Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Audiobook Review: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions- Randall Munroe (narrated by Wil Wheaton)

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical QuestionsWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've reviewed this book before, after I read it in less than 24 hours about a month before I got it as a Christmas gift last year (2014). While waiting on a book to come into the library I went ahead and listened to the audiobook version this time.
I don't have anything to add to my review really, other than my surprise at how well it held up despite lacking cartoon images and the jokes within. There really wasn't anything added by listening to this book, rather than reading it, in fact because of the loss of some jokes and it pictures it probably takes away from it. None-the-less, it was an entertaining and re-informative read. Also, this is the second book I have listened to with Wil Wheaton as the narrator and he is good at it. Will is very much my kind of nerd.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book Review: I Heart My Little A-Holes: A bunch of holy-crap moments no one ever told you about parenting- Karen Alpert

I Heart My Little A-Holes: A bunch of holy-crap moments no one ever told you about parentingI Heart My Little A-Holes: A bunch of holy-crap moments no one ever told you about parenting by Karen Alpert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was friggin' hilarious. I read it in about a day and cracked up laughing so much that I decided to share it with my wife and I read it through again that same weekend. There were a few times I disagreed with the author on her point of view about life, but overall it was very entertaining and it is nice to know that as a parent I am not the only one who as problems and difficulties raising my children. I've since started following her blog, Baby Sideburns. This book was worth a lot a great laughs.

(view spoiler)

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Monday, December 28, 2015

My Thought [Again] About a Listen-to-Book: The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know about the All-There-Is- Roberto Trotta

The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know about the All-There-IsThe Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know about the All-There-Is by Roberto Trotta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this book, like actually read it, earlier this year- and I wrote my thoughts about it then. This time read it again to pass the time while I waited for other books to come in to the book house to continue reading the group of books I am right now going through . Since I could listen to the book this time instead of reading it again, I decided to give it a chance. It works well as a listen-to-book, which surprised me, but the book could have been about a half of a half (or so) shorter, because at the beginning all of ten hundred most used words was read and that the end the whole word-explainer was read. I think I failed to point it out last time I wrote my thoughts about this book this book, but it not only explained the way we study the world around us really well it also had some very good choice of words to get the point across, like saying the student lady was "drinking a glass of red".

Again, the book pleased me, but really made me look forward to reading Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words when it comes out this fall.

If it has not been see-able already, I wrote these thoughts I had about the book in the same way the book wrote about The All-There-Is. This time, I used a different computer page to check my words, since the first writer Randall Munroe put one on his computer page.

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Book Review: Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi & Tales of the Jedi: The Sith Lords


I'm going to review this series of two audio productions together [Star Wars Tales of the Jedi & Star Wars Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith], there might be spoilers within.

I am not a fan of full-cast productions usually because it is often times hard to tell who is talking, unless there are really distinct voices, and because the lack of narrator makes some of the story telling awkward, because it puts a lot of explaining into the mouths of the characters rather than a narrator. This production however was not bad, although the transitions were awkward. Frequently, if not always, as one scene would finish with a noun the next scene would begin with someone else saying the same noun.

In regards to the story, the biggest downside is that in an attempt to elevate it to be on par with the movies, there are so many plot twists that they become too numerous to count and fairly obvious to see coming. Another pitfall, is that almost every Sith story sounds the same and I found myself confusing the story of Freedon Nadd with Marka Ragnos. The story line is solid and has since been so interwoven into other narratives that it became almost foundational. It is a shame that the other graphic novels in this series were also not adapted into audio, it does kind of leave you hanging if you are not familiar with the broader story.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Book Review: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of Tue Love and High Adventure: The 'good parts" version- Abridged by William Goldman

The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride by William Goldman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have check this book out of the library many times with the intent of reading it, but never was able to bring myself around to doing it. I remember my dad reading it at some point, and I think that he believed the story within a story idea (view spoiler), but then again maybe he explained it to me and I misunderstood. Either way, I did briefly [and re-internet] try to find the full version which also hindered me reading Goldman's version. I stumbled across this unabridged audio version at the end of the summer and decided to go ahead and give it a listen.

The movie is very true to the book. The book contained about two extra scenes, one of which was with Fezzik and Inigo going through Count Rugen's "Zoo of Death", which I wish could have been incorporated into the movie, if for not other reason than it was also funny and would have given those two more screen time. Of course, the similarities come because Goldman wrote both, but still the book seemed like an old friend as I read, and yet it also offered a new perspective that allowed me to appreciate both of them better. My biggest complain is that it was short and rarely are movie and book lengths so similar- a more elaborate book would have been welcomed.

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Haiatus from my Book Cycle and a Book Review of Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void- by Tim Lebbon

Into the Void: Star Wars Into the Void: Star Wars by Tim Lebbon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So as Episode VII looms and as Lucasfilm has mostly abandoned the prior set of Expanded Universe material under the "Legacy" label I felt it was finally time to go back and read the ones I have avoided the last few years as I waited for series to be completed [I no longer voluntarily read a series until all planned titles in the series have been published (excepting series I have already started)] and as I stuck to my cycle and avoided a lot of Star Wars books. I will also be re-reading a LOT of books as I have read many of them over and over again going back to junior high when I had limited access to EU titles and to audiobooks and listened to many of them on a cassette walkman while delivering newspapers or going to sleep. As I re-read these I will be reading in the in-universe order [the only other reasonable way to read them would be by publication date, but this breaks up a lot of series and is more difficult to retrace and follow]- there are some downsides to both methods of reading them through, but I figured since I originally listened to a lot of them in publication order it might be nice to have the new perspective of in-Universe chronological order. I will probably review series as a group rather than individually, but we will see. Anyway, on to this book.

