Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Started "Red Pyramid" - Rick Riordan (Paper Book)

Am reading "Red Pyramid" - Rick Riordan ( which is the first book of a 3 book series.

The book appears to be in the "Percy Jackson" universe - the base of operations (so far) is the east shore off Manhattan, where they refer to "other gods" being on the island (which is where the Olympian gods are based in the Percy Jackson series).

The Egyptian gods are featured here instead of the Greek (Percy Jackson) and Roman (The Lost Hero).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enjoying "Dangerously Funny - Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers" - David Bianculli (Audiobook)

As a child, I remember enjoying the Smothers' Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS.  However, in hindsight, I must have missed lots of the information flow of the show (drug references and political references would have been lost on the 3-6 year old I was during the show's run).

However, watching clips on YouTube, I can see how the show would have been appealing, and even moreso to an older version of myself.

"Dangerously Funny - Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers" by David Bianculli tells of what was going on, both on-screen and behind the scenes at this show.  I am astounded to hear how strong a character Tom Smothers has behind the scenes, compared to his naive on-screen persona - I was even surprised to find out that he is the older brother.

The barriers that were broken on this show regarding racism, religion and politics make it a truly groundbreaking television event.  It's sad to see the show only ran 3 years (3 big years 67, 68 and 69), but seeing the behind the scenes battles, it is likely the show would have been cancelled at some point - the damage among the principals was too great, Tommy, as producer, became quite militant and drew far away from the CBS executives - it is hard to imagine any hierarchy surviving that type of schism - somebody had to go.

The timing was truly unfortunate - in today's world, that show (which was still a ratings success) would have likely found a home on cable and ran a normal life-cycle (e.g. dying out when viewers tired of the show) not a removal due to corporate politics.

I think Tom and Dick Smothers can remain proud of their product - they could have run a more "normal" show, and had a longer stay on network television, but I doubt they would have been as fulfilled as they are from this one.  I also doubt anybody would write, let alone read or listen to, the story of the show 40 years later.  Few shows retain this level of interest after they leave the air.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Finished - "Made in America" - Bill Bryson (Audiobook)

I hadn't really known what Bill Bryson's book "Made in America" was about.  It primarily focuses upon language development of American English, which proves a launchpoint to discuss details of the U.S. founding fathers, the Wright Brothers, life in the early colonies of the U.S. words taken from specific events, or times.

All in all, an interesting read.  As a non-American, it was a little heavy on the American worldview, however, given the thesis of the book, not really surprising or off-thesis.

I found his conclusions about political correctness odd - he does say it is laced with subjectivity, which is true.  He pointed out that some words like "manipulate" and "mandible" come from roots unrelated to the male gender, even if some on the politically correct side would like to erase all "man" labels.  He also pointed out that some of the wishes to remove "man" in all words (or all references using the word "black" like Blacksmith) is not necessary and only considerations where it is reasonable to infer that the existing word, through usage, would imply a gender differentiation (e.g. "Chariman" implying only males, while "Chair" being gender neutral).

What always amuses me about this debate is that the goal seems to be to create odd words, regardless of whether or not the "gender" was removed.  Why is "mankind" evil and "humankind" OK?  Or "Fireman" evil and "Fireperson" OK?  In both cases there still exists a gender-specific root, hu-MAN and per-SON - both of which would have drawn ire if they were the commonly used words.

I can't say that I like the PC movement as a "starter".  I might agree that "chariman" is male, but would be happy with "chairwoman" as the exact, parallel word for the female in that role.  I might also agree that "chair" is a suitable substitute for both.  I believe some form of gender-neutrality in language would evolve naturally - what I take exception to is that those who feel the need to force the change often wish to go much further in pushing a broad agenda than the words alone (e.g. looking at all acts of violence perpetuated by males as "natural male aggression" requiring prison,  while infanticide or violence perpetrated by females as "illness" requiring compassion; or expecting a 50/50 gender split in jobs, even if applicants are 10x more likely in gender A than B).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Finished "Heroes of Olympus - The Lost Hero" - Rick Riordan (E-Reader)

Enjoyed reading "The Lost Hero" to my son.  He's taken a big interest in Greek and roman heroes, even to the point of getting library books out on the topic.  Nice.

The book marks a new series by Rick Riordan - a follow-up to the Percy Jackson books.  The series is definitely a sequel - Percy is missing, a new kid (Jason) shows up at camp Half-Blood with a memory problem.  He has powers and refers to the Greek gods by Roman names - curious.

The book read nicely, my son was enthralled - the only problem is that there is a wait until the next books - we "found" Percy Jackson late in the series, about the time of the movie, so we were able to run through the books very quickly.  This wait seems long.

--------------------Spoiler Alert -----------------

As is relatively obvious, there exists a Roman version of Camp Half-Blood on the west coast.  Apparently the demi-gods tend to kill each other, so they keep the camps separate and mutually invisible, with attempts to remove memories of any demi-gods that run into each other.  This is a nice way to introduce more larger than life heroes, without diminishing the existing heroes - well done Mr. Riordan.

