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Archive for the ‘2012 Book Review’ Category

I believe I learned about military science fiction on black and white TV long before I discovered it in books.  I think when that happens, a child assumes there is more there (in literature) than there actually is.   I remember watching the “Twilight Zone” and “One Step Beyond” as well as a host of cheap Saturday afternoon movies on TV which tied in my admiration for the military with the wonders of future science.  Of course, adolescent reading included “The Red Badge of Courage” and “All Quiet On the Western Front“, but these were traditional (historic) military stories, not SciFi.
Sometime in my mid-teens, the older sister of a friend turned me on to Robert Heinlein.  She had about a dozen of his novels, including “Starship Troopers“, which she loaned me.  Addicts really are the public-facing pushers of their particular addictions.  Prior to this, my only collections were baseball cards (long lost in the shrouds of history) and comic books (Marvel not DC).  Although my mother always tried to supply us with ample reading, the reality of our family finances dictated more trips to the public (or school) library than to the local bookstore.  Anyway, this began my love affair with collecting books…
As mentioned, my first recollection of reading military Sci-Fi was “Starship Troopers“.  After that, I think there was a close tie between the adventures of (Jerry Pournelle’s) John Christian Falkenberg and (David Drake’s) Alois Hammer.  Between them, they make up two of the great mercenary future history series: Falkenberg’s Legions and Hammer’s Slammers.  The former being infantry and the latter primarily about an armored regiment.  I have collected the novels of all three since then, but most of them went the same way as my baseball cards of youth – lost in my frequent moves from house to house and continent to continent.
Well, lo and behold, wandering around in my local Barnes & Nobel’s I found a collected works of Drake’s Hammer’s series: “The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, vol 1“, (2009©).  This is the first in a three volume series.  It consists of twenty-one (mostly) short stories about men in combat in the future.  There is a nod to SciFi in order to make the stories seem futuristic, but the stories are really about the people (men and women), not about the weapons.  Even the couple of short stories which try to focus on the weapons, really end up talking about individuals who use the weapons.  For my dime, this makes the stories universal.
Many war story novels almost seem to glorify war and combat.  This book does not.  You are left with the smells, tastes and feel of war and it is acrid, foul and gritty.  But, and this is a BIG but, combat is also primal, tempering and – occasionally – ennobling of individuals.  This is the contradiction of struggle and survival – some become savages and some become noble savages.  In fairness to those who have served in actual combat – and I have not – these are only my impressions as a reader of fiction novels and factual accounts of historical conflicts.  Obviously, “history” is written by the victors, so victory will almost always be written as ennobling for the “right” side and debasing for the losing side.
Of the stories in this book, three particularly touched me and I had to pause briefly in my reading to think about the story for a while.  Based on this need to “pause and think” alone, I rate this book as a highly recommended!
I know this has turned into a lengthy blog, but hang in there a bit longer…
The second part of today’s title refers to one of the best “Romance” movies (chick-flick), I’ve ever seen: “Bed of Roses” (1996).  The movie stars Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson.  The basic plot is boy sees unknown girl crying and gives her flowers.  Girl and boy fall in love, but both have “issues”.  Boy and girl separate over issues.  Boy and girl get back together and live happily every after (we assume).
This is a fairy tale movie.  If you like fairy tales, (I DO), you’ll enjoy this movie (I did).  If you aren’t into fairly tales, you probably will find this movie trite and contrived.  In which case, all I can offer is: “Get over it.”
I really enjoyed this movie!  The first time I saw it, I was in Saudi Arabia, while my wife and family were back in Liverpool.  It was on cable and I must have watched it ten times the first month it came on.  Why?  Because if you’ve ever spent time alone and lonely, and then you meet someone you fall in love with, your greatest fear will be losing that someone.  At least that has almost always been among my greatest fears.  If you do lose that someone and are fortunate enough to find a second someone, you are faced with the decision to hide (wallow in your loss) or to love even more freely.  In this movie, Slater’s character decides on the latter course – and it makes all the difference in the world.  (Like I said, a fairy tale.)  I think the “loss” of my wife (albeit temporary), made the movie touch me and my fears all the more.
Anyway, the movie is softly shot and there are lots of beautiful flowers (and sentiment) – another plus in my book.  I believe at the time, Slater was an action-movie actor and this role was kind of out of character for him, but I liked him in the role.  I don’t really know anything about Masterson.  She’s attractive enough in this role, but she doesn’t strike me as someone the camera “just” loves.  I don’t recall her in much else and I don’t really know why, because she seems really good in this role.  I would like to also give a shout out to Pamela Adlon, who plays Masterson’s character’s best friend – Kim.  Again, this is an actress I’ve not seen much of, but she’s terrific in this supporting role.  Something about her scratchy voice is just really attractive/likeable.  That and her frumpy clothes choice (in the movie).
As I said, this is one of the best romantic movies I’ve ever seen – particularly of the modern era – highly recommended!!
If there is one bad thing about the DVD – there are no extra scenes.  The preview, which is included on the DVD, has a couple of scenes which didn’t make it into the final movie.  I would have liked to see them in special features.  Sadly, no dice…
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Last weekend I finished reading “Perfect Figures“, by Bunny Crumpacker (2007©).   This is a history story of how civilization developed numbers and thereby learned to count.  Obviously, there is a lot of supposition in here, because no one was really around writing the history of the “discovery” of “1” and “2” (and so on).  In any case, the book is a fairly good read and seems to make a lot of sense.
Essentially, our current numbers seem to have mostly evolved from other cultures and words used to express numerical concepts (values) and then over time were mispronounced until we arrived at today’s word (pronunciations) for the values.  What I found most interesting was the concept of “many”, as in, “1”, “2”, “3”, many…   Many seems to be the universal expression for more than we care to count at the present time.
Another interesting point was the documenting of a perception I’ve had for a number of years, but never really knew how to explain, that is, my inability to count past four to six items.  One number is more or less easy to count and remember.  So are two or three numbers.  But, when I get upwards of four numbers, I start to want to write them down or find some other way of assisting my memory.  According to the author, this is universal in our species and hence the cross line in to five by lines and the switch to “IV” for “4” in Roman numbers.  Four line (“IIII”) somehow starts to fool the human eye and five lines is “forget about it” (“IIIII”).  The interesting thing (for me) was that I had personalized this and thought it was only me.  I’d never heard anyone else complain about not being able to count by ones, so I assumed I was the only one with this problem.
Perfect Figures” is full of historical anecdotes and cultural references which made the book even more enjoyable for me as I enjoy glimpses into understanding other times, nations, cultures and languages.  I would like to give this book an unqualified “highly recommended” review, but for some reason I’m hesitant.  Although the book is fairly short (about 260 pages), it took a long time to read (almost a month).  I enjoyed reading most of it, but I never felt compelled to get back to it like I do most books I end up being totally “into”.  Normally, I’d have expected to pour through this book in a day or two.  But I didn’t.  The closest I can describe it to is like an old friend who you only want to visit with a half hour at a time.  You “feel” like you should spend the whole day with them, but in the end, you spend a half-hour and say, “No, I’m good.  See you in a couple of days…”
Be that as it may, I did enjoy the book and do highly recommend it to anyone interested in a lateral view of numbers and counting and an understanding how mankind “may” have learned to count.
Other Notes:
Just finishing my third day of vacation.  I’m planning to catch the new “Spiderman” movie and just relax.  I’ve spent the last four days working on my “Honey-Do” list.  I’ve finished the floor trim in the bedroom we just installed laminated bamboo in.  I’ve also helped a workman I hired for a couple of days take care of some other jobs: we removed a falling down metal shed from the backyard and hung a swinging gate on the side of the house (which used to be a solid fence.  He also did some ground levelling and removed an old wall heater from our hallway.  All in all, a VERY productive few days off!
Last but not least, my Giants have now won four straight series since the All-Star break and have the “hated” Los Angeles Dodgers coming up this weekend.  Go Orange and Black!!
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Today’s entry is about a book I read and a movie I watched a couple of weeks ago but haven’t gotten around to reviewing.  The book is: “A Mathematician’s Apology” by G. H. Hardy, 1940©.  The movie is: “Act of Valor“.
Hardy’s “Apology” is a quasi-autobiographic discussion of math, ideas and science.  Hardy has a self-deprecating style which almost reaches the point of false modesty.  During his lifetime, Hardy was considered one of the five most brilliant mathematicians in the world.  His love for his subject – math, not himself – is evident; as is his sense of loss when he realizes he is too old to continue productive work.  As difficult as this may be for some to believe (me for example), most cutting edge mathematics is done by those under 30 years of age.  In fact, it is almost parallel with the life of a world-class athlete – demonstrate early potential (pre-teens), exceed your peers at an early age (pre-20’s), make your mark (pre-30’s), then (if you’re lucky) find others you can mentor and teach (post-30’s).
But what happens when you don’t want to admit you don’t have it any move?  Does it make you bitter, or just sad?  Or maybe, a bit of both.  This seems to be the case with Hardy.  I found this book on the $2.00 rack at my local used-book store.  I opened it and read the last two paragraphs which have been previously quoted, see:  “Life’s Last Question” and “Something Of Value“.  As I don’t personally share Hardy’s value system for evaluating one’s life, it is difficult for me to appreciate the sadness his words seem to relate, but I have enough empathy for him to appreciate his sense of gradual dissolution and fade into the unknown (death).  And, it doesn’t hurt to be getting on in years myself.
The movie: “Act of Valor” is your basic heroic action flick.  It’s claim to fame is that it uses some real-life Navy SEALs in the actors roles.  It is very gung-ho and American patriotic.  If you are into that (and I am), it’s a good action movie with bad acting.  If you can’t get past the “Rah-Rah America”, you’ll have a hard time getting through the bad acting to wait for the next action.  The special effects are just okay.  I liked the movie, but I can easily see why a lot of folks will not.  I got the DVD on the cheap, but I’d say most will wait another couple of months for this to move to TV.  To be honest, I enjoyed “Battle: Los Angeles” a lot more.  Just as much “Rah-Rah”, but much better acting and special effects.  Of course, “B:LA” was SciFi, not “made-up” battling terrorists.  Like I said, wait for it (“AoV”) to come to TV.
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Sometimes it can be a real effort to keep up with some of the things I’m trying to get across on this site.  Generally, I’m just commenting about things I see happening in my life or around me.  I try to relate my observations, books I’ve read, movies (and TV) I’ve seen, poetry and music I’ve listened to (mostly what’s moved me).  Occasionally, I want to say something, but I’m waiting for something else to happen or for an idea to gel in my head.  Sometimes the thing is important, usually it’s trivial – but it ends up being a blog-blocker anyway.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the Avengers movie.  I held off on reviewing it because I wanted to see it a second time (this time in 3D), before I cast anything in stone (or as “stone” as a blog can be).  Anyway, I’ve not been able to get around to a second showing, so I’m just going to go ahead with my review of my initial sitting.  If you see only one comic book / super-hero movie this year, the Avengers should be it!!
This movie has all the great things about a great action movie – heroes, believable villains, action / fights, special effects, reasonable story / plot, and a little romance and something hard to find in most movies – pacing.  But most of all this movie has two things:  it has humor sprinkled in liberally and it has the HULK!  Now if you’ve seen the other two Hulk movies, you’re probably saying, “yeah, right!”  Well, I am!  Downey (as Tony Stark / Ironman) carries the movie with wit and panache, Thor and Captain America provide the beefcake, and then the HULK shows up to steal the last 20 minutes.
Unfortunately for Batman and Spiderman, both to be released later this year – the bar now seems set impossibly high…  We’ll see.  Bottom line:  Highly recommended!!
Last night I completed “Weaving The Web” by Tim Berners-Lee (1999©).  Now, in case you’ve been living under a rock, TB-L is the man who invented the World Wide Web.  He also invented web servers and web browsers.  He came up with the ideas and then worked it out with a colleague (Robert Cailliau) and a student intern (Nicola Pellow).  This book is the story of what they did and how they did it.  It is a story of insight, foresight and individual effort to turn an idea into a grass-roots movement, into a world-wide phenomenon, into the World Wide Web we know today.
The book is relatively easy to read and pretty lacking in computer mumbo-jumbo, but it is not read without some effort (or at least some prior understanding of web / computer history).  I found TB-L’s ideas about the future of the web (the “semantic web”) to be very interesting and, looking back, I wish he had spent more time explaining it more clearly.  As it is, I went on to Google and TED to get more information about it.  Having just skimmed the surface, it is obvious this is where the future of information retrieval is going.  My challenge (or the challenge for any IT professional) is getting up to speed and grasping more than just the theory behind it.  That will require hands-on experience though and other than using my own time, I don’t see how that will happen (at work).
