Review of The Fall of the Roman Empire: a New History of Rome and the Barbarians

The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the BarbariansThe Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians by Peter Heather
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Certain questions are perennial, and one of those is why the Roman Empire fell. Peter Heather provides an explanation that is detailed and nuanced, and surely better than Edward Gibbon’s work. First of all, it was only the Western part that fell at the time he is writing about (5th century, basically), and there were certain accidents of fate that helped the outcome. At the same time, the Eastern part of the Empire remained strong and vibrant at least up until the rise of Islam in the 7th century, and technically the Easter empire did not fall until 1453 when the Ottoman Turks finally conquered Constantinople.

The fall of the western Empire was a complex phenomenon made possible primarily by changes in the political organization of the Germanic tribes (mostly Gothic) brought about by two different forces. One was the move of the Huns from the area to the east, who moved into the Hungarian plain in the 4th century and began absorbing Germanic groups into their own empire. And the other was the pressure from Rome itself. By its commerce, its military pressure, and its diplomacy, Rome essentially molded the Germanic tribes into larger and more effective political units that could seize the opportunities they were given as a result of military reverses Rome faced. And because the elite groups in the Empire held most of their wealth in the form of landed estates, once the balance of power began to shift they looked to transfer their allegiance to the new barbarian kingdoms. You can’t pick up land and take it with you, after all.

All in all, a very good book on the subject

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in eBooks, History | Tagged , | Comments Off on Review of The Fall of the Roman Empire: a New History of Rome and the Barbarians

Review of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security In An Uncertain World

Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain WorldBeyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World by Bruce Schneier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bruce wrote this book in 2003 as a response to 9/11 and how it lead to changes in security practices in the U.S. He criticizes many of the security measures taken as “security theater” that makes it look like something is being done without actually accomplishing anything useful. His criticisms probably are nothing terribly new to people 2013 when many people have come to similar conclusions, but what I think is more important in this book is that he attempts to lay out a way of thinking about security that is rational. Security can never be 100% in a world of human beings, and security always entails trade-offs that make it a cost-benefit decision. As an example, you would never hire an armed guard to protect your empty bottles for getting the 10 cent deposit back. That just doesn’t make sense. Bruce lays out a 5 point analysis you can do with any security plan that asks questions about what you are trying to protect, what are the costs of the protection, will the proposed solution actually work, etc. It is a good analysis and worth a read if you want to learn how to think intelligently about security.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in eBooks, Security | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Review of The Code Book

The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum CryptographyThe Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a very good review of the history on encryption and explains the basic principles involved. It is a lot like David Kahn’s The Code Breakers, but is available for a good deal less. Beginning with Herodotus and some secrecy measures from The Persian Wars, it then moves forward with Arab scholars, medieval developments, and right up to asymmetric public key encryption used today. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to get an overview of what the issues are, but is not looking to dive into the mathematics.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in eBooks, Security | Tagged , | Comments Off on Review of The Code Book

A Review of The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal

The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing PersonalThe Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal by M. Mitchell Waldrop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having just read Katie Hafner’s Where Wizard’s Stay Up Late I was ready to tackle this book, which is both deeper and more ambitious. Where Hafner’s book was purely about the origin of the Internet, Waldrop is taking on the whole idea of personal computing. Licklider thus provides the focus for this book, for while he played a crucial role in promoting networking, his true aim was always what he termed a symbiotic partnership between humans and computers, and for him networking was just a necessary step to getting there. That is one of the reasons Licklider provided crucial support to Doug Engelbart, for instance. And even when Licklider was out of the picture (during the heyday of Xerox PARC, for instance) Waldrop keeps his focus on the development of the personal computer. If you like this kind of history and want to know just who did what in those early days, this book is indispensable.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in Books, History, Technology | Comments Off on A Review of The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal

Review of Where Wizards Stay Up Late

Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The InternetWhere Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet by Katie Hafner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a classic book that sat on my shelf for a while and I just decided to pick it up and read. It was very rewarding. It tells the story of how the Internet came to be, and opens with one of the pioneers explaining that he wants to kill the myth that the Internet was designed to withstand a nuclear war. It wasn’t, and most of the people involved never thought about it (though Paul Baran did, apparently). But the way it happened is fascinating, and people who pulled this off were some of the best and brightest of technology. I recommend it highly.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in Books, History, Technology | Tagged , | Comments Off on Review of Where Wizards Stay Up Late

Tor Books Says Dropping DRM “Hugely Positive”

In a blog post by Julie Crisp of Tor Books UK, we get a progress report on the decision to drop DRM from their e-books. The big take-aways are:

  • There was no increase in piracy of their books from removing DRM. Julie says this could be because the SF community is close-knit, and authors and readers have a lot of contact. Of course, anyone who has ever gone to a Science Fiction convention knows how that works. I think what this reinforces for me is the idea that in this 21st century networked world, a relationship between the artist and the audience is a key factor in success.
  • They found that their authors, even the most commercially successful ones (like Peter F. Hamilton and China Mieville) were completely supportive of the move, and saw it as showing respect for the paying customers. And given the piracy results above, ti might appear that showing respect for your customers is more likely to encourage them to show respect for you.
  • They saw this as hugely positive, saying ” it’s helped establish Tor and Tor UK as an imprint that listens to its readers and authors when they approach us with a mutual concern—and for that we’ve gained an amazing amount of support and loyalty from the community.”

