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Book details of 'Who Gives a Gigabyte?'

Cover of Who Gives a Gigabyte?
TitleWho Gives a Gigabyte?
Author(s)Gary Stix, Miriam Lacob
PublishedFebruary 2000
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons
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The Virtual Bookcase Reviews of 'Who Gives a Gigabyte?':

Reviewer wrote:
This book is dedicated to the proposition that almost anyone can acquire a basic understanding of today's technological marvels--and that, perhaps, everyone ought to. Consistently understandable (but thankfully more sober than its somewhat dippy title suggests), Who Gives a Gigabyte? offers a brisk, guided tour of the high technologies currently having, or soon to have, the greatest impact on our lives and society. These include computing and telecommunications, genetic engineering, molecular medicine, bioengineering, lasers, smart materials, alternative fuels, and green technology. If you don't know what some of these are, don't worry. Stix and Lacob leave no technical jargon undefined, and their explanations of the workings of fin-de-millennium gadgetry--microchips, compact discs, electric cars, cloned sheep--are thorough and lucid. But just as important as the technical details are the social, political, and economic issues surrounding them, and these, too, get a clear and comprehensive airing out. In an increasingly technological world, they explain, "technological literacy ... enables us to be better citizens," helping us make informed social decisions that would otherwise be left to scientists, business leaders, and bureaucrats. Stix and Lacob don't belabor the point, though. What they promise is the essentials of a contemporary technological education, and that, no more or less, is what they deliver. --Julian Dibbell --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Reviewer Rob Slade wrote:
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 technologies. 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

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Book description:

An exhilarating chronicle of the most revolutionary advancements in recent—and future—technology Which new technologies are bound to have the biggest impact on our lives in the years ahead? This groundbreaking book looks at the latest technological superstars destined to reshape the upcoming century and offers easy-to-understand, engaging explanations of what they are, how they work, and how they will affect our lives. Written by a senior editor of Scientific American, the world’s premier science magazine, and based on in-depth interviews with today’s leading innovators as well as extensive research of the latest scientific literature, Who Gives a Gigabyte? takes you on a fast-paced tour into the brave new world of gene therapy, quantum computation, designer drugs, and recyclable cars. Surveying the wide range of technological wonders, the authors investigate such diverse realms of scientific advancement as computing, telecommunications, laser beams, bioengineering materials, and alternative energy sources. From the Human Genome Project, which aims to spell out every letter of our genetic inheritance, to the implications of altering genes in important agricultural projects, to new strategies for attacking malignant cancer cells without the damaging side effects of traditional treatments, to the startling but still unsuccessful attempts to make computer software more like the human mind, Who Gives a Gigabyte? demystifies the technology of today and provides an enlightening glimpse into the limitless possibilities of tomorrow. "An enjoyable and rewarding book."—Choice "An informative overview of new and emerging technologies."—Booklist "The reward for the reader is a solid grounding in technological literacy."—Scientific American

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