What I’m Reading Right Now

I hoard information. I find all kinds of things interesting, and I aspire to do more with all those things than I actually manage to do. So today I thought I’d chalk up the things I’m reading, or unrealistically think I’ll be reading soon.

Browser Tabs

I have 30 browser tabs open at this moment. Many of these tabs have been open for weeks. Some of them I have read and have planned to blog about. Some of them are references I have consulted, and some of them are just open because I have planned to read them, or simply because I want to be reminded of the topic contained in those tabs. Here goes:

1. Google Plus, Bret Pettichord’s profile

This is currently my only pinned tab. I generally always have Google+ open in a pinned tab. I don’t use gmail’s web client anymore, and so G+ is where my google talk chats now happen.

Why Bret? I got to meet Bret via google hangout just a few days ago. It was my first Google hangout evar. In the background behind Bret, I could see huge legos, which he explained his company uses to create partition walls for work spaces. Envy? Well, yeah.

2. iGoDigital

This is an Indianapolis company. I’m interested in working in the Indianapolis area, and I hear this is an awesome company. They are looking for a backend ruby developer. Hmmm.

3. Mobi Wireless

Another awesome Indianapolis company. I mean, I’ve heard. I haven’t met them yet.

4. Indy Hackers

The creator of Indy Hackers is Miles Sterrett, who is the guy who recommended I take a look at the companies in tabs 2 & 3. Miles is cool. He’s a ruby developer, and an organizer of the ruby users group here in Indianapolis.

5. On The Cruelty of Really Teaching Computing Science

This may be my oldest currently open tab. I was fascinated by this essay/talk by Dr. Edsger Dijkstra, written way back in 1988, the year I graduated from highschool.

Dijkstra basically says that computing science is extremely weird, and it is ineffective (and therefore “cruel”) to attempt to teach new students this new field by building off of metaphors from other disciplines. Computing science is so conceptually out in left field, that most metaphors end up confusing the student one way or another.

This has been my experience. So I agree 100%. As an alternative to teaching what computing science is “like”, Dijkstra proposes the student must be given an environment in which to just begin messing about with computing science. Setup a relatively simple set of constraints, and let them play with it.

I am intrigued with this essay because my initial reaction was guardedly negative. The reason for this is that I am a big believer in the power of metaphors. I still am. Metaphors, I feel we could argue, literally are the way that we learn things.

But at the same time, I seen over and over again that metaphors cannot always take us to comprehensive understanding. So while I believe in the strength and importance of metaphor, I also believe that genuine learning is always experiential.

I was also fascinated by this essay because I am an agile software development coach who has seen many, many examples of people who do not understand what agile is about, or who think they understand it, even as they squeeze a few agilish metaphors into their predeliction to a mindset which is profoundly un-agile.

Is it possible that agile is like computing science in this way? Perhaps the use of metaphors ultimately confounds the new student to agile, and that actually messing around with agile is the only way to really come to understand it.

The previous seven paragraphs barely scratch the surface of what I’d like to explore vis a vis this essay. No wonder this tab stayed open so long.

6. A Ruby Gem Called “Alter”

I met David Baldwin at the ruby meetup back in July. And because I was struggling with getting smart quotes (curly quotes) to work with this blog, I was intrigued when this gem was mentioned. This was over a month ago. Smart quotes still do not work on this blog.

7. A Brief Rant On The Future of Interaction Design

I love this rant. I first encountered it via somebody’s Google+ post or tweet or some such thing, and really like what Bret Victor has to say about hands and interaction design. He made me despise my iPad just a little tiny bit, and made me restless for something more. Way to go, Bret!

I recently (read several weeks ago) looked up this rant again because I wanted to send it to Marty Thompson of DK New Media. Several weeks ago, I dropped into their office to introduce myself to Doug Karr, and that’s when I met Marty.

Marty is very tech saavy, but he’s also got that quirky neo-luddite streak that seems to charactarize so many of the best geeks. He’s an avid re-enactor, and a craftsman as well. He likes physical tools. And so naturally this made me think of Bret’s rant. Eventually I’ll get around to forwarding this over to Marty.

8. Code School

Ok, I will admit that I’m a little sheepish about using zombie lore to test and sharpen my ruby, rails and rspec know-how. But on the other hand, it’s nice to know that in a zombie apocolypse, I’ll have the finely honed coding skills I’ll need to survive.

9. What Is The <leader> In A .vimrc File?

I am a fan and a user of vim. I’m writing this blog post in vim right now. I spent six very unfocused months re-deploying my blog on Nesta just so that I could use Vim and git to edit and manage my blog.

But there are always a few odd things that I’ve never quite learned to do in Vim, and believe it or not, using the <leader> is one of those things. I’ll get this squared away soon, and then I can kill this tab.

10. Top Ruby Jobs

I think I found my way onto this site via Code School. Currently I’m contemplating a job in Souix Falls, South Dakota. I am not interested in relocating to Souix Falls, however. So honestly, I don’t really know why this tab is still open. Probably because I want to keep the site itself on the stove for (near) future reference.

11. Ruby On Rails API Reference

Apparently I’m right in the middle of reading about ActionView’s JavaScriptHelper. Or I was several weeks ago. Oh well. The rails API is not a bad thing to have perma-tabbed. Maybe I’ll pin this one.

12. Carlhuda’s Janus (on github)

Ok, we’re back to Vim again. Yay!

