Evangeline and the Bunyip (2016) by Madeleine D’Este is another entertaining romp in Steampunk Melbourne. Evangeline is now more settled in Melbourne after arriving to live with her inventor father. In this book she starts going to balls, continues eating cake, inventing things and battling foes with her friend Mei. Evangeline is starting to appear on the social scene in Melbourne and starts to attract gentlemen callers. In this story there seems to be more laying down of other characters which will be used in later adventures.
The actual battle with the Bunyip isn’t quite as entertaining as Evangeline’s fight with the Alchemist but it’s still well done and is pretty engrossing. It will be fun to read the episodes as they come out.
The Me 262 Stormbird: From the Pilots Who Flew, Fought, and Survived It (2012) by Colin Heaton describes the development of the Me 262 and how it was used and how some of the more famous units that flew it fared. The book also has appendices that catalog Me 262 pilots.
The Me 262 was a remarkable aircraft, it was the first operation jet fighter and was developed by the Germans during WWII when they were under incredible strain. After the war with far greater resources at their disposal it would take the US and the Soviets five years to build axial flow jets with swept wings like the Me 262. However, the Me 262 was incredibly unreliable with engines that lasted on average 10 hours and flamed out if the throttle was moved in any way but very gently. The Me 262 also had R4M rockets which were remarkably destructive but again, only when they worked. The electrical systems on the plane were also incredibly fragile. In addition while the 262 was almost unbeatable once it was flying comfortably it was also very vulnerable on take off and landing.The 262 was also flown against incredible odds. It was common for 50 to 1 or 100 to 1 to be the ratio of German aircraft to Allied aircraft when it was in service.
The book’s chapters on development are really interesting and discuss why a number of senior German officials didn’t fully support the program. While the Me 262 was an eventual success it wasn’t clear it always would have been. The book also discusses what would have happened if the Germans had brought the plane into service a year earlier and in numbers. It could, potentially have halted the Allied bombing campaign and possibly lengthened the war. The possibility that this would have resulted in Atomic Weapons being used against Germany is not discussed.
The chapters of the book on the operational use of the Me 262 are definitely interesting initially but become repetitive. The book also seems to collate information available in other books, however it provides an informative and interesting summary on the Kindle. The book also has a short interesting discussion on how the Allies scoured Germany for pilots and Me 262s after the war in order to strengthen their own militaries.
It’s a good book on a fascinating subject. It could have done with better editing. There are some really poor sentences in the book. The book is also padded with Me 262 pilot records that would be better just be kept online somewhere. But overall the book is an interesting account of the development of an incredible fighter and its operational history.
Candide (1759) by Voltaire is a short, entertaining satire that attacks Leibniz’s view that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The word Panglossian comes from the book.
The rhythm of the book is relentless, each chapter has new and stranger incidents. But it’s still all fun and the book is impressively short. I kept wondering if I needed to read a Cliff’s Notes type book to find out who all the characters represented and what the situations and places were meant to mean. The wikipedia entry on the book has quite a bit more.
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley (2016) by Antonio Garcia Martinez is a fun memoir of working in Silicon Valley.
The first part of the book is about Martinez starting a company and getting funding and then getting acquired by Twitter, the next part is about Martinez working at Facebook.
The book is far from perfect, Martinez is a very smart guy but is a bit prone to humblebrags, anyone who tells you they were in the bottom third of their PhD Physics program at Berkeley is really pushing it. Martinez also injects a few banal aphorisms and little theories of his into the book which it would be better off without.
However, the book is a lot of fun and has a lot of really interesting information about startups, advertising and Facebook. Having worked at a few small but unsuccessful companies that wanted to get bought out or make it big it’s also worth saying that Martinez captures the feeling of working at a start up really well. The discussion of how web advertising works was really fascinating. It’s a fun book that is worth reading for anyone interested in what’s going on Silicon Valley now.
The Buy Side (2013) by Turney Duff is a well written memoir of career on Wall Street and a simultaneous drug addiction.
Turney paints himself well and is a sympathetic character. He charts his rise on Wall Street to a trader and also chronicles his use of alcohol and drugs. Stories of people on Wall Street are mixed with stories of parties. What a subset of Wall Street workers do with their money is carefully described.
Turney’s addictions get the better of him. It’s a sad descent but one that he comes through in a strange way. The book is interesting and entertaining, it’s not Liar’s Poker but it is an interesting chronicle of how a high functioning drug addict.
The Most Human Human (2012) by Brian Christian looks at how AI can make us reflect on what our human qualities are and how AI relates to them. Christian was one of the human participants in the 2009 Turing Test, where computers attempt to pass as humans as both chat to judges over written messages.
Christian has degrees in Computer Science and Philosophy and so is ideally placed to write about the subject of humanity and AI. The book is also well crafted. The story of Christian being a confederate in the Turing Test and his discussion of AI and humanity is interleaved skillfully.
Comparing chatbots and how people also follow scripts as well as how computers have improved at chess and other fields and pondering what makes humans different is definitely an interesting topic and the book does this all well.For anyone interested and how humanity is different and similar it’s definitely worth a read.
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption (2012) by Clay Johnson describes how we should view our information consumption somewhat like our diet and be careful what we take in.
The book starts off by describing how Johnson worked on the Howard Dean campaign and how within that campaign the view of what was going on was not realistic. He parlays this into looking at how we live in media bubbles and often wind up browsing the net reading listicles instead of working. There are lots of references to Michael Pollan references. Johnson recommends reading widely and deliberately reading things you disagree with, reading source material like budgets and laws and avoiding junk information. It’s solid but fairly obvious advice.
The book wouldn’t be a bad essay but the thesis is a bit weak and the meandering a bit wide to make it much good as a book.