Meh. That’s my biggest take-away from The Pragmatic Programmer. It’s usually touted with Code Complete as one of the best programming books out there,...moreMeh. That’s my biggest take-away from The Pragmatic Programmer. It’s usually touted with Code Complete as one of the best programming books out there, so I was a bit disappointed. The book is dated and the writing style is clunky. While Code Complete contained a fair number of things I knew already, there were compelling arguments about why things should be a certain way. There were things I didn’t know, or hadn’t thought about, and I came away from each chapter energized and ready to re-engage with my career. I found myself skimming large sections of Pragmatic Programmer.
The book is broken into bite-sized chapters, but each chapter makes a number of blanket assertions and doesn’t back anything up. It feels dumbed-down. That’s not to say the advice is bad, but they’ve already been adopted by even the most mediocre developers and development shops. You can summarize the entire book in a handful of bullet points:
- Don’t repeat yourself - Design by contract - Prototype - Create unit tests - Automate builds (automate everything) - Use source control - The real world is scary, so there’s no such thing as perfect code
There are two really good pieces of advice that everyone should follow. First, programming languages are just tools. Some might be better for jobs than others, so don’t always run to your favorite. Second, learn a new language every year. This gives you more perspective about what’s out there, not to mention makes you more valuable to potential employers.(less)
From its present state, its hard to imagine how small, how irrelevant, how insignificant conservatism was in the early 1950's. National Review did not...moreFrom its present state, its hard to imagine how small, how irrelevant, how insignificant conservatism was in the early 1950's. National Review did not exist, the future editor of The American Spectator was only a boy. There were no conservative think tanks - no Heritage Foundation, no Cato Institute, no Center for Strategic and International Studies. There was no talk radio. There were only a handful of conservative intellectuals and their works; F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom was the most quoted source. In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr. made a big splash with God and Man at Yale, but not much had been heard from him since (he founded NR in 1955). In short, it seemed as though liberalism would be the dominant ideology for years to come. This is the climate in which Barry Goldwater was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1952.
Lee Edwards' Goldwater traces Goldwater's career and shows how the seeds of Ronald Reagan's victory and the 1994 Republican Revolution were sown in Goldwater's historic defeat at the hands of LBJ in 1964. He shows that Goldwater was a man who stuck to his principals (rather than playing politics), and inspired a generation plus of conservatives to speak out for what they believed in.
Goldwater is more a political biography than a personal one. Edwards starts with tracing how the Goldwater family came to America and Barry's early life, leading to his decision to run for the Senate in 1952. From then on, he goes into great detail about the 1964 campaign and the Senator's dealings with various presidents (from LBJ to Carter) after his return to the Senate. I wish there was more time spent on Goldwater the man, but what's here is very interesting.
Goldwater described himself as a "Jeffersonian", by which he meant he adhered to five basic principles:
1) individualism, stemming from the belief in the ability of man to govern himself 2) republicanism, reflecting a faith in the people and a conviction that government should be kept close the people 3) anticentralism, based on a distrust of executive power and the protection of the rights of the individual states 4) strict constructionism, that the government has only the powers prescribed to it in the Constitution 5) frugality and simplicity, calling for economy of government, paying of debts, and the cutting of taxes.
During his 30 years in the Senate, Goldwater said the better legislator was one who repealed laws rather than passed them. This reminds me of Calvin Coolidge's famous statement "It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones". Goldwater also gave the best definition of conservatism I've ever heard; one that modern politicians would do well to learn. The conservative approach, he said, "is nothing more or less than an attempt to apply the wisdom and experience and the revealed truths of the past to the problems of today."
When we read about the past, we often find similarities in what has happened to what is happening today. Life, and politics, is nothing if not cyclical. In July 1953, the administration wanted to increase the debt limit and Goldwater, then a freshman Senator, took to the floor to argue against it. He felt it was Congress's job to say to the administration that it cannot spend money because the people don't have it. He warned his colleagues of the perils of deficit spending, something we don't bat an eye about these days.
In 1963, a group of influential Republicans formed a Draft Goldwater committee. They ginned up support across the country in an effort to get Goldwater nominated for President. There were several large rallies held, including ones at New York's Madison Square Garden and a July Fourth rally in Washington, D.C. The rally in D.C. was described like this:
It was a typical Goldwater crowd. There were little old ladies in tennis shows, truck drivers with tattoos, professors who read Mises rather than Keynes, right-wingers who were convinced that Wall Street and the Kremlin were conspiring to run the world, Southern whites who had faith in the Cross and the Flag, retired people on Social Security who were worried about inflation, Westerners tired of catering to Easterners, anticommunists demanding action against Cuba and Khrushchev, small businessmen fighting a losing battle against government rules and regulations, readers of The Conscience of a Conservative, high school and college rebels looking for a cause - all of them believing that it was possible to solve problems as America had in the past...without federal bureaucrats.
That description reminds me very much of the present day Tea Party movement.
Goldwater presents a fuller picture of the times in which the man lived and his lasting impact on the country. By speaking plainly and sticking to principle, Goldwater was like a modern day Jeremiah. But, unlike other Old Testament prophets, Goldwater was able to see his ideas vindicated a mere sixteen years after his crushing defeat.(less)
Not bad. There was a lot of interesting information about memory research and how the brain works. It was maybe too much about Josh Foer's journey fro...moreNot bad. There was a lot of interesting information about memory research and how the brain works. It was maybe too much about Josh Foer's journey from journalist to mental athlete. The conclusion was that you can improve your memory for numbers, faces, and trivia, but can still forget where your put your car keys.(less)
Americans are living lives increasingly isolated from each other, recent research finds. A quarter of Americans now report that they have not a single...moreAmericans are living lives increasingly isolated from each other, recent research finds. A quarter of Americans now report that they have not a single person to confide in with their most personal troubles, which is more than double the number reported twenty years ago. Overall, Americans report an average of two close confidants, down from three twenty years ago.
The definitive text on the phenomenon is Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, mentioned briefly in the above article. It’s a thick and dragging read on the concept of “social capital,” i.e. the social benefits we derive from interpersonal relationships. Putnam argues that our isolated lives have undercut America’s reserve of social capital, which in aggregate leads to much less pleasant lives (a neighborhood with poor social connections, for example, is not likely to form a Neighborhood Watch and keep crime down).
One would think that with our increasingly networked lives, via Facebook, IM, email, Twitter, and the like, people would be more connected than ever, but that seems not to be the case. A person can have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but no one to talk to when faced with a scary medical situation, for example. Our communications networks are vast, but our messages are trivial and at least one or two steps removed from actually sitting down and talking to someone face-to-face. How many of us email or IM our co-workers rather than walking over to his/her office?
There's a lot more Putnam says about the problems withering social capital cause, but one is struck by how isolated and less involved we are in our communities than our grandparents were.(less)
In the Arena was the eighth book written by Richard Nixon, published in 1990, and one of his most candid. The subtitle of the book is "A Memoir of Vic...moreIn the Arena was the eighth book written by Richard Nixon, published in 1990, and one of his most candid. The subtitle of the book is "A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal" and Nixon opens with one example of each. For victory, the former President talks about his groundbreaking visit to China in 1972. For defeat, it is his resignation and self-imposed exile to California. His previous memoir, RN, ended with Nixon and Pat boarding the helicopter on the White House lawn, and the chapter on defeat picks up the night before, dealing conversations with his daughters, who wanted him to fight. He then talks about a sever bout of phlebitis, which sent him to the hospital for a surgery that almost killed him, and his years in the wilderness. For renewal, it was the writing of his memoirs and the television interviews with David Frost that helped him rediscover his purpose and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Nixon critics who want to hear about Watergate shouldn't look here for answers (RN is better for that), as the President barely mentions the scandal. After the trio of chapters on victory, defeat, and renewal, the book is divided into five page mini-essays, each on a one word topic (e.g. faith, family, war, peace). He offers advice for politicians or anyone in a leadership role based on his years in office and things he learned from some of the big names of the 20th Century like Churchill, Eisenhower, and de Gaulle. The last chapter, "Twilight", is all about the importance of keeping active and mentally sharp as you age.
This is the third Nixon book I've read, and the man could write. He was also a very clear thinker and knew how best to communicate his ideas. It seems funny to say it about the only U.S. President to resign from office, but he writes at great lengths about duty and honor. If any politician lifts from his chapters on power, privacy, or governing, they'll have my vote.
