Microserfs by Douglas Coupland



Microserfs
by Douglas Coupland
(HarpersCollins Publishers Ltd., Toronto: 1995)

READ: February 2005

I first tried to read Microserfs sometime during my undergrad in 1996 or 1997, and just couldn't do it. I am an on-again, off-again Douglas Coupland fan (Generation X and Life After God were great, Girlfriend in a Coma bit the big one), and just couldn't get into Microserfs way back when. And now, I have no idea why. It's a fabulous book. I couldn't read it fast enough. And when I was done, I felt emotionally drained but oh-so-happy to have made it through. So worth it.

Microserfs is the story of Dan, a programmer at, yup you guessed it, Microsoft. It takes place in the mid-1990s (1996 or so?) during the heyday of Internet and computer applications development (the first boom). And his computer nerd friends, of course. They don't do a whole lot...well, if you consider developing new products and trying to find their identities and whole raison d'être, is not "a whole lot". It's a remarkable well-written story that is an early foray into exploring the blurred line between narrative and technology (at the risk of sounding somewhat academic). And the ending had me in tears (but happy ones).

I gave this to my brother, who is also somewhat of a computer geek, two years ago for Christmas and he thought it was fantastic. So there.

Hyperspace by Michio Kaku



Hyperspace : A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension
by Michio Kaku
(Anchor Books, New York: 1995)

READ: January-February 2005

A great book. Definitely a must-read. It's been a while since I last picked up a science book of any kind, but I've become interested more and more in learning about this sort of thing. Over Christmas, a great programme aired on Nova on PBS, called The Elegant Universe, which surveyed the development of multiple dimensions and string theory in the realm of (largely) theoretical physics (also a book, which I intend to read sometime soon as well). I missed it over Christmas (visiting family, etc.), but the programme is available online, and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, it's definitely nerdy of me, but it's a field I find interesting (and one in which I have absolutely no training). I haven't taken a physics class since grade 10 (Secondaire IV for all you hard-core Qu├ębecers in the crowd). So I resolved to read it in order to better understand the Nova programme. In clear, simple language, Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at the City College of the City University of New York, outlines the history of the development of the theory of hyperspace. In a nutshell, things are simpler to understand when expressed in higher dimensions. He gives the (commonly-used) example of someone who is flat and lives in a flat, two-dimensional world. To such a Flatlander, a three-dimensional object would not make sense, as it would never remain constant from second to second. For example, if a 3-D apple were to fall onto the Flatlander's world, a Flatlander could only view it in segmented 2-D slices. Brown lines representing the apple stem. Then red or green lines, changing rapidly, first growing larger then smaller, as the apple passes "through" his world. A Flatlander cannot think in 3-D since there is no way to represent this in his world. We have the same problem living in our three-dimensional world, but it is generally accepted that there are at least four dimensions (the three familiar ones of space, and the fourth of time as posited by Einstein), with the possibility of a fifth (a space-time dimension). However, for hyperspace to be feasible, there are, in fact, many more dimensions - likely 10 or 11. (Some superstring theories, which is related to hyperspace, suggest as many as 26!)

Anyway, a good read for anyone who's wondered about physics but was too scared to ask, as it were. Simple language, good explanations, very interesting.