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Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware (Pragmatic Programmers)
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151 of 171 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was thrilled when I learned about this book and I waited impatiently for it to arrive from Amazon. Boy, was I disappointed!

The idea of such a book is great, somebody should have done it. The execution though is the one that is bad. The book is mostly focused around small number of defining concepts, which are supposed to explain and substantiate all the facts about the way brain works and the suggestions of how to become more efficient in whatever you do. These concepts are the L-mode and R-mode of the brain, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition, and the metaphoric comparison of a brain with a two-CPU computer.

Unfortunately, L/R-mode theory is now considered wrong and dated (the theory is more than 20 years old -- a lot has happened in neuroscience since then), and basing and substantiation suggestions on it is questionable. Even though the suggestions themselves are mostly reasonable and useful (in case you have not come up with them on your own yet), the constant L/R-mode preaching makes an impression of somebody selling you snake oil. The L/R-mode explanations make up a bulk of the book, sound really fishy, and get annoying pretty quickly.

Dreyfus model, although somewhat useful in some fields, not too useful in the context of research work and science (and any non-trivial software engineering), where things are a tad more complicated [note: this is my personal opinion, don't take my word on it and read about it elsewhere if you want]. That wouldn't be a problem, if Dreyfus model wasn't used throughout the book to explain things.

Comparing a brain with a two-CPU computer is just blatantly wrong, the way the brain works is not even in vicinity of how CPUs (and the related wiring) work -- just read some other books and research papers on the subject. Thus using the metaphor abundantly in a book which tries to give an impression of a book where the facts are checked and substantiated is questionable.

Of course, that's not all. I found many places in the text where something was stated (which wasn't obviously true or false), but as if it was following from some other facts. If you're not careful enough when reading, you are likely to learn something that isn't.

Less important things which I didn't like: the narration and the design/formatting/images and text relevance. From the start the author notes that this book is not necessarily intended for programmers, however the text is full of irrelevant programming allusions which would bore any non-programmer to death, without any chance of getting any useful meaning from the allusion. Heck, I'm a programmer and I was bored and struck with superfluity of these examples. Oh, and don't forget about smileys in the text. Don't get me wrong, I'm not narrow-minded, however I still believe that well-edited text in a book on a serious topic could do without smileys and still be able to communicate jocular mood if there's need for it. The book is full of irrelevant examples and images (I love images, provided they are useful!), take the "unix wizard" image as an example. There's even an awful attempt at infographics (p.229, fig.8.4, "Relative IQ point loss") which takes almost half a page and is really a bad example of using a bar chart.

Another annoying thing is that another book by the same author - "Pragmatic Programmer" - is praised persistently throughout the text. Although it's not a bad book, there should be some restraint in self-advertising.

To be fair, there are some good suggestions and practices. It's rather unfortunate that they get diluted by a mush of bad science and lacking narration.

Verdict: if you want to spend your time reading a good book on the topic, go read something else, for example, Medina's Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, Weinberg's Becoming a Technical Leader: An Organic Problem-Solving Approach, or DeMarco's Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition).
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73 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I tend to gravitate towards books that explore how the mind works, and how you might be able to manipulate it into better performance. Naturally, when I saw that Andy Hunt's Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware had been released, it went up on my to-be-reviewed list. Hunt does a great job in exploring your "wetware", and there were some chapters that squarely addressed certain issues I'm currently dealing with.

Content:

Journey from Novice to Expert: Novices vs. Experts; The Five Dreyfus Model Stages; Dreyfus at Work - Herding Racehorses and Racing Sheep; Using the Dreyfus Model Effectively; Beware the Tool Trap; Consider the Context, Again; Day-to-Day Dreyfus

This Is Your Brain: Your Dual-CPU Modes; Capture Insight 24x7; Linear and Rich Characteristics; Rise of the R-mode; R-mode Sees Forest, L-mode Sees Trees; DIY Brain Surgery and Neuroplasticity; How Do You Get There?

