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Close to the Machine

By ramses0 in News
Mon Feb 14, 2000 at 05:16:56 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

Close to the Machine (Technophilia and Its Discontents) --Ellen Ullman

If you've ever seen the sun rise while working on a project, you'll probably like this book. It is a well written slice of techno culture, and it is particularly refreshing to read a book about techie life that was written by a true techie. She gets all the facts and references right, and manages to convey her unique perspective in a way which may cause you to think twice about your own life.


Close to the Machine (Technophilia and Its Discontents) --Ellen Ullman 189pp, paperback, ISBN 0-87286-332-8

I found this book for three bucks while browsing at the local Half-Priced Books. You can find it at Amazon for $10. Written from a programmer's perspective, Ellen describes the life and mindset of a "non-traditional programmer" (that is to say, bisexual, female, middle-aged, programmer-turned-manager) as she works on projects, and lives her life "Close to the Machine".

If you've ever seen the sun rise while working on a project, you'll probably like this book. It is a well written slice of techno culture, and it is particularly refreshing to read a book about techie life that was written by a true techie. She gets all the facts and references right, and manages to convey her unique perspective in a way which may cause you to think twice about your own life.

This does have its drawbacks. If you aren't a geek, you might not like the book (it starts with chapter[0], and talks of space-padding the NULL case on the first page). If you are a geek, it might not tell you anything new. But she does delve a little into the philosophical aspects of programming, comparing writing a software package for AIDS patients with running anonymous off-shore pornography servers. Each is fundamentally a bunch of if-then-else clauses, but does it really matter to the geeks in the trenches what the project does?

Andrei Codescru calls it "A little masterpiece" in the liner notes, and I have to agree with him. It's not the greatest book ever written, and it's not really even a masterpiece, but it does an excellent job of conveying what it's like to be a programmer. People dump on the movie Hackers all the time because it uses 3d animations to convey "hacking". Where Hackers may have got the method wrong, it got the characters right- and Ullman succeeds admirably in that regard.

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