A while back I started Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema but then got distracted by a few other books I had going. I then spotted the audio-book version at the library and finished it that way.
Pirate cinema is a YA novel that is one part Oliver Twist, one part sci-fi, and one part copyright polemic. The lead character, Trent, a UK teen, runs away from home when his family's internet access is cut off after he downloads too many pirated film clips to us in his own amateur film making. After running off to London, he falls in with some other homeless teens, who show him how to make a living and work the system. They then turn their mischievous ways to fighting unjust copyright regulation.
The treatment of the subject matter is a bit blunt but this is probably ok for a YA novel, so I can see past this. The characters are fun, the story is pretty good.
Two flaws that make me give this a 3/5 rating. First, there were a few tangential bits of reference to tech that felt just forced (e.g. reference to Sugru). Secondly, while I was willing to suspend disbelief that the teens in this story could be as street-smart and tech-savvy as they were portrayed, the degree to which they were "foodies" just broke the illusion for me. There were a number of sections that went on at length about elaborate food prep that it's just not likely a teen, let alone a homeless 'freegan' teen, would eat. It read a bit like maybe Doctorow wrote it when dieting himself and was on a diet while writing it.
Those minor complaints aside, it's a fun ride if you don't mind the copyfight pontification.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
A while back I started Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema but then got distracted by a few other books I had going. I then spotted the audio-book version at the library and finished it that way.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Nate Silver's book, The Signal and the Noise, is among my fave non-fiction reads of the year. Highly recommended, especially for anyone that does any kind of modelling/forecasting as part of their work (as is the case for me).
Silver made a name for himself doing baseball forecasting, then moved on do playing professional poker during the 'poker bubble', then came onto the mainstream radar by pretty accurately predicting the 2008 election.
In his book, he looks at the poor track record many branches of science & business have in making predictions. He also points to some areas of success. In running through his examples (baseball, weather, politics, finance and earthquake prediction, to name a few), he looks at a variance of available historical data, signal to noise ratios, etc. He gives a nice overview of Bayesian principles of taking bias into account.
I don't want to give it five stars only because much of his work has been covered by others (e.g. Taleb's Black Swans for example), but it's a great book nonetheless. It made me realize some of the flaws in much of the modelling that we do in my work, and gave me some tools to (hopefully) improve.
The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail but Some Don't
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Michael Moss' Salt Sugar Fat
is a broad-reaching overview of the processed food industry, it's history, leading players, tactics and business models, and most of all, the dependence of the industry on salt, sugar and fat to maximize revenue and profit.
There's plenty in here to open your eyes as a consumer of these products. Hopefully that helps to curb some bad eating habits. Like learning about the negatives of consuming cocaine might prevent you from taking it... only with oreos :-)
For me, I found it most interesting to think about at the high level. Viewed at the macro level and over the long term, it raised interesting questions and showed some successful (and not) examples of how people are tackling them. How does an industry avoid the "local maxima" that may be detrimental to it and it's consumers in the long term? When is giving consumers what they believe they want something you should NOT do? How do you take the high road when your competitors are not? To what degree is industry stewardship YOUR role as a company or as an individual? All interesting food for thought that I believe are applicable to the tech and games industries as well. But that's the subject of another post for another time.
In any case, really good read if either of the above interests you.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Sunday, December 22, 2013
I'm behind on reviews so keeping these short.
The book's main premise is that peer networks, and 'peer progressives' (his term for sort of folk with a neo-progressive mindset and a belief in peer networks as the tool to get us there) will improve many facets of our future.
After a strong opening explaining the concept, the book falls short. Too drunk on the kool-aid for the examples, too short on prescriptive behavior, and not honest enough to take a look at the downsides and possible pitfalls.
Some interesting ideas, but not high on my 'recommended' list
Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
The Coke Machine is an interesting history of one of America's most iconic brands and companies. Clearly written with an anti-Coke bias, but even if half of what it accuses is true, then it seriously gives pause. There's an awful lot of smoke for there NOT to be a fire.
The specifics about coke aside, it's an interesting study of how a corporation's immune system kicks into gear to stamp out PR and/or legal problems in the most efficient way possible (which usually isn't actually FIXING the problems they are accused of).
The book covers everything from Coke's coca-leaves-cure all origins to the war against sugar to the murder of unionizing bottling workers. Through them all it shows how Coke simultaneously distances itself from the problem while also doing token moves to deflate the PR problem.
