Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka

The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka is a well written science fiction novel incorporating the strangeness of quantum theory. A disgraced young scientist is given a second chance by joining a team of researchers on a trail basis. If they prove themselves, they’ll be offered full jobs. (Kinda like auditions on AGT…how good an act will yours be?) Eric Argus is one of these guys, and what he does besides drinking and socializing is a “look busy” experiment that recreates the famous “double-slit” physics experiment in which particles decide their fate based on an observer’s seeing or recording them. Astonishingly, he notices that only people can collapse the field into a decisive pattern, while animals cannot. This proves that human consciousness is unique, and the soul may be real. What he discovers next, involving very rare people who do not collapse the field, is scary and provocative, involving the nature of reality, religion, time, space, and the mysterious “flicker men” who realize he knows too much. Narrator Keith Szarabajka is the perfect arbiter of the story’s moods, his nicotine voice a presence that chooses its pattern naturally, without pretense. This is a high concept audio novel written as if James Patterson were co-authoring with a physicist like Stephen Hawking. Recommended for anyone with interests in science, scifi, and suspense! It is only $6.95 for rental download. 
If you prefer comic book style SF, Guardians of the Galaxy has an audio novel based on the movie. Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford

First of all, wow. There is so much here. Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford covers not just robotics and A.I., but the impact of technology on culture, jobs, economics, sports, war, politics, and the fate of humanity. To its credit, the book examines all sides in the light of what science knows now, with various opinions from scientists about what it may know in the future. There are many shockers here, and more coming. For example, income inequality, if allowed to continue at its current rise, may make the movie Elysium seem more like a documentary. Ford points out that the trends (extrapolated by the movie’s setting and plot) are on par to produce a society in which the ultra rich few enjoy comforts unattainable to mass citizens who are more like refugees or slaves. There are a few caveats, however. It is unlikely that the kind of workers (such as Matt Damon played in the movie) will be needed. His work would be done by robots. The movie also postulates that robots will be relatively dumb, and this is probably not realistic, either. (So say the majority of scientist/engineers. The movie had to make robots relatively dumb to maintain continuity vis-a-vis Damon's job.) Whether there will be general intelligence equivalent “hard” A.I.s is a matter for speculation, but most agree it will happen, although some say sooner, some say later. (Scifi, especially in movies, tends to underestimate the timeline. Most book writers of science fiction project things further out. It really depends on the rate of change in society and technology, and no one knows what has yet to be discovered.) Particularly intriguing is the point of view this audiobook brings to the question of health care (which was also a major theme in Elysium.) Ford shows that our current system (supported and locked in by our two party political system) is not geared to reward efficiency. The goal of health care now is profit. He proves this with careful reasoning and multiple examples. Medicare is the most efficient, but even it cannot address the rise of costs, which, together with fraud and the widespread public acceptance of junk food and soda, mean only escalation of deficits (poverty.) Today the number one reason people go bankrupt is medical bills. Meanwhile, there are ads on TV which exacerbate the problem. We are taught to depend on drugs to fix us when we get sick, rather than to prevent disease by proper nutrition and exercise. One ad, for a motorized electric cart for disabled people to get around, is promoted as being “reimbursed by Medicare,” but a report showed that only 20% of those getting the carts actually needed them. That’s an 80% scam of Medicare dollars. And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Hospitals are overbilling as standard practice, and investing millions in new technology which, one might think, would improve health care. But in most cases this technology is being created, not for efficiency, but for revenue. As radiologists and lab technicians are then replaced by robots, there will be fewer employees in hospitals, too, as in other industries. Ford examines those industries, and shows how and why the trend of fewer employees (and greater valuations of companies as a result) will require tough decisions on the part of college freshmen and politicians alike. Narrator Jeff Cummings is always engaging in creating a true ear-wax melting audiobook, for sure. (By the way, Rise of the Robots is also an unrelated video game.) 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

RARE STAMPS by Terence Stamp

RARE STAMPS is the memoir of Terence Stamp, written and read by the actor of Billy Budd, Superman, The Limey, The Hit, and fifty odd other movies. He recalls working with Marlon Brando, Fellini, Monica Vitti, Steven Soderbergh, Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, and others. He describes an eerie one-on-one lunch with Orson Welles. His journey through life has been unique, as everyone’s is, but more fascinating than most in that one doesn't generally get called “the world’s most beautiful man” only to be discarded a decade later, traveling through India alone until a guru gifted him with a truth that carried him back to London possessing a new mantra similar to Eckhart Tolle’s “living in the moment.” He talks about the truth of character found in being alive as an actor in that moment, and how the real can be achieved even in the first take of a movie scene. Most of all, you feel an authentic voice is speaking, one you may not have encountered much in the current age of divas, drama queens, and ego drenched TMZ stars. That he speaks these written words in his own voice adds a new layer of authenticity and wisdom, proving once again that memoirs must be heard on audio rather than merely read in bound book format. “Bound” is the operative word, as tone and emphasis add both freedom and meaning in the same way that a thumb print or retinal scan proves unique for the purposes of veracity and identity. If you miss this audiobook, you’re missing a treat.  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Filter Bubble

