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Emc2 (Tropical Ecotopia)

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Inferno: (Robert Langdon Book 4)
Inferno: (Robert Langdon Book 4)
by Dan Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended for Dan Brown fans (and Michael Crichton's too), 8 Jun. 2013
Another typical Dan Brown's bestseller, with lots of chasing (too much for my taste, the book could be shorter without losing the main plot - this is the reason for my 4 stars rating), and the guilty parties are revealed only at the end, with plenty of surprises. Much better than the The Lost Symbol, and actually, getting close to The Da Vinci Code, so I believe this one has a better chance to become a movie.

The detailed descriptions of Florence and Venice are so rich in details about the art and history of these cities, that you wish you could travel there. I am not kidding, this book is a very good travel guide to those cities, and no doubt they will have now the "Inferno" tour, just as Paris and London have "The Da Vinci Code" tour.

Unlike Brown's latest Robert Langdnon series bestsellers, Inferno has a strong message about a real world problem, overpopulation. And Dan Brown deals with it in the good old style of Michael Crichton. That is why I think that MC fans who do not like Dan Brown, might take a chance and take a peek at Inferno. Highly recommended.


Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
by Charles Murray
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.50

18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant analytical work with absurd conclusions, 17 Feb. 2012
Don't let Mr. Murray controversial Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life or the criticism you might already heard from this book from keep you away from this brilliant work. As opposed to most recent books dealing with America's decline, this book looks at the cultural and sociological reasons behind the decline, rather than the pure economics view. And another key issue is that the analysis is done using only white Americans as a sample, so there the results are free of any racial bias, and the results are extended to the entire population only near the end of the book.

Nevertheless, Mr. Murray, a declared libertarian, closes the book with a chapter totally biased by his political and moral beliefs. Actually, some of his conclusions are so outrageous, I stopped reading the book short of a few pages to the end (but I did finish it after all). You just wondered how come someone can deliver such a brilliant analysis and reach such wishful thinking, biased and subjective conclusions completely ignoring the effects of globalization and technological change (thus the four star rating instead of five).

Several of the conclusions are so disconnected from reality, that instead of Europe, Mr. Murray just need to look at any of the dozens of developing countries with the same problems among the poor who do not enjoy the welfare benefits Americans do. In fact, just look at the Brazilian example and the well-known "favelas" as the perfect real life example in contradiction of one of his key conclusions. And by the way, the recent cash transfer programs developed by the Brazilian government have lifted millions of poor people to the middle class, and their children now have a better education and health care than their parents. Unfortunately Mr. Murray is blinded by his libertarian ideology and his romantic view of the 200-year + old philosophy embedded in the U.S. Constitution and the philosophy of the founder fathers. The upcoming book The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It presents plenty of evidence (from the social and economical point of view) that rebuts and shows many of Mr. Murray's myths, misconceptions, and wrong assumptions about the American Dream and its exceptionalism.

Due to its contribution from the social and cultural perspective, I think that Mr. Murray's book, other than the caveat regarding the final chapter, is an excellent complement to the other books dealing with America's decline, in particular The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, and That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.


Contagion (Blu-ray + DVD) [Region Free]
Contagion (Blu-ray + DVD) [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Matt Damon
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £4.95

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent movie, realistic above all, 14 Dec. 2011
This movie is not intended for those seeking the typical commercial weekend entertainment. Instead, it is quite realistic and all of those movie stars acting without make up just contribute to its realism (actually some of them I did not recognize at first, save for their voices). Despite its realism, this is not a documentary (at some point it is close but not as boring) but neither your typical science fiction flick (not much extrapolation from actual science).

As a reference, the closest film to Contagion is Outbreak [Blu-ray], but without the unnecessary drama or silly mistakes just to add more thrill, and no magical vaccine is brewed is less than 24 hours. The entire movie faithfully follows a very plausible scenario, a "what if" world in which we were to face a new virus pandemic, closely resembling the recent scares with avian and swine flu, but more deadly than the Spaniard flu pandemic of 1918.


