A couple of book reviews ... 1. "The Big Over Easy" by Jasper Fforde <http://www.amazon.com/Big-Over-Easy/dp/0143037234> After four books in the "Thursday Next" series, Jasper Fforde changed tack and wrote a couple of books in a series of "Nursery Crimes". The first is about the investigation of the death of Humperdinck Jehoshaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant van Dumpty, otherwise known as Humpty Dumpty. As in the the "Thursday Next" series, real life and literary characters mix freely. But this time the "real world" is much more like the world we live in, so for example computers exist and the UK still is a United Kingdom. And the characters are from popular nursery rhymes. Detective Inspector Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes Division leads the investigation, with new sidekick Mary Mary (of Quite Contrary fame). Suspects include Giorgio Porgia, Randolph Spongg, Lola Vavoom, his wife and the many mistresses that Humpty had accumulated. If you found that previous paragraph too twee, then this book is probably not for you. To be honest, I found it a bit lightweight and not as funny or as inventive as the "Thursday Next" series. 2. "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" by Steven Levy <http://www.amazon.com/Hackers/dp/0141000511> I've been meaning to read this book for a while now, but couldn't get my hands on it. It was written over twenty years ago, and I managed to find a copy in the Barr Smith Library. The author's goal is to explore the "Hacker Ethic": <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_ethic> Note that we're not talking about hackers in the sense of breaking into other people's computer systems. Unfortunately the media has hijacked the term, which originally referred to someone who "follows a spirit of playful cleverness and loves programming": <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker> Three generations of hackers are chronicled in the book. The first generation of hackers were students and hangers-on at university computer labs (in particular MIT and Stanford) in the 1950s and 1960s. These were the days of mainframes and time-share systems. Artificial Intelligence was the dream. Sharing code freely was a given, fore- shadowing the modern Open Source movement. The second generation of hackers were the "hardware hackers", who built their own computers following the development of transistors and silicon chips. Many were members of the Homebrew Computer Club in California during the 1970s. For example, a well-known member was Steve Wozniak who designed the Apple I and II. Before that there was the Altair, and several lesser-known systems vying with Apple. IBM was still years away from introducing the PC. But Bill Gates was already cutting his teeth, writing an early version of BASIC for the Altair. The third generation of hackers looks at the games being developed for "home computers" in the 1980s: Pac Man, Adventure, Space Invaders, Zork, and Loderunner to name a few. If you grew up during that time you would remember publishers like Broderbund, Sierra On-Line, Sirius and Infocom. Systems included Atari Home Computers (not the consoles), Commodore, TRS-80, and Apple. Only Apple would survive to the present day. Overall, a fascinating book about important moments in the history of computers. Some of the historical and technical aspects were overly simplistic, but that's just me nitpicking. A sequel or update would be good, including discussions of the Microsoft monopoly, the Internet, the modern Open Source movement, and the metamorphosis of computers into other devices such as PDAs, mobile phones, iPods, TiVos etc.