Chronologically this is the first book in the Star Wars Universe, it takes place about 20,000 years before any other story and almost 26,000 years total before the Battle of Yavin in Star Wars Episode IV. It tells the story of Je'daii travelling around systems local to the Tython planet where the order started. Having not read the comic books I was not connected to the characters in the same way that I was in other series. At times the technology seems too well developed and futuristic- this is the downside of a complex sci-fi Universe it is difficult to keep advancing the tech in a realistic way without compromising much of what the fans love. None-the-less, this was an alright read. The drama between the protagonist and her brother, the antagonist, was a very predictable throughout the book. In the end other than pre-Jedi using swords and not really knowing the balance between dark side and light side I can't say that this book added a lot to the overall Universe.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book Review: The Problem of Pain- by C.S. Lewis

The Problem of Pain The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This has been the most enjoyable book by C.S. Lewis that I have read as an adult. The only one that tops it is the fictional tale The Screwtape Letters. I also found there was little with this book that I disagreed with, overall I agree that the existence of pain does not contradict a belief in God and Lewis does a very good job of laying out the argument that it even supports and points to a God. It was also very nice to hear a theologian not disputing science and evolution, although he did do this at the cost of treating the opening chapters of Genesis as allegory. To be honest, I wish he had spent more time there or had written a book on the topic during his life. It would nice to hear a theologian discuss the topic fairly without flat out rejecting either side. I think there are ways to make the two fit. Anyway, back to the book it was a good discussion of the topic and a book that I found little to argue or disagree with.

This is also the last book I read over the summer, other than kids books which I will not be reviewing and the Chemical Demonstrations series by Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, which I will not be reviewing until I read book 5 all the way through.  With that, I will be taking a break from my normal reading cycle and will be mindlessly listening to Star Wars EU audiobooks [as I outlined in my Labor Day post] until I finish them and some of my grad classes.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids- by Ken Jennings

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is the first of several that Ken Jennings has written that I have read. He also read the audiobook version. First, he is not the best narrator- a little slow [in fact, it has been a long while since I've checked a book so many times to make sure I was listening to it at x2 speed] and a little soft spoken [though this could be a problem in post-production and editing]. Beyond that this book is basically Mythbusters light. He takes a lot of common phrases, sayings, and ideas and explains that is true or false about each of them. Most of them are backed up by sound science and explained very well. I can't say that I learned a lot from the book, but there were a few phrases that maybe I had never given much consideration to and he explained them quite thoroughly. The book was labelled as "comedy" at my library and I would call it more trivia than humor, but there were a lot of great little quips, one-liners, and turns of phrase in the book.  Here's to hoping that false sayings from over-enthusiastic or uniformed parents will fade away.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: Catch-22- by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book, but I'm not sure I have clear direction on how to review it. The book is one of those classics that again is frequently assigned reading to students, but I never had it assigned to be read. I know I thought about picking it up several times and almost bought a copy when in high school. A lot of my curiosity came from it sparking a catch-phrase, which is used throughout the book and is hilarious almost every time it comes up. For those unfamiliar with it the phrase has a very similar meaning to "damned if you do, damned if you don't".
The book doesn't go in chronological order but instead sets the scene which is very odd, but humorous at the beginning. As the book continues most of the oddities are explained, but often times new oddities are brought up. The book does an amazing job of keeping you laughing at the humor of the situation and the complexities of politics, economics, and logistics of war. At the same time, it also quickly shifted gears between making you laugh and confronting you with the stark horrors of war. And even though the book showed how horrific war can be it did so without ever becoming gruesome. War is humorous and detestable but never grotesque.
I couldn't stop laughing throughout the book and have recommended it to family and friends already. It is not a book I would assign to high school students if I was a teacher [except maybe as an independent read for very mature students] because of the references to sex and the amount of language. Only other downside is its length, but well worth the time. It was a very enjoyable book that certainly belongs on lifetime reading lists.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Book Review: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress- by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having enjoyed Starship Troopers so much earlier this summer, I had a hard time waiting to read another science fiction book by Robert A. Heinlein. I had read elsewhere that this book is often considered his pinnacle (at least among his Hugo award winners). The book was good, but I did not like it more than Starship Troopers. Overall, as a futuristic book it is probably more realistic since it focuses on an underground Moon colony. The group of protagonists is an interesting mix of characters that are so diverse it makes the book enjoyable because it is easy to find someone to relate to. Of course, being a sci-fi novel so close to home (in time and space) it fell short on it predictions in several ways. I don't think Heinlein foresaw how advanced and all-pervasive computers would become because the main character that is a computer in many ways pales compared to what we can do today (except of course for the AI and the understanding of jokes). The book is about the Moon colony starting a revolution for independence from the Earth, but focused a little too much on the politics of the situation for my taste. Still it was a good book and it is no surprise that this one was an award winner too.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Review: Starship Troopers- by Robert A. Heinlein

Starship Troopers: Library Edition Starship Troopers: Library Edition by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, this review is out of chronological order, I read this book early in the summer [possibly, out of order while I waited for some others become available], but somehow I skipped it when writing reviews.  Anyway, better late that never, especially for such a good book.
I've never branched out too much in sci-fi. This is in part because often times it is a big commitment because the book are long to develop the world. So recently, I've been trying to read award winners [Hugo and/or Nebula Awards]. Robert A. Heinlein won four Hugo Awards during his life (and two posthumously), this book was the first of them that my library had available on audio. It is no surprise that he won the award because this book was great. I jumped right into the universe without a lot of setup and did a good job of filling in the gaps with a long flashback. The book held to a good pace and described believable future wars in a powered exosuit. It details a lot a interesting aspects of future society and moved at a good pace. I am excited to see the movie although as usual it sounds like it will not stack up well compared to the book.

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Book Review: Life of Pi- by Yann Martel

Life of Pi Life of Pi by Yann Martel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've put off watching the movie version of this book because I was determined to read it first. In addition to wanting to watch the movie I also had the desire to read the book on my own because the English teacher at my school assigns it to (freshmen?) students. If the goal of the book was to, as the teller of the story says, "Make me believe in God", the book fell well short of it. In fact, I'm not heard quite so much pantheism outside of the Unitarian Universalists I've had conversations with. Each of the monotheistic religions have fairly exclusive statements about their faith the exclude other faiths. However, the main story was not about religion but a boy and part of a zoo shipwrecked at sea. To some extent having read Unbroken recently I had trouble not drawing comparisons or thinking about records for survival being stranded at sea. However, if the book it taken as the fictional story that it is it was a very enjoyable read with a thought-provoking twist at the end.

