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How Do You Keep Up with All of the Reading? 79

An anonymous reader asks: "As a professional working in software, my days are full as it is. Whenever possible, though, I attempt to keep up with my technical reading, whether it be IEEE or ACM journals, conference proceedings, Slashdot, or countless other sources. The problem is, there's no way to keep up! The magazines and journals that interest me alone create more material in a year than I could ever hope to absorb, and don't even get me started on the conferences. Do you, as a software professional, consider yourself up-to-speed enough when it comes to the latest and greatest in the public domain? If so, where do you draw the line?"
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How Do You Keep Up with All of the Reading?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:23PM (#10803759)
    President Bush is my role model.
  • by xmas2003 ( 739875 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:24PM (#10803763) Homepage
    Probably where this comment will be modd'ed too! ;-)
  • by BranMan ( 29917 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:35PM (#10803828)

    There isn't any way to keep up with it all - the best philosophy I've found that helps was one reportedly attributed to Albert Einstein. "I don't know everything, but I know where to find it when I need it" Or something along those lines.

    So skim - just remember enough to Google for it, or figure out which book it was in. What else can you do?
    • by RandomCoil ( 88441 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @09:07PM (#10804116)
      "I don't know everything, but I know where to find it when I need it"

      With thanks to Rumsfeld, the problem is not the known unknowns, for which information can be found. Rather, the problem is the unknown unknowns, those things which you not only don't know, but don't know that you don't know.

      This would argue that the key is to read the titles and abstracts of publications, but not delve into them until you know you need them.

      Yes, this entire post was just an excuse to get to play with the Rumsfeldian logic.
      • Now, if you're not a complete fool, you'll actually think about what Rumfield was saying.

        "known knowns" -- there are certain things we know we know: this is Slashdot, we are writing in English, etc.

        "known unknowns" -- there are things we know we don't know: P = NP?

        "unknown knowns" -- what do we know that we don't realize we know?

        "unknown unknowns" -- the real surprises: what we don't know, and don't even realize there is something to be known.
        • MOD PARENT UP! (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I felt the same way when I read that in the paper. I didn't understand why people were making fun of it, since it seemed perfectly logical and clear to me :)

          (Mind you he could have just summarised it much more briefly and informally, but I suppose politicians and their speech writers don't want people to actually know what they're saying).
        • And then there are the things we know that aren't true...
    • Amen. I have up trying to stay ahead. Now I go looking when I need something and use my time for other things.
  • by failedlogic ( 627314 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:36PM (#10803832)
    Ignorance is bliss!

    'Nuff said.

    Your potential solution is osmosis theory (you know, sleep on the book and "absorb" the information). If there are any links to academic material proving its existance ... (Harvard Medical Journal and such) would be appreciated!
    • (you know, sleep on the book and "absorb" the information). If there are any links to academic material proving its existance .

      I don't have a link to the publication, but I remember that particular hypothesis being promoted some 25 years ago by Linus Van Pelt []
    • I prefer "Ignorance is Strength", it makes a degenerate life-style sound cool. "Ignorance is Bliss" is something a hippie or general low-life would use as an excuse; "Ignorance is Strength" is for the go-getters and pro-active people who like to do things but don't really care about the reasons, or final results. (Just that there are some results, and fast.)

      • Ignorance is Strength is also preferred by those trying to get the majority to do what they want. If you're ignorant of important events you are most likely to believe what those in power want you to believe.

        Getting sort of Orwellian isn't it...

        Remember...The Administration is your friend and you always beleive your friends. Failure to believe the Administration is punishable by re-election....

        (with apologies to Paranoia...)
      • I prefer "Ignorance is Strength"

        When I was in highschool (long ago), I was active in the music programs... Our jazz instructor was famous for saying "Strong and Wrong Baby!" Which was to remind the students that it was more important to play with confidence then to play the right notes. Of course you got your ass kicked if you played the wrong ones :)

  • I find it odd (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mordant ( 138460 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:37PM (#10803840)
    that you'd ask those who wast^H^H^H^H spend time reading Slashdot for advice on how to keep up with relevant technical information. ;>
    • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Saturday November 13, 2004 @05:13PM (#10808578)

      At the risk of sounding like I'm just sucking up, I actually find Slashdot to be one of the best resources for a programmer with general interest in most things IT, which I am.

      There is a simple reason for this. We all know that there is loads of material out there, but something genuinely new and original is hard to find. However, when such a thing does come along, it's a sure bet that five million people (or one well-informed academic, depending) will submit an article to Slashdot, and the editors are smart enough to spot that submission and put it up on the front page. This sort of "digest" is invaluable as a starting point for further research.

