ARRAY(0xb1259ba0)
 
Profile for Allan Heydon > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Allan Heydon
Top Reviewer Ranking: 413,128
Helpful Votes: 5

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
Allan Heydon (San Francisco, CA USA)
(REAL NAME)   

Page: 1 | 2
pixel
Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer
Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer
by Douglas K. Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.48
22 used & new from CDN$ 9.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Business Case Study, May 27 2003
This book tells the fascinating story of the invention of the first distributed personal computer systems at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), and how a copier company that had grown to over $1 billion in revenue in less than 10 years based on a single new technology (photocopying) was unable to capitalize on a new technology again, despite the best intentions of its leaders.
The really innovative work at PARC was done under the direction of Bob Taylor. When Taylor was forced out, he started DEC's Systems Research Center (SRC) (later acquired by Compaq, and then HP), and he brought much of the top talent along with him.
I read this book on Bob Taylor's recommendation when I first joined DEC SRC as a researcher. But I decided to read it again recently before attending a talk by George Pake, the founding director of PARC. Pake's history of PARC agreed with the book, but he drew very different conclusions about the overall benefit of PARC's inventions to Xerox. In particular, Pake gave far more credit to PARC for contributing to Xerox, but all the examples he gave related to how computer technology has come to be used in photocopiers, which entirely misses the point. As the book's subtitle suggests, most of PARC's astounding computer innovations were largely squandered by Xerox (and "borrowed" by Steve Jobs to create the Apple Macintosh).
The first time I read the book, I was fresh out of school and didn't have much experience in the business world, so the parts of the book dealing with business issues were mostly a mystery to me. This time, it made much more sense, and I actually found the business aspects of the story more intriguing than the technical ones. Even so, the story of the first bit-mapped display, laser printer, ethernet, personal computer, and WYSIWYG editing software -- innovations we take largely for granted today -- is quite interesting!

The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court
The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court
by John W. Dean
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.37
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars An Insider's Look at the Bungling Behind a Historic Choice, March 3 2003
During his first presidential term, Richard Nixon had the unusual opportunity to appoint four justices to the supreme court. This book tells the inside story of how the nominees were selected, focusing almost entirely on the selection of the latter two: Lewis Powell, a prominent Virginia attorney, and William Rehnquist, then the Assistant Attorney General to John Mitchell. Not counting the book's introduction and afterword, its main story covers just 35 days in the fall of 1971.
The book begins by telling how Nixon virtually created the first two vacancies. Essentially, Nixon encouraged Senate republicans to fillibuster the elevation of Abe Fortas to the Chief Justice position. Once in office, Nixon's men then staged a PR campaign to discredit Fortas, causing him to announce his retirement. Ironically, the legal precedent for investigating Fortas' business dealings was based on a memo written by Rehnquist.
If anyone should be entitled to write this story, it is John Dean. At the time, Dean was Council to the President, and it was he that first brought up Rehnquist's name, mostly as a fanciful suggestion. He recounts his experiences vetting candidates and some of his conversations as reconstructed from notes and memory. Primarily, however, the book is based on Nixon's tape recorded conversations in the oval office. Dean has done a good job editing these transcripts so as to maintain sufficient context without dragging them out too long.
What emerges in these conversations is a series of bungled operations and imprudent decisions. Before Lewis and Rehnquist were finally selected in the final two days before their names were announced, the administration actually selected four other candidates. Two were rejected by the Senate, and the other two (including a woman) were deemed unqualified by the ABA (although from the sounds of it, the female candidate, Mildred Lillie, was fairly qualified but discriminated against by the all-male panel). John Mitchell and his assistant Rehnquist did an abysmal job vetting candidates, so much so that Dean and another lawyer were sent by John Ehrlichman to independently interview the candidates in more depth. And Nixon himself seemed to base his choices on hearsay and surface biographical snippets, like the candidates' class rank or the school they graduated from. He paid very little attention to the candidates' actual writings or opinions.
One of the incidental but nevertheless shocking revelations in the book is the deep extent of Nixon's sexism. Recent tapes have revealed his racism and anti-semitism, but his low opinion of women is repeated time and again in the transcripts. For example he is quoted as saying "I don't even think women should be educated!" and "I don't think a woman should be in any government job whatever."
In the book's afterword, Dean makes a compelling case that Rehnquist lied under oath during his confirmation hearings, both when he was initially confirmed in 1971, and then again in 1986 when Reagan nominated him to Chief Justice. At issue were Rehnquist's activities in Arizona during the 1960's preventing minorities from voting, and a controversial memo he wrote while clerking for Justice Robert Jackson in which he urged Jackson to vote to maintain segregated schools in the historic "Brown vs. Board of Education" case. Dean argues that if Rehnquist had been better vetted and prepared for his initial confirmation hearings, he would have had ready answers to these questions. Instead, he was caught off guard and ended up lying in 1971, and then lying again in 1986 to maintain the original lies.
Due to Rehnquist's dishonesty and the profound effect of his rulings on the high court, Dean openly regrets ever having suggested Rehnquist's name to Nixon staffers. Although this fascinating book is about far more than just Nixon's selection of Rehnquist, clearly that selection was the most important from a historical perspective. In a sense, this book is Dean's act of repentance for his role in the Rehnquist choice.