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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Book Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity- by Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I chose to read this book both because of John Green's recommendation on vlogbrothers' book club and because of it winning the National Book Award. Even knowing so much about it I had obviously forgotten that it was a nonfiction book, because I choose it as my fiction read for this round of my cycle. Unfortunately, knowing that it is nonfiction makes many parts of the book all the more tragic because it is hard to believe that people int he modern world have to live under such horrible conditions. I've not enjoyed most of the fiction books that John Green has recommended, but the nonfiction books keep causing me to have moral crises about how I can live in western society when some much tragedy is going on in the world. The book made me think and it made me feel bad and it left me feeling a lot of despair, but overall I don't have too much to say about it.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Book Review: Ella Enchanted- by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't read the "back cover" or know anything about this book going into it other than it was a Newbery Honor book that my wife had read and casually recommended. It seems kind of obvious, but I didn't realize (view spoiler). I had a hard time getting into the book, in part because the reader was not the greatest and the volume and audio quality on the copy I had were low. For such a short book, I ended up re-listening to a lot of parts just to make sure I heard them. The blessing/curse that Ella has is quite amusing and the story was very enjoyable. It is nice to have a feminine protagonist who is able to stand up for herself. I've heard a lot of bad reviews about the movie version of this book, but I still look forward to giving it a chance. I started watching it one night during dinner with my daughters, but unfortunately we haven't had the time to finish it.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Book Review: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood- by James Gleick

The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book covered the information (pun intended) that I thought it would, but not in the way that I expected it to. The book seemed to jump around at points and only highlighted some things rather than being an overview of most/all things. I expected it to cover a lot more about the technology revolution and about data storage than it did; I also kind of expected it to cover more information theory than it did. Overall it was a good overview of the history of how we have communicated information, how we have transmitted it over distances, and unique takes on it. The book also covered a lot of different types of information and presented the idea that everything is information when you get down to the base level. There are lots of interesting anecdotes that were told, but often too many details were left out to make it enticing. The biggest downside of the book was that it was long, slow, and very dry.

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review: Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks- by Ben Goldacre

Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma FlacksBad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I cheated on my cycle and read two science books in a row. I suppose this one being pretty bland was my punishment for that mistake. I like being amused by bad science and hearing it debunked, but the book was very specific about a few bad ideas in science and not a broad overview. More specifically, the book is British and focused on bad science stories that are affecting the UK. Some of them were so unbelievably bad that I am having a hard time imagining that the ideas have as wide of a following as the author claims. If they do, then he does a good job debunking them, but I felt very disconnected from most of the issues he raised until he got to the last third of the book about medical issues. He focused on the issues of drug companies being in charge of policing themselves, of comparing new drugs to placebo-controlled trials rather than the best available alternative, extrapolating unintended results, and other ways that big pharma cuts corners. Additionally, there was an attack on the anti-vaccination movement that has hit the States hard and is something that I am passionate about because: 1) my daughter was gravely ill and has lingering problems because she didn't get a vaccine, and 2) herd health issues [including the illness and death of infants and young children who are put at risk because they are too young to yet get vaccinated. In that section, the author also mentioned [author:Aaron Carroll|2976372] by name, who I know from the YouTube channel Healthcare Triage. I haven't read any of Dr. Carroll's books yet, but he seems to be much more connected to bad science in [American] medical fields and I hope to be able to listen to one soon.
The greatest plus of this overly dull and difficult to connect to book was the last few paragraphs. Ben Goldacre wrote an eloquent and impassioned plea that should be required reading for all students entering medical, and probably all science fields, to be honest about the work they do and to make sure they hold individuals and the media who take what they say out of context accountable; scientists in all fields should develop good communication skills to build connections to society and to help society become more scientifically literate.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Book Review: Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History- by Florence Williams

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural HistoryBreasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heistated to admit that I was reading this book and so I was through a descent amount before I started tracking my progress on Goodreads. Admittedly I picked the book up because I was curious but I didn't expect it to be perverted or pornographic. It reminded me a lot of Bonk by Mary Roach without being anywhere near as humorous. Although, the section on the history of implants (a significantly smaller section than you'd think [pun intended] since a lot of the "unnatural" history focused on chemicals) was really good and interesting, especially how much size has gone up over time. The science was good, but dry and the author tended towards chemophobia.  Admittedly it is probably better safe than sorry with a lot of materials, especially plastics and food additives. I would also agree that it might be better to err on the side of caution with new chemicals and consider them hazardous until proven guilty. Unfortunately, since there is so much research left the be done this book did little but encourage the need for more information. It tried to portray itself as a book that gives out a lot of information, but instead was more a call for the need of new research, let's just hope it doesn't come too late.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Book Review: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion- by Sam Harris

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without ReligionWaking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I try to approach books with an open mind. As I go through my cycle I have religion/philosophy as a genre I try to read each cycle. An added little thing that I try to do is switch between Christian and other books each time I read. The non-Christian book doesn't have to be anti-Christian, just non-Christian. The last Sam Harris book I read wasn't terrible. It didn't convince me to abandon religion/Christianity, but it did make me think and it was more well argued than anything I've read or heard by the other two parts of the "New Atheist 'Trinity'" (Christopher Hutchins or Richard Dawkins). This is probably in part because Harris is actually a philosopher rather than having his main career in another field. None-the-less, other than me having a passing curiosity about meditation this book was a lot of crazy. Somehow, Harris argued that the self doesn't exist. I think I followed the argument, but I do not buy it, maybe I need to meditate to be enlightened, but it seems like a stretch to me. He also claims that although religion is bunk religious ideas can be good, especially if they are eastern and deal with mediation or a focus on oneself rather than a god. The other thing that really bothered me about the book is his insistence on finding a good guru to help guide you, and that he wasn't a good guru, and yet he tried to do the work anyway, rather than just recommending someone else's works. I'm sure you don't have to be an expert to teach beginning level stuff (after all I teach a variety of science topics and am not an expert on any specific field), but it seems to me that it would be better to be a guide who shows the way to good resources, rather than trying to be a poor resource to those being guided. Anyway, I'm glad this wasn't the first Harris book I read because otherwise I think I would have lost any respect I had for him.

