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.