You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Idoru, by William Gibson, is described as a story of a pop icon who declares his wish to marry a computer AI personality. It is actually two interlaced stories. The first is about Laney, an expert in sifting through the data collected about a person to sense new things about him. He is hired by the pop icon's managers to examine his data stream and make some sense about the whole thing. (At least that's what I gather, it's not entirely clear.) The other thread is about Chia, a member of the pop star's fan club in Seattle who travels to Tokyo to try to find out the truth, since the managers say the whole thing is just a rumor. Again, why Chia goes to Tokyo is not entirely clear, but her peers think she can find out something so they strong-arm her into going.

The two threads never technically meet, but the characters do meet the start separately. There are the usual cyberpunk items, the goggles that jack you into cyberspace, the online personas, nanotechnology, mafia (Japanese and Russian). Laney's ability is interesting, but it's only described in a very general way. I was intrigued by the concept of "Walled City", which is a cyberspace construct that is open-source, distributed, and invitation-only. Chia is taken there by a friend who helps maintain it. It suggests modern cyber places like World of Warcraft or the Sims.

There are other places online, like Chia's online room, a meeting place for the Tokyo fan club, and a vacation house of the pop star. The AI woman is a very advanced program and has a distinct personality. She also has abilities in cyberspace, and moves some of the others around.

The story is somewhat interesting, but didn't really grab me at any time. Both of the main characters are a bit passive, and that can be off-putting. The narration is always interesting and active. Gibson is a good writer and knows how to write fascinating prose. The ending was just a little disappointing. We never really get to know the AI program that well, even though she shows potential.

Grade: B-. Not as good as Neuromancer, which I read many years ago. That one was an A.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, is a great insight into the subconscious workings of the brain. Gladwell shows how our thoughts are shaped by forces we don't even know about. We are able to make quick judgements without even knowing how we know.

I was most struck by the description of psych tests where a subject is "primed", by organizing specially chosen words into sentences, to behave in a certain way. After doing the first part of the test, where words were planted, a subject would be instructed to do some other task. If the words were related to old age, he would walk slower. If the words were imbued with respect, he would wait for a much longer time before interrupting a researcher for the next part of the test. It's astounding how much of an impact this can have. Without realizing it, subjects were trained to do act differently, merely by suggestion. This means we really have to stop to examine the subconscious influences that may be affecting our thoughts.

He did not explore much further how our thoughts can be manipulated. One next step would be to examine the code words and language used by politicians, how the public is manipulated by slight shifts in words.

He does mention how our subconscious can betray us, by leading us to make judgements based on prejudices. The police officers who shot an immigrant standing outside his own house one night in New York, mistaking his wallet for a gun, made a snap judgement based on what they expected to see and thought they knew.

Grade: A