Month: December 2011

Reading a quick summary – part 2

Software Creativity Robert Glass Software Creativity 2.0.
Quite an interesting reading. The author attempts to answer the recurring question whether writing software be a procedural task or a creative process. The question is very interesting and it is at the core of software engineering practices. If the answer is the first, then writing code can be automatized and programmers may be considered interchangeable. The topic is difficult and the author attempts to follow a pragmatic if not formal approach to give the answer. I liked the answer (yes it is a creative process, sorry to spoil, but I couldn’t resist), but I find the book somewhat weak in giving short and fit references to help programmers in dealing with management to get their points… not that management would care anyway.
James W. Grenning Test-Driven Development for Embedded System.
Firmware development tends to be one of those niche where the “NAH” (Not Applicable Here) defense is used for preventing proper software practices to be applied. Structured, Hardware independent, Object Oriented… in many circles are considered techniques unsuitable for embedded software. I am pretty convinced of the contrary, and this book really is a valuable allies. The book is about test driven development (that is, first write tests, then code) which is another “heresy” for bare metal programmers. I found very well presented, although sometimes a bit verbose (if you are an experienced programmer you may find yourself often skipping through some examples). If you are curious about unit test, and how to apply it to firmware then this book is a must read.
What you won’t find is how to unit test interrupt depending code (i.e. critical run and critical sections) and how to test multithreading code.
Umberto Eco Il Cimitero di Praga (The Cemetery of Prague).
I enjoyed reading Eco in the past (“Baudolino” and “Il pendolo di Focault“, “In nome della rosa“) although I found his book having two speeds – the first for the first half of the book quite modernly paced, the second, slow and hyper-detailed for the rest of the book. I had the impression the writer was more devoted in showing the result of his culture and his researches rather than telling the story. This is true to a lesser extent for this one.
The story is intriguing and I felt really at discomfort to read in first person the actions and the motivation of the main character (a late 1800 forger involved with European country intelligences) a selfish racist that has no hesitation in faking friendship and then killing those who trusted him. Nonetheless the book given big bytes of food for thoughts both about recent history and how intelligence works.
Alexander Stepanov, Paul McJones Elements of Programming.
The title is a clear declaration of intent – this is a text book, in the same shelf where you would look for elements of mathematical analysis, elements of algebra and so on. The book follows strictly the cliche, feeding theorems and lemmas to the reader. So it is not a light reading. By reading this book I finally discovered an application for those strangely named algebraic structures (Ring, Semi-Ring and so on). Basically when dealing with generic programming you need some mathematical tools to request the shape of the data types on which you may (or may not) instantiate the generic algorithm. The book is mostly about answering in a formal way to this need. Do you need to read this? I am quite doubtful, if you want to learn programming, this is not the book for you. If you are fluent with template metaprogramming, I guess you won’t find much for you in this book. If you are studying the theoretical connection between mathematics/algebra and meta programming, then maybe this is what you are looking for.

Reading a quick summary

It is elapsed some time from the last time I wrote a book review, but, in fact I keep on reading. I am pretty sure I will never get through all the backlog, so I decided to go the quick and easy way with a list and a brief description. Should you like to have more information about any book I read, feel free to ask.

James Rollins Artico (Ice Hunt).
Quite fresh and addictive adventure book. The setting is not so original, but I liked it. The main character is genuine and true.
James Rollins La mappa di pietra (Map of Bones).
Nice adventure book, not exceptional. If you like unlikely historical reconstruction, scientific nonsenses and fast paced adventure, then this may be for you.
James Rollins Il marchio di Giuda (Giuda’s Strain).
Adventure book, this belongs to the same series of “Map of Bones”. It shares the same kind of adventure and narration. It’s a page turner, but it left me quite unsatisfied.
Scarlett Thomas PopCo.
Unusual novel. It talks about a young lady who works for a toys corporation. This fictional corporation is described to be the size of Hasbro and Mattel. The book talks at length about the life in such company, how they deal with customers, and the contradictions of capitalism and occidental life-style. Oh, and it also talks about cryptography (that was the main reason I bought this). The book is pleasant, although slow at times, but it is able to give many points to think about.
Terry Pratchett Wintersmith.
Very good book by Terry in the Discworld series. This is the third of Tiffany Aching. Entertaining and witty.
Terry Pratchett Unseen Academicals.
Another Discworld novel, this time I didn’t much like it – it takes too much time to get the narration up to speed and lacks of the very part that makes Pratchett’s books so good. The story is about a Football (or Soccer if you happen to live the other side of the big pond) Discoworld version, with the stereotypical player and the equally stereotypical top model girlfriend.
Terry Pratchett Nation.
This time a Pratchett’s book not set in the Discworld universe but on an alternate history on a fictional Earth. I found this book very good. Although its intended readers are in the teen range I really enjoyed it. The author is clearly at his best, writing about differences, leadership, belief, faith and the hard task of growing up. Highly recommended.
Scott Rogers Level Up.
This is a great school book for game design. Or, to put it better, this is The Book if you want to learn and understand how to design videogames. In many parts it can be considered just common sense, although it is a highly organized and outstandingly well written common sense. If you want to be really picky, you may say that this book is not game genre specific so it may be too generic if you are very in a specific kind of games. I can’t wait to apply everything I learned.
Tom Demarco, Peter Hruschka, Tim Lister, Suzanne Robertson, James Robertson, Steve McMenamin Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies: Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior.
Demarco and Lister are two great project engineers, their “Peopleware” is one of the best book on project management. One of the first that collected evidences and put it straight – in software project people matters. I had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately it is somewhat less than I expected. It is a collection of 1-2 pages articles describing one pattern. Some pattern are good, some are evil and some can be both. I found the book somewhat lacking of structure and poor in references to facts and studies supporting the claims. Thinking better about it I don’t see who is the intended reader – the project manager either is peopleware “enlighted” or is not and for sure this is not the book you can throw at him to make him change. The programmer may nod for one or more pattern, but there is no clear way to make and propose changes it his/her company to improve practices.

Here we go. I have another burst of books I’ll report about in the next days.