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Archive for the ‘Three Stars’ Category

Other Minds – The Octopus, the Sea,

and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

When we think of intelligent animals, we think of whales, specifically dolphins, apes, elephants, dogs, crows and parrots. I have written much about this subject, and you can find the posts by selecting Animal Intelligence from the categories dropdown on the right.

We generally do not think of octopuses as intelligent. However, octopuses, as well at cuttlefish and squid, commonly classified as cephalopods, are highly intelligent animals.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, the author of Other Minds, is a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, who started studying octopuses in the process of thinking about consciousness in humans and in animals.

Other Minds tells the story of how animal life first started on earth, and how the invertebrates started splitting off from the vertebrates some 500 to 600 million years ago. As it turns out, cephalopods are invertebrates, and all other intelligent animals are vertebrates, including humans. The common ancestor of both humans and octopuses are small flat wormlike creatures that lived over 500 million years ago. As a result, an octopus is about as different from a human as you can get, and still have two eyes – and a mind.

Godfrey-Smith illustrates many astonishing examples of octopus intelligence and it becomes quite clear that, yes, they are really bright, and yes, they are very alien, very different from us. He says that the closest we are likely ever to come to meeting an alien intelligent being is going to the aquarium and watching an octopus.

I searched and found a few astonishing videos. The first one is of an octopus escaping from a ship’s deck. Since an octopus has no hard parts, no bones, no shells, he can squeeze himself through a hole as small as his eyeball, his hardest part. The video below demonstrates that.

Octopuses can also learn to use tools and solve complex problems. Here is an example of an octopus opening a jar into which it has been placed.

There are other examples that show how an octopus can open a jar from the outside to get to the prey locked inside.

I am highly interested in animal intelligence and alien intelligence, so this book turned out to be a treasure trove of information and great anecdotes and stories. I learned much about the evolution of life on earth, and the development of intelligence and consciousness. If you have similar interests, this is a book you must read.

The author is trying to be factual, and the book is therefore more of a text book than an entertainment book, which makes it somewhat challenging to read.

But I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I am sure I’ll refer to it in the future.

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Movie Review: Lion

lion

In the mid-1980s in a small town somewhere in India, the five-year old boy Saroo is on a night outing with this older brother he adores. When Saroo gets tired, his brother leaves him to sleep on a bench in the train station and tells him to wait for him. Saroo, groggy, wakes up in the night, tries to find his brother, wanders onto an empty passenger train, and eventually falls asleep on one of  the seats. When he wakes up the next day, he is a thousand miles from home. He has no idea where he is, what town he is from, even the full name of his mother.

He is completely lost and left to his own devices alone in Kolkata. After being brought to an orphanage, he eventually gets adopted by an Australian couple.

Twenty-five years later he goes on a quest using Google Earth to find his home.

This is a true story, told in vivid details. We know, going into the movie, how it ends. Against all odds, he finds his home, and that’s not a spoiler.

According to the credits, there are many thousands of children that get lost in India every year, and most of them, I am sure, do not have a happy ending. The movie examines the human journey. As I walked out, wiping the tears off my cheeks, I knew I had just experienced a very simple human story, one of culture clashes, and one of emotional triumph. Good food for the soul.

Why is the title Lion you might ask?

You just have to go and watch the movie to find out.

Rating - Three Stars

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hidden-figures

In the early 1960s, the Russians had a little head start in the race to space. NASA was still young, and its engineers used slide rules, pencils and vellum to do its designs. And humans were the “computers” who had to figure out the math.

Hidden Figures tells the story of three brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA. Each one of them with her own special skill, each with her own drive and motivation. But in those days, blacks were not allowed to use the same toilets or coffee pots as whites. The odds were against them.

This movie tells the story of what it was like behind the scenes at NASA. We all know that it was John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the earth. What we didn’t know was that up to a few days before his launch they didn’t really know how to calculate the trajectory to get him back safely to earth.

In a time when racism seems to be back on the rise and gender equality is questioned again, Hidden Figures shows us what it was like to live under such conditions. But the human spirit rises, like the rockets of old rose.

As I walked out of the theater I could not think of a single thing wrong with this film. It just felt really good.

Rating - Three Stars

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crisis-of-character

A White House Secret Service Officer Discloses His Firsthand Experience with Hillary, Bill and How They Operate.

