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How to Insult a Writer

August 16, 2010
Roscoe, N.Y.

Don't you love getting a kick in the teeth first thing in the morning? That's what often happens to me when I read my email immediately after turning on the computer, even before my shower and breakfast. People send me emails that are obviously written in total innocence and with the purest of intentions, but like a clumsy oaf carrying a 2-by-4 beam, succeed in smashing me in the face and making me feel bad for the rest of the day.

The email this morning was about the last program in Chapter 1 of 3D Programming for Windows called Tinist3D.xaml. My correspondent wondered why the triangle shows up as black.

Gosh, I don't know. Perhaps we can discover why by reading the paragraph immediately preceding the program:

This would also be obvious from much else in that first chapter as well.

I can only conclude that either:

Either of the two possibilities is quite distressing, but the two explanations are related:

I know that many people don't trust books any more. I'm not sure why. It baffles me that I can spend six months of my life carefully crafting a book about WPF 3D, and potential readers just assume that the book can't possibly contain anything of value. This mistrust is, of course, one of the reasons why many programmers don't buy books any more, and why people like me -- who have spent decades developing the skill of dissecting and explicating APIs -- are finding it so hard to make an honest living.

The whole incident considerably dampens the enthusiasm I felt when I first woke up, and I knew that today I would be making a serious dent in the Silverlight Raster Graphics chapter of Programming Windows Phone 7. If people aren't actually going to read the book, exactly why the hell am I wasting my time writing it?


Comments:

Trust me Charles, some of us do read your books and very useful they are too. Looking forward to the WP7 book so keep up your enthusiasm as it is much appreciated .

Peter Custance, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 10:04:49 -0400

Just like a million other programmers, I am a big fan of you and your books. It take no time in criticising somebody's work even if you know nothing about the pain incurred in creating a master piece. We love your books. Please don't get bothered of some headless chickens !

sambhav sacheti, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 10:35:28 -0400

It is unfortunate and I can understand how it has a negative effect on motivation. Just ignore people who don't know what they are talking about. I just bought C.O.D.E off Amazon (http://twitpic.com/2ec4tg), and I am eagerly waiting for the Windows Phone 7 book. Do keep up the enthusiasm.

Prabhu, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 10:37:14 -0400

Well truth is, the majority of the programming books out there are crap and little more than recitations of the help files. But "Petzold" books are still built Ford tough and must be respected.

Josh Einstein, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 10:50:07 -0400

I find your books to be accurate, precise and written with integrity. I value that, but many other books aren't written like this. I'd speculate that's one reason why some books aren't trusted in general.

I especially enjoyed The Annotated Turing and continually recommended it.

Phil Paolella, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 11:06:57 -0400

Because there are MORE than ONE that not only buy your books but we enjoy reading them too.

Jason, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 11:57:29 -0400

Thanks, guys. I really wasn't fishing for compliments, but it's nice to get them anyway! — Charles

I bought _and_ read a copy of 3D Programming for Windows and got miles and miles of helpful information out of it. I can't wait to buy a copy of your WP7 book.

mike h, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 13:46:29 -0400

I will read books from trusted authors that have a long track record of fine writing and a deep knowledge of the subject matter. You are such a writer.

Your efforts are not wasted on the ones that really care. Keep writing.

— SM, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 14:23:52 -0400

Here is a different viewpoint on this. My 12 year old son wants to learn programming. He wants to get immediate feedback so he jumps straight to the examples and types them in hoping they will give him feedback. I'm working on him trying to get him to understand what he is typing in but that is still a work in progress. Perhaps this person that emailed you just wants immediate feedback and in this era of easy communications, finds it easier to just email you rather than reading the text. Hopefully, he will read the text once his emotional need has been met.

— Mike, Mon, 16 Aug 2010 16:58:32 -0400

> Perhaps this person that emailed you just wants immediate feedback ...

Then maybe I should start the time-clock going!

