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classic titles

Sparklines: Beautiful Evidence or Muddled Graphics?

Do you understand this graphic? It is an example of a sparkline, by Edward Tufte. Tufte was, if not the originator of sparklines, one of its earliest advocates. He wrote about them in his book Beautiful Evidence (2006); he defines sparklines as “small, intense, wordlike graphics, embedded in the context of words and numbers”. Tufte’s ideas were very influential and were taken up by Microsoft in their 2010 release of Excel. But I don't agree with him about sparklines. 

The seven classic books about computing

Library Image by Dmitrij Paskevic (CC0)

 

The books I’m thinking about might not be quite as old as the ones in the photo, but at least some of them will have I hope the patina of age. One of the slightly poignant aspects of working in computing is that the skills of many gifted individuals working in IT is lost within a few years – even if they commit their thoughts to a book. Unlike a novel or a work of art, the solutions and tools created by (say) Kernighan and Ritchie in The C Programming Language will one day be completely forgotten, as new languages and new processes replace them. That seems a shame.

The secrets of consulting - still a classic?

Secrets of Consulting -  cover

At around one joke or witty rule per page, this is a wonderfully entertaining read.  Any book that gathers 1994 ratings on Goodreads is worth looking at. In fact, The Secrets of Consulting gets a higher rating on Goodreads than Moby-Dick or Wuthering Heights (This may tell you something about the folk who rate things on Goodreads). So it this 1985 classic title still a good read? 

Don’t make me think! Revisited

This is the latest in a series looking at classic technology titles. For another example click here

 

Don't Make me Think, original cover

 

Don’t Make me Think! That title! There are few examples in publishing of a book title catching your attention and at the same time summarising what the book is all about. If books can be reduced to one big idea, then this is the perfect example. Essentially, if you want to build a website, don’t make me think when I use it. Now, fifteen years and a third edition after the book was first published (in 2000), is it still as relevant? Well, Steve Krug helpfully points out the original book’s limitations himself, in the introductory section to the latest edition. Most importantly the book was written before mobile became common. Nonetheless, the basic principle, that a user’s interaction with a website should be based on simplicity, is admirable and of course holds true for hand-held devices as for desktops and laptop PCs.

This is a book that displays its principles admirably. Krug is a great believer in using graphics, cartoons, and diagrams to explain his point. The book is very short (I read it in under three hours, and the original edition must have been even shorter).  

Classic computing titles: The Inmates are running the Asylum

Whatever they teach you on a computing degree, it doesn’t seem to be sufficient to create an effective web site. One of the paradoxes of the modern world is that we are surrounded by IT, and yet those who have studied IT formally seem often incapable of creating software that genuinely meets our needs – a glance at a few developer-led websites is often sufficient to demonstrate that. Alan Cooper’s book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum, although published some fifteen years ago, provides an idea why that might be. The author himself has a highly respectable track record as a developer – he was responsible for Visual Basic, so he can claim some understanding of the programming process, and of the programming mentality. So if he says that programming alone is not sufficient, then you are right to take notice. Everyone with an involvement in IT, whether as a user, or as an information professional as a sponsor and influencer could benefit from his assessment of how programmers think.