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Archive for May 26th, 2012

My sister Carm with her newly Harvard Law School graduated son: Patrice!!

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Here’s two more books which fall under the general category of “Serendipity and Chaos“.  They are: “What The Dog Saw” (2009©) and “Linked” (2002©).
The first, “What The Dog Saw“, was written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Gladwell is science-popularizer style writer in the vein of Isaac Asimov.  Basically, he looks for interesting areas of science and then explains them to the general public.  This is the fourth book by Gladwell which I own and have read.  The others are: “The Tipping Point“, “Outliers” and “Blink“.  Those three books are single source texts.  This book is a compilation of a number of stories from his articles previously published in The New Yorker.
The book is divided into three sections and the articles (chapters) are meant to focus around the group headings, which are:  1) Obsessives, Pioneers, and Other Varieties of Minor Genius; 2) Theories, Predictions and Diagnoses; and, 3) Personality, Character and Intelligence.  Unfortunately, the group titles do not provide adequate descriptions of the individual articles.  It is enough to say, that each chapter is a mini-book in itself and Gladwell is a very good writer (at least his writing suits MY tastes).  I won’t describe the articles individually except to say the book title comes from the story about Cesar Milan, aka “The Dog Whisperer“.  Most reviews of Milan’s techniques describe what we humans see when he is training the animals.  This article poses the questions: “What does the dog see?” and directly related: “Is that what makes the technique work?”
Bottom line: like Gladwell’s other three books, this is Highly Recommended!!
The second book is: “Linked“, and was written by Albert-László Barabási.  In this book, the author attempts to explain the current state of network theory.  The first couple of chapters cover the history of network theory and then we are quickly shifted into “current” (circa 1990-2002) theory.  The author contends there are three basic types of networks – “centralized”, “decentralized”, and “distributed”.  The author goes on to explain why he feels distributed networks are emergent and how they exist in a broad range of settings, hardware, software, social, economic and biological.  He has an additional premise they are distributed because there are inherent fail-over mechanisms in them which support the network in ways the other two networks simply can’t reproduce.  Most significantly, from my point of view, he is the first person I’ve heard explain both the “rich-get-richer” and the “winner-takes-all” results of distributed networking concepts in economics.  Finally, the author provides an explanation of the concept of “power law” and how it acts in the context of networking – and he does it with a minimum of formulae and in plain English.  All in all, I found this book a fascinating read and highly recommend it.
Gladwell’s was a $2 clearance book from Half-Price Books and Barabási’s was a discounted (used) book purchased from my $50 Amazon birthday gift card.  The book cost more to ship than to buy!  Very good values, if I do say so myself!!
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And yet another comic book collection from my son, James.  This one is titled: “The Flash: Omnibus“, (2011©).
I have very mixed feelings about this book – and at over 430 pages and hard-bound, this is definitely a book!  I liked the character of the Flash when I was growing up.  Marvel Comics didn’t really have the same  kind of super-powered hero.  They had fast heroes, but nothing like the Flash.  But, in the DC universe, the Flash was still a 2nd / 3rd tier hero to me.  Well behind Batman and Superman (1st tier) and many others (like Green Lantern) (2nd tier).
Anyway, in this story we have the creation arch for the re-boot of the whole of the DC universe.  The Flash breaks the dimensional barrier and splits the universe into 52 different versions.  This means the DC universe has a virtually unlimited number of options in re-writing all of its heroes with new endings to all of the old stories.  While I don’t think this is actually “practical”, it is theoretically possible with an internally consistent universe logic.
Now, why MY mixed feelings?  Mostly because the book is divided up by two artists, one of whom I like (about 1/3rd of the book) and one I don’t really care for (the other 2/3rd).   Had I paid the full, retail price for this book, I would not have been a happy camper.   Between the bad drawing and the jumping around in the story (kind of embedded universes), the story suffers and I was left feeling, who are these people and why should I care about them?  In the end, I didn’t really, which was too bad.
Will I keep reading The Flash?  Yeah, as long as they’re being supplied by my son for free, but I don’t think I’d ever actually pay for them – particularly if the book has the bad artist.
Bottom line: weak recommendation.
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Another comic book collection from my son, James.  This is the re-boot of the Justice League of America as the “Justice League International: vol 1“, (2008©).  Does it work?  Yeah.  Is it great?  No, not really.
To start off with, the book is kind of drawn from the early 60’s method.  The book is hard-bound, rather than just thick paper like most of these “modern” collections.  And it’s done on old school paper, not the glossy stuff they put everything one these days.  Overall effect – I liked it!!
Now, meat and potatoes – the art work itself is good – old school, so not the super-heroic, ultra-muscle drawing so common today.  The story is well put together and has a decent flow.  It doesn’t jump all over the place like an Ang Lee movie.  As a first introduction to many of these characters, the book was well done.  Some of the characters are “old”, like Green Lantern, but he’s not the Hal Jordan character I grew up with.  Also, Batman is a very interesting character / leader in this version of the League.  I found that intriguing, because I was always used to Batman being the loner.  Finally, I appreciated how the various heroes have personality quirks which cause them to rub each other the wrong way.  That made for group dynamics I don’t remember ever seeing in DC Comics before.
Bottom line:  recommended reading.
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This is another of the comics from my son, James.  In this one, “The Flash: Rebirth“, (2010©), the main character (hero) is The Flash, who’s super-power is speed.  As a youth, I enjoyed The Flash, but he was never one of my favorites.  Basically, I knew him from a few of his own issues and from his participation in the Justice League of America.
With the passage of time, most of these characters have been “reborn” either by retiring or somehow otherwise transitioning (dying) into a new mortal / human who gains the super power.  This is one of those stories.  Basically, the story brings back all of the “Flashes” from 1940-ish onwards and throws them together for this series (book form).  The story line is rather disjointed due to poor character introductions and was difficult for me to follow.  Fortunately, there is a story arch summary at the end of the book which explains what was supposed to be happening in the book.  I think it’s an indictment of the comic when it has to be explained in text form at the end of the book.  Oh, well…
I liked the art work a lot – dramatic (which suits my taste).  The writing, so-so…   Weak recommendation.
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This review is for the book: “Napalm & SillyPutty“, by George Carlin (2001©).   Way back when I was a youth, I heard the “Seven Words You Can’t Say On TV” and “The Hippy-Dippy Weather Man” skits, and I was hooked as a Carlin fan.  Carlin passed away a couple of years ago (2008) now, but he remains in my mind as a “definer” – a dictionary – of words, pre- and post-PC (politically correct).  Carlin was an atheist who railed against BIG (organized) religion and unwilling to trust government at any level.
This book is NOT his best stuff.  Most of it seems to be re-hashes of things he said on TV or in magazine interviews.  Still, some of it is pretty funny.  George can make you laugh, he can make you cry and he could make me laugh until I cried.  Often imitated, and rarely equaled, we are unlikely to see his like again anytime soon.  RIP, George.
I got this book on clearance at Half-Price Books for $2.00 and it was worth that just to remind me of the old days.  If you can get it cheap or at a library (free), it’s worth reading.  Otherwise, just YouTube George Carlin and watch him do his thing.  You’ll probably get more out of it.  Sorry, George – weak recommendation…
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Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.
  ––    Michel de Montaigne
[For another perspective, please read Robert Graves’ “In Broken Images” on my Poems page.  —   KMAB]
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