Books: The Culture Code

The Culture Code : An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do Over the weekend I found an excellent book by an author named Clotaire Rapaille called The Culture Code : An Ingenious Way to Understand Why People Around the World Live and Buy as They Do.

Rapaille, a cultural anthropologist, has consulted with large companies for years. His talent is finding the cultural “imprints” that exist for concepts or products and helping people and companies alike to use these imprints to their advantage.

The concept of an imprint starts with the assumption that learning does not happen without connected emotion to the experience being learned. The greater the emotion, the more learning takes place. The combination of the experience and the emotion create an imprint, a strong connection between the concept or experience learned, and the emotion experienced at the time. In NLP parlance, an imprint is a very strong anchor.

A “Culture Code” is characterized as “the unconcious meaning we apply to any given thing – a car, a type of food, a relationship, even a country – via the culture in which we are raised”. This unconcious meaning is, within the book, distilled to a one to three word phrase to characterize the belief system or meaning attached at cultural level.

Rapaille covers a number of concepts within this book, including things like food, money, love, work and compares the unconcious meanings of these concepts at a cultural level between different cultures like the US, France and Germany. The differences in meaning attached to these concepts is incredibly interesting when you are looking at it from the perspective of comparing cultures, but for me, the most interesting pieces were being able to relate to the meaning that I personally have for things and seeing the accuracy in which Rapaille expresses them in the book.

For example, Rapaille asserts that the American culture code for work is “WHO I AM”. The American culture, overall, associates their identity with what they do for a living. The American culture code for money, is “PROOF”. In this section Rapaille makes the point that work and money are closely related culture codes, as the meaning we attach to the money we earn acts as proof that we are good at what we do. Our commitment to work is to ensure that we “are someone” and not a “nobody”. It is our feeble attempt to create our identity.

These are just two of the codes explained in this book. Overall, I found the explanation of the concepts extremely valueable (and relevant) on a personal level and got a lot of value out of the analysis. For me, it was almost therapeutic, in that it explained a lot of the behaviors that I have had that I haven’t really been sure where they came from. With the very clearly written and thoughtful analysis and explanations of these codes, I wound up receiving quite a bit of self enlightenment out of the experience of reading this book and found it to be totally worth the price of the book.

Whether you agree with the content of the book or not, theres no denying that anyone could find some value in the information communicated in it. I give this one an enthusiastic thumbs up and highly recommend it as a few hours of high quality reading.

Book: The Real Frank Zappa Book

The Real Frank Zappa Book Over the last 6 months, I have been getting more and more addicted to the music of Frank Zappa. It would stand to chance then, that when I saw the book The Real Frank Zappa Book on a bookshelf in a local book store, I had to pick it up and leaf through it. As I leafed through it, it became pretty obvious that this is a book that I needed to sit down and read in depth.

The Real Frank Zappa Book is written by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso and is, essentially, Franks autobiography in his words. He talks about growing up, his introduction to music, his first band, and his struggles with getting his music played by orchestras. Here’s the way Frank describes the book in the introduction:

I don’t want to write a book, but I’m going to do it anyway, because Peter Occhiogrosso is going to help me. He is a writer. He likes books — he even reads them. I think it is good that books still exist, but they make me sleepy.

The way we’re going to do it is, Peter will come to California and spend a few weeks recording answers to ‘facinating questions‘, then the tapes will be transcribed. Peter will edit them, put them on floppy discs, send them back to me, I will edit them again and that result will be sent to Ann Patty at Poseidon Press and she will make it come out to be a ‘A BOOK.

The style of this snippet above is a pretty good picture of the writing style of the book. It is a humorous and informative and covers all spans of Franks life from his childhood growing up in Maryland and Florida, where he was a pretty sickly child, to his first exposure to music in high school, through his attempts later in life to get his music recorded by orchestras.

