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.

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”

Why I love Softpro Books in Denver

I want to give a copy of Revolution in the Valley as a gift to a bright young programmer and Apple fan that I meet with a couple of times a month.  I love reading stories about the chaotic founding days of world-changing companies or products, and I think he would too.  But it turns out the book is out of print.  Softpro Books to the rescue:

Found a copy at O’Reilly’s offices in Sebastopol. I should have it in a few days for you.

Wow.  You just don’t get that kind of service anywhere but a local retailer.  Softpro is one of the last remaining retail computer bookstores in the country, and it’s a gem.

Carrying the Fire

This summer, I picked up a copy of Mike Collins’s memoir Carrying the Fire at the Barnes & Noble in Melbourne, which is on Florida’s “Space Coast”. I’m a sucker for books about local happenings, even more so when there’s an adventure or geeky angle (or both, as with this book).

I just finished the book and recommend it highly to anyone interested in flying or America’s space program or Apollo in particular. Collins tells the story of America’s ambitious race to the moon from a personal perspective, and there’s lots of test pilot talk throughout the book.

Book Usage

I collect books. Once I bought the entire stock of the university library’s annual used book sale, which took two trips with a pickup truck to haul away to our house. OK, that wasn’t smart because we still had three or four moves ahead of us before we settled into our present house.

Now I mostly buy books from Softpro, a real, physical, local, independent computer bookstore. I still buy far too many of them, and keep having to give some away, and add new bookshelves to accommodate them all.

Here are two real problems with having so many books:

Problem One – There are some real gems that I never see, they’re lost among the thousands of books on my shelves. I need a way to remind me to consider the gems every once in a while.

Problem Two – Some books you just don’t need. Stuff like “Implementing SOA with J2EE”. Much better to use that space for an Erlang book or “Gödel, Escher, Bach”.

Both of these problems could be solved with some kind of coating on the books that registered touch and, after six, twelve or eighteen months of a book not being touched again, there would appear a bright yellow, orange or red dot on the spine. The dot would be a reminder to look at the book and either recycle itdonate it to the library, or rediscover it as a gem.

Of course, on a Kindle sorted by “most recent” you get the same effect, but come on, it’s just not the same as standing in front of a real live bookshelf.