Sunday, November 3, 2019

Eyles, Don. Sunburst and Luminary. Boston: Fort Point Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0-9863859-3-3. In 1966, the author graduated from Boston University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. He had no immediate job prospects or career plans. He thought he might be interested in computer programming due to a love of solving puzzles, but he had never programmed a computer. When asked, in one of numerous job interviews, how he would go about writing a program to alphabetise a list of names, he admitted he had no idea. One day, walking home from yet another interview, he passed an unimpressive brick building...

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Friday, November 1, 2019

Crossfield, Albert Scott and Clay Blair. Always Another Dawn. Seattle, CreateSpace, [1960] 2018. ISBN 978-1-7219-0050-3. The author was born in 1921 and grew up in Southern California. He was obsessed with aviation from an early age, wangling a ride in a plane piloted by a friend of his father (an open cockpit biplane) at age six. He built and flew many model airplanes and helped build the first gasoline-powered model plane in Southern California, with a home-built engine. The enterprising lad's paper route included a local grass field airport, and he persuaded the owner to trade him a free daily...

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Wood, Fenton. The Tower of the Bear. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2019. ASIN B07XB8XWNF. This is the third short novel/novella (145 pages) in the author's Yankee Republic series. I described the first, Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves (May 2019), as “utterly charming”, and the second, Five Million Watts (June 2019), “enchanting”. In this volume, the protagonist, Philo Hergenschmidt, embarks upon a hero's journey to locate a treasure dating from the origin of the Earth which may be the salvation of radio station 2XG and the key to accomplishing the unrealised dream of the wizard who built it, Zaros the Electromage. Philo's adventures...

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Thursday, October 3, 2019

Mills, Kyle. Lethal Agent. New York: Atria Books, 2019. ISBN 978-1-5011-9062-9. This is the fifth novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. On the cover, Vince Flynn still gets top billing (he is now the “brand”, not the author). In the third Mitch Rapp novel by Kyle Mills, Enemy of the State (June 2018), Rapp decapitated the leadership of ISIS by detonating a grenade in a cave where they were meeting and barely escaped with his life when the cavern collapsed. As the story concluded,...

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Yates, Raymond F. The Boys' Book of Model Railroading. New York: Harper & Row, 1951. ISBN 978-1-127-46606-1. In the years before World War II, Lionel was the leader in the U.S. in manufacturing of model railroad equipment, specialising in “tinplate” models which were often unrealistic in scale, painted in garish colours, and appealing to young children and the mothers who bought them as gifts. During the war, the company turned to production of items for the U.S. Navy. After the war, the company returned to the model railroad market, remaking their product line with more realistic models. This coincided with the arrival...

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

On September 22nd, 2019, Prof. Jean-Daniel Nicoud, founder of the Laboratoire de Micro-Informatique (LAMI) at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, visited Fourmilab. LAMI pioneered the optical computer mouse, the Smaky computer, and the Kephera robot, all of which were commercialised by spin-off companies, including Logitech. In the mid-1990s, I supported a project at LAMI/EPFL to explore possible technological means of aiding in the removal of anti-personnel land mines which are the legacy of conflicts around the globe. The project sponsored two conferences, in Lausanne, Switzerland and Zagreb, Croatia, which were among the first to bring...

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Monday, September 23, 2019

Snowden, Edward. Permanent Record. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2019. ISBN 978-1-250-23723-1. The revolution in communication and computing technologies which has continually accelerated since the introduction of integrated circuits in the 1960s and has since given rise to the Internet, ubiquitous mobile telephony, vast data centres with formidable processing and storage capacity, and technologies such as natural language text processing, voice recognition, and image analysis, has created the potential, for the first time in human history, of mass surveillance to a degree unimagined even in dystopian fiction such as George Orwell's 1984 or attempted by the secret police of totalitarian regimes...