Get in Your Right Mind: Turn Up the Sensory Input; Draw on the Right Side; Engage an R-mode to L-mode Flow; Harvest R-mode Cues; Harvesting Patterns; Get It Right

Debug Your Mind: Meet Your Cognitive Biases; Recognize Your Generational Affinity; Codifying Your Personality Tendencies; Exposing Hardware Bugs; Now I Don't Know What to Think

Learn Deliberatively: What Learning Is... and Isn't; Target SMART Objectives; Create a Pragmatic Investment Plan; Use Your Primary Learning Mode; Work Together, Study Together; Used Enhanced Learning Techniques; Read Deliberately with SQ3R; Visualize Insight with Mind Maps; Harness the Real Power of Documenting; Learn by Teaching; Take It to the Streets

Gain Experience: Play in Order to Learn; Leverage Existing Knowledge; Embed Failing in Practice; Learn About the Inner Game; Pressure Kills Cognition; Imagination Overrides Senses; Learn It like an Expert

Manage Focus: Increase Focus and Attention; Defocus to Focus; Manage Your Knowledge; Optimize Your Current Context; Manage Interruptions Deliberately; Keep a Big Enough Context; How to Stay Sharp

Beyond Expertise: Effective Change; What to Do Tomorrow Morning; Beyond Expertise

Photo Credits; Bibliography; Index

Hunt starts with something called the Dreyfus model, which is a way to look at how people learn and acquire new skills. You start as a Novice, someone who has little to no experience. You can follow a "recipe" to get a result, but you don't know the reasons behind much of what is being done. You're just accomplishing a task. Next comes Advanced Beginner. You can break out of the step-by-step mode a bit, but troubleshooting is still a major obstacle. Think of it as having no "big picture" of the overall subject. Stage 3 is Competent. You can start to apply your knowledge to problems you haven't encountered before, and you can figure out the context behind what you're facing. This is where the largest group of people end up. Stage 4 is Proficient, which means you need the details AND the overall picture. You can learn from the mistakes of others, and anticipate what may go wrong down the road. At the final stage, you have the Expert. These people are the ones others seek out for answers. They can "feel" whether an answer or solution will work or not, although they might not be able to tell you how they got to that point. These are the people who write books like this...

This made a lot of sense to me, and helps as I start to learn a new set of technical skills at my place of employment. It's hard to go from being proficient in one area to stepping clear back to novice again. But it's ok, and everyone has to start there. That gives me a level of comfort knowing that my confusion is normal, and is to be expected...

Throughout the rest of the book, Hunt covers various areas of the mind, how it works (or doesn't), and how it can be manipulated to be more efficient. For instance, the R-mode/L-mode discussion covers how your right and left sides of the brain process information differently. It also explains how you can inadvertently "shut down" the right side by being too analytical about something. The simple act of walking away from the problem and thinking about nothing in particular can be enough to let the right side of the brain gain access to the forefront of your attention. And quite often, the answer appears almost immediately. These chapters are heavy on practical tips and "try the following" advice, so it's not merely an exercise in acquiring knowledge. Even a handful of these ideas, properly implemented, can boost your ability to learn and perform. In my case, they already have started paying off.

The "drawback" to books like this is that everyone has a different idea about how things actually happen in the brain. Others might read this and feel that their ideas and mental frameworks are more accurate. But for the vast majority of us, we don't even stop to consider if there even *is* a framework in action. Refactoring Your Wetware is an excellent read, and will motivate you to start "thinking about thinking".
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84 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm going to be a dissenter among all the praise the other reviewers are heaping on this book. I bought it because of the acclaim here so I feel I should warn other people considering this book that it may not be as great as it seems. Between all the anecdotes, references to The Pragmatic Programmer (a good book but why so much self-promotion?) and pointless pictures (a mention of the automatic sewing machine is followed by a half-page diagram of one; an expert software developer is apparently a wizard so there's a half page illustration of an evil-looking wizard; many pages are filled like this)... wait, what was I talking about? Oh yes, and all those sidebars that go off on a tangent and distract from the main text. Between all that stuff there's not a whole lot of useful, actionable content with which to "Refactor Your Wetware". And what content there is won't be very exciting to anyone who already spends much time learning on their own. This book could be helpful to people entering high school but if you're already successful at learning new skills and are looking to sharpen your edge I suggest you consider Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School instead of this book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
I had this book on my Wish List for a long time before I decided to buy it. Why? I figured that yet another book on mind mapping and other brain train techniques would not add an awful lot what I already knew. Boy was I wrong. Yes, brain training is a good part of this book but it offers far more than that. The Dreyfus model does not only help you to place yourself on your own journey to being an expert (if that is what you want) but it also provides invaluable insights into how to work with others, keeping their strengths and weaknesses in clear sight. Next, getting in the right 'brain mode' will help you to apply those brain train methods far more effectively than you'll have done until now. At least it did for me. Andy explains just how to tune your mind to the right frequency to pick up all those little nuggets of gold that would normally get lost in the static.

