Thanks for the memories, Softpro Books

Before moving to Denver 17 years ago from Silicon Valley, I used to spend hours every weekend at the Computer Literacy bookstore in San Jose.  I was a student and this store embodied a world of possibilities.  I’d thumb through, and often buy, books about what was then still unselfconsciously called AI; or books about numerical methods, graph theory, UNIX, C, Smalltalk, or Perl.  Before blogs, Google, Stackoverflow and eBooks, books were an important part of learning.  At least, they were for me.

Computer Literacy was on the (very short) list of things I knew I’d miss about the Valley.  Imagine my joy at discovering Softpro Books within a week of moving to Denver.

softpro books

I feel like we grew up together, Softpro and I.  I bought dozens of books there every year, even when I couldn’t really afford it.  It was an investment in my craft.  At first it was C++ and more UNIX, then the Web started eating the world and there was HTML, ASP, PHP, MySQL, Python and Java.  And there were always the books from the “esoteric” section, my favorite section at Softpro.  These were books on genetic programming, neural nets, data mining, and machine learning.  I don’t think I finished many of them, but as a favorite professor of mine used to say, you can get a damn fine education by reading the first few chapters of a lot of books.

When I ran out of space in my office, I gave away books to make room for more.  Out with you, Oracle Performance Tuning and XSLT!  Make room for Lucene and R.

Computer Literacy closed in 2001.  Next week, Softpro will be closing its doors.  There will still be an online presence at softpro.com, but this is the end of the browse-and-buy era.  The last 17 years have seen amazing changes in how we use and program computers, and in where we get information and learn.  I feel just a little bit old, but I also feel very lucky to be in this business and hungry to keep learning.  I’m sad I’ll have to do that without Softpro.

Jim and Eric – you’ll be missed; thanks for being there all of these years.

Running is like Roomba for your brain

Roomba roams around your space, apparently aimless, picking up old or new detritus from hard-to-reach places under the furniture.  Often when I’m running, my brain roams around the space of my work, life, and relationships to bring back long-forgotten memories, things that fell off my todo list, or even brand new ideas (formed from bits of stuff that were hiding under the furniture of my brain).

“Seven Roombas in the dark” by ibroomba

Many people experience some kind of meditative state while exercising. It doesn’t happen to me every time I run. It happens more often on longer runs. It never happens when I’m not moving. Learning how to meditate has been on my list for ages, but I’ve never managed to create time or space for it.  I just can’t relax.

I’m terrible at those biofeedback video games where you arrange stones in a Zen garden by calming your breath or something. My mind starts to race, the stones fly off in all directions instead of settling into a neat stack, and pretty soon I’m tearing the biofeedback sensors off my fingers and flinging them across the room.

The roomba effect is the closest I get to meditation. With my body and breath doing their rhythmic running thing, my brain somehow disconnects from my immediate physical reality and starts to roam freely in search of loose ends, until my battery runs out.

iWeb to WordPress.com in 45 minutes

Apple sent out another round of emails today about iWeb and MobileMe shutting down on June 30th.  That’s slightly annoying, but good for Apple to recognize that this stuff is not core for them, and for communicating well about the approaching sunset.

My sister has a site on iWeb for her portfolio of drawings.  I decided to help her move it to WordPress.com.  The whole thing took about 45 minutes, including downloading and then uploading images, picking a theme (Linen FTW) and adding some image galleries (which use the beautiful new carousel feature).

Here is her new site on WordPress.com, what do you think?

Tweaking the UI

Who wrote this?

… with enough money … I’ll tell you what I would do.  In the first place, I would change the general appearance of the site and make seven wide columns where we now have nine narrow ones.  Then I would have the font spaced more, and these two changes would give the site a much cleaner appearance.  Secondly, it would be well to make the site as far as possible original, to clip only some leading sites … [we] must also increase our number of advertisements [even] if we have to lower rates to do it … images are a detail, though a very important one … images attract the eye and stimulate the imagination … all these changes [should] be made not by degrees but at once so that the improvement will be very marked and noticeable and attract universal attention and comment.

Perhaps the antiquated language at the end gave it away.  This is not an email from an online publisher to her investors in 2005.  I just replaced paper with site, type with font, and illustration with image in an excerpt of a letter William Randolph Hearst wrote to his father in 1885, listing changes he would make to the San Francisco Examiner if his father would just let him run that paper.  Hearst did take over the paper and, after making a number of changes like these, made the Examiner the most popular paper on the west coast.

Source: The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst by Kenneth Whyte (a great read).

How I fell out of love with my Nook

I’ve been an early adopter of gadgets for a long time. I remember buying a Sharp TM-20 before a trip to Europe because I thought, Won’t it be bitchin’ to get my email by just holding this gadget to a hotel phone or pay phone! That was one of the few impulse gadget buys that worked out, the TM-20 really was bitchin’.

Continue reading “How I fell out of love with my Nook”