Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the books I wanted to read for a long time. Classics of the genre that influenced several of the PC games I played, films I watched and books I read (when I had more time for such).

Beautiful language, epic story, diverse and rich world of Middle-Earth.

Interestingly, I kept on recalling my lectures on semiotics from the university times - and Vladimir Propp's standard elements of a fairy tale in particular - while reading Tolkien. And indeed - on one hand, it is nothing more than a simple fairy tale, with elements such as the battle of the Good and the Bad, quests, helpers, passes etc. On the other hand, this is probably why it can be called a masterpiece of a genre: Tolkien uses standard elements of a tale in a skillfully systematic and thorough way, enriched by countless colourful details.

And I cannot help noting after having read the book - although it has nothing to do with the book itself - that the film trilogy from 2000s was exceptionally good. I have probably enjoyed the film trilogy even more.

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Review: The Agile Samurai: How Agile Masters Deliver Great Software

The Agile Samurai: How Agile Masters Deliver Great Software The Agile Samurai: How Agile Masters Deliver Great Software by Jonathan Rasmusson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best books on Agile software development that I have read. Its beauty lies in its simplicity: clear, down-to-earth guide through the Agile principles, planning, estimating, analysis, development, communication with clients, and testing. Some overall principles like honest communication with clients as early as possible, just-in-time and just-enough analysis, visualising your project and your pace of development are covered well throughout the book.

The book is also well illustrated: graphs and cartoons are helpful and make the point of the author even clearer.

The general "story wrapper" of the book - that a novice student is learning the Agile principles from a Samurai - was not very insightful, yet not disturbing. It could by and large just be ignored

Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: It's Hidden Face: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Information Technology. a Look Behind the Scenes

It's Hidden Face: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Information Technology. a Look Behind the Scenes It's Hidden Face: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Information Technology. a Look Behind the Scenes by Claude Roeltgen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A (former) Chief Information Officer of a bank in Luxembourg provides an interesting view on the role of information technology nowadays. He states (quite correctly) that information technology is still very immature compared to, say, automobile industry. In particular, aspects of reliability and security are way behind what one can find in the other industries. I found author's comparisons to automobile world quite thought-provoking: one quote from the book is that "If the automotive had followed the same development cycle as the computer, a Rolls-Royce would today cost $100, get a million miles per gallon, and explode once a year, killing everyone inside”.

It was also intriguing to read the author's sarcastic thoughts on software development by external vendors (an author is someone who has been ordering it from outsourced companies): for example different sales tricks that software developments contractors consistently use ("This is just a plug-and-play system!").

On the other hand, the author's sarcastic jokes, anecdotes from the past and off-topic chapters tend sometimes to override the serious messages of the book. The English translation of it (the original is in German) is perhaps not the best one either, as it does not always read that fluently.

Overall, an interesting read if one is trying to understand the scope of work of corporate CIOs.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Review: Diplomacy

Diplomacy Diplomacy by Henry Kissinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A second book by Henry Kissinger I read. As the first one, "Diplomacy" presents a deep and brilliant analysis of international relations, this time in particular diplomacy as practised by the leaders and negotiators of various Western states. It was especially enlightening to read background of and strategy behind the genius acts of Cardinal Richelieu (17th century's France), Metternich (19th centrury's Austria), Bismarck (19th century Prussia).

The main learning from the book: as in business or personal relations, one needs to understand intrinsic posture of people that you are in any form of dialogue with. Are they being guided by a well-thought strategy (realpolitik, balance of power, evangelism) - or by immediate events impacting their behaviour (external and internal pressures, temporal urgency)? Are they in the real position of power - or miscalculating their options?

Another learning: (again, as in business or personal relations) what distinguishes successful leaders and states in the long run is the ability to build and sustain alliances based on shared values (be it conservatism, democracy, belief in free-market, urge for stability or anything else). If an alliance is built on tactical calculations only (it is useful at this moment of time), one needs to be a brilliant tactician and manipulator such as Richelieu or Bismarck to sustain it - but as history (and Kissinger for that matter) shows, there is very rarely another Richelieu or Bismarck taking over from incumbents...

The last 1/3 of the book (events after WWII) was weaker in my view: lacking impartiality (Kissinger as an active diplomat in the 1960s-1970s and later counsellor), too focused on U.S. internal and external policies as well as repetitive at times

Friday, January 29, 2016

Review: Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great

Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great by Esther Derby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very practical book with good structure and varying selection of activities to use when leading a retrospective for a software development team. The book is not excessively long: it does not contain a lot of all-too-obvious contemplations on why it is important to do retrospectives - but goes straight to the point, and does it very well. I especially liked the chapter on how to do a proper preparation for a retrospective - something which is too often overlooked from my own experience.

I wish there could be more relevant examples of a short retrospective, done within 1-2 hours when the time is limited. The book could also touch upon the usage of metaphors which from my experience can be a very powerful tool to enhance creativity in a group. Some activities described there felt too childish - but that is up to a facilitator to decide which ones to use.

Overall, an easy and practical read for anyone practising the role of a scrum master / an agile coach or similar.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Systems Engineering Principles and Practice

Systems Engineering Principles and Practice Systems Engineering Principles and Practice by Alexander Kossiakoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a textbook by university professors on the subject of hardware/software systems' conceptualisation, design, planning, construction, testing and maintenance.

I liked the fact that it covered the whole life cycle of a system's life. Of particular interest for me were the chapters on difference between software-intensive and hardware-intensive systems engineering, functional analysis (including functional block diagrams), basics of UML and SysML, models of decision making (including trade-off analysis).

However, I did not find useful the so-called "Systems Engineering method" which was being presented throughout the book. In essence, it meant the same activities for every stage of systems development - and thus, felt repetitive and confusing. The amount of sentences including phrases like "this requires a thorough planning", "the best strategy to avoid problems is to plan ahead", "planning is the cornerstone of risk management" was also overwhelming at times. The examples were not too many - and those present were mainly either from defence or from air traffic.

All in all, this book was informative, at times enlightening, very systematic, but somewhat... too systematic and dry to my taste.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: Идиот

Идиот Идиот by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

В центре внимания книги симатичный и вызывающий сожаление князь Мышкин. Достоевский искусно описывает и князя Мышкина, и других рельефных персонажей. Мне особенно понравился персонаж Аглаи, которая (как и Мыщкин) порой проявляет необычайную силу духа, а порой - искреннюю человеческую слабость. Очень красивый русский язык. Но в целом в романе слишком много драматизированности на мой вкус. Излишняя театральность и поведение персонажей на грани помешательства в их изъяснении чувств не делают из этого романа одно из моих любимых произведений.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Review: The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century

The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century
The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century by Stephen Denning

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author took the Agile principles from software development and packaged them into what he calls a radical management. The ideas themselves are very righteous and I cannot agree more with them. I especially liked the chapters on Delighting Clients (you need to have your clients in mind above anything else) and on Radical Transparency (honesty, authenticity, accepting failures).

However, the book itself provides relatively little novelty compared to any other publication on Agile principles - and I felt that the narrative was being chewed and re-chewed again and again). The whole chapter about open narratives felt like promotion for author's previous books. Overall, it is quite a stereotypical American-style self-help book: "I did it once, I've heard others having done it too, I call it "The New Big Thing" and now I preach it to everyone else".

It can be interesting for people from outside software development who have never heard of Agile principles of (project) management though.
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