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Time Flying

The story starts in 2007. Rich Girrard is a 47-year-old successful software entrepreneur who lives in San Diego with his wife and daughter. His zip code is 92127, which is in Rancho Bernardo, only a few miles from where I live. He describes a meeting in the Rancho Bernardo Carl’s Jr., a place where I have been many times, right across from the office of my dentist. I like that kind of detail. It draws me in.

A few strange things happen to him on a trip to Indianapolis. When he drives out of a shopping center, he is broadsided by a woman driving a Hummer through a red light while texting. He passes out…

…and wakes up in his boyhood bedroom, in his 17-year-old body, with his 47-year-old mind intact, in 1976. He figures out he must have time-traveled and resolves to live his life again, this time without all the mistakes. The majority of the book proceeds in the period between 1976, his youth and high school years, reaching to 1991, when he is an aviator on a carrier in Operation Desert Shield, kicking Iraq out of Kuwait.

I read Time Flying in a couple of days. I wanted to know how it would all resolve. After all, it’s a time travel story.

Garmen states about himself that he likes to write the books he’d like to read. That’s the difference between Garmen and me. I think about the books I’d like to read and then try to find them. He writes them. I respect that.

There are some problems with the book.

First, the plot, while a strong page-turner, does not quite fit together. I read the book in just a few sittings, wanting to know how the plot would resolve, only to find out it didn’t. Garmen set it up for a sequel. After reading what I thought was a stand-alone novel, I found out only in my research after I could not figure out the ending, that it really does not make sense.

Second, the book is in terrible need of editing. It is absolutely littered with grammatical errors, punctuation errors and missing words or additional words that don’t belong there. There are hundreds such errors, so many, that they are annoying and distracting from the story. I don’t understand why an author would not at least ONCE read his own book before publishing it. I paid $2.99 for it. That’s $2.99 too much for such a sloppy effort. A single reading before publishing could have eliminated 90% of the gross errors. Garmen wouldn’t need to hire an expensive editor for that. He would have to just READ his own damn book.

For that reason, this author does not deserve my business, and I won’t be buying any more Garmen books. I like his creativity, has passion, and his story-telling skills, but I am insulted by his laziness and his willingness to put his name on such a low-quality package and charge us for it.

Rating - Two Stars

All the recent press about the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the iconic Spock of Star Trek, caused me to research the biography of William Shatner. We all associate him primarily with the role of Captain James T. Kirk. While that seems like a phenomenal success story, it wasn’t quite like that.

Shatner landed the role for the first three seasons of  the Star Trek series and held it from 1966 to 1969. The original run received only modest ratings, partly because NBC really didn’t take the show seriously and placed it on Friday night at 10:00 pm, when young people are out on dates, rather than watching network TV. After poor ratings, NBC canceled the show after three seasons.

Shatner, however, was typecast and could not find work as an actor. After he was famous as Captain Kirk, his first wife divorced him in 1969, he lost his home and had very little money or acting prospects. During that time, he lived out of a camper on a pickup truck in Los Angeles.

Just like the story of Sylvester Stallone, who pulled himself out of rags by believing in Rocky, or Schwarzenegger, who started as a bricklayer in Los Angeles in 1968, the story of William Shatner is about how persistence and perseverance against all odds is what drives eventual success.

There are very few “overnight successes.”

 

John Wick

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an ex-hitman who lives a quiet life in New York City. He mourns the recent death of his wife. He gets hassled at a gas station by a young punk in a hoodie who acts like he wants to buy his car, but he gets away. But the punk persists and somehow figures out where John Wick lives and shows up at night in the house with a few other thugs, beating him, killing his dog and stealing his car.

It turns out the punk is the hapless son of a Russian mafia boss (what is it with me and Russian mafia movies these days – see here for The Equalizer, which tells a somewhat similar story). To make things worse, Daddy knows who John Wick is. He is visibly afraid of him and wants to work it out. But John doesn’t buy it. If you kill John Wick’s dog, a present from the beloved late wife, there will be no mercy.

John Wick starts a one-man war against the entire Russian mafia in New York City. This is reminiscent of McCall in The Equalizer or Rambo in First Blood.

