A fun look at the next step of tech evolution but one that could have taken a more skeptical look at the risks.

THE HUMAN FACE OF BIG DATA

A colorful, upbeat overview of the ways massive amounts of data can influence everything from medicine to law enforcement to consumer behavior.

Petabyte is a word that appears often in this app, a companion to the coffee-table book of the same title by the producers of the Day in the Life series. A petabyte is 1,000 terabytes—too huge for any one computer to store but representative of the wealth of data that can now be accessed to provide new insight into human behavior. The app is broken up into essays that precede multimedia-rich features on “big data” trends. For example, in a feature on how computer pioneer Gordon Bell obsessively digitizes nearly every activity, readers can click through a slideshow of images and hear him discuss them. A feature on Major League Baseball’s data-capture process is built around an animation showing the many quantifiable events that occur during a single pitch. And a feature on how laptop motion sensors can be collectively leveraged to detect earthquakes invites users to shake the iPad to learn earthquake facts. Most of the multimedia elements aren’t quite so clever—many just point to related online videos—but the presentation is consistently inviting, rooted in splashy, rich photography, entertaining infographics and clean writing. (One of the more entertaining essays comes from stunt memoirist A.J. Jacobs, who writes about how personal data collection has improved his health.) The app’s chief flaw has more to do with philosophy than with design. Some essays hint at big data’s serious downsides—particularly loss of privacy, hackers and the power of software coders to manipulate consumers—yet these concerns lack sexy infographics of their own and are given little more than lip service.

A fun look at the next step of tech evolution but one that could have taken a more skeptical look at the risks.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Against All Odds Productions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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