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30 review for Electronic Life: How to Think About Computers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Drew Weatherton

    I honestly only read this book as part of my goal to read every Michael Crichton book. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's intended to be a new computer user's introduction to computers (often general enough to still be valid today, but sometimes focusing on specific hardware like the Apple II) in the early 80's. There is a brief introduction and then alphabetic sections on various topics. I found many of these to read like brief editorials about how computers have and will cha I honestly only read this book as part of my goal to read every Michael Crichton book. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It's intended to be a new computer user's introduction to computers (often general enough to still be valid today, but sometimes focusing on specific hardware like the Apple II) in the early 80's. There is a brief introduction and then alphabetic sections on various topics. I found many of these to read like brief editorials about how computers have and will change our lives. Many of Crichton's predictions were valid. I definitely recommend this to any Crichton fan who has an interest in computer history. I also read a companion short story by Crichton "Mousetrap: A Tale of Computer Crime" which was only (to my knowledge) published in Life Magazine (January 1984, Vol. 7, No.1, pp. 116-126). I enjoyed the story and it had ties to the "Computer Crime" section of Electronic Life. Ironically, I paid a lot more for the short story ($9) than the hard copy of Electronic Life ($4).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    What is truly new does not create shock—it creates nothing. If we are shocked by art, we are shocked because our expectations are not met. And that means we already have expectations based on previous experience. When I first saw this on a shelf at Dunaway’s, I expected it to be hilariously out of date and just plain wrong even for its time. Michael Crichton writing about “How to think about computers” in 1982? When I started browsing it, however, it turned out to be interesting, useful, and eve What is truly new does not create shock—it creates nothing. If we are shocked by art, we are shocked because our expectations are not met. And that means we already have expectations based on previous experience. When I first saw this on a shelf at Dunaway’s, I expected it to be hilariously out of date and just plain wrong even for its time. Michael Crichton writing about “How to think about computers” in 1982? When I started browsing it, however, it turned out to be interesting, useful, and even useful despite its age. While there is some advice about floppy disks and magnetism that no longer matter, most of the advice is much more general. The advice ranges from the specific, such as always keep backups to the philosophical, such as: Render unto the machine what is the machine’s. You go do what only a human being can do. And he also touches on the form vs. function debate. On the one hand, The whole idea of machines is to do the job. But on the other, Good design is not an aesthetic frill; it matters. A pleasing appearance means somebody cared how it looks to you; it’s a strong hint that the inner workings have been arranged with the user in mind, too. Even when he’s wrong, he’s right. I noticed long-ago that while special-purpose computer tools might be the right choice right now, it is never a good idea to bet on them in the long term. In 1982, for example, if you needed a computer only for word processing, it might have made sense to buy a dedicated word processor instead of a general-purpose computer. But if you were going to choose to invest in either a computer company or a typewriter company, the smart bet is that general purpose computers will eventually drive out the special-purpose computer. The reason is that the general-purpose computer does more things. It means that you’re going to have the general-purpose computer eventually anyway; and it will perform functions tangential to word-processing that end up being essential to word-processing, such as browsing the web, printing to a completely new style of printer (such as PDFs), and in general surpassing the dedicated word processor even at specifically word-processing tasks. This has happened not just with word processors but with video editors, book readers, even, I suspect, television sets. Crichton predicts, however, that “The trend toward specialized manufacture at the level of the silicon chip is bound to increase the range and availability of special machines.” Which was true; computers are everywhere. And yet: Indeed, it may turn out that the general-purpose computer is a creation unique to the late twentieth century. It may soon be practical to have one computer for doing graphics, another for doing word processing, another to link with our interactive cable TV, and so on.* What he didn’t see was that the processes that made specialization possible, while they would put computers everywhere, would also make them powerful enough to handle more and more tasks on their own. Except that he did see that as a possibility. That asterisk at the end of the quote led to a footnote: *There is a counter-argument, based on the history of digital watches and calculators. Those devices have shown a clear trend toward incorporating more and more functions into a single device. So that now most of us carry a general-purpose computer to handle everything from picture-taking to calculating to telephone calls. There’s a similar bit when he talks about CP/M and Unix, the two major machine-independent operating systems. If your machine can run under CP/M, then you have access to [an enormous range of programs]; if not, you don’t, and never will… Unix, another operating system… is gaining popularity. The principal advantage of Unix is that it is extremely portable—programs developed on one machine are easily converted to another. Its immediate usefulness, however, is not as clear as that of CP/M. It seems pretty clear that he hasn’t used Unix and is reporting what makes sense to him of what he’s heard about it. But that he even mentions it in 1982 is pretty impressive. The back of the book contains a handful of BASIC programs, running through the very basics of how to use an Apple II or an IBM PC to save and write BASIC programs. The programs are the same in each case, the steps nearly the same, merely translated from the Apple II to the IBM PC disk operating systems. He chooses the programs to show off how a computer can look creative when in fact it is only doing exactly what the programmer has told it to do. In this case, randomly choose plot points for a stereotypical mystery story, or make predictions from the I-Ching, or produce random profundities in response to questions. The programs are meant to improve the reader’s ability to recognize that what computers produce is no more to be trusted than what humans produce—because it’s the same thing. Sadly, that’s the most out-of-date part of the book. Not because the lesson isn’t important, but because convincing people to experiment with programming would be much harder to do nowadays. Computers are information-processing, communicating devices. And if they set a new standard for information processing and communication by human beings among themselves—well, we’ve needed that for a long time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    itchy

