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Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Time Event
Recently Read Books
10,000 Year Explosion
Some folks have the idea that human evolution ended with civilization. With no predators or starvation we don't have the selection pressure weeding out the weak genes so our genome will be static. That would be true if we bred randomly. Given that people tend to be very selective there's a lot of opportunity for new genes to propagate through the population in a few generations. This book tackles the evidence of recent changes in the human genome and tells their stories.

The Box
Anyone who reads a book about the history of shipping containers must be a compete geek, right? Well, I wasn't keeping it a secret. But there's a lot more to this book than boxes. Shipping your freight in a container that doesn't have to be opened from factory to customer can by a great savings in time and money. IF, and here's the big if, the whole system is set up to handle 40 foot boxes on ships, trucks, and trains. Without that it's just a box so heavy the longshoremen refuse to handle it.

So we have a history of how companies, vehicles, communities, and government agencies had to change for containers to be effective. Except they didn't change. Almost every company doing ocean shipping before containers went under or was forced to merge. Old ships were converted, then replaced by purpose-built containerships. Ports were abandoned, their traffic taken over by new ones built up from the marshland. Felixstowe became Britian's largest port starting from a minor facility so small the union hadn't bothered to organize it. Unions went from dominating their communities to a handful of crane operators. New York City's longshoremen once could tip a mayoral election. Now the piers hold restaurants and the ships go to New Jersey. Whole systems of government regulations and industry cartels collapsed. The Interstate Commerce Commission wound up being abolished. How often does that happen to a government agency? So there's a heck of a lot of drama in there for a story about boxes. I'd strongly recommend it for anyone interested in how technological changes are resisted by social, commercial, and government forces.

Space Doctor
Harry Stein writing near-term science fiction in 1981. This sort of thing usually ages very badly as technology overtakes it. Well, this one holds up well. Stein wrote a description of building a solar power satellite system from the view point of the doctor treating construction accidents and other aliments of the work crews. There's a few dated moments ("Behold, the marvelous invention of CAD software! And new medical databases you can access over the net!") but all the parts in space hold up just fine. That's because we've made effectively zero progress toward actually building large-scale structures in space since Stein wrote the book. Entertaining reading (as long as you weren't expecting much detailed characterization) but got me brooding a bit on the implications.

Current Mood: thoughtful

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