Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Finished (Audiobook) "Here Comes Trouble" - Michael Moore

I've always had a soft spot for Michael Moore.  Growing up in Windsor, I saw the effects of changes to the auto industry, which he made explicit in "Roger and Me" a documentary about the abandonment of Flint, MI by the General Motors corp.

I wasn't that thrilled with the start of "Here comes trouble", as I was not really interested in the dating scene in Michael's high school, his early crushes, or his birth story.  However, I'm certainly glad I continued with the book, as there are several really interesting events that are retold:

  • As a young man Michael was working in a "distress line" type youth centre and had to deal with a suicidal man with a gun;
  • Michael ran as an 18 year old (on election day) for the school board as a response to his treatment in high school - the politics of the area and the board are fascinating;
  • A near miss at a terrorist attack in a European airport;
  • Hearing the commencement of the outsourcing plan for industry in the U.S. in the '80's;
  • the learning and rationale to his first film ("Roger and Me") and his treatment after winning the oscar for " Bowling for Columbine";
  • Talking about the priest who blessed the atomic bombs dropped in Japan in WWII and his subsequent feelings about the issue.
Michael Moore has led a much more interesting and varied life that I would have thought.  I did find several of the stories required me to sit in my own driveway for several minutes to hear the ending - not a bad advertisement for an audiobook.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Finished (Paper Book) - Happy - Ian K. Smith, M.D.

Finished "Happy" a Christmas present, which is a nice book to read - it provides a reminder to take the good things in life and minimize the less pleasant.  The book is full of checklists and wishlists to remind oneself to smell the roses.

The key findings are to learn from elders and remember that tomorrow is not granted to everyone.  It has some strategies to employ to have some "good stuff" on a regular basis, even if times are busy, and provides "permission" to take time each day to do something pleasant, and/or take time for oneself.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Finished (Audiobook) - "The Right Stuff" - Tom Wolfe

I had read the "paper" version of the Right Stuff many years ago.  I can remember the Apollo missions from when I was young, though I thought of it as "normal", not a big deal (they seemed to be going to the moon all the time, and taking over my regular TV shows).

I didn't remember much about the X-jets (X-15 to 20) that were running in parallel to the Mercury missions, and did some rather breathtaking things (like going 70 miles up in the air, 20 miles into "space").  My big takeaway is that planes don't work well with little or no atmosphere, and pilots can find themselves in spins that the planes cannot break out of (e.g. flat spins or end-over-end).  If they can manage to get the spin onto an axis that allows the flight controls to operate, they can then recover.  Chuck Yeager's abandon ship flight is well-told of the events.

As with Gene Krantz's book "Failure is Not an Option" about the Apollo missions which followed (Mercury - one astronaut flights - "the Right Stuff", Gemini - 2 person, Apollo - 3 person - "Failure is Not an Option), I'm amazed at the number of problems and "near misses" that occurred - Scott Carpenter running out of fuel, John Glenn dealing with a concern that the heat shield might not be securely attached to the returning capsule.

The "stuff" of the Right Stuff is interesting as well - test pilots (any advanced pilot) must convince themselves that they are the best there is, in order to handle emergencies and deal with the relatively high odds of crashes and death.  The odd side of it is that when there is a crash, even if no objective observer can find fault with the pilot (e.g. wing fell off), still, the "Right Stuff" demands that there be a difference between the "failed" pilot and the "still living" pilot - something like "How could he have flown without checking that the wing supports were intact?".  This philosophy may help to handle the stresses of test pilot life, but it is certainly somewhat fictional - complex aircraft are a team effort (ground crew, engineers, pilots) and it would be impossible to check every aspect on each flight.  It seems somewhat sad to me that each pilot who died was somehow denigrated post-partum, as part of the illusion-maintenance of "the Right Stuff".

The Mercury project was a departure from "normal" test pilot "Right Stuff" as the early flights (and really, most spaceflights) were virtually all automatic and computer controlled.  It was only the insistence of the newly heroic astronauts that enabled them to have some control over certain aspects of the flight - which did come in handy on some flights.  It took a while for the "monkeys did the job first" to give way to the massive public adoration of the astronauts in order to have the "astronaut" path be considered an apex for flyers.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Finished (E-Reader) - "11/22/63" - Stephen King

I really liked this book.  It must have been over 20 years since I read any Stephen King, but the idea of this book intrigued me.  The book is based upon an accidental discovery that can transport someone back in time to a specific date in 1958 - they come back 2 minutes later in "our" world regardless of how long they spend in the 1950's onward.

As the title strongly suggests, the key date in mind occurs in 1963 - the Kennedy assassination.

The story is of a character who returns in time with the goal to stop the Kennedy killing.

The book was a gripper (which I can safely say I found other King books to be as well), and I found myself interested in a story that has Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald as characters.  Having a point-in-time view of the late '50's and early '60's was nice as well - the good and the not-remembered.

I did find the ending of the book a little weak, but I suspect that time-travel stories are always difficult to wrap up.