Category: Books

Technical books are great, but make time to read for yourself.

Recent reads

Ship it! A Practical Guide to Successful Software Projects, Jared Richardson, William Gwaltney. A short book and an extremely quick read. The book is a set of tips for practical improvements software development teams can make to their project execution. The general tips are no-brainers: use automated builds, source code control, bug tracking, etc. But the specific advice on how to implement these is very good. The authors provide tips for getting started as well as how to know when you’re doing it right. Even though our practice is doing pretty good on most of this stuff I still found several good nuggets worth implementing. We’ve ordered copies for the whole practice.

Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists and Iconoclasts–The Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution, Steve Lohr. The title says it all. This book reads like a collection of magazine articles arranged in rough chronological order on topics starting with Fortran and eventually making its way to the Open Source movement. This book can be enjoyed by readers with or without technical backgrounds. Those in the tech industry will probably find some of the stories insightful but you’ll have to put up with the occassional explanation for the non-techies in the audience (like what WYSIWYG stands for or the broad brush description of object-oriented programming).

I am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe. This was the first time I’d read Tom Wolfe. I loved it. He’s got quite a unique and engaging style of writing. The novel is about a small town girl who graduates at the top of her class and learns a lot about the real world at college (major understatement). The secondary characters–a basketball player, an intellectual elitist, and a fraternity member–have stories that are intertwined with Charlotte’s. I found that those archetypes ran pretty true to life. The book is sort of like the movie Crash–there’s something not to like about each of the characters. It’s a long book but quite a page turner. Unlike some books that sort of fizzle out at the end, this one left me really keyed up–I was really frustrated. Not with the writing or the ending per se but with the characters. It’s not often I read something that makes me want to strangle one or more of the characters. That’s a good thing.

Recent reads

Hey Ranger! : True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America’s National Parks, by Jim Burnett. A quick and humorous read about the crazy things that happen to park rangers. The author’s sense of humour is pretty corny but entertaining. The first half of the book is better than the last half. The last half feels a little bit like filler.

Alone at Sea: The Adventures of Joshua Slocum, by Ann Spencer. This is a biography of Joshua Slocum. Joshua is a legendary sailor who had to learn how to find meaning in his life as the age of clipper ships gave way to steam. He refurbished an old oyster boat and sailed around the world single-handed. This was an informative book that got me excited about learning more about Slocum and reading some of his books. My only complaint was that the story seemed to jump around a bit instead of being strictly chronological. Reading this gave me an appreciation for how someone like Bernard Moitessier might come to idolize Slocum.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris. I think David Sedaris is hilarious. This collection of essays is similar to his other material in that it focuses on his childhood, his family, and the mundane details of life, in general. The first half of the book seems funnier than the last half. By the end the essays left me feeling a bit sorry for the guy. His family strikes me as full of people who are funny as hell to read about but that you might not want to spend much time with.

Recent reads

Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, by Bill Bryson. One of his earlier works. Not as funny as his others but still good, particularly if you’ve ever travelled to Europe.

South: The Endurance Expedition, by Ernest Shackleton. The author’s first-hand account of the expedition. Actually, I’m horrified to admit that I found this a bit hard to get through. I’ve already read and re-read the story so slogging through the details of being ice-bound in Antarctica was trying at times.

A Voyage for Madmen, by Peter Nichols. Very, very good. It is the story of the first successful solo circumnavigation and, simultaneously, the first round-the-world race. If you have never read Moitessier’s Long Way, read it as well. This one doesn’t get you into Moitessier’s zen-like mindset.


Recent Reads

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842, by Nathaniel Philbrick.
This is the story of America’s first trans-oceanic expedition. The story is very interesting but I felt like the book really wallowed too much into the mundane detail. I found myself really pushing to finish it. The detail behind Wilkes’ leadership, however, is a great anti-pattern (an example of what not to do), particularly when compared to the outstanding performance of Shackleton.

Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer, by Margot Morrell, Stephanie Capparell.
The explicit leadership advice is mostly common sense but it does offer insight into Shackleton’s thought process as well as additional biographical and historical details not found in the Lansing text. It definitely inspired me to (1) think about Shackleton’s leadership style and attempt to apply it day-to-day and (2) read more about the Shackleton story. The rich depth and detail provided in some of the books anecdotes is illustrative of the partiular point they are trying to make, but I want to learn the whole story at that level of detail rather than the segments that suited the authors needs. (That’s not a dig on the book at all).

The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, by Gay Salisbury, Laney Salisbury
I gave this as a gift to someone who then lent it back to me. It completed a hat-trick of ice cold adventure tales. Cruelest Miles is the story of the race to save Nome, Alaska during a diptheria outbreak in the early 1900’s. The story of the dog sled relay to get the serum to Nome is actually short enough to be covered in a long magazine article, but the authors expand it to book-length by detailing the history of Alaska’s frontier days, the evolution and technical details behind dog sledding, and biographical details on the significant people involved in the drama. The details grew tedious at times but overall it was exciting and interesting.

