Human meets machine, and both prevail in an engaging story of technology and discovery.

SAM

ONE ROBOT, A DOZEN ENGINEERS, AND THE RACE TO REVOLUTIONIZE THE WAY WE BUILD

Gripping tale of a robot arm and an unexpected application to which it was put to work.

Laying down courses of bricks is difficult work, requiring masons to lift tons of materials daily. From this observation came a light-bulb moment: A New York architect named Nate Podkaminer pondered whether it would be possible to automate the process by using a robot. Employing members of his family, he set out on the quest to construct what, in one iteration, was “an oversize contraption—capable of laying forty-pound cinder blocks as well as four-pound bricks—powered by an undersize motor, resting on undersize rails.” With tinkering, writes Waldman (Rust: The Longest War, 2015), Podkaminer and company were able to cook up SAM, for “semi-automated mason,” semi- because while the machine, built up from a Swiss-made robotic arm, was able to lift and set down bricks, it required human masons to point and clean up the mortar bonding them. (The Swiss firm “thought a bricklaying robot was crazy.”) No one involved was a bricklayer as such but instead process engineers and the like. The real bricklayers, as one might expect, were suspicious and a little hostile at first; one said, “if a robot told me where to lay bricks, I think I’d shove it off the scaffold!" Though assured that humans were in charge and that jobs for masons would grow, since lowering the cost of laying bricks would mean more brick buildings would go up in the place of steel and glass, the firm continued to meet resistance—but kept on plugging all the same, to quietly triumphant ends. As one learns a great deal about geology from John McPhee and computers from Tracy Kidder, Waldman offers a lively, accessible overview of the bricklayer’s art, which is much more complex than one might think. Apart from engendering an appreciation for the uses of technology, the author also adds to the literature surrounding the dignity of artful labor.

Human meets machine, and both prevail in an engaging story of technology and discovery.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4059-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 15

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

Did you like this book?

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

more