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Monday, September 7, 2015

The 100th Post & 'Merica's Greatness

On Labor Day here it only seems fitting that for my 100th post I do a personal post and talk about something rather than just posting a book review as I've been doing a lot of lately (both because I'm trying to catch up and because I read a lot, 40 books, this summer).  It also turns out that my second post ever was on Labor Day weekend three years ago and is one of the only posts that I have ever edited for anything more than just minor typos.

Being a science teacher I talk about the metric system at the beginning of the school year in most of my classes.  Usually this provokes a conversation, especially among the older physics students, about whether I prefer the metric system, whether and why America should adopt the metric system, what I think is holding it back, and when (if ever) America will adopt the metric system.  This years conversation was no different except for two minor variations: 1) someone asked about the cost of conversion and whether it would be worth it and honestly it could get to be very expensive if we aren't careful, and 2) one student mentioned the following picture:

which isn't too different from:

I was caught a little off-guard by the comment and although I do find the joke humorous I also find it very sad.  First, I feel that I should explain the history behind the first picture before I talk about my thoughts on the real issue.

The first picture was used by NASA in the following form

when they decided to use the Metric system as part of the "Moon, Mars, and Beyond" initiative that has been stopped then changed and modified so many times that they seem pretty directionless, but I digress.  NASA made the decision to go all Metric now and in the future.  This makes cooperation with international partners easier and also helps to avoid problems, like the one that lost the Mars Climate Observer in 1999 when there was a miscommunication problem between the Imperial and Metric system.  This is why the scale Moon was added to the map.  So, when NASA used the image to emphasize they were going Metric it seemed a little obnoxious that it has been repurposed to gloat about the US making it to the Moon, but fails to recognize the irony.  Even if this is why the joke was made it is still annoying that something meant to recognize and give credit to the Metric system was turned against it.

So now to my actual thoughts.  Yes, the joke is funny, but it ignores several issues.  One of the biggest ones is how little America has continued to remain dominant in science and technology since the end of the Space Race.  We've done some with the computer revolution, but even so it pales to what we were.  Bragging about the Moon is great, at least it avoids the denialism that some have about the Moon landings, but as proud of that achievement as I am it is something that we achieved first 46 years ago and last did 43 years ago.  We are bragging about an accomplishment that we've not recreated, that we can't currently recreate [we don't even launch our own people into space, we are hitching rides with the Russians and hopefully soon with private companies].  In the 90s we almost built a particle accelerator that would have been capable of discovering the Higgs Boson two decades sooner than it was, but the project was cancelled.  There were maybe good reasons for canceling these programs and innovation does still occur in America, but not as much as it used to and we seem to lack the focus and the will to regain it.  As a whole there are large parts of our society that deny good science or think that you can pick and choose your facts- this is why there is still belief in Creationism and disbelief in Climate Change and the value of Vaccinations just to name a few of the controversial hot-button issues that seem to continuously come up.  I have become convinced that a lot of out modern woes like global warming, anti-vaxxers and community health, green energy, sustainable harvesting, and many others exist because of science denialism.  When someone is given the freedom to cherry-pick the facts they want to believe then they have free-reign to deny good science.  Ken Hamm, the Creationist, likes to argue that denying a literal account of Genesis 1-12 weakens the whole foundation of Biblical belief [and yet he still somehow welcomes and accepts Christians who don't believe that because it is not a Salvation issue even though he kind of makes it out to be]; well the same thing happens for science.  If we get to choose what facts we believe then the whole system begins to collapse when someone wants to deny good science.  Hamm, the Creationists, and many conservatives will sow doubt claiming that science is a system of beliefs, but facts are facts.

Next, the metric system is easier to use.  On the whole the numbers are cleaner and it is just a matter of moving decimals around [technically dividing and multiplying by powers of 10] to convert units.  In the English [let's be fair the Brits no longer use this one so we can't get away with blaming them] Imperial System we've had to memorize all sorts of conversion factors like: 12 inches in a 1 foot, 3 feet in a 1 yard, 5280 feet in a mile, and I still cannot keep liquid volumes straight.  Seriously, if I want to know cups in a gallon I can't go cups to gallons, I have to go cups to pints, pints to quarts, then quarts to gallons.  In the metric system all of this goes away.  This is because it has, for the most part [time and information differ] a base 10 system which is what our counting system is also.  Furthermore, the one fact that convinced my wife that we needed to go metric was NO FRACTIONS in the metric system, it is all decimals.

As to what is holding America back other than reluctance to change and ignorance/bias towards new ideas: sports and economics.  I think it was Neil DeGrasse Tyson who I first heard argue that sports got in the way because so many measurements are nice numbers in the Imperial system and complicated in the Metric system.  For example, with football 1 yard ≠ 1 meter, so the middle of the field would be closer to the 45 meter line [45.72 to be precise].  Forty-five just doesn't sound as nice.  Changing the distance to 50 meters is difficult because it adds almost 10 yards to the field.  This changes strategies and the challenge to players, maybe we give them 5 downs instead of 4 or maybe we make some other modification.  But then, if we make those changes, how do you compare records of the past to now [this is already the case when season lengths are different, especially in baseball] and the more practical issue, we can say we are changing the length of the field but that isn't easy to do in already existing stadiums and fields with set structures in place.  This really gets into the economics of conversions, they are not cheap and some will always cling to the old system.  There have been, however, nations in recent history [like Canada, America's hat] to make the conversion and it is doable.  In the long run, there might even be economic benefits when it comes to cooperating with other nations.

Will the US ever go metric, unfortunately I'm a pessimist on this one.  I think we will go Metric when we are forced to by other nations.  Right now, being a dominant nation on the global scale we can make international partners use our weird system, and we can ignore them and have our own system when they won't.  But someday, if and when, America isn't on top anymore a dominate nation like China or Japan or someone else will refuse to work with us until we convert and then we will be forced line up with the rest of the world.  Recently Hank Green kind of came to this same conclusion on his podcast.  This is not ideal and it is certainly not what I want.  I want to see us stay on top, or return to it.  When reading Packing for Mars a few years ago I became convinced that the new Asian Space Race that is happening will surpass what the US has done.  I'm afraid that if we wait to join it and compete against them that we will be doing too little too late.  But I told a student who is a huge NASA fan that my biggest fear about the new space race isn't that humans won't land on Mars in my lifetime, it is that it will not be the US and may not even be an international cooperation that includes a US crew member.  Space isn't the only way to win the glory and stay on top, and certainly adopting the Metric system isn't enough either, but I want new US accomplishments in science and technology that we can be proud of- to brag about and put us on top again.