Comics - "Shadowland" (Marvel Comics)

Enjoying the Shadowland mini-series from Marvel Comics.  Haven't read Daredevil in years, but when I found out they were ending his current series at issue #512, I thought I`d take a look.

Daredevil, clad in black, has set up shop in Hell`s Kitchen NY, in a Japanese-style castle, as head of the ``Hand`` (Ninja-mafia).   At this point in the story he`s blocked off part of the city and has imposed ninja-style martial law.  He appears possessed, and has publicly killed Bullseye, a long-time enemy, which certainly crosses a superhero line.

Strong support from other street-level heroes - Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Spiderman, Punisher, Moon Night etc.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Finished - Comics - "Amazing Spider-Man" #637-640 (One Moment in Time)

I didn't gain any new respect for the creative genius of Joe Quesada.  I thought the "deal with the devil" he concocted to erase the memory of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson's wedding (from 1987) was poorly thought out and did real damage to the Spider-Man franchise - both in character development (what "hero" would make a selfish deal with the devil?) and by disrespecting the history of the character and fanbase (who really cares about serial story telling if the creators don't honour even the spirit of the "serial"?).

"One Moment in Time" re-visits that terrible storyline to close up loose ends, but tends to open up wounds.  The "revision" might have been a better story than the original, had it been originally written that way, as it removes the Mephisto bargain.  However, to heal the damage, it is not strong enough.

I understand the differences in outlook between creators, who want to make their mark, and fans, who need to have a continuity in the character and appreciate references to earlier events.  However, I think the balance is currently out of whack.  Storylines are being designed for trade paperback re-printing (e.g. 4-6 issues), which is fine, but illustrates that the focus is not on long-term character development, but focused on shorter individual storylines.

I think the writers need to acknowledge that the reason Spider-Man or other mainstream characters are only interesting to write because they have a distinctive character and history.  Treating these characters as "independent" to be used to further the short-term storyline might be fun, and might create a nice six-story arc, but ultimately kills the character by fragmenting the history and the consistency.  With Spider-Man alone, in recent years he was retconned to be part of a historic "spider-cult", giving him new powers and changing his basic "everyman" origins, his first real girlfriend Gwen Stacy was retroactively given a storyline wherein she willingly slept with Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin) and secretly had twins, before her untimely death at the hands of the Green Goblin in the early '70s and most recently, Spider-Man revealed his identity to the world.

All of these stories would be great as mini-series (e.g. out of continuity stories) - except the Sins Past Gwen Stacy story which never should have seen the light of day.

Several times Marvel has created alternate titles for this very reason - allowing new interpretations of characters in their own sandbox - Ultimate Universe is a great example of that.  However, the "real playground" is the mainstream 'Amazing Spider-Man' and the radicals want to play there.  Here is where the corporate voice should be strong - playing with the corporate character has consequences - adhering to continuity and not making permanent, radical changes to the character (unless they are part of the long-term strategy of the character).  Radical storylines and significant departures from the existing fabric need to be kept separate.  Change that "works" in these storylines could later be adopted into the mainstream books, but on a pace and direction of the mainstream titles.

I've been a reader of comics pretty steadily since the mid 70s.  I'm not arguing for a fixed continuity that monitors and needs to keep track of every detail, but a recognition that the stories are part of a series - that is the strength of the medium.  Time dilation is needed (otherwise Peter Parker would be in his late 60's), and there is no need to be fixed to keeping all details of a 50 year series of comics.  I think seminal events need to be maintained as they are character building points (e.g. death of Uncle Ben, death of Gwen Stacy, the marriage of Peter and MJ), and the past 4 or 5 years of stories need to be treated as gospel, given that that is really the recent past for the characters.  Stories older than 4 or 5 years can be gradually faded from continuity, but I suppose never completely erased (e.g. if he fought somebody, he probably should remember, but I think lesser characters could be updated or refined without a great loss of integrity).

I'd call this process "soft continuity", which should keep both fans and creative-types happy.  It will maintain a continuous character development environment, without creating a need for a PhD in spider-lore to write stories.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Finished "Decision Points" - George Bush (Audiobook)

Wow - George Bush is a real problem - the U.S. should consider itself lucky to have survived.  I'm not sure if he is still awash in spin-doctoring in order to secure his place in history, or if he really wasn't aware of what he was doing during his 8 year tenure.

It's hard to imagine, even given the elapsed time, that the Iraq war can be considered a positive step or a choice that is anything other than foolish.  The Afghanistan war was a reasonable reaction to the 9-11 attacks on NY, and the world responded with troops and support.  By contrast, the U.S. couldn't even convince Canada to support the Iraq invasion.  For George Jr. to suggest that the world opinion was unanimous and that Saddam Hussein represented anything other than a sore in the Bush backside is ridiculous.  The timing, in particular, left a lot to be desired - imagine an intelligent response where Afghanistan was given priority and resolved to either a long-term stay (not the preferred outcome) or an actual free-standing democracy (the ultimate goal) and then using that as a base, it would be much easier to deal with Iraq in any reasonable manner from pressure to invasion.