Anyway, it’s nice to be able to look ahead and see where the world is going…
Bottom line: I highly recommend this book to anyone in technology and anyone who wants to be reasonably well paid in the next 20-30 years.
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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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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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Today’s blog is a review of one book (“The Bed Of Procrustes“) and three movies (“Elektra“, “The Flight Of The Phoenix“, and “Kingdom Of Heaven“).  Book first…
The Bed Of Procrustes” is written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2010©) and is subtitled: “Philosophical And Practical Aphorisms“.  Taleb is famous for his prior work titled: “The Black Swan“.  That book was about something – his observation / theory that we humans are not very good at analysing probabilities and therefore make poor decisions which can seriously impact our lives, society and planet.  Part of what made the book interesting was Taleb’s frequent digressions into sarcasm and one-liners about various things he sees in our world.  This book, (“The Bed“…) skips the main story and just lists the remarks as a series of one-liners.  Because I love this kind of humor, I highly recommend this book.  On the other hand, you can simply follow this blog for the next few years and you’ll still get a number of his funniest quotes.  (Just kidding!)  Seriously, buy the book.  While it may be true that you will be able to pick up a number of the quotes from my site (over time), it’s not the same as reading them in the author’s intended format, structure or pace.  My site should never be considered a primary source for information – particularly regarding quotes.  It is only a venue for me to repeat words which have passed through my own consciousness then pinballed around enough to make it to this site.
Elektra” is another of the comic-book based movies I collect.  The title character previously appeared in the “Daredevil” movie as the love interest for that movie’s title character.  In this movie, the main character is resurrected (she dies in “Daredevil“) in order to save and protect a young girl who is destined to save the world from evil.  Blah, blah, blah – okay, it’s a comic book movie.  Is the movie any good?  It’s not as bad as I expected, but it’s a fairly mediocre effort.  Are the special effects great?  So-so.  Is it worth it for the martial arts?  Not really, but they’re not bad either.  The upside?  It’s nice to see female superheros get their own platform.  They tend to be lower tier titles in the comic universe and that remains true in the cinema universe too, which I think is too bad.  It seems to me, there should be a great opportunity for a breakout smash which could change a career and create a new market for a franchise – much on the line of “Aliens” for Sigourney Weaver.  But, it’s not this movie. Overall rating – recommend.
The second movie is “The Flight Of The Phoenix“.  This is the original from 1965 starring Jimmy Stewart and Richard Attenborough.  This was one of the first “survival” movies I ever saw and it captured my imagination.  Growing up in San Francisco, I had no real concept of a desert or of real heat.  (Now that I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia for two years I understand real heat.)  As I said, the whole idea of “survival” was a revelation to me.  Anyway, I really enjoyed this film way back when and when it came out on DVD I picked it up, watched it and then put up on the shelf with my other “classics from growing up”.  A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon the re-make starring Dennis Quaide, so I picked it up (see my review: Edge, Class, Clash, And Flight) and enjoyed it enough it made me want to go back to compare / contrast it with the original.  What I found surprised me…  Despite the great actors in the original, I prefer the remake!
This is a surprise because I almost always prefer the original. In this case, it felt dated (which it is given it was made 40 years ago), but the dating is not the time period, but the cinematography which somehow seems – not as good.  The original also feels longer.  It is, but that’s not the same as feeling that way.  My complaints about the re-make remain – primarily the extra “excitement” added to the ending and which adds nothing to the story, and the other minor complaints too, but all in all, I do feel the re-make is more watchable than the original.  I only wish there were a way to substitute the actors.  Overall rating: this remains a classic for the actors and the genre – highly recommend.
The third movie is “Kingdom Of Heaven” starring Orlando Bloom.  In researching the movie for this review, I found out it is based on actual characters and events.  It is fictionalized in that the characters aren’t the ones who did the acts portrayed in their roles, but they did exist in that time period and location.  For some reason, I thought it was entirely fictional.  Anyway, I am now an Orlando Bloom fan.  I just like him.  He wasn’t great in this role, but he was believable as the evolving blacksmith to knight-crusader.  I’ve now seen Bloom in a number of roles – Pirates series, Rings series, and Troy – and I just like him.  He’s not just another pretty (male) face with a funny accent.
