Tag Archives: Touch

2017 Roundup and list of Books Reviewed

This year I continued daily posts, which I have done for just under four years now.  Overall, traffic to the blog was up about 18% over 2016.

As always, the coverage is mainly review and commentary on topics of interest to me, including “the new way of work”, robots, dinosaurs, cryptocurrency/blockchain, quantum cryptography, internet of too Many things, computer software in general, and so on.

This year I continued weekly posts noting and commenting on books I have read.  Most of the books were recently published, with a few older ones.   (Listed below.)

Throughout the year, I offered a number of “great names for a band”, in tribute to Dave Barry who pioneered the genre.  Most of these are “sciency”, inspired by technical articles I read and commented on.

Countershading
Banded tail
Dinosaur bandit mask
Paleocoloration
Beryllium hydride
Biomimetic Robotic Zebrafish
Chicxulub    [Note:  pronounced ( /ˈtʃiːkʃʊluːb/; Mayan: [tʃʼikʃuluɓ])]
The Chicxulub Event
We Are Children of Chicxulub
Thanks to Chicxulub
Brought to You By Chicxulub
Service Office Industry
Comfortable edgy fit outs
As Greenland Darkens
Recent Mass Loss
Larsen C
My Raptor Posse
A Rip of Raptors
Personal Raptor
The Robot Raptor Revue
Final Five Orbits
Kuiper Belt & Braces
A Belt of Kuiper
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Fog World Congress
Penguin Guano

Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa


Books Reviewed in 2017

Overall I posted 79 book reviews, 58 fiction and 21 non-fiction.

In fiction, these include old favorites (Donna Leon, Charles Stross, Thomas Perry, Tim Dorsey, Ian McDonald, Gregory Maguire, Tom Holt).

Some new favorites include Richard Kadrey,  Viet Thanh Nguyen, Emma Straub.

I really liked Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, and Touch by Courtney Maum, but my best reads for the year have to be

Joe Ide,  IQ and Righteious.  <<links>> Righteous by Joe Ide

In non-fiction, I liked Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell and Eugenia Chengs Beyond InfinityHow America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein is both good and important.

<<links>>

But at the top, I’d probably pick

The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone

List of Books Reviewed

Q4

Fiction

First Person Singularities by Robert Silverberg
The Adventurist by J. Bradford Hipps
Artemis by Andy Weir
Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire
Willful Behavior by Donna Leon
A Selfie As Big As The Ritz by Lara Williams
Righteous by Joe Ide
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Border Child by Michel Stone
Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Muse by Jessie Burton
Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Non-fiction

Napoleon in Egypt by Paul Strathern
After Piketty edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum

Books Reviewed In Q3 2017

Fiction

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
The Management Style of Supreme Beings by Tom Holt
The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
Shiver Hitch by Linda Greenlaw
Dichronauts by Greg Egan
Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Standard Hollywood Depravity by Adam Christopher
Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
Will Save Galaxy For Food by Yahtzee Croshaw
Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore
Arlington Park by Rachael Cusk
Transition by Rachael Cusk
Death at La Fenece by Donna Leon
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

Non Fiction

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Weird Dinosaurs by John Pickrell
Made With Creative Commons by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson
How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Beyond Infinity by Eugenia Cheng

Books Reviewed Second Quarter

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton

Books Reviewed Q1 2017

Fiction

Revenger by Alistair Reynolds
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Girls by Emma Cline
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad
IQ by Joe Ide
Clownfish Blues by Tim Dorsey
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Empire Games by Charles Stross
The Cold Eye by Laura Anne Gilman
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
The Golden Gate by Robert Buettner
The Old Man by Thomas Perry
Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Non Fiction

The Caliphate by Hugh Kennedy
The New Better Off or Reinventing the American Dream by Courtney E. Martin
How America Lost Its Secrets by Edward Jay Epstein
Valley of the Gods by Alexandra Wolfe
Wonderland by Steven Johnson
Measure for Measure by Thomas Levenson


That’s all for 2017!  Happy New Year!

 

Housekeeping: Second Quarter Roundup, Books Reviewed

A bit of housekeeping at the end of Q2.

The usual

This quarter has seen daily posts, a steady stream of comments on research papers* and general articles on favorite topics including blockchains, the new economy, solar power, environmental sensing, computer security, and “brilliantly executed BS”.

I’ve begun to pay attention to Quantum Computing, which is surely a coming thing.

And Robots! And Dinosaurs!

*Note: discussion of scientific and technical research always refers to the primary sources.


Books Reviewed This Quarter

A summary of the books reviewed in the second quarter.

Fiction

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
Touch by Courtney Maum
Mother Land by Paul Theroux
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Off Rock by Kieran Shea
The Wrong Dead Guy by Richard Kadrey
Earthly Remains by Donna Leon
The Underwriting by Michelle Miller
Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
Huck Out West by Robert Coover

Non-Fiction

Half-Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat
The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness by Paula Poundstone
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
The Spider Network by David Enright
Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton


Some ideas for band names

 Following the lead of Sensei Dave Barry, I occasionally suggest names for bands.

