July 29, 2010
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Bob Stein

A conversation with Bob Stein (Voyager Expanded Books, Night Kitchen) on the early history of the future of the book. (Press the "+" sign; the interface is somewhat curious.)

Stein and I have met only a handful of times. That’s strange, when you think about it: we’ve both been working and thinking about making things that are better than books for decades. He’s more interested in design, in how things look. I’m more interested in structure and sequence, in links. He’s a radical whose vision of the electronic page is deeply conservative in the best (and now almost-forgotten) sense of the word. I’m a liberal whose would gladly send the page to the wall if we could get something better, because people need something better if we’re to have any hope of saving the world. And they need it now.

Asked about why he has devoted so much energy to creating tools for making ebooks, Stein answers:

I was telling a programmer today that if I have one regret it’s that I never learned to program. And I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve wanted these tools.

This strikes me as an odd thing to regret. Learning to program isn’t like learning to be a ballet dancer or a major league second baseman. At worst, it requires a bit of study and practice. (Learning to be a terrific programmer might — perhaps — be another kettle of fish. But even then I’m not entirely sure. And you don’t need to be a terrific programmer to build stuff, just as you don’t need to a terrific driver to run down to the grocery.) If you’re forty years old, you’re never going to learn to hit a fastball, but there’s no reason you can’t pick up Ruby or Objective C or whatever you like. And Stein is by no means shy of hard work or daunting challenges.

If you think you want to learn to program, do it.