The book not only gives you background on Franks life, but really gives you access to the unique outlook Frank had on life and music. Frank talks about the early days of recording, his outlook on musicians (“Very few people choose to play the bass … electric bassists are often failed guitar players, demoted to this duty after a band meeting in a garage when they were thirteen.”), and why guitarists have to do the “big solo” (he calls it “squirting”, which is, in Franks words, “end[ing] your solo by going up the scale, then grab that last note and repeat it as fast as you can.”).

Other subjects covered in the book:

  1. The PMRC hearings in the 80’s, covered in the chapter “Porn Wars”
  2. Failure (“Success is rare – thats why people get so cranked up about it.”)
  3. Religion
  4. Marriage
  5. Parenthood
  6. Touring

One of the great pieces of the book is when Frank talks about progress. As a matter of fact, he says that he’s been quoted as saying that “Progress is not possible without deviation [from the norm]”. I liked this quote so much that I have it hanging on the door of my office. Its one of many little nuggets you get out of reading this book.

This intimate look at Frank Zappa gave me the motivation to really start listening to the work he produced during his life (and there is a lot of it) and I have to say, I’m loving it. Franks work was different. His compositional ability, coupled with his use of humor and drive to be unique make his albums an absolute pleasure to listen to. The music is different, entertaining, and timeless.

Over the last few months I’ve bought no less than ten of his albums – and each one gives a different look into the mind of a genius. Each album documents a stage in his musical evolution. This book gives the reader a glimpse of Frank from a different angle, in his own words. I would highly recommend that you give it a read. You may not be a fan of his music, but theres no denying what an interesting guy Frank Zappa was. I’m sure this book only covers the tip of the iceberg, but theres enough here to keep you entertained and fascinated.

Alright, I’m going to stop rambling now and start listening to Have I Offended Someone?, my latest purchase from the iTunes Music Store.


Frank Zappa On Failure

I mentioned earlier that I was reading The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso. I have found so much value in this book that I’m not even really sure how to review it. That will come later.

I did think it would be valueable to quote the opening of a chapter called ‘Failure’ (Chapter 18), in which Zappa describes many of the business plans that he had put together and tried to sell to venture capitalists and/or investors that never quite made it off the ground, one of which sounds a lot like iTunes.

I think the best thing about this quote is the philosophy expressed. Many of us are raised to fear failure, rather than viewing it as a way to figure out what doesn’t work. Some work environments reinforce the negative view of failure rather than the positive.

In any event, I like the way the concept is explained here.

Failure is one of those things that ‘serious people’ dread. Invariably, the persons most likely to be crippled by this fear are people who have convinced themselves that they are so bitchen they shouldn’t ever be placed in a situation where they might fail.

Failure is nothing to get upset about. It’s a fairly normal condition; an inevitability in ninety-nine percent of all human undertakings. Success is rare – that’s why people get so cranked up about it.

Its not only these simple statements that have an effect, but the whole book is pretty incredible. As someone who has struggled for quite a long time with learning a musical instrument, it was quite refreshing to hear Franks opinions and philosophy around music as well.

This book is way more than a musicians biography though. Its a pretty damn good philosphy book on the human condition as a whole.

I found so much value in the reading of this book. Not only that, as is typical when I read a biography, I have spent the week completely immersed in his music. Pretty amazing.

Stairway To Heaven – Randy Rhoads

Photo by rbieber

A picture of the Randy Rhoads section of the book "Stairway to Heaven: The Final Resting Places of Rocks Legends"

I found a book called Stairway to Heaven : The Final Resting Places of Rock’s Legends. This is such a cool book of photographs of the grave sites of many of rocks departed.

I had such a kick going through all of these pictures. Not sure why, but this kind of thing has always facinated me.

Subversion Version Control – Using the Subversion Version Control System in Development Projects


William Nagel has created a web site for his book Subversion Version Control – Using the Subversion Version Control System in Development Projects. The site will contain errata and other things related to the book and also has a free PDF version of the book, which was written and published under the Open Publication License.

Books: Gods Debris by Scott Adams

God's Debris : A Thought Experiment Over a two week Christmas break, one of the books I picked up was God’s Debris : A Thought Experiment by Scott Adams. I had heard about it on the Daily Source Code where Adam Curry mentioned it extremely briefly, basically just saying that it was an interesting book and really made you think. Given that description, and the fact that the book was something that looked like something I could read in a couple of hours (which I did) I picked it up. I’ve been meaning to post something up about it ever since, so here it is.

I was expecting “Dilbert-like” humour through the book, but this is not a Dilbert book. Instead it is a metaphorical journey down the path of one mans enlightenment while performing his job delivering packages. As he is working he happens upon an old sage that he is delivering a package to who begins a conversation with him that lasts for hours over things like religion, philosophy, probability and the existence of free will.

The book reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books, The Adventures of Anybody by Richard Bandler, mainly due to the structure and the pretty deep and thought provoking subject matter. Its a really well written book that is a breeze to read through and really gets you thinking well after you’ve closed the book.

I found the writing style to be extremely engaging, and Scott presents the concepts covered in a very easy to understand way, through the eyes of someone being taught the concepts. Adams is also cautionary in the introduction, pointing out that the ideas in the book are not his, except “by coincedence in a few spots not worth mentioning”. He also points out that the book should not be read by those under 14, and those over 55 may not enjoy it because it introduces some new ideas. Some of these ideas are pretty bizarre, but extremely interesting to think about. Finally, it should be pointed out that he is not presenting any of the philosophical ideas as fact, but as a vehicle to get you thinking. For me at least, he succeeded.

This book is quite a departure for the man that gave us Dilbert, but its a welcome departure. I really enjoyed the journey presented in the book and would encourage you to pick up the book and give it a read. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, as long as you don’t take what is said too seriously and take it for what it is.

Food for thought.

The Build Master: Microsofts Software Configuration Management Best Practices

The Build Master : Microsoft's Software Configuration Management Best Practices (Addison-Wesley Microsoft Technology)Saturday by chance at Borders I ran across the book The Build Master : Microsoft’s Software Configuration Management Best Practices by Vincent Maraia. Vince has been a member of the Microsoft build team for 5 years. Since this is the first book I’ve ever seen on this subject (not counting Pragmatic Project Automation, which is very Java specific), I decided to start leafing through it. After a bit, I decided to pick it up as it looked like it had some really interesting information that I would want to actually take home and go through in detail.

I guess the biggest thing that I have learned while reading this book is Microsoft platform based software is highly complex and that there is no real “nice” way to just buy a buiild system for the software. The other thing I learned is that Microsoft as a company actually takes this piece of the process serious enough that they fund a team to do it and I believe at one point Vince points out that the Microsoft build team is around 60 people. They recognize the cost savings that are possible in having a team managing this stuff rather than just letting the developers do what they need to do in order to get the software built – something quite refreshing to hear.

Vince goes through quite a bit of detail in how Microsoft manages their build systems, how they throttle checkins during release mode and have bugs move through multiple levels of approval before being allowed to be moved into the main source base.

One of the most interesting pieces of the book is where Vince explains the organization of authority around the build teams. Apparently, at Microsoft, the build team is actually the team that is responsible for rolling out new build tools and versions of the build process to the development teams and are expected to schedule and facilitate the release of new build processes after each software release. They schedule when new toolsets are migrated into the build environment, not the development team.

The build team also has complete control of their build machines – corporate IT does not. They have structured the ownership of the build labs so that they are completely in control of the build hardware, software and patches released to the machines and therefore are totally outside the corporate IT process for these machines. Vince talks about the importance of this structuring of authority and why it is necessary. Though when you read it it seems like one of those “duh” moments, its rare to find a book these days that actually supports and explains the reasoning behind machines needing to be outside the authority of corporate IT and why control needs to be given to the team for them.

Vince also goes through the new Microsoft Team tools and talks about some of their history and gives us a peek into whats coming up in future releases of these tools. The toolset looks really interesting and it seems as though Microsoft is actually taking the tools they have been using internally for years and productionizing them for release for others to use to manage the building of software in their environment. I guess time will tell as to whether these tools will be useful, but I liked the preview that Vince provides.

