Friday, July 16, 2010

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  • GigaOM's Summer Reading List

    At some point you’re going to step away from the computer, jump on a plane, in a car, or on your bike, and take a break this summer (right? promise us!). Here are some of the GigaOM team’s favorite recent reads — a diverse list that reflects the breadth of topics that interest writers across our network. We’re sure you have recommendations, too, and we’d be much obliged if you’d leave them in the comments.


    Comeback America” by David Walker (Random House, 2010)

    If you're a saver — you know, the type of person who grabs a knife to capture the last dredges of ketchup in a squeeze bottle — then you probably don't need to read David Walker's “Comeback America” to know that the U.S. is heading for a fiscal meltdown that will ruin the lives of your children and grandchildren. But for the rest of us out there, it's a story that needs to be told, and Walker, who was the former Comptroller General of the U.S. and head of the GAO, tells it clearly with a minimum of hand wringing and a maximum of scary fiscal stats. He's not panicked so much as glumly resigned by the profligate spending in our nation's capital. Sure, he says he's peddling hope, but I couldn't see a lot of hope in his message that business leaders and Congress need to cut back on spending. Walker doesn't sugarcoat things, and I suppose it's better to be informed ahead of time about our grim future. It gives me time to perfect my kitchen garden so my family will still be able to eat.

    Where to read: While waiting to see your Congressman about that tax break your special interest group is pursuing.

    (Stacey Higginbotham)


    The Facebook Effect” by David Kirkpatrick (Simon & Schuster, 2010)

    Mark Zuckerberg chose David Kirkpatrick to write an authoritative history of Facebook’s first six years. That’s the most important thing you need to know about “The Facebook Effect.” Though he’s an independent reporter, Kirkpatrick shares Zuckerberg’s vision of a world improved by technology making people more connected and accountable. You should read the book this summer for its thorough accounts of the young and incredibly successful company’s key product and hiring decisions while the specifics are still relatively recent. Skip the intro and conclusion where Kirkpatrick tries to coin the term “Facebook Effect” (pretty sure it’s already called “network effects”) and forecast Facebook’s long-term cultural significance. But read the middle of the book to connect the dots of Facebook’s unprecedented arc of growth and be in awe of Zuckerberg’s otherworldly clarity of vision.

    Where to read: Make your way to downtown Palo Alto and make sure to flash the blue and silver hardcover at University Cafe and other key venues from Facebook history.

    (Liz Gannes)


    Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity In a Connected Age” by Clay Shirky (Penguin Press, 2010)

    If our hyper-connected and digital age has an official media guru, it
    is surely Clay Shirky. A professor of new media studies at New York
    University, Shirky is widely quoted by everyone from the New York
    Times to the Economist on the future of digital media and the ways in
    which it is changing society. His previous book, “Here Comes
    Everybody” (Penguin Press, 2008) helped cement that reputation, with
    its look at the crowdsourcing philosophy behind such web centerpieces
    as Wikipedia, and his new book is an extension of those
    thought-provoking ideas. Shirky makes a good case for the idea that
    modern middle-class society wastes a lot of time doing non-creative
    things such as watching television, and that the effort expended on
    such pursuits represents a “cognitive surplus” that people could put
    to better use online by creating things such as Ushahidi (a website
    that aggregates Twitter and other social media reports to track
    survivors and aid attempts following disasters such as the Haiti
    earthquake) and even LOLcats.

    Where to read: In a Starbucks, of course, where the person typing
    madly on the laptop next to you is probably developing the next
    Facebook or Twitter in between gulps of his chai latte.