I know the images above were just meant to be jokes and not really meant to evoke pride in the Imperial system or even necessarily America, but we need to update our accomplishments.  If we are always looking to a past that is nearly a half-century gone to say, "Look at how great we are," eventually everyone will realize what we are saying is "Look at how great we were."  Let's take science and our role in the geo-olitical-technological scheme seriously.  Let's be leaders and not followers we should have been the among the first to adopt the Metric system, and we need to once again strive to reach goals that are difficult so we can rise to that challenge and lead again.

On a totally random concluding note, last year I started a second graduate [Master's] degree and being full-time teacher and full-time student is pretty taxing.  I kept to my reading cycle, slowly, last school year.  Over the summer, I went through the cycle about 5 times [8 genres x 5 times = 40 books], but this year I am taking a break.  Ever since it was confirmed there would be a Star Wars Episode VII I have had the goal of going back and re-reading the Star Wars Expanded Universe books.  All the more since the announcement this past May that they were being removed from cannon to make way for a new story line in Episode VII.  So there are a few summer reviews I have left to type, but after that I'm listening to around 150 Star Wars novels, many of them abridged audio versions, and a large majority of those being ones I've listened to dozens, if not hundreds, of times before.  My plan is to listen to them in the in-universe chronological order.  It will be a fitting farewell to them [though who knows I may come back again] and a welcome break for my mind.  Especially, since although I discovered many great books and classics this summer, most of my favorites are still the sci-fi novels I read.  Of course, I am not limiting myself to Star Wars novels, but I will not be forcing myself to read anything I don't want to, other than my stupid Statistics textbook.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Book Review: Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography- by Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own AutobiographyNeil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. In addition to telling a lot of great stories it really did follow the format of an "choose your own adventure" book. Of course, this was more difficult with the audiobook, but it was still pulled off very well. It is certainly the funniest book I read this summer. It also made me want to find and watch all of NPH's Tony hosting songs and also Doogie Howser, M.D. which I still cannot believe he was 16 when they started filming it. Furthermore, I was amazed to learn that the magic tricks that Barney did in How I Met Your Mother, were actually real tricks that NHP did because he's studied a fair amount of magic. I was disappointed that some of his career was not detailed, like Stark Raving Mad (a show he did with Tony Shalhoub that I loved, but was cancelled after one season). None-the-less, it was a very enjoyable book. Added bonus, NPH was a great narrator.
One final note, I've also become interested in re-reading some actual choose your own adventure books.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Book Review: The Prince- by Ian Richardson

The PrinceThe Prince by Ian Richardson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book that we somehow ended up owning three copies of because it is a classic about politics that we own because it is a classic and my wife is a history teacher. Even so I had never read it. Like when I recently read The Science of Liberty I wish that I knew more specific details about history. There were some historical references in this book that were hard for me to follow, but overall I enjoyed it. Not that the book is necessarily good advice, but it does focus on how people can be manipulated and how someone can easily take advantage of human greed and sin nature. In the introduction Niccolò Machiavelli describes that being outside of royalty and rulers he has been able to be an observer and offer advice to those who are. Furthermore, he describes his lack of wealth restrict him from being able to give a gift and so this book of advice is the gift instead. I've read elsewhere, since reading the book, that it is thought that this book wasn't meant to necessarily serious advice and that the introduction was just setting the scene and not actually true- none-the-less it sets the scene really well. Also, loving Galileo Galilei I know a some of the history of the Medici family and was excited to learn that this book was directed to them during a time when they were not in complete power. Anyway, it was well worth the read and provided a lot of interesting thought provoking ideas.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: Island of the Blue Dolphins- by Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue DolphinsIsland of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book that I passed over so many times in elementary and junior high simply because I judged it by its cover. Mostly I was kind of sexist against the female main character on the front cover. Having read it now, I know that I would have liked it as a kid. As an adult the book was enjoy able as well. It reminded me of other survival novels like Hatchet, The River, and The Sign of the Beaver. Obviously, this seems to be a theme with Newbery winners. I can't say much about the book without spoiling it, so I'll simply say I enjoyed it and wished I had read it as a kid.

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking- by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingBlink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading Gladwell's first book The Tipping Point I was very excited to read this one. It read like a lot of the other pop psychology books that I've read before (59 Seconds, You Are Now Less Dumb, and to a lesser extent Thinking, Fast & Slow). I did not enjoy it as well as those other books, but it was an entertaining and informative read, I've just heard a lot of the ideas espoused in it elsewhere that I didn't learn as much from this one.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: Sarah, Plain and Tall- by Patricia MacLachlan

Sarah, Plain and Tall CD CollectionSarah, Plain and Tall CD Collection by Patricia MacLachlan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First this book was incredibly short and I am kind of surprised that it won the Newbery. It isn't that it is a bad book, it just didn't seem to be stellar. Having said that, I am sure my early elementary daughter would enjoy it and I suppose it is good to have quality literature at a younger audience level. This is another Newbery winner that my wife recommended I read.
Anyway, I didn't relate to the book, but I can imagine that students would, especially if their parents had separated or if one had passed away and they were nervous about having a step-parent. Essentially that is the plot of the book. It was predictable at times, but a sweet story, but I doubt I read or listen to the sequels.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review: The Bees- by Laline Paull

The BeesThe Bees by Laline Paull
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard about this book from my cousin over the Christmas holiday break. The first book that he recommended was very good which led me to have had high hopes for this book. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great.
The idea behind the story is a very good one. The story follows one bee from one cast who lives in a society [beehive] where the members are known by their number rather than a regular name. The downside is that this story would tend to be kind of dull, and so this bee breaks away from societal norms and going against the grain. This would be alright if somehow it either started a revolution [dystopian style] or minor infractions were done by multiple people, but in this book, the main character over-and-over again doesn't fit the mold and overcomes unbelievable odds to be the best bee at all jobs in the society.  Also, there were many times where the book was very predictable.  For a book that wasn't that long it took me a long time to read it because I wasn't too engaged with it and had trouble forcing myself to pick it up again.
Part of me wishes there was more science in the book to verify which parts are true and which are fiction. A lot of the book revolves around the organization of bee society and behavior. One example is the ""waggle dance", where bees wiggle to communicate information. In the book there are what seems like a lot of embellishments on this, so I wonder whether that information is true or if it is fiction. There are other things that are mentioned that I don't know about either way and would love to know what is fact and what is fiction. Furthermore, this book had a real opportunity to deal with real-world problems like colony collapse disorder, but avoided talking about it for the most part. I know it was only a work of fiction, but there's no reason the science can't be realistic or play a role.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review: Map That Changed the World: William Smith & the Birth of Modern Geology- by Simon Winchester

