Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: books (page 2 of 2)

Sergey Brin on Google Books

Google founder Sergey Brin takes to the pages of the New York Times today to explain the value of Google Books:

But the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone except the most tenacious researchers at premier academic libraries. Books written after 1923 quickly disappear into a literary black hole. With rare exceptions, one can buy them only for the small number of years they are in print. After that, they are found only in a vanishing number of libraries and used book stores. As the years pass, contracts get lost and forgotten, authors and publishers disappear, the rights holders become impossible to track down.

Inevitably, the few remaining copies of the books are left to deteriorate slowly or are lost to fires, floods and other disasters. While I was at Stanford in 1998, floods damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of books. Unfortunately, such events are not uncommon — a similar flood happened at Stanford just 20 years prior. You could read about it in The Stanford-Lockheed Meyer Library Flood Report, published in 1980, but this book itself is no longer available.

As an author, I’m completely supportive of Google Books, and I agree with Brin in that I wish there were many such services. Recently an out of print, foreign album I had been searching for in any format for years became available via Amazon MP3. In one day, this band’s music went from being completely inaccessible to being available to essentially everyone with an Internet connection. Google Books’ arrangement is slightly different, but the concept is the same. Most people create things in order to reach an audience, and Google Books gives authors of out of print works an opportunity that simply does not currently exist. It’s unlikely that a better opportunity is worth holding out for.

More on Say Everything

I’ve finished Scott Rosenberg’s history of blogging, Say Everything, and wanted to finish writing up my thoughts. The other day I wrote about the first half, now I’m adding my impression on the whole thing.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, Scott does a truly outstanding job of capturing the essence of events as they occurred. The toughest job for a historian or journalist is making the events recognizable to those who observed them closely, and Scott succeeds admirably on that front.

There are also pieces of analysis in the book that really impressed me. There’s a discussion of sincerity and authenticity that I found illuminating. I never really considered the differences between the two, but they are important and meaningful. I’d classify this blog as a “sincere” blog, but not an “authentic” one, by Scott’s definition.

He draws a distinction between “professional” bloggers and “traditional” bloggers that never occurred to me but that defines things perfectly — the pros write about what they think will interest their audience. The traditionalists write about what interests them. The difference is profound. I read all sorts of amateur blogs but very few professional ones. And what’s interesting to me is that the line is not whether the author gets paid or not — it’s the sensibility they bring to their work.

I also want to note that Scott incorporates quotations from blogs throughout the book, and the quotes are very well selected. The quotations not only underscore the points he’s trying to make, but are also almost always important in their own right. There are very few quotations from blogs in the book that were new to me.

This is a book about blogs that any blogger would enjoy reading. It’d also be great for people who have never gotten what blogging is all about. It’s really a fine book.

Notes on Say Everything

I’ve plowed into Scott Rosenberg‘s new history of blogging, Say Everything and finished the first half of the book today. It’s pretty clear to me that this book will be seen one day as incredibly important. This is the first history book I’ve ever read (and could very well be the last) that describes events that I observed very closely. Scott does a great job of filling in the backstories for those events. Nothing in the book rings patently false or wrong to me, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay.

A few random impressions from the first few chapters:

  • I appreciated the chapter on Justin Hall. He was one of the most interesting characters on the early web. Rosenberg mentions Electric Minds in the context of Justin working there. That was a site that I really, really loved — it was probably the most stimulating forum for online conversation that I ever encountered.
  • The second and third chapters cover Dave Winer and Jorn Barger. Both of them were huge inspirations to me and were very influential in terms of how I built this site, and both of them are in some ways controversial characters. I thought he told both their stories fairly and well.
  • Suck.com gets a big mention. There is no site that inspired me more to write online than Suck. I originally wanted to write essays for Suck, and settled for trying to write essays in the style of Suck.
  • I knew a big chunk of the Pyra/Blogger story, but not all of it. Now I feel like some of the gaps have been filled.
  • Scott discusses the influx of “warbloggers” immediately after September 11, 2001. Reading that part of the book made me really sad, so much so that I almost wanted to put the book down. I felt like those people took something from the people who were blogging before, and I still resent them for it.

A few things I was sad to see go unmentioned:

  • Noah Grey. Noah wrote an open source blogging tool called Greymatter that was released after Blogger and before Movable Type. These days it’s hard to find a good link to link to for him. Greymatter was (I think) the first open source server-based blogging application as far as I know. It was also written in the most inscrutable style you can imagine. I’d hate to see his contributions be lost completely.
  • Brigitte Eaton. In the early days of weblogging, Brigitte made a herculean effort to catalog all of the weblogs that existed. Eventually the growth of weblogs made that task impossible, but she maintained the most comprehensive list for a really long time, and she did it by hand. Scott mentions the first blogroll, but doesn’t mentions Brigitte’s work on that front.
  • Me. Not because I was omitted, but because I feel like I didn’t make the contributions I could have back in the olden days. I was there to bear witness but didn’t take advantage of the opportunities to make a bigger impact. Fortunately it’s not as though I’m out of chances.

Links from March 1st

  • Dries Buytaert: Drupal sites. A big list of Drupal sites.
  • Hivelogic: Review: The NewerTech Voyager Q. Docking station that lets you use internal hard drives as external hard drives. Seems like a great solution for certain backup strategies.
  • Music Machinery: In search of the click track. Programmatically determining which drummers use click tracks and which don’t. Really, really interesting.
  • David Plotz: What I learned from reading the entire Biblee. I was obsessed with his Blogging the Bible series, and I’m glad to see it’s now a book.
  • TheMoneyIllusion: An open letter to Mr. Krugman. A really interesting alternative to the stimulus plan, suggesting novel monetary policy rather than fiscal policy. I have no idea whether this would work, but it’s an interesting idea.

Opinions make reading fun

I was reading Douglas Crockford’s excellent JavaScript: The Good Parts and came across a great sentence that you wouldn’t find in many technical books:

If you want to learn more about the bad parts and how to use them badly, consult any other JavaScript book.

That’s the sort of thing that cuts through the tedium of reading a book about programming.

How to read popular non-fiction

In an answer to a reader question on how to choose popular non-fiction books to read, Tyler Cowen says:

The first open up a whole new world to you where previously none had existed. Many people felt this way when they read Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene for the first time. For obvious reasons, books like this are increasingly hard to find as you continue your reading career.

It would be fun to make a list of such books. The interesting thing is that in many cases books in this category can provide you with an important new way of seeing things even if you wind up rejecting a lot of what’s in them. Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent fell into this category for me. I’m going to think about making a longer list.

Programmer book club selection

I’m looking for a first selection for a book club for programmers. The two books I’m considering to start are Code Compete, the classic Steven McConnell book on software development, and The Pragmatic Programmer, by Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas.

Anyone have an opinion on which to choose? I’m looking for something that both experienced and relatively new programmers will enjoy and benefit from, and that isn’t language specific. Are there other books I should consider as well?

Right up my alley

Tyler Cowen gives a very strong recommendation to Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. The topic is ethically eating seafood in a world where the seafood supply is dwindling rapidly. I’m going to buy it tonight.

Links for April 16

What if we give it away?

I’ve seen many mentions of the fact that there were over a million downloads of Suze Orman’s new book Women & Money while it was available free of charge at oprah.com. What I haven’t seen is how that affected sales of the book. Wired editor Chris Anderson has posted a graph showing that since it was available from Oprah’s Web site, it has topped the charts at Amazon.com. Some of that is attributable to the fact that Orman had just gotten the exposure of being featured on Oprah, but the free download certainly didn’t hurt her sales.

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