As I said earlier, I love Vim, and want to become a better, more powerful user of Vim. But I have to be honest about this: I am no Vim Maven (say that 10 times fast). So quite a while back, I decided to just adopt AkitaOnRails’ Vim dotfiles as my own. But there is so much I do not understand about that config set, and I am always on the lookout for a better, more comprehensible way. And since I figure that CarlHuda is a very smart…entity, I thought I’d give Janus a spin.

I still haven’t done that yet, but I mean to do so soon.

13. Take On Vim With Janus

See tab 12. Looks like I’m getting edumacated on Janus.

14. FlowChainSensei: What Is A Mindset?

Ok, wow, Bob Marshall really un-corked something for me here. I disagree! I strongly disagree! Or possibly not! After more than three weeks, I don’t clearly remember what I thought about this blog post, but I do know that Bob set in motion my reading oddyssy which spans the next couple of tabs.

Basically, I think Bob is talking about \<vague_idea\>mindsets, paradigms, cultures, mental frameworks, and the way that systems of ideas evolve.\</vague_idea recommendation="read it for yourself"\>

I object to the idea put forth by others (not necessarily Mr. Marshall) in this school of thought which holds that ideas evolve to adapt to current conditions, and thus the notion that value judgements can be made about systems of ideas is false.

I disagree. I think we can and must make value judgements about systems of ideas (I’m doing it right now!). And to say that any system of thought which arises is perfectly valid in context is to embrace the moral calamity of Hitler’s Nazism, Eugenics and the Great Crusades alike.

I am pretty sure I’m making a soapbox out of what Bob really just meant as a commentary on the Agile/Lean software movement. But that’s what I do.

15. Karl Popper

Believe it or not, my reading rainbow led me from Bob Marshall’s “Mindset” all the way to a Wikipedia-fueled crash course on Karl Popper. I don’t quite remember how it happened.

I may have to officially declare this a rabbit trail, but gosh darnit, it’s an interesting one. I am a fan and practitioner of Test Driven Development, and I think Karl Popper should be interesting to any TDD’er.

Popper did a ton of really smart stuff, but he is probably most well-known for his philosophical work around the idea of falsifiability. Basically he proposes that we have knowledge not by virtue of the things we can prove to be true, but rather by the things we can prove false. Or, to put it another way, it is impossible to ultimately prove anything is true. But we can get a lot done by proving what is false.

This resonated with me as a Test Driver of software because I recognized the same delemma when writing and testing software. When we conceive, write and execute tests, we are proving not so much what the software will do, but what it won’t do.

I think this is because in TDD, we begin by writing a failing test. Thus our software begins by failing, and by correcting the failure, we’re allowing the test to prove one thing which our software won’t do.

This makes me think of Douglas Adams and gravity. Which is yet another rabbit trail.

16. The Problem of Induction

This was a follow-on from Popper, whose work resulted in a denial of inductive reasoning. Wow, I did not see that one coming.

17. Book: Working With Organizational Culture

I don’t remember how I got to this tab. It could have been from Bob Marshall, or it could have been from Dijkstra. At any rate, it sounds like something I’d be into.

18. Blue Bird

Another Indianapolis company. They do agile coaching, so I’m interested.

19. Mashape

Oh my, oh my, oh my. Toys. This “github for API’s” is so cool, and I can’t wait to play!

20. Zapier

This also looks cool. I think it’s kind of a Tarpipe/Yahoo Pipes for enterprise or something. It looks so cool I can’t stand it. Again, the urge to hack…

21. Global Effect Test Page

I’m helping out a cousin of mine who lives in Tanzania. This is just a test page I setup.

22. Audio Books at Audible

I am hooked on phonemes, but unfortunately this promotion has ended.

23. Watirmark

Watirmark is a cool Cucumber MVC test framework that Bret Pettichord turned me onto.

24. Blackbaud

This is Bret Pettichord’s company. They have giant legos.

25. eTapestry

Web-based fundraising software from Blackbaud.

26. Google Maps

This is another one of those perennial tabs. Currently I’m mapping the distance from my house to the Indianapolis offices of Blackbaud. Hmmm, 37 miles, very manageable. I drove further than that today.

27. Bluehost’s login page

My Tanzanian cousin used to host his site on Bluehost. Soon he will host with me, as soon as we can figure out how to get his domain transfered away from Bluehost.

28. The Great Discontent: Seth Godin

I read this one! The whole thing, and recently too! If you don’t mind, I am awarding myself a smily-face sticker.

Interesting fellow, Seth Godin. So this was an interesting interview. Last thing I heard from Seth was his TED talk on leadership by forming tribes.

I also like the idea of The Great Discontent; a series of interviews of various artists, designers, writers, etc. I want to read more of their interviews, which is why this tab is still open.

29. Mastering The Art of French Cooking

Somehow I got turned onto a Vanity Fair article about Julia Childs. I am not a particularly good cook, and I don’t really have the bug to become one. But I think I am fascinated by Julia because she was openly a learner. She started out as not an expert, and then she became an expert at something. And if you read her story, you can watch it happen, which I find engrossing.

30. Outside Counsel: Mentors

I clicked an ad from LinkedIn. Gahhh! Feels like failure! But I am interested in what they’re doing with professional mentors, so I applied. At the end of the month I will have an interview with them, and if I pass their mentor muster, I may be mentoring with them.

And Next, The Kindle

I had intended to proceed from the blog tabs on to my current stack of eBooks in progress, but my, how the time flies! I will save my reading list for a future post. Now I must go close some of those tabs. Chrome is hogging all my memory!

Published by Joel Helbling on