Archive for August, 2005

Aug 27 2005

A Shortcut Through Time

Published by under Books

by George Johnson

This book is an example of simplified science writing. A description of one area of science and engineering meant to make it more or less accessible to “every-man”. In this case the area is quantum computing, but a rather broad definition was used.

I found it an unsatisfying book in the end. Parts of it were useful to me, but much of it wasn’t very relevant to explicating the how of quantum computers. On the plus side, I liked how clear the author was on his necessary use of analogy and metaphor since he scrupulously avoids any use of mathematics (to the extent of calling modulus arithmetic “clock arithmetic”). There was a lot of very basic material on ordinary digital computers, then some basic material on quantum computers and then a short foray into computability theory with an attempt to related quantum computing to computability.

The chapters on the quantum factoring algorithm and the quantum index lookup algorithm were the best part of the book. But the book seems to lack an audience. If a person needed the very basic material on digital computers, I’m hard pressed to see how they would have made any sense out of the quantum or computability material.

Enough. Not a bad book, but too simple in some areas, good in some, and a few just off the point. The level of detail was too uneven.

004.1J6322

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Aug 19 2005

The Disappearing Body

Published by under Books

by David Grand
I picked this book up from the SF public library when I picked up Louse (see the prior post), and should have taken this on the trip to Chicago. It is a good if not perfect airplane book. A mystery with many murders, a little sex, a large cast of characters and a complex, convoluted plot which is set in a thinly disguised Manhattan in the 1930’s. Gangsters, drugs, politics, cops, communists, unions, union busters are all included in the story. A quick start got me involved though it did kind of peter out as all the plot threads were pulled together at the end.

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Aug 13 2005

Louse – A novel

Published by under Books

by David Grand
This book is based on and supposed to be a parody of the last few days of Howard Hughes life. The jacket indicates it’s funny, and something I read in the past recommended it to me since it was on my list. But, on reading it seemed to be a dog of a book (And, I’m not fond of many dogs). I planned to read it on the plane during my current trip but after 60+ pages pages without any humor and without my developing any interest in the characters, I gave up and put it on the bottom of my suitcase for a quick return to the library.

I’m not counting this one in the books I have read this year since I didn’t read it.

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Aug 06 2005

Maximum City

Published by under Books

Subtitled “Bombay Lost and Found”.

by Suketu Mehta
I suppose this would have to be categorized as a travel book though it is not really o travel book. The author was born and raised in Bombay (now called Mumbai), but emigrated to the US (if Manhattan is the US!) when in his teens. He went back to Bombay twenty years later as a writer and researched his former city through excellent contacts which put him in touch with a wide range of people. The book is about people in Bombay and the general tone of the place. Not about its physical structure.
Bombay is quite a place. Teeming with people all trying to make money and get rich. A magnet for rural Indians. A non functional government and judicial system that has led to a major role for gangs in “administering” the city. There is a fair amount of information about the conflict between muslims and hindus in the city that has led to riots and bombings. Researched in the lat nineties, it is a little out of date, but thorough.
Long descriptions of talks with rioters, murderers, bar dancers, and what can only be called out of this world religious fanatics (a Jain family renouncing everything and becoming wandering monks).
Could be read as a possible future for other cities as populations increase and as resources become more scarce.

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Aug 05 2005

The Gold Bug Variations

Published by under Books

by Richard Powers
This is the third book written by Richard Powers that I’ve recently read so a basis for liking it is in place. The author is a very verbal person who likes to lecture and does so in a pleasant manner as part of his novels! In this book, the subject of the lectures are: molecular genetics, musical variations, and code decipherment. Sound boring, well it wasn’t to me, but I did get irritated with it at time.
The story is told as an analog to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. In a sense it is told 30 times, each with additional or different details which move the main story along (slowly, I’d say as the book is over 600 pages long). The overt story line involves two couples, four people, one of whom is only a memory. The protagonists are a research librarian (the voice of the story), a former brilliant molecular biologist, a dropped out PhD candidate, and a former female peer of the biologist. Given this cast, its not surprising that there is little physical action and a lot of thought, discussion, and mental ruminations.
The book was written in the mid 1980’s and seems to have been prompted by the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA which makes a good subject to blend with the musical variations scheme. Given its age, the molecular biology information is surely dated, but probably(?) still true in general outline.
So, it is a good book to read; if you like long, wordy, somewhat intellectual novels.

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