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Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
by Antonio Garcia Martinez
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.99
45 used & new from $17.83

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you like the HBO series “Silicon Valley” here’s a real-life version, July 11, 2016
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Martinez calls Silicon Valley “the tech whorehouse” and like that proverbial piano player in the whorehouse, he writes a classic “tell all” of who is screwing who.

The good stuff
The most likely path to achieve liquidity in 20th century Silicon Valley was via an IPO. Back then no investment banker would take you public without 5 quarters of increasing revenue and profitability, with another 4 quarters post IPO in the bag. Therefore, investors taught their founders how to build company’s. Today the words “startup,” “entrepreneur” and “venture capital” are still spelled the same, but rising out of the dot-com ashes they took on a very different meaning then they did in the 20th century. Today in web/mobile/software, company building for revenue and profit is long gone. For most startups the likely liquidity path is to get acquired. Startups get bought for their talent (aqua hire’s) or for their user base or their technology, and startup mills like Y-Combinator crank out tech wonks who get funded with 3-minute pitches. And therein lies Martinez's tale.

Martinez is a great writer (in the gonzo journalism style of Hunter Thompson) and tells a great story of what startups and entrepreneurs look like in the second decade of the 21st century. If you didn’t know how web/mobile advertising technology worked he’ll educate you. If you wanted to know the inside mechanics of how Facebook worked, he has plenty of juicy gossip of a low-level manager. And if you wanted to know how to overthink and badly run a startup while screwing your co-founders as you’re selling out as an aquahires, yep it’s there as well.

Well written, cynical, nasty, sarcastic, the book is punctuated by great clear-eyed insight that people on the bottom of the pile often have.
If you like the HBO series “Silicon Valley” here’s a real-life version. The book definitely should be on your reading list.

The bad stuff
As Dan Lyons proved in the book "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble" being a smart cynical critic is almost a guarantee that you’re unable to build something of value. It may just be that you have such clear insight that you get the game but can’t bring yourself to play it, but the fact is that you’re trashing the people you’re working for while you’re taking their money. Much like being the moralist writing, “My life in the whorehouse.”

In some worlds you realize; integrity is worth more than money, the testosterone and alcohol fueled binges of your 20’s and 30’s are not things you are going to be proud of later, the co-founders you screwed were a test of your character, and the children you fathered and abandoned - while grist for a great book, might not make you a great person.

But not in the world Antonio Garcia Martinez inhabits. The fans cheering him on are like the people who cheer on the jumper on the edge of the building. It’s great entertainment with clearly a movie deal and lots of book signings to come.

Let’s just hope the end isn’t like Hunter Thompson.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 11, 2016 10:42 PM PDT


Synthetic Aperture Radar: " SAR, LaCrosse & Oynx Satellites "
Synthetic Aperture Radar: " SAR, LaCrosse & Oynx Satellites "
by Edited by Paul F. Kisak
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.95
18 used & new from $13.28

1.0 out of 5 stars Not clear why Wikipedia reprints are called books, May 1, 2016
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The content of the book is a reprint of available on-line wikipedia articles.
It reprints wikipedia articles about SAR.
It reprints wikipedia articles about Lacrosse and Onyx.

Not clear why Wikipedia reprints are called books


Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Inside Technology)
Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Inside Technology)
by Donald A. Mackenzie
Edition: Paperback
Price: $37.60
48 used & new from $13.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Like Going Through Your Grandfathers Attic - If he developed ICBM Guidance Systems, April 17, 2016
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If you're interested in technical history of computing and/or military guidance systems how can you not love this odd treasure chest of a book. It feels like your grandfather taking you through his attic, giving you brief descriptions of most of it and a few lovingly remembered deep dives into things he worked on and cared about.

This is four books in one;
The first half of the book is a summary of every computer system ever built in the 1940's, 50's and 60's. It's like having a guide as you walk through the backroom of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.
The next part of the book is a detailed survey of all U.S. cruise and ballistic missile programs from 1940's until today. Then finally a survey of all Soviet/Russian cruise and ballistic missile programs from 1940's until today.

Overlaid on the cruise and ballistic missile programs is a description of the guidance systems of each one. There are details from the authors personal experience in designing these systems not found anywhere.

