my recent reads..

Oracle Community on Stackoverflow?

Stackoverflow quietly moved into public beta last week, and I'm stunned by how active it is already.

I'm looking at pages of really funky technical questions here that I haven't a clue how to answer ... and they all have at least one answer in response already.

There are even 106 questions in the "oracle" category.

If you haven't checked it out yet, Stack Overflow is simply a "programming Q & A site". As they say in the FAQ:

What's so special about this? Well, nothing, really. It’s a programming Q&A website. The only unusual thing we do is synthesize aspects of Wikis, Blogs, Forums, and Digg/Reddit in a way that is somewhat original. Or at least we think so.

I have big hopes for this site. The best developer communities I ever participated in were on the old network news/nntp, until it started getting overtaken by the web in the late nineties. Ever since then I've never really found an "optimal" community. It's either everyone (aka google), very specialist mailing lists, or web forums that tend to be too fragmented or low volume to be really useful.

I think this site has great promise to be a well-known meeting place for the world-wide developer community to collect and share knowledge. And I hope we see a huge "Oracle Community" presence (Open Metalink+Forums+Wiki 2.0).

There are two things that have really interested me about this site:

Firstly, it was started by Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood (Coding Horror). Nuff said.

Second has been the community engagement during the development process. They've had a podcast which I've been listening to for the past 21 weeks. It's a great fly-on-the-wall kind of experience, having the chance to listen to the developers discuss the site while they are still building it. I hope we hear more development done this way.

Do you have a question or maybe some answers? I really recommend everyone should take the plunge and test it out.

Any site that spawned a parody site even before it was launched can't be all bad!
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Think Like a Rocket Scientist

I've been lax in my little posts about books I've read. One of the reasons is that I'm now addicted to bookjetty, which makes it sooo easy to track my reading and think "I'll review/blog it later". The other reason is simply time.

But reading Jim Longuski's The Seven Secrets of How to Think Like a Rocket Scientisthas prompted me into action again.

This is a great book on practical innovation, and generally just getting things done. Although it takes the "Rocket Scientist" as the model (understandable, since Longuski is one), it largely avoids the trap of being elitist and sycophantic. It's just an honest and thoughtful analysis of how rocket scientists work, and presented almost like a pattern language for knowledge workers.

The "seven secrets" are actually seven stages of the creative process, from the initial idea generation through to delivery. Each stage includes half a dozen or more "secrets" (or patterns), so the book is more like "The 50 Secrets of How to .."
  • Dream

  • Judge

  • Ask

  • Check

  • Simplify

  • Optimize

  • Do

The book is also littered with great quotes, has a bibliography that immediately adds many books to your "must read" list. Perhaps the best part is however Longuski's ladder of the "Greatest Sci-Fi Films of the Twentieth Century" gratuitously included in the appendix. Longuski clearly has some "issues" with Shuttle-era NASA, but when these intrude on the text, they just serve to highten the drama!
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage-to move in the opposite direction. -- Albert Einstein

When you find a good move, look for a better one. -- Dr Emanuel Lasker

Do. Or do not. There is no try. -- Jedi Master Yoda

It is often said you can lie with statistics. But-it's even easier to lie without them -- Jim Longuski

PS: I since wrote a reflection on this book called Code like a Rocket Scientist

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Reflections on a learning model

The conscious competence learning model has uncertain origins, but is probably the best known model for learning. Maybe that's because it is so simple and intuitive - I suspect making it exactly the right kind of 'model' to be picked up by the business book and management consulting fraternity.

It seems to me best applied to the development of "skills" (like riding a bike or programming in python), and less so to changing bahaviour or habits (like giving up smoking).

But for skills it works really well, and the simple 2x2 matrix of conscious-competence yields lots of interesting observations to ponder.

That's my version of the matrix. I re-label the "conscious" axis as either "self-conscious" (as in you are painfully aware that you can't do something), or "automatic" (where you have reached the stage where performance is reflexive).

Where you start, where you get to, and the path you take are really dependent on the situation and the individual. In the picture above, I've indicated a starting point of where you are self-conscious about the fact you can't do something; although the literature talks about the strict theoretical starting point of being totally unaware you can't do something (automatic - cannot do in the diagram).

So anything interesting to note?

  • Progressing from knowing you can't do something to thinking you can (the redish line above) is, I think, a perfect defintion of what we call "blur like sotong" in Singapore

  • How straight-line your pregession towards automatic-can do is probably a good guide of "natural ability"

  • Learning (or training, education and guided practice) tends to shift you up the scale of competence only - since it is more about giving you the knowledge and techniques to do the job 'right'

  • Experience (or practice with reflection) tends to move you up the conscious scale towards the point where it is automatic.

So is this model of any practical use? As a point of reflection on your own, or your collegues situation, I think it can be a good but crude diagnostic. It makes you remember things like just plain training needs to be coupled with real experience to get you all the way up the curve.
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Show the Whale!

Adam Keys and Geoffrey Grosenbach introduced the term for 2008 on the rails podcast: show the whale.
I think it's perfect, and in my lexicon already!
==> No, this is not the official fail whale logo! The real one was done by Yiying Lu, a young designer from China/Sydney, who now is world famous thanks to twitter's stability problems.
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