Charles Petzold on writing books, reading books, and exercising the internal UTM

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“The Annotated Turing” Hot Off the Presses!

June 5, 2008
Roscoe, N.Y.

Yesterday I received a few “hot off the presses” copies of The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine, kindly forwarded to me by Wiley, the book's publisher. Even after writing 15 books over the past 20 years, I still get a thrill when I see the first copies.

Just to get a sense how the book is shipping to people other than the author, a couple weeks ago Deirdre and I submitted test orders to Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This morning B&N sent me an email saying that the book is "now packed and ready to leave our warehouse." I guess they're just waiting for the UPS guy to show up. Amazon hasn't been quite as prompt; let's just hope they don't mess up royally like they did with 3D Programming for Windows.

I wish I could say that The Annotated Turing was "10 years in the making" but it's really only been 9 years. I created the first Word file for the book on May 12, 1999, and I sent my final fixes to the production editor on May 8, 2008. From its conception to its completion, the idea behind the book remained constant: to put Alan Turing's 1936 paper "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem" in an historical and intellectual context, and then to annotate the hell out of it.

Whether this was a great idea for a book or a really stupid idea for a book, I never really decided, but undecidability is what Turing's paper is all about, so I wasn't very concerned.

Now the book is yours rather than mine, and I'm interested in hearing your reactions to it.

Now Available!
Wiley Amazon US Barnes & Noble
Amazon Canada Amazon UK Amazon Deutsch
Amazon Français Amazon Japan Blackwell


So, any chance of getting an autographed copy? :)

Robert, Thu, 5 Jun 2008 16:06:33 -0400 (EDT)

There exists a time-honored way of getting your book autographed, and it probably works for just about every living author with the exceptions of J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon. You buy a copy of the book and then mail it to the author together with a self-addressed envelope with sufficient postage. The author signs the book, pops it into the return envelope, and sends it back to you. If you want something special written inside (such as your name or the name of someone who will receive the book as a gift) enclose a little note to that effect.

My home address (which is also available through Web searches) is:

    Charles Petzold
    63 E. 9th St. -- Apt. 10-N
    New York, NY 10003

I am reminded of a short story by John Updike starring his alter-ego, the novelist Henry Beck. Whenever Beck publishes a new novel, he receives a copy in the mail for autographing from a fan in, let's say, Lansing Michigan. One day Beck finds himself travelling through Lansing and decides to surprise this loyal fan by visiting him at his home. The man is certainly surprised and sheepishly shows Beck a closet full of autographed first editions — not only by Beck but by every other famous American novelist, obviously being stockpiled to fund the man's retirement.

(I may have gotten a few details wrong — it's been about 30 years since I read it.) — Charles

If you are kind enough to ship me a free copy of the book; I'll write a review of it for Slashdot.

Gavin, Thu, 5 Jun 2008 17:49:09 -0400 (EDT)

I think you just might be kidding me. I think almost everybody knows that review copies of books come from the publisher rather than the author. The free copies an author gets — the standard book contract specifies 10 free copies — generally go to family and friends and people who helped out with the book before it was published. — Charles

I've had this on Amazon preorder for the last month now, looking forward to getting to read this. I may send in my copy for an autograph, but you'll have to wait until I finish reading it first!


Michael C. Neel, Thu, 5 Jun 2008 18:48:29 -0400 (EDT)

Mike, one of my greatest fears is that the book won't live up to your expectations! — Charles.

Great! I have mine on pre-order from Amazon. They show the publishing date as June 16th.

Hope to receive it soon.

Pradeep, Thu, 5 Jun 2008 18:58:50 -0400 (EDT)

Sorry to steal your thunder, but is there any way I can get Turing to autograph my book?

— Josh, Thu, 5 Jun 2008 21:41:21 -0400 (EDT)

Well, if its returned autographed ... given the topic ... how do we know it was autographed by YOU or a Turing Machine posing as the author???

— Bob H., Thu, 5 Jun 2008 21:59:11 -0400 (EDT)

Simple - if Charles does have a turing machine signing books on his behalf, that would be cool enough to make it a bonus feature. ;)

And anyone who thinks that Turing is in any state to sign books clearly isn't a fan following the guy's career, which died around the same time he did.

— Bob, Thu, 5 Jun 2008 23:16:52 -0400 (EDT)

When I heard you were writing this I was ecstatic. I can't remember the last time I was waiting, day and night, for a book to be published.

— Anthony, Thu, 5 Jun 2008 23:56:56 -0400 (EDT)

Just pre-ordered it from Amazon UK. Looks cool!