The Mathematical Universe: An Alphabetical Journey Through the Great Proofs, Problems, and Personalities
The Mathematical Universe: An Alphabetical Journey Through the Great Proofs, Problems, and Personalities
by William Dunham
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.29
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Broad Coverage, but Fewer Proofs than Dunham's Other Works, Jan. 5 2003
In this follow-on to his excellent "Journey Through Genius", William Dunham once again breathes life into a variety of mathematical topics. Whereas "Journey" was arranged around 12 great mathematical theorems, this book is arranged around the 26 letters of the alphabet. Some chapters cover the work of individuals (e.g., "Euler", "Knighted Newton", "Lost Leibniz", and "Russell's Paradox"), while others describe important mathematical results (e.g., "Isoperimetric Problem", "Spherical Surface", and "Trisection"). Still others, such as "Mathematical Personality" and "Where are the Women?", address social aspects of the field.
As in the previous book, Dunham's descriptions are entertaining and enlightening. The main difference is that this book has broader coverage. As a result, it tends to omit more of the proofs, which I found disappointing, but perhaps that will make it of interest to a wider audience. For people with a deeper interest in mathematics, I recommend you read either "Journey Through Genius" or "Euler: The Master of Us All", another Dunham masterpiece that includes detailed proofs throughout.

DIV, Grad, Curl, & All That: An Informal Text on Vector Calculus
DIV, Grad, Curl, & All That: An Informal Text on Vector Calculus
by Harry M. Schey
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 31.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction to Vector Calculus, Jan. 5 2003
This book teaches the main topics in vector calculus with an emphasis on its applications to electrostatics. As its subtitle suggests, the presentation is rather informal, but I enjoy Schey's conversational style.
The proofs are by no means rigorous, but the proof sketches are detailed enough to convey the main ideas. Schey takes great care to motivate the equations and to provide some geometric intuition for what they mean. To illustrate the geometric ideas, the book includes a liberal dose of excellent figures.
As is true with most math books, however, you really have to do the problems to get the most out of it. Some of the problems are not only challenging, but are designed with incremental sub-parts to teach new results. The book also includes solutions for many problems. Be warned however: writing out the complete solutions to all the problems (as I have done) takes a large amount of time and fills more pages than the book itself!

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
56 used & new from CDN$ 3.72

4.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and Strange, Jan. 1 2003
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is one of the most imaginative and strange books I've ever read. The story is set in modern-day Tokyo, and it contains historical references to the Japanese-Russian conflict in outer Mongolia during WWII, but there all connection with reality ends. The book's characters are unusual people to say the least. Almost all of them seem to be blessed with various other-worldly powers. Viewed in one way, the book is a 600+ page collection of their histories, and it is as a storyteller that Murakami excels --- his descriptions are vivid, imaginative, and quite captivating.
But what is the book about? I'm not really sure. Perhaps it is about self-reliance and responsibility. The moral is not as important to Murakami as the stories themselves, and the images and people of this book will probably stay with me for some time. Give this one a try if you're in the mood for a mind-bending read.