The biggest problem I have is there seems to be little acknowledgment that having "strong feelings" of "relying on faith" is only part of decision making - there is a need to get and acknowledge other opinions.  Iraq is the biggest blunder, and he doesn't mention that the initial 9-11 response to Afghanistan produced targets in Iraq because Rumsfeld and Cheny didn't think there were enough targets in Afghanistan - a stronger sign of the parallel objective toward Iraq from election night onward.

The other non-acknowledged issue is the reaction that Bush had to the very narrow (and arguable) victory over Al Gore.  Wouldn't a normal person see the division in the country and make a compromise or conciliatory administration to heal wounds - wouldn't that have been a more positive presidency?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Finished "Blackest Night" (Comic series)

As with all mega-cross-overs I am left unsatisfied by Blackest Night.  Some of the concepts were cool - the multi-coloured ring corps and the re-animation of the dead, but 82 issues?

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Have a Little Faith" - Mitch Albom (E-reader)

Am enjoying "Have a Little Faith" by Mitch Albom (  I've liked his other work "Five People You Meet in Heaven" and "Tuesdays with Morrie".

I consider his books, along with "The Source" (James Michner) and "The Shack" (William P. Young - ) to be part of my own faith search.  All provide different and non-dogmatic versions of Judeo-Christian thought, providing an exploration of faith offset from exploration of religion.

Michner's "The Source" I read years ago, and will likely pull out again.  This is a novel which spans a few thousand years and explores a proposed origin of religion (if I remember correctly, he attributes the start of religion to the start of agriculture, where requirement for rain, sun etc. need to occur at certain times to support growth forcing thought to causes and connections for these natural events and the need to wish and pray for appropriate conditions).

The Albom books are contemporary, semi-autobiographical recounts of events in Mitch Albom's life - the visits with a dying university professor that Mitch studied with years earlier ("Tuesdays with Morrie") or the current book ("Have a Little Faith") which revolves around the request from the Rabbi from Mitch's youth who asks Mitch to perform the eulogy at the Rabbi's funeral.  These stories are easy reads and are philosophical without being preachy, providing the perspectives of men who know the end is near and their shared wisdom and experiences.

"Decision Points" - George Bush (Audiobook)

Started "Decision Points" by George W. Bush and was surprised to hear that he was the performer reading the book.

Just about 1/2 hour in...Nice to hear how concerned he was of his "national guard" position during the Vietnam War was being misrepresented in the press.  Does he remember the atrocity that was the Swiftboating of a real war hero in Kerry?

It's hard to listen to without editing his words and wanting to get to a point of truth, not spin.  I'm not sure if he really makes any distinction.

This did bring up the opportunity in the e-book age to force books to be accurate to a degree never before possible - why can't publishers require that "spin" be retroactively changed in volume updates as they become apparent, or use live footnotes to allow for the full controversies to be discussed with alternative viewpoints, assuming they are reliable and valid?

I'd like somebody, perhaps publishers, perhaps 3rd party, who's endorsement would be required, or significantly recommended, before books that purport to be "non-fiction" are actually considered so.

It would be nice to differentiate opinion from factual recollection from spin in some objective manner.  Logistically this will be difficult to accomplish, particularly when exploring "charged" personalities or events (like the entire Bush presidency), but the effort, if successful, would be worthy.

In prior generations, newspapers and news sources provided this role - policing themselves, and each other, on accuracy in reporting.  Lawsuits and courts provided societal sanction, if required, for personal attacks and untruths.  With the advent of non-impartial news organizations like Fox News and perhaps to a lesser extent MSNBC, which have a defined viewpoint to support a particular political party, and not to objectively report the news, and the loss of newspaper's role in the internet age, there is less and less ability to sort through the spin and approach the truth - this has serious effects when extended forward.  How will the non-elite (all of us) understand what is happening when the monied powers (corporations) control the information channels?  Can we rely upon each person to sift the internet and provide a properly contexted understanding of events?  How does democracy survive if the electorate can't uncover what is actually happening?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Daniel Ellsberg "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers"

Am finding the Ellsberg book interesting.  Some of the logistics of the late '60's are surprising - Mr. Ellsberg had never used a Xerox machine prior to making copies of the McNamara reports.

3 seconds per page x 2 copies = 6 seconds per page, all hand copied one page at a time, no document feeder.

To think for a few hundred bucks he could have a document fed scanner in his basement and carry around all the top-secret documents on a flash drive on his keychain.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Project Gutenberg

Visited Project Gutenberg ( and was surprised at the changes on the site - very nicely laid out, audiobook format available along with EPUB and Kindle formats.

Finished "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" - Stieg Larsson (E-reader)

Very much liked this 3rd book in the Millenium Trilogy.  Nicely closes off the loose ends.