      The other thing is to distinguish reading background articles on potentially useful technologies so you have a rough idea of their strengths and weaknesses from reading detailed specs on things you might never need to know about. When you come across a project where they might be useful and you have a real context for further investigation, that's when download the detailed specs, buy the books, etc. Again, Slashdot is often quite useful for this, because amongst the detritus that swamps most discussions, there are a few pearls from genuinely informed people, and reading the right four or five backgrounders over a couple of years is worth more than reading thirty glorified press releases by companies offering the same technology in a different wrapper this week.

  • by mech_knight ( 748354 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:41PM (#10803862)
    I live about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles where I work. I take the train to-and-from work and this gives me a chance to catch up on my reading.

    I also get the IEEE Spectrum, which I scan for stuff that interests me, but I've stopped subscribing to specialized technical journals (like Communications or DSP) since they are often targeted towards the academia crowd anyway, and I have no time try and understand the latest proofs and treatises.

    I read /. for that...
    • Public transportation is the best place to catch up on reading. Plus it helps pass the time!

      I don't subscribe to newspapers or magazines anymore. I find for one thing that they're always trying to fill their quota, so you end up with a lot of stories that aren't too important but they're in there anyway. I don't feel it has disadvantaged me not to read all that extra stuff. Sure, sometimes I'm behind on some news, but in the larger picture - big deal.
  • by imsmith ( 239784 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:43PM (#10803879)
    it's called the crapper... it is your friend, your fortress of solitude, and the throne of knowedge.
  • Specialize (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ADRA ( 37398 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:43PM (#10803882)
    If you really want to know, then learn it. You aren't expected to know every inane detail of every inane system in the world. Pick a few nice news aggrigation systems, aggrigate them, the n have one source of 'news' every day.

    Learn to pick out out what's relevent and what's the same old crap. That'll save you a lot of effort. Remember, half the crap you read on these sites are press releases from the companies involved.
  • by chjones ( 610558 ) <{moc.0hpela} {ta} {senojhc}> on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:51PM (#10803963) Homepage Journal

    This isn't just related to IT, of course; most professions require a standard of continuing self-education to get through it. As a medical student, one of my advisors finally explained his methods for dealing with the mad chaos of journal articles, world events, and so forth: quick scanning.

    No, not OCR (though that might help in certain cases), but skimming headlines/abstracts/conclusions, etc. Journals typically present a table of contents; read it and pick out the relevant/interesting ones. Of those, read the conclusions or abstracts and decide if it warrants more reading or a "mental note" for reference later---as someone above suggested, just enough to Google later if necessary. The essence of the trick is reading from end to beginning instead of the usual way. (This also assumes the article isn't written with a punchline at the end---most aren't.) It sounds quite simple, but actually takes a lot of practice to convince yourself your not wasting time and subscription fees. Works nicely, though.

    Unfortunately, most of us here spend plenty of time on things that don't work so well for this---pleasure reading, watching TV and movies, reading articles that are interesting but don't have a lot of professional relevance, and so forth.

    Personally, I'm surprised I had time to write this.

    • One of my professors in grad school called it "reading like it was a comic book". Don't try to read the whole thing. In technical papers, read the title, the abstract, and the conclusions. Only read the stuff in the middle if you're really interested.

      In technical books, don't try to read the whole thing like a novel. Skin it once, twice, even three times. You'll get a "picture" of the overall "shape" of the topic.

      Go back and read the introductory material. Do you understand all of it? If so,. you'r
  • That'll free up at least an hour of your day. ;)
  • by Darth_Burrito ( 227272 ) on Friday November 12, 2004 @11:24PM (#10804846)
    Raise your standards. Apply filters. Pursue information that you need, that looks exceptionally valuable, fits inside your longterm goals, or that comes highly recommended.

    I believe in knowledge as a means to an end. It holds little inherent value other than what it allows me to achieve. If you are having trouble selecting what knowledge to pursue, it is possible that the real problem is a lack of goals. If you work towards a set of goals, you will seek out the knowledge you desire and the manner in which you assimilate it will be optimized to serve your goals.

    As you might guess, I have serious issues with most organized education in which you are given a curriculum to follow and are asked to pursue information with a relatively low value proposition with respect to your goals.

    If you want advice on a shotgun approach to knowledge aquisition, learn to retain a gist of information. You don't need to read everything or understand everything about a particular topic. Instead, it is perfectly acceptable to keep an enormous amount of stuff on back burners.

    If you find something interesting that you know you don't have the time to pursue at length, examine it briefly. Then keep it in the back of your mind and wait for opportunities/goals to arise which allow you to examine it at greater length. If no such opportunity arises, well then, you saved a hell of a lot of time by not thoroughly investigating it.

