So last week saw the sad demise of Bruce Robertson, the managing director of the UK-based Diagram organization that specializes in artwork and design for books and other publications. While I’m sure he’d most like to be remembered by the great work his company has done, the somewhat unfortunate fact is that he’s probably best known for founding the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year.
I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of this (or him) until I read his obituary in the newspaper. Not that I always read the obituaries, but I like to check if there are any interesting recently dead people (was it Phyllis Diller who said she always read the obituaries to make sure she was still alive?)
And a concise history of the prize is (as you’d expect) on Wikipedia. Some of the less controversial titles include the famous first prize winner “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice“, the 1984 winner “The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today“, and the rather amazing “People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It“.
Other more specialist titles include a guide to banishing fairies from your home called “Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop” (I especially like the use of “one’s” rather than “your”), the no doubt fascinating historical guide called “Highlights in the History of Concrete“, and the technical treatise named “Unsolved Problems of Modern Theory of Lengthwise Rolling” (supposedly a vital technique in metalwork).
What’s illuminating about the prize is that the judges are urged not to read the books in case they discover that the title is actually meaningful and not odd at all. Probably the same applies with computer books, especially if you’re not a computer geek. For example, on the first few pages of Amazon’s computing books section I found “Analyzing Neural Time Series Data: Theory and Practice (Issues in Clinical and Cognitive Neuropsychology)“, “Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation” (does that include cake?), and “Python for Data Analysis: Data Wrangling with Pandas, NumPy, and IPython” (probably a completely nonsensical title if you are more familiar with zoology than computing). I also came across “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning: Refactor Your Wetware“, and just had to break the no-reading rule to see what on earth wetware is. Turns out to mean your brain. And I thought it might be about underwater computing.
And what about “iPad for the Older and Wiser“? You can’t help but wonder if there is an associated guide called “iPad for the Younger and More Stupid“…