    (Mathew Ingram)


    Energy Myth and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate” by Vaclav Smil (AEI American Enterprise Institute, due to be released on July 16)

    Until recently, few people, even within environmental circles, had heard of Vaclav Smil, a professor at the University of Manitoba, despite the fact that he’s written some 25 or so books on energy, green technology and world resource consumption. That was until newly-turned greentech investor Bill Gates dedicated a full page of his Gates Notes blog to plug not 1 but 3 books of Smil’s, including Enriching the Earth, Global Catastrophes & Trends, and Energy at the Cross Roads. Gates even said that Smil has “opened my eyes to new ways to think about solving our energy and environmental issues” Um, that’s enough or an endorsement for me — sold. Energy Myth and Realities is Smil’s latest eco reality check that comes out on July 16, and will make you more educated about the world’s power resources, and likely quite a bit more depressed about the future.

    Where to read: For maximum guilt turn your AC up to max, flip on all the lights, crack open the fridge and dig into a book that’s sure to make you feel more than a little bad about your lifestyle.

    (Katie Fehrenbacher)


    The Mistborn Trilogy” by Brandon Sanderson (Tor Fantasy, 2006-2008)

    As an avid fantasy and sci-fi reader, it’s not often that an author surprises me with ingenious originality. Amazingly, Brandon Sanderson did just that with his three-book Mistborn series. Like most epics in this genre, the Mistborn books offer a classic good vs. evil, whole-world-at-stake theme combined with character races filled with rich background history. But Sanderson keeps the reader off-guard as not even the characters in the story know their true origins or the role they play in either the saving, or the destruction, of their world. Even better is the unique scientific-based approach Sanderson takes to create magic in the Mistborn world. Magic isn’t taught from tomes, nor are spells chanted aloud. Instead, magical abilities are learned throughout the story and based on characters ingesting specific metals — when “burning” metals, the characters gain amazing abilities for a finite time. There’s even experimentation by characters ingesting various alloys for different powers, which leads to completely unexpected plot twists and turns.

    Need another reason to read Sanderson’s work? After Robert Jordan, author of the “Eye of the World” series, passed away leaving the story incomplete, Jordan’s widow read Sanderson’s Mistborn books. She was so taken with the story that she asked Sanderson to complete her husband’s work using notes left behind. I can think of no higher recommendation for Sanderson, nor his Mistborn trilogy.

    Where to read: Turn off the radio in your Kindle, iPad or smartphone so you can fully experience the fantasy world found within the Mistborn books.

    (Kevin Tofel)


    Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood” by Peter Biskind (Simon & Schuster, 1998)

    If you’re at all a film fan — especially a fan of movies from the
    1970s — Biskind’s interview-soaked tale of how Martin Scorsese,
    Steven Spielberg and other filmmakers of the era broke into Hollywood
    and completely revolutionized it is delicious gossipy reading. (Ever
    wonder how much drug use went on in Hollywood in the 1970s? The answer
    is A LOT OF DRUGS.) But it’s also relevant today as an examination of
    a period when the entertainment industry was in a position of flux,
    when new voices were infiltrating the system but also becoming
    corrupted by it. As Biskind tells it, the great creative revolution
    that took place in that decade eventually resulted in the creation of
    the Hollywood blockbuster and the complete commercialization of
    American film. Call it a cautionary tale for the new media creators
    of today.

    Where to read: While waiting in line for tickets to see Christopher
    Nolan’s “Inception” (in IMAX, natch).

    (Liz Shannon Miller)


    The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home” by Dan Ariely (HarperCollins, 2010)

    The author of “Predictably Irrational” returns with a new book, “The Upside of Irrationality,” which is as exciting and fun to read as his debut effort. In order to enjoy Ariely’s work one needs to appreciate a great truisms of life — that randomness and numbers essentially dictate the outcome of pretty much everything. Ariely both performs and describes various experiments to explain why big bonuses may not make sense for creative thinkers, but could work for folks who perform more mechanicals tasks — or why revenge is so important for people. He also touches on the topic of happiness as seen through the lens of economic data.

    A reader needs to remember that this is not a business manual, but instead it is one man’s attempt to explain the irrationality around us, not to be taken too seriously. When reading the book, you feel you are having a conversation with the author. As a blogger, I like how Ariely has artfully weaved himself into the book without being overbearing.

