Podcasts of the Week Ending December 8

On the Media :: Whose Streets?

An expose on news media coverage that biases the priority of the automobile and questions the “heartwarming” stories of people walking long ways to work and transit inequality.

BackStory :: Forgotten Flu

100 years ago, a deadly influenza tore through the United States killing people in their peak of health.

Code Switch :: The Story of Mine Mill

The history of a radical leftist union that organized miners and millworkers in Birminham, Alabama, bringing together Black and white workers at the height of Jim Crow in the 1930s-1960s.

The Memory Palace :: Revolutions

A tribute to the humble – and noisy – washing machine.

99% Invisible :: Oñate’s Foot

The controversy over how Albuquerque would commemorate the conquistador who some see as New Mexico’s founding father and others see as a mass murderer

Nobody’s Home :: “Brown in a Different Way:” The Gentrification Dilemma

Nobody’s Home is a miniseries focusing on the problem of vacant housing in the United States.  It’s strange to listen to in Boston where the shortage of housing is the big problem.  But this episode on gentrification and the long history of inequality in housing ties both issues together well.

Book Reviews: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis

Author:Michael Lewis
TitleFlash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Narrator: Dylan Baker
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2014)
Previously read by same author: Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, and The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.

This book focuses on the contemporary financial trading practices of high frequency traders or “flash traders” seeking to gain advantage in fractions of seconds by having more direct cable connections to the markets.  This is emphasized by an effort to lay a cable from to New York to Chicago through the mountains of Pennsylvania as directly as possible.  Many financial intermediaries are taking advantage of the high frequency trading to basically rip-off their customers and by proxy making the whole financial system susceptible to collapse.  The heroes of the book are the quirky iconoclasts who create the Investors Exchanges (IEX) to counteract this effect.  Lewis can get bogged down in technical details and traders’ talk at times, but mostly keeps things moving along to be entertaining and informative
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Information by James Gleick

AuthorJames Gleick
TitleThe Information
Publication Info: New York : Books on Tape, 2011

The Information is a sweeping historical / scientific / technological account of information across time and disciplines.  From talking drums, language, DNA, telegraphs, and bytes to  Claude Shannon, Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and John Archibald Wheeler.  It’s all very fascinating although it gets more complex for a lay reader (that is, me) to understand as it goes along.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Where’s my jetpack? : a guide to the amazing science fiction future that never arrived by Daniel H. Wilson

We live in the 21st-Century, that magical century heralded in the past century as The Future, yet The Future has been somewhat disappointing. Where’s my jetpack? : a guide to the amazing science fiction future that never arrived (2007) by Daniel H. Wilson recounts all the great inventions promised to an eager public by science fiction, comic books, World’s Fairs, and documentaries that seemingly have never come to pass.  Wilson goes through several of these fantastic devices and describes what advances have actually been made and tells how several of them actually exist.  Albeit in less than fantastic guises or far to expensive/exclusive for the general populace.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • The jetpack, which works, just not for very long due to fuel limitations.
  • The zeppelin which once sailed elegantly through the sky until the Hindenberg disaster, but may be making a return.
  • Teleportation which is possible with particles if not with human beings.
  • Underwater hotels: one exists but it’s not very luxurious.  More luxurious hotels are in the works.
  • Anti-Sleeping pills are available under the brand name Provigil (I’m tempted to get a prescription).
  • The Space Elevator is theoretically possible and Wilson suggests we submit our plans to the Spaceward Foundation and win a prize (Hey, there’s a space elevator blog too!).
  • And a Moon Colony?  It’s in the works!

This is a fun little book with a good mix of science and humor that will appeal to anyone’s inner geek.

Author Wilson, Daniel H. (Daniel Howard), 1978-
Title Where’s my jetpack? : a guide to the amazing science fiction future that never arrived / Daniel H. Wilson ; illustrated by Richard Horne.
Publication Info. New York : Bloomsbury USA : Distributed to the trade by Holtzbrinck Publishers, c2007.
Edition 1st U.S. ed.
Description 192 p. : ill. ; 20 cm.

Book Review: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008) by Clay Shirky is yet another book about the effect of social networking on the internet.  And a pretty good one at that, kind of like Groundswell without the business management emphasis.  Shirky’s main point is not so much that new technologies are changing the world, but that they are allowing people to collaborate in ways that weren’t possible before so that they can change societal and cultural norms (and by extension the world).  It’s a good and highly-readable summary of what’s going on in the world today.

I found in a Library Thing review this great webibliography of resources related to the book: http://mymindonbooks.com/?page_id=562.

Shirky, Clay.
Here comes everybody : the power of organizing without organizations / Clay Shirky.
New York : Penguin Press, 2008.

