Books and blogs

A while back I mentioned Erik Benson's All Consuming site. It continues to intrigue me, and I've now signed up for the weekly RSS feed. Inspired by Weblog BookWatch, Erik's service makes books, as well as people, an organizing principle of blogspace. So here's a little experiment. I'm going to cite some books I've read recently, and have been thinking about, in order to see what kind of discussion is reflected back through All Consuming.

Life Script is Nicholas Wade's recap of the decoding of the human genome and the implications of that achievement. The Amazon reviewers were not kind to Wade, a reporter who has chronicled this story for the NY Times, but I found it a useful summation of what I'd read in bits and pieces over several years. I guess it's the word "script" that grabs me. I'm an avid scripter, and the notion of applying such techniques to the machinery of life is -- while scary -- also just plain intoxicating.

Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy, by Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian. I wish I'd been on the west coast for the recent InfoWorld CTO event at which Varian spoke. This 1999 book is a wonderfully pragmatic analysis of, among other things, the economics of bundling. It also considers the decision to seek lock-in or to embrace standards, either of which can be a rational strategy from the standpoint of an individual economic actor. I would love to see an update based on the current example of the Microsoft and OpenOffice XML formats.

Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable and River Out of Eden are two of the more recent works by the author of the 1976 classic, The Selfish Gene, which among its other contributions to current thought gave us the "meme" meme. In Climbing Mount Improbable Dawkins is revealed to be an avid programmer who uses "software biomorphs" to explore design spaces -- or rather, as Dawkins keeps reminding us, the "pseudo-design" spaces -- that the blind watchmaker of natural selection mindlessly traverses. Genetic programming has been around for a while, of course, and while it hasn't gone mainstream yet, I keep expecting that it will.

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