On the guilty pleasure of reading a really bad book

This is going to be long – skip it if you’re in a hurry.

Today I was at Sun’s Santa Clara campus for an all day meeting of the DEs. We finished up on time, just after 5pm. The last session had left me feeling exhausted: a 20 minute presentation stretched to a relentless 40 minutes, followed by a complicated debate. I felt like a drink and some food (my body is still pretending that it’s on East Coast time), but 5:30 seemed a bit early to eat. I therefore decided to drive over to the nearby Micro Center store and do what geeks do: ogle hardware and software. There’s a passable Mexican restaurant in the same plaza (the Mexicali Grill), and I thought I might find a book or magazine to read over dinner.

The store was very quiet, and the few customers seemed to be lowering their voices as if they were in a library. I found nothing of interest in the Mac section, or the PDA accessories, or the magazines, or even the discount DVDs. (I wonder who buys those boxed collections of 20 horror movies from the 1950s, not to mention The Neverending Story Volume 2.) And so I made my way to the book section.

It just so happens that I’ve been discussing the possibility of doing some work with Sun’s Network Storage Division, the group that sells such products as the StorEdge 9990 array and the QFS file system software. I’m quite familiar with our products, and I used to work on distributed file system software such as PC-NFS, but there are parts of the storage business that I know little about. So when I came across a large book about storage systems, I started browsing it. The table of contents looked promising. I checked the price: $5.99, reduced from around $50. I put this down to overstocking, bought a copy, and went off to have dinner and a bit of a read.

By the time I’d finished my salad, and a Silver Bullet margarita, I realized that I had acquired a Really Bad Book. It was weird: the organization was plausible, and by speed-reading I could sustain the illusion that it more or less flowed and made sense. But if I slowed down and looked carefully at individual sentences, they were gibberish: ungrammatical, rambling, cliché-ridden, and full of non-sequiturs. At first it was annoying, but by the time I reached the end of the first chapter it had become simply hilarious. Some examples, with original punctuation:

“The corollary, or trade-off to this condition, is the economics of speed and capacity to price.”

“Within the SAN, these operations become more logical and have to coexist with other servers that share the fabric network and devices connected.”

“Finally, as the sophistication of the centralized mainframe computers was downsized, the capability to house larger and larger databases demanded the deployment of the database server.”

It goes on and on like that. Verb agreement is a matter of happenstance; dereferencing a pronoun should only be attempted by trained professionals. At times we seem to enter an Alice in Wonderland world of topsy turvy relationships:

“The most critical element of performance for a business application is its availability to its own data.”

And sometimes a sentence seems to have been assembled by a surrealist playing with magnetic fridge poetry pieces; here’s a final, glorious example.

“Unless the hardware and firmware release levels are inventoried and tracked in conjunction with the network, the NAS systems become unassociated storage servers unbound to the confines of the network in which they operate.”

I cannot shake off the image of a row of NFS servers growing large, colourful wings and fluttering away like butterflies towards the setting sun – unbound, free of the confines of the network!! Excelsior!!!

[I’ve done my best not to identify this book or its author. If you figure it out, please keep quiet. There’s no point in stirring the pot.]

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