What's wrong with Facebook and Google and Amazon?  They have revolutionized search, and customized your experience on the web.  But in his book THE FILTER BUBBLE researcher Eli Pariser has revealed a dark side to this personalization, in which every click you make is tracked and analyzed in order not just to provide you with targeted ads, but also to feed back to you news and views which coincide with your own. What are you missing?  Everything else. If all you want is a feedback loop, devoid of learning, cultural interaction, and creative insight, this is a good thing.  If, however, society is to advance and people to grow, it is not.  Narrated by Kirby Heyborne, this is a rare and important book that examines how and why this focus has come to be, and what we can do to quell a pervasive new control on our thoughts and actions.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings

THE SEA WOLVES by Lars Brownworth is a chilling history of the Vikings, and their conquests across England and Europe around 800 AD. It was a dark age of blood and violence, and this book shows how one’s twisted religious beliefs can influence how a man acts against those who are not in the club: with a club. The Vikings believed in Norse gods who were jealous rivals, hoarders, plunderers, and murderers. In their mythology the world would end bathed in blood, as hellish creatures fed on everyone (except for two gods who would survive to start the whole process over again.) Naturally, taking this positive message to heart, they also plundered, raped, and killed, showing no mercy to innocents (kinda like ISIS.) One Norseman called another a “child lover” for not wanting to participate in the blood sport of tossing live babies into the air and catching them on the point of a spear. They invented a game similar to hockey, and were heavily into fitness as well as other sports. Did anything good come of all the pillage and cruelty? Well, they settled Iceland, founded Dublin, and created the trial by jury method of law. Of course back then if you were found guilty, you could be thrown into a pit of vipers, naked. Where, no doubt, you would sing original Norse songs in praise of Odin (Supreme creator, God of Victory and the Dead), even as snakes bit into your flesh. Or you’d have your eyes put out by a hot brand. (More screaming than singing, in that case.) Life was brutal and short, and the Vikings accepted it would be, never doubting their society or its beliefs. Narrator Joe Barrett keeps the pacing of the history steady in an engaging, entertaining way, and is good at creating accented dialogue in places used as illustration of the historical characters in the book, evoking whatever humorous or dramatic edge is needed. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

THE SPIRAL NOTEBOOK by Stephen Singular

 The Spiral Notebook by Stephen Singular refers to the diary and notes taken by James Holmes before committing mass murder in an Aurora Colorado movie theater. While following Holmes from the shooting and through the court system, he also brings into focus other shootings, such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and the Washington Navy Yard, using interviews and commentary from science in an effort to understand the reasons and prevent future crimes. Tom Taylorson reads the audiobook, moving from the dramatic recounting of events to the steady examinations of culture and stress. In a society that demands and rewards aggression to establish one’s identity, one that equates popularity, money, and power with self worth, the stresses that hit young kids early and often are out of control. The violent video game market has benefited from these stresses, becoming multi-billion dollar companies. But sometimes games such as Grand Theft Auto (in which you can kill police and innocents with automatic weapons, and even commit rape) don’t provide sufficient relief from these stresses, and kids move on to real weapons. Since that part of the brain (frontal cortex) associated with decision making doesn’t fully develop until age 25, it explains why most mass shooters are between 18-25, and male (because peer pressure to physically dominate is greatest for males.) It is also interesting to note that you are 25 times more likely to be attacked by a male age 18-25 than by any other demographic. Add rejection, stress, loneliness, a feeling of estrangement or unfairness, of being “disrespected” (as one shooter put it), and you have the perfect storm of revenge. As contrast, the author (who lived in Spain for a time) contrasts the culture here with there. In Barcelona, he says, one does not sit alone in coffee shops, face down in a computer screen, not talking to anyone. They find American habits and obsessions with weapons odd, and sad, and they do not have even 10% of the per capita gun crime we do. He recounts one shooter saying that “if only one person had talked to me, or cared, I wouldn’t have done it.” The author suggests yoga (or even walking with a friend) as a better way of relieving stress than violent video games, which numb the mind to accept violence as inevitable just by repetition. A must hear. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.