    titular sentence: p39: The only solution is to accept instantaneous dissemination as a fact of electronic life. ocr: p62: In mathematical terms they use binary notation, a series of l's and 0's. p62: But machines don't understand WRITE or PRINT; they only understand l's and 0's. 92: WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I AMENT A HUMAN BEING KIDDO Something seems missing from my copy. Michael was hinting at a computer code at included at the end of the book but I can't seem to find it. Or maybe I didn't recognize it f titular sentence: p39: The only solution is to accept instantaneous dissemination as a fact of electronic life. ocr: p62: In mathematical terms they use binary notation, a series of l's and 0's. p62: But machines don't understand WRITE or PRINT; they only understand l's and 0's. 92: WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I AMENT A HUMAN BEING KIDDO Something seems missing from my copy. Michael was hinting at a computer code at included at the end of the book but I can't seem to find it. Or maybe I didn't recognize it for what it was, ha.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kyriakos Sorokkou

    Διαβάστε και την ελληνική κριτική στις βιβλιοαλχημείες. I don't recommend this book if you are not a Crichton fan. I don't recommend this book if you haven't read any Crichton. I don't recommend this book if you are not a fan of science nonfiction. I don't recommend this book if you are not into computers and programming. In other words it's only for those few people who are Michael Crichton fans and completists like me. People who are roaming the streets and not occupying a cell in an asylum. This bo Διαβάστε και την ελληνική κριτική στις βιβλιοαλχημείες. I don't recommend this book if you are not a Crichton fan. I don't recommend this book if you haven't read any Crichton. I don't recommend this book if you are not a fan of science nonfiction. I don't recommend this book if you are not into computers and programming. In other words it's only for those few people who are Michael Crichton fans and completists like me. People who are roaming the streets and not occupying a cell in an asylum. This book along with two more by Crichton: (Dealing, or The Berkeley-To-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues Jasper Johns) is out of print and pretty rare so its hard to find and a bit expensive. But I managed to find all three with the exception of Jasper Johns. Electronic Life was written in the early 80's and it is in a way a guide for the uninitiated to the computers. Computers that now belong to the Science Museum. Computers from the 80's that had less memory than a normal smartphone. It also talks about floppy disks the size of a paperback and computers before the visual interface. Anything you wanted to do was done by typing commands, not by searching for the folder's icon. But the reasoning (of how to choose a new product), the ideas, and the humour of Crichton's writing are certainly not dated. And that's what I enjoyed more from this book. And the fact that it know belongs to my collection.

  5. 5 out of 5

    r

    "Personally I hope that, for once in the twentieth century, a new technology will stay free. Because the rule-makers always manage to kill the essence while tidying up the details. Dogma replaces direct experience, and ritual becomes reality. Right now, we are at the edge of a new era of unlimited potential. Nobody can see what is going to happen; nobody knows. There are no experts, and there's no reason slavishly to follow anybody's instructions about anything. Including mine. Do it your way, and h "Personally I hope that, for once in the twentieth century, a new technology will stay free. Because the rule-makers always manage to kill the essence while tidying up the details. Dogma replaces direct experience, and ritual becomes reality. Right now, we are at the edge of a new era of unlimited potential. Nobody can see what is going to happen; nobody knows. There are no experts, and there's no reason slavishly to follow anybody's instructions about anything. Including mine. Do it your way, and have all the fun you can." "Good design is not an aesthetic frill; it matters. A pleasing appearance means somebody cared how it looks to you; it's a strong hint that the inner workings have been arranged with the user in mind, too." "Actually, illiteracy was never a good idea unless you aspired to be a slave. Knowledge is power, and knowledge exists as manipulated symbols. That's been true for several thousand years. It isn't going to change anytime soon." "There are many ways of looking at reality. Science is only one way. The most profound experiences of human life lie beyond science—and beyond computers. This does not diminish either science or computers. It's just a perspective."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kaare Kvenild

