After 9 years of little or no programming, I'm taking the plunge and getting technical again. I've been threatening to do this, regularly, throughout this period, but ever since I finished graduate school, I've had the mixed blessing of working with very talented people who were more technical than I was, and so I instead took on other responsibilities -- planning, directing, writing, presenting, promoting, defending -- in a series of collaborative technical development projects at Accenture Technology Labs, Intel Research Seattle, and most recently, Interrelativity.
There was a time when I considered myself technically proficient, even expert. I taught computer programming (Pascal) at the University of Hartford every semester from 1984-1989, developed several versions of production-quality commercial software (30K lines in Turbo Pascal) as an independent consultant from 1989-1993, and became an expert LISP programmer during my graduate work at the University of Massachusetts, ending in 1996. The applications programming world has changed a great deal since then -- not that Pascal and LISP were necessarily representative of the programming world prior to 1996 -- with client / server architectures and the Internet. While I've been aware of these changes at a high level, I'm finally getting to know web-based client / server application development intimately.
And, to assist me in this growing intimacy, I've been greatly infotained by Head First Java, by Kathy Sierra and Bert Bates. The authors do a fabulous job of blending theory and practice, providing engaging examples and exercises, and provoking thought and laughter through a variety of mechanisms throughout the book, including vintage-style photos with cartoonish captions, puzzles, interviews with Java classes, and a winsome conversational style. This is the most enjoyable technical book I've encountered since The Structure and Intepretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, a significant aid in my last peak of technical proficiency.
I also really enjoy the Head First authors' blog, Creating Passionate Users, which is about creativity, passion and people who use technology. As with the book, the blog covers topics that go far beyond computers, programs and people who use them, though there is usually some connection made to one or more of these themes.