Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review: Free

Free: The Future of a Radical Price
by Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, author of The Long Tail

Chris Anderson's argument in this book is that "information wants to be free". Free, as in: available at no cost. As the cost of computing power drops every year, it becomes more and more practical to give media and software products away for free. This blog is a perfect example - Google hosts my blog and gives me the tools to create it for free. And if some people give their products away for free, then other people will find it difficult to charge for similar products. How many online newspapers do you know that you have to pay for?

So how can you make money by giving things away for free (or selling them below cost)? Well, there are basically three ways to do so, either the free product is payed for by someone else (for example, advertisers), or it is a loss leader designed to entice people into spending more money (for example, products with free and premium versions), or it is designed to grow market share and the company will figure out later how to turn that into money (or not, as the case may be).

There are also people who are happy to give things away for free and not make any money, maybe out of the sheer goodness of their heart, or because they want fame or status, or because they just enjoy creating things. Wikipedia, for example, makes no money.

I found Free to be unputdownable. It's quite short, but full of interesting information, ideas and speculation. And Chris Anderson is an extremely clear writer; although he has an easygoing, conversational style, he doesn't pad his book out with hyperbole or pointless anecdotes like some writers. Reading it gave me a new perspective on the world, and made me a bit more optimistic about the future.

Score: 10/10

Note: There is a free pdf of Free on Scribd, but unfortunately it is only available to people in the United States. I got my copy from a library.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Book Review: A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars was the first book written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, more famous as the inventor of Tarzan. Dissatisfied by the adventure stories in the pulp magazines he read, he thought he could do better. His story was originally published in 1912 in All-Story Magazine as "Under the Moons of Mars.

The story takes place shortly after the American Civil War. John Carter, a Southern gentleman, is mysteriously transported to Mars. Since Mars has a lower gravity than Earth, he finds that he has what appears to the inhabitants to be superhuman strength. Taken prisoner by a race of monstrous and agressive Martians, he falls in love with a fellow captive, Dejah Thoris, princess of a race of humanoid, civilised Martians. Many thrilling, death-defying adventures ensue.

Mars is very imaginitively described (from the perspective of 1912), and the story is full of action, but none of the characters have any depth to them, and John Carter really only survives his adventures due to a combination of superhuman powers and lucky coincidences. I found the book entertaining enough while I was reading it but, to me, it's not very memorable. I read it in the first place because Gary Gygax, the co-author of the Dungeons & Dragons game, was a fan, and the copy I read had an introduction by Ray Bradbury, also a fan. If I had read the book first as a 12 year-old, like Ray Bradbury, I might have enjoyed it more.

I read the Modern Library Classics edition, which also contains a short biography of the author, and the original illustrations by Frank E. Schoovener, which are nothing special. At the back of the book is a reading group guide, which consists of several questions, exactly like exam questions. I don't think this would be a good book for most reading groups.

Score: 5/10

Friday, January 9, 2009

First post

Welcome to my blog. I'm afraid it won't be updated very often, if at all. The only reason I have a blog is so I can leave comments on other people's blog, using my blogger profile.