There Is No Cat

As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Revisiting a classic

I spent much of the weekend re-reading my favorite book, Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder. (My computer at my previous job was named after the author; I'm sure some of my cow-orkers thought it had that name because of my fondness for jokes....) Laura asked me over dinner tonight why I'm so fascinated by the book. One reason is that in my first project at AT&T lo! these many years ago, I found myself in a similar situation to that of the engineers in the book, working 60 hour weeks week after week with a bunch of other young, naïve people to finish projects in an atmosphere where we weren't given all the information about the situation by our bosses (likely for good reasons). That was a crazy time. The other reason is because Kidder is just such a damned good writer. I have a decent understanding of the inner workings of computers, and have worked as a tech writer and struggled to bring clarity to the obscure, and I have to say that Kidder's explanations of how computers work and what the engineers are doing are simply exceptional in their clarity. His sense of pacing and how to tell a story are wonderful. When I read books like this, I wonder why anyone bothers to read fiction when non-fiction provides such compelling books. I've read almost all of Kidder's books, and my opinion of his craftsmanship just grows with each one. I think I'm going to have to dig up my copy of his book Old Friends, about life in a nursing home, next.

Why did I pluck the book from the shelf this weekend? Well, I was looking at the websites of Jessamyn West, whose blog I've read sporadically for a few years now. I didn't realize it before, but it turns out she's the daughter of the main protagonist of Soul of a New Machine, Tom West. She's got a nice page about Kidder on her site. With my new job at a small startup, I had been intending to re-read the book to see if I could glean any new insights. Reading about Kidder on Jessamyn's site just reminded me that I wanted to revisit the book. Thanks, Jessamyn!

Oh, and there's one neat link (among many) that Jessamyn points out to an article in Wired that provides a "where are they now?" for some of the main characters in the book. Fascinating stuff if you're a fan of the book.

Posted at 11:17 PM


Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

I can't re-read it without having flashbacks--I spent 1985-1996 (3 employers) working on Data General Eclipse machines. I find myself yelling, "No! Don't do that! It's a mistake!" at the book.

Posted by Dori at 9:31 PM, October 29, 2002 [Link]

you're welcome!

Posted by jessamyn at 4:40 PM, December 14, 2002 [Link]


This site is copyright © 2002-2023, Ralph Brandi.

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio

There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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