    Where to read: While driving thousands of miles into a desert, baking yourself in the sun, and setting yourself up for an appointment with an oncologist.

    (Om Malik)


    Miss Spider’s Tea Party” by David Kirk (Scholastic Press, iPad version 2010)

    Miss Spider's Tea Party is a media extravaganza, with a series of books, a television and an iPad app that will keep younger kids occupied for half an hour at least without triggering your gag reflex or causing your attention to wander. My focus is on the iPad app, which is a fantastic example of the future of books in a way the beautiful, but less engaging and juvenile-friendly Alice in Wonderland iPad app isn't. The animation isn't overpowering, and the interactivity is about the level that a preschooler can understand. The entire app integrates music, some animation and activity in a way that feels like part of the book as opposed to an add-on experience. Plus, (if you're going to actually read the story) Miss Spider is shorter than Alice. My daughter especially loves the memory-style matching game, which I will totally cop to playing when I get bored as well. Which is good, because at $10, this app isn't cheap.

    Where to read: In the pediatrician's office while trying to keep junior away from the germ-laden toys.

    (Stacey Higginbotham)


    "Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy," by Jeff Goodell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)

    "Coal was supposed to be the engine of the industrial revolution, not the Internet revolution," writes Jeff Goodell. And if you're like him, you'll probably make it through much (or all) of your adult life without ever laying eyes on a lump of coal. But every day an average American consumes some 20 pounds of coal, burning it "by wire," when we flip on a light switch or recharge an iPad. "Big Coal" is Goodell's fast-paced, trivia-filled tale of the history, culture, politics, consequences and characters of the coal and electric power industries, and the future of energy. In just over 250 pages he takes us careening from strip mines to wind farms to debates about cap and trade. First published in 2006, "Big Coal" has sections on "the frontier" of technologies and policies meant to address climate change that could use an update. But coal's reach extends far enough across the national and global economy that this book still offers a fat helping of context for emerging technologies in today's (and tomorrow's) greentech market.

    Where to read: On mass transit, or in the comfort of your solar-powered house.

    (Josie Garthwaite)


    The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion” by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison (Basic Books, 2010)

    Thanks to ubiquitous broadband connectivity the web has become more real-time and more interactive. The act of retrieving information is slowly shifting into availability of information through serendipity. And in order to do, the conventional norms and conventions of information gathering are being replaced by new ideas, such as the ones used by Facebook.

    Just as Facebook builds and aggregates the news feed to suit an individual’s relationships, corporate entities will have to do the same in the future. That is the thrust of a coherent argument made by consultants/authors/thinkers John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison: In order to succeed in the future, companies must assemble people and resources at light-speed to quickly respond to business needs and collaborate.

    It is a well-written book, full of anecdotes and stories, though at times it brings on a sense of ennui. Some readers (as they should) will find that the book predictable, because of the work they do, but for a mainstream audience, this is a worthy read.

    Where to read: On your private jet … or in a commercial airport lounge.

    (Om Malik)


    Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online,” by Chris Brogan (Wiley, 2010)

    Social media is here to stay. No matter what you do, it's probably impacting your industry — especially if you do most of your work online. Chris Brogan's book, "Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online," offers bite-sized chunks — the book is 337 pages, divided into 87 different sections — that will help you to make the most of social media. The information covered in this book isn't just the basic "here's how to sign up for Twitter" stuff, though. Brogan has managed to condense discussions on topics like creating a community with a blog into something that you can act on. There's a lot of big picture packed into this little book, and it perfect for those looking to get a crash course in social media over the summer.

    Where to read: While simultaneously tweeting and updating your Facebook status from the beach.

    (Thursday Bram)

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • iOS 4.0.1 Available Now

    Apple today released the much anticipated first update to the fourth iteration of its mobile operating system iOS 4.0.1. iPhone users everywhere have been eagerly awaiting the new update ever since Apple revealed last month that there was a problem with the way the system was calculating the strength of cellular signals from ATT, incorrectly displaying more bars than appropriate.