Read it in conjunction with Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Inside Technology)


How to Build a Universe: From the Big Bang to the End of Universe
How to Build a Universe: From the Big Bang to the End of Universe
by Ben Gilliland
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from $15.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Book for the Interested Layman, August 4, 2015
This is the first science book I'd feel comfortable giving a smart high school student and his grandparents.
It's the perfect book for anyone interested in what we currently know about cosmology, particle physics and how all the pieces fit together - without the math.
The first half of the book - from the birth of universe to the elementary particles is the most lucid, concise and best illustrated description I've seen.
After reading it I can almost say I understand it well enough to explain to someone else.

Slight quibble - the last 1/4 of the book - cooking up a Solar System - lacks the insight and depth of the first part (no discussion of planetary migration, etc.).

Highly recommended.


Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money
Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money
by Nathaniel Popper
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.03
78 used & new from $6.67

4.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of Bitcoins history and evolution, July 15, 2015
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If you're just coming on to the scene of Bitcoin this is a great _non technical_ overview of its history and evolution.
Five minor flaws:
1. Given the sprawling cast of people and companies I kept looking back to previous chapters to figure who this person was and their relationship to others. The book cried out for a summary of the "Cast of Characters".
2. Thanks for telling us Dan Morehead has a big house on Lake Tahoe. But when you repeat it multiple times, and keep mentioning that investors were flying to exclusive events on "gasp" private planes, you get a whiff that the author was thrilled to be in the story not just writing about it.
3. As others have mentioned, the book needed a tighter edit. It could have been 20% shorter and told the same story.
4. The blockchain is the critical innovation in Bitcoin. And while the author describes it, it cried out for a diagram contrasting it with existing centralized transaction systems.
5. While I understand the book was written for a non-technical audience, the "Technical" appendices were so non-technical to be useless in grasping any of the underlying technology. I just kept referring to Google.

Minor quibbles aside, all in all a book worth buying if you're interesting Bitcoin


Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle
Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle
by Matthew Symonds
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.34
79 used & new from $0.04

2.0 out of 5 stars a ~500 page PR piece for Ellison, July 2, 2015
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I always wanted to read this book, and now a decade later I finally get to it...

Good news
- There's some great reporting embedded in what is really a ~500 page PR piece for Ellison
- The Ray Lane story was worth the read
- Ellison at the emergence of the Internet and struggling (like others) to see the future is a great historical read

Bad news
- Giving the subject of your book permission to have a running commentary on the bottom of each page of your text, makes a mockery of the word journalist. (Doubly so because Ellison's commentary was unnecessary and extraneous. It added nothing to the story. It only proved how badly he compromised the author.)
- The book was in desperate need of an editor. It has periods of true reporting sandwiched in-between verbatim transcripts of Ellison position papers. Easily could have been 1/2 the size and twice as good.
- Tons of tactical details about: Ellison firing execs, defending Ron Wahl is spite of overwhelming evidence of incompetence, management by parachuting in, management only in crisis,etc. but none of this gets put into a coherent description of 1) who is Larry Ellison, 2) why given the permanent dysfunction of the company did it and he succeed. If there ever was a great example of "can't see the forest for the trees" reporting, this book is it.
- The whitewash of the Oracle contracting scandal with the State of California is a great example of when reporters become PR flacks of their subject. The author spent 3 years with Ellison and couldn't conclude "of course Oracle was pushing the edge?" A reporter would have asked if the "sales at any price" culture that almost killed the company in the 1990's had returned. A comprised flak rationalized it.
- Three years with Ellison and Oracle and no summing up of how this talented and flawed human being built the company


Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry
Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry
by Jacquie McNish
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.03
97 used & new from $5.00

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazingly good story, well told, June 20, 2015
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The rise and fall of RIM.
RIM rode technology disruption and created a company with $20 billion/year in revenue only to see it disappear by being disrupted themselves.

Lots of lessons here.
1) Even though the CEOs were reading the "Innovators Dilemma" they still had little perspective on how rapid disruption would happen to them. And even less of an understanding what to do about it. (The attempt to integrate the QNX software into existing products is a cautionary tale of technical debt, refactoring and plain bad engineering management.) The iPhone in 2007 should have been a wake-up call to both CEOs. Yet they both fell prey to the classic "disruption always looks like a toy to the incumbents" mistake.

2) The company grew past the management skills of the founders. The insular nature of the founders, the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem, founder hubris and a feckless board ended any potential of a positive intervention. It took a complete meltdown to get the board to act.

3) Mike Lazaridis, the technical CEO, fell prey to the "shiny object" syndrome. He discovered new technology (QNX) that he thought obsoleted the current software that drove the Blackberry handsets (Java). But instead of figuring out how to finesse the transition, he literally abandoned the existing development team (and revenue). A great example of how not to manage a technology transition.

3) Dealing with major platform disruption usually takes radical structural changes, not new product features. The story unfolds as a slow motion car crash as the CEOs waited, way, way too long to recognize, let alone deal with it. There's a reason that turnaround CEO's downsize companies and focus on what's important. If you're the founder it's almost impossible to get rid of your favorite projects.

Only quibble others have noted. The book barely mentions the changes Heins made, and almost nothing about Chens strategy.

A great business book.


SOG: A Photo History Of The Secret Wars
SOG: A Photo History Of The Secret Wars
by John L. Plaster
Edition: Paperback
Price: $53.78
34 used & new from $45.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful writing, great organization, June 13, 2015
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A major piece of Vietnam War history that the public never knew about.
Wonderful writing, great organization.


Spies and Shuttles: NASA's Secret Relationships with the DoD and CIA
Spies and Shuttles: NASA's Secret Relationships with the DoD and CIA
by James E. David
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $49.95
46 used & new from $15.98

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great research, terrible integration of the facts, May 9, 2015
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This book could have been great.
Five plus stars for the extensive research on the DOD influence on NASAs programs.
If I was grading a thesis it would get an A+ - it provides a comprehensive description of NASA/DOD interactions from the birth of the space age through the shuttle.

The bad news is that the author makes little effort in interpreting the data he has. Most of the text reads like paraphrases of the footnotes. Readers are left to figure out what vague phrases like "strategic operational needs, imagery intelligence platform" were (yes I know, but it surely limits the audience). The same is true for the listing of each sensor on spacecraft - what was the purpose - why did DOD object - what were they doing at the time? Halfway through the book you are left wondering what was the purpose of including every detail of every DOD or NASA meeting. By the end it was simply exhausting. It felt like the author saying, "I found this out so you should read about it."

The notes and bibliography are extensive. Yet it's pretty telling that there's not a single interview listed. The book would have been helped tremendously if the author had talked to some of the players involved (or at least had Jeff Richelson give him some context.) Given most of these systems were over 40 years old quite a few of them have been declassified or at least written about. It could have made a much richer book.

All it would have taken to make this a spectacular book was in each chapter for the author to step back and say, "here's what the CIA/NSA/NRO/Navy, etc. were trying to collect in this timeframe and here's why they objected to these NASA programs." (The information is publicly available. The author has the sources in his bibliography.)

That said, while not a history for a general audience, those who are familiar with DOD jargon, understand the Intelligence Community and are interested in NASA/DOD interactions will get a lot out of the book.


Datapoint: The Lost Story of the Texans Who Invented the Personal Computer Revolution
Datapoint: The Lost Story of the Texans Who Invented the Personal Computer Revolution
by Lamont Wood
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.99
33 used & new from $18.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I don't get no respect!, May 3, 2015
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If you’re interested in the history of technology this book should be on your reading list. It describes one of the most underappreciated and underrated companies in the computer business.

The story is a good one and could have been great. Unfortunately the first third of the book reads like a polemic as the author asserts that Datapoint invented the Microprocessor – and he’s going to prove to you by repeating that ad nauseam.

The reality is that like most inventions multiple people played a part in the invention of the microprocessor (including Lee Boysel at a company called 4-Phase.) The sad fact is that Intel’s marketing machine wrote everyone out of the history (including Federico Faggin) not just Datapoint. While Datapoint’s contribution was a part of history I didn't know, writing about it in such an aggrieved tone 40-years after the fact diminished what could have been a wonderful read.

The rest of the book is a good recounting of Datapoint and its contribution to computer history.

The downside is that the book feels like an extended series of newspaper articles rather than a great history. With another author or a great editor this book could have reached a much wider audience.

5-stars if you’re an ex-Datapoint employee or interested in the birth of the computer industry. 3-stars if you’re looking for a great history story.


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