[techbooks] REVIEW: "Technology in Action", Phillis Engelbert
- BKTCHACT.RVW 990314
"Technology in Action", Phillis Engelbert, 1999, 0-7876-2809-3,
%A Phillis Engelbert
%C 27500 Drake Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48331-3535
%G 0-7876-2809-3 (0-7876-2810-7 0-7876-2811-5 0-7876-2812-3)
%I The Gale Group/Gale Research Inc.
%O U$79.95 800-877-4253 fax: 800-414-5043
%P 3 volumes, ~700 p.
%T "Technology in Action: Science Applied to Everyday Life"
The three volumes of this set are divided into eight topics:
communication as well as electronics and computers in the first book,
energy, food and agriculture, and health and medicine in the second,
and civil engineering, manufacturing and materials, and transportation
in the third. The topics are not covered exhaustively, but
representative samples of the technology are included. For example,
the essays in the section dealing with communication include
communications satellites, fax machines, fiber optics, holography, the
Internet, photocopiers, photography, printing, radio, speech
synthesizers, telegraph, telephone, television, and video recorders.
As can be seen, a number of these subjects may fit in other
categories, but most will be within the experience of the school
students at which the set is aimed. The intention is to explain not
merely the technology itself, but also the history and social
While one does not expect engineering level explanations for school
students, the level of the technical material is not particularly
good. The historical bits, such as the names of inventors, is fine,
and well researched. However, the scientific detail is often
deficient, and sometimes betrays a lack of understanding of the
subject. When discussing fiber optics, for example, the cladding is
spoken of as a "reflective" material and, while "total internal
reflection" is mentioned, it isn't described. The confusion over
technical issues may explain why fiber optics appears, in the text, to
have two sets of inventors. Reference to the benefits of fiber optics
alludes to the size and lack of susceptibility to electrical fields,
but doesn't talk about the sensitivity to water damage nor the limits
on the radius of curvature.
Discussion of the Internet at least manages to distinguish it from the
World Wide Web, although it doesn't explain how. Predictably, the
ARPANET is mentioned as a defense project, but the fact that, at that
point, it was an experiment in protocol design rather than an actual
communications system is not examined. Sun would be pleased that the
network computer, which most students will never have seen, gets a
mention, but not so thrilled that it is referred to as a specialized
telephone. Despite the initial disclaimer about the Web, most of the
very scant space given to the Internet is about the Web, and almost
none of the important technology is included.
Other entries are much the same. "Electricity and Batteries" looks at
some developments up to wet and dry cells, but has no discussion of
the rechargeables with which students will by now have the most
experience. Nuclear energy has its problems pointed out at top
volume, which is good inasmuch as it raises environmental awareness,
but bad in that the simplistic dismissal misses the consequences of
not having nuclear power. (Prior to Three Mile Island, nobody had
died as a result of nuclear power plants, but 25,000 people had died
as a direct result of the emissions from coal fired power plants in
the period since nuclear plants came online.) Biological topics are
better, with even magnetic resonance imaging doing well, although most
of that essay talks about other forms of imaging, and doesn't delve
deeply into the technology.
History and biography are generally handled well, with some care taken
to allow credit for partial developments.
Illustrations are inconsistent. Some illustrate the material well,
while others are incomprehensible. A figure noting three types of
arch bridges explains nothing, while a tower crane looks like none
that I have ever seen, and the climbing frame appears to be physically
Each volume, in addition to the essays, contains a lengthy timeline of
inventions, as well as an extensive glossary. These are identical
across the three books, and take up approximately a quarter of the
pages in each text.
An awful lot of work is needed to make this a truly useful reference.
In its current state, I would even hesitate to recommend its use by
school students. A lack of understanding of technical issues is a
major failing in our society, and this series does almost nothing to
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKTCHACT.RVW 990314
====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
We reject: kings, presidents, and voting.
We believe in: rough consensus and running code.
Dave Clark, July 1992 IETF Conference
http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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