Retrochallenge 2010
      Winter Warmup
      Mark Wickens
      31-Jan-2010

                                         Final Entry

      Book Review

      The Soul of a New Machine
      Tracy Kidder
      ISBN: 0-316-49197-7
      Little, Brown & Company 1981

      The Soul of a New Machine

      I've just finished reading 'The Soul of a New Machine' by Tracy Kidder. The book
      describes the project, management, team, people, politics and technical details
      involved in the design and building of the Data General Eclipse MV/8000, code
      named Eagle, announced to the world on April 20th, 1980. Most of the design and
      development was completed in an eighteen month window. The books author was
      comissioned by the project manager to document the process.

      What strikes me about the book is how accurately it potrays the unique traits of
      a computer engineering project. Although I've only been an applications software
      developer and this book primarily covers the hardware and microcode teams, the
      parallels ring uncannily true.
      

      The Project - a machine born of one managers determination to prove their teams
              worth inspite of decisions made higher up the chain of command.

      The Management - hard-faced and uncompromising, a common enemy to distract from
              in fighting, when it's all over the team members either view them with
              the utmost respect or have no idea what their purpose was.

      The Team - fresh graduates of academic excellence and old hands (describing
              those over 30) bond in a journey of self-fulfillment.

      The People - each uniquely described from start to finish, their way of working,
              the effect the project has on their personalities, outlooks, family life
              and futures.

      The Politics - a team of engineers left behind when an internal project to
              develop a rival to the VAX moves across the USA. A 32-bit extension to
              an existing 16-bit machine with 'no-mode bit'. The final outcome of the
              machine - when it's taken off the team and marketed.

      The Technical Details - on occasion described in intricate detail - 4096 lines
              of microcode, 240 pages of schematics, 200,000 lines of system software,
              hundreds of engineering changes from debugging.

      The end result of the book is slightly sad, much as I would expect of the final
      chapter of a book about the NASA manned missions to the moon.

      That said, a highly recommended read for hardware and software engineers, those
      in the computer industry and those looking for a 'feel' of the state of the
      computer industry in the late 70's.
      
      Here are a couple of my favourite pages:

      Soul of a New Machine - Page 264

      Soul of a New Machine - Page 265

      Thanks for listening...