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on 28 March 2003
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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VINE VOICEon 3 October 2012
Silicon Sake Oil is a book that should be so out of date that it is almost useless, and yet it is not. Seventeen years is such a long time in IT that any book of that age should be, if not completely wrong by now, so obsolete in its detail that it has no relevance to current IT.

So why is this book different? Well it's easier to consider how Clifford Stoll has been shown to be wrong. There are lots of technical details here that are obsolete or completely wrong. Criticising school use of computer networks because modem dial up charges are prohibitive is so out of date as to be not just wrong but meaningless and his suggestion that the internet would not be able to handle financial transactions is probably one of his more famously wrong predictions. Predictions like that are all to prone to rapidly become embarrassing though it is interesting that while he was totally wrong about the money side of the internet we still have exactly the same bandwidth and access problems that we had when we were all using 14k modems, it' just that the files have got bigger.

But to focus on the technology the book discusses is to miss what is probably a far more important point and that is the social effects of computers and while the technology problems may change or even be resolved the social effects haven't changed that much. Who cares you can send email to the other side of the planet when people don't talk to someone on the other side of the fence? Does it really matter that google can answer our questions if your library can't afford books? I want my library to buy books and magazines not a new router! What has more educational value Wikipedia going on about the rainforest or a school trip to the woods at the end of the road?

If you can generalise past the technical details of mid nineties technology to the effect that technology has in general then this is book which still has a lot to say. It may have historic interest value but it still has contemporary value.
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on 27 July 2003
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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on 31 March 2000
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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on 1 June 2013
This book is very much of its time, covering a number of issues and concerns relating tithe spread of the Internet in the 1990s. While some of these discussions are still relevant the book itself is now perhaps best known for making some strikingly incorrect predictions about the future (Stoll asserts that the computer and telephone will not merge to become an information appliance).

This book is certainly worth reading if you are interested in the history of the Internet.
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on 29 December 2009
This book is mainly interesting for historical reasons. Already the internet has shown that it can do everything that Stoll says it could not.
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