Thursday, September 13, 2018

Hurricanes: Issac and Katrina

ISAAC's STORM: September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the US Weather Bureau failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed more than six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history—and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy. Using Cline’s own telegrams, letters, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the science of hurricanes, Erik Larson builds a chronicle of one man’s heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude. Riveting, powerful, and unbearably suspenseful, Isaac’s Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the great uncontrollable force of nature.
THE STORM OF THE CENTURY by Al Roker: In this gripping narrative history, the beloved NBC weather personality vividly brings to life the Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900, the deadliest natural disaster in American history. On the afternoon of September 8, 1900, 200-mile-per-hour winds and fifteen-foot waves slammed into Galveston, the prosperous and growing port city on Texas’s Gulf Coast. By dawn the next day, when the storm had passed, the city that existed just hours before was gone. Shattered, grief-stricken survivors emerged to witness a level of destruction never before seen: 8,000 corpses littered the streets and were buried under the massive wreckage. Rushing water had lifted buildings from their foundations, smashing them into pieces, while intensive winds had upended girders and trestles, driving them through house walls and into sidewalks. In less than twenty-four hours, one storm destroyed a major American metropolis—and awakened a nation to the terrifying power of nature. The Storm of the Century brings this legendary disaster and its aftermath into brilliant focus. No other natural disaster has ever matched the havoc caused by the awesome mix of winds, rains, and flooding that devastated this bustling metropolis and shocked a young, optimistic nation on the cusp of modernity. Exploring the impact of the disaster on a rising nation’s confidence—the pain and trauma of the loss and the determination of the response—Al Roker illuminates both the energy and the limitations of the American Century, and of nature itself.  Also I SURVIVED HURRICANE KATRINA, 2005. And AWAKENING STORM.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Keanu Reeves to play John Rain in the Movies

News: Barry Eisler’s John Rain is going to the movies, starring Keanu Reeves, who previously played John Wick. Rain is a cynical, romantic and conscientious assassin, hired as an operator who can remove problem people in Asia. After a botched assignment, Rain is running for his life from both the Mossad and the CIA in KILLING RAIN. The series will be more intriguing and intelligent, with an espionage element. Lots of hand to hand combat.

Returning to Tokyo in 1982 after a decade of mercenary work in the Philippines, a young John Rain learns that the killing business is now controlled by Victor, a half-Russian, half-Japanese sociopath who has ruthlessly eliminated all potential challengers. In ZERO SUM Victor gives Rain a choice: kill a government minister or die a grisly death. But the best route to the minister is through his gorgeous Italian wife, Maria, a route that puts Rain on a collision course not only with Victor but with the shadowy forces behind the Russian’s rise to dominance—and the longings of Rain’s own conflicted heart. It’s a battle between kingpin and newcomer, master and apprentice, a zero-sum contest that can only end with one man dead and the other the world’s foremost assassin. Also check out THE LAST ASSASSIN.
Ever heard of A.E. van Vogt? He was an overlooked scifi author who was championed by Harlan Ellison, who recently died. What did he write? THE VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE, which influenced the Alien series. (The SS Beagle was Darwin's ship.) Great hard science fiction, but not available on audio. And don't miss the novel that inspired the JACK RYAN series. New: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO TOM HANKS.

