Recommendations: Technology and Society

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Technology and Society

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance While Gawande stays clearly in the domain of medicine, there are lessons in this book to be learned by those working in any craft that combines technology, personal skill, and human interaction. Better is a good read for anyone seeking to understand performance and how important the individual and collaboration are in a profession one often thinks of as the being dominated by individual practitioners with highly specialized skills. What was especially interesting to me was how this book brought to mind parallels with what seems to be a vastly different practice: Software development. The stories of practice in rural India seemed to make a case for the value of "generalizing specialists," the discussion of infection prevention was an echo of the value (and difficulty) of getting a team to be disciplined in using a few simple practices. Almost every chapter found me making notes about parallels to software development. I suspect those in other fields that require both individual skills, judgement, and collaboration might find the same thing. This wasn't unexpected, as I had first read The Checklist Manifesto, but that book was explicit about the parallels. If you are interested in health care, want to understand how to apply skills more effectively, or simply just like a good story, Better is good, Gawande mixes anecdote, data, and an almost suspenseful presentation style to make what could be an academic discussion approachable and entertaining. For a more detailed review see my blog

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Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or SucceedPeople and cultures seem to many things that don't make sense in retrospect. This book asks and attempts to answer the question of why once successful societies disappeared. Diamond combines an historical perspective with a discussion of modern day comunities so that we can see the parallels, and perhaps make better decisions in the future. While not an easy read, Diamond makes a complicated subject very approachable. This is a thought-provoking book that you should read if you are interested in society, the environment, or even just general decision making processes (if whole cultures can make decisions that cause them to fail, what can we expect from organizations!).

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Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising
Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New IdeasThe material in this book is excellent, having been developed over a number of years. In addition to wonderful, well written, patterns that advise you on how to spread ideas, this books is full of stories that help you to understand how to use the patterns effectively to influence people, overcome roadblocks, and spread new ideas. Anyone who has new ideas to share will benefit from this book including: Managers and Team members, Professionals and Volunteers, people in industry and those in community organizations.

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Lean Thinking : Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, James Womack and Daniel Jones
Lean Thinking : Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and UpdatedThis book explains why lean manufacturing works. There is much you can learn about lean software development by learning about lean thinking in this, more concrete, domain. Read this book to learn the more general concepts of lean production so that you can better understand them and better explain them to your software development colleagues and management.

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Mayhem: Violence As Public Entertainment by Sissela Bok
Mayhem: Violence As Public EntertainmentBok discusses the role of violence in popular culture. Aside from having a great title, this book is a very good discussion of the issues and how we can address them.

How Buildings Learn : What Happens After They're Built by Stewart Brand.
How Buildings Learn : What Happens After They're BuiltThis is a great book if you are interested in architecture, history, or just simply how systems change and grow over time.

The Clock of the Long Now : Time and Responsibility by Stewart Brand
The Clock of the Long Now : Time and ResponsibilityAn interesting book. Brand discusses the Long Now project, but puts it in the context of the different time scales we all work on. If you didn't already understand it, this book explains when and why the long view is necessary. I think that this is a worthwhile read for systems designers, as well as excellent general interest reading.

Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societies by Jared M. Diamond
Guns, germs, and steel : the fates of human societiesInteresting, and well written, historical overview of how the environment shaped the development of human society. It's a sort of history of the world in 400 pages. This book gives lots of examples of the differences between apparent causes and root causes. It you like history, or are often curious about why things are, this is a worthwhile book.

The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage
The Victorian InternetThis book describes parallels between the social impact of the telegraph and that of the Internet. The title put me off the book initially, since I thought that comparisions between the telegraph and the Internet would be tenuous. Howev er, I was surprised to find out that there were issues about on-line romances, on-line fraud, among other familiar sounding issues, in the age of the telegraph. This book is yet another reminder that there are a whole host of issues that continue to arise whenever a new communications technology is introduced. A quick, interesting read.

How the Mind Works by Steve Pinker.
How the Mind WorksThe title pretty much explains it. Given the title this is a very approachable book, and even has its amusing moments. I found it a bit easier to read than The Language Instinct , which is also worth a look if you are interested in where language comes from.

The Invisible Computer by Donald A. Norman.
The Invisible ComputerA mix of Norman's usual excellent ideas about usability combined with the market concepts of Crossing The Chasm . An excellent book that guides us to the coming era when computers are in tools we use everyday, rather than complicated devices we need to be experts to use.

Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and SoftwareAn interesting book that talks about self-organizing (or emergent) systems. This book gives you lots to think about, especially about the power of independent agents acting bottom-up can have.

The Pattern on the Stone : The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work (Science Masters Series) by Daniel Hillis and W. Daniel Hillis
The Pattern on the Stone : The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work (Science Masters Series)This is a very good to the basic ideas behind how computers work. Hillis intrpoduces concepts such as boolean algebra, algorithms, finite state machines, turing machines, and even emergent behavior. I recommend this book if you already understand the ideas, but what to explain them to someone, or for the somewhat mathematically inclined person who wants to understand how computers work. You don't need to be a math maven to understand this book, but an inclination towards logical thinging helps.