Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: Robopocalypse

Robopocalypse 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.


Book Review: Griftopia

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

Book Review: The Information

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

Book Review: Metatropolis

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.