Mini-reviews of books I read last month: three non-fiction books, again. "Exploring Requirements" is mainly aimed at systems analysts and software designers, but the material is general enough to be applicable to almost anything. "The Man of Numbers" looks at the life and work of Fibonacci, a pioneer of Western arithmetic, who is mostly remembered for the sequence of numbers that bears his name. "The Language of Things" helps us understand why objects are designed the way they are. 1. "Exploring Requirements: Quality Before Design" by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg <http://www.amazon.com/Exploring-Requirements/dp/0932633730> Developing software is a relatively new activity, and there is a lot of room for improvement. It sounds simple enough: software should do what people say they want it to do. However, things are rarely black and white when human beings and language are involved. This book helps deal with ambiguities that inevitably arise. It describes many useful techniques to help identify the real problem to be solved, and determine what the actual requirements are. It looks at the dynamics of the people involved, and how the framing of the problem can affect the types of solutions proposed. It covers generating ideas, naming, functions, attributes, constraints, expectations and test cases. The book does an excellent job of covering the complete requirements gathering process, often in an entertaining way. The concepts are universal enough to extend to the design of other objects. In fact, one of the chapters looks at the design of a chair, while a recurring case is about writing chalk. 2. "The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution" by Keith Devlin <http://www.amazon.com/Man-Numbers/dp/0802778127> This book is about the life and work of the man known nowadays simply by his nickname, Fibonacci. Leonardo Bonacci was a mathematician who lived during the Middle Ages. He is mostly remembered for the number sequence named for him, where each number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc. But his biggest contribution was popularising the Hindu-Arabic number system (based on the digits zero through nine) in the West. While working at his father's trading post in North Africa, the young Leonardo was introduced to the Hindu-Arabic number system. At that time, Roman numerals were still dominant in Europe, despite the difficulty they posed for doing arithmetic efficiently. Fibonacci realised how much better-suited Hindu-Arabic numerals were. He learnt as much as he could from Arabic sources, and wrote the seminal book on the topic of calculation, "Liber abbaci". His book contained numerous examples, covering many applications in business and finance. It became hugely influential in Italy and the rest of Europe during the early Renaissance. The Fibonacci sequence is just one of many examples in "Liber abbaci" for practicing using the new number system. Fibonacci did not discover the sequence, yet that is what he is remembered for. The Fibonacci sequence has since been found to have many applications in nature, mathematics and finance. This book provides a pretty good overview Fibonacci and his writing. It's not a big book, and the sections on his books are not overly technical. One of the author's goals was to trace the lineage and influence of Fibonacci's work through the many books on calculation that emerged during the Renaissance. Overall, a brief and interesting introduction to an arguably underrated pioneer of modern arithmetic. 3. "The Language of Things" by Deyan Sudjic <http://www.amazon.com/Language-Things/dp/0393070816> This book attempts to explain "how we are seduced by the objects around us" through design, luxury, fashion and art. The author is Director of the Design Museum in London. He traces the history of the design of consumer objects, which has its origins in the Industrial Revolution. Design has continually evolved, and is no longer restricted to providing only what is functional. Fashion can be used to drive us to buy things, so it's important to the design process. Some designers go further, aspiring to make their work approach art. The book includes many examples of well-designed objects through the years, and lots of photos are included to emphasise points made in the text. An interesting section considers the cultural aspects of design. For example, the contrasting designs of Russian and US spacecraft are in part due to the respective cultures. According to Ernesto Rogers, "it is possible from the careful examination of a spoon to understand the kind of city that the society that had produced it would build". There are several provocative parts too. Artistic objects are "useless" when compared to objects designed to fulfil a "useful" purpose. It is this type of "uselessness" that makes art more valuable than their functional equivalents. The author suggests the Museum of Modern Art, "whether consciously or not, is doing its best to suggest that design is just as useless as art, and therefore almost as important". Overall, an interesting look at design history, and how design is used to influence consumer behaviour.