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Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

It’s all about the dead trees here at chez static this morning. First, I want to point some of y’all to a great book I picked up yesterday: Dreaming in Code: Two Dozen Programmers, Three Years, 4,732 Bugs, and One Quest for Transcendent Software. Written by one of the founders of Salon, it chronicles the attempts of a software legend to create something new, all the while trying to answer the question, “Why is making software so hard?”

As a programmer, I’ve certainly experienced ‘dreaming in code’ – being submerged so thoroughly in a project that I’ve literally dreamed about the actual, physical source code, character after character appearing as though being typed into an editor. I also have the pleasure of being involved in a project about which I am passionate, and over which I have a large degree of creative control – an opportunity to make a ‘dream’ tangible, ‘word made flesh’ as it were. It’s quite a high, and like most intoxicants, potentially addictive; I don’t think I could return to the grey, soul-sucking world of business development. As you can probably imagine, I’m not having much difficulty relating to this book.

It’s a pretty easy read, particularly if you’re already conversant in software; I bought it yesterday, and I’m about half-way through it already. An interview with the author, Scott Rosenberg, may be found (on Salon, of course) here; yeah, yeah, yeah; just watch the damn ad. I don’t think it will provide any definitive answers to the ‘why is it hard?’ question, but it will certainly provide a lot of food for thought for programmers, technical managers, and anyone else interested in some of the meta questions surrounding software.

On a semi-related note, I read a review on Wired this morning about China Miéville’s latest book, Un Lun Dun:

[Un Lun Dun] follows a young girl’s quest to save a creepy parallel-universe London. And for Miéville, best known for a steampunk trilogy full of superhot, beetle-headed women and nightmare-eating monsters, it’s a new direction. He’s written something that kids, especially young girls, will devour.

[…]

Un Lun Dun isn’t perfect; it often mistakes wordplay for imagery and feels a little pat. But give it to a kid (and borrow it when they’re done). It just might help them grow up into the kind of nerd we need a lot more of — one who thinks they can save the world with sheer ingenuity.

We haven’t had a whole lot of trouble introducing The Boy to fantasy – but I’ve been hard-pressed to think of appropriate ‘gateway drug’ books for science fiction. As the review linked above mentions, most science fiction that’s out there is a ‘lousy gateway drug’ – most of it is written for those who already have a taste for it. In my own experience, fantasy and horror came first, with science fiction filtering in later. I may have to leaf through this one and see if it’s something that would be appropriate for The Boy.

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with the source of the title, it’s Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” But I’m pretty sure most of y’all already knew that ;-))

4 Responses to “Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

  1. Stephen Spencer Says:

    Stranger in a Strange Land – now there’s a gateway drug! Wrinkle in Time? McCaffrey’s Pern novels? ‘Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,’ perhaps?

    And it was Groucho Marx who said, “I’ve got Crohn’s Disease, but it’s OK, he’s got mine.”

  2. Stephen Spencer Says:

    Stranger in a Strange Land – now <i>there's</i> a gateway drug! Wrinkle in Time? McCaffrey's Pern novels? 'Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH,' perhaps?

    And it was Groucho Marx who said, "I've got Crohn's Disease, but it's OK, he's got mine."

  3. protected static Says:

    I’d probably do Wrinkle in Time before getting into Heinlein, largely because I know L’Engel’s work will better stand up to being read aloud. Heinlein… not so much. I’m also thinking in general RAH is more appropriate for someone slightly older who’s just starting to get hooked. [Edited to add: and that’s without getting into having to explain Stranger’s sex & drugs to The Boy… ;-) ]

    I also have the White Mountains trilogy, which I loved as a kid. It’s like War of the Worlds, only the tripods won. Again though, it’s probably slightly more appropriate for an older kid.

    And it’s funny – I think of the other two as more fantasy novels than science fiction. We’ve already read Rats of NIMH, and while he enjoyed it, I’m not sure it really opened his eyes to the possibility of a new genre. And Pern… well… I think the dragons would get in the way of the sf content. I’m really looking for something that will open up his eyes to new possibilities, something that won’t quite fit in with other stuff we’ve read. For instance, from The Boy’s perspective, is Rats really all that different from The Mouse and the Motorcycle? I would say no, probably not.

    I’m not one of these people who sees a bright and shining line between the genres. I’s more that I was trying to come up with age-appropriate ‘hard’ sf. Maybe it’s time for me to reread Jules Verne and see how dense the language is.

  4. protected static Says:

    I'd probably do <em>Wrinkle in Time</em> before getting into Heinlein, largely because I know L'Engel's work will better stand up to being read aloud. Heinlein… not so much. I'm also thinking in general RAH is more appropriate for someone slightly older who's just starting to get hooked. <em>[Edited to add: and that's without getting into having to explain Stranger's sex & drugs to The Boy… ;-) ]</em>

    I also have the <em>White Mountains</em> trilogy, which I loved as a kid. It's like War of the Worlds, only the tripods won. Again though, it's probably slightly more appropriate for an older kid.

    And it's funny – I think of the other two as more fantasy novels than science fiction. We've already read <em>Rats of NIMH</em>, and while he enjoyed it, I'm not sure it really opened his eyes to the possibility of a new genre. And Pern… well… I think the dragons would get in the way of the sf content. I'm really looking for something that will open up his eyes to new possibilities, something that won't quite fit in with other stuff we've read. For instance, from The Boy's perspective, is <em>Rats</em> really all that different from <em>The Mouse and the Motorcycle</em>? I would say no, probably not.

    I'm not one of these people who sees a bright and shining line between the genres. I's more that I was trying to come up with age-appropriate 'hard' sf. Maybe it's time for me to reread Jules Verne and see how dense the language is.

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