Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fair and Balance Essays?

An interesting review of the 2007 No Fluff, Just Stuff Anthology appeared on Amazon the other day. Generally, I don't bother to reply to Amazon reviews (because it is after all someone's opinion, and I can't dispute someone's else's opinion), but this one has some interesting points. First and foremost, I would like to thank the reviewer for giving us 4 out of 5 stars, so his complaints should be kept in perspective (he did at the end of the day enjoy the book, and I don't want to gloss over that by way of indicating that we don't appreciate that immensely).

The reviewer mostly takes me to task for not forcing the authors to be more balanced against what he calls "agitation for the new age software movement". If you look closely at the cover of the book, you'll notice I'm not listed as the editor, but as the compiler (as in "Compiled by Neal Ford"). This distinction is important and planned. I did not edit this book in the normal sense (of vetting what the authors want to write), I merely compiled the essays. Frankly, it would be an awful job trying to get this group of authors to bend to my will! All the authors of this anthology are quite passionate about their subjects (which is what makes the book interesting, in my opinion).

The reviewer takes Brian to task for not providing the WS-* case against REST, but I don't think that was the purpose of the essay. Where in the vast ocean of information about WS-* do you even see a mention of REST? Unless you are specifically comparing two technologies, you frequently don't, well, compare them. I notice that David Geary (whose excellent essay was praised by the reviewer) didn't compare and contrast it with Struts, which is the de-facto market leader.

But the more interesting issue for me is the clear disdain the reviewer has for what he calls "new age dogma": REST vs. SOAP, dynamic languages, and Agile development. It's no secret that many of the No Fluff, Just Stuff speakers do prefer agile development and looser contracts. While not suitable for all applications, this is the cutting edge of software development right now. It is contingent on "thought leaders" to point out the latest trends in software development, so that the attendees and readers know what's on the horizon. Software and software development continues to evolve at a furious pace. While no one can predict the future (except maybe Bruce Tate), it is interesting to see where the people who were really into Java in 1996 are spending their time now (a hint: mostly with loose contracty type stuff).

Oh, and the reason there is more information about IntelliJ than Eclipse? Because most of the authors use IntelliJ (because we think it's the best tool available), I got inundated with cool IntelliJ tips and tricks (and ended up cutting a bunch of them). We had to ask over and over to even get tips for Eclipse, which is not to say that Eclipse is bad, it just doesn't generate as much passion than IntelliJ. There's that word again: passion. All the writers of this volume are passionate about technology (which is extraordinary in and of itself), and want to write about it for very little remuneration.

Given the amount of other open source in the book, why wouldn't we prefer Eclipse over IntelliJ it they were essentially the same? As a group, we tend to choose things that we think are best of breed, whether web framework or IDE. Hopefully, that's at least some of the appeal of both the anthology and the No Fluff, Just Stuff tour.


Yev said...

Greetings! Being “the reviewer” you mention in your post, I was pleasantly surprised to see this entry and to realize that great writers and thought leaders (I write this without the least bit of sarcasm) take the time to find out what the rest of us think. And yes, I did like the book a great deal… for people like me who don’t constantly move from client to client and from project to project, it provides an invaluable overview of all the cool stuff we don’t get to do and all the cool new toys we don’t get to play with. I wrote as much in my review.

First off, Neal, I’m afraid you are listed as the editor. Not on the cover, but on the title page (the second one - one has just the title, the other has the title and your name on it). This naturally led me to assume that you are the editor in the traditional sense of the word – someone who filters and revises the content of essay submissions. If this assumption was incorrect, then please accept my sincerest apologies for blaming you for someone else’s blunder. Naturally, passion is a great part of our work… if we’re not passionate about software, why write anything – code or essays? I would expect as a reader, though, that an editor (in the traditional sense) would temper the passions in what ultimately the readers see. You mention that I did not object to the absence of comparison to Struts or other frameworks in Chris Geary’s essay – true, but Chris Geary also did not make statements to the effect of “struts is dead” or “GWT is the better tool”. I would not object to such judgments in the slightest had they appeared in a blog or in an interview. A technical book, however, should, in my humble opinion, be held to different standards.

Where in the WS-* world can you find coverage on REST? Here’s one place: - I happen to be a big fan of this book despite its age. And please note, while this is primarily a WS-* book, you will find no supremacist or derogatory claims. And here’s another place: the 2006 anthology, the very first essay in it by Scott Davis. And especially interesting are phrases such as “supporters of rest point to…” or “Opponents of REST argue…” I do not believe, as you suggest, that a comparison is at all necessary if the author does not wish to engage in it. If Mr. Sletten’s goal was only to explain the philosophy and possibilities of REST then he by all means should! But alas, he has already engaged in comparison by comparing the WS-* space to the Emperror’s New Clothes and the WS-* leaning decision maker to a “Napoleon in suspenders”… It is my belief that such judgments are best left to the reader and it is the burden of the impartial editor to tone down the rhetoric and shift the focus to the substance… I think this is a part of the unwritten contract between the publisher of a technical book and the reader (and if I’m wrong, maybe it’s a case for stronger contracts ;-)).

As I said in my review, Neal, I hold your opinions and your written work in high esteem. But, being a reader of your blog, I know that you are very passionate about many of the topics covered in the book, and that being the case, I believe the book is sorely missing the touch of that infallible impartial editor.


Brian Sletten said...

Hi, Yev, Brian the Opinionated Here,

Glad to hear that you did ultimately enjoy the book. I'm not sure I am going to be in the Boston show, but I would be interested in talking to you more about these ideas at length.

The opinions you took issue with are passion elevated through frustration, but they are also drawing distinctions and clarifying my position. I was intentionally provocative (the title was chosen carefully!), but it was meant to be more playful than biased and to avoid the appearance of equivocation. I made no attempt to hide my bias, however, which is why I was comfortable doing so.

Thanks for caring enough to comment. :)

Yev said...

Brian, your absence from NFJS-Boston will be deeply felt. All the SOA talks on the schedule will be led by an evangelist from JBoss. Talk about bias. :-)

Btw, I think I'm due for a promotion in the neutrality police.