Detailed Tech Tales!
February 22, 2017 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Based on this amazing comment, I've been hungry for more detailed stories of how (really any) tech stuff was designed, implemented, tested - written in an entertaining fashion. Webdev stuff, hardware stuff, software stuff, anything really, as long as it's well-written and pretty detailed (meaning probably not much from The Daily WTF but links to specific pieces there are ok, like the wonderful MUMPS story.) I especially want stories of a million things going wrong. Thanks!!
posted by capnsue to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hardware-wise, the Keyboard.io blog is a soup-to-nuts saga of what it's like to produce a keyboard in China.
posted by zamboni at 12:08 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Folklore.org is a very large collection of stories, mostly by Andy Hertzfeld but with other people who were there at the time chiming in as well, about the development of the original Macintosh. It's told firsthand and includes technical info but also stories about people's quirks and where they went out for dinner. There is plenty of success and failure in the stories. I find it well written and entertaining.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:30 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]


For other historical engineering sagas, the Engineering and Technology History Wiki has a section called First-Hand Histories. Grizzled engineers recounting what was involved in developing Warsaw's first vacuum tube factory, or the glowing hockey puck, or my personal favourite, No Damned Computer Can Tell Me What To Do! The Story of the Naval Tactical Data System.
posted by zamboni at 12:38 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Jon Bently has a large collection of these in the short book Programming Pearls (and the sequel More Programming Pearls). He was a PARC for a while and was a port of much of the previous generation's efforts to build the pre & early internet technologies.

More generally, I'd recommend the work of Henry Petroski, who does this more broadly for engineering topics. He's got a lot of good books, but I might start with The Pencil, a tow or three thousand look at writing implements.

Finally Bill Hammack's Youtube channel (engineerguy) has a lot of short stories of how technologies have been invented. The Aluminum Beverage Can video might be a good introduction to him.
posted by bonehead at 12:57 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]




The Making Instapaper blog has a recent after-action report on an extended outage.
posted by fedward at 1:29 PM on February 22


There's always the grandfather of all modern tech stories: The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder.

It won the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1982 for non-fiction. Bonus: one of the engineers in the story is Tom West, the father of one of Metafilter's own.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:45 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Also the best thing Neal Stephenson ever wrote was 42,000 words on the laying of undersea fiber optic cable, called Mother Earth Mother Board. You can read it on the web, but it's best if you can get a paper copy of the magazine because the photos were a huge part of it.
posted by fedward at 2:03 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin by Francis Spufford is an entertaining account of a variety of engineering projects, including very early game development. As with most of his books, he fails to bring the chapters together into anything coherent, but taken as independent articles, they're well done.
posted by kelper at 2:03 PM on February 22


Raymond Chen's The Old New Thing has a ton of detailed and entertaining examination of things in the general vicinity of Microsoft and Windows.

I cannot normally stomach ESR (because he is a bigoted, self-aggrandizing jackass - avoid his primary blog), but there is some interesting material under Things Every Hacker Once Knew and the attendant HN thread.

This post on recovering a Unix system by hand after running rm -rf * in the wrong place is a classic.

It's more in the way of a rant than a detailed narrative, but you may enjoy The Night Watch. "I HAVE NO TOOLS BECAUSE I’VE DESTROYED MY TOOLS WITH MY TOOLS" runs through my head pretty regularly.
posted by brennen at 2:43 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


A little outside the usual realm but The Turk by Tom Standage is about an early automaton. It's actually (SPOILER ALERT) not a computer but peopel thought it might be, and this was in the 1700s. I like this sort of book and in addition to Soul of a New Machine (in which I have a one sentence cameo) and the Stephenson story, I also liked Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary by Linus Torvalds, about Linux. Also it's not quite tech but Henry Petroski writes a lot of stuff about civil engineering that scratches this itch for me, specifically Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering and To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure.
posted by jessamyn at 3:07 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Have you read “The Soul of a New Machine” by Tracey Kidder? It’s kind of the Ur Tech war story in print. A tale from the early days of the mini computer.
posted by pharm at 12:54 AM on February 23


Jamie Zawinski's diary from the early days of Netscape reads kinda like a sleep-deprived version of that MUMPS story on acid. I was definitely late for work the morning I discovered his older writings about startup life in SF. There's newer stuff too, a more recent post about the Mozilla logo was a FPP.
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:51 AM on February 23 [1 favorite]


Ellen Ullman was an early Amazon employee. Close to the machine Is her 1998 memoir about the first tech boom. Her 2003 novel The Bug is clearly informed by her experiences: it's Kafka via MacWrite.
posted by Jesse the K at 4:59 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


A true nerd named Bunny Huang has a blog that covers bone-deep hardware tech. Once each month he posts a high-res image of a chip and challenges readers to identify it. He also has a series of posts about designing and producing hardware in China that's kind of required reading for starry-eyes folks who want to offshore their production (Made in China thread and the Factory Floor thread).

He writes on other tech topics, too, in pieces which are often opaque but always worth reading.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:20 PM on April 4


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