Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label non-fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I am very skeptical of self-help books which is why I do not read them. I have read one or two in the past, and this one seemed like it might offer something different, but in the end what it offered was no different form a hundred other such books: at best it was simple common sense and at worst, misleading distractions. You cannot be creative if you're spending your time reading books like this when you should be creating things yourself instead of frittering time away on things others have created.

There's an apocryphal story about a writer who was giving a lecture, and many would be writers were present. The story may have happened or it may not. The author in question may have been Sinclair Lewis or they may not. The lecturer may have been drunk or not, but the story I heard is that he came out onto the stage and the first thing he asked was for a show of hands from anyone present who wanted to be a writer. Everyone raised their hand of course. The guy responded with, "Then why the hell aren't you writing?" And he wandered off the stage.

Like I said, this may be a true event or it may not, but there is a truth here, and it's in the message: you can't be writing that best-seller if you're off attending lectures on how to write best sellers, or if you're reading self-help books all the time when you could be working on your own project. For example, reading novels of the kind you might be interested in writing will be of much more help, but if all you're doing is reading and not writing your own, then you're wasting your valuable time.

The common theme of books of this nature is that the author is typically someone you've never heard of or read about. You don't get best-selling authors like David Baldacci, and John Grisham, or Dan Brown writing books about how to write best sellers, and the reason why they don't is because while they may well be able to write best sellers, they don't know how to teach others to write them. Plus they're too busy turning their ideas into finished novels!

It's not a magical power that can be passed on. You can take courses to learn how to write well, but you cannot be taught how to write a best-seller. You can only write one or fail to write one, and you can't even fail if you never write one. The same with musicians and artists, actors and movie-makers, and technology innovators and engineers. They know how to do it, but they cannot pass on their talent, or industry, or inspiration to others and have it magically work the same way for them. It doesn't work that way, sorry to say!

The only way to find out if you have it, is to do it! I know it's a big-business purveying self-help books, but you know what? I've never read a single one which has helped me, and more damningly, I've never read of any of these people who've had big success stories praising a self-help book for their success! They don't read these books because they're too busy pursuing their dream! What they do consistently emphasize is how hard they worked to achieve their aim and how diligently they kept chasing it.

Granted, this book does urge that, but it really doesn't offer a lot in the way of helping other than, as I mentioned, simply passing-on common sense. The problem is that if you're so lacking in common sense that you need to get tips on it from a book, then you're already in serious trouble. In the end, the only help you can count on is your own industry. It may be a cliché, but it's inspiration and perspiration that will get you there if it's going to happen for you, and there are no guarantees.

We always hear about the success stories: the ones where people have worked for their dream and got it, but we so rarely hear about those who worked just as hard pursing their dream, but who failed for whatever reason. If this books motivates people to motivate themselves, then that's a good thing, but I think it's wise to ask who really benefits most from books like these? Is it the people who write them or the people who read them?

One piece of advice offered for writers was: "Keeping score of the amount of words written or the time you spend writing will create an internal contest with yourself." This may work for some, but not for all. It doesn't work for me because it impedes my work and makes it seem like work. I don't want that! I'd rather just enjoy writing than become bogged down in, or worse, become disheartened or disillusioned by a scoring system. Scoring is boring! Worse, demanding 'x' amount of words or pages per day is not only soul-destroying, it's actually counter-productive to the very creativity this author is supposedly promoting!

There are some odd observations in the book. The first of these I noticed was when I read, "...usually we have to wait for months if not years before seeing our work published" but this completely overlooks this era of self-publishing through outlets such as Barnes and Noble's Nook press, Kobo, Lulu, Google Play, iBooks and others which has been going on for years. How the author could overlook such a roaring industry is a mystery and speaks of poor preparation.

I read in this book a lot of observations by and on people I've never heard of, including assorted quotes from these people. I am not one to take hints and tips from people I have no reason to trust when it comes to advice, especially when it's in the form of bon mots and pithy phrases which are more designed to show-off their originator than to offer concrete help. One of these asides was: "Peter Shankman flies more than 250,000 miles a year and does most of his writing in transit." I've never heard of this author, but whoever he is, that travel rate is getting on for 700 miles per day, so he really has no choice but to write in transit! Duhh!

This was in a section devoted to choosing the location for your creativity. It seemed focused on whether your desk was cluttered or clear, but you know what? Who cares? If you're working as a writer, then your focus needs to be on your writing, most typically on a computer screen, not on whether your desk is cluttered or clear! This seemed to me to be adding a distraction rather than helping to remove it. Ignore your environment focus on your work. If your environment intrudes, then include it in your work! I'm all for getting out and doing and seeing new things and meeting new people. You never know where your next idea will come from, but in the end a writer is someone who writes, an artist someone who paints, and so on, and it really shouldn't matter where you are or what surrounds you! Get focused on your art because in the end, it's all that matters when it comes to creativity.

There were some really oddball references too. One which particularly struck me was: "Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald who worked from cafes at the turn of the 20th century." I have to wonder why these two are mentioned in this context, but not Jo Rowling. I have no idea where those two antique authors wrote, but it's legendary that Rowling, impoverished, wrote in a café in Edinburgh because it was warmer than her apartment. She did not let a cluttered table or a noisy street get in her way. Did this author not know that much about an author who is more successful and arguably better-known these days than either of the two she mentioned?

That wasn't the only such item. I read, "The times when an artist worked in solitude on his creations," His creations? Seriously?! She continued: "revealing them for the first time during a launch, have passed. Now the audience wants to be co-creators, co-actively giving input throughout the process." This could not be more wrong or more misleading. Unless you really are looking to share your work - and the credit and rewards, this is appallingly bad advice. Yes, there are people who put materials out there and work collaboratively, but this isn't the norm. Perhaps it will be in some distant future, but we are not there yet and personally I doubt we ever will be. I can't see a bunch of stage actors welcoming advice and interruptions for the audience! Steve Jobs certainly did not want people telling him how to do what he did!

I also read: ""Experiencing the creative process live, while it’s happening, is now the norm." I'm sorry but this is bullshit. Maybe in the narrow, blinkered world in which this author operates it is, but seriously, I doubt even that. You don't find fashion designers posting their work online! They're more secretive than ever the Soviet Union was during the cold war!

Writers I know, are not given to doing this although some do this experimentally. For most, writing is a solitary profession and for good reason. You start posting your ideas online and someone is going to steal them and race you to publication, so they can accuse you of stealing their idea when you finally publish! Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), ideas for stories are not copyright, only the finished work.

I'm not a fan of Stephen King, but he is one of the few really successful authors who have actually written a book about writing books (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)! I never read that, but when he experimentally started publishing his novel The Plant online that same year, in installments downloaded on the honor system (you voluntarily paid a dollar per chapter downloaded), the story quickly folded. Sales fell-off and he lost interest in it. He never did ask for fan input!

There's a difference between seeking crowd-sourced funding for a project say, or in getting some feedback on some generalized ideas on the one hand, and on the other, in quite literally sharing your work before it's ever properly established as your own, and thereby risking losing ownership and a chance at copyright. I think talk like this is dangerously misleading and risky, and if misunderstood or misapplied, is going to lead only to loss and misery as your stock of creativity is frittered and dissipated without you getting any reward: not even so much as recognition for it.

It was at this point that I gave up reading this as a bad job The title is Your Creative Career, but it felt to me like there was precious little emphasis on the creative (a trilogy of chapters at the start), and far too much on avarice and maximizing profits. There's nothing wrong with making money and being financially rewarded for your creativity, but first you have to have that creative resource up and running. You have to be credited with it before you can look for credit from backers. You can't make money on vaporware, empty promises and unfulfilled dreams.

I cannot recommend this book, because for me it failed to accomplish what it promised in its title, replacing an offer of creativity advice with nothing more than simple common-sense observations that anyone worth their salt already knows, and worse: wrong-headed advice and flashy, but ultimately empty quotes and catch-phrases from obscure people who may have been successful in their sphere or not, but even if they were, this doesn't mean their advice is worth the paper it's printed on.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Drawing Cute with Katie Cook by Katie Cook

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book is an awesome introduction to illustrating, aimed at younger children. And even adults for that matter who might want to get into the fun business of creating a cute children's book. I had never heard of Katie Cook, but despite looking barely older than a teen herself, she's a mature illustrator who has worked on a variety of projects for, for example, Marvel comics and on My Little Pony, so she's well-known in the business for her illustration skills.

She should also be known for her writing skills since she's also a writer and her comments throughout this book were hilarious and it was worth reading it just for those. The illustrations are really the cherry on top though, because in a handful of steps she shows how to create a bewildering variety of images of animals (would that be bewilderbeasts?), assorted inanimate objects, sports and hobbies, and food - which seems to be a special favorite of hers despite her trim figure. Maybe Cook isn't just a name?!