Book Review: Simplexity by Jeffrey Kluger

Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) (2008) by Jeffrey Kluger is my first foray into reviewing a Advance Reading Copy of a book by of the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  Or maybe not since I saw this book last week in the window at Harvard Book Store.  At any rate, this is a brand new book and it’s a popular science exploration of the idea of complexity and simplicity or how simple things can more complicated than they seem, and complex things more simple.

Kluger refers to the work that’s being done in the study of complexity at places like the Santa Fe Institute.  Then he dedicates each chapter to the concept of simplexity in every day life in areas such as markets, crowd psychology, social structure, business, death, sports, fear, childhood development, liguistics, technology, public health, and the arts.  Particularly nice is his appreciation that hard-working blue color labor is overworked and underpaid. It’s hard to say whether or not Kluger sticks with his thesis, or just writes about a bunch of interesting things but either way it is a fun, breezy read that provokes thoughts and ideas.

I was struck by how many books I’ve read recently shared some basic concepts with this book.  I suppose at the very least Simplexity can be a good summary of a lot of recent literature, but better than that it can be a jumping off point to reading these other books.  Unfortunately, Simplexity does not have a bibliography (or even an index!) so here related books I’d reccomend, some of which were mentioned in the text:

Books I’ve read previously by this author:

Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple) by Jeffrey Kluger. Hyperion (2008), Hardcover, 336 pages

del.icio.us, Library Thing, and Twitter updates

Here’s how I’m using my social networking tools these days.


When I first registered for del.icio.us I imported all the bookmarks from my browser and then didn’t use it for a year.  I didn’t really need all those bookmarks so I cleaned things up by deleting them all.  I also cleaned up and consolidated misspelled tags.  I went back to all the links I’ve posted over the past 6 months and added the name of the source (newspaper, website or blog name) as a tag in hopes I can look back and see which sources I can recommend as reliable, or at least interesting. I may go back and retroactively add in all the articles from the many link-of-the-day posts in this blog.

Library Thing

In the process of entering (almost) every book I’ve ever read. I don’t actually own many books but I’ve kept lists of what I read for the past 18 years.  I also hope to use it to rank my favorite books of all time.  I may also try cataloging my son’s collection of children’s books just for kicks.


Some strangers asked to follow me right off the bat, so I followed them back  which was fun for a day or so.  Then I was overwhelmed by the minutiae of their daily lives.  I’m eagerly seeking to use this as a professional development tool by following librarians who tweet about ideas and activities in their jobs and libraries. So from now on I plan only to follow librarians as well as non-librarian folks I already know.

I’m also using Facebook to play lots of games of Scrabulous, WordTwist, and Scramble which I guess proves that Facebook is a valuable social networking tool for wasting time with your friends.

I’m a Twit

So, I finally gave in and registered for Twitter even though I really do not understand the practical purpose of the tool. I mean I understand what it’s for – telling people what you’re up to at every minute of the day – I just don’t know what it does for a shy guy like me and especially what it does professionally. Yet, I read library blog after library blog hailing Twitter as a great social networking tool. So I caved and decided to give it a try. Don’t want to be classified as a troglodyte who’s afraid of change after all.

Long-time readers will recall that I went through the same process with Facebook last year. Even though I found some things that Facebook is good for (Susan compares it to collecting one’s friends like Hummels), and find it fun to play games with my friends, professionally I’ve done zilch. Seemingly the moment I was convinced to sign up with Facebook was when Facebook-backlash began. Now people frustrated with Facebook offer plaudits for Twitter instead. So maybe I can be ahead of the curve, or at least on the curve this time. So far I’ve found that Twitter is a good forum for writing Haiku and publishing Overheard-type comments. If you want to follow me you can find me at http://twitter.com/Othemts.

Here’s a typical article Why Twitter Matters from iLibrarian.

Book Review: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

The World Without Us ( 2007) by Alan Weisman is a book length exploration of what the earth would be like without human beings. Long story short, a whole lot better off. Weisman investigates the question by recreating what the world was like without humans, what has happened since our evolution and spread, vignettes of places that humans have abandoned for one reason or another, and theorizing what would happen to the world should we vanish. Weisman puts forward unlikely scenarios of how our species could vanish: a human-only virus, alien abduction, or the rapture. In all likelihood there is nothing that could wipe out the human race will leaving the rest of the world untouched. And since some of Weisman’s world without us scenarios demonstrate the unholy terror that will be unleashed by the things we’ve created without us there to manage them, perhaps it will be better if we stick around and try to figure out how to fix things up.

