Skip to main content

Spatial Computing (Essential Knowledge) - Shashi Shekhar and Pamela Vold ***

A part of the increasingly interesting MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, the topic of this book may at first glance be puzzling - but it's about something many of us use every day - information technology that makes use of spatial information, such as the GPS sat nav system.

One oddity of this series is that it is very inconsistent in the level the books are pitched at. Some are way too technical for the general reader. This one, though, is a straightforward descriptive text with very limited technical detail. There's nothing here that is likely to baffle someone from outside the field and lots of information on where the various technologies have come from (including John Snow's famous map-based identification of the source of a Victorian London cholera outbreak), the basics of how they work and where they are likely to go from here.

If you actually have a need to know this stuff, it's an ideal primer. My only real concern about the book is that I'm not sure I did need to know - it felt a bit too much like doing homework. In their preface, the authors say 'How could a technology used by billions of people around the world not have an accessible guide to describe it to a broad audience?' I think, for me, the answer is 'Because it's not very interesting.' I love using this stuff, but I didn't find reading about it particularly inspiring.

That's not to say that the book won't be useful, whether you've been set an assignment on remote sensing, positioning systems or geographic information systems or you work in a field that makes use of such technology - but as a daily user of GPS, I've already got the basics and I really didn't need to detail.

For those with an interest in the field but limited knowledge, though, it's an excellent, pocket-sized introduction.

Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg


Popular posts from this blog

On the Fringe - Michael Gordin *****

This little book is a pleasant surprise. That word 'little', by the way, is not intended as an insult, but a compliment. Kudos to OUP for realising that a book doesn't have to be three inches thick to be interesting. It's just 101 pages before you get to the notes - and that's plenty. The topic is fringe science or pseudoscience: it could be heavy going in a condensed form, but in fact Michael Gordin keeps the tone light and readable. In some ways, the most interesting bit is when Gordin plunges into just what pseudoscience actually is. As he points out, there are elements of subjectivity to this. For example, some would say that string theory is pseudoscience, even though many real scientists have dedicated their careers to it. Gordin also points out that, outside of denial (more on this a moment), many supporters of what most of us label pseudoscience do use the scientific method and see themselves as doing actual science. Gordin breaks pseudoscience down into a n

A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth - Henry Gee *****

In writing this book, Henry Gee had a lot to live up to. His earlier title  The Accidental Species was a superbly readable and fascinating description of the evolutionary process leading to Homo sapiens . It seemed hard to beat - but he has succeeded with what is inevitably going to be described as a tour-de-force. As is promised on the cover, we are taken through nearly 4.6 billion years of life on Earth (actually rather more, as I'll cover below). It's a mark of Gee's skill that what could have ended up feeling like an interminable list of different organisms comes across instead as something of a pager turner. This is helped by the structuring - within those promised twelve chapters everything is divided up into handy bite-sized chunks. And although there certainly are very many species mentioned as we pass through the years, rather than feeling overwhelming, Gee's friendly prose and careful timing made the approach come across as natural and organic.  There was a w

Michael D. Gordin - Four Way Interview

Michael D. Gordin is a historian of modern science and a professor at Princeton University, with particular interests in the physical sciences and in science in Russia and the Soviet Union. He is the author of six books, ranging from the periodic table to early nuclear weapons to the history of scientific languages. His most recent book is On the Fringe: Where Science Meets Pseudoscience (Oxford University Press). Why history of science? The history of science grabbed me long before I knew that there were actual historians of science out there. I entered college committed to becoming a physicist, drawn in by the deep intellectual puzzles of entropy, quantum theory, and relativity. When I started taking courses, I came to understand that what really interested me about those puzzles were not so much their solutions — still replete with paradoxes — but rather the rich debates and even the dead-ends that scientists had taken to trying to resolve them. At first, I thought this fell under