I was shocked to read the "about the author" blurb at the end of the book and find out that Stieg Larsson died soon after submitting the trilogy manuscripts.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Reading on the Nintendo DS, DSi, DSi-XL

Recently a few reading apps appeared for the DS's:

100 Classic Books, which has a US and a UK version (most books are the same) and "Flip" books.  The presented format is great, you turn pages with your finger by swiping R-L to advance, or L-R for going back - the screen shows the page turning.  The books use both screens, and the device is held "sideways" so both screens read as adjacent pages.  There are treasures to collect in the flip books and some words and phrases have linked definitions.

The quality of the  material is comprehensive (e.g. the Percy Jackson Flip Book contains all five books in the series and the classics include Twain, Austen, Baum, Hugo, Irving, Kipling etc.)

Not a bad series of books, or format, to have handy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Kindle DX and Sony PRS-900

As I stated earlier, I purchased a Sony PRS-900 in the U.S. (I'm in Canada) a month or so ago.  Very nice device, good look.  My primary goal was a larger screen to read scanned documents in PDF, which don't scale nicely.  The 900 is not the device for that.

If this was my first reader, I'd be very happy with the device.  However, I already had the PRS-500 (the first Sony e-reader) and the PRS-505 (a nice update).  I really like the 505 - no touch screen, but a nice screen, size and look.  The 900 and the 505 both have two memory card slots (Sony and SD cards) which is very nice, as you can really load up more books than is convenient (e.g. long contents pages, long time indexing etc.) but it is nice to carry around as large a library as you want.

The 900 had a couple of "fallback" areas - the screen was darker to accommodate the touch screen, and I don't like the change to the "history" function.  On every device, there is a chance that you'll press buttons or otherwise end up back or ahead in the book you are reading, particularly if you share the device among others to show the functionality.  The older devices had a history list, the last 100 pages you looked at - by looking at the list you could easily see pages 45, 46, 47, 48, 200, 201, 202 and jump back into the list on page 48, assuming the "error" was the jump to 200.  On the newer device, it has a "back" button functionality, which could take several steps to find out where you were.

In Canada, the 3G functions don't work, so that "advantage" isn't applicable.  As I like to use Calibre as my library, I'm not sure how often I'd use the direct-to-device functionality for purchasing books, but would certainly like the opportunity for live RSS feeds or newspaper subscriptions.

The touchscreen is OK, I'm not a convert, I prefer the button options to change pages.  On the 505 there were two sets of buttons, on the 900 there is only one page change option below the screen, along with the touch screen.  If this was my first device, I might like the touch screen, and I'll acknowledge that it is simply a matter of taste, not a design flaw from Sony.

All in all, I'd have not purchased the PRS-900, given that I already had the 505, the incremental improvements (primarily larger screen and updated OS) didn't pay off given the cost of a new device.  Again, if it was my first, this would be less of an issue.

I did break down and order the Kindle DX, which arrived yesterday.  3G works in Canada (and other countries), so I've downloaded a few free books from the Kindle store.  It really can't be much easier.  Opened a few PDF files and they look good - a few were slow, but I haven't investigated why (e.g. format of document, perhaps it hadn't fully loaded/indexed yet).  Calibre immediately recognized the Kindle and I was able to transfer my non-DRM books from there to the Kindle.

The screen is very bright and clear, so much so that it took a double take to see whether or not the screen was active or whether the cellophane screen protector it comes with (which has black text on it) was still in place.  Screen refresh is faster than the Sony(s) that I've used.  The device is heavy (I purchased the leather cover for it), but not so much that I'm uncomfortable reading off it.  With the larger screen size, it does lend itself to "lap reading" moreso than smaller devices.

Kindle doesn't seem to recognize EPUB - not a big problem as Calibre re-formats for the Kindle simply and easily as part of the transfer, but my biggest "like" of EPUB was the consistent page numbering across devices, allowing for simple change from one to another (e.g. moving to my PRS-505 for nighttime reading as it has a cover with light) - Kindle seems to have its own page numbering format.  I'll poke around the internet, perhaps this is a setting somewhere.

All in all, the out-of-box "wow" factor of the DX was much higher than the PRS-900 (the 905 (950?) is out in stores and looks like a nice cosmetic upgrade - Sony can feel free to send me one if they like).  The fact that 3G works in Canada is certainly a plus over the Sony (not sure of the deal with the newer model Sony reader).

I'm not sure yet of battery life on the Kindle vis a vis the Sony - perhaps the biggest advantage of e-readers as a device class.  Being able to go away for a weekend without worrying about a charger is very freeing (I often pack one anyway, but rarely, if at all, have had to charge on the road).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finished - "The Obama Wars" - Bob Woodward (Audiobook)

Finished "The Obama Wars" and continued to find it quite boring.  Perhaps it is too early in the presidency to have a book.

Hillary seems cold and self-absorbed (supports my pre-conceived opinion).  I don't think either of the Clinton's actually do anything until they establish how to get the maximum personal value for it.

