Sunday, October 28, 2012

At The Abyss by Thomas C. Reed

Thomas C. Reed's 2004 book At The Abyss is aptly subtitled An Insider's History of the Cold War as it follows his career from post-collegiate Air Force service, to nuclear work at (what is now) Lawrence Livermore Labs, to positions in the Pentagon and various presidential administrations, capped by his term as Secretary of the Air Force in the mid-70s.

I'd describe this book as "very interesting", especially for students of the Cold War like myself. While definitely not action-packed, it was definitely a page-turner and Reed's insider status provides insight into events we know of but don't know well.

Reed credits President Eisenhower for starting the US's confrontation with the USSR on the "cold" path, a strategy that eventually led to victory. Eisenhower recognized that a strong US economy would eventually bury the Soviet's central planning. Pursuing a "hot" confrontation could've resulted in WWIII.

Reed makes it abundantly clear that the Soviets were an amoral, devious, duplicitous, and nefarious bunch. There no doubt about this contempt for their system of government and some of its leaders. However, Reed also expresses abundant respect for the men and women on the front lines, from their armed forces to their research organizations. Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War Reed has met and befriended many of his former opponents.

Believe it or not, the Cuban Missile Crisis was worse than most of us believe in that personalities and quirks of fate took us a lot closer to the edge than most realize.

Reed ends on a cautionary note. Just because the Cold War is over doesn't mean that there are other nuclear bad-actors on the stage - Iraq (at least at the time of writing), Iran, and North Korea. He also hints that the Russians are likely continuing their weapons development. Regarding the first two countries, he's not a fan of buying their oil. "Petrodollars can fuel mischief on a scale unreachable by other third world despots." He points out that a 1 cent federal gasoline tax would generate $1 billion in annual federal revenue, money that could be put toward independence from Middle East oil or toward program designed to keep nukes away from Iran, Iraq, and North Korea.

I am also a fan of Reed's book with Danny B. Stillman called The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation.

They key is not to prioritize your schedule...

This weekend's events in meatspace (aka IRL) trumped those in cyberspace.

...but to schedule your priorities. ~Stephen Covey

Monday, October 22, 2012

Excited About New Music

I can't recall the last time there was so much new music on my "to listen" list. Most of it is new-new but at least one is old but new to me. Some I've already started listening to while some still waits in my wish list. Here they are, in no particular order.
  1. leviathan. by Michael Bernier - Stick Men alum builds an album around his chapman stick playing with contributions from Pat Mastelotto and others. Details on bandcamp.
  2. Deep by Stick Men - It's the latest from Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, and Markus Reuter. Details on Pledge Music.
  3. Genesis Revisited II by Steve Hackett - Can't wait to hear what he's done with Chamber of 32 Doors. Details on Hackett Songs.
  4. Ouroboros by Naked Truth - The streaming preview from All About Jazz Italia is amazing. Think Miles Davis crossed with King Crimson.
  5. Celebration Day by Led Zeppelin - This 2-CD live recording of their reunion benefit show for the founder of Atlantic Records in 2007 promises to be a "tour de force." See the video trailer on YouTube.
  6. Lux by Brian Eno - 'nuff said. Details on his site.
  7. Bandits of Stature by Harold Budd - The master of minimalist keyboards now brings us string quartets. Details from Darla Records.
  8. Sublunar by Kane Ikin - Ambience with grit. Read this review on
Hope to be sharing my thoughts on each very soon.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

There's a fine line between cuddling...

Little known programming factoids include this one: a programmer produces about 10-12 lines of code per day that go into the final product.

Are you a student? Are you interested in starting a business in digital media? Do you like competition? If you answered yes to all three you should consider Student Startup Madness.

Here is your learning of the day. You know how cussing is represented in text with special characters like #$%@^? Apparently there's an editorial standard - you can't just use random characters. F%^$ is Fuck and f*&^%$# is fucking. Stick that in your Strunk and White. (If Tom Hanks can say it on GMA, I can write it here.)

Zao Wou-Ki, 21-08-95. Asian sensibility with Western technique?
How did artists respond to the horrors of WW2? Paul Schimmel explains the exhibition Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void 1949-1962. Images here.

Artist Robert Rauschenberg's foundation gots themselves a Tumblr.

Rotterdam's Kunsthal museum gets burgled - 7 paintings stolen including a Lucian Freud. Coincidentally, a Freud exhibit is currently underway at Fort Worth's Modern.

