Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Favorite Books of 2014

Yes, it's time for the first of two inevitable "year in review" posts. This one is about the books I read this year and enjoyed the most. Please note that I make no claims about these being "best" nor were these books published during 2014. They are literally the books I enjoyed the most.
  1. Eric Scholsser's Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety combined an in-depth retelling of the 1980 Damascus incident (during which a Titan-II missile exploded in its silo due to a maintenance accident, expelling its 9 megaton warhead which obviously did not explode in northeast Arkansas) and a historical treatise on accidents involving nuclear weapons. A couple of takeaways. First, despite all these accidents a nuke never detonated unintentionally. Second, while you never want an accidental detonation when the time comes to use a nuke you don't want anything that's going to delay its use unnecessarily.
  2. Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played with Fire: Book 2 of the Millennium Trilogy (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard), the 2nd book in the trilogy that began with the more famous Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, gave me the biggest and best plot twist I've come across in a long time. Plus, I felt it was the strongest of the three books. Too bad we'll never read what else Larsson might have had in store for Lisbeth Salander. 
  3. Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy could've made this list simply for the amount of time it took me to finish this 1,000+ page tome. But it was worth it to read him present the case that leads to only one conclusion: Oswald did it.
Honorable mentions:
  1. It seems that I re-read William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text every year or two. And why not? In my opinion, it is the finest example of written English language I have yet encountered.
  2. And then there's Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Simply fine literature.
  1. Michael Crichton's Micro should have been left unfinished. In fact, that's how I left it.
  2. Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Creepy books like this give wealth a bad name.
If you're curious, here's a list of the 40 books I read in 2014.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A children's story which is only enjoyed by children...

Have you pre-ordered yours yet? The Aristocrat's Culture Clash Live album.

Not your cup of tea? How about Music for Pieces of Wood? (I think this was composed by Steve Reich.)

The obligatory Xmas-related post. This one about Chuck Jones and Dr. Seuss and the Grinch. Did you know that the film was Boris Karloff's last performance before his death?

Gene Davis, Black Grey Beat, 1965. source
Have you heard about bulletproof coffee? It's coffee with butter and coconut oil and is said to provide a high-performance buzz that also suppresses your appetite (i.e. weight loss). Of course, nothing's as easy at it sounds because they offer their own line of coffee beans, there are specific types of butter and oil to add, there's a diet plan, exercise plan, etc.

Classic animation with a science bent: Cosmic Clock.

This map of the states by how easily they're remembered is from a page of 25 maps of various stats.
Bonus map: each state's favorite artist as measured by eBay searches.
You know how scifi always portrays alien species as being superior to humans. Here's another way to look at it in Danger: Humans.

For my DFW friends, a week or two ago the Star-Telegram ran four great articles.
  1. A review of the 2014 craft beer scene
  2. The top 10 new restaurants. (Of which I've eaten at precisely one: Bird Cafe.)
  3. The 10 best meals. (On which the inclusion of Matt's Rancho Martinez makes me incredulous.)
  4. The restaurants that are no more. (Of which I had visited precisely zero.)

 photo sassy-hitler_zpsziqh8buz.gif
Sassy Hitler: source

Ever want to pretend you were an air traffic controller? Now you can with the online ATC simulator. a bad children's story. ~C.S. Lewis

Saturday, December 20, 2014

There is nothing so easily made offensive...

Two more folks have added their voices to the annual pop-music mash-up genre: Isosine and Danthology.

For my Fort Worth friends, consider coming to visit the Near Southside.

Merry Xmas. This is my personal snowflake. You can make your own here
Kennewick Man (no, not Kristin) reveals that humans came to North America thousands of years before we thought and not just by strolling across a land bridge.

Ever see a cloud inversion before? Ever see one in the Grand Canyon?

Read all about the mission patches from the National Reconnaissance Office. This one for NROL-49 in January 2011 is my favorite.
The so-called spinners clock.

As a bowler I find the automated pin setter to be a marvelous contraption.

They don't even have a color on this map for how early I go to bed. And like most statistics, it leaves out something very important. Like a companion map illustrating what time people wake up.
While we're doing the map thing, here's a state by state map of the USA showing what each state is worse at. (Yeah Texas, lower number of H.S. graduates per capita.)