The military doesn't (didn't) seem to respect the office of the president and tried to limit the options to one by providing useless second and third options.  However, I doubt this is much different than any part of government that sees itself in a strong role vis a vis a new president, and tries to maximize their objectives.

I'm still surprised, and embittered, that the entire Afghanistan front was "lost" in the Iraq fakery.  Even if Iraq "needed" to be fixed, 911 called for Afghanistan to be overthrown and re-started.  If proper diligence to that goal was given, it would have been a base from which to control Iraqi aggression, or if necessary, to strike and take over Iraq - both objectives satisfied, in the correct sequence and priority - cleaner and likely more successful.

As we can't tell the outcome of the inherited war Obama has in Afghanistan, it is difficult to put this book, and this discussion, in any proper context.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Finished "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Stieg Larsson

Really enjoyed this second of three books of Larsson's Millenium Trilogy ( - even a little more than the first.  Both books were good, but I suspect familiarity with the characters and Sweden made the difference making the second book a faster read.

Not as overtly creepy as the first book, this book did have drama and excitement, and filled in a lot of gaps in the main female lead's character.

Nice setup for the third installment - "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" ('_Nest).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"The Obama Wars" - Bob Woodward (Audiobook)

Not the most interesting read - quite dry and boring.  Not sure exactly what I expected, but given that the Obama presidency is only 1/2 over, and there haven't been any events of huge significance compared to the Bush jr. years (9-11, banking crisis, 2 x war) there's not much to write riveting prose upon.

It does appear to support the notion that the military was not particularly confident of the Obama presidency, and chose to put public pressure on Obama to increase troop size in Afghanistan for fear that he would depart hastily.

As Afghanistan is the war that does have some linkage to 9-11 it makes sense to stay there.

I must say that I lost a lot of faith in Bob Woodward after the first "George Bush is a great leader" book  ("Bush at war").  His subsequent publications seem to be distancing himself from this viewpoint, more toward the apparent wish to justify Iraq invasion any way possible, with 9-11 a convenient excuse.

Scientific American - November 2010 - Michael Shermer

I have a new favourite quote from Michael Shermer's Skeptic column in November's Scientific American -
“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.” - Christopher Hitchens

I think this sums up lots of arguments and really sets up what "science" actually is....not opinion...not majority rules.  Science may not be everything, but it certainly sets a bar.

Started "The Lost Hero" - Rick Riordan (E-Reader)

Started reading "The Lost Hero" by Rick Riordan, the followup to the Percy Jackson books (

I'm fortunate to be able to read this book to my kids (9 and 11)  as both like to read themselves, I"m really enjoying sitting with them to read this book.  I had read the Percy Jacksons and the Harry Potters, so like this last stab at it.

We finished the first 3 chapters or so, and I'm liking it better than the Percy books.  I'll withhold final judgment for a bit, though.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Finished - "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" - Stieg Larsson (E-Reader)

I picked up The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which I hadn't heard much about other than it was translated from Swedish and was good.

It certainly fit the bill - it was odd having all localities being unknown (to me - never been to Sweden) but that didn't in any way detract from the story.  It was a nice thriller, turned out to be more extreme than I had anticipated, very serious issues and crimes.  However, it certainly wasn't a Stephen King gross-out tingler-type thriller.

I look forward to the other two novels in the trilogy, and taking in the movies on DVD.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finished "Fair Game" Valerie Plame Wilson (Audiobook)

Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson (,_My_Betrayal_by_the_White_House)

I finished the "valerie" part of the book - the afterword is long and interesting - it is nice to hear "unredacted" text and to hear how special an agent Valerie Wilson was before being exposed.  An elite part of a secretive organization - lots of dollars were wasted along with a career - maybe the dollars would appeal to the right.

Even with the irritating redaction beeps, it is worth reading about what happens when extreme politics infects democracy - the far right causes damage (McCarthy era, Nixon's Watergate problems, Reagan's Iran Contra, Bush Sr. seemed OK, Bush Jr. with Iraq - the far left may also cause problems, but hasn't been elected).  

I think this is a nice caution to remember why we have elections, and even why there are unions - when one side thinks it is in the "right" and the other side consists of non-valid opinions, bad things happen.  Nobody died in this story - Scooter Libby almost went to jail, but it certainly was a cautionary tale.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Finished - "The Physics of Star Trek" - Lawrence M. Krauss (E-Reader)

I did enjoy this book - relatively short, but an interesting use of Star Trek (Original Series, TNG, Voyager) to explain and explore the more interesting aspects of quantum physics, string theory and just the ramifications of sub- and super-light speed and warping of space.

The author doesn't unduly slag the writers of Star Trek and credits them often for proper use of technological jargon, or the realization of some of the problems they would face in their tech (e.g. transporters, acceleration to warp or even impulse power, power levels needed to do virtually anything...).