Now we need other publishers to learn from this, and maybe DRM in e-books can become a thing of the past.

Share
Posted in Books, eBooks | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Tor Books Says Dropping DRM “Hugely Positive”

Review of Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution

Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood SugarsDr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars by Richard K. Bernstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a life-changing book for me. I have been a Type 2 diabetic for a little over 10 years, and never quite got my blood sugars as low as my doctor would like. I tried following the recommended diets, but while the results were not awful, it was a constant struggle. Meanwhile, my medication doses were slowly rising, and my doctor started suggesting that maybe we would need to move to insulin injections. But since starting this book and understanding what Dr. Bernstein is saying, my blood sugars have been excellent, I am losing weight, and I feel like I am in control of my life. IF you or anyone you know is a diabetic, I urge you to look at this book.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in eBooks, Health | Comments Off on Review of Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution

Review of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity EvolvesThe Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book that I gave 3-stars to because parts of it are 5-star and parts are 1-star, so this is how it averages out. If you are reading to the right stuff, it is invaluable, but if you read it uncritically you would be making a big mistake.

First, the good stuff. Ridley does a great job of puncturing the “doom-and-gloom” view that everything is going wrong and the world is on a downhill slide. He points out that people having been saying this for a very long time, and events tend to prove them wrong. I’m reminded of the quote that was making the rounds in my youth about “kids these days…” and it turned out to have been written in ancient Greece over 2,000 years ago. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. A lot of that dim view comes form thinking unclearly. For instance, an example he notes is the famous Club of Rome report published in 1972 called The Limits to Growth. This book showed how we would be clean out of every resource you could name by the late 80s to mid-90s. How many of you remember when we had no oil, no steel, no copper, etc.? I don’t remember it either, because it never happened. And Ridley is very clear on just why this is so, and he gets it right. The reason is that when a non-renewable resource starts to get into short supply the price rises, and this rising price causes conservation on the demand side, a search for substitutes, and the increased exploration for new supplies. And this is exactly what happened in the 1970s and 1980s when oil seemed to be in short supply. This is not a new observation, Hotelling wrote about this in the early 20th century, but it is a good idea to keep basic economics in mind when addressing resource issues.

Where he goes wrong, in my view, is taking this basic insight into an extreme of Panglossian optimism that says all problems we might think exist are simply figments of our over-active imaginations, and that if we would just relax and let free markets take over everything would be wonderful. In the end he seems to say that you should ignore scientists on issues such as global warming because what do they know really? He has a view that unrestricted capitalism and markets will solve all problems, which probably plays well in Libertarian circles, but is more extreme than even most economists would go.

So, if you read it for a useful guide to the many things that do go write in the world, that is good. And reminding us of the very definite benefits of markets, specialization, and exchange is always useful. But on this topic Adam Smith did it better and with more nuance in the 18th century.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Review of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves

Review of The Daemon, the Gnu, and the Penguin

The Daemon, the Gnu, and the PenguinThe Daemon, the Gnu, and the Penguin by Peter H. Salus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I give this a high rating because it does what it sets out to do very well.Peter Salus was involved in the history of Unix and Linux, which makes him a good guide to that history. He presents it in a straightforward and spare style, so don’t expect a gripping page turner. But if you want to have good accurate data on who did what and when, this book will deliver. Also, it is a relatively quick read because of his spare style.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Review of The Daemon, the Gnu, and the Penguin

Review of I Live In The Future & Here’s How It Works

I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively DisruptedI Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted by Nick Bilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this book would be a good one for your older relative who doesn’t understand everything going on in the online world. It covers how old businesses are going over the cliff, and new business models will need to be created. If you are like me, and have been parked in front of a computer screen with an internet connection every day for the last 15 years, you probably won’t find a whole lot here you didn’t already know. So it is not a bad book, but nothing terribly revolutionary here. Yes, we will soon be reading most things on screens instead of print on paper. Yes, the advertising support is moving away from print to online. You know, this book is a couple of years old, and maybe it is just that in that time we have all gotten used to the changes.

I read this in the Nook e-book edition.

View all my reviews

Share
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Review of I Live In The Future & Here’s How It Works