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Posts Tagged ‘Recommended Reading’

Over the Labor Day Weekend, I finished reading the 14th novel in the “Dresden Files” series: “Cold Days“, written by Jim Butcher (2012©).  Now, obviously if you’ve read fourteen books in a series, you’re either getting paid to read them or you “really” enjoy them.  In this case, I enjoy them!
This novel is another in the installment of a good man (in this case a wizard with magic powers – Harry Dresden) with a small band of friends (humans, a werewolf, a vampire, and another wizard) using his powers to save the world (or at least most of the Mid-west of the North American continent).  Dresden lives in modern day Chicago.  All of these books follow a simple formula: hero meets a bad guy the hero cannot possibly defeat, hero somehow survives the encounter, hero muddles through some other bad situations while finding out what’s going on, hero defeats bad guy and in the process finds out more about himself and the over-arching storyline of the series.  (Spoiler Alert: the series is supposed to go on for twenty volumes, so there’s six more to go.  The titles come out approximately one per year and are available in hard bound, paper back and e-read at roughly the same time so the format is whatever you prefer.)
My son James is the person who turned me on to this series.  I noticed he was getting “into” a lot of books about witchcraft and magic, so I asked him what was up.  He started telling me about this series of books he was reading and he was enjoying them so much he was branching out into other areas – folklore, myths, horror stories, etc.  He’s now read Stoker (“Dracula”), Shelly (“Frankenstein”), Dante (“Inferno”), and many other classics  (Homer, etc…).  Although, I’ve never really been “into” this kind of literature (the combination of fantasy with mythology), I asked if I could borrow a couple to see what’s what.  This was about 2005, or so.  The first couple were [sic: was] fascinating because I knew nothing about either the folklore or mythology, nor much about wizardry (as opposed to “sleight-of-hand” magic).  While I still don’t know much “in-depth” about folklore or mythology, I now know a great deal more than I used to.
In my case, I don’t believe reading one title series provides a breadth of knowledge about a genre, merely a taste / sampling.  Also, from my limited exposure, myths are frequently modified to fit the story, so reading any single title series does not necessarily accurately relate a specific myth.   (This was particularly true in the “Percy Jackson” Greek mythology / fantasy series.)
You might ask, “Well, if the books all follow a formula, what’s keeping your interest?”  To tell, the truth, they did start to wear on me after about the sixth or seventh volume, but I took a break and returned to the remaining books with renewed energy.  I found two main interests: the characters (main and supporting, good and evil) are growing with each volume and the over arching storyline is starting to come together (or at least to come out to the main character).  And what do we learn / know?  It’s not our abilities which define us, it is our choices as to what we do with those abilities.  And the story arc?  There is always a struggle between “absolute” evil / chaos and “our” rational and slowly progressing world of understanding.  Both of these are, of course, “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” themes, and both themes are mentioned in the series.  Well, the Star Wars is.  The Harry Potter theme isn’t directly mentioned, but they (the two story themes) are so closely related they might as well be.  Dresden’s first name: “Harry”.  Duh!!
Anyway, this volume is a fast read like all of the others, and I recommend the series to anyone interested in the Sci-Fi / horror / fantasy genre.  I think they are easily digestible in three to four volumes at a time, then take a week break before starting back.  As I am writing this, I am reminded of the “binge” watching I do (on some holidays) of some TV series.  I think there must be a qualitative AND quantitative threshold to binging (that’s “binge – ing”) between viewing and reading.  At least for me there is…  I can do a whole day, 18+ hours of TV watching and I can certainly do the same for reading.  But many of these books are over 450 pages, which, to me, means several days after work, plus a weekend day (usually).  That level of sustained reading isn’t possible when you have a “real” life pulling you in multiple directions.  That’s why I advise tearing through a couple and then taking a break, then back at it.  Having said this, it’s one thing to watch the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in one day or watch all six of the Star Wars movies AND another thing again to watch all 170+ episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  The first two are “only” a solid day.  ST:TNG would be good fifteen (15) ten (10) hour days!!   That’s some serious viewing!!
I will close by cautioning that although these books are entertaining and the good guy wins out in the end, they are NOT suitable for children or pre-teens or even “queasy” young adults as they are graphic in the depiction of violence.
