July 2008 Archives

Book Review: Game Of Shadows

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I finished Game of Shadows : Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the steroids scandal that rocked professional sports the other day and it lived up to its bulky subtitle alright. What an absolute fiasco the whole BALCO scandal was, pointing fingers at dozens of elite athletes and showing just what a sham even the Olympic steroid testing is.

One thing that really struck me was just what a pack of liars these people were. At some level, I can understand the narcissistic need to pump yourself up so you can win, but I can't fathom the desire to lie so boldly and baldly. It would be one thing to deny using The Clear, The Creme and other undetectable steroids when asked directly. But many of these cheats went out of their way to deny it. Tim Montgomery, world class runner and cheat, viciously decried CJ Hunter's positive test while he was in the middle of a massive regimine of doping. Marion Jones, self-proclaimed Fastest Woman in the World, wrote in big letters in her autobiography that she never used enhancing drugs, while in the middle of later admitted steriod boosting. Just unbelievably brazen!

The only drawbacks to the book, besides the incredible disappointment in these athletes it engenders, are its apostrophes and its redundancy. It continually bugged me that they used "Bonds's" rather than the more usual "Bonds'". I know both are "legal", but the s's is just weird. And, probably due to its being adapted from a long newspaper series, there were plenty of times when they repeat statements about who the actors are in this, even if there are many pages already spent describing them.

As for Bonds, what can you say? There is simply no doubt that he not only took a whole array of steroids, but that he knew exactly what he was doing and did it with the express purpose of breaking the home run record. They spend a whole appendix listing the various proofs of Bonds' complicity. And they also spend plenty of pages on just what a truly arrogant and annoying person he is too. Of course, using steroids wasn't illegal in baseball at the time due to baseball's "head in the sand" attitude about it, which opened up new avenues for Bonds and his trainer to explore, as they could use drugs the Olympic athletes couldn't. Then again, despite the "gold standard" of Olympic testing, plenty of those athletes escaped detection anyway.

Truly a book for any sports fan to read, as long as you don't mind coming away even more disillusioned with elite athletes than you probably already are.  These people live in a rarefied world and just don't get "Real Life".



Road Rage with a twist

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Latest joke to come over the email transom:

 A man was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.

The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration, as she missed her chance to get through the intersection, dropping her cell phone and makeup.

As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up.

He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a holding cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approach ed the cell and opened the door.  She was escorted back to the boo king desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal effects.

He said, 'I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him.' I noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'Follow Me to Sunday-School' ! bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk; naturally...I assumed you had stolen the car.'

Be A Blippr

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Check out Blippr, a new microblogging site with the added focus of being a micro-review site. Review book, movies, music and video games in 160 characters or less! You can find me in the usual place: hieronymus' profile.

They have an api, but it is currently only read only, so you can only fetch data. This means that there are no other clients for it, so you have to post from the web page. But maybe that will change soon.

My Reading Month - July

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 A quick rundown of my recent reading history:

Update

  • The Afghanistan Wars by Willam Maley is a straight forward accound of recent Afghanistan history, from the mid-70s through the early 2000s. I only made it up to the Soviet invasion before I had to return it, but I found it a very good way to get into Afghanistan's recent troubled times. As Maley says early in the book, hard to believe that for most of the 20th century, Afghanistan was a solid, peaceful country!
  • Annals of the Former World by John McPhee - as I predicted, I didn't come anywhere near finishing this. This book describing the early geologic history of North America was fascinating read, and one I would love to settle down and finish one day (or probably, one month!).

Currently Reading

Lots of books in the process of being read, so I have to try and finish a few up. I'm nearly done with Game Of Shadows and am truly disgusted by the story it tells. Of course, I'm always Currently Reading War and Peace:)

  • Game of shadows : Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the steroids scandal that rocked professional sports by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. Wow, it doesn't get any more ugly than this description of how steriods has taken over sports. Don't read this if you want to have any hope of believing that 90% of today's athletes aren't juicing.
  • A Forest Of Stars by Kevin J. Anderson. The second book in the Saga of Seven Suns, I reviewed the first book here. I figured I would begin the second book before I completely forgot what was going on. But there is a very nice synopsis of the action so far in the beginning of the book. I think this series is up to seven books or so - yikes! Not sure the series is that interesting, but I'll soldier on.
  • Nightwatch by Sergei Lukyanenko. A best selling Russian sci fi/fantasy novel which spawned a movie that I have in my Netflix Instant queue, this book tells the story of the ongoing battle between the Light Side and the Dark Side, as they fight over a powerful new force. Not really my cup of tea, this dark, vampiric fantasy stuff, but let's see how far I can make it.
  • The real history of the American Revolution : a new look at the past Alan Axelrod. A very nicely illustrated retelling of the American Revolution, complete with sidebars and myth busting. Very lively, opinionated writing and I'm looking forward to reading more (I have just made it to the Battle Of Bunker Hill).