Damn, Nelson Mandela, you smell so good!
I can't do any better than to repeat this article's title. This may be the best response ever to a Facebook rant - period. (Two minute video - just watch it.) ("Crimson landslide" - LOL)

Politics. Yes, I know - it sucks. Tired of wading through the FUD mongering babble that passes for honest discourse? Don't know whom to vote for? Let Vote Compass from guide you. Answer a few questions and see where you fit in the political landscape.

Would you put Michelin's Tweel airless tire on your car?
What did a bit and byte look like in the 1950s? Adam Savage shows you.

Space exploration: 55 years in 5 minutes.

Did you have an Atari 2600 when you were a kid? I did. My favorite games were Asteroids and Breakout. It turns 35 years old this week so it's time for a tribute to its top 10 selling games.

Beer cans + Raspberry Pi = beer can touch keyboard awesomeness.
#16 They rarely, if ever, get food in their mouth.
A friend (my age) just got his first grandchild. Before everyone gets all googly and squishy I remind you why kids are actually the worst. #14 They're functionally useless.

Fly along with a wingtip mounted camera on this Russian Su-25.

A little animation, a little saxophone, a little video: Sax.

Sexame Street - Maybe if Mitt had these two in his binders he wouldn't be in a hurry to cut PBS' funding.
The photo above gives a slightly new meaning (in my dirty mind) to the Million Puppet March.

Excited about World War Z (starring Brad Pitt?) coming to the big screen next summer? If not, maybe you'll like some of these other planned summer 2013 movie releases.

Enjoy this collection of Space Shuttle concept art.
...and holding someone down so they can't get away.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Frankenstein: Prodigal Son (Book 1) by Dean Koontz

I like Dean Koontz's books because he's able to take a nugget of scientific fact or the tiny glimmer of a science fiction idea and craft it into an engaging story. My first Koontz was Mr. Murder (thanks, Heather) about creating hitmen by cloning regular people. (Imagine the cops after you because your DNA turned up at a murder scene.)

With only a little bit of Googling I found out that his Frankenstein series began as a pilot for a TV show. After generating quite a bit of initial interest, the show never aired and Koontz took the idea and ran with it in novel form.

So what's it all about? This first book in a five part (?) series, Prodigal Son, is based on the idea that Victor Frankenstein is still alive, living in New Orleans, and practicing his craft. But he's no longer crafting monsters, he's perfected the lab-based growing of a new race of human beings and he's populating the city with them for an eventual extermination campaign.

Fortunately, the pair of guy-gal detectives (with the requisite romantic tension) get help from an unexpected source - Frankenstein's original monster who's still kicking (and quite philosophical) after 200+ years. There's no quibbling with the central theme here - the man who's become a monster and the monster who's become a man.

I bet you're smirking by now. Trust me, the novel never veers into farce and it actually quite enjoyable. Enjoyable enough that I've already checked Book 2 out of the library.

See his website for more on Dean Koontz's Frankenstein books.

Inside Seal Team Six by Don Mann

If there's one thing I hate it's being stuck on an airplane with nothing to read. (American Way and Skymall don't do it for me.) So I'm in the San Jose airport facing the likely mid-flight completion of Ben Coes' Power Down (see my review) and browsing the shelves of the airport bookstore looking for something to keep me entertained for the remainder of the flight.

I figure if Coes' fictional Delta operator is so enjoyable, why not try a non-fiction account of something similar? Hence my selection of Inside Seal Team Six by former SEAL operator Don Mann. (Note: this is not the recent, controversial, SEAL-authored, non-fiction account of taking down bin Laden.)

Having read a handful of non-fiction accounts from ex-military guys I can make the following statements.
  1. You have to be a pretty bad writer to make being a Navy SEAL sound boring. Mann's co-author Ralph Pezzullo could've helped him out a bit more. Now I don't expect a SEAL to be a great wordsmith. But there are just so many descriptions of gear and physical training that I can handle in one book.
  2. If his description is to be believed, Mann was not a kid we'd want our kids to be hanging out with - drinking, reckless driving, fighting, barely graduating high school. As it turns out, Mann was an adrenaline junky looking for an appropriate outlet. The Navy was his.
  3. Words, phrases, paragraphs, and entire pages were redacted in the book. I understand that Mann participated in a lot of stuff he can't write or talk about due to issues of classification so actually redacting the book seemed like a stunt and didn't make me all tingly that I was close to reading something I shouldn't.
  4. Mann has two lives: one as a SEAL and one as an endurance racer (triathalons, etc.) Those events sound equally grueling but without the weaponry. Especially the part about losing toenails (or having them proactively removed).
  5. Despite all his flaws, Mann and his fellow SEALs deserve all the praise we can give them for choosing to do the things that have to be done and that very very very few others can do.
I'll end the way Mann ends his book, by quoting the SEAL promise.
"I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight."
You can read more about Don Mann on his website,

