The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Walter Isaacson’s new book might not be quite the monster hit that his 2011 Steve Jobs biography was, but The Innovators is definitely the 2014 tech book you’re most likely to spot someone reading on the bus. Having focused on one of tech's most singular visionaries, The Innovators turns its attention to teams of inventors and computer scientists, offering a look at just how far technology have come over the past century.
If The Innovators has a downside, it’s that it can be cursory in its discussions of specific people. Jobs got 500 pages of his own, but Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Page and others have to share less than that between them.
Still, if you’re looking for a tech book people will have read this winter, The Innovators should be high on your list.
Taking in everything from Google’s self-driving cars to the possibility that we might one day be put out of a job by the right algorithm, The Second Machine Age looks forward while Isaacson’s The Innovators looks back. Between them, this as close to a crash-course overview of computing as you could hope for.
Photo: W.W. Norton & Company
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism
Evgeny Morozov isn’t a critic to everyone’s liking. The guy’s got a shtick, and that shtick involves hating on technology in all its forms. His previous book, The Net Delusion, looked at how the Internet has progressed from a tool capable of freeing oppressed peoples to one used for controlling them. In his follow-up, To Save Everything, Click Here, he examines the subject of “solutionism” — or the idea that, in Apple’s words, whatever the problem, “there’s an app for that.”
Morozov is grouchy, offers few of his own solutions, and is able to take the most well-intentioned tech idea and twist it until it resembles a dystopian nightmare scenario. That doesn’t make To Save Everything, Click Here any less valuable, however. If you want your technology optimism grounded with a bit of critical theory, Morozov will give you plenty to think about.
Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
Nick Bilton’s Twitter biography, Hatching Twitter, came out late last year, but it’s well worth a read if you haven’t got to it yet. It’s less heavyweight and more narrative than, say, Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here, but that’s not to suggest in any way that it’s not worth your time. If you’re looking for a story in the vein of The Social Network (although infinitely better than the Ben Mezrich source material), this is certainly it.
Photo: Portfolio Penguin
How Google Works
Writing a book about Google is rapidly becoming a more oversubscribed area than writing about Apple. We’ve had histories from The New Yorker's Ken Auletta and Wired’s Steven Levy. We’ve had employee memoirs such as I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59. And we’ve had academic takedowns of googling, such as The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) by Siva Vaidhyanathan.
What more could you possibly want to know about everyone’s favorite (or least favorite) Mountain View company? Answering that question is the thesis behind Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg’s How Google Works. Instead of looking at what Google does, it looks at Google’s management as a company. The results can be problematic — when is Google not? — but the book is the best inside glimpse we’ve had yet.
Photo: Grand Central Publishing
The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty
The Quantum Moment isn’t strictly a tech book, but it’s one I very much enjoyed. It’s an informative and reassuringly accessible book that describes the nigh-unapproachable world of quantum physics.
Authors Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber take readers through the work of pioneering physicists such as Planck, Einstein and Bohr, and offer fresh and entertaining takes on concepts such as entanglement and the uncertainty principle without ever talking down to readers. If you’re interested in the science behind time travel and parallel worlds, this is highly recommended.
Photo: W.W. Norton & Company
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
Author danah boyd (yes, it’s still styled like that) returns with It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, a fascinating new book about how teenagers communicate via social media. boyd looks at privacy, safety, danger and bullying in the age of Facebook and, while some of it is depressing stuff about trolls and misogyny, she also looks at the ways the online world can help alienated teens find new ways to engage and establish an identity. If you’re interested in the sociology of technology, this is definitely worth picking up.
The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems ... and Create More
Disclosure: Since this book is mine, I’m including it as a bonus book here, rather than one of the main eight. The Formula: How Algorithms Solve all our Problems ... and Create More is a book about algorithms and the increasing role they play in all our lives, from the way Google and Facebook shape our identities, to neural networks used by Hollywood to create hit movies, to the predictive policing increasingly used around the world. Take a look if you’re interested in the secret formulae that govern our lives.