The steps are easy. As she says, if you can draw a potato, you can draw anything, and anything and everything populates these pages. The chapters cover Animals, Foodstuff, Hobbies and Sports, Holidays and Seasons, and Handy-Dandy Objects. There's getting on for a hundred thirty pages of illustration, and each page contains about two things to draw, including domestic and wild animals, flying and swimming animals, cute and scary animals, and even fantasy animals. And insects and arachnids are animals, remember, no matter how much you might want to dissociate yourself from that end of the family.

There are cakes and ice creams, teapots and milk cartons, pineapples and avocados. You'll like her grapes a bunch! When you see her apples you'll say "Core!" Drawing peppers will no doubt ring a bell. The broccoli looks very cubby, but it's with the sandwiches that you'll earn your bread. Okay, enough pun-ishment! There are also kayaks and racquets*, knitting and football, jigsaws and books - enough to keep you busy making variations on a theme until before long, you're launching into your own original drawings in short-order Cook style! (Okay, I lied about the puns).

I really liked this, the drawings are good and simple enough for anyone to follow and create your own. The results are very cute, just as the title promises. The supporting text is, well, supportive, and funny, and this book makes for a great gift! If there's one thing we really do need, it's a lot more talented illustrators, especially of cute, and from a diverse background. This book is a great way to encourage that and I recommend it.

*Isn't racquet a weird word? Seriously? Who would even think up a word like that? Just sayin'.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Science for Sale by Daniel S Greenberg

Rating: WARTY!

I got this book from the library thinking it might be interesting, but it was as dry as week-old bread that has been overly-toasted and then freeze-dried. That's how dry it was. I expect academic-style tomes to be dry, but I don't usually have the issues with them that I had with this, with its uninspired cover and its academic margins. What's with that?

By academic margins I mean they are unnecessarily wide. I know this is traditional, but do not these bozos in colleges and universities care about trees? It's still possible to format it decently and have it look good, while using more of the page and saving a few trees, but none of them seem to get that. I think from this point on I'm going to automatically rate a book negatively if it looks like they're wantonly slaughtering trees, regardless of the quality of the book.

The margins in this book were an inch at the outside and on the bottom, and three-quarters of an inch at the top and in the gutter. The page was six by nine. That means the print area, even as admirably dense (yet readable) as it was, was occupying only roughly 60% of the paper. With less generous overly-margins, it could have occupied more, and thereby used fewer pages.

There were indented quotes, too, which were identified not only by a slightly smaller font, but also by huge indentations. These could have been adjusted too, so that instead of being a three-quarter inch shift further into the page than even the text was, they could have been a half or even a quarter inch. Whoever designed this book would appear to be either a moron or a tree-hater.

I cannot recommend this at all unless you're in dire (and I do mean dire) need of something to put you to sleep. If you're an insomniac, this will likely cure you, but in terms of helping a reader to understand what's going on with college finance, it's of no help at all.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Good Food, Strong Communities edited by Steve Ventura, Martin Bailkey

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher; because it is an advance copy though, the chapter headings I listed below may have been changed before publication.

According to Wikipedia, the "Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income per capita indicators" and by these measures, the USA ranks tenth. It is also the is twelfth richest in the world according to, yet according to Do Something 1 in 6 people in America face hunger. How is this possible?

This book takes a look at one issue in a bigger picture of food security and sensible nutrition. Written by an assortment of people in the know about urban farming and related topics, this book, subtitled " Promoting Social Justice through Local and Regional Food Systems" is a great starting point for anyone thinking of trying to start a locally-sourced food community or of joining one that already exists, or even just learning about these topics. it "shares ideas and stories about efforts to improve food security in large urban areas of the United States by strengthening community food systems. It draws on five years of collaboration between a research team comprised of the University of Wisconsin, Growing Power, and the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, and more than thirty organizations on the front lines of this work in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Madison, and Cedar Rapids."

In short, it's quite comprehensive on a vast and wide-ranging topic, and one which is of grave importance to very many people. The chapter headings are these:

  1. Connections Between Community Food Security and Food System Change
  2. Land Tenure for Urban Farming: Toward a Scalable Model
  3. Growing Urban Food for Urban Communities
  4. Distribution: Supplying Good Food to Cities
  5. Food Processing as a Pathway to Community Food Security
  6. Markets and Food Distribution
  7. The Consumer: Passion, Knowledge, and Skills
  8. It All Starts With the Soil
  9. Uprooting racism, Planting Justice in Detroit
  10. Achieving Community Food Security Through Collective Impact
  11. Education and Food System Change
  12. Community and Regional Food Systems Policy and Planning
  13. Cultural Dissonance: Reframing Institutional Power
  14. Innovations and Successes
There are many subsections to each chapter, which can be seen on Google Books.

There were two technical issues I had with the review copy I got. This doesn't include my usual complaint that it was in Amazon's crappy Kindle app, but I believe it is connected. Amazon's conversion system is barely adequate, and while this was readable on my phone, some of the chapter headings had bizarre capitalizations which seemed to be tied to the same few letters. here are a couple of examples: ConStraintS on the deMand For FreSh FruitS and vegetaBleS, and SoMe eConoMiC Context: the Supply oF MarketplaCeS and Marketing. You can see how it's the same letters each time (B, C, M, S) which are capitalized regardless of where they appear in the word. The other issue was the images. They were not enlargeable on the phone and were consequently too small to really see anything of value in them. Other than that it was readable on the phone.

Food security - in a local and personal sense as oppose dot a federal sense, is critical, and good 'business'. It's far better for a community to rely on itself rather than faceless and nameless remote suppliers. Be warned though that this book is very academically inclined, so it is dense and packed with information. It is not light reading, but it is good reading for anyone who is seriously interested in getting involved. I recommend it.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Myth of the Oil Crisis by Robin M Mills

Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled 'Overcoming the Challenges of Depletion, Geopolitics, and Global Warming', this book did not impress me mainly because it failed to address the fact that no matter how much technology we bring to bear, and how much we can squeeze from a rock, the fact is that oil is a pollutant, is causing climate change, and is inevitably going to run out at some point. The more we can wean ourselves off it, the less it's going to bite us in the ass. That's the bottom line, and this author seems to be in denial about that.

We're producing oil at the rate of about 35 billion barrels per year. The total world reserves are optimistically estimated at 1.6 trillion barrels. At that rate, this means the reserves will be used up in less than half a century. So yes, we have passed peak oil.

The author seemed to have a problem with the concept of easy oil, idiotically arguing that no oil is extracted easily. I guess wells never gushed, huh? I know what he means, but the fact is that these are not absolute terms; they're relative, and yes, it's harder work to find new oil now than it used to be. Deal with it. His own discussion of retrieving oil in Kazakhstan belies his claim!

He's also flat-out wrong in other regards. When he published the book, oil may have been at one hundred dollars a barrel, but (as of this blog post) is less than half that. The problem he fails to recognize is not that expensive oil is a problem, but that cheap oil is and has always been a problem. The oil crisis isn't that there isn't enough or that it's expensive, it's just the opposite: there's too much for our own good, and it's selling too cheaply. This needs to stop.

He talks about the so-called 'peak oil theory' being consistently wrong, but fails to address the fact that it was predictably wrong in the past because of poor information and no foreseeable technology. You can't fault someone in 1904 or 1940 for failing to see where the world would be in 2014, but that doesn't mean we can keep mindlessly sucking oil out of the Earth indefinitely and with no consequences. His failure to address this means just what the blurb says: Robin Mills is an oil insider and therefore not trustworthy as a disinterested commentator. Of course he's going to put a gloss on it. I cannot recommend this one.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch, Burton Silver

Rating: WORTHY!

I'm not a big cat fan, that is, I am not a big fan of cats, but when I saw this book I had to take a look at it. My conclusion is that either these two authors are either high amongst the most tongue-in-cheek authors ever, or they're dangerously delusional. I shall be charitable and go with the first of those options, mainly because I share their evident opinion that the art world is just as bad as the fashion world for being puffed-up, vacuous, and ridiculous.

Seen in that light, this book, subtitled "A theory of feline aesthetics" is brilliant, and I salute the authors. The tone is pitch perfect, the images gorgeous, and the overall effect hilarious. Cats are not the only animals that paint. By 'paint' I mean daub a surface with color. Chimpanzees and elephants do it, rhinos and meerkats (Google's idiot spell checker wanted to change that latter to 'marketeers' LOL!), raccoons and pigs, goats and lemurs, parrots, and even seals, and not just at Easter (or estrus)!

