My Books Read in the Last Year

Another year, another book list.  I read less book this year than last, but over two thousand more pages!  Here’s the list:

January
2.) Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
4.) Debt: The First 5000 Years – Peter Graeber
5.) Warmth Disperses and Time Passes: The History of Heat – Hans Christian von Baeyer
7.) Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography – Hew Strachan
8.) Tanks in the Cities: Breaking the Mold – Kendall D. Gott
February
March
13.) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – Eliezer Yudkowsky
15.) A Magic Broken – Vox Day (Novella)
17.) Shadow of the Hegemon (Ender Wiggin Saga) – Orson Scott Card
18.) Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology – Rosemary Radford Ruether
19.) Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale – Ian Morgan Cron
April
24.) The Last Stand of Fox Company – Bob Drury and Tom Clavin
27.) Liberation Theologies: The Global Pursuit of Justice – Alfred T. Hennelly, S.J.
28.) Human Security in a Borderless World – Derek S. Reveron and Kathleen A. Mahoney-Norris
31.) The Mathematics of Life – Ian Stewart
May
40.) Worm: The First Digital World War – Mark Bowden
June
44.) Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
45.) Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War – Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss
46.) How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth – Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart
July
51.) Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty – Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
August
54.) Beginning Programming – Adrian and Kathie Kingsley-Hughes
55.) Sure Fire (Rich & Jade #1) – Jack Higgins with Justin Richards
56.) Just My Type: A Book About Fonts – Simon Garfield
60.) Head First HTML and CSS – Elisabeth Robson and Eric Freeman
September
63.) Star Wars: Scoundrels – Timothy Zahn
66.) Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Think – Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier
October
67.) The Tao of Programming – Geoffrey James
November
68.) The Myriad: Tour of the Merrimack #1 – R. M. Meluch
69.) Caliphate – Tom Kratman
70.) Kris Longknife: Mutineer (Kris Longknife #1) – Mike Shepherd
71.) Shadow Puppets (Ender’s Shadow series) – Orson Scott Card
72.) Starting Out With Visual Basic 2012 – Tony Gaddis and Kip Irvine
December
73.) Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things – Ken Wytsma with D. R. Jacobsen
74.) The City: A Global History – Joel Kotkin
79.) Theology: A Very Short Introduction – David F. Ford
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My Books Read in the Last Year

I read quite a bit last year, with an emphasis on linguistics, Counterinsurgency, complexity, and mathematics.  Fiction, as always was scattered throughout the year.  Lots of good links below; I encourage you to check them out, along with the reviews I did of several of them…

January
1) Your Child’s Growing Mind: A Guide to Learning and Brain Development from Birth to Adolescence – Jane M. Healey, Ph.D
2) Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) – Jeffrey Kluger
3) The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
4) A New Kind of Science – Stephen Wolfram
5) Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power – Robert D. Kaplan
6) The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity – Richard Florida (My review here)
7) Language: The Big Picture – Peter Sharpe (my review here)
8) Understanding Physics: Volume 1: Motion, Sound, and Heat (Understanding Physics) – Isaac Asimov
9) Seven Firefights in Vietnam – John A. Cash, et al.  (My review here)

February
10) Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages – Guy Deutscher (My review here)
11) Chaos Theory Tamed – Garnett P. Williams
12) Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity – John Gribbin (My review here)
13) The Defense of Jisr al-Doreaa: With E. D. Swinton’s “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift” – Michael Burgoyne and Albert Marckwardt (My review here)
14) The Age of the Unthinkable , Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It – Joshua Cooper Ramo
15) The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) – Graham Greene
16) Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq – Patrick Cockburn
17) Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life – Len Fisher
18) Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language – Seth Lerer (My review here)
19) Migration: Species Imperative #2 – Julie Czerneda
20) Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology – David S. Richeson
21) Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi (My review here)
22) Chicago Blues – Edited by Libby Fischer Hellmann

March
23) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Dan Pink
24) The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why – Richard E. Nisbett
25) Pink Boots and a Machete: My Journey From NFL Cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer – Mireya Mayor (My review here)
26) A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines – Anthony Bourdain
27) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World – Liaquat Ahamed (My review here)
28) Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions – Lisa Randall
29) The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way – Bill Bryson
30) Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents – Robert A. Cutietta

