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.