A good book: Uncommon carriers
One of the things I like over the last almost thirty years about designing applications for businesses large and small is the sheer variety of businesses and what you learn about them. From a global Fortune 10 medical equipment service and inventory tracking system to three of Edmonton, Alberta's largest corporations, to a bin tracking system for an waste disposal outfit in a remote corner of British Columbia.
One bin in particular is at the far end of a barge route. So the driver drives the truck with empty bin onto the barge and flies up the camp. Eight or twelve hours later the truck makes it up the river, the driver drives the truck onto the site, exchanges bins and back down comes the full bin and truck on the barge and driver in the airplane.
I've been to all major and minor cities in Western Canada, an an eclectic list of other locations such as Stewart, B.C., Yellowknife, NWT, Houston Texas for two days (interesting to look out the windows and see the yellow horizon) and Frankfurt, Germany. Not these days though. What with the Internet it's so much easier to ship applications around.
I've been on a tour through a copper refinery, underground in a gold mine ("If we get separated and your light goes out don't move. You may fall a long, long way. It may be a number of hours but we will come and get you.") and in the cockpit of an airliner for a landing. I've also been witness to two heart attacks at clients, fortunately I hardly knew the one and not at all the other.
Which leads me to Uncommon carriers by McPhee, John
"Over the past eight years, John McPhee has spent considerable time in the company of people who work in freight transportation. Uncommon Carriers is his sketchbook of them and of his journeys with them. He rides from Atlanta to Tacoma alongside Don Ainsworth, owner and operator of a sixty-five-foot, eighteen-wheel chemical tanker carrying hazmats. McPhee attends ship-handling school on a pond in the foothills of the French Alps, where, for a tuition of $15,000 a week, skippers of the largest ocean ships refine their capabilities in twenty-foot scale models. He goes up the “tight-assed” Illinois River on a “towboat” pushing a triple string of barges, the overall vessel being “a good deal longer than the Titanic.” And he travels by canoe up the canal-and-lock commercial waterways traveled by Henry David Thoreau and his brother, John, in a homemade skiff in 1839."
I quite enjoyed the different sections. The description of the barges and tugboats was particularly good. While I live in Canada and have done a lot of work outside in cold weather working on an icy barge has got to be very tough.
However the place I'd really, really like to tour is the UPS hub. (I'll settle for a Fedex hub. <smile>) Another similar place would be a railroad dispatch room also mentioned in his book. (Supposedly the railroad dispatchers take an easier job being air traffic controllers) I had no idea how complex rail roads are.
Next non fiction book: The Numerati. And this one actually is computer relevant.