My Thoughts Exactly

Remembering Tom West, the Original Geek Rock Star

I was saddened to learn of the passing last week of Tom West, the engineer/hacker who was the main focus of Tracy Kidder’s 1981 book The Soul of a New Machine. Tom was 71. Boston.com published a nice obituary; there were also notices in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other places.

From the Boston.com article:

 

Thirty years ago, Tom West was thrust into a category of one, a famous computer engineer, with the publication of “The Soul of a New Machine.’’

Tracy Kidder’s book, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and is taught in business classes and journalism schools, chronicled Mr. West’s role leading a team that built a refined version of a 32-bit minicomputer at a key juncture for the computer industry and his employer, Data General of Westborough.

The book’s success turned a quirky, brilliant, private, and largely self-taught man into a somewhat reluctant guru.

 

I call Tom by his first name because I knew him, and that’s what I called him. In fact for a short while early in my career I worked quite closely with him — at the tail end of my four year stint at Data General.

As Soul of a New Machine amply demonstrates, West was a compelling figure. Everybody agrees he was quirky and brilliant; some people have mentioned his  being difficult or “prickly”. I have to say that I don’t remember a prickly side to the man. He could be abrupt, sure. Direct. Economical of speech. But if he had a temper or was harsh or unfair, I either never saw it or have since forgotten about it. I just remember that I really liked him.

Although I can’t claim to have been great friends with the man — I don’t know if he would even have remembered my name — he made a deep impression on me. When I wrote the novella Cheap Complex Devices in 2003 — about twenty years since I had worked with Tom West at Data General — a quirky, brilliant and (I think) extremely funny character named Tom Best showed up all through it. I can’t take much credit for Tom Best’s funny lines, however, since I stole most of them from Tom W. Read More »

Posted in Hardware, Memology, My Thoughts Exactly, Software, Wetware, Writing | Also tagged , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Defcon Leaning

Looks like I’ll be heading to the mother of all hacker conferences, Defcon 18 in sunny Las Vegas 2.5 weeks from now. I’ll be attending parties and tech sessions, trying to not get hacked, and, mainly, selling my famous geekoid hackerific novels from a table in the vendor area.

I’ve got two reasons for wanting to attend: (1) I’m writing another hackerific novel, Creation Science, and I want it to feature either some action at Defcon or at the least, some characters (white & black hat) who are Defcon types. So I’ll be doing passive research & keeping my eyes open. (2) I want to sell books and get some notice for my books. If ever there were a target market for them, I think Defcon must be it. Maybe with a little luck I’ll get some notice as the author of what may well be the ultimate hacker book.

Any of y’all as have been to Defcon or who plan to attend this one, I would appreciate your saying hello in the comments. Any advice on how I can meet my two objectives would be especially welcome. In particular, what’s the best way for me to get the word out to the Defcon crowd about my books before I get there?

Posted in I Fear These Things, My Thoughts Exactly, Writing | Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed
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