Learning From History

January 3, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Posted in Books, Politics | Leave a comment

William M. Leuchtenberg’s “The Perils of Prosperity” (1958) chronicles America between the end of World War I and the election of Franklin Roosevelt; it gives the reader a sense of history repeating itself. The conservatism of the Roaring 20s was the foundation for the worldwide depression and war of the next two decades.

The critiques of American business and politics of the 1920’s applies just as much today as it did eighty years ago. Like those today struggling with real estate deflation and job losses, most people, and especially those who had the most influence and power, did not see the dangers until it was too late. One paragraph in his book neatly summarizes a lesson which 2000’s America has failed to learn:

“There was no single cause of the crash and the ensuing depression, but much of the responsibility for both falls on the foolhardy assumption that the special interests of business and the national interest were identical. The administration took the narrow interests of business groups to be the national interest, and the result was catastrophe.”

How can one read the above passage and not see the parallels between the Republican presidents of that time (Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover) and George W. Bush, and deny that their policies have brought another depression to our country? We are going to pay a heavy price for our failure to learn from history.

Big Daddy

May 25, 2008 at 7:55 pm | Posted in Books, Politics | Leave a comment

Bill Boyarsky’s “Big Daddy – Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics” goes beyond a simple biography of the California Assembly speaker. Jesse Unruh was arguably the most influential person to ever hold the post, and was known for creating a full-time state legislature and crafting a civil rights law that was used as the basis for the federal Civil Rights Act.

The book describes the bipartisan political climate of the 1960s when California was truly the Golden State, with a centrist government that was both progressive and business-friendly. The tumultous year of 1968 marked the end of Unruh’s speakership and also the beginning of California’s descent into partisan politics and gridlock that continues to this day.

Fire In The East

February 9, 2007 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Books, Politics | Leave a comment

I just finished reading Paul Bracken’s Fire In The East which predicts the loss of American influence in Asia (including the Middle East).

It was written before 9/11 and Iraq. Though it predicted a challenge to American power, the challenge was not from nuclear-armed nations (India, Pakistan, China, North Korea) but from non-state groups like Al Qaeda and non-nuclear states like Syria and Iran. The latter theory is espoused at John Robbs’ Global Guerrillas.

Contrary to the books’ prediction, the nuclear powers in Asia (except North Korea) have interests that are not in direct conflict with those of the United States. The fear that Asian WMDs will be more likely used than Western WMDs will hopefully be proven false.

Hubbert’s Peak

October 26, 2006 at 8:54 pm | Posted in Books | 1 Comment

Last December, I attended a Caltech lecture featuring petroleum engineer Ken Deffeyes. He explained the theory behind Peak Oil, taking M. King Hubbert’s prediction regarding US oil production and applying it to world oil production. According to Deffeyes, world oil production peaked on November 2005.

I finally read his book Hubbert’s Peak. The first six chapters are quite informative for engineers not familiar with the petroleum industry, though it may be too technical for most people. It describes the nature of oil – how it is formed, where it is found, and how it is extracted from the ground; nothing that would cause controversy. The interesting material are chapters 7 and 8, where the prediction is made using statistics and historical data. Hubbert’s 1956 paper correctly predicted US oil production for the next 40-45 years. Deffeyes’ prediction of a 2005 peak will be tested in the next 10 years. The book actually predicts a 2003-2006 peak, but that was narrowed in his next book Beyond Oil.

His rebuttal to those who say that high oil prices will increase production is simple – American oil exploration was at its highest during the 1930s, during the Great Depression when gas was less than 10 cents per gallon.

Missed Predictions

October 13, 2004 at 10:30 pm | Posted in Books, Technology | Leave a comment

I just finished reading Don Norman’s The Psychology of Everyday Things (buy). He takes a lot of his experience as an Apple Fellow and applies it to the low-tech objects in our lives – doors, windows, refrigerators, and signs to name a few. He has a lot of good things to say that are valid now as they were when the book was published over 15 years ago. However, Don was way off in predicting the ease by which people would become web authors and bloggers:

… if hypertext really becomes available, especially in the fancy versions now being talked about — where words, sounds, video, computer graphics, simulations, and more are all available at the touch of the screen — well, it is hard to imagine anyone capable of preparing the material. It will take teams of people. I predict that there will be much experimentation, and much failure, before the dimensions of this new technology are fully explored and understood.

In the next few pages, he describes the high cost of information storage and retrieval, totally missing the large investment made in Internet infrastructure that would occur during the dot-com boom of the late 90’s.

New Books from No Starch Press

January 28, 2004 at 10:07 pm | Posted in Books | Comments Off on New Books from No Starch Press

I’ve always liked No Starch Press; they’re a spunky small publisher known for catering to the geek crowd, with a special focus on BSD Unix. They have recently released two new titles for non-geeks – Apple Confidential 2.0 and a book for Linux newbies. I’ll let you click on the link for the cool sounding title. [Update – they changed the title of the book. It used to be “Linux for your Mom” which I thought was rather cute. Thanks Kevin!]

Windows is for Dummies, Linux is for the person that has loved you all your life.

Jury Duty – Time to Read!

August 27, 2003 at 9:31 pm | Posted in Books, Technology | 1 Comment

Today was jury duty day – a chance to read books I’ve been putting off. In 15 minutes, I had read Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint and it was like pulling out of a terminal dive. I suggest all PowerPoint jockeys read this and see how we can make our next presentations better and more information-dense. It’s $7 well-spent.

I also managed to read half of Linus Torvalds’ Just For Fun. The best quote so far is in the extended entry. There is also a chapter where he takes on Steve Jobs and his RDF.
Continue Reading Jury Duty – Time to Read!…

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