What’s the difference between a businessperson and a regular person? According to Evernote, a businessperson has secrets, whereas a regular person is happy to share everything. This somewhat cynical take is a pretty good model of the world, and it is embodied in the Evernote Business Notebook, a “collabo” with Moleskine that lets you snap/scan a photo of your pages into Evernote, and selectively share the result.
Load up your manly new leather tote with dreamy camera filters, stick a handmade lens on your Leica, slip into a hideous, advertising-overloaded shirt from Rapha and jump on an outrageously expensive bike that’s unique selling proposition is its paint job. What could be more fun this July 4th weekend?
Tar Field Notes
This is basically three of Blackbird's Pitch Black Field Notes notebooks, stuck together at the spines with real tar and wrapped with a cord that has had its tip dipped in yet more of the special Field Notes tar formula. If it sounds like some kind of Clive Barker-esque nightmare, that’s because it is. Don’t write the names of any loved ones in this book. Just in case, you know… $24
I tote-ally want this bag for the summer. It’s a carry-all version of WaterField's Rough Rider messenger bag, fashioned from the same tough leather with colored panels and pockets. Nonslip shoulder grips and interior pockets organize your gear, and a big central chamber will swallow all your other crap. $289
Lee filters for GoPro
Got a GoPro? Want to add some sweet filters in front to pep up your pics? Then you need Lee’s new Bug Action Kits. There are two kits: one for underwater and one for everywhere else. The underwater kit slips green or blue color-correction filters in front of the lens in a special mount, and the dry-land (and air) kit features a polarizer and neutral-density filters, for amping up saturation or cutting out excess light. They’re reasonably priced, too, starting at around £45.
Perar 24mm ƒ4 for Leica M
Still got money left over after wasting ten grand on a Leica M? Then you might want this handmade Perar 24mm ƒ4 pancake lens to go with it. The millimeters-thick sliver features a 10-blade aperture, full manual focus and rangefinder coupling, and can even be converted to fit other cameras. Around $660
Rapha Team Sky jersey
Rapha makes lovely clothes for cyclists that don’t make you look like a dork when you’re off the bike. Usually anyway – the Team Sky jersey is not only as dorky as can be, it is also plastered with logos, so you are effectively paying the $225 asking price to become a human billboard. But you’ll be a very comfortable human billboard, with mesh fabric, angled rear pockets and a full-length zipper. I’ll stick with my merino wool.
S-Works McLaren Tarmac
Not long ago, anyone could buy the best bike in the world. Whichever bike that might have been, it would have been affordable to Average Charlie with maybe just a bit of saving up. But then things got ugly. Take the S-Works McLaren Tarmac, a bike as useless to the non-team rider as an F1 car is useless on the road. This carbon-fiber princess costs $20,000, and its prime feature is that it is painted in the “same location where the $1.2 million McLaren P1 supercar is painted.” If you like, you can read the specs with a calculator close at hand and tot up the weight savings – 30 grams here, 10 grams there. Then you can chuckle to yourself that the dentist who buys this bike will add all that weight back with a single hamburger.
Cargo Works MacBook Module Sleeve
Strictly utilitarian, the Cargo Works MacBook Module Sleeve will carry your notebook plus anything else you need to take along with it. Carved from a block of 900-denier polyester canvas, closed with YKK zippers and trimmed with “military grade” webbing, the pouch and pockets keeps your MacBook, power supply, trackpad and other essentials all together. Not that you ever actually need a power supply with today’s MacBooks, but you could always stow a delicious sandwich in there instead. $60
Nissin i40 Micro Four Thirds flash
The Nissin i40 is billed as a flash for Micro Four Thirds cameras, but it’ll work just fine with anything that has a hotshoe up top. The MFT part really refers to the size – it’s small enough not to look ridiculous mounted on a tiny camera body.It also has two sweet clicky dials on the back so you can easily set the output power (for manual use) and select the auto-modes if you hate having control of your own photos. $269
Photojojo Dream Scope
It’s Instagram IRL, for your iPhone or other cellphone camera. The Dream Scope clips onto the iPhone and an adjustable filter mount can be finagled into place over the lens. The filters themselves are graduated circles of color, clear at one side and red, blue or yellow at the other. Use alone to hop up the hue of a dull scene, or combine to get totally psychedelic. Best of all, the whole shebang costs just $30, and nobody will be able to snoop your metadata and call you out as a #nofilter faker.
