A white paper largely of interest to education theorists and aid specialists, with occasional asides for the Jaron...

GEEK HERESY

RESCUING SOCIAL CHANGE FROM THE CULT OF TECHNOLOGY

A well-meaning but arid argument, by a former Microsoft executive and current MIT fellow, against the presumed Trojan horses of technology.

Issuing an affordable laptop to every school kid will save the developing world, right? Well, probably not—and not even Nicholas Negroponte would say so. The argument Toyama advances contains or at least implies such straw men, for of course there are many other considerations: are skilled teachers available? Is learning valued at home? Will the girls of the village be allowed to learn how to work a spreadsheet, or will they be forbidden from doing so because, as Toyama cites in one case, such knowledge will drive up their dowry prices? Throwing technology at problems that are fundamentally social and cultural in nature, argues the author, will likely prove ineffectual; he coins a “Law of Amplification” to that end, namely, that “technology’s primary effect is to amplify human forces.” Marshall McLuhan said much the same thing half a century ago. Toyama makes some good and perceptive points along the way, observing that if the same technology, for instance, can be used for both entertainment and education, people will choose entertainment every time and that technology often leads us to invent needs that we didn’t know we had (“Few people imagined before 1979 that they would want to live in their very own cocoons of music”). He is also correct to note that the proper goal of economic development is to develop not consumers but producers, even if many First World technologies seek only the former (“modern global civilization seems stuck in a form of self-actualization marked by consumption and personal achievement”)—and that meaningful education and social development are both expensive and require plenty of follow-up, something that one-laptop schemes underemphasize.

A white paper largely of interest to education theorists and aid specialists, with occasional asides for the Jaron Lanier/Nicholas Carr crowd.

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61039-528-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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BEATING THE STREET

More uncommonly sensible investment guidance from a master of the game. Drawing on his experience at Fidelity's Magellan Fund, a high- profile vehicle he quit at age 46 in 1990 after a spectacularly successful 13-year tenure as managing director, Lynch (One Up on Wall Street, 1988) makes a strong case for common stocks over bonds, CDs, or other forms of debt. In breezy, anecdotal fashion, the author also encourages individuals to go it alone in the market rather than to bank on money managers whose performance seldom justifies their generous compensation. With the caveat that there's as much art as science to picking issues with upside potential, Lynch commends legwork and observation. ``Spending more time at the mall,'' he argues, invariably is a better way to unearth appreciation candidates than relying on technical, timing, or other costly divining services prized by professionals. The author provides detailed briefings on how he researches industries, special situations, and mutual funds. Particularly instructive are his candid discussions of where he went wrong as well as right in his search for undervalued securities. Throughout the genial text, Lynch offers wry, on-target advisories under the rubric of ``Peter's Principles.'' Commenting on the profits that have accrued to those acquiring shares in enterprises privatized by the British government, he notes: ``Whatever the Queen is selling, buy it.'' In praise of corporate parsimony, the author suggests that, ``all else being equal, invest in the company with the fewest photos in the annual report.'' Another bull's-eye for a consummate pro, with appeal for market veterans and rookies alike. (Charts and tabular material— not seen.)

Pub Date: March 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-671-75915-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1993

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