Gary Byrne was a uniformed Secret Service agent who started his White House duty during the first Bush administration. He was there when the Clintons moved in, and through most of their tenure in the White House. He was there outside the door when Monica Lewinski was in the Oval Office with the president. Whether he wanted to know what was going on or not, he knew, and he had no choice.

Later, when the scandal blew open that would eventually get Clinton impeached, it was Gary Byrne who was catapulted into the national spotlight by being forced to testify against the president, his protectee. He was in an extremely tenuous and dangerous position. On the one hand, the Secret Service has incredibly tight protocols about revealing information about their processes and their protectees. On the other hand, the FBI was investigating the scandal and Ken Starr with his Grand Juries was pressing forward for information. The Secret Service was threatening him to stonewall, and the FBI was threatening to arrest him. Either way, he could lose his job, his career and his credibility. He was alone in the middle.

And he believed it was the recklessness of the Clintons, and their disregard for everyone in their way that put him, and many others, into impossible situations.

Reading Crisis of Character reveals a fascinating look behind the scenes in the nation’s most elevated offices, the West Wing of the White House.
This is not a tell-all book by a disgruntled Clinton hater. This is a book by a man of character who has spent his entire life trying to do the right thing, every step of the way. He tells his story beginning with Papa Bush, as he calls the elder President Bush, and Barbara Bush, whom he describes as graceful, honest and hard-working, through the Clinton administration, and his career with the Federal Air Marshal Service after 9/11. We learn about the lives of the men and women who have pledged to throw themselves into the paths of bullets to protect their clients, whether they agree with their lifestyles and choices or not.

For that reason alone, regardless of the fact that the Clintons are exposed, you should read this book. Yet, I must admit that I am glad I read it after the election, not before.

Byrne describes Bill Clinton as the friendly, jovial and charming man that we all know, even though he made some terrible moral choices and caused irreparable harm to the dignity of the office, his own career and pretty much everybody who got in his way or crossed his path.

One surprise to me was the portrayal of Monica Lewinski. She was a very young intern in the White House, and from the time the scandal actually occurred more than twenty years ago until now I had always thought of her as the victim of a sexual predator, namely Bill Clinton. However, I now know that it was not so. There is no way an intern in the White House would ever even get near the president. To be in the position she ended up in, she was actively stalking him relentlessly for months, making up daily schemes just to get access to the West Wing and somehow cross paths with the president. Byrne knew that, because much of the time it was he who had to turn her back. I now know that Monica Lewinski was not a victim. She got exactly what she aimed for. She was just too young and naive to know how it would end, and what it would do to her life. And of course, Clinton was a ruthless sexual predator.

At one place in the story Lewinski was held back by the Secret Service in the guard house outside the White House at night because the guards knew the president was with another young woman. When she eventually blew up and threatened them, one of the agents lost his cool and blurted out that “he was with another piece of ass and she had to wait her turn….”

And finally, there is the portrait of Hillary. He describes her as cold, calculating, and utterly ruthless. There was one time when a young agent wished her a “good morning, ma’am” and she just shot back “fuck off!” What does it say about the character of a woman who talks like this to Secret Service agents who are paid $50,000 a year and pledge to stop a bullet to protect her and her life?

So here it is: Gary Byrne’s story, to me, is so convincing that I do not think that I could vote for Clinton now that I read this book. I could not vote for Trump either, because I believe that 20 years from now some agent that had to protect Trump will come out with even more incredibly sordid information about our 45th president.

No, I could not vote for Clinton again, and I could never vote for Trump. I am glad Clinton is not president, and I am at the same time utterly dismayed that Trump is. What to do when a nation of over 320 million people comes up with those two choices to pick from?

I am truly, truly troubled about the terrible lack of character at the highest level of American politics.

You should read Crisis of Character.

Rating - Three Stars

Here ae some excerpts you might enjoy:

About using government resources:

Controversy followed the Clintons even when they were leaving office and purchased a $ 1.7 million mansion in Chappaqua, New York (so Hillary could carpetbag to the U.S. Senate from New York). Per its normal procedure, the Secret Service maintained a detail at their residence to continue to protect the former First Family as Hillary prepared and ran for Senate. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Perfectly proper.

To protect the Clintons, Secret Service personnel were stationed at a former garage on the property, and I had the chance to spend some time there on protection details myself. Rumors have since swirled that the Clintons receive $ 1,100 per month rent from the Secret Service.