April
31) Thought Contagion – Aaron Lynch (My review here)
32) Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia 2) – C.S. Lewis
33) Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
34) Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Open Market Edition) – Duncan J. Watts
35) The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention – Guy Deutscher
36) Hardwired – Walter Jon Williams
37) The Next Decade: Where We’ve Been . . . and Where We’re Going – George Friedman

May
38) Almost Human: Making Robots Think – Lee Gutkind
39) Understanding Physics: Volume 2: Light, Magnetism and Electricity – Isaac Asimov
40) Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) – Robert B. Cialdini
41) Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do – Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
42) The Secret Servant (Gabriel Allon) – Daniel Silva
43) Pittsburgh Noir (Akashic Noir) – Edited by Kathleen George
44) Freedom (TM) – Daniel Suarez
45) Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots – Gareth Branwyn
46) The Traveler (Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book 1) – John Twelve Hawks
47) Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back – Douglas Rushkoff
48) Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Precious Resource – Peter Rogers and Susan Leal
49) Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants – Dennis Okholm

June
50) Counterinsurgency – David Kilcullen
51) Hunter’s Run – George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham
52) The Killing Ground (Sean Dillon) – Jack Higgins
53) One Shot (Jack Reacher, No. 9) – Lee Child
54) The Hard Way (Jack Reacher, No. 10) – Lee Child
55) Why Things Break: Understanding the World By the Way It Comes Apart – Mark E. Eberhart

July
56) Earth Strike: Star Carrier: Book One – Ian Douglas
57) Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese – Robert D. Kaplan
58) The Post-American World: Release 2.0 – Fareed Zakaria
59) Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer – Novella Carpenter
60) The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization – Bryan Ward-Perkins
61) The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century – Thomas X. Hammes
62) Four Colors Suffice: How the Map Problem Was Solved – Robin Wilson
63) How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel – Piers Bizony
64) The X in Sex: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives – David Bainbridge
65) The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World – Peter Schwartz

August
66) The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine – Francis S. Collins
67) The Scar – China Mieville
68) The Profession: A Thriller – Steven Pressfield (My review here)
69) Symmetry: A Journey into the Patterns of Nature – Marcus du Sautoy
70) The Five Chinese Brothers (Paperstar) – Claire Hutchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese
71) Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America – Matt Taibbi
72) How to Talk to Your Child About Sex: It’s Best to Start Early, but It’s Never Too Late — A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents – Linda and Richard Eyre
73) The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris – David McCullough
74) Havoc – Jack DuBrul
75) Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, Book 1) – David Brin
76) Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy – Steven Metz

September
77) The Rest of the Robots – Isaac Asimov
78) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things – William McDonough and Michael Braungart
79) 7th Sigma – Steven Gould
80) 50 Mathematical Ideas You Really Need to Know – Tony Crilly
81) The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life – Thomas W. Malone
82) Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier – Edward Glaeser
83) Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself – Dan Pink

October
84) The Future of Management – Gary Hamel with Bill Breen
85) 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith – Sonia Arrison
86) The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics – Karl Sabbagh
87) Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity (Great Discoveries) – David Foster Wallace
88) The Final Warning (Maximum Ride, Book 4) – James Patterson
89) Re-read Where Eagles Dare – Alistair MacLean
90) The Caryatids – Bruce Sterling

November
91) Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality – Jonathan Weiner
92) Mathematical Mysteries: The Beauty and Magic of Numbers (Helix Books) – Calvin C. Clawson
93) The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity – Amir D. Aczel
94) Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes – Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
95) Reamde: A Novel – Neal Stephenson
96) The Poincare Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe – Donal O’Shea

December
97) Euclid’s Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace – Leonard Mlodinow
98) Millennium Problems – Keith Devlin
99) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
100) Godel’s Proof (Revised Edition) – Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman
101) Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon #8) – Daniel Silva
102) The Bourne Legacy – Eric van Lustbader
103) Beautiful Outlaw: Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus – John Eldredge
104) Count Down: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad – Steve Olson
105) The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets – Alan Boss

Review of Linked: The New Science of Networks

As I’ve noted previously, I’ve been exploring the science of complexity these last few months, trying to get a feel for the different subfields and how it can be applied to various real world issues. One of the areas in the field of Complexity is that of Network Science.