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On This Day In:
2012 How Did We Get Here?
2011 Labor Day Weekend Mishmash
More, More, More

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For the last two years, about this time, I make my Super Bowl predictions.  I try to pick the winner, predict the score and explain why.  So far, I’m zero(0) for two(2) on my picks.  However, I’m not so easily deterred that I won’t try again.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure I will have to admit that I am a lifetime San Francisco Forty Niners fan.  This means my “normal” sense of objective reasoning will have to be set aside for this posting.
I believe the 49ers will easily win the Super Bowl to the tune of something like 34 to 13.  That’s correct!  We will score four touchdowns and two field goals and they will score one touchdown and two field goals.
The 49ers met the Baltimore Ravens last season on Thanksgiving night and they defeated us 16 to 6.  They scored one touchdown and three field goals to our (only) two field goals.  The difference in the game was nine(9!) sacks of our quarterback (Alex Smith).  This was very much a defensive battle and Ray Lewis, the Ravens middle linebacker did not play due to injury.  This year, neither team has as good a defense as they had last year.  I personally think the age (and related slowness) of the Ravens linebackers will prove to be their downfall.  The Ravens other great linebacker (Suggs) has been slowed by injury this year and is not his pass rushing best any more.  Not to take too much credit from the Ravens that night, the fact is the game was played on a short week (for both teams) but we had to spend a day travelling to Baltimore.  I honestly feel it they had had to come to us OR if the game was on a normal Sunday, we would have prevailed.
On the other side, our new quarterback (Kaepernick) is much more athletic than our quarterback from last year (Smith).  Kaepernick is also a much better deep thrower than Smith.  I believe Kaepernick will open with runs to draw the Raven linebackers close, then throw to Vernon Davis (our tight end) in mid-range, and then go over the top (and center) to Randy Moss.  With the Ravens thinking center and deep, Kaepernick will switch to shorter routes (in and outside) to Michael Crabtree.  With the Ravens dropping back to protect the pass, the 49ers will interweave the ground pounding of Frank Gore.
The Ravens offense is a mirror of the 49ers, but not as good.  Flacco is a good deep thrower, but we have a better pass rush than they’ve seen in a while.  Pitta is a large target as a tight end, but he is not as fast as V. Davis and our linebackers are better pass defenders than the Raven’s are.  Reed is their best pass defender, but he has lost a step.
So, this will be a VERY physical game, but the 49ers should win handily…
The Genius” — Book Review:
About a month ago, I picked up: “The Genius” by David Harris (2008©).  The sub-title is: “How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty“.
To be honest, I was expecting another “puff-piece” about how great and good Bill Walsh was.  (Walsh passed away 30 July 2007.)  The reality is (was) that he was not a particularly nice man – even if he was a great head coach.  Walsh is made to seem almost bi-polar and manically depressive in this book.  I don’t question this impression.  I just wonder that twenty years after the fact, so much of this is “new” to me.  I bought this book expecting to “re-live” some of the good-old days.  The book is a very fast read (which I didn’t expect) and was perfect to squeeze in in-between our winning the NFC Conference Championship and going on to the Super Bowl.
If you are looking for a book to advise you how to build a winning football (or sports) program, this one won’t be of much use.  If you’re looking for an in-depth explanation of the “West Coast Offense”, sorry, still no joy here.  If you’re looking for how to evaluate college players for drafting to create a winning team, nope.  How to create a game plan or manage an actual game, nope and nope again.
So why is this book “good”?  (I highly recommend it!)
Because it reminds of what must be sacrificed in order to reach the top (of any profession) and stay there.  It is a cautionary tale of an intelligent, forward looking and forward thinking man who could not separate sports losses from personal failures and suffered terribly / emotionally for it.
Although I enjoyed every Walsh (49er) victory, I also found his personnel actions disloyal and sometimes despicable.  This was true “back in the day” (when they were happening) and more so as I read this book.  That’s not to say Walsh wasn’t doing these things for the good of the team.  It’s just I found them morally objectionable.
It seems, for the last chapters, that Walsh, after his own retirement, made a concerted effort to try to befriend the players he treated so badly during their careers.  I’m happy he was able to convince them there was nothing personal in his intent while he was coaching.  It is stated that many former players came to have great affection for him, even a sense of love.  I think this a “common” response among people who feel someone tried to get the very best out of them – even more than the person themself felt they had to offer.
It’s a shame that a “truer” genius could not have found a way to be both a great coach and a better person at the same time.
In conclusion – Go Niners!!  Beat the Ravens!!