Democrats hate Nixon for Alger Hiss and Watergate. Republicans hate Nixon for the EPA, OSHA, and wage and price controls. Conservatives should be heartened to know that in this book, Nixon says the wage and price freeze of 1971 was a mistake and he would not take that action if he had to do it over again.
In the Arena is a great read that I'd recommend to any student of American politics or history.(less)
Solid book that gave me a lot of what I was looking for. A lot of the tips are based on historical data, which my company doesn't have, so they're not...moreSolid book that gave me a lot of what I was looking for. A lot of the tips are based on historical data, which my company doesn't have, so they're not something I can implement right away. I guess I'll have to start collecting data now. The t-shirt sizing and the distinction McConnell makes between estimates, targets, and commitments are very useful.(less)
Good examination of how introverts and extroverts view and experience things differently. Dives deeply into The Extrovert Ideal. Built on a ton of rec...moreGood examination of how introverts and extroverts view and experience things differently. Dives deeply into The Extrovert Ideal. Built on a ton of recent research, but with enough anecdotes that it doesn't get too dry. A very interesting read.(less)
The Unmaking of a Mayor is the story of the unique campaign of William F. Buckley, Jr. for New York City Mayor in 1965. At this point in his life, the...moreThe Unmaking of a Mayor is the story of the unique campaign of William F. Buckley, Jr. for New York City Mayor in 1965. At this point in his life, the 39-year-old Buckley had founded National Review, published six books (including God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of 'Academic Freedom'), had a syndicated column in hundreds of newspapers across the country, run the John Birch Society out of the conservative movement, and had energized the conservative wing of the Republican party to a point that it nominated Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. With this long list of accomplishments, why would he run for mayor? That's one of the questions this book answers.
In the mid-1960's, many people thought New York City was ungovernable, broken, and on an unreversible course of decline. Many of the city's problems will sound familiar with those of us who remember the period before Rudy Giuliani's election in 1993. Buckley opens the book with an account of the political system of New York, with its intricate third party laws, and follows on with a history of the previous 30 years of governance. Then he delves into what John V. Lindsay, the liberal congressman and presumptive GOP nominee, and Bill Buckley were doing in the spring of 1965.
It is customary to call any third party candidate "unserious" because they have no legitimate shot of winning and they typically have a few kook positions. Buckley was under no illusions of his chance at winning. In a famous exchange from the campaign, a reporter asked him what would be the first thing he'd do if he was elected. Buckley quipped, "Demand a recount." But reading his position papers, reprinted in total with reactions from the press and the other candidates, shows he really thought through the problems facing New York.
You don't have to agree with all of his proposals, but the position papers were a very compelling and thought-provoking part of the book to read. The typical politician's position papers are vague, gauzy pieces of fluff that aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Candidate Smith promises to balance the budget by eliminating waste and closing loopholes. But Buckley's papers actually offered concrete solutions. Bad Traffic? Reserve one lane in the Holland and Lincoln tunnels for buses. Allow delivery trucks to only park on odd-numbered streets on Mondays and Wednesdays and even-numbered streets on Tuesdays and Fridays. Pollution? Convert city buses to liquefied petroleum gas. Add control devices to city vehicles to reduce emissions. Modernize municipal incinerators.
But the position papers also reveal some of the oddities associated with third party candidates. Buckley's traffic proposal included a Bikeway to travel above Second Avenue from 125th Street to 1st Street. His proposal for the drug problem included moving addicts to special housing so they don't get others addicted to narcotics. His affordable housing platform had something similar. Of course, twenty years after World War II, his opponents pounced on these relocation ideas as "concentration camps".
So why did Buckley run? Part of it was to counter the leftward lurch of the Republican party under the leadership of Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller. Many people were predicting that Lindsay would be the GOP standard-bearer in 1968 or 1972 if he became mayor. The other reason was because he saw Lindsay and Abe Beame, the Democratic nominee, as mealy mouthed politicians who would throw bromides at each other and not discuss the things that were actually wrong with New York City.
