Recent bit recommendations:

Rohit Khare (
Sun, 11 Aug 1996 03:05:03 -0400 (EDT)

I've spent about $200 on bits in the last fortnight, so I'll salve my
conscience by proving that I got some value out of them here...

- the new Marshall Crenshaw album
Because he's so unhip, he's cool. A very real rock album, you can jam along.

- the new 2-cd Blues Traveler, after the fall
Because they sound cool, especially after so much exposure to rap and techno

- What is Bhangra?, a 1994 anthology
Because I put my money where my mouth is (FoRKing Pareles's NYT article). That,
and a bout of cultural notalgia which made me get a Ravi Shankar tape, too.

- Depth Takes a Holiday: Essays from Lesser LA, Sandra Tsing Loh
Collected essays from BUZZ magazine's "Valley" columnist. Think about
it: a monthly cultural analysis of life in the *San Fernando
Valley*. Funny and incisive reportage from the banal front. The
author, a cute, single, overeducated, undercapitalized conceptual
artiste, is a proudly multicultural member of generation X. One of
the best modern LA books, a bright antidote to the dour socialist
historicizing in _City of Quartz_. Sample titles:
IKEA! the cry of a lost generation
The Joy of Temping
Best Opening Lines for LA Women: Based on Their Iconic Earrings
It Happened in Glendale

- Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
I lent Sandra's book to our cute, single, overeducated gen-X office temp, who
promptly labeled it hilarious and 'very Joan Didionesque'. Not to be outclassed
by a Yalie, I immediately researched Didion's work on the internet and
suffered through several litcrit papers surrounding her early works. As a
result, I borrowed her copy of Joan's first compendium of essays and became
fascinated. This particular volume contains her work from the mid- to late-
Sixties, including several pieces about the California state of mind (or
lack thereof, as in the title essay about the stoned life in Haight-Ashbury).
I can only call her, in turn, 'Hunter S. Thompsonesque' in her eye for
detail and scandal, but much better -- in fact, exquisite -- in her prose
style. Of course, now that I've actually read her work, I'm looking forward
to "seeing" references to her -- starting today, on the NYT Editorial Page:
"It is very easy to sit at the bar in, say, La Scala in Beverly
Hills, or Ernie's in San Francisco, and to share in the persuasive
delusion that California is only five hours from New York by air.
The truth is that La Scala and Ernie's are only five hours from New
York by air. California is somewhere else." So, too, is San Diego
[and the Republican Convention].

Two architecture books are still on the list of LA stories to read: _The LA
Style_ [on home design] and Reyner Banham's classic _Los Angeles: the
Architecture of Four Ecologies_.

History of Technology:
- Aramis, or the Love of Technology, Bruno Latour
This is an almost perfect "Rohit book". It's a mystery, it's intellectual, it's
grounded in advanced technology, it's about towering chutzpah, and involves
humiliating the French (second only to humiliating the British...) :-)

Latour tells the story of how the French pursued the dream of a personal rapid
transit system for nearly twenty years. It's a project so audacious, the rest
of the world gave up only a few years after "peoplemovers" &c were invented
and the software required for this distributed vehicle management system is
still an open research problem. In fact, I first realized the problem by
seeing the current-research posters down the hall in Nancy Lynch's group on the
difficulty of formally verifying the control systems for these devices.

The narrative itself is hard to characterize. At the outer level, we are
treated to an Sherlock-Watson archetype mystery where a senior sociologist is
brought in after the project is cancelled in 1987 to answer "What killed
Aramis?"; our narrator, the junior Mr. Watson, is our author as a young
researcher. Inside, though, the tale is told through interviews, memos, photos,
news clippings, and most extravagantly, by Aramis itself, the technology

Astonishingly, the book develops a palpable thrill as our hero deconstructs
the relationship between the various unwilling parents. Oh, the intrigues,
the dalliances, the motives-within-motives, it's all so exotic and banal
simultaneously. The list of suspects is long: the defense contractor seeking
to diversify, Aramis's little brother, the VAL, the Paris bus and subway
system, Aeroports de Paris, the goverments of the city, department, region,
and nation, the international competitors...

Of course, at this point I suspected that the software did it, proud once
again that my profession rose above all others in presenting insurmountable
project planning snarls. But no...

In the end, he fingers the candidate hidden in plain sight, hidden between
the glowing research reports, positive findings, and massive budgets. The
parents of this technology did not love Aramis enough to make it real: in
fifteen years, no one wanted to do _research_, only development. All these
transport technocrats were so afraid of throwing money down the black hole of
research, they threw it down the black hole of building it, instead. In all
those years, all those trials, the basic, unrealistic plan never changed.

Of course, here in the US, we're going to painfully relearn all these lessons
in our multibillion Intelligent Vehicle-Highway Systems (IVHS) projects...

- Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended
Consequences, Edward Tenner
- Out of Control, Kevin Kelly
I just bought these two today, so I haven't got much to say yet. The
first is about the "revenge effects" of new technology ("from black
lung disease... to Windows 95") and the second is a (famed, overhyped)
broad survey of new, Wired-ish technologies (a tautology, since Kevin
Kelly is a founding editor of Wired). Kelly's theme is technologies
grounded in the distributed intelligence of biology. I'm looking
forward to this to brainstorm some good biological metaphors for
distributed software systems.

- 21st Century Jet, Kurt Saberhagen?
A transportation development story with a happier ending, this companion to
the PBS series is an inside look at the development of the Boeing 777. The
author hung out for five years and took notes on the personalities, the
technology, the business models, and the marketing. The story comes together
well, but not spectacularly; it's nowhere near the same league as _Soul of
a New Machine_ or _Pencil_. It does provide insight to the state of aerospace
engineering management and innovative Boeing practices, including DBTs, Design-
Build Teams, which radically cut down on design errors, etc by the simple
expedient of organizing people (Boeing engineers AND suppliers, customers,
factory workers, maintenance people) by component rather than by function.

- Designing Business: Multiple Media, Multiple Disciplines, Clement Mok
Look, it's a $60 indulgence, a portable work of art. Same splurging category as
Mullet and Sano's arresting _Designing Visual Interfaces_. This, too is about
putting my money where my mouth is (Mok was FoRKed recently, too). It includes
case studies on information design, interactivity design, identity, and
multimedia. The accompanying CD ROM has Director files of his work, web site
projects, and QTVR files of his work on the Hermann Miller Aero chair.

I haven't seen anything in a long while. Any
recommendations since ID4 came out? I'm looking forward to seeing
Escape from LA at the Mann Chinese in LA next weekend.

Rohit Khare

Rohit Khare -- World Wide Web Consortium -- Technical Staff
w: 617/253-5884 -- f: 617/258-5999 -- h: 617/491-5030
NE43-354, MIT LCS, 545 Tech Square, Cambridge, MA 02139