Thursday, March 12, 2015

cell

I'm getting low on reading material, so I gave Cell, by Robin Cook a go.

Myeh.

Almost as soon as I started reading, I could see where it was going and had a pretty good idea how it would end. I was pretty close on both counts. What I really had a problem with is the main character, George something. Sorry, Dr. George something. Dr. George is getting the creeping suspicion that something may be up with a new medical device/system that is all the rage and is currently in trials. His suspicion revolves around the fact that everyone he meets who is involved in the medical trial dies.

And that gets Dr. George thinking: Hmmm.... Maybe something is up?

Ya think?

But what really gets me is that George tries to maintain his objectivity. We keep hearing about how Dr. George thinks this new system is swell, and how it may revolutionize medicine. And this is AFTER he has begun to seriously question whether or not its killing people! Including his friends! And Loved Ones! shouldn't be hasty

I think I read Coma back in the late 70s, early 80s when it was all the rage, and the made a movie based on it. Naked coma patients hanging from wires. All very titillating and spooky. But not that good, if I recall.

Cell is a sleeper. see what I did there




Sunday, March 8, 2015

s

So I read--or experienced--S by Doug Dorst. A concept for a book-like entertainment... thing, created by the director/producer J.J. Abrams.

S, which is like nothing else in the book store, is also packaged differently than most books. One will occasionally find a book shrink wrapped; typically to preserve its content from the damage caused by thumbing at the store, or to prevent damage to young and impressionable minds due to its racy content. S is shrink wrapped because its cover quick, look to the left is not the actual cover of the book. Nor is it a book jacket, or even one of those cool boxes called a slipcase, that you slide your book into, altho its probably most similar to the last one there. It is, more exactly, the packaging. Inside the packaging is the actual book. I'm not sure if you, dear reader, will consider some of the following spoilers, exactly, but I am about to discuss what is inside the package... ssshhhh The book itself is not called S, but The Ship of Theseus.

Herein begins the experience. See, The Ship of Theseus is not a real book, but a fully formed reproduction of a non-existent hardcover book from 1949, written by a non-existent author, complete with discoloration and foxing from age, stickers and stamps indicating that it belongs to a collegiate library. Again, non-existent library in a non-existent school. But within the margins of this book are hand-written notes, written by two people, who use these marginalia to communicate with one another. Among other things, they discuss the author of the book, who is the object of scholarly research for his literary efforts, and his politics.

As we read the "book" we also peer into the private correspondence of the two margin writers as they get to know each other and the mysterious author of the book. What they discover, and what we soon discover, is that the author's radicalism may still be alive today. What that means for the two note writers is what drives the experience forward. S is three or maybe four stories all running in series. The question is: how, or even if, these stories could be tied together.

Its not really a book, but a book is certainly part of it. If I were to try and deconstruct where the idea for this 'book' comes from, I would guess that it came from Abrams holding a book in his hand, maybe with some old forgotten marginal notes in it, and thinking to himself. This. This, is why we need traditional, analog books. This, the tactile, hands-on and hand-annotated 'real' thing can't just be a thing of the past. How much Abrams did to help with the actual writing, I don't know, but he isn't listed as a co-author. As a project, it is beautifully executed. If the effort wasn't put into the details, this project would have felt cheap and imitation. They did a nice job. Ironically, I don't think it will make a good library book. The reason for that should be obvious when you see it.





Monday, March 2, 2015

in like a lion...

Maybe you've seen the news. Maybe you live in New England like I do. If so, you, like me, are probably wondering; is it March? Doesn't seem like March. Doesn't seem like Spring pops in about three weeks. All I see is lions. Its like that old saying about what holds up the world.

Its lions, all the way down.

White Lion image: by Woxy, used without permission

So here's what I think: If March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, the other days must also have animality. So we need a scale, so you can see how lionish or lambish we are on a particular day. This year, I got really close to changing the list so that its lion every day. or at least for the next two weeks or so But this is information--new knowledge--that you can use to plan your day, your week, your weekend, even the whole month!

What's the best day to wear your Velcro monkey tail to work?* What's the best part about goat?** Is there really dolphin in tuna?*** How're you going to know these things without the lion-to-lamb list?

Here's how it stacks up this year. yes, its the same every year, that's why we call it a tradition.

