June 12, 2008

Books I'd like to read

Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0 by Sarah Lacy

Everyone has heard the story of the Internet Bubble. Beginning with Netscape’s IPO in 1996, billions flowed into Internet startups, and companies with no revenues and shaky business plans earned sky-high valuations on Wall Street. It was the era of paper millionaires, $800 office chairs, and Super Bowl ads for dotcoms. Then in 2000 the Bubble burst, with the NASDAQ losing 75 percent of its value and hundreds of companies closing up shop. It was all written off to “irrational exuberance,” and everyone moved on.

Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good is the story of the entrepreneurs who learned their lesson from the bust and in recent years have created groundbreaking new Web companies. The second iteration of the dotcoms—dubbed Web 2.0—is all about bringing people together. Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace unite friends online; YouTube lets anyone posts videos for the world to see; Digg.com allows Internet users to vote on the most relevant news of the day; Six Apart sells software that enables bloggers to post their viewpoints online; and Slide helps people customize their virtual selves.

Business reporter Sarah Lacy brings to light the entire Web 2.0 scene: the wide-eyed but wary entrepreneurs, the hated venture capitalists, the bloggers fueling the hype, the programmers coding through the night, the twenty-something millionaires, and the Internet “fan boys” eager for all the promises to come true.

The Quantum Ten: A Story of Passion, Tragedy, Ambition, and Science by Sheilla Jones
Theoretical physics is in trouble. At least that's the impression you'd get from reading a spate of recent books on the continued failure to resolve the 80-year-old problem of unifying the classical and quantum worlds. The seeds of this problem were sewn eighty years ago when a dramatic revolution in physics reached a climax at the 1927 Solvay conference in Brussels. It's the story of a rush to formalize quantum physics, the work of just a handful of men fired by ambition, philosophical conflicts and personal agendas.

Sheilla Jones paints an intimate portrait of the key figures who wrestled with the mysteries of the new science of the quantum, along with a powerful supporting cast of famous (and not so famous) colleagues. The Brussels conference was the first time so many of the "quantum ten" had been in the same place: Albert Einstein, the lone wolf; Niels Bohr, the obsessive but gentlemanly father figure; Max Born, the anxious hypochondriac; Werner Heisenberg, the intensely ambitious one; Wolfgang Pauli, the sharp-tongued critic with a dark side; Paul Dirac, the silent Englishman; Erwin Schrodinger, the enthusiastic womanizer; Prince Louis de Broglie, the French aristocrat; and Paul Ehrenfest, who was witness to it all. Pascual Jordan, the ardent Aryan nationalist, came uninvited.

This is the story of quantum physics that has never been told, an equation-free investigation into the turbulent development of the new science and its very fallible creators, including little-known details of the personal relationship between the deeply troubled Ehrenfest and his dear friend Albert Einstein. Jones weaves together the personal and the scientific in a heartwarming--and heartbreaking--story of the men who struggled to create quantum physics: a story of passion, tragedy, ambition and science.

The Edge of Reason: A Novel of the War between Science and Superstition by Melinda Snodgrass
It’s difficult, when you’re tackling hot button issues like religion, to avoid writing a polemic. I hope I succeeded. I tried very hard to personalize these questions to the characters. But larger issues do intrude. When three of the ten candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination said they didn’t believe in evolution, when school boards try to force the teaching of “creation science” and allow students to opt out of astronomy classes when the Big Bang is discussed, we’ve got a problem. (via)

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson
Award-winning science writer Johnson (A Fire in the Mind; Strange Beauty) calls readers away from the industrialized mega-scale of modern science (which requires multimillion-dollar equipment and teams of scientists) to appreciate 10 historic experiments whose elegant simplicity revealed key features of our bodies and our world. Some of the experiments Johnson describes have a sense of whimsy, like Galileo measuring the speed of balls rolling down a ramp to the regular beat of a song, or Isaac Newton cutting holes in window shades and scrambling around with a prism to break light into its component colors. Other experiments—such as William Harvey's use of vivisected animals to demonstrate the circulation of blood, and the truncated frogs Luigi Galvani used in his study of the nervous system—remind us of changing attitudes toward animal research. Joule's effort to show that heat and work are related ways of converting energy into motion, Michelson's work to measure the speed of light, Millikan's sensitive apparatus for measuring the charge of an electron: these experiments toppled contemporary dogma with their logic and clear design as much as with their results. With these 10 entertaining histories, Johnson reminds us of a time when all research was hands-on and the most earthshaking science came from... a single mind confronting the unknown.

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett
ennett considers an array of artisans across different periods, from ancient Chinese chefs to contemporary mobile-phone designers, in this powerful meditation on the "skill of making things well." The template of craftsmanship, he finds, combines a "material consciousness" with a willingness to put in years of practice (a common estimate of the time required to master a craft is ten thousand hours) and a strategic acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism. Sennett’s aim is to make us rethink the notion that society benefits most from a workforce trained to respond to the metamorphoses of a global economy. Ultimately, he writes, the difficulties and possibilities of craft can teach "techniques of experience" that help us relate to others, and lead to an "ethically satisfying" pride in one’s work.

1 comment:

John Dupuis said...

So much spam these days, I accidentally deleted a comment from cucaracha. Sorry about that, Chief!

Here it is:

Must try to get the 10 most beautiful experimetns. have a vested interest in that my daughter went to Harvey's school [The King's School in Canterbury, Kent] -incidentally the oldest school in the UK, having been started by St. Augustine in 597 AD!!! And my grandson was baptised in the church [St. Aenswyth in Folkestone] where Harvey was baptised too. It has a vast, gorgeous, Victorian stained glass window as memorial to Harvey's great achievements.