The Steampunk of "Vintage Tomorrows" by James H. Carrott, O'Reilly Media

If you check Wikipedia, it defines Steampunk as “a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American ‘Wild West’, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.” Vintage Tomorrows A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology By James H. Carrott, Brian David Johnson So, while science fiction typically looks forward, or at least looks at now with a scientific bent, steampunk is looking back – looking back at possibilities and alternatives. And, in some rare cases, it maybe looking at now but from a historical perspective, again with the alternative of more mechanization instead of computerization.

This brings us to Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian And A Futurist Journey Through Steampunk Into The Future of Technology by James H. Carrott and Brian David Johnson. (And published by O’Reilly Media who gave me a copy for this review.) Now this book is not a steampunk novel, it is instead a look at all sorts of steampunk works and what they say about us and our future. Many scenarios and devices found in mainstream science fiction have come to reality, everything from submarines to space travel, so what truths might lie in steampunk?
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Ordered a Few Tools

I hadn’t realized until very recently, but Amazon.com will actually buy books back or take them in trade. I knew you could sell to other people through Amazon, but I didn’t realize that they themselves would take the books in on trade and give you credit. Very cool! So I did that. I went through their simple process, sent them in a computer book I didn’t need, and the gave me a gift credit of Alvin Professional Self-Healing Cutting Mat Green$27! Can you believe that? A free and clear sum of spending money to buy some new hobby tools.

What I needed most was a nice surface to work on, so I bought an 8.5″x12″ self-healing cutting mat. I also got a pair of Xuron Track Cutters so that I can finally start laying rail. Finally, I needed to refresh my cutter collection, so I ordered a 16 piece hobby knife set. I know the blades on this on will be cheap, but that doesn’t worry me. I will end up replacing them with good quality X-Acto blades. I really needed the handle and such.Xuron Track Cutters Eventually, maybe, I might get a high quality handle. But I wanted to get a feel for them first.

Hobby Knife SetAll of this, because it ended up being over $25, is being shipped free. So in a week or maybe a bit more it should get here. Final total was $27.23, meaning only 23 cents was charged to my debit card.

Woo hoo! Talk about win-win, I got rid of a book I didn’t need that was cluttering up the house, Amazon paid for it to be shipped to them, and I got a nice little group of tools for a grand total of 23 cents. I just wish the rest of life was this easy.

A Kindle for Christmas

The tech-gift I am being asked most often about this Christmas is not the iPad or other tablets, but ereaders. A Kindle For Christmas?And the Kindle in particular. Amazingly, the one I recommend for the majority of the folks is the least expensive. It has the cleanest interface, a fantastic display, is rugged, and extremely affordable. Combine all of that with being able to easily check out books from most libraries on it and it is hard to beat!

What about the other versions of the Kindle? Well, the experiences people are having with the touch-screen models are less than favorable, and most folks don’t need the cost and complexity of the Fire. And lets face it, as a present the Fire is a little on the pricey side. The Fire is a great device – for movie watching, web surfing, email checking and game playing, but it really isn’t as good of a real book reader as the lower priced e-ink display Kindles.

And what about the Nook ereaders from Barnes & Noble? Well, they are mechanically great devices. Absolutely no doubt there. But, where the Kindle beats them is the Amazon store. Now I love Barnes & Noble and wish them all the best, however they just don’t seem to have the depth of Amazon. I looked up four or five books I was interested on both Amazon and B&N. While Amazon had every one, B&N didn’t. If i had a Nook I would just be out of luck. And I can tell you from hard fought experience that it is much easier to check out library books onto the Kindle than on to the Nook. So for product availability and ease of use, the Nook fall to the Kindle.

And remember that you can try the Kindle out in all kinds of places like Office Depot and Best Buy. But you won’t find a better price than from Amazon directly, and it will come already registered to your account. And if you are giving it as a gift it is easy to transfer that registration to someone else. Yup, I think this is going to be a Kindle Christmas!

"Web 2.0: A Strategy Guide" – Guest Review

At the Charleston Social Media Club panel on February 16th, one of the audience members asked for recommendations on good books for learning more about social media. We all know that technology-related books can be outdated pretty quickly. However, “Web 2.0: A strategy Guide” by Amy Shuen is a good introduction for users new to the Web 2.0 world and since it covers strategy; it is a very relevant book. It goes beyond just the latest and greatest tools.

Amy Shuen encourages the audience to ask relevant questions before embarking on a social media plan. How will we draw people to our site? Can we learn from users as they visit us? What is the target group? How will it change our business practices? How much input do we want?

Shuen gives an overview of well-known applications, such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, along with implications for their use. Web 2.0 tools make it difficult to control content, but more likely to generate interest from users because of its interactive nature. As I’ve mentioned to groups when introducing them to social media, people need to get past the idea of “control” and think more about influencing the audience. There are powerful multiplying effects of social media that people should tap into. After finishing this book, the reader should be able to begin implementation of a Web 2.0 plan and think strategically about maximizing online opportunities.

Guest post by Tina Arnoldi of the Coastal Community Foundation. Please be sure to check out her blog on technology for non-profit organizations. You can also find her on Twitter at @TinaArnoldi.

Sticking With The Classics

There was an essay in the “Bookshelf” section of the most recent UU World that tried to be amusing, but ended up troubling me. W. Frederick Wooden’s essay entitled “Why I’m sticking with classics” while noble in defense and even promotion of classic literature, which as a long ago English literature major I love, seemed to go off course and strike a number of bad chords with me. I dislike sending negative feedback, but in this case I felt I must. UU World Magazine

The first problem is one that was mentioned in the piece itself. It seems he is doing a lot of his classic reading so that he can rub other people’s noses in it – not because he enjoys the reading or wants to gain the knowledge. He says that when people talk to him about reading the latest pot-boiler, he wants to be able to retort that he is reading great classics instead. Not only is that mighty arrogant, but it is downright obnoxious.

Second, and much more importantly, he basically states that only the classics are worth reading or writing, so no one should even try writing new works now. In fact Wooden says there are “too many bad books already, “ and that “they are driving out the good.” If that is not a defeatist attitude then I don’t know what is! Is this what we are supposed to be telling our children? “Sorry son, Babe Ruth was the greatest player in the game, there is no reason for you to play baseball,” or “sorry dear, Penicillin has already been invented, no reason for you to want to be a researcher.”

Finally, his attitude towards recent religious works is that the current books are “at least statistically likely to be about stuff I already agree with.” Again the hubris astounds me. Assuming that someone agrees with you is just as bad as assuming that people won’t agree with you because they are of a different background. Making assumptions without hearing the other side of the story is exactly what some critics do when they call for banning a movie they have never seen and have no intention of seeing. Ignorance goes both ways.

I do realize that Mr. Wooden’s piece was intended to be humorous – at least I hope that was the intention. But, unfortunately, there is just too much troubling rhetoric in it for me to get to the humor. I would dare say that very often humor is a tarp thrown over the truth, and when we pull back that tarp we uncover the real message. Please let that not be the case here.

Thanks for the great magazine, and sorry for the negative feedback.

Note: This was an email letter I sent to the editors of UU World magazine.