Fathers. Brothers, and Sons

Frank Bello’s autobiography

As I said in a previous post, I have been trying to read more this year. Less ‘doom-scrolling’ through infinite social media feeds, more feeding my mind with other people’s insights and experiences.

I recently finished reading Frank Bello’s autobiography Fathers, Brothers, and Sons: Surving anguish, abandonment, and Anthrax, co-written by Joel McIver and with a foreword by Gene Simmons of Kiss.

Continue reading Fathers. Brothers, and Sons

Seven of my favourite books on Agile

I first encountered Agile at the Scotland on Rails conference in Edinburgh in early 2008. While much of the conference (about Ruby on Rails, a server-side web application framework written in Ruby) went sailing over my head, the keynote speaker Jim Weirich spoke passionately and accessibly about Agile development. What he said about self-organising teams, and methods of working quickly and iteratively, but with discipline and ensuring quality, struck a chord. I was intrigued to find out more. I bought a book (The Art of Agile Development, below), which I quickly read from cover-to-cover, and took my own first steps down the Agile path.

Of course, Agile is not just a single thing. It’s a collection of various methodologies, frameworks and practices that encompasses DSDM, Scrum, XP (extreme programming), Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), kanban, lean and a whole host of other goodies. But often what is said about one particular flavour of Agile can apply to another.

Here are seven of my favourite books and resources about Agile.

Continue reading Seven of my favourite books on Agile

Everything is a Remix

Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson, a New York-based filmmaker.
Everything is a Remix by Kirby Ferguson, a New York-based filmmaker.

Everything is a Remix is a series of four short documentaries by New York-based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson about how so many new things (music, technology, ideas) are actually inspired and influenced by what has happened before it.

I’ve had this on my “Must blog about this…” list for the last few years. I kept meaning to blog about it after part four was released and… well, I forgot. Sorry.

The Song Remains the Same

Part 1: The Song Remains the Same (7′ 17″) examines Led Zeppelin. Did they just rip off other people’s material, admittedly within legal bounds, and remix it to their own ends and success or was there more going on there? It’s a nice introduction, with plenty of examples, to the series.

Remix Inc.

Part 2: Remix Inc. (9′ 47″) looks at movies. In the last ten years of the 100 most popular films 74 are either sequels, remakes of earlier films or adaptations of comic books, novels, video games, etc. “Transforming the old into the new is Holywood’s greatest talent,” Ferguson notes. Standard elements are appropriated, transformed and subverted to create something new. And yes, Star Wars is in there. A lot.

“Creation requires influence. Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others”
—Kirby Ferguson

After the credits roll Ferguson goes on to briefly look at Quentin Tarantino, and in particular Kill Bill.

The Elements of Creativity

Part 3: The Elements of Creativity (11′ 16″) opens with the words, “the act of creation is surrounded with a fog of myths […] but creativity isn’t magic.” Ferguson talks about copying and emulation. The greats, whether in music, literature or comedy, started by copying others and then slowly tinkering with them to create something new. The most creative leaps are when different ideas are combined.

“The basic elements of creativity are:
copy, transform, and combine
.”
—Kirby Ferguson

To explore this Ferguson looks at computers, begins with the kings of copying: Xerox and its role in bringing the Apple Macintosh to the mass market as a home appliance.

Following the credits Ferguson asks the question: if some of these great inventions, such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee creating the World Wide Web, hadn’t happened then would the world be a vastly different place today? He argues not. Often when something amazing is created there are often others working on something very similar at the same time.

System Failure

Part 4: System Failure (15′ 26″) is the final part of the series. It begins with Luca (the Last Universal Common Ancestor) which is a core element in understanding evolution’s work of copying, transforming and combining. Culture does something similar, not through genes but memes (ideas, behaviours, skills).

Ferguson looks at the legal aspect of ideas. The law seems to think that ideas can be protected, that the boundaries around them are tidy. But in reality they are tangled and interdependent. For most of our history ideas were free. They could be copied and built upon but the market economy changed that. Our ideas could be bought and sold.

When we copy we justify;
when others copy we vilify.”
—Kirby Ferguson

Having briefly looked at issues surrounding intellectual property and copyright laws he goes on to explore the fuzziness of software patents and litigation that has led to conflict rather than creativity and progress.

Ferguson ends with the challenge that to address the problems of today we (not corporations or governments) need to come up with the best ideas, we need them now and we need to spread them. Maybe this focus on over-protecting our ideas isn’t the best way forward, and given the evidence perhaps it’s not even accurate to say that anyone’s idea is unique and original: after all everything is a remix.

It’s an interesting idea. It certainly holds a lot of weight in my experience. Something to explore further I think, in many areas of life perhaps: web development, writing, politics, music…

Bizarre suggestions from Amazon UK

20110413-amazon

Amazon UK has just sent me an email wondering if I might be interested in the following bizarre collection of books:

  • Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich
  • Bombproof Your Horse: Teach Your Horse to be Confident, Obedient and Safe No Matter What You Encounter
  • A General History of the Pyrates
  • Bicarbonate of Soda: Hundred (sic) of Everyday Uses: Cleaning, Laundry, Personal Care, Food

Wonderfully bizarre!

I’m now five-shelves of books lighter

Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor
Piles of books and rubbish on my study floor mid-clear-out

Okay, so whose bright idea was it to try to simplify life a little and get rid of books that I haven’t even opened in years?!

In the end, this afternoon I cleared out five shelves-worth of books which will be donated to charity shops in St Andrews tomorrow afternoon.

I had to be ruthless. I find it really hard to throw away books because there is usually something of me in them (for many books I remember where I was when I carefully selected that particular book, what I was hoping to get out of them) and for many there is something of them in me, a part of who I am today is because of something that I read in those volumes.

And then there are the books that I bought or acquired (freebie hand-me downs from retired clergy) that interested me at the time or reminded me of something that found really interesting at university and was keen to follow up … but never did!

Strangely, between the initial weeding out of my bookcase and my packing them into boxes to take to charity a few of them crept back onto my shelves.  Saved for another purge in a couple of years time.

It feels good, though. No regrets.

Future rounds of my patented game “Win it or bin it” will feature: PCs and accessories, games (board and computer), videos, DVDs, guitar sheet music, and folders of who-knows-what that have sat on my shelves for the last 10 years.