the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese

Are Books Trustworthy?


I believe you refer to magazines and books to check about what you don't know and to learn new stuff. When you think about buying books, probably you would look for good sellers or books written by famous writers. In this case, "famous" means writing many books.

However, the above definition is wrong in many cases.

First of all, not many of the writers who write many books are trustworthy. If you are very familiar with programming, you can figure the writers' ability. Since they write a lot, the document is good, but sometimes I doubt how skilled they are in using computers. Books about programming are especially doubtful. I wondered about many writers if they have written programs for practical use. Many of them are professional writers but not professional programmers as well.

It is difficult to describe practical programs within a limited space of a book. Only the outline can be described at the most. Many books try to deal with many things for readers at every skill level, and as the result, they tend to refer to small issues for the ease of explanation. In the worst case, following a book's instruction will ruin the programming work itself. I cannot stop imagining that some incompetent programmers are writing books instead of programming.

I mentioned about good books, bad books, good writers, and bad writers in the appendix of my book (#1 in the "reference books" section) in hope to provide my reader better information. I tried to evaluate the contents and writers of currently available books. I made my point clear: I wrote good comments about good books and bad comments about bad books. Many computer magazines have introduction pages for newly published books or book review pages. But they are roundabout and many of them are not much understandable about reviewer's point. In many literature book reviews, writers are completely made light of and put down. I don't expect that far, but I think there is collusion between today's book reviewers and writers in computer book industry.

Well, I guess the above story has happened to be my message toward programmers, though I didn't mean it.

There is a famous professor who has written many books. I wondered how he managed to write that many books, but I found out why by chance. After all, he wasn't really writing.

When I used to work at a publisher, we decided to publish a textbook for his PC classes on TV. It wasn't my job at first, but suddenly I was in charge of it. Since we are making a book, I expected some policy or hope, if not the draft, from him. However, there was no direction from him before the text was published.

The book's contents were constructed by editors, and I ended up having to write all the draft and programs. By the way, his TV course didn't end really well. I felt pity for viewers of that program and it was good it ended in short time.

Later I learned my fellow published a book as his coauthor. The fellow told me he wrote the whole book. I thought, "he did it again."

He is well known for this kind of thing in computer book industry. But also he's famous professor in public and he indeed contributed to popularize computers in late years. I don't know well about his scholarship.

On the other hand, I know this other professor who never does what the above professor does. I participated in his college lab's meeting to construe the contents of a book by turns as an external staff. The book we used was very famous in overseas, and we thought its translation should receive high acclaim scholarly, so we decided to publish it. It is common to have a very famous professor as a supervisor of a book in a case like this. Because it helps the book sell well. Also, the supervisor was the member of the lab.

After the book was published, we planned a party to celebrate the successful completion. We chose a Japanese restaurant near the college as the meeting place and informed the lab's meeting participants of the party via the Internet. I went to the party, too. Since the participants lived far away from each other, the translation and editing works were done through the Internet.

It was a translated book, so it had the preface part by the supervisor. But the supervisor professor actually didn't do anything. He only lent his name for the book, and his actual contribution was introducing us to a famous publishing company with his name value. Some reward was paid to him later, but he didn't take it himself and offered that money for the party to celebrate the successful completion of work. I took off my hat to admire his honesty.

His knowledge in computer application technique is in the top level of the world, and he is famous for being a leader of, not to mention the Japanese Industry, the world's society. His speech was called "the voice of God." There was cynicism to it in no small measure, but he was indeed a wizard.

In the field of computer, the active programmers in the front area are very busy. They are usually involved in the development competition and don't have time to write books. When skilled programmers become famous, a surge of publishers asking to write them books will come.

I have a friend engineer who is quite familiar with the Internet. He had huge amount of offers to write books like concentrating fire. Those publishers came to me, too, but I told them "I'm not suitable" and introduced him to them. As the result, even more publishers went to him. Since books about the Internet sell well as much as they publish them, many publishers ship books with contents very much alike each other. Most of their contents aren't that good, so I think the readers should be very careful to chose books. It is just amazing to know they have no principles.

There are many systems to encourage publication of good books in foreign countries. For example, colleges allow professors to take enough time to write texts. Writing good texts and reference books are connected to raising their readers ability and therefore to raising the level of whole society. It is very important. No matter how excellent a professor is, the number of students he can teach directly is limited. On the contrary, when good books are published and the readers raise their skills with them, it is significantly effective. However, few professors write books as their main job in Japan.

My occupation being what it is, I often go to book stores to check the computer books section. Lately, I can't help wondering why they publish so many books with similar contents. It seems like they don't even bother to make it look different on the surface for many of the books. Information on new field is helpful, but many of it is rehashed of the original. It's deplorable they are poor in thought and lack of principle.

Many of those books are no more than general guides of the target field. Few of them will do enough for each field. We need books that narrow down topics and teach readers new ideas.

As I often wrote before, I think half of programmers with lower skills are unnecessary. By the same token, I don't think half of writers with lower skills are necessary, either. I'd like top-level engineers write books a lot more, and excellent engineers write introductory books for beginners. Advanced books are scholarly valuable, but true enlightenment is more important. I believe one should have a good knowledge and understand misunderstandings and problems of the beginners to write for an excellent literary activity.

Moreover, I think engineers themselves should talk about computer companies. Journalists may collect information very well, but they are not the employees who know inside stories. To tell the true story about computer industry, square how-to books aren't enough. We need books to tell everything about computers -- crime, moneymaking, friendships and fights, outfoxing the foxes game, programmers' life.

And that is my reason for writing this book. So, I write what I have experienced as a computer engineer and try to make it understandable for readers who don't know about computer. If the readers don't understand my story well, that's because of my poor writing. This book is printed in vertical format to attract many readers to know the truth. (Note: This book was printed with vertical writing format. In Japan technical books are usually printed horizontally, but vertical format is widely used for printed matters.)

When you consider about purchasing a book, try to be free from prejudice, browse books in bookstore to examine, and chose a book by your decision. If it's too difficult for you, then it is wise to ask a trustworthy person to pick up some books for you. If you have an access to frank reviews about computer related books, that will be helpful.

I would like to encourage you to always be aware of the fact that there are many junk books. Some of them were full of baloney and I thought they should be banned.


Copyright 1996, 1999 Hirofumi Fujiwara. Translated by E.I.
No reproduction or republication without written permission.

the Hidden Realities of Computer Industry in Japan Japanese