    • I believe in knowledge as a means to an end. It holds little inherent value other than what it allows me to achieve

      so you dont believe that knowledge holds an intrinsic value in itself? I heartily disagreee here, there is a basic value in knowledge itself. Learning is an important thing to do, even if the knowledge gained is useless towards your life. If nothing else, learning keeps your brain engaged and the gears turning. Learning things outside your own field makes you a more rounded person and allows
  • It's not about knowing something, it's about knowing to look for something when you need it, knowing HOW to look for something, and knowing when to cut your losses when you can't find something. Example, finding tools to help you in your job. If you do something frequently, then look for tools to help. I've done very well not by spending a lot of time doing my job, but being able to find the tools that help me in my job.
  • Read what makes you happy and things that make you go 'Hmm...' Don't be afraid to say 'Enough of this' and chuck the book, magazine or whatever. Life is too short, and people are far more interesting.

    "And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is wearisome to the flesh." - Eccl 12:12
    • As a professional educator in NY State, I need 175 clock hours every 5 years to keep my certification.

      Not to mention that I have 3 years to get my Masters... ok, ok... I have 3 years to get 75% of it done, and then I can apply for a 1 year extension.

      Anyway, what's this about a shortage of educators? I don't understand...

      In other news, WTF am I doing?
  • It's not easy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thpr ( 786837 ) on Saturday November 13, 2004 @02:05AM (#10805430)
    In short: You can't.

    The long answer: Unlike you as a programmer where it is probably only implicit for you to be "keeping up", for me, it's actually an explicit part of my job to be out reading things like ACM and a bazillion other sources (and then summarizing or directing such information to my organization). I find that there are really a few strategies to attack the problem you bring up. I use different strategies for different areas, due to the nature of my expertise, interests, and time constraints. I'm not sure how many of these will work for you, as I am really in a much different position (and not in software)... but I hope this helps give you a few ideas (or gives fellow /.ers something to critique and give you better ideas)

    By the way, ADRA already mentioned to specialize [], and covered much of this at a high level. I'm expanding on that, as well as new things (s)he may have meant, but which were not explicit in that post.

    (1) Per ADRA's advice: Specialize. This means you need to clearly admit that you will NOT be the best at everything. It's a very difficult step for an engineering-type to take, but it helps your sanity. The real key is learning to ask "Why?" - Why do you need to know it? You don't need to know every programming theory out there, but those that are relevant to your current work environment and some level of scanning for items that may be relevant to add to your work environment (because they will provide tangible benefits). Be careful when you take this step not to completely shut out other things, or you risk missing important points and connections. Per ADRA's advice, set up some RSS feeds in your browser or at an aggregation site... and scan them for items that may be related to your focus. Read the items that are critical to your focus area. I also find that it helps keep things interesting to have both a formal focus area (required for my job) and a "hobby" focus area (that I find interesting and may lead to future opportunities). This keeps the world under control in terms of volume, but keeps me up to date in some critical areas. I change the "hobby" area periodically to ensure I continue to be challenged. Also, communicate with your co-workers that are in the same area or work on the same project to coordinate what you will look into. This may mean no overlap or intentional overlap, depending on your personalities and size of the group. But this can lighten the load and actually improve communication. You can also discuss certain topics with them to find out what they know and whether it is relevant to your current environment. If none of you know, a targeted (detailed) effort by the group should be able to find some good sources for all of you to use. As another strategy in specialization, I sometimes force themes into the work as well, deferring all reading on unit testing until a given month, for example (allowing it to build up and therefore being able to better realize what is good and what is a redundant item)

    (2) Be a traffic director (or: don't specialize at all). This is actually a lot of what I do. I have specialists that are my co-workers. This may be because it is their responsibility or simply something they are interested in. They're a heck of a lot smarter than I am in almost every specific area. But my strength is putting the pieces together (or that's the theory, anyway :) ). Thus, when I scan something and it may be relevant to them, I forward on the link or article. I may include a specific question, e.g.: "Is this technology relevant to project X?" in order to get specific feedback. When I actually read something and it is relevant to my job and may have an impact on one of our projects or the company, I will send out a link to the article as well as my analysis (5 sentences or less) of why I think it's significant. (I may attach further links as educational material if there is high turnover of mem

  • Rather than attempting to read every software development publication and tech news source available, single down on a few. I read Slashdot (obviously) and BBC Tech [] to keep up with the tech news. I don't watch TV and I'm not subscribed to many magazines, but it works for me- rather than trying to absorb everything at once, take it one or two publications at a time. It works for me, anyway.

    - dshaw
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Saturday November 13, 2004 @02:29AM (#10805504) Journal
    Finding stuff worth reading - who wants to keep up with crap? There doesn't seem to be a torrent of info (please prove me wrong), just a torrent of crap. Most of the stuff is just old or crap/wrong or redundant. Why waste plenty of time reading stuff you already know/can trivially figure out or is wrong?

    If you have a good idea of how things work in a particular area, a good source of info can often allow you to very quickly understand what's so innovative/cool about this "new thing". Unfortunately such sources are quite rare.