Employing the word 'paint' suggests a purpose. Do they have a purpose? Clearly it attracts them, but what exactly is going on in their sub-human brains remains to be seen. Something does however compel animals to daub the paint, yet no one can possibly know what's going on in the animals' mind, except, of course, these two authors who deliberate over it and quote references, and have a high old time extolling both art and artist!

I recommend this not only because it's intriguing that animals do this, but because of the images of the artists, which are charming and adorable, and also the art itself, which is inspiring for anyone who, like me, who all to often thinks he can neither paint nor draw. I recommend the book as a coffee table book, a reading book and a guaranteed conversation-starter.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Adventures in Veggieland by Melanie Potock

Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled "Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 101 Easy Activities and Recipes", this was an awesome book. It's beautifully presented, colorful, full of pictures, and it's aimed at persuading kids in the 3 - 8 age range to eat their greens. My feeling is if you follow this and that doesn't succeed, then nothing will! Not that I have three to eight year olds to test it on, but I sure intend to try some of these recipes. The blurb says the book "features 20 vegetables" although some are technically fruits (which the author makes clear in her text, which is full of interesting snippets). The book is divided up by season, so there's going to be something all year to try.

I liked the way she incorporates games into the cooking and offers hints, tips, asides, and advice, always explaining why she suggests this method rather than that method. I found the book to be an engaging read just for those items, regardless of whether you try the recipes, but why wouldn't you try them? They sound great! I loved the way she incorporates suggestions about which part of the food preparation that kids who are younger and kids who are older can help with. Obviously this is common sense, but it doesn't hurt to get a reminder when it comes to kitchen safety and good hygiene practices.

I would not recommend this for the phone! The text is too small to read and if you enlarge it, the page is randomly jumping all over the place forcing you to reselect the area you were reading. It's readable on that device, but a nuisance. Obviously, it's really designed as a print book, but it worked fine on a tablet. I really liked this and I recommend it.

You can never over-estimate the importance of good nutrition for raising healthy adults-to-be, but in doing so, one cannot afford to overlook the element of stress which so few health books address. I'm happy to recommend one that automatically seeks to eliminate stress by making cookery - and eating - fun!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Real Quanta by Martijn van Calmthout

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This book was a disappointment to me, a dark body with little radiation. The first problem, I felt, was that the blurb completely misrepresents it. You can't blame the author for the blurb, unless the author self-publishes, but it's not the blurb that bothered me so much. Blurbs often misrepresent content. It's rather their job. What truly bothered me was the content itself, which was all over the place. There was a great teaching opportunity here, a chance to focus light on some potentially obscure subjects, but instead of a neat rainbow from a prism we got a scattering effect that failed to focus anything. The author is actually a science journalist, so this was doubly disappointing for me.

The conceit here is that the author, a Nederlander, is sitting down at a table in a fancy hotel in Brussels and discussing quantum physics with the German, Albert Einstein and the Dane, Neils Bohr, both of whom are dead. The problem with that is that neither Einstein nor Bohrs manage to get a word in edgewise; it's all Calmthout all the way down. And what he has to say was about as gripping an atom of a conducting material is on its electron shell.

According to the blurb, the book is supposed to be a discussion of "the state of quantum mechanics today" but it's far more of a history book than ever it is a modern electronics book, and the history, as I said, is terse and it bounces around so much that it makes it hard to get a clear picture of what was going on when. Unlike electrons which, when they jump, emit light, the text here typically failed to illuminate, hence my dark body allusion.

Additionally, there is a lot of repetition in the text, which is annoying. If this had been a first draft, I could have understood how it might end up like this, but this is supposed to be the publishable copy, or very close to it. In my opinion it needs a rewrite. And it needs properly formatting. This was obviously written with the print world in mind, without a single thought spared for the ebook version which is ironic given the subject matter! In my opinion, it should have been published only as an ebook.

The formatting was atrocious, with the titles of each chapter running into one word with no spacing, so they were unintelligible without some work to disentangle them. The drop-cap at the start of each chapter was predictably normal-sized because Amazon's crappy Kindle app cannot format for squat. Normal-sized, would have been fine had the drop-cap not been on the line above the rest of the text it was supposed to lead off. Also, quite often, when a term employing the indefinite article was employed, the 'a' was tacked onto the next word after it, which I suppose in one small way was an eloquent representation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

But back to the topic: the only way to have a conversation with Einstein or Bohrs is to read something they've written, or in the case of a book set up like this, to tread carefully and quote from them, using their published views as 'answers' to or explanations satisfying, your questions. The author didn't do this. Like I said, he seemed to feel that his own opinion was much more important than that of either of these two legendary and Nobel prize-winning historical figures!

He even puts words into my mouth so I shudder to imagine what he would have done to those two characters had he actually let them speak. For example, he says, "You instinctively wonder how on Earth an electron knows what is up and what is down. Aren’t those concepts a bit too human for a particle that shouldn’t really even be called a particle? That confusion is the core of the quantum mystery," but this is nonsensical, and do rest assured that I have never wondered how an electron knows what is up or down!

I can reveal to you here and now for the first time, that in the real world, electrons honestly don't give a damn. They are what they are. The fact that we project simplifying human 'explanations' onto them in an effort to understand their behavior doesn't mean the electrons care what we think! It's immaterial to an electron which way up it is. I know this because I interviewed a few for this blog and the truth is that electrons do not act alone! They're consummate team players - an example to us all!

The author doesn't seem to get this, and lets himself be dazzled by the reflection of our projections onto electrons, mistaking them for something real emanating from the electron itself! This same flaw is evident in the author's approach to the history of quantum physics: singling out great figures, but never successfully turning them into a refined-prose condensate. I wish this author all the best, but I fear we must await another author to get us a Grand Unified Theory of modern quantum mechanics - at least one that will energize the masses and give us the chain reaction we crave.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

What are the Odds by Tim Glynne-Jones

Rating: WORTHY!

There's nothing in this book that you can't readily find on the Internet, and some parts in it were hardly more accurate than the average quality of information that's available on the Internet, but there's something to be said for having something like this in the bathroom for visitors to read!

The leaps of faith we see on occasion are a bit scary. For example at one point the author asserts that drug abuse is prevalent in men because 4 out of 5 deaths are men. Wile the result is likely, to my mind, to be true given that men take more risks than women, the conclusion the author draws, if it's based solely on this statistic doesn't necessarily follow the premise. Of course, one can quibble about what one means when one uses the term 'abuser', but perhaps men and women are equally prevalent abusers of drugs, whereas men tend to be more risky in their chosen dosage than women? Things like this made me skeptical about other claims the author made.

Some things were amusingly wrong like, for example, the section on the odds of being left-handed being illustrated by an image of a right hand. Other things were just plan wrong, such as when the author claims that the ratio boys to girls is 1.05 to 1 which means that 1000 girls there is 1005 boys! Nope! My math sucks but even I can see the flaw there. The author himself admits to this mistake three paragraphs later when he correctly translates similar ratio to numbers.

the book talks solely - and briefly in each section - about the odds of things happening and covers a wide variety of topics, mostly related to human health, adventures, experiences, stupidity, and welfare. There's an introduction (which I never read), followed by sections on: Life and Death, Sport, Money, Achievement, Crime, Health, History, Man v. Beast, and A Higher Power. There's nothing that's truly surprising to anyone who is reasonably widely read, but there are nonetheless things which make a reader stop and think, and for that reason I consider it a worthy read.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Kid Authors by David Stahler

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I could have done without the illustrations by Doogie Horner, but maybe those will appeal to the age range at which this is aimed. The actual content on the other hand was at times entertaining and interesting, but the racism and genderism inherent in the choice of writers featured here bothered me immensely, and it's why I cannot recommend this book. It's long past time to take a stand against white American males being the only important people in the world. We see it on TV, we see it in movies, and we see it in books. It needs to stop.

The book is not about children who are authors, but about the childhood of now well-known authors. The details are necessarily brief: each author gets ten or eleven pages on average, of quite large, liberally-spaced print and some of that space is taken up by the illustrations. At the back there is a half dozen or so pages with one paragraph 'also-rans' which is interesting because it includes writers like Alice walker and Maya Angelou who apparently didn't make it into the 'big time' here, but even in this section, most of the writers appear to be white American males like no one else is worth listening to.

The book has an introduction which I skipped as I routinely do, because introductions (prefaces, author's notes, forewords, prologues and so on) are wasteful of paper, are antiquated, and really tell us nothing useful. I rather get right into the body of the work than waste my time on frivolity.

Some of the stories are upsetting, when you realize what some kids had to go through to get where they got, and that isn't over today either, but how much more of a struggle is it for some authors to get ten pages in a book like this? Other stories are endearing or amusing, so there's something for everyone, but that said, the vast preponderance of coverage is of white American male authors which represent eleven out of the sixteen - almost seventy percent - who get ten pages here. Four of the others are British, and one is French.