In the Queue

I have so far manage to avoid buying any new books recently, which is good because I have so many I need to read that I already own. It's bad enough grabbing so many from the library, when so many need to be finished, but I just can't help myself!

  • Revolution unending : Afghanistan, 1979 to the present Gilles Dorronsoro ; translated from the French by John King. Maley's Afghanistan book encouraged me to try another one, and this one is the most recent one.
  • The Yiddish policemen's union by Michael Chabon. I've heard mixed reports about this book, but as I really loved The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, I figure I should give this a shot after seeing it on the "Faraway Adventures" display at the checkout counter. Might make for some good vacation reading.

Randy Pausch, 1960-2008

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Damn, it looks like Randy Pausch finally lost his epic battle against cancer. I've tried to watch his Last Lecture this morning, but it's just too much to take. As is the Diane Sawyer video found on his home page. Anyway, if you can take it, here's his Last Lecture:

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams



Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

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My favorite Doll, Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls, has been working on a video epic called "Who Killed Amanda Palmer" that premiers tonight in Cambridge at the Brattle. I'd love to go either tonight or tomorrow night but probably can't break away - sigh.  Anyway, she has the first three parts up on YouTube. I especially love the "ampersand" one.

Part 1 (intro):

Part 2 (astronaut):

Part 3 (ampersand):




ATM Destruction

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Idiot Driver Destroys ATM Machine & Collapses Roof - MUST SEE!

Defrag My Heart

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"What I need is a program to defrag my heart" - Brittta Persson

Britta Persson - Defrag My Heart



Paradise Anna

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Can't believe it has been almost a week since I went and I still haven't written about my trip to Paradise! Actually, it's a local rock 'n' roll joint called the Paradise and my fav new artist, Anna Ternheim was playing there. She opened for someone I had honestly never heard of, Joseph Arthur, who I guess is some kind of critical darling. A couple of quick plays on his last.fm page didn't really do much for me, but who cares? I wanted to see Anna!

Traffic was remarkably heavy for nearly 8pm and no Red Sox game to worry about, but I made it inside before 8pm and sat in the back row. Of course, there were only three rows of folding chairs set up in front of the stair, so it was no great drama :) I'd say there were about 50 chairs in each row as it wrapped halfway around the stage. Then a couple of other levels with tables and chairs.

I settled in and waited, but Anna didn't come out until nearly 8:20. And as her set wrapped up before 9pm, it was a very short and sweet show. As she did in her previous show, she opened a Capella then segued into a couple of new songs. Her rendition of Girl Laying Down was done on the piano and really came out nice, as did her "stalking" song, I'll Follow You Tonight. She looked spectacular in black jeans and a white dress shirt over a black body suit. Despite her voiced complaints about having problems with her hair out, it looked great to me!

At one point towards the end of the show, she asked the audience, which now numbered 150 at least, who had heard any of her songs before. To be honest, I was surprised when only a small handful responded. They were all here for Arthur, I guess. Then the show ended, despite my pleas for China Girl!

I hung around for a bit afterwards, as Anna said she would be signing CDs again. I heard the first few songs of Arthur's set and remained nonplussed. Sort of a Dylan wannabee, right down to the funky beret and harmonica. I did briefly talk with Anna when she came out, but she declined my offer of a drink and then went back into the dressing room. At that point, I decided to call it a night, but not before getting the Anna Ternheim poster that was up. So it was a good night, if too short. I hope she could get her own show at a smaller folk venue, like maybe Passim's or Tupelo. That would be truly worthwhile.


Movie Review: Dead Reckoning

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I enjoyed Dead Reckoning via my Roku Netflix box last night. A solid Bogart film noir, it featured some snappy dialog, a femme fatale and nicely ambiguous ending.

Bogart plays Capt. Rip Murdock, fresh from the paratroops in WW II, trying to figure out why his sidekick, Sgt. Johnny Drake, slipped out before getting the Congressional Medal of Honor for his war time heroics. When he turns up dead, Murdock swears to get to the bottom of it.

Of course, "it" involves a femme fatale, this time a slinky blonde named 'Dusty' Chandler, played by Lizabeth Scott, a relative newcomer to the film scene. Confusion reigns, as her part in the plot that implicated her star struck lover Drake is never quite clear. Drake took the fall for the death of Chandler's husband and went on the lam, joing the Army. By the time Murdock gets to the bottom of it, things have swung around several times.

Like I said, a pretty solid 40s film noir, although I don't feel that Scott is a particular standout as the prototypical femme fatale. She only appeared in a few more movies, then rumors of her lesbian tendencies ended up forcing her out of the biz. But Bogart was excellent (as usual) as the bulldog friend, and there are several excellent repartees, especially with the head detective and some of the slower cops.