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I “discovered” Kurt Vonnegut Jr. when I was going through my first Science-Fiction reading phase back in high school (way back in the late 60’s early 70’s).   I read a couple of his novels and really enjoyed them, so whenever I would stumble upon one of his books on a store shelf, I’d pick it up for my “library”.
I bought “Welcome to the Monkey House” (1968©) back in my Army days and have carried it around the world with me ever since.  Last summer (2011 that is), I took it along with me for its second trip to Liverpool, determined to read it.  I didn’t, but I read another Vonnegut (Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons), and it rekindled my interest so I set “Welcome” on my nightstand, hoping I’d get around to it sooner rather than later.  I guess since I bought it 40 years ago, reading it after another year and a bit is “sooner” rather than later…
Anyway, the book is absolutely terrific!!
It is a series of 25 short stories from Vonnegut’s early writing (50’s and 60’s).  A few are Sci-Fi related, but all are really about humanity.  Almost every story has a “twist” at the end which, for me, was unpredictable.  Okay, maybe not “unpredictable” as by the fourth or fifth you KNOW there will be a twist so you’re left trying to anticipate it, but most still surprised me.  Some will make you almost cry, some will make you almost laugh out loud, but all will make you feel better about yourself (and maybe even humanity).
The book is a very fast read.  The stories average 12 pages, so you can complete one and put the book down for a while as you wind your way through your day.  I had training in San Francisco during the week, so I read the first five or six stories on the BART  traveling to and from and then finished the book yesterday while home in bed with my kidney stones flaring up.  Very highly recommended!!!
Oh, in case you’re wondering how I know when I bought this book, when I was in the Army they used to make us write our names and the last four digits of our social security number in the book as it was a personal belonging which they would ship home in the event they had to ship you home too…
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Many years ago, I used to watch an interview show called: “The Dick Cavett Show“.  The host (Dick Cavett) was an intellectual who interviewed a wide variety of people.  If you saw the movie “Forrest Gump“, Dick Cavett was the guy interviewing John Lennon and Forrest Gump and implied this is where John came up with the idea for the lyrics to the song “Imagine“.
Anyway, in the show I was watching, Cavett was interviewing a couple of Cowboy poets.  Now, I never imagined there were such folks, but they read a few of their poems and I remember being very impressed.  I remember thinking, “If I ever get a chance to pick up one of their books, I will.”
Well, decades have gone by and I’d not found any (nor had I seriously looked), but about six weeks ago I had a dream in which the memory of the interview re-played.  As it rarely happens that I remember my dreams, I thought it amusing to have had this particular dream.  The following afternoon, I had to go to the bank which is immediately across the street from the used book store I frequent (Half-Price Books), so I thought I’d take a quick gander at the $2.00 closeouts.  Lo and behold, I found “Cowboy Poetry: A Gathering“, (1985©) edited by Hal Cannon.  As a firm believer in serendipity, I bought the book.
Some of the poems are intended to be humorous, some serious; but all have a “stuff of life” simpleness about them.  Friends, drinking, being alone, feeling loneliness (which is different), danger, and mainly freedom.  The freedom which comes from a sense of being part of the cycle of earth and nature and just getting “it” done – whatever “it” happens to be that day.
If you want to understand the “Western” mentality of Cowboys in America, this kind of work is a very good place to start.
It’s not Shakespeare or Nashville, but very much Chris LeDoux.  Recommended reading.
PS: if you’re not familiar with the works of Chris LeDoux, just YouTube his name.   Unfortunately, he has passed away, but his music remains…
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A couple of years ago, I got bit by the jogging bug to try to get back into a little shape.  I actually jogged 55 miles the week of my 55th birthday – which for me was quite an accomplishment.  Anyway, to go along with the jogging, I bought a bunch of books about running.  (No, I was not running, but even old men can dream about lost youth.)  Because (as Popeye would say) “I yam wat I yam”, I first Googled the 10 best running books of all time and “PRE – The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine” was on the list.  So, I put the book in my temporary storage so I would be on the lookout for it at my local used bookstore.  I found it, picked it up, and promptly shelved it for later.
And there it sat…
I got injured and have had other health issues which have kept me from my slow jogs, and without the jogs, the motivation to keep reading running books just wasn’t there anymore.
