Thursday, June 30, 2011

India A History : From the Earliest Civilisation to the Boom of the Twenty-first Century

Author:       John Keay
Published:   2010
Publisher:    Harper Collins
Paperback:  688 Pages
Documenting the history of our country India - the ancient, diverse, multi-cultural, complex, motherland of ours - even in a voluminous book of  almost 700 pages is next to impossible. The author has admirably overcome this challenge and done precisely that. He presents to us a very  impartial and unbiased history of India right from Harappan civilization till the present day IT boom.
It is almost like reading a fascinating story or watching a well-made documentary. However the narration of post-independence history is somewhat dry as compared to the pre-independence history. But it is quite informative especially about the post-partition internal politics of Pakistan and Bangladesh which I was not much aware of.
The text is well supported by over 60 photographs of historical monuments and events and about100 tables, charts and maps to enable better understanding and appreciation.
I feel with some editing to simplify the text , this book can be used as a textbook in high schools too. 
I would recommend this highly readable book for everyone who during their school days  branded Indian history as a dull subject . 
The author through this book clearly demonstrates that  it need not be so.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Twenty-six Ways of Looking At a Blackberry

Author:        John Simmons
Published:    2009
Publisher:    A&C Black Publishers Ltd.
Paperback: 240 Pages

If you think this book is about Blackberry (TM) the smartphone or the blackberry the fruit, read no further. It is about neither.
But hold on ! If you are interested in creative writing then this book (and hopefully my summary of it in this blog post !) is definitely worth a read. It is certainly one of the stand-apart  books  which I have come across.

The author John Simmons is of the view that even a dull, matter of fact business writing can be transformed into a more expressive and adventurous form of writing. The transformed piece may not convey precisely all the information and the same meaning. But it may establish better emotional connectivity with the reader and achieve the same goal as that of the original piece.

To demonstrate this the author first creates a base text -  the opening pages of an annual report of a fictitious technology company. The base text uses the standard business jargon-  sales, profits, future plans etc.
He rewrites this piece in 26 different styles that include Pronoun Shift, Fairy Tale, Questions, Style of Dickens, Six-word Stories, Alliteration, Song Lyrics, Eight-word Sentences, Greek Myth, Graphic Novel, Shakespearean Sonnet, Newspaper Article, Letter to a Friend, Blues, Detective Fiction, Democratic Campaign Speech, Lists, Haiku etc.
The nuances of creative writing are brought out in a very lucid manner using  these rewritten pieces and many  other examples drawn from author's career as a brand management consultant. 

A must read book for all business communicators like brand managers, marketers, advertisers, copywriters, PR people and also for anyone interested in creative writing !

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

25 Big Ideas - the Science that's Changing our World

Author:         Robert Matthews
Published:   2007
Publisher:    Oneworld Publications
Paperback: 200 Pages

The 25 Big Ideas described in this book are based on the discoveries which make a point that the universe in which we live in is magical, bizarre, strange and defies common sense. These ideas have challenged many eminent scientists and mathematicians. These ideas prove that in reality science is not as objective as it is made out to be but it has its own uncertainties and subjectivity since it is a human endeavor. There is still a long way to go before we understand completely our universe.

The book consists of 25 chapters (one for each idea) categorized under the following heads as follows:
  • Ourselves - and Others: Consciousness, Small World Theory, Game Theory
  • Doing the Impossible: Artificial Intelligence, Information Theory, GM Crops
  • Life: Out of Africa, Nature versus Nurture, The Selfish Gene
  • The Earth: Catastrophism, Plate Tectonics
  • Mathematics that Counts: Bayes's Theorem, Chaos, Cellular Automata, Extreme Value Theory
  • In Sickness and in Health: Evidence-based Medicine, Epidemiology
  • The Physics of Reality: Special Relativity, Quantum Entanglement, The Standard Model, The Theory of Everything
  • The Universe- and Our Place In It: The Big Bang, Dark Energy, Parallel Universe, The Anthropic Principle

Each chapter is brief (6-8 pages) and self-contained. It begins with a very succinct summary which introduces the idea in a nutshell and explains it relevance in our day to day life. This serves as an appetizer for the the reader to proceed with the chapter. The chapter then takes us through the story of how the idea evolved, its current state of understanding. It also explains the associated technical terms  and provides suggestions for further reading.

A very well-written book which attempts to explain the abstruse ideas in a very interesting manner . But it requires the reader to have at least a high-school level knowledge of science and mathematics to fully appreciate and enjoy it.

Useful Links:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Agile Project Management with Scrum

Author:          Ken Schwaber
Published:    2004
Publisher:     Microsoft Press
Paperback: 192 pages
Buy from Flipkart

Scrum is a widely used agile project management framework created by the author of this book Ken Schwaber in collaboration with Jeff Sutherland.  It is  used to manage complex development projects where the  requirements are frequently changing and there is a dire need to deliver good quality product within a short period of time. Scrum framework is simple  but appearances can be deceptive !  Implementing Scrum in an organization is not a trivial exercise. The  mindset of managing and executing projects in a traditional manner poses major challenges in effective implementation of Scrum.
This book contains over 20 real-world case studies drawn from author's  wide experience in implementing Scrum in the organizations he consulted. The problems described in these case studies are the ones which are typically encountered by the organizations who are in initial stages of Scrum adoption.
Hence I highly recommend this book for such the organizations since it can provide very useful insights and guidance to avoid the common pitfalls in their Scrum journey.

Key Insights and Lessons  from the Case Studies:

  • Scrum Master has to balance the needs of both marketing and development departments.
  • Product Owner by prioritizing the Product Backlog based on requirements with the  highest business value will be in a position to call for releases of functionality when the business benefit more than offsets the costs of implementation.
  • A  team can successfully self re-organize itself  to deliver value if clearly told that it is responsible for managing itself and has full authority to do whatever it takes to meet the Sprint goal within the guidelines, standards, and conventions of the organization.
  •  People tend to interpret Scrum within the context of their current project management methodologies without fully understanding - the underlying principles of self-organization, emergence, and visibility and the inspection/adaptation cycle; the paradigm shift from control to empowerment, from contracts to collaboration, and from documentation to code;  the subtle but critical shift from controlling to facilitating, from bossing to coaching.
  • Hence It is important to have a well-qualified ScrumMaster to coach the team.
  • While the ScrumMaster’s job is to protect the team from impediments during the Sprint, it is necessary  for him to operate within the culture of the organization. The ScrumMaster has to walk a fine line between the organization’s need to make changes as quickly as possible and its limited tolerance for change. When some changes are culturally impossible the ScrumMaster must accept the situation and focus on the things that can be changed rather than getting frustrated about things that cannot be changed.  
  • Out-of-the-box Scrum doesn’t have practices that address the complexities of every project. Therefore  ScrumMasters should have an in-depth understanding of  the Scrum theory in order to  develop new /modified practices appropriate for the prevailing situation and also consistent with the theory. 
  • ScrumMaster has to teach the Team to talk in terms of business needs and objectives, a language which a Product Owner can understand.
  • While Scrum provides many opportunities to inspect a project and make the necessary adaptations to optimize the benefits, those responsible for making the adaptation must have adequate information on cost/benefit and assumptions data to make the best decisions.
  • Scrum works only if everything is kept visible for frequent inspection and adaptation through Sprint review meeting, the Daily Scrum, the Sprint Backlog, and the Product Backlog. 
  • Find a way to make Scrum understandable to everyone in his or her vocabulary. Some people want to understand Scrum and will track a projects’ progress in Scrum terms. Other people want to understand the project only in the traditional context. Adapting Scrum to their vocabulary eases the change from traditional processes to the Scrum process.
  • The increase in productivity continues until a Team reaches seven people, give or take two. At that point, the shared work, vision, and concepts start to require additional support, such as documentation. Regardless of the scaling mechanism, above a modest number like seven, the productivity of a Team starts to decline, the miscommunications increase, the mistakes proliferate, and frustration grows. 
  • Scrum relies on self-organization as well as simple, guiding rules. Depending on the situation either can be used as scaling up mechanism. When the complexity is so great that self-organization doesn’t occur quickly enough, simple rules help the organization reach a timely resolution. If self-organization occurs in a timely manner, it is preferable  to rely on it rather than forming rules. Sometimes the ScrumMaster can aid self-organization by devising a few simple rules, but it is easier for the ScrumMaster to overdo it than not do enough.