Our brain filters and interprets what we see to help make sense of the World around us. Simply measuring the light coming from a surface is not enough to understand the surface. A white surface in shadow, for example, may reflect less light than a black surface in full day light.
I first came across Edward H. Adelson’s maddening checker shadow optical illusion while reading Kathryn Schultz’s fascinating book “Being Wrong”. The squares labelled A and B in the following picture are the exact same shade.
You don’t have to take my word for it, you can watch it on YouTube – in all its maddening glory!
This process appears hardwired. It doesn’t matter how many times you see this illusion, your brain still gets it wrong!
I recommend the book. It’s rather humbling to realise how wrong you can be; from what you hear, what you see and what you think!
Thanks to Sam Owen telling about the YouTube video.
Does the language you speak impact the way you think?
This question has occupied academics for centuries. Some people perceive deep differences between languages, which affect the minds of the people who speak them. Others argue that the differences are superficial and, linguistically speaking, all humans are essentially equal.
I’ve often pondered on how programming languages affect the people who program them, so I found Guy Deutscher’s delightful book “Through the Language Glass” both fascinating and enlightening.
He explores two centuries of research from William Gladstone puzzling over the lack of colour in The Iliad and The Odyssey, to the latest brain imaging experiments.
Gladstone’s noticed the black-and-white nature of the Homer’s world; blues or greens are never mentioned. One popular explanation at the time was that the ancient Greeks were partially colourblind and full colour vision had yet to evolve. Scientists even pointed to the lack of colour words in many “primitive” languages around the world as evidence. Obviously, we now know that evolution doesn’t work so fast. Differences in colour vocabulary reflect cultural rather than biological development.
So where are we on this debate today? Noam Chomsky has argued for the past 50 years that the universal rules of human grammar are encoded in our genes and variation between languages has no cognitive consequence – all languages are equally complex.
In fact languages vary markedly in complexity. In general small, illiterate societies have languages with smaller vocabularies but more complex grammatical structures. Such differences can affect the way people think. The latest brain scanning experiments show that If a language distinguishes between two colours, as Russian does between dark and light blue, then its speakers experience more of a difference between them than people whose language uses the same word for both.
And, then after all this, I saw Mark Pagel’s TED talk postulating that language is a piece of social technology for enhancing the benefits of cooperation:
At long last, Luke Hohmann’s book
‘Innovation Games’ has arrived. I became hooked on Innovation Games when I read an early draft of Luke’s book. That seems so long ago!
A software group is best measured by its customers’ success. Understanding what they really need is critical, but customers are human too which means that they’re fallible. Customers can’t always tell you what they want because sometimes they don’t know themselves, so asking them to rank requirements or write stories might not be the best place to start.
The book is a collection of games you can play with the customer to gain a better understanding of what they need. Although the book is really about product management (working out what product a customer wants), I think these games are useful for agile teams trying to get a better understanding of what their customer wants.
Steve Freeman and I ran a really success session at last year’s XP day on this very subject.
I’m reading the excellent book Fearless Change by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising. It’s a book of patterns for introducing new ideas.
I’m experimenting with the patterns to help me introduce agile developement into organisations. So far so good. I recommend it. They have an interesting quote from David Baum’s Lightning in a Bottle
If your change process is like most, about 15% of your folks are going to be thrilled and will only want to know what took you so long. About 15% will utterly reject the need for change, and won’t be happy no matter what you do. The remaining 70% will sit on the fence and quietly watch to see who’s winning.
This middle 70% is where you need to put your most time and energy. That is where the victories really count. The 15% who are positively excited will need very little support and encouragement . They are already motivated by the change. For the negative 15%, there may be nothing you can do.
I would normally ignore books with a title like Java Open Source Programming: With XDoclet, JUnit, WebWork, Hibernate (Java Open Source Library) – but this one is different.
For me the best thing about this book is that it shows you how experienced developers produce a well crafted, easy to test, web application. It walks you through using interfaces to separate the database from the code. It provides oooodles of examples of using mock objects to make testing easier. It shows how experts use Test Driven Development (TDD) on a real world (web) application.
Oh, and it uses some nice open source libraries along the way. One of the best ways to learn something new is to pair with an expert. The next best thing is to read a book like this!