Interesting book, but a little depressing. I'll think twice before drinking their products.
The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World's Favorite Soft Drink
Friday, October 25, 2013
I picked up this Philip K Dick book at my local library. It was passable, with some fun bits to it, but the highlight to me was looking at 50-year old futurism (it was written in '66) and thinking about where the author got it wrong vs not.
The Crack in Space is takes place in a not-too-distant future, where an overpopulated earth has dealt with unemployment and overpopulation by putting people into suspended animation until another planet can be found to go colonize. When a repairman looking at a disfunctional transporter discovers a crack in space that leads to another Earth-like world, the problem may be solved. But of course, it's never as easy as that.
The book, like much 1960's sci-fi, deals with space travel, alternate histories, and other themes that were then de rigeur. There are elements of Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, etc, etc. Even a little free-love thrown in via a giant floating space-brothel.
The story was passable, though perhaps a little predictable. There were some fun characters thrown in there, and a couple unique twists on the above themes.
On the negative side, there were a few things that broke the immersion (over-focusing on racism themes, characters focused on trivialities in the face of massive-scale events, etc).
A highlight for me though, was looking at the then-forward looking view of the future and where it got it wrong. e.g. He foresaw the global nature of satellite TV broadcasts (then a very new thing), but had the character getting up to turn the channel knob on the TV. Or he saw dynamically updated, animated e-newspapers, but they were still distributed the same way and followed the same biz model.
In any case, it was this stuff that gave me pause to think about our own present-day futurism and where we might be getting it wrong.
The Crack in Space
Sunday, September 29, 2013
I really enjoyed Ramez Naam's debut novel, Nexus. As a novel it's a solid debut if a bit formulaic, but as sci-fi/futurism Naam really hits it out of the park.
Nexus is about a bio-tech hacker/researcher who is coerced into working for the government to spy against and ultimate thwart those leading development in his field of research. In this way, it's a very standard average-nerd-in-over-his-head, espionage action-adventure. And even if evaluated only at that level, it's a solid work. If this type of book is your thing, you won't be disappointed.
But what I really loved was the sci-fi trappings of the book. The bio-tech posited in Nexus is a technology to run software on the human brain, to read or change what it's doing, or to run alternate software on it. Three areas are then explored in various ways. The first and least surprising is behavior modification (think of The Matrix's "I know Kung Fu" and you get where this is going). The second is that of the hive-mind, and Naam follows this down several paths of exploration. The third is the concept of a virtual machine. In the ultimate take on "what if you are just a brain in a jar" explored by The Matrix and many others, Naam asks "what if you are just a brain in a jar, and that jar is just a VM running in your REAL brain", he then riffs on this with all the issues around real VMs (rootkits, back-doors, etc). Fun stuff.
Naam uses this sci-fi premise and story to make some points about progress, change, blind obediance to authority, civil liberties and the like. All interesting and most valid, but for me the it was the instruments he constructed to have these discussions that really set the book apart. I can't way to see what he comes up with next.
Friday, September 27, 2013
This is strike two for me with Jaron Lanier's books. It's too bad, because I really admire his thinking, but I gave a weak review to You Are Not a Gadget, and have to do the same here.
In Who Owns the Future?, Lanier posits that several technology trends threaten to have a long-term negative impact on the middle class, and on the economy in general (which is highly dependent on the existence of a thriving middle class). He asserts that (a) many of today's disruptive technologies and services constitute what he calls "Siren Servers", luring users in and making it difficult to escape, (b) that these do not give fair value back to users for what they put in, and (c) that the result is not going to net out to the new jobs replacing the old, but rather a more efficient system where the middle class loses money to a priviledged few that control those servers.
While initial idea of Siren Servers is one I agree with, and serveral of Lanier's observations are astute, that's where I start to part ways with his thinking.
Many of his arguments and suggested solutions are not only lacking in data, he hasn't even an attempted a simple modelling of them. At the same time, he dismisses the arguments of others for the same reason. For example, he dismisses the claims of those that say musicians can replace lost CD revenues by instead doing live performances, but then asks readers to accept that they can replace those revenues through a system of micro-transaction revenues magically piggy-backed onto the Internet. While proposing this, he offers even a high level examination of the technical feasibility nor a rudimentary attempt at the business model.
