Monthly Archives: August 2003

What’s an ideal BMI?

Erik posted an entry talking about an introduction he wrote for a forthcoming C# textbook, and he says:

Many computer books are so heavy that lifting them cause hernia [sic], yet they have less content than your favorite tabloid.

Which made me think about something that I worry about: what’s a good BMI for a book? (By BMI, I mean the fictional Book Mass Index, a related measurement to the human Body Mass Index.) Namely, will people not buy a book if it’s not hefty enough?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m working on a language reference book for VB, something like a K&R or Stroustrup for the VB .NET language. (Whether it succeeds in reaching that lofty goal still remains to be seen.) One thing I continually worry about as I write it is whether the book is going to look good sitting on the shelves between all those behemoth VB books that Barnes and Noble seems to stock. With a mostly-done first draft, it currently clocks in at less than 300 pages, which means it’s going to be puny in comparison, even given some inevitable expansion as I fill in some holes I left in the draft. I’d like to think that it’s just that I’m packing in more information-per-square-inch than other books, but I don’t know.

One thing I’m still debating on whether to add to the book is a section on the VB runtime functions (Left, Right). Technically, they’re library functions, but they’re so closely identified with the language that they are as good as part of it. If I did that, they’d definitely pad the book out nicely (Gosling et al. used this to great effect in their Java book). Of course, that would also mean I’d have to write it.

Ultimately, I think it gets back to something I had to come to terms with when I started working out a few years ago. Being a somewhat competitive person, I would keep track of how I was doing relative to other people in the gym, but over time I observed that no matter how fast or strong or flexible I got, there always seemed to be someone who was a whole lot faster or a whole lot stronger or a whole lot more flexible than I was. I finally decided I either had to quit comparing myself to others altogether and just be happy with my own progress or I had to quit working out. I figured the former was the better option…

Is it better to be smart or dumb?

Chris points to an article that I saw talked about in the New York Times or some such place in the somewhat distant past. It reminds me of a story that my wife tells about when she was young and her sister asked her grandfather, “Papa Ali, is it harder to be smart or dumb?” His reply (more or less) was “It’s harder to be smart. You see, dumb people don’t know they’re dumb, so it doesn’t bother them. But the smart people have to deal with the dumb people.”

The implication, though, of this article is that the answer really is “neither,” because if dumb people don’t know they’re dumb and think they’re smart instead, they’re going to get just as annoyed by the supposedly “dumb” people they deal with.

As for me, I take no position as to which category of people I fall into. Safest position to take…

“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

Joel’s foreward to Rich Chapman’s book In Search of Stupidity resonates with me because it’s what I’ve always said about Microsoft: it’s not that we’ve been so much smarter than our rivals over the years, just merely that we’ve been less stupid. Joel says that the worst mistake Microsoft’s made has been the dancing paperclip, but that’s not really true. I can think of a legion of boneheaded, wrongheaded and just plain dumb things that Microsoft has done, large and small, since I first came to work here. Microsoft Bob jumps to mind. Or the first, oh, I don’t know, five years of MSN’s life. Or the Tiger media server – we must have dumped a lot of moolah down that black hole. And for all the public failures that we’ve had, there are plenty of internal screwups that never make it to light.

One thing I think that has made more difference than anything else was the fact that Microsoft tends to be pretty dogged about following the old maxim “if at first you don’t succeed…” Plenty of eventual success stories at Microsoft started off life as fiascoes, but we kept plugging away at them until we made them work. Through the years, I’ve been amazed at the way that major competitors who could really give us a fight in some area seem to lose interest once we start to do well against them. (OS/2 springs to mind.) I sometimes wonder if Bill knows the secrets of the Jedi… “This is not the market you are looking for. We can go about our business. Move along.”