Good Books to Buy for Geeks Like Me

If you’re looking for a gift for a book-loving, technically-oriented person in your life, here are a few recommendations. (Alas, if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for ME, I’ve already read them.)

Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Hertzfeld.

This collection of first-person anecdotes from the team of engineers who created the Mac in the early 1980s is beautiful, revelatory, and totally coffee-table-worthy. It conveys the atmosphere of early Apple, and evokes the fascinating bundle of contradictions that was Steve Jobs, in a way that makes it the perfect complement to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, which the person you’re shopping for probably already owns.

(Isaacson’s book is also a terrific read — as accurate and balanced as one could reasonably wish for — but as it’s already destined to become the #1 best-selling biography of all time, plugging it seems redundant. Basically, it’s the iPhone of hardcover biographies.)

If you’re interested in delving deeper into the early Apple story, another great primary source is iWoz by Steve Wozniak (sharing credit with ghostwriter Gina Smith). Woz is the antithesis of the other Steve in so many ways. This memoir — which covers his childhood tinkering, creation of the Apple II, and subsequent departure from the company he co-founded — conveys his unique and wonderful personality. If you happen to be the parent of a smart kid born into the 21st century, his evocation of his 1960s boyhood and relationship with his engineer dad will give you a lot to think about.

Other books I’ve enjoyed lately, in no particular order:

Jesus of Nazareth by Paul Verhoeven.

It’s true: the director of Robocop and Starship Troopers has written one of the most entertaining, historically grounded, and plausible evocations of Jesus’s life I’ve read. Verhoeven, the only non-theologian member of the Jesus Seminar, spent years doing research for a film about Jesus before deciding to write it as a nonfiction book instead. Of special interest to movie buffs is his assessment of the historical accuracy of previous cinematic treatments, including Scorsese’s and Gibson’s.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.

This book blew my mind, in the best way. I’ve been curious about how my brain works pretty much ever since my brain started working, so to discover a book this revelatory is a big deal.

Warning: This is not a quick and easy, Malcolm Gladwell-style bedside read to unwind with at the end of a long day. Though it’s very readable, it demands to be read when you’re fully awake and brimming with mental energy. Not only that, it actually explains why you shouldn’t read it when you’re tired.

Feynman by Ottaviani and Myrick.

A hardcover graphic novel might seem an odd medium for the reminiscences of famed raconteur and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman, but it’s totally delightful, funny, romantic, and manages to squeeze in a fair amount of math and physics. Read it even if you’ve already enjoyed his memoir, the hilarious Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.

Posted on Dec 4, 2011 in Blog | 1 comment

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Templar Sneak Preview

Just back from a visit to LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland‘s San Francisco studio, where they’re hard at work drawing Book Three of our Knights Templar graphic novel trilogy, Solomon’s Thieves.

I’ll post as soon as we know the release date. There’s a lot of work still to do — the full trilogy will weigh in at over 450 pages, in full color. To all those who read Book One (published last year in paperback) and are waiting for the rest of the story, many thanks for your patience!

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak preview of a couple of inked (not yet colored) pages from the third book:

I’ve posted these in an album on the Solomon’s Thieves facebook page, plus a colored sample page from Book Two.

(By the way, the Sketchtravel auction was a huge success and raised over $100,000 for the charity Room to Read. Yeahh!! Looks like some kids in Southeast Asia are getting a library.)

Posted on Oct 31, 2011 in Blog, Comics, Templar | 3 comments

Siri Meets Eliza

Since I got my iPhone 4S, I’ve been intrigued, fascinated and alarmed by Siri’s fast-growing capabilities. I thought it would make sense to introduce her to my psychotherapist, Eliza.

ELIZA was one of the first (and longest) BASIC programs I typed into my then brand-new 16K Apple II in 1979. Originally created at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966, this pioneering natural-language-processing simulation of a Rogerian psychotherapist impressed my family and friends every bit as much as Siri does now. I was curious to see how they would get along.

