Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book Review: Rocket Men

Fantastic book. Most know the story of the Apollo 11 mission to moon, at least in short form. In Rocket Men however, it's covered in a great level of detail, with interviews from crew members, ground crew, researchers, etc, and in doing so really carries across just how amazing a feat it was.

There's also a lot to learn about the way large organizations work. Examples of them both accomplishing amazing things and also being blindly bureaucratic.

Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition was... ok. Liked the premise, typical cyber-thriller plot that's more speculative-present than future, with a cool-hunter as protagonist. The first 2/3 of the book are pretty good, giving a real palpable taste for the various scenes (in multiple senses of 'scene').

However, three main flaws were that made me give the low rating. First, Gibson didn't really convey the cool-hunting thing other than giving the protagonist a kind of an ingrained ability/allergy that let her sense what would work. Secondly, and a far more egregious sin, is that the ending is a real failure. These are the types of stories you want to come together in the end, where the threads of stories and different characters wind and twist closer together until everything is brought to a tight finish. Stephenson is a master at this, for example. However, in Pattern Recognition, Gibson just has it kind of suddenly happen and that's that. Kind of hard to explain without spoilers, but suffice it to say that it's an unsatisfying end. Third, and related to the last point, is that several of the characters, including the main antagonist, just kind of dead-end.

Fail. skip it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin - An American Life

When I read the Steve Jobs book a while back, a friend of mine remarked that he'd preferred the book on Benjamin Franklin by the same author, Walter Isaacson. I added it to my list and then ended up doing it as an audio book, covering the bulk of it this past week while at E3, as I was staying far out and had a lot of rental car time.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, like the Steve Jobs book, is a good introductory book to Franklin. A pretty thorough work in the account of his history and accomplishments, it doesn't excessively focus on any one area.

If there's any fault to it, it's that it doesn't do too much to get into Franklin's head and discuss emotional state, relationships with those in his family (e.g. it talks about his relationship with his wife but not the emotional state of that relationship). Now granted, in order to do so, I'd imagine some poetic license would need to be taken.

Franklin was an amazing person. Like many, he was not without flaws. Still, if you've read no other work accounting his history, this is a good place to start.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Review: Beware Dangerism

This was a great little Kindle Single by Gever Tully (of Tinkering School and 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) fame).

It is a nice short outline of his argument (one I share and have debated with several parents, including the one I'm married to) about the trend toward 'dangerism'. Dangerism is a term he defines as the circular ratcheting up of fear around certain activities, the hardening of safety measures around those, and the subsequent further ratcheting up of the fear induced by the hardened safety measures. For example, people fear merry-go-rounds are unsafe, so they remove them from a playground or two, which then incites other people to assume they are unsafe because they've been removed from a few playgrounds, etc.

In the book, he breaks down the numerous factors contributing to this, among which are media fear-mongering, fear of litigation, tendency of individuals to focus on risks they can have effect upon, and more. It's a nicely structured argument in a short format.

I fear that it's not robust enough an argument to withstand someone who's decided to believe in one of these dangers - maybe that's not even possible - but it can at least provide helpful fodder to the debate.

Beware Dangerism!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Book Review: The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Browsing at Powells (aka The REAL Happiest Place On Earth), I happened on Cory Doctorow's The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, a sci-fi novella coupled with a transcript of a lecture on copyright and the arts, and a trascription of an interview with Cory from a couple years back. It was a cheap buy so I picked it up and threw it in my travel bag.

The lecture on copyright is good, but offers little over other talks I've seen him give, so while good, it did little for me. Same goes with the interview. Feels like the publisher added them to pad it up and justify the book price.

That said, the novella was quite clever. It's about a transhuman boy who is sort of an alpha-version of an immortal, who is separated from his inventor/father and forced to make sense of what he is while finding a way to fit in with a very strange and evolving future world. There are a few surprises and twists along the way. Like many of Cory's books, Disney artifacts play a role in the story as well.

It was clever and I quite liked it.

The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: The Next 100 Years

A while back I reviewed George Friedman's The Next Decade. Before he wrote that book, he wrote a coarser-grained, longer term look at the future, The Next 100 Years. I mentioned that while I disagreed with much of the 'decade' book, I enjoyed the gaming out of the possibilities, and that it gave food for thought.

I found less of interest in The Next 100 Years. It's expected that the error bars would grow wider looking further out in time, but it's not that I disagree with, it's the author's methods. He picks selectively from influencing forces, picks and chooses from coarse or fine grained elements and in the level of specificity.

By the time he had a coalition of the Turks and the Japanese attacking the US by flinging rocks from the far side of the moon, well, I had a hard time continuing on. I forced myself through the book, but can't recommend it.

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century