Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: Drops of God

I don't read too many graphic novels, but based on a friend's recommendation, I picked up Drops of God, Volume 01 , the first in Tadashi Agi's series about the son of a famous wine critic that must beat an up and coming wine critic at his own game in order to inherit his father's estate and priceless wine collection.

It was an entertaining read, and an interesting take on making the subject of wine tasting accessible to the average reader. That said, I don't think I'll continue with the series. The story is pretty typical despite the unique scenario. The protagonist has never tasted wine, but was raised by his father to smell pencils and leather and taste berries, etc, all in a very "wax on/wax off" karate-kid way that's been done before. Also, the level to which wine and wine tasting are fetishized goes beyond the already excessive way wine buffs in Ameria do so, and takes it to otaku-like levels. Women swooning over a man's skill at pouring and decanting a wine, etc.

If you are a fan of Japanese manga, and want to learn some more about wine or are already a wine buff, then check it out.

Drops of God, Volume '01: Les Gouttes de Dieu

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book Review: Just My Type - A Book About Fonts

Over the past couple years, I've thrown a number of books on typography (1, 2, 3) into my reading mix, and have also been reading up on e-book formats and the like. Aside from finding it interesting, I think that we under estimate how much area for development still exist in getting type on electronic displays. It took us thousands of years to get paper right, we'd be foolish to think that electronic type is done after 30 years.

Of the books I linked above, a couple leaned pretty far on the technical side, and one leaned further to the artistic side. Just My Type recently came across my radar and it's a nice mix of the two.

The book covers a lot of history of the more famous fonts, their creators, what makes them tick, and what popularized them. There are lots of interesting bits of history and some interesting quotes from interviews with various creators of famous fonts.

If you are into typography, it's a good read. If you aren't sure, this is probably a pretty approachable book to start before you dive in further.

Only two negatives, and they are minor nits. First, I read the paperback edition, and some of the inline font changes (and man, there are a lot of them. the book must have been a pain to lay out) are difficult to closely scrutinize for detail, as they are small. Second, there is some jargon that isn't explained, and that I'd not know of had I not read the other book above (e.g. the book refers to 'rivers' running through text without explaining the term). These are minor nits though

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts

Sunday, December 23, 2012

3D Printing Workflow

So I've been dabbling in 3D Printing this past week after getting my Printxel printer recently. It took me a bit to get things set up correctly. It's not the noob-friendly exercise some folks might have you believe. That said, once you get things working it's pretty amazing. After doing a number of prints of some sample files of varying sophistication, yesterday I did my first from-scratch project. This is an attempt to document the workflow for anyone interested.

We have a series of window screens around the house that suffer from the same broken plastic bracket the joints the aluminum frame pieces. I've been unable to find a replacement so I thought I'd make my own.

First step is to model what you want printed. I used Google's Sketchup, which I'd used before, and is pretty amazing to pick up and play with, even if you have little experience with modeling tools (I spent a lot of time working with Autocad and 3DStudio, but that was ~20 years ago). Sketchup also has really easy to use dimensioning tools, so I could get the model to exactly match what I was measuring on the original with some calipers. Here's a pic of the finished model:

Next step is to export it from Sketchup in .STL format, which can be done via a free plug-in, in order for it to be read by the next step. During output, you specify the format and to keep the dimensions as is in the model (i.e. the above is in millimeters)

Next, is to import into a program that will 'slice' the model - generate a set of instructions giving the 3D printer path information to construct the model. It's referred to as slicing because the X-Y outlined before the printer moves down in Z, thus doing it in a set of slices. This program does more than just slice the model, it figures out how to fill in the insides of the model to save material, how to build temp supports for overhanging bits, it can build a 'raft' under the model as a starting point, etc. I used KISSlicer. The slicing tool needs to have settings for your particular printer, print material, etc, and these have been set up by Printxel's creator in a bunch of .ini files that are available in the Printxel google group. Here's a pic of the model in KISSlicer.

After using KISSlicer to export the printer instructions as G-Code. I import it into Replicator-G. This is the host software that will control the printer. The screenshot below shows the control panel for heating up the printhead or fine tuning the position of the printer before starting the print. Once it's up to temp, it's ready to go.

