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Submission Summary: 0 pending, 8 declined, 14 accepted (22 total, 63.64% accepted)

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Submission + - An "open source" social change movement?! Geeks make American Governance 2.0 ?! (

jsuda writes: The extraordinarily divisive political and social categories which characterize our American experience today have resulted in unprecedented governmental dysfunction; irrational public policy and expenditures; an extremely polarized, cynical, frustrated, and distrustful citizenry; and an America declining to a second rate nation which has become an embarrassment to right-minded people nearly everywhere.

Virtually all authority institutions in America have lost credibility, especially governments at all levels. You know things are bad (really bad!) when obviously unqualified egotistical personalities like Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, and others are welcomed as potential saviors by a whole lot of the population which is desperate to escape its position as also-rans and "losers” in an increasingly partisan, competitive, and soulless society.

Who can blame these people for being rageful and grasping at any kind of hope, even those hoping against reason that even a sincere, competent candidate like democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, has the ability to really change much of anything even if he was elected as President (fat chance.) The game is too rigged for any electoral candidate to effectively effect significant change for the "little people.”

However, somebody really thinks that this situation can be fixed. How? Geeks come to the rescue! (Sort of!)

Where do the geeks and the open source movement fit in?

A new social movement is called the National Character Program. Its themes are outlined in a new book called “The Action Manual.” (The book is available free to download at ). Doing something about our sorry-assed American society is mostly what the Action Manual is about.

  Here is a synopsis of how it describes itself:

“The Action Manual is a story outline of a social movement called the National Character Program emphasizing a new political-economic vision and a practical plan to implement it. It's designed to even the playing field, somewhat, between a dominant political-economic elite and the so-called little people and to make American into an advanced 21st-Century nation.

It offers a fresh and unique way of seeing and thinking about American political-economic realities leading to a new social ethos composed of a collective culture with a new set of public values.

Those values include balancing private interests with public ones, prioritizing human meanings over economic system ones, and respecting those living the "small life" well (i.e., BMR.) It also means updating and rationalizing our 18th-Century governance institutions and principles and creating Smart governance and social relations administered, in part, by an informal shadow government run by the little people (i.e, mostly those Public citizens) themselves”

There is much in the Program for the geeks and open source folks to admire and want to support:

-an approach to problem-solving emphasizing reason, science, and technology but as applied to the social world

-harmony with the open, collaborative, “socialist” mores of much of the online world, especially among Internet pioneers and their successors in the Open Source movement. They have relied upon a social ethos benefiting nearly everyone.

-harmony of the Program's developmental processes--open, inclusive, modular, scalable, etc.– with the software developmental processes they favor in programming and coding applications. That means an appreciation of the power of knowledge and information sharing, group collaboration projects, the power of templates (software, code snippets, and development protocols) for mutual benefit;

-a shared belief in continuous advancement and improvement by application of reason and creative engineering and a high regard for innovation, new ideas, and efficiency designs..

Not only that, but they are mostly volunteers and are are really digital socialists, in a sense, but in terms of the new social movement, they are “Public Citizens.” It will be public citizens who will make the new social movement happen.

The deeper social and philosophical elements and traits of the digital world infuse some of the major principles of the program:

        a. The Internet= breadth and depth of information, inclusiveness, efficiency, and freedom

        b. Open Source= power of community collaboration; sharing for the public good; template and modular construction techniques; combinations of simultaneous bottom-up and top-down developmental approaches (e.g., communal governing bodies guiding, but not controlling, individual developers)

        c. Wiki's and Wikipedia (and similar)= crowd-developed knowledge and collective wisdom (often edited and/or moderated by informal--yet widely accepted--governing bodies)

        d. Social networks and recommendation sites= a flattening of the traditional top-down knowledge hierarchy where nearly everyone with something to share can provide input

        e. New organizational tactics and influence methods to assert group and collective interests via the Internet against Big Business and special interest overreaching. (The coordinated protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 and others like it are examples of what public citizenship, the community/collective, and non-capitalist enterprise can do. See Chapter 8 for a detailed examination of these tactics.) These examples are almost trivial compared to what functions are contemplated by the Program but, nevertheless, instructive of the power of new technology.

At a minimum, the program needs may present a "Geek" challenge for them. Can they design a new broad-based network and an accessible user interface to organize the little people and empower even the average Marys and Johns. That challenge may be hard for many to resist simply as a technological, “Can we do it?," thing.

Organized and focused applications of new, creative technology may flatten the elite-lower-class hierarchy; compel government to act for the little people, too; smooth over long-standing frictions among disparate groups; and more. As some might say about these new possibilities: "To infinity... and beyond!"

Submission + - Book Review: Money: The Unauthorized Biography (

jsuda writes: Most of us know that making money is difficult and saving it is even harder, but understanding money is easy–it's just coins and folding certificates, a mere medium of exchange.

That's wrong! according to Felix Martin, author of “Money: The Unauthorized Biography.” Not only is that understanding wrong but it's responsible (in large part) for the 2007 Great Recession and the pitiful “recovery” from it as well as a number of previous financial and credit disasters.

Mr. Martin draws a comparison of the orthodox understanding of money as a mere medium of exchange as typified by material objects–coins, gold bars, measuring sticks, and the like and a different way of thinking about it--as a social accounting construction based on mutual trust. That way of thinking acts as a primary social organizing tool. As such, a monetary system is much more sophisticated than just a logical extension of primitive bartering systems. It is imbued with major political aspects which account, in part, for the differences between the haves and have-nots, the policies selected to address financial/economic busts, and the relationship of the state to the monetary/financial systems.

The differing understandings of money underlie even now the varied explanations by economists of the causes of the Great Recession and the varied reactions of political leaders to it. It is also relevant to the deliberate removal of the government from the monetary system in favor of an impersonal computer network, as in the digital coin system now developing.

The author is a professional economist, bond trader, and analyst with the George Soros Institute for Economic Thinking. The book is a very worthwhile look at the concept of money as a (implicit, at least) political and social determinant and is quite topical as alternative monetary systems (mostly digitalized) like Bit Coin and competitors are garnering much attention. While the book does not address those new developments, it's clear that the digitalized coin systems imply acceptance of the orthodox understanding of money as a commodity. Some of Martin's criticism of the limitations of the orthodox view seem to apply to these alternatives, as well.

Mr. Martin writes in a relatively accessible manner relating stories, mostly, about money in historical and global contexts. His approach reminds of Malcolm Gladwell's books which use elaborate historical stories to illustrate relatively complex topics. Gladwell writes better but, arguably, covers simpler issues. However, this book, too, is relatively simple. It is no treatise on money or systems; it doesn't cover every issue which relates to money and exchange; and it seems a bit thin on theory even on those topics it does focus on. The major topic is the nature of money–a medium of exchange or social/political organizing tool and that issue has been theorized differently for centuries.

