back to article Confessions of an ebook eater

The best way to acquire a programming skill - by "skill" I mean a working understanding of a framework, a language or, shudder, very very bad word coming up, engaging shatter-proof scare quotes, a "paradigm" - is by modifying a colleague's well-written code and making it do something different that you actually need it to do. …

Re: Ms. Stob, you've been lucky you had not to cope with translated books...

One of my favorite mumblesomethings from a difficult professor was about DEC and their manual for BASIC:

"From looking at it you'd think they took printouts of code and ran them on their machine, but no, it must have cost someone a fortune to buy a typewriter ball that looks like it was a printout from their machine.

Sadly, there's on average 1 mistake per page."

But, he never told us where the mistakes were. That was left as an exercise to the reader.

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Trollface

Re: "the Intel 80286 manual was another source of gems"

I always thought the Intel 80286 *architecture* was a source of gems...

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LDS
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"FreePascal and Lazarus might be what you're looking for"

If they were a replacement, Delphi would be already out of business fully. Unluckily, they're still just a replacement for Delphi 7 only, and little else...

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My first coding experience...

Was laboriously typing BASIC line by line from from a book of games written for the Oric 1 (before we upgraded to the much more lovely Oric 48K). Typing and then debugging would take hours if not days, and the results were, well, often a bit shit.

Looking back, I, erm, don't think it did mE aNy LoNG tErM hARm....

60 Programs for the Oric 1 http://www.defence-force.org/computing/oric/library/lib_coding_basic/

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Re: My first coding experience...

This book defined my career: https://www.amazon.com/UNIX-Network-Programming-Richard-Stevens/dp/0139498761, I enjoyed every page and used all my free time typing in the examples in slackware linux, It was my first journey into unix/linux and my first hacks. Loved how it worked in HPUX(1990), linux(1993) and later on Sun4 and Irix. When I landed my first job at SGI (1997) it was instrumental in my daily job tuning and analyzing Irix systems against all the other unixes.

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Anonymous Coward

Sorry, video courses for me

I've never really been a bookworm, other than reading a lot of horror fiction. Picking up a tech book and trying desperately to learn from it by rote, you might as well ask me to eat the damn book as that'll probably have a far better chance to ensuring the knowledge stays in my brainbox!

Sadly not every techie is good at video presentation though, very few can do it for an international audience. There are some great techies, people like Pinal Dave on Pluralsight, but he sounds like he's just done a load of Speed and coffee before recording, he speaks so rapidly and in a staccato phrasing that sadly means you spend more time listening to his amazing speech patterns than actually paying attention to the material, ha ha!

I find watching 30-40 mins of vids every day on the commute helps me to get a good idea about a particular tech, whereas sadly and much to my own personal shame reading tech books for more than 10-15 mins just sends me to the land of nod.

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Re: Sorry, video courses for me

Video courses are much less frustrating for me if played on an app with an easy-to-use variable playback speed control.

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Re: Sorry, video courses for me

tthhiiss ccoommeenntt iiss ppllaayyiinngg aatt hhaallff ssppeeeedd..MMooggaaddoonn mmooddee....

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Well thumbed Oreilly books - and memories of Foyles

Miss Verity, what a superb article. I remember expeditions to Foyles also, to obtain many Oreilly books, and more obscure books too.

I completely agree with your point on having well thunbed Oreilly books on display. It is the system admin or developers equivalent to mating plumage - it says "Oi! I can prgram in XYZ and don;t you doubt it - I've read this book here".

I admit to arriving at each new job with a box of Oreilly books which I carefully line up on my desk.

In the absence of military style badges of rank or epaullettes on our polo shirts, or medals for bravery under helldesk fire, that's probably the only way we can signal to others in our profession what we (at least claim) our proficiency levels are.

But say... a rather smart military style uniform with engineering medals and rank badges would be a good idea... I'm sure cheif Engineer Scott got his fair share on the Enterprise...

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Re: Well thumbed Oreilly books - and memories of Foyles

Take my old, battered, dog eared, coffee & Guinness stained, much loved books into WORK? I think NOT, laddie!

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MAF

Forgot Packt

Packtpub are quite good for e-books too plus they give away a free e-book each day (i.e. you wind up visiting their site frequently :-) )

https://www.packtpub.com/packt/offers/free-learning

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Facepalm

"Foyles' quixotic system of trading"

But you first had to find the book you wanted. By Subject? No. By Author? No, not that either. The books were shelved by Publisher.

(Someone claimed this was because it made it easier to put the new books on the shelves)

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Verity Stob really wrote this?

Who is this imposter, it reads like an imitation?

Also an LCD is rubbish to read on. Larger eInk Options:

Note the cheap 6" Kindle might be only 167 DPI, the latest PaperWhite is close to 300DPI?

1) 6.8" Kobo

2) Kobo One 7.8"

3) Second hand Kindle DXG 9.7

4) If you are rich ... (second hand) Sony Digital Paper DPTS1, about $700 just before it was ended at the end of 2016.

PDFs are ghastly to read, unless your screen is 1200 pixels high or more. No re-flow,

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Re: Verity Stob really wrote this?

I used to be an eInk bore but seem to have migrated, by pure osmosis, to reading solely on a LCD tablet. For pure text (e.g. novels) FBReader in night mode - white text on black background - is ideal and bothers my wonky eyes not at all. I can read for hours without discomfort. I rarely pick up my eInk things these days, and my paper books even less.

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Anonymous Coward

You can tell which of my pBooks were really useful. They are the ones with lots of Post-it notes sticking out of the edges - each annotated with a short reference.

You can't use your fingers as concurrent place-holders on eBooks while correlating between several sections..

However many pBooks have a minimal index - and at least you can search in an eBook. A combination of media sources including YouTube videos is best.

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What's a "Pointer-to-Book"?

First, I know nobody who uses the word "book" to refer only to an electronic document, so the "pbook" nonsense is totally redundant. There are, at this point in history, "books" (paper) and "e-books" (electronically stored and displayed). When paper books do become the tiny minorty (and it's not going to be for decades), we'll coin a term for them; and my money is on that term being the straightforward "paper books", just as "film camera" versus "camera" has replaced "camera" versus "digital camera" since digital photography became the universal technology.

Second, when coining English words, it's generally a good idea to use the consonant patterns of the language. "vlog" was bad enough (no other English word , but "pbook" can only be sounded by a native English speaker as "pook" ...or "book", and I don't know a language where "pb" would be sounded separately. (Say "drop bear" and listen carefully to the sounds you're making. The consonant at end of "drop" will be shared with the start of "bear". Now concentrate on sounding both separately. Awkward, isn't it?)

So, someone decided to coin a new word that's spelled only slightly differently to an existing word that's already universally understood to describe the exact same thing (and with that meaning is one of the thousand most common words in English), but the new word also has the added stupidity that it can only be pronounced in a way that makes it sounds exactly the same as the existing word it's supposed to replace. Bravo!

(and the biggest problem with e-books is that you can't hold multiple pages open with your fingers as you cross-reference an index, the place you were reading, and the description of the term that the place you're reading has just referenced)

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Anonymous Coward

"First, I know nobody who uses the word "book" to refer only to an electronic document, [...]"

It can be argued that "book" primarily refers to the information - not the medium. A scroll of parchment or vellum contains information that can be a "book". The Shorter Oxford Dictionary has "a writing" as its first entry for the meaning - and then goes on to fill a column with variant meanings.

As to pronunciation - English is notorious for breaking any apparent rules of phonetics for particular groups of contiguous letters. Over time some letters have become silent in certain combinations - but were previously pronounced . There is now a silent "k" in "knife" - but we would still pronounce it in the proper name "Knut".

The word eBook probably started life as e-book. The word "email" is now accepted as replacing "e-mail" - even though "emailed" has a prior meaning for enamelled or embossed decoration.

Therefore p-book or pBook can become valid differentiators for the medium of a paged book with paper leaves.

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"Therefore p-book or pBook can become valid differentiators for the medium of a paged book with paper leaves."

Is is, as any fule kno, pronounced PeeBook!

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Anonymous Coward

In the 1950s and probably the 1960s many UK large shops had a central payment point. The customer didn't have to change queues though.

In the Co-op (Co-operative Society) grocery store each counter had an overhead wire on which little boxes whizzed back and forth across the shop to a distant eyrie where the money was handled. Your money and bill was put into one of the boxes - and the assistant pulled a handle to make it move. Then your change and receipt returned the same way. If your family had shares in the Co-op then you had a personal "divvy" (dividend) number which was ingrained in your mind - a bit like a loyalty card discount nowadays.

In some large department stores they used the vacuum tube (not thermionic) system. Your money and bill was put into a short metal tube container - which was inserted in a hole in the wall. A hiss and it disappeared through a labyrinth of tubes to the accounting department somewhere in the building. Then a clang when it returned with the change and receipt.

