Review of The Information, by James Gleick

At long last, I’ve finished James Gleick’s The Information: A History. A Theory. A Flood. As those of you who are regulars here know, I’ve been on a bit of a Gleick kick over the last six months, so I had high expectations for his latest work.

I’m happy to say that The Information doesn’t disappoint. This book is a tour de force, even for Gleick, who specializes in tours de force. His scope is sweeping, from Plato to quantum computing, and, as we’ve come to expect from Gleick, he gets deep into the details of long-forgotten science and technology innovations.

The subject (not surprisingly) is information: Gleick is interested in how information became both a distinct concept as well as something that could be measured.

He begins the book with an overview of the fascinating story of Claude Shannon, a researcher at Bell Labs who pioneered the concept of the byte. With the stage set, he steps back to give readers the long view of the emergence of information in the West.

From the decoding of West African drumming by colonial powers, the invention of formal logic, Charles Babbage’s difference engine, and the history of the dictionary in English (all of which are interesting enough to be books in their own right but seemingly tangential to Shannon’s work) Gleick starts to more obviously hone in on his main subject.

Chapter by chapter, Gleick traces the ascendance of information in a range of scientific disciplines, from biology to electrical engineering and physics. And as these pursuits became less and less about processes or things and more and more about the information that structured things and processes, new disciplines almost wholly build on information began to arise, such as genetics.

The result is a challenging but eminently rewarding work of intellectual history that manages to both give readers almost overwhelming detail in conjunction with a solid grounding in the big picture—largely due to Gleick’s adept prose and narrative skills.

This book is essential reading, not only for information professionals across a range of fields but simply for anyone who wants a better appreciation for the historical roots of our current information-based society—neither will be disappointed.


Review of iPad in the Enterprise, by Nathan Clevenger

Disclosure: I received a  free review copy of this book to use in preparing for this post.

At every client these days, mobility is a big deal, whether because increasing numbers of employees are demanding that the enterprise support their personal smart phones and tablets or because the organization is looking to gain competitive advantage through the strategic use of mobility in its core business processes.

And although most of my clients have been enabling mobility since the advent of laptops, just about every one of those clients is in more or less uncharted territory when it comes to the new wave of mobility ushered in by smartphones and tablets. increasing numbers of employees are demanding that the enterprise support their personal smart phones and tablets or because the organization is looking to gain competitive advantage through the strategic use of mobility in its core business processes.

This makes a certain amount of sense: after all, laptops are essentially portable desktop computers, while smartphones and tablets are radically new form factors that demand a reimagination of the entire end user experience. On top of which, these devices are often consumer devices, owned by employees, that therefore exist outside the reach of IT control.

Given all the urgency and uncertainty around the enterprise use of mobile devices, iPad for the Enterprise is a welcome addition to the literature available on the topic.

Nathan Clevenger has been involved in the development of mobile strategies and applications for over a decade, and the book reflects it. He begins with a consideration of iPad strategy that’s a wonderful primer for anyone involved in mobility at their organization, from developers in the trenches to executive leadership.

It sets the stage through a consideration of how we reached the current state of mobility and introduces the concept of the consumerization of IT, i.e., IT changes being driven in a decentralized way by the “consumers” in the enterprise (the employees) rather than in a centralized way by IT.

From there, it moves to more practical considerations and presents an overview of how to build an enterprise mobile strategy and application roadmap. Both are somewhat general—it’s difficult to generalize meaningfully about either of these activities—but nonetheless useful, especially for folks who’ve never participated in creating enterprise strategy before.

With the groundwork in place, Clevenger moves through all the phases of iPad app development: architecture, design, development, and deployment. And while none of this is not intended as a detailed ho- to guide or instructional manual for app development, he manages to get in enough technical detail and code samples to make this a valuable first-stop for technical folks looking to better understand what’s happening under the hood of the iPad.

All in all, the book is a strong offering. Non-technical readers will benefit greatly not only from the first section on strategy, but also from the more technical sections, which they can read selectively to gain a better preliminary understanding of concepts like sandbox security or iOS Human Interface Guidelines. Technical readers will not be disappointed in Clevenger’s treatment of app development and will also benefit from a better understanding of the context and strategy of iPad app development.