As a book that offers some provocative ideas and alternative ways of looking at technology and its impact on economics, it offers some value. But the solutions proposed are as pie-eyed as flying cars and teleportation without providing more than a hand-wave.
Who Owns the Future?
Sunday, September 15, 2013
A while back I read (and subsequently reviewed) Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. I loved it so much I looked into what else he'd written. I found out that he had a non-fiction work about the impact of technology on business and culture, and so gave it a read.
It's hefty piece of work, talking about the impact of technology on a very wide range of subjects, from the publishing business, to our ability to learn and concentrate, to the impact on politics and life in the public eye. His view of the impact of tech on the publishing business is especially well done, as he's grown up in and around that industry as one of the 'disruptees', and yet is also a technology proponent.
Through the book, the author takes a nuanced, even-handed look at most of these areas of controversy, showing both sides as having some merit. He also tackles it in a way that is entertaining, and still goes deep enough to show that he's done a fair amount of research and thinking on the subjects.
The down side is that he covers broad ground without really reaching a hard conclusion. that might be OK though - as the point is to show that we are evolving in our relationship with technology, and that we don't necessarily know where it will end up, and that it's neither all good nor all bad, but somewhere in between, as will be our end destination.
Monday, September 2, 2013
I finished the book a while back but am just getting around to posting a review.
Kelly Starrett is really well known in the Crossfit community. As a Crossfit gym owner and Doctor of Physical Therapy, he has carved out a really niche of expertise as being the "joint, form and mobility guy" of crossfit. In addition, he has posted a ton of really useful videos to youtube over the past couple years that have made him a well known name. So, when he announced the book, many people pre-ordered and I was one of them.
The book is good, though it has a couple flaws (I'll get to those later). It's organized in two main parts.
The first section deals with categorizing all the major crossfit movements from gymnastics, olympic lifting, etc. Deadlift, Clean & Jerk, Pullups, Handstand Pushups, and many more are organized based on the degree of difficulty (mostly having to do with how dynamically one has to stabilize the load & form). I liked this section, as the logic made a lot of sense, modulo the flaws below.
The second section discusses all the major muscles & joints in the body, and covers a range of techniques of how to better stretch, mobilize, floss, and otherwise work them into better range of motion and stability. This section was also useful, but made less sense to read logically back to back, rather than a reference to build a program from and/or to mix up a program of mobility work.
The flaws I found with the book are threefold. Two are relatively minor.
First, Starrett uses a little too much 'bro-speak' in his language. It's fine, and what we've come to expect, in his videos, which are quite conversational in tone, but in print it feels a little cheesy. This is a minor complaint
Second, given the huge number of videos he's posted in the past, there's probably very little here that you can't get by watching all the videos for free. However, I didn't mind paying some extra to have all of the same information in a logically organized form. It would also be nice to provide some reference/link to any youtube videos where those made sense to add clarity to the text/pictures in the book.
My third, and only major complaint, is that the book could have really benefited from spending some money on an anatomical illustrations. When Starrett talks about torque in the shoulder capsule, it would be nice to have some actuall "under the hood" illustrations.
These things aside, I still found the book useful and would recommend it to all crossfitters.
Friday, August 16, 2013
Picked this one up after seeing it on the shelf at Powells, thinking it would be something me and Alisa would both enjoy. I was right.
It's a biographical account of a sailing voyage. The author meets a man and falls for him, but there are two problems: He's about to embark on crossing the pacific in a small sailboat, and she's petrified of the ocean. She bites the bullet, takes the trip with him, has some adventure, and emerges on the other side a more capable, transformed woman.
There's adventure, humor, romance. It's a fun read.
I'm not normally one for sports biographies, but am pretty into Crossfit these days so figured I'd pick up Rich Froning's book
First: What It Takes to Win
The book was... ok. It's simply written and is a very fast read. Good parts were getting his inside perspective on his training and the different events, what was going through his head mid-competition and the like. Some of the anecdotes from his upbringing were amusing.
The bits about religion and such were not of interest to me but might be good for some.
First: What It Takes to Win
Sunday, August 4, 2013
I finished Austin Grossman's second novel, You, while on vacation last week, and am just getting to writing some thoughts on it now.
It's quite different than his first novel, Soon I will be Invincible, which I loved.
