Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reading (E-Reader): "Cosmos" (Sagan), "Hulk" (David), "Candle" (Dawkins); "Lifelog" and Book Switching

I've been a proponent of e-reading for many years, but have not really tried to flip books very often.  An advantage of E-reading is that many books are stored at once, all keeping track of your place in the book.

When the kids were younger, I used to read to them (e.g. "Lion, Witch and Wardrobe") and as they were falling to sleep, switch to whatever book I was reading at the time.

On and off, I've jumped between a couple of books, primarily as some I wanted to read, but wasn't immediately captured by it.
I "accidentally" started reading "Hulk" by Peter David, which is the source material for the 1st Hulk movie (with Eric Bana).  The movie wasn't very good, so I had little hope for the book, but being a comic nerd, I started anyway.  The book actually is pretty good, and provides the necessary details that didn't come across in the movie.  The "book" story differs from the "comic book" origin for Hulk, but is an OK update (search for healing using biotech and gamma radiation), which goes awry.

The "other" aspect of the movie is an abusive relationship between very young Bruce and his father, who was a military researcher who eventually murdered Bruce's mother.  The book does a better job than the movie (Nick Nolte played Bruce's dad) of covering this topic.

Alternating with the Hulk is "Candle in the Dark" by Richard Dawkins.  I didn't manage to get through Dawkins' biography, though I may continue at some point, but have liked the first few chapters of his book.  This book returns to discussing science, with biographical tidbits of where he was and the circumstances of learning (e.g. in Panama on an island in the canal zone), which, for me anyway, is a much nicer way to connect biography with the subject of interest.

The third book in the mix is "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan, which I'm sure I read in the past, but ran across it again and thought I'd give it another read.
Basically, I read a chapter or two of one book, topped off by a chapter of another.  I'm seeing if I can keep the story fragments in check as I read something else, and use each book as a reward for another.  I love to read, but have trouble finding time to stick it in the schedule - hopefully this mutual reinforcement circle will keep me going for a while (and Christmas break is a'comin).

A second reason for playing around is that I have a Samsung tablet, which I really bought to support smart watches, but find the 7" screen and Moon Reader software work for this to be an acceptable e-reader (note, actual e-paper e-readers still rule supreme for reading text - books like Cosmos,which are illustrated are likely better on an LCD screen).  A further add-in is the software "LifeLog" from Sony, which tracks lots of information silently - if I carry my tablet around it will track steps, distance, driving time, reading time, music played, movies/media watched, social media searched, and put it into a timeline.  It even logs pictures taken, so you will have an independent date-stamp (and the other context) with your pictures.  The "value" of this may be arguable, but I kind of like the idea that I can scroll back to last year (assuming I keep the software and it logs for the duration) and see what I was reading, watching etc.  Assuming I keep this active, it might be nice to answer questions like - "what was that song we were listening to in the car" or "what the heck was I doing last weekend).

I've only been using the software for a few days, but was surprised that it tracked my commutes - I can now "know" when I got to work, when I had lunch, when I went home, when I ferried around the kids for events - I was surprised that I spent nearly an hour in the car just on short duration trips - puts gas mileage into an appropriate context as well.

Finished (Netflix series) - "Master of None" - Aziz Ansari

I ran through the entire "Master of None" series created by and staring Aziz Ansari, whom I first found on "Parks and Recreation".

I did like the show, the character of Dev (Ansari) is a modern, single guy in New York,and the shows, while staying as a comedy, do deal with real issues (such as midnight search for "morning after" contraception, racial bias in casting, kids not appreciating parents/grandparents...).

The case is good -  Noël Wells, who really looked familiar but I couldn't place, had a nice role as Ansari's on and off girlfriend.  Looking her up in Google, I found she was a cast member on SNL, though I'll have to look through some clips to identify her.  Eric Wareheim is also good as Dev's buddy - he reminds me of Sarah Silverman's buddy on "the Sarah Silverman Program" - enough so I had to check (not the same guy who played Brian on Sarah's show - Brian Posehn).  Casting his real-life dad as his father, and I believe his real mother as well is a nice touch.

The binge-watching caused me to get a little off-put by Dev's personality - the use of "unnecessary" adjectives - e.g. - "let's eat some delicious food" - with binge watching I find it a little annoying - probably not so much with a less intense watching schedule.

Worth picking up - hopefully there is a second season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Finished (E-Reader) - "Avenue of Mysteries" - John Irving

I've been a fan of John Irving for a very long time - "Garp", "Hotel New Hampshire", "Cider House Rules" and even older, odder books "158 Lb. Marriage" and "Setting Free the Bears".

I certainly waited for his latest book "Avenue of Mysteries".  The book is based around a pair of kids growing up in a garbage dump in Mexico, the main character is a boy of about 14, and his younger sister.  The sister has some psychic ability to read minds, and some ability to see the future, but only speaks to her brother - nobody else can understand her.

The dump kids have few options - they can live in the dump or get taken in by the orphanage run by the church.
The main character is a reader - he rescues and reads books from the dump, and can read and speak multiple languages.

The story is in two timelines - the young boy and sister, which is in the past, and the older boy, now an older man, who is an accomplished author.

What is fun for an Irving fan is that the author refers to his earlier books and references a book on abortion (which causes him arguments with his church-based friends),  a book about a man with a urinary tract infection, a "circus" book based in India (there may be more).  As a long time reader of Irving, these books are "Cider House Rules" which is based on a boy growing up in a "wayward girls" clinic where they perform abortions in years past, and "the 158lb. Marriage" where the main character, a male (among other things) has a tendency to get urinary tract infections and has to choose between having surgery to "straighten" his tract, or make sure to drink lots of water to keep the area cleansed, particularly after sex.  The "circus" book is "Son of the Circus" which is based in India.

So the book has some autobiographical references to some of Irvings own writings, which is kinda' fun.

Overall, the book was good, but I can't say it grabbed me like some of his other works.  Worth reading, yes, but maybe OK queued up behind some additional pressing reading material.