Thursday, July 28, 2011

(Audiobook) - Ted Talks

Found TED talks online which I will be listening to while driving (each are 20 minutes or so).  A wide variety of topics geared at a society-leader crowd - tend to be interesting, informative and motivating.  They tend to get leaders in industry, arts, culture to talk about relevant issues - by getting folks from widely different fields to talk provides very unique perspectives and linkages that would be seemingly impossible to collect in one location.

Go, look, listen, learn.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gave up on "Assholes Finish First" - Tucker Max

This book sucks.  I have a pretty high tolerance for childishness and pranks, and have a pretty open sense of humour, but could only last about 1/4 of the way through this book.

Basically, as advertised, tasteless and not funny.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Finished (Audiobook) - "The Immortal Life of Henreitta Lacks" - Rebecca Skloot

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" - Rebecca Skloot proved to be a very interesting book.  Much more autobiographical in nature - dealing largely with the children of Henrietta Lacks and how poor and angry they are about the use of their mother's cells in biological research.

Henrietta Lacks was a real person - she died in the '50's in her '30s from cervical cancer.  Some of the cells taken during the testing proved to be culturable in a lab - something not common at that point.  The cells proved to be very easy to grow, so they became a de facto standard for research, as it was easy to grow and test these human cells.  Hela cells were part of the identification of a polio vaccine, and are widely used in understanding and leading toward cures for cancer.

By modern standards, Henrietta was not given an opportunity to choose whether or not to "participate" in research, nobody thought it worth mentioning, and her name had often been lost -Helen Lane was often used as the hela cell line originator.  As medical research is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, the family is quite upset that they've never received any money, though to them, others have directly made $$$ off Henrietta.  After the quest to understand, they became very interested in making their mother's contribution to science recognized.

The book covers the family history, up to 2010, and covers some science of biological research, and ends with discussion of medical ethics - do we really own our cells?  How should doners be recognized, if at all?  Can the science continue, if all donations, or surgical "waste" is going to be sold, or held up in negotiation for the slim chance that some profit might be made off that particular cell line?

All in all, a good book for a long commute.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Finished (E-Reader) - "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base" - Annie Jacobsen

The Area 51 book was a decent read.  It talks about the large swath of area in Nevada used for military tests of various kinds.  As a secret, not-acknowledged base, it is a perfect location to feed whatever conspiracy theory one might have - including having it messes up with the Roswell New Mexico "UFO Crash" in the 1950's - apparently the aliens were brought to Area 51.

The parts of the book that are believable are the reports of various atomic bomb and radiation testing taking place after WWII as part of the nuclear arms buildup of the Cold War.  Similarly, the Oxcart, U2, SR-71 development and testing of hypersonic spy planes is similarly believable.

What is odd to figure, it is the story relayed regarding the Roswell NM UFO Crash.  The classic story is that a UFO crashed and alien bodies were taken by the military and both the technology and the bodies were moved to a secret base (Area 51).  Stories vary as to whether the aliens were alive, or even if there were any captured, but the basic government cover-up of alien artifacts remains consistent.

The story presented in this book is that the Soviet Union, in order to overload (or test an overload) to the U.S. military response system,  launched a saucer-like flying craft, which crashed in NM, forming the basis of the mystery.  To add to the confusion, Josef Mengele (yes, the Nazi doctor from Auschwitz) surgically altered children or midgets (stories vary) to look like aliens, and these were the pilots of the craft.  Thus, the U.S. military found the saucer and aliens, but were astounded to find Russian writing on the components.  Some of the "aliens" were comatose, not dead, at the time of the crash.  Various reports since that time that purport to have eyewitness sitings of aliens, alive or dead, at Area 51 are attributed to this incident.

Why Stalin went to this much trouble, or why Eisenhower didn't see the magnitude of the PR opportunity provided if Stalin operated and "launched' children at the U.S. is not very easy to understand.  If the technology of the saucer was somehow advanced (the Nazis in WWII had the Horton brothers working for them and they were working on non-traditional aircraft like saucers) - why would the, in effect, give it to the U.S.?  If it wasn't a good flying craft, how did it penetrate into New Mexico?  All in all, and even more unbelievable story than the "standard" one.

Otherwise, the history and transfer of Area 51 between the Manhatten Project, the CIA, Atomic Energy Commission and the Military, and some of the projects makes for good reading.

FInished (Paper Book) "Love the One You're With" - Emily Griffin

I read "Love the One You're With" by Emily Griffin.  It really didn't offer much - a story of a weak-willed woman who's married to one man and obsessing about her last significant relationship.  Not a lot of drama or pathos, never really felt that she was a character that was worth caring about.