The movie is one hour and 36 minutes long, but seems much longer. With minor interludes, it consists of John shooting Russians by the dozens, by the hundreds. At the beginning of the movie, hoodie overpowers and beats John in his house. But then John gets mad and overcomes 10 killers all at once in the same room, all movie long.

I don’t understand how this got 83% on the Tomatometer.

The movie seems like a video game where the main character just wanders around the city in all sorts of different locales and keeps shooting people in the head. Nobody seems to ever hit him. It goes on and on.

And on.

And on.

There is nothing else.

Rating - One Star

InhofeSenator Inhofe tried to make the case that global warming is fake because it is currently very cold in the Eastern United States. It is indeed right now unusually cold in the Eastern United States, but the planet on the whole is having an unusually warm year. We here in California have had unseasonably warm weather, but Inhofe probably hasn’t been here in a while. To make his point, he held up a snowball and dropped it on the Senate floor.

How can Senator Inhofe expect us to treat him with any respect?

Throwing that snowball would be like me holding up a Big Mac and claiming that world hunger doesn’t exist.

Senator Whitehouse does a wonderful job setting the Senate straight: You can believe every major American scientific society, or you can believe the senator with the snowball.

The scary thing is, Inhofe chairs the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works. How likely is an Inhofe-chaired committee to pass well-designed environmental legislation?

How likely is the Republican Party to gain the respect of the educated and scientific community in our country with flag bearers – and snowball throwers – like Inhofe in the lead?

I can’t read Moby Dick!

When I saw that there was going to be a movie about Moby Dick, I remembered the old book that has been in one of the boxes in the garage for 40 years. I found the book.

Moby Dick

I opened the cover and I found a dedication from one of my best friends in high school. It turns out, he had given me the book as a Christmas present on Christmas Day 1976, the first time we saw each other after graduating a year and a half before. I had forgotten that this dedication existed.

Dedication to Moby Dick

I redacted his name for his privacy. There was a book mark in page 145, but I remembered nothing, so I thought I’d better start from the beginning.

The pages were yellowed, and the print too small for my now old eyes, so I did what I often do these days with old books: I bought it again on my Kindle. Then I started reading.

I worked at it. And worked at it. I continued on to page 204 out of 549 or 38%, when I finally stopped. Reading Moby Dick is hard work, and I didn’t enjoy the story, or the writing style. That happens to me a lot. See my comments about Ulysses, here, here and here. I am now adding Moby Dick to this illustrious list.

There are far too many books yet to read, and there is so much more sand now in the bottom part of the hourglass of my life compared to what’s left in the top, so the hours are getting more valuable with every page I turn.

I love the physical book that is called Moby Dick; it is a trusted friend that has been with me a lifetime. I cherish the friendship of the one who gave it to me on Christmas Day 1976. I will always keep the hardcopy, so one day, my son might want to read it.

I remain honored to be compared to Queequeg, in the classic that is Moby Dick.

And here I stop.

  • The closest state to Africa is Maine.
  • Alaska is the northernmost, westernmost, and easternmost U.S. state.
  • The southeast corner of Montana is much closer to Texas than to the northwest corner of Montana.
  • Reno, Nevada is further West than Los Angeles, California. Check it out here.
  • Spokane, Washington is further west than San Diego, if only by a third of a degree (117.4250 West  vs. 117.1625 West)
  • Mountain City, Tennessee is closer to Canada than it is to Memphis, Tennessee. Check it out here.
  • Alaska is the westernmost, northernmost and easternmost state in the U.S.
  • All of South America is east of Ohio, or Atlanta, Georgia, for that matter.
  • Rome is further north than New York City.
  • Regensburg, Germany is on the 49th degree latitude, the same as the long, straight border of the United States and Canada. This means that all of the continental United States is south of Regensburg, Germany.

 

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

The food discarded by consumers and retailers in just the most developed nations would be more than enough to sustain all the world’s 870 million hungry people if effective distribution methods were available.

– New York Times, Editorial Board

As with most civilization technologies, the solution to this waste is infrastructure. None of us want to waste food. Nobody decides to take more food at Souplantation than they can eat, just to leave it for the busboy to take away, okay, almost nobody. I have seen violators!

Here is a post I wrote about food waste at the Hampton Inn a couple of years ago. In that article I pointed out the eggs I noticed in the trash can after they cleared the breakfast buffet at 10:00 am.