Mr. Martin starts his critique of the orthodox view of money by explaining how the early Pacific island Yap culture relied upon the symbolism of large stones (known as “fei.") These stones were kept by individuals as value storage devices, even though they had few of the characteristics which typically would be present in money systems–tokens of some sort small enough to carry and to hide, a consistent look, ease of exchange, a readily determinable unit value, etc. None of that was relevant for the Yaps as they understood money as mere transferable obligations, commercial or otherwise, based on mutual trust. The bigger your stone, the more value you had to trade, even though no stones physically moved anywhere. The Yaps had a small community and violations of community trust were easily discouraged. The stones (including a large one on the bottom of the ocean) were only tangential to the much more relevant element of social trust.

Mr. Martin reviews a large handful of other historical situations involving credit collapses, bank runs, recessions, and big bank/governmental associations to make his main point that when money is rigidly understood merely as a commodity of exchange, bad things can happen to financial, credit, economic, and political systems, especially in difficult times. Take, for instance, the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century where potential government/social aid to the jobless and hungry was stymied by creditor interests who valued the absolute sanctity of (bond and debt) contracts even at the consequences of millions of deaths. As they saw it, those victims were either responsible for their own problems or just losers in a competitive economy. Some economic thinkers at that time believed that those awful consequences were just part of the natural order and represented (unfortunately for the victims) unavoidable consequences of “good” finance.

While Mr. Martin doesn't address it much, most of the little people in America and elsewhere were also victims of the absolute sanctity of debt contracts. They lost jobs, homes, pensions, and savings in the Great Recession while big bondholders who legally had assumed investment risks lost nothing. Their debt contracts were inviolate. (The personal and social contracts of the little people naturally were worth nothing.)

Some of the major policy implications of money deal with: 1) inflation and deflation where a political decision is implied involving the contrary interests of creditors and debtors: 2) social responses to credit collapses and the role (if any) of government in moderating them; 3) who or what entities are or should be guarantors of trustworthiness (i. e., big banks? government? a computer network? 4) the role of formal contract law versus the principle of the good social good, and more. These are not mere abstract matters of formal theory but highly consequential matters of life and death (as the Irish potato farmers and lots of little people have found out.)

The author spends a lot of time explaining how trust works--in small organizations and communities, nations, and in globalized financial systems. At the top of the trust ladder (even for the most libertarian types) is the sovereign, i. e., government. There are important reasons why governments are generally lenders of last resort, stabilize financial and economic systems, and ultimately, the only potential savior for citizens from total economic collapse (as in the Great Recession.) There are various alternatives for the governmental role, none of which please everyone.

Hence, the political dimension of the money-social relationship. Mr. Martin comes down hard in favor of the flexible, social understanding of money. He praises John Maynard Keynes, Walter Bagehot, and even Salon, of centuries ago for their insights. He blames the great liberal philosopher, John Locke, of all people, for having a decidedly ill-liberal and ill-formed understanding of money. Lock was an orthodox monetarist and helped justify the philosophy which is still prominent. Each of the two philosophical approaches discussed here offer both liberal and conservative themes though rarely opposed as such.

That raises one major objection to Martin's thesis that orthodox monetary theory is wrong. He wants to substitute the social tool concept for it, but it seems pretty obvious that both frames of reference have their utility and truth. It's not easy to discredit respect for contract rights. On the other hand, it's hard to accept the starvation of millions of people to maintain them fully intact.

Nearly all such fundamental frames have their truths, even if inconsistent with the other. The better philosophical view is that we are guided (or not) by multiple, logically inconsistent frames. That is a philosophical point which he doesn't address well enough. He does concede that the orthodox theory mostly works well when times are good (but breaks down horribly when circumstances are bad.) This seems to imply a need for high-level judgment somewhere in the system, e. g., democratic political processes, a conclusion which tends to support his position.

He offers a couple of not very well-explained alternative monetary systems designed to remedy the faults of the orthodox approach while maintaining its virtues. He ends the book by suggesting that even if his thesis is correct, that getting the rest of the world to accept it is difficult–most people have rigid orthodox views, fiercely held. He lamely suggests without any elaboration that the power is within each of us to change those views. That would seem to require another book.

There is a lot of good meat, so to speak, to chew on in this book.

(FTC disclosure (16 CFR Part 255)): The reviewer has accepted a reviewer's copy of this book which is his to keep. He intends to provide an honest, independent, and fair evaluation of the book in all circumstances.)


Submission + - Book Review: Survival of the Nicest (

jsuda writes:         In a world of intractable wars and conflicts all over the place, spiteful and persistent political gridlock dominating (at least) American politics, rampant bare-knuckle capitalist competition and exploitation, and haters everywhere, Stephen Klein tries to convince us why it pays to get along and that we can be, and ought to be, “nice” for our personal and social benefits.

        That is quite a challenge! Nevertheless, Mr. Klein constructs arguments deriving from current brain research and genetics; economics, history, and social psychology; game theory; and behavioral and anthropological experiments which are intriguing, to say the least. Klein is an acclaimed science writer and writes about complex ideas in an accessible (if not always coherent) manner. He has a remarkable synthetic overview of a large number of elements which condition human economic decisions and behavior. He draws upon individual human stories, social science research, and especially game theory and economic logic to show that purely rational self-interested behavior is rare and probably impossible on a broad, societal level. He implies that the macroeconomic theories of the Austrian school of essential self-interest are reductionist at best. Society would eventually collapse and die off without a substantial amount of altruism particularly when under stress from environmental or competitive pressures.

          Emotions, psychology, and cultural conditioning play a huge role in how people interact with each other in terms of selfish versus social decisions and behaviors. He cites natural and social science research which suggests that giving and altruism are essential for happiness itself. (There's even a biochemical basis for this in oxytocin and other substances.) Elements of community-level trust and fairness are probably more prominent than naked economic calculations. He gives many examples of how these elements of trust and fairness run counter and (or are complementary) to what ought to be expected from pure self interested logic and calculation.

        He also points out that even the perceived effectiveness of reason and logic strategies depends on often-ignored assumptions like differences in consequences over short, medium, and long terms, the presence of imperfect knowledge, and the like. He sprinkles numerous examples of how game theory favorites like The Prisoner's Dilemma, The Free Rider Game, Ultimatum, and the amazingly effective Tit-for-Tat strategy (where a certain short-term level of--irrational--trust is essential to its success) are relevant for a whole host of social and economic situations.

        There are intricate arguments about how game-like stratagems combined with tribalist elements condition self-interest and social-interest behaviors. Surprisingly, he argues how the success of generosity and good-naturedness depend on the presence of some degree of self-interest. Community-wide mores depend on an us-them competitive situation where the tribal effects unify people into efficient social structures where altruism is essential for the group to compete with and/or defeat outsiders. If and when that competition subsides, the group may then develop "freeloaders" who will increase in number in effect and collapse the social interest by rejecting its mores of trust and fairness.

        The historical perspective on all of this is not very well developed or very coherent nor are the references to evolutionary theory. Mr. Klein sides with the proponents of the current controversy over group genetic selection position versus the more established individual selection position. He argues that generosity is hardwired into the human species at both the individual and group levels. Nevertheless, Klein shows that the selfish-vs-social attitudes have evolved over the centuries due to advanced philosophical concepts and the influence of condensing world geography, cultural shifts, and globalization-like elements.

        He draws upon this evolutionary process to propose that we are in a historical period (The Global Village) where people are becoming more and more interdependent, unified by communication and transportation developments, and less tribal (at the national and cultural levels, at least) than before. These events will likely promote greater elements of trust, converging senses of fairness, and a recognition of the long term efficiencies of social behavior versus that of the mere self-interested personal attitude.

        As a better educated society (mainly in economic efficiency theory and morality) we can change our thinking about how we relate to one another. We will recognize the evolutionary advantages to altruism. We can practice habits of fairness and altruism. Interestingly, he refers to science which categorizes humans as comprised of three main groups: about one third are consistently self interested, one-fifth are consistently altruists, and the rest are pragmatic opportunists who act depending on the environmental variables. Optimistically, he states "The Future Belongs to the Altruists.”

        I don't know how convincing this book can or will be given the enormous tidal wave of selfishness and narcissism which seemingly has infected our world. It seems right that a new way of thinking is a start towards something different, anyway, and this book certainly is intriguing and thought provoking.

(FTC disclosure (16 CFR Part 255)): The reviewer has accepted a reviewer's copy of this book which is his to keep. He intends to provide an honest, independent, and fair evaluation of the book in all circumstances.)

Book Reviews

Submission + - Fitness for Geeks

jsuda writes: "You would think that geeks would be as interested in fitness as dogs are of TV. After all, geeks already put in hours of finger dancing on keyboards, assembling hefty code fragments, and juggling PHP programming functions.

        Although intended, in part, as a guide to real physical fitness the book, "Fitness for Geeks," entices geeks with what they are really interested in–the science of fitness, nutrition, and exercise. In 11 chapters over 311 pages (including notes and an index) author, Bruce W Perry, describes in great detail the science of fitness and all of its components–food selections, timings, and fastings; exercising of all types; sleep, rest, and meditation; the benefits of hormesis (shocking the body with stresses); and the benefits of natural sunlight.

        One of the major themes is respect for ancestral behaviors relating to fitness, as he sees the human body as having built-in “software” (biological and physiological “pathways”) regulating its needs for certain foods and nutrients, its affinities for sprinting and intermittent fasting, and a preference for sunlight. These behaviors were evolutionary-based adaptations to their environment which in some ways was much more physically stressful than ours is now.

        He argues that modern humans have gotten way too far away from their ancestral roots at the expense of their health and fitness. They would be better served by committing to behaviors which are modeled after those of our distant predecessors. That means large doses of natural sunlight, exercise programs emphasizing high demand tasks like sprinting, food selections high in quality fats and proteins and low in processed foods and sugars, and intermittent fastings.

        In other words, channel your inner caveman.

        He supports his thesis with reference to hundreds of scientific studies. However, he doesn't sufficiently explain why modern human lifespans are so much longer than that of the ancients despite diets high in Twinkies, exercise defined as walking down the hall to the Coke machine, and light exposure limited to LCD illumination.

        While the major interest of the book for geeks is in the science, Mr. Perry is also advocating real improvement in personal health and fitness. The author is a software engineer and computer-topic writer and also a serious runner, biker, and outdoor enthusiast. He seems to be a very intense proponent of maximum personal fitness both as an instructor and personally where he tracks and measures nearly every physical thing he does during the day. He monitors and measures macro nutritional ratios (carbohydrates, fats, proteins); micro nutritional consumption levels (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals); exercise metrics like energy use (Metabolic Equivalents of Tasks--MET's); the times, rhythms, and patterns of exercise program elements; and more.

        Like a serious geek, he uses all the latest and greatest hardware and software tools to monitor and measure including GPS devices, motion detectors, smart phone apps of all kinds, and web-based trackers and analyzers. He describes many of the features of apps like FitBit, Endomondo, Fitocracy, and Garmin Connect, including screenshots of configurations, data charts, result pages, and comparison charts. He highlights use of web-based databases especially the nutritional information available at the USDA National Nutrient Database.

        Mr. Perry also throws in a bit of food and food marketing politics as he emphasizes buying from local food suppliers, or even better, growing your own food and hunting your evening's meal. He shuns supermarket products, for the most part, even providing strategies on how best to navigate the typical mega markets to avoid being psychologically and emotionally manipulated by marketing techniques which attempt to get the consumer to buy more than they need, pricier items, and the latest junk foods they happen to be promoting that week.

        Mr. Perry is one serious guy!

        I don't think that he is a typical health-concerned person or even a typical geek, although he is an independent spirit with great curiosity about things he's interested in. He seems to be serious about fitness to an idiosyncratic degree. In addition to all of the monitoring and measuring, he experiments with up to four different fasting strategies, goes for cold water swims, and does a variety of push-ups while waiting for boarding at the airport.

        His book, I think, would appeal primarily to serious health freaks or competitive athletes who have the time and need to micromanage their eating, sleeping, and physical activities, and later analyzing all of the accumulated data.

        The author writes knowledgeably and comprehensively about his topics and provides a lot of detail, especially on the tracking and measuring apps. He includes a handful of sidebar interviews with nutritional and fitness experts, some photos and graphics, and tosses in a few code references like anti-patterns and the random function, among others. What isn't in the book is referenced to websites containing more specific information, data, and videos.

        Although he sprinkles some personal anecdotes and humor into the writing, overall, the book, while well organized, is a slow, often mind jumbling read. There is almost too much information, too many options to try out for some activities, and not enough focus. It will not win any literary awards. To some readers, it may be sort of like reading lab reports.

        A lot of geeks like reading lab reports and there is a sufficient number of competitive athletes and health fanatics who'll find this book quite valuable and interesting."

Submission + - Book Review: Occupy World Street (

jsuda writes: "        For those billions of people for whom the current political-economic system doesn't work–the Occupy Wall Street people, the Tea Partiers, the 99%-ers and have-nots, the middle and lower classes, and the rest of the unwashed masses, “Occupy World Street” is a starburst of enlightenment and a practical vision of hope for a new and advanced society.

        The book is subtitled appropriately "A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Order." It functions in a substantial way as the missing “content" for the Occupy Wall Street movement people who know that global capitalism and its political elite are screwing the middle and lower classes and the world environment but don't know exactly how they are doing it and how to change things. The book provides an unusually lucid analysis of the American political-economic system which should make clear to the Tea Partiers what their real targets of rage should be (it's not merely the Democrats nor the federal government.) Nearly everyone else who wants a “big picture” comprehensive analysis of the global economic system will be educated by this book.

        The author, Ross Jackson, identifies who and what is responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown and many other problems in society. Most prominent are a seriously-flawed “neo-liberal economic philosophy” and the political-elite class which sponsors that philosophy for self-interested reasons at the expense of the rest of us. Jackson makes clear that economic philosophical theory is not value free and is class politics in disguise. But way more importantly than the mere class versus class struggle, the neo-liberal economic philosophy has created severe energy and environmental problems which are almost certain to lead soon to major economic and political disruptions affecting the entire globe.

