|Perl: the Markov chain saw|
One of our new users, Dusk, and I have been talking a lot about perl lately. I've been doing my best to share what knowledge I have, and be there to answer questions for him as so many people have done for me (notably on dalnet and openprojects irc, as well as right here in the monastery). The more I talk to him, the more I realize that the books I have are very important to me in learning. I have everything from Learning Perl to Advanced Perl Programming. Ive got non-oreilly books, and I think I just finished my oreilly perl collection this evening with the mod_perl book. The point is, the more I talk to Dusk, I wish there were some way for me to share these books with him. I happen to be fortunate enough that I have a few extra copies of books just because I've bought copies of books I had lost or didn't think I had. Dusk, however, doesnt have the ability to just "accidentally" purchase a $35 book. If you would read his home node, you might discover that Dusk is probably one of our youngest monks, at 14. I have another friend in Kentucky, who, while he grasps the concepts of perl, doesnt quite have the full understanding that Programming Perl brings. Wally, my friend in Kentucky, doesnt think he can afford the book. They really are expensive, when it gets down to it.
So I have agreed to send both of them a couple of my extra books. I was thinking, though, that maybe if youre 14 and you cant just buy a $40 book, or if youre 30 and you just dont have the money because things are tight, it seems like a lot of money. But on the scale of the financial institutions we have in this world, $30-40 a month is really not very much money at all. I got to thinking that with a little effort, I could begin a self-renewing scholarship to purchase a perl book every month for a beginner who needed a little bit of help and some text. If you work on it in terms of a CD, just a few thousand dollars would be able to generate $30 a month. In six months, you determine who needs the books the most, and send them each one.
There are several issues that struck me as being important, and I'm not going to address the money issue just yet.
Well, I thought about this. I see two ways to do this. First, I know some of us have extra books around. I have a copy of Camel 1 and a pair of Camel 2. I have an extra copy of Advanced Programming in Perl, I have an extra copy of the Coriolis Black Book, I have an extra copy of Mastering Algorithms with Perl. I might even be willing to part with my personal copy of the Llama.
What's to say we dont have, collectively, quite a few extra books we could afford to just redistribute to people who needed them?
On top of that, I think probably, that there should be an option for either the Llama or the Camel, but also, there are some Newbie books that have come out of Manning that I dont know anything about. I think it would certainly be possible for people to nominate books for winners of the "scholarship" to receive.
I dont think the matter of picking books is particularly difficult to figure out.
Who determines who gets the books?
I think other than the money issue, this is going to be the sticking point to see if it can be accomplished as a community. I'd like to say "well, me!" but that isnt the way things work. I dont know that I have the time to review people who would apply for it. I want to be able to do this, but there is clearly a need for other people to help. I dont see why I couldnt just form a panel of my perl peers, and I suspect a couple people will get in touch with me after reading this message. This issue remains wide open.
What qualifies somebody as "worthy" to receive a book?
Well, This is also something that can be left rather open-ended for the moment. Since we're not really looking for accomplished perl programmers, we cant really say, "submit perl code that makes you worth of Advanced Perl Programming"... Does such a person really need APP? I think usually what Cereal Companies do for small scholarships is they have an essay contest of sorts and say "Explain in 500 words or less what lt;perlgt; means to you" or "what would you do with this new llama you would like?" This part is not very difficult to get down, and I suspect a lot of input is out there for this.
the big question. Money.
Well, I thought about this too. I am very very strongly behind this and I am quite willing to contribute financially what I can to the cause, and probably whatever happens here, I will try my hardest to make something possible. When I woke up one day and realized how many extra books I had, I was overjoyed to know that I would be able to share them with people.
However, when I think about it, I realize that probably, as I mentioned before, the amount of money involved is really trivial for the likes of big business. I think its extremely good publicity for a company to contribute something to a community as cohesive as ours. Furthermore, as Apple attempts to do with colleges, if you reach somebody when theyre learning, you imprint upon them. I know the reason I am so fervent about oreilly books is that I learned perl reading them. I have lots of Randal Schwartz and Tom Christiansen style in my code, as well as Alligator Descartes and Damian Conway. (I dare not compare my code to that of St. Larry)
I think perhaps companies will be interested in supporting an endeavour like this. Depending on what I hear today and in the next couple days, I will talk to people I know about writing a proposal such as the one I have sort of paraphrased here and see if I cant get something done in legalese and proper-like (because it would seem necessary).
I encourage you to e-mail me regarding this. Even if I dont get this off the ground and into something institutionalized, if you want me to find homes for your old and not-quite-in-your-lap perl books, I am happy to do that. I have all I need, and I'm not going to be doing it for me.