Articles [Book Author Interview] mad scientist -- Clive Maxfield
1. Please introduce yourself and the book.
My name is Clive Maxfield, but everyone calls me Max. My BSc degree is in Control Engineering from Sheffield Hallam University in Sheffield, England. I graduated in 1980. My first job was as a member of a team designing the central processing units (CPUs) for mainframe computers. After a year, two of the managers left to form their own company and invited me to join them. I spent a couple of years writing test programs to debug PCBs, then moved on to creating simulation models for one of the early logic simulators. As part of this, I ended up being sent around the world to give training courses of the logic simulator.
In 1990 I moved to work in America. During this time, as part of my job, I started to write articles for electronics magazines. “Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics),” which I started in 1992, was my first book-length project.
2. Why do you want to write this book?
I read a lot of books. I like books on math, physics, chemistry, and biology, but my main love is for science fiction and fantasy (I also enjoy graphic novels). When I woke up one Saturday morning in 1992, my original plan was to go down to a local bookshop. While I was lying in bed, I thought it would be fun to one day go to a bookstore and see a book I’d written on the shelves, so instead of going out I sat down at the kitchen table and started writing “Bebop to the Boolean Boogie.” (FYI This is now “new and improved” in its third edition.)
Basically, I wanted to write the book I wish I could have read when I was starting out. I hated having 20 books and not being able to find the fact I was looking for in any of them. I also find a lot of technical books to be very dull and boring. I hate books where the author is trying to make me see how clever he or she is – I love books that make me think how clever I am. I also like discovering tidbits of trivia and learning nuggets of knowledge. All of this went into Bebop.
3. What challenges have you encountered during this process? What impact do they have on you?
Well, you have to remember that I started writing the book the year before the Internet arrived in the form of the first publicly available web browser (Mosaic). Even when the Internet did arrive in 1993, there wasn’t anything I could use on it and there weren’t any search engines like Google. Thus, for two years I spend most evenings and weekends at the library using the Encyclopedia Britannica to fact-check names and dates and suchlike.
I also found it was very difficult to write a full-length book – much harder than a magazine article – because it’s hard to get a nice flow. On the other hand, it made me a much better writer. The funny thing is that I really didn’t show any aptitude for writing when I was at school or university. It was only when I started preparing materials for training courses and presentations and magazine articles that I started to focus on writing better. My mother cannot believe that I now make my living writing :-)
4. What impressed you most in your writing career?
I have a lot of engineer friends who are really, really good at what they do, but they spend their lives in little cubicles doing the same thing (like designing memory storage architectures) over and over again. By comparison, my writings brought me to the attention of my managers. In turn, they started sending me out to present papers at technical conferences. The end result is that I’ve been lucky enough to visit many parts of the world (including Brazil, Canada, America, Germany, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hawaii), all with someone else paying my way. Trust me, that’s the best way to travel :-)
One thing I would say is that you should only write technical book-length projects for the fun of it – very few people (including me) make any decent money writing technical books. On the other hand, having written books (I wrote more after Bebop – my favorite is How Computers Do Math -- https://www.amazon.com/Definitive-Guide-How-Computers-Math/dp/0471732788) opens a lot of doors. Bebop is well known in the industry (it’s required reading by the sales and marketing groups of a number of large Silicon Valley companies), and this has helped me get work when I was a freelance writer, and also it helped me get my current position as Editor-in-Chief of https://www.eeweb.com/
5. What do you want talking to your readers?
I’m not 100% sure what this question means (sorry). But if you are asking what I would say to the people reading this, then it would be the following:
Whatever you do as a job, it’s a good idea to practice your writing skills. There’s an old saying that goes, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” You know what this means – if the first time you meet someone at work they are wearing a clown costume, it’s hard not to laugh (pun intended). If the first time you meet someone they look bedraggled and unwashed, that’s going to affect your perception of them. Similarly, if someone writes to tell me “Your an idiot!” then this isn’t conveying the message they hoped it impart (it should be “You’re an idiot” or “You are an idiot!”). The point is that if you send someone an email, or write them a note, and you make mistakes in your grammar or punctuation, then their opinion of you is going to be diminished.
Also, a lot of people don’t like writing – a lot of really good engineers “freeze-up” if they are asked to write a brochure or a manual – so if you practice your writing skills, you are going to come to the attention of your managers. Hey – if you want to write something technical for publication on EEWeb.com, you can email me at email@example.com (in this email, mention that you heard about me in my interview on Top Talked Books).
6. Could you recommend a few books that you want to share with your readers?
Sure – checkout this column I wrote a while back – it contains links to a lot of books, including some of the ones I’ve reviewed:
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