One of my colleagues, Total Angular Momentum Coupling, and I have been jesting about the “dummy” books for Linux. The source of the jocularity has been my recent efforts to use Ubuntu Linux as a daily OS.
Before continuing with this thread however, I want to digress a moment to talk about textbooks. When I was a student, textbooks were monochrome. Ink was black, pages were white, and emphasis was a matter of font: italics; bold; underlined. When I was a senior I took a course in nuclear physics -really a schedule padder so I did not fall below 24 semester hours of coursework and become too unstressed – and the textbook had an insert in the middle of book with colored (!) illustrations, mostly cut aways of pieces of equipment and graphs.
The big, new thing in those days was boxes. Parenthetical expositions or examples were being put in boxes in the text. I especially recall Reif’s Statistical and Thermal Physics as the first book I noticed this in. In some cases key linear equations were boxed, a practice I regarded as decadent or dictatorial depending on mood. The idea that I should be told that a particular equation was especially important was always demeaning, as if I was considered incapable of making such determinations for myself.
Nowdays, of course, textbook are printed in at least two colors, often several, and have all manner of emphatic constructs from boxes to marginalia, all decrying how stupid and fundamentally incompetent the student is. In such an environment it seems wonderless that students learn nothing and education is one with the water closet.
The point however, for this diversion is the difference between Windows and Linux. My colleague had asked if I had purchased a copy of the “Linux for Dummies” book. I had responded that I had bought several Linux books but not the “Dummy” book as it was a poor investment. Such dialogs are massy; they have considerable inertia. But in the process, I had a bit of an epiphony about what consititues the differences between Windows and Linux.
Simply put, Windows is an appliance that may, with the greatest of effort, be beaten into the occasional use as a tool; Linux is a tool that may grudgingly be temporarily be conduced to be an appliance. If you want to use Windows to compute the energy levels of a hydrogenic monoelectronic atom, e.g., then you have a world of hurt getting a compiler installed and working; if you want to do this in Linux you click to install the compiler from a repository, write the code, and run the program from the terminal.
Part of this was the realization that Linux books – the relatively good ones at least that the editors have only slightly ruined – are monochrome (maybe a bit of gray shading in figures) and largely without boxes. They look like textbooks did in my youth, full of information that has to be drug out and digested. Contrast this to dummy books, which are more than wonderful at telling you how to use an appliance but not at all good at how to use a tool.