Cowboys & Aliens - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) [2011] [Region Free]
Cowboys & Aliens - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) [2011] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Olivia Wilde
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.53

40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A weird combination of genres but the end result is a plausible sci-fi movie, 7 Dec. 2011
I was quite skeptical about this movie. What were they thinking about mixing two completely unlike genres, cowboys, Apaches and aliens together? Well, my mistake. The end result is both a good western and a very credible sci-fi movie. So, out of an apparent weird mix came out an original movie under a plausible story line (Sorry, no spoiler, I will not go into the details of the plot).

I really liked the performance of Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde. All three main actors have in common to be associated with their roles in previous serial movies or TV series, where they played the lead or a key role. In this movie they managed to deliver a performance quite different from the character we are used to, particularly Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde. I think this is her first key role other than "House" in which you can appreciate the quality of her acting. I hope she gets more opportunities like this to show us her talent.

As for the special effects, they are quite realistic, and it is notable that the insect-like aliens are not hidden with low lighting like in so many alien movies. The amazing thing is that the SFX are not based completely on computer animations (GCI). The film was shot using good old puppets and animatronics for the close-ups, combined with CGI for the battle scenes. Even some of the alien ships were scale models. My only quibble is that one of the alien features resembles a lot the character Kuato in Total Recall [DVD] (no spoiler again). My respects to director Jon Favreau, a great combination of old and new technology.


High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug in the Auto Industry
High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug in the Auto Industry
by Jim Motavalli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! All you need to know about the rebirth of the plug-in electric car, 11 Nov. 2011
The book is well-written, in the typical NYT journalistic style, and very comprehensive. Mr. Motavalli managed to chronicle in a short book the rebirth of plug-in electric cars (PEVs ) and the state-of-the-art of the industry as of mid 2011. As the book's introduction explains, PEVs include all-electric cars (EVs or BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), but not the conventional petrol-electric hybrids, such as the Prius, which do not plug-in.

The book was very well-researched, with a lot of primary content as many key players were interviewed just for the book, and of course, Mr. Motavalli's ample experience as a green car journalist, bringing along all his behind-the-wheels test drive experience with almost all the plug-in electric cars available in the world today. The book covers all relevant aspects regarding PEVs, advantages, disadvantages, barriers to wide adoption, the key role of EV battery technology, the deployment of charging infrastructure, fast charging standards, battery swapping, you name, every aspect is covered. There is even an entire chapter devoted to Motavalli's test drives of several PEVs, which includes his experience with the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Th!nk City, Aptera 2e and the Toyota Highlander FCHV. By the way, electric vans and truck are out of the scope of the book.

The book is aimed for a wide audience, not just the early adopters, techies and green car fans. Actually, regular consumers with an interest in PEVs will find this book quite a primer to help them decide whether is the right time to go electric or wait. I believe it would have been helpful for the layman to include some pictures, at least of the most relevant PEVs, such as the Volt and Leaf.

My other quibbles about the book have to do with its bias towards the American market. Despite covering all PEVs from the big players and start-ups, with the exception of China, the discussion is mostly focused around those PEVs already available or slated for the U.S. market. Surprisingly there is almost nothing about the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (renamed Mitsubishi i for the American-spec version), launched more than a year before the Nissan Leaf and actually, sharing the leadership in global sales of electric cars as of October 2011. The i-MiEV is only mentioned a couple of times in the context of plug charging standards. The REVAi (or G-Wiz) is also missing, despite having sold a few thousand units since 2001. Also other European small city cars are not included, such as the Buddy, Mia electric and Tazzari Zero. And the Japanese market is only covered in terms of its charging infrastructure and charging standards, despite sharing the world leadership with the U.S. in terms of PEV sales. Also, the book has a very interesting chapter about the potential of Iceland to become the first 100% electric transportation country, but surprisingly there is nothing about Norway, despite being the country with the most PEVs per capita in the world. It would have been interesting to learn some lessons from the Norwegians, who are ahead of the rest of the world.

