"The Increment"

Here’s my review of the new David Ignatius’ spy novel, “The Increment”:

Compelling: strikes a good balance between naivety and cynicism
My initial encounter with The Increment was unpromising: an omniscient narrator remarking about the actions of the central characters in Tehran and Washington. Fortunately, the narrator’s voice was soon muted, and we were embroiled in a beautifully contrived tale of espionage, betrayal, and geopolitics. On one hand, the idealists; on the other, the cynical opportunists; caught in the middle, those who are revolted by both extremes.
I won’t provide any spoilers, because you really should experience the twists and turns of this narrative for yourself. Ignatius gets extra points for the compelling picture he conjures up of contemporary Tehran (and the rest of Iran). However he loses a star for the gung-ho use of technology, and for a couple of lazily stereotyped characters. Taken together, these factors made a couple of his plot twists wholly implausible. But never mind: it’s a most enjoyable read.

Communications breakdown

In the last week, I have used all of the following interpersonal communications technologies. By “used”, I mean actively participated, initiating and responding.

  • Voice: Cell phone, Skype VOIP
  • Real-time text: Skype IM, Facebook IM
  • Narrowcast messaging: Email, LinkedIn, Facebook
  • Broadcast messaging: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogging (posting and commenting)

I can’t escape the feeling that a form of Gresham’s Law applies here. The worst part of it is that these technologies differ wildly on how device-neutral they are. Right now Facebook and LinkedIn are very poorly adapted to the iPhone. And any thought of having a “universal inbox” is right out of the window….

Twitter Updates for 2009-03-28

  • OK, this is amazing. At the end of last season, Honda was a joke. Brawn buys the team, and now they’re P1&P2!! Hamilton’s car breaks… #
  • @jimgris just read a story from India about the priest who was conducting a wedding taking two cellphone calls during the service!! #
  • The arrangements for next week’s trip to the Bay Area are coming together nicely. Still a couple of breakfast and dinner slots, though. #
  • @DMular I use Skype out to call family in the UK all the time. Works a treat, no matter where I am – home, on the road, overseas. in reply to DMular #
  • Check out the pics of plume lightning at The Volcanism Blog http://tr.im/hVGE #
  • OK: I’m settling in to watch the Australian GP. Will it be a Brawn 1-2? Unlikely… but the last two days have been extraordinary. #
  • @lindseyfowler Count me skeptical. What was demonstrated was very different from the old “cold fusion”, so this still needs confirmation… #

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Twitter Updates for 2009-03-27

  • Watching the Australian GP practice…. this is going to be a topsy-turvy kind of season. Any bets on when the first KERS battery explodes? #
  • Joe Gregorio: “The ultimate destination of programming language evolution is lisp-without-parentheses.” http://tr.im/hU8i AARGH!! #
  • Settling down to watch qualifying for the Australian GP – will Ferrari and McLaren make it to the last 10? This is going to be weird… #
  • First session: the brand-new Brawn team 1st and 2nd, Hamilton squeaking through in P15!!! #

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Uncanny prescience

Congress approved landmark legislation today that opens the door for a new era on Wall Street in which commercial banks, securities houses and insurers will find it easier and cheaper to enter one another’s businesses.

The measure, considered by many the most important banking legislation in 66 years, was approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House tonight by 362 to 57. The bill will now be sent to the president, who is expected to sign it, aides said. It would become one of the most significant achievements this year by the White House and the Republicans leading the 106th Congress. […]

The opponents of the measure gloomily predicted that by unshackling banks and enabling them to move more freely into new kinds of financial activities, the new law could lead to an economic crisis down the road when the marketplace is no longer growing briskly.

I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010,” said Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota. “I wasn’t around during the 1930’s or the debate over Glass-Steagall. But I was here in the early 1980’s when it was decided to allow the expansion of savings and loans. We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness.”

From the New York Times issue of November 5, 1999. I guess that Republicans will complain that Dorgan was grossly inaccurate, because his prediction was a whole year off. You can see Rachel Maddow’s recent interview with Dorgan here.