Here is a transcript of their first encounter. Despite their 45-year age difference and two-million-fold disparity in RAM, I thought they understood each other remarkably well. Continue Reading

Posted on Oct 24, 2011 in Blog, Old School | 58 comments

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The Prince of Persia ebook

For readers who’ve gamely clicked their way through all seven years of my “Making of Prince of Persia” journals online — and those who haven’t — I’m happy to announce that the complete saga is now available as a PDF and Amazon Kindle ebook.

The book isn’t free — we’ve priced it at US$7.99 — but at 300-plus pages, I hope it’s good value. We’re publishing it without any copy protection or DRM, so pirates shouldn’t have much of a challenge. Book sales will help defray the costs of this project and of maintaining the website.

The ebook contains the original Old Journals, plus never-before-published entries leading up to the beginning of The Last Express. You can download a free sample PDF of the first 40 pages, or the full ebook, here.

Thanks to Danica Novgorodoff for designing the book (Danica is the multitalented author of the excellent graphic novel Refresh, Refresh, and designer of many First Second books, including Solomon’s Thieves), and to David Anaxagoras, Ryan Nelson, and Aaron Simonoff for their hard work putting it together. It’s safe to say it turned out to be a lot more work than any of us expected.

How Prince of Persia got made — and almost didn’t

In the ebook, you’ll read what I wrote in my journal on the day I videotaped my kid brother running and jumping to model the prince’s moves; the day I gave up on the project; and the day I decided to finish it after all.

In the seven years from May 1985 to January 1993, Prince of Persia went from a few scribbles on yellow-lined paper to a published, best-selling video game franchise, and I changed from a callow kid into (I thought) a seasoned software entrepreneur. If you’ve read the journals, you know that it was a bumpy ride, and that the game’s eventual success was anything but a foregone conclusion.

Whether you’re a game designer or in another creative field, whether you had an Apple II in the 1980s or weren’t born yet, I hope you’ll find inspiration (or something else of use to you) in this story of how one game got made.

Check out the ebook here.

A request

This ebook is an experiment in many ways. I have no idea how many people will be interested, or how well the non-DRM “honor system” will work. Either way, I’ll post once the dust has settled, and let you know how it went.

If you’ve enjoyed the Old Journals on the site, but don’t feel the urge to own the ebook, you can still support this project by helping us spread the word. Readers like you who take the time to post or tweet about the Old Journals ebook, review it on Amazon, or just tell a friend, will make a big difference in the experiment.

Many thanks!

Posted on Oct 19, 2011 in Blog, Film, Games, Making Games, Old School, Prince of Persia | 36 comments

R.I.P. Steve Jobs

The news of Steve Jobs’ passing hit me in much the way John Lennon’s death did in 1980 — I mean it blindsided me and my whole circle of friends with a surprisingly personal sense of loss although we’d never met him.

And not just because we heard the news — and shared it with our friends — on the iPhones and MacBooks that our fingers touch, on a daily basis, more than practically anything else.

Apple’s products have changed the course of my life, as I’ve previously written. But I admire Jobs most of all for three reasons that have little or nothing to do with the MacBook I’m typing this on:

  • He got fired from Apple. Kicked out of the organization he’d devoted his life to building. I can only imagine how that must have felt. Yet he came back from it in a way that said: “That wasn’t my life’s work, it was just the overture.”
  • He bought Pixar from George Lucas when they were down and out. He put his own money on the line,  then doubled down, buying into the dream of computer-animated features at a time when nobody else would.
  • He gave one of the best commencement speeches ever, one I’ve often returned to when I’ve felt the need to adjust my frame of mind. He said things like this:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Jobs was no plaster saint. He shares many traits with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney, and will take his place in history books (or history ebooks) alongside them. Like the co-founder of that other Apple, John Lennon, he was, is, and always will be an inspiration.

Posted on Oct 6, 2011 in Blog | 4 comments

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