The last chapter presents the author's vision of commuting in 2030, a very creative scenario indeed, but Mr. Motavalli closes the book with a down to earth view of what he believes is likely to happen next, and his "Ten Most Likely to Succeed" list is included. I agree with most of the cars in the list, and also share with the author his educated guess that the chance of survival is higher for the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, and the Prius Plug-in, but not for the Ford Focus Electric, which has a base price higher than the Leaf and the same as the Volt (to be fair, pricing of the Prius PHEV and the Focus EV was not available when the book was finished). I believe that price is the most important factor for the successful adoption of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars, therefore today's premium with respect to gasoline-powered cars will have to shrink significantly for PEVs to become affordable and the remaining premium has to be paid back in a few years, just like conventional hybrids today. And finally, just as Jim Motavalli wished for in the book, if I had the $41,000 to spare on a car, I'd spend it on the Volt, really a technological marvel and a game-changer.

Considering that all-electric range and the price of the battery packs are the two deal breakers for mass adoption of PEVs, I recommend an excellent complementary reading about the present and future of battery technology, Seth Fletcher's Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy. And for those who want to know more about the Volt's development and innovative technology, do not miss Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future.


Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography
Price: £7.49

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb! I bet it will become a mandatory reading for MBA students, 7 Nov. 2011
Another excellent biography by Isaacson. Very well written, a real page-turner that completely captured my attention for almost two weeks, until I finished with a sensation of wanting for more. Not only it is a very well researched biography, but Mr. Isaacson had access to Mr. Jobs and his close circle of family and friends, his foes, and most importantly, without any Steve Jobs interference or previous censorship in content.

As the typical biography, the story is told chronologically, but alone the way you will learn much more than about Mr. Jobs personality, genius, his successes (Apple and Pixar) and failures (Next). The story also tells the evolution of the computer industry from the inception of the PCs with the Apple II, through the Mac, to the revolution brought by the iPod, iPhone and the iPad, and the lessons for corporate America.

The book presents quite a paradoxical business case, in which great successes were based on fostering creativity and innovation, plus Jobs almost neurotic micromanagement and endless search for perfection, but against the book, achieved in a hostile environment due to Steve Jobs' mercurial personality, his tantrums and his selfish and arrogant attitude toward his partners, employees and competitors. I would not be surprise if this book becomes a mandatory reading for MBA students. It is one of a kind example of the key role and importance of a solid organizational culture that nurtures creativity and innovation, and cares about the quality of its products and the customer. Also it is an example of how you should not treat your employees.

For those interested in the business side of this biography, I recommend the following books about successful firms that are more centered on the customer than short term profit Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul and One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com. And for a remarkable example of what happens when short term profit and financial reward are put as the main priorities instead of the product and the customers, do not miss Bob Lutz' Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business. For those readers more interested in the development of the information technology industry, the IBM story as told in Making the World Work Better: The Ideas That Shaped a Century and a Company is an excellent complementary reading. And those that simply enjoy biographies, I recommend Isaacson's biographies Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.


Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week
Happier Than a Billionaire: Quitting My Job, Moving to Costa Rica, and Living the Zero Hour Work Week
by Nadine Hays Pisani
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.57

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book truly captures the essence of Costa Rica's "Pura vida", 24 Oct. 2011
Definitively a page turner, well-written and truly hilarious. This book was brought to my attention by CNN News report of Nadine's book about Costa Rica. I am a Costa Rican living in the US, so I was also quite interested in knowing how an American perceives my country, not just as many tourists do but rather as a permanent resident.

In a nutshell, Nadine describes step by step how her mood, state of mind, and lifestyle changed, from being stressed all time the time to a more relaxed and healthy living. Since I had live in the U.S. and traveled and lived also in several Latin American countries I can tell you that many of the experiences Nadine described could have taking place at several other Latin American countries located in the tropical zone. This is not surprising, as many of these countries ranked high in the most recent Happy Planet Index (which also measures the ecological footprint per capita) published by the New Economics Foundation. Proof of Nadine's reliable account, not surprisingly Costa Rica was rated first in the 2009 ranking, followed by nine other Latin American countries in the top of the ranking (with only Vietnam in between them in the 5th place), while the U.S, was ranked 114!

