Review: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is an interesting book with a wide range of application and it’s easy to see why it’s deemed the classic text in the field fo negotiation. It’s research based conclusions, it’s simplicity and it’s approachability are all the signs of a classic you’d hope to see. I was also impressed by the bite-sized sections of the book that made it very easy to pick up and put down in short bursts.

The biggest criticism of the book is that some of the examples are dated. It’s hard not to be initially a little confused by the seemingly small numbers at play until you remember that 30 years of inflation have been at play. Having said that the issue is minor and fades with a little effort. The book is possibly also a little dry (it’s difficult to imagine a modern book having such a serious tone even for similar material) at times however the subject matter is weighty and so that’s also forgivable.

I’d recommend it to others but I might well spend a minute preparing them for the contents first.

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Review: Earth Abides

Earth Abides Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is really good. Particularly it’s post-apocalyptic without being overly trite. The books conclusion felt right, as though the author had changed his mind over the course of the book as the book had developed. Certainly the transition from rebuilding to survival is handled with some aplomb. Like movies from the 30′s you’re not going to get stacks of gore or the visceral horror. Where death is dealt with it’s dealt with in a sensitive manner. The tough times are portrayed through the discussion they generate and the thoughts of the lead character. This gives the book an interesting feel because the thought in the book is unvarnished. The lead character does hold opinions that he’s unable to express and some of those opinions are not flattering to the other characters. Also the lead character is both human and not an action-oriented individual. Which is great for a geek like me to relate to.

There are a couple of things I didn’t like. The treatment of mental illness and women leaves a lot to be desired by modern standards. Frankly almost all of the female characters serve as little more than reproduction machines, including the lead character’s wife. By the end I was pleased the book stopped talking about women as it was really making me uncomfortable. But perhaps that says more about me than the book. Also I was sad the inter-group dynamics weren’t better explored.

I’d recommend the book, it’s not average fare for the genre and characterisation aside it’s a thought-provoking read.

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Review: Foundation’s Edge

Foundation's Edge Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I went into this book with some trepidation, I didn’t enjoy the introduction of te second foundation and left this book on the shelf for a long time because I was worried it would further tarnish the series. However this book left me feeling like I could pick up the next book in the series.

In truth you’re not going to enjoy this as much as the first foundation novels (particularly Foundation) but any Asimov book generally puts modern SF to shame. This book’s plot is more predictable than the other and the characters interplay betrays the age of the book (the attitude to issues like jocks vs geeks and women is frankly odd in 2013). Also the tie-ins from Asimov’s other work feels strained (something the author admits in the epilogue) but overall this is a fine book and you’ll enjoy the story even if it feels a little too comfortable.

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Review: The Soul of a New Machine

The Soul of a New Machine The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s taken me a day or so to get round to writing the review for this book. Not so much because I’ve struggled with the review more that I’ve found the lessons of the book running over me in waves. Which is one of the reasons that I gave the book five stars (not that my rating should matter, a Pulitzer prize tells you a lot about a book).

There are other reasons why I gave this book five stars, not least among which is the vivd characterisations within the book. The author clearly spent a large period of time living with these people and making a concerted effort to understand them. He doesn’t slap them into boxes or shy away from the fact sometimes he can’t unravel them completely. this leads to vivid and real people who are sensitively portrayed. Even better the author clearly cares for the people he documents, they’re doing something tough and he gives them due credit for such. His examination particularly of the management styles employed by the senior characters is fascinating and he rightly criticises where some of the characters have a blind spot. As the project moves on the author brings the different elements of the environment together in a seamless way so you feel you understand why things are happening as they do. That’s not simple for a complex project such as the one undertaken in the book.

if I’m critical it’s really only that some of the technology terminology is explained in laymen’s terms when as a technologist I didin’t need the hand-holding. that lead to some skimming of sections within the book. I’d have preferred a glossary of terms but really, I’m picking out a tiny issue for a small number of readers.

Particularly because I work in technology and because I’m old enough to remember Data General machines (even having used one fleetingly) this book has a lot of meaning for me. Filling in the blanks on a heap of stuff I was barely cognisant of at the time. I wonder if this review would be as applicable to someone younger or not into technology. However, if you are late thirties plus and a geek buy this book. Marvel at the heroic efforts of the protagonists and maybe spend a moment asking yourself if we’ve really moved on that much. You should thoroughly enjoy yourself along the journey.

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Review: Snuff

Snuff Snuff by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve read a fair bit of Terry Pratchett and have a fondness for the city watch books. So I came to this book with a clear expectation of what was going to be involved and the general themes in the book. Sure enough I wasn’t disappointed.

If you’re going to criticise this book it probably on the basis that the book’s formula is now reasonably weel known and at times feels derivative. The fact that a new race is involved will surprise no regular Pratchett reader nor will the manner and form of Vime’s travel through the narrative. If you want a great departure from classic Pratchett you’re not going to find it here. Lord Rust and the magistrates are particularly flimsy characters and it’s hard not to feel like the they could have been better used.

Having said that the book is likeable, the characters are suitably Pratchett and the cameos are effectively woven together to make you feel very familiar with the book. It’s a kind of cosiness that makes you forgive the book’s warts and appreciate it’s style.

Nice book, totally what you expect it to be.

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Review: Pro Puppet

Pro Puppet Pro Puppet by James Turnbull
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I was really looking forward to this book and sadly I can’t say I enjoyed it much. As a book it was a bland affair with a distinct worthiness to it through the prose style used which contained no discernable wit or humour to liven proceedings. The book equivalent of of overcooked vegetables.

