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Just finished The Curious Incident...

It is 25 minutes after midnight, and I just finished reading "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon.  I read it in approximately 4 hours.

Joel was right, I couldn't put it down.  One of the reviewers of the book compared it to Flowers for Algernon, and that's an apt comparison.  I would also throw out The Life of Pi, based just on what an incredible journey the story details.

It was - amazing.  The visual descriptions were utterly perfect.  For me the experience was very much like watching a 4 hour movie that had me completely pulled in.

This is not your average book.

I really enjoyed it, and strongly (adamantly?) recommend it for JOS readers.

Like the character, I relate strongly to science programs, and experiments I've read about - and I really enjoyed learning about the eye-tracking study.  I was a bit ruffled about the way he describes the universe going through a Big Crunch, but I guess in 2003 the physics were still up in the air (pun intended.)  Every other story (even the jokes) that he tells about math and physics, I was familiar with already, unfortunately.  I wished that I could have gone in to this story with a little less background, actually.  But I enjoyed his perspectives on a few of them.

PAGE 62.  (The Monty Hall Problem - "You are on a game show on television...")  If you think you're going to buy the book, read the book up to page 62, but then figure out the answer for yourself!  DO NOT read his answer on the following three pages, until you've solved this puzzle for yourself.  Trust me on this one.  Also, if you don't already know the answer to the Monty Hall Problem, do not read this paragraph:

SPOILERS:  I'm curious about how well others thought he explained the Monty Hall Problem.  Solving it (after being told I was wrong) was certainly one of the most fun experiences I've had with math.  I did not believe.  I couldn't see it.  So I sat down to write the program to prove it wrong, and I had to actually type the line "if you switch, 2/3 of the time you win, 1/3 of the time you lose" (actually its equivalent in C++), before I laughed out loud.  It was such a shocking moment - to think one thing (emotionally, intuitively), but to follow pure logic out and to have my fingers betray me by typing the correct answer - and then having to READ what I had just typed!  It was awesome.  Reading someone else describe the solution in raw math is nowhere near as fun as solving the problem yourself.  But I did enjoy the quotes from the Phd's.  I'm betting those were real quotes.  Anyone have sources?

Alright, I have to get some sleep.

Oh yeah, and if this book takes place in England, why does he refer to speed in a car as "mph"?

Matt Cruikshank
Thursday, August 26, 2004

England uses the metric system except for distances. So mph is correct.

Rhys Keepence
Thursday, August 26, 2004

I always want to read the books The Joel recommends. And going by your review, it definitely seems like a must read. The sad thing is that it's not all that easy to find these books in Indian bookstores and ordering with Amazon, which has only opened up to India recently, costs a pound of flesh.  Just a few hours since Joel's post and you've already bought the book and reat it too. Thus, I say, West is West.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Thursday, August 26, 2004

"England uses the metric system except for distances. So mph is correct."

Actually, to be fair, the UK uses an unholy mixture of metric and imperial units, depending on the context. Although our friends in Europe recently made it illegal to sell things commercially in imperial units, it's normal to see the imperial equivalent displayed alongside. So while you buy petrol (gas) in litres, you can always see the pricing in gallons as well, and when you buy produce it's in kilograms, but you can see the pricing in pounds and ounces as well.

People who grew up with the change, like me, tend to use a mixture of units for describing measures. I'll talk about short distances in inches and feet, but longer distances in metres (since I never really got used to yards). Small weights are in grams, but heavier weights (such as my own body weight) are in pounds and stones, although I'm also comfortable with kilos. Volume is generally in litres - I have no idea how to estimate in fl oz - or pints.

Those born from the mid-80s onwards tend to be much more exclusively metric. I suspect the only reason we don't yet officially measure distances in kilometres and speeds in kph is that it would cost an absolute fortune to change / amend all the road signs in the country.

All in all, it's a bit confusing :-)

Neil Hewitt
Thursday, August 26, 2004

isn't that the kids version? I seem to remember he brought out an adults version with a black cover after.

I watched on the BBC a bunch of kids get quizzed about 'bad language' in books, and they all loved 'The Curious Incident' and felt the swearing was an important part of the story.

But then, I've learned more swearing from the under twelves than any other age group :-)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Back to the (off-topic) metric issue.
It has always surprised me how much Britain has stuck with imperial units.  But I'm sure it's a mentality thing, not a cost-effectiveness thing.

