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Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway [Paperback]

Cliff Stoll
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 2009
In Silicon Snake Oil, Clifford Stoll, the best-selling author of The Cuckoo's Egg and one of the pioneers of the Internet, turns his attention to the much-heralded information highway, revealing that it is not all it's cracked up to be.  Yes, the Internet provides access to plenty of services, but useful information is virtually impossible to find and difficult to access. Is being on-line truly useful? "Few aspects of daily life require computers...They're irrelevant to cooking, driving, visiting, negotiating, eating, hiking, dancing, speaking, and gossiping. You don't need a computer to...recite a poem or say a prayer." Computers can't, Stoll claims, provide a richer or better life.

A cautionary tale about today's media darling, Silicon Snake Oil has sparked intense debate across the country about the merits--and foibles--of what's been touted as the entranceway to our future.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 249 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; 1st edition (1 Jan 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385419945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385419949
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.4 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,679,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Book Description

In his previous book, The Cuckoo's Egg, Clifford Stoll related the story of how, through the Internet, he uncovered a computer spy ring. In Silicon Snake Oil he deals with the myths and realities of the Internet, looking at the darker side of the information superhighway and attempting to reveal its hidden hazards. It illustrates how electronic data transfer can be slow, less reliable, and more expensive than communication by phone, fax, and even the postal service. Stoll also argues that discussion groups, lauded for providing access to information and diverse opinons, are in fact hotbeds of rumour, where conversations about issues frequently degenerate into the rude, offensive and tasteless, and where technical questions often elicit inaccurate answers. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting, but flawed 28 Mar 2003
Format:Paperback
i got this book on the strength of the writing in "the cuckoo's egg", which i absolutely adored, and had a very hard time putting down during the two days in which i read it. "silicon snake oil" took me much longer to get through, for a few reasons. first of all, the writing is much less focused and the organisation not nearly as strong. secondly, much of the time it amounts to a rant, and one that has often not stood the test of time. many of his most vehement complaints about the internet, for example, have proven unfounded.
although i was disappointed, ultimately the book has something to say, whether you like his style or not. he raises some valid points, and even if you disagree with his rants, he makes you think. therefore i give it three stars. worthwhile, but not as good as his previous work.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A perplexed meditation on the Internet. 31 Mar 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Ah, the Information Highway. No phenomenon in modern times has received more attention, held out more promise, nor achieved more mythic stature than the information highway. This computer utopia is said to educate, entertain, and inform. It will supply us with vast amounts of information, put us in close touch with each other, and turn our fractious world into a global village.
Not so, says Cliff Stoll.
Stoll knows. He's author of The Cuckoo's Egg -- the bestselling book about how he caught German spies prowling through computers -- and a genuine legend on the Internet. Involved with networks since their earliest days, Stoll has watched the Internet grow from an improbable research project into a communications juggernaut. He knows computers; he loves his networked community. And yet...
Stoll asks: when do the networks really educate, and when are they simply diversions from learning? Is electronic mail useful, or might it be so much electronic noise? Why do online services promise so much yet deliver so little? Why are computers so universally frustrating?
Silicon Snake Oil is the first book that intellegently questions where the Internet is leading us. Stoll looks at our network as it is, not as it's promised to be.
Yet this is no diatribe against technology, nor is it one more computer jock adding his voice to the already noisy chorus debating the uses of the networks. Following his personal inquiry into the nature of computers, Cliff meets a Chinese astronomer with an abacus, gets lost in a cave, and travels across the midwest on a homebrew railroad cart. And at the end of the journey, we're all a bit wiser about what this thing called the information highway really was, is, could and should be.
Grounded in common sense, SILICON SNAKE OIL is a meditation full of passion but devoid of hysteria. Anyone concerned with computers and our future will find it startling, wholly original, and ultimately wise.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cliff's glass is half-empty. 27 July 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed Cliff's first book (the Cuckoo's Egg read many years ago) and so decided to buy Silicon Snake Oil for a leisurely read and to gauge his opinions some eight years after writing. As you read the book you feel that Clifford is suffering from some irritating complaint or ailment, he seems to be cross with the way the technology industry goes about its business. I guess the real point that comes over in the book is the industry's use of hype surrounding the Internet and PC-related technologies, promising much but delivering little. Now, some seven years on, the things promised by the industry visionaries in the mid-nineties are just arriving helped by the arrival of broadband and wireless technology. Reading the book in 2003, I'm disappointed how often Cliff went on-and-on about his low-speed modem connection to the net - perhaps this is where Clifford differs from the likes of Gates or Jobs - he can't see into the future. Sure there are some very valid comments made by Stoll about the impact of the net on things like education, but he fails time and again to see the opportunity afforded by the technology. As we progress through the book Cliff appears to calm down and his views mellow a little - perhaps the irritation cleared up?-)
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