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Up Front


by Michael Swaine

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If you’ve always wanted to write a book, or you’re already writing a book or some shorter-length work, but you’ve hit an iceberg and are now treading water, this issue is for you. You’ll find several articles here on writing—and they’re just the tip of the icebreaker. We’re supporting your writing this month with a dedicated writing forum, a Twitter feed, and a challenge. You can read all about our PragProWriMo program below.

What We’ve Got for You

If you’re old enough to remember Byte magazine from its heyday, or more recently, Apple Directions magazine from Apple’s developer support program, you know Gregg Williams. He introduced Byte readers to the IBM PC and the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga, and his writing in Apple Directions was the true technical voice of that publication. Lately he’s gotten into Clojure, and this month he shares with us his experience with that JVM-based Lisp dialect.

Our columnists cover a wide range this month. Andy Hunt writes about estimating and how constraints foster ingenuity. Jonathan Rasmusson writes about production readiness. I ramble on about the ebb and flow of writing. And John Shade follows the advice of Jonathan Swift.

In an information-packed interview, Pragmatic Bookshelf managing editor Susannah Pfalzer talks about what it’s like to write a book for the Bookshelf. In May 2009, Chris McMahon organized the first Writing About Testing conference. That experience and his background as a professional musician have shaped his views on his software development work, and he writes in this issue about software development as performance. Agile in a Flash authors Jeff Langr and Tim Ottinger discuss the Japanese martial arts concept of Shuhari and how it applies to agile development. And Dan Wohlbruck is back with another tech history article, this time looking at the history of radio.

And of course we do the wheat/chaff triage thing on the tweets we follow in Choice Bits, and we report on all the good stuff coming up in our Calendar. Ah, but I promised to tell you more about PragProWriMo.


Last year we tried an experiment in writing. It worked well enough that we thought we’d do it again.

We call it PragProWriMo, which means Pragmatic Programmers Writing Month. We were inspired by (we ripped off) NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, which you can read about here.

PragProWriMo is all about helping you write that book, whether “that book” is a technical book you’d really like to write but for some reason haven’t been able to get started on, or the novel you’ve always threatened to write but never seem to be able to get your teeth into. Whatever the book, we have one question for you:

What are you waiting for?

We invite you to decide that you’re really going to write that book. No more putting it off. The time is now. Oh, and you’re going to write it in one month.

We’re not kidding. Last November I took the NaNoWriMo challenge and succeeded. That program works like this: You decide that you’re going to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. You don’t revise, you don’t worry about quality, you just write, every day. About 1700 words a day. The organizers and other participants provide a lot of encouragement and some help, but you do all the writing. And on November 30, if you’ve kept up the pace, by golly you’ve written a novel. Over 100,000 people participate in NaNoWriMo every year, and about 15% of them finish their novels.

Our PragProWriMo challenge is a little less daunting.

We’ll provide supporting materials and encouragement and all you have to do is to write 60 pages toward that book during the month of November. If you’re already writing a book for us and you’re averaging two pages a day, then ta-da! you’re already a winner.

To help you along, we’re setting up a forum and a Twitter account. Follow us on Twitter at @pragprowrimo to stay up to date. Join the forum at for more detailed writing advice, answers to your writing questions, and progress reports from participants. And when you finish your 60 pages, you might even get some special recognition from us.

Of course we’d love for you to submit a proposal for that book to us. But it’s your work. You can publish it for free, you can do print on demand, you can hide it from the world and keep it to yourself, or you can take it to another publisher. A great new Prag book may result from this project, or it may not. What we’re really trying to do is to help you write the book you’ve always wanted to write.

Even if you’re not ready to take our PragProWriMo challenge and write a book in November, you can still take advantage of the writing advice and support that we’re queueing up for November. Follow us at @pragprowrimo and visit the forum at You may learn something useful, and the mere act of joining in will focus your attention on your writing in a new way.

Solution to Last Issue’s Quiz

Last month we celebrated 101010 day, the tenth of October, 2010. 101010 is 42 in binary. 42 was the solution to our 0th quiz, as revealed in our first issue. It is also the answer to last month’s quiz, and the answer to so much more.

Why 42 is the answer to last issue’s quiz is simple. Each number in the list is an Easter egg number with special meaning for a director or writer. And 42 is perhaps the most famous of these, or at least the most famous such number that fits numerically between 37 and 47. The list, explicated:

  • 19 crops up regularly in Stephen King novels.

  • 27 often appears in videos and songs by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

  • 37 is frequently used in Kevin Smith movies.

  • 42 is the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything, according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

  • 47 appears in many Star Trek shows.

  • 113 appears in the form A113 or A-113 or A1-13 in movies from CalArts grads, including John Lasseter and Brad Bird. It refers to a classroom at CalArts.

  • 114 appears in Stanley Kubrick films in the form CRM114.

  • 1138 is the number that George Lucas likes to hide in his movies, although sometimes it’s not so hidden.

Coming Attractions

Next issue we’ve got some fine articles lined up, including Adam Goucher’s piece on testing for the cloud. Watch for it Wednesday, December 1.