2015 Update: Stealing Still Wrong

So Lee Siegel, writing in the New York Times, says he defaulted on his student loans. He apparently feels suckered by banks and colleges, and fully justified.

Let's start with the obvious. Stealing is wrong, and Siegel has stolen from everyone who will have to cover his defaulted debt. This basic truth seems to have escaped Siegel; one almost gets the impression he thinks the banks themselves are the victims, or perhaps the loan repayment will come out of some oily executive's cigar-and-yacht money. It's especially disturbing to me when a writer defends stealing because--hold on to your hats--people steal from writers all the time. Siegel has written some books, and I promise you, someone has stolen them, and has a list of rationalizations as long as Siegel's.

Siegel's essential complaint is the same complaint that every criminal makes: if I didn't commit my crime, I wouldn't be able to get everything I want. Nothing else he says in the article is anything more than a redressing of this complaint. E.g., if he didn't go to school at Columbia, he could have incurred a lot less debt, but then he would have to go to a much less prestigious school. Morally this is no different than saying, if I didn't steal the 75-inch television, I would have to watch a much smaller TV.

I might almost forgive Siegel for his self-serving article if he used his moral failings as a springboard to reform the system in some way. But Siegel seems to be a committed statist. The underlying problem is that government underwriting of student loans has allowed loans to greatly increase, which in turn has fueled the explosion in tuition. The solution is simple--get the government out of the student loan business. That's it. Siegel has it backwards, though. He hopes that massive defaults would lead to more government involvement, as though doubling the dose of poison turns it into a cure.

He writes: "Instead of guaranteeing loans, the government would have to guarantee a college education." Does he mean the government would just pay everyone's tuition? Why wouldn't he expect that to raise tuition levels even further?

Ah, but then the students wouldn't be the ones paying, would they? It would be the rest of us, the taxpayers. In other words, instead of him being the sucker, he'd like to make all of us suckers. No thanks.

In one respect, though, Siegel and I are in agreement. If this is what a Columbia education produced, whatever he paid them was too much.

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Things That Are Wonderful: The Pretty-Good Neighborhood Pizzeria

As I've grown older, I've started to pick up on those small things that make the world wonderful. It's easy to appreciate the big things: God, family, friends, love, kindness, and a host of other things it would diminish to lump together with "etc." But it's the small things I've learned to cherish as well. And there's no better example of a small thing to be cherished than the Pretty-Good Neighborhood Pizzeria, or PGNP.


Let me define what I mean. A PGNP is a local pizza place. If it's part of a chain, it's only a small local chain. The pizza is reliably tasty, and it's slid in and out of a big oven with a peel; it doesn't ride along a conveyor. But the pizza isn't exotic or even fancy. The atmosphere is simple and relaxed. The staff is friendly and seem to enjoy themselves. In short, this is not the pizza place you take someone you want to impress. This is where you go get pizza when you just want some good pizza. You often end up here because someone says, "Hey, let's just go to..."

I think a PGNP is the cornerstone of a good neighborhood. Do you ever wonder if you live in a real neighborhood, or just a collection of homes? Then ask yourself: where's the PGNP?

Here where I live, in "old" Hoover, Alabama, the PGNP is Salvatore's, which takes up half of a building that was once a Swensen's. (The other half is a Subway, of which we'll not speak.) At Sal's, you can eat delicious pizza by a bubbling fountain as you watch the traffic along Highway 31, which is exactly the kind of up-and-down ambience that suits a PGNP. In the Edgewood neighborhood in nearby Homewood, the PGNP is New York Pizza, where I've always enjoyed the food, even the time I took my pal Yancy when he was in a vegetarian phase and wouldn't allow meat on my half of the pizza ("the grease crosses the middle.") Even Alabama's fanciest address, Mountain Brook (the city people like Courteney Cox really mean when they say they're from Birmingham), has a fine example of a PGNP: the venerable Jim Davenport's Pizza Palace, where the crust is so thin you're probably allowed to eat it during Passover.

More recently I've discovered the joy of finding a PGNP when I am traveling. Visiting a far-way PGNP is a chance to become an honorary local. It feels great, like you've found a second home. For example, if you ever find yourself in Navarre Beach, Florida, the PGNP is the New York Pizza Depot. I highly recommend the Garlic Knots.

In Kissimmee, Florida, not too far from Disney World, a great PGNP is Broadway Pizza. When my family visited there, my wife had a migraine and didn't feel like eating much, so she ordered a salad, and barely touched that. When we were leaving, the waitress handed us a to-go box; inside was a fresh salad in kit form, everything separate to keep the ingredients crisp until the headache went away. So sweet! That's the kind of attention you get at a PGNP.

It's so easy to take the PGNP for granted. It's just pizza, and there's a million places to get a pizza these days. But a PGNP is more than pizza, it's part of the neighborhood family. When you walk through the door, you can feel the neighborhood chucking you on the shoulder and saying hello. The PGNP is an oasis of friendliness and cheer in a world grown bitter and impersonal. It's a wonderful thing.


