Posts Tagged ‘Books’

More Joel on Software

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Well, shame on me. A co-worker, whose opinion I trust, recommended Joel on Software some time ago. I was aware of his blog, and read a post or two. But, I never got around to reading the book. I saw More Joel on Software and decided to add it to my reading stack.

I just finished it, and must say that if you’re involved in software development, you really ought to read Joel on Software (both books, and follow the blog). This is full of no-nonsense, throw out the common wisdom, good information. Highly Recommended.

Really strange side note…. This is the second book I’ve read since The Black Swan. And both books mentioned Nassim Taleb and The Black Swan idea. That wasn’t so much a surprise in Simplexity, but Caught me a bit off guard in More Joel on Software.


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I just finished Simplexity. It was interesting (kept my attention), but it seemed to really lack a “point”. It began as though it was trying to attempt to break down what made things simple or complex; maybe even implied that it would shed light on why seemly simple things are really complex. In the end, it contained several interesting chapters about various topics and why those things were probably not as simple as you might have expected. This, in my experience, tends to frequently be the case. Over the years, I’ve sometimes been assigned systems to work on that seemed, upon assignment, would be the most boring possible system to work on. Almost inevitably, there was much more to the problem than you would ever have anticipated, and the system was more interesting than I would have guessed.

As an interesting collection various studies and what makes them more complex than you would have thought, it was a pretty good read. If you’re looking for a premise and a exposition that attempts to convince you of that premise, well, I’m not quite sure what the “premise” was, so I guess I wasn’t particularly convinced.

The Black Swan

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Finished reading The Black Swan.  Very interesting.  I’m sure that many will find it unsatisfying.  His main point centers around the idea that much of what we try to “risk manage” is fundamentally unpredictable.  Maybe more precisely, that common methods of managing risk that are based upon the impact of significant outliers being diminishingly small.  This is based on an assumption that these things follow a gaussian distribution (i.e. a bell curve).  I think he makes a very compelling argument that there are some things that necessarily follow that type of distribution, while other things are not constrained that way (and in fact, by nature, will not follow such a distribution).   Examples of these other things include the success of books, the accumulation of riches, and many other things where getting off to a good start has a compounding effect (once a book gets a “best seller” label more people want to read it, which makes it a bigger seller, which, well, you get the idea).

Incredibly, he points out the risks that banks were taking while fooling themselves that their risk management was protecting them.  So in a way, he called the current situation ahead of time.  Don’t get too excited, his main point is that these things can’t be predicted.  He certainly didn’t predict what or when, only that they were at much more risk of a “black swan” (an unexpected, even unpredictable, event with extraordinary consequences) than they predicted.

So what is “unsatisfactory”?  If you’re looking for how to predict these Black Swans, the premise is that they are not predictable.

Funny, that’s also what made it rather satisfactory for me.  He doesn’t feel compelled to wrap things up nice and neat.  There’s a good deal of information about how we fool ourselves into believing that these things are predictable.  For example he points out how we always seem to be able to draw up a narrative explanation of why these things happened and why they make perfect sense (in hindsight of course).  So, if you’re like me and always amazed about how the pundits can explain, very logically, how these things happened, after the fact, but don’t ever predict them ahead of time, or if you’re constantly amazed at how there seems to be a complete absence of going back and evaluating the accuracy of pundit predictions, then you’ll probably enjoy the book.

The Black Swan

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I’m currently reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
So far, it is quite interesting. Largely about how many things are unpredictable, despite our best attempts, after the fact, to identify why we should have predicted them. That’s a gross over-simplification I’m sure.
It is particularly interesting in light of the current economic disaster. Obviously, written before the events we are currently experiencing, he makes reference to previous troubled markets, and yet it seems even more applicable to what is currently going on.


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