That's a seriously limited coverage in a world where two-thirds of the planet's population is Indian or Chinese, fifty percent of the planet is women, and most of the planet isn't white. There are only three are non-white (two African Americans and one American Indian) authors represented here so it bothered me that children reading this might get the impression that only America (and maybe Britain) has anyone who can write, and nearly all those who can write are white men. This is neither an accurate nor a realistic impression, nor is it a useful one to give children in a world where whites are the real minority.

This is a skewed view which is already being hammered into young peoples' heads by the appalling number of novels coming out of the US which are also set in the US (or if they're set abroad, they star Americans, like no one else ever has anything to say or any adventures to write about), and largely written about white characters.

This Trump mentality is isolationist and very dangerous, so I would have liked to have seen a much wider coverage and more female authors (who get less than forty percent representation here). Also the youngest writer represented here was born in 1971! Almost half of them were not even born last century! 13 of the sixteen were born before the 1950's! It's not being ageist to ask for a sprinkling of younger writers! And could there not have been more females, more people of color, including an Asian or two?

Could there not have been a Toni Morrison or an Octavia Butler? A Clarice Lispector or a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? A Zadie Smith or an Elena Ferrante? A Lu Min, a Zhang Ling? No Jenny Han or Tahereh Mafi? No Jhumpa Lahiri or an Indu Sundaresan? There are so many to choose from, so it's a real shame that this book evidently went with the easiest, the commonest, the path of least resistance? It felt lazy to me at best.

These are the authors which do appear:

  • JRR Tolkien (white, English, b. 1892)
  • JK Rowling (white, English, b. 1965)
  • Edgar Allen Poe (white, American, b. 1809)
  • Sherman Alexie (American Indian, b. 1966)
  • Lewis Carroll (white, English, b. 1832)
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder (white, American, b. 1867)
  • Zora Neale Hurston (black, American, b. 1891)
  • Mark Twain (white, American, b. 1910
  • Judy Blume (white, American, b. 1948
  • Langston Hughes (black, American, b. 1902
  • Jules Verne (white, French, b. 1828)
  • Roald Dahl (white, Welsh, b. 1916)(
  • Stan lee (white, American, b. 1922)
  • Beverly Cleary (white, American, b. 1916)
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery (white, American, b. 1874)
  • Jeff Kinney (white, American, b. 1971)

The book had at least one inaccuracy: it proclaims that Joanne Rowling (now Murray) was Joanne Kathleen Rowling, but she never was. It was only Joanne Rowling (pronounced 'rolling'). The 'Kathleen' came about because her weak-kneed and faithless publisher declared that boys wouldn't read a book written by a girl. They insisted that she use her first initial and a fake middle initial. Not having any clout back then, she chose the 'K' for 'Kathleen', the name of her grandmother.

This is why I despise Big Publishing, but at least I have the knowledge that a dozen idiot publishers turned down her Harry Potter series and thereby lost a fortune. The sad thing is that now they're trying to make up for it by buying every idiotic magician series ever produced, which is cheapening the whole genre. This why I self publish. I refuse to let blinkered publishers try to tell me what my name should be. I'd rather sell no books than deal with people like that.

So, in short, this could have been a hell of a lot better and I cannot recommend it.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Secrets From the Eating Lab by Traci Mann

Rating: WORTHY!

I have to say that I'm a little suspicious when I see a book about dieting or health and the author has a string of letters after their name. You never see highly-regarded science authors like Stephen Gould, or Carl Sagan, or Richard Dawkins doing that. In this case, it's just PhD which all too often in these situations seems to stand for PinheaD judged by some of the crap I've seen published accompanied by initials, but in this case, Traci Mann is not only completely legit, she's smart, perspicacious, interesting, and full of useful information and ideas.

She's the leader of the Mann lab at the University of Minnesota, which despite some slightly less than PhD English ("We are a psychology laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Traci Mann, that focues [sic] on how people control their health behaviors" is a going concern, testing out why people behave the way they do vis-à-vis food and dieting and fads.

This book is subtitled "The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again" and though I've been fortunate enough never to have felt like I had to go on a diet, it's convinced me that I now never will because diets are useless and pointless, serving only to enrich the fat wallets of those fatheads who devise these idiotic and ultimately fruitless schemes.

Why don't diets work? They do in the short term, but with very rare exceptions, people always put the weight back on, and sometimes more than they shed, because your body is predisposed to keep you within a certain weight range, usually of thirty pounds wide, and no matter what you do, you will have a hell of a time in trying to nudge it out of that zone. Biology, advertising, evolution, and other factors are all against you.

That sounds depressing, but the author also offers a better reason not to diet: you are not necessarily unhealthy even if you are deemed 'overweight'. If you're eating healthily and exercising, it doesn't matter what your weight is, because your overall health and life expectancy is going to be the same as those skinny people you seek to emulate so much.

One thing I (and evidently other reviewers) had an issue with is that on the one hand, the author says we have this weight range we tend to stay within which is why dieting is pointless, but on the other hand, there has been a steady increase in average weight among Americans over the last few decades. How is this possible if we have this natural weight baseline that makes it just as hard for us to seriously overeat as it does to shed weight?

The author doesn't seem interested in trying to reconcile this discrepancy in her reporting. Is her 'weight range' shifting upwards, and if so how did this happen and doesn't it overturn her claim that we have an immutable range for our weight, within which we're stuck? Is this weight range very large, which means there is hope for people who do want to try to shed many pounds? Genes do not change this fast, so is there an epigenetic factor in play here? Or is there something wrong with her whole philosophy? It would have been nice to have seen this addressed if not resolved.

The book is in four parts with several subsections: 'Why Diets Fail You', 'Why You Are Better Off Without the Battle', 'How to reach Your Leanest Livable Weight', and 'Your Weight is Really Not the Point'! You can't argue with the science or the clear information and suggestions laid out here. I recommend this book not only because it offers sound advice, but as an interesting read about weight, health, and dieting, and also about psychology and societal pressures.

The book isn't perfect by any means, but it takes a rational approach, and offers simple and scientific advice on what works and what doesn't, and tips on how to make what works, work for you. I've seen a lot of negative reviews of this book complaining about how it talks about your leanest livable weight but never tells you how to calculate it. These reviewers completely missed what had been said earlier! You don't have to calculate anything, because you're already in your weight range. It's your baseline! You can lose a few pounds within your range by eating healthily and exercising, and you're there. No calculation required!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bunk 9's Guide to Growing Up by Adah Nuchi

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good, the Bad, and the Awkward," written by the endearing if fictional girls of bunk nine at the Silver Moon Camp Sisterhood, and illustrated adorably by Meg Hunt, this book was freaking awesome! it;s a fast, simple, easy read and packed with useful information - useful, and essential.

I like to think I know a lot about women, but anyone who knows about women also knows there is always so much more to learn, and while many parts of this were quite familiar to me, many other parts were an eye-opener, and served only as yet another reminder of what women have to put up with even if they lived in a world which was totally devoid of men!

The girls of bunk nine are: Abby (from Eugene OR), Brianna (from Austin TX. Yeay!), Emma L (from NYC), Emma R (San Jose, CA), Grace (Princeton NJ), Jenna (Philadelphia PA), Lea (Paris, France), Makayla (Charlotte NC), and Sage (Eugene, OR, and full of sage advice...). They are smart, diverse, feisty, teasing, assertive, full of good humor, and more importantly full of tips and good advice.

Different chapters cover different aspects of these changes, and they go into detail but are never too long or too detailed. The chapters are amusing, with observations 'penned in' by various girls in the bunk, and by some boys too. In chapters labeled for the week of camp, we get to learn of Puberty in general, of hygiene, breasts, menstruation (shouldn't that be 'womenstruation'?!), boys, health, and feelings - in short, completely comprehensive as it ought to be.

Be warned, this book is explicit, both in in the text and in Meg hunts colorful depictions. The book is presented as a 'hand-written' guide book to be passed from girl to girl (and to be chased-down mercilessly if the boys in bunk 8 ever get their hands on it!) But the boys did, so again, be warned, they added their own chapter about how boys change as well during this time. I thought this was a smart move on the part of the author, because girls need to understand this just as much as boys need to understand what girls are going through.

I don't have any daughters I'm sorry to report, unless you count two pet girl rats whom I adore. I wish I did have daughters, but I guess my brutal Y chromosomes viciously overpowered my gentile X's and Oh! I feel so dirty. But if I had had daughters I would have no problem handing this book to them once they reached the age of seven, eight, or nine, depending on their development and progress.

