April 5, 2006
I see that Scott Mitchell has a new book out, Teach Yourself ASP.NET 2.0 in 24 Hours.
Let me preface this post with a disclaimer: Scott Mitchell is a great writer. I've been a fan of his work since his 4 Guys From Rolla days. Anything he writes is bound to be worth reading, especially in this internet era of exploding content, 99.9% of which is crap. Furthermore, what I'm complaining about is determined entirely by the publisher. Not by Scott.
That said, the book's title reminds me of this scene in There's Something About Mary:
HITCHHIKER: A salesman – that's what I am. I mean, I'm gonna be anyway. I'm starting my own company – video sales – just as soon as I get enough seed money.
TED: 'That right? Good for you.
HITCHHIKER: Yeah, you wouldn't believe my idea – it's a home run. You ever hear of Eight-Minute Abs?
TED: The exercise tape? Sure, I've seen it on TV.
HITCHHIKER: Two million copies it sold last year. Two million, man. But not next year – my idea's gonna blow them outta the water. Get this: (dramatic pause) Seven-Minute Abs.
TED: (pauses) I see where you're going.
HITCHHIKER: (big smile) Think about it. You walk into a video store and you see Eight-Minute Abs and right next to it you see Seven-Minute Abs – which one you gonna spring for?
TED: I'd go with the seven.
HITCHHIKER: Bingo. Especially since we guarantee you'll get every bit as good a work-out.
TED: How do you guarantee that?
HITCHHIKER: Well it's the company motto: 'If you ain't happy we'll send you the extra minute.'
TED: Huh. That sounds great. (pause) Unless someone else comes out with Six-Minute Abs.
It's a joke, of course, but there's a kernel of truth there. If you can truly learn ASP.NET in 24 hours, what's to stop you from learning it in 23 hours? Or 20 hours? or 12 hours?
Yes, the book title is just marketing hype to drive sales. It isn't meant to be a rational statement of expectactions. The implication that you can learn a giant swath of technology like ASP.NET 2.0 in 24 hours, much less become competent in it, is funny to those of us who know better. That part is obvious. But on a deeper level, it's also offensive. It implies that the field of software development is so shallow that a complete beginner can become competent in 24 hours. Yes, we know better, but not everyone does. And the type of people buying this book most certainly won't know what they're getting themselves into.
As Peter Norvig points out in Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years, the computer book industry is particularly prone to this weird 24 hour meme:
I did [a search for books with the word "days" in the title] at Amazon.com and got back 248 hits. The first 78 were computer books (number 79 was Learn Bengali in 30 days). I replaced "days" with "hours" and got remarkably similar results: 253 more books, with 77 computer books followed by Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours at number 78. Out of the top 200 total, 96% were computer books.
The conclusion is that either people are in a big rush to learn about computers, or that computers are somehow fabulously easier to learn than anything else. There are no books on how to learn Beethoven, or Quantum Physics, or even Dog Grooming in a few days.
Like Peter, I humbly submit that books with titles like Teach Yourself ASP.NET 2.0 in 24 Hours cheapen our craft. Any computer book with a length of time in the title – weeks, months, days, hours – is doing its readers a disservice by demoting software development from a craft you spend your life practicing to a mechanical activity that can be learned in a limited time window.
Which is exactly why I'll be publishing Teach Yourself ASP.NET 2.0 in 23 Hours next month. Keep an eye out for it on bookshelves near you!
Posted by Jeff Atwood
The funniest part about these "X Hours" books is that they generally do nothing more than introduce the syntax of the very core commands. I imagine with this ASP.net book they'll do most of it without even mentioning the concept of a CodeBehind, defining and using custom classes, overriding methods, or any of the truly fun stuff ASP.NET/VB has to offer. Again, I think it'll be a basic syntax of "This is how you do if statements and for/while loops. This is how to make a DataGrid work." and the like, without getting into the deeper capabilities that would truly enable someone to be proficient at VB.net.
