Monday, May 29, 2006

Where Wizards Stay Up Late

I just completed Where Wizards Stay Up Late, by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon. I found the book entertaining; interesting; a bit confusing and at times, a little insulting.

The book starts out a little slow, spending a lot of time explaining how budgets contracted and expanded over time in government agencies and I think it focused too much on the "big thinkers," in government upper management while relegating the engineers involved in the background until the book begins the BBN story.

Above all, the thing that irked me most about the book was its lack of attention to technical detail. Odd you'd say, in a book about the creation of the internet, but its true. The authors in an attempt to appeal to a broader audience made sacrifices in explaining the technology of the day leaving me confused when my (limited) understanding of the past conflicted with the terms and conventions Hafner used in writing the novel. There was at least one occasion where an acronym went unexplained that I understood because of my technical background, it would have left the reader in a dazed state. I was disappointed with this whole aspect of the book, but I suppose I can always look at the RFCs to see the things I had wanted to see in the book.

Another thing that irked me was the authors' frequent attempts to show that the wizards were eccentric and unique. Haffner frequently mentioned that there were members of the arpanet team that would do such drastic things warrenting multiple mentions like . . . wear sneakers.

I felt that I lost out on a lot of personal insight into the project by there being so little self-reflection from the teams involved in making the internet a reality. The author tried to create this feeling by elaborating on the behavioral ticks of the Wizards but without ample quotage I felt distant from the sitation.

In the end, if you're interested in the origins of the internet and are not very technical, I'd suggest you pick up this book. Learn about the great people who allow us to everyday communicate with, share with and help the multitudes of people all over the world connected to the internet.