This is not an episode (a diversion into what makes explanations good)

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Not an episode that suggests ideas for people to try in software projects. Instead, I am reacting to the book /Communities of Practice/, whose ideas are not explained well enough that I can use them confidently in an episode. I suggest how the book could have been improved by using more examples, some counterexamples, and more stories. If you want to be a better explainer, this might help you.
The key message begins with the observation that categories and concepts have central examples and fuzzy boundaries. The idea that categories are usefully defined by boolean-valued necessary and sufficient conditions is outdated. The stock example is the question: "Is the pope a bachelor?" The answer is, "Well, technically", but there are clearly more central examples that capture more of the concept's connotations. (See Lakoff's 1987 Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Gregory L. Murphy's 2004 The Big Book of Concepts is more exhaustive and covers different theories.)

Examples teach you what lays within the (fuzzy) boundary. Counterexamples teach you what lays outside. You need both.

Stories stimulate the kind of learning that happens from lived experience and social interaction.

These claims are illustrated by the kind of examples, counterexamples, and stories that I think Etienne Wenger should have (but mostly did not) use in his 1998 Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. The episode isn't a comprehensive – or perhaps even accurate – explanation of his theory. Because (I believe) of how the book was written, my understanding of the theory is shaky.

I also drew on these writings:

Wenger, Snyder, and McDermott, Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, 2002
Cox, Andrew M., "What are communities of practice? A comparative review of four seminal works", 2005
Etienne Wenger, "Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems: the Career of a Concept", 2010

I mentioned Tinderbox, a note-taking app, and Bike, an outliner.

I mentioned my habit of writing books that include mistakes that are later corrected. As advertised, the first book I wrote this way is RubyCocoa: Bringing Some Ruby Love to OS X Programming. That's a book about dead technology, and is out of print. Perhaps the best example of this style was the unfinished An Outsider's Guide to Statically Typed Functional Programming, which is free. (The finished part is about Elm, which alas also seems dead.) Functional Programming for the Object-Oriented Programmer is an introduction to Clojure, uses something of the include-mistakes style, was pretty successful, but is old enough I've also made it free. 

The description of the apocryphal story of Saint Thecla is from the Apocrypals podcast. There's more than just man-eating seals.

The science fiction story Año Nuevo is by Ray Naylor.

Picture of Magritte's "The Treachery of Images" via Flickr user darryl_mitchel,  under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.
This is not an episode (a diversion into what makes explanations good)
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