Here’s a quick summary of scenarios of Earth without her most invasive species:

  • Białowieża Puszcza forest in Poland and Belarus, the only old-growth forest remainig of what once stretched across Europe. Here animals like bison may still thrive if the border fence that prevents their breeding is removed.
  • Destroying a home is easy. Just cut an eighteen inch hole in the roof and then stand back.
  • A vision of New York City without us begins with the subway tunnels flooding. The freeze/thaw cycle breaks up roads and concrete and makes foundations crumble. Ailanthus trees take root everywhere. Fires break out and spread unchallenged. Expansion joints on bridges get clogged and the bridges collapse. Central Park will revert to marshland. Bronze statues and stone buildings will last the longest of human artifacts.
  • The western hemisphere once had a great number of megafauna such as the giant sloth. Weisman believes that overhunting by prehistoric peoples brought their end. As evidence he points out that only on Africa where animals and humans evolved together are there still large mammals afoot.
  • In Africa today, grazing animals are unable to migrate freely and thus overgraze land which turns it to desert. Parks surrounded by agriculture create two competing environments that don’t work together well. The plague of AIDS is starting to erase the human population and changing age-old settlement patterns.
  • Seaside hotels on Cyprus remain abandoned, overgrown, and crumbling since the war in 1974 between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The Green Line, a no man’s zone between the two warring sides preserves remains of once-human habitats.
  • The sturdy remains of the underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey may be a long-lasting remnant of past (and future?) human habitation in a world without us.
  • Plastics do not biodegrade and may end up outlasting our species by millennia. They break down into smaller particles where they will continue to be a hazard to creatures and plants of the sea. Worse, today in the North Pacific Gyre is today a floating trash dump of plastics run off from land and carried to these doldroms where the trash accumulates.
  • The expansive “city” of petroleum refineries and chemical plants covering hundreds of square miles between Houston and Gavelston in Texas. This is one of those places that without human intervention is something of a time bomb that would explode and may never be cleaned up by natural process.
  • The world without farms. Rothamsted in England is a place where research in agriculture has been conducted since the mid-1800’s. This includes the Broadbalk and Geescroft Wildernesses where land has been allowed to simply revert to nature. Another place where the woods are regenerating is New England!
    • “Unlike almost anywhere else on Earth, New England’s temperate forest is increasing, and now far exceeds what it was when the United States was founded in 1776. Within 50 years of U.S. independence, the Erie Canal was dug across New York State and the Ohio Territory opened — an area whose shorter winters and loamier soils lured away struggling Yankee farmers. Thousands more didn’t bother to return to the soil after the Civil War, but headed instead into factories and mills powered by New England’s rivers — or headed west. As the forests of the Midwest began to come down, the forests of New England began coming back.” – p. 147
  • The fate of ancient and modern wonders of the world. 6 of the 7 ancient wonders are already gone with the pyramid at Khufu rapidly eroding. The Chunnel and the Panama Canal are equally doomed with human care, but Mount Rushmore will prevail.
  • The Korean demilitarized zone, like the Cypriot Green Line, is a place devoid of human presence where nature has rushed in to fill the void. Unfortunately, human encroachment on each side of the DMZ has prevented it from becoming the protected space some hope it to become.
  • Birds coexist with humans although many species have been wiped out by us as well (the dodo, the passenger pigeon, et al). Without us they would still collide with radio-transmission towers and power lines which kill millions of birds each year, at least until those things collapsed from inattention. The common housecat also slaughters songbirds for sport and without human care would continue to do so in places where cats would never have existed naturally.
  • Nuclear power plants and nuclear waste dumps. You don’t really need to read this book to imagine what would happen to them in a world absent humans. Oddly, Chernobyl shows an example of wildlife returning to the land abandoned by people after the disaster there. Still, it’s hard to believe the world would recover so easily if all 400+ nuclear power plants melted down simultaneously and contaminated the earth.
  • The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement are people who’ve sworn to not reproduce and simply wish to convince everyone to voluntarily let our species die out. Reading their arguments they actually seem to have a point and are at least convincingly not crackpots.

Oddly it seems that humanity’s greatest achievements (skyscrapers, etc.) are the least permanent, while trash, plastic, and oil — the detritus of civilization — are the most permanent.
There’s a lot more in this book which makes for a thoughtful, sometimes depressing, but always fascinating read.

Library Dust (and social networking)

Here’s another in my irregular series of posts of news and commentary related to my job.

Library Crunch writes on how a Culture of Fear is adversely affecting library services to teenagers.

Meanwhile, the ALA is putting some of teenagers’ favorite social networking tools to use for the library.

On Tame the Web, one individual reflects on her career as a librarian and what it has taught her (and yes, if you keep reading, there’s stuff about social networking to keep with the theme thus far).

The Ubiquitous Librarian provides something to look forward to at the ALA conference in Washington, Punk + Zen (and librarians).

Ben Macintyre tells us that libraries will survive the digital revolution (and it’s because social networking can be done in person too).

And why shouldn’t libraries thrive in the digital age since Librarians are the Enemies of Books and have been for some time.

That’s it for now. I should be blogging about more library stuff soon from ALA.