March 1 - Lion: This one's a given. This year, its a white lion. And he weighs about 2 1/2 weeks.
March 2 - Tiger: Up to 11-feet, and nearly 700 pounds!
March 3 - Bear: Oh my! Black, Brown, but probably Polar. And hungry.
March 4 - Shark: Just remember Jaws 4.
March 5 - Wolf: The Timber variety. With the white, winter coat.
March 6 - Bull: One word: Pamplona.
March 7 - Moose: Brake for moose, it could save your life.
March 8 - Eagle: Don't leave your pets outside... or your children. Or your grammy... she weights like 42 pounds.
March 9 - Scorpion: Step on it before it steps on you.
March 10 - Dingo: No, its not a stray dog.
March 11 - Hawk: Not Riverhawk, that's UMass Lowell.
March 12 - Lynx: Its like a house cat. That kills and eats things. That weigh 42 pounds. Yeah, like Grammy.
March 13 - Bat: If you just get near one its a full rabies series. In your belly.
March 14 - Monkey: They pinch! With their feet! HBD Coleen! Maybe this should be Monkey Pi Day!****
March 15 - Snake: The Ides of March. Snakes are known for wisdom, and treachery.
March 16 - Ox: Hard working in a plodding kind of way.
March 17 - Elephant: Wise, big, powerful... gray.
March 18 - Raven: Nevermore.
March 19 - Stag: Power and compassion. Might make a good patronus.
March 20 - Crab: This one can sneak up on you. First day of spring!
March 21 - Goat: Stubborn and tough going.
March 22 - Horse: Strong and reliable.
March 23 - Pig: Smart but messy; wear your boots today.
March 24 - Dog: Friendly and good-natured; take a walk.
March 25 - Dolphin: Fun and wet; bring an umbrella.
March 26 - Rooster: Proud strutter. Crow at the sun! Wear your new socks!
March 27 - Turtle: Muddy, but adorable; boots again.
March 28 - Toad: There not just for (witch's) breakfast anymore.
March 29 - Robin: The red breast is kind or orangey, no
March 30 - Rabbit: How can you be scared of rabbits? HBD Kelton!
March 31 - Lamb: Mmm... arrosticini. Smells like spring!

According to one source I read "This phrase has its origins with the constellations Leo, the Lion, and Aries, the ram or lamb. It has to do with the relative positions of these constellations in the sky at the beginning and end of the month." Yeah, Aries, the lamb, that must be it. Somebody is thinking too hard. I think the origins of something like this are pretty self-evident.

We have had over 8-feet of snow in Massachusetts this year. It snowed 2-inches yesterday (the first of March), and little today, and another storm is due beginning tomorrow night. And it hasn't been above freezing for more than a few days since January, so most of the snow that fell in late January, is still here.

Spring? Lambs? Yeah, I'm ready.


* Never.
** The shanks.  Chevon is delicious!
*** I don't know man! Focus! 
**** Pi Day is typically on 3/14, but this year its special, especially at about half-past nine: 3.14.15 9:27:54. That's pi to 9 decimal places, nerds!


Monday, February 2, 2015

hand tools

Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings is a beautiful soft cover book written and illustrated by Aldren A. Watson in 1982. This is now my go-to guide for hand tools. Watson is clearly a lifelong user and fan of hand tools and in this book he has poured out all of what he knows, illustrated clearly and concisely with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations of the tools, their parts, their use, and even care and sharpening. The appendixes even include measured drawings and instructions for building your own jigs, wooden hand tools, a work bench (including a version that folds up in a closet for the apartment dwellers) and patterns for replacement handles.

The book is organized by tool types. Each tool is described in detail, with cut away drawings of the innards, and its workings so the tool owner fully understands the tool and how it functions. Watson explains, and often illustrates the variations found in the tool, what the different options and adjustments are good for and then goes on to describe how the tool is used. These descriptions are full of examples, and advice ton the best ways to work, often with illustrated techniques, tips, and time savers along the way. For example, in the discussion about a spirit level there is a great tip for leveling a wooden table that doesn't include cutting the legs or using a matchbook. Fantastic!

If you are just starting out with woodworking tools, or if you've been using them for years, like I have, this book has something (many things!) for you. If you've been outfitting your shop with the latest power tools you see on The New Yankee Workshop and shows like it, you may want to take look at this book and see what hand tools can do, often times with less effort, less set-up time, less sawdust, and better results.

Aldren Watson was a professional illustrator, woodworker, print maker and book binder. He died just a little while ago, in 2013 at 95.

Read this book. And then set it in your workshop for reference.

airframe

I don't think I've read a Michael Crichton novel since Andromeda Strain, and I'm pretty sure that was in high school. Crichton has been really popular in his long career and lots of his books have been made into movies, including, Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Terminal Man, Timeline, and Jurassic Park.

Airframe was originally published in 1995, but still holds up pretty well. There are some things that twang or the nineties, but those are pretty easy to overlook. Airframe moves fast and is easy to read. I found myself very quickly understanding the man characters and the personalities that drove the story, but the intrigue and mystery was pretty well laid out too. One of the things I especially liked is when the protagonist got to a point where she thought she understood what was really going on, I did too. I felt like both she and I were pretty sure, but what was fun was, if she was right, what was she going to do with the information? Even though I feel like I figured it out, I was still surprised by the ending. Nicely done.

I think I'll have to look up some more of Crichton at the library, or keep an eye out at the book sales. We have a copy of Prey around the house somewhere, but my wife said she didn't like it. I'll have to ask her again. Airframe was a fun one.  I sat down to read the last 100 pages this weekend, which I don't often do. I especially enjoyed the detail of what goes into building and maintaining a commercial plane.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

empty chair

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are back in the thick of it, this time out of their familiar New York, and away in a small town in North Carolina. Rhyme is in the city nearby for treatment when the  sheriff from said small town arrives asking for help with a kidnapping/murder case. In one of the unnecessary twist that aggravate me in serials, the sheriff happens to be the cousin of a cop in New York, who also is a close friend of Rhyme and Sachs.