Okay, back to “Kingdom…“.  Basically, a “good-guy caught in a bad situation where your allies are actually the villains and your opponents may actually be ‘better’ people than you” movie.  These movies follow a basic premise and natural story line and this one touches all of the bases.  Good-guy flees home, meets up with zen master to receive training, heroic survival, meets future opponent and they become friends, meets bad-guys who are your allies, and so-on until the good-guy lives happily ever after.
Does the movie work?  Absolutely!  Why?  Because I’m here to see the battles and they’re realistic – certainly more so than “Lord Of The Rings” and “Pirates Of The Caribbean“.  (But I digress.)  The acting is good and for once there’s a movie about the middle ages where everyone is dirty and they stay that way for most of the movie.  You see, it’s the small things I look for in  a movie.  On a political note – it was nice to see the Muslims portrayed as the more civilized of the two conflicting armies.  What a change from the post-9/11 mantra.  I’m not sure there was as much peaceful co-existence in reality as portrayed in the movie, but it was interesting to see a little balance.  Overall rating: highly recommend.
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On Saturday, I completed the 7th in the John Carter of Mars (JCoM) series book: “A Fighting Man Of Mars“, by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1930©).   I’ve been carrying the series around with me since my early 20’s, and couple of years ago I decided to bite the bullet and read them.  I actually read the first book in the series way back when, but never progressed to any of the others.  I managed to read the fist six and then stalled out.  I believed the series was about John Carter.  Actually, only about half the books are.  The rest are about his son, daughter, grand-daughter and this latest, about an arbitrary low ranking officer in the Helium Army.  (Helium is the city-state on Mars over which John Carter has become Warlord.)
As I thought I’d been recording the books I’ve read on this blog, I went back to see what my other (earlier) blogs said about the series – only to find out there is only the briefest of mentions that I’ve started reading the series and have completed the first five.  I then went back to see if the same was true for any number of other books I’d read and found it was(is).  I’ve therefore decided to go back and begin reviewing other books I’ve read.  I’ll try to come up with a notation of some type to indicate which are current reads and which are prior, but I haven’t come up with anything yet.
Anyway, there is a new John Carter of Mars movie coming out on March 9th which really looks promising, so I’m going to try to complete the series before then.  I believe the movie only covers the first and second book, so I may try to re-read those, too.
For anyone not familiar with Edgar Rice Burroughs, he’s the creator of the “Tarzan of the Apes” series of books which came out in serialized fashion back in the early 1900’s.  Roughly the same time, he was producing the John Carter series (from 1910-ish to 1940-ish).  As the time predates TV and air flight – let alone spaceflight, his novels are very much science fiction.  Beyond that though they are what I would call Sci-Fi/Sword and Romance novels.  I would estimate the target audience for teens to mid-twenties (about the same as now, but you could probably throw in some younger pre-teens) and mostly male.  Women are always “virginal” and men (good-guys) are always swashbuckling and heroic.  The reverse is also true for the “bad-guys” (and gals).  The bad women are always vicious and conniving and the men are always fat, detestable, frequently ugly, and almost always willing to “take” the heroine’s “honor” – usually by force, but sometimes by manipulation.
This book (“A Fighting Man Of Mars”) follows the familiar format: hero falls in love, love interest is kidnapped (becomes endangered), hero sets off on quest to save love interest.  Hero goes through many trials, but finally saves the love interest.  In this case, the twist is the initial love interest is undeserving and inevitably loses the hero to a more worthy love interest.  If you are intending to read this book (and are under 15 years of age) – stop reading here because I’m about to disclose the final plot twist.  The hero believes the new love interest to be a slave and on the last pages of the book, she is discovered to be a long lost (kidnapped AGAIN) princess of Helium.   And they live happily ever after…
As you can deduce from my review, the reason I stopped reading the books is they are not that interesting to me.  They are light, adventure novels with a little too much Victorian-era romance thrown in for my taste.  Will I complete the series?  Yes.  They are not bad; they’re just not that good.  They make a nice change from any heavy reading – kind of like watching a half-hour situation comedy on regular TV after watching a documentary on PBS.