Can't remember if the assistant was single-threading with one customer during such an exchange.

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Anonymous Coward

I read manuals on my desktop PC with a 27" 16x12 monitor. It has a sensor that automatically changes the the window orientation for landscape or portrait mode as you physically rotate the screen 90 degrees.

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Happy

O'Really ?

I have, in the basement, a bookcase full of O'Reilly titles, with the aminals on de cover. I am waiting for them to become valuable collectables to Millennial geeks. They strike me as suckers, who will buy anything.

The Manning MEEP I am waiting for is Learn Haskell. It has been retitled before completion, but I am still hoping it will reveal the Secret Meaning of Monad. I was working thru the prelim PDF, but I had to back up to chapter 4 when I forgot what currying was.

Actually, books are good. I taught myself "C" from the White Book, as did all the true C programmers. It was a very rare book that was written as a reference, but somehow also served as a teaching tool.

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Happy

Re: O'Really ?

In fairness, the White book was from before C got "incrementally" more and more complex.

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Re: O'Really ?

True C did not get complex. It lives in a simple world of PDP's and 3B's, Ascii mini's. This world was a much simpler place. It was temporarily reborn with the 8-bit IBM PC.

Then MicroSoft produced their alleged "C" compiler. I know, for a fact, that anything written with this abomination will fail next year, when the C epoch overflows to leftmost bit. The product of this abomination will think that time has become negative, with unpredictable results.

I know, that is not the compiler's fault, but the library that MS copied from somewhere or the other.

I plan on being dead in 2038 when the C epoch overflows completely. If anybody defrosts me to fix old code, I will claim brain damage.

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Foyles versus Blackwells

By Blackwells, of course, I mean the one on Broad Street in Oxford. When I moved to Oxford in 1995, they had a computing-books section that was subject-organised, with a strong slant toward books with a scholarly bent. It was a treasure trove, really, and immensely more convenient than going to Foyles. And you could buy books by taking to a till and paying the amount they asked and then leaving with the book. (Ordering books that weren't available on the shelves required you to be an adventurous soul, and was generally better done down the road at Waterstones/Dillons.)

Sadly, as the years progressed, the selection became progressively more mainstream and less scholarly in nature, probably due to competitive pressure from Waterstones/Dillons and (later) from Borders as well.

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If only....

"Insist on proper EPUB files. You will thank me for this"

....once you've found an e-book reader that works properly. Unfortunately there are a lot of bad ones out there.

Even just differentiating code from narrative by styling becomes a major logistical exercise - nevermind attempting some of the more complex typographical feats of daring-do which are run of the mill in technical books such as footnotes, callouts etc.

http://lampe2e.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/file-formats-in-wild-wild-west-review.html

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Holmes

Back in the day before that day...

I remember when a book told you about ROM and OS calls, not APIs! Wasn't there a second-hand bookshop near the top of Charing Cross Road (near a similar second-hand CD place) that had a load of computing books? I got a few very informative volumes about the Atari ST from there.

On another note I recall p*ssing off the entire English department of my school without realising it. I'd won a prize of a book token and the deal was we chose a book, bought it, then returned it to the school to be dished out at an awards evening in front of assembled parents. But afterwards, I was subject to derision and abuse from my barking mad, Victorian-attitude English teacher, and I had no idea why.

It was only much later that I realised the deluded staff honestly thought they were instilling a love of literature in their students, and my choice of 'The Complete Spectrum ROM Disassembly' as a literature prize rather tactlessly highlighted their failings. It was apparently referred to as 'not even a proper book'; Doctors Ian Logan and Frank O'Hara apparently not on the department's list of acceptably tedious and departed authors.

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Programming skill?

'The best way to acquire a programming skill - by "skill" I mean a working understanding of a framework, a language or ... a "paradigm"'

These are coding skills, not programming skills. They merely represent the technicianship aspects of programming. Relying on technicianship alone is equivalent to having your new commercial premises designed by bricklayers rather than architects and civil engineers.

What we currently suffer from (in respect of functionality, performance and security) is software bricklayers being in full command. What we need to cultivate is programming as an engineering discipline which is conceptual and based on established fundamental principles, of which coding is a necessary but potentially small part. If that were achieved, we might be supplied with software that did not need a torrent of bug fixes, would be less OS and upgrade dependent and did not take seconds to launch dialogs.

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