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Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its…

Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents

by Ellen Ullman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 5 of 5
A friend of mine linked me to Robin Sloan's fantastic interactive review of Close to the Machine and after reading it, I immediately placed a request for the book through the library where I work. And once it came, I couldn't wait to start reading it. And, well, it was fantastic, in every way.

I am not, nor will I ever be, any sort of computer programmer/engineer/etc. And you don't need to be in order to enjoy Close to the Machine. Ullman's writing is, among many wonderful things, completely accessible. If there's something that you don't understand, she usually explains it. And everything else is pretty easy to infer from the context. Ullman's book is both her biography as well as the story of what it was like to be a woman in the male-dominated computer programming/engineering world. Ullman's story is fascinating, from her relationship with lovers to that of her late father to those with her coworkers.

The world she describes, in many ways, seems unchanged today, which is why the book, written in 1997, is still completely relevant today. We get a rare glimpse (as someone said, perhaps in the intro to the book) into the closed off world of programming and a perspective of someone who is both deep inside that world (she's a programmer) and outside it (she's a woman) at the same time.

I love this book and I highly, highly recommend it to everyone, regardless of your interest in computers and/or computer programming. ( )
1 vote callmecayce | Sep 7, 2012 |
This is not a book about software or engineering or the economics of highly-portable information and fluid capital. This is a good storyteller telling stories which have to do with those things and some other stuff. Ullman doesn't have a case to make or a point to prove, but she does give you a lot to think about. She's also a pretty keen observer, both of people and technology. Her description of the amorous attentions of a cipherpunk is oddly affecting: "His lovemaking was tantric, algorithmic... This sex was formulaic, had steps and positions and durations, all tried and perfected, like a martial arts kata or a well-debugged program...I felt as if I'd come in on a private process, something that he had worked out all on his own and which, in some weird expression of trust, he had decided to show me. I should have felt dissatisfied. I should have called it off. But again, I betrayed myself: I gave in to curiosity and tenderness. He has been with himself too long, I thought."

This is not everyday good writing, it's a little better than that. But there is also plenty of stuff on computers, both low- and high-level. This is the woman who observed in 1997 that "the Net represents the ultimate dumbing-down of the computer". A decade and a half have given her plenty of confirmation of that claim. ( )
1 vote kiparsky | Apr 3, 2011 |
Memoir by SW engineer, written at the height of the dotcom madness.
  mulliner | Oct 17, 2009 |
True technologists are so smart and yet so different. This author has been a consultant for 20 years and persevered through several languages, operating systems, and software revolutions. Most of her book is an intelligent commentary on the nature of the technical career; occasionally interrupted with the nature of the technical fringe and her own sexual exploits. Her thesis is that technologically-oriented people grow closer to the technology because it is easier, "safer," and more productive for them. Her example of the programmers continuing to work hard amidst the loitering finance and sales staff at a take-over target demonstrates the point. ( )
  jpsnow | Apr 11, 2008 |
Computers offer a cool alternate reality. Programming takes one into a transcendental zone like mathematics, where reality is symbolic and gritty human particulars don't matter. Programmers are seduced by complete creative control of their little worlds. Others admire and reward their activity.

Occupying this virtual reality is not just tempting but probable since software systems require constant attention. A system is never finished. Everyone winds up making concessions to the bugs and the system. Soon it becomes tautological -- a new bigger system is required. The logic of the system is self-sustaining, sucking everyone in, changing them to suit its needs.

"The world as humans understand it and the world as it must be explained to computers come together in the programmer in a strange state of disjunction" .

"In the painstaking working out of the specifications, line by code line, the programmer confronts all the hidden workings of human thinking".
  jmiedema | Mar 26, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ellen Ullmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Peters, Nancy J.Designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ray, RexCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0872863328, Paperback)

If there is such a thing as a typical computer programmer, Ellen Ullman is not it. She's female, a former communist, bisexual, old enough to be a twentysomething's mom, and not a nerd. She runs her own computer-consulting business in San Francisco and in Close to the Machine explores a world in which "the real world and its uses no longer matter." This memoir examines the relationship between human and machine, between material and cyberworlds and reminds us that the body and soul exist before and after any machine. The wit Ullman brings to her National Public Radio commentaries shines through in the prose.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:53 -0400)

Ullman tries to balance her life, "close to the machine" as a computer programmer with the social and philosophical repercussions of her work.

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