The reason I say this is that I grew up in Australia which changed to metric around the same time (late 60s to early 70s).  I have one particular memory as  a small child of my mother getting stickers from a petrol station to put on the speedometer of the car. The stickers were little triangles with speeds in kilometers-per-hour which were stuck in the appropriate places on the glass over the old mph speedometer. This was in the early 70s. In Australia, for as long as I can remember, all signs are in km and km/h and all distances are in km.

Now in common speech (as the other poster mentioned above) we still mix (even my generation with no schooling whatsoever in imperial units). So for example, when I used to go rock climbing, we would look at a cliff and say "looks about 200 feet; we've got 50 metres of rope so no worries". If you have to measure anything its always in metric, but if you have guess anything is usually in feet "Keep coming back, you're still 3 feet from the curb".

People generally will tell you their weight in either stone/pounds or kilograms, but always tell you their height in feet and inches. If they know their height in centimetres it's only because they have it written that way on their driver's licence.

But the big difference between Australia and Britain is that Imperial Units in Australia are like a local dialect language: (such as, say, Swiss German) It is common in the spoken language but non-existent in the written language.
In Britain you can see the price/weight of produce in the supermarket in Imperial Units (in small print) next to the metric units. You still get your beer in Pints and Half Pints. The milk cartons still have imperial units on them.

I don't believe this is policy or cost cutting. Britain could have changed completely as Australia did. The difference is merely a stronger resistance to change; more of a stick-in-the-mud mentality. (By contrast I believe the US's failure to adopt the metric syndrome is not due to resistance to change so much as a "not invented here" mentality. There is a systemic and ingrained inability in the US to believe that anything is done better in any other country.)

Note by the way, that in Britain the government's "Select Committee on the Original Standards of Weights and Measures" wrote a report that concluded:

" nation which has adopted the Metric system has failed to derive the greatest benefit from such adoption, or, after adoption has shown any desire to abandon it."

This report was written in 1862. Yes that's an 8.

metre boy
Thursday, August 26, 2004

> You still get your beer in Pints

Not strictly true, I think. I believe officially you get 568ml (or some other odd measure). There's nothing wrong with that, and it is pure coincidence that it correlates to one Imperial pint. So <sticks up two fingers> fsck off De Gaulle.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

In fact it's illegal to sell most things in Imperial measures - draft beer being an exception because even our government has an instinct for survival.  Indeed, people have been arrested and fined for selling a pound of spuds.  Strangely it remains legal in France, which a BBC man proved buying veg in Strasbourg of all places.

However, as per usual a loop hole has been discovered.  Prices are set for metric weights and displayed in very small writing.  The equivilent price for Imperial measures are displayed in very large letters.  People ask for their stuff in Imperial and are served in metric. The letter of the law is observed.

In my view the bits of Imperial that've survived are those that are convenient sizes.  Not everything needs to be measured in terms of "one ten-millionth of the length of the earth's meridian along a quadrant" ;-)

a cynic writes...
Thursday, August 26, 2004

And indeed 'Up yours Delors' and other eulogising about the merits of the Great British Banger and bent bananas...

By the way - is it just me or are the 'adult' versions of books whose appeal spans generations pretty crappy looking? I much prefer the illustrated covers, they give the book more character and who cares if some stranger on a train wants to make a judgement based on the cover of a book you're reading?

Hmm... you could probably make some kind of proverb out of that...

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Teethgrinder - How can you tell the difference between the adults' version, and then children's version?  There was some swearing in my copy - it's got an orange cover with a cut-through to see a black poodle laying on its back, and the ISBN is 1-4000-3271-7.

Thanks everyone for the explanation - I had no idea how popular the English system was in England!  *grin*

Also, after a few hours of sleep, I've thought more about Christopher's explanation of frog population on pages 100-102.  He's wrong - people don't "die for no reason whatsoever, just because that is the way the numbers work."  (Duh.)  What I really mean is, it's frustrating to me that Christopher would think that the universe works a certain way because formulas say it should.  It's the other way around - the universe works how it does, and sometimes we've figured out formulas to describe that.  Granted, this may be a point that Christopher is unable to grasp, but the book had so much well-written fact in it, that I was perturbed to see something which is not true.

Also, I was wondering if the author, Mark Haddon, inserted the references to Doyle as a hint to the reader.  Does Haddon fundamentally disagree with something Christopher says?

Anyway - yes - good book.  Good read.  I'm already trying to pawn it off on my friends and co-workers.

