Why are there no programming books at the bookstore?

This post was written over a year ago based on frustrations of not finding good .NET materials at the bookstore. It is being published as a bonus post now after finally completing it.

A little about me:

– I live in the Midwest
– I like to program at bookstores
– My favorite band is Huey Lewis & the News

I like programming at bookstores. Armed with a laptop and earplugs, I find myself at my most creative and in flow when I am around interesting resources. Browsing a few technical or business books, my mind quickly reaches hyper-active problem solving mode. To play off the ancient proverb, when I find my hammer through reading, I immediately notice all the nails I have to pound.

In the Cincinnati area, Barnes & Noble and Borders are the most predominant bookstores with Joseph Beth coming in a distant 3rd. Bookstores are nice because they are open relatively late (compared to libraries), have coffee bars with Internet, and have seemingly infinite resources on a variety of topics (as compared to Starbucks). At least, they “had” a variety of resources. It seems over the last couple years these large scale bookstores have been phasing out the acquisition of new tech books. It used to be that I could go to the bookstore and utilize the books to do legitimate technical research. Now, it seems that only the heavily mainstream books are on the shelves.

In late 2008, when I should have been seeing books about the Entity Framework or Sync Framework soon after they came out, I did not find anything except on Amazon. The lack of books on new .NET frameworks continued when ASP.NET MVC came out and no physical copies could be found. My strategy used to be to check Amazon to see when new books were about to be released and then to travel to Borders on that day to perform the research I needed. Or sometimes I would browse the books at the store to determine if any were worthy of buying. For those that were, I then bought them on Amazon because they were much cheaper.

Unfortunately, the trend has continued. I am hard pressed to find any interesting books (or those that I have not read already) in the “Computers – Programming” category. And this used to be the key differentiator to me from the coffee shops on every street corner.

I realize that I may not be the ideal customer in the eyes of the bookstore. I have learned not to buy any books from them and commonly use the free Internet provided. However, I at least make a conscious effort to purchase an overpriced beverage every time I abuse the store’s resources.

With the above changes comes my growing disappointment. I miss having a central place to do research, skim random books, surf the Internet, energize myself with caffeine, and watch people. I don’t believe I can get that just from the Internet at home or a coffee shop. Additionally, I prefer to learn through reading books versus through the Internet, mainly because they tend to cover a wider spectrum of knowledge. Usually, a book goes through the basics to the intermediate and then the advanced. Books tend to contain straight-forward walkthroughs, executive summaries, and theoretical concepts. In contrast, the Internet tends to have very specific blog entries that solve a particular problem. When researching this way, I am forced to “jump right in” instead of following a complete tutorial targeting varying experience levels. It can be difficult to find high-level descriptions about a technology and why it is useful.

Is it useful to complain about a problem for which I am not offering a solution? I don’t know. I assume the bookstores are not making very much money by filling their inventory with programming books. Or perhaps authors are no longer producing content in the form of physical page turners. I just hope they know that the technology and programming books were a small part of the overall experience which caused me to buy their coffee. I guess attracting my “type” wasn’t worth it for them.

Perhaps when I win the lottery, I’ll unleash my solution to the dying bookstore industry. More on this in a later post…

Personal Benefits to Taking the Bus to Work

Take the Bus to WorkNot many people in Cincinnati take the bus to work. There are a couple reasons for this. For one, the city is not that big so even people who have purchased homes in the ‘burbs can drive into town in less than 30 minutes. Secondly, there are not many routes scheduled, especially outside of commuter hours, so if someone’s schedule is anything different from the standard 8 to 5, then taking the bus would be inconvenient.

Why do I do it?

When I got my job downtown I was determined to begin taking the bus. The closest stop is ridiculously convenient for me. It is less than a half mile away and I pass my mailbox and a grocery store on the way. I don’t take it every day, but about 40% of the time. There are some obvious benefits:

  • Extra exercise
  • Good people watching
  • Save money
  • Reduce stress on my car
  • Environmentally conscious
  • Learn another valuable transportation resource

The biggest benefits

I neglected to mention the 2 biggest benefits in the above list because I want to write about them in more detail.

Time

The bus is great when it is not crowded, so recently, I have shifted my work schedule to be earlier so that the bus ride is less likely to be crowded. Instead of paying attention to driving, I can zone out, sleep, read, text, get on twitter, etc. I get back my commute time.

This is important because lost time is an important issue. The concept has been analyzed many times in other sources, but as developers our time is valuable and easily monetizable. Even if we have day jobs our time outside of that could be spent freelancing, earning significant dollars per hour. Therefore, if I can save an extra hour a day by not having to drive myself to work, then I have saved X dollars, by freeing up that time to work on something else, like this blog post. Now, if it were only socially acceptable to attend work in pajamas, I wouldn’t have to spend time ironing. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Speaking of being productive, I could only imagine what more I could do with my time if the buses I took provided wireless Internet. Then I could actually do billable work. I know that other cities’public bussing systems provide this, so why can’t mine?

Flow

Another great benefit I have noticed is that by starting to exercise my mind on the bus, I am ready to work by the time I get to my desk in the morning. I do not need to “wake up” for an hour once I get there. I don’t feel the need to catch up on twitter, blogs, or emails because I have already done that on the bus. It is a way to “prime the pump.” By consuming some slightly work-related info in a relaxed manner, I am able to feel like my day is starting at my pace without wasting the time I could/should be productive at the office. By the time I am at my desk, I am able to buckle down and get into flow much more quickly.

My recommendation

Here’s my advice if you currently have a significant commute to work and have not tried the bus system enough to get comfortable with it. You can probably ease into it to see if you like it.

To get started, you can search for your local bus system online. You can usually find it by Googling “[Your City] Transit Authority.”

Find the nearest Park ‘n’ Ride, that’s what the Midwest cities call parking lots that are specifically designed for leaving your car there all day while you commute on the bus. There are 2 advantages to using the Park ‘n’ Ride rather than walking. First, you can drive to it. This way you don’t have to try and time the bus schedule as precisely because the car can get you there more quickly. Driving also allows you to be lazy and takes less effort. Second, if you miss the bus and decide you don’t want to wait for the next one, your car will be right there for you to drive into work that day. The Park ‘n’ Ride reduces risk.

Take the bus 2 times a week for a month. This should be long enough for you to decide if you like it and to understand how to utilize the system should you need it in the future. It can be nice to have the option to take the bus to work in certain cases, such as when your car is in the shop or when you will be meeting someone for happy hour who can drive you home.

 

As you read more of my blog, you’ll realize I love it when I feel like I am getting the most out of something. I feel that way with my local bus system now and I hope to share the benefits with you.

Attribution: Image by caribb