Here's short video of it part way through the printing process.

Below is a pic of the finished output next to the original (broken) piece. I didn't have any white PLA material, so I did this one with clear material. I've got some white material on order to run off a number of these.

Below is a pic of the part in place. The patchy looking stuff on the 1mm thick outside trim is some remaining white glue off the print bed. putting down a thin layer of glue helps give the first layer of PLA something to adhere to, while making easy to remove the piece afterward.

I'm pretty happy with how the piece turned out. Beleive its stronger than the original piece, as the original was hollow and mine is filled with a corrugated lattice of PLA material. Not sure whether prolonged sun exposure will weaken the PLA as it does some other plastics. We'll have to wait and see. 

[Update: Thought I'd post a pic of a more recent print now that I have some white PLA. See below]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: 5 Elements of Effective thinking

Extremely weak. I don't remember who recommended it to me, but I wish they hadn't. Oversimplified, basic approaches to thinking that the authors boil down to knowing your fundamentals, asking basic questions, and thinking about how insights build upon one another.

They pitch the whole thing in far too much of an infomercial style, cite "thousands of students and business leaders", etc, but don't give specific names, and present their method in a "trust us, it works" fashion.

Skip it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Venture Deals

I'd had Brad Feld's book on my to-read list for some time after I started reading his blog (which is worth subscribing to). I got hold of it recently and put it into the pile of stuff I'm trying to worth through by end of year. It was pretty easy to digest so I made short work of it.

Venture Deals comes from a unique perspective as Feld and Jason Mendelson (his coauthor) have both been on the receiving end of VC deals before going on to become VCs themselves. As such, they call out common pitfalls on both sides of deals that get put together, and explain the motivations and responsibilities for both parties. The bulk of the book is a walk through typical terms of term sheets and letters-of-intent. This part is really good as they make the legalese digestible while still explaining what the different clauses are for and what can go wrong with them if not handled properly.

I'll can't give the book a perfect rating as it has a couple shortcomings. First, I'd like to see it address how the VC space is evolving. They do discuss the ebb and flow between times of bullishness and conservatism, but I'd like to see things like the crowdfunding act addressed, etc. Second, they give a little lip service to legal differences in different states, but the book doesn't talk about differences in VCs in different regions/countries. A good appendix would have been made of interviewing a VC based in, say, London or Paris or Dubai. Third, the disparaging tone they use when speaking about lawyers goes beyond the standard lawyer jokes and grates on the nerves after a while. Finally, even in Silicon Valley, there are different motivations for different VCs. For example, Intel and Google both have venture arms who's motivations are broader than just making money (they often have some strategic alignment with their parent corporation).

These things aside, the book is an easy read and a good intro to venture deals.

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Review: Library - An Unquiet History

Library: An Unquiet History is a book about the history of libraries, but in a bigger sense about the history of the written word, and the way in which we've treated it, sometimes despised it, and sometimes tried to erase or otherwise shape our histories and our realities by the which in way we preserve it.

On the plus side, I learned a lot, and was also presented with a lot to think about in areas I'd taken for granted. The purposes libraries serve and have served change over time, for example, the ebb and flow of thinking in whether libraries are there to preserve as much as possible, or to filter and preserve only the best books. There are also great bits of history, ranging from the limited knowledge about how libraries of ancient scrolls were maintained two thousand years ago, to the efforts of Nazi-occupied jewish ghettos to maintain a library under occupation. There's also great bits of history and trivia about librarian education over time, how the Dewey cataloging system was invented, along with others, and much more.

Unfortunately the author has a very dry style and comes across with some degree of pretentiousness that made it a difficult read. As a result, I give this one a 3/5 kind of rating.

Library: An Unquiet History

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Interesting perspectives on "mobile first"

Good post from Fred Wilson, in turn quoting another good post from Vibhu Norby, debating the pros/cons of targeting mobile first. Much of the same debate I hear game devs having as of late, and so it's relevant to that crowd.