This quarter’s harvest include:

Penguin Guano
Adelie Census
Fog Orchestra
Shape Changing Fog Screen
The Fog and the Eye
First Ringplane Crossing
Grand Finale Dive #2
The Grand Finale Toolkit
Last View of Earth
Final – and Fateful – Titan Flyby
Robots On Europa
Gay Robots on Europa

 

 

 

Book Review: “Touch” by Courtney Maum

Touch by Courtney Maum

Maum joins in the Revenge of the English Majors , with her latest novel. Obviously based on autobiographical experience in the “creative industry” and industrial design of devices and apps, Maum’s story is all too real to be satire. As I have said, these people self-satirize.

Difficile est saturam non scribere.”

The story follows Sloane, a trend “forecaster” who is famous for once saying that having children is “ecoterrorism”. She is returning to New York City from France for a consulting gig at Mammoth corporation, maker of all things digital. Roman, her partner of ten years, has gone so virtual that he now eschews touch and is writing an article that turns out to be a declaration that sex is over.

As the title suggests, Sloane isn’t so sure about that.

Much of the story takes place in the high-pressure design process at Mammoth corporation. The designers are tasked with creating the next billion dollar consumer device or app, whether it makes sense or not. As Sloane becomes more and more convinced that the future is “personal interaction”, not more “connectivity”, her gig goes south fast, and lasts about a week.

““But what if we pushed this further”? Sloane asked, truly excited now. “What if it wasn’t an app? What else could it be?”

“Sloane watched eleven faces fall. People looked at one another uncomfortably, waiting for someone else to speak.”

“After a disheartening lag, Jared spoke up again. “Well then”, he said, shrugging, “That would just be life.”

“Everyone remained quiet, so Jared shrugged again.

““An no one would buy that.” “(pp. 170-171)

Of course, the rest of her life explodes, too. She has unresolved issues with her mother and sister. She tosses out Roman (good riddance!), falls in love. All in a few days. (Unlike certain people, Maum moves things along!)

I’m sure Maum had a jolly time savaging the barbarians who create more and more “addictive”, anti-human technology. One suspects that she has sat through many awful design meetings and seen many appalling corporate decision making. If this book is a bit of revenge, more power to her.

Parts of this book are sappy and sentimental, not to mention Sloane’s anxiety over the approaching big Four Oh. In this case, these family and personal dramas are actually part of the point: this is what real life is made of.

Sensei Maum makes some accurate observations about the corrosive effects of constant connection. This isn’t exactly new (e.g., see Sensei’s Greenfield and Turkle and Lanier and Kelley and Ebling.  And so on.) . But Maum contribute with some extremely sympathetic portraits of the addicted, and a clear prescription for getting happier.

Her prescription: 1. Turn it off, 2. Be here, now, 3. Hugs.

I like her sketches of how industrial design might try to create, e.g., more hugs. And she forecasts a trend toward “disconnection”. This hasn’t come true, but it’s certainly starting to happen.

I can’t disagree, not one bit.

I myself have been beefing about the general gormlessness and anti-humanity of corporate digital design (e.g., this, this, this, this, this, etc.)  As a historic note, I’ll point out that I called attention to this issue a long, long time ago, before iPhones or Bitcoin (but we did have high-speed nets and VR goggles).

In the end, though, commerce is not culture, and digital communications are cold and impersonal. A home page is no substitute for a home or a hometown. If digital commerce does not offer support for a decent way of life, what good is it?” (Cain & McGrath (1995!), p. 39)

To sum up:  I really liked this book, and not just because of the social commentary.  It’s a nice little romance, well written.

I recommend purchasing the paper edition from a local  (human) bookseller.  Have a chat with the clerk when you by it.  🙂


  1. Courtney Maum,, Touch, New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017.
  2. Adam Cain,  and Robert E. McGrath, ““Digital Commerce on the World Wide Web”. NCSA access magazine.1995, National Center for Supercomputing Applications: pp. 36-39. archived at: http://hdl.handle.net/2142/46291

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Robot Cat Toy

While we’re considering cats, let’s look at ‘robot cats’.

This is kind of a cute toy, though it’s not necessarily “realistic”. For one thing, it would be more realistic if the robot slept most of the time, and plays only every once in a while when she wants to (not when you want to).  And the vocalizations are idiotic.  Real cats do not sing.  And, by the way, they meow when they want to, perhaps in the middle of the night.

The stuff about pushing your hand at the cat’s face: a real cat reacts defensively with claws and teeth when you do this. I hope that children don’t learn that this is how to handle cats.

“Mom, why don’t Fluffy’s eyes change color?”

“Ouch. She bit me!”

The biggest puzzle is,  why you would make a kitty robot out of shiny, hard, plastic? Wouldn’t you want soft, strokable fur? And the “snuggle mode” would certainly be way, way, WAY cooler if there were tactile sensing.

I think I stick with the real thing, thanks.

 

Robot Wednesday