At least one of our Russian friends thinks this is how the USA will be split up after it collapses. There are more fantasy maps at this link.
32-bit computers, your days are numbered. Literally and figuratively. You have until 19 January 2038.

In no particular order, here's a sampling of various 2014 "best of" lists.

If you've never seen the film Dr. Strangelove, at least you can see some behind-the scenes photos of directory Stanley Kubrick in action.
And since we're on the topic of films, what do you think of Owl?

What else would you call chocolate covered gummy bears? good reasoning. ~Sir Arthur Helps

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bloomberg's 85 Ideas

Just a few quick comments on 85 Years 85 Ideas, an article in the 08 December 2014 issue of Bloomberg Business Week celebrating "the most disruptive ideas" of the 85 years since the magazine's founding.

83 Denim: I wear denim virtually every day. Fashion choice or sloth?

78 Smartphone: This device needs a new name because who makes phone calls anymore?

69 Twitter: My favorite social medium. A great way to share ideas. #140chars

58 The Innovator's Dilemma: Clayton Christensen's book redefined "disruptive."

53 PowerPoint: Perhaps the most unfairly maligned piece of software on the planet. (Sorry Edward Tufte.) 'Tis a poor musician who blames his instrument. Coincidentally, the last slide in the magazine's article is one I tweeted about just yesterday as a pet peeve.

41 Atari: We had an Atari 2600 when I was a kid and it was indeed my introduction to gaming.

29 Open Source: When the software source code is open versus closed (proprietary) the business model changes.

23 HTML: The language of teh interwebs.

8 The Manhattan Project: The development of nuclear weapons changed WWII, largely drove the Cold War, and still impact foreign policy today.

1 The Jet Engine: For an aerospace engineer (by degree) this is close enough for validation of my career choice.

See the entire list here. Then come back here and share in the comments which of the ideas resonated with you.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Etymology & ToPaRaMa

What's in a label?
Instead, seek the origin,
the essence, of sound.

In an attempt to disguise my laziness I'll say I'm combining these two unrelated albums into a single post because of one common factor. Etymology is driven by two guitarists and the artists on ToPaRaMa are two percussionists. How might the music created by these two duos differ?

With that bit of justification out of the way, let's hear what we have.

Etymology is everything that Jon Durant said in an interview: "Alive, Atmospheric, Loud(!), Introspective, Fluid" and in my opinion, the last two especially. Durant's processed guitar effects weave beautifully through Colin Edwin's melodic bass playing and together they shape a sound that's accented by the three drummers used on the album. It's pointless to try to assign a genre to the result and that kinda goes back to the album's name and a quest for the origin of a word, or in this case the origin of a sound.

Enough talk. Give the album's video trailer a listen.

A few web resources for you:
  • Edwin and Durant give track-by-track insight into Etymology here.
  • Colin Edwin's website
  • Colin Edwin's blog
  • Jon Durant's website

As precise as a
fine timepiece, as fun as a
Rube Goldberg device.

On ToPaRaMa we hear the collaboration of two percussionists, Pat Mastelotto and Tobias Ralph, where rhythms are the main course that drive the songs forward with deviously intricate and precise performances. Because of that, and the "Who's Who" of accompanying musicians, the sound is one that's open and inviting, an aural spaciousness as opposed to a tight embrace. These two also exhibit quite a sense of humor throughout the album but especially on the closing track Bad Ass Van, Man.

Again, since I can't describe it well you should have a listen to the track NY5.

ToPaRaMa is available on Bandcamp. Pat Mastelotto's website is here and Tobias Ralph's is here.

I received no compensation of any kind for these reviews.

Zero Day by David Baldacci

Why just send one guy
to investigate murder?
That's the real issue.

David Baldacci's Zero Day is the first in a new series of books centered on character John Puller, an Army CID (Criminal Investigations Division) man. Puller is a tough, decorated, but haunted veteran of wars in the Middle East who declines promotions in order to stay in the field hunting down criminals. He also has a pedigree as the son of a storied General and has an Air Force brother with an even more interesting background (not yet fully revealed).