Great quote:

"I use my phone more than anything else. I just don’t think that an entrepreneur who wants a real shot at success should start their business there. The Android and iOS platform set us up to fail by attracting us with the veneer of users, but in reality you are going to fight harder for them than is worthwhile to your business. You certainly need a mobile app to serve your customers and compete, but it should only be part of your strategy and not the whole thing"

Good read!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Game Developer Magazine Business Columns

I just realized that a few of my columns for GD Mag's business columns are available online, so I thought I'd put together a list of them here:

[update - added link for December]

December 2012: A retrospective on the year's business trends and on future directions

October 2012: On Crowdfunding and "Emotional Equity"

June 2012: On the Kickstarter Goldrush

April 2012: On the PC vs Console cycle of life, and whether that cycle is broken

March 2012 (requires subscription) - On Copyright

January 2012  (requires subscription) - Some pertinent business books from 2011

November 2011 (requires subscription) - On digital distribution, efficiency, and who should benefit from that efficiency.

June 2011 - (requires subscription) wherefore art thou wikileaks

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review: The Mongoliad - Book 2

A while back I reviewed the first book of The Mongoliad and quite enjoyed it. I'm a huge Neal Stephenson fan, and another friend of mine, Cooper Moo, was involved in this project, so I was really glad to read it.

The Mongoliad: Book Two is not nearly as good as the first. As others have noted, it jumps between a myriad of plot lines with little of the tight interweaving that Stephenson is known for. In a series like this, without an end in sight, this can feel like drudge work to get through as we don't know if things will come together in the next book, or in ten more. My personal pet peeve is that it's not as tightly edited, so different parts by different authors are clearly varied in their pacing and quality, several of them suffering from the excessive use of adverbs and adjectives that feels like high school composition trying to up the drama but coming off as hammy.

That said, it has it's moments, and like the first, there are some great bits of sword-clanging and battleground strategy. These redeem it some, but only partly. I'll hold off on the third book and see in a few months if I'm still itching to get back into the series.

The Mongoliad: Book Two (The Foreworld Saga)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Book Review: The Naked Presenter

Recently, I was exchanging email with a colleague on the subject of presentations when he brought up Nancy Duarte's books, which I'd read some time ago, and given a positive review to at least one of them. One of the books that came up was Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen, which I'd also liked. It turned out he had a more recent book out, The Naked Presenter, and so I decided to give it a read.

It's okay, but I can't recommend it as highly as his previous book or Duarte's. The book focuses more on the "Zen" aspects of approaching presentation preparation and delivery, and less on the actual mechanics of those things themselves.

This would be well enough, but I found many of the techniques to be high level and vapid compared to other works, and the metaphors to all things Japanese felt forced.

Like many of the more recent "pretty books" (Duarte's and Reynolds' both fall in this camp), the content is so blown out in favor of whitespace, quotes, and pretty pictures, that it's pretty devoid of content. What's there is not beyond what's already covered in the original book. It does try to get into the whole zen-mental-state thing, on approaching prep, on delivery, on handling a hostile audience, etc, but only superficially. I'd have liked to see some approaches to drills or to methods of rehearsal and the like.

In summary, the book is alright, but I'd recommend Duarte's Resonate or Reynolds' Presentation Zen over this book. If you like Reynolds' other book a lot, then you may enjoy this one.

The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides (Voices That Matter)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Book Review: Screw Business As Usual

I'm a big Richard Branson fan-boy, and really liked his first book, Losing My Virginity (which I highly recommend). Since then, I've given a few of his other books a try. I gave Screw Business as Usual a try this week. It was very quick to get through so I thought I'd post a short review.

The book is about the idea that capitalism can, in addition to pursuing the goal of making money, attempt to do good.

On the plus side, it covers a number of interesting cases, some of which are Virgin enterprises, others just ones Branson has come across. It's a wide enough variety to give some creative food for thought, but little is provided in the way of detail if someone wanted to do some analysis of real cost/benefit, or map to their business to see how it differs, etc. Still, they are inspirational stories.

Another negative is that a number of his examples consist of things akin to 'I saw a problem. I called up Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Bill Gates and we got together and decided to start a foundation'. Some have complained that this is name-dropping. I don't think that's the case, so much as it's just the circles he travels in. However, the few examples that are along these lines aren't really helpful for anyone looking to do good with their business.

In any case, it's a good read with some unique perspectives that some will get value from. Start with Losing My Virginity though, as I think it's a better read.

Screw Business as Usual

Friday, November 2, 2012

Book Review: The Future of the Internet, And How to Stop It

After having it on my to-read list for some time, I got around to reading The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It and am kicking myself for not getting to it earlier. It's great. It's well thought out and it's an *important* book.

I plan on writing something lengthier on my thoughts after reading it - It has spawned dozens of ideas for me - but here are some quick points.

In short, the book is about the trade off between Open and Closed systems - something I've written a fair amount about. He makes the point that Open and Closed lie on opposite ends of a spectrum. Open provides Affordance (the ability for systems to be used for purposes beyond their design) and Generativity (that they encourage or breed the innovation of these new uses). Closed systems provide Security, Ease of Use, and sometimes affordability (e.g. think razors/blades).

In many places in current day, the closed systems are winning because vendors and users don't take the long term view as to the cost to innovation.

The author goes on to show how this view of systems holds true for the internet at large as well as the endpoint devices. It then broadens into a larger discussion of everything from reputation systems to legislative solutions vs 'honor code' types of systems.

Is the book perfect? No. Many of the solutions, or at least solution directions, proposed are flawed (e.g. allowing programmability with security through VMs is not a solution so long as the owner of the VM platform or the platform under it are still closed). It doesn't matter though. If the book gets people even thinking and talking about this subject matter, then it's a worthwhile contribution.

Go read it. It's an important book. (also, a free PDF version is available here)

The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It

Monday, October 29, 2012

Some good - but insufficient - ebook publisher suggestions

As an industry with more history than most other forms of media, the pain book publishing is going through in trying to transition to digital is quite fascinating to follow and something we can all learn from.

As we've seen with music, film, and games, publishers are not only trying to assert rights that protect existing business models (e.g. trying to curb piracy) but also are pouncing on opportunities to gain rights that previously they didn't have, or had lost (e.g. rights for end users to resell books; rights for libraries to lend books, etc).

BoingBoing last week linked to an interesting piece by Joanna Cabot, calling for a return to common sense. It's a good piece, and a good starting point for discussion, but insufficient on it's own.

The TL;DR version is that she calls for three things:
- If granting rights that are really more akin to rental/lease than ownership, then say so explicitly and don't call it "buying"
- Understand that books are purchased by households, not neccesarily individuals, and sharing among household members shouldn't be a crime.
- Understand that individuals want and need to move books between devices, so don't make it difficult to do so.

In short, she's calling for e-books to allow for the same things that paper books do. If I rent a book I'm expected to return it, and if I buy it, I can do with it what I want. If I buy it or borrow it, I can share it with other members of my household, etc. She is saying that e-books should not allow us to do LESS than their paper counterparts. I agree.

However, it's not enough to stop there. e-books should allow for far more. They should allow for quoting, sharing, promoting. They should allow for commenting and conversing with authors, critics and other fans. They should allow for augmenting metadata about the book, its settings or its author. Some of this stuff has more to do with the e-book's usage in other services (e.g. imagine virtual book club social network groups), and some about opening the format to others (e.g. metadata).

Some of this is publishers not getting that these things can ultimately sell more books than their piracy-paranoid policies are saving in lost sales. Part of it is them rightly being scared that ultimately their role in the ecosystem may be less needed than before.

I think that if conversations in publisher board rooms are focused around "how do we ensure they pay?" instead of "how do we make the e-version of this book the most engaging and valuable, and how do we make it reach the most people?", those publishers are going to lose. The forward thinking ones asking the latter question, they are at least thinking in the right direction.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review: Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing is a collection of Neal Stephenson work from various places over the past two decades. Most of it is available elsewhere and much of it for free, but the book gives you a one stop shop for it all.

Those looking for Stephenson's thoughts on real-world technologies and issues will find much of that here. There's less of his short fiction here thought that exists a bit too. I found I'd already read about a quarter of the material elsewhere, but got some value out of the remainder.