And to be fair, the book also presents the weaknesses and limitations of living in a developing country, such as excess bureaucracy, police corruption, too much informality, lots of promises not fulfilled, potholes everywhere, etc. But the bottom line is that Nadine's book was able to capture the essence of the expression "Pura vida" (used by Costa Ricans ad nauseam, and meaning, OK, cool, you name it, but reflecting the prevailing good spirit). Another caveat is that since Nadine lives in a rural area, she has not had much contact with the crime, slums and poverty that takes place in most Latin America's metropolitan areas, and San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, is no exception.

Since the book seems to cover the events between 2007 and 2008, I dropped by her blog (listed at the end of the book), and confirmed that she hasn't lost the spirit. The latest blog entry was a three part regarding her husband surgery at zero cost through the public system. Let's hope there is a follow-up or updated edition in the near future. I had not had such fun by reading a book in a very long time.


The Origins of AIDS
The Origins of AIDS
by Jacques Pepin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.76

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally a plausible explanation for the real origin of the AIDS pandemic, 24 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Origins of AIDS (Paperback)
Despite its academic nature this book is a page-turner, you will enjoy it like a really brilliant CSI episode. Dr. Jacques Pépin was quite successful in writing a book that reaches both academics and the laymen. Until now all the serious discussions and theories about the origins of the AIDS pandemic had been limited to academic journals. The book point of departure is based on these research findings, which are presented in the first chapters, and provide a comprehensive and very good summary of the state-of-the-art for the laymen. The reader shouldn't be intimated by some technical language, as the book was written for all audiences and the author did the extra work of explaining medical jargon for the general public when required, and anyway, most of the times you do not need to remember all of it to fully grasp the main storyline (just keep in mind a few key concepts, particularly the definition of HIV-1 group M, and subgroups B and C). Also from the start, Dr. Pépin debunks the two most common theories that tried to explain the origin of the AIDS pandemic.

After a very impressive Sherlock Holmes-like detective work through historical records, Dr. Pépin develops a very plausible explanation, going back to the colonial era in the early 1900s all the way to the early 1980s, with very solid theory, based on both circumstantial and hard evidence, following the path of the virus from Africa, to Haiti, and to the U.S., Europe and the rest of the world. The author did not intended to go any further, as the history and evolution of AIDS has been already covered by several authors.

The evolution of this pandemic illustrates one more time the unintended and even disastrous consequences of good intentions, and also, how medicine works and evolves in the real world. I do not wish to comment on the details of Dr. Pépin findings to avoid spoiling the story, but if you really need to know beforehand, take a look at the New York Times recently published article about Dr. Pépin's contribution, which tells the whole story in a nutshell.


Bottled Lightning
Bottled Lightning
by Seth Fletcher
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive account of the development of battery technology that made the modern electric car viable, 8 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Bottled Lightning (Hardcover)
Comprehensive, very well-written, and reads fluidly. As the title suggest, the book's focus is on rechargeable battery technologies and how the development of lithium-ion batteries made possible the launch of the first mass market electric cars in more than 100 years. The book scope covers events until around January 2011, right after the market launch of the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf in the United States, so it is one of the most updated books on this subject.

Be aware that at some points Mr. Fletcher gets carried away with technical explanations regarding how the different battery technologies work or describing battery chemistry or production processes, and thus, some basic to intermediate knowledge of chemistry and physics comes very handy. Nevertheless, the layman can safely skip these paragraphs without missing the main storyline; you just need to know that there are technologies A, B or C, and chemicals L, K and M.

The book provides a brief historical overview from the discovery of electricity, to the invention of the battery to its widespread use at the beginning of the automobile age, when one third of automobiles were electrically-powered. Here Mr. Fletcher pressed pause and explains in more detail key developments in battery technology, Edison efforts for a better battery and his discovery of the potential of lithium, until the electric car demise due to the invention of the electric self-starter and widespread adoption of the internal combustion engine. A few chapters ahead, he completes the history of the evolution of the electric car and the barriers that hindered its success (not surprisingly most are the same as today). The book then present the different uses of lithium in a nutshell, including medicinal ones, and then Fletcher jumps in time to describe the developments of the last fifty years, beginning with all the maladies associated to the gas-powered automobile (tailpipe emissions and city smog, oil prices, national security, etc.).