That doesn’t appear to be the case. But what I heard from other Secret Service personnel on the scene was this: The Service paid $ 7,000 per month rent on an adjacent house to serve as their unit headquarters from a rental company. Again, nothing wrong there. But what was also well known and what I also heard was that— at least for a while— the Clintons were charging the identical amount for that small garage of theirs to the Secret Service to basically have the Service cover the cost of their mortgage as Hillary ran for office.

I can’t verify that (I’m former Secret Service— not Ken Starr), but it’s interesting to once again contrast the Clintons with Papa Bush. The USSS did, in fact, cover the costs of renovating former president Clinton’s garage, which was mostly space heaters and meager basic utilities.

When Papa Bush was still president, the Secret Service needed to construct a facility on his Kennebunkport, Maine, property. President Bush said fine— but on two conditions. One, make it bigger, so you guys aren’t cramped. He cared about the little guys. Two, you’ll be protecting me after I leave office— so I’m paying for it.

— Byrne, Gary J., Crisis of Character – (Kindle Locations 3451-3464).

About the emails:

Just last year, Mrs. Clinton claimed that as secretary of state she didn’t carry a work phone. It was too cumbersome and inconvenient for her to carry two phones. She didn’t have room for them.

Then we learned she carried an iPhone and BlackBerry, neither government issued nor encrypted. Then we learned she carried an iPad and an iPad mini. But she claimed she didn’t do email.

Then we learned she had email— on a private server. But then she claimed her email was for personal correspondence, yoga, and wedding planning.

Then we learned her email contained government business as well— lots of it.

Listen, nobody transmits classified material on the Internet! Nobody! You transmit classified material via a closed-circuit, in-house intranet or even physically via courier. You can’t even photocopy classified data except on a machine specially designed for hush-hush material, and even then you still require permission from whatever agency and issuer the document originated.

So the only way for that material to be transmitted over an email is for her or someone in her office to dictate, Photoshop, or white-out the classified material in question, to remove any letterhead, or to duplicate the material by rewriting it in an email.

Government email accounts are never allowed to accept emails from nongovernment email accounts. We’re supposed to delete them right away. Exceptions exist for communications with private contractors, but those exceptions are built into the system.

I repeat: To duplicate classified material without permission or to send it over an unsecured channel is completely illegal. That’s why every government agency employs burn bags, safes, and special folders for anything marked Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret. People have lost their careers and gone to jail for far less.

Yet Hillary Clinton transmitted classified material by the figurative ton. No one else can operate like that in government. But she takes her normal shortcuts and continues to lie about it.

There is no greater example of double standards in leadership than First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Is it too inconvenient or cumbersome for her to follow the same rules that agents in the field have to follow? Maybe it would make morale too high? Clinton’s behavior harkens to the old motto: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

— Byrne, Gary J., Crisis of Character – (pages 274-276).

 

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rogue-one-1

The first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, came out in May 1977, almost 40 years ago now. Star Wars permeates our entire popular culture. Rogue One plays just before Episode IV starts. The rebels steal the plans for the Death Star with the help of the daughter of the chief designer. Epic space battles, laser gun battles in the jungle, and, of course, at least one light saber fight with the one and only Darth Vader. None of the original actors participated here, of course. Their story starts about five minutes after Rogue One’s credits begin to roll. Except for two: Grand Moff Tarkin, the Commander of the Death Star, and Princess Leia, both of which had to be digitally recreated, since both are now no longer alive.

A short scene featuring Princess Leia, receiving the disk with the plans for the Death Star at the very end, was digitally recreated. It was eerie, since Carrie Fisher had died just a few days before we saw this movie, yet, here she was in a very short scene, looking the 19 years old she was when she appeared in Episode IV.

One of my friends (JCV) commented that he can’t stand to watch silly science fiction movies with the stilted and inane dialog. I laughed at him. Nobody watches Star Wars for the dialog. Star Wars does not need dialog. You don’t have to listen to a word being said, and you can still enjoy Star Wars.

I love the bar or bazaar scenes where the crowd is full of grungy humans and exotic aliens, all enjoying themselves. I love the views of planets with rings, as they are seen realistically from the ground through the mist and the clouds as they seem to disintegrate in the distance. I love how small spaceships drift close to giant space ships. I love how all the ships seem to be made out of massive battle ship steel hulls, unlike the flimsy aluminum we actually use for space ships, like the shuttle or the Soyuz. And I always laugh that the fighters fly in space just like they fly in the atmosphere, banking into curves, accelerating and decelerating and completely defying all laws of orbital dynamics. Of course, after being conditioned for 40 years that space fighters behave a certain way, whether it makes any sense or not, we can’t change now, and Star Wars remains – well – Star Wars.

