I’m trying to gradually reduce the number of books I own, in part by the simple expedient of keeping track of what I’m reading. I use a site called Goodreads, which does an OK job of helping me maintain a reading life-list.

However, the site has mostly made me realize what an incredibly anti-social thing reading is at heart. Goodreads is billed as a social network, and I’m connected to a few friends on there… but the social aspect is so desperately awkward that I’m considering disconnecting from it altogether. I’m not at all sure that I want to have a social relationship with anyone at all based around books; and if I did, I’m REALLY not sure I’d want it to to be with people I know from other contexts.

For one thing, the overlap between my reading tastes and those of my friends is essentially nil. I can’t get enough of books about death and cooking, with only occasional forays into other fields. I imagine my friends find notifications of my endless mystery novels and food essays as tedious and unenlightening as I find their literary bestsellers and modern classics. It’s unfortunately rather rare to like someone better once you suss out their taste in reading, although of course it can be a notorious deal-breaker.

The intriguing bit is watching the disparate ways in which different people use the site. A not-insignificant number of casual users seem to think the point is to list all the books they’ve ever read. I’m sure there are a bunch like me, who just decided to keep a list from some arbitrary starting date, never looking backwards. A lot of the hard-core readers use their lists to keep track of the books they want to read aspirationally; I personally list the books I tried but failed to read, because I’m big on failure. Almost everyone seems to go along with the five-star rating feature, but I steadfastly refuse because I’ve come to believe that sort of thing cheapens the relationship between a reader and a book.

In a sense I already belong to a fairly big social network based on shared reading… alumni of the College of the University of Chicago. We’re the lucky few these days who were force-fed a small set of great books (I use the term unironically) which we can assume all the other members are familiar with. But let’s face it, this type of education is clearly an eccentricity and a shibboleth at this point, and I understand it’s been quite a bit eroded even there. When you meet a fellow Phoenix, it’s practically a secret-handshake situation… except, you know, with more embarrassment.

Perl fugit

April 7, 2008

I am worried about something I never thought I would have to worry about: that the Perl hackers of the world might be fading away.

When I first started out in the business, everyone knew Perl because that’s pretty much all there was for making websites with; plus Perl was already pre-eminent in the operations space. You could use Perl for grungy sysadmin chores, whip out necessary tools like Bugzilla, and produce elaborate all-singing all-dancing public CGI scripts too… there was really no downside. It was so ubiquitous in the mid-90’s that we used to joke that when industrial society finally broke down, its very last gasp would be the final running of some Perl cronjob somewhere. Après Perl, le déluge.

But I think now people are having to specialize much earlier in their careers. Young devs don’t necessarily see the same bet-hedging value to learning Perl — heck, I’m sort of convinced young webdevs these days don’t see much point to learning anything about systems and their administration (whippersnappers, grump). Probably the young pups of today see much more value in Ruby on Rails than Perl. Today learning Perl is a CHOICE, and that choice is to definitely go down the ops/tools path rather than the public-facing dev path… like shell scripting, I guess.

Since every web operation of any size is ultimately held together under the covers by Perl scripts and duct tape, I’m wondering what it means for the industry to see the pool of junior Perl initiates shrink rather dramatically. Perhaps in 10 years Ruby will be the grungy sysadmin tool of choice?