Linked:  The New Science of Networks by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi is a useful overview of the field.  It’s an easy read that covers a broad amount of the field and is a good layman’s introduction to network theory.  He shows that the world around us can be described in terms of Networks, and comments on how they are formed, what forms they take, and how they grow.  Note:  This is one of my longer reviews, and I left a lot out!

Barabasi starts off with one of the most famous network problems of history: the bridges of Konigsberg.  He shows how the problem can be solved using nodes and links, which was discovered by Leonhard Euler.  This segues into a discussion of graph theory and its history. Graph theory describes a network as a collection of links and nodes.  How to connect these nodes and the relations between them, as well as how the network grows in the first place, is the focus of the book.  Hr runs through a history, starting with random networks which although helpful in formulating basic laws, do not really describe real world networks.  He describes Stanley Milgram’s famous six degrees experiment and how Barabasi and his team researched it and found similarities in other networks of small worlds, where any node can reach any other node in a small number of jumps no matter how large the network.  He also talks about the strength of weak ties.

Clustering – each of us has a small number of close friends – is a key structure in networks and Barabasi talks about these and how a few links between them reduces the length between distant nodes.  Still, the nodes are all egalitarian and this is not how it works in real life.  Barabasi refers back to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, talking about connectors and hubs – which means they have more than the average number of links which the egalitarian model doesn’t allow.  Hubs are apparent in the Kevin Bacon Game and in airline networks, among others.  The distribution follows a Power Law rather than a bell curve.  These networks are “scale-free” since there is no average node.

A discussion Of Pareto’s 80 / 20 law and a discussion of “phase transitions” follows, and how understanding them helps us to see how hubs appear in networks.  He notes that networks grow and are not static, and that counterintuitively just because a hub is old doesn’t mean it will get the most links – although that does play a role.  There is “preferential attachment” – nodes prefer to link to nodes that already have a lot of links.  Google today is a perfect example.  In other words, the rich get richer…

A basic prediction of scale-free networks is that the first mover will have an advantage in forming the most links.  In real life networks, however, this isn’t the case.  This is because contrary to the assumption that all links are the same, they instead are all different with different intrinsic properties.  This is defined as fitness.  More fit nodes will end up with more links.  This is complementary to preferential attachment which only examines the number of links.  It also shows that the number of links is therefore independent of when the node joins the network.

In an intriguing chapter,  Barabasi then turns to the weaknesses of a highly-interconnected network.  Most networks in nature are highly interconnected and are also highly robust in that the failure of one component won’t take down the whole network.  Barabasi and his team investigated this phenomenon.  They found that for these networks, removing a large number of nodes typically had little or no effect on the functioning of the network.  This is due to the hubs model – removing nodes randomly eliminates a large number of tiny nodes and not very many hubs, which preserves the integrity of the network since the tiny nodes aren’t very interconnected.  However, if the Hubs are specifically AND simultaneously targeted, the network will quickly break apart.  This, then is the primary weakness of these networks.  they are not vulnerable to accident, but are highly vulnerable to attack.  This applies to both man-made and natural networks from the internet to food webs.  Cascading failures can happen when the load from a failed node is shifted to other nodes that are unable to handle the load, whereupon they fail and pass it on to yet more nodes that cannot handle the load, and so on.  This is what happens during blackouts and rolling power failures and in denial of service attacks on routers.  These happen in dynamic networks and still need researched.


