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davorg (18)

Yahoo! ID: daveorguk (Add User, Send Message)

Hacker, author, trainer

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Journal of davorg (18)

Saturday June 09, 2001
06:01 AM

"Perl & CGI For The World Wide Web"

[ #267 ]

I've just received in the post the second edition of Liz Castro's book "Perl and CGI for the World Wide Web". In the list of acknowledgements there's an entry "Dave Cross, who not only pointed outthe problems but also helped me fix them". It might be interesting to explain my involvement with this book particularly in the light of the debate going on here about the Perl community's attitude to beginners.

This book first came to my attention via a review of it on Perlmonks. As you'll see, the review is pretty scathing - poining out that the book doesn't use strict, -w or and also that it has a rather cavalier attitude to security. These criticisms are, of course, pretty common amongst the kind of Perl/CGI book that is aimed at absolute beginners.

A few days later however, someone on the list mentioned the book again, listing similar problems with it and pointing out that it was Amazon's top selling Perl/CGI book. At this point I decided to investigate further. I bought a copy of the book and read it. On the strength of this reading, I wrote a very critical review of the book on Amazon - advising people to avoid the book at all costs and saying various unpleasant things about the author's ability to write Perl.

I thought it would end there, but I got an email from the author. She felt that I was very unfair to her book in my review and was quite prepared to argue her case. She asked my to get back to her with specific examples of the problems with her book.

I agreed to do this and took another, altogether much closer, look at the book. I found that whilst I had pages and pages of technical suggestions, the actual writing was very good and that Castro was addressing a completely different audience to the one that I was used to dealing with. I realised that rather than just criticising this book, it would be good if we build on the success of the book and correct the technical errors in the second edition.

As luck would have it, the second edition was in preparation as I first exchanged emails with Castro. Once I'd apologised for my original review (and had it removed from Amazon) Castro was more than happy to use my suggestions in the new edition.

The result of this is that there is now a beginners Perl/CGI in the shops that:

  • Uses /usr/bin/perl -Tw in every example
  • Uses strict and therefore predeclares all of the variables with my
  • Uses to parse CGI parameters instead of the broken homegrown CGI parser in the previous edition

Ok, so a lot of the Perl still isn't great, but I think you'll see the book is a vast improvement on the first edition. And if it means that more beginners will be using -w/strict/, then I see that as a good thing.