Waste at Hampton Inn

Wasted food at the Hampton Inn

I pointed out in that post, if they simply didn’t peel the eggs before they put them on display, they would not have to throw them out every day. And sure enough, soon after that all the Hampton Inns started serving unpeeled eggs and have done so ever since. My post was probably a coincidence and perhaps aligned with consumer complaints from many people to cause them to change this.

If there were a way to get the extra four-inches of the Subway foot-long that I can’t quite eat to some starving child in Somalia, that child would get calories for several days out of that sandwich. But there is no way.

If there were a way to let supermarkets transport the food they are forced to throw into the dumpsters to a country where there is a food shortage, many mouths would be fed.

Since transporting our waste is not practical and possible, the ultimate solution is to figure out less expensive ways to produce the food where it is needed. We’re right back at sustainable agriculture, and the infrastructure required to support it. Solving the world hunger problem is a project of decades, not years, and requires continuous commitment from individuals and governments.

Since governments by nature only care for their own problems and needs, the misaligned distribution of infrastructure and wealth cuts out the poorest nations. We need to find a profit incentive. Some entrepreneur must find a way to make distribution of food technologies and food itself to developing nations profitable, and then things will start rolling.

Here is a need. Does anyone have an idea how to fill it?

Martian I went on a business trip to Seattle with several colleagues. At the airport in San Diego, one of them mentioned he had just finished a book he really liked: The Martian – by Andy Weir. It was about an astronaut stranded on Mars by himself, and his fight to survive.

I downloaded the book before I boarded the plane and started reading it on the way. I was in Washington for 3 nights. During the days I worked, and at night I read the book. I finished it on the plane back. I could not put this book down.

Matt Watley is one of a crew of six astronauts on a mission to Mars. They are planning on staying for a month. On the sixth day on the planet, a severe storm hits and they are forced to abort the mission and leave in an emergency takeoff. On the way to the ship, Matt gets injured by a flying antenna that punctures his space suit. The bio computer indicates flatlines. His crew mates think him dead and leave in a hurry because they are worried that the ship will be toppled.

But Matt is not dead. When he comes to and assesses the situation, he realizes that nobody knows he is alive, he has no way of communicating with Earth, the next mission to Mars, to a completely different location, is not scheduled for several years, even a rescue mission would take a year to reach him, if there could be one, and the habitat has food and supplies for six people for one month, or enough for one person for six months – not enough for him to survive.

But Matt is an astronaut, and he is resourceful. In MacGyver style he removes the antenna that has impaled him, and he realizes that he was lucky not to be injured seriously. Then he gets to work on a plan of survival.

The story switches between Mark’s log files as he tells the story, and the NASA team that tries to rescue him, as well as his crew mates on their way home. The action never stops.

This is an extremely technical novel. If you love stories about space travel, NASA, exploration and human ingenuity under extreme conditions, like I do, this is an amazingly entertaining and riveting story. If you don’t have an interest in learning what happens when a human breathes in oxygen and exhales carbon dioxide in a closed environment, then this might be over your head and possibly even boring.

For the techies among us, this is an absolute must read. As I said, I could not put this book down.

I learned that there is a movie on the way – with Matt Damon playing Matt Watley. I can’t wait.

Rating - Three Stars

Arms Producing Countries

[click for source and more detail]

Looking at this chart, it’s obvious why we’re starting wars all the time.

Norbert Haupt:

What a phenomenal success J.K. Rowling is. Born in 1965, a single mother in the 1980s, she wanted to make a living for herself and her children. So she started writing a story about a boy wizard. Now she is listed together with Shakespeare, Dickens, Joyce and Dostoevsky. It’s almost like the story of a little black boy born to a white college student mom in Hawaii in 1961, who is now and forever on the same list with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt (as they look down from Mt. Rushmore.