I suppose somebody who pays $40 for a book feels entitled to some "free consulting." But for the author who's just made $3 from the deal, it's not so obvious! — Charles

Dont worry about the negative comments from one person, there are thousands of people out there who enjoys reading ur book. I became a fan of you after reading your books and Jeffrey's books.

Trust me your book "Programming Windows" is the official text book for our college curriculum.

Jeevanand, Tue, 17 Aug 2010 04:00:24 -0400

> I suppose somebody who pays $40 for a book feels entitled to some "free consulting"

If I spend $40 on a book of several thousand words, I feel obliged to read every one of them, so the only entitlement I feel I deserve is that the words are assembled into a well written, informative and entertaining read. And I am yet to be disappointed in your work. From "The Annotated Turing" which made an intractable subject accessible back to "Programming Windows 3.1" which I still consider to be the gold standard in technical books. Please don't be influenced by an ignorant minority.

— Mike J, Tue, 17 Aug 2010 04:29:58 -0400

"I know that many people don't trust books any more. I'm not sure why."

Sadly, I'm sure why.

— Frequent reader of MSDN library, Tue, 17 Aug 2010 04:32:37 -0400

I have already bought your new book and I will read it from cover to cover, so keep up the great work.

Now to answer your question, I find that most "new" programmers have never been taught to understand their code.

I mean what they do is just guess there way through the program. I truly believe this is because they never learned assembler or C. Those two languages more than any others makes a programmer stop and think, since you cannot fake your way through with any chance of success.

I know some out there would call me old fashioned but I still believe that the C programming language should be taught as an introductory programming language.

Additionally, I am convinced that new more declarative and dynamic languages and the "modern" IDEs, i.e. those after the Turbo line of tools, with their guessing intellisense feature is the worst thing that happened to programmers in the last 20 years..

— Anthony, Tue, 17 Aug 2010 14:29:27 -0400

Wow, glad (but not surprised) to see the love is still out there for your books, Charles.

Of course I needn't add my own praise and encouragement, but here it is anyway - to coin one of the many American phrases that so amuses us Brits: You go, girl!

Philip the Duck, Wed, 18 Aug 2010 09:18:45 -0400

Ahh, shucks, thanks. Nobody's ever given me a "you go, girl" before. — Charles

Charles, myself not being a full time professional developer, it may have taken me a long time to grasp WPF concepts, but I could *never* have done it without your book.

Seriously, there is no better resource out there on the web, because nobody else has spent the time to investigate WPF's inner workings to deliver insights that plainly are not written up in the available documentation.

I will be buying your WP7 book, just like I did buy your WPF and 3D books.

— ZS, Thu, 19 Aug 2010 17:32:03 -0400

I'm afraid you won't be able to buy the WP7 book. It'll be a free download. — Charles

Not being able to buy the book is unfortunate. (Can you believe that?!? You are offering a free book and users are complaining about wanting to buy it!!) The truth is, there is nothing like opening a physical book and being able to get away from the computer to read topics in depth. Nevertheless, consider me a long-time member of your fan club and I eagerly await "the next chapter" in your book.

— Twain, Fri, 20 Aug 2010 05:28:27 -0400

I like Boling for CE stuff. He is more easy going, or at least he is not on overdrive all the time, not last I knew, anyway. He has been CE for a long time. I have not seen anything Petzhold since Windows 95. Just kidding ... Windows 3.0. Or was 3 before your time?

That's the thing about blogs. One feels obligated - compelled - to spill guts on stupid things that do not matter. Now, hit the shower (if I had a blog, I'd write that a before-bed shower is much better for you than a morning one, and that the two of them are fine, too). Do you tweet?

Come on, lighten up!

— Boling Fan, Sun, 22 Aug 2010 02:58:44 -0400

Why did you get that email?

Because often people don't read. (Or they read and don't understand.)

People run computer programs, and they don't read dialogs or error messages. People read books, and they miss half or more of what's in them.

But are people reading less, or less attentively? Not as far as I can tell - it's just that the standard was low to start with.

