How Cuckoos Do It

May 8, 2008 – 12:23 pm

I was editor for the first edition of Programming PHP and, like all O’Reilly books, there was a vigorous discussion with the authors about which animal should be on the cover. All the recognizable megafauna have gone and we’re left with different types of birds, bugs, and fish, so conversations about covers inevitably start from a “hey, I was expecting to choose between elephant and tiger, and you gave me a friggin bird!” handicap. Programming PHP was no different.

In almost every case in O’Reilly history, authors focus on the negative aspects of an animal. The main exception was Larry Wall, who came up with the positive story for Programming Perl‘s camel: thrives in harsh environment; not pretty but gets the job done; etc. We took the same approach with cuckoos: “yeah sure, they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, but think of it as minimal effort—and that’s not American cuckoos, it’s only European ones (sorry Rasmus)”. It worked, and that’s the story in the Colophon.

Being part of that discussion, and researching cuckoos for it (before Wikipedia, gasp!), made me appreciate those birds all the more. So I was fascinated by the Economist has a story on cuckoos, which explains why the nest birds don’t chase the cuckoos away. The cuckoos have evolved markings that make them look like hawks (because those without the markings were chased off and couldn’t breed).

My story about the animal on the Perl Cookbook will wait for another day ….

You must be logged in to post a comment.