Most of it holds up pretty well, despite some being pretty dated. There's a fictional piece about virtual currencies generated around crypto algorithms which is particularly prescient. Basically nailing the whole e-spying thing and envisioning Bitcoin... in 1995!

There's a VERY lengthy piece, though a fascinating one, about how data cables are laid down on the ocean floor between countries and continents. Fascinating but wow is it long. It was written for Wired originally. Did they not have an editor somewhere?

In the end, expect some thought provoking work, but one bloated piece and a few that don't hold up as well.

Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Review: Angelmaker

I loved this book. Angelmaker is steampunk adventure with a noire flavor to it, in which a simple clockmaker, Joe Spork - made very much in the mold of Hitchhiker's Arthur Dent - happens upon an impossibly complicated bit of junk that turns out to be much more than he'd imagined. Its something that many people want and some of those people are not good people, and some of them are very, very bad. He is forced to become more than he imagines he can be to survive it all, let alone figure out what the oddity does.

It would be an imaginative romp at that, but oh, the characters. This is where the book really shines. Ruthless rule-bending policemen, a megalomaniac ruler of an asiatic kingdom, a gruesome serial killer,  a society of undertakers, every color of mobster found in the british underworld, mad scientists, faceless veiled monks, a band of octogenarian grannies turned torturers, and the most libidinous spy ever to come from pen being put to paper... these all come together for a fantastic adventure of the kind that makes you want to grab strangers on the street and tell them they must read this book.

There are some some serious things under all of this that the author is trying to say - about the erosion of civil liberties and granting of unchecked power in the name of anti-terrorism, and about the meaning of truth in dimensions. You can ponder these if you wish, or let them sail by while enjoying the ride.

A bit of trivia: The author, Nick Harkaway, is the son of John Le Carre, and when I learned this, suddenly the book's flashbacks to WWII-era and cold-war spy stuff seemed all the better. In some cases being reminiscent of Le Carre, and in other cases deliberately more fantastical. I've added his other two books to my to-read list.

The book takes a while to get going but it's worth it. The author takes the time to dial up the color and character on all of these pieces, so that he can set them all together into a tightly wound bit of story machine that goes off like clockwork.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

OK it's over, but was it really a "Revolution"?

Here is a Good article by Tadhg Kelly that many others have linked to this weekend. While it's good and nails a few of the key trends at play, there's a couple things in the article that don't sit well with me. I'm not sure I can do much better, but here are a few points to consider.

Tadhg points us to the recent goldrush(es) around Social and Mobile games, specifically naming 5 trends (social customer acquisition, a 'price crash', distribution at scale, game metrics focus, and lower development cost (for mobile and social), and then goes on to knock on why each of those is coming to an end.

While he's correct about all five, it's the way they are lumped together that makes me a bit uncomfortable. In some areas they are trends affecting different areas entirely, in some areas with overlap, but by casting them all as part of this single "revolution", it's somewhat misleading.

In saying Social Stopped Working, he's correct that easy, exploitive viral channels were closed, and that customer acquisition costs went up - but it's unfair to dismiss social-viral potentiality altogether. e.g. Its a bit unfair to say that Words With Friends winning over Lexulous is entirely due to customer acquisition spend. There are design elements involved that make WWF a game with higher potential of distribution (e.g. they were quicker to add push-notification of turns, and have an end-game mechanic that leads to active-games growth)

His points about cost-of-entry going up (in terms of cost of acquisition and the points he makes about production costs) are right on the money, and are typical of any maturing market. We saw this happen in PC Casual, XBLA, heck, I remember a time when people used to say "4 guys in a garage can do it relatively cheaply!" about PC first person shooters. There's nothing new here. However, when lumping together to social vs mobile categories - what I view as two separate gold rushes with overlapping but different timelines and trends - it confuses the discussion somewhat.