        The author's main perspective is as an environmentalist; he utilizes a systems approach of an overarching environmental model where the global environment is a closed, finite system and the economic, political, and other topics are subsystems of the whole. The book explains (in six parts and 17 chapters) how and why our existing economic model is failing and will create environmental, economic, and political chaos unless it is replaced soon with an economic model emphasizing “sustainability” and “development” versus simple “unlimited growth.” Jackson explains in the second half of the book what we can do about it, hopefully before it's too late for future generations to have a chance for civilized life.

        I have never heard before of Mr.Jackson, but he is bound to be (or at least should be) hailed as a top-notch public intellectual. He is a brilliant analyst of global economics, politics, and environmental matters; and a clever synthesist of the relevant economics, politics, philosophy, environmental science, psychology, sociology, history, physics, and biology, which apply to his examination.

        He has an unusually broad and diverse background as a global currency trader, executive of a nonprofit environmental organization, software designer and businessman, and degrees in engineering physics, industrial management, and operations research. This may explain, in part, his ability to see major categories of human life with such a wide lens while also being able to analyze the subcategories and the factual data.

        Part One explains the scientific and economic reasons why the neo-liberal approach of unending growth is unsustainable and a lie. It is a lie because it implies, at least, that everyone has a chance ultimately to achieve the high level of consumption of the successful capitalists and that the high consumption gravy train will go on forever. He uses biological, environmental, and mathematical data to show that the neo-liberal assumption of infinite natural capital has already resulted in net deficits of global energy resources, and that the world (and the neo-liberal economic system) will end frightfully unless we reduce population, give up the idea of “more of everything is better,” redesign and downsize our economies, use less fossil energies, and emphasize sustainability.

        The next two parts explain the politics and human factors which drive the irrational economic policies. He goes into good detail about historical economic theory from the mercantile period, to the classical free trade period, to our existing neo-liberal period. He clearly explains how and why the 2008 financial crisis occurred and why it is likely to repeat itself, and how the current debt crisis in Europe (and elsewhere) happened and why the European Union is not equipped even now to successfully deal with it. Any effort to address it (using the existing neo-liberal strategies) will be temporary and the crises will deepen.

        His discussions on the neo-liberal insistence on a deregulated economic environment, free flow of global capital, and the use of exotic financial instruments and transactions, especially naked short sales, are the clearest I've read about how these elements de-stabilized the global economy. They will continue to do so as long as those who (very lucratively) benefit from them (the political elite) insist upon them regardless of the consequences to hapless small nations and their economies, small businesses, and people like you and me. He thoroughly and lucidly explains how this political-economic philosophy destroys real democracy, including in America. What we have, he says, is a corporatocracy which dominates much of political and social life through the forces of wealth and ideology.

        Mr. Jackson is also a political-economic visionary of the highest order as shown in the second half of the book by his “break away” strategy where he sets out his alternative environmentalist paradigm. It is a new worldview emphasizing the finite reality of our natural resources, especially energy ones, and how we should alter much of what we do to comply with that reality. He argues for a new set of social values harmonious with a holistic sense of people and nature being part of one “system.” The values of that system include smallness, localization, quality versus quantity, interrelationships, and long-term perspectives.

          These values are organized into a moderately sophisticated set of new global political and economic institutions modeled much like the European Union but emphasizing environmental issues and designed to satisfy long-term environmental needs. This process will also lead to enhancing of true human values in the political sphere, especially in more effective democracies.

        The “breaking away" strategy starts with small nation states building a new economic paradigm based upon the environmental perspective, rejecting the flawed and elitist global institutions we have now (the WTO, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), and even developing new currency systems. The nation states will be supported by a grassroots activist movement which will create local eco-communities and more self-reliant economies while lobbying existing political powers to get on board with the new paradigm. The measurements of success will not be GNP or GDP but the broader-based measures of social happiness and human rights.

        (Take the case of the nation of Bhutan which measures its activity by a standard called “Gross National Happiness Index.”)

        The parts of the book explaining the roles of the neo-liberal economic philosophy and the political elite are solidly presented and not really new. The program of change he proposes, however, is new and intellectually sound. Being intellectually sound, however, is not sufficient to affect change. There is a gap, it seems, between the ideas and what is necessary to activate people at the grassroots level. Relatively few people in reality will even read this book. The ideas need to be connected to “street-level” understandings, perhaps tied to basic human values of respect and dignity. The roadmap proposed here, Mr. Jackson acknowledges, needs much more development.

(FTC disclosure (16 CFR Part 255)): The reviewer has accepted a reviewer's copy of this book which is his to keep. He intends to provide an honest, independent, and fair evaluation of the book in all circumstances.)"

Book Reviews

Submission + - Mac OS X Lion

jsuda writes: "I have reviewed or at least read every Mac OS X Missing Manual since the Panther version of 2003 and I have said pretty much the same thing about them all–you can't get a better written or more useful manual anywhere. This volume covers the latest Apple desktop operating system, OS 10.7, generally referred to generally as “Lion.” It also covers the cloud-based server iCloud, Apple's successor to Mobile Me.

        The Missing Manuals utilize a fantastic template of structure, graphical features, unusually useful appendices, and terrific writing style. The book describes the features of the operating system; illustrates with plentiful graphics, charts, screenshots; supplements with many extras in sidebar discussions like Power User Tips, Nostalgia Corner, and Gems in the Rough; adds value by providing great practical suggestions on how best to use the features efficiently and thoughtfully; and adds dollops of wit and humor throughout.

        In the latest volume, Mr. Pogue covers the 250 or so new features of Lion, highlighting the features which converge Apple's desktop and mobile device operating systems–touch gestures using the trackpad and Apple's Magic Mouse and the new iPad-like interfaces called Launchpad and Home page. The mobile designs introduce a new way to work on the desktop which will appeal to new users but probably veterans as well. Pogue comprehensively discusses both the new and older ways to run the system and applications.

        The book also explains the new iCloud server features and how to transfer from the old (but still ticking) Mobile Me with great suggestions on substitutes for the handful of missing features.

        In nearly every section he points out in detail how 10.7 differs from earlier systems, even in the smallest ways. This writing is comprehensive and systematic. He shows how one can revert to the older ways of doing things and even how to use older applications--even OS 9 programs --using shareware Sheep Saver--as Apple has removed the Rosetta code which allowed newer Macs to run the old applications.

          There are sections on the new file transfer program protocol, AirDrop, the App Store, iTunes Match, the new Mission Control merging features of the previous operating system--Exposé, Dashboard, and Spaces, the PDF signature trick using Preview, as well as how to make a boot disk because Apple no longer gives you one.

        As in all the Missing Manuals, the book covers in detail the free applications provided, the networking components, installation, troubleshooting, Windows/Mac comparisons, and more, all written to service the needs of new and veteran users.