My view of this is that I and my wife would have covered a lot of this with said daughter(s) before they reached that age, not as lecture, or worse, a series of lectures, but as the simple act of honestly answering all her questions without evasion in age-appropriate 'sound bites' to keep her moving along.

If she's satisfied with the answer, you're done! If she has follow-up questions, tackle those head-on in the same way. It's the only sensible way to deal with this. Tell her what she needs to know, imbue in her the advice that not everyone wants to talk publicly about some of these things, so there's a time and a place, and a choice of friends and other people with whom these things can be discussed.

In this way, you teach her no shame, and she learns caution and wisdom, and you let her know that you're the source of trustworthy, straight-forward information, and she will readily come back for more answers when she's ready for them. Whatever approach you take, you'll have a lot better answers to give after reading this book! She may or may not have more questions, or she may prefer to share it with her friends and talk about things with them. Either way you've done your job (as long as you're sure her friends parents won't object to her sharing the book or what's in it!).

If I have a criticism of the book, it's not in the occasional use of an old song title for a section header (Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes on page 17 and Get Back later - although the song title was just Changes). Actually I'm not sure if that last one did refer to the Beatles song and it's not really important whether girls in this age range ever heard of the Beatles or David Bowie, because this book is for parents too! That criticism I reserve for Middle Grade or Young Adult authors who older than their intended reader, yet are too lazy to research the kind of music these girls would actually listen to, and instead make up some lame excuse that has their main characters addicted to precisely the same music the authors knows and likes. Yuk! That didn't happen here!

No, the one criticism I had was in the color scheme. Overall I really liked it - it was bright and sparkly and attention-grabbing, but I have to question, purely in terms of legibility, some of the color choices for some of the splash balloons. Light blue on light gray, and pink on light blue tend not to work!

Here's is where there is another major difference between men and women other than the pubertal changes and most obvious gender differences, ans it's one that's not well known. Women tend to see subtle shades of color better than men do. Evolution has given them better-tuned color receptors in their eyes. We have three types of receptors, and guess what? Two thirds of your color reception comes from the X chromosome! Guys only have one of these and if the color receptor genes are faulty, they're screwed! Women have a back-up on their second X chromosome, Men have no back-up X! This is why men tend to color blindness far more than do women!

In the light of this knowledge, I have to ask if these color schemes looked good to the author and the illustrator because they're women, but looked bad to me because I'm a guy?! It's definitely possible! In the case of the light blue text on light gray background I quite literally could not read it until I enlarged that balloon greatly. Then I could make it out, and the final insult hit me. It was advice specifically referring to dads! LOL! The one thing aimed directly at dads was not legible to them because we don't see shades as well as women! Was this done on purpose?! This was on page 24. Other such instances, although not quite as bad, were the note 'taped' to the bottom of page 35, light blue on pink, and also on page 84, pink on light blue. although this was, for me, easiest of the three to read. Note that this is in the ebook version, which is all we amateur reviewers get to see, so I can't speak for the print version. And I can only speak for myself of course, maybe my color vision is just muddy?!

On a note that has nothing to do with this but which is fascinating, I learned from recently reviewing a book about the human genome, that there are women who are tetrachromatic. There are not many, maybe 3% of women, but what a thrilling thing to have a fourth color channel! Assuming the brain can avail itself of the information! Dr Gabriele Jordan of Newcastle University in Northern England is actively investigating this phenomenon.

In conclusion, this book is in my opinion the perfect primer for young girls who are nearing puberty or who are already in it. I was impressed by how full of information it was. Obviously as a lifelong male, I haven't been through female puberty, so how do I judge it? For how inclusive it is, how diverse, how wide-ranging, and how intelligently it's presented. And how visually too: the text flooded the page without swamping it, and was very eye-catching and inventive.

I was, for example, pleased to see that when talk turned to one aspect of puberty - interest in the opposite sex - there was also repeated mention of interest in the same gender, which is what even hetero children can experience. The constant reassurance about this being normal and expected was wonderful. That and the endless good advice, the hints, tips, and revelations, and the honesty and humor all contributed to make this a super-special read. I advise parents to buy it, read it and give it to your daughter(s) - and sons because they need to wise-up too! I recommend it.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

P345 has a tandem repeat in the footnote! A sentence fragment is duplicated! It’s a mutation! Now that there's spare DNA in the text, evolution can work on this without tampering with the original sentence! Clearly this sentence could evolve into something else! Keep an eye on it!

This book seems like it has a very ambitious title until you read the subtitle: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, and that's exactly what this is. It might be a bit technical for some, but I think in general it's written well, clearly, and it's easy to understand, with a nice line of humor running through it. There was the usual foreword, author's note, and introduction which seem to always lard books with somewhat academic leanings. I skipped all of these as I routinely do. These are antiquated forms not most wondrous and I do not wish them to unfold, not on my time. After those, it got interesting.

I loved the way the science-free creationists are given short-shrift and sent packing. In the natural order of things, these people are parasites. They do no science of their own. Their idea of science is to sit on their lazy asses and pick over the published papers of hard-working scientists.

No, actually, they don't even do that much; they simply scan the clueless media headlines, assume that those represent the actual science paper accurately, and run with it. This book warns against taking seriously those sensationalist headlines about 'the little gene that could', but creationists are as heedless to those caveats as they are to injunctions against jumping to conclusions, and to not telling lies about evolution.

They either claim that the reported science supports the creation position (without making any effort to demonstrate how this is so), or if they dislike it, no matter how solid and well-supported it is, they claim it's all lies, and hoaxes - done by the very same scientists they previously got through praising for supporting the creation position in a different paper! LOL! These people are hypocrites at best and idiots at worst.

But this book isn't about creationism, which is why it's given short-shrift. This book is about the genome, particularly where it's been, and even where it's going (which is somewhat harder to assess!), and how it all plays into making us who we are, with all our peculiarities, habits, and even our looks and thoughts.

I found some bits of the book a little tedious and some of them superfluous to my mind, but overall this topic fascinates me and I had an easy time reading this all the way through. There are some awesome revelations (at least they were to me!), some intriguing insights, and it's grounded in solid, rational, intelligent science throughout. For me that was the best part of it. Yes, I'm biased - and unashamedly so when it comes to science.

The chapters might feel a bit long, especially if this does seem technical to you, but they're well-worth making the effort. Around every corner is something to make you stop and think, and wonder, and marvel. Each chapter is dedicated to an aspect of the genome and how it plays out in real life (if we know that much about it - there are still mysteries to solve and maybe you or your children will solve them!), and to the most intriguing parts of it and how they work together - or how they fail and cause us problems.

This book isn't just about genetics though - it's about people primarily, and how we got to be who we are. How our genes make us work, or in some cases malfunction. How we're quite literally more or less related to all life, but especially to other humans, including extinct relatives such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, and how we're inextricably tied to all life via the evolution of the genome in assorted species that lead through time from the first cell to us and everything else alive today. As the well-known Theodosius Dobzhansky, a Christian, said, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution." He didn't add, but maybe should have, that the dark of creationism offers only nonsense.

Even as a science aficionado, this book answered questions I had not thought of asking, and questions I have thought about asking, but never got off my butt to do the answering - such as why are men more prone to color-blindness than women? The answer is simple, and you can probably figure it out with some little thought, but in case you never got there, like me, it's in this book along with lots of other answers.

The truly intriguing part though was what an adventure the human genome is - and no: don't believe popular political announcements of how it's been finally mapped. It's mapped in the same way that old world maps of the globe were - the basic overall geography is right (near enough) but the detail is still being filled in, especially when it comes to the detail of how it all works together and how the genes (and the relatively recently discovered epigenetic markers) work together or even dissonantly.

To me, rather than a map, it was more like one of those high resolution Internet images which sometimes appears on your screen, and at first it's highly pixelated so it looks blocky and blurry, but as you watch, new scan lines are added and the image slowly comes into sharper focus by stages. That's exactly where we're at with the genome! We have that initial chunky download and now we're in the first phase of those extra scan lines being added so the resolution is slowly becoming clearer, but we still have many more 'scan lines to add' before the picture is sharp enough for science be happy with. Meanwhile the creationists still remain as idle as they are clueless.

On the topic of the increasing resolution of genetics, I learned yet more information about how humans are not binary. I mean to open minds, it's obvious to begin with, but contrary to creationist claims of perfection, we are seriously messed up when it comes to genetics and reproduction. The majority of people end up with one X and either an X or a Y, but some do not. Some get an extra X or an extra Y or only one X and no Y. There are other combinations, too.

