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[techbooks] REVIEW: "Computing Calamities", Robert L. Glass

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKCMPCLM.RVW 990320 Computing Calamities , Robert L. Glass, 1999, 0-13-082862-9, U$29.99/C$42.95 %A Robert L. Glass %C One Lake St., Upper Saddle River,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 1999
      BKCMPCLM.RVW 990320

      "Computing Calamities", Robert L. Glass, 1999, 0-13-082862-9,
      %A Robert L. Glass
      %C One Lake St., Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458
      %D 1999
      %G 0-13-082862-9
      %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
      as such.

      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
      ambiguous results.

      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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