For whatever reason, on Wednesday I picked it off the shelf and started reading.  “PRE” was written by Tom Jordan (1997©, 2nd edition) and is a very typical biography about a very good athlete who died in a car accident at the age of 24.  In running terms, that is really just at the start of becoming a “full-strength” man.  Runners can start running early – as children – but they don’t have the body mass / physical strength acquired from about the ages of 25 through 30 to be their personal optimal level.  So, Prefontaine passed away before he really had a chance to be a “GREAT” winner as well as a great running prodigy.  He had raced in the 1972 Olympics, but didn’t do well.  Although not favored to win in the 1976 Olympics, it seems certain he would have done well and maybe even medalled.  He was definitely America’s best runner at more than a mile and up to 10K for about 5 years.
To make a long story short, Prefontaine flipped his car and wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.  He might have survived, but instead he was crushed by the car.
The book is a series of short anecdotes and quotes from folks who knew Prefontaine.  Unfortunately, not many did; and those who did, said they did not know him well.  The book, therefore, lacks a central story-teller to bring life to the person.  We are left with just his records, the quotes of those he ran against, and the quotes of the fans/observers he inspired.  The book, like the central character left me with a sense of unfulfilled promise.  Yes, his life was cut short, but what story we had was also unexplained and perhaps unexplainable.
It’s a good enough read, but it’s not likely to be one of the 10 best books about running I’ll ever read.  So, what’s the bottom line?  This is a recommend because it’s short, a fast read, and Steve Prefontaine seems like he was an interesting subject to have a bio about.  The flip side is there is no “Aha” moment when you crest the top of the hill and get the magnificent view (understanding) of the valley spread out before you.  Instead, there is an early nightfall and darkness just before you reach the crest.  Disappointment for what might have been…
The reason for the long intro/preface to this blog is because when I finished the book, I was looking at the photos of the accident site which shows the rock face the car rolled into.  The date on the rock is 30 May 1975.  The day I began reading the book – 30 May 2012.  Life is full of coincidences.  Yesterday (31 May), after finishing the book, I went out for an early evening jog – my first in months and months due to my kidney and gall stone issues.  I didn’t go far and I didn’t go fast, but it felt good to be out there in the heat and the air, simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Rest In Peace, Pre…
To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the Gift.”   —   Steve Prefontaine
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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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On This Day In:

 

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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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One of the books I’ve recently completed is: “The Roving Mind“, by Isaac Asimov (New Edition 1997©) originally copyrighted 1983©.   The book is a collection of articles published over a 15 year span and covering a wide range of topics including Religion, Science, Population, the Future and some personal stories.  The book is sort of mini-tribute to the author as it has brief tributes / forwards by some of the greatest science and science fiction writers of all time as an addition to the “new edition”.
Whenever you think of Science Fiction, you should think of the BIG three: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.  But of these, Clarke and Asimov wrote about both fiction and science fact.  I personally feel the comparison ends there.  Asimov wrote over 500 books in his lifetime!!  Many were fiction (science fiction), but he also wrote about history, philosophy, and basic sciences (math, chemistry and physics).  But, stop for a minute and think about that – 500 books!  That’s more than most people read in their lifetime, let alone write.
Anyway, I digress – as usual.  If anyone could convince me to become either an agnostic or an atheist (they can’t, but if they could), it would be Asimov.  For me, his writing is so clean and his reasoning and explanations so clear, it is hard for me to imagine there being anything in science or philosophy which Asimov could not turn into a popularized title for the general public.
This book has 62 articles and the first section (of six articles) is titled: “The Religious Radicals“.  If you want to see where the country is headed and how the current path was predictable as early as 1983, this section is worth the price of the book itself.  It is a bone-chilling, frightening indictment of anti-science / fundamental Christian faith in America which, if anything, is more true today than it was in 1983.
I grew up reading Asimov.  When I was a teen I read his hundredth book: “Opus 100“, which was a book similar to this in that it was a collection of works.  I was amazed back then that anyone could write 100 books.  Forty odd years later, Asimov continues to amaze me and make me think.  Asimov passed away in 1992 and we may never see his like again…
Highly recommended!!
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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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This week I completed two books – one very good and one not very good.
The very good book is titled: “On Becoming A Leader” (2003©) and was written by Warren Bennis  – updated version from the original published in 1989.  Bennis is considered to be the “father” of the developed leader school.  His mantra is that leaders are not born, they are made.  Some are made by history, but Bennis goes farther in that he believes many (if not most) make themselves.  They (leaders in process) have various ways of “making” themselves, but ultimately they follow similar paths to becoming a leader.  The book is meant to lend framework to the path – partly to define the framework, but mostly to lay out the map for readers (leaders in process).