Originally posted on Know-It-All:

Top 10 Greatest Authors and their Best Books

  1. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) – Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet
  2. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) – A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations
  3. George Orwell (1903-1950) – Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia
  4. J.K. Rowling (1965-Present) – Harry Potter
  5. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) – Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, To the Lighthouse
  6. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) – The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea
  7. William Faulkner (1897-1962) – The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom !
  8. Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) – Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot
  9. James Joyce (1882-1941) – Ulysses, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  10. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) – The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, The Canterville Ghost

William Shakespeare 1564-1616

William Shakespeare Signature

Charles Dickens 1812-1870       George Orwell 1903-1950          J.K. Rowling

Virginia Woolf 1882-1941   Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961   William Faulkner 1897-1962

Fyodor Dostoevsky 1821-1881    James Joyce 1882-1941   Oscar Wilde

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Equalizer

McCall (Denzel Washington) is a mysterious loner. He lives a quiet, simple life of a working man. He works at Home Mart (which looks exactly like a Home Depot), spends his free time reading classics and frequents a diner when he can’t sleep at night, which seems every night.

But occasionally skills show through that are far from the ordinary. McCall helps underdogs and he stands up against predators. In the picture above, the guy with the hoodie (did it have to be a hoodie?) is holding up a cashier at Home Mart and after he gets the money from the cash register, he asks for her diamond heirloom ring. McCall happens to witness the event, assesses the situation, and advises the cashier to give up the ring. Not long after, Hoodie finds out that this time he has messed with the wrong guy.

Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a hapless prostitute that keeps showing up at the diner night after night. McCall doesn’t see the prostitute, but a helpless, lost and very young girl. When he finds out she is under the control of ruthless Russian gangsters, he takes his savings and decides to buy her freedom. With an envelope of cash, he walks alone and unarmed into the gangster den. When the Russians don’t take the offer, they also find out that they have messed with the wrong guy.

This starts an all-out war between one man (it’s like Rambo) and the entire Russian mafia, reaching from New York all the way to Moscow.

I don’t know too much about the Russian mafia, thank goodness, but the way it is portrayed in this movie scares me. It is organized in a military fashion, supported by the highest levels in Russia, utterly brutal, and with complete disregard for the rights we Americans take for granted. Seeing entire warehouses full of American cash on pallets ready to be shipped to Russia, money from drugs, prostitution, and extortion of all types illustrates the magnitude of the operations. I don’t know if this is really going on, but if it is – it’s staggering.

I happened to read the article Killer Business – An investor turned activist outfoxes the oligarchs in Russia in Time Magazine of March 2, 2015, page 100, just a few days after watching The Equalizer, and that article confirmed my assumptions.

Russia appears to be a completely corrupt nation, all the way to Putin, its president, who many assume to be the “richest man in the world” simply because the oligarchs all pay him off so he props up their criminal activities, at home in Russia, sucking the Russian people dry, and in the west, sponsoring the activities of the Russian mafia.

This is a topic for another post someday. Back to The Equalizer.

Highly entertaining, this is a Rambo-like movie with more subtle sentiment but plenty of action and violence, stacked with really bad villains and a flawless hero to root for.

And finally, I’ll never see a Home Depot in exactly the same way again. Now I see all the weapons.

Rating - Two and a Half Stars

 

Movie Review: Birdman

birdman

What does it mean when grab my iPad about 20 minutes into the movie, put it on pause, and pull up Wikipedia to figure out what it is I am watching?

It means the movie sucks.

We watched this today because it was nominated for and won so many awards. 93% on the Tomatometer doesn’t hurt, either.

But all the hoopla didn’t help me any. I just didn’t get it.

Birdman is a black comedy that tells the story of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) a movie actor who was famous for portraying an iconic superhero, the Birdman. Now jaded and lost, he struggles to produce and direct a Broadway play, in which he also has a major role. He brings in Mike (Edward Norton), a brilliant yet volatile character actor. The struggle to make the play work almost destroys him. And yes, he has superpowers. He can telekineticly move objects and levitate himself. You go figure it out.

While the main characters did tremendous acting – thank goodness – the story, the premise and the plot were flat-out stupid. Why did he have superpowers? This added nothing to the plot and simply confused me. I kept waiting for when this would get good, but it simply never did, up to the last frame.

I would give this one star only, but the acting was just too good. So two stars it is.

Don’t waste your time and money.

Boring.

Rating - Two Stars

Frist Phone Call

Source: New York Tribune, Feb 20, 1915

Exactly 100 years ago today, a woman in Whittier, California made a three-minute telephone call with a friend in Albany, New York. The call cost $2,250. It must have seemed like magic.

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