Saturday, April 23, 2011

Finished (E-Reader) - "Heaven is For Real" - Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

Found "Heaven is For Real" and read it in a couple of hours.  I must say, I was expecting an uplifting story, but what I found was a very formulaic advertisement for conservative Christian doctrine.  Everything experienced by the boy in the "true" story was exactly as outlined in juvenile descriptions of heaven - big chairs, colours, etc.
As the kid grew up in a pastor's family, it is not in the least surprising to me that his recollections fit the stories he would have heard over time.  Nothing he recalled or discussed seemed outside of what you could expect if a kid was given an opportunity to write a story about what it would be like to go to Heaven.

I'm amazed this is a best seller, and that there are three others just like it on the same list.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Finished (Audiobook) - "The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality" - Brian Greene

I liked the "Fabric of the Cosmos", again, along with other books referred to on this site, it is a walk through the oddity that is physical reality.   Many of the ideas reinforce other recent books, so nothing stands out particularly.  The book is well written, and covers the history of physical explanations of the universe (multi-verse) including the cutting edge string, M-theory and hologram explanations for reality, with universes bumping together creating additional universes...

"The Book of Negroes" - Lawrence Hill

I'd like to say I'm "enjoying" "The Book of Negroes", but enjoying a tragic story seems like odd phrasing.

I must say I feel somewhat guilty that the main character is not having "as bad" a life as I imagined when picking up the book.  I read "Roots" (Alex Haley) many years ago, and watch much, if not all, of the mini-series on TV as a young teen.  Much of the shock I'd expect to experience in "The Book of Negroes" is a little lessened by the intense shock I felt from "Roots".  I'm about 3/4 of the way through the book, and am very much entranced by the story and want to find out the ending, but am somewhat surprised not to be as shocked by the deplorable conditions on the slave ships (I was definitely disgusted and appalled the first time I experienced these recollections in "Roots"), and find my self awaiting more sorrow and agony, even though when I walk through what this woman has been through it is horrendous (abduction, watch both parents murdered, confinement in a hell ship, witness to rape/attempted rape/murder/beatings/whippings, experienced rape/attempted rape, abduction of children, being sold/bought/escape, mislead/lied to on a grand scale, loss of husband for decades long periods...) I doubt I'm even listing all horrible events.

I'd highly recommend the book, particularly if you haven't been pre-calloused by "Roots".

I'm guessing "Roots" retains a higher "horror-score" as I read the book, all made more real on the small screen.  I clearly remember the whipping of the Levar Burton character (Kunte Kinte), which comes across much more strongly in images than text (to be fair, I read the book years after the mini-series) - the severity and near-death of the whippings seems out of alignment with my reading-interpretation of the word (usually in the context of a "whipping" from a parent in more recent times).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Started "Known and Unknown" - Donald Rumsfeld (Audiobook)

I must say, I like Donald Rumsfeld - along with Colin Powell, was one of a few voices in the George W. Whitehouse with any reality.

I'm only a few chapters into Mr. Rumsfeld's book.  His defence of Reagan was classic:  Reagan was characterized as a bit of an idiot, but had a nice manner and as an actor could protray a president well in public.  Rumsfeld did defend his president, vaguely pointed to the press as always portraying Republican presidents as dunces (I can understand his position if he worked for Reagan and followed up with George W. - not sure if he worked for George Sr. who I wouldn't classify as an idiot).  However, he provided a nice punch-line with "Now, Reagan wasn't a detail oriented manager.....".

I also find his opening chapter on known facts, unknown facts and the unknown unknown to be startling.  Not that the concept is even remotely complicated, but that for a party that portrays everything in stark black and white, that they really do have trouble when the world that doesn't fit into their viewpoint - I had hoped that the black-and-white speeches were only the simplest way to make points and make themselves the good guys and the opponents the evil guys, but I suspect they actually believe this.

When it comes to the real world, of course there are "unknown unknowns", a.k.a. "surprises".  In the real world, there is a greater than 0% chance that Queen Elizabeth has a nuclear missile aimed at the White House, or that Canada is trying to take over the U.S., or that Cuba is somehow a threat to the U.S. and the continued embargo is somehow warranted.  This is what makes the posturing of the Bush Jr. White House so problematic - particularly the post-Obama Cheney - he actually said that the policies of the Bush Jr. period made the U.S. safer and that any future attack would be proof of this thesis.  Think about this for a moment - he's actually hoping for an attack to justify the brinkmanship of the administration he was so influential in...and these are the guys who were in charge when 911 happened - can you imagine the same folks speaking/acting if Gore had been sitting when the planes crashed????

