Book Review – Simple Rules, How to Thrive in a Complex World

I thought that it would be good to track my reading list here and also capture a few thoughts as I go through each one.

Tonight as I passed through the Airport in Melbourne a book called out to me. This is often how I will buy a book. Initially I fight to resist the call but if the ideas on the cover keep pulling me back then I will usually succumb.

Simple Rules, How to Thrive in a Complex World.
By Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt

The sight of this book was like someone reaching out and plucking forth the very ideas that I ponder every day. It was impossible to ignore. It’s introduction positions it as looking at the wonderfully unpredictable complex world that we live in, and then seeking simple guiding rules that can either model behaviours or guide decisions.

It differentiates its narrative from both popular science texts that provide technical insight but not practical usage, and self help guides and anecdotes that offer simple rules but lack scientific rigour.

The fun part for me is that one of the stories in this book relates to the flocking of starlings (birds) and how they can be modelled by 3 simple rules. This is the very same example that I use in my Essentials of Product Management training to try and distill the analysis of Product Management to just 2 simple questions.

I’ll update this post as I read further.

Beating the PC blues

Well I don’t know what caused to problem in the first place, but the ‘puter is back online. These days loading up WinXP on to a cleanly formatted hard drive is just the very beginning of the process and was the easy part. The next step is locking down the system from external nasties, before I connect to the net.

This is really important, since the out of the box WinXP installation is full of well exploited security exploits. The Internet Storm Center tracks the average time before an unpatched system is exploited by the white noise of port scanning and exploit hunting viruses. It is currently tracking at about 23 minutes.

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PC blues

For a while now I have been planning on giving the home desktop PC a re-bore. There is a lot of crud that has built up over time with tried and rejected software dregs, neglected games, layers of system build-up and so on.

Well last night it decided to lend me a hand in my decision making. After being prompted for the 5th time to upgrade the antivirus software that I had been using, I decided to load up a newer version that I was no longer using from a different PC.

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Web Standards – who woulda thought?

I have always wanted to be able to throw together a really cool looking web page or site. But to be honest the the more that I have learnt about coding html the more confused I have become. Part of the problem is that I am impatient and want the final result to be there immediately. Unless I want to settle for really crap looking pages (which I don’t) then I have to learn the detail.

One of the things that has bugged me for years has been looking at the source code of other designers with really nice looking sites, only to find an absolute mess of tags all through it. I remember trying to layout a webpage so that the content sat in the middle inside a box shape of some sort, and being thrilled about discovering that I could use a ‘table’ to control where stuff landed.

There was another part of me though that thought that was cheating a bit. I mean a table was for putting data in right? Of course I then discovered that even though my table created a page that looked ok in one browser when I looked at it in a different one I was appalled. It looked nothing like I had built it.

Well times have changed, and it is time that I caught up. The thing that was bugging me was that I wanted my words to stay in their own context (ie not in a table) while being able to apply formatting with fixed styles. I could do this in MS Word but nothing seemed to do what I wanted. This separation of content from display formatting is now built into the latest web standards. I have been reading a book about them by Jeffrey Zeldman. It is interesting what a small core community there is in standards land. Many of the google / blogger / a-list-apart folk all are linked to the promotion and development of these (not so new now) standards.

DECREE: I Will strive to make every webpage that I code compliant with web standards.

Surprisingly this is easier for me now even though the coding is much stricter because the standards enforce the separation that I was looking for. Content is content, Design is design. The two should be able to work together without having to be dependent on each other. This is what web standards brings to the game.

Drumming up a Storm

Yesterday there was crazy weather and major thunderstorms and over Australia. I tried dodging it on the way home without an umbrella, and was lucky to get only a little bit drenched. As loud and thunderous as the booms were over Sydney they were only a warm up for the sound barrage that I experienced later in the evening.

Probably around a year and a half ago I went to a Japanese drumming concert in the city. I was absolutely awed but the intensity of the barrage of sound and energy that was released into that concert hall. There were big drums and little drums all beating in unison with an athleticism that looked more like a martial arts display.

Last night I tried this experience for myself. The group that I saw performing was TaikOz, an Australian based Japanese Taiko Drumming outfit. I discovered not long after seeing their show that they offered classes for newbies like me. Last year I had been trying to find an appropriate window of opportunity to join one of their sessions. Just after Christmas I took the plunge and signed up. Yesterday was my first class.

Wow!! What an experience! It started off quite slowly with some gentle stretching that was infused with subtle Japanese culture. Then the drums (the Taiko) were arranged – Big ones, little ones, and huge ones. The class took up positions behind the drums and my nerves began to rise. The instructor handed out earplugs and at that point I realised this was going to be really, REALLY loud.

With no further prelude the drumming began. I was worried that I would feel quite uncoordinated and screw the beat up, but instead I fell into time easily and loved it. It was incredibly physical, starting with a wide half-squat stance that is held for the duration of the piece. The arm motion ranges from small beats near the drum to powerful beats where the arms are raised straight in the air before crashing down.

By the end or it my legs were shaking with the strain, I was drenched with sweat and my hands were beginning to blister and bruise. It was fantastic. Even with the earplugs the sound was massive, and was felt as much as heard. Now I just can’t wait till next Wednesday for class number two.