        Kudos to Mr. Pogue as no one does manuals any better.

(FTC disclosure (16 CFR Part 255): The reviewer has accepted a reviewer's copy of this book which is his to keep. He intends to provide an honest, independent, and fair evaluation of the book in all circumstances.)"
Book Reviews

Submission + - Book review: Cooking for Geeks

jsuda writes: You've got to have a lot of confidence and nerve to write and try to sell a nearly 400 page book on cooking to the take-out pizza and cola set. No cookbook is likely to turn many geeks into chefs or take them away from their computer screens. However, even though "Cooking for Geeks" contains a large number of recipes, it is not a conventional cookbook but a scientific explanation of the how and why of cooking which will certainly appeal to that group, as well as to cooking professionals and intellectually curious others.

The author is a geek himself and brings “geek-like” approaches to the subject matter – deep intellectual curiosity, affinity for details, appreciation of problem solving and hacking, scientific method, and a love of technology. What is even better is his filtering of cooking concepts by a computer coder’s framework, analogizing recipes to executable code, viewing of ingredients as inputs and as variables, running processes over and over in a logical manner to test and improve outcomes. This is not a mere literary shoe-horning of cooking concepts into a coder’s framework but an ingenuous approach to the topics that should loudly resonate with geeks.

The subject matter includes selecting and using kitchen and cooking hardware; prepping inventory; calibrating equipment (especially your oven, using sugar); understanding tastes and smells; the fundamental difference between cooking and baking (and the personality types which gravitate to one form or the other); the importance of gluten and the three major types of leavening (biological, chemical, and mechanical); the types of cooking; using time and temperatures; how to use air as a tool; the chemistry of food combinations; and very thorough and detailed discussions of food handling and safety. The book is organized into seven chapters and includes an appendix dealing with cooking for people with allergies. The recipes are indexed in the front of the book.

The major conventional flavor types of salt, sugar, acids, and alcohol have been supplemented by modern industrial elements – E- Numbered (a Dewey decimal system-like index) additives, colloids, gels, foams, and other yummy things! All are itemized, charted, and explained in the chapter entitled “Playing with Chemistry.” A whole chapter (and an interview with mathematician, Douglas Baldwin) is devoted to the latest and greatest food preparation technique –sous vide– cooking food in a temperature-controlled water bath.

Threaded through the sections are short sidebar interviews of mostly computer and techie types who are serious cooks or involved in the food industry. Some of these contributors are Adam Savage (of Myth Busters fame) on scientific technique, Tim O’Reilly (CEO of the book’s publisher) on scones and jam, Nathan Myhrvold, on Moderist cuisine, and others. Other interviews deal with taste sensitivities, food mysteries, industrial hardware, pastry chef insights, and many more. There is an insightful section just on knives and how to use and care for them.

Anyone who is interested in cooking will learn from this book. I now pay attention to things I’ve never heard of before: browning methods like caramelization and the Maillard processes, savory as a major taste, transglutaminase (a.k.a. meat glue), for example. There is stuff I didn’t really want to know – “if you’ve eaten fish you’ve eaten worms.”

Although one of the strengths of the book is the systematic organization, there are useful tips spread throughout. For example, keeping a pizza stone permanently in your oven will help even out heat distribution; storing vegetables correctly requires knowing whether they admit ethylene gas or not (a chart is included); you can test your smell sensitivity profile by using a professional scratch and sniff test kit obtainable from the University of Pennsylvania. Whatever specialized information not contained in the book is referenced to external sources, especially on the Internet.

If all of this is not stimulus enough for the geek crowd, how about learning how you can spectacularly kill yourself cooking with dry ice, liquid nitrogen, blowtorches, and especially an electrocuted hotdog. Cool! This is mad scientist stuff. Engineering-minded types can learn how to make their own ice cream machine from Legos. You’ll also learn how NOT to kill your guests with bacteria and other toxins.

The production is nicely done with easily readable text, plentiful drawings and charts, color captions, and many other quality production features. Weights are based in both grams and US volume-based measurements.

(FTC disclosure (16 CFR Part 255): The reviewer has accepted a reviewer's copy of this book which is his to keep. He intends to provide an honest, independent, and fair evaluation of the book in all circumstances.)

Submission + - Foundations of Mac OS X Leopard Security

jsuda writes: "At least a half-dozen times in the book "Foundations of Mac OS X Leopard Security" the authors state that there is a misconception that the Macintosh computer is immune from security problems. That allegation may explain why there are very few books published (and nearly none in recent years) about security for the Mac. This book is meant to change all that. The authors acknowledge that the Mac OS X Software has had little of the security problem experience of Windows (and other operating systems, to a lesser extent) but they spend 488 pages detailing exactly where and how the Macintosh platform is (or may be?) vulnerable.

            Many of the security issues raised in the book are theoretical or deal with added elements of the Mac software install that contain non-Apple components — Apache Web server and Perl and PHP scripting packages, for example. Many of the items of concern deal with generic problem areas of computer usage in general, both software and hardware, which affect the Mac as well as any other computers and networks. While the perspective of the book is on the Mac, much of the security review will apply to any type of computer or network.

            Messieurs Edge, Barker, and Smith are seasoned Mac and security professionals who point out in a very systematic and comprehensive way the potential problems of running the Mac both in single use and networked environments. The focus is primarily on Mac OS X Leopard and the other software which comes with any new Mac computer, although there is some discussion of earlier OS X versions and earlier generations of Apple applications like Airport.

            The book has five main parts covering general security matters, essential security fundamentals, networking, sharing, and workplace security issues. There are four very short appendices of modest value.

          The initial first three chapters deal with general security and security fundamentals is basic stuff discussing how technical computer security issues are entwined with practical realities of using computers in a business or home, and that compromises between security and practicality generally must be made. There is discussion of types of security attacks, how the Windows booting programs, Parallels and Boot Camp, implicate Windows security issues on the Mac, and how the UNIX underpinnings of the Mac OS X allow for more sophisticated techniques and tools in securing the Mac computer and networks. Chapter 1 is a useful "quick start" guide of items which can be addressed readily by nearly any level of user to safeguard the Mac from many security concerns. Apple has provided a lot of built-in security features and services which can be adjusted by individual users to his or her own needs, like FileVault, Secure Trash, Keychain, permissions, and others. Higher-level users and maybe experienced security professionals not used to the Mac may be bored with the first part of the book.

          Part two deals with protecting the Mac from malware and exploitable services in the OS and major applications like the Safari browser and Mail applications. It explains how malware can affect the Mac through script viruses, social engineering techniques, and other exploits. The book lists a number of available software tools which can help solve some of the potential problems. The section on reviewing and configuring monitoring processes and logs is especially interesting.

