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01 September 2015 @ 03:22 pm
Book review: From the Abacus to the Smartphone.  
From the Abacus to the Smartphone is an interesting little book (100 pages in total including titles and other blank pages). It seeks to lay out the various attempts and successes in making the computer a portable device. It also indicates how the nature of this goal has changed over the course of various technological revolutions. After a brief prelude before the modern computer, the story begins with the DYSEAC vacuum tube computer made portable by mounting the apparatus on two flatbed trucks and continues the story to the current smartphone revolution.

The disparate natures of these technological developments could lead to a lack of unity in the book. Instead the book ties together the narrative by detailing the ambitions of the participants and the standards of success of the projects. In this the book demonstrates a compelling sense of the design and technical challenges for those who sought to make portable computing a reality. Also a sense of what actors saw as the potential of computers and its applicability to the world that would be served by its portability.

The book does lack some context, those not already versed in computer history may be lost between the different technologies at play. Therefore the neophyte would, I suspect, benefit from reading a more comprehensive history of computers to elucidate such background such as Computer: A History of the Information Machine by Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray and others, A History of Modern Computing by Paul Ceruzzi, or Cerruzi's more brief Computing: A Concise History.

The book also suggests further research into portable computing and its implications. For example I am intrigued by the use of pocket PCs to store address and phone information. I noticed now such information is stored on phones, computers or stored in the cloud and all synchronized together. I would be interested to learn about the software involved in this and the degree of continuity of such information. Did people who stored such information electronically in 1983 manage to sync the data to their desktop machines and use it in later devices?

These things are not deficiencies so much as a testament to the books infectious enthusiasm. While the books subject ranges outside my own areas of detailed knowledge I did not notice any problems with accuracy and its claims are well buttressed by original sources. I would say that it is of interest both to those who want a good historical overview of such technologies for research and those technological enthusiasts who want an introduction to the technologies of yesteryear.

Disclaimer I know the author of this monograph Evan Koblentz well and engaged in some vary cursory discussion of the research and manuscript of this book over the years.

If you decide to buy the book know that buying it directly from his website (link) nets him more money than a purchase through a third-party site like amazon. I read the electronic (PDF) version of this book, so I can't comment on the physical condition but would say the basic design and proportions were fine when reading it on my ereader.

I've written a few quick book reviews on the Kobo site for some other ebooks I have been reading including:

You, by Austin Grossman, a fictionalized look at game development http://opinions.kobobooks.com/consumer/shares/S55e5eb816f35d

Surfaces and Essences - Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking by Douglas Hofstadter, Emmanuel Sander http://opinions.kobobooks.com/consumer/shares/S55e5ec82b0a59

The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr http://opinions.kobobooks.com/consumer/shares/S55e5ece0928ba

Also here is a record review I did awhile ago for the Doonsbury Musical vinyl record (out of print): http://amzn.com/B0011WOLKQ

Hope this is of some interest to somebody.

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fullrevifullrevi on October 23rd, 2016 10:33 pm (UTC)
I hope to learn more about this.