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The Importance of the Invisibles (Book Review)

When I read Tom DeMarco’s classic I book Peopleware some time ago, one small part of the book stuck with me. He briefly discusses the idea that some people on teams are Catalysts, people who seem to help a team but who didn’t stand out. As an example, DeMarco describes one person:
“ During her twelve years at the company, the woman in question had never worked on a project that had been anything other than a huge success. It wasn’t obvious what she was adding, but projects always succeeded when she was around.” This brief acknowledgement of the contribution of someone who wasn’t a star can make to a team stuck with me as something that made sense, but which I never thought about before. David Zweig’s book Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion is an entire book that describes the role of people like this, and thus made a big impression as well. It’s not that some of the people Zweig describes are not incredibly talented and skilled; they are.…

Gulp! (Book Review)

It could be that I'm the parent of a 7 1/2 year old boy. It could also be that the book has such great footnotes ( when I was in grad school working on a paper for a group project, one of my fellow students commented that I wrote great footnotes), but I found Mary Roach's book Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal to be very engaging and entertaining, as well as educational.

Gulp is a very approachable "top-to-bottom" tour through the human digestive system. Combining fact, history, some editorial commentary, and much humor you can't help but get pulled into this book, and even pull in those around you. At various points I found myself laughing out loud, leading my wife to comment that I,  have a lot more in common with our 7 year old, or at least that there is a certain timelessness to that sort of humor among certain demographics. The chapter on flatulence was particularly amusing, and was a great example of how Roach uses humor to help us learn about socia…

Book Review of Java Performance: The Definitive Guide

While tools and technologies change rapidly, and looking up information online is sometimes the best way to get the information you need, I can be useful to occasionally read a book to get oriented in a subject and discover what you didn't know that you didn't know. For me a good technical book sets the context for the problem and gives you enough information to apply what you learned to harder problems that the book covers, but which also gives you information you can apply immediately.  Java Performance: The Definitive Guide does a good job of both.

Not just about JVM params, the book covers application and algorithm issues, database connectivity, as well as JVM issues such as garbage collection algorithms. What is useful, and sadly rare,  is  that this book not only tells you things you can do,  it also tells you things that you can skip, since not every thing you do has a good cost/ benefit payoff.

With an emphasis  on standard tools, including open source and those that …

Estimation as a requirements Exercise

I explored the role of estimation in a couple of articles on Techwell recently.

In the first article I discussed how teams balance the cost of estimation (in terms of time it takes) with the value it brings to the project. Some argue that estimation isn't very useful at all, where other's say that it can be useful, but that all stakeholders may not have the same vision of the value estimation brings.

In a follow up article I explore the debate about whether to estimate in hours, which reflects effort, and time, or  points, which reflect complexity. This is a common debate, since many articles on agile advocate points, to step away from the concepts of estimate, and focus on the complexity of a feature, and also to help teams move towards the model of the estimate being valid for the team and not just a particular person. And stakeholders are often concerned about schedule and deadlines, so tend to prefer hours initially.

Different teams will come to different decisions about w…

Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture For Dummies (Book Review)

When I received a review copy of Pattern-Oriented Software Architecture For Dummies, by Bob Hanmer, one of the leaders in the Patterns community, I was intrigued. Patterns are more complicated to understand than they appear, and I wondered how a book like this could do justice to the topic. I was not disappointed.

This book is one of the few books that is a good tour through the fullness of the patterns universe. It's an easier read than many other books on Patterns, and it covers the basic concepts of what a pattern is, and gives examples of how to use patterns correctly.
The book focuses on the Patterns from the Pattern Oriented Software Architecture series and the classic Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software book. The book wraps up with a tour through the larger pattern world, with examples from patterns in areas such as configuration management, software process, and user interaction.

Patterns are one of the most misunderstood concepts in software…