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Think Like a Programmer: Now in Korean!

My book, Think Like a Programmer, "a book every programmer should read at least once," according to a friendly Amazon reviewer, can now be read by more programmers. It's available for the first time in Korean.

TLAP Korean

The Korean title, 프로그래머처럼 생각하기, apparently translates as "To Think Like a Programmer." For the first time, my name doesn't appear in English on the cover, but is instead Hangulized to 안톤 스프라울. Hangulization, if I understand it correctly, is a method of rendering foreign words into their closest phonetic approximations in Korean. The Google Translate pronunciation of 안톤 스프라울 sounds something like "Andon Spedoweh" to me. Pretty close? I don't think Korean has a consonant sound like "V" so that's probably why my literary-affectation initial disappeared in transit.

On a side note, getting these symbols into Google Translate required a tiny education regarding the Korean language. At first glance, written Korean looks similar to written Chinese. But the Chinese language has a huge number of symbols, where the individual symbols are morphemes--either words, or meaningful grammatical components of words, like how "meaningful" is composed of "to mean" with the -ing and -ful suffixes altering the word. The small number of Korean symbols, in contrast, essentially form an alphabet, except that in writing them, certain combinations of symbols are combined into one. So the 안 symbol is a combination of the ㅇ, ㅏ, and ㄴsymbols. And just as in English, these combined forms are often pronounced a little differently than the individual components would suggest.

And...that's about all I learned about Korean. It looks possible that one could learn to read it fairly easily (because of the small number of symbols, and unlike English, the word forms are very regular). Learning to speak it, though, would be quite an achievement for an English native.

Anyway, this translated edition can be had for the nice round figure of 25,000 KRW (South Korean won), which is $23.67 US at today's exchange rates. Given how many gamers and game companies are based in South Korea, I imagine the country must have more than its share of world-be programmers. I'd love to think some of them could be helped along their way with my book, so if you pick up a copy, please e-mail me and let me know what you think.


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The Cover Art of Dell Shannon, Part 1

So my father-in-law, knowing I like mysteries, has loaned me his entire collection of Dell Shannon mysteries. Dell Shannon, not be confused with Del Shannon ("I'm a-walkin' in the rain...") is the pen name of one Elizabeth Linington. I guess I should say one of the pen names, as she wrote under several names including her own. All of the books written under the name Dell Shannon, though, are police procedurals featuring Lieutenant Luis Mendoza of the Los Angeles homicide department. They are good stories, well told, and were hot sellers in their day -- the series ran for nearly forty books, the first in 1960 and the last in 1986 -- but they are all but fogotten now.

Part of the fun for me, though, is the variety of cover art in my father-in-law's collection. He's bought every book in the series, although a couple have gone missing (a mystery in itself), and they are a motley crew, with first-edition hardbacks rubbing shoulders with mass-market paperback reprints. These covers are a good lesson in the history, good and bad, of American cover art. And so I present the first installment of: The Cover Art of Dell Shannon.

Unfortunately, the first four books (Case Pending, The Ace of Spades, Extra Kill, and Knave of Hearts) are in an omnibus book club edition that has lost its jacket. So we begin with book 5, Death of a Busybody.

Death of a Busybody

I like the cover on this mass-market reprint. I would have thought trying to shoot someone through a phone was impossible until I saw this (warning: comic gore). Seriously, though, this cover delivers the goods. It highlights important elements of the main crime (Mendoza stories always have several going on at once) without giving anything away. Get used to that quote from the Los Angeles Times -- it appears on many of the covers as a kind of generic blurb when they couldn't get a title-specific one.

And now we come to perhaps the low point of all Dell Shannon covers, Double Bluff.

Double Bluff

This is one of the better stories, but you wouldn't know it from this cover. Yipes. It's like they were about to send everything to the printer and then realized they forgot to make a cover. What about Jimmy the intern? Doesn't he know how to draw a little? Yes, a little, but he can't draw perspective or fit objects into space in any logical way. Everything he draws looks like it's slowly melting. Plus, he's never read the book -- best he can do is draw a vague bedroom scene that has nothing to do with anything. Sigh. Best we can do.

Next episode: Mark of Murder and Root of All Evil.


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I've just saw that the Polish edition of Think Like a Programmer is out:
Myśl jak programista. Techniki kreatywnego rozwiązywania problemów. Which apparently just means Think like a programmer: creative problem-solving techniques. Can't argue with that.

I don't have a copy yet to check out, but here's the cover from the publisher web site.

It can be yours for only 49 Zloty -- a little more than $16. As someone with a great admiration for improperly named Polish-American insurance investigators, I'm excited about this Polish edition. I was also pleased to see this reader review on the publisher site:

Świetna książka, w bardzo przystępny sposób przedstawia strategie radzenia sobie z problemami programistycznymi. Polecam.

Which according to Google translate, means:

A great book, in a very accessible manner the strategies for dealing with the problems of programming. I would recommend.

Thank you very much, "Pawel C," and best wishes in your studies.



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