Monday, August 27, 2018

AI Superpowers

AI SUPERPOWERS by Kai-Fu Lee is an important book for a number of reasons. One, Dr. Lee predicts that big internet companies which invest in artificial intelligence will be the big winners in the near and far future. So the disruption of both blue and white collar workers displaced by automation is guaranteed to continue. “A devastating effect,” is how he puts it. Income inequity will grow. Billionaires versus unemployed and underemployed. Solution? Shared employment, and a kind of guaranteed basic income—or rather one for those under a certain level of income. But not as welfare. Funding to come from Silicon Valley. Some companies there are actually in favor of this. Two, his revelations about how advanced China has become in AI development and research. By 2030 they will dominate. In some ways, they already do. Alibaba? Ever heard of TenCent? One of the most valuable internet companies in the world. Think Facebook big. They own WeBank, WeGame (200 Million users), WeChat (1 billion users), and are invested in AI, real estate, music, IT, big data, robotics, medical services, space technology, movies, streaming, ebooks, education, and alternative energy. Founded in the Cayman Islands, like the John Grisham plot The Firm. (Except in Shanghai.) A must-hear audiobook narrated by Mikael Naramore, whose voice is deep, conversational, and always engaging. The author is hopeful about the future of AI, and the sharing of research across borders. Rather than trade war, he points to Switzerland and Japan as containing examples of progress which the U.S. and China must adopt to avoid the heartless rat race. A cancer diagnosis changed his way of thinking, so that now he mimics the thinking more of a Jaron Lanier, the father of VR. Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is the Chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures, which is a leading technology-savvy investment firm focusing on developing the next generation of Chinese high-tech companies.  Prior to founding Sinovation in 2009, Dr. Lee was the President of Google China. Previously, he held executive positions at Microsoft, SGI, and Apple.  Dr. Lee received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Columbia University, and his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Lee holds honorary Doctorate Degrees from the City University of Hong Kong and Carnegie Mellon.  He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Selected as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2013, Dr. Lee has authored ten US patents, and more than one hundred journal and conference papers. He has written eight top-selling books in Chinese, and has more than 50 million followers on social media. Kindle.     
RESCUED by David Rosenfelt, read by Grover Gardner
Intelligent dogs series. Mystery, humor, fun.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Our Towns by James and Deborah Fallows

James Fallows is a writer and journalist for The Atlantic. He was Jimmy Carter’s chief speechwriter, and won the National Book Award in 1983 for National Defense. He has since written about China, business, technology, and the military in both books and articles. A Rhodes scholar at Oxford in economics, he also went to Harvard, where he was editor of the Harvard Crimson. He later worked as an editor at The Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, and U.S. News & World Report. In addition to holding a number of honorary degrees, he is also a licensed pilot, and once, long ago, worked as a mail carrier for the USPS. Given this experience, it is perhaps befitting that his latest book is written with his wife Deborah, and is titled OUR TOWNS: A 100,000 Mile Journey into the Heart of America

Jonathan Lowe) Describe your book tour. Whom did you meet?

James Fallows) Over the past four months, my wife, Deb, and I have spent most of our time on the road across the United States, talking with readers -- and a wide range of other citizens. We've met business people, teachers and librarians, mayors and other political leaders, immigrants and refugees, artists, nurses and doctors, police officers and judges, architects and construction staffers, farmers and shop owners, reporters and local news staffers, entrepreneurs, brewers and distillers, truckers and delivery drivers, and the others who make up a modern community. 

JL) Impressions of America between the coasts?

JF) The more we've continued to travel, the more humbled and impressed we've become by the breadth and intensity of the renewal efforts already underway in communities large and small. Every American is aware of the problems and failures of the current United States, from bitter division at the level of national politics to economic dislocation and stagnation, and drug-addiction scourges. But not enough people are vividly enough aware of how much innovative energy is being applied toward solutions. 

JL) How do you think this will all turn out?

JF) We can't be sure -- no one can -- of how the balance between national-level bitterness and local-level practicality will turn out. But the more we've seen, the more convinced Deb and I have become about the importance of sharing these stories and letting today's Americans know about the solutions their fellow citizens are discovering.  

JL) You and your wife recorded the audio version of this book, reading the alternating passages each of you wrote. What did you learn from the experience? 

JF) We benefitted from the guidance of a skillful producer / director of the recording, Gordon Rachman. Deb says about the experience, “Gordon was a great coach. He turned a famously arduous process —(think of going to the dentist!) — into one that was as pleasant and rewarding as could be. Think of the happy gas!” I agree with Deb, and found the recording process both more demanding than I expected and also more satisfying…in contrast to the tolerance for half-slurred words we get in normal life. Deb and I were trying to tell the story of what we had seen city-by-city as we went across the country. Telling those stories aloud, finally, seemed like the right and natural way to deliver the message. Although I couldn’t help copy-editing myself as we went along, or thinking, “Gee, there could have been a clearer way to make that point!” I am a huge fan and customer of audiobooks, and so I was all the more gratified to be able to participate in this part of the writing and publishing process. 

