Sunday Selection 2011-04-03

Happy April everyone! I hope you all had a fun April Fools and that you took any jokes at your expense in good spirit. Laughter is the best medicine and all that. Without further ado, here’s this weeks Selection.

Around the Internet

Why I Chose Typekit Businesses, business models and the psychology and ethics behind it all continue to interest me. This is one designer’s description of why he chooses Typekit over the other web-based type delivery services. There aren’t any long charts or big numbers, it’s more personal and honest.

The Holy Trinity In the process of making plans for actually going to graduate school, I’ve been spending some thinking about what I want to research and what motivations and goals are. Apart from the technical things I’m interested in, I’m starting to believe that what we need more than ever is a “philosophy of computation” — ideas and concepts that define computation and our relationship to it at a higher level. Robert Harper’s recent blog post is a milestone on that journey.

This Hack was Not Planned Another gem from the man, the legend, the hacker _why the luck stiff. Not matter how much we talk about agile processes and software development methodologies, sometimes we just need to sit down and churn out a neat hack. This one is for the knife-edge hacker in all of us.

From the Bookshelf

Rework When I read and reviewed this book almost exactly a year I was perhaps less than charitable. I stick by my point that it is largely the best material pulled from their blog, but after a year I’m seeing it from the eyes of someone who hasn’t recently been drinking the 37signals kool-aid non-stop. There are powerful and useful ideas distilled into a very potent form. If you’re looking to start a business (or even just a new project) but are unsure how set yourself apart from the Jones’ this book should give you some really good ideas.

Software My reading has gone up a lot in the last few months and I’ve been making a conscious effort to track everything I read. Since most of my reading is online, I’ve been using an excellent bookmarking service called Pinboard. It’s not free and it’s not overflowing with social features, but it stores and organizes your bookmarks and does it well. If you’re someone who reads a lot online and you want to keep track of what you’re reading, the $9.29 signup fee is a small fee to pay. (The price goes up based on the number of people who sign up, so hurry. It was a bit over $6 when I joined.)

Book Review: Rework

37sginals is a really interesting company that makes some neat software and they have equally interesting and unusual ideas about how to run a business. They also give away useful tidbits of how to run a business the way they do on their blog Signal vs Noise. The two people heading up the company: Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson compressed some of the knowledge from their blog into a book called Getting Real which you can buy from their website but also read for free online. Over the course of a month or so, that’s exactly what I did. I read Getting Real, mostly on my iPod Touch in the few minutes in between classes and similar slivers of time. My reaction to the book was pretty subdued. The ideas in it were interesting, but it wasn’t something I would pay for. When they announced that they were releasing a new book along the same lines, I was interested but wasn’t as exited as a lot of people around the web seemed to be. I bought it a few days ago and this time just sat down and read it in one afternoon in two sittings. Here’s what I learned in the process.

The Book Itself

First off, the book was really hyped in the time before and just after it’s release. It got glowing reviews from a number of important people including Seth Godin. I didn’t really buy into the hype and decided to let things calm down a little until I bought and read it.

Being someone who regularly reads their blog and has read Getting Real I didn’t expect to get anything earth shattering. And that was exactly what happened. I could easily recognized large sections of the book that I had read before (mostly on their blog) and I feel that if I cared to look hard enough, I’d find that a lot of the book is actually on their blog in one form or another. If you’re someone who has never heard of 37signals, or don’t know about the way they do business then you’ll learn a lot from it (and may not like everything you read). But if you already know about them and read their blog your reaction will be more along the lines of “meh”.

I also found the general organization and style of the book rather disappointing. It’s set up as groups of “essays” under certain headings. The groupings are fairly accurate, but the essays seem disconnected and aloof from each other. There is no gentle introduction and no conclusion to tie things together. You feel like you’re constantly being hit with 1-2 page snippets of what you should or should not do without a larger structure to place it into. I agree with the Management Today review in that the style of writing lacks grace and charm and often seems unnecessarily confrontational. In contrast to Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, another book that changes the way you live your daily life, this book seems pretty shoddy.

I can’t help but feel that Jason and David were just out to take the best parts of their blog and put them into print rather than sit down and write a proper book. Having 200-500 word articles on a blog is fine, but when I read a book I expect some form of continuity and cohesion. In the end, my reaction to this book is probably that it’s not worth the money for the content. The ideas are powerful and I admire 37signals for doing the business the way they do, but Rework is not one of their better.

The Artwork, Look and Feel

In contrast to how unpolished the writing feels, the physical appearance and feel of the book is very different. It’s hardcover and the jacket feels and looks great with a great choice of black, red and greys for the text. The cover features a picture of a crumpled piece of picture in some kind of glossy paper. It’s obvious that someone took care to think this through.

The illustrations and section titles were done by Mike Rohde and I personally really like them. They’re not very artsy or intricate, but they have a sort of casual beauty to them. They’re simple, but well thought out, each one fitting in well with the essay it accompanies. I would actually be willing to spend money just for the artwork (maybe not a lot, but some reasonable amount). You can learn about the process and see all the pieces together as a Flickr set.

In conclusion

Rework is not a great book or 37signal’s best product by any stretch of the imagination. If it weren’t for the good design and artwork I would tell you to just of read their blog and their last book instead. But this book only if you either really like 37signals or have never heard of them and want to know what all the fuss is about. They make great software and they do good business, but the next time they want to write a book, they should really sit down and write a book instead of seeing how much of their blog they can recycle.