I started with VB.net a little over 2 years ago and there are still times when I run into something I want to do that I say "Hell, I don't know what command to use to do this." and off to Google I go. The mere thought that a true capability to program a well-designed, fully-functioning VB.net program can the attained in 24 hours is nothing but a ludacris marketing gimmick to try to trick unsuspecting innocents into thinking they're really learning something more than just syntax.
I actually saw a "Sex For Dummies" book at Borders the other day
Yes, this is old news. I saw this book on the bookshelf of a Canadian friend of mine years ago, and I asked him about it. He said-- and this is a direct quote-- "We have two copies. My wife had one before I married her."
He's a funny guy, but he wasn't making a joke. They actually owned two copies.
Of course I never let him live this down. But what the hell does he know. He's Canadian.
Michelle LalaLongname Bustamante
(yelled at top volume in the loud, rough voice of a late 19th century Mexican Federale)
foobar - i think that sounds great...
until someone comes out with a book called "Learn ASP.NET 2.0 in -(infinity + 1) Hours".
I personally dislike the entire idea of the books indication how long time it takes to learn task "bla". It gives me the feeling that it's a quick introduction and nothing more, i'd be much happier with a tittle that discribed what you actually would learn from the book
Huh. That sounds great.
Unless someone else comes out with Teach Yourself ASP.NET 2.0 in 22 Hours.
When I first started programming I got one of those books. That title was just so tempting, how could I go wrong?
What a difference 8 years makes!
I think the publisher should be forced to change the title to "Get a vague understanding of [YOUR TEXT HERE] in 24 hours".
Not as catchy and it will not dupe the uninitiated but then that is what we would hope.
So what about the "Dummies" series of books, eg. "ASP.NET 2 for Dummies"?
(I did have a look for "Brain Surgery for Dummies" but they don't appear to do one... yet!)
Fred Brooks put it best in his description of the programmer who "works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination." Maybe Scott Guthrie learned how to do that in 24 hours, but I doubt it.
Perhaps these books are referring to hours on Venus, which last ten Earth days. So twenty four hours is around 224.7 Earth days. You could get a pretty good grasp of ASP.NET in 224.7 earth days assuming around the clock reading and studying.
I personally like the HeadFirst series. They don't attempt to dumb it down too much, but do realize that people learn better when the writing does not put them to sleep. Osmosis is no way to learn.
I used to say "Years at university saved me hours at the library". q;-)
I personally like the HeadFirst series.
I agree, with some caveats:
Also, Tim O'Reilly said (in blog comments, somewhere, I can't recall where.. I think that DHH Ruby dude's blog) that the Head First is nearly impossible to scale because the format is so uniquely tied to the authors. Not that that's a bad thing, just an observation.
Ha! I'm writing a book called "Learn ASP.NET in -infinity Hours".
7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 doors. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.
"7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 doors. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office."
Cuz your f***ing fired!
Man, now I have to go home and watch that movie. Generally I avoid those books as well, but I'd recommend a Scott Mitchell book to anyone.
It all comes down to the author. If you're uneasy about a book, check out the author's blog (everyone has one, right?). Most of the books I read are after I've heard good things about the author, not necessarily the book.
7's the key number here
I know, I love that part. It's so insane, like the whole Dr. Evil counseling rant from Austin Powers ("Some times he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy.")
Most of the books I read are after I've heard good things about the author, not necessarily the book.
I agree, but I would also expect good authors to push back hard on terrible, no-win conventions like the "learn (x) in (y) time intervals" book title meme.
Love the title...I have to admit I was hoping you were really going to teach me .NET in 23 hours. Damn.
I have to admit the "in 24 hours" hold appeal for me not because I belive the claim, but because I know that it's a good entry-point (as stated earlier).
I've been frustrated trying to learn .NET so far because writers either think you've been living in MS land for a long time (and are just upgrading) or text is so buried in .NET marketinese, that true content is a pain to extract. When a claim like "in 24 hours" is made, I am fairly assured that they will at least try to pack a lot of info into a short book.