I could go on like this for a while, mentioning 'brain debugging', personal investment plans or how I actually started applying the deliberate learning techniques outlined in this book while reading it and came out with a far more ready recollection of its content, even weeks later. But in short, you should get this book. The information in this book will apply to you whether you are a computer scientist, work in sales or manage your local cooking club as a hobby.
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39 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
If you have read and loved any of Andy's books like the foundational book "The Pragmatic Programmer", you will not be disappointed here. Those of us that are constantly chasing the changing technologies and despite our best efforts continue to fall behind, this book gives some amazing insight into learning more effectively. I must admit I have not completed the book yet. But even with less than half of the book behind me, I feel empowered to begin approaching my career development (programmer) with new found optimism and enthusiasm.

Put down (temporarily) whatever "must learn" tech book you are stumbling through right now and pick this one up. When Andy is finished with you, I guarantee you will be able to "pick up" that new technology more quickly. I don't know how many new technologies I've waded into and felt discouraged because despite my best efforts, it was taking too long for me to 'get it'.

On another note, if you have been a fan of GTD (Getting Things Done) and still feel something was missing, I sincerely think Andy's helpful hints will give you the skills you need to get the most out of your brain.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
There is no question that anyone who purchases this book as a guide to thinking and learning in the professions will find several valuable techniques that are worth many times the price of the book. I am ecstatic to own this bag of tricks to learn faster and decide more accurately. My only minor nit as one who studies psychophysiology is that it claims to be based on the latest findings in cognitive neuroscience and academic psychology. It is rather the results of a master programmer and consultant's search for better techniques that he and others can use to learn more quickly and more efficiently exploit professional knowledge. In that this book succeeds in its purpose offering many valuable heuristics, some of which everyone will find valuable (such as using what is known about how expertise is acquired and applying that knowledge to forming one's own learning program), and some which only some readers will find suits their ways of thinking (like the emphasis on using a particular type of mind map to explore a problem). An example of where this books method's are personal and popular rather than science-based include the popular conception of left and right-brain thought processes. This book and many others attempt to connect their methods of thinking about problems with a variety of focused and holistic viewpoints with Roger Sperry's research on split-brained patients. Modern neuroscience and functional brain imaging techniques show that the way the brain engages with problem solving is a much more complex picture using a variety of whole brain and localized functions. For example see [...] and
linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1046202306003100. But like most readers I am mainly concerned with what valuable information and techniques I can learn to improve my personal and professional life. For that this book provides an extremely valuable collection of simple tricks and methods of learning and deciding. You will be glad you purchased it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was recommended this book by a lecturer in a programming class. After looking through the reviews I was disappointed by review comments claiming that the book focused on the outdated Left and Right side brain model. After actually reading the book, I was please to find that it DID NOT continue the fallacy of this idea. Instead, It used reference to L-mode and R-mode, which are distinctly different from left and right side theory. L-mode and R-mode are refereed to as different forms of thinking performed by the brain, but instead of being said to be located on the left/right side of the brain, they are said to both occur throughout the brain.

