June 06, 2005
A few more dead trees

Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity - David Bodanis

A few weeks ago, I saw a review of Electric Universe on kottke.org and decided to pick up a copy.

Now, I am trained as an electrical engineer, not like these new-fangled electronic engineers you see nowadays. Back in my day, we learned about electrical power, analog circuitry, and had a single short course on semiconductors. I fear the today's EEs wouldn't know a vacuum tube from a vacuum cleaner.

So I began the book about the history of electricity with great gusto. Alas, my excitement was short lived. To make the book accessible to non-engineers, the author reduced the complexity of the science to it's minimum level, even avoiding using common terms to describe things.

While I understand why he did this, to me the book was lacking in the very detail he was trying to avoid. While descibing the Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cable, I desperately wanted to know the details of cable construction and the amount of current that was feed across the ocean. in several other places I wanted more detail and information that was not included.

I was a bit suprised to see that there was little or no mention of the direct current versus alternating current battles that pitted Edison against Telsa. The AC/DC debate is core to the history of electricity and it is not mentioned at all.

If you don't know much about electricity but like history, then the book is probably perfect for you. But if you are an engineer, pick it up from the library or borrow my copy.

Market Forces by Richard Morgan

I thought the first two books (Altered Carbon and Broken Angels) by Richard Morgan were great and was eager to read Market Forces when it was released. The book is not a Takeshi Kovacs novel. It takes place in the near future in a world where capitalism is allowed into the realm of literally controlling international affairs.

Trans-national firms get contracts from nations and rebels to help fight for control while reaping huge profits on the conflict. For some unexplained reasons, the firms compete in automobile combat to win the contracts. Beyond that, the executives of the firm can challenge each other to car combat for promotion. Yeah, far-fetched, but go with it.

Imagine Steve Jackson Car Wars meets Rollerball.

In a world where raising yourself out of the lower class is nearly impossible due to the better parts of town literally being fenced off, the protaganist, Chris, has made it out. The book looks at his time at a new firm, much fiercer than any he has worked for before.

Chris spirals deeper and deeper into the rough world of 'conflict investment' each step of the way justifying his actions until he feels he can dispense justice on his own terms. While the world seems focused ont he idea of "There is no right or wrong, only profit." Chris finally finds his place but only after losing much that is dear to him.

The author obviously has some ideas about what unchecked globalization will do to the world and takes them to an extreme to make his point about the lack of morality seen in today's business world. As one of those executives in a trans-national company, I hope I don't need to battle for my position, but the ideas are intriguing.

Posted by michael at June 06, 2005 09:45 PM