Rating - Three Stars

 

 

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fences

Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a garbage man in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. He has life figured out and he rules as the king over his family, including his wife Rose (Viola Davis), his two sons Lyons and Cory, and his brother Gabriel. He is a bitter man who believes he was shortchanged as a baseball player with aspirations to the major leagues before blacks were able to play. But times are changing, and his 16-year-old son wants to play football in high school. Troy does not agree. His son won’t succeed where he could not succeed.

But there are secrets that are about to blow Troy’s little world wide open, possibly destroy his family and knock him off his pedestal.

We went to see this movie not knowing much about it, and within a minute or two realized: It’s a play. The majority of the movie is comprised of dialog that takes place in the grungy backyard of Troy’s house. It’s all language. There is no music. There is no score. There is very little action. It’s all dialog, and, not surprisingly, it’s based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson. It all made sense afterwards.

Fences is not easy to watch. It’s a story about the lousy cards some people are dealt in life, some lousier than others, and it’s a story about the human spirit in the working man and woman of this country.

Denzel and Viola do an amazing job in Fences. It will get recognition.

Rating - Three Stars

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chronothon

After Ben Travers finally made it back to his apartment in 2009, he didn’t stay there long. Being home alone with nothing to do but going to work the next morning at the marina in St. Petersburg, fixing other people’s boats, he decided to look up his time-traveling girlfriend Mym. Along the way, in Manhattan, Ben gets snagged by a Mafioso and coerced into participating in a 25th century game show: The Chronothon. Think of a chronothon as a race, like our current Amazing Race on TV. The different levels are like trips on Amazing Race, and there are about a dozen levels to go through. As the racers start, they go through a time gate, which is also a space gate, and they appear in the desert in ancient Egypt. In each level, the racers have an objective they have to achieve. Usually the objective is an artifact of some type they have to find and bring to the next get to move on to the next level. As the racers go through the gates, they have no idea where they come out on the other side, neither where, or when. What further complicates the race it that not everything is what it seems. Might the game even be rigged?

The Chronothon is the second book in Van Coops’ time travel adventure trilogy. The first book was In Times Like These. Unlike some sequels, where the second book is much like the first book, but with a different story and twist, The Chronothon is a completely fresh story, based on the same time travel technology applied In Times Like These. While Van Coops wrote this to be a stand-alone book, and while I can imagine it might work that way, I would no recommend it. If you are interested in The Chronothon, you really should read In Times Like These first to have a grounding in the technology and the characters of this book.

For me, this was a page turner with surprises and delights in every chapter. Like the first book, everything about this story is related to time travel and its effects and challenges. It’s not a story about a game using time travel, it’s about how time travel can be used for a game.

The Chronothon was a little corny at times. For instance, on the planet Diamatra, there is a native sentient species, the Soma Djinn, which are centipede-like creatures that inhabit human hosts and turn them into cannibalistic zombies. I would expect that sentence either turned you off completely, or it made you want to read The Chronothon, just to figure out how a reasonable and well-read human being like me can give this book three stars.

But here you have it:

Rating - Three Stars

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in-times-like-these

The best time travel book of all time is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. This book is the second best.

Ben, Carson, Blake and Robbie are four young men in their mid-twenties in St. Petersburg, Florida who belong to a softball league and enjoy their games after work. Francesca is one of their friends who likes to play the role of fan and sometimes she comes to the games to watch. On June 10, 2009, they start their game as a thunderstorm rolls in. Soon they get rained out completely. As they linger around the dugout, changing out of their uniforms, getting ready to go home, lightning strikes nearby. A power line whips free with sparks flying off the end. The world of the five friends goes dark.

When they come to a bit later, the world seems different. It’s mid-day. Were they passed out all night? Then they notice that the baseball field is no longer there. Their cars are gone. Everything seems somewhat retro. Within an hour of head scratching and ambling around they finally come to the conclusion that they are in St. Petersburg, Florida, in December 1986. They have the few clothes on their backs, flip flops, no money to speak of. Their cell phones don’t work. Now what?

They have no idea what happened to them, and the rest of the story is about their journey back through time.