          Securing networks, using and configuring firewalls, and wireless networking make up the bulk of part three. The content in chapters 7 through 9 is quite technical covering types of networks; routers, hubs and switches;proxy, DMZ, and other servers and hardware setups, advanced firewall configuration using both GUI and command line interfaces; filtering; traffic throttling; and more. The sections describing testing of firewalls and hacking wireless networks using tools like Kismac and iStumbler are especially useful.

            Chapter 11, in part four, dealing with website security when utilizing the built-in Apple web services, includes a checklist of at least a dozen items to be dealt with in locking down a site. Security for remote conductivity is addressed also, with particular emphasis given to VPN, secure shell, and the use of network administration tools like Timbuktu and DAVE. Attention is given to both the standard Mac OS X installation as well as to OS X Server. The most complex discussions involve using Open Directory in a security plan. My favorite sections were in chapters 14 on network scanning, monitoring, and intrusion prevention tools. The book describes how to understand your own machine/network security status by learning how to attack other networks. And how to use techniques like white/black box testing, fingerprinting, enumeration, port and TCP/UDP scans, ping sweeps, and more.

          The book describes how intrusion detection is accomplished. Guidance is provided on software tools like Tripwire, snort, Checkmate, and others. The last chapter concerns forensics and how to handle attempted or successful intrusions to both understand security weaknesses and to preserve evidence for civil or criminal proceedings, CSI-like.

          Nearly all of the presentations cover two levels of interactivity using either GUI-based tools or the command line. Except for a handful of sections, the presentations are useful even for higher-end users, including those dealing with medium to large networks.

          The writing is workmanlike and without style or wit, but carefully organized and expressed. There are plenty of (grayscale) screenshots of relevant software application configurations, and sidebar Notes and Tips on many topics. Anyone who has a serious interest in Mac OS X security will benefit from this book as its main virtue is its systematic and comprehensive approach to the issues. It is designed to inform users of all levels how and why to think about OS X security. Geeks who want or need to know Mac OS X security will get a nicely organized book sufficiently filled with useful content. This is not a book intended to raise all security issues or to provide all the answers. It does answer many problems, and will point nearly all users in the right direction for their specific needs.


Submission + - Wikipedia: the Missing Manual

jsuda writes: Wikipedia, the free access online encyclopedia to which anyone can contribute, is a remarkable achievement. Started only in 2001, it now comprises over 9 million articles is written in over 250 languages, and is the first choice for reference material for millions of Internet users. Despite criticisms by some for the variable quality of its material, the value of the contributions of tens of thousands of unpaid volunteers is enormous, not only in notable and verified content accessible to the vast majority of the worlds population in their native languages, but in the opportunity for everyone to contribute to this repository of knowledge in his or her own way (subject to the review and editing of others just like themselves.)

More importantly, in my view, is the model it represents in human collaboration efforts, this one in creating a repository of knowledge, but applicable more broadly to other efforts. Besides merely creating enormously useful things, the collaborative efforts result in a community of people and groups which has its own intrinsic values. Imagine thousands of volunteers committing their personal time and effort into a nonhierarchical, consensus-based collaboration having as its selfless main purpose the improvement of human society. Socialism at its best! It seems to me that the model may be useful in areas of politics, management and administration, education, and other social endeavors.. The Open-Source software movement, predating Wikipedia, operates in much the same way. Perhaps the earliest example of this collaborative model was the developmental years of the Internet.

As a casual user of Wikipedia, I had no idea of the nature of the Wikipedia project (and its sister projects Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikispecies, Wikinews, and Wikiversity and no doubt others yet to come) until I read Wikipedia: the Missing Manual, by John Broughton. He is an experienced Wikipedia editor with over 15,000 edits to his credit and is the creator of the Editors Index to Wikipedia which lists every reference page on Wikipedia as well as other off site pages with information useful for serious Wikipedia editors. Wikipedia: the Missing Manual is an extremely thorough guide to creating and editing Wikipedia articles. The book is intended to help train new writers and editors and to improve the skills and knowledge of existing participants.

Broughton encourages people to join the Wikipedia community of researchers, fact checkers, and proofreaders. This community seems to be made up of committed, skilled, and serious people who take great pride in the project. There is little organizational hierarchy involved and a minimum of formal participatory rules, but a large set of informal mores and practices which help maintain production, efficiency, civility, and quality. There is always a need for more articles, although of the thousands created every day, nearly one half of them are deleted within 24 hours by attentive editors for a number of reasons explained in the book.

The book starts with an introduction to the basic principles of the Wikipedia project involving notability, credibility, balance, consensus, and good faith and moves quickly into the process of registering with Wikipedia, setting up a user account, and starting out practicing writing, previewing, and saving edits.

In six parts and 21 chapters, the book covers how to document sources, set up an editors account, and personal workspaces, create new articles, use page histories, monitor changes, and dealing with vandalism and spam. It explains the value of collaborating with other editors and participants in creating and editing articles and in special Wiki Projects and other group efforts. There are several chapters describing how to deal with the inevitable conflict between editors and explains the Wikipedia editing mores of civility, ethics, legality (mostly copyright issues), and efficiency. He explains why editors disagree, in what ways, and how they resolve disputes. He also provides guidance on how disputes can be avoided in the first place.

Separate chapters of the book detail how to work with article pages and sections, tables, lists, markups and links, images and media, and categories. There are descriptions of what makes a good article and what doesnt and there are step-by-step tutorials on creating better articles and being systematic about good editing practices. A most interesting feature of Wikipedia is its large collection of free-to-use images, videos, sound clips, and other media in the Wikipedia Media Commons area which is available for article use and for non-Wikipedia use by anyone for any purpose.

Advanced topics include customizing your user account via preferences and skins and using JavaScript and templates to facilitate efficiency. There is a short 20 page appendix for those people content with being mere users of Wikipedia and learning how to get the most out of it. More involved users will benefit from Appendix C which itemizes the huge amount of Wikipedia help, reference, coaching, and other educational sources especially valuable for those determined to become better editors or higher-level participants like administrators of Wikipedia.

The presentation is thorough and articulate. It covers basic and advanced editing skills. Broughton frequently notes keyword search items and tips to be more productive and efficient. The community norms demand attentive and educated participants. Experience with coding is appreciated. The book has plenty of screenshots illustrating the discussions of Wikipedia features. Most of the sections contain Notes and Tips which provide more detailed explanations of features and an experienced editors perspective to the prospective new editor as to how and why to do things. Broughton is (perhaps unintentionally) inspiring about participating in the Wikipedia editor community.

Although the book deserves great credit for its content and its tone a few problems with the layout and design detract a bit. The layout is dense with graphics a bit too tightly packed in with the text. Captions at the bottom of grayscale illustrations occasionally refer to nonexistent color clues resulting in some confusion. The density seems to reflect the nature of Wikipedia editing itself, which can be very involved. But, rewarding.


Submission + - Mac OSX Leopard: Beyond the Manual

jsuda writes: "There are a growing number of guidance books being published about Apples latest computer operating system OS 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard." Mac OS 10 Leopard: Beyond the Manual by Scott Meyers and Mike Lee aims for a more sophisticated reader group than most of the others which tend to target casual users and perhaps new Windows switchers.

