Books that changed my life

Filed under: Uncategorized — jaydublu @ 12:06 pm

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently; that most of the key changes in my life have a book associated with them, and the process of compiling this list has been quite enlightening.

  • Maplin Electronics Catalogue – Early 1980’s and I’m a schoolboy having been introduced to electronics by the gift of an electronics kit one Christmas – of all the sources of information available to me the Maplin Catalogue had to be my favourite – I devoured every page, tried to understand every component and product and what they could do, and fantasised about building many of the projects – alas it was mostly fantasy and ‘window shopping’ – but I must have learnt something in those days. Strangely, there’s almost nothing on the Internet about them (other than other people looking) – am I the only one with fond memories of the 1980’s Maplin Catalogues with their futuristic sci-fi covers?
  • I Robot – of all the Asimov books, this has to be my favourite, and I credit it with my belief that nothing is impossible – taking the premise of the elegant ‘three laws of robotics’ that you would think covered all eventualities, what would the result be of some unimaginable situation – of course with hindsight it all makes sense, but who could forseen a robot lying as a result of the accidental ability to read minds for instance?
  • Programming the Z80 by Rodney Zaks – not that I did much Z80 programming – my first computers were 6502 based – but this book helped me take the fundamental leap from a basic understanding of digital electronics to an appreciation of the inner workings of microprocessors. I first learned to program on an Acorn Atom with 2K of RAM (yes, 2048 bytes!!!) and the disciplines of squeezing every last ounce out of available resources set me up for later career in embedded systems – I still enjoy the ability to work in assembler even though most of my time is spent in much higher level languages with unimaginable resources to squander. I wonder how the next generations of geeks and techies will cut their teeth in the fundamentals, in the age of ‘GUIs’ and ‘IDEs’ and ‘RAD’ and ‘frameworks’? Would anyone now be able to shoehorn a game such as Elite onto the meagre resources offered by the BBC Micro?
  • CGI Programming with Perl – This was the main book that helped me take the leap onto the Internet – whilst I now predominantly use PHP I still have a fondness for Perl (perhaps related to my love of lower level languages as described above) and it was through learning how to use Perl as a CGI scripting language to develop dynamic websites that helped me understand the ‘pleasures’ of the Internet, client / server architectures etc. Again, I wonder whether the next generation of developers who don’t have to go through this process will get as full an understanding of ‘why’ to go with ‘how’?
  • How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson – it’s probably a bit early to claim this as a life changing book as I’ve not yet finished reading it, but it symbolises a change I feel coming. I don’t know if this is a mini midlife crisis but I’ve recently been reviewing the way I life my life and my attitudes to the world and those around me. This book suggests that much that is wrong with the world comes from how unnatural the 9-5 ‘must achieve’ worth ethic is. Many quotes from philosophers, thinkers (and idlers) have been striking a real chord, and helping me come to the conclusion that it’s OK to be content with what I do achieve while living a happy life, rather than feeling guilty because of course I could work harder and achieve more yet be miserable.

One thing is for certain, I’m looking forward to finding out what the next phase of my life will bring, and wondering what the accompanying books will be.

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