Book Review: Before the Industrial Revolution

It’s a pretty strange historical coincidence that medieval Europe was a fairly backwards place (and England especially so), but that Europe led global economic growth from about 1750-1913 (and England especially so). That’s a giant transition, and Carlo Cipolla’s Before the Industrial Revolution explains this—as, oddly enough, a combination of good luck and the obscure upside of bad luck. Read the rest of this entry »

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Go Read Seveneves

I recommend reading Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Seveneves. Moreover, I recommend doing it right now.

Science Fiction, broadly defined, means thinking hard about reality, tweaking a few variables, then running it in fast-forward to see if anything interest happens. Defined that way, it’s not merely influenced by current tech trends—startup pitches and internal strategy emails in fact are a sub-genre of applied science fiction. As long as software is eating the world, the easiest science fiction to write is all about the implications of newer and cooler software. It’s easy to just assume that hardware will keep advancing, too. That assumption used to be merely simplifying, but now it’s been explored thoroughly, so it’s boring, too.

Seveneves is not boring.

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Hugh MacLeod’s “Ignore Everybody”: How to Be More Creative Than Necessary

Ignore Everybody is Hugh MacLeod’s manual about staying sane while you do stuff you don’t really love, and trying to figure out what it is that you do love. MacLeod wrote the book in New York (of course) where he worked in advertising (of course!) until he was successful enough to stop. He also made comics.

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Direct Marketing Gave Myspace Something No Other Social Network Had

You’ve probably passed Stealing MySpace in the bookstore a dozen times. Every time, you probably glanced at the title and moved on.

Which is too bad; it’s a terrible title for a terribly interesting book. Essentially, Tom Anderson and his merry band of spyware masters were able to build a site that, until quite recently, was the largest and most successful social network. They didn’t have a vision, they didn’t have any expertise, and one of their most compelling features started out as an unexpected accident.

Myspace had one huge advantage, though: while it’s founders weren’t spammers, they were about as close as you can get. Before Myspace, they pushed hidden cameras, ebooks on dating, and lots and lots of spyware. Myspace itself might have been an attempt to go legit, but it might well have been a campaign to harvest new emAil addresses that somehow got out of hand. Whatever the reason, Myspace’s direct marketing heritage made it a social site like no other.

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Randall Rothenberg’s Where the Suckers Moon: A Story About Falling for Stories

Where the Suckers Moon is a story about trying to sell a decent product by turning it into a political movement. Or a hip trend. Or a trend-free anti-trend. Or beautifully-produced anti-art. It’s a story about finding roundabout ways not to get to the point.

In short, it’s a story about an award-winning ad agency that burned through millions of dollars trying to sell an attractively-priced, middle-of-the-road product as anything but that. If you’ve ever wanted to waste millions of dollars on someone’s flash of creative insight (or wished someone would waste millions on yours), you should read it. Read the rest of this entry »