Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Best Engineering Books According to Mechanical Turk

BoltMy first Mechanical Turk experiment asked for the worker's favorite engineering book. See my previous post for a little more background.

This HIT has not received many responses, but I'm not very surprised. There are still assignments open on Mechanical Turk if you wish to contribute.

I asked the following questions:
  1. What is the title of your favorite book on the subject of Engineering? The book might be your favorite because it is fun to read, because it has great ideas, because it is so useful, or some other reason.
  2. Who is the author of your favorite book on the subject of Engineering? This should be the author of the book you mentioned above.
  3. What engineering specialty does this book apply to? Civil engineering? Software engineering? Engineering in general?
  4. Why is this your favorite engineering book? Is it practical? Entertaining? Or something else?
  5. Do you have any feedback? If you're curious, the results of this survey will likely end up on
Below are the responses I received so far.

Artificial Intelligence (3rd Edition) (A-W Series in Computerscience)

Author: Patrick H. Winston

Specialty: Artificial Intelligence/Software Engineering

Reason: Very well written and covers many topics. I took Prof. Winston's class and this got me interested in the field, and I have since then followed a career path in AI and machine learning.

Civil Engineering Reference Manual for the PE Exam

Author: Michael R. Lindeburg

Specialty: Civil

Reason: It is efficient and practical. Most needed information for general civil engineering issues are included in this book.

Feedback: I will try to remember to check it out. I'm curious how many other relevant turkers there are.

Post-Capitalist Society

Author: Peter Drucker

Specialty: industrial engineering / industrial psychology

Reason: Peter Drucker wrote "The Post Capitalist Society" more than ten years go, just as the Internet was starting to come on line. He was prescient in the view that the information of the world would begin to upwell and then overflow. His discussion of the commodification of information, the need to train people how to search and research, the psychology (and growing frustration and dropping out) of the rapid evolution of society are coming true. The evolution of knowledge work into low, medium, and high skill sets are something I struggle to implement in the IT system architecture and user interfaces I help implement. Seeing information as a new commodity, a product to be processed, sorted, transformed, and handed off to users in a final and finished form on demand is becoming critical to apply process improvement methodologies to the IT world.

Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource

Author: Marq de Villiers

Specialty: Civil Engineering with an emphasis toward our water resource

Reason: Unlike other mundane engineering books, the flow (pardon my pun) of this book is smooth as it describes the various challenges and engineering feats concerning the water industry. In fact, I have lent the book to other friends and family members who are not of an engineering background, but have exactly been left impacted by the central message. It is that central message is sometime that I try to instill to up and coming engineers back at my alumnus school; that the field of engineering is laid out by formulas and pratical sense, but our ultimate work is dictated by social constructs and attitudes. Most people in America expect to have water, which is defined as a luxury, though really it is a resource. Anyway, it is a very enjoyable read.

Feedback: Good luck finding engineering books, they are certaintly rare, or at least those which are a good read.

* You can help me and my publisher by buying the book using These links. In association with Amazon.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Project Turk

Red FezI was reminded of Amazon's Mechanical Turk a few weeks ago by a story on Boing Boing. In the article, a passenger stranded at Dulles used Mechanical Turk to collect stories and illustrations about cats. He later turned the stories into a book he sold on Blurb.

It seemed like a fantastic idea to me. I wondered how I could use the power of the Turk's hive mind to improve my life. Project Turk was born. Let's see if Mechanical Turk can help me live a better and richer life.

The first idea I settled on was to ask engineers what their favorite engineering book was. I'm a big reader. Perhaps it would be fun or inspiring to read a book from a different engineering field.

To start, I created a qualification to act as a prerequisite to the HIT. This basically amounts to a quick survey that established that the worker was an engineer or engineering student. Once a worker gets the qualification, he or she can perform any HIT (Human Intelligence Task) requiring it.

Next, I created the HIT itself, which pays a few cents in exchange for the name of a favorite engineering book. So far I've only received three responses in the past few days. I'm not too surprised; how many engineers would operate on the worker side of Mechanical Turk? I'm going to give it more time to collect data.

The next HIT I created requires no qualification except that the worker live in the US. I'm asking folks about the habits that drive them crazy, and their own worst habits. It's only been online a few hours and already I have 18 responses.There are a few really interesting themes developing. I'll probably post the results in a few days.