You is the story of a law-school-dropout-turned-game-designer who accepts a job at the game studio his high school friends have turned into a hit-factory. Like his own career, the game studio has hit a point where its future is in question. The creative genius behind the original games is no longer around, the key founders have left, investors threaten to sell off the company, etc. In trying to prove they still have what it takes, the lead character learns about the company's past games and a lot about himself.
It's in this that the book starts to get interesting. The title "You" is a nod to the second-person narrative involved in many games, going back to the old Infocom titles like Zork ("You are standing in an open field, west of a white house, with a boarded front door"). Without spoiling too much, the company's games' characters, world, and eras are metaphors for the high school friends, events and phases of their lives. The author takes a long time to build this up for the reader. To tell the truth it was initially a little slow for me, and some of it was a little over my head. However, when he brings it all together toward the end it really is quite well done, and I found it very satisfying and quite moving.
I know Austin through friends, and knowing his history working at Looking Glass and on games like Ultima Underworld, I can't help but think that there's a lot of history underlying the work. It certainly is the most realistic depiction of what game development is like that I've ever read.
Some reviews I've seen have made reference to Ready Player One, perhaps because of all the references to games of our youth. I don't think that's fair though. This is far more a book about coming of age. More Breaking Away than Wargames, IMHO.
Good book. Recommended.
Update: One more thing I meant to add:
From the book's description of one of the studio's games:
"The game's concept demanded intrigue, mystery, glamour, and romance. Accordingly you couldn't just go around murdering people; there was exactly one bullet in the entire game. Instead, Nick could do things like (F)lirt, (Q)uestion, or (W)altz."I cannot tell you how sad I am that we don't have this game yet.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
I really enjoyed this book. A couple years back I read a couple books on performing magic as I thought there were some interesting bits that could apply to giving presentations, product demos and the like.
Sleights of Mind does reveal some secrets about how certain magic tricks are performed, but it's written by two neuroscientists who spent years researching magic (collaborating with magicians) to determine how and why we are susceptible to certain illusions and deceptions.
I not only learned a lot, but it's given me a lot to think about in terms of the future of graphics, user interfaces, gaming and more. Fascinating stuff!
Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Picked this up on a friend's recommendation. Was ok, but I didn't really care for it enough to carry on to other volumes. Basic theme: Game Designers rule the universe, creating the ultimate tools that entertain and educate. The lead character aspires to become a member of the guild of techno-priests that design the ultimate games.
Neat them, but not that clever in how it's pulled off, and too much "Heavy Metal-esque" content (gratuitous rape, violence, etc).
The Technopriests Book One: Initiation (Technopriests (DC Comics))
Friday, May 24, 2013
I rather enjoyed Good Strategy Bad Strategy. It's a very back-to-basics approach to business strategy that I found a nice reminder that strategy doesn't need to be that complicated. It's very much a one-idea business book but that's OK in this case.
The author starts by outlining what he calls the kernel of any strategy:
- A diagnosis of the situation/problem/opportunity
- A guiding policy that will guide how the organization will react to obstacles/challenges
- A set of clearly defined actions to achieve the goal
While this seems simple enough, it's very useful in cutting through the BS that normally passes as 'strategy'. Additionally, I like they way he frames strategy as hypothesis that is undergoing continual testing and refinement, not something that is authored once and then cast in stone.
Several other things I liked about the book:
- Lots of good case examples. Some well known ones (Apple, Microsoft, GM...) but also some that to me were less well known (International Harvester, many others).
- One case example, Nvidia, is one I have intimate history with, having competed with them in two of my past roles. He didn't nail it all 100%, but it's pretty well summed.
Stuff I didn't like:
- There's a few places in the book where he plays monday morning quarterback, pointing out failed strategies from the recent past, saying he knew better. Would be good if he'd provided proof that he'd called it when he did, vs after the fact. (He may have, but it didn't leap out at me).
In any case, definitely recommended if you are involved with setting strategy for your organization.
Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters
Thursday, May 2, 2013
Spotted this at the library in audio book form, and remembered that a couple friends had recommended it to me.
Born to Run is a story of a crazy gringo ex-prize-fighter known as Caballo Blanco (White Horse) living in the Copper Canyons in northern Mexico with the Tarahumara indians, and his plan to put on a deadly long-distance race with some of the worlds most hard-core long-distance runners.
