Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Unexpected CS Book Bonanza

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

This weekend was another book sale, this time over at our other local library. It’s a smaller library and fairly new – I wasn’t expecting much. There were only about 10 smallish tables of books, so I was quite surprised to find quite a cache of computer science books on a chair in the corner. Of course, there were the usual “Learn VB6 with a book the size of your head” and “NT admin’s pro reference” type books, but in between those, I managed to get, at a dollar each:

Quite the haul there! Including several from my CS reading list of ~14 years ago. But good CS, like maths, doesn’t really date. Talking of maths, I also picked up a couple of 1950s texts: Analytical Geometry and Calculus and Trigonometry: Plane and Spherical, both by Lloyd L Smail.

Why Reading Books Matters to a Programmer

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

The programming book market these days is small. Nothing like what it was eight years ago or so. And apparently, programmers don’t read books (any more).

It’s mostly true. But of course, there are still books worth reading. I’m going to take as read the easy arguments: let’s assume that you’ve already pared away all the “learn such-and-such in 24 hours”, anything with “for dummies” or “for teens” or equivalent in the title, and any book that weighs more than your head.

What you are left with is two kinds of books: timeless or beautiful texts that everyone agrees will still be worth reading in 20 years (and in many cases, already have passed this test), and the tougher category to decide on: the middling sort of books, probably specific to certain technologies and/or languages. In many cases they may be very good books, may even have been defining texts on first release, but either technology has moved on, or there is so much great information out there on the web that it makes spending $50+ on a book a proposition to think about.

The answer is: you should absolutely use all the information on the web, pulling it in as you “page fault”, and googling solutions as you go, in a practical way. AND you should absolutely read these books.

Reading and doing are not mutually exclusive ways of learning. They are complementary. And reading is more useful than many pragmatist programmers realise. Sure, you’re not going to learn practical things like debugging or how to wrangle libraries and packages just by reading. But you’re not going to get much wider context just by doing, either.

One of the first programming (culture) books I bought was the New Hacker’s Dictionary. It says this about reading:

Although high general intelligence is common among hackers, it is not the sine qua non one might expect. Another trait is probably even more important: the ability to mentally absorb, retain, and reference large amounts of ‘meaningless’ detail, trusting to later experience to give it context and meaning. A person of merely average analytical intelligence who has this trait can become an effective hacker, but a creative genius who lacks it will swiftly find himself outdistanced by people who routinely upload the contents of thick reference manuals into their brains.

The crucial part here is that reading gives a wider context to doing. This is why programmers should read, and reading and retaining (or at least being able, on second encounter, to remember and put in context) technical information is an important skill to have.

So read those books. Read code and blogs too. It may sound daunting (“How can I possibly remember everything?”) but the more you read and remember, the easier it will get, because brains are great at putting things in context and linking to things that they already know. And then when you get to doing, you’ll see the bigger picture, and perhaps you’ll also remember about a looming pitfall you read about, but which the hastily-constructed web tutorial you’re currently perusing glosses over.

LA Times Book Festival

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

I went with the family to the LA Times Book Festival today. We parked in the same lot as last year, avoiding the snarls off the 405 at Wilshire (signed UCLA) and heading up to Sunset to come in from the north side.

This year, we had got tickets ahead of time for three panel sessions: two for me and one for Mrs Elbeno (who would have also had two but for the fact that her second choice was cancelled). The two panels I attended were on poetry.

The first was “Walking the Line”, on how and why poets break their lines where they do. It featured David St John moderating, with Marvin Bell, Elaine Equi and Jean Valentine participating. It was an interesting discussion for a beginning poet like myself to hear, especially to compare free verse with metrical poetry.

After a nice chicken sandwich from the Organics To Go stall, the second panel I went to was “The Poet’s Voice” featuring Eloise Klein Healy moderating, with Mark Doty, Amy Gerstler and a curmudgeonly (but entertaining) Albert Goldbarth participating. The subject matter here was more wide-ranging, because the panel weren’t really interested in a narrow interpretation of the topic.

A quick potter around the stalls (avoiding the crazies) and it was time for Mrs Elbeno to get to her panel, which was about new fiction. After that we meandered around a few more stalls before heading back to the car and home. Mini-Elbeno stayed awake for a while, but was out a few miles from home and slept for an hour or so all told, totally zonked by the day out.

Book sale time again

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Last night I got an email from the library mailing list about another book sale this morning. We snagged a lot of books, including many SF paperbacks. Mini-Elbeno also got a ton of new titles. Not many computer titles this time around, but I got a book on python and The Man who Knew Infinity, a biography of the brilliant and unconventional Indian mathematician Ramanujan.

Recent Readings

Sunday, January 27th, 2008
  • Making Money by Terry Pratchett. (I seem to have missed Thud!)
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Heinlein-esque SF that I first heard about at last year’s LA Times Festival of Books.

Both quick reads – I finished each one in less than 2 days.

Book sale again

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Seems like we just had the last book sale… Saturday was this quarter’s already. Here’s the haul:

The library project continues

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Another bookshelf done. I’m up to 1209 books by 142 authors, spanning 53 distinct years.

That’s my boy!

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

This morning, mini-Elbeno decided to look at one of Daddy’s books.

Henry reads about Unix

Projects update

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

This morning I did a bit more work on the MAME cabinet. It’s coming along slowly. I now have both sides cut out (and they match each other!) and the slots cut for the t-molding, which I received in the week. The slot cutter bit was too big to fit through my router’s base, so I had to pre-plunge and attach the bit with the router locked down. Luckily this worked. I also removed the vacuum attachment section for more space (I don’t have a vac to attach). Slot cutting was the part I was a bit nervous about, but in the end it turned out a lot easier than the other routing I’ve done. I’m sure this is partly because I’m getting a bit better at routing but mostly because the bit was nice and sharp and removing a small amount of wood compared to the flush trim bit. I did a test on some scrap ply and a sample piece of t-molding, and it turned out perfectly. The bit went through the ply like a hot knife through butter, and the whole process was over in a few minutes.

I’ve also been working more on cataloguing my library, and also my games library. I’ve pretty much done the games – I have many fewer games than books, and they’re easier to look up on Amazon. All but a few have pictures, and knowing more about games, I am more able to pick the correct variant than I am with books. The books are slower going: fine for the more recent titles, but older editions tend to be a bit more iffy with regard to ISBN, and some don’t have ISBNs. But I’ve made more progress on the books tonight: I’ve done almost 4 bookcases now. 3 to go. As of current figures, I have 289 games and 795 books.

Books I keep at work

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

The working bookshelf of a games programmer.