So what was wrong? Three things stand out, at a base level there was something wrong in the presentation of long terminal dumps. Particularly frustrating was the repeated output of apt and yum. Surely anyone who works in operations or development for that matter can install software without this kind of handholding. It demeans the reader and just makes the book feel 100 pages too long. I also think that created the second issue at hand which was a lack of diagrams to explain the structure of the tool and its operation. It’s not that there are no diagrams, more that the diagrams tail off quickly and so more complex puppet configuration and the interactions between the components are left as an exercise for the reader. What exacerbates that issue is the long strings of terminal output that demonstrate the success or otherwise of the tool. Why did it do that? Show me visually how this was missing rather than stumbling through the text trying to locate the point in the run the authors refer to. Finally and I think most crushingly I have no idea why this book is called Pro Puppet. If I see the word Pro I’m expecting an in depth discussion of the tool’s philosophical underpinnings and it’s sweet and rough spots. There was none of that. The tutorial in the book was welcome but again why in a Pro book was there this tutorial? the latter chapters do have some discussion of tools like MCollective but without sufficient detail to really be useful.

The book has already dated but as I wouldn’t recommend buying it anyway it seems churlish to point that out. Stay away.

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Review: Little Miss Geek: Bridging the Gap Between Girls and Technology

Little Miss Geek: Bridging the Gap Between Girls and Technology Little Miss Geek: Bridging the Gap Between Girls and Technology by Belinda Parmar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Little Miss Geek is a fascinating book and a great manifesto for it’s sponsoring organisation. As a book it’s short but I’m a big fan of short in manifestos. wither you can pitch the point of the change you’re advocating or you need to rethink what you’re doing :)

The main thrust of the book is a discussion of the reasons girls don’t make it into technology (well it’s actually broader, under the term STEM but I’m focused on the T). As a man in technology it’s a thought-provoking read. The author has worked in advertising and so brings out key points with neat graphics and callouts. If nothing else just check this book out for the great stats in the margins of the pages. The book switches gear towards the end of the piece discussing why work is challenging for women in technology. This section was also fascinating and sadly I caught glimpses of myself in the descriptions of wrong behaviour which probably brought the message home with extra force.

If I’d criticise anything I’d say that some of the graphics seemed needless, the one separating chapter 3 and 4 would be a good example. Also I wanted the conclusion to be broken into educational change, parenting change and workplace change.

In conclusion read this book. You’ll get a lot out of it and moreover it should spur you to help change the world.

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Review: Lies Of Locke Lamora

Lies Of Locke Lamora Lies Of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Normally I don’t read books like this as my suspicion of fantasy as a genre is pretty deep. However the description and weirdly the foreword drew me in. Having read some reasonably downbeat books beforehand this book was exactly the antidote I was looking for. The tale had some swashbuckle, the ending was appropriate and the story moved well enough to be described as a page turner.

There’s a lot of other things to like in this book too. The storyline feels a lot like something from Hustle/Ocean’s 11 etc. so if you like a crime caper you’ll enjoy this. The characters are well fleshed out in the main with some minor exceptions. The other thing to say here is that the world the characters inhabit is well fleshed out too. The prose style is easy and while there’s an element of different language at play it’s not stifling.

In terms of criticism I’d say that some of the characters are quite clearly props for the other characters to use/dispose of as necessary. Certainly the Sanza twins fell into this category, which was a pity because it telegraphed their role in the story. Also some of the motivations felt slightly facile at times, again that made the plot less twisty than it might have been.

Having said that I’m looking forward to more from this author and can happily recommend this book.

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Review: Last and First Men

Last and First Men Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, I’m not sure what to say. this book is better than any modern SF I can think of by such a distance I dare not pick up another space opera for at least another month or two. People talk about vision and ambition in books, get this one and see what that really means. It took me ages to read this and I’m glad. This book rewards reflection and thought. It’s not rollicking or immediate, it’s graceful, sad and beautiful.

The feeling of sweeping and swooping through time in the book is wonderful, the various travails of man as depicted in the book are heart-wrenching an the ultimate end left me moved almost to tears. There’s no hero, no escape and no romantic interest, yet the book is so much better for not having these things. I found it dense and at times challenging to read as disaster is heaped upon disaster. But i came back again and again and I felt rewarded for doing so.

The worst thing about the book is a foreword that talks about the book written recently. It suggests dismissing the first few chapters. Codswallop, read the whole thing. While Stapledon might have got the period of the 1930s and 1940s wrong in detail his overarching themes of religion and intolerance are wincingly painful to the modern reader. The end of which seems plausible enough too given where we are with oil too.

Absolute cracker.

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Review: The Visible Ops Handbook: Starting ITIL in 4 Practical Steps

The Visible Ops Handbook: Starting ITIL in 4 Practical Steps The Visible Ops Handbook: Starting ITIL in 4 Practical Steps by Kevin Behr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When i got this book I was pretty nonplussed. However now I’ve finished it I can tell you it’s worth a dozen larger books of the same ilk. It’s four step process is simply laid out, clear and well thought. It’s the very off-putting size of this book that also makes it great, the authors haven’t belaboured each step and their quotes section is pretty fascinating.

If I’m going to criticise there are two things to point out. The first is that some of the practices haven’t lasted so well. So there’s a distinct feel in here that developers shouldn’t be part of the operations process. But that clearly wouldn’t serve an established devops shop well. The second is that wierdly for a book that’s about 100 pages long sections of content are repeated in the appendices so you get the feeling much of the early chapters is re-tread.

Overall, buy it, appreciate it, adapt it to your environment. You’ll be better off if you can apply the lessons of this book.

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