers advice for businesses who wish to leverage crowdsourcing, he implies that you should ensure your crowd consists mostly of experts.
Overall, a very good book and worth a read, and while it covered a wider range of examples of crowdsourcing at work, I have to recommend the very similar Wikinomics above Crowdsourcing. Wikinomics has far fewer examples, but goes into quite a bit more detail with each example, providing a bit deeper of an analysis.(less)
The Numerati isn't a BAD book, it's just not a particularly interesting one. The book covers all the various ways that data miners are looking at huge...moreThe Numerati isn't a BAD book, it's just not a particularly interesting one. The book covers all the various ways that data miners are looking at huge volumes of data and how that data is being used.
Stephen Baker talks about the ways that grocery stores collect data on food purchases to keep track of inventory and make suggestions to consumers, the ways that politicians collect demographic data to predict how the campaign will change when running particular ads (effectively turning your vote into a purchasable commodity), how the medical community can use data-gathering tools (such as special carpets), how intelligence agencies use data mining to locate terrorists, how ad companies (like Google) use data mining to target ads at internet users, and how dating services use data mining to help people find mates.
I guess I found most of the book to be pretty standard - I was well aware of most of these applications for data mining, though the book did flesh out a number of details I was laking.
I think what bothered me the most was the inconsistent tone. Baker would take on an almost alarmist tone when discussing the privacy implications for a lot of data mining applications, but he would do so during chapters which I found wholly unalarming. His tone during the chapter on grocery stores keeping track of your purchasing habits had an insidious undercurrent. He talked about these corporations knowing when you buy personal items, or suggesting genital creams to you. I found this application of data mining completely benign and untroubling - recommendation engines are my favorite application of data mining.
The chapter on voting, on the other hand, had the opposite problem. I find it wholly disturbing that we are so predictable as a collective that politicians can figure out exactly how many votes can be purchased by spending a certain amount of money on a certain type of ad (this also disturbed me when I read about it in Al Gore's The Assault on Reason). Baker's tone, for the most part, seemed unperturbed by this, almost viewing it as a win for democracy.
For the most part, the book is good, but it's just not passionate or well-written enough to move it to "great." I recommend reading it for people who are interested in modern data mining or privacy, but I imagine it would be difficult to get through for someone who wasn't already interested in the material.(less)