Sunday March 28, 2004
My dark confession: I'm writing a book. On Perl.
I've got a book contract and I owe everyone
an apology. And an explanation. My friends know
me to be quite peevish. When someone tells me
they're starting a MUD, I snap, "Why? The net
is littered with neglected, half dead MUDs".
When someone tells me they're buying a car,
I remind them of a statistic published in 1970
that there are enough cars in the junk yard to
reach to the moon and back. When someone tells
me they're having a baby, I retort with the
obvious, "Why? There are too many people in
the world". A few grinning miscreants have
told me that they're writting a book. With
a deep sigh, I exasperate, "Oh, good, another
bad book about [insert subject that has too
many bad books in it already such as Perl]".
My first official act as a signed author
was to read tchrist's old reviews from back
when the world was transitioning from Perl 4
to Perl 5 and authors weren't. I redeveloped
the stomach ulcer I had when I was 9 as my
second official act. Quite painful, thank you.
You see, this book is about Perl 6, kind of.
It is about doing Perl 6-like stuff with
Perl 5. That makes it fit alarmingly well
with the profile of the Perl-4-going-on-5
era books that couldn't do anything but try
to translate Perl 4 syntax to Perl 5 while
completely missing the point and butchering
the spirit. Except I'm doing this slightly
backwards. Still, I want to convey the spirit
of Perl 6 and give a bright outlook for the
future for people to be happy about. I do
not want to perpertuate stagnation. Nor do I
want to downplay the changes as merely with the old
"not that different, *this* syntax still works,
So, this diary entry is really about how I'm trying
to avoid pitfalls, being new to a profession.
Tom's reviews service just as much as advice
to aspiring authors as they do to would-be
book purchasers. The shoehorning Perl 4 onto
Perl 5 was one pattern these authors exhibited.
Operating in a closed loop, sans feedback, was another.
After I had a few chapters under my belt I started
mailing people. The book mostly showcases modules
(many of them non-obvious but very Perl 6-ish
anyway, I hope). I wanted people to atleast know
I was writing about them, and have the chance
to comment on what I've said, or even add a
quick comment. I'm not really trying to offload
work from myself, just breathe some life into it.
This was my third official act. I've also mailed
O'Reilly, who I am not writing for as it happens,
and they were nice enough to send me some
review materials. They're also now aware of the
exact subject matter of mine.
I'm trying to run it as openly as possible
given its commercial nature. It is POD in CVS
and numerous people have access to it, though
few people are active. A few people, who
I will take time later to give proper praise,
are making a world of difference.
I'm writing it in POD, as I mentioned, and
using vi. I'm sure there will be annoying
errors in the book, but too many times I've
read technical books and fonts covered most of
a word, cutting off 2 or 3 letters before the
end, and scratched my head and imagined some
tired author trying to operate a mouse in the
wee hours of the morning with their eyes red
and watering and their wrists numb and not quite
making it to the end of the word. Word processors
offer the ability to do certain things with the
mouse, but anything done frequently with the
mouse should have a keyboard shortcut and you
should use that shortcut, and I can't for the
life of me find the "run this code in perl"
short cut in any Word Processor I've tried.
With constant example tweaking, such a feature
is critical and alone is worth using vi or
Emacs. Tom criticized books production but
only as a minor nit.
Technical accuracy on the other hand was
Tom's largest and most frequent gripe, other
than perhaps plagerism. Technical accuracy
is hard. Not plagerising is a crime. I'm amoured
of the open book movement and publishes such
as GNU Press and Green Tea Press. I'd love to
have started with a Perl 5 book and heavily
reworked it. Rewriting something, be it software
or a manual, is not only a huge amount of work
but is also work that isn't easy
to justify. Not that this text is a virtual
clone of another book - far from it. Still,
a certain amount of background and explanation
must be included even to weigh in as a fast
paced, no-nonsense guide for experienced
programmers. Six times now I have emailed
requests for permission to quote a small
example from POD documentation or such and
six times I've not heard back. I'm tempted
to advocate a copyright regime where if you
ask for permission according to the published
channel and don't hear back, it is granted
by default rather than denied. But I guess that's
what Eldred's proposal is, except non-silly =)
There there is me. Me is always my biggest
I've come out of no-where, essentially.
For many of you, my bozo bit is set.
The Phoenix Perl Mongers know me - I'm one of
2.5 "default presenters" that will present when
no one else is so that we can hold a meeting.
I don't know about your experiences, but we
get a lot better turn outs when some topic is
being presented. I do some work for the NetBSD
project now and then when I have time, and
maintain their projects server. I have several
modules on CPAN but nothing popular, or else
they've been Warnocked. I've made
numerous forayes into writing open source software
but nothing ever cought on. SourceForge and
FreshMeat have done wonders for exposing and
indexing open source projects, but I've never quite
gotten around to putting my old stuff up there.
TinyWiki, a quick hack, inexplicably became
the most popular thing I've written. I learned
Perl after Motorola hired me after I told them
I knew Perl. I lasted a month. Not because of
my lack of Perl, mind you. Then the little
I knew managed to get me contracting job after
contracting job. I've been living that life
since. As a consultant, you don't get your
head above water very often. To this day, most
of my programmer experience comes from the 14
years I've spent on MUD. I'd be lieing if I
said it wasn't a large part of my identity and
my primary education. Before that, it was
writing games in BASIC and 6502 assembler on
my Atari 8 bit. That was essentially my childhood.
Games are still in my blood. But that's another
I won't say working on this book has has been easy
either. Perl 6 is a moving
target. I'm having flash backs to Japanese
class in college - the language just won't stick
in my head and I keep making the same mistakes
over and over. I can't seem to let go of a chapter
but want to revise it indefinately.
The modules I'm documenting are all a little
bit out of date, or have a bug that stops my
show, or would be a lot easier for me to document
if they just worked a little bit differently,
so I'm spending a lot of time trying to fix bugs
and sending in patches. I can't hack XS and
I'm now wishing I'd learned before.
As I write this, I'm over the hump, though,
and I'm starting to see the light at the end
of the tunnel, to mix metaphores.
So, I write this not to gloat, not to justify,
but merely to confess. And to share.