Sunday, November 2, 2008

Beating the odds by reading books

In my copious spare time (gained by not watching much TV) I read and review books, technical and otherwise, as a way of keeping up with the rest of the world. (You can read my most recent review here.) Usually I’m working on one or two books at a time (did I mention I love to read?) but I discovered some really interesting books in a short period and now I’ve gotten a little swamped. At this point, I’m reading three books and writing reviews for three others.

I posted one review to’s Book Zone last Friday, but you won’t see it in their listing until the zone leader approves it. The other two are not technically technical (they aren’t specifically about programming or software development per se) but they are books I would recommend to developers and architects who need to communicate their ideas with others.

The review I posted is for “Groovy Recipes” by Scott Davis and it is a book I highly recommend for anyone interested in the Groovy programming language. As its title suggests, the book is full of recipes showing you how to get something useful done in Groovy. There’s even a section with recipes for Groovy’s web framework, Grails.

If you’re looking for a new language to learn, or you’d like to improve your skills with Groovy, this is an excellent choice to help you on your way.

“Presentation Zen” is the name of a web site as well as a book, both by Garr Reynolds. I found the web site when I was working on a technical session for JavaOne 2008. While I loved the approach Garr suggested, I was pretty sure I couldn’t pull it off in the time I had left to prepare. I stuck a more traditional approach and swore to myself that I would come back and learn to improve my presentation skills.

This book is full of good information and can point you in the right direction, but you (and I) have to do the work needed to improve - reading alone probably won't cut it. But, if you want to get better at presenting information then this is a great place to start.

The third review I’m writing is for a wonderful little book titled, “The Back of the Napkin” and it’s subtitle “Solving problems and selling ideas with pictures” pretty much lets you know what to expect when you read it. If you’re anything like me and most of the programmers and architects I’ve worked with then you’re probably comfortable sketching a diagram to describe a problem or solution to the people you work with. So why would you want to buy a book about it?

Well, take a look at the website Dan Roam (the author) set up for the book and watch the video on the five focusing questions and the six ways to see and show. That should be enough to get you to place an order for the book today. In case the site’s down or you can’t view the videos, the point is that Dan presents a well reasoned method to figuring out how to visually solve problems and present the solution to other people so they can understand it. From my point of view, getting better at those two things is well worth the price of the book and the time it takes to read it, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

I’ll update this post – or just post a short notice – when the reviews are done and out there. I also post to the Atlanta Java User Groups’ Book Corner so you may see them there first.

Oh yes, the title of this post is my way of thumbing my nose at the "statistic" I've heard concerning the average number of books a programmer reads in a year - which is supposedly zero. I don't know about you, but I'm doing my best to boost that number; and learning a good bit at the same time...

Dang. I just realized I'm going to need a good sign-off phrase to let you know I’m done and didn’t just hit the “post article” button by accident.

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