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Hackers and Painters Paul Graham
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN:0596-00662-4
225 pages
£ 15.95
Published: 8th June 2004
reviewed by Lindsay Marshall
   in the March 2005 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

It seems that I am supposed to have heard of Wil Wheaton but I haven't. I have no idea who he is. Why he has a book of five short stories published by O'Reilly is beyond me. I can only presume that he is a friend of the Boss. There can be no other reason why a technical book publisher would publish these rather dull short stories. They are workman like, but nothing more. They entirely failed to communicate any emotion to me, even though they were clearly being written with that purpose in mind. I just read the ``about the author'' section. Seems he has a weblog that was voted ``best'' in some award thing and is read by lots of people. Never seen it mentioned on any of the logs that I read. He also loves the band Cake. I saw Cake supporting the Counting Crows several years ago. They were one of the worst bands I have ever seen. 'nuff said, I think.

Which brings me on to GarageBand. I'm not a huge fan of the Missing Manual series, mostly they seem to be rather pointless - the manual is missing for a reason, you don't really need one. But GB is fairly complicated and it's good to have something that walks you through setting up some tunes. A big problem is that the illustrations are in black and white and the text keeps referring to blue and green loops, though I suppose if you have the program running when reading the book this will be obvious. The trouble I have is that I only have a G3 iBook and it really isn't beefy enough to run GB well so I can't get the best out of it (anyone want to give me a nice dual-processor G5 so that I can demonstrate my musical creativity?) Garageband is a lot like the Dance E-Jay series of programs, though the set of samples that comes with it for free is not as good. However it is undoubtedly a much more powerful program as this book shows. It is however firmly directed at the novice. Users with experience of other programs of this kind or with some musical knowledge will find that the writing style is a little condescending in places and downright grating in others. I got particularly annoyed by the repeated digs at people who don't like to use keyboard shortcuts. This is a shame because if you can get past this, there is much solid information in here that can definitely improve your GB experience. I know that I shall now make a more series go at using the program even if my machine is underpowered.

And then Hackers and Painters - literature, music and now the decorative arts. How cultured! For years now I have been banging on about how programming and painting are like each other. And now someone has written about the same thing in a chapter of a book. Damn, I should have written about it myself years ago. But that's life. Mostly I like this book, it is something to dip in to and find interesting nuggets. Partly of course this is because I agree with a lot of what Paul Graham is saying about the present state of computing and its future state. I'm not going to attempt to summarise any of it here. You should read this book. If you are a programmer and love programming, you'll enjoy it. Quite how you'd justify it as a business expense I don't know though. (Oh, and it's got a nice cover (Bruegel) and it's a hardback too).

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