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REVIEW: "Who Gives a Gigabyte", Gary Stix/Miriam Lacob

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKWHGIGI.RVW 20000305 Who Gives a Gigabyte , Gary Stix/Miriam Lacob, 1999, 0-471-37910-7, U$16.95/C$24.95 %A Gary Stix %A Miriam Lacob %C 5353 Dundas
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29, 2000
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      BKWHGIGI.RVW 20000305

      "Who Gives a Gigabyte", Gary Stix/Miriam Lacob, 1999, 0-471-37910-7,
      U$16.95/C$24.95 %A Gary Stix %A Miriam Lacob %C 5353 Dundas
      Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON M9B 6H8 %D 1999 %G
      0-471-37910-7 %I John Wiley & Sons, Inc. %O U$16.95/C$24.95
      416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448 pfurlong@... %P 300 p. %T
      "Who Gives a Gigabyte: A Survival Guide for the Technologically

      The introduction notes that the book is meant to address the problem
      of technological illiteracy. As the authors observe, most citizens of
      western, or industrial, nations would hate to be thought illiterate in
      textual or cultural terms, but contentedly use a myriad of devices
      without understanding any of the underlying principles. Not only are
      said citizens unconcerned about this level of ignorance, they often
      boast proudly of being technopeasants, or of an inability to
      effectively operate common home entertainment tools. Stix and Lacob
      point out that this volume cannot make engineers out of its readers,
      but may provide a survey and introduction to some important

      Chapter one deals with computers. It unfortunately mixes good
      information with factual carelessness. Charles Babbage's analytical
      engine, for example, remained incomplete in his lifetime because his
      vision outpaced his project management skills, and not because the
      machinists of the day could not fabricate the parts: they could. The
      early British and American computers used relays, not tubes, a fact
      that is tacitly admitted when it comes time to try to explain how
      logic circuits work. Even more unfortunately, the explanations of the
      technology don't always explain real functions. Having presented
      relays and the term Boolean algebra, for example, the book then states
      that logic can be used for data manipulation, but not how. The
      construction of a simple two-bit adder would have expanded the length
      of the book by perhaps three pages, but would have demonstrated the
      concepts, rather than merely asserting them. Other sections vary in
      value as well: DNA computing is presented very clearly, while
      holographic memory is given only superficial treatment. Most chapters
      end with a very short glossary of related terms and vocabulary.

      Although it hardly seems possible, the discussion of software, in
      chapter two, is even worse. A historical, rather than analytical,
      account, the material doesn't even seem to be as informative as
      trivia, and asserts questionable opinions as fact. In view of the
      title, "Wiring the World," it is ironic that more space is spent
      discussing the wireless satellite and cellular technologies than any
      type of cabling, in chapter three. In any case, despite brief
      mentions of important topics such as spectral pollution, the bulk of
      this section reads like yet another "information superhighway"
      magazine article.

      Chapter four's coverage of lasers is much better: although the
      introductory content is rather sensational, when the text gets down to
      applications, the tutorial on what they do and why is reasonably
      sound. Similarly, genetic engineering gets a good overview in chapter
      five. (With the occasional glitch: after a solid outline of the
      mechanics of DNA testing, the material fails to note that DNA
      fingerprints are *not* necessarily unique, which is why they can be
      used to prove innocence better than guilt.) Chapter six is a brief
      look at molecular biology, and falls back into stating what the
      technology might be able to do, but not how. Much the same is true of
      the longer chapter seven, looking primarily at diagnostic imaging with
      a short mention of bionics. After a decent start on the basics of
      materials science, chapter eight degenerates into a listing of some
      neato substances we might see in the future. Chapter nine begins with
      some analysis of greenhouse gases and effects, but most of the content
      is a political look at alternative energy sources. A number of
      environmental issues are briefly discussed in chapter ten.

      As regular readers will no doubt be aware, I am wholly in sympathy
      with the intent of this book. The authors point out benefits to
      technical literacy ranging from personal comfort to the importance of
      correctly assessing new technologies in view of national and
      international legislation. However, it is difficult to have faith in
      a tome with such fragile technical authority that it confuses asphalt
      with cement. I have reviewed many such works that attempt to fill
      this important need. I'm still waiting.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKWHGIGI.RVW 20000305

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
      rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
      The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers.
      - Richard Wesley Hamming
      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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