This was intriguing to me because I learned from this book that women don't use both X's. They use only one. The other one gets those epigenetic markers and becomes methylated! That doesn't mean the same as drunk or drugged-up; it means it's muted. What I had hoped to read is that when a person gets only one X and this causes problems is it because that lone X is muted so they effectively have no X? If so, can it be un-muted and will this fix the problem? Maybe we still have to discover that, and this is why genetics is such a big industry, and such an important and massive frontier for science. There is so much more to learn, and this book is a great primer on this new ocean of discovery into which we've just begun to dip our toes.

I recommend this with the slight caveat about regarding the overall formatting. I've noticed that academically-inclined books seem to be published largely by tree-hating organizations. I'm forced to this conclusion because of the vast amount of white space I see on every page. Clearly the aim here is to use as many pages as possible and this kills trees. And such academic books tend not to be printed on recycled paper.

Chapter one begins on page 28! When we reach it, at last I can say that it doesn't start halfway down the page, but it has wide margins on all four sides of the page and the lines are quite widely-spaced. I don't know what format the print book is in (judged by the lack of links in the text, this is clearly intended as a print book.

All we amateur reviewers ever get is the ebook, which isn't always a fair representation of the print version, especially if it comes formatted for reading in Amazon's crappy Kindle app which often mangles books. But the measurements I am about to report are taken directly from the iPad screen. Since I'm going to talk percentages, it doesn't really matter very much exactly how big the print book is.

Fortunately this one came in PDF format - which I preferentially read on a tablet after the phone fiasco, in an app called Blue Fire Reader, which is a decent reading app. I tried it in the same app on the phone, but since I do not have the genes for Falcon's eyes, the text was far too small for me to read comfortably unless you turn the phone in landscape mode when the text is legible, but then you have to try to navigate up and down the page, and because the phone is so twitchy to finger movement on the screen, if you swipe or pinch or spread at the wrong point, it can flip to the previous page or to the next page and you're lost, so it's a nuisance for phone reading.

On the iPad, the page is slightly over 19.5cm tall and 13cm wide. The left margin is 2cm, the right 1.75cm, the top margin 1.5cm, and the bottom 2.5cm - when there are no footnotes - and there were lots of footnotes which in my opinion for the most part could either have been either done away with altogether, or if deemed really necessary, incorporated into the text for a much more pleasant reading experience. Didn't that last observation make for a better reading experience with it being inline with the text rather than my sending you to the bottom of the page to read it? Just sayin'!

You may guess that I'm not a fan of footnotes at all. They're simply annoying - especially when they contain more text than does the actual page they're on, which means the footnote ridiculously goes over to the next page! I can't think of anything more stupid than that, and this is in an age of: electronics, URLs, ebooks!

Don't get me started on how appallingly short-sighted it is to continue to produce books in blinkered print mode when e-mode can be employed. For a publisher to think that those print versions can be simply moved to the e-version without a second thought is idiotic. Believe it or not, footnotes/chapter notes/end notes can all be links these days!

If you're interested, you touch the link and can go to it. You touch the note, and it brings you right back to where you left off in the body of the text. You never forget the place where you left the text. This doesn't work in a print book, yet publishers - especially of academic books - are obsessively-compulsively addicted to print books. I guess they make more money on them even as trees die for their obsession.

You can say you can't blame the author for this because these are publisher decisions, but authors can choose to go with a publisher which is more reverential of trees and is also interested in keeping up with modern times. Or they can choose to self-publish.

There are of course arguments to be made for dedicated ebook readers being wasteful of resources and pollution sources themselves, but you can read a few hundred if not a thousand books before you trade in or recycle your ebook reader. That's a lot of trees saved. That's especially true if you read them on your phone which also serves as your phone, your web browser, your camera, your alarm clock, your meeting tracker, and so on.

But I digress! So the page is 19.5 x 13cm which rounds down to 250cm². The text was 15.5cm x 9cm which rounds slightly up to 140cm². This means that forty-five percent of this page is white space! The margins could have been smaller and fewer pages employed in this book while still saying exactly the same thing! And this days nothing about adjusting line-spacing.

That does not mean I advocate cramming the text in and eliminating all white space, which would be a nightmare. I had to read a book rather like that once recently, and it wasn't pleasant, but just employing a little less white space will make a big difference in a 400-some page book.

Believe me, I know this. My novel Seasoning ran to 760 pages as originally formatted, but I brought this down three hundred pages by formatting it more wisely. That's almost half the original size! It also had the effect of making it cheaper for potential purchasers. I believe I can improve even on that next time I tinker with it, yet the novel will still look appealingly formatted. You only need the will to do this, and it's done. It's not rocket science; it's caring for the environment. That's all it requires. It's well worth thinking about.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomachs by Melanie Mühl, Diana von Kopp

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Subtitled "Learn to See the Hidden Influences That Shape Your Eating Habits" this was a great book about how we see food both with our eyes and with our minds (it's not necessarily the same thing!). Even knowing as much as your average amateur can about how easily the mind can have the wool pulled over it, I was surprised by some of the revelations here. You may think you know how deceptive advertising can be, but what if the advertising is the food itself? What if we're already weakened and susceptible because everyone has to eat, and nature itself has predisposed us to give in to the very things which the six-hundred-billion dollar military-food complex is trying to foist upon us?

Just kidding about the military-food complex (although not about the six-hundred-billion dollars), but food is making an impressive assault on us, and it's showing on our waistlines. Maybe it should be referred to as the militating food complex?! The fact is that it's in our nature from when we were all hunter-gatherers to seek fats and sugars, and now they're so readily available to us, we have a hard time saying no. But it's not even that simple, because food sneaks in under the radar, and we can be manipulated so easily not just by it, but by those who are trying to purvey it to us.

The authors (journalist Melanie Mühl and psychologist Diana von Kopp) pull research and references from fields such as behavioral psychology, biology, neuroscience, and pop culture and make it available in short, pithy, topical chapters which make reading this so easy I got through it long before I expected to. They ask an assortment of questions and answer them: Why do we like certain foods so much? Is raw food healthier than cooked? Why do people overeat? And a lot more. They talk about real world studies and research and come up with some quite amazing trivia about our eating habits, which turns out to be not so trivial at all.

You may know that if you get a smaller plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you're likely to eat less than if you start with a larger plate, but did you know that if you sit facing the buffet, you're more likely to eat more than if you face away from it? Ot that if you get a red plate and tableware, you're likely to eat less as well? I guess that last one doesn't apply so much at Christmas, when we often see red plates, but over-eat anyway! But Christmas is of then the exception to many rules.

If you're interested in how humans behave, in food and diet, or are looking to maybe lose a couple of pounds and want to find ways to psych yourself into it, this is a great book to read. It's not a diet book by any means, but it does clue you in to both diet and weakness, and knowledge is a powerful weapon. Even as a book about food and perception, which is what this is, it was fun, interesting, surprising, engaging, and well-worth the read. I recommend it.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Polar Adventures of a Rich American Dame: A Life of Louise Arner Boyd by Joanna Kafarowski

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I requested this thinking it would be engrossing and entertaining, as well as educational, but I had too many issues with it to classify it as a worthy read. Some of the problems were with the formatting, but most were in the writing.

While on the one hand I can appreciate a story of a woman who flouted the accepted conventions of her day and organized her own voyages, this book didn't really focus on anything she discovered or opened up so much as it told a story of a spoiled rich girl spending her money on personal interests. It made her sound completely unappealing to me, and the science was not really well-represented. Indeed, it was well described by one observation about a passenger on one of Boyd's voyages, and one which was quoted without comment from the author: "I'll wager she will see more than any of your scientists with their noses to the ground." This rather sums up the scientific perspective of this entire book.

Yes, she collected botanical specimens, but she apparently did a poor job of that, at least to begin with, and yes, she photographed her travels extensively and also filmed some of it, which was new for the time period, but I did not get any sense from this book of Louise Boyd really achieving anything significant (other than being a woman doing things women were not well-known for back then - and there's a caveat to that, as I shall discuss shortly). On top of this she did things which to me personally were obnoxious, such as mass slaughtering of polar bears, which are a vulnerable species at high risk of becoming endangered today, as well as wantonly killing other animals. I know mind-sets were different back then, and I know that explorers were known for hunting to replenish rations, but the delight this author seems to take in describing the endless slaughter of Polar bears frankly made me sick.

I read at one point, "The Ribadavias were amazed by the courage Louise had displayed and the vigour with which she participated in hunting the polar bear. She may have been a sophisticated socialite, but she was no shrinking violet." Seriously? There really was no hunting. They would see some wild bear roaming the ice or swimming in the ocean, and stand there and shoot it. There was nothing difficult about it. Nothing heroic, nothing brave. It was cruel. The first bear she shot took three bullets to kill (assuming it actually was killed at that point) and then it was dragged back to the boat and hung up with a rope around its neck so this brave and intrepid explorer could have her picture taken next to the bear, its tongue lolling out of its slack mouth. It was disgusting. There was nothing heroic here, only that which was cowardly and shameful.

