Announcing Head First Scheme

We're proud to announce that the next book in the successful Head First series will cover the incredibly exciting programming language known as Scheme, described by some folks at MIT as "... a statically scoped and properly tail-recursive dialect of the Lisp programming language". Wow! If that doesn't work up your passion for programming, you shouldn't be coding.

The four of us have spent the last 3 months secretly writing Head First Scheme, and while the tragically-underappreciated language may not have taken over the world yet, it should and it will. Sure, Java's cool and all, but seriously--can you really trust your mission-critical apps to a language named for a hot beverage?

Once again, Tim O'Reilly has proved his savvy (and bravery) in allowing us to do the book we wanted--market size be damned.

Preorders will start on Amazon beginning April 1! Order yours now, and await all the tail recursion, closures and Y-combinators you'd ever want. As we've subtitled this book, it is a "brain-based guide to programming nirvana." And we think it's the perfect language for just about anything: teaching, enterprise backends, mobile devices (we even have a tutorial on The Little Toaster--with a Scheme interpreter running on a variety of kitchen appliances), and of course any kind of Web Service.

Have fun!

Posted by Eric Freeman on April 1, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (44) | TrackBack

Book Review: Malcolm Gladwell's Blink

RATING: (3 out of 5 Brains)

Well, as a huge fan of Gladwell's last book, The Tipping Point, I was excited last week to finally get my hands on his new effort: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. This time around Gladwell's basic thesis is that often snap judgements (what he calls "thin slicing") can be more accurate than well researched, careful analysis. Gladwell uses many examples (most are interesting) to demonstrate this behavior such as determining when art is faked, sizing up car buyers, picking presidential candidates and determining the characteristics of a person by observing their living space. This has always been Gladwell's talent: taking just-under-the-radar topics and bringing them into the public's view through great journalism and storytelling.

Gladwell is also careful to examine the flipside of this phenomenon: the times when "thin slicing" misleads us or gives us the wrong results. For instance, he presents examples where the mind works based on biases that don't necessarily enter the realm of conscious thought, but are nevertheless there (age, race, height, and so on).

It's a great topic and Gladwell sets it up with some wonderful examples, but then the book begins to have problems. First, the book is a little too anecdotal. Anyone who has ever had a 200-level psych class knows that what looks like cause and effect may be accounted for by an independent variable that wasn't considered (e.g., concluding cancer rates are higher in some area of the country because of pollution, when in fact the area has higher smoking rates as well). Given this, I found that too often conclusions are made on basic handwaving, or that important aspects of studies are not mentioned. For instance, Gladwell describes a study were observers are asked to determine certain characteristics (such as truthfulness, consciensciousness, etc.) of students by observing their dorm rooms; but, never does he mention how exactly one would determine these characteristics of individuals in a scientific manner for comparison. Such omissions leave the reader a little less than convinced.

Nevertheless, even with this flaw the first third of the book supports the thesis and makes for the usual entertaining reading; but things derail from there. The examples start to seem more peripheral: a rogue commander beating the conventional forces in a war game exercise, an artist known as Kenna who apparently should have made it big but didn't (why this example is interesting I've yet to figure out), and some rehash about coke vs pepsi from one of his older articles.

By the end of the book the whole thing derails into examples that just don't seem appropriate for the topic. Sure a study of why Pepsi always does better than Coke in blind tastes tests is interesting (and you can read his article on this without buying the book on Gladwell's web site), but does a study of "sips" vs "whole-can drinking" — people prefer sweet for sips (Pepsi) — really say something about unconscious rapid cognition?

One of Gladwell's greatest strengths is in recognizing interesting things, and then bringing them into conscious awareness so we actually realize these things are happening (whether it be tipping points or rapid cognition). I think he's partly achieved that in this book, but it doesn't come together the way the Tipping Point does. One gets the idea that this topic may have been better handled in an article rather than a full blown book.

Posted by Eric Freeman on January 27, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Blink: rapid cognition

I've been looking forward to Malcom Gladwell's next book since putting down his first,The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, which was published in 2000. If you don't know Gladwell, he's a staff writer for the New Yorker (and in fact you can find a nice collection of his past articles here). The Tipping Point looked at how ideas, products and human behavior sometimes act like epidemics. It looks at how things can change so quickly and so unexpectedly, and how different personalities (such as "connectors" and "mavens") play a role in change.

On Tuesday his next book Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking will be released; the topic this time: rapid cognition - how we make the two second decisions, those instant conclusions that we all make everyday from whether we want to date someone to whether we want to consider buying a
particular house to whether or not a job candidate is going to work out. It's those emotional reactions, those gut feelings that come from the unconscious that Gladwell's interested in and that he describes as "thinking," but a different and more mysterious form of thinking. In classic Gladwell style the book builds its case using fascinating examples (from how emergency room medics make split second decisions to how the best used car salesmen work, etc.) but also describes a lot of the latest in psychological research. His aim? Have people take rapid cognition seriously in order to study it further, benefit from it and understand its downsides.

Posted by Eric Freeman on January 9, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack