No lessons…

May 31st, 2005 § 2 comments § permalink

A few days ago, I was waiting for the bus near a store that was being renovated, when a old man stopped at my side. He seemed to be almost fifty, dressed simply but neatly, and carrying a paper tube like those architects or engineers use. Turning to me, he said:

“Nice sidewalk, huh?” The part of the sidewalk in front of the store had been renovated too, and constrated with the rest of sidewalk along the older stores, more clean and newer.

I only smiled. After ten hours in front of a computer, I wasn’t in the mood to talk to passing strangers, especially about such mudane subjects like sidewalks. The old man, of course, didn’t mind my mood.

“If you were an engineer,” he continued, “what would say it’s wrong about this sidewalk?”

“I’m not an engineer,” I replied, trying to stop the conversation right there.

“I know. Pretend you are one. What’s wrong with the sidewalk?”

I shrugged. I really wasn’t interested in the conversation, and even less in trying to find out what whoever had renovated the sidewalk had done wrong. The silence between us stretched for a few moments, and the old man finally seemed to realize I wouldn’t answer him. Even so, he saw fit to illuminate my ignorance about sidewalks.

“The sidewalk is too straight,” he explained. “Soon it will rain, and the water will pool in the midst of the sidewalk, which will then crack. I was in the building industry for more than twenty five years. We used to pay attention to this kind of things.”

I looked at him without making any reply. Adjusting the paper tube under his arm, the old man said:

“A good evening to you, young man.”

He quickly disappeared in the crowd moving around the place, a crowd that carelessly stopped over the (very) straight sidewalk, not worrying about rains or pooling water or anything like that, paying attention only to the store being renovated, asking themselves what merchandise it would sell.

In the end, I felt guilty about the whole thing. The old man only wanted to talk, to share something with someone before going home. No lessons or morals. Maybe just some recognition about something he had noticed, and that no one else thought important. And I, even though it would have been so easy to answer him properly, denied him even the simple courtesy of attention.

Free computer books

May 30th, 2005 § Comments Off on Free computer books § permalink

Ju Rao’s Homepage features a big list of (supposedly) free computers books. The list also includes tutorials and lecture notes, and the topics range from database programming to web programming.

American Gods

May 30th, 2005 § 1 comment § permalink

Neil Gaiman is one of those writers whose books I can’t seem to be able to put down when I start reading them. He is probably more famous for his graphic novels (Sandman) than for his books, but the books are what attracted me in first place. The few of his graphics novels I’ve skimmed didn’t impress much. But that is probably because I’m not much into comics anyway.

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading his American Gods, a fascinating story of myth and fantasy that kept spellbound from the first page to the last one.

From Gaiman’s I had previously read Stardust, which is a charming fairy tales, guaranteed to please both kids and grown-ups — although, if you are thinking about reading it for your kids, consider yourself warned about the (almost) explicit sex scene at the beginning of the book, which I can’t understand it’s there since nowhere else in the book something like it is repeated.

When I decided to buy another of his books, I had to choose between Neverwhere and American Gods. I decided for the latter, and although I will soon buy the former, I’m almost sure American Gods will prove itself superior, especially considering what I’ve read about both books.

I won’t spoil anybody’s experience of the book, telling to much about it. It’s enough to say that that main character gets himself thrown in the midst of a struggle between the old gods of mankind (Norse, Russian, Irish, Egyptian, and pretty much all of the Old Word panteon) and the new gods of our modern age (media, money, technology, and the mysterious Agency — that exists because everybody thinks so). The battle will happen at the heart of America, but nothing is what it really seems. Gaiman takes the reader to a fascinating exploration of the American culture in the eyes of a European, an exploration that gets even more interesting when read by someone who’s neither American nor European.

To lover of mythology, the book is a must. Internal references and surprised multiply themselves in every page, including incredible word games that are a joy to decode.

Gaiman is also able to give each character a unique voice that nicely complements their profiles. From Shadow, the main character — that gets out of prison to find his wife was killed in a car accident but didn’t stay quite dead, and returns to visit him, beginning a strange relationship that is intrinsically tied with the book’s main plot — to old Wednesday, his mysterious employer that hides secrets in each of his revelation, memorable characters fill every page of the book.

It’s a book to read and read again, just for the pleasure of a well-told yarn.

Weirdest strack trace ever

May 29th, 2005 § Comments Off on Weirdest strack trace ever § permalink

Raise your hands if you have seen a weirdest strack trace than this one. In more than ten years of programming, I’ve never seen something like it.

Books, e-books, and piracy

May 29th, 2005 § Comments Off on Books, e-books, and piracy § permalink

John Scalzi, a science fiction writer whose blog is one of my favorites, wrote a couple weeks ago about the issue of piracy in the book industry. Summing up his position, Scalzi thinks that worrying about piracy is a stupidity.

He sees two categories of book pirates:

First, the idiots, who won’t buy the books (in electronic or physical form) whether they have the money or not. They are simply not interested in paying for the goods.

Second, the occasional pirates, who download books because they don’t have the money to pay for the books they want to read. The reasons are many: they are cash-strapped college students, the books are not physically available where they live and it would be too expensive to import, and so on. Those persons will likely start paying for books when money starts flowing towards them, especially books from writers they learned to appreciate when they couldn’t still pay for their books.

I agree with Scalzi. I know people who fit both categories and they are easily distinguished. As an avid reader, I once belonged into the second category, although I now rarely download a book I don’t own physically (except, of course, in the case of e-books). When I do, it’s often because I need to find something quickly in the book or solve some problem and it’s easier to “pirate” a electronic version temporarily than manually search five hundred pages for a specific sentence.

Also, when I belonged into the second category for the main reason Scalzi cites (wanted to read the books, couldn’t pay for them — especially where newer books where concerned and the only other available choice was spending half my weekly wages in a single three-hundred-page book), I kept a list of the books I downloaded, and have bought most of them by now. The ones I haven’t bought yet are likely to be published in Brazil soon, and I’d rather buy them here to minimize costs (I’m still not rich, you know).

Anyway, what I find most interesting in the whole discussion is how some authors who otherwise share the same views on the genre take directly opposing views on the issue of piracy. Some believe is the rise of e-books as the main form of publishing is quite inevitable. Others, like Harlan Ellison, are prepared to fight tooth, nail and processes at the mere mention of their books in any kind of digital format (as if paper would somehow preclude their works from being pirated).

Which is a pity. I would gladly surrender my money to some writers were they willing to understand this new market — which, in my opinion, has little to do with the issue of intellectual property. The Long Tail is a reality in the Internet, and, as such, is beyond immediate frontiers. Those writers — Harlan Ellison, for example, is quite technophobic — think it’s possible to prevent their works from being distributed in P2P networks. More than that, they ignore the fact that many of their readers would pay for electronic versions of their works if only the price were realistic, adjusted to the realities of the medium (easy replication, limited availability, etc.) and market demands, as Fictionwise has shown.

Scalzi also talks about his own experience (shared by many people I know) of searching for ways to monetarily compensate writers for reading their books by indirect means — buying them as used books or lending them from libraries, for example, especially when the books were out of print. In my experience, this kind of behavior is mostly limited to readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but serves to show that the undiscriminated bashing of those “pirates” is really excessive.

Obviously, there are other pertinent issues that I’m not considering here, that people like Cory Doctorow and others far more intelligent than me are talking about, and this entry is not the place to write about them. But I’m happy to see writers openly declaring their disdain for the stupidity demonstrated by members of the industry and other writers who can read the writing in the wall.

Where am I?

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