A good piece of gear can make your life better. And, just as surely, a crappy bit of kit can turn an ordinary task into a profoundly irritating experience. This month's Lust List items keep us moving in the right direction.
Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C
Pushing my bike into what can only be accurately described as a head-sided tailwind and attempting to navigate the tourist-riddled Golden Gate Bridge towers, I was once again thankful to have the Cosmic Carbones mounted to my whip.
There are faster hoops. There are rims that have spent more time at the salad bar. But if you are looking to go faster, over more “epic” terrain, with nary a concern about how precious your carbon wheels may be, then the Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C (1,990 euro a pair list) should be on your upgrade shopping list. They will get you where you need to go regardless of the condition of the tarmac or what the weatherman has in store for you.
On that recent trip across the international orange landmark, I experienced just about every microclimate and terrain known to man. The braking surface worked surprisingly well in the wet foggy conditions, the climb up hawk hill was a joy and only during the nastiest of crosswinds did I notice the Carbones’ deep rim. Mavic took its sweet time releasing their first full-carbon clinchers, but they nailed the Mavic tradition of building bombproof, lust-worthy wheels. — Jim Merithew
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Goldtouch ergonomic keyboard
You know what I hate about Apple computers? The precious keyboards. They look lovely, with their sleek designs and tiny little keys, but they absolutely kill my wrists and fingers. That’s why I plug a grimy old Goldtouch keyboard ($129 list when they made ‘em) into the MacBook Air that I use for work. I even take the weird-looking A-frame keyboard with me when I travel. It’s not an elegant-looking solution, but it’s a lifesaver.
I’ve dealt with typing-related RSI for decades. While I use voice recognition when I have to write something lengthy, it’s not the perfect tool to accomplish every task in every situation. Sometimes I need to hammer away on a keyboard, and when I do, the Goldtouch makes the experience far less painful. It’s split down the center, with a ball joint that lets me adjust the angle between the two halves as well as the height at the center. And the soft-touch keys just feel good to me. — Lewis Wallace
I'll admit it: I checked out Rocket Girl from my branch libraryout of a thing for cat-eye glasses and an ingrained curiosity aboutsmart women that history has forgotten about.
Even if you don't care about either of those things, pick up this biography about rocketscientist Mary Sherman Morgan. It's written by her son George D. Morgan,who found that the Los Angeles Times was unwilling to print the obit hewrote because so much of what she accomplished "couldn't be verified."So he painstakingly pieced together her story — from herhardscrabble childhood to some tendencies that today we'd probably callOCD — while tracing the history of rocket science inAmerica.
Rocket Girl ($18) reads like a novel (and, in fact, the work first debutedas a play at CalTech). The story about Mary’s now-credited invention ofliquid fuel Hydyne, which powered the Jupiter-C rocket, is super-compelling.It's a great read, whether you care that she was our first female rocketscientist or not. — Nicole Martinelli
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Garmin quatix sailing watch
Sailing at the local Friday night beer can races used to be more humiliating than fun: The dispirited crew of Baby Blu almost rechristened the boat Dead F***ing Last before I got armed with Garmin's quatix marine GPS watch ($449.99 list).
As the defacto crew tactician of the decrepit Cal 20, I followed the oldest advice from racing sailors: Start first, keep ahead, finish first. Now that I'm sporting a good countdown watch and can accurately gauge the distance and time to the start line, we are often first off the mark. The navigation aids and speedometers on the quatix help us with the “keep ahead” part, though they can't do much to cover the fact that the old lady we sail desperately needs a face-lift. The best part: I got to keep our first commemorative beer glass from the first win. Arr, thanks quatix! — Stefano Maffulli
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Vinturi red wine aerator
The first time I saw a Vinturi wine aerator in a Sonoma County tasting room, I pegged it for a gimmick. The woman behind the bar opened a bottle of red and poured some into a glass. Then she poured some of the same vintage slowly through the Twinkie-size plastic contraption into another glass and invited us to try the two side-by-side.