The relish with which these 'hunts' were described, and described repeatedly by this author, was honestly sickening. I read, "hunting parties were a favourite pastime" and "Louise and the Count and Countess were enlivened by the prospect of sport and more mighty polar bears fell to their guns" and "Miss Boyd returned with the pelts of twenty-nine polar bears, six of which she shot in one day." This is something to be proud of? Wantonly slaughtering 29 bears when one was far more than enough?

The only suffering the author describes is that of the people. I read at one point, "Every year, seal hunters ... get trapped in the ice. Some are able to free themselves, but many are lost. If the crew is able to free the ship, it is only after great effort and much terrible suffering." Yeah? Well you know, that's what they get for hunting seals! I have no sympathy for them. The animals suffered too.

Some of the writing seemed amateurish, such as when I read, "After the tragic death of her husband." All deaths are tragic! Even someone who dies on death row was a child at one point who might have had a different life (and death) from the one they ended with. It's tragic that they didn't, but it's also asinine to describe it as a 'tragic death'. 'Death' by itself is sufficient, or at least come up with a new adjective, instead of parroting the one every media outlet trots out mindlessly when describing a death.

Another thing which detracted strongly from Boyd's achievements, such as they were, was when it came to hiring people for the voyages. Everyone she hired was a man! The only women who came along - and those were few and far between - were the wives of the men who came along!

I understand that there were few women back then in the kinds of professions which were sought-after for these expeditions, but even when Boyd had a chance to hire one (a female botanist who wrote to Boyd and said she would be thrilled to join her on a future expedition), she went for a man instead. This hardly recommends her as a champion of female emancipation. Indeed, it makes her a hypocrite. I understand that the author had no influence over Boyd's choices by any means, but the fact that this author never even raised this as an issue is inexcusable.

The formatting of the book was as expected in Amazon's crappy Kindle app. In addition to text not being formatted as well as it ought, which I expect from Amazon, their crappy Kindle app literally shredded the pictures. I saw this on my phone, where I read most of this book, but I also checked it out on an iPad, and it was just as bad there, too, with the images fractured in the same way. The larger ones were sliced into several pieces and in some very odd shapes.

I have no idea what algorithm Amazon uses to do this but it needs to fix it. At least on the iPad I could enlarge the pictures. The same app on my phone, where the ability to enlarge pictures would have been far more useful, did not permit it. The picture captions were so poorly done that it was hard to separate them from the text of the book. I highly recommend not issuing books in Kindle format if you want the integrity of the book to be preserved.

Amazon is rolling in money and has had years to fix these issues,yet we still get garbage. The chapter index did not work: for example, you could not tap on a chapter in the contents, and go to the chapter, which made a contents list thoroughly pointless. The funny thing is that the link to the prologue worked. I tapped on it and it went to an index in the back of the book! LOL! it was a good thing too - I never read prologues! They're antiquated.

Why it should be the case in an ebook that links are non-existent or do not work, I don't know. I had the impression that this was written as a print book and no one really cared about the e-version of it, although as I said, this was an advance review copy so maybe these issues will all be fixed by the time it's published....

Overall, I cannot recommend this book as a worthy read. There were too many problems with it of one sort or another and it did the subject few favors. But then perhaps she deserves few.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Future War by Robert H Latiff

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I have to say right up front that I was disappointed in this. It seemed disorganized and rushed, and the text was so dense that it was hard to read, while at the same time so lacking in any breath that it felt like I was skimming the text even as I read every word!

I know this may sound strange coming from a fanatic like me who is always railing on authors and publishers to consider how many trees are being killed-off when setting up the formatting of their books, but I never expected to be advocating for a book to use more space than it did! This one went too far in compacting the text. The lines were so closely-spaced that it was hard to read, and then there was the usual 'academic-style' one-inch margin around the text! It felt so contradictory that it actually amused me. Smaller margins and slightly more widely-spaced text would have made it more appealing and a lot easier on the eye.

Even so, the way the book was put together was not appealing to me at all. Subtitled "Preparing for the New Global Battlefield," I felt it was so rushed and so shallow that it left me with very little useful information about how things might really be whether actually on a battlefield or in cyberspace. There are parts that were eye-opening and interesting, but the majority of this felt more like a largely-speculative work, rather than something which derived its prognostications from existing technology and predictable future directions.

On top of all this, the coverage of any one topic was so cursory that it really didn't get covered at all. One of the organizational problems was that there was very little in the way of hierarchical structure to the text, or by way of labeling subsections to make reading easier and to serve clarity. Consequently, it felt more like a stream-of-consciousness approach, and this didn't serve the subject matter well at all. The book was paradoxically only a step or two away from an outline list, yet nowhere did it actually have an outline list to make comprehension easier either in regard to what you had just read or were about to read in the upcoming chapter.

This book is very short and is a fast read, and if you want the vague 'ten-thousand foot' view or the whirlwind tour of future battlefield trends and technology, then this will give you a start, but it was really lacking far too much in depth and detail for me. It left me notably dissatisfied, and I cannot recommend it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Kobane Calling by Zerocalcare

Rating: WARTY!

This was another 'Read Now' graphic novel that I requested from Net Galley, and for which I thank the publisher. I like to look at the 'Read Now' because while material in this category can sometimes mean a novel is not doing well and for good reason, it can also mean that something worth reading is being overlooked. I've seen many examples of both, and I am sorry to have to report that this one, for me, was not a worthy read.

There was a prologue. I never read prologues because they're tedious and antiquated. My advice is that if you must have one, then include it in chapter one or somewhere in the story, preferably not as a flashback. I routinely skip all prologues, prefaces, introductions, forewords, and so on.

In this case this created a problem because there was no obvious beginning to the story itself, so I skipped past page after page looking for a start or a chapter one, anything, and there was nothing to indicate where the actual story began!

This lack of organization was rife, and the total lack of respect for trees irked me. I don't think comic book writers in general ever consider how many trees they're going to destroy if their story takes off as a print edition. I wish they would. In this case, this book had a title page (which may have been a place-holder for the cover we don't get in the review copy), followed by a blank page, followed by another title page, followed by a credits page, followed by a small print page, followed by an extravagant two-page map, followed by a blank page.

This was followed by yet another title page - like we don't already know the freaking title of this work by now? Seriously? How many title pages do we need? Does the publisher think we're that stupid, that we can't remember the title page? Maybe so - because I did have to swipe past page after page, after endless page to get to the story, so it's entirely possible, by by the time I've waded through all these extraneous pages, that I could well have forgotten the title!

That was followed by a black page and then the story began, but this was not the prologue! This was the pre-prologue! Fool that I was, I read this thinking that the actual story had started, but no! After two pages, then began the prologue! I am not sure where the prologue ended. We got some more titles, but they were so odd and random that it was never clear if the story had started or if this author was totally enamored of prologuing.

I know there are in-a-rut publishers who are mesmerized by the library of Congress 'rules and regulations', but I say screw them. When did Congress ever care about trees unless it's how much money can be made and profits taxed from cutting them down? This wasn't even an American publication: it was, I think, but am not sure, Italian, and was revamped and translated for English speakers, so there's even less reason to concern ourselves about antiquated Congressional ideas about publishing.

I read seventy-eight pages of a tree-slaughtering 288, and I decided I had better things to do with my time. At no point did the author actually explain why this guy had decided to go to a kill zone. From the story it looked like all he did was it around staring at the fighting going on over the border, and then once in a while put together food packages. The packages, it seemed to me, could have been put together somewhere a whole lot safer and simply shipped to where they were needed instead of shipping the raw materials there. Why this was not done wasn't even addressed, let alone explained.

For a story that I requested because it sounded interesting, it was not. It was tedious. The writer seemed much more in love with how wonderful he was to go somewhere dangerous, than ever he was in explaining anything about why he went, why things were how they were, or how it really felt to be there. The story made the whole experience (at least as far as I could stand to read) out to be a joke and it seemed to me not a joking matter at all. The story therefor was neither engaging nor educational much less entertaining, and I gave up on it because life is too short to waste on something as dull as this. I cannot recommend it.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Phones Keep Us Connected by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, Kasia Nowowiejska

Rating: WORTHY!

This was a great little children's book about the history of phones, including how they work, and how they've been developing and changing over time. It's done in a simple (but not too simple!) and colorful way that will allow any child of the appropriate age range to understand it.

It includes simple instructions to make your own phone (the cup and string method!) and ways to experiment with your design to see if your 'improvements' make it perform better or worse. I think this is a pretty darned good book to get your kids interested in science and experimentation as well as educate them about a small, but ubiquitous piece of technological history. The book is diverse and fun, and nicely done. I recommend it.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Real Life Super Heroes by Nadia Fezzani

Rating: WARTY!

