Dispatches from the Software Trenches

0. Intro 🍟

Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone.
– Emil Cioran

As a published author now, it is with some trepidation that—and here I must confess that this whole publication undertaking has at times felt too weird for words—I wish to share with you the inside story.

An Undertaking

And no, nothing somber whatsoever about this story, lest my use of the word “undertaking” above made you wonder whether this essay was going to be a trip to the “undertaker” or something: It’s just that becoming a published author takes some getting used to. That’s all. Come to think of it, it’s a positive thing. It is exciting: If I can do it, you, too, can! (I knew something good was going to come out of this.)

Please know—and you’ve been with me all along the blog ride here, or maybe for a part of the ongoing journey, since our blog began way back in the summer of 2014—that the experience of putting a book together is altogether different from that of writing essays and sharing them with you right here. (The content of a books has to hold together as a unified whole; essays, on the other hand, are independently operating, sharded entities, islands unto themselves.)

Your Warm Response

Please know, too, that your companionship (by way of blog comments and such) and your readership (by way of your support and communications with me) have been altogether gratifying.

Thank you!

1. From The Depths Of The Trenches ⛏

Some are made modest by great praise, others insolent.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Modesty forbids, but hey, I might as well add that I’m thrilled by the warm response that readers have given my new book, and flattered to see rave reviews pop up on Amazon such as the ones above.

My essays, as you have no doubt fathomed, emerge from the depths of the software trenches; as for my thanks, they come from deep in my heart.

So there.

2. How We Got Here 🚧

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
– John Donne

My turn now to make good on the promise I had made at the beginning (about taking you behind the scenes.) This is how it happened, this is how we got to the point of publishing a book.

So the whole writing business—using the word “business” in its enterprising sense—began with this blog that I created earlier this century, back in 2014. The blog had—and still has—a singular goal: Create reading material that I couldn’t find anywhere else, material that I wished to read, except that nobody had written it.

And so it was that I went ahead and began writing stuff that I wished I could lay my hands on to read. Honest. (That’s the whole story, one which powers this blog, untenable though it may sound at first. Goodness, would I lie to you?)

The fact that a ton of people—about 120,000 at the original blog and about 40,000-and-counting-and-losing-track-of at this, this current blog site—have taken time out of their precious schedules to read what I write, I can only conclude that the blog has done well. Really well.

3. How The Book Got Its Name 🔦

Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.
– Mark Twain

What else are they not making, Mr. Twain? Books? I think they’re still making those—I made one recently—but buy them anyway, especially mine, heh. Seriously, though, I think you’ll agree that it’s seldom that we get to name things; crafting a book furnishes you with such an occasion.

And if the title of this book—Dispatches from the Software Trenches—conjured up images of drudgery, as if all that we software types did was shovel the trenches, I would be sympathetic with you. (Maybe I should’ve chosen a less somber title.)

But I sure hope that your misgivings were dispelled after you read the book: My overall message, spread out over its eight or so “dispatches from the software trenches” was intended to be a thoroughly upbeat one. I’m an inveterate optimist, after all.

4. What I Could Have Done Differently 🎬

Obstinacy is the result of the will forcing itself into the place of the intellect.
– Arthur Schopenhauer

In hindsight, having seen room for ambiguity in matters of naming books, I’m going to give my next book a name that’s altogether more radiant: Instead of the trenches, we might get a glorious island next time. Woohoo! Life will be good. (Yes, the pandemic will end one day; meanwhile, let’s keep on with our armchair travels, shall we?)

Yes, even as we dispense with existential issues such as the ones we’ve skirmished with above—revolve as they do around the theme of ambiguity and fraught as they invariably are with pathways that’ll have us burrowing down rabbit holes far too numerous to count—I do want to touch on the essay form itself, if only briefly so.

So don’t you run away. (We need to grapple this trenches-versus-island dichotomy into submission to stay on top. We got this.)

5. Reflections On The Art Of The Essay đź“–

Ideally a book would have no order to it, and the reader would have to discover his own.
– Mark Twain

And how did I get smitten by the essay form? You see, I’ve been drawn to the essay form for as long as I can remember. I say that we take a minute or two to reflect on what makes an essay the unique critter that it is.

To my mind, an essay is first and foremost an attempt to unveil the limits of one’s knowledge, with the unstated goal of pushing those limits: We need feedback, we need tangible stuff to work with, and to paraphrase ace detective Sherlock Holmes, “I can’t make bricks without hay.”

Montaigne, the father of the modern essay—the chap hails from yesteryear—would, I think, agree, as would modern day practitioners (of the essay) such as Rebecca Solnit, Dave Barry, Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Graham (before his Y-Combinator days, that is), and Anne Fadiman, among others.

“But isn’t the essay really an antiquated art form?”, you could ask. A solid question there, and one that I can best answer by pointing to the innumerable blogs that populate the online world, this one among them, but of course: Programming Digressions.

So the essay is by no means moribund; factor in the vibrant scene on the front of the memoir—a close cousin of the essay—and you begin to see a picture emerge, the picture of an art form that is flourishing by all indications, amirite?

5. Where To, Next? đźš‚

A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.
– Albert Einstein

In the end—especially if you haven’t checked out the book on Amazon—please know that it’s for geeks and non-geeks alike: If your interests veer in the direction of the creative, something tells me that you’re going to have fun rummaging through its lavishly illustrated pages.

With that—and here I invite you to check the book-cover pic below, serving as it does as this essay’s footnote—we have come full circle, having ended with the same pic wherewith we had begun. Does that definitively prove that the world is round? (That I can’t say for sure, heh.)

But do join me next time, and we’ll talk of another journey, one to a fabled island. (All aboard. Now fancy a train-ride to an island. Hmm… That makes me wonder, though, how the fabulous Island of Sodor, with its insular situation and whatnot, came to be packed with those marvelously mythical trains?)

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