Some things I didn’t like about the book: Lots of focus on VSS, as apparently this tool is still used quite a bit at Microsoft. VSS has never been a valid revision control system to me and some of the techniques Vince talks about (like cloning trees and detaching them from the mainline for release branching) just struck me as inefficient. In my experience, as you fix bugs on a release branch, these changes have to be merged into the next release of the software (except in extreme cases where the next product is a completely different codebase like Windows XP vs. Windows 98) and this approach send you back to manual merge type of situations rather than merging between trees.

Overall though, this book is full of really great information. At the very least, you get a glimpse into the change management processes used in a very large company and an appreciation for the scale of a company like Microsoft and the problems they can have releasing software. You also get a good glimpse at the new tool sets coming from the Microsoft teams, which do sound quite interesting.

Just to give you an idea for the amount of information provided, take a look at this chapter breakdown of the book:

  1. Defining a Build
  2. Source Tree Configuration for Multiple Sites and Parallel (Multi-Version) Development Work
  3. Daily, Not Nightly, Builds
  4. The Build Lab and Personnel
  5. Build Tools and Technology
  6. SNAP Builds – aka Integration Build
  7. The Build Environment
  8. Versioning
  9. Build Security
  10. Building Managed Code
  11. International Builds
  12. Build Verification Tests and Smoke Tests
  13. Building Setup
  14. Ship It!
  15. Customer Service Support
  16. Managing Hotfixes and Service Packs
  17. Suggestions Change Your Corporate or Group Culture
  18. Future Build Tools from Microsoft

There are also four appendices: Embedded Builds, Extreme Programming (where Vince talks about Microsofts experiences in researching XP), Testing Guide, and Debug Symbols.

As an added bonus, the book is full of what Vince calls “Microsoft Sidenotes”, in which he uses real life situations at Microsoft to illustrate some of the points he is trying to make.

Overall, great book. There’s a lot of information to digest here. I’m definitely taking this one in and passing it around my team for review.

Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML

Head First HTML with CSS & XHTMLLast week one of my team members requested a copy of Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML by Elisabeth Freeman and Eric Freeman, as we are doing some work on a CSS implementation of our web site based on the results of some initial research that I had done back in June of this year. I started vacation on Friday and by Saturday I had a note from the post office saying that the book was sitting there waiting to be picked up (apparently our postal delivery person was too lazy to get out of the truck and leave it on the doorstep).

I started paging through the book a little and was a little suprised and put off by the format at first. It seemed to me to be almost formatted as a kids book, with large pictures, large type, and conventions like interviews being conducted with tags, or conversations between specifications. As we were on our way Christmas shopping I was actually reading it to the family and kind of goofing on it. I couldn’t believe that my team members actually requested a book like this that tried to explain things in such simple terms. It seriously felt like a ‘Dick and Jane’ book.

Well, thankfully I didn’t write it off and actually kept reading it. What I soon came to realize is that there is a reason that ‘Dick and Jane’ have been around since the earth cooled. These are some great books, removing all of the technical jargon out of your way and explaining the concepts in an extremely understandable way. The book makes the concepts seem much more realizable and less intimidating to actually try yourself. Surprisingly, I learned quite a bit that I didn’t know by hitting the O’Reilly books that I had read earlier and found myself thinking about the concepts much more frequently (and freely) than I did as I was wading through the highly technical format of these other books.

So while I started out goofing on the book, I found a ton of value in it, so much so that I’m going to grab a few more of them. I think I’ll start off with Head First Design Patterns and then work my way from there.

If you are looking to dip your toes into CSS and XHTML and want to understand the purposes and reasons for the different specifications, I highly recommend picking up this book. I was absolutely pleasantly surprised and found a ton of value in the format and presentation of the information. It was really cool to finally run across a series of books that teach the concepts so effectively while giving you just enough technical information to be able to work.

Pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.