Shakespeare states: “Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”  This is a quote often seen when discussing how great leaders come to be.  I believe all three are true for “historic” leaders and am not convinced that any one is more prevalent than the other two.  I do feel that history and luck play the biggest role in “greatness”, though.
Bennis is firmly in the “achieving” camp.  It should be pointed out there is a difference between “greatness” and “leadership” and Bennis is concerned with the latter and not the former.  This book is his version of “how” to become a leader – the personal traits you need to develop, how you should lead, and how you must form your organization or how it will form you.  There is a statement that great leaders understand themselves and “express” their nature fully.  This is the part where I start to fall away from Bennis.  While I can understand “warm-fuzzy psycho-babble”, it’s not my cup of tea.  It simply doesn’t “resonate” with me.  This may simply be because I’m not a “great” leader and I’m therefore not  able to feel the “expressive” nature of great leadership hidden away in me.  (But, I doubt it…)
Anyway, as negative as the preceding paragraphs sound, this is actually a VERY good book and I highly recommend it – not because I believe everything Bennis says, but rather because I love his use of language.  I probably hope that being “fully expressive” is all it takes to be a great leader, because this implies I may still develop into a great leader myself.  (But, I doubt it…)
By the way, this was another $2 clearance book at Half-Price Books (and worth ten times as much), and you’ll be seeing frequent quotes from the book in future posts.
The second book is titled: “Marathoning A-Z” and was written by Hal Higdon (2002©).  The book is sub-titled: “500 Ways to Run Better, Faster,and Smarter“.  The book is a series of alphabetically sorted snippets from his question and answer columns and emails about running.  The book is a very fast read.  This is partly because each offering truly is a snippet and partly because there is almost nothing stated which makes one pause to think.  As such, I could not recommend this book to any but the most rank beginner of a runner.  Even then I’d qualify the book to them by stating at least 20 to 30 of the items are repeated in a different alphabet letter.  I’m not sure if this was meant to introduce humor or simply filler because you’ve promised the publisher 500 items.  (I have a feeling it’s the latter…)  Sadly, this was NOT a $2 book for me.  It was $4.95 and I was over-charged about $4 in value vs cost.  Save your money and check this out of a library.  Better yet, just go out and start jogging.  You’ll get more from jogging yourself than you will ever get from this book.
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Today I finished reading “The Runner And The Path“, by Dean Ottati (2002).  This is another of the $2 books I’ve picked up at Half-Price Books on the outside rack.  I bought it on the strength of 1) it’s about running; 2) the author/runner lives locally (in Walnut Creek); and, 3) from the inside the cover notes the book came across as quasi-philosophical.  The book is all three and more.
The author is an account manager (an “executive”) in a technology company.  Feeling a bit out of shape, he takes up running as a hobby and discovers that over time, it shows him an entirely new side of himself which he never made time to observe before.  The author learns (between running and talking with his running friends) to listen to his own heart.  Not the the physical heart beating away in his chest, but the heart beating away in his soul.
The book is a mild indictment of corporate America, because the author ultimately decides (after his review,) that he doesn’t always want to be fighting on the corporate ladder and that there is more to life than “just” more – more money, more authority, more stuff.  The author does admit he has been lucky and he’s fortunate enough to be in a position to back off of the rat race so his conclusions “ring” true, however, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope for the non-executives (regular workers) or those who can’t step off the ladder.
Other than those minor comments, I found the book to be very enjoyable – like talking with a new acquaintance whom you discover you have a lot in common with.  The authors writing style, even when he lapses into philosophy, is conversational and therefore a quick read.  And he does have a way with words, which means you’ll be seeing quotes from this book from time to time.
All in all, I recommend the book for those who have never really looked up from their “path” to see where it is actually taking them.
Finally, I must admit I kept waiting for a reference to Frost’s “The Road Not Taken“, but it never came.  An opportunity missed by the author…
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This morning I’ve added two new entries to my Poems page: Trees and Time Is…
“Trees” is, of course, a wonderful little poem – particularly for re-incarnated “Ents” (like me!).  I believe it was Robert Heinlein who said everyone should plant a tree at some point in their life.  I completely agree.  Planting trees is like having children.  It is a commitment to the future.  It is an expression of hope.  Time passing, seasons turning, growth rings and bark – just like life.