This book is for advanced computer users, especially those familiar with UNIX and Linux who want or need to learn about the hundreds of new and improved features of the MacOS, and even for casual Windows users who are comfortable with command line interaction and prefer full keyboard use of the computer.

Scott Meyers is an editor and Mac OS consultant and Mr. Lee is a technical specialist. The writing is clear and straightforward. Unlike some other Leopard guides, there is no attempt to be literary or stylish this is a software manual after all for advanced users. They cover all the Leopard basics and assume the reader is not, or only barely, familiar with the Mac OS 10 system. The first four parts(of eight) of the book, counting 17 chapters, describe the basics — the Aqua interface, the Menubar, Views, the Sidebar and Dock, system and user preferences, the file system, maintenance, security, networking, and included Apple applications like Safari (the browser), Mail, iChat, and iCal. An item by item description of the Safari menus takes up a full seven pages. The Mail menu descriptions take up 11 pages. The menu descriptions are contained in a chart which provides alternative common keyboard shortcuts for each of the menu commands. Like UNIX and other operating systems, one can ignore the mouse completely once one knows the key combinations. They also provide an introduction to the iLife suite of applications, like iTunes, iPhoto, and the other consumer-level productivity applications included with the Leopard installation.

The coverage is comprehensive but not deep. The reader will be exposed to most of the operating system but nothing is treated extensively or with depth. Some of the chapters are very short. Presumably, higher end users will figure the deeper stuff out for themselves after being directed to what is available in OS 10. There is no shortage of illustrations, screenshots, charts, tables illuminating in an effective way the text comments and descriptions.

Throughout, the authors provide numerous Notes and Tips which elaborate on the basic text. These are more explanatory of specific items and features and some are in the nature of practical recommendations and suggestions for configuring preferences, for example, or utilizing third-party applications instead of Apples for certain functions. There is an extensive five-page section on the components of the system-wide and user Libraries in OS 10 with descriptions of all the items contained in them. Throughout the first half of the book the part focused on the user interface and middleware layers of the OS the authors provide information on both the menu -mouse navigation and keyboard operation alternatives, the latter for power users and others more comfortable with keyboard use. Differences in desktop and laptop keyboards are detailed as well. There is an an interesting section on calibrating the display and modifying the default Macintosh 1.8 gamma to a Windows-like 2.2 gamma for those users who are not graphics professionals, at least.

The last half of the book is about UNIX, or more specifically for the MacOS, Darwin which is Apples flavor of UNIX. Starting first with the shell the authors walk the reader through starting up the command line functions, describe the elemental UNIX commands, note navigation issues, root access, and the like. Later chapters cover scripting Darwin, using the included scripting languages of Perl, Python, PHP, and Ruby, and how to install additional advanced software like Fink and Macports.

Chapters 20 and 21 cover networking, remote monitoring, and firewalls. Chapter 22 deals with the included Web server software, Apache, as well as SQLite and PHP. There is a chapter devoted to Apple s own scripting applications, Automator and AppleScript. The final chapter covers the developer tools, also included with OS X. There are references to the various kits which developers can use to create their own applications and there are many kits included in OS X for audio, video, graphics, PDF handling, animation, and more.

The appendices include guidance on installations and a list of whats new in Leopard (versus earlier versions of OS 10.) An extensive index of 43 pages rounds out the book.

This book is solidly produced and written and should bring advanced users up to speed with Leopard and to point the way for them to explore the depths of it themselves."
Operating Systems

Submission + - Mac OSX Leopard Edition: The Missing Manual

jsuda writes: "The preeminent general reference source for Mac OS 10 has always been the Missing Manual Series written by David Pogue. The latest iteration in the series is its Mac OS 10 Leopard Edition, completely revised, and it is the biggest, most comprehensive, and most useful of all the editions in the series. It covers the OS X desktop and file system, the free applications included with the OS X installation, the system components and technologies, networking and online features and components, and includes welcome appendices on installation, troubleshooting, Windows/Mac comparisons, and a Master Keystroke list.

Every one of the editions has been exceedingly well-designed and written combining serious treatment of subject content with style, wit, and humor, as well as honest evaluation and critique of features of the Mac operating system. All of the OS X Missing Manuals have addressed issues for a broad range of users, from the lightly experienced, the intermediate, and for power users. For the most part, however, the primary focus of each edition has been on the less experienced users. This has changed with the Leopard edition.

There seems to have been a deliberate effort to make the book more appealing and useful to upper-end users without losing any utility at all for others. There seems to be more material for power users- -there are more Power Users Guides providing advanced information and techniques, more UNIX references for those willing and able to take avail of the UNIX kernel underlying the operating system, more identifications of keyboard shortcuts, and more disclosure of undocumented and advanced features than in previous editions.

For example, Pogue itemizes and describes at least 20 UNIX utilities that only power users would want to use, explains how to configure preferences for the Terminal application, explains how to deal with the file and folder permissions system using UNIX commands, and even notes the existence of the venerable Eliza therapist emulator program hidden in a part of the emacs text editor. At each juncture of describing operating system features, Pogue explains from the perspective of different levels of users, including the power user, like himself. Unlike in many other books purporting to cover a broad range of users, this one does not short on the higher-end.

This is all well and good as casual users are still widely well-taken care of by the thorough and well-organized explanations of nearly every feature of OS 10.5. The book is illustrated profusely with screenshots of system features, configuration processes, comparison of the Mac OS X versions, comparisons of Mac OS X to Windows features, and more. Nearly every page is loaded with Tips, Notes, FAQs, lists, tables, and sidebars. Throughout, there are nuggets of insight and technical arcana that even Mac veterans will be surprised to learn about. I learned, for example, that the one-button Apple Mighty Mouse has a secret 2-button feature. Also there is a similar way to operate a laptop with a two finger trackpad technique. There are a lot of tips and tricks like that in the book. Even beyond description and explanation, Pogue provides useful recommendations for configurations of the Dock, recovery from common errors, and using Automator to design practical workflows for common tasks.

The subject content builds upon that of previous editions and updates it with material relating to the 300-plus new features of Leopard. Much of the new material covers the Leopard update highlights the backup program called Time Machine, a desktop switching application called Spaces, the Stacks organizing feature, the file previewer, QuickLook, and the feature enhancements in iChat, Mail, and especially Spotlight, the search tool.

Spotlight is much more than a mere search tool although it is a great one. A whole chapter is devoted to it alone. Pogue explains how to use it not just for casual and advanced searching (using over 125 types of data and metadata) but as a quick launcher of files, folders, and applications; as a calculator; and as a dictionary. Sophisticated query languages can be used and Pogue lists a series of power user keyboard shortcuts for Spotlight use.

I see the book as especially useful for those Windows users of all levels gravitating to the Mac platform. Not only is the treatment of the Mac OS done well, but at nearly every juncture, Pogue takes the perspective of a Windows user and provides practical comparisons and contrasts of operating systems.