At Home in the World: A Memoir
At Home in the World: A Memoir
by Joyce Maynard
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.80
35 used & new from CDN$ 2.03

3.0 out of 5 stars Honest, but Ultimately Sad, Jan. 1 2003
During her freshman year at Yale in 1972, Joyce Maynard published a story in the Sunday New York Times Magazine called ``An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back on Life''. Her picture appeared on the magazine's cover. Among the hundreds of responses she received to that story was a letter that changed her life. It was from the well-known author and recluse J. D. Salinger, a man thirty-five years her senior. Maynard and Salinger soon began a daily correspondence that consumed them both. Eventually, Maynard drove to Salinger's home in New Hampshire to meet him. At the start of her sophomore year, she dropped out of college to move in with him.
The book covers much more than the relationship with Salinger, although it is centered around her time with him. Even allowing for the fact that we hear only one side of that story, the portrait of Salinger that emerges is one of a manipulative and bitter man.
It might be said that Maynard, in the writing of this book, has exploited her relationship with Salinger and betrayed his intense desire for privacy. In anticipation of those criticisms, she writes in her preface, ``While I have no doubt that some will view my choice to tell this story honestly as an invasion of others' privacy, I have tried hard to describe only those events and experiences that had a direct effect on the one story I believe I have a right to tell completely: my own.'' She goes on to recount her life and to describe the people in it with startling honesty, including none-too-flattering portraits of herself and her family. Her forthrightness builds trust, and ultimately, makes us care about Joyce and her story.
Still, despite the panoply of friends she trots out at the end of the book, I couldn't help but wonder about the title Maynard chose for her memoir --- she still strikes me as being rather uncomfortable in this world, and haunted by her past. Mostly, this book made me sad --- sad that so many people with so much intellect and talent could act so foolishly for so long. It's not a pretty picture of the human condition!

You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You
You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You
by Molly Ivins
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
41 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Political Insights with Wit and Texas Charm, Jan. 1 2003
Whenever I see a Molly Ivans piece on the op-ed page of my morning paper, a warm feeling of anticipation comes over me. So when I came across this collection of her essays at an airport ``bookstore'' before a long trip home, plunking down the $12 was a no-brainer. I wasn't disappointed.
The pieces in this book are full of Texas charm, humor, and just plain common sense, but also the facts that so often go unreported in today's news. Her topics are many, but three that come up often in this collection are media ethics (got that? media ethics debated by a journalist!), hypocrisy (Al D'Amato conduct an ethics investigation?), and her favorite, the U.S. campaign financing system (which she refers to as ``legalized bribery'') and its fundamental effects on our society. ``The truth is that there is no political story more important than campaign financing. It's not just the hottest political story---it's the only story. It's the key to the real source of class warfare in this country.'' Not only are these issues and many others addressed intelligently with an eye toward ferreting out the truth, but they are often a laugh riot!
The introduction to the book was written in January, 1998, just after the Lewinsky scandal broke, and all but one of the pieces were originally published from 1993 to 1997. Some of the events Ivans refers to are thus a bit dated today (early 1999), but her writing still packs a wallop.

Why Not Me?: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency
Why Not Me?: The Inside Story of the Making and Unmaking of the Franken Presidency
by Al Franken
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.33
41 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Political Satire, Jan. 1 2003
This is one of the funniest books I've ever read. End of story.
If you liked Franken's "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations", you're going to love "Why Not Me?". It tells the hilarious story of Franken's successful run for the Presidency in 2000, and his subsequent downfall as chief executive. The single issue on which candidate Franken campaigns is one of deep national concern: ATM fees. Once he also proposes lifting the regulations that bar insurance companies from entering the banking business, he finds himself awash in money and other perqs, such as the Geico jet and the MetLife blimp. What makes the whole escapade so funny is the candidate's seemingly genuine belief in the importance of the ATM fee issue, and his obliviousness to the immorality of the insurance companies' largesse. At one point, his campaign manager Norm Orenstein writes him a memo that enumerates the campaign's ``very illegal'', ``illegal'', and ``probably illegal'' activities. Franken eventually gets around to reading the memo several weeks after it is written.
The largest and funniest part of the book is a diary kept by Franken during his campaign for the presidency. The diary is interspersed with memos, speech transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, and transcripts taken from Sunday news shows. Franken is obviously a studied political junky. His take-offs on commentators like George Will and Sam Donaldson are right on. One very funny aside is a hilarious commercial in which David Brinkley acts as spokesperson for both Archer Daniels Midland and Depends. The book is replete with countless other political references. All in all, a very funny look at our sad political system....