In seeking out the recluse, the author becomes wrapped up in the plan and trains to run the race himself, as he seeks out advice from the gurus of barefoot running in an effort to deal with his own injuries.
The book introduces us to a cast of really interesting characters and the competitive world of long-distance running. It eventually culminates in the story of the race itself, by which time I was rooting for every one of the characters - a good sign he'd told the story pretty well.
The "science" the book attempts to tell about barefoot running and it's evolutionary superiority, the harm that shoes do, etc, is similar to the whole Paleo diet thing - a compelling narrative, but I'm not sure how well backed it is by science. Still, it's got me thinking about it. I may do further research on it. I don't consider this book that research, but a compelling story that at least presents one side of the argument.
Born to Run
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I fully admit to buying Here's Looking at Euclid based on the title alone. The book is a collection of short explanations of mathematical concepts and mathematical oddities, with a fair bit of history and trivia thrown in for good measure.
Written for the layperson, there's a lot in here most technical folk will already know. Still there was enough history and stuff from alternate branches of mathematics (e.g. people using origami to solve mathematical problems). that I learned some stuff and found it entertaining.
Here's Looking at Euclid: From Counting Ants to Games of Chance - An Awe-Inspiring Journey Through the World of Numbers
Friday, April 12, 2013
Monday, April 1, 2013
I've been tinkering with 3D Printing over the past few months, trying to get a sense of what can and can't be done and how user friendly it is (or isn't). I have a number of friends doing 3D-printing-related startups (Alice Taylor's Makies, Ed Fries' Figureprints, and my Printxel printer is from Billy Zelsnack's kickstarter effort), and so the sense that something big is afoot has been very much tickling my brain. When I heard about Chris Anderson's Makers, I hesitantly picked it up to see how he tackled the subject.
I say hesitantly as I had very mixed feelings about The Long Tail, and worried that Anderson would fall into some of the same traps with Makers. He does, and I'll get to what those are in a minute.
On the plus side, he very much captures the sense of excitement afoot, and profiles a number of companies doing small scale manufacturing or design + outsourced manufacturing, that are allowing for a 'long tail of fabrication' and a nimbleness of physical product manufacturing. Many of the companies, individuals and examples profiled are well known if you've been following this stuff on the web, but there are always details to be learned and some of the examples were new to me.
On the down side, there are two main flaws that made this a 3/5 book for me, vs a 4- or 5-out-of-5. First, as with The Long Tail, Anderson stretches the definition of Maker too far, and inconsistently. In some instances, he's clearly focused on the disruption of computer controlled manufacturing hitting consumer price points. In other cases, if you cook your own food, you're a maker! Similarly, he profiles some companies that are by no means small, and dismisses this by pointing to the fact that they embody 'the maker spirit'.
Secondly, he over-states the consumer readiness of these technologies. A metaphor I use is that it's like saying "look, you can buy a router and a lathe for under $500, so clearly anyone can make furniture now!"
If you can see past these flaws, are are looking for a good overview to take with a large grain of salt, then Makers may be for you. If not, you are better off reading articles on the web that cover the subject adequately.
Makers: The New Industrial Revolution
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Last week I finished Amped by Daniel H. Wilson. I'd recently read Robopocalypse and enjoyed it so thought I'd give another of his a try.
Like Robopocalypse, Wilson uses well-trod ground to make a statement about our current day erosion of civil liberties in the name of security; and like Robopocalypse, it's well executed.
The book takes place in a near future where neural implants devised to help people (at first those with various disabilities, later anyone with money) focus without distraction. When those with the implants, 'Amps', start exhibiting advantages over regular non-implanted folk, a backlash ensues, and threatens to grow to a civil war.
In the midst of this, the protagonist tries to make sense of it all, while learning that he's one of thirteen unique individuals who were implanted with a little something extra.
Fun read, which can optionally offer some deeper food for thought for those that want it.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
During the whole Harry Potter craze, I had so many friends telling me I just *had* to jump in, that I got put off an decided I would definitely not read any of them. Then recently my younger son asked me to read it to him, and that was that.
Verdict: It's passable, formulaic, and somewhat fun. Great for kids, but for adults there is SO much content out there that would be time better spent.