The story is told in first person narration by Ben and from Ben’s point of view. First person stories often drive a sense of urgency and action, which works marvelously here. The descriptions are vivid and I have pictures of the scenes and people in front of me. The story is fast-paced and filled with action. And it’s all about time travel. This is not a book where time travel is just another method of getting around, like tracking a trolley to the city, or an airplane to Tokyo, or a time machine to 1955. No, this story does not just “use” time travel, it is about time travel. The mechanics of time travel, its limitations, its amazing possibilities, are central to the plot and the story line, very much like it was with The Time Traveler’s Wife. In Times Like These is not a story that applies time travel as a vehicle, but rather it’s time travel that reveals itself by telling a story.

As it is with time travel books, the methods of travel, the triggers, are always different. Sometimes there are machines that make it possible. Sometimes there are natural phenomena that accidentally cause travel. In Times Like These it is science that makes it possible, with limitations. And the limitations are what makes it complicated and very, very dangerous.

For instance, when you travel in time (and I’ll leave it up to you to read about how this can happen), you disappear from the current location and materialize elsewhere, and elsewhen. Since the earth rotates faster than a jet plane, if you were to jump in time by a second into the future, the earth would have moved under you by about a third of a mile. So, you can’t just time travel, you have to space travel also. Since you can’t afford to rematerialize in outer space after a time jump, since the earth moved away from you, you need an anchor, some object that fixes you in place on earth. And that gets tricky. What if you materialize where some other object occupies the space? You would be fused with that other object.

Imagine you materialize in a meadow where there was tall grass. Now the grass would be growing through your feet? It would be very painful indeed.

I don’t want to get too technical in this review, but this is what the book is about. How does a person travel in time safely with these terrible limitations?

There is only one technicality that bothered me somewhat, and it permeates the story. They make extra sure that fusion does not happen. Humans do not suddenly occupy the space of other objects. But air does not seem to matter. The entire technical plot and plausibility seems to ignore the fact that air also is matter, and it needs to take up space. We’re not in a vacuum, even when we’re not co-occupying space with furniture, or buildings, or other people.

But that’s ok. I got over that quickly, immersed myself in a world where time travel was invented, and I thoroughly enjoyed the sheer adventure of it.

There is a sequel, titled The Chronothon, and I am reading it now.

Rating - Three Stars

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Movie Review: Sully

sully

On the evening of September 17th we watched the movie Sully. We all know how it ends: On January 15, 2009, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has to land US Airways Flight 1549, an Airbus A320 with 155 people on board, in the Hudson River in New York City after both engines stall from severe bird strike at an altitude of only 2800 feet. All survive.

In the morning of September 18th, the day after watching Sully, I was scheduled to fly to Phoenix on an — you guessed it – Airbus A320. I always sit in the exit row, and when I sat down in seat 11A, I checked out the door, the handles and the instructions like I had never done before in 40 years of flying as a passenger.

Sully had me scared of flying.

It was comforting to know the outcome of a disaster movie involving an airliner in advance. But that did not prepare me for the emotional intensity of the film. Sully (Tom Hanks) is a hero, and a very different hero at that. He is an unassuming man who believes he just did his job. The movie focuses mainly on his defense after allegations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that he could have safely returned to the airport, rather than ditching the plane as he did. But Sully knew he did the right thing, and the drama in the movie revolves around the inner turmoil of a man expert in his trade, who knows he acted correctly, who is celebrated as a hero, while at the same time he is being attacked for making a severe mistake.

In Sully, director Clint Eastwood puts us into the cockpit of that ill-fated flight and gives us a firsthand view.

Tom Hanks does an excellent job acting as Sully. Christopher Orr in the Atlantic called it a silly movie. I disagree.

I liked it a lot. I had tears in my eyes as I watched. It was an experience.

And I think about flying just a bit differently now.

Rating - Three Stars

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Indignation-Movie-Poster-405x600

Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is a brilliant kid from a working class neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey in 1951. His family is Jewish. His father is a butcher and Marcus helps out in the shop during his senior year in high school.

It’s the time of the Korean War, the draft is on, and some of the sons of the neighborhood are coming back from the war in body bags. Indignation starts at the wake at the house of the Jewish parents of a fallen soldier.

Marcus has received a scholarship from a small town, conservative and mostly Christian college in Ohio, so he is exempt from the draft. As he finds his way in college, he becomes infatuated with classmate Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), and things become complicated for him very quickly.

