"Computing Calamities", Robert L. Glass, 1999, 0-13-082862-9,
%A Robert L. Glass
%C One Lake St., Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
%I Prentice Hall
%O U$29.99/C$42.95 800-576-3800 201-236-7139 fax: 201-236-7131
%P 302 p.
%T "Computing Calamities"
Is this a book about computing failures? I'm not very sure about
that. In the first place, is it a book? Almost all of the content
comes from previously published magazine articles. (Actually, about
all Glass seems to have written are some "in the next section we look
at" bridges.) Readable, as most magazine articles are, but long on
quotes from interested parties, and short on hard facts or detailed
analysis. Computing? While the companies noted in the stories deal
with computers in one way or another, the shortcomings are generally
those of management, and not technology.
Calamities? Chapter one, for example, points out a major failure--but
it is a failure of journalists and pundits. Glass points out that the
repeated assertion that most software projects fail is based on faulty
data; or, rather, valid data from a study that was looking at
something else. Chapter two isn't about failures either, it's about
turnarounds. Interesting, possibly, but hardly dealing with disasters
Chapter three is about failures, at least for the most part. However,
it will be very difficult to draw any lessons from the stories
therein. Some, in fact, deal with outright theft, rather than any
shortcoming in either technology or business. One article does spell
the lessons out for us, in point form. Even there, however, the text
is not straightforward. So the company leader is arrogant and has a
lavish office? When things are going well we are told that is how you
succeed. When times get tough, well, obviously (with 20/20 hindsight)
those were the seeds of your destruction.
Chapter four looks at things in a slightly smaller scale: projects
instead of entire companies. (On the other hand, some of these
projects are bigger than some of the companies looked at elsewhere.)
Continuing in the same vein, though, morals are hard to draw from the
story. Some points are indisputable, but they tend to be the business
equivalent of motherhood statements. Be customer driven, don't let a
project get away from you, hire the right people, know when to get
out: these are all good pieces of advice, but not necessarily easy to
Chapter five discusses some less commercial ventures, with equally
In chapter six, Glass seems to contradict both the subtitle of the
book ("Lessons learned from products, projects, and companies that
failed") and some of the earlier material by stating that the
compilation is intended as a kind of memorial to the dearly departed
who are unlikely to leave behind any remains of their passing. This
literary "bait and switch" operation may be a little unfair on
reviewers and unsuspecting potential readers in bookstores, but if
that is the real intention then I suppose he has succeeded. A book is
slightly less ephemeral than the periodicals in which the material
originally appeared, and the content makes easy bedtime reading for
technical managers. However, the likes of "Digital Woes" (cf.
BKDGTLWO.RVW) and "Computer Related Risks" (cf. BKCMRLRS.RVW) are in
no danger from works of this calibre.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKCMPCLM.RVW 990320
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