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some more books 0

Two years ago, I read some books. It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been two years since then; I was sure it was only one year ago. Guess that means it’s time to try again. Reading five books seemed a little frantic at times, and two or three is probably a better pace for me, so this time I’ll be reading five books again.


Trying out a something of a new theme here, the development and execution of groundbreaking projects.

The Soul of a New Machine The high stakes high pressure race to build a next generation computer at Data General around 1980.

Showstopper: The Breakneck Pace to Create Windows NT Another high pressure race, to build a next generation operating system around 1990.

Dealers of Lightning The formation and history of Xerox PARC’s first fifteen years, from 1969 to 1984.

Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age A history of Silicon Valley, also from 1969 to 1984.

Countdown to Zero Day The discovery, investigation, and analysis of stuxnet.

Many of these books seem to subscribe to the Great Man Theory of History, which isn’t so fashionable in some parts these days, but we’ll see how it goes.


Nothing is more fun than reading on a tightly regimented schedule. I’m trying to stick to this schedule, although we may use the metric system for weeks. These are the chapters where I’ll start each week. (Troublemakers doesn’t seem to number chapters.)

1ch 1ch 1ch 1Prometheusch 1
2ch 3ch 3ch 5Come with Mech 4
3ch 6ch 5ch 9Make it Happench 7
4ch 8ch 6ch 13No Idea Howch 10
5ch 11ch 8ch 18Looks like $100ch 16
6ch 14ch 10ch 22Rabbitsch 19


Tom West is on a yacht, in a storm, having the time of his life. The rest of the crew are impressed by his energy, going without sleep for four days. They know little about him, except that he makes computers, but this is his vacation and he doesn’t like to discuss work. He must be very important.

Not a whole to go on, but I suspect Tom West will figure prominently in the story of the computer we are about to build.


The build is late. David Cutler wants the build to be done so that it can be tested. Yesterday a test failed, and now the team is another day late, and this is how deadlines are missed, one day at a time. He yells at the build team, then leaves their office, passing a circle on the wall where he broke a toe kicking it. More recently he punched the wall and broke a finger. All this to keep development of NT’s six million lines of code moving in the right direction. William Gates has tired of dominating the desktop, and needs a new operating system to dominate the network.

Large project require large teams, but large teams write bad code, unless they are guided by a star. Cutler. “He rejects the distinction between work and leisure, job and family, home and office. The very harshness of this ethic strangely intoxicates his acolytes. He presents a world in which great deeds occur against a bleak backdrop. The enemies are laziness, confusion and incompetence. Each member of the team hungers to transcend his own frailties. ... Some lost pieces of themselves along the way. Others saw the arc of their lives cross the blurry border that marks the known from the unknown. And in the end, they grasped that every worthwhile creation is at once an act of love and an act of violence.”

Oh boy.


Before the prologue we have a timeline, stretching from 1969, when Xerox purchases Scientific Data Systems, Alan Kay submits his dissertation “The Reactive Engine”, and the ARPANET is launched with four nodes, to 1984, when Apple launches the Macintosh with a Super Bowl ad.

Computer launches today are accompanied with much fanfare, but Charles “Chuck” Thacker, in a small office building surrounded by apricot orchards, unveiled the Alto in 1973 without any of that. When he and his team set out to build it, they decided to break all the traditional rules. It would be a small computer, personal, affordable. Even if the technology to fully realize the plan didn’t exist, hence they also called it a time machine. A machine today that would represent the possibility of ten years in the future. Thacker turns on the Alto, and Cookie Monster appears holding the letter C. But it’s not about the message itself, no more than “Mr. Watson, come here,” but the fact it was possible to create it.

There are many myths and legends about the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. A common myth is that Xerox failed to take advantage of PARC, but this is not entirely true. In this book, based on interviews with people who were there, we will relive the first fifteen years of PARC’s history.

This is a pretty good setup. I want to know more about this Alto computer.


Steve Jobs gave the Stanford 2005 commencement address, which is now widely cited and quoted. At one point, Jobs recounts his firing from Apple and that he had dropped the baton. The previous generation of entrepreneurs had been counting on his generation to lead the next great round of innovation. But he found his way, and in turn passed the baton on to the next generation of Google and Facebook. This book is the story of the first baton passing, from 1969 to 1983. During this time, inventors created entire new industries, personal computing, video games, advanced semiconductors, modern venture capital, and biotechnology.

We’re going to follow seven individuals in particular. Bob Taylor. Mike Markkula. Sandra Kurtzig. Bob Swanson. Al Alcorn. Fawn Alvarez. Niels Reimers. They didn’t always know that they were doing, but they pushed and figured it out anyway.

All aboard the hype train!


In January 2010, the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, noticed that Iran was replacing more uranium centrifuges at the Natanz processing facility than expected. A certain number of replacements is to be expected, but not this many. IAEA is not responsible for investigating equipment failure, however, even though the answer is right here. Someone has dropped a cyberbomb, the first of its kind, on Natanz.

OK, so technically, the word cyber doesn’t appear in the intro, just “digital warhead”, “digital weapon”, and “digital warfare”. No cybering just yet.


Not too many thoughts yet, but some strong personalities are beginning to emerge.

Next week we get this party started for real.

Posted 12 Aug 2019 12:50 by tedu Updated: 12 Aug 2019 12:50
Tagged: bookreview