Hidden Former Lies

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Some recent books:

Hidden Empire by Kevin Anderson - the first book in a long sci-fi series called Saga of Seven Suns, it was recommended in the Audible.com list. It tells the story of the humans and the Ildirans, who are an ancient alien race who helped the ten colonist ships sent out by a dying Earth to find homes (one was never found). The Klikiss are an extinct(?) race represented by robots they left behind. A human experiment with a Klikiss artifact gives rise to the Hydrogues, a race bent on destroying human and Ildirans alike.

Told in the now typical fashion of each chapter coming from a different character, this is a fairly interesting book that labors under the usual problems of the first book of a big series, in that there is a lot of 'splaining going on. Much like GRR Martin, Anderson isn't afraid to kill off story telling characters, which is fun. A few things are hard to swallow (like a human / Ildiran child?), but the book was interesting enough to have me check out the second book in the series.

Also from the list, I tried Death Qualified by Kate Wilhelm, but unfortunately I could only get about 1/3 the way through this "mystery of chaos". Never could get into the writing or the characters.

I have barely begun Annals of the Former World by John McPhee, which is a trilogy in the Audible.com list but comes all bundled together in one gargantuan book these days. It's nearly 700 pages is daunting, as is the prolix prose. Telling the story of North American geologic history, it is pretty fascinating stuff, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and all. A solidified collection of his trilogy, New Yorker articles and over 20,000 new word, this is quite the heavy tome and I'm just not sure I am up for it. But perhaps some day...

The Downhill Lie : a hacker's return to a ruinous sport by Carl Hiaasen is a hilarious book about golf. Hiaasen, who played a lot with his dad as a teenager, gave up the sport until he got into his 50s and started back. All of us hackers will appreciate his sublime humor as he quests for the perfect equipment and shots. Given my scores lately, his complaints about his scores ring a bit hollow, although they are hard to compare. He says that if you fill out for a handicap, you can't take any score over a 7, which makes it impossible to compare his scores with mine, as I keep the 7s (and above!). But still, a short, funny read.

Hidden River by Adrian McKinty is his second book, after Dead I May Well Be, although it isn't a sequel at all. Still a mystery, as a disgraced Irish cop tries to find redemption and the killer of an old flame in Denver. As well written as his first, with some great turns of phrases (and using quotation marks this time), it still didn't feel as good. The main character was a bit of a whiner and complainer (as well as a heroin addict). And the final chapter solution felt dumb and tacked on. Still, a solid read and one that makes me want to get the second in the Dead trilogy ASAP.

Starship Tides

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A couple of movies have been watched around here, although the craziness that is summer kind of cuts down on the viewing time:

Rivers and Tides : An pretty amazing documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, a British artist who does ephemeral sculptures using natural objects like sticks, hay, and rocks. I know, it sounds boring but it is simply remarkable what he can create. The passion and patience Goldsworthy exhibits is also pretty amazing. The film shows his creations which can sometimes only last until the tide comes in. Goldsworthy  "specializes" in these egg-shaped rock cairns, which of course can last much longer. Well worth tracking down this documentary (I watched it on Netflix Instant via my Roku box).

Starship Troopers : A very schizophrenic "rah rah" military movie by Paul Verhoeven, of Robocop fame. Based on the Robert Heinlein novel about a futuristic war against bug-like aliens, bent on destroying the human race, it follows a trio from high school graduation through a climatic battle to capture a Bug queen. I call it Schizophrenic because I don't think he could decide if war was a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. The movie certainly didn't shy away from showing us gruesome and graphic deaths (particularly when the bug sucks out the brains), but mostly the militaristic mindset was glorified.

The movie, which I watched in HD (with, sadly, only stereo sound) on Comcast OnDemand for free, sure looked good anyway. Denise Richards, as the hot shot pilot love interest, sure was easy to look at as well. The technology sure didn't make much sense though, at least as far as the infantry was concerned. Here it is, hundreds of years in the future, and they are still firing fancy automatic rifles, shooting projectiles with almost no killing power, sadly undergunned against even a single Bug. But all in all, the movie wasn't a total waste of time and fit the bill perfectly, as I was just looking to veg at the end of a long week.




Boy or Girl Computer

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The latest joke to come over the email transom:

A Spanish teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

'House' for instance, is feminine: 'la Casa.'  'Pencil,' however, is masculine: 'el lapiz.'

A student asked, 'What gender is 'computer'?'

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether computer should be a masculine or a feminine noun.  Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that 'computer' should definitely be of the feminine gender ('la computadora'), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;

2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for Possible later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself Spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

(THIS GETS BETTER!)

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be

Masculine ('el computador'), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;

2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

The women won.


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This page is an archive of entries from July 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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