Power Down by Ben Coes

Power Down was my first foray into Ben Coes' work. I've had it sitting on my "to read" shelf for a long time and accordingly don't recall what motivated me to buy it other than the fact that it's in the thriller genre, my core escapist reading.

It was pretty good, a very engaging read and definitely in the "want to finish in one setting" class. You have your obligatory Middle East terrorists who want to bring America to its economic knees beginning with the destruction of a mammoth offshore oil rig and a hydroelectric dam.

The story's "un-hero" is a former Delta operator who survives the oil rig disaster where he was working as part of the crew. And it just so happens that the CEO of the energy conglomerate is a former Navy SEAL who is now really pissed off. These two protagonists work the terrorism issue independently of the U.S. government's counter-terrorism forces with decidedly better results.

I see from the author's website at that he has written two other books both of which feature the un-hero, Dewey Andreas. They'll probably end up on my to-read shelf.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

I don't have a dirty mind...

Soundtrack of the week: Philip Glass Remixed, 12 musicians remix Glass' minimalist works with wonderful results. (Thanks @DLPfaff.)

Also in music news is the upcoming November release of Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day, a 16 song live recording of their 2007 "reunion" concert.

But what I really want you to consider is this serious story from Stick Men's Michael Bernier who has been having neurological problems because of a mass on his brain. Buying his solo album Leviathan will help him pay some of his medical bills.

X-ray your cucumber (and other vegetables) at Inside Insides.

The second law of thermodynamics is one of those things for which everyone should have a basic understanding and appreciation. Fortunately, Leonard Susskind shares an elegant explanation.

Neatorama shares this list of 10 landmark moments in animation. The usual suspects are here: Gertie the Dinosaur and Steamboat Willie. But there are some surprises involving censorship, labor strife, and an x-rating.

If you author even the simplest web page, you'll benefit from understanding hexadecimal notation for colors (e.g. #390459).

Something's not quite right with this web page courtesy of ReflectThis!

One of Mark Rothko's Seagram Murals in the Tate Modern was defaced by an apparently talentless hack (talentless because otherwise he would've created something new and original) named Vladimir Umanets, a leader of a movement called Yellowism. (The graffiti shown above appears to read "Vladimir / Umanets / A Potential / Piece of Yellowism.") The vandal appears to have properly chosen the name of his movement as his act demonstrates a substantial degree of cowardice. By using Rothko's work as a megaphone for his rambling he's made himself no better than any hanger-on, a coat-tail rider - no better than self aggrandizement junkies who stand in the background of live TV shots, cell phone to ear, waving like a drunk 3rd grader.
In cyberspace you get "Liked" or "Friended." What's the equivalent in meatspace? How about a hug? The Like-a-Hug is a way to link the two. It's a vest that inflates and "hugs" you whenever you get a like online. 

Who wouldn't want this on their commode? (I have no idea why it's called torpedo alley instead of bombs away.)
Do you say "fall" or "autumn?" I actually prefer autumn, or at least I did until reading this article about the season between summer and winter has two names.

Another cool browser trick: Touch Effects.

If you want to make things like Touch Effects or games, you can learn at Build New Games.

Never be at a loss for words again. From the utilitarian "dipshit" to the odd sexist/webnerd combo "If your vagina had a password it would be 'password'" find just the right phrase using this giant poster of insults.
...just a very sexy imagination.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Politics, as a practice, has always been...

The thermostat at work is always a bone of contention. It's set too low for some and too high for others. Other than the semi-serious interoffice conflict it engenders, there's a quantifiable effect on business. If you keep your office at 68 as opposed to 77 degrees (in the winter presumably) workers produce 44% more errors, are less than half as productive, and cost the business 10% more.

But if you just want people to think you're a more masculine and better leader, shave your head.

What time is it?

This is an interesting interview question - so interesting that I just might start using it. Ask the candidate to explain something to you in 5 minutes and convey the most important thing about it.

