Review: What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures
What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pro-tip: All the chapters are articles published for Gladwell by The New Yorker. Most are behind their paywall. However, his web site has an an archive where I found the ones mentioned below. The publication date is noted at the end of the chapters, which I would have preferred in the front so I could put discussions into context.

Every information technology administrator or analyst ought to study three pieces in this book:

  1. Blowup” uses the Challenger and Three Mile Island disasters to talk about modern technology and disasters. Small failures and accepting the risks for those blinds us to the risks of disasters which can be caused by cascading small failures in unforeseen scenarios. The large system I help run at work has dozens of machines with hundreds of interworking components. Most are designed to work with some kind of redundancy or failover who work most of the time, but occasionally they fail and most of those go unnoticed by anyone other than those of us running it. On rare occasions, though, they most spectacularly fail.
  2. Open Secrets” uses the Enron implosion to talk about puzzles and mysteries. With puzzles more details narrows the scope for us to find an answer. Enron was more of a mystery where all the details were available for anyone looking to understand them, but few people did. This obfuscation through transparency at its best.
  3. Connecting the Dots” uses the Yom Kippur War and 9/11 to talk about the difficulty in interpreting data to anticipate what someone else is going to do. Certainty is almost certainly pretty low, but decision makers want high certainty. So the result is a judgement call that could very much go the wrong way.
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