Friday, March 8, 2013
I rather enjoyed The American Way of Eating though it's one of those books that you find yourself partly wishing you hadn't read. Ignorance is bliss, etc.
The author, Tracie McMillan, spent a year "undercover" (I place it in quotes because she was sometimes honest about what she was up to, other times not) working in America's food chain. The book chronicles her time spent working in crop fields in California, in a Walmart produce department in Detroit, and at an Applebee's in Brooklyn.
Through all of these, she covers three elements: the role each plays in our food distribution system and how it has evolved over time, the people she meets and how they live and work, and her own attempt to survive on minimum wage (or less).
There are also some 'side trip' portions where she examines food stamp programs to encourage produce consumption, urban community gardens, etc.
Through these, the book is sort of a mash-up of Nickel and Dimed, and Fast Food Nation. Like both of those, it's both an engaging read and strong social commentary. I learned a lot and the book will affect how I look at food and how I choose to consume it.
Consider reading it, it's an important book.
The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
Thursday, March 7, 2013
This is an anecdote, not data, so take it at that. Still, it's a story I like telling.
Years ago, while at Matrox, when the first edition of Tomb Raider came out on PS1 and PC. We and other graphics hardware vendors all helped Core Design do custom builds of the game ported to our proprietary 3D APIs (these were the days before DirectX, or at least before DX was deemed viable). A couple of the engineers on my team there did the port, and I even got in and helped a bit (it remains the only commercial game for which I actually worked on the source code).
Anyhow, the end version, running on the Matrox Mystique, was something I was quite happy with and showed my wife (then girlfriend) at home, despite the fact that she doesn't play games - certainly 3D action adventure ones.
She was smitten with it! A female lead character, exotic environments, exploring. Wow! She asked to play.
I sat her down and helped her through the tutorial. This is how you turn... look... jump... climb... swim. She wouldn't get out of the damn pool on the tutorial. "Ok, you can get out now". "but it's so pretty! This is so cool!"
She finished the tutorial and started the first level. A pack of wolves is the first threat you encounter. I tell her what to press to draw pistols and fire. A loud yelp as the attacking wolf falls to the snow-covered ground.
"You have to SHOOT A DOG?! I don't want to play this anymore"
Needless to say, she has not purchased Tomb Raider's 2-through-N.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
While blasphemous to say so, I've been saying for years that Facebook is not "too big to fail" despite the perceived lock that network effects give them.
Anyhow, an interesting piece I came across recently that might indicate the beginnings of then end. maybe?
The age of the brag is over: why Facebook might be losing teens
This article from a 30+ year veteran of wearing computer-augmented vision systems offers a number of provocative ideas about ARs potential.
It covers a number of interesting uses (Always-on recording , alternate spectrum views (thermal imaging), spectra-mediated views (HDR or other ways of still seeing in shadow even w glaring light)), as well as some of the problems of such systems (camera mis-alignment, etc)
Friday, February 22, 2013
was on my to-read list for ages, after being recommended by a friend. Finally got around to reading it and liked it far more than I expected.
As the name implies, this is another book about the rise of the machines. Robots become sentient and attempt to exterminate their makers. Sigh. Well trod ground, right? I, Robot to Terminator, even Frankenstein if you want to extend it to "books playing on people's fear of technology", it's indeed well trod ground.
That said, it's SO well executed. Told from the numerous viewpoints of different characters (including some from the machine side), it's like a series of novellas that come together in the end. The opening ones in particular, when the machines start behaving peculiarly... well I found myself looking sideways at our Roomba, just in case.
Matt Taiibi is a rare example of someone who does amazingly in-depth research, isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects (and people in the process) and can craft a good story to boot. Griftopia, is an entertaining, informative and downright depressing look at the housing bubble and the corrupt system behind it. In doing so, he goes deeper to look at the "bubble machine" that is wall street and the political machine that does it's bidding.
Best summed as an edgier and deeper version of The Big Short with a measure of Republic Lost thrown in there; it's one of those books I find myself telling people they must read, but I'm not sure what to *do* about it.
Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History
Sunday, February 3, 2013
I'd been sitting on the final chapter of James Gleick's The Information
when I noticed in my Kindle app that I was coming up on a year since I'd started it. I made the final push today and finished it a year and a day after I first cracked it open.
