Experience with Audio Books: 24 hour edition

Recently I have been trying out a pretty old phenomena by now that is called “audio books”. Well, what is it actually? It literally is just how it is called. These are audio records where someone is reading the book that you are interested in. It mostly took off after Apple released the iPod and now it is available everywhere because high-speed internet connections are attainable by the general public and services exist like Audible where you can purchase audio books and download them easily. Obviously, they let you get the same content from books that you would otherwise get by reading but it has some downsides as well. Well… what are they? I will present my own point of view after finishing almost two books in approximately 24 hours of listening.

Audio books are really not like real books

If you started listening to audio books and expected them to be just like books – you are wrong. It IS a different format just like watching plays in a theatre are different from reading the actual plays and imaging it all yourself. The narrator adds its own spin to the content and you do not have the same relationship with the book when you are reading it yourself. The narrator is between you and the book. This has negative and positive consequences. For example, you have to deal with the fact that sometimes the narrator might not add the emphasis where you would want to or the words will be pronounced poorly and you will not be able to understand what is being said. It is not so easy to add a bookmark whenever you mishear a word and come back later to it. Whereas when you are reading a physical book, you can instantly see the word. Applications like Audible are trying to make this easier but still it is tedious to go back and listen to it again, try to understand what is being said. On the other hand, it frees your eyes from actually reading the books and you can focus on other things while ingesting the book content.

Audio books are perfect for times when you are doing brainless work

During the course of the day, there is a lot of periods when you are doing some physical work that requires no brain activity. Some of the examples include doing house chores or running outside. I have found that listening to audio books during these moments was the best thing because your brain is completely free and you could focus on understanding the speech and what the author is saying. That also means that you will be engaging your brain while doing those things so you will become smarter whereas, for example, listening to music will make your brain number and will give you no positive effect.

Also, this means that you will be able to read much more books than usual. I commute 2~ hours every day so that means that I could easily get through a book every week. Now that laudable 1 book a week goal does not look so scary, does it?

Audio books tend to cost more

Unfortunately but audio books usually are pricier because not only you have to pay the person who wrote the actual book but you need to pay the people who made the audio version as well. And it usually consists of a lot of people: the narrator, audio engineer, person who mastered the audio, not to mention the cost for renting a studio with audio equipment and so on. Even though sites like Audible help with driving the costs down with its credit system but it is still not enough. Logically it is just not possible to make the audio books cheaper than the printed books only because there is more people and things involved in making it.

Audible is restricted geographically

It is really sad that in 2017 we still have this thing. I have tried to buy the audio book version of the book “Freakonomics” but it is and still is unavailable in Lithuania. Audible just shows this notice:

Shows that they are "sorry" that this is not available

I mean come on… it is just an audio book. I could buy and read the actual book. It was even actually translated into Lithuanian. But the audio version? Nope. I do not know what is in the publisher’s minds but I hope this will get fixed soon.

Overall thoughts

At first it was very to get accustomed to actually listening to someone else read the book for you. In these 24 hours it got significantly easier, my listening skills improved drastically, and now I can actually increase the audio playback speed to 1.5x. The statistics and achievements tabs in the Audible app give me something to boast about and, even though it is not very good, it gamifies the listening process. I think that in the next 24 hours my listening skills will improve even more and I will get addicted to listening to books. Let’s see what the future holds.

Why You Should Read Programming Books

Nowadays it seems like we are on an information highway and it is very hard to keep up with all the knowledge. Especially this is acute when considering how many websites there are on the Internet and how long it would take you to read and understand them all. However, there is a solution – books offer a way to get condensed information from the field experts and learn a lot of things. Many people think that this is only true for other fields except programming. But I think that is false. In software development, a lot of things are timeless as well and they do not change so often. Let me present this and other arguments in more detail, and try to convince you to pick up a programming book and read it.

Reading programming books or, in general, just any book lets you stand on the giants’ shoulders. Those giants are the field experts who have spent doing the thing that you are interested in countless years. So why would you not want to gather this information that is given to you by these skilled people? After reading a book you can feel more confident that whatever you are doing is right, effective and that it is best decision at hand.

Also, books contain a lot of gems of knowledge. Some these things may not even be available anywhere online anymore and you would have to search a lot for them. Recently I have read an article that tells a story about how many links that were retrieved from an old magazine about the Internet do not work anymore. Well, this illustrates my problem. Those links are dead now and they will probably never be alive again. I am sure that most of the knowledge in there is available on books. Of course, there may still be some useful information that was lost but all the knowledge that is really useful for any situation is available on the books.

Furthermore, such knowledge found in books does not get old. For example, when was the last time it changed how the classical computer works? A person in this field needs to know answers to a lot of questions. Superficially at the very least. How does RAM work? What is the point of types in programming languages? How do compilers work? By reading a book, you would get rich knowledge fast about how to answer this question. You would know how ASTs work, what is the assembly language and so on and so forth. So, you know that you are not just putting pointless information in your brain that will be outdated one or two years from now. A person equipped with classical knowledge that does not get outdated is capable of, for example, picking up any new JavaScript framework faster than the competition because they understand the underlying concepts and they are not afraid when the abstractions leak which is inevitable. In the end we can say that reading programming books makes you a more well-rounded programmer.

What is more, getting information about programming online can be distracting. Nowadays the majority of pages are filled with pop-ups and other annoying things that are just made to get your attention. On the other hand, books have no such thing. You only get the real information that you need absorb without any advert making you divert your attention even if you do not want to. A/B testing with adverts is prevalent these days and thus do not think that you are exempt from this rule.

This brings up my next argument – the books are more dense in information and thus you are better off reading them because you can gain more knowledge faster per time unit. So, unless you want to waste time scouring random web pages for information that may not even be correct (books have a tendency to be correct more often), you should pick up books. Also, this will put you ahead of the competition even more because your typical programmer does not even read 1 book per year.

In conclusion, you can see that there are many reasons why you should pick up a programming book. Obviously, you should not waste time on boring and poor quality books. You should always look at the recommendations of others and their reviews. Thus, I present to you my recommendation list of programming books that I think every budding programmer or enthusiast would enjoy:

Code” by Charles Petzold – a delightful book for all aspiring programmers. The book starts by presenting how two hypothetical persons can talk remotely and then it gradually builds up to explaining how a computer works.

Code Complete” by Steve McConnell – you could probably find it in any “top 10” list of computer science books. It is a tome about the software development process – beginning with how it should be organized, and ending with various tips on optimization and variable naming.

So do not hesitate and start reading now.