13.22, Thursday 20 Sep 2007

I had some recommendations for more seminal texts in computing:

  • Rod McLaren pointed me at Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine, on the creation of a new computer at Data General in the 1970s. It appears to be a story of how objects are not invented but argued, cajoled and bullied into life. This very human account reminds me of Constructing a Social Science for Postwar America (Steve Joshua Heims) on the collaborative construction of cybernetics and what it influenced.
  • robertogreco sent me Jason Kottke's review of Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages (Alex Wright), in which he highlights Paul Otlet's 1934 description of the radiated library: Over there, in an immense edifice, are all the books and information. From there, the page to be read, in order to know the answer to the question asked by telephone, is made to appear on the screen. The screen could be divided in half, by four, or even ten if multiple texts and documents had to be consulted simultaneously. Sounds like a good reference to chase down. And I don't know why I haven't read Glut yet.
  • Andrew Otwell mentioned two books: ESR's The Art of Unix Programming (1/2 programming and 1/2 cultural history) and The Pattern on the Stone by Danny Hillis. The latter I have been recommended so many times I need to go order it right now.
  • Danny O'Brien said simply: HAKMEM? It's a 1972 "memo" (technical report) of the MIT AI Lab that describes a wide variety of hacks, primarily useful and clever algorithms for mathematical computation. There are also some schematic diagrams for hardware. Aha! But it's odd--it feels like extracts from lab books and answers, and I don't know enough of its history to feel its exciting newness. More research required.
  • Michael Dewar brought up Stafford Beer, inventor of the 1970s pre-internet socialist cybernetic economy system Cybersyn. Now I've previously looked at Cybersyn, but didn't realise (as Michael told me) that Beer's book Platform for Change has an essay on it. That's definitely one for the book pile.

Thanks all; loads of reading there. Now I can't find the email - maybe it was IM - but Tom Armitage mentioned The Essential Turing to me. Man, that looks like it's right to the heart of the matter. Maybe I should read it to warm up to Feynmann's Lectures on Physics.

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