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Archive for the ‘non-fiction’ Category

Running title: Behind The Beautiful Forevers – Life, Death And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity

This book was published in 2012 (yes, eight years old) and by some strange standards, it may be considered “old”. Whatever. For some strange reason I’ve always wanted to read this book (aside from the fact someone gave it to me eons ago and it was sitting on my bookshelf) and eventually it took a quarantine to force me to read it. Needless to say, I regret not having read this MUCH EARLIER. But enough with the bollocks and such and let’s get on with the bloody review.

Beautiful centers on the lives of inhabitants of a makeshift settlement, not too far from a group of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, called Annawadi. It is basically a settlement built by squatters who merely exists in the shadows of India’s society. The book, however, centers around some interesting characters.
There is Abdul, along with his mother Zehrunisa, a garbage sorter that has his trade down to a “science”. Barely a teen, along with his younger brother, this is what he does to provide for his family after his father suffered an injury to his back (which doesn’t seem to stop him from impregnating Zehrunisa). Then there is the mother/daughter team of Asha and Manju. Asha aims to be a top slumlord … someday … with great political affiliations, but in the meanwhile serves as the village councilor, that prostitutes herself and engages in little bouts of fraud and extortion. Yes, she’s quite the ambitious one. Manju, her daughter on the other hand has a decent education and earns money tutoring internet basics and classes that paid district teachers neglect to do. Did I mention that Manju is a prepubescent teen? Then there is Fatima or One-Leg, a one legged amputee (hence the nickname) that is a bit of a trouble maker but gets around in more ways than one and proving, simultaneously, that amputation does not dampen the libido or promiscuity. The Hussains (Abdul, Zehrunisa et al) have done quite well for themselves mostly due to Abdul’s discerning eye for scavenging “quality” garbage that can be sold to recyclers. Unfortunately, when you live on the margins of society, you are a sitting duck for every motivated hyena and coyote that comes by. In this case, the “coyotes” are usually police officers that shake down scavengers for the little that they earn. In some cases, successful scavengers such as Abdul, simply because they’ve been granted “privileged access” to some of the prime “dumping grounds” by the police. If this sounds infuriating already, the bad news is that I’ve just gotten started. Asha, as the village councilor, is the person that people carry their grievances to and she, in turn, uses her affiliations to “help” them. Now when Asha “helps” someone it is actually a favour and tribute (money) is expected and this is not usually a one-time payout. To go against that protocol is to find yourself accosted by police officers under some trumped-up charge and eventually in the “rescuing” arms of Asha who just happened to be in the neighbourhood. Right. And that “rescue” will come at steep cost. The moral: don’t mess around with Asha’s tribute.

The story takes a dramatic turn when a vicious conflict occurs between Fatima (One-Leg) and the Hussains. As the Hussains were trying to “renovate” their shack, Fatima (out of pure envy) claimed that the renovation efforts were affecting her wall. Harsh words were exchanged, and threats were made, and no thought anymore of it. Except for Fatima, that took it to a new diabolical level: she poured kerosene on herself and set herself aflame with the hope that the Hussains would be blamed for her injuries or murder (should she actually die). Complete bollocks, one would say. Sadly, this incident was the catalyst that started the domino effect in revealing how permeated corruption and abuse is many nooks and crannies of India. Abdul and his father are arrested based on really, crappy, accounts that would stun most active and practicing nitwits. The harsh reality of this is that it was not even about justice, but a haphazard conspiracy to extort the Hussains. All coordinated by the police and … Asha. And just when things couldn’t get any lower, we’re introduced to special executive officer Poornima Paikrao. Her main task is to collect victim statements but instead choose to participate in this conspiracy by coaching the crime scene and the victim. She also attempted to extort the Hussains several times during the arrest, during the incarceration and then outside the courthouse DURING the trial. When often pleaded upon for her help, her favourite saying (with upturned palms) was: “But what can I do?” There were times I heard my inner voice scream (at this farcical behaviour): “Your bloody job!!!”.
Unfortunately, fate was not kinder to Fatima as experienced by her treatment in the hospital (that has probably never heard of the Hippocratic oath). Cringeworthy examples include her IV bag with a “used” needle sticking out of it, since the nurses thought it a waste to use a new needle. Don’t worry I’ll save you some the “juicy” stuff. Along the way there are some sad side stories such as Abdul’s friend, Kalu (the movie-teller) that was murdered but was written off as “due to sickness” by corrupt police investigators and it is so blatantly fraudulent that you’d be aghast reading about it. The other was the suicide of Meena, Manju’s friend, that was subjected to way too much beatings by her parents and even brothers. I shudder to think that she was subjected to more than just beatings … by her brothers. And sadly, suicide was her escape.

A slight detour. In case you’re wondering what a “movie-teller” is, it is basically someone that tells an entire movie from beginning to end. Yes, I know that is frowned upon in America, but imagine growing up in a society where you couldn’t afford to go the movