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Informatica 1.0: Access to the Best Tools for Masteringthe Information Age 13

Matthew Devost submitted a book review of Peter M. Black's Informatica 1.0. The book is an interesting one, and is sort of a collection of some of the coolest people, projects and resources around.
Informatica 1.0: Access to the Best Tools for Masteringthe Info
author Peter M. Black
pages 398
publisher Random House, 09/1999
rating ?
reviewer Matthew Devost
ISBN 0-375-70637-2 (inclu
summary Informatica is a fun and enlightening read and should appeal to a very broad audience, including the Slashdot community.
Peter Black has scoured the net and the psyche of the scientific and geek communities to identify and document some of the coolest products, resources and initiatives in existence. When Peter first told me about this book project he described it as "The Whole Earth Catalog, 30 years later, without chemical toilets and backpacking gear". I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he exceeded his expectations. Informatica is an interesting and fun compendium of geek gadgets and resources.

The appeal of Informatica is not solely in the uniqueness of the items and concepts covered, but in the way they blend together to provide an extensive overview of the information age. The author doesn't focus exclusively on the bleeding edge, but rather weaves old and new together to provide the framework required to understand the historical and future implications of technology.

In addition, Peter has assembled relevant essays and other information that provide useful insights you wouldn't normally encounter. For example, on the pages that discuss FM radios, the book includes tables that list the frequencies used, expected signal ranges and an essay entitled "Creating the Motorola TalkAbout Two-Way Radio" by Frank Tyneski who actually designed them!

The layout of the book is intuitive and each page includes a useful sidebar providing an item description, date it was developed, price range, key features, recommended ages, obsolescence, and URL. While the layout allows for front-to-back reading, the book is best consumed in random order or used as a reference by making use of its table of contents or extensive index.

Most of the reviews are provided in the first person, adding an element of insightfulness and wit that book readers are not ordinarily subjected to. As a resident of Washington, D.C. I found Peter's review of Cloak and Dagger Books to be very entertaining and it provided a valuable pointer to replace a unique resource.
?Back in the eighties there was a wonderfully peculiar bookstore called the National Intelligence Book Center. It was hidden on the sixth floor of a non-descript building on K Street in Washington, D.C. You had to check your stuff (weapons? censors?) in lockers at the door and be buzzed in by someone who looked at you from behind bulletproof glass. It was weird, but it felt like it was for real. In the early nineties, the NIBC closed down?.now the best resource for these sorts of things is the Cloak and Dagger Bookstore"

The book is divided into five sections on hardware, sources, software, plasticware and paperware. Some sections are better developed than others. For example, the sections on hardware and sources are excellent, while the section on plasticware is lacking in both substance and insight. The listing below identifies a few of the items from each section that I found to be interesting:

HARDWARE:
Highly Portable Astronomical Telescope (pg. 8)
Pocket Thermo-Anemometer (pg. 19)
Sony VAIO (pg. 41)
Lego Mindstorms (pg. 48)
Sampling of Electronic Cars (pg. 54)
Empeg Linux-Powered Car Radio (pg. 63)
Suncatcher Solar Panel:Portable Power Source for Portable Devices (pg. 71)
Palm Pilot (pg. 75)

SOURCES:
www.howstuffworks.com (pg. 84)
The Obsolete Computer Museum (pg. 95)
National Cryptologic Museum and Web Site (pg. 102)
Tree of Life:Global Net-Based Distributed Database on Life (pg. 109)
The GPS Information Web Site (pg. 138)
Cloak and Dagger Books (pg. 142)
The Cathedral and the Bazaar (pg. 144)
The Coca Cola Formula (pg. 173)
The Slinky Physics Web Site (pg. 193)
Internet Mapping Project (pg. 211)
Slashdot (pg. 222)

SOFTWARE:
Digital Planetarium (pg. 240)
Enigma Cipher Simulator (pg. 246)
Truster:Software for Determining the Truth (pg. 256)

PLASTICWARE:
Powers of Ten VHS (pg. 265)

PAPERWARE:
The American Black Chamber (early crypto) (pg. 285)
The Puzzle Palace (pg. 286)
The Number Devil:A Mathematical Adventure (pg. 305)
A Spy's London: A Walk Book of 136 Sites in Central London Relating to Spies, Spycatchers, and Subversives (pg. 315)
Undercover Washington: Touring the Sites Where Infamous Spies Lived, Worked and Loved (pg. 320)
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (pg. 339)
Endless Frontier: Vannevar Bush, Engineer of the American Century (pg. 378)

The book also serves as a useful time capsule for the turn of the Millennium. It documents current state of the art technologies that should make for interesting reading and reminiscing in twenty years or so. Some versions of the book also include a CDROM and there is a companion web site.

The author is the president of a software company in California and is known for his ability to track and understand new technologies. He was a contributor to Wired magazine during its first year of existence and was also one of the first multimedia publishers to provide content on DVD. Peter is an avid collector of eclectic knowledge and "cool" resources.He is notorious for carrying a small index card in his pocket on which he constantly notes new discoveries mined from casual conversations. In addition, he queried half a dozen friends in the industry and asked them to contribute items for inclusion in the book.

Informatica is a fun and enlightening read and should appeal to a very broad audience, including the Slashdot community.

Purchase this at fatbrain.

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Informatica 1.0: Access to the Best Tools for Masteringthe Information Age

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