It's a dense and broad-reaching book on information theory. The author covers a huge range of subjects in a pretty daunting level of detail. From natives using drums to communicate complicated messages, to the history of Babbage's analytical engine, to telegraphs, to information encoding in DNA, to quantum mechanics, to name only a handful of his long list of topics. It's not often I've seen such a broad range of topics covered so thoroughly.
While I really wanted to love the book, its strength is also it's undoing. For example, as fascinating as the working relationship between Babbage and Lovelace was, I'm not sure I needed that kind of detail (and it goes on for pages and pages) to get his point about the processing of information. In the end, the author is trying to cover too much. Some subjects are done superbly (like the Babbage-including one I just mentioned), but others are weak and confusing. Each subject not only gets a deep explanation (or an attempt at one), but also biographies of many involved. While I find these interesting, in this case it bloated the work.
After all of that, and after taking so long to read it, the main point was lost on me. I think the author is trying to say something about the accelerating pace of information and how our ability to deal with it continually adapts. However, the main point for me was lost in the deluge of information. Perhaps that itself was the point.
The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood
Saturday, February 2, 2013
I really enjoyed Metatropolis, an anthology of five novellas about cities of the future. The authors collaborated some during it's creation, so they share common elements to the background and setting, but are each very unique.
As well as being fun, compelling stories (the last one in particular is a mind-blower), they each present some really intriguing bits of futurism, revolving around sustainable cities, crowd-sourcing, wisdom of the crowds, distributed networks, and so much more. With five authors there's five times the new ideas. With five authors collaborating, it's more like twenty-five times.
Quick read, highly recommended.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I'm a big fan of Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma and other books about innovation and creative disruption. I was surprised to learn that he'd written a slightly different book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, this one about guiding principles for guiding one's career and one's life. I was curious about it being outside his usual fare, so I decided to give it a whirl.
As a self-help book, it's pretty unique. Christensen draws upon his many business case studies to make some pretty interesting analogies (e.g. comparing 'outsourcing' of parental duties to nannies and activity providers to Dell's outsourcing of it's core functions over time and what it cost them in the long run). This aspect of the book I liked very much, and most of his analogies are sound. I also like his recommendation on career choice assessments into 'hygiene factors' (e.g. salary - you need a certain amount to function, but beyond that it shouldn't be part of a decision between 2 jobs) and the factors that really matter.
On the down side, I found the later parts of the book to drift a little into left field. Especially when he gets into the more religious elements later in the book. Still, I enjoyed it despite this.
How Will You Measure Your Life?
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
I added Tears in Rain to my to-read list somewhat impulsively after reading an excerpt published on BoingBoing. It was not without it's flaws, but also had some strong points, and I enjoyed reading most of it despite the flaws.
The book is Blade Runner fan-fic. A noire detective story in a future setting very much in keeping with that film. The main character is a Replicant (Android) drawn into investigating a series of strange Replicant deaths after one of these occurs in her apartment. The further she unravels the mystery, the more twisted the conspiracy becomes as the bodies keep piling up.
Along the way, there are some very nice bits of sci-fi, both in the smaller details of the settings (courier robots, home automation, etc) and in the larger questions put before the reader (e.g. ethics of tampering with people's memories, when/if that becomes possible, for example. Also I really liked the treatment the author gave to state-control of information and revisionist history when all our history is centralized in a wikipedia-like system. Very thought provoking).
My complaints about the book: (1) It was desperately in need of editing down to about two thirds its size. The author took on too much, and some of it should have stayed on the editing room floor. (2) There was some unimaginative bits of sci-fi that broke the immersion (personal computers are still mobile phones, and they still use GPS). (3) Rather than name-checking the Blade Runner characters or universe, the author name-checks the MOVIE itself, which totally broke the immersion where it was done. Finally (4) while most of the book was too long, the ending definitely felt like it came together and tied off too quickly, like the author was trying to rush.
These flaws aside, it's a good 'B' level read for Blade Runner fans
Tears in Rain
Sunday, January 6, 2013
A little late with it, but here's my annual round up on the year's reading.
I took a goal at the end of 2011 to read 48 books this year and I managed to hit that goal. However, in pursuing that goal, there were times I pushed through books I should have otherwise put down, and times I prioritized lighter fare over heavier stuff. Next year I'm taking the goal of completing 36, but having them be more meaningful. I'll be ok with abandoning books that are turning out as disappointing.