And count me as another reader who thinks your books, in particular, are well written and reflect a deep understanding of their subjects, so thank you.

— A.Programmer, Mon, 23 Aug 2010 15:39:32 -0400

Does the code in the book Programming Windows 5th Edition work under Windows 7?

I tried but it gives a error.

Mani M, Wed, 25 Aug 2010 11:26:51 -0400

I just went to the FTP site that contains all the code and executables for Programming Windows, 5th edition and I tried running a couple of the EXE files under Windows 7, and they seemed to work OK.

What problems are you encountering? — Charles

Does the code in the book Programming Windows 5th Edition work under Windows 7?

— How to Recursively Insult a Writer and Blogger, Mon, 30 Aug 2010 21:57:29 -0400

It seems as though you're struggling with the same problem as the music industry. Information is just too easy to share and duplicate nowadays, regardless of how much effort went into producing that information.

It seems as though we might be going back a century or two to the days when artists and musicians couldn't make money off sheer mass volume, but had to make money from live performances (or wealthy patrons!).

Still, it seems there are some business models that work:

(a) Knowledge as service: give away the information, charge for expert advice (see: Red Hat)

(b) Knowledge as entertainment: give speeches at conferences and presentations (seems like you're doing this already)

(c) Appeal to patrons: sell extra tangible goodies to the true fans (signed source code CDs?) (see: Radiohead)

— Matt G, Tue, 31 Aug 2010 03:36:15 -0400

It's too bad that all the micro-cash web schemes so far have failed. I still have hope.

I know there have been many occasions where I'd pay a few bucks for a decent code sample illustrating XYZ, and I'd much rather have a PetzoldSample (TM) than most of the junk I find when searching for such...

I suppose such samples would have a way of getting out into the wild (thus becoming free). Though I do think developers are less likely to be cavalier that way. At least I hope so.

You could also host each sample on a separate page, with ads. Maybe that's beneath your dignity. :-)

— Matt G, Tue, 31 Aug 2010 03:51:43 -0400

I've lost track of how many of your books I've bought and read. Sometimes multiple editions of the same book! I only wish there were even more to read.

Neville, Wed, 1 Sep 2010 21:00:08 -0400

Sorry to disturb but don't stop writin big books.Your code is great and longer lasting.Its sad you recieved only 3 American Dollars but you work too much every day and night.Can you go back american bank so I can send money to it? not to amazon? because buy only available in amazon not your bank account. Also you can sell your own books by hand (hire a servant to sell books if you don't like walking) every book cost 1500 Ruppees and you get cash.

I view students in area downloading your book utorrent, sad sad as you dont get money this is no good.Asked them to give money 3 American Dollars to your account.

In the last your books good but copy urtorrent is bad. Also ebook no good.

— Naj, Sun, 5 Sep 2010 15:45:58 -0400

Dear Mr. Petzold.

I am reading every single of your books and use them as reference since Programming Windows 5th Edition. I love every single bit of it - thanks to you I have absorbed the depths of GDI and GDI+, XAML etc.. in way less time it woul have taken me to figure it out.

Please be sure that myself and thousands of others read your books with great care and love the depth and breadth of them.

Now related to the problem you mention about people reading less books and people not reading books they buy - well I observe a pattern for the last 3/4 years among book authors (not you fortunately :)) where the book depth is forgotten - books look like an enumeration of stuff that one can find on MSDN and do not go into the real understanding of techniques / patterns and APIs. This is really frustrating and my own rythm of reading books has decreased - but I still trust and value the high standard source like your books and cannot wait for the next one to be out :)

Best

— Kerad, Wed, 8 Sep 2010 13:37:40 -0400

Come on, YOU ARE Charles Petzold! :-)

Every serious Win32 programmer learned to program Windows with you.

I always loved your books! Keep doing the great work. There are a lot of developers waiting for real good content.