I did actually stop reading this book for a period but felt compelled to finish it. Luckily it didn't take very long.  The file transfer to the Kindle kept changing apostrophes to "&pos" which was understandable, but was a bit of a pain to read.  I switched back to the paper version of the book from the Kindle version.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Finished (Comics) - Death of Spiderman - Ultimate Spiderman 153-160

I haven't read all of Ultimate Spider-Man, but have liked all that I read (same goes for the entire Ultimate Universe).  If you don't know, the Ultimate Universe is a set of heroes and comic books set up by Marvel Comics, using some of their well-known characters, but modernized and re-set as new characters in a current timeline (many of the original Marvel heroes, FF, Spider-Man, Avengers were originally created in the 1960's).

What made the Ultimate Universe work was that the characters retained much of the characteristics that made them familiar, but were free to re-write, borrow, or ignore what they liked from the "parent" universe - e.g. they could kill or keep Gwen Stacy, keep Peter unmarried, though going out with Mary Jane, make Aunt May a more interesting single-parent-type than a doddering heart-attack bomb.

Marvel, in general, seems to have lost it's way lately, the mainstream comics don't work well, the did some major revisions to characters so lost their older readers (mainstream Spiderman made a deal with the devil, Hulk has gone through more changes than can be followed, IronMan has had several different back stories, I'm not sure exactly what he is now).  The "Death of Spiderman" storyline in the Ultimate universe was a good story, and I liked the characterization of all the main players - "roommates" Iceman and Human Torch helping out, Mary Jane playing a role, Aunt May and Gwen being strong supporting roles.  I hope the "death" was a comic death, with recovery around the corner.  However, I can't trust the current Marvel honchos - they certainly could kill off Ultimate Spiderman because he differs from the new "Devil-deal" Spiderman they are having issues selling in the main universe, and want to kill off the competition.

It is a nice storyline, well written and drawn.  Hopefully there will be an issue 161 (or a re-boot to a new #1 - they like to do that).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reading (E-Reader) - "Against All Enemies" - Tom Clancy & Peter Telep

I'm a big Tom Clancy fan, at least for his mainstream Jack Ryan and assorted books - haven't read much of his other series ("Power Plays"...).

I started reading "Against All Enemies" two days ago and will likely finish tonight.  As with all Clancy novels, I really get into them and read them voraciously.

This one is mediocre, unfortunately.  The plot (a link between Mexican drug cartels and mid-east terrorists) is promising, but the story lacks some drama.  There certainly are enough "gun-play" scenes where the bullet missed high, low or to one side... and they killed off many "good guys", which is unusual.  However, unless the last 10% of the book changes the tone, the book lacked a defining moral, and does tend toward simplifying and stereotyping muslim characters.

Clancy is capable of much greater things.  Terrorism is based upon a lot of causes - poverty, lack of education, inter-generational grievances, politics,  religion, perceived lack of alternatives, alienation, and a large number of "nothing to lose" young males to convince to do "God's work". Clancy did a much better job on expressing the motivations and ambivalence among the senior drug-cartel folks (lack of options, corruption of government and police, pervasive influence of drug cartels into all aspects of life, unemployment), to avoid the simple "evil" label - this helped to make a case for policies of using one cartel vs another to kill the perceived greater problem and how hydra-like the solutions become (killing one cartel just empowers another).

It didn't seem like the same process was applied to the mid-eastern terrorists, though the same (or greater) complexities can certainly make for an excellent read, and illustrate why a "white hat - black hat" strategy is not necessarily a winning strategy, even if it plays well at home.

Finished (Paper Book) - "Fellowship of the Ring" - J. R. R. Tolkien

Decided a year or so ago to read "Lord of the Rings" with my son - read "the Hobbit" and now have finished "the Fellowship of the Ring".

These books are a terror to read aloud, and pronunciation is a pain as everyone has 11'dy-million names, homelands and destinations.

I have tried my best to have the kids read, or be read, books prior to watching movies.  With a chapter or two to go in "The Fellowship of the Ring" we did watch the movie and it was good.

As I'm committed, I will read the remaining two books in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but caution others to avoid this project.  Audiobooks may suffice in place of reading aloud.

Finished (Paper Book) - "Throne of Fire" - Rick Riordan

"Throne of Fire" is the second book in the Kane series by Rick Riordan.  I read this to my son, and had great difficulty staying awake for each chapter.  After reading the Percy Jacksons (which I liked) and "The Lost Hero" where the same basic plot was attached to Greek gods instead of Roman (or the other way around), which I thought was clever, as they inhabited the same world as Percy Jackson's group.

However, a further parallel to Egyptian mythology might be too much for me to stay awake for in the Kane books.  To be fair, my son did like them.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Finished (Paper Book) - "The Alchemist" - Paulo Chelho

"The Alchemist" - Paulo Chelho is a very nice, quick read.  A story about a shepherd and his personal journey to follow his quest to the Pyramids of Egypt from Spain.  Along the way he discovers aspects of faith that drive him forward.  A very positive affirmation of life, with the basic idea being that our purpose is to follow our dreams - not let them be extinguished as we age and get attachments.