I'm going to go against the grain here and probably get pummelled for it, but oh well. I have a few of the "Learn [x] in 24 hours/days" books and think that they were a good entry point when I knew absolutely nothing about the subject.
Not everyone has 2, 4, 6 or 10+ years of experience and is ready to pick up Code Complete, willingly read it and comprehend the topics. I think that is an unreasonable expectation of an inexperienced person who just wants to start learning the basics.
Obviously the books are outgrown quickly by most people, but I think they serve a valid purpose.
I like the new styling on the comment section!
I've been studying ASP.NET 2.0 for weeks and I can't make a breakthrough. After years of programming classic ASP with Textpad, .NET 2.0 is a major leap forward.
Sure, anyone can crank out some simple programs with Visual Studio 2005 after a few hours play, or the help of some of these books - but damn, learning to develop real applications takes some real time in the saddle and falling off the horse.
If i see a book that is learn x in 24hrs i never buy it.
....the marketing has the opposite effect. im sure there are many other software developers out there that do the same :-)
Well, even I make noises over much nothings. So whats my basic problem -- why do people do what they do?
Its funny realy, but many-n time I have observed that if a particular friend of mine says anything on any topic -- I would be on the opposite side of the camp and so would he - with me.
BTW, what do the sales figure show? Does the 24-hour marketing gimmick really work? It must.. and so the titles popularity....
I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. I said, "Hey, the sign says you're open 24 hours." He said, "Yes, but not in a row."
I think the 24 hours idea is - Spend a solid concentrated hour on each chapter to understand the material. If the concentration does not come this can be broken in to smaller units of multiple sessions. Then spend some more time for practicing the material. This time is not accounted for in the title. So it is actually a 24 sessions of which the first hour of each session is to read the material only.
I don't work for the 24 hour books but I would be really glad if I can learn something new in 24 sessions of 3 hours each (1 reading + 2 practice).
I bought the book mentioned above and I quiet like it (everything was working fine until the website administration tool decided not to work, and couldn't find a cure in the most advanced forums so I am stuck in hour 20 indefinetly), as said earlier, most writers think we live in MS land, I actually crossed MS from my dictionary awhile back, but I am back now with asp.net 2.0 thanks to Scott, the way he explains it is great.
At the end of the day we all have been to school but it's not the hours spent at school that determines our understanding, it is the homework. just like when the school decided to cramp world history in a trimester (we all turned up ok, I guess :) )
and I think it is safe to say that reading the book is good but practicing is the key. so i don't believe books like this degrade a craft, in fact it bridges the gap between those who speak VB , c# and those who speak english, and in turn brings more followers to the craft. (that's why you get the words "help please" more than anything else in any forum)
Lets not forget those who are quick learners, what takes someone 10 years to learn may take another 1 or 2 years....
that's my two cents
Because of the publishers and their marketing droids we'll have these titles forever, because they do sell more books, just like 99c beans vs $1.00 ones. And they probably all reading "Marketing for Dummies" ;)
i dont really agree with most comments here, i started out with the learn asp.net in 24 hours and that was over a year and a half ago... have the people here who criticise it actually read it... it doesnt say become a professional developer in asp.net in 24 hours... it does what it says... teaches you to use asp.net... its great for learning the basics... you can then take it from there.
how can people criticise it if they've never read it...???
one final point, i have played the piano for over 20 years... there are books out there that claim to teach you piano in 6 weeks.. however, you could learn the fundamentals in 24 hours... honestly. however, to learn to play it well takes a lifetime, but there are people who will be happy to play chopsticks and others who'll want to play beethoven concerto's... asp.net is no different...
if the only book on the market was learn asp.net in 10 years and the size of a telephone book no one would know it!
Yeah, the "For Dummies" books can get a little funny. I actually saw a "Sex For Dummies" book at Borders the other day. The jokes write themselves here...
I went to a week long class on VS2005 with Juval Lowy and Michelle LalaLongname Bustamante and felt like we'd just really scratched the surface. Hands on labs with two leaders in the field, and 30 some hours was only an intro... You can't even learn enough to be dangerous in 24 hours.