    It's worth mentioning that this revelation came in the midst of rampant speculation on the part of many new IPhone 4 owners who were noticing unusual behavior whenever they touched "The Spot" on the new phone's magical external antenna.

    Essentially, Apple admitted that the formula it were using to calculate the little bars that show up in the top left hand corner of your phone's screen was all wrong. AnnandTech did a fabulous job of laying out the problem by altering their phone to report signal strength as an actual dB value rather than just showing bars. What they learned was that the dynamic range used by iOS reports more than half of the possible signal strengths -51 dB to -91 dB as 5 bars. They also measured the associated drop in signal that comes from touching "The Spot" on the iPhone 4 (24 dB), holding the phone open in your palm (9.2 dB), and holding the phone naturally inside a case (7.2 dB). This explains why new owners seeing five bars with a signal strength of only -91 dB would see it drop to nothing when touching "The Spot." This extreme unintended attenuation would drop another 24 dB off the signal bringing it to a whopping -115 or 0 bars.

    While this update rightsizes the dynamic range used by the phone to display signal strength, it obviously won’t do anything to fix the unusually strong amount of attenuation that happens when touching “The Spot.”  There won’t be any software update that helps with that. Will there ever be a fix for “The Spot” beyond just not holding it wrong or putting some tape or a case on it? Maybe we’ll find out at the press conference Apple has scheduled for tomorrow. Personally I suspect Steve will get up and just tell everyone to deal with it. Return the phone if you like but “The Spot” is here to stay. If you like it then you need to put a case on it.

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • How-To: Lock Your iPhone With Any Password

    The latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 4, has been with us for a number of weeks now, but did you know that one new addition to the OS is the ability to lock your phone with any password of your choice? Read on to find out how you can keep your device secure with any password of your choosing.

    Before the latest iPhone operating system arrived, the only choice in terms of iPhone security was to add a passcode to your device and ensure auto-lock was enabled. The passcode system, which is still in place, is a user-defined four digit number which, once entered correctly, allows a user access to a locked iPhone. For the majority of users this numeric-only passcode is a sufficient measure for keeping unwanted hands off your iPhone. Yet for those wanting a little more protection iOS 4′s new addition of a password feature can offer increased peace of mind.

    Acting as a complimentary choice to the existing passcode system, setting up a more tricky alpha-numeric password is a breeze. As normal you will need to head into the Settings application and then select General. Once there you need to head into the Passcode Lock settings page, here you will see a new option titled ‘Simple Passcode’. With this option turned on, a simple four digit number passcode will be used, however if you turn it off the iPhone will present a full-keyboard, allowing a user to enter a more detailed password.

    An alpha-numeric password can include letters, numbers and symbols, allowing for a far greater level of complexity and a harder iPhone to gain access too. As ever, in addition to the password system, the timer and erase data functions are still in place. Simple security!

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • iPad RSS Reader Roundup

    NetNewsWire first came out in 2002, and back then, it was the only application of its kind. RSS was just beginning to pick up steam, Google Reader wasn’t even conceived of yet, and most people got their news by visiting a series of bookmarks. Fast-forward to 2010, and the once unique NetNewsWire has started an entire genre of applications dedicated to consuming feeds. NetNewsWire now has three versions, the original OS X app, an iPhone app, and now an iPad app.

    NetNewsWire is still the best OS X feed reader available for the Mac, but competition on iOS is stiff. Feed reading is arguably one of the primary uses of the iPad, so making a good RSS client for it very important.

    Here’s a run-down of the top feed readers available now for the iPad.

    Reeder ($4.99)
    Reeder is a beautifully crafted and well thought out piece of software. The buttons for moving to next and previous articles are in the perfect spot to use when holding the iPad in portrait mode, which is how I use it most of the time. In both landscape and portrait mode, if you tap on an article to go to the website, the browser doesn’t just take the place of the article, it takes the entire screen over using an animation so smooth that it seems absolutely natural. Initially, when reading reviews of Reeder I was dismissive of it, until I actually used it. Reeder has set the bar high for RSS readers on the iPad.