    The rate of technological progress so far doesn't seem that fast to me (medical, computer, physics, bio, engineering, automotive, aerospace). It's not surprising though - since it usually takes longer to come up with something significant than to understand why it is significant.

    I mean, yet another hot fusion idea that is far far from "breaking-even", with no significant advantages. Doh. Like who cares.

    Whereas if you have: "Major advance in hot fusion!" or even "Cold Fusion phenomena explained near conclusively - not fusion but due to ...." - now these are stuff I'd find interesting.

    Or "one successful clone made from Yet Another Animal out of 500 tries". Who cares other than those directly involved. Whereas "Experimental cure for XXxx cancer does well in test stage" now that would be interesting.

    Sure spaceshipone was interesting, but they are pretty far from orbit. And people have already done orbit decades ago, so there really isn't very much for a reader to catch up on is there? The aerospace field seems quite stagnant compared to the days of U2, SR71, B70, F-14 to F16, first man in orbit, man on moon, concorde, 747, Harrier (in no particular order).

    Not interested in vapourware either OK?

    It's hard to find stuff worth reading - so much so I even resort to reading Slashdot. Like what are you doing here anyway - checking for dupes? ;).
  • said it best (and I paraphrase:)

    90% of everything is garbage.

    So, learn to pick the gems out of the dung heap?

  • Go back to just before the printing press was invented. Voila. it is now possible to have read every single book ever written in the western world.
  • by bscott ( 460706 ) on Saturday November 13, 2004 @06:51AM (#10806024)
    You're not the only one. There are sources of information out there for busy people - my favorite (for the sciences if not programming) is the magazine "Science News" (, which is a slim weekly magazine containing impressively concise-but-informative articles. Since it's not written for the 5th-grade reading level mandated for general circulation newspapers, they can get a lot of background into a little space. When I subscribed to it (I've had to stop, sadly, see below) I'd keep it in the car and read a few paragraphs every time I hit a red light. I'd bet there's something similar out there for computers.

    Tip two - seek out (or create?) ways to LISTEN to your reading. Books on tape are one obvious way, but I read online columns that also come in MP3 format. It's probably quite easy to combine OCR and speech synthesis into something automated, if you have something you really need to listen to on your commute. Any spare time when you're only using part of your brain - while cooking, driving, even showering, just remember that there are two good ways to get info into your head - eyes AND ears.

    Finally, prioritize. For years I religiously read the weekly paper, Science News, and a number of other publications. As my online reading increased, and my real-life activities increased, I had to pare down that reading (and drop fiction almost entirely) in order to balance things. TV is now at a bare minimum; I read while I exercise, etc etc. If it's important you'll find a way to get it done, but make sure it's something that IS important!

    I'd edit this post for readability but I've just come off 14 hours of work, and I've not had even 4 hours in a row for some while, so... g'night!
    • I, too, would like to recommend "Science News". When I see a news story online or in the local newspaper that is scientific in nature I normally just skim it and wait until my issue of Science News arrives to read about it in depth.

      Other good sources of information: The Economist and the "Science Times" (Tuesday) and "Circuits" (Thursday) sections of the New York Times.
  • Get everything you can in print form. The combination of brain and eyes functions amazingly well as a content discriminator, and runs far faster than any online medium can keep up. You'll also find that print media are well adapted to support visual scanning, while online media have a long way to go still.

    I get about a dozen magazines of varying content levels every week. I scan every page of every magazine, both articles and advertising. Sometimes I throw an issue in the trash without finding anything
  • I have an old, trusty PalmIIIx which I use to catch up reading news, Planet GNOME, Advogato diaries, etc when I have idle time (queues, red lights, eating breakfast, waiting for the girl, etc). Also, whenever I find an article which catches my attention, I save it to read later.
    I use Plucker and a perl scripts which fetches stuff via cron, convert automagically, etc. Keep it all automated.

    I've read about a guy suggesting printing it all. Doesn't work for me; I've read countless articles and most of them we
  • Those who will demand work of you know less than you do, and have less desire to keep current. Thus, by definition, you will always be smarter than your employer - a crucial fact which will keep you employed. Its nice to think that you could keep up, but you can't. But don't worry, it doesn't matter anyway.
  • It's easy... just don't RTFA and post off the cuff.
  • Has anyone out there seen a draft RFC to add a coupple of hours to every day.

    we just need to Write the RFC, Change the source code of the Universe a little , then reboo ....
    maybe not a good idea.....
  • Do you, as a software professional, consider yourself up-to-speed enough when it comes to the latest and greatest in the public domain? If so, where do you draw the line?

    December 31, 1922 []. There's next to nothing in the public domain about IT. Even lambda calculus and Turing machines didn't come out until 1936.

Each new user of a new system uncovers a new class of bugs. -- Kernighan