Have you hugged a tree lately?  As ridiculous as hugging trees may seem, it’s my experience that it’s very rare for someone to hug a tree and not leave it without a big smile on their face and usually a laugh (or chuckle) too.
Doesn’t everyone know the best cure for everything wrong with a person is hugs, smiles and laughter?  I think of them as living medicine.
“Time Is…” is actually a quote and not a poem.  But it has always had the “poem” feel to me.  I first read this quote when I was a youngster riding the San Francisco Muni bus to school.  They had a program to bring poetry and quotes to the masses.  I loved looking for the newest entry on each bus and occasionally you’d get on a bus which had multiple poems or all poems (instead of advertising)!  Then you had to move slowly down the length of the bus as you rode along to your destination.  If I ever had the money to do so, that’s one of the ways I’d pay-forward for the joy someone else gave me way back when.
Enjoy!
The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out  —  book review
Yesterday, I completed my fourth book by Richard P. Feynman.  This one is titled: “The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out” (1999©).  The book is a collection of short “works” (speeches, interviews, and writings) by Dr. Feynman and was edited by Jeffrey Robbins.  Some of the stories I’d already read in Feynman’s other books, but the writing is so clear and the thoughts so beautiful you’re not left feeling like you’ve paid for a new book and only got a re-hash.  Of course, there will be many quotes from this book appearing on this blog from time to time.  After all, I’m still working through the quotes from the other three books.
As usual (for this author), this book is book is both highly thought provoking and highly recommended.  I hate to admit it, but I’m really starting to feel compelled to buy and read some of his serious (non-story) books.  I feel as if I’ve met (and lost again) a long lost friend.  It’s a shame he’s passed away (back in 1988).
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Last Saturday I finished reading “The China Study“, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II (2006©).   Basically, the book is about using a plant-based diet to extend your life and improve / maintain your health.  The title comes from an extensive study of diet (what people normally eat as opposed to what people eat to lose weight) in the majority of rural counties in China which the author believes found a correlation between the amount of animal protein consumed and the level of several diseases (heart disease, diabetes and various forms of cancer).
The author acknowledges that correlation is not causation, but he proposes that based on the results of the study, we should forego the traditional “Western Diet” of meat, eggs, dairy and oils and return to a simpler diet consisting exclusively of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits and nuts) and preferably raw foods.
I got this book from my sister, who is currently a practicing vegetarian.  She loaned it to me because Hil and I were discussing the book “Eat To Live” with her.  (See my review here.)  Anyway, she said although she has not read “Eat To Live“, it sounds very much like a book she has read (“The China Study“).  So I appropriated it for the masses (or should I say massive – me).
I found the book fairly interesting (and quotable), but also a bit overbearing in parts.  The main problem with reading this kind of book is that if you’re already inclined to agree with the author, very little the author says will seem incorrect.  The three things I most agree with are 1.) excessive meat (beef, poultry, pork and fish) and dairy consumption can lead to poor health,  2) excessive reductionism in scientific research of complex systems can lead to faulty conclusions, and, 3) the government is not necessarily on the people’s side when it comes to nutrition and food.
The fundamental question is: “How much meat and dairy are too much?”  The author proposes any at all should be considered too much.  That’s a pretty tough standard.  At least in the “Eat To Live” book the author recognized almost nobody is going to go completely without meat.
Does the book, “prove” its claims.  No.  Does it make sense?  Yes, it feels intuitively correct (recognizing my personal bias going into the reading of the book).  Is the book worth reading?  I believe it is.  Will I ever stick to the recommendations?  Nope.  Not a chance…  I enjoy eating meat and will have it occasionally.  I will have it less frequently than before and when I do have meat in my meal, I will make an effort to eat less of it than I would before, but I can’t imagine going through the rest of my life with no meat whatsoever.
By the way, in my own personal struggle with weight and health – I do feel much better since moving to a “mostly” plant-based and “mostly” unprocessed foods diet.  I do seem to be losing weight slowly and I am still doing it while “mostly” not being hungry.  The down side is I can really feel the difference (mostly bloating) when I do indulge in meat, sugar or salt.  Still, while a “down side”, I’m not sure such cognitive recognition is a negative.  It’s kind of like my body saying, “See, this is the price you pay for eating that way…”  Only now, I can hear my body saying it much more clearly.
