Saturday, June 27, 2009

Books I'm Reading 19) Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

I came across the audio book of this a month or so ago and after listening to it I went back to read the book. Text is the same but the pacing is different. Reading it instead of listening to it, or watching the movie adaptation (even if I do like Hank Azaria) makes the lessons stick more. The nice thing about the audio book is that you can actually hear Morrie in his own voice. It gives you a slightly different connection to the lessons. It makes you a part of the conversation.

Regardless of reading or listening, the lessons are the key. The key to life, as Mitch and Morrie determine, is to find someone else to take out the garbage. That is, to take the time for real experience and real depth in life. Personally, I coast. I know I coast. I have developed over a decent period of time, a habit of driving myself into complacency following by radical upheaval and progress. I don't know if I can become the type of person to appreciate the slow change, the methodical progress of a disease like ALS and the corresponding progress of an understanding of what's important. I hope that one day I'll have the capacity to look back at my life and have the same appreciation for it that Morie did. I hope that one day I'll be able to pass that lesson along. I wonder though if the speed of youth doesn't make that attitude something only achieved with the wisdom of age. Interestingly, one of the things this reminds me of is Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. He recalls a time when he had the kids in the clss he was teaching write their obituaries, the obituaries of their classmates and of their teachers. In a macabre way it made me laugh. That none of the teachers died peacefully, that such a dark idea would be a writing lesson, that the young have the view of life that they are immortal while an old ALS victim had such acceptance, to me is a great contrast.

Appreciate the past, don't dwell on it. Appreciate the people in your life, not the things. Appreciate the relationships in your life, not the accomplishments. The love is the accomplishment.

And what do I want on my tombstone? I'm not sure. At the moment, I'm vascilating between "he went kicking and screaming" and "he went peacefully and content." I'd like to think that whatever it says, my funeral will be attended by the people I care about.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Books I'm Reading 18) Marley & Me by John Grogan

I will admit that I nearly got dragged to see the moive that came about because of this book and thankfully managed to avoid it.

The book itself starts out slow and unengaging. Even as someone who grew up with dogs and around dogs the story wasn't one which initially captured me very well. Don't get me wrong, the stories were touching and funny and referring to the basic obedience trainer as "Ms. Dominatrix" was pretty damn hilarious. But it wasn't a story I would have paid much attention to until near the end when Grogan and his family (I should not the story itself is a true story) move to Pennsylvania. At that point the dog is getting older and it begins to became apparant to the family that the dog is getting up there in years. At that point the lessons that you read beneath the story itself begin to be drawn out explicitly by the author. And when you get to the ending itself, after Marley is buried and gone, where Mr. Grogan recalls an enlightening trip to Shanksville, Pennsylvania on the second anniveersary of 9/11 and comes to his revolutions about the lessons he's learned, I will admit that I was biting my lip and holding back some laughter and tears.

I'm not a professional writer or a journalist of any sort so I shouldn't be critical here. And in truth the writing wasn't bad. It was just a little slow for my taste. It was written as a memoir should be. A witty and insightful telling of the backstory of an importnat person (which is somehow, how I view this dog now, much like my own pets of past) with a few larger lessons revealed in due course.

I should also menion that I'm pretty sure that despite the family John Grogan may be a little gay. Or at least bi-curious. I mean really, gardening? Living for so many years in South Florida? Either that or it was ghost written by a retired Jewish lady. But it was good book and one worth the time. I'm almost, but not quite, curious about the moive now as well. Curious to see how someone would have morped this into a large budget screenplay and curious to know how they would have gotten a manic dog well enough trained to do some of the things that Mr. Grogan describes. I will now have to train any future pets...perhaps even fish, to respond approriately to the command "incoming!"

Monday, June 08, 2009

Books I'm Reading 17) How to Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way by Bruce Campbell

Okay so technically it's a CD, not at book but it's on Amazon so it counts.

The story itself is awesome. It's a B-movie in audio format which is great because it comes complete with sound effects and lets me imagine my own pictures to go along with the crazy goddamn story. It's fiction but has so many little nuggets of film production that it's a gem all on it's own. Considering I was having a pretty good weekend riight up until about half an hour ago, I have tto say that this was one of the reasons. It was a great way to just piss away a few hours while I went down to the beach and went grocery shopping. The story was funny, the acting was very Bruce Campbell and the fact that most of it theoretically, could, have happened, makes it all the more awesome.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mary Roach is just awesome. TED 2009

1. She approaches things with a seriousness and a scientific view but more importantly

2. She has a wicked sense of humor about the whole thing and a somewhat self depricating one at that

and most importantly

3. She somehow managed to score a copy of the DVD that Danish pig farmers saw and God bless her for sharing it with the world.