Friday, October 29, 2010

Started "The Physics of Star Trek" - Lawrence M. Krauss (E-Reader)

"The Physics of Star Trek" ( by Lawrence M. Krauss

After reading heavier physics ("The Grand Design" and "The Universe in a Nutshell" by Hawking ( a more practical view of physics was a nice change.  I was a late bloomer for the original Star Trek and for Next Gen, both of which I started watching in re-runs.  Never was a fan of Voyager, though, so the Janeway references leave me cold.

I caught a few of the main physics blunders on Star Trek, but never really thought about "Inertial Dampeners" or even the massive difficulty in communication due to relativistic time effects on a bunch of players roaming around in space a light or greater-than-light speeds.  I don't know if Star Trek ever had "my daughter has been dead for 1000 years" storylines.

"The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman ( is a great book for this topic.  Each foray through the warp to fight the enemy resulted in leaving family behind by time as well as space - you could go home to earth, but each visit was wildly different than the last.  The split of the two soldiers into different missions was a final goodbye, as each left earth a few hours or days apart, but any return would not likely be in the same century, so even if both survived, no more nookie.

Read (Comic Book) - Kick Ass 2 #1 - Mark Millar/John Romita Jr.

I stumbled upon the first Kick Ass series ( around the time that the movie was first getting some press.  I'm certainly glad that I did - I would have been shocked at the nature of the movie, given that the "real kids trying to be comic characters" usually is light and wholesome - John Romita Jr.'s art also makes it look like a '70's Spider-Man comic..  Kick Ass being bloody and violent was a surprise.

I did like the series and the subsequent movie.  I read the first issue of Kick-Ass 2 which is also very good.  Not for kids though.

Verdict in - Redacted "Fair Game" audiobook is irritating

I like the topic material - outing by VP, training of CIA agent etc. but the beeped redactions are really irritating.  Haven't given up yet, the book is just at the "Joe Wilson oversees trip BBEEEEPPPPPP" "Colin Powell's UN speech BBBBBEEEEEEPPPPPPPP...."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Started "Fair Game" by Valerie Plame Wilson (Audiobook)

Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson (,_My_Betrayal_by_the_White_House)

I just started this book this morning.  The CIA reviewed the manuscript and redacted portions - it's a little funny, but may prove irritating that the audiobook "bleeped out" the redacted parts.

Finished "In the President's Secret Service" Ronald Kessler - Audiobook

Finished "In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect" by Ronald Kessler ( on audiobook.

This book was OK at best.  Secret Service is overworked and some protectees don't give them much respect.  Not really thrilled that somebody(ies) in the Secret Service shared gossip about presidents and families.  The trade-off is supposed to be that the family will allow access in exchange for privacy.  It doesn't speak well for the Secret Service that Kessler had enough gossip to support a book (nothing particularly juicy either).

I don't think any particular policing force can ever prepare for every contingency, particularly given that the "criminal element" has full opportunity to plan and full choice of targets and venues.  It's no real surprise when the Secret Service worries about the same issues, even if the size of the theatre they play in is larger.

Funding cuts, poor working environment, seemingly random assignments putting pressure on agents and family for no discernible benefit or cause, underpowered weaponry and incompetent management are real issues for the Secret Service, and if this book serves to fix some or all of them, great.  Just not particularly riveting reading.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Finished - Fall of Giants - Ken Follett

Fall of Giants (Ken Follett) was definitely worth the time to read.  I found myself staying up late and sitting long periods to read this book.

Book runs from the 1910's through the aftermath of WWI and covers families in Great Britain and Russia, with some Americans and Germans.  It did touch on the uselessness of war, particularly WWI, but didn't dwell extensively on the toll of living in trenches for years on end.

It's an interesting contrast how slowly and controlledly news travelled in that era, compared to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today.  It was interesting to see how some newspapers of the time were seen as supporters of particular political agendas, similar to Fox today.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Started "In the President's Secret Service" - Ronald Kessler (Audiobook)

Started "In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect" by Ronald Kessler ( on audiobook.

Very gossipy.  Some interesting stories, but the author seems to really like the Republican presidents, not a fan of the democratic ones.  Maybe a coincidence.

"Fall of the Giants" - Follett

About 1/2 way through - thought they might talk their way out of WWI, but the nations were uncooperative.

Spoiler alert - WWI happens.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Calibre as RSS agent for E-readers

I've been using Calibre to organize my library of e-books and audiobooks.  Calibre ( is nice as it is device independent, and any e-reader attached can be recognized and material transfered.  Calibre recognizes a wide range of formats and has internal conversion tools, which are very handy.  I haven't tried to link my Ipod to Calibre, but organizing all formats for a title seems to be a nice way to keep track of everything.

I've just recently, with the purchase of the Sony PRS-900 begun to pull news off using Calibre.  Calibre allows you to identify RSS feeds and organize them with a schedule for updating.  Thus, every night I pull off some New York Times and Scientific American headlines to peruse.  As my wireless connection does not work in Canada, the "more" links in the summaries don't work, but I'll have some opportunity to test when in Sarnia, or over in Port Huron or Detroit.