Using these findings of network theory, Barabasi discusses the spread of ideas, fads, and viruses, using as examples AIDS, computer viruses, jokes, and hybrid corn.   Malcolm Gladwell covers some of this in The Tipping Point.  One of the more surprising findings was that the rate of spread does not depend on virulence.  The solution is to target the cures to the hubs.  In AIDS, this would involve targeting the people who are most likely spreading the virus (those with many partners) as opposed to those who don’t (people with only one or two partners).  There are, obviously, ethical questions associated with this course of action.  Barabasi also examines the resilience of today’s internet (the physical infrastructure as opposed to the World Wide Web).  Instead of being a mesh as it was originally designed inj the 1950s, the Internet is more of a hub and spoke model that has grown organically.   This is why the Internet, too, is vulnerable to an attack on Hubs, rather than being perfectly resilient.  It also enables “parasitic computing,” where your computer can be “hijacked” and used to perform functions for a computer thousands of miles away – this is done with spam, for example.  It can also be used voluntarily, as in SET@Home or research into protein-folding.  Another question asked is that as the Internet continues to grow across the planet as it is connected to computers and sensors and cell-phones, will it eventually become self-aware?

One surprising thing about the World Wide Web is how difficult it can be to find information, even though theoretically the amount of information is limitless.  Google, surprisingly, indexes less than 25% of all the pages out there!  Worse yet, despite the fact that most webpages are separated by an average of nineteen links, due to the architecture of the Web, only 24% of pages can be reached by surfing from one to the other.  This is due to the structure of the Web: it is a Directed Network.  Barabasi describes this in detail.  Also, due to these properties, sections of the web can be partitioned off – providing a tool for control of access.  However, the topology of the Web as described here is much more effective than a government at keeping a website hidden!  Barabasi notes that the Web is little understood and a great deal more time and attention should be paid to understanding it.


Networks are common, and especially so in biology.  Barabasi also discusses how network theory can be applied to business and the economy.  He posits that to compete organizations need to go from a tree hierarchy to a web or network instead.  They will also participate in ever interconnected webs with suppliers and customers.  He shows how members of boards of corporations are ever more interconnected with hubs – 20% of them serve on more than one board.  The degree of separation of boards of directors is only three!


In conclusion, Barabasi summarizes:  “…though real networks are not as random…as envisioned, chance and randomness do play an important role in their construction.  Real networks are not static, as all graph theoretical models were until recently.  Instead, growth plays a role in shaping their topology.  They are not as centralized as a star network is.  Rather, there is a hierarchy of hubs that keep these networks together, a heavily connected node followed by several less connected ones, trailed by dozens of even smaller nodes. ”  There is no center, or controller, in the middle of the network that could be removed to destroy the web.  They are instead self-organized with emergent behavior.  Al-Qaeda is an example of a web organization, which is why the United States military – a hierarchical tree organization – has had trouble battling it.  Barabasi suggests that “We must eliminate the need and desire of the nodes to form links to terrorist organizations by offering them a chance to belong to more constructive and meaningful webs.”  We can do this by attacking “…the underlying social, economic, and political roots that fuel the network’s growth.”  Barabasi sees the future of network theory as understanding complexity and “move beyond structure and topology and start focusing on the dynamics that take place along the links.”


The Great Depression and today

In his book Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke The World, Liquat Ahamed writes the story of the Great Depression of 1929 by following the lives of the Central Bankers of four of the leading countries of the time – France, Germany, England, and the United States. It is a new perspective to me, and while I don’t pretend to know all the differences between the Austrian School and the Keynesians, I thought it was very interesting. Reviews of the book are generally positive although there are followers of Austrian theory that state that Ahamed, who worked in the past for the World Bank, is too accepting of Keynes.

Again, I’m not well read enough in economic theory to say. Ahamed does make a case that the slavish adherence to the gold standard by these men was a prime cause of the Great Depression and that the ultimate cause was a “…series of misjudgments by economic policy makers” both in the decade before and during the Great Depression. By economic policy makers he refers to the politicians and the central bankers of the era. An item that caught my eye was the fact that the Great Depression was the confluence of a number of cascading failures:

* “The contraction in the German economy that began in 1928

* The Great Crash on Wall Street in 1929

* The serial bank panics that affected the United States from the end of 1930

* The unraveling of European finances in the summer of 1931″

Ahamed compares these to (respectively):

* The Mexican Peso crisis in 1994

* The bursting of the Dot-Com bubble in 2000

* The financial crisis of 2007-8

* The Asian Flu of 1997-8

He states that had these events occurred together, we may have seen a financial disaster of the scale of the Great Depression. There are, however, a number of financial bloggers that believe that we are indeed headed for one anyway, and that the crisis of 2007-8 isn’t really over…