confusing math and crochet - Margaret Wertheim on

I can do calculus. I don't like to. I can balance my checkbook. I prefer to do it with a calculator. So when it comes to non-Euclidean Geometry my preference is to avoid subjects that have stumped the world's best mathematicians for generations. And yet as I look at some of the beautiful math at work in some of the art that Margaret Wertheim and her sister and many others have done, it doesn't seem as spooky. While I have to admit that the idea of a crochet reef is a little weird to me. If I want to see a reef I go to the beach. I'm in Hawaii. I have that option. But the idea of seeing a reef in a Ben Franklin Craft store seems pretty damn neat.

the most amazing data visualization I have seen EVER. Hans Rosling on

And to be fair, I'm including that Sixth Sense device in here. It's neat and the projector / gesture based interface is very Minority Report but if you want to take actual data and give it real impact to people you need something like the tools that Hans Rosling and his group of geniuses have devised.

I suggest that when you watch these you watch all three video's in one long set. It'll take you almost an hour but it's worth seeing. Seriously amazing. All my PowerPoints now look even more like shit.

Plus, you can see an old Swede doing sword swallowing.

I make irrational decisions all the time - Dan Ariely on

One of the books I'm in the middle of reading is a book called Nudge that gets a little into the psychology of how we as people make decisions. Some of the things that Dan Ariely talks about in his 2008 TED talk relate well to the book. He talks a lot about complexity and how we make complex decisions and how we often go with whatever the default is.

It's interesting to think about how we as humans can react to things and make decisions in an irrational but somewhat predictable way.

Spread the light - Alex Tabarrok on

There's some surprising lessons and even more so the statistic that back those idea, but I think the thing I gleaned most from this talk was the idea that yo can solve much if you resolve to be a positive force and share ideas with others. Spread the light.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Books I'm Reading 16) See No Evil by Robert Baer

Back in the fourth grade I was really into submarines and so, for some class book report, I read Tom Clancy's, The Hunt for Red October. I recall at the time the teacher didn't believe me and I remember being asked with a disbelieving tone "so what happens at the end of the book?" Like a smart ass I said "he falls asleep on the plane." which was technically true, though not really what the teacher was asking. Since then I've been intrigued by military history and in particular, the history of different intelligence agencies. Even considered applying to the NSA a couple of times but I hate math.

Reading Robert Baer's account of his time with the Operatios Directorate of the CIA was, I have to admit, a little slow at parts. But through. In the way I would expect a experieced case officer to be able to provide you enough background to make an appropriate assessment of the overall picture.

Some of the stories of individuals, particularly the times he spent in India and with Russian military officers after the fall of the Soviet Union, are thrilling and almost unbelievable, but paint a vivid picture of an age since past.

With limited large state-based enemies for US intelligence services and a change in political atmosphere since the end of Reagan, it's hard to justify such crazy actions as would have been completely acceptable when facing the KGB. So even though I agree, and in fact agree wholeheartedly that the US has to devote more of it's efforts towards HUMINT rather than ELINT intelligence collection, it's hard to imagine The Company getting back to the heyday it had when Baer was in the field running ops.

Flash aside, the sattelites can only pick up so much and it's clear that we're lacking in many areas. In the coming decades, the surprise with which 9-11 took us, will happen again because we don't have many native Fujian Chinese, or Tagalug speakers. If this is century will see the rise of Asia, particularly Eastern or Southeastern Asia in terms of economic importance, it would benefit us greatly to start working those areas with human resources now. Similarly Latin America and the contstant flow of drugs and small arms seems like a valid place to try and devote human intelligence resources.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita on talking about the future of Iran

It's hard to think of predicting the future as a science. It seems more like that which divined by Gypsy's in tents or perhaps the Bene Gesserit if you're a fan of Frank Herbert's Dune. Yet Bruce de Mesquita's talk on provides some pretty astounding and counter intuitive future milestones for Iran. I'm almost anxious to see how some of these pan out in the next five years or so.

Definitely worth watching and looking back on in a couple of years to see how accurate the predictions are/were.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tim Ferriss on how to overcome fear and learn anything on

an amazing talk, as are most TED talks, from Tim Ferriss. Tim's blog is one of the few I follow closely. A vast majority of it I read through or watch completely as it's filled with a wealth of information and insight. In the talk he goes trough some of the fears he's overcome and how he's turned those fears into motivation to learn and expand his horizons. It's a skill I don't know that I have but one that I certainly admire. And overall Tim's outlook on things is one of unfailing optimism and impressive sucess.