Now that I have that portion off my chest, I will discus the book as a whole. The authors give a huge amount of tips and advice for improving our thinking. Much of the book is focused on coxing the L-mode (creative) part of our thinking to come forward. All the advice is objective, with a huge amount of source references. It is plainly stated by the authors that not all of the tips/advice will be useful to all users, but instead suggest that you try as many as you can and use those that have positive results.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in become more objective and valid in their thinking. Since reading the book, I feel I am able to incorporate new knowledge much easier. I can also recall information with increased ease. The principles covered in this book can be applied to all thinking and learning, but the information in the book is given largely through computer/programming analogy. This may cause it to be harder to understand for those unfamiliar with these topics.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I was induced by the reviews of this book to buy it. When I started reading it I recognized that most of the ideas were familiar, so I started looking for a new insights. I even tried doing the exercises, which are haphazardly designed and not well integrated (there is no follow-up, no progression, no building on previous material).

When I read the instructions for mindfulness meditation, I realized something was wrong. One of the crucial instructions runs counter to the tradition and will tie you up in knots. For me, that summed up the problem with this book. It is a bit like an enthusiastic water-cooler discussion. Everything is a little vague and unreliable, so it is up to you to track down the really useful, reliable information somewhere else on your own.

If you own the book already, I think that the best and safest use of it might be to skip the text and chase down any references that the writer gives you. You will wind up with more books, but the material will be accurate and useful. If you rely on this book by itself, you will get excited about a lot of cool-sounding ideas and then wonder why you can't get them to work for you.`

Examples of primary source books and software that you will be better off with (there are many others):

o Any decent book on mindfulness or insight meditation --Jon Kabat-Zinn covers mindfulness well. Or you could start with Sharon Salzberg and/or Joseph Goldstein on the closely related tradition of insight meditation: a spiritual practice without a dogma.

o Peter Elbow: "Writing with Power" -- a spectacular assist for any kind of writing. The writer's-block-avoidance approaches work well for programming and designing. A must read for any kind of intellectual worker.

o For those of us who find mind-mapping useless: Wikipad

o "The Memory Book" by Harry Lorayne. Most of the useful stuff about learning that is hinted at in "Pragmatic Thinking..." is actually made available to you by Lorayne.

o For convincing your boss and colleagues: "Rapid Development" by Steve McConnell. "PeopleWare" by Tom DeMarco. "Rapid Development" has graphs of how much money your company will lose if they don't pay attention.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book is an interesting read. It is not the common programmers book, I would say 95% of it will be clear to people out of the software industry.
There is some good abstraction about how our brain is built with some interesting observations. There are also some good insights about learning and expertise in general.

On the other hand this books gives little pragmatic advices. I cannot think of many practical things I now do better than before I read this book. Mmmm... Mind Maps are nice, but not a "big deal". Dreyfus model is insightful but not revolutionary.

I guess this book and its ideas are a bit premature. Maybe a second edition in 5 years from now, after a lot of feedback to Andy about these ideas, can be titled "pragmatic".

For now, I recommend reading this interesting and relatively unique book - but don't expect it to change your life.
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86 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
I wanted to like this book. I really did. The subject of how to go from beginner to master is valuable information indeed. The problem that I have with the book is the continual references to the "L-Mode", "R-Mode" or left brain/right brain thinking that comes from Betty Edwards book about how to draw and how "brain lateralization" affects drawing. This book takes Edwards writings on L-Mode and R-Mode and then applies them to programming.

Unfortunately, Edwards' theory is not science, it's pseudoscience.

Edwards' work draws on old research, the newest being 1985, which is very old when you consider how much research in neuroscience there has been in the last 2 decades. Jessy Dorn has published an article on BrainConnection that goes through the problems with Edwards' L-Mode vs R-Mode theory.

Pragmatic Thinking presents Edward's theory as science, which it clearly is not. It's one thing to say that you subscribe to a debatable theory, but it's quite another thing to just present it as being scientifically based, when it's not. [...]. The [...] then builds on this [...], which is what gets the downgrades from me. A very nasty side effect, though is that this is a very popular [...] and now a bunch of people are going to repeat this entire "L-Mode/R-Mode" [...] and propagate the myth even further. Do a web search and you'll see that it's already happened.
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