Fire in the Valley, the seminal history of the personal computer and the ragtag band of revolutionaries who created it, is available again, now in a third edition that brings it up to the Snowden era. Paul Freiberger and I first wrote Fire back in 1984 when we were rubbing elbows with these crazies every day as journalists covering the birth of this strange and exciting new phenomenon. The third edition is now available in a beta version from the Pragmatic Programmers, and the official release is imminent.
You can find out more about the book at the Prags site, and you might also want to take a look at the book’s Facebook page, where we’ll be posting historical tidbits, news about the book and our appearances, and other goodies. And you can follow us on Twitter, too, where we promise to have something interesting to say.
The book will also soon have its own Web page, where we’ll share even more goodies. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to find out when and where that will happen.
Bloomburg News is reporting that Megan Smith is the top candidate for the job of US CTO. That would be Chief Technology Officer of the United States, a job that didn’t exist until recently and that is likely to become increasingly important. Smith, recently a VP at Google’s X lab, seems well qualified for the job of geek in residence at the White House.
“Fire in the Valley is the memory lane of personal computing’s early years… Reading like a high-tech Three Musketeers, but with characters out of Dickens by way of Popular Electronics… A book not to be missed, just plain good reading about the drama of the kids next door turning their dreams into millions.”
— New York Times
“Swaine and Freiberger capture the communal spirit of the early computer clubs, the brilliance and blundering of some of the first start-up companies, the assortment of naivete, noble purpose and greed that characterized various pioneers, and the inevitable transformation of all this into a major industry. Must reading.”
— Philip Lemmons, editor-in-chief, BYTE Magazine
“A complete and authoritative history. Great reading.”
— John C. Dvorak
“Much of the book could also be called ‘Those Magnificent Men and Their Computing Machines.’ Their portrait is of creative and caring people whose sense of adventure and curiosity weighs heavier than their pursuit of profit.”
— Los Angeles Times
“The first book to chronicle not only the technological innovation, but also the social legacy created by the true ‘fathers’ of the personal computer… a very human, sometimes funny and always articulate story of the industry’s otherwise cloudy origins. The pages are filled with the people, the projects, and the frenzy that built the personal computer industry.”
— Computer Currents
“Like indulgent gods, Freiberger and Swaine seem to love all of Silicon Valley’s children, but their hearts are clearly with the hobbyists and hackers, gifted weirdos and insanely curious oddballs, the ones they show us most clearly.”
— The Industry Standard
“I couldn’t put it down.”
— Steve Wozniak
From a proposed take-off on the burlesque British history 1066 and All That tentatively titled 6502 and All That:
Ada Loveless invented female programmers. Before her time, while there were no programmers, they were all male. This was a Good Thing, however, because during WWII all computers were female. In America, many of these computers were wax, while in Britain they were usually wrens found belching in the park.
Ada Loveless was the daughter of the famous author and entrepreneur H. P. Loveless. When he was not writing horror stories, H. P. Loveless was busy founding HP, a Packard dealership and garage just off Woz Way in Silicon Valley. HP was famous for getting its Way. Anyone who prevented HP from getting its Way was forced to donate several hours polishing the cars backwards. This was known as Reverse Polish Donation, and was a Good Thing.
Ada Loveless was British, and so of course was close friends with Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Charles Bronson (of the literary Bronson sisters, Charles, Emily, and Ann), and Charles Baggage, an engineer on the Jacquard-Turing Line.
Baggage was famous for not inventing the computer, which he didn’t do twice. He didn’t invent the computer so well that today he has a museum named after him, called the Computer History Museum. He also invented steampunk and talking about technology at cocktail parties, so not inventing the computer was perhaps a Good Thing.
One of the things I do professionally is to edit books. Obscure, highly-technical books by and for software developers. I think the authors I choose to work with are all remarkable for their grasp of their area of technical expertise and of what it takes to communicate about technology clearly and engagingly. I enjoy working with them.
But I never recommend any of them to the neighbors when we get together for Wednesday night potluck. Because these are highly specialized books for a niche audience. And my neighbors are not software developers.
One book I’m currently editing, though, is an exception. The author, Ron Jeffries, is a legend in software development. And what he’s done is pretty remarkable. He’s taken what he has learned over several decades of work writing software, and distilled it to its essentials.
But then, like a premium vodka distiller, he did it again. And again. To the point where his insights apply far beyond software development. What he came up with is a small book correctly titled The Nature of Software Development. It’s a book I can recommend to my non-software-developing neighbors. Because Ron has distilled this complex human activity down to essentials of defining value, seeking simplicity, managing expectations, and always being finished. The lessons are applicable to any complex, productive activity.
It’s coming out soon. I’ll let you know when it releases.