The Devouring Fungus: Tales of the Computer Age

Karla Jennings, Author W. W. Norton & Company $19.95 (237p) ISBN 978-0-393-02897-3
Anyone who has ever had a day's worth of computer work vanish into a black hole will relish this assortment of anecdotes about the mysterious machines and their devotees. Freelance journalist Jennings delves into history, recalling IBM's origins, the author of the first program (Ada Byron, daughter of Lord Byron) and source of the word ``nerd'' (Dr. Seuss). There is an insider's glimpse of Silicon Valley, where ``People stop you in the street and ask for a dollar to buy a floppy.'' There are the games programmers play on users, like the accountant who searched for a water drain under the desk when a prank program led his computer to mimic a washing machine. High-tech cat and mouse is equally inventive: alerted by an unexplained charge in his user account, astrophysicist Clifford Stoll tracked down a spy ring that had gained access to Defense Department data (see Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg , nonfiction reprints below). And we're reassured that computers don't do everything well: an English-French translation program missed the point when it rendered ``Out of sight, out of mind'' as ``Blind, insane.'' The book is illustrated with cartoons by Garry Trudeau, Rich Tennant and others. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/31/1990
Release date: 11/01/1990
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 237 pages - 978-0-393-30732-0
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