The Dark Side of Camelot
The Dark Side of Camelot
by Seymour M. Hersh
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.44
61 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading for Those with Romanticized Notions of JFK, Jan. 1 2003
This eye-opening book reports on the unseemly aspects of the events leading up to and taking place during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. It is essential reading for anyone with any glamorous or romanticized notions of JFK, his administration, and his presidency.
In an author's note, Hersh says explicitly that the book does not report on JFK's brilliant moments, nor does it dwell on his assassination. Instead, it covers the many unethical practices of Kennedy and his staff. These include:
* the theft of the 1960 presidential election, both in the West Virginia democratic primary, and in the Illinois electoral college;
* the strange last-minute selection of Lyndon Johnson as Kennedy's running mate, most probably due to blackmail by Johnson;
* Kennedy's philandering, whose shocking extent is documented by secret service personnel responsible for protecting him;
* Kennedy's continuation of Eisenhower's secret plans to assassinate Fidel Castro, both before and after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion;
* Kennedy's secret ties to Sam Giancana, a Chicago mob boss, who Kennedy dealt with both during the 1960 election, and in his attempts to assassinate Castro;
* Kennedy's secret first marriage to Florida socialite Durie Malcolm, which was quickly annulled, and all records of which were destroyed;
* Kennedy's continuous use of amphetamines, and other aspects of his physical health, such as the fact that he had sexually transmitted diseases for the last 30+ years of his life, due to continuous reinfection;
* Kennedy's use of a secret back-channel in his negotiations with Nikita Krushchev over the Cuban missile crisis, including the secret withdrawal of U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba;
* Kennedy's affair with Judith Campbell Exner, also Sam Giancana's lover, who on at least one occassion carried large sums of money between the president and mob boss, and who also arranged for a secret meeting between the two men in her apartment;
* Kennedy's affair with East German Ellen Rometsch, a potential national security threat; and
* Kennedy's role in the overthrow of several foreign leaders, including the ouster and assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.
Perhaps the most spectacular aspect of this book is not the quantity or importance of its revelations, but its thoroughness. Hersh spent 5 years writing it, and conducted hundreds of interviews. Many of the new revelations come from these first-hand interviews or from previously unreleased private manuscripts. Even some of the many interesting footnotes seemed to me like they must have taken days or weeks to research.

Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure
Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure
by Jerry Kaplan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.08
49 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars An Insider's Look at the Startup Struggle, Jan. 1 2003
Startup tells the story of the rise and fall of GO Corporation, a maker of pen-based computer hardware and software. GO was founded in 1987 based on the idea that lightweight portable computers that used a pen instead of a keyboard would be quite useful devices, and that entirely new operating system software would be required to run them.
From the outset, the company faced a major problem: their main product was a pen-friendly operating system, but the device for which their software was targetted did not exist! Back then, the so-called portable computers were affectionately referred to as "luggables", and they all came with a keyboard. So to demonstrate the benefits of their software, GO was forced to spend its early precious resources developing its own pen computers. It was 3.5 years before the hardware group was spun out into a separate company called EO and bought by AT&T.
Kaplan's book is an interesting no-holds-barred account of the hectic start-up life and the cut-throat business world. To succeed, GO required a variety of partnerships, from hardware vendors to ISVs. In the course of wooing companies to help them, they rubbed shoulders with such big technology companies as IBM, Apple, HP, Microsoft, and AT&T. Negotiating with and placating the IBM bureaucracy turned into a major ordeal, and Microsoft's unethical theft of GO's intellectual property allowed Microsoft to become a competitive threat long before they otherwise should have been.
GO's other serious problem was that, in its 7+ years of existence, it never realized any significant product revenue. As a result, Kaplan was constantly scrounging for new investment money and was forced to make large concessions to get it. In the book's epilogue, he sums up the situation rather succintly and forthrightly: "In looking back over the entire GO-EO experience, it is tempting to blame the failure on management errors, aggressive actions by competitors, and indifference on the part of large corporate partners. While all these played important roles, the project might have withstood them if we had succeeded in building a useful product at a reasonable price that met a clear market need. ... The real question is not why the project died, but rather why it survived as long as it did with no meaningful sales."
The book may make even more interesting reading today (mid-2001) than when it was first published (1994). The intervening years have seen the dot-com boom and bust of the late 1990's, and the development of Palm handhelds, the first truly affordable and useful pen computers. GO may have burned through $75 million in its 7 year existence, but that is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted on short-lived dot-coms with ridiculous business models. And the overwhelming success of the Palm devices is a testament to the power of the idea that gave birth to GO. It was a valiant and commendable attempt, but in the final analysis, GO just had too many forces working against it, not least of which may have been that it was a bit ahead of its time....

Page: 1 | 2