I read 31 non-fiction books and 18 works of fiction (though three books were a mix of fic/non-fic, so I had to make a call on which category to put them in). Format-wise, 19 were audiobooks, 12 were e-books, and 17 were on dead-trees. All the e-books were consumed on Amazon's Kindle app on the iPad, or rare occasion I used the phone when I was stuck somewhere with downtime. Four of the books (Seven Fables, The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, and Hello Skater Girl, The Art of Videogames) were written by friends; I continue to marvel at how lucky and privileged I am to know such people.
My favorite books of the year were as follows: In non-fiction: The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It, Republic Lost, and Rocket Men. In fiction: Rainbows End, Angelmaker, and The Windup Girl.
Here's the full list grouped by topic. An asterisk means recommended, and two means highly recommended.
- Art of the Start
- Venture Deals
- Five Elements of Effective Thinking
- Screw it, Let’s do it
- Screw business as usual
- The Numerati
- Where Good Ideas Come From*
- The Next 100 years
- Physics of the Future
- Library: An Unquiet History
- Rocket Men**
- Republic Lost**
- A Short History of Nearly Everything
- Just My Type*
- Hello Skater Girl
- Art of Videogames
- Program or be Programmed
- The Influencing Machine*
- Reality Is Broken
- The Information Diet
- Digital Typography
- Future of the Internet and How To Stop It**
- How to Fix Copyright*
- Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing
- The Windup Girl**
- Lauren Ipsum
- Seven Fables
- The Mongoliad: Book 1
- The Mongoliad: Book 2
- The Technologists
- Have Spacesuit Will Travel
- Pattern Recognition
- Rainbows End**
- A Visit from the Goon Squad*
- Distrust That Particular Flavor
What do you think? Did you disagree with any of my recommendations? Any faves from last year that I missed entirely? Let me know!
Thursday, January 3, 2013
is a scifi thriller that takes place in and around MMO-type games. In this vein, it's similar to Snowcrash, Rainbows End, Ready Player One, and many others.
I found it to be a very engaging story, with some provocative bits technology futurism. I give the book a 3/5 or so rating because it was in dire need of editing. There were parts that were too long and should have been left on the chopping block, and there were parts that could have used cleanup, and some poor choice of language that broke suspension of disbelief at times. Less would have definitely been more.
That said, it's FAR better than Ready Player One that so many found so great last year, so I still recommend it.
Among the interesting bits of futurism: Crowd-sourcing as source for the meta-game and for the hive-mind; Post-scarcity life, and various bits of bio-tech and post-human hackery. The author even does a pretty good job of tackling ethics of genetically engineered human-derivative 'products', despite this being well trod ground.
There's a scene where the lead character, D-lite, has a maddeningly frustrating tech support dispute over the terms of his mind-interface chip's EULA in an attempt to access the source code to his own in-game character, that in itself is worth reading the book. It's thought-provoking gold, and just conceivable enough to be scary.
Well worth reading despite it's flaws.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
I headed into Douglas Rushkoff's book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age expecting it to like it. I've read some of his writing and find I agree with some of his major ideas. As the title of the book implies, it centers around the idea that the more of our lives we place in the hands of technology, the more important it is that we understand how the underlying tech works, and if necessary, be capable of changing it.
However, I was quite disappointed with the book. While some of his ideas are along the right lines, he sort of circles around them without directly nailing most of them. Worse still, many of his analogies are broken For example, he makes an analogy to automobiles, comparing ignorant users of tech to being passengers rather than drivers. I'd say a better analogy would be to say that it's more like drivers who know how an automobile works are more likely to make better use of the car, better able to converse with their mechanic, etc. Others are just plain wrong. For example, he compares digital audio to analog audio recording, making the point that digital is a quantized, and thus poor, copy of the original, while analog is an exact copy. However, analog recording is full of it's own errors and approximations. Ultimately BOTH are a copy of the original, each with their own flaws, thus 'going digital' doesn't necesarily cause a problem, and ultimately it's important to understand both. More annoying still, is that he stretches many of his analogies too far, as many books tend to do.
Finally, he doesn't really offer a prescription of any kind. Unlike better works like Jonathan Zittrain's book, which at least attempt to offer some suggested tactics and possible solutions, Rushkoff's book just rants about the problems and doesn't offer any paths out for most of them.
Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age