Map That Changed the World: William Smith & the Birth of Modern GeologyMap That Changed the World: William Smith & the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had two geology classes this summer that were field courses. As I went on them I decided it was probably time to re-read a couple of my favorite historical geology texts: The Map That Changed the World & The Seashell on the Mountaintop. In the end I only had time to listen to the first one. It also happens to be that this book was one of the first nonfiction books I ever listened to on CD because my home library had it on display and the title caught my attention. It is also certainly the first science nonfiction book that I listened to. In fact, without reading the cover, I assumed it would be about cartography or history rather than geology. The geology connection only made it more enjoyable to me.

There was a lot about this story that I had forgotten over time. One thing that jumped out at me was how long William Smith had financially troubles and yet what a short time he actually spent in debtors prison. Part of this confusion came from the book not being totally chronological order. Still it is a great fascinating tale about one man's lifelong obsession to undertake a project that left him financially ruined. Despite his work having such a major impact on the world it is a shame that the man has been nearly forgotten. Fortunately, Simon Winchester has done a great job retelling this man's life story- allowing him to be praised and remembered for his contribution to science and geology.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Book Review: Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens

Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the HeavensChasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was very excited to read this science book, but it was very dry. It was hard to listen to because there were so many names, dates, and places. It would have been nice to have a calendar and a map along with the book. It was a very thorough and detailed account of the 1761 and 1769 transits of Venus. The history was more detailed than a webpage I stumbled across earlier this year, but not much more entertaining. The importance of the transits was explained, and you felt heartbroken for the astronomers when bad weather or broken equipment got in the way. It was awesome to see and hear about the cooperation that existed between astronomers at the time, even if they weren't totally trusting of one another or withheld data from one another in the end. The book also made me appreciate that I was able to see on of the two transits, 2012, that occurred in my lifetime since there is such a long gap between them, but unfortunately I think there were too many details for me to consider teaching from it or to read it again.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Review: Ready Player One- by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel I should explain my history with this book before I actually review it. My cousin [OK, my wife's cousin's husband, who is also an elementary teacher] works at a bookstore and got a pre-release copy of this book. At the time, he was finishing up his Master's degree, working a full-time and part-time job, and reading other books so he passed it on to me thinking I might enjoy it. I was not as busy as he was, but I am a slow reader and prefer to listen to books and I put it off for a while, but had it sitting on the shelf of my classroom. Eventually a high school student of mine picked it up and loved it. I decided at that point, since the book had been released for real, that it would be OK to donate the book to my school's library. The librarian later told me that the book was never on the shelf and the student who read it first told me that he read it multiple times. I decided in the end that I should give it a shot and since I managed to find it on audio, and especially since the audiobook was read by Wil Wheaton. Lastly, I did hear that it was being turned into a movie.

I ended up listening to the book while on vacation and most of it while coming home from vacation. The book produced in me a nostalgia for old video games and the desire to have been immersed in that culture during the age of Atari and just a little before my time. This was somewhat reminiscent of when I read Console Wars which was more of my era of video games. Despite not being able to fully relate to the book, I did enjoy it. I have not made light of my disdain of dystopian novels. However, this one did not annoy me as much as many others have. I think that is in part because a lot of it took place in a virtual world and by the end of the virtual conflict (view spoiler).
Having said that with as much as the timeline drug out in the novel there were then times where things seemed to get solved way too quickly. Also, the book was of course more than just a story, and I was startled and put-off by the number of agendas that this book was trying to push on youth. I am not opposed to these messages necessarily, but even so I kind of was offended by how vehemently the messages were thrust on me, especially since I'm not sure a young adult would pick up on this so in the end the book left a bad taste in my mouth, despite having been a fairly enjoyable dystopian novel.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death- by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance with DeathSlaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a classic that I was very excited to read [in part because of Crash Course Literature's summaries of it, but it was a very odd book. I know that it is supposed to be surrealist novel but even so it was very hard to follow. I am sure that writing a story about the horrors of war in this way is one way to cope with the autocracies of war, but it also made the book very hard to relate to. I did enjoy and was amused by the idea of flashbacks being time-travel. Furthermore, I was reminded of the story In the Realms of the Unreal by Henry Drager which I originally stumbled upon because of Sufjan Steven's song "The Vivian Girls Are Visited In The Night By Saint Dargarius And His Squadron of Benevolent Butterflies". I became obsessed with learning about Henry Drager, whose book was never published and is classified as outsider art literature but seems to be very similar to this and very surreal.
Overall, I found this book too random and disjointed to follow or enjoy.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: The Martian- by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's not much I can say about this without spoiling it, but it was a great book. Certainly the best I read all summer. It is one of those books I will read again. I had heard about the book from several places, including it being a best book of the year by Goodreads. I hadn't given it much thought, but I did decide I might as well read it as my adult fiction book for my second cycle of the summer because it was kind of a way of cheating and getting a sci-fi book in instead. Days before I was able to start reading it Randall Munroe wrote about it in xkcd 1536 and I became really excited about reading it. All the more so when I saw the preview for the upcoming movie.

