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Lauren Ipsum : a story about computer science and other improbable things
Bueno C., No Starch Press, San Francisco, CA, 2015. 192 pp. Type: Book (978-1-593275-74-7)
Date Reviewed: May 25 2016

Those among us who have line printed the jargon dictionary on greenbar fanfold will love this book. But what of the target audience, girls and young women who may be on the verge of attraction to computer science? Amazon rankings are solid, but are the readers old hackers or young aspirants? To increment the count, I will give my copy to the latter.

Lauren Ipsum is a sensible, brown-skinned girl of amazing intellectual promise and emotional capacity. Her straight blue-black hair sets her apart from Tenniel’s visualization of Lauren’s blond spiritual ancestor, Alice Liddell. Both girls are adventurers, but where Alice treads lightly on the leaves of logic under Lewis Carroll’s direction, Lauren (or Laurie) plunges headlong into the infinite corridors of computer science. Her guiding hand is a former engineer at Facebook. In both cases, the adventures take place in a metaphorized near neighborhood of home.

Lauren’s odyssey in Userland requires no choice of cake, drink, or pill, just a willingness to combine curiosity, daring, and hope with the chance of the next turn and the need to get home, eventually. Laurie’s mathematically and computationally sophisticated encounters are mediated by fantastical critters having witty and appropriately evocative names, sometimes subtle, sometimes blunt.

Lauren’s first meeting in her selva oscura is with a purple capybara Argot, whose nonsense words are far from it. Chased by his kin, Lauren learns that they are wild Jargon, overwhelming when formed into a pack. It is the Wandering Salesman who saves her and explains the nature of jargon. Such a brief account barely suggests the rich flavor and adroit language of the book.

This second edition differs from the first by having the illustrations replaced with engaging, but more mainstream, children’s book art. The former were drawn by Ytaelena López, the author’s wife, with “wildline” technique, a single stroke that makes Eulerian path-finding a breeze. The art supplements the text beautifully in both cases.

“Lauren Ipsum” is drawn from “greek,” which is really Ciceronian “Latin”: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit …. This text far antedates its popular use as early PageMaker template filler. It takes a slight bow in the book at the start of chapter 7, “Read Me,” with the substitution of “Esxihu!” for “dolor.” While that might mean “It’s West Lake,” the whole of life’s path remains shrdlued in mystery.

One comment on the content: on page 102, odd + odd = even, and zero + zero = zero does not prove zero is odd, or even, or both. This may be more a joke than a shortcoming. Alice’s logic would reject it, but in fact it is a piece of the non-monotonic reasoning championed by John McCarthy, coiner of AI and Lisp.

The book ends with a green-edged “Field Guide to Userland” that enlarges on topics, problems, and explorations introduced in the story. There are few loose ends, but one may fruitfully pursue the choice of 1728 and 1024 on page 109. At the same time, try exploring 1729.

The story part of the book closes with an Internetty invocation of collaboration afforded by fast and faster communication. Userland can look forward to a new day. As Alice found a sequel, so may Laurie and her friends. Pray both Hesperus and Phosphorus shine on their path!

More reviews about this item: Amazon, Goodreads, iProgrammer, Slashdot

Reviewer:  Benjamin Wells Review #: CR144447 (1608-0534)
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