Monday, August 31, 2009

[Misc] Two Pragprog Books Reviewed

Book Review: The passionate programmer and Pragmatic Thinking & Learning

Recently I am getting more and more attracted by the books from "The Pragmatic Programmers / Bookshelf" (link). So I share my thoughts with a review of three books for you. Here I review:
  1. Chad Fowler, "The Passionate Programmer", 2009
  2. Andy Hunt, "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning", 2008
So let's start:

1) Chad Fowler is well known in the Ruby and Rails scene. So he he shares his visions using 53 chapters. Each with a message for you and explained. These messages look a little like the XP programming message. And sometimes they really read like these XP rules:
  • "29. Learn how to fail" (testing)
  • "18. Automate yourself into into a Job" (daily integration builds)
  • "28. Eight hour burn" (no overtime)
  • ...
But indeed his stories are nice to read and they go far beyond XP rules. They bind personal experience together with passion and and a possible new perspective for you. So his main point is to step out of daily routine, step back, get better and build up new goals for you.

Chad is quite strong in selling his point and most of the points are really fun to read (for example "20. Mind Reader" or "45 You've already lost your job"). So this book is not for experts who have already found their mission in doing independent consultant work for an apache product of which they are a top committer. It's a book for the employee wishing to get motivated and possible building up new perspectives in his career. And of course for beginners that might be reading an XP book at the same time. Chad includes nice actions for each point so that each point can be validated for yourself.

What distracted me a little is the analogy to other jobs. Many writers today cite that they have played (jazz) music in a band. And the challenges in a jazz band are quite the same to a software developer. Chad elaborates a lot on this topic. Even Andy Hunt (see the next review) draws this analogy and many other books (e.g. Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds) can not leave this point - e.g. be the worst guy in your team - untouched.

Nevertheless it's a fun read if you want to break out and the book should also be recommended in software engineering / programming lectures.

2) Andy Hunt also wrote a remarkable book in combining cognitive sciences with software development. And indeed this is neither a neuroscience book nore a software development book. It is a wonderful walk through topics like:
  • Journey from Novice to Expert
  • This is your Brain
  • Get in your right mind
  • Debug your mind (how your mind works)
  • Learn deliberately
  • Gain Experience
  • Manage Focus
  • Beyond Expertise
This book could also be named "Your brain - The missing manual for software developers". So it's a wonderful guide to understand your brain and how to improve. The book is full of nice graphics, anecdotes and actions the reader should do. Through the book Andy collects Tips which are grouped together at the end of the book in a nice reference card.

If you read this book you will find some topics not new for you as mind maps or wikis. But Andy puts this in a context, gives many advices and he touches a lot points which will be new for you. For example the intense description or the L- and R-Mode helps a lot on how to reflect and use this modes in daily life. And there are a lot of other great new topics you can experience (as morning notes, SQ3R, etc.).

There were really just a few pages that were uninteresting to meas his elaboration on "expect the unexpected" or his way of categorizing generations.

Nevertheless it's a very practical book covering wide ranges of topics as drawing (there are some drawing exercises for you inside) up to yoga techniques. And everything could be applied for your daily life, job or your software development. So this book is a clear buy recommendation and even better a good present for your hacking friend or partner.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

[Arch] UML Tools for Mac OS X

Following up a question I received via Twitter, and the fact, that a significant part of the developer-community is using Macs, I thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss some "UML Options" for the Mac. Now, this article is not meant as a definitive answer, I would hope for some follow-ups by readers in the comments.

Ok lets start: First there is heavy weight stuff, most notable Visual Paradigm. A warning: this is a fat tool. However, among the fat tools it is the one I liked the most. I am not using it any more, but it is generally rather easy to use and very feature rich. However, it is a pretty expensive commercial tool. Yes, they have a "community edition", because it is cool to have a community edition these days. But this one was (when I used it last year) rather a joke. See it as a test-preview.

There are also other commercial tools as well, e.g. Omondo. I have not much idea about this one though. Anyone?

On the other end of the spectrum are tools like UMLet (or Violet), which are also Java-based and work more or less good also on the Mac. These tools are very basic and one should not expect much. They are definitly not suited for "real" projects or commercial application, but can be a nice option e.g. for educational purposes. Sometimes one just needs to create some simple UML diagrams for a presentation, paper or book. For such purposes these tools might be useful. Plus both are Open Source tools.

The probably best free (but not Open Source) UML tool, and the one I would recommend is BOUML and this is sure worth a try. The main issue I have with nearly all free/OS UML tools is, that they are often driven by a single person or just very few developers. Hence the future of the particular tool is always a little unclear. To make things worse, there is no accepted open file-format for UML diagrams, that would allow easy exchangeability of the tool. Hence selecting a UML tool is always sort of a lock-in situation.

Also a consideration could be ArgoUML, which is also an Open Source tool and maybe the oldest one around. Has some issues as all OS tools, but apparently has a functioning community.

Finally there are some more or less general purpose drawing programs, that can be used for technical diagrams like EER or UML models as well (with some limitations) like OmniGraffle or Concept Draw and finally also OpenOffice Draw can be used for general purpose vector-oriented diagrams.

Would be happy about comments, experiences and further suggestions!