Some other items from the book I thought were interesting:

* Before World War I, Norman Angell, a British journalist, wrote a book called Europe’s Optical Illusion. In it, he stated that “…the economic benefits of war were so illusory…and the commercial and financial linkages between countries now so extensive that no rational country should contemplate starting a war. The economic chaos, especially the disruptions to international credit, that would ensue from a war among the Great Powers would harm all sides and the victor would lose as much as the vanquished. Even if war were to break out in Europe by accident, it would speedily be brought to an end.” Both Tom Friedman and Tom Barnett (especially with respect to China) make similar arguments today – let’s hope they’re not as wrong as Angell was when he was “…trusting too much in the rationality of nations and seduced by the extraordinary economic achievements of the era.”

* Related to the above: “The argument that it was was not so much the cruelty of war as its economic futility that made it unacceptable as an instrument of state power struck a cord in that materialistic era.”

* An English newspaper article after the 1884 panic on the New York Stock Exchange: “The English, however speculative, fear poverty. The Frenchman shoots himself to avoid it. The American with a million speculates to win ten, and if he takes losses takes a clerkship with equanimity. This freedom from sordidness is commendable, but it makes a nation of the most degenerate gamesters in the world.”

* The signs of a mania: “…the progressive narrowing in the number of stocks going up, the nationwide fascination with the activities of Wall Street, the faddish invocations of a new era, the suspension of every conventional standard of financial rationality, and the rabble enlistment of an army of amateur and ill-informed speculators betting on the basis of rumors and tip sheets.” Indeed, ten percent of households were in the market in 1929.

* Almost a third of the speculators were female. There were even special brokerage houses set up to cater to only women.

* “One is led to the inescapable but unsatisfying conclusion that the bull market of 1929 was so violent and intense and driven by passions so strong that the Fed could do nothing about it. Every official had tried to talk it down. The president was against it; Congress too; even the normally reticent secretary of the treasury had spoken out. But it was remarkable how difficult it was to kill it. All that the Fed could do, it seemed, was to step aside and let the frenzy burn itself out. By trying to stand up to the market and then failing, it simply made itself look as impotent as everybody else.”

All in all, I thought it was a well-written summary of the actions and lives of the Central Bankers of the era, and it was an easy read. Whether or not you agree with the Keynesians or the Austrians, you should definitely read this book as a way of beginning to understand the events of the last few years…and where we could be headed in the future.

Gen Y vs. Gen X

I like to think of myself as being pretty up to date with technology, but something happened the other day that showed me I’m getting old.

I was in the bathroom at work- a fairly conservative engineering firm – and I was done with my business and washing my hands, when I heard beeping and booping and music from the the stalls.  Then I heard the sound of a laser firing and a hit being made.

Okay, I admit that a lot of guys take newspapers and magazines to the bathroom.  Personally, I don’t get it because I don’t enjoy sitting there with my pants down and smelling the, uh, smells.  But whatever.

I gotta say, though, this is the first time I’ve heard anyone take a videogame into the bathroom instead!

Am I just getting old? Or is this pretty normal?

Scott

Thoughts on the Future of Work

Lately I’ve been following Penelope Trunk’s thoughts on the future of work, as well as Richard Florida’s thoughts on the future of cities  (See also All About Cities, an excellent blog on…cities!).  Add to that Jamais Cascio’s thoughts on the Metaverse, and it’s a lot of food for thought.

 

Here are Penelope’s predictions:

 

1.) The end of gender disparity
2.)
The end of the stay-at-home parent
3.)
The end of the grind
4.)
The end of “work friends”
5.)
The end of office life
6.)
The end of consulting
7.)
The end of hierarchy
 

I’m not so sure.  Coming as I do from Pittsburgh, a conservative town, most of this stuff is FAR from reality.  Even with Gen Y coming in to the workplace, very little has changed.  And most of the X’ers I know just adapt – indeed, are co-opted – into the conservative culture.  Five days in the cube, with extra hours when necessary.  No special perks or cool offices.  And everyone goes home at the end of the day and work and home are completely separate arenas, as far as friends, anyway.  Believe me, hierarchy is alive and well here.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason we have outmigration.