A final thought, if you were trying to get your 8-10 year old son or grandson to enjoy reading, you could do worse than reading these to him…
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I’ve been mostly in bed all week (since last Friday) with a flu-like bug which has morphed into an inner-ear infection which has resulted in pretty bad dizziness (vertigo), a hacking cough, sinus headaches and all-around misery.  Sunday and Monday I was running a pretty good fever which finally crested at 102.5 and then broke about 10:00 PM on Monday night.   If I could just get rid of this dizziness, I’d be feeling pretty decent today.  Still, I shouldn’t complain.  I’m a lot better than I was…
Today was my first day back on my feet for any real length of time.  I went to the doctor’s office yesterday, but that was getting driven to and from (by Hil) and then sitting in the front office chair until they squeezed me in.  Then straight back to bed…  Anyway, this morning I was up long enough to make myself some new “Green-Juice” in my juicer.  I don’t know if it’ll help me get better, faster, but it was nice to move around a bit.
I’m trying out a new “blend” today.  This one isn’t near the hodge-podge I’ve been throwing together.  This one is: 1 bunch Kale, 1 bunch Celery, 1/2 white onion, 2 in of ginger, 2 apples, 8 large carrots – all juiced, with a bag of spinach and a bag of salad greens (mostly Romain lettuce) blended in.  I then added a slosh of lemon concentrate, a cup of apple juice, a cup of lemonade and a cup of orange juice.  This made two 64 oz bottles of “Green-Juice”.  The taste is a LOT better than the last batch I made which included various greens, radishes and beetroots and it doesn’t taste like dirt.  It DOES taste a lot like freshly cut and blended grass with onion and a twist of lemon.  …Which isn’t too bad actually!
You just have to keep telling yourself, “It’s good for me!”
I also made a 64 oz bottle of fruit juice from apple juice, four apples, two ripe bananas, lemon concentrate, lemonade, and orange juice.  That’s blended (not juiced) and it has a nice banana smoothie taste and texture.
It all took a while, because I feel like I’m moving in treacle, and I pretty much collapsed into a chair for rest afterwards.
So, now I’ve struggled over to my desktop to do this bit of blogging…
Believe it or not, I’ve managed to plough through three books so far this week.  The are: “That First Season“, “Marshall” and “Introducing Mathematics“.   Now I don’t promise my recollection of them to be all that great a week from now, but today I feel like I still remember the gist of each of the books.  So, here goes the review for each:
That First Season” is written by John Eisenberg (2009©).  The book traces the 1959 season of the Green Bay Packers.  This was Vince Lombardi’s first year as a head coach in the National Football League and how he turned his team around from the worst team in the league the prior year to a competitive team (they finished with a record of 9 wins and 5 losses).
The following decade, the 1960’s, was the Packer’s dynasty which included winning the first two (ever) SuperBowls.  Looking back, Lombardi was probably (definitely) one of the dominant professional coaches of my youth.  His supposed quote: “Winning isn’t the most important thing.  Winning is everything!” is probably the most iconic quote from my childhood years.
This book is about the year when it (the dynasty) could have gone another direction (and never been).  Obviously, it didn’t go the other way and this book attempts to capture the spirit of the man, the team and the town as the dynasty is created.  And, I must admit, does a very good job of it.  I’ve read several books about American football over the last couple of years and this is definitely the best of the lot.  This book is NOT about “X’s” and “O’s”, but you can, in fact, pick out quite a bit of theory if you read carefully.  Instead this book is about a time in history and a sport, a man, a town, a team and a season.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in sport, leadership or even as a study in chaos theory – where a small change of a starting factor can have a profound impact on a larger event.
The second book is “Marshall” (2010©), written by H. Paul Jeffers with Alan Axelrod.  This book is one of the “Great General Series” about “Lessons In Leadership“.  The book traces the life and legacy of General George C. Marshall.  Marshall is probably the greatest strategic, diplomatic and effective logistician America has ever produced.  In addition to being the top non-civilian commander throughout World War II, he was also the prime architect of the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after the war.  For his plan (the “Marshall Plan“), General Marshal, who was then U.S. Secretary of State was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.  He remains the only military commander to have been awarded the Peace Prize.
What follows is a mixed review.  That is because this is a very good book about a great man, however, I struggle to describe anything which makes it useful as a lesson in leadership.  General Marshall was an extremely private man, so merely tracing his life does little to provide insight into how he became a leader or what he considered in making his decisions.  One is left with simply observing the decisions and actions and attempting to derive the leadership lessons from the observations.  For some, this is more than enough.  For the General, I do not get this sense.
