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cbrandtbuffalo (4462)

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Perl programmer at the University at Buffalo.
Thursday January 29, 2004
08:39 AM

Dead tree docs

[ #17082 ]
I know that on-line, electronic documentation is all the rage. You can barely find a software package that comes with a book any more, and even the companies that provide the books are moving to on-line services (like Safari).

But at heart, I'm a dead tree doc guy. I'm not the first to talk about this. The fact that there is a series of books called "Missing Manuals" shows that the tangible book isn't on the endangered list by any means.

What made me think about this is an experience I had yesterday. I was having a small problem with DBI and started reading the perldoc. I couldn't find the right info, so I pulled down my Perl DBI O'Reilly book. The text was exactly the same, but scanning the book I found my answer right away when I didn't see it on the screen.

My original training as an English major has probably forever trained my brain to read a page better than a terminal. The tactile experience of the book also seems to help me. No, I can't type a quick search, but my lizard brain seems to be able to remember from feel about where key information is in a book if I've been there before, and I can turn to it quickly. I'm sure some computer people are the opposite and prefer the electronic search.

Either way, the on-line revolution can make you feel like the last person reading actual books, like James Kirk with his old, cracked glasses.
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  • I've been told by a friend (but haven't tried to verify it) that there was a study done that found a difference in the way the brain processes different kinds of light. They found that transmitted light and reflected light were processed by opposite hemispheres of the brain. So, an image on paper, which is read using reflected light enters a different part of the brain than an image from a CRT (VDU) screen which uses transmitted light.
  • I do most of my reading while sitting on a train (without power plugs and net connectivity). I prefer books too because
    • they don't run out of power just when you almost find what you need
    • they aren't full of references to other books that you haven't dowloaded
    • I have a visual-type memory, ie. I can remember the context in which I saw the information - it's no help to be able to remember that it was "on the upper right of the monitor, just above the frame"

    OTOH it is much faster to search for s