The Philosophical Programmer: Reflections on the Mothe in the Machine

Daniel Kohanski, Author
Daniel Kohanski, Author St. Martin's Press $22.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-18650-0
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Defeating the moth in the machine--the origin of the term ""computer bug""--is a challenge to which longtime programmer Kohanski has dedicated his life. But before he examines programming kinks here, he must lay the groundwork by explaining what a programmer's tasks are and the tools they use to accomplish them. In crisp prose, he offers up a programming and computer primer, expositing hardware systems, tracing the evolution of programming languages and recalling how memory works. He defines ""assembler"" and ""algorithm"" and shows us how programmers interface with each. Kohanski organizes his book in a highly structured way, with general points at the beginning of chapters that yield to specific examples. By turns technical and accessible, practical and philosophical, the book lives up to the dual billing of its title. Only at the end of this short, sweeping tract, when Kohanski makes the case that ""there is no going back to a more innocent time,"" does it devolve into boilerplate. Though the book is at its best when delicately using metaphor to explain programming (he compares computer memory to human consciousness) and when making its broader points, readers wanting a factual introduction to the everyday tasks of programmers--or users wanting to better grasp the workings of their PCs--will not be disappointed. (Aug.)