In this first entry in the series, Puller is dispatched to middle-of-nowhere West Virginia to investigate the execution style slaughter of an DIA officer and his entire family. He teams up with the local police sergeant who also happens to be related to the town's coal-mining mogul who somehow might be entangled in this mess. The book also coincidentally touches upon one of my favorite topics.

While Zero Day features many of the attributes of Baldacci's writing, what he's done is create his own, chattier version of Lee Child's Jack Reacher (a character whom I really enjoy). But while, in my opinion, not necessarily unique, Puller is a character worth reading more about.

The audiobook version of Zero Day is very well acted by a two person cast: Ron McLarty and Orlagh Cassidy. Also, the audiobook achieved a first in my experience: one scene actually startled me and caused me to jump in my seat. Which isn't necessarily a good thing when you're driving while listening.

Baldacci's website is

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

You'll find boredom where...

It's real. None more black. A UK company has created Vantablack, the darkest substance ever created. It's said to be so black the human eye cannot figure out what it's looking at. It's also more conductive than copper and stronger than steel.

Adolph Gottlieb, Cadmium Red Over Black, 1959. Sought out after reading the New American Painting catalog from 1959. See also this more playful look at the work. 
Hipgnosis, the studio behind iconic album covers (how many young readers just glossed over that phrase) of the 70s and 80s (e.g. Dark Side of the Moon), has a book coming out called Hipgnosis|Portraits.

Attention readers younger than 35. Arlington, Texas is the 2nd best place in the country for you to live. Other notable cities on this list are #5 Austin, TX, #9 Madison, WI and #12 Fort Worth, TX.

Even Google is getting into the periodic table business.
How much do you like Sesame Street's The Count von Count? Do you like him reciting the first 10,000 digits of pi much?

The short film Wanderers - depicting possible future human exploration of our solar system - has developed quite a fan base, perhaps in no small part to Carl Sagan's narration. See more from the filmmaker here.

Animated film news: Annie Award nominees, film lineup for 2015.

The so-called Racial Dot Map supposedly shows one dot per person colored by their race. 
It's a close call but Al Pacino thinks the first Godfather is the better film.

What's old is new again. In this case, the new Bond film Spectre.

What's old is now digital. All of Einstein's Papers are being put online.

It's easy to laugh at this collection of vintage Xmas ads but then if you think for a minute about current advertising the situation hasn't changed all that much.
Science has spoken. The perfect donut has an 11 mm diameter hole.

Play Entire Screen of One Game. Slowly lose your mind.

...there is the absence of a good idea. ~Earl Nightingale

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill

There's nothing wrong with
earning a lot of money.
Unless it's creepy.

On a brief layover at Chicago's ORD I was hunting for something to read on my next flight when I saw on the shelf Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Just a few days prior this book had been recommended to me by a highly regarded business expert who placed it on par with Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Originally published in 1937, this book lays out 13 steps to riches that anyone can follow should they be interested in accumulating wealth. For example, Step #8 is all about persistence.

The edition I read was updated in 2005 but despite a few anecdotes about FedEx and Microsoft the overall book read like something from the decade of the Great Depression. Which isn't necessarily bad.

But things took a turn for the creepy with Step #10, The Mystery of Sex Transmutation. Yes, using your sexual energy (mojo?) you can transmute mediocrity into genius. Whoa.

That was followed by a chapter that included at its beginning this statement: "every human brain is capable of picking up vibrations of thought released by other brains."

Rather than wait for the 3rd strike, I flipped through the remaining pages and put this one on the shelf.

Oh well.

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

Blogs I Always Read

In case you haven't noticed, there's A LOT of stuff on the internet. Even when discounting all the gibberish there's a lot of stuff worth reading, either for education or entertainment or edutainment.

Of course, there's a difference between a) stuff worth following, b) stuff worth reading and c) stuff that you should never, ever miss.

I have about 300 blogs in my RSS feed but there are only a few that I always read when they appear. Here they are, in no particular order.

Wayne Hale's Blog

The former Space Shuttle flight director and program manager ( gives us historical and sage insight into space flight that only someone who's "been there" and "done that" can do. Hale doesn't write only about the machine and its technology; he tells you what goes on in the minds and hearts of those involved.


