Some Pretty Smart Programmers Ponder the Origin of the Species
By Jason Fry Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
What are Suriname toads, Asian marmots and tree porcupines doing on the
covers of computer handbooks on esoteric topics like C++ programming and
TCP/IP network administration?
Computer programmers have long wondered. Many have spun elaborate theories
during late-night bull sessions. Some have even written to publisher
O'Reilly & Associates Inc., of Sebastopol, Calif., asking it to settle
bets. But the company won't say.
The handbook series, popularly known as "the animal books," has made
O'Reilly one of the top computer-book publishers. For example, "Programming
Perl," which O'Reilly says has sold more than 320,000 copies, is known in
programming circles simply as "the camel book."
Some of the associations are obvious: Spiders adorn many of the books about
the World Wide Web. "Programming Python" boasts a python, and "Learning GNU
Emacs" features-you guessed it -- a gnu.
But others are head-scratchers. Why a fruit bat on the cover of "Sendmail"?
What is the slender loris doing on a book about sed and awk, two Unix
text-manipulation programs? And why do all the books about applications
built by Oracle Corp. feature bugs?
"There's absolutely always a reason," says Edie Freedman, who designs the
covers for all the books in O'Reilly's bestiary. She is coy about what her
reasons are, but insists her choice of animals is never meant to be
Some theories spring from the colophon each book contains describing the
cover animal. The one in "Sendmail" says of the fruit bat: "A single bad
landing can cause an entire bat-laden tree to become highly agitated, full
of fighting and screaming residents." "Yeah, I guess that makes sense for
`Sendmail,'" one theorist on an electronic bulletin board concluded.
Company president Tim O'Reilly offers a few more hints. He says it's no
coincidence that "Using & Managing UUCP," which he co-authored, has a bear
on the cover because the program "is a real bear." As for the camel on
"Programming Perl," he says, "Perl is ugly, but it can go long distances
"Advanced Perl Programming," due out next month, will no doubt send
conspiracy theorists into overdrive: Its cover features a black leopard.
"We thought about using a two-humped camel," says Ms. Freedman, "but we
didn't want to confuse people."
--- Rohit Khare /// MCI Internet Architecture (BOS) /// email@example.com Voice+Pager: (617) 960-5131 VNet: 370-5131 Fax: (617) 960-1009