The book was very good, the science seemed very accurate, and I was really surprised at the amount of humor in the book. Towards the end some of the engineering seemed like a bit of a stretch, but still I was hooked and on the edge of my seat. I cannot praise it enough and I cannot wait to re-read it or for the movie.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Review:The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn't Exist- by Craig Groeschel

Christian AtheistThe Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this book as my religion one for my reading cycle, but I wasn't sure whether it was going to be for or against it at first, honestly I picked it up because the title interested me and I did not read a blurb or even the subtitle I don't think.
Anyway, it is pro-Christianity. The author's complaint is that many Christians do not live Christian lives, that is you wouldn't be able to tell whether they are Christian or atheist. He of course calls this Christian Atheism throughout the book, but it looses its shock value pretty quick and became kind of annoying after that because I think there are proper Biblical terms for a Christian who has slipped off the straight and narrow path. Also, I do not believe that salvation can be lost or that backsliding is any reason to question salvation.
Trhoughout the book I had trouble relating to the author because his Christian experience was so unlike anyone I know, and certainly unlike myself. Even my friends who were not raised in a Christian home didn't have backwards experiences or beliefs like he did. It does make for a humorous story, but at times the "Christianity" he believed and has grown up out of is unbelievable and that makes relating to it difficult. I wonder where the responsible adults and leaders in his life were when he needed them and feel blessed to have had the positive Christian education that I did.
None-the-less, despite the zaniness, I was convicted several times as I read the book about things that I need to do better. It was a much more impactful and powerful read than the prior Christian book (Radical) I read.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: If You Ask Me: And of Course You Won't- by Betty White

If You Ask Me: And of Course You Won'tIf You Ask Me: And of Course You Won't by Betty White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short, simple, and funny.
I don't know how much of my generation falls into my category, but I've become a fan of Betty White as an adult. I knew her from Golden Girls, but every time my babysitter was watching reruns of it, I was too young to really follow it [or want to follow it I have to be honest]. I've never really gone back and re-watched things that she has done and there is not a single series she has done that I have ever watched. Still I know her from a few commercials and plenty of guest appearances (and of course, the occasional Golden Girls rerun, my sister-in-law is a huge fan) and she is not only funny, but genuinely talented. She also seems to be truly humble about her fans and her fame. I do understand being shy and not a huge fan of people, none-the-less I disagree with helping animals and pets and investing in them over needy people. Still I can't fault her for this one quirk and she is open and honest about it. It was great to hear her read the book and she mentioned she had written several others, which I suppose makes the shortness of this one forgivable.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Book Review: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War- by Max Brooks

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie WarWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I held off on reading this book simply because I don't do well with horror and I wasn't sure how gruesome this book would be. I decided to give it a chance after listening to Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse. The telling a futuristic sci-fi story from the perspective of hindsight was simply a unique way to tell a story and since he was kind of inspired by this book I thought I would give it a chance. The book was so stellar I couldn't put it down and I finished in less than 24 hours. I think I enjoyed most how the book never repeated the perspective of any one point of view. I also enjoyed how it didn't hesitate to dabble into all of the "geo-political, religious, environmental, [economic] and social changes that result from the Zombie war". It was tragic and entertaining, chilling and wondrous- not to mention thought-provoking. And it did it without ever being too disturbing or creepy. The only regret I have, although I am sure I will remedy it when I get around to reading it again [it is one of the few books that I think I could re-read and enjoy], is that it was performed by an all-star cast and I kind of wish I had a list of who was portraying who while I listened to it at x2 speed. One of the books I read of this past summer that I would recommend most highly.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Review: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption- by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great book with a horrible title.
There are two things I dislike about this book one is the title and I will address that at the end of this review because it has spoilers. The other is in the introduction and although this might spoil things a little bit, it is seriously the opening pages of the book. (view spoiler)
Anyway the book is an amazing story of triumph over the tribulation of war and its horrors- specifically the horror of being a prisoner of war for some nations. In fact, the book made me wonder why we as Americans were so willing to forgive and pardon Japanese atrocities, but not Nazi ones. I'm not certain on my views, but I think it is slightly racist- we expected better of white Europeans, but not of Asian races. The other theory is simply one of guilt, that despite what they did during the war, we felt guilty about using The Bomb. I, of course, could be wrong, but that part of the story really sat wrong with me. [As a side note, I harbor nothing against the Japanese people- I spent two weeks there one summer in college and the only bad part of the experience was some of the people I was with].
I remember when I first heard about the book, it was an NPR article I heard while running an errand during the summer of 2014. Zamperini had just passed away and they summarized his story and mentioned it was being turned into a movie. My wife was doing work outside when I got home and I summarized the story even more to her and half-jokingly she said, "They don't make them like that anymore." My grandfather fought in the war and it is very easy at times to idolize him and others of The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw, put it, however, they were human and that is what is so great and so sad about his life immediately after the war. In the end there is redemption and triumph again, but there were many failures along with the successes, not to mention normal human quirks and faults. A very good and inspiring read, I finished in only one day.
And now for why I dislike the title: (view spoiler)

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Book Review: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History- by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth ExtinctionThe Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was the rare science book that I didn't really enjoy. It was kind of disappointing because it was hard to find an audiobook copy of it and once I located on it was constantly checked out and anytime it was on hold for me I was in the middle of something else [or not reading a science book because of the cycle of genres that I force myself to read]. So when things finally synced up for me to read the book I was very excited.
I am not saying the book was bad, just disappointing for what I expected. Some of that is my fault because I was under the impression that the book was about the five past extinctions and that the book would argue the case for the sixth one going on currently. Part of that is the fault of how the book was promoted, when I originally heard about it on the radio. Furthermore, the cover has the image of an animal from the last extinction, although (view spoiler).
I did learn quite a bit that I didn't know previously, and Elizabeth Kolbert was preaching to the choir with me, I don't need to be convinced that there is an major extinction event going on and that it is human caused. I was also surprised to learn, being an Ohio native, about what a big role the Cincinnati Zoo has played in trying to breed and preserve Sumatran Rhinos. My daughters actually went there a day or two after I had read the book so that was cool for them to get to see. The book is very heavy on the current extinctions and endangerment and is as much about ecology as it is about biology, but overall it was a good read.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Review: Yes, Please!- by Amy Poehler

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was my comedy choice on my reading cycle. Honestly, it just happened to be the book on my read later list that was available when it came time to read one and I wasn't particularly excited about it. Amy Poehler is good and funny, I don't hold the sexist view that women can't be funny which her friend Tina Fey maybe spent a little too much time arguing for her her book Bossypants. It is just that I have always thought Tina Fey was much funnier and even as much as I love Sarah Silverman I was a little disappointed when I listened to her book, The Bedwetter, this past spring. So I didn't have high expectations for this book.
In fact later winter and early Spring as my wife spent some time ill in bed she binge watched Parks and Recreation and kept trying to get me to watch it with her, but I was just not hooked in by it the way I was with 30 Rock and others. All of that said, I kind of regret not watching the show with my wife and fortunately have convinced her that after a short break from it we'll watch it together next time. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was funny and revealing. It made me nostalgic for some old SNL, although I think they've hit their stride again with the current cast. I still didn't laugh as hard or much as I have with Tina Fey's book, or Jim Gaffigan's or pretty much any of their stand-up routines, but going in with low expectations as I've already said I was very pleasantly surprised. I immediately recommended the book to my wife over several others she was hoping to read and I look forward to finally watching Parks & Rec or whatever project Amy takes on next.