And here the book turns into a detailed account of the development of the rechargeable batteries used in mobile electronics, beginning with cellular phones through laptops up to the iPods, and the key roles played by Michael Stanley Whittingham and John Bannister Goodenough, whom the book implicitly praise as the fathers of the lithium-ion battery. The historical account of the development of modern rechargeable batteries ends with the ongoing patent wars among the companies doing the latest developments and commercialization of lithium-ion batteries. The book also presents in detail the story of General Motors competition to choose its partner and battery cell supplier for the Chevrolet Volt, and how it ended as a competition among two strains of lithium-ion battery chemistry. I have to confess that now I am convinced the Volt development meant a real technological breakthrough.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters dealing with global lithium reserves and production; it is quite comprehensive and presents all the points of view. Mr. Fletcher provides a very realistic perspective and all the facts about the myth of "peak lithium" and also about the exaggerated worries regarding national security concerns regarding lithium supply (changing oil dependence for lithium dependence). The Bolivian and Chilean cases are presented in great detail, with enough historical background and his on site experience to let the reader understand how come their huge lithium reserves (Salar de Uyani and Salar de Atacama) are separated by just a few hundred kilometers but each country has a completely different approach on how to explore their lithium and benefit their peoples.

Despite the good global coverage of the li-ion battery development and technologies, the book's presentation of the electric cars available in the market today is pretty American centric, as Mr. Fletcher focuses mainly on the Chevy Volt's development, a bit on the short-lived tzero, and on the Tesla Roadster. There are occasional mentions to the Nissan Leaf, and just one to the Mitsubishi i MiEV near the end of the book.

Highly recommended for electric car fans but remember that the book focus is on the battery technology not so much about the electric cars, though the Chevy Volt is one of the book's main characters. For those interested in a detailed account of the Volt development, do not miss Larry Edsall's Chevrolet Volt: Charging into the Future.

PS: also do not miss High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug in the Auto Industry, due in November 2011.


Chevy Volt
Chevy Volt
by Larry Edsall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but aimed for uncritical Volt aficionados, 21 May 2011
This review is from: Chevy Volt (Hardcover)
This book presents a very detailed account of the Volt development until its market launch in December 2010. The story flows from Lutz initial idea of an all-electric car and Lauckner's back of the envelope calculation to show that a gasoline-powered generator as a range extender was a more viable solution, through a minute account of the development of the concept car unveiled in the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, to the production model presented in 2008, battery development and testing, until the official introduction in late 2010.

GM allowed Mr. Edsall access to and he interviewed all key players in the Volt development, from Robert Lutz to the hands-on engineers and designers. For most of the people interviewed, the author presents a short bio and their background at GM. This openness allows the book to provide quite the insider view behind the Volt development, but unfortunately, the author is totally uncritical of GM, any serious difficulties that might have taken place are absent from the story, and real technical details are scarce, so once you are finished you are left with the impression the book was written by a GM PR employee. Still, the book presents an insightful account of the evolution of this revolutionary plug-in electric car.

I also had to agree with other reviewers regarding the low quality of the binding and the cheap material used for the cover (looks hand made over some kind of recycle cardboard). The cover is awfully in contrast with the high quality paper used and the wonderful pictures included (all provided by GM!). Despite their warning I bought the hardcover version, but from the beginning I was so afraid of tearing off the pages from the apparent fragile binding that I ended up buying the Kindle version to read comfortably.

For those interested in more details I do recommend the recently published Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy. Though not devoted exclusively to the Volt, it presents a shorter but more critical account of the Volt development, and particularly its battery pack. Also, considering his background, do not forget to check the upcoming Jim Motavalli's High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry.


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