Book Reviews- Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
by Michael Lewis, 2012

boomerang

I listened to this book on tape, and it was more entertaining than I was expecting. You get to hear Michael Lewis making fun of Icelandic, Irish, and Greek people. You get to understand a little bit about what caused their meltdowns and cultural inefficiencies. And you get to make fun of California at the end.

Be responsible with money.

Book Review- Energy for Future Presidents

Energy for Future Presidents
by Richard A. Muller, 2013

energy for presidents

I highly recommend this book as an even-handed look at new energy technologies and as a suggestion for future energy policies. It has a good discussion of shale gas and oil, nuclear energy, climate change, energy security, promising renewables, and not-so-promising innovations (hydrogen fuel cells, electric vehicles, etc). Very well-written.

Book Review- Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficiency
by Penni McLean-Conner, 2009

energy efficiency

This book provides a high-level overview of current energy efficiency efforts and possible future solutions. I found it to be one of those books that emphasizes breadth instead of depth, trying to cover everything at least a little bit. This led to the feeling that nothing important was being said, and I ended up quickly skimming most of the book.

Two Links Tuesday- April 7, 2015

The End of Asymmetric Information: Various monitoring and commitment devices that are leading to a decrease in asymmetric information in business dealings. This leads to a decline in moral hazard situations, less principal-agent asymmetry, and an increase in the use of escrow systems.

Recommended Reading in Computer Systems: Books about computer security, digital forensics, incident response, malware analysis, and reverse engineering, and other related topics.

Book Review- Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell, 2004

cloud atlas

This is a guest book review from Maria:

Last week was my spring break, and I had committed to reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (recommended and borrowed from a friend) during the break. Eric and I had tried to watch the movie several months ago, but like some other discs from the library we’ve encountered, it was unfortunately too scratched up to watch. We had some glimpses of characters and pieces of the music, but no idea what was happening.

I read the book almost straight through in about 10 hours. It’s a thick book and I read pretty quickly, but I literally could not put it down. I even read it while making and eating lunch (which I almost forgot to eat because I was simply in another world within the book). It was incredibly engrossing. I had to know where it was leading and what would happen next.

The story follows multiple incarnations of the same character across the span of time. Each story is somehow connected to the next story in line, and by extension all the stories following it. The book is built up like a bunch of open parentheses followed, eventually, by each mated pair. It was both fun and excruciating to read like that, because cliffhangers are great literary tools but all I want to get to is the resolution. (Also, I am a computer scientist and open parentheses make me uncomfortable when I don’t see the closing one.) The stories themselves are all really interesting and set both in the past and the future. Reading some of the dialect is difficult but doable once you get a few pages in. There are some overarching themes (anti-slavery/freedom, knowledge, time/history repeating itself, reincarnation). The book itself also references other pieces the author has written (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_Atlas_%28novel%29#Structure_and_style), which is neat and totally something I would do if I wrote novels.

I think it would be harder to watch the movie and almost impossible to listen to this on CD. I needed to reference the end of the first half of each story to remember what exactly had been happening when it left off to go into the next story (even though I had read that story just a few hours prior). I would recommend checking out the Cloud Atlas Sextet that was written for the movie, though.

It’s beautiful music.

I recommend reading Cloud Atlas, especially if you have some time to devote to it.

Two Links Tuesday- March 31, 2015

Final Four Ticket Forecast: When is the best time to buy Final Four tickets? Maria and I won the lottery to get tickets straight from the NCAA in 2013 and 2014. This year, with the Final Four so close in Indianapolis, we were shut out. We’re still deciding how to navigate the secondary market to get tickets at a reasonable price. If you go to the game, you might see us on the streets of Indy trying to scalp tickets. One strategy is to try to buy tickets from fans of the 2 losing teams after Saturday’s semi-final. Online, they are crazy expensive.

5 Tragic Reasons Why the World’s Largest Theme Park Stands Abandoned in Ohio: I don’t think I’ve posted this yet. Such a sad, but fascinating, story.

six flags ohio

Book Review- The Second Machine Age

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies
by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, 2014

second machine age

The abilities of machine learning/artificial intelligence have improved greatly lately. You can expect the abilities of computers to continue to grow exponentially. This book calls the economic upheaval caused by computers “The Second Machine Age”, with the first machine age being the physical abilities of machines in industry and on assembly lines. Just as the first machine age displaced the jobs of many manual workers, you can expect the second machine age to displace the jobs of many intellectual workers. Are the computers/robots coming for your job? Maybe not immediately, but probably eventually.

I’m fascinated by what is going to happen when a significant portion of the population (the proportion that does not play well with technology) is totally unemployable. Their skills, if any, are unneeded because computers/robots have automated away their job. Is this portion already at 5%? What if it hits 40% due to automation of more jobs? A huge amount of people are employed as drivers of some sort. Self-driving cars are probably 5-20 years away. Who’s going to pay for a driver when self-driving cars/trucks/taxis are cheaper and safer? And that’s just one technology. What if 90% of people are eventually not employed and all money goes to 10%? Vast inequality should be planned for. Will we institute a minimum income for everyone? Will we vastly expand social programs? What happens?

I listened to this book on CD. I thought it was pretty interesting, though it does start slow. The links below are related and supplementary.

Relevant other books/links:
The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen
Average is Over by Tyler Cowen
Video: Humans Need Not Apply by C.P.G. Grey