Perhaps in tech firms it’s different, but as far as I can see in the engineering industry and the banking industry nothing has changed here.

 

When it comes to parenting and work, most households I know have both parents working full time jobs.  A few, like mine, have one parent working while the other stays home.  We pay the price in that we can’t afford some of the things that others can – for example, we’re still in an apartment although we’re saving for a house.  It also leads to friction since the stay at home parent feels like they work more than a full time job and can’t understand why the wage-earning parent wants to relax in the evening since they don’t get a chance to relax.

 

I want to explore this more in the coming days.  Telecommuting is rare here (as a regular practice, anyway) since most employers are conservative Boomer types.  Gil Schwartz wrote an article in Men’s Health Best Life magazine where he demolishes the idea of telecommuting.  He questions why he would want an employee that doesn’t want to be in the office.  It’s a bit tongue in cheek, and totally opposed to Penelope and Ryan/Ryan’s Gen Y thoughts, but it rings true to me, at least here in Pittsburgh.

 

What are your thoughts?  Do you see a shift to more telecommuting?  Do you see a blending of work life and home life?  Are your friends at work and your friends at home the same or separate?  Is your organization flat or pretty hierarchical?  Let me know in the comments!

Scott

What I’ve Read Lately

 

Thomas Mellon and His Times, by Thomas A Mellon

This man was really something.  He was the Irish patriarch of the Mellon banking clan.  I don’t agree with everything he says but he definitely believed in hard work.  He also was very active in raising his children.  He made his fortune by taking his earnings from the law profession and investing in real estate and construction of houses, as well as coal mines and the like.  Some railroads and stuff.  And then the bank.  Very conservative, thorough, and detail oriented was Mr. Mellon. 

Surprisingly, Thomas Mellon states that you don’t have to be a salesman to be successful in business.  He was however, apparently a master networker.  He knew he was going to be a lawyer and met most of his future clients working in the prothonotary’s office, though.  The legacy he left to his heirs is amazing in that it has lasted a long time. 

Spook Country, by William Gibson 

Not as good as Pattern Recognition, but interesting nevertheless.  Learned about some interesting concepts, such as Spatially Tagged Hypermedia, or Locative Art.  Some other interesting things: 

  • “Music today is atemporal.” 
  • “Intelligence is advertising turned inside out.”
  • “The holding of knowledge in dignified privacy helps ensure desired results.” 

And oh yeah, about shipping containers, so I eventually want to read The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson.  Anybody ever notice how in the first episode of Firefly the crew of Serenity is at the Eavesdown Docks on Persephone and surrounded by shipping containers? (See pic at top of post from stillflying.net) Cool! 

The Golden Ratio, by Mario Livio 

An interesting book describing Phi, which is a mathematical ratio that somehow shows up naturally in nature, in music, in math.  I’ve always been interested in the Knights Templar, who apparently were interested in so-called “Sacred Geometry.”  Livio debunks the use of the ratio in many architectural wonders such as the Great Pyramid as well as in Renaissance art.  It’s doubtful, I suppose, that the Templars knew of it since the ratio made an appearance in Europe in the Renaissance and after their time, although they may have learned of it from the Arabs (who learned it from the Greeks!) and then kept it secret.  If so, Livio doesn’t comment on it.

Virtual Light, by William Gibson 

Part of his Bridge Trilogy.  The scenes involving the security guard, Rydell, weren’t as interesting as those involving Chevette and Yamazaki.  His portrayal of the squatters’ community on the bridge was great.  I liked how it shows that a neighborhood tends to grow organically and not by top down control.  (Ahem – I’m looking at you, Pittsburgh Government!  Luke, are you listening?) 

Made to Stick, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath 

An interesting read on how to make messages more interesting.  There are six characteristics of “sticky” messages – Simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, stories – the acronym is SUCCES.  The idea is to incorporate as many of these characteristics into your message as possible.  A perfect example is how urban legends stick in your mind years later but corporate initiatives don’t.  There’s more on Wikipedia and their website, but I recommend reading the book for both the examples and for the summary in the back of the book.

