If only engineering was like nethack…

I recently read two excellent books on working in engineering teams. Before you shrug them off, they actually are very well written, in fact one of them was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The books are Soul of a New Machine and Dreaming in Code.

Dreaming in Code is an expose that shows why software is hard. It describes the Chandler project and how they set out to create an outstanding piece of software, and how things went so terribly wrong. As a software engineer, the book is both painful and inspiring. But if you wondering why even today, you have parts of your digital life on work computer, parts at home, and parts on the go, this is would be a good book for you.

The other book, Soul of the New Machine, at its core is about what motivates an engineering team to create something. In this book, the team was trying to create the best computer available circa 1980. A bit more hardware focused, but there are insights for any team of people who set out to create something new. What drives somebody to work endless hours without extra pay and the detriment to health and family?

So, since I’m on a non-fiction technology kick, this is what my reading queue looks like:

I have a queue for fiction as well. I find that when I have too much going on, I can’t really get into the story so I switched to non-fiction.

Lastly, we are currently studying Procedural Content Generation in my Game AI class, which is basically the ability for the game to create its own stories / content. Skyrim, the new game in the Oblivion series, is doing this such that the game is “endless.” It also uses a technique to generate the foliage, since that would take too much more for a single human designer.

This is nothing new of course, nethack has done this for years. And while I have known about nethack and played it once or twice before, I picked it up again and realized it is very good. While it looks rudimentary, it is quite rich with features, rules and player

iteration. Each game is randomly generated, and it is challenging. A modern equivalent that one can play on the iPhone is 100 rogues, which I talked about last post.  Somehow I nethack in progressfind myself playing more and more of it, but it could just be because I have a problem set due…