Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Geeks Bearing Gifts

Geeks Bearing Gifts v.1.1, subtitled How the computer world got this way, is a collection of thoughts and notes about people and events of the computer revolution. Written in 2008 by Ted Nelson, a legend himself, the man behind Xanadu.

This book is great, because we get an insider's view into the fascinating history of our biggest invention - the computer.

This book sucks a bit in how it is delivered: proofreading could have been done better, the text in low-res illustrations is barely readable, the disjointed style feels more like reading notes, or encyclopaedia, and finally, the chapter summaries are completely unnecessary. The 200 pages of Geeks Bearing Gifts are divided into 50 chapters numbered from -27, through 0 (UNIX®), to 22. Each chapter starts with a summary, which I started skipping after a few chapters, because a half page summary in a two page chapter means re-reading the same information shortly after reading it for the first time. Irritating.

Still, for a computer geek, this book makes an interesting read. Let me end with an unusually succinct summary of the last chapter "Why We Fight", which contains Ted's manifesto:
"Today's computer world is a godawful mess, ghastly for many people. But there yet may be hope."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

In the Land of Israel

In the Land of Israel, Amos Oz shows us a glimpse of "a few places and a few people" in Israel in Autumn 1982. This interesting, but difficult to read book throws us into the complexity and diversity of political views, religious beliefs, economical situation, history and present of various inhabitants of the land of Israel at that time.

Amos's journey starts where he grew up, in the Geulah quarter in Jerusalem, now taken over by the Hasidim, and ends in the port city of Ashdod. In between, we travel with the author and listen to his conversations with people of Bet Shemesh - a stronghold of Likud west of Jerusalem, Tekoa - a Jewish community in the West Bank (historical provinces of Judea and Samaria), Ramallah, an anonymous veteran village, Ofra - a Jewish settlement in West Bank, the East Jerusalem office of Al-Fajr Al-Arabi - The Arab Dawn, and the city of Zichron Yaakov.

In Ofra the author presents his views on statehood, which I will sum up here with these two excerpts: "Nationalism itself is, in my eyes, the curse of mankind", but "[...] existence without the tools of statehood is a matter of mortal danger [...]".

About the author: "Amos Oz was born in 1939 into a family which, as he has said. 'dreamed in Yiddish, conversed in Russian and Polish, read books in German and English', but taught him one language only: Hebrew."

And on a lighter note, since I live in Oz now, "oz" in Hebrew means courage or strength, but be careful how you spell it. :-)

Monday, July 9, 2012

History's Greatest Deceptions

The full title of this book by Eric Chaline is History's Greatest Deceptions and the People Who Planned Them.

Surely you have heard of the Ponzi scheme, but do you know the history of Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi himself?

A woman cannot be the leader of the Catholic Church? ...unless she can hide as well as pope Joan did. According to legend, she was exposed when she went into labour public ...riding a horse.

These two cases are among fifty deceptions grouped into religious, military, financial, scientific, and three other categories. The stories are short. More like teasers than full biographies. Nevertheless, you may find something interesting. For example, I learned that long before East Germany became notorious for its strong woman athletes, there was a Polish woman Olympic medalist Stanisława Wałasiewicz who turned out to be a fraud when an autopsy was made on her after being accidentally shot dead in a Cleveland shopping mall.