    I picked this up used because Crichton is my all-time favorite author. It was fun to read because it really picks up on a lot of fears people had about computers back in the day (as in back in 1983). Some really, unintentionally, funny stuff.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex Shrugged

    This is an excellent book for 1982. For today (2020) it's still interesting. It is written like a 1 volume encyclopedia of computer subjects. He writes a short essay on each subject, most of them no more than a couple of paragraphs but the longer essays are the ones to watch for. Those still apply today. You don't need to learn how floppy disks work any more. You do need to know generally how to run a software project when you don't know how to program. He includes some information on how he did This is an excellent book for 1982. For today (2020) it's still interesting. It is written like a 1 volume encyclopedia of computer subjects. He writes a short essay on each subject, most of them no more than a couple of paragraphs but the longer essays are the ones to watch for. Those still apply today. You don't need to learn how floppy disks work any more. You do need to know generally how to run a software project when you don't know how to program. He includes some information on how he did Westworld special effects, and he explains (briefly) how the biowarfare maps and infection mapping was done for his book, "The Andromeda Strain". He also writes an essay on Artificial Intelligence. If I were to read this book again, I'd skip to the longer essays and read only them. Despite the dated material, it was still a good read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Krystle

    I hunted down this book to complete my Collection of Crichton. Needless to say I was impressed with its contents. So many references to his other works like Westworld and Five Patients and what would be mentioned later in Travels. He even wrote a couple programs that were easy to understand the functionality of (located in the appendix). Also I like the tid bit about how he got a D on a paper in Biostatistics (pg 95). Looking back on learning how to use the windows cmd line and launching program I hunted down this book to complete my Collection of Crichton. Needless to say I was impressed with its contents. So many references to his other works like Westworld and Five Patients and what would be mentioned later in Travels. He even wrote a couple programs that were easy to understand the functionality of (located in the appendix). Also I like the tid bit about how he got a D on a paper in Biostatistics (pg 95). Looking back on learning how to use the windows cmd line and launching programs via large floppy disks, the way we use computers hasn’t quite changed. I mean it has but it hasn’t. Crichton actually can explain the difference of the meaning ‘change’ itself in the beginning of the book far better than I can here. But anyway what I’m getting at is, read this and if you’re old enough, remember the whirr and beep of the 80s and 90s and never forget that now you don’t have to kick your sibling off the Internet so you can place a call to your sweetheart.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Pranay Kothapalli

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A decade was left for me to be born when this book was published. As someone who's been in love with computers since childhood, I could relate to a lot of facts and fiction, fiction that turned out to be facts. The part where people were scared of computers, it predominantly exists even today. Everyday we talk about computers taking over us one day thanks to so many science fiction movies. Computers are what we tell them to be. That's what the whole book was about, to educate fools about compute A decade was left for me to be born when this book was published. As someone who's been in love with computers since childhood, I could relate to a lot of facts and fiction, fiction that turned out to be facts. The part where people were scared of computers, it predominantly exists even today. Everyday we talk about computers taking over us one day thanks to so many science fiction movies. Computers are what we tell them to be. That's what the whole book was about, to educate fools about computers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Don Dietzen

    A great way to look at computers of the '80's A great way to look at computers of the '80's

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rick Parsons

    Interesting, wish I had read it 35 yeas ago.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rachel V Perry

    He literally was predicting the future of computers back in the 70's with stunning accuracy. He literally was predicting the future of computers back in the 70's with stunning accuracy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Parth Shiralkar

    fun

  14. 5 out of 5

    Harrison

    If it was 1982, I think this book would be very helpful. It's interesting to read now to see what Crichton predicted correctly and what he got wrong. His anecdotes and metaphors are interesting and well-conceived. "Electronic Life" shows just how ahead of the curve he was. If it was 1982, I think this book would be very helpful. It's interesting to read now to see what Crichton predicted correctly and what he got wrong. His anecdotes and metaphors are interesting and well-conceived. "Electronic Life" shows just how ahead of the curve he was.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Don

    Interesting to see someone's vision from 31 years of what life with computers would be like ... and what computing was like 31 years ago ... Interesting to see someone's vision from 31 years of what life with computers would be like ... and what computing was like 31 years ago ...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Xu

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dale Wursten

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Kaaren Douglas

  20. 5 out of 5

    Masterofoneinchpunch

  21. 4 out of 5

    Richard

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  23. 4 out of 5

    Scott

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Greg Duggar

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  27. 5 out of 5

    Vilmibm

  28. 5 out of 5

    David Jensen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

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