Fabio Galuppo, Wed, 8 Sep 2010 19:59:37 -0400

Charles

While I am not condoning your email correspondent, you appear to suggest that an email asking you a question tantamounts to a request for free consultancy. I'd have thought that if ten people ask essentially the same question it would mean that you have said something in your book that was not quite clear and perhaps in your next edition or in your blog you could clarify your position. I personally would not expect a reply even if I did ask an author a question.

Regarding reading books, I do read your books and I must confess that while you are clear and helped me understand the technology you talk about, I find that most employers are not interested in depth. So many job ads ask for WPF, WCF, MS-SQL, Crystal Reports, multi-threading... and the list goes on. Hence the rush to skim through material and get the job done or get through an interview. Obviously your books are not meant for people catering to that market segment but then the market for depth is relatively small which explains why you land up feeling that the WPF 3D book was wasted effort in terms of pecuniary benefits.

— Joe Chakra, Thu, 9 Sep 2010 07:09:04 -0400

I run a IT training facility and some instructors in the past used your book on Windows Programming as a reference and results were quite positive.However things turn out to be quite different when similar efforts were made for our WPF course and your book Code+ Markup was used.Most of the students shown difficulty adopting the concepts.After couple of iterations we observe that part of this struggle goes back to a more delicate issue, which is a aptitude difference between students with good C/C++ skills versus those with inclination/dependence on using RAD tools (like Visual Studio).Sorry no offence but there is no other way to say it.

I been in the Computing industry for nearly 30 years, and after reading couple of your book I got an impression that you focus on content quality than quantity,and with current pace of Microsoft Technologies/Products most audience is not interested in consuming too much time in one technology, to them its simply not worth it.

— Mark, Tue, 14 Sep 2010 23:40:03 -0400

Charles,

the simple truth is that every serious Windows developer has read all of your books and still has all of your books on the bookshelf. Granted, I have moved "Programming Windows 95" and "Programming Windows 3.1" to my Vintage bookshelf. I have CODE, Turing book, WPF book, Programming in 3D all on my shelf.

I someone asked me why a rectangle was black, I would write "Don't Panic" back and sign the email with "42". Why not have some fun?

Sam, Thu, 16 Sep 2010 20:04:01 -0400

I had bought "Programming Windows", and it took me while to go through it -- cover to cover. And it remains next to my PC. (along with "C++ Programming Language" by Stoustrup)

A few days back i downloaded ".NetBookZero", and have reached Chap 5.

No doubt it takes a while to read, and sometimes paras have to be read & re-read;

But I think you explain a point beautifully.

— zoojar, Sun, 19 Sep 2010 06:03:56 -0400

I have just started reading your book for the first time..:).... just first 15-20 pages and im here commenting on your blog so that means you are really a great author and doing work for good purpose and helping many people so please don'?Tt worry about some lousy mails... looking forward for many more books from you...

Ragh, Mon, 4 Oct 2010 23:59:04 -0400

-

Just wanted to confirm the sentiments here - your books are an immensely valuable resource, Charles. They're nutritious and delicious and inspirational. Thanks! :)

— Steve White, Sat, 13 Nov 2010 15:52:00 -0500

I not only have two of your books in queue, but I also have a couple of Russinovich and Solomon books, Joe Duffy, Anders, Mads, Wiltamuth, and Peter Golde. Eric Sadun on developing for the iPhone is sitting right next to me, and I have several books waiting for me on my nook. One of them is a beautiful book on how to romance the woman I love (I'm a geek...I need the help.)

My point is that there are people who buy books and respect the work that goes into them. There are also people who don't. Why waste time on those that don't?

And, it could also be that this particular person has so many books by so many authors that they don't have time to read every word. So, like many of us, they skim for the gems and they just missed seeing the tree because of the forest.

Keep the faith.

— Markus, Tue, 28 Dec 2010 12:29:58 -0500

I read "Programming Windows 3.1" voraciously. Unfortunately I didn't read the 5th edition at all because I got drunk and lost it in a pub. I bought another copy a week later though.

That's my pathetic geek story. Do I win £5?

All the best ;)

— Matt, Mon, 7 Mar 2011 17:58:55 -0500


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