EDIT/ADDENDUM: I tried the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp and she wasn't lead on the project so I can't blame her, but I couldn't make it through the first episode. Maybe if I had seen the movie and enjoyed it the humor of the show would be more relatable, but I doubt it- it was BAD!

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein, or the Modern PrometheusFrankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another classic that you are supposed to have read at some point in high school or college, but I never had it assigned and had never gotten around to picking it up on my own. In my college days it was probably because I was afraid of it being gruesome, if not scary. In recent times simply because I have learned more about the book and was afraid it would be dull or boring. I don't recall if the current English teacher at the school I teach at has every assigned this book, but I know the prior teacher did and I got mixed reviews from students. However, I picked this up one day this summer and couldn't put it down. I found myself in the kitchen listening to it and preparing a week's worth of meals, just to give myself the excuse to keep secluding myself to enjoy the book just a little longer. I ended up finishing the book in under 24 hours.
Of course, the portrayal of science was somewhat dated and at times very inaccurate, even in the sections not dealing with reanimating corpses. None-the-less I enjoyed the give and take debate between professors and archaic alchemical ideas. Victor also hit the nail on the head when he described the allure of science
"None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science. In other studies you go as far as others have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder."

I also loved how Victor wrestled with what he was doing and even became obsessive about his work. From there the dilemma that emerges and the wrestling with morality that takes place is riveting. Furthermore, I did not realize that the bride of Frankenstein's monster was from the original novel, I kind of always saw it as a Hollywood and cartoon knockoff. The book was much better than I ever imagined it would be. It did not stick with me quite as much, and was not as chilling as the ending of, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but it was a very good read. I certainly understand why this classic is so well enjoyed and would recommend it without hesitation.

Two asides:
1. I have written previously about how the vlog version, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, of Pride and Prejudice made me want to read the original. Since then that group has done their own version this book as well, Frankenstein M.D. I wish that I could say they inspired me to read this story, but in reality I felt that I was reading it in spite of their portrayal. Not that it was horrible, it just wasn't Lizzie Bennett Diaries good.

2. I couldn't find a good way to work it into the review above, but another quote from the novel that I fell in love with:
"Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock. I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling; but I learned that there was but one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death -- a state which I feared yet did not understand."
(emphasis added)

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Reivew: The Tipping Point- by Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceThe Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book by Malcolm Gladwell that I have read. I decided to start at his first one since I could and to work my way through them if I enjoyed the first one. To skip forward to the end, I will be reading his other books, in fact it has taken me so long to write this review that I have already read another one, Blink.
This book was good in that it looked for simple explanations of fads and crazes. I've seen the ideas espoused in the books come up in many places since then and I believe this points to them running true in many circumstances and that his ideas are gaining wide acceptance. One poor application/summary of his ideas was given in a TED talk that I like, but the distinction between that speakers three categories were not as clear as Gladwell's.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Book Review: The King Raven Trilogy: Hood, Scarlet, & Tuck- by Stephen Lawhead

I allow myself an exception in my normal reading cycle to read a whole series instead of breaking it up over multiple rounds. My wife has been a Stephen Lawhead fan for many years and has tried many times to get me to read him. I had always come across a struggle to find all of the books in a series on audiobook before and so this made it difficult. Recently, however, my library has added many of his books to their digital collection and so I checked out the complete King Raven Trilogy and finally gave him a chance. This review is of all three books in the series. I am pretty certain that I remember which parts came from which book, but there might be spoilers.

I enjoyed Hood quite a bit, but it was very slow. Lawhead seemed to give a lot of details and spend a descent amount of time focused on the details of daily life as part of setting the scene. However, it was an enjoyable retelling of the Robin Hood story and certainly a believable take on it. He explained at the end a minor bit of evidence that caused him to change the traditional setting and the story does fit well into the time period and the politics. Having read the full Wikipedia article on it in 2012, about the time my wife was reading Tuck the origins of the story are murky enough to make this take plausible. It also seems that the Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood borrowed minor things from this book. Once (view spoiler) the story and pace really picked up. The psychological and guerrilla warfare was very gripping to read. Honestly, it would have been OK if it ended there, even if it didn't cover the full legend.
However, the story continued in Scarlet and took an odd turn from there. It went from being third-person [limited I seem to recall] to first-person and followed Will Scarlet instead of Bran. The story again drug at times and we seemed to miss action that would have been included had the perspective been more inclusive, if nothing else, I felt a stronger connection to Bran than the new character. My only guess is that in addition wanting to tell the story from another perspective it helped Lawhead drag the story out into a trilogy and made it easier to develop the plot by hiding much of it away from the reader in other people's minds. The book wasn't bad, but no where near as good at the first in the series.
The story continued and concluded with Tuck. I seem to recall that this story had a mix of first and third person points of view, but either was it was better than the second in the series. The plot moved along nicely and the secrecy and subterfuge was very entertaining. It lacked the epic battle scene that so many versions of the Robin Hood, especially movie versions, seem to build up to, but part of this telling's charm is the unique take on the story and the retelling of it.
My wife has argued to me that this is one of her least favorite Lawhead books, just above his sci-fi novels. I remember her encouraging me to read it when it came out, but still I'll take her word on it. If that is the case then his others will probably be good, but I cannot say that I loved it or that I am eager to return to him as an author. Personally, I enjoyed it more because of the original take on the legend than for the writing itself.

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