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Book Review:  “Everton Strange But Blue” (2010©)
Last Thursday I finished reading: “Everton Strange But Blue“, by Gavin Buckland (2010©).   The book was originally published in 2007, but it is updated yearly.  The author is what is affectionately known in England as a “stathead”.  That is, someone who loves (and does) keep track of the arcane knowledge of something – in this case, Everton Football Club, otherwise known as “the Blues”.  Fans of the team are also known as “Blues”.
First, a little background information.  Everton is one the oldest football (aka: soccer) clubs in England.  It is one of the two best clubs on Merseyside (aka: Liverpool), the other one being the Everton Reserves.  (Just kidding.  It’s and old joke, but it still works…)  The other, of course, being the Liverpool Football Club, otherwise known as “the Reds”.  (Manchester United fans might dispute this as their club is also know as the “Reds” and they are only a stones throw up the Mersey River.)
Anyway, getting back to the book, this was a going away present from a friend (a Blue) at the end of our trip to visit Hil’s family during this last summer.  Everyone knows I’m a avid reader, so I’m easy to get presents for.  Anyway (again), this book is a collection of short stories about interesting and unusual statistical facts about Everton F.C.  The book is well written with obvious enthusiasm by someone who clearly loves both the Blues and statistics.  There in lies my problems with the book.  “Footie” in England is not essentially a sporting event.  It is intertwined with the culture in a way that is not fully approachable for an outsider (like me) to appreciate.  The U.K. is a small enough country that you can actually attend many of the away games by car and until recently (the last 15-20 years) was reasonably enough priced that the average person could attend many home games.  The closest social / sporting equivalent in the U.S. would be the American football SuperBowl.  Even this isn’t the same, because it’s held on neutral ground, it’s only one game a year, and tickets are virtually unobtainable for the average person.  But we do hold SuperBowl parties which create the social / cultural equivalence (somewhat).
My point being, (you knew I’d get around to it eventually) while the book is full of wonderful trivia, which I normally love, I don’t have the lifelong fan experience to appreciate much of the nuances of trivial subtleties the author covers.  For example, games with four goalie changes, or games which are lost by multiple own-goals.  They are interesting occurrences, but I have not shared in the emotional depression of such a loss and so mean less to me (except as historical footnotes).  I remember being shocked by the murder of a South American player because he has scored an own goal in a World Cup match and his country was eliminated from the tournament.  The player was machine-gunned down at a restaurant after returning home.  Now THAT is a fan taking your sport a bit TOO seriously.
The second problem I had with the book – which is why it took me so long to complete – was there was no discernible theme.  By this I mean, there were no clear sections, “Here’s a few of our worst losses”; “Here’s a few of our greatest wins”; or even, the most simple – chronological – highs and lows from the earliest days to the present.  Having said this, I should say the 50 stories are chronological, it’s just that the stories don’t seem interesting that way.  Two or three goalie stories may be separated by 30 or 40 years, so by the time you get to the second or third story, I had lost track of the first.  This happened to me repeatedly while picking the book up and putting it down and I never got the feeling that reading the book straight through would have altered the perception.
The best thing about the book was (and is) the language.  “Scouse” is the local dialect of British English spoken on Merseyside.  For Brits, it’s an inflection or slurring or dropping of syllables and words.  For me, Scouse is poetry and imagery and humor.  It’s an imprecise description which means nothing and yet says everything.  One example: “the center-half finished the match courageously.”  What the heck does that mean?  Who was he (no name), what did he do (not stated), and most importantly what was courageous about it (undefined).  It says nothing, but it leaves it to your imagination to fill in the blanks.  In some ways, this is the greatest of storytelling.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend this to someone interested in enjoying the flavor of Scouse storytelling or to anyone who is a hardcore Blue stathead.  I would moderately recommend it to anyone who is a casual stathead or a Blue fan who wants to know more about the history of the club.  I’m not sure many others would find the book anything else but “quirky” and nerdy.
And by the way, thanks to my friend Dave, who gave me the book and who is one of those great Scouse storytellers, himself.  Over the years and during this latest trip, I’ve spent many hours enjoying Dave and my brother-in-law Robbie (another Blue) trading stories over a pint.  It’s a shame he doesn’t write his own book (or blog) on growing up in Liverpool, following Everton F.C. and working at Ford’s.  Now, that would be book worth reading!
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