It was an effective demo.The flash-aerated wine clearly tasted better: richer, fuller, a little bit softer. More balanced and less brash. The Vinturi ($39.95 list) opened up the young wine, allowing its true character to shine through. Wine snobs have been decanting their vino forever, but dumping a bottle into a separate container and letting it “breathe” properly takes patience. The Vinturi gets the job done in seconds flat. The strange sucking sound it makes is air that’s getting mixed into the wine as it flows through the funnel-like device (thanks to the Venturi effect). It’s not for everybody, and not for every wine, but when you pop a cork and you don’t want to wait around, it’s a fantastic time-saver. — Lewis Wallace
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Think Tank Shape Shifter Camera Backpack
The Shape Shifter and I just returned from a photo shoot in Utah. I could not have asked for a better travel companion. I stuffed two camera bodies, three lenses, a Q-Flash, various cords, cards, batteries and battery chargers, my laptop and oh so much more into this gear-swallowing beauty. And then I carried it on and stuffed it under my seat. Amazing.
I have also put a minimal amount of kit into it and zipped the compression zipper shut, so I could commute on my bicycle with this pack. It has waist and chest straps to keep it securely in place and plenty of pockets to help you organize your life.
Think Tank builds serious camera bags for serious photographers. If you like to travel light, like to work out of the same bag you travel with, or only carry a minimal amount of gear, then this thing is overkill. But if you travel with a pack of cameras, love adventure photography or just like to get your shit organized, I can’t say enough positive things about the Shape Shifter ($264.75 list). It’s the perfect bag for the photographer who likes to go loaded for bear. — Jim Merithew
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
When the standing desk craze took off, I thought it wasanother overblown trend created by the same fitness yuppies thatturned gluten into the most dangerous edible compound sincetrans-fats. Then I got a NextDesk Terra (starts at $1,497) andI’ll never go back to a boring, sit-in-your-chair-till-your-ass-is-numbdesk again.
The design is perfectly simple. The stained bamboo top is gorgeous andenormous. But the best thing about the NextDesk is how smooth andquickly it moves up and down, thanks to the 18-volt DC motors in eachleg that raise it up to a max height of 50.5 inches.
Fast-forward 18 months and not only have I cut my Red Bull dependency in half bymoving around to stay alert, I’ve become a master at typing whiledancing as Google drones through another painful three-hour keynote. — Buster Hein
Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac
Harman Kardon Onyx speaker
For the first time in my life I was hailed a DJ hero at a picnic thanks to two things: 1) I’d downloaded the great 20 Reggae Classics and 2) I brought a Harman Kardon Onyx Bluetooth speaker.
Sitting up by the Russian River in the baking sun, there’s nothing better than the incredible sounds created by Jamaica's legendary Trojan label. And the Onyx did them justice, thanks to the four speakers and two passive radiators packed into its distinctive round enclosure. The Onyx has a stainless steel handle that makes it look a ringed planet. It’s big for a portable speaker, and well-built, but it’s light and easy to carry.
Best is that it sounded great — rich, balanced and loud. It has every connection option under the sun, including AirPlay (via Wi-Fi), DLNA and NFC/Bluetooth for our Android friends. Buttons are touch-sensitive and there’s a simple, easy-to-use app that can be downloaded from the App Store. Battery life wasn’t great (five hours unwired/ eight hours wired), but it was adequate for a long afternoon’s partying. It’s a bit pricey ($399 on Amazon) but for a speaker of this high quality, well worth it. — Leander Kahney
PaperSync is a more appealing version of the Mod Notebooks service. Like Mod, PaperSync scans your paper pages and turns them into digital files. Unlike Mod, PaperSync uses plain old PDFs, and works with any notebook you like, not just the special Mod notebook.