Unmaking of a Mayor is a bracing, sometimes hilarious, account of the race and the personalities involved. It shows the difference between career politicians and those with something to say about government. Sometimes I wish people would take more risks and speak plainly about the issues as Buckley did. It's well worth the read for anyone interested in political history, New York history, and public policy.(less)
William F. Buckley Jr. was a gifted polemicist, best-selling novelist, sesquipedalian speaker, television star, political candidate, yachtsman, harpsi...moreWilliam F. Buckley Jr. was a gifted polemicist, best-selling novelist, sesquipedalian speaker, television star, political candidate, yachtsman, harpsichordist, wit, and bon vivant. He also had an abiding love for the paperback book. When the paperback edition of any of his books was released, his publisher would send him a box full of them. After his death in 2008, the folks at National Review began the task of cleaning out his office and his salon in NYC. They found numerous unopened boxes of his books and eventually put many of them up for sale.
This is how I happened upon The Governor Listeth: A Book of Inspired Political Revelations, a big collection of WFB’s best columns, speeches, obituaries, and other writings from the late 1960s. Here we find Buckley near the height of his powers and in the form, I think, that suited him best. I have nothing against his longer books (Up From Liberalism, God and Man at Yale), but the short form of columns and speeches let Buckley swoop in and dive-bomb his subjects with his trademark wit. You can almost hear him smile as he twists the knife.
Is it worth reading a book of columns written in the 1960s? Yes and no. There are some sections, particularly those on Vietnam, that won't hold the modern reader's interest very long. But the collection opens with a speech on political violence, delivered in 1968 after the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr and John F. Kennedy, but before the murder of Robert Kennedy, that is well worth reading. He says, "[M]ore significant by far than the ghastly executions of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King - acts committed by isolatable and isolated men - more significant by far is the spontaneous universal grief of a community which in fact considers it aggrieved. That is the salient datum in America: not that we bred the aberrant assassins of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, but that we bred the widely shared and the most intensely felt sense of grief: such grief over the loss of Mr. Kennedy and Mr. King as is felt over the loss of one's own sons."
Buckley's reporting of the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions are excellent examples of his reporting style. Those sections were among my favorites in the book.
I received great joy from some of the non-political essays in this book. For example, his column on the Apollo 8 mission entitled "Can Men Make Miracles?" is near poetry. I've never sailed much outside of tooling around the bay on vacation, but "A Week Aboard Cyrano" makes me want to hop aboard a yacht and sail down to Bermuda.
The title of the book comes from the Bible (James, chapter 3):
In many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!
A great sentiment to invoke for a book by Buckley.(less)
I am but an ordinary man. The times alone have destined me to fame. -John Adams
With all due respect to John Adams, he was an extraordinary man in extr...moreI am but an ordinary man. The times alone have destined me to fame. -John Adams
With all due respect to John Adams, he was an extraordinary man in extraordinary times. Often called the voice of Independence, to Jefferson's pen, he was one of the most vocal proponents of liberty and self-government throughout the Revolution and afterward.
It is remarkable how prescient Adams was. He and his fellow revolutionaries framed their disagreements with the British in terms of liberty and the rights of man, but Adams, almost alone, saw beyond the separation with England. He often wrote of an America that would stretch across the whole continent and one that, within the century, would be the most powerful nation on earth. His advocacy for a strong navy weren't grasped by his contemporaries, but many, including Thomas Jefferson, credited Adams's navy as a prime factor in assuring the War of 1812 didn't have even worse consequences on the continent.
Writing in 1819, he felt that the American experiment was imperiled by the "peculiar institution" of slavery and that before too long, the country would erupt in violence. He thought that slaves would be inspired by the American ideal and would violently rise up against their masters. He felt that they would be well within their rights to do so, as he abhorred slavery, but worried that tyranny would spring up in the aftermath.
Adams himself almost presaged our Independence Day celebrations, though the day was off. Since the actual vote for Independence took place on July 2, 1776, he thought that day would be the day long remembered, not the 4th (which was when the final text of the Declaration was approved). From Adams's own letter to his wife Abigail:
The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It out to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.
David McCullough does a fantastic job bringing Adams and all the players to life. You feel happy when Adams is happy and you feel crushed when he suffers a loss. McCullough is a master storyteller and this book is worthy of the Pulitzer it won.
Highly recommended for both students of history and people who just like a good story.(less)