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Models

February 23, 2007

Over the last week I’ve been working on two new sections, one on motivation and one on planning. The first is nearly ready, but is still giving me heartburn, and the second needs a lot of work.

This note is to let you all know that I haven’t disappeared, I’m just not comfortable posting what I have ready today. You can expect a new section in the next few days.

In an unrelated vein, I had an interesting email conversation with a friend and former colleague who asked me if I had an overall vision for the kind of book this would be (beyond what the title implies). He went on to suggest that I consider what kinds of books might be good models. Here’s a piece of my reply to him. I’d be interested in any thoughts on it:

Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t thought very much about models. After thinking about it for a while yesterday, I think one interesting model would be “The Elements of Style,” by Strunk and White, even though it’s nothing like what I’ve written so far. S&W is short, contains a lot of information, and holds up to regular re-reading. Kernighan and Plauger’s “Elements of Programming Style,” itself an homage to S&W, is another example I like. An example in a different style is Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” which makes many of its points through stories.

When I started writing this, I had a long conversation with a friend who teaches at at CSU (Colorado State U). He ran a study where they tried to see how effective stories were in teaching.

They got a top expert in the Quick Sort algorithm to videotape a lecture describing the Quick Sort. Then, using the same slide set, they videotaped someone using a story about a princess who wants to sort her belongings to describe the algorithm. They found that students who learned the algorithm from the story did better in a post-test than the group that got it straight from the expert.

When I told him about this project, his suggestion was to use stories extensively, both for the ultimate audience and for the audience of folks reading this as I write it. He thought that stories would draw people in and keep them coming back for more each week.

Now, while I don’t plan to make up stories about princesses, I do want to make the book interesting, so I’ve taken his suggestion at least in part and am using stories where they make sense.

That’s it for now. As always, comments are welcome. Have a great weekend.

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