Weaving all of these perspectives into a harmonious, readable manual is a fine achievement. The content discussions and explanations are never abstract but written from the viewpoint of the thoughtful and practical user and no one is better at this than David Pogue who has been cited before as one of the worlds best (technical) communicators. The denseness of the treatment of the subject content diminishes somewhat from the readability of the book compared to prior editions and there is a bit less wit, humor and style. That is the trade-off, I presume, for the increased breadth and depth of the content treatment but this Missing Manual is still as well written as a computer manual can be expected to be."

Submission + - Founders at Work:Stories of Startup's Early Days

jsuda writes: "There is a great deal of personal and professional drama and fascinating business and technological insights in the stories of thirty-two founders of computer-era technology businesses contained in "Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days." Author, Jessica Livingston, has interviewed these entrepreneurs and obtained their perspectives on what happens in the first years of a technology-based startup company. Her goal is to obtain a fund of experience that other people can learn from. She tries to get at the human side of technology.
Her method is in asking these entrepreneurs open ended questions about their experiences in their own startups and letting them relate their histories, perspectives, insights, and advice, in their own words.

        The interviewees make up a grand list of some of the people who helped create and develop the computer industry and the Internet. In hardware, the most prominent are Steve Wozniak of Apple Computer fame, Mike Ramsay of TiVo, Mike Lazaridis of Research in Motion. In software, there are Mitchell Kapor of Lotus Development, Blake Ross of Firefox, and Mena Trott of Six Apart. And, in services, Max Levchin of PayPal, Craig Newmark of craigs list, and Steve Perlman of Web TV stand out. There are nearly two dozen other entrepreneurs who inform, enlighten, and sometimes entertain in their interviews with Ms. Livingston. For instance, Tim Brady, the first non-founder employee of Yahoo retells a story of a storm and power outage at the Yahoo office before a meeting of Yahoo principals and venture capital people which was held in candlelight and with water dripping from ceilings. A gas-fueled generator set up hastily to run the servers was being rated by how many webpages it was serving up, per gallon! The money people were not charmed.

        Among the founders, most were young, and often, mere college students, at the time of their startups. Interestingly, there are only three females in the group, which may or may not imply something about gender and technology, business and entrepreneurship. Only Caterina Fake of Flickr, weighs in much on the gender issue in her interview. She believes that a woman needs to be twice as prepared as a man to be credible with both technical and investment people.

        The bulk of the material concerns computer and network technology and applications, and money. Lots of money. And lots of discussions of money especially in relationship to "VC's" (venture capitalists) who enable creative people with ideas to succeed. Author Livingston herself is one of these capitalists, a founding partner of Y Combinator an investor in some of the companies noted in this book.

        Partly because of her business perspective, and probably mostly because of the dominance of finance and economics in nearly all social affairs, most of the material in the book concerns the symbiotic relationship of inspired creative individuals and creative financial people in producing technological development and change, many times furthering creative good for customers and society, but also facilitating crass commercial interests.

        For many of these entrepreneurs, invested money and "gift" money from enlightened parties called "angels" was a necessary element in producing their dreams of making great products or services for the good of people. For others, the "startup" era (from about the late 1970s to the end of the century) was a time of playing a game of "Who can cash out the most"- founding a beginning technology company, associating with rapacious financial people, and making loads of money when the business "went public", as an "initial public offering" (IPO), which often times ultimately left both the innocent and greedy bereft of value. ( For a satirical view of such gamesmanship, check out the vastly underrated movie comedy/documentary, "Dot", produced in 2002.)

        The author takes no positions on the patent and implied moral issues. Her objective is limited to examining the characteristics of the founders of the successful businesses to see if there are common elements in the people, or patterns in the development of the businesses from initial idea to operating concern providing value to consumers and other businesses.

        She determines that there are such elements: intelligent and skilled individuals, perseverance, comfortability with risk, and maybe most significantly, Luck. After reading the stories of nearly three dozen founders about how their ideas became transformed into productive businesses, it becomes readily apparent that such success is premised, in part, on knowledge and skill, vision and/or inspiration, and perseverance. However, necessary, these elements are insufficient in themselves. Almost every one of the interviewees refers to lucky circumstances and events which conditioned their successes. Some were unsure of the worth of their ideas, at least initially. In most cases, carefully thought-out plans went awry. Almost all founders faced rejection by investors, journalists, and established companies.

        Ms. Livingston's interviewing technique results in personalities being revealed, motivations disclosed, and insightful historical facts about the early developments of the computer industry and the Internet related. A lot of the historical material has been expressed previously elsewhere, but the telling of the stories by the individuals directly involved makes for compelling reading. Some people like Steve Perlman of WebTV, Max Levchin of PayPal, and Steve Wozniak are clearly geeks who love working with hardware and software. Others like Evan Williams of Blogger and Arthur Van Hoff of Marimba seem decidedly businesslike and personally ambitious.

          Some of the people seemed like (or are) heroes. Steve Wozniak, for example can be credited in large part for the PC revolution. He's one of the founders whose motivation was in doing top-quality designs to help the world be a better place. Although he became rich, much of his money has been donated to charities. The relationship of Woz and the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, is fascinating, especially in the contrast of motivations and the distribution of financial gains in the early years. (Woz gave his away; Jobs wanted even more.)

        There are other heroes like Mitchell Kapor of Lotus 1-2-3 fame, whose desire to contribute to society what he was capable of was his primary motivation. Like a number of other founders, financial success was valued for the freedom it provided to do positive deeds rather than for material benefits.

        Not surprisingly, some of these founders realized success by simply scaling up and distributing products they had already designed for themselves. Joshua Schacter of fame needed a way to manage his own 20,000 browser bookmarks and came up with a "tagging" feature which eventually resulted in a sharing and collaborative website business.

        craigslist founder, Craig Newmark, expanded upon his practice of e-mailing notices of local cultural events to his friends into a nationwide service for consumer interaction. The business is one of the rare startups which has remained privately held.

        Hotmail was formed by Sabeer Bhatia as an extension of a personal problem-solving adventure in accessing e-mail remotely beyond his company's firewall. Solving that problem for self and coworkers, led to a business which later grossed $400 million when acquired by Microsoft.

        For those looking for tips on how to mimic the successes of these founders, consider these major themes from the book:

        -make only products that people want.
        -be a leader and make great new products that people will learn to like.

        -go with your own intuitions.
        -make sure to listen and take advice from others, especially your startup team and your eventual customers.

        -make a product or build a business that you are passionate about.
        -be smart and have an exit strategy for your business right from the beginning, "an IPO."

        -make friends and contacts in the business and investment communities, especially the venture capital industry.
        -minimize your involvement with the money people as much as possible in favor of the people who make actual products- programmers and engineers.

        -find a hole in the market and fill it.
        -make something no one else has thought of and create new markets.

        Clear enough? You'll have a to figure it out for yourselves!

          Interestingly, there seems to be one thing nearly everyone agrees on-don't trust Microsoft!"

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