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Science Books

October 14, 2005

Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID
Katherine Albrecht, Liz McIntyre (2005)
ISBN: 1595550208

Years of ranting from the tinfoil hat brigade about the CIA using transmitters in dental fillings and cranial implants may end up being prophetic! It seems that the government has learnt a lot from Internet shopping and the spyware that companies use to track online consumers. Spychips confirms all our worst Big Brother nightmares, as the book outlines how new technology could be used by the government to violate people's civil rights. Before you get too indignant, you should know that this sort of spying has been going on for some time. Probably every time you do the weekly shopping, in fact. The technology used is called Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which refers to computer chips smaller than a grain of sand capable of tracking bought items at a distance. Albrecht and McIntyre take to task many large multi-national corporations who have been fervently involved in the scheme. The remarkable thing is that without the publication of this book, nobody would ever have been the wiser, as RFID chips are becoming more sophisticated and can be well hidden. They can be sewn into the seams of clothes, sandwiched between layers of cardboard, molded into plastic or rubber, and integrated into consumer packaging designs. An RFID could even be that dot above your "i"! With a forward by Bruce Sterling, author and all-round cultural commentator, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in protecting their privacy.

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
Simon Winchester (2005)
ISBN: 0060571993

In A Crack in the Edge of the World, ex-Oxford geologist turned globetrotting writer Simon Winchester, Krakatoa (2002), demonstrates the social and geographical fallout that occurred after a major earthquake hit the West coast of the United States in 1906. Winchester brings to life the earthquake responsible for leveling San Francisco, a city that was the symbol of America's relentless, sprawling prosperity. The disaster also happened to be the first time such a major catastrophic event had been captured by the media, an institution that has repeatedly made us all too aware of the tenuous nature of our existence on this often volatile planet. The quake measured 8.25 on the Richter scale, and was by anyone's standards a ravenous, earth splitting behemoth. The quake originated from a rupture in the infamous San Andreas Fault, and ended up affecting over 200 miles of California's northern coast. The after-effects of the quake included fires that burnt for three days, 700 dead, 250,000 left homeless, 490 blocks destroyed and 25,000 collapsed buildings. Apart from Winchester's knowledgeable and informative depiction of the quake from a geologist's perspective, A Crack in the Edge of the World imparts some other less predictable social and political effects. We have almost come to routinely expect the conclusions drawn by religious groups that natural disasters are the work of a supreme being. The Pentecostals in 1906 were no different, as they viewed the Frisco quake as a divine message, and unashamedly used the quake for recruitment purposes. Many immigration records were also destroyed during the calamity, and as a result many more Chinese received full citizenship than they would have under normal conditions. Far from being on shaky ground, Winchester masterfully weaves an enthralling tale of how society measures up against the incredible forces of Mother Nature. A gripping read!

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