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Brennan, Gerald. Public Loneliness. Chicago: Tortoise Books, [2014] 2017. ISBN 978-0-9986325-1-3. This is the second book in the author's “Altered Space” series of alternative histories of the cold war space race. Each stand-alone story explores a space mission which did not take place, but could have, given the technology and political circumstances at the time. The first, Zero Phase (October 2016), asks what might have happened had Apollo 13's service module oxygen tank waited to explode until after the lunar module had landed on the Moon. The third, Island of Clouds (July 2019), tells the story of a Venus fly-by mission using...

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Here’s just about the craziest financial chart I’ve seen in some time. Courtesy of Deutsche Bank, via CNBC, this is a plot of the total face value of government bonds (not, as the chart is mis-labeled, all debt) which now trade at negative yields. In other words, if you buy the bond today at its market price, hold it to maturity, and add all of the interest it will pay from now until it matures, you’ll end up with less than the price you paid for the bond. And this is in “nominal currency”, not accounting for any depreciation in...

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Chittum, Thomas. Civil War Two. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, [1993, 1996] 2018. ASIN B07FCWD7C4. This book was originally published in 1993 with a revised edition in 1996. This Kindle edition, released in 2018, and available for free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, appears to be identical to the last print edition, although the number of typographical, punctuation, grammatical, and formatting errors (I counted 78 in 176 pages of text, and I wasn't reading with a particularly critical eye) makes me wonder if the Kindle edition was made by optical character recognition of a print copy and never properly copy edited before...

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Butler, Smedley D. War Is a Racket. San Diego, CA: Dauphin Publications, [1935] 2018. ISBN 978-1-939438-58-4. Smedley Butler knew a thing or two about war. In 1898, a little over a month before his seventeenth birthday, he lied about his age and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, which directly commissioned him a second lieutenant. After completing training, he was sent to Cuba, arriving shortly after the end of the Spanish-American War. Upon returning home, he was promoted to first lieutenant and sent to the Philippines as part of the American garrison. There, he led Marines in combat against Filipino...

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Griffin, G. Edward. The Creature from Jekyll Island. Westlake Village, CA: American Media, [1994, 1995, 1998, 2002] 2010. ISBN 978-0-912986-45-6. Almost every time I review a book about or discuss the U.S. Federal Reserve System in a conversation or Internet post, somebody recommends this book. I'd never gotten around to reading it until recently, when a couple more mentions of it pushed me over the edge. And what an edge that turned out to be. I cannot recommend this book to anybody; there are far more coherent, focussed, and persuasive analyses of the Federal Reserve in print, for example Ron...

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Monday, August 12, 2019

Carr, Jack. True Believer. New York: Atria Books, 2019. ISBN 978-1-5011-8084-2. Jack Carr, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, burst into the world of thriller authors with 2018's stunning success, The Terminal List (September 2018). In it, he introduced James Reece, a SEAL whose team was destroyed by a conspiracy reaching into the highest levels of the U.S. government and, afflicted with a brain tumour by a drug tested on him and his team without their knowledge or consent, which he expected to kill him, set out for revenge upon those responsible. As that novel concluded, Reece, a hunted man, took to...

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

Shlaes, Amity. Coolidge. New York: Harper Perennial, [2013] 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-196759-7. John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. was born in 1872 in Plymouth Notch, Vermont. His family were among the branch of the Coolidge clan who stayed in Vermont while others left its steep, rocky, and often bleak land for opportunity in the Wild West of Ohio and beyond when the Erie canal opened up these new territories to settlement. His father and namesake made his living by cutting wood, tapping trees for sugar, and small-scale farming on his modest plot of land. He diversified his income by operating a general store...

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Skin in the Game. New York: Random House, 2018. ISBN 978-0-425-28462-9. This book is volume four in the author's Incerto series, following Fooled by Randomness (February 2011), The Black Swan (January 2009), and Antifragile (April 2018). In it, he continues to explore the topics of uncertainty, risk, decision making under such circumstances, and how both individuals and societies winnow out what works from what doesn't in order to choose wisely among the myriad alternatives available. The title, “Skin in the Game”, is an aphorism which refers to an individual's sharing the risks and rewards of an undertaking in which they...

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