my recent reads..

The Colditz Legacy

Guy Walters' The Colditz Legacy is an engaging read. For those of a certain age and cultural background, Colditz (and especially escape thereof) epitomises a grand Boy's Own tradition of daring and adventure. Walters picked a great backdrop for his story which features Colditz during WWII and 30 years on during the cold war. But this story is not about Colditz itself, but the two main characters; men thrown together during the war which each survived in their own way.

When I started the book, I assumed the "legacy" must mean something like nazi loot or some deep secret, but it is much more subtle. There is the idea that in our past we may have performed in way that meets all external, objective measures of approval but in our hearts is in some way unsatisfactory. This is the legacy we carry around, even subconsciously. Few may want or get the chance to revisit and rectify this conflict in their lifetime. This is the story of one man who does.

I like Guy Walters' writing. I'm sure this won't be the last book of his I read (in fact I have just picked up The Leader).

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Code Generation In Action

Jack Herrington's Code Generation in Action is a book I love to recommend for two reasons.

First, the very premise that we should make the most of the tools at our disposal to continuously strive to improve the efficiency and maintainability of software systems appeals to deep-set values, probably ingrained during my education as an Industrial Engineer with a focus on productive systems.

Second, the book's approach lays plain the author's thorough investigation of the subject such that we learn methods and patterns that transcend any particular technology while keeping the examples very much grounded in specific, real applications. Not many technology books manage to so carefully balance the academic/generic with the practical/cookbook. Although the examples will eventually become dated (such as generating EJB data access layers), the book will remain relevant for many years to come as a guide to a "way of thinking" rather than for the specific examples.

It is interesting to note that the book's use of ruby as the exemplary language nudges towards the convention over configuration ethos of rails. Database migrations in rails may not owe any direct lineage to the work of Harrington, but it is easy to see how they could have.

If you like reflecting on how you work with software in order to improve over time - in a sense to think about thinking - then this book will surely capture your imagination and perhaps lead you to a better place.

Postscript: I've blogged about the applicability of the concepts in the book to Oracle JDeveloper here.

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Moving on .. to new laptop art!

Well, today is my first as a member of the Oracle Alumni. It was sad to leave all of the great people and friends I've made over the years at Oracle, but greener pastures beckoned etc etc.

I don't expect the change will affect the blog much (bar editing the disclaimer), since it has never really been so specifically about what I do at work.

What it has changed is my choice of laptop art! Switching machines is traumatic at the best of times no matter how carefully you have backed up. For the time being I've switched to an old Compaq Presario we had at home called "Sunshine". It may no longer be the fastest chip in the mill, but it has a custom paint job to care for me through this transition;-)

I've always wanted to pimp my PC! It's more common these days to find designer cases and stick-ons, but not full custom jobs. This is acrylic with a hardy varnish finish. Unlike a spray job, it creates a nice texture that actually feels great under your wrists.

It's a long story why I painted a Care Bear, but I daresay it makes it the cutest Compaq ever. I can almost half imagine myself firing up on wireless at Starbucks;-) Boy am I glad it isn't Hello Kitty!
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Blogging as RWT (Remedial Writing Therapy)

A collegue of mine said I must have a case of blog-addiction since I'm maintaining two personal blogs - tardate and pratalife - as well as a group internal blog. So of course, how could I respond other than by blogging about it? ;-)

For me, the motivation to blog actually stems from a recognition that after 20 years of a technical consulting career I find myself with a kind of literary disability! I've been trained too well to think and write like this:

  • Background

    • Early years: enjoyed art. English teacher voted me "most likely to write a novel"

    • Shift to science/math high school major

    • 4 years of engineering/computing degree

    • 20 years in IT - development/project management/consulting

  • Understanding of the problem

    • Think in bullet points

    • Focus on logical presentation of argument/point-of-view

    • Descriptive and narrative writing not needed

      • (may be spoken)

      • drop adjectives - except for sales-related like "best practice", "open standards-based", "agile"

  • Solution

    • Start a blog

    • Start writing full sentences again

    • Focus on story-line, experiment with techniques for getting a message across

    • Cover wider range of topics and subject matter

    • Form of Remedial Writing Therapy (RWT)

  • Benefits

    • Rediscover vocabulary

    • Build story-telling skills

    • Rekindle interest in broader range of intellectual pursuits

    • Even with a small audience, some chance of feedback

  • Not in scope

    • Won't help learning how to use a real pen again!

So is it working? I think so. The first effect I noticed is an almost immediate improvement in my ability to sit down with a topic, get into a flow and quickly produce a finished piece. Remember essay writing at school? Yes, like that.

I will leave you to be the judge of whether what I have to say makes any sense or is of any interest!

NB: Yes, you may have noticed my homage to Aaron Swartz' Powerpoint Remix, which is included in Joel Spolsky's excellent anthology The Best Software Writing I
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