On re-reading Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/02/13/on-re-reading-tracy-kidders.html


I noticed my copy last night, I 've neber read it since the first time, whenever it came out in psperback.

But what are the specs? I underuse my computer, but it’s a second generation i7, at 3.4GHz, 8gigs of ram, and a 500gig nard drive. So quad core with hyperthreading, I run it as a 32bit machine, but if course it can be 64bit. And it’s small.

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It may well be time to reread it, at this later stage in my career. I’ve been dealing with a lot more outside folks who have their own ideas about how things should be done.

But a million instructions per second? That’s faaaaast!

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I loved The Soul of a New Machine, which led me to read several other of Kidder’s books - all good. Not superlative nonfiction, ala John McPhee, but each solid stories, well told. I happened to work for IBM at the time Soul came out, and visited Data General many times during the minicomputer boom (they had some IBM gear). Others in the neighborhood included Prime, DEC, Stratus, Wang. That stretch of rte 495 was hotter than Silicon Valley for a nanosecond or two in the 1970s into the 1980s. Thanks for the recollection.


Some of those books haven’t aged particularly well with respect to the science in them. Selfish Gene and Influence in particular have problems.

Soul of a New Machine is a fantastic book though. There was a discussion about it on Hacker News today as well:


The top comment about Tom West’s daughter is especially interesting to me as I sometimes struggle with keeping my work and home lives separate.

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The Soul of a New Machine is about organisational psychology as much as engineering, but it also works as a record of a particular era of computer science.

IMO it’s one of the foundational texts of the genre of computer related documentary literature.

Clifford Stoll’s “The Cuckoo’s Egg” should be in that list too, and The Nudist on the Night Shift (Po Bronson,) Burn Rate (Michael Wolff) In the Beginning… was the Command Line (Neal Stephenson.)


I’ve Built a Better Model than the One at Data General


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I have found rereading books I liked when I was younger quite eye-opening, you get insight into both your past and present self.

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Can you recall how Selfish Gene has aged badly? I remember liking it way back when, though it was Blind Watchmaker which really grabbed me.

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