teaching from the Kindle

teaching from the Kindle by Alan Jacobs

And let me tell you, friends, teaching a book from a Kindle stinks. Big time.

That is the money quote. Read the comments as well because they are quite good and extend on the article quite ably and usefully.

There is the need to adjust teaching methods to make the most of the tools available, where that is appropriate. However, this is an issue I ran into when working through grad school: so much of the technology and applications available today are really quite bad for educational purposes. It isn’t that the technology is bad itself, but that within the educational context, they are not as useful as they could be if time was spent working on what the needs are within education (and at this point, higher education).

Trying to work out a workflow for digital discovery and note-taking for my capstone was painful. I ended up having to switch between three or four different applications to make it all fit together, and even then it was less than ideal.

There is a lot of low-hanging fruit to make scholarship and writing better utilizing digital tools. Kindle is just an example.

Review: Effective Monitoring & Alerting

Effective Monitoring and Alerting by Slawek Ligus was not quite the book I had originally thought I was starting. I was looking for something more prescriptive and I read something far higher up the stack. It wasn’t a bad book, but it was something different from what I went in expecting.

The book takes a high-level look at how to keep alerting from getting out of hand. That is the overall message they are trying to get across. Here is the overall message:

  • You need to make sure you monitor the proper things in the proper way. This brings about a deep understanding of the system as a whole and also forces you to really figure out what dependencies the distinct of parts of your system have in order to be certain you are monitoring things that matter.
  • Armed with that information, you move onto mapping out what should be shooting off alerts. This gets directly to the data about dependencies because we want to be certain that we alert only on the parts of the system that are failing, not on those parts dependent on the failed area.
  • The entire idea is to make sure that the alerts getting sent out are needed and useful. There is talk of standardizing the names of the systems and alerts so you can know exactly what is happening right from the start.
  • There is a huge focus on making sure the alerts are truly actionable and needed so that you don’t give your IT operations staff alert fatigue. The idea is to alert on things that can and need to be fixed and on nothing else.
  • This means monitoring everything but alerting on just a small subset. You can use the monitoring data for capacity planning and also trying to find issues before they start, but you will constantly be changing the alerting thresholds so that only the most important ones are sent through.

That’s the overall look. As far as this review goes, it comes down to this: I would definitely read it again, but be aware of what the book is going to be about. It is NOT prescriptive at all, but it is short enough to be useful even for the smallest of operations department.

The Power of eBooks

With a child under one year of age, I spend a lot of time in a rocking chair. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the fact that I get to rock my youngest son to sleep, but it does pose a problem when trying to read some of the books that I have around my house recently.

The size of the books I am reading make rocking a child to sleep untenable. A physical book is just not doable in the slightest. So I reach for eBooks as my preferred method for reading many of these more-technical books. The power of eBooks settle into a few categories:

  • Size is obvious. I can hold many books on a device smaller than a single paperback which allows me to read with a small device only in one hand. That’s a requirement. I do use my iPad for some reading, especially books with lines of code, but the iPad Air is too large to use with one hand comfortably so I tend to stick to the iPhone or Kindle when rocking my son.
  • Storage ties in with the first reason. My bag can only carry so many physical books, and it is even limited by the physical size of a physical book (my current CLA reading material does not fit in anything but my backpack). However, an eBook fits in everything from my iPhone to my Mac mini at work. I can store many more eBooks in a bag than I can a physical book.
  • Syncing is lovely, and needed. Whether I’m using Kindle.app or iBooks.app, the fact that I can start a book on one device, quit, and then pick up right where I finished before on another device is great. It is also mostly needed when switching between lighting situations. Where I have a lot of light I’ll usually choose the Kindle, but at night I will be reading on my iPhone.
  • Speed is the final one I’ll throw out there. I can find a book I want to read and have it, right there, that second, with no fuss. There is no shipping. There is no waiting. That is both good and bad. Impulse purchases can get a person in trouble.

Even with everything stated above, I still prefer to read a physical book. For now it is always a tradeoff, and it can be an expensive one to keep all of these books around. The benefit physical books have is that I can find used ones. At least, that is a benefit for me.

Review: Web Operations

I’ve been on an “IT operations” kick with my reading recently, and my choice this time was a little different from the others I have been reading.

Web Operations: Keeping the Data On Time by John Allspaw, Jesse Robbins is not immediately applicable (or at least obviously so) to the situation I find myself in every day. It is also an older book, so in the intervening four years some things have changed, but it is remarkable how much of what was being talked about as “the future” has come to pass.

The first fifth of the book was easy to read and then the middle two-fifths was a bit of a slog. I’m not 100% sure why that was, but it was just the way it was. Then I hit my stride again and finished it out within a few days and things went well from there.

If you are looking at some of the difficulties of working in large-scale deployments for the web, this is the book for you. If you are looking for some guidance on how to try to contain the complexity of modern system deployments, this is the book for you. If you are looking for prescriptions … um, you are going to need to look elsewhere.

This book is meant to give you a good, 10,000 foot view of web operations from top-to-bottom. From overall architectural choices to an overview of the what NoSQL can mean (I told you this was looking into the future we live in now), each chapter will take a different look at a certain aspect of web operations.

I recommend it to any system administrator who is trying to get their head around the inherent complexity of IT operations today, but you are going to need to pace yourself. I went ahead and setup a recurring task in OmniFocus so that I would at least read a few chapters each day.