He is a kid who has his act together and he has a plan. He went off to college partly to get away from his overbearing parents. Nevertheless, through fate and circumstance, the trajectory Marcus had planned for himself does not quite play out as intended.

Indignation is a story based on the novel by Philip Roth. It portrays life of the working class in the early 1950s. It’s also a coming of age story of a young man.

We walked into this movie not knowing a thing about it, and we walked out both stunned about how good it was and how well crafted the story line turned out to be. Our conversation about the movie lasted all the way home in the car, and I have already ordered the sample of the novel on Kindle.

Go and see this movie!

Rating - Three Stars

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Seveneves1

The title SEVENEVES is a palindrome. I didn’t realize that until just now, when I wrote the title here.

Seveneves has a lot of flaws. Yet, it was the best future earth hard science fiction novel I remember ever reading. I was fascinated with its concepts, yet there were many facets about the plot and the story that were outright hokey.

Some of the one-star reviewers on Amazon blasted the book, called it the absolutely worst Stephenson novel ever. It was my very first Stephenson novel. I couldn’t read Cryptonomicon eight years ago. That left an anti-Stephenson taste in my mouth.

But I loved Seveneves, and I kept turning the pages. This is the first paragraph in the book:

THE MOON BLEW UP WITHOUT WARNING AND FOR NO APPARENT reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05: 03: 12 UTC. Later it would be designated A + 0.0.0, or simply Zero.

How can one possibly stop reading after that sentence?

The basic premise of the book is this: After the moon blows up, scientists realize that the earth will be bombarded by small and large meteorites from the moon, trillions of them. Meteorites generate a lot of friction heat and they will heat up the planet to a point where it can’t sustain life. To make things worse, the meteor shower will last between 5,000 and 10,000 years. It will start in about two years.

So humanity has two years’ notice to figure out what to do, and the only viable strategy to ensure the future of the human race is to escape into space. Everyone on earth will die in two years, except the lucky few that live in space.

I will stop here, lest I introduce spoilers. As I said, there are a number of things wrong with this novel, that kept bothering me. Some of the basic plot points are just too unreal. I know we haven’t figured out how to live in a completely enclosed system. They tried that on earth with Biosphere at one time, but it failed. The International Space Station (ISS) has been fully enclosed for a couple of decades by now, but it’s constantly being supplied by ships from earth with consumables, and it supports 5 to 10 people at the most. The concept of having the human race survive in space habitats based on 2015 technology for millennia is too farfetched to make sense.

However, I just got over it. I ignored these plot issues, and said to myself: What would happen if humanity could survive in that environment?

Stephenson explores this question to the utmost. He explains many of the technological concepts in great detail. Some negative reviewers complained about this level of  detail and wanted more of a plot and character development. I didn’t. Science fiction, for me, is about marveling what might be, and Seveneves is full of tremendous marveling. I loved the extensive and elaborate descriptions of the space habitats that humanity eventually develops. I loved the implications of using orbital mechanics to facilitate travel. I loved the mega-machines humanity built to live in.

For instance, just to give you one example, there is what they call “the eye.” The eye is a circular structure of about 50 kilometers in diameter. Inside of the circle, picture a “chain” of large habitats, sort of like giant train cars, each car about the size of a city block in length, or half a degree of arc inside the circle. This means there are 720 links in the chain. Each link is a habitat. The chain runs inside the circle so it generates artificial gravity by centrifugal force. You can walk from car to car around the whole 50 kilometer circle, if you wanted to, going from one habitat to the next. To generate one earth-normal gravity (1g), the chain has to move at a speed of about 1,500 meters per second, or about mach 1.5. To put it in terms on modern airliners, which travel at a speed between 800 and 900 meters per second, it means the chain moves at a speed of about 1.6 times as fast as an airliner. Once you are in the chain, you don’t notice it’s moving, and you just experience gravity. But to get on it from the outside of the ring, you basically have to get catapulted onto it. Humans sit down in little “cars” that get accelerated into tubes like bullets until they match the speed of the chain, so they can get off. It’s kind of like some of the rides at Disneyland where you walk up on a moving platform that goes at the same speed of the cars on the ride, so you can get on without the entire ride stopping, except the cars go at a speed of mach 1.5.

Fascinating. Seveneves is chock full of such concepts. Fascinating.

I wanted to join that world and live in it. I didn’t want the book to end.

