Pragmatic Thinking & Learning

Recently I finished reading Pragmatic Thinking & Learning by Andy Hunt, which was a very thought provoking read. It’s published by the Pragmatic Programmers, but that should not put off non-programmers (like myself) as there is much to benefit both technical and non-technical people. In fact the only requirement is to have a human brain.

The first half of the book details how the brain works at a physiological level, models of brain function and the habits that tend to be associated with learning. I found the discussion of differences between L-mode (Linear) and R-mode (Rich) very insightful.

In the second half it discusses different ways you can harness your understanding of L-mode and R-mode to enhance your learning ability. One shocking reference is to a study that reports constantly checking your email has a larger impact on your IQ than smoking a joint. I feel this is related to (what some people call) the fallacy of multi-tasking. I feel that controlled focus on one topic is more powerful than high levels of context switching with its associated overhead.

One suggestion is to have two monitors attached to your computer. I recently moved to a dual head configuration and for certain tasks I have found it really useful. Having one screen for carrying out the tasks and another for reference material is a great assistance. Another suggested tool is using Mind Maps, which I’m trying to get into the habbit of doing, as they do seem to be a powerful tool.

It’s a great book that has plenty of re-read potential and will be a great addition to my reference library.

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Security training a liability?

Following seeing a link a a book called The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t on Cutaway’s blog (Security Ripcord) I just had to order it from the US.

Not really sure how I managed to find this blog post this evening given that it’s from January, anyway it’s a rant on security training being a liability. Given the views I’ve seen on training over the years I’m not surprised on that one.

Peoplewear: Productive Projects and Teams

Over the weekend I read Peoplewear: Productive Projects and Teams (2nd Edition) by Tom deMarco & Timothy Lister. It’s a really good book on how to run development (and projects) within a company, which focuses on the people and environmental issues more than technology. Even though the original edition is now 20 years old (and the second is 10 years), it has not really aged that much (other than talking about COBOL) and still makes a lot of sense.

The downside of the book is that it has the effect of sapping your motivation and is really quite depressing, as the main factors it highlights as increasing productivity are just the sort of things that you often can’t get round upper management (more space per employee, reduced noise, dedicated space for teams, it being a fun place to work) as it’s hard to quantify them and their impact on productivity.

However there is some good stuff that can be taken from it, time spent working without interruptions is quality time for doing certain types of tasks (e.g. design, coding) where you need to get into a flow. I think this is the main point I can take away from the book, trying to minimise my interruptions on other people as even the just a quick question type of interruption can cause a lot of lost time for them.