"Universe in a Nutshell" (Audiobook) - Stephen Hawking

About a third of the way through this book ( - Hawking acknowledges this as a semi-repeat, semi-sequel to "A Brief History of Time" ( with more of a detailed story telling, instead of a fixed chronology.  Some complaints he received about "A Brief History of Time" were that folks lost at an early chapter were unable to continue.

I expect to finish it today, as I have a long drive to Niagara Falls for a conference, which provides plenty of time to complete.

Update - finished about an hour into the trip - Hawking's books are all relatively short and this one in particular (along with Grand Design) lends itself to audiobook listening.

Still Enjoying "Fall of Giants" - Ken Follett (E-Reader)

About a 1/4 of the way through the book - it is set in pre-WW1 Britain, miner's issues in coal mines, landowner's issues with staff, political issues with alliances set up prior to WWI.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Read on Plane (E-Reader) - Shit My Dad Says

Shit My Dad Says ( is a book based upon a twitter blog, and made into a sitcom with Willam Shatner.

I liked this book - very quick read.  Short Tweets take up a number of pages, several of which were explained as longer stories.  This book would be great as a read in spurts - as I had a 4 hour flight, it was perfect to read.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Finished - Jon Stewart's "Earth - the Book" Audiobook

A nice follow-up to "America the Book".  The audiobook for America the Book was a much more complete text, using many more actors (familiar voices from The Daily Show) than did Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race.

The ability to use aliens to provide an opportunity to refer to the history of the earth from a 3rd party perspective using a pseudo-anthropological perspective provided a good opportunity to point out obvious inconsistencies and fallacies using typical Daily Show humour and cynicism.

If I had to pick, I liked the America audiobook more than Earth, but both are worth the time to listen.

Finished - More Information Than You Require - John Hodgman (Audiobook)

John Hodgman's More Information Than You Require ( was a very nice way to pass the commute to and from work.  Most of the book was a dialogue, with the self-agrandizing and self-promoting character Mr. Hodgman consistenly plays on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and even is "IBM guy" on the Mac commercials.

I was surprised that the second part of the audiobook was actually a "fact per day" calendar.  I listened to a lot of this, too much really, before I realized that "that was it".  Too much of a similar theme - would actually work as a once-a-day listen, though.

Reading (Audiobook) - The Universe in a Nutshell - Stephen Hawking

With the end of The Invisible Gorilla, I'm moving The Universe in a Nutshell ( by Stephen Hawking over to my Ipod.  I have a work trip up to Niagara Falls (about 3 hours each way) which should about finish that book.

I've recently listened to The Grand Design, also by Hawking, and really liked it.  I want to re-read A Brief History of Time and the newer update A Briefer History of Time.  These books all seem to be relatively short on Audio, so I might have a chance to re-listen to all 3 of them.

I find cosmology and the origins of the universe incredibly compelling and seem to understand the physics each time I run through the books, though I'm not necessarily sure I'd retain all the details.

I find these, along with Dawkins The God Delusion to set a framework for understanding the limits of science and generally start the cognitive dance regarding science and religion.

I can't say that I find either Dawkins' contention that religion is a fools errand (and ultimately dangerous), or Hawking's contention that the universe would unfold more or less within the bounds of understood physics as long as there exists gravity (i.e. the start, end and evolution of the universe are all a function of gravitational forces) to be arguments for or against religion.

Dawkins has taken the anti-religious or pro-atheist stance to a degree that he seems to be using the same underlying non-scientific basis for stating there is no God that he opposes from the "there is God" camp.  I certainly understand and support his thesis that there is no fixed limit at which science "ends" and religion "takes over" as he faults Gould for creating, but it seems to me that regardless of how far back toward the origin of the universe (or even to pre-universe starting conditions or cycles) it is impossible to refute somebody who says "Yeah, that's right - God made it that way".  I agree with both Dawkins and Hawking that that particular explanation or other invocations of God do not add to the current or potential explanatory power of science over any observed events, but the inability to prove the null ("God doesn't exist") is certainly a limit on how explicitly science can comment on the existence of God.

Philosophically I'd agree that there is a shortage of "proof" for God's existence coming out of organized religion, but I suspect the concept of Faith limits the requirement of Religion to speculate in this area.

Finished - The Invisible Gorilla (Audiobook)

Finished the Invisible Gorilla (  It was an interesting "read".  It ended up being a very nice overview of psychology - providing a few key experiments, explaining correlation/causation and the need for experimental validation of claims on causation.  It also provided a reminder of the need to fully assess what data you are presented with, and what data is missing (the harder part).

Examples included the misunderstanding of causation with respect to vaccination and the supposed link between measles vaccination and autism.  There were also discussions regarding the strength of personal narratives, and how they tend to outweigh experimental evidence.  Nice discussion on "only using 10% of your brain" using the unique term "Brain porn" to describe pictures of brain scans used to support such claims.