I have to confess up front my disappointment in this book: an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. It professes to be written by a professional journalist, but professionalism was exactly what it was lacking. This book felt more like reading something written by a fan-girl or a groupie. Issues which ought to have been pursued were ignored and questions which ought to have been answered were never asked.

Not to be confused with Real Life Super Heroes by Ernest Cooper, or Real Life Super Heroes by Pierre-Élie de Pibrac, or even I Married a Real-Life-Super-Hero by Amity Maree, this book advises us (from the blurb) that they "...dress up at night, fight crime, save people, and some of them even have secret identities. Are they ordinary, mild-mannered citizens, or are they larger-than-life characters, determined to fight crime, risking life and limb to defend victims of violence and injustice? And why do some choose to reveal their true identities, while others prefer to remain anonymous?"

I had several reactions to that, including 'were these the only options?', but I think the most pertinent one is, why do they only go out at night? This was something which wasn't explored, and was emblematic of a flaw in this entire book: things unexplored, and aspects of the story uncovered.

An obvious answer presented itself in that many of them work a regular job during the day, but not all of them do. Another answer is that many of the things they claim to engage with, crime being the obvious one, take place at night, but this isn't strictly or always true. This was one of the things which I felt never got addressed properly in a book which to me failed too many times to take seriously.

So there are apparently people who dress in costumes and go out on city streets to fight crime. Some of them simply do things like hand out food, water, and blankets to the homeless (something which could just as readily be done during the day) or help break-up fights or find drunks a ride home and so on. Others go another step beyond that and try to bring criminals to justice. This is where the facts tended to get skimmed. Frankly I was far more impressed by those who quietly handed-out things to the needy than ever I was by the costumed 'crime fighters'.

The problem is that we got only one side to this story: the side the author clearly favored. She was not interested in reporting anything other than what she was told by the people she was following. Even when she pretended to seek out the horrible 'super villains', it turned out these guys were not even remotely villains. They were more like side-kicks to the heroes. The fact that the author is in a romantic relationship with one of the "villains" clearly reveals the huge bias in her reporting here.

She didn't care to ask the difficult questions, nor did she care to seek opinions from outside this small community. Why, if she really wanted to do a job of journalism, did she not interview police and local community leaders? Why did she no peruse crime prevention stats to see if these 'crime fighters' actually did make a significant difference? Why did she not ask these people why they didn't simply join the police force or a neighborhood watch if they truly wanted to help? All of these questions were brushed aside, if they were ever raised, in favor of fan-girling. It's an insult to real working reporters to call this reporting. It was nothing of the sort.

The biggest question of all: why these people get the name super heroes, was left unasked, let alone answered. What makes them super? How are they any more heroic than people who do what they do but don't wear flamboyant costumes? based on the content of this book, the only answer seemed to be that they roam in gangs wearing cosplay costumes and occasionally tackle crime. The biggest "hero" of them all seemed to be "Phoenix Jones", about whom the author had nothing negative to say, but here's what the book said about him reacting one night to a friend being injured:

"My friend's face was flopped open and was just gushing blood."
"...and I walked up on this guy and he just took off. I chased him, I tackled him, I pulled him, and I hit him a few times. I took the stick and I was going to whoop his ass when the police rolled up on me."

Is this what a super hero does? Beats-up people? Personally I think it would have been more heroic to have taken his friend who "was just gushing blood" to a hospital, but this 'hero' abandons his friend and goes after vengeance - not justice but vengeance. This whole thing was reported without any analysis or observation from the author. It was shameful reporting. We never even learn what happened to his friend who was gushing blood.

At one point I read the hypocritical conclusion to another event: "Although they thought the boys' intentions could be seen as good, the RLSHs did not generally accept their actions as positive." Compare and contrast with Phoenix Jones all-but beating-up that guy.

The reporter is so enamored of the heroes that she gushes herself, talking of Purple Reign, an associate of Phoenix Jones: "He was accompanied by a beautiful woman, whom I recognized." Later, I read, "Purple [reign] looked to be in good shape, too, with a shorter frame, a beautiful face" Purple reign was actually one of the few people I read about in this book that I admired for what she does. She was also at one time married to Phoenix Jones. Evidently, they separated in mid-November 2013, but you won't read that in the book.

She's not about show and flash and publicity; she's about helping people in very real ways: people who truly need the help, and she's in a good position to give it, but what does her beauty (or otherwise) have to do with what she does? If she were plain would that make her less super? If she were unattractive altogether, would that make her less heroic? Less effective?

I am so tired of reading this "plain-shaming" from female authors who should know better given the make-up, youth, and 'beauty' culture that drives everything in the west, and who seem to go out of their way to remind their fellow sex that if they aren't beautiful, then fuggeddabout it. It's a disgrace and it needs to stop. There's nothing heroic about behaving in this way. It's bad enough that we routinely see this in comic books about super heroes. We sure as hell do not need it irl.

This gender bias appears elsewhere in the book, as we see when the author is with the super heroes "on patrol" and there's a shooting. Never once did I read of anyone in the group calling the police. Instead, I read this:

Everywhere I looked I could see young women scattering in front of the nearby nightclub, running as fast as they could with their high heels and short skirts. I also noticed that the men, in their sneakers, easily outpaced them. Say what you will about Real Life Super Heroes, but I can't imagine any of them taking off and leaving terrified a women in their wake!

How gallahnt! How St George! So women are helpless victims by definition, and only manly men can save them? We're either equal or we're not. You don't get to have it both ways: fully equal, until that is, you need a man to save you, then you're a maiden in distress? (Or vice versa, until you need a woman to save you).

The wrong-headedness of this writing was appalling, but it gets worse! At one point, the author says, "Oddly enough, during my entire life, only once was I taught what to do in case of a shooting." It's not rocket science! If you are not trained to deal with such a situation, you get your damned head down and if you can, you get away. It's that simple. Oh, and you call the cops, who are trained to deal with it. No wonder she thought all other women were in need of saving.

In another incident that was reported straight from the mouth of the hero without any investigation or analysis, we read of one guy who saw the police chasing after a man and a woman, and he intervened, busting into a police officer, and ending up beaten himself.

This was presented as heroic, but never once did the reporter ask why those people were running. They were presented as victims, but nowhere were any of the cops involved interviewed. She never went back to try to look at footage of the incident (if there was any) to see what actually happened. We got only one biased fan-girl side of the story as thought this was somehow heroic.

I don't know what those people had been doing, but neither did the 'hero'. Maybe they were perfectly innocent, but what if they'd been throwing rocks at the police? We don't know what they had been doing and neither did he, yet he charged in and assaulted a police officer, and this made him a 'hero'? If the pair had been both male would he have done the same thing, or was he charging in merely to help what he saw as a 'maiden in distress'? We don't know because the reporter didn't care to ask.

I am not a huge fan of the police many times, but these people put their lives on the line every day. They are professionally trained and legally empowered to do what they do. And they wear no mask. They hide behind nothing and they are out there doing what they see as the best that can be done in any given situation under often trying and sometimes impossible conditions. They do not randomly and haphazardly wander into situations. Yes, there are bad seeds in there and yes, even the best make mistakes. Yes, there is sometimes corruption, but they have a right to tell their side of the story - unless, that is, it's a super hero book written by this author.

Bad writing was prevalent. At one point I read, "He exuded a genuine demeanour." I think what she meant to say was that he seemed genuine, but why say that when you can make it an order of magnitude harder to grasp on first reading? I also read later, "His team fluctuates in membership, sometimes five, sometimes twelve, but the core is strong: Ghost, Asylum, Foolking, Oni, Professor Midnight, and himself." Unless my math is bad, that core is six, not five, so is it strong or not?!

After chiding an HBO Super Heroes documentary (which I haven't yet seen) for making the heroes out to look like idiots, this author then reports of one of her subjects, "Today he patrols and is writing a book on the manifestation of good, evil, and in between. It's about mental powers and the ability to read minds and control thoughts, all based on metaphysics and subatomic physics." Ri-ight! I am not kidding, this was reported as is without comment!

Another of them had this to say about how humble he was: "You can do anything you want here and get away with it. All you got to do is be that much smarter than anyone else, and it works. I do it great...I think I slept with my entire graduating class, to be honest with you. It was pretty bad and then there was the class before and after. I don't go out on patrol as much to help others really as to help me. It's for me. If people don't like it? Fine. Just try to stop me." That's so humble. Really, truly humble! An again it was reported without any comment.

This book was so poorly written and so gushingly, embarrassingly biased it was a disgrace to reporting, and I do not recommend it. Nothing could be less heroic or less super.