Matt Cruikshank
Thursday, August 26, 2004

Do paper sizes like "legal" count as the English system? Everyone in England actually uses the metric paper sizes, but with the unique twist of measuring them in inches. (But since an A4 sheet of paper is roughly A4-size, you never need to know how large it is exactly, so this is fairly academic.)

I mention this because Word has bugged me by getting this wrong in the past. I had to bugger about to make it give me A4 paper, but measured in inches. Bloody thing.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Joel recommended, "The Bug" and it was a crap job. It sounds like his taste in novels really sucks.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Maybe. This book is actually quite good.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Maybe. But I wouldn't jump on it because "The Messiah" (Joel) said so.

Thursday, August 26, 2004


Re: Imperial Pint.  Google is very handy for situations like these.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

I only heard about it from here, but it was also highly thought of among friends who had read it, including one whose brother has Aspergers - she said it helped her to understand a bit more about his condition.
I got it based on all these recommendations and found it so compelling I read it in one session.

Other than the normal 'I don't like this kind of book' complaints, the only real criticism is that it seems to promote the myth that everyone with the condition has some amazing gift because of it, when they are as capable of not having a genius level understanding of maths as anyone else.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Hi Sathyaish,

Which part of India are you in? I'm in Bangalore. If you are in Bangalore or Chennai you can find most of the good books in Landmark. 'The Curious Incident..' is available here. It's been there for a long time and I've been wondering what it was about seeing the title of the book.
Another thing you can do is you can buy the used books from If you have a list of books that you want you can ask one of friends in the US to get them and then ship it through a parcel service like UPS. I recently got five books that way. Three of them were not available in the local stores here. The other two were paperbacks and since it's used they cost lesser than the equivalent here. Finally the cost of the books + shipping charge amounted to hundred bucks lesser in indian money.

Senthilnathan N.S.
Friday, August 27, 2004

Hi Senthilnathan,

I stay in Delhi and work in Noida (Uttar Pradesh), commute up and down daily about a 100 km (5 hours).

I always nomad bookstores and try and get books I don't find for sale xeroxed after I've borrowed from the British Council Library. But there are only so many books available even at the library.

Most of the times, I try to attend all the book fair here and there. I surely never miss the International Book Fair that's held in Pragati Maidan, Delhi.

And I've got such a HUGE list of books I want to buy:

-The Pragmatic Progyy
-In Search of Stupidity
-Joel's new book (JoS in print)
-Death March (Rs.1074)
-Joel's old book (Rs.973)
-Show Stopper (about the making of WinNT): how ....blah...blah...rat race...blah...blahh (sorry, I am a bit drunk at the moment, at a cyber cafe after 3 650 ml bottles of beer) Gee ;-) Gee ;-) Gee ;-)
-Essential COM (I got Inside COM, but couldn't find Don Box's book)
-Many more, my drunkedness defeats me. Some of them are just too precious, I tell ya. I need them or I just won't ....ummm... I just NEED THEM. Drunk ;-)

The books were never available at Amazon for Indians earlier. I recall a rant I posted about that a few months ago. Amazon just opened it up to Indians a few months back, but the shipping charges are $30 (Rs.1,500 approx). So if I have to order a book

I went to the book fair and saw a few books I wanted to buy, but they were darn costly. I would have to sell of my clothes and go home naked if I wanted them. Of course, I didn't want that to happen, so I didn't buy them.

Good idea! I'll have to butter some of the yankees here, as you see I have no friends, to send me some books and I pay them via credit card.

Hey, wait! I am going to the US in the near future. I think so at least.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Friday, August 27, 2004

Hi Sathyaish,

You can go to Search for the books you want. 'The curious incident..', 'The pragmatic programmmer' and 'Death March' are available. You can order them. They have the paperback editions for many books. So the cost of the books and the shipping charges would be nominal. India is a wide audience and most of the books will be here in a little while after they are published in the US. The time gets shorter and will be more so in the future.
The british council will have only a few American authors.
You can try for used books at baazee(auction site like eBay) or sell them over there when you have read them.
You don't need to go to the US or have anybody send it to you for most of the books.

Senthilnathan N.S.
Saturday, August 28, 2004

Thanks, Senthilnathan. I went to landmarkonthenet and it does seem to have a few of the titles I want. I've already ordered a few. Thanks a bunch.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Monday, August 30, 2004

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