The Jetlag travel guide to Phaic Tan: Sunstroke on a Shoestring.

This is the second Jetlag travel guide, coming on the heels of last year’s spot-on paradoy of an Eastern Europe guidebook: Molvania (link below).

If you’ve ever read a travel guide in anticipation for a trip, you’ll appreciate the humor and the level of detail in the Jetlag books. Why hadn’t someone thought of this before? Check it:

Many western visitors to Phaic Tan are terrified of the possibility that they may— even accidentally —end up eating dog. A good test when served any roast meat is to look closely at the animal’s head. While pigs and goats will traditionally have an apple stuffed in their mouth, dogs tend to be cooked holding a tennis ball.

Phaic Tan is all about a fictional country that is quite obviously a mix of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Among the sights along Thong On’s “Mildew Coast”, one can “settle back in a lazy deck chair under a shady coconut palm and, on any given day, take in the sight of an overloaded passenger ferry slowly sinking in the glittering azure sea.”

Can’t really say enough about these books, and I can’t wait for the upcoming titles in the series. I mean, they actually came up with the phrase “after his former career as a Khmer Rouge Information Officer.” Check this:

If you think Phaic Tan’s heat and humidity are hard to take now, spare a thought for those who lived back before the arrival of electric cooling. In those days rooms were kept ventilated with a ceiling fan pulled by a young servant boy (mataak) who customarily sat outside. With the coming of electricity in the 1920s this system was modified; the young servant boy still sat outside pulling the fan but he had a wire cable attached to one toe and was given a jolt if he slowed down.

Phaic Tan, by Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, and Rob Sitch, A.

And don’t forget:

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.

This book is a meticulous account of what happened inside the World Trade Center from the time the first plane struck until the second tower collapsed, 102 minutes later. From the authors’ note:

Like the passengers on the unsinkable Titanic, many of the individuals inside the World Trade Center simply did not have the means to escape towers that were promised not to sink, even if struck by airplanes. In the struggle to live, those who survived and those who did not sent out hundreds of messages. They gave us the history of those 102 minutes.

The level of detail holds your attention, and even though you know how the story ends, the writing invests you in the final fate of a variety of characters: firemen, businesspeople, and even the lowly security guard who stays at his post on an upper floor helping people evacuate. This book brings the horror home:
They peered out. Debris had rained onto the plaza— steel and concrete and fragments of offices and glass. Above them, they could see the east side of the north tower, and also its northern face. Instead of the waffle gridding of the building’s face, they now saw a wall of fire spread across ten or fifteen floors. Then they saw the people coming out the windows, driven toward air, and into air. The plane had struck not two minutes earlier.

The authors of this book are reporters for the New York Times who had previously covered the 1993 bombing attempt. As they recount the final moments of the Twin Towers, they also shine light on the various ways the towers were built on the cheap, with safety features being removed in the name of more rentable space. Also interesting is the NYFD response, and how inter-agency fueds may have contributed to the high death toll among firefighters.

This book puts you into the buildings, and with each turning page you are frantic, knowing the end is closing in:

The word to leave finally got to Steve Modica, the aide to fire chief Paolillo, who had watched, uncomprehending, as police officers pounded down the stairs at the 30th floor. A fire captain, coming down after the police officers shouted at him.

“Evacuate! Evacuate! I want everyone to evacuate the building.” Then the captain continued down. Modica tried to reach Chief Paolillo, but couldn’t raise him. He switched to all three channels used by the department. He still could not get anything. He considered the circumstances, and would recall thinking: “We were doing nothing. Nothing. What’s the plan? Nobody had a plan.” He started down the stairs.

102 Minutes, A.

Reading this book, I kept seeing a comparison to the early days of computing and the early days of punk rock. Andy Hertzfeld’s account of the design and engineering of the Macintosh computer certainly takes you back to early 1980’s California.

I remember going to computer shows back then with my dad, who seemed to buy any new product that showed any promise. I mean, we had a laser printer in the house when most people still had typewriters. To switch fonts, you had to shove in a new font cartridge (and those were like, $100 each). And I’ll never forget how we put our name on the waiting list for the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man. The day we picked it up, my parents also bought the family an Apple II computer. I woke up at 5am to play with it before school, where all the other kids thought I was a liar for claiming to have Pac-Man and the computer.

Back to the book, you have to admire Apple’s then anti-corporate approach- like when the engineers rigged up a pirate flag over their building. Okay, that seems pretty tame, doesn’t it.

Bottom line, if you’re into computers and software design, this book will be interesting. Fans: B. Others: C.