— David C, Fri, 6 Jun 2008 03:59:15 -0400 (EDT)

Congratulations Charles!

But now when it's all over & done, what you think of writing a book about functional programming style (maybe in a language like Haskell)?

— Jakov, Fri, 6 Jun 2008 14:19:24 -0400 (EDT)

> what you think of writing a book about functional programming

I'd love to write a book about functional programming, although I think it would make most sense for me to focus on F#.

Unfortunately, it's not going to happen. These days, the more books I write the poorer I get. That trend can't continue indefinitely! I've been thinking about writing a blog entry detailing the actual money problem with computer books these days. The short version is this: Sales are very low; hence royalties are very low; hence advances are very low; hence the whole process is financially unfeasible. — Charles

Got email from amazon today stating they would be shipping the book sooner than announced. My expected arrival date is June 11th.

Pradeep, Fri, 6 Jun 2008 15:01:18 -0400 (EDT)

Excellent! — Charles

Amazon sent me an email this morning that Annotated Turing would arrive sooner than expected (I had it on preorder):

Hello from

The item(s) listed below will actually ship sooner than we originally expected:

C. Petzold (Author) "The Annotated Turing: A Guided Tour Through Alan Turing's Historic Paper on Computability and the Turing Machine"

Estimated arrival date: 06/11/2008

Brian, Fri, 6 Jun 2008 16:19:22 -0400 (EDT)

Congratulations Charles!

Ezequiel Jadib, Sun, 8 Jun 2008 11:35:13 -0400 (EDT)

Ok this could be a personal question and is definitely out of topic. I've wondered, for a person who knows the intricacies of windows programming, how come you've never worked in MS. Have you received any offer along the years? Would you be interested?

gazzal, Mon, 9 Jun 2008 02:36:49 -0400 (EDT)

Yes, the question is personal and off-topic, but...

I've always thought of myself as a little too old and not quite smart enough to work at Microsoft, but the possibility has never really come up. No one has ever asked if I'd be interested (except once I was queried about my interest in being Technical Editor of Microsoft Systems Journal, a job I would have been terrible at).

One big issue is that I live in New York City, which I totally love and consider to be one of the greatest cities in the world. In recent years I've been spending a few months in the summer and winter in our little house in the Catskills, but I still would miss New York City a great deal if I had to move. Seattle has some great cultural resources, but it's definitely not New York City. (However, the possibility of living a year or two in London would certainly be intriguing to me.)

I guess the biggest obstacle is that I never really wanted to develop software for a living. I much prefer writing books. I know this is an antiquated activity. but fortunately there are a few people around who still read books, and I hope to be dead before people stop reading books altogether. — Charles

Thanks for the reply, Charles. I really hate that my question came across as asking for a free copy, but such is the fate of hurriedly-written questions. I'm an author myself and I can't tell you how many times I've been asked for a free copy of my book. It easily outnumbers the actual number of copies I had in my possession.

As soon as Amazon delivers my copy, I shall rush it to you. By the way, add Ray Bradbury to your list. He doesn't autograph books because his name is already on the cover.

Robert, Mon, 9 Jun 2008 15:53:12 -0400 (EDT)


My copy from Amazon came in the mail yesterday (6/11) the same day I read their email saying they expected it to arrive on 6/16! Looking forward to digging into it. Keep up the great postings.

— Dave Angers, Thu, 12 Jun 2008 20:28:17 -0400 (EDT)

Congratulations Charles.

I just picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble last evening, and you may be happy to hear that this will be the first book I crack open after submitting the final manuscript for my own book tonight (Concurrent Programming on Windows, AW). Yes, I still purchase books in person at book stores because the trend towards electronic written media turns me off. I prefer to touch and feel the paper, casually flip through the pages, etc. This statement makes me feel old, but who cares...

And I'm envious of your committment: 9 years isn't quite 10, but it's still a dang long time to keep the same book moving along. I could barely shoulder 2.5.



Joe Duffy, Mon, 23 Jun 2008 03:43:53 -0400 (EDT)

Congratulations Charles,

I used to detest this subject in college since I found the existing reading material extremely boring.

I look forward to reading your book, since the reviews on Infoworld seem really interesting.


Lalit, Thu, 24 Jul 2008 23:51:26 -0400 (EDT)

An excellent page-turner. Thanks very much for the opus, Charles -- I look forward to five-starring this on GoodReads and recommending it to my fellow theory geeks.

Nick Black, Thu, 11 Sep 2008 19:22:26 -0400 (EDT)

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