Recent books read

The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, Richard Zacks. A very good, very engaging read about a man you only think you know something about.

The Long Way, Bernard Moitessier. A quintessential sailing story. It’s the story of the author’s year-long journey alone in the Round the World Race. Moitessier could have won the race but decided instead to continue halfway around the world again to go hang out in Tahiti. There’s not a lot of edge-of-seat suspense here–it’s much more of a study of aloneness and of someone who does something for the love of it, rather than the money or glory.

Deep Blue: Stories of Shipwreck, Sunken Treasure and Survival, various authors. This is a compilation of excerpts from (supposedly) classic sailing novels. I’d read many of the classics contained within and while I did enjoy revisiting them I felt a little ripped off. The other stories were, for the most part, mediocre.

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson. I love Bill Bryson. He tells a great story. Unlike the other books of his I’ve read, this one contains no humorous sidekick. Actually, except for a couple of spots (I laughed out loud twice), it really isn’t that funny. But it is a fascinating read. It took me into the details of subjects I hadn’t delved into since High School and College. He covers everything from the minuteness of quantum physics to the vast reaches of the Universe and everything in between.

Professional XML Development with Apache Tools: Xerces, Xalan, FOP, Cocoon, Axis, Xindice, Theodore W. Leung. This is a good introduction to the technologies mentioned in the title. If you are starting a web project and you are using some or all of these, I think this is a good place to start. But, unless you are doing something relatively straightforward, you will still need a deeper reference on each. These technologies are just too complex to exhaustively cover in a single volume. Still, I recommend it.

Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg. My cousin mentioned this book to me when he was visiting for Thanksgiving so I put it on my Amazon wish list and it wound up in my stocking. What luck! This is a very short, very quick read that encourages the reader to start a “writing practice”. The author weaves Buddhist teachings with advice on learning to find your own voice as a writer. The main thrust of her teaching is to write each and every day in a deliberate way. She provides advice on how to come up with topics, how to spark creativity, how to make your writing interesting, and so on. She’s inspired me to give it a try.

Read a couple of good sailing-related books recently. Both are very quick reads and very interesting. The first is To Harness the Wind,
by Leo Block. It is a history of the development of the sail. It really
covers more than just that. I learned all sorts of useless tidbits like
the origin of the terms starboard and port.

The other was a gem I stumbled onto at Half Price Books called Those Vulgar Tubes: External Sanitary Accommodations Aboard European Ships of the Fifteenth Through Seventeenth Centuries
by Joe J. Simmons, III. If you’ve ever wondered how early seafarers
“took care of business” look no further. Like To Harness the Wind, you
can pick up more from this book than what you might expect from such a
narrowly-focused title.

Cocoon texts

I opened up Java & XML recently because it had some references to Cocoon. The Cocoon examples are pre 2.0, so instead I worked through some of the XML-RPC chapters which were good. I’d recommend working through the whole book to anyone who’s just getting started using Java and XML together.

Before I made it to my intended destination (the SOAP and web services chapters), I decided to pick up Cocoon: Building XML Applications. I had previously seen this one but passed up. So far, it is pretty good–I’m glad I came back around. They seem to do a better job explaining the architecture than some of the articles I’ve read recently. I like the examples I’ve worked through so far. The authors spend a little too much time on the evolution of the net and web applications–I wish they would have devoted that space to some of the more advanced features. It definitely gets me excited about using Cocoon on some real projects. This is a good book for anyone starting out with XML applications with Cocoon.

I’m noticing there are a few other Cocoon texts out there but I haven’t taken a look at them yet. They are:

Steve Earle Bio

Finished Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, by Lauren St. John, a couple of weekends ago. Man, I knew the guy had had some hard times (just listen to his lyrics) but this gives new meaning to “rock bottom”. The incredible part of the story to me is that he actually lived through it and is now making some of his best art, ever. We came amazingly close to never knowing more than a couple of album’s worth of Steve Earle. St. John kept me involved in the story, but at times, the littany of producers, managers, label execs, and legendary artists were a little much for an industry-outsider.

Recent reads

Read a couple of books over the break. Life of Pi by Yann Martel is outstanding. It is the best fiction I’ve read in a long, long time. It originally piqued my interest because of its lost-at-sea theme (check out my Listmania list for more seafaring books). When Reverend Kanter quoted it during church one morning, I added it to the wish list. I wasn’t disappointed. The book starts out exploring the life of a boy searching for his spirituality. He ends up being a Hindu-Christian-Muslim. That alone is pretty interesting, but he also grows up a zookeeper’s son. These two world’s collide as Pi ends up a castaway during a disaster at sea. I won’t give away any more than that. My advice is to not read anything more about the plot–just open up the book and dive right in.

The other book I read was The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel. It’s a non-fiction account of John’s experiences chasing UFOs and other strange phenomena in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s more like a collection of case notes than a single cohesive story. A lot of the stories sort of ran together. I haven’t seen the movie upon which the book is based, but maybe in this case, the movie pulls it all together better than the book.