General Bibliography for CS109, Computers in Our World

Sat Sep 11 09:40:04 EDT 2004

WEB SITES: There are a variety of web sites that are particularly apposite for this course. Here are some of the most relevant.

Slashdot, "News for Nerds", is the best single source for breaking technical news stories, many of which are highly relevant to COS 109. The accompanying reader comments range from insightful (occasionally) through sophomoric (often) to crude and puerile (all too frequently); you can skip them.

Legal issues from Greplaw, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, and Chilling Effects.

Technology news from Google, Cnet, and The Register.

BOOKS: These are books that I have found worth reading as background, or for alternate views, or just because they were interesting. No particular order.

How to Lie with Statistics, Darrell Huff, Norton, 1954 (reissued in 1993). A wonderful little book that will immunize you for a lifetime against statistical chicanery and meaningless numerical presentations. Some of its insights show up in one of the labs. If you read nothing else from this course, read this one.

Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, John Allen Paulos, Vintage, 1990. An important topic, some good examples, ultimately unsatisfying because the author gets too interested in mathematical cuteness, but still well worth skimming. Paulos has written several other books in the same vein.

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers, Tom Standage. Walker & Co, 1998, also available in paperback. Fascinating story of the development and spread of a new technology and its effects in society; the parallels with today's Internet are many.

The Early History of Data Networks, Gerard Holzmann & Bjorn Pehrson, IEEE Press, 1994. A more scholarly but still interesting description of the optical telegraph, which 50 years before the "Victorian Internet" encountered many of the same issues and had some similar effects on society. (I'm biased, since the first author is a good friend.)

Many of the technical and social issues seen in today's Internet showed up in earlier networks, notably the telegraph network (Standage) and the optical telegraph networks of 50 years earlier (Holzmann). Among the topics: coding, error detection and recovery, privacy and security, spies and cryptography, bandwidth, congestion, money and speculation, social change, and ultimately, the end as something better comes along. The optical telegraph was killed by the electrical, which in turn was killed by the telephone.

There are plenty of books on the (brief!) history of the Internet and the Web. Tim Berners-Lee is genuinely the inventor of much of the Web; his Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor is often dry and repetitive, but the author got so many things right the first time that his opinions deserve attention. A Brief History of The Future: Origins of the Internet, John Naughton, Overlook Press, 2000, is much more readable and goes much further back to the origins of the Internet (as opposed to the Web); it's marred by a number of small-scale factual errors.

ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World's First Computer, Scott McCartney, Walker & Company, 1999. Compact description of the invention of the first stored program computer (not invented by von Neumann, a case made fairly compellingly by the author). Surprisingly, he omits any mention of the work of Konrad Zuse in Germany.

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, Michael A. Hiltzik, Harper, 1999. A very detailed look at how Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center invented many of today's basic technologies -- personal computers, bitmap displays, graphical user interfaces, the Ethernet, the laser printer -- and how Xerox managed to capitalize on only one. Careful fact-checking, according to my source.

It's hard to write well on software, especially for a non-technical audience. One good attempt, once you get past its title, is Go to: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Scientists and Iconoclasts who were the Hero Programmers of the Software Revolution, Steve Lohr, Basic Books, 2001. I can attest to the author's careful fact-checking.

The Bug, Ellen Ullman, Doubleday, 2003, is by far the best fiction work about programmers and programming that I have read. It's almost like a detective story in places, and the technical denouement is totally believable and satisfying to a programmer. The story is quite good too.

Show-Stopper! The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft, Pascal Zachary, Free Press, 1994. Vivid description of life in a large software project. It's now a decade later, and things are not getting simpler.

Pride Before the Fall: The Trials of Bill Gates and the End of the Microsoft Era, John Heilemann, HarperCollins, 2001. Compelling description of the Microsoft vs. Dept of Justice case up to 2000.

Web Security & Commerce, Simson Garfinkel & Gene Spafford, O'Reilly, 1997. The level is a bit erratic, but much of it should be accessible to non-experts.

Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World, Bruce Schneier, Wiley, 2000. A long litany of scary stories about security and privacy threats and breaches, quite accessible to the non-specialist. In the end, there's too much complaining and not enough explanation and assessment. But well worth reading. So is his newer Beyond Fear, which is more about sensible responses to things like terrorism.

Security Engineering: A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems, Ross J. Anderson, Wiley, 2002. I prefer this to Schneier. Occasionally more technical, but most parts will be accessible to anyone. The bottom line? Security is exceptionally hard, and many of the problems are people problems (which is also Schneier's conclusion).

Peter Norton's Inside the PC, 8th Edition, Peter Norton and John Goodman, Sams, 1999. An enormous amount of detail, more than you will ever want to know, and sometimes unnecessarily arcane, but plenty of useful information and easy to read.