Off the Shelf: August 2021 (The Created)

August 2021 saw me reading many more books than I had anticipated. Some were re-reads, some were fiction and some were for information. One was all three.

The Created (book cover)
The Created (book cover)1

The Created

McCloskey’s The Created is a fictional book that I re-read for information. Re-reading2 can be useful as it allows us to “read past the plot” since we’re no longer wanting to solely know “what’s next”. Re-reading allows us to dig deeper into the text, looking for more details and asking more layered questions than on the first pass.

On the surface, The Created is a short science fiction story about a rich and powerful guy who gets murdered, is resurrected and then seeks some revenge. But it’s also about AI, autonomous agents and bots, encryption, hacking, extraterrestrials, shared memories and reconstructing an identity and the personality that goes along with it.

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  1. Cover art by Raymond Swanland.
  2. See Sara McKenzie’s episode 141 for more on the benefits of re-reading.
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Off the Shelf: July 2021 (The Checklist Manifesto)

Of all the several books I read in July, the most impactful was The checklist manifesto, by Atul Gawande.

Checklist for Checklists
A Checklist for Checklists
(from the Appendix)

The Checklist Manifesto

Early in the book Gawande introduces research proposing that there are “three different kinds of problems in the world: the simple, the complicated, and the complex.” In my experience, simple problems are like the process of making pancakes. Practicing technique is helpful, but following a recipe (a form of checklist) is key to increasing your chance of success.

Gawande proposes rocketry as an example of a complicated problem. It can “be broken down into a series of simple problems” but there’s no pancake recipe to follow. While making pancakes can be done by just about anyone with an inventory of ordinary materials, a valid recipe and access to a few common cooking resources, sending a rocket to the moon involves many multiples of highly-trained people, a variety of teams, specialized materials and more expertise than can be easily collected in one place. Many of the problems can be made simple by breaking them down, but much remains complicated, and working through the logistics, timing, coordination and the results of Murphy’s Law is not straightforward.

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Off the Shelf: June 2021

Most of June’s reading was for fun, but each stands out for something unique.

I first put I sing the body electric! on my e-reader a few months ago because I knew I’d soon be needing a collection of short stories, things a little more self-contained than a longer novel, and Bradbury delivers.
“Night Call, Collect” may be my favorite of the collection — a man stranded on Mars attempts to keep his future self company through hundreds of electronic recordings that call him and interact with him years later, but ends up driving himself nearly (completely?) mad. A thoughtful story that made me stop and muse about some things for a few days after finishing.
“Tomorrow’s Child” explores the love of a father and the love of a mother for their unique child, born into a different dimension from the parents. After a year of trying to bring the child into the parents’ dimension, the scientists announce they can transport the parents to their child’s dimension, but cannot go the other way. Faced with the options of being united with their child (and isolated from the regular world) or of staying estranged from their child (but living in the regular world), they make a choice.

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Off the Shelf: May 2021

Looking back at the month, I finished more books in May than I had thought, including two that I’ve been working on for a long time and two that I rushed since the Library wanted them back sooner rather than later.

I first heard about Paper Trails (Blevins, 2021) from a WSJ book review that caught my eye in March of this year. I’ve long been interested in the visual representation of data (see Tufte’s works) and here was an entire book telling a different perspective on the story of “how the west was won” through the dry data of when and where US Post Offices were opened in the 1800s. My local library didn’t have it yet, but I put a hold on it and it arrived quickly (and they wanted it back rather soon, too). Blevins takes a potentially dry subject and breathes life into it, resulting in a fascinating story.

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Broken Everywhere

I catch some good-natured and well-deserved ribbing from my co-workers and colleagues about this precept, but frankly, I take it in stride. It’s true that sometimes the new hires don’t understand it right away, but once explained and demonstrated, I don’t generally get much push-back.

Stated simply, “Broken Everywhere” means:

A single device or installation should never stop working as a result of a change to (or near) a similar device or installation somewhere else. Continue reading

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Ban “Interesting”

Let’s ban the word “interesting” (at least for a while). Think about it for a moment. When was the last time you used the word when it actually1 meant something?

“What did you think about the incident management presentation?”
“Oh, it was interesting.”

Does that tell you anything? It’s a cop-out answer, a filler word Continue reading

  1. Let’s ban “actually” next.
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Never too early—rarely too often

We’ve got a rather large project going on at the moment and a shrinking window to get it done. The deeper we dig into this mound of work, the more and varied things we pull out. What started as a “you’re almost there already” project is now starting to look rather daunting.

My strategy? Limit the scope and focus solely on that scope. If it’s not in that scope, it gets left out and doesn’t get done. Continue reading

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A Manager’s Smile


We moved offices this past week, relocating the IT department (and one other) into a new space. The new space is light and airy and is laid out on the open office plan.1 Initially we were skeptical but we’re making the best of it and it appears most everyone is settling down and adjusting well.

We have two new conference rooms, a large dedicated IT workroom, lots of community (but very little individual) storage, an awesome kitchen and a very welcoming lunch space. Continue reading

  1. I believe that the only fans of the open-plan offices can be found in the workplace design profession. However, they simply cannot back up their claims of productivity increases. As Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister wrote many years ago, “The only method we have ever seen used to confirm claims that the open plan improves productivity is proof by repeated assertion.” (emphasis in the original)

    DeMarco, Tom, and Timothy R. Lister. Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. Addison-Wesley, 1987, p 53.

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5 Reasons Why Not to Use Your Work Computer to Do Your Personal Taxes

  1. You don’t have local admin.
    TurboTax requires1 it and you probably don’t have it, nor should you.
    Admins take away local admin because users frequently don’t look before clicking and because users install things they shouldn’t, possibly introducing malware or putting their organizations at risk of license violations.
  2. You just saved, on a device you don’t own, your sensitive personal information.
    Enough of your (and your family’s) sensitive personal information2 that even a mildly competent criminal would find it easy to exploit. And you saved it for them all in one spot. With pointers to it.
    There are methods to encrypt this file and make it harder for them to exploit it. But it’s still possible.
    Oh, and that PDF you saved, just in case? It has everything the criminal needs, too. Continue reading
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Know when to STOP

After a frustrating day at work dealing with a repeat of a problem from this past spring, I related some of the situation to my crew of hecklers advisers at the dinner table:

Stop Sign in Australia

By Matthew Paul Argall [CC0]

A software package common to all our endpoints has a third-party plugin that only half of our users utilize. The package incorporates some templates that—in our situation—were created in a different version of the package on quite a different platform. The package and plugin relationship is complicated: only a particular version of the plugin will work with any given version of the package.

Of the users that utilize the plugin, only a few are in the same workgroup with another user. And, of course, there’s not a user group or a communication mechanism. The only common point of contact is the workgroup that takes the output from this package and does some massaging, formatting and editing before sending back to the users.

The IT workers on my team started with each user of the software package and plugin—and blaming the templates. Or the packages. Or the plugins. (Or the users!) Very soon we had a mashup of instructions with every known mixture of package/plugin/installation possible. I was hearing things like “UserA says that it’s the templates” and “UserB says when they reboot it works” and “UserC deleted their cache, reinstalled the plugin and now it works”.

Whatever. Sure, keep developing individual solutions for each of your installations. How’s that working for you?

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