    NewsRack ($4.99)
    My previous favorite, NewsRack is solid, exactly what I expect; where Reeder is revolutionary, NewsRack is evolutionary. What I found about NewsRack was that it was best read in landscape mode, which would put the list of articles on the left, and was easier to access. In portrait mode, the controls for moving between articles are on the top, which makes for an awkward motion to move your hand, cover the screen, and tap the button to go back to holding it on the side again. Repeating that motion several hundred times makes it get annoying fast. NewsRack is fast, and has all of the features I use on a daily basis, so overall it’s a great app.

    The Early Edition ($4.99)
    Early Edition takes a different approach than most feed readers. The most common approach is to mimic the user interface of iPad’s Mail app in both landscape and portrait mode. Early Edition instead builds a personal newspaper from articles in your list of feeds. Reading on Early Edition is enjoyable, but unlike the other feed readers on the list, Early Edition does not sync with Google Reader.

    Feeddler ($4.99 and Free)
    Another strong contender, Feeddler comes in both a free and pro version. Feeddler places the navigation controls at the bottom of the screen in both landscape and portrait mode. Feeddler makes a few questionable design choices for displaying the content of feeds. Instead of showing the feeds in a pop-over window, Feeddler shows the feed sources, and then uses the entire iPad window to show the individual feed items. Tapping on an item slides up a new window from the bottom to show the feed content. This works well for portrait mode, but in landscape mode I expect to be able to use the extra screen space to split the screen and browse feeds on one side and content in the other. Feeddler uses the entire screen in both modes. Surprisingly, there is an option in the settings pane to disable using the full screen in landscape, but instead of using only the right hand pane, it shows a smaller window that overlaps the feeds…effectively taking up the entire screen anyway.

    NetNewsWire ($9.99)
    The first RSS app on the desktop was also the first RSS app on the iPad. NetNewsWire for the iPad was available on day one, syncs with Google Reader, and integrates with Instapaper and Twitter. The windows for sending an article to either service are gorgeous works of art, and show the kind of attention to detail that NetNewsWire is known for.

    Honorable Mention: Google Reader
    Google Reader is the standard for web-based feed readers, leapfrogging Bloglines several years ago. Google has created a mobile version of Reader that works well as a web app on the home screen of the iPad. Google even gave it a nice icon. It works well as far as web apps go, but I still prefer native apps with better integration.

    There are several other RSS readers available in the App Store, and chances are we may not have mentioned your favorite here. If you’ve got more recommendations, share them in the comments!

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • Apple to Hold iPhone 4 Press Conference Friday

    From Consumer Reports to David Letterman, and USA Today to Time Magazine, people cannot seem to help themselves from commenting on the latest iPhone. What started out as a technical issue surrounding reception problems related to the newly redesigned stainless steel antenna system on the iPhone 4, has snowballed into a public relations nightmare threatening Apple’s well-respected brand image. Even Microsoft has found a way to make the press pay attention to them a little with it sympathetic “We know how Apple feels right now, we experienced the same thing with Vista.” This is now much more of a PR issue than it is a technical issue. And it looks like Apple has recognized this.

    When it comes to perception, timing is everything — early in the week, late in the week, before market close, after market close. Just who do you want to respond to your message, and how? Hosting such an event on Friday at 10 a.m. PST, just two business days prior to releasing its quarterly earnings report, gives everyone, especially the market, time to digest and react to whatever it is that Apple has to say before the weekend. The message that Apple is preparing to deliver is not for the bloggers, the techies, nor the Apple fans — it is for mainstream analysts, and is likely being used to diffuse this issue before announcing amazing quarterly results next week. The last thing Apple wants is for this issue to steal its thunder when it likely has nothing but positive news to report next Tuesday.

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »

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