Scott

The Chris Brogan 100 on Social Media

Although I’ve been using the Internet since 1992, I was slow to join the Social Media bandwagon.  I first started reading blogs in 2004 or so, and I joined MySpace and LinkedIn in October of 2005.  I started blogging in August of 2006 and joined Facebook around the same time.  Still, it’s been an interesting, incredible, and rewarding journey since.

I met Chris Brogan in April of 2007 at Bootcamp Pittsburgh.  Chris has the enviable job of spreading the social media gospel by attending Bootcamps and Podcamps all around the country.  His blog is always interesting and informative.

For his next 100 posts, he plans to help people:

grow the value of your social media and social networking efforts. I will post specific strategies, tactics, tips, and resources to help you develop your skills and abilities in these areas, particularly insofar as these might help you develop your personal brand, build business for yourself or your organization, or otherwise perhaps be helpful to what interests you.  He’s currently accepting suggestions and requests for those 100 posts, so go over and check it out – and join the conversation!

 Scott

Dubai: Past and Future

In 1973, Robin Moore wrote a book called “Dubai,” which is now out of print and even banned in that country.  At the time, Dubai looked something like this:

  

(The pic is actually from 1990 but it’s close enough)

In 2007 Ben Mezrich wrote a book called Rigged, where the main character travels to Dubai.  Dubai looks like this now:

Surprisingly, only 6% of their GDP comes from oil wealth.  The rest comes from Trade, Real Estate, and Tourism.  Questions:

1.) Is it sustainable?

2.) Will the real estate boom continue?

3.) How will Peak Oil affect them? (most of their current trade has to do with that commodity)

4.) If you don’t believe in Peak Oil, how will alternate energy sources affect them?

5.) Should they build a solar cell farm in the desert?

6.) How will climate change affect them?

7.) How will US actions affect them – whether we pull out of Iraq or invade Iran?

8.) Seems to me it is in their interest to encourage moderate Arabs – developing the Arab nations will increase trade opportunities that have nothing to do with Oil.

Dubai is indeed an economic miracle and very tolerant of westerners.  But it seems to me that they have some hard questions and choices to face over the next ten years if they want to sustain their success.

Scott

3-D Printing and the Long Tail

I recently finished reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.  I was familiar with the concept already, being an avid blog reader, but the book fleshed out a few more concepts for me.

 

The basic idea of the long tail refers to a graph showing fewer products selling in large quantities versus many more products that sell in low quantities (Source).  Here’s picture of the graph:

 

It really shows how the world is simultaneously homogenizing and splitting into niches.  Hits will always be with us, of course, but also less well-known stuff.  Rankings help people to weed out the good from the bad and also find things they never would have found on their own.  For me, mostly, that’s been blogs, but it also has applied to books.

 

One of Anderson’s points is that as the cost of storage goes down the value of the long tail goes up.  Digital storage costs almost nothing, and that’s why downloading music results in better profits for the seller than if they have to send out a CD with a jewel case.  Still, you need to have a variety of ways, so some customers may prefer the seller do the burning for them, while others just want to download the stuff themselves and make their own CDs or put the music on their iPod.

 

One of the things I love about the blog world is that it results in synthesis.  I had just read a post by Neville Medhora about 3-D Printing and desktop manufacturing, where you can actually print out a product on your desk and I realized that’s the ultimate long tail.  Of course, then I got to the end of Anderson’s book and he points that out himself!

 

I want to take a look at a couple of things, though.

 

1.)        The long tail will be storing the manufacturing files (CAD, etc) digitally and making them

available for download.

 

2.)        Multiple designers can upload multiple designs for the same object.

 

3.)        Recommendations and reviews will help people to find the best designs.

 

4.)        If you don’t want to print it yourself, you can get the seller to do it and send it to you. (Multiple types of distribution)

 

4.)        People will find products they never even thought about

 

5.)        Designers will have a chance to show their work to anyone – this lowers the barriers to

entry.

 

6.)        Cost to store the digital files?  Low!  This is high profit for whoever stores the designs.

 

The problem of course is making the desktop manufacturing device affordable.  And getting it to the point where it can do more than print out a big piece of plastic.  It’s coming though, and it should be interesting to see how it all plays out!

 

Scott