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Now in Print: Fire in the Valley; Nov PragPub Magazine

November 05, 2014

Steve. Bill. Woz. Lee. Jack. From the garage to world domination, this is the definitive story of the personal computer revolution, from the rich and famous to the unknown and unsung. Fire in the Valley is the only one of our books that's had a movie made about it. Read all about it, now available in print and shipping from Makes a great gift, too.

Also this week, the next issue of PragPub magazine. Read on for details, but first, here's an interview with the Fire in the Valley authors, who have “been there” and “done that” since the birth of the industry.

Q & A with Authors Michael Swaine and Paul Freiberger:

Q: The New York Times reporter John Markoff’s Foreword to your book says that your location is what sets your book apart from dozens of others that attempt to tell the story of the computer revolution. Do you agree?

Mike: Absolutely. Paul and I were working and living in Palo Alto, a few blocks from Stanford University and 20 minutes from Apple headquarters. Each day we would be on the phone discussing the latest events in the field and we’d visit the companies and talk to the founders at their headquarters and their favorite watering holes.

Q: So you wrote Fire in the Valley so you could go drinking with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?

Mike: Well, maybe. But that’s not the only reason. We did spend a lot of time at the Oasis, a pub where the Homebrew Computer Club members would congregate each week to discuss their startup companies and the latest technology developments, and to deal.

Q: Why did the two of you write Fire in the Valley?

Paul: We saw the personal computer industry emerging and we thought it just might have a major impact on society. We also were super impressed with the founders of the hardware and software companies who were smart and highly ambitious. We believed that this field might change the world and we wanted to document it for others and give you a sense of being close to an amazing movement.

Mike: I had been working in one of the first computer stores as a programmer. When I got my first computer, a TRS-80 Model 1 and I was seeing all these crazy people trying to run their business on these computers. I wanted to be as close to the industry as I could get.

Paul: We were working on news stories each day and after talking about new products we would ask the company founders about how they started their companies and ….

Mike: And they would reminisce about two years ago.

Q: What does the subtitle of the book mean, “The Birth and Death of the Personal Computer?”

Mike: The image of what a computer was back in the 1970s was a dream of unlimited power. Today the capabilities that were in the PCs are fragmented into different devices. The devices don’t feel like computers, and they are not intended to.

Q: Are there surprises in Fire in the Valley?

Paul: I think it’s full of surprising and sometimes hilarious events.

Mike: Such as the time Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs built blue boxes to make free long distance phone calls. Woz was especially a practical jokester and we recount some hilarious tricks that he played on friends and colleagues. He told us about them when we visited him in his dorm room when he went back to college to finish his degree.

Paul: And the personal computer company founders made every possible business mistake you can imagine. It’s kind of refreshing to remember the innocent idealism of those days of a lot of the industry’s founders. This book is about an amazing group of people and we should appreciate them—those that succeeded like Jobs and Gates, and others that didn’t but still played a key role.

Q: What will a reader come away with from reading Fire in the Valley?

Mike: We hope you come away from the book with a feeling that these folks changed the world—not just in a technological way. I hope you ask yourself what we have learned from this era and were there values introduced that are worthy of preserving. Are there lessons that we’ve all learned?

Fire in the Valley: The Birth and Death of the Personal Computer, Third Edition

Fire in the Valley is the definitive history of the personal computer, drawn from interviews with the people who made it happen, written by two veteran computer writers who were there from the start. Working at InfoWorld in the early 1980s, Swaine and Freiberger daily rubbed elbows with people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates when they were creating the personal computer revolution.

A rich story of colorful individuals, Fire in the Valley profiles these unlikely revolutionaries and entrepreneurs, such as Ed Roberts of MITS, Lee Felsenstein at Processor Technology, and Jack Tramiel of Commodore, as well as Jobs and Gates in all the innocence of their formative years.

This completely revised and expanded third edition brings the story to its completion, chronicling the end of the personal computer revolution and the beginning of the post-PC era. It covers the departure from the stage of major players with the deaths of Steve Jobs and Douglas Engelbart and the retirements of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer; the shift away from the PC to the cloud and portable devices; and what the end of the PC era means for issues such as personal freedom and power, and open source vs. proprietary software.

Now in print and shipping from

November PragPub

You’re a software developer. You write code.

And you work with other developers, testers, managers. You may manage some of them, and you either have a manager or are your own manager. You doubtless attend meetings, more than you like. You either deal with customers or support those who do. You handle crises. And you also stay on top of your craft, reading relevant news and documentation, history and criticism, and you’re always ready to learn a new language.

You do a lot. Little wonder there never seems to be enough time.

The November issue of PragPub will help you with all that.

Rothman and Lester deal with time this month, sharing strategies for minimizing time-wasting meetings and making your interactions with co-workers more productive rather than more distracting.

Marcus Blankenship’s advice on management will save you time if you do any kind of management. He will steer you clear of one of the biggest time-traps managers regularly fall into.

Derek Sivers built a highly successful company and then stepped back to realize he didn’t know the secret to his success. So he investigated, and discovered that it was all about customer support. This month he shares what he learned about this crucial part of any business.

But you do write code, and you want to keep improving your skills and getting up to speed on new languages. Natasha Murashev can help you there. Her exhaustive exploration of functions in Apple’s new Swift language is something you’ll want to speed through and then keep on hand for reference.

Plus the regular features: Antonio Cangiano has all the latest programming books, John Shade is back with his twisted take on topics technical, Dan Wohlbruck continues his series on the history of programming languages with a look at C, and Swaine’s World is packed with news nuggets, tweeted wisdom and frivolity. Oh, and a puzzle.

Now available at

Upcoming Author Appearances

  • 2014-11-12 Rachel Davies, Agile Singapore
  • 2014-11-12 James Grenning, Singapore
  • 2014-11-13 Chris Adamson, CocoaConf Boston
  • 2014-11-15 Chris Adamson, CocoaConf Boston
  • 2014-11-17 Dave Thomas, Skillsmatter, London
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