All in all a good use of time.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Purchased Sony PRS-900 E-reader

On October 14, 2010 I purchased my PRS-900 E-reader from Sony (

I`ve been a fan of e-readers and this is my third Sony (PRS-500 and PRS-505 pre-date this version).

This version boasts a longer screen (which is the reason for my purchase) and also has a touch screen (an OK feature, but not one I chose to buy the other reader that was the same screen size as my PRS-505).  I used the built-in dictionary, which is another feature, also OK, but not a whiz-bang choice driver.

I haven`t played with the note taking, or the annotation features.  I believe both are really great features for other folks, I`m just not one for writing in paper books, and don`t think about writing or taking notes on e-reader books - might have been a killer app in school, though.

Reading (E-Reader) - Fall of Giants - Ken Follett

Today (October 15) I finished Follett's Code to Zero, and am starting to read Fall of Giants, also by Ken Follett (

As with other Follett novels, I don't know anything about it.  As I've liked his WWII and Cold War novels, and found (surprisingly) that I really liked his Pillars of the Earth/World Without End books, I'm taking this book, the start of the Century Trilogy as a leap of faith.

This will be the first book completely read on my new PRS-900 Sony E-Reader.  I finished the last fifth or so of the Code to Zero and have managed to use Calibre as a source to collect and transfer RSS feeds to this reader.

Reading (Audiobook) - The Invisible Gorilla

The Invisible Gorilla (see is based upon a famous psychological experiment and the book describes instances where the findings are relevant to real-world scenarios.

Before reading the book, go to the above website and look at a few of the videos - they play a key part at the start of the book and are more fun to see "cold".

So far they've discussed police behaviour, plagerism and the stock market.

Other books that I'd consider similar are Freakonomics and Super-Freakonomics (see which describe and explain everyday phenomenon (and less "everyday" things) using economic model perspectives.

I guess I'd also throw in Malcolm Gladwell's books (see Outliers, What the Dog Saw, The Tipping Point and Blink as feeding a similar hunger.

Today (Friday, October 15) I went to the Invisible Gorilla website and watched the videos and showed two folks in the office.  I knew the "trick" but they were caught completely by surprise - a very nice example and well worth viewing.

Read (Audiobook) - What Would Google Do? and "the Google Story"

I recently finished listening to What Would Google Do? (

I liked this book, as it portrays a relatively positive and democratic view of the world of business - not the image or model I believe exists in many places.

That being said, I think Mr. Jarvis is a bit too big of a fan and has perhaps a "too rose" coloured perception of the model in play on the large scale.

My biggest concern about the proliferation of the web as the "source of all knowledge" is that it is almost impossible to identify or establish a method of evaluating the relative validity of sources - virtually any source can appear reliable, clean, professional and thus appear valid.

Democracy alone can't fix the problem.  The U.S. is going through dramatic, highly charged political infighting, primarily because there is a belief that if enough people believe something, it becomes true (see weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; see the renewal of the evolution vs religion arguments, see the Muslim Obama.....).

Google is not the cause of these events, but some of the more rosy scenarios outlined by Mr. Jarvis would be problematic, given the US model above.  He has put his medical records online, and gotten useful advice.  On a larger scale, this would probably bring forth any and all forms of advice - from medical research (both completed and promising) through to the natuarlists (let nature fix it, or eat this herb) to voodoo.  If the volume was sufficient, it would become quickly impossible to make any sense of the mass of data, and the sources themselves may not reliably indicate the appropriate degree(s) of validity.

All and all, it was certainly a good read, and had lots of interesting examples, proposals and discussion.

I had listened to The Google Story ( a month or so prior to What Would Google Do?  This book is a history of the Google growth as a company and business model and explained their key innovation ("page rank") and how that differentiated Google from other search engines, and how it was able to be used to democratically set pricing for advertising - increasing the pertinence of advertisements to users, and increasing the effectiveness of ads for the vendors.

The Google Story is a very nice "david and goliath" story, though in this case David may become much larger than Goliath ever dreamed of.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reading (E-reader) - Code to Zero (Ken Follett)

Code to Zero (see is a fun read.  The main character awakens with memory loss and folks trying to follow/capture/kill him.

In the distant past, I read a lot of Follett, (Key to Rebecca, Eye of the Needle) and this book is in the same genre.

I fell into Mr. Follett's "The Pillars of the Earth" (see and the sequel "World Without End" (see  I was surprised, and initially disappointed to find out they weren't the WWII spy mystery/adventure stories I was expecting (though I suppose I could have read the book jacket), however I'm exceptionally glad I read these books - very good books, quite long, which allows you to remain in the world Mr. Follett builds for an appropriate duration.  Around the same time I read "The Source" by James Michener (see  This novel, like Pillars/World is multi-generational and explores the origins of religion.

As I write this, I remember that he also wrote "On Wings of Eagles" (see which is non-fiction and has Ross Perot in it prior to his run for president in 1992 and '96.