From the Publisher: “For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of towns, they have met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign.  The America they saw is acutely conscious of its problems—from economic dislocation to the opioid scourge—but it is also crafting solutions, with a practical-minded determination at dramatic odds with the bitter paralysis of national politics. At times of dysfunction on a national level, reform possibilities have often arisen from the local level. They describe America in the middle of one of these creative waves. Their view of the country is as complex and contradictory as America itself, but it also reflects the energy, the generosity and compassion, the dreams, and the determination of many who are in the midst of making things better. Our Towns is the story of their journey—and an account of a country busy remaking itself.” Ebook. Audible. Video from Authors at Google: 

Churchill and Orwell

“Churchill and Orwell proved their age’s necessary men. The glorious climax of Churchill and Orwell is the work they both did in the decade of the 1940s to triumph over freedom’s enemies. And though Churchill played the larger role in the defeat of Hitler and the Axis, Orwell’s reckoning with the menace of authoritarian rule in Animal Farm and 1984 would define the stakes of the Cold War for its fifty-year course, and continues to give inspiration to fighters for freedom to this day. Taken together, in Thomas E. Ricks’ masterful hands, their lives are a beautiful testament to the power of moral conviction and to the courage it can take to stay true to it, through thick and thin.” What’s special about this audiobook is the comparison of the two men, with both similarities and differences. Personalities were different, too, as was public perception. Churchill didn’t read much fiction, and dismissed Henry James, not knowing or caring who he was. Meanwhile Orwell’s star began to rise as a prophet of the future, with many pithy quotes written as if penned today, like, “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history,” and “all issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” Or “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.” Or “Sports is war minus the shooting,” and “Big Brother is watching you.” He did not believe that the object of life should be happiness. Interesting is the quote, “The aim of a joke is not to degrade the human being, but to remind him that he is already degraded.” Churchill was more about perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. “Never give up. Failure is not fatal; it is courage to continue that counts.” And: “I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” Author Thomas E. Ricks is a national security adviser for a think tank, having written for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, and is author of Fiasco, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Narrator James Lurie is an award winning stage and TV actor, with a gift for clarity and direction in non-fiction, too. 
WHERE ARE WE HEADING by Ian Holder “In this important book, Ian Hodder demonstrates why things matter, not because they represent something, but because the entangled interdependence of all things gives rise to the forward direction of history.” —John C. Barrett, professor emeritus, University of Sheffield
Tom Hiddleston reads HIGHRISE.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

THE CRAVING MIND by Dr. Judson Brewer

THE CRAVING MIND by Dr. Judson Brewer. (Subtitle: From Cigarettes to Smart Phones to Love: Why We Get Hooked, and How We Can Break Bad Habits.) From the publisher: “We are all vulnerable to addiction. Whether it’s a compulsion to constantly check social media, binge eating, smoking, excessive drinking, or any other behaviors, we may find ourselves uncontrollably repeating. Why are bad habits so hard to overcome? Is there a key to conquering the cravings we know are unhealthy for us? This book provides groundbreaking answers to the most important questions about addiction. Dr. Judson Brewer, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who has studied the science of addictions for twenty years, reveals how we can tap into the very processes that encourage addictive behaviors in order to step out of them. He describes the mechanisms of habit and addiction formation, then explains how the practice of mindfulness can interrupt these habits. Weaving together patient stories, his own experience with mindfulness practice, and current scientific findings from his own lab and others, Dr. Brewer offers a path for moving beyond our cravings, reducing stress, and ultimately living a fuller life.” Great audiobook, narrated by P. J. Ochlan. Why great? Combines neuroscience with mindfulness to change one’s perception of the world as a person in it, instead of being at odds with the world in a competitive ego-driven state of perpetual stress and unhappiness. Everyone wants real happiness, not just addictive "shallow excitement," right? What gets in the way? Oneself. We don't see things as they are, we see things as WE are. Usually this means being victims of habitual thoughts, which govern actions. Emotional contagions, both good and bad, infect both people in a room, and news feeds. We look for patterns, repeat them like robots, and are influenced by social media: real facts and fake. How does one change, given that behavioral engineering is at play in the workplace and in the culture? Behind the scenes we are studied and manipulated via fear. The takeaway is to learn how to think differently, as Steve Jobs once put it. But it’s more than just snappy one-liners or quotes. It lends perspective and methods on all levels. Programs from the author's lab have made headway in political arenas to aid those trying to quit smoking, gambling, and overeating. In the end, a psychology quiz is given that will help determine what is influencing you. For this reason and more it is a flashback AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.  Also notable: BOOK GIRL, FLETCH, and DRIVEN