In any case. It's a good article. The trends are real and should be considered when thinking about how they'll effect your business. And in the end, any attempt we make to classify them as a single market, or single trend or a single 'revolution' are all just definitions we're artificially placing on these things anyway. I'm reminded of the Richard Feynman quote:

"...although we humans cut nature up in different ways, and we have different courses in different departments, such compartmentalization is really artificial, and we should take our intellectual pleasures where we find them."
So it is here that any distinction we make into different compartments is artificial - models for us to try and understand the changes afoot. We should take lessons where we can find them, be they pleasurable ones or otherwise.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

I've been whittling away for a while at Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation and finished it today. I really liked it.

That isn't to say I agreed with everything in it. Like many books with broad theories like this one, I feel he tries too hard to extend it too far. Regardless, it's provocative and made me think a great deal.

The short version is that Johnson examines the different environments in which innovation takes place (think open/liquid networks like educational institutions vs closed networks like corporate labs - or networked collaborative efforts vs 'lone genius inventors', etc) and shows the strengths and weaknesses to each and where they each have a role under different environmental conditions.

He goes to great lengths to make a case that ideas thrive and multiply in the same way that organisms do, taking great pains to make comparisons to darwinian models and the like. At times he stretches it too far, in my opinion, but I'll forgive him as it's provocative.

The book will make you think, as it did for me, about your "idea networks" and how you might improve them, and about what the right approach for your company or organization might be given the current environment. In my opinion, a book that makes you think and gives you a few novel ideas is always worth it, even if there are elements you disagree with.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Book Review: Digital Typography

This is an older book - over 20 years old. I knew going in that it would be dated, especially since it deals with tech details of getting type on screen. As such, some pieces no longer apply.

However, I wanted something that got to the fundamental principles of getting typo on screen, and in that sense the book offers some really interesting insights. There is some real gold in here that is timeless, both in terms of the history of type and why certain things are done the way they are as well as some good research cited that actually quantifies things like how reading speed or comprehension vary with, say, margin width or line leading (just to name two examples - there are many).

I also really liked the list of suggested areas for R&D - sort of an unsolved problems list from 20 years ago, many of which still apply.

Digital Typography: An Introduction to Type and Composition for Computer System Design

Book Review: Stories I Only Tell My Friends

My wife picked up Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography by Rob Lowe as an audio book at the library. After recounting some pieces of it to me, I decided to give it a shot.

It was entertaining, and had some really interesting back-stories to the creation of some great (and some not-so-great) movies. The back story on The Outsiders, in particular was pretty interesting, as was that of The West Wing.

It's a little self-indulgent at times, but Lowe is more honest with himself than, say, Keith Richards in his autobio.

As a plus, I recommend the audiobook as Lowe narrates it, and his impersonations of other actors are quite amazing.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: Bananas

United Fruit was the biggest and most ruthless multi-national corporation that most people have never heard of. Long before Coca Cola, McDonalds, GM, and Starbucks spread across the globe, United Fruit was ruling nations, toppling governments, and exploiting workers all in the name of bringing fresh bananas to first world breakfast tables.

There's an interesting, convoluted history here. It drags a bit at times, but in others is quite exciting. Not many business histories involve boatloads of mercenaries landing ashore and enacting regime change. Their long slow downfall to their current form (no longer a powerful monopoly) is interesting too. Interesting that a company nearly untouchable by presidents, would one day end up with the CEO throwing himself out his office window. Pick it up if you are curious.

Bananas: How the United Fruit Company Shaped the World

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

More Signs of the (3D Printed) future

These two pieces appeared on BoingBoing this week:

1. First this piece, about a synthesizer manufacturer who, finding it cost-ineffective to produce and ship replacement knobs/buttons/sliders, has opted to release the 3D models for free, to allow people to either 3D print them themselves, order them from places like Shapeways.

2. Secondly this piece, which needs the BoingBoing parargaph copied to make a point:

Defense Distributed is a collective that raised $20,000 in BitCoins to lease a 3D printer and develop and prototype a 3D printed pistol. Stratasys, the manufacturer of the printer, seized it from the home of Defense Distributed's Cody Wilson, after a heated email exchange

Re-read that. A real story involving crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, a digital alternative currency, 3D printing, and the war on general purpose computing, all in one tidy paragraph. Welcome to the future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: The Technologists

The Technologists is a Fun little thriller/whodunit based in late 19th century Boston. Call it 'Historical fiction with a pinch of steampunk'. The first graduating class of the newly-founded MIT are forced to band together to get to the bottom of a series of technology-based disasters that befall the  city.

The book started out a bit weak, with the period-centric language feeling forced, and some of the character motivations feeling excessively contrived (e.g. in several places in the book, anti-technology folk stop their violence/rioting/etc to pontificate on the evils of science and technology). The science used to create the disasters is contrived and implausible, but this is as forgivable as that used in your average Bond flick.

The book really comes together in later chapters though. A good thriller like this, upon revealing who's behind the wrong-doing, should have you exclaiming "I should have known it was him! The signs were there all along!". The author accomplishes this several times over, only then to pull the reader back to realize that the given character wasn't the culprit after all. The author did a good job doing this, making the last few chapters worth the few groans induced during the earlier parts of the book.

The Technologists: A Novel

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Review: A.D.D: Adolescent Demo Division

I find Douglas Rushkoff a provocative thinker about media theory, so when I heard he'd co-authored a graphic novel related to the subject, I put it on the to-read list and recently picked it up at my public library.

A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division centers around a group of teenage professional gamers in a near-future where reality TV, pro gaming leagues and mega-corp marketing collide. The result is part X-men, part Enders Game, and part MTV's Real World.

While that might sounds like an interesting setup, the book has many flaws and so I can't strongly recommend it.

On the positive side, the artwork is clean and well done. I find many modern graphic novels leave me lost, artisitic ambition sacrificing a clear indicator of where the reader's eyes should go next. ADD doesn't suffer from this. Additionally, there are some interesting bits of near-term sci-fi in the setting.

What it does suffer from is a poor connection to the story, especially at the end when it's never fully revealed what the evil corporation is actually up to. Additionally, the excessive use of slang and offensive language (think lots of boner jokes, towel-snapping shower, and cyber-porn-tugging scenes) may have been used to make it clear that these are teenage boys lacking parenting (a pinch of Lord of the Flies in there), it comes off as flat and forced, hurting more than helping the story.

If I had to rate it, I'd give it 2/5. YMMV. A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Console Volumes over time

Martin Hollis tweeted a link to this very nice graph comparing the console "Generations" and their total unit volumes:

It's a nice graph, despite the chronological order being right to left.

It's a rough swag to group by generation as it is, since launch dates and end-of-life dates have only some alignment. Since some liberties were already taken, and I was curious, I did two things:

- Aligned the generations by date, picking a rough data for "mid life cycle"
- Normalized to 2010 numbers for population size. I used the sum of US, Japan, UK, France, Germany, as my proxy for "first world", as that's where most consoles are sold anyhow.

The resultant graph looks like this (going left to right with time)

Sort of more telling I think. Question is whether the current plateau is an anomaly, or whether we've saturated the market for consoles. A good second question is what this would look like if you removed the portion of Wii sales that were "fad customers", and whether that's fair to do in trying to preduct the next gen numbers.

Anyhow, food for thought.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Hello, Skater Girl

I backed my friend Julian Bleecker's book Hello, Skater Girl on Kickstarter and just received my copy.

Julian spent well over a year photographing skateboarding girls in Venice Beach and it shows in his photos. He not only captures some great action shots, but shots of the girls eating, laughing, etc, and as a result you get a nice little snapshot of a particular sub-culture community.

Here's a nice video he did that captures the spirit of making the book, and gives you a feel for the book itself.

It's a really pretty book that makes a nice addition to a collection of photo books, if you are into such things. I'm also looking forward to my daughter consuming it some day, not in hopes that she'll become a skater, but rather that she'll see that girls can do whatever they want - even things that some think are just for boys.

My only complaint is that I'd have loved for some of the back story (much of which is on Julian's blog) about the shoots to have made it into the book. Now, that would have changed the nature of the book itself, which is purely a photo book, so I'll forgive him for not including it, and now you've got an excuse to pour through his blog too. (As an example of what I mean, read this page, about climbing "Seal-Team-6" style into the back yard of a condemned 70's house, and it makes the photos of skating the pool that much sweeter.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Neuromancer

I'd never read William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk thriller, Neuromancer but have had it on the to-read list for a long time. It holds up well, and is amazingly prescient given that it was written in 1984. Not only did he coin 'cyberspace', but think about where your concept of computers and networking in nineteen eighty frikkin four and then imagine, "The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games. …Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation". Holy balls.

As visionary as Blade Runner, in some ways more so.

As an aside, I now look upon The Matrix in a whole different light. So much of it was clearly lifted from Neuromancer. I'm surprised there wasn't more talk of it at the time that movie came out.

Anyhow, if you've never read it, do yourself a favor and do so. Get a recent copy as it'll have updates from the author with some perspective on the time since it's writing.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Book Review: The Windup Girl

I loved The Windup Girl. Biotech steampunk. Monsanto-styled shocktroops. Blade Runner's neon and steel city of the future, but powered by springs and compost. Takes a little while to get going but wow, when it does, it's great. It's sci-fi at it's best in the sense that the author uses a superbly envisioned future to frame social commentary about biotech, genetic modification of food and animals, and corporations holding patents over such things. Some of the characters are a little flat but I'll forgive him that given how well the rest of the book executed.

 The Windup Girl

Friday, August 17, 2012

Signs the Future is Already Here (biotech edition)

Couple things that came across my radar this week, despite being a few years old.

1) Doggie DNA testing service.

Unsure of the pedigree of that mutt you got at the point? Test their DNA and get a family tree of breeds.

2) Genetically-modded fish, trademarked, owned, and available for purchase as pets!

I was at the petstore with the kids and saw some day-glow (tropical looking) freshwater fish for sale. I noticed a (r) beside the name, Glofish, and thought, hmm, maybe they are GMO fish? Sure enough, yes.

(photo from

Anyhow, this would have been the stuff of sci-fi only a couple years ago. Hmm....

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Distrust That Particular Flavor

Usually, I'm not a fan of these types of books, where a publisher has persuaded an author to throw together a bunch of previously published articles, talks, and the like, into a collection for sake of putting it on a shelf.

That said, I found this book pretty good for a couple reasons: (1) It was interesting to learn some background on Gibson's writing process and his, well, I'll call it 'observational research'. (2) There were some interesting bits of background on books of his that I read that gave me new appreciation for them (e.g. I feel much better about Pattern Recognition now), and (3) it was interesting to read these different pieces from over a decade or two, that were each mini-time capsules of futurism, upon which Gibson gives some additional commentary.

If you like speculative fiction and near-term futurism, this is a good read.

Distrust That Particular Flavor

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review: Logicomix

For a while now I've been whittling away at Logicomix, a graphic novel about the life of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. I've never had any particular urge to learn about him, but I saw several positive reviews of the book popping up from time to time so I decided to give it a whirl.

While the book is loosely a biography, it really uses this for it's real purpose, providing the reader with a history of the development of logic at the turn of the last century. In doing so, it uses Russell as a central figure but also talks of the work of Frege, Pointecare, even up to Turing (the latter mentioned only later in the book as a 'look where this lead' type of example).

One complaint is that I would have liked some of the subjects treated in Scott-McCloud-style graphic illustration, while they instead are treated only with text, with the illustration just being of Russell or someone else discussing the idea.

In covering these subjects so sweepingly and in graphic novel form, it doesn't go into the detail some might want, but it does give a palpable sense of the different schools of thought prevalent at different times and how they evolved. This it does in a pretty compelling way, in a book that's interesting and beautifully illustrated.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: A Short History Of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything is a brief history of the physical sciences.

Bryson takes the reader through an introduction to geology, paleontology, nuclear physics, chemistry and a host of other topics. The book is both a crash course in how they work and fit together, as well as the history of each field.

The coverage is pretty lightweight (it would have to be, for this wide a set of topics) and humorous as Bryson pulls numerous memorable trivia and stories on the persons involved. Anyone who's a fan of James Burke (of Connections fame) will find this book to their liking.

 The only down side I can think of is that he goes on a tangent of doom-and-gloom for a while, which I found was laid on a little thick, but I still quite enjoyed the book.

 A Short History of Nearly Everything