What is the reader left with then?  (This is redundant…)  A very private, dedicated man striving to achieve personal excellence in order to protect his nation; a man who returns to service for his country despite the petty attacks from those who are unfit to polish his shoes (Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin); and, a man who is the ultimate logistical problem solver at a global scale.  It’s too bad there wasn’t more information on how he did things or the what he thought about things before deciding to do them.  This is the second book I’ve read (recently) on the General, and unfortunately, I don’t believe there is any such work.  I already own another biography (so far, unread) on Marshall and am contemplating purchasing the four volume “Forrest Pogue” set which is considered the definitive version.  Why?  Because the idea of such a great leader and also such a great American …  fascinates me!!  Again, a very good read and highly recommended!
The third book is: “Introducing Mathematics”  (1999©) by Ziauddin Sardar, Jerry Ravetz and Rorin Van Loon.  This is another in the “Introducing” series which hopes to bring an overview of any given topic via a series of pictures and brief sentences/paragraphs about the great people and ideas related to the topic.  This time, the topic is math and the explanation covers from the dawn of civilization to the present and all of civilization (Eastern, Western, Egyptian, American Indian, Arabic, etc) too.  If you want a broad based overview of a lot of the main topics under math – including the people and timeframes – this is the book for you.  If you’re looking for in depth coverage and knowledge, it’s only a springboard.  In either case, it’s more than satisfactory and I highly recommend it, too.
How’s that for an unlikely trilogy?  Three high recommends…
And now, back to bed I stagger… (whew)
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Today a book review and a movie re-review.  The book is titled: “The Faiths Of Our Fathers” and the movie: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice“.
The Faiths Of Our Fathers” is written by Alf J. Mapp, Jr. (2003©).  Mapp is a colonial historian and this book is somewhat interesting in providing context about the differences in beliefs across the colonies.  Other than that, my own belief is that the author is biased towards “Christian” beliefs and caries this bias across in his writing.  The book attempts to offer a Catholic (Charles Carroll of Carrollton) and a Jew (Haym Solomon) as secondary evidence that one (an American of historical significance) can be deeply religious without being Protestant.  In fact, many of the most prominent founders – Washington, Jefferson and Franklin (for example) were Deists – they believed in a supreme being – but did not hold that being MUST be Christian (let alone a trinity).
While it is certainly true that most of the founding fathers were raised in a Christian faith, it is NOT accurate to portray them as devout Christians – which is definitely the feeling I was left with after reading this book.  For example: Washington did not partake of Communion.  When confronted about this and advised that others in the church found his actions “confusing”, Washington stopped attending services altogether.  Jefferson rewrote the Bible removing all references to miracles, because he considered them fantasy.  And, Franklin was a deist who questioned the divinity of Jesus Christ in his autobiography and in letters to friends.
As stated, the book is somewhat interesting as it describes the faiths during the time of the founding of the United States and it is a short book.  Other than those two observations, it is difficult to give this book more than a passing recommendation.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is a movie I saw with my kids on first release back in July of 2010  (my initial review is here).  I enjoyed the movie initially, and I thought even more highly of it after seeing it this second time.  I watched it on one of the cable movie channels, so there were no commercial interruptions.  While Nicolas Cage and Alfred Molina are the two “stars” of the movie (and Molina is pretty good in his bad-guy role; Cage less so as the good-guy), the real stars are the apprentice – Dave – and his lifelong (lost and rediscovered) girlfriend – Becky (played by Jay Baruchel and Teresa Palmer, respectively).  I don’t recall seeing either of them in any other roles, before or since, so I don’t have much to compare them with beyond this role.  In any case, Jay makes for a believable Nerd and Teresa holds her own as a beautiful girl who falls for a nerd (right, that’s gonna happen!)
The movie has good to great special effects and is a pleasant family movie with a minimum of blood, killings and swearing.  It was refreshing to watch a movie that was pleasant, entertaining and contained pretty good action scenes.  The “Fantasia” mop scene is pretty well re-created in the movie, which I felt added a little bit of movie geekiness to the movie.  As I tend to be a movie-geek, this was a plus for me.
One final note, as I did not see this back-to-back with another very good movie this time (last time I saw it the day after “Inception“), the movie came across even better than after the first viewing.  I highly recommend this movie.  Particularly now that you can watch it on cable.
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