As if the one time this small town has a kidnapping and murder, which is also too difficult for them to solve alone, is also the time that the world renown Lincoln Rhyme AND his assistant happen to be 20 minutes away, with 2 or 3 days to kill before treatment, isn't coincident enough; the sheriff is the crap town is also the first cousin of a New York cop that drinks coffee with Sachs and Rhyme every day.

Amazing.

Aside from that, this was a good story. There were some interesting twists and turns that I didn't see coming, along with a few I did. There was little bit of a double meaning of the title, The Empty Chair, but I don't recall the details. Jeffrey Deaver has these characters pretty well down at this point and like a lot of recurring characters in serial novels, they are like old acquaintances at this point. The relationship between Sachs and Rhyme is a little tortured, and I don't read enough of the books in this series (never mind, in any kind of order) to really understand it.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

fallen angel

Gabriel Allon of Israeli intelligence is working at the Vatican, restoring one of Caravaggio’s paintings, when tragedy strikes. Guys like Allon tend to be in the right place at the wrong time.

Daniel Silva takes another whack with his Israeli super-spy, and this one doesn't disappoint either. I haven't paid much attention to order in which these stories were written but I noticed that this story did include some things that were alluded to in another story I read, so I assume this one comes later in the overall story arc. If you're concerned about that kind of thing, there is a great site out there to help you stay up to date called FictFact. yer welcome

Silva may have gotten a dreamy about the possibilities for Israel with this one. Maybe hopeful is a better word. But when you're writing a novel about a fictionalized version of Israel, why not realize your dreams, if only a little. Don't worry, Silva doesn't erase the reality of what Israel is and what it has to deal with, but some of the events that occur, if they ever did in reality, would be game-changers indeed.

I just read another Gabriel Allon book, and I said in that that Allon has to walk a line between becoming too personally involved and maintaining his distance so that he can do his job without becoming emotionally trapped. What I realized reading this one, is that he already is trapped. What he does for a living is restore paintings. The reason he restores paintings is because he can't find it in himself to create new works because of what he has to do to protect his country. His duty has taken nearly everything from him. He knows that. He has tried to retire countless times, but he is still compelled to help. That drive is the engine that moves this series forward.

The Fallen Angel in this case, is only the beginning. But the title could just as well be about Allon.





Friday, January 2, 2015

pagan babies

I'm going to miss Elmore Leonard.

I did a little web search as part of this review and came across a list of 10 essential Elmore Leonard books, and surprise, I haven't read any of them. So as a consolation prize for those of us saddened by his loss, Leonard has left a huge pile of work for us to read. He may be gone, but he's left a huge part of himself in the written word.

I've said it before; Leonard tells a story like he's telling a story. That is, the way he would tell a story verbally. Leaning against your kitchen counter, having a drink while you cook. Just shooting the breeze. That's what makes his technique so immediate, easy to read, easy to absorb. He's confiding in his readers, telling them a story that he knows the details of. Sharing it.

Pagan Babies refers to the orphans of Rwanda, where Terry Dunn serves as a priest, ministering to the converts in a small village. Fr. Dunn doesn't appear to take his duties too seriously, but that may be because of the atrocities he has witnessed during the Hutu on Tutsi genocide. But the mission is out of money, and Fr. Dunn makes a trip back to America to raise some additional funds, but his murky past is also waiting for him. A past that does care if he is a priest.





Monday, December 29, 2014

1491

I picked up 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, a little while ago and then put it down, assuming that it was going to be a little dry. That was a mistake.

Charles C. Mann is writer of research. He studies things and then writes about them. Magazines, books, etc. He describes some of the early research he did for this book as research for smaller projects: articles about newer discoveries about earlier Central and South American Indians. He describes how some of these newer discoveries were at odds with what he learned (we all learned) in high school. Information printed in our textbooks based on the prominent theories of the time, taken as fact, but without a lot corroborating evidence. What Mann was finding, as that in many cases, that corroborating evidence is only recently being discovered, and a lot of what we used to think was true was based on the only evidence available, 50 or even 100 years ago, in the form of journal and log entries by Europeans who visited the Americas and documented what they saw, in some cases incorrectly either from a lack of understanding, and lack of investigation, or simply exaggerated to please whomever was footing the bill for their trip.

Mann compiles the most recent archeological evidence and compares and contrasts the current theories on early American Indian populations and their civilizations and they way the may have lived before the Europeans arrived. Its a fascinating look at cultures that now appear to have been much more complex, advanced, and populace then I thought. Mann discusses how even now, theories based on new data still contrast with one another. The science is still very much in process, so this makes for an extremely informative snapshot of what the current thinking is on the myriad cultures that inhabited these lands for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. And the language he uses really helps translate the scientific theses into terms I could get my head around.

Mann wrote a follow-up, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, in 2011, so I'll have to keep my eye out for that one.

Read this book.