By John Gruber
Flatfile: Never format messy spreadsheets again.
It’s not a collection of new work; it’s a compilation of essays previously published at various spots around the web. It’s not about the Mac, nor is it about programming — although there are several essays that touch on those topics, and others. Just like the title says, it’s about software, and, more importantly, about good writing about software.
My contribution is “The Location Field Is the New Command Line”, published here on this site precisely one year ago. I didn’t choose it, Spolsky did, but if I had been approached and asked to pick one of my pieces for inclusion, “Location Field” very likely would have been it. It’s one of my favorites, and it’s also one that I think might have some staying power — meaning that it could be relevant, or least still interesting, a few years from now. (It did not escape my attention, however, that I say nice things about one of Spolsky’s own essays in “Location Field”, but I truly believe this is coincidental to its inclusion; but, just in case Spolsky subsequently edits a second volume, I will say he’s a very handsome and clever fellow.)
So if you just want to read my piece, you can read it for free right here. Likewise for the rest of the book: if you’d rather read the essays for free than cough up the $17 for the book, go ahead and read them on the web.
I’m not getting any sort of royalties on the sales; Apress (the publishers, who were a pleasure to work with) paid me a nominal amount (emphasis on “nominal”) for the rights to include the essay, but it’s one of those cases where it really is an honor just to be included. (Ordering copies of the book via the Amazon links here on this site, however, will line my pockets with wads of referral-fee kickback cash.)
The list of authors includes Paul Graham, Cory Doctorow, Paul Ford, Michael “Rands in Repose” Lopp, Clay Shirky, and many others. (E.g. Aaron Swartz, who just finished his first year at Stanford; he’s writing acclaimed essays at an age when I did little more than sit around getting baked and playing NHL Hockey ’93 on Sega Genesis.)
If you enjoy thoughtful, clever, carefully crafted essays on software, it really is a very good book.
I do obsess over the visual presentation of my work; and for my writing, that means layout and typography. And so my only reluctance before agreeing to participate in this book was a concern that the book would look bad. I’d rather not see my work published at all than see it published in a poorly-designed setting.
My concerns were unwarranted; this is a well-designed book. In fact, the main body copy is set in Sabon, my very favorite text face. I’m fond of several other Garamond-derived and/or -inspired faces — Garamond No. 3 and Adobe Garamand, for example — but Sabon is the font family I’d choose to take with me to a desert island. The cover is quite nice, too.
The formula is not complicated:
Good writing + good typesetting = a pleasure to read.
One of the fringe benefits of procreation is that you finally find yourself on the receiving end of the Father’s Day racket. And so speaking of good books, that’s exactly what I got from the wife: a copy of The Stanley Kubrick Archives, a massive, beautiful, exquisitely-detailed tome edited by Alison Castle with full cooperation of the Kubrick estate and published by Taschen. Included with each first edition is a 12-frame strip of film from one of Kubrick’s own 70mm prints of 2001: A Space Odyssey; mine shows a landscape in the “Dawn of Man” sequence.
And so of course come Monday morning, my first thought was to ping my friend and fellow Kubrick devotee Jim Coudal so I could brag to him about what my wife bought me — and but it ends up the highlight gift of his Father’s Day was a copy of the same book. In fact, his strip of film from 2001 also seems to be from the “Dawn of Man” sequence, so assuming the strips are being included in chronological order, order now and you might get the sequence with the best cut in the history of cinema.
This book is why they make coffee tables.
Last but not least, while speaking of good books and fatherhood, the boy insists that I put in a good word for “Opposites With Oswald”, which we’ve read several times a day, every day, for the last few months. There’s not a man, woman, or child who shouldn’t be reading this book daily.