Rating - Three Stars

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Race

Jesse Owens wanted to be the world’s greatest track and field athlete in history. There were only three problems: He was black, he lived in the 1930s in the United States, and the 1936 Olympics would take place in Berlin, at the height of the Nazi regime, which taught that blacks and most other races were inferior to the Aryan race – whatever they cooked that up to be.

The title “race” appears to be a double-entendre, which interestingly only works in English, where we use the same word for running a “race” and he human “race” evident in the color of one’s skin, among other things. That’s not the case in any other languages.

The movie Race is an inspiring drama about human determination, courage, and friendship. We all knew the outcome. Jesse Owens did what no other Olympic athlete in his sport had done before, and by his performance he humiliated the German regime. He did it with grace.  He became a legend. And yet, at the end, he couldn’t even enter the hotel where a banquet was held in his honor, through the front door. He had to go in through the kitchen.

It was rewarding to watch Race in an age where the President of the United States is a black man. We have come a long way – yet we still have a long way to go.

Race is a timely movie and a rewarding experience to watch.

Rating - Three Stars

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Today The Woman treated me to a surprise movie at the Angelika Theater – Art Bastard.

Art Bastard 1

Art Bastard is a portrait of New York artist Bob Cenedella.

I had never heard of Cenedella before. 76 years old now, he grew up always knowing that he’d be an artist. He suffered from a less than happy child hood and family life. Fiercely independent, not bending to censors and critics, he spent the decades on painting controversial and often social critical or political scenes. His pictures are always full of people. He portrays the world like he sees it, and he sees it differently than you and I.

Art Bastard

This movie tells the artist’s story, through his own words, and those of friends, critics, curators, and journalists who know him. Accompanied by an excellent classical sound track, we are treated to a feast of color and inspiration, and we literally feel the passion of the artist ooze out of him and his work.

When the credits rolled I sat there in reverie, and then I said:

I gotta go home and paint something!

Rating - Three Stars

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Endurance

Ernest Shackleton was an English explorer who wanted to be the first to cross Antarctica on foot. After many years of preparation and huge expense, he outfitted the Endurance, a ship especially built for the journey, and set sail from England in 1914 for Antarctica. They left for the final push from South Georgia, an island in the Southern Sea, on December 5, 1914, the beginning of summer on the southern hemisphere, heading for the Antarctic coast.

Eventually the Endurance got trapped in pack ice only a few days of sailing away from their destination. They ended up spending months marooned on the ship, waiting for the ice to clear. However, pack ice is dangerous and soon the ice started crushing the ship, forcing the crew and the more than 70 sled dogs they had with them to leave the ship and camp on the ice.

Eventually the ice started to break up…

Endurance is the story of how 28 men, with only three life boats and provisions for a few months spent 17 months in the Antarctic ocean with no possibility of rescue before they could save themselves.

This was before Goretex, and modern gear, and GPS, and high-tech trekking equipment and food. The men lived through an Antarctic winter in sleeping bags made out of reindeer hide, wearing wool clothes and mittens. When you camp on ice floes in summer, the surface melts during the day and freezes again at night, making for a constant water-logged camp. Their clothes were always damp or wet, and the temperatures reached 40 below with gale force winds.

And they camped out, every night, for 17 months.

Lansing tells the story of the 28 men on the Endurance. I felt I was there with them, every step of the way, I felt their agony, their boredom, and the hopelessness of their situation. But I was also inspired by their indomitable will to live.

Rating - Three Stars

 

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Room

I find it difficult to review Room without spoilers. It’s almost impossible to talk about this movie without giving it away. But it’s great for conversation afterwards. And that’s why you have to see it.

Do you remember the famous allegory of Plato’s cave? Prisoners that grew up chained in a cave who never saw anything but shadow puppets would have a very different world view from the rest of us.

For reasons you’ll find out, a young woman (Brie Larson) lives with her five-year-old son Jack in a single room. There is a bathtub, a toilet, a sink, a wardrobe, a bed with all the necessities they need. Jack has never known any other reality than what’s inside the room. They have a television, and Jack cannot reconcile what’s real and what’s just made up. He does not understand the concept of “outside” and the fact that the world might be larger than Room.

Room is an emotional drama that explores love between a mother and her child under extremely trying and unusual circumstances. I found it impossible to walk away undisturbed. It stuck with me for quite a while.

Rating - Three Stars

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