Monthly ArchiveNovember 2005

Non-fiction 30 Nov 2005 10:26

Faster than the Speed of Light

coverFaster than the Speed of Light
João Magueijo

If this book were a TV documentary, it would come with a MA 15+ rating (“contains strong language, sexual references, drug references and adult themes”). Seriously, I had never seen so much profanity in a science book before. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but it adds some weird “colour” to the content.

Aside from that, it’s a very interesting book. It’s not a “hard core” scientific book: less time is spent describing actual science than the bureaucratic process behind how science is practised nowadays.

The story is centred around Magueijo’s theory of a varying speed of light (VSL) as a solution to the problems that plague our current understanding of how the big bang happened. While it is accepted that the universe we know was created in a gigantic explosion billions of years ago, several details regarding how things managed to evolve in exactly the kind of universe we have today are not well understood.

Inflation theory is one possible solution to a few of the problems, but it introduces others. The VSL theory (set of theories, actually) potentially solves all of the problems while making predictions that might conceivably be confirmed, but it comes with a price: it violates Einstein’s general and special relativity. And that is a major sin.

A very large part of the book is dedicated to the reaction of the “scientific establishment” to such a radical theory, with no lack of insults flying around (directed at journal referees, university administrators, old scientists and so on). This is entertaining and eye-opening, even though not quite what I was expecting from the book.

Still, it’s a very good book, and it includes a very good primer on the theory of relativity (in order to overthrow it later on, of course). Scientific ideas, when they are mentioned, are explained in a good level of detail well suited to non-physicists.

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Non-fiction 08 Nov 2005 15:51

Inside Yahoo!

coverInside Yahoo!
Karen Angel

Despite its title, this book feels very much like something written entirely from the outside. Honestly, it looks like the author spent a considerable amount of time reading newspaper and magazine articles and wrote a long summary in the form of a book. You don’t feel a connection with the characters; they are all presented more or less as faceless businessmen (even Filo and Yang, who are not exactly your regular executive).

From the point of view of someone reading this book in 2005, the main problem is that it ends in late 2001. It covers the Internet bubble and the subsequent crash, but not the recovery shown by the company afterwards. At the end of the book, it looks like Yahoo! is a company deeply in trouble that may not survive independently for long; and we all know that this is not how the story ends.

It’s sort of a business book, and reads like a Wall Street Journal report. So, it’s not the best book for geeks or other technology-oriented readers; it does present a very good chronology of the bubble years and of the relation between Yahoo! and its competitors during those interesting years. But if that’s not what you are interested in, it will be a very boring book.

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