#BookReview: Tech Panic by Robby Soave

Solid Examination Of The Issues. I’ve read some of the author’s work over the last year in particular on his primary employer’s website (Reason.com), and that is actually how I found out about this book. So I knew roughly what to expect here, and that is pretty well what I got: a fairly solid look at the issues surrounding tech, elections, privacy, free speech, and other related issues from a moderate libertarian (small “L”, to be clear, since these things matter in circles that will likely be most open to reading this book) perspective that is mostly well-reasoned from that particular mindset. As more of an avowed Anarchist (and former Libertarian Party official and candidate, though I myself was more moderate in that era) and software development professional, eh, Soave allows government a bit too much intervention into tech companies than I’m personally comfortable with. Even here, however, most who are more aligned with the left/ right divide in the US are going to be hit fairly equally and largely find various arguments here that they will (and sometimes do) champion and others that they will (and often do) despise. Which in the age of hyperpartisanship and barely-there “reasoning”, is generally a sign of someone who *has* actually seriously and critically thought about the issues he is speaking of. An excellent work that really should be read by anyone trying to urge government action regarding technology companies, and thus one that quite a few should consider as we begin the march into the mid-term elections of 2022 in just a few more months. Very much recommended.

PS: The reason for the star deduction? Light bibliography, at least potentially corrected in a non-Advance Reader Copy version of the book. The ARC, however, had a bibliography that clocked in at just 9% of the text, vs a “more normal” range of 25-33% in my experience across almost 650 books since Jan 1, 2019 alone.

This review of Tech Panic by Robby Soave was originally written on September 14, 2021.

#BookReview: WorkQuake by Steve Cadigan

Interesting Yet Also Seemingly Retreading Well Known Ideas. I’m not exactly known for reading business type books – which is one reason I wanted to read this one, actually, as it sounded interesting even though it was in more of the “Big Idea for Business” type space. While I tend not to discuss my professional life too much in these reviews, it bears a mention in this particular one, so here’s a very brief synopsis just to know my own background for my further commentary: I’m a mid career software developer that has mostly worked in local small-medium (500-2000 people) companies that were usually owned by a singular person, though I currently find myself as effectively a team lead working with various offshore teams and onshore contractors for a Fortune 50 company with approximately 200K+ people worldwide. I’ve had a couple of somewhat innovative breakthroughs, but for the most part I keep my head down and do whatever needs to be done in my current role.

So when I began reading Cadigan’s commentary about the future of tech being less about individual skills and more about networking – alluding to what I call the “Flight Director Principle” based off “Iron Flight” Paul Dye’s 2020 memoir Shuttle, Houston without ever getting even remotely close to actually naming it, much less naming it as I do here – eh… I can see it, and yet I also see in my own looking/ recruitments (in large part based on the very network Cadigan helped lead at one point) I also see quite a bit of employers – perhaps just in the areas/ jobs I’m looking? – still demanding specific technologies and specific amounts of experience with them. But perhaps Cadigan, presumably with a better sense of the pulse of business generally, has better insight there than I do as more of a grunt on the verge of being a low level leader.

Overall his ideas are certainly intriguing, and absolutely worth considering, one simply wonders, based on the text at hand, whether Cadigan is simply pushing change for change’s sake and taking the safe bet that change is always inevitable, or if he truly has specific – unnamed – change strategies. Cadigan here emphasizes adaptability for both the employee and the employer, which while valid, is still a safe and typical recommendation – if you don’t know the need to be adaptable, you’re probably going to quickly find yourself stuck, on whichever side of the hiring process you find yourself.

And this is my argument that his central theses here are mostly retreads of well known ideas. At least in my own experience in this industry even at the levels I’ve seen it, most of this stuff is well known, even if the particular anecdotes and case studies he uses aren’t always. And yet, this is still absolutely a worthy book to read and consider, because despite the well known general ideas, Cadigan does present a few scenarios and specifics that are interesting to consider and, I can say, many companies *need* to consider. Will the future of employment truly look as Cadigan forecasts here? We don’t have enough data at this time to know. But as this is a fairly short book at less than 200 pages of actual narrative, the time investment here is minimal and the rewards could range from minimal to quite substantial – and thus the risk/reward calculation says you really lose more from not reading this book and losing out on some valuable insight than you lose in time if you don’t really gain any new insight. Recommended.

Note: As this review was written on May 25, 2021, and the book doesn’t publish until August 3, 2021, yes, of course, this is an advance reader copy which in this case was obtained via NetGalley.

This review of Workquake by Steve Cadigan was originally written on May 25, 2021.

#BookReview: Shape by Jordan Ellenberg

Love Song To Geometry – And A Look At How It Is Truly Everywhere. This is a mathematician showing just how prevalent geometry is in our every day lives – and why modern math classes tend to ruin it for most people. As a mathematics oriented person myself (got one math-derived degree, very nearly got two others almost at the same time, former math teacher, current active software developer), this was fairly easy to follow – Ellenberg mentions some advanced concepts without actually *showing* many of them, though there *is* more actual equations in here than some might like in a “popsci” level book. Thanks to Ellenberg’s explanations of said equations and concepts, this *should* be an easy enough follow for most anyone. And he really does do a great job of showing how even advanced ideas really do come down to the most basic principles – just applied in particularly interesting ways. Indeed, the only real critique I have here is that when Ellenberg gets off the math specifically and into more political and social commentary – even when ostensbily using the math as a shield – it gets much closer to “Your Mileage May Vary” level. Overall, those moments weren’t quite pervasive enough nor did they stray far enough from the central premise to warrant dropping a star, and thus the book maintains the full five stars that all books start with for me. Very much recommended.

This review of Shape by Jordan Ellenberg was originally written on March 27, 2021.

#BookReview: You Bet Your Life by Paul A Offit

Startling Look At (Mostly Relatively Recent) Medical History. I consider myself a fairly well-read guy who is fairly knowledgeable about a *very* wide range of topics. Here, Offit shares stories of medical breakthroughs – including several which are now literally every day occurrences – and how the initial days of these breakthroughs weren’t always so routine. Indeed, many of the stories Offit shares about these breakthroughs – some of which were still being litigated within the last decade – are quite horrific, both from the practitioners really not understanding what they were doing and in some cases when they *did* know what they were doing – and did it anyway. Including one tale in particular about the (now) famous Jonas Salk himself that was quite disturbing to read. In the end, the book does exactly what it sets out to do – shows that there is always inherent risk in any medical procedure, particularly novel ones, and that often times it is those whose lives will be cut short with or without the procedure that take the risks that ultimately reduce those risks for later people and indeed enhance the lives of people they will never know many years down the line. And yes, all of this is wrapped around the current debate over the COVID-19 vaccines – though while these are discussed, they are not actually a core component of the text itself. The discussion here is current circa early November 2020 and is slightly outdated even as I read the text in early February 2021 – and certainly will have advanced even further by the time of the book’s actual publication in mid September 2021. Ultimately a truly fascinating read that is equally disturbing and enlightening, this book is very much recommended.

This review of You Bet Your Life by Paul A Offit was originally written on February 8, 2021.