This is perhaps the most benign yet most entertaining interview I've seen. Jerry Seinfeld has dinner with and interviews Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks.

I do not write books nor do I ride a bicycle (at least since high school). But apparently a lot of authors are also bike riders. For example, Leo Tolstoy.
If you enjoy your periodic table with a bit of cartoonish whimsy you'll enjoy Wonderful Life with the Elements, an illustrated book. Do you play Minecraft? Here's the Periodic Table of Minecraft.

In a style only the Japanese can get away with, staff at the new Tokyo Skytree Tower have uniforms that express a spirit of hospitality, symbolize a futuristic spirit, and have enhanced function. After looking at them you (like I) may have different ideas.

Here's a site dedicated to B-29s in Korea.

Dr. Strangelove. In Lego. Woot! Part 1 and Part 2.

I'm hoping this sign is posted in the bathroom. source
If you're going to use Yiddish words, please be a mensch know what you're talking about.

Jaclynn Cutie Pie is my name, at least according to the Honey Boo Boo name generator. What's yours?

I suppose you could say that Egg McMuffins are my guilty pleasure. But this mortadella, egg, and brioche sandwich takes the whole breakfast combo idea to an entirely new level.

Comedy, pornography, or puerility? As long as you're not offended by animated sketches of testicles I introduce to you Monsieur Flap.

Yes, Virginia, there were studies for a nuclear powered space shuttle.
Back in WWII a fella who had worked for Walt Disney was sent to Japan to document the end of the war. Here are his Pacific War Photos.

Brian Eno's first solo album since 2005, LUX, is due to be released on 12 Nov 2012. (My list of music to buy is almost up to a dozen albums right now.)

From must-hear to must-see: Fort Worth's Amon Carter Museum is one of only two museums in the U.S. to see the exhibit To See as Artists See: American Art from the Phillips Collection. It runs from today through 06 January.

Mario's had enough and is getting tough. If you prefer your violence to be historically based, watch this map-based video of 1,000 years of war in 5 minutes.

Beer and booze people, here's some strange ones for you.
  • In the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, will the beer still be drinkable? Survivors are gonna want to get their suds on. Back in 1955 they tried to find out during Operation Teapot.
  • G-Spirits sells whiskey that has poured over the boobs of busty models prior to bottling. (I want to read a review of this beverage.)
  • Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout is a beer made with exactly the ingredient implied by the name.

Reason #68 that I'm going to hell. Martin Loofah King
Have you heard about the LifeStraw? It's a straw with built-in filtration (about the size of a recorder - the musical instrument) that provides a portable tool for obtaining drinking water. And then there's Who Gives a Crap, a toilet paper brand that donates profits to the construction of sanitary facilities in the developing world.

When it comes to photography, National Geographic never disappoints. Here are a few entries from its 2012 photo contest. (Be sure to scroll down to photo #10.)

Forbes gives us this list of 40 things to say before you die. The only one that I found fitting was "I'm not finished."

Do you keep a work diary? A few minutes a day can motivate you and make you more creative by allowing you to celebrate the small wins each day.

This is a great video about making an axe from scratch by hand. (The background music is a bit weak but the visuals of watching this craftsman work are fantastic.)

There are a lot of gems in these handwritten notes attributable to Thelonius Monk and recorded by his sax player. "The inside part of the tune (the bridge) is what makes the outside sound good."

10 years of Hubble photographs knitted together results in the eXtreme Deep Field photo, our deepest ever view of the universe.
Football doesn't have the reputation for statistics that baseball has. But the numbers are out there. Data viz gurus Juice Analytics are working with Football Outsiders to create Snap Counts for every team and every player, sortable in a number of ways.

I'm not trying to start an argument but you should read this article about the different types of American BBQ sauces and focus on the Texas style.

Our Chinese friends have built themselves another stealth fighter, the F-60.

Ever hear of the state of Franklin? Or Absaroka? Neither had I until this article about 12 proposed states that never quite made it.

You can test your knowledge of the 50 states that actually exist with Know Your States, an interactive game where you place the states on a map and you're scored by your distance error. (I think mine was 22 miles, or 122.)

As you know from the titles of my posts, I've got this thing for bite-sized chunks of wisdom. However, I don't get this pairing of quotes with animated GIFs.

And finally, your mental palette cleanser: Silk - interactive generative art.
...the systematic organization of hatreds. ~Henry B. Adams