Sniffen Packets

With a name like Sniffen, it's got to smell good.

2024 Reading List

I used to have something like this on another site, and that vanished with a previous employer. Here’s a current dashed-off list of what I think is most important to be able to hand around the office.

New managers get copies of High Output Management, Drive, and Essential Drucker.

People newly in authority over human-facing technical systems get Engineering a Safer World… usually with post-its emphasizing the points I want to talk to them about.

I’m sure I’m forgetting things here, but now at least I can come back to add more.

Accident Prevention

  • The Checklist Manifesto is a gentle and engaging introduction to the fields of safety engineering and accident prevention.

  • Engineering a Safer World (amzn) describes the best theory and techniques I know for understanding, preventing, and analysing accidents. Every leader working with human-affecting technology should have a copy annotated.

  • Human Error is a short survey of the science—the psychology of human error—underlying “The Checklist Manifesto”.

  • Probing the Improbable: Methodological Challenges for Risks with Low Probabilities and High Stakes: for very rare events, it’s more likely that we’re thinking about them wrong than that they happen as we imagine them. As a consequence, we should round up any “1 in a billion” chances to about 1 in 10,000, the observed rate at which we make such model errors.

Communication & Leadership

  • Nonviolent Communication is the best last-resort communications framework I know. Alternately, it’s a good foundation and we can and should then build other things on top of it.

  • Drive: most people in knowledge-work fields are motivated by Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Get them a steady diet of those three and stand back.

  • How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk puts forward the radical idea that children are people and should be treated as such. It’s excellent advice on how to stop losing power struggles with your children (which, of course, cannot be won). I find it excellent for communicating down any power gradient.

  • The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf’s original 1970 essay on servant leadership.

Cognition and Behavior

  • Heilmeier’s Catechism asks: why is your project worth doing and what is going to enable you to succeed?

  • The Essential Drucker gives excellent perspective on how to get complicated things done. This is the core of a year-2000 MBA in one book.

  • Six Thinking Hats contains some useful advice on how to organize discussions intended that are intended to inform decision-making.

  • Influence: How to get yourself (or others) to do things. This one has pro- and anti-social uses; not for use by minors.


  • Boyd is an excellent biography by Corum. It gives sufficient depth of Boyd’s key three ideas: energy-maneuverability theory for fighter design; tight OODA loops for winning conflicts; loose OODA loops for building alliances.

  • The Strategy of Conflict: On wars and avoiding them, and how to win without fighting

  • Book of Five Rings a nice reminder that when you’re in a fight, you should remember what you’re doing.


  • Prudent Engineering Practice for Cryptographic Protocols, Abadi & Needham. So much wisdom crystalized from half a century of mistakes. Take a look at Principle 5 and you can see why we did “mac-then-encrypt” for so long.

  • Some thoughts on security after ten years of Qmail, Bernstein. Fewer bugs, less code, less trusted code. Note that there are now a few known exploitable remote code execution bugs in Qmail, all tied to its insistence on a 32-bit memory space.

  • Medical Devices: The Therac-25, Leveson. This is the first paper of the first systems course I ever took. In many ways it’s the reason I’m in safety engineering—and it’s by the only author with two entries on this page.