The reason the "left" wants seemingly intelligent presidents, and is less dogmatic in the campaign promises, is that they are aware that the world changes, that information comes to light and that it is not always the best thing to go on with your plan when your plan is now not in the best interests of the country due to changing circumstances.  The "left" wants someone in place who can adapt and make continued best decisions, the right (in current times) really seems to want to elect a figurehead who can carry out policies, regardless of changing circumstances.  Or as Karl Rove says "while you report on reality, we'll make a new reality".

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Finished (E-Reader) - "Mockingbird" - Suzanne Collins

"Mockingbird" finished the "Hunger Games" trilogy - a very nice series of books, fast read.  Central character is a younger teenage girl in post-apocalyptic U.S. (seems like).  The Hunger Games are a Survivor-type game, but the characters actually die - only one survivor is permitted.  Each region has two champions chosen at random, one male, one female, with the exception of the Capital region, which runs the games, and uses the annual event as a reminder of their win of the civil war.

The trilogy goes over several years, from the Games selection and completion in book 1, the follow-up games in book 2 and the post-2nd-games period in book 3.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Finished (Audiobook) - "The Hidden Reality" - Brian Greene

"The Hidden Reality" is a nice addition to my current physics streak.

Ran across some nicely explained phenomenon like:
- Truly infinite size of the universe means that there are only so many re-combinations of atoms in any given region, so by definition, there have to be "matched" regions of the universe, as infinity allows for the same combinations to exist by statistics alone.

- the surface area of a black hole contains the maximum amount of information possible in an area (can't remember exactly, but something like 1 bit per Plank lenght or squared Plank length).  This leads to a weird model of the universe where the contents of the universe can be considered holographic displays of the information contained on a distant "surface" region

- creation of new universes may be ongoing and relatively frequent - a few initial conditions may force expansion and creation. - white holes play a part.

- a nice chapter on whether or not we could tell if we were in a computer-simulated universe.  Short answer - no (they can always tweak our memories etc. if they want to) - longer answer - it might be difficult to maintain the illusion because of inherent rounding that would be required on fundamental parameters of the universe.  However, it may be that the universe itself is not continuous, and eventually there are specific discrete values that underly reality that are not rounded or estimated.

- a common theme is the non-centrality (no longer earth in centre of universe, no longer sun in centre of galaxy, galaxy of any particular importance of universe) that extends to the universe being one of a multi-verse, each multiverse being established on every possible combination of key variables (ratio of electrons to protons, e, mass of elementary particles...). Thus, the particular values we uncover are really not "meaningful", they just happen to be the values of one of many universes that would provide conditions that give rise to intelligent life.  This also provides a possibility of a universe that is made up of ultimate nothing (not even space, time, etc.) which really gets the guts moving problematically.

I must say that this is the first book that made me re-think the basic premise - maybe infinite doesn't mean "infinite", maybe the models are showing the absurdity of the underlying premises, as opposed to revealing heretofore un-imagined worlds and dimensions.  Perhaps the very consistency in the mathematical models of the universe show that it is a mathematical, not physical, model they are explaining.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Read (Comics) "FF#1" and "Fantastic Four 587-588"

At the end of Fantastic Four 587, Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) sacrificed himself to save his teammate and family.  588 was the followup and funeral.  Not generally a fan of "death" stories, as they generally are revised and thus are somewhat of a cheat.

FF#1 though, is a nice re-visioning of the Fantastic Four, with Spider-man taking the place of the Human Torch. At least the first issue seems to capture some of the feeling of the original - The Thing more brooding over the Torch's death is similar to The Thing that was formed during the original space mission.  Marvel has done a lot of damage to the Spider-man character over the last few years, it is nice to see him away from his home books, where we can ignore the "deal with the devil" and the "sorry, fans, that you bought the deal with the devil - boy are you dumb" followup and see the character a little more like the "real" one.