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Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its Discontents by [Ullman, Ellen]
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Close to the Machine: Technophilia and its Discontents Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Length: 210 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Review

Astonishing... impossible to put down --San Francisco Chronicle

We see the seduction at the heart of programming: embedded in the hijinks and hieroglyphics are the esoteric mysteries of the human mind --Wired

By turns hilarious and sobering, this slim gem of a book chronicles the Silicon Valley way of life... full of delicately profound insights into work, money, love, and the search for a life that matters --Newsweek

We see the seduction at the heart of programming: embedded in the hijinks and hieroglyphics are the esoteric mysteries of the human mind --Wired

By turns hilarious and sobering, this slim gem of a book chronicles the Silicon Valley way of life... full of delicately profound insights into work, money, love, and the search for a life that matters --Newsweek

From the Publisher

THE CRITICS PRAISE CLOSE TO THE MACHINE!
NEWSWEEK, December 8, 1997:
Ellen Ullman, English major turned computer programmer, writes about her rather wacky life with humor and aplomb in this diaristic work, subtitled "Technophilia and Its Discontents." Ullman takes her liberal-arts sensibility and opens a fascinating window onto the culture of people obsessed with ActiveX controls, device drivers and Visual C++. By turns hilarious and sobering, this slim gem of a book chronicles the Silicon Valley way of life--contracts won and projects botched, start-ups that dissolve into thin air, partnerships formed and busted, even Ullman's bizarre romantic entanglement with a self-described anarchocapitalist. The book is chock-full of delicately profound insights into work, money, love, and the search for a life that matters.

THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, November 30, 1997:
Part memoir, part techie mantra, part observation on the ever-changing world of computer programming, "Close to the Machine" is the nicely balanced story of a 46-year-old woman coming to terms with middle age in her personal life as well as in her chaotic profession as a software engineer. Ullman comes off as an interesting character, a connoisseur of both fine wine and complex scripting languages ... [An] admirable story of a strong woman standing up to, and facing down, "obsolescence" in two different, particularly unforgiving worlds--modern technology and modern society.

WIRED, December 1997:
. . . disjunctions are at play in Ullman's life and in the central intimacy of her identity as a coder: her closeness to the machine. We see the seduction at the heart of programming: embedded in the hijinks and hieroglyphics are the esoteric mysteries of the human mind.

THE VILLAGE VOICE, November 4, 1997:
For someone sitting so close to the machine, Ellen Ullman possesses a remarkably wide-angle perspective on the technology culture she inhabits.

LA WEEKLY, November 14, 1997:
At some point in Ullman's stories, it should start to dawn on a reader why software turns out the way it does: why "groupware" means never having to say good morning, and why systems geeks prefer email to telephones. Ullman writes of engineers who knew their jobs were ending but continued perfecting their programs anyway; of colleagues who don't speak for days, so thorough is their compulsion to work. It's from such imaginations that the fundamental principles of software are born. "Marketing people talk about it as if these things are built by human interface specialists with psychology degrees," Ullman says. "But what programmers really believe and do determines this technology to a much larger degree than the people who employ them would like to admit. On many levels, the world that programmers live in is being reproduced within the software."


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1352 KB
  • Print Length: 210 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1250002486
  • Publisher: Pushkin Press (31 Dec. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AZ181SM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #456,955 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jeremy Walton TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Here's a book which describes the life and work of a software engineer in the Silicon Valley of the mid-90's. As an English major turned programmer turned writer, the author is particularly well-suited to tell this story: she concentrates on how it feels to do what she's doing, rather than giving too many technical details about how it's done which would exclude non-specialist readers of her tale. Listen, for example, to her describing the appeal of programming (p24):

"If I just sit here and code, you think, I can make something run. When the humans come back to talk changes, I can just run the program. Show them: Here. Look at this. See? This is not just talk. This runs. Whatever you might say, whatever the consequences, all you have are words and what I have is this, this thing I built, this operational system. Talk all you want, but this thing here: it *works*."

Everyone can understand how she feels here, but those of us who have some experience of this world can attest to the accuracy of her portrayal. We smile, and nod in agreement when she says matter-of-factly that she's so familiar with the C programming language that she "could read and write [it] like English" and "could debug just by having it read to [her] over the phone." (p112), before going on to enumerate the other languages and interfaces she's had to teach herself in order to remain up-to-date. Then she uses this experience to make a general point which is very apposite: "Fidelity in technology is not even desirable. Loyalty to one system is career-death. Is it any wonder that programmers make such good social libertarians?
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Format: Paperback
I read this book a year ago when it first came out and loved it. I've re-read it just to enjoy Ellen Ullman's terrific writing. She is a GREAT writer.
Ellen Ullman uses her life in the fast lane to comment on parts of cyber-culture that we rarely talk about but ought to. It isn't political or technical. It's more social commentary.
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By A Customer on 7 Dec. 1998
Format: Paperback
This is a beautiful book, written by someone who not only understands how to work computers, but understands how the computer is working on her -- the seduction of the machine, the impact it has on her life, and the compromises she has to make around her choices.
The basic problem is that this book is probably completely incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't see computers in the same way. Ullman's commentary is all about the same subject: not about computers, but about people, and the kinds of people who are attracted and subverted by technology. If you're not a geek, you'll probably be mystified. If you are, you'll be riveted.
This is probably the same reason why I fall asleep reading the New Yorker, only in reverse.
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Its good to read about a woman working in computation who doesn't differentiate herself on the basis of gender but rather sets out to define that characteristics of a programmer and how she, sometimes regrettably, shares these traits. She relates interesting stories that throw light on the mechanisms behind the scenes of corporate giants.
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Format: Paperback
My heart danced as I read this book. Although not jewish, bisexual, or female, and although not yet pushing forty myself, Ms. Ullman's work sang through the printed page: Yes! *This* is me! *This* is what I have never been able to convey to those in my life who are not technical people. Contrary to what seems to be the popular opinion, this book is not about sexuality, it is about the chasm between the social world and the abstract world of machine logic.
We, the programmers, cannot simultaneously interact according to the organic subtleties of human interaction and also according to the harsh clarity of the machine. In her sexuality and in her memories of her father, Ullman explores the moments of human contact.
If you are close to someone who programs computers, you should read Close to the Machine.
And that goes double, triple, if you are someone who programs computers.
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By A Customer on 24 Nov. 1997
Format: Paperback
As I read this book I felt a keen sense of familiarity. I live this life as well, down to every detail but being Ellen Ullman. I've had the same experiences; the rush of programming on a great project, the hits and near misses on stock options, the empty cubicles, the rush of a new contract, the longing for the regularity of an old-fashioned company, etc. I also know first hand about the culture of the neighborhood she describes, since I too live in a loft down there, although I am married, male, and have a kid.
In fact, as I got my WSJ the other day, I saw hers stacked on top of mine. I have never met her, but because of the similarities in our lives as described in the excellent book, I do know that what she says is far far truer than any of the books that purport to tell everyone outside of the area about high tech here.

But the book resonates not because we're neighbors; her book is true, and well written. Two reasons enough to buy this book ASAP. Skip "Start-Up" and "Architects of the Web" (please). This is the real thing.
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