Whether you're an armchair or professional scientist, anyone with an interest in the secret life of fluids should be reading the blog with the name I can't repeat to my mother, FYFD ( Fluids do some crazy things and with a video or a photo and just a paragraph or two FYFD lets you in on their secrets without killing the wonder.

Animation Anecdotes

Every Friday the Cartoon Research blog posts another in their Animation Anecdotes series ( . This weekly post delivers paragraph-sized stories about the people and productions from the world of animated films. There's always something interesting, always something new. Like the one about Speed Racer and Kurosawa.

The Aviationist

The Aviationist ( never fails to delivery quality aviation glamour, news, and stories. Come for the pics and videos. Stay for the news and analysis.

Restricted Data

It might seem morbid to be a fan of a blog about "nuclear secrecy past and present" but my non-fiction book reading largely feeds my interest in the Cold War of which nukes were a big part. Whether it's about bomb design or the bomb's designers, Restricted Data ( covers it all. And let's not forget NUKEMAP. (See the link at the site.)


Wajobu ( writes about music like it's nobody's business. Fortunately, he also writes about music I like such as progressive rock and ambient. And yes, he's a friend of mine.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

To fake it is to...

I'll give this 3-minute video and audio remix of the film 2001 an A for effort and a B- for execution.

For you programmers, here are tips for effective code reviews. (#8. Reviewing more than 400 lines is virtually pointless.)

See what it's like to fly solo in the Thunderbirds.

With all the excitement yesterday about Orion's flight, maybe you'll like to read an astronaut's impressions of being in space.

If you are a huge fan of either the movie Alien or typography you must read this analysis of typography in Alien.

The trailer for Terminator Genisys looks cool but it has me really confused.

I've seen a lot of stupid things but the Swash Express Clothing Care system has to be one of the stupidest. It has to be a joke because who'd pay $499 for the ability to "wash" one garment at a time?
Here's a very nice 1-minute video of Fort Worth's Kimbell and Modern art museums.


I say it every year. If you listen to only one mashup each year this is the one: DJ Earworm's United State of Pop.

Brian Eno has re-issued four of his albums from the 1990s: Nerve Net, The Shutov Assembly, Neroli, and The Drop. I haven't ordered them yet. Why not? (They're all now on my wish list.) At the bottom of the linked page you'll find a great Eno/Clark mix.

Radio New Zealand has a six-part interview with Eno that you can listen to if you want to learn more about the man.

Here's a brief piece about Daniel Lanois' latest album Flesh and Machine that I have yet to queue up.

If your favorite kind of music is free, you can thank Markus Reuter for his give of the album 6 Reflections,

Finally got around to ordering the 4 CD remastered box set of Brand X.

Anthony Phillips has released a 5 CD anthology box set titled Harvest of the Heart.

You might also be interested in XtraKcts and ArtifaKcts, a remix of bits and pieces of Pat Mastelotto's work.

After watching several of Steven Wilson's live performances on YouTube I had to research his keyboard player, Adam Holzman, who I'd never seen or heard of before. Turns out he's got quite the pedigree, going back to performing with Miles Davis.

Tench Records is having a $5 CD sale during November including Marcus Fischer.


Pianogram visualizes key presses in music for piano, in this case Rachmaninov. You can upload your own MIDI files.
This seems like a bit of good news for Cleveland. Siemens is interested in the city as a hub for manufacturing and health care. It doesn't help that the company's USA CEO is a northeast Ohio native.

Here's a long but interesting tale about being an American and living and doing business in Japan.

I had never heard of Rick Cattell until I ran across his slide presentation on Things I Wished I Learned in Engineering School. #66 Learn writing, speaking, negotiating, and business skills.

As seen in this recent history of Pantone's color of the year, for 2015 we can look forward to everything looking like a blood stain: Marsala. (RGB = 150,79,76 and HEX = #955251)
It's beginning to get hard to keep track of all the tiny devices you can buy these days like Arduino and Raspberry Pi. Now there's Spark, a tiny wifi board.

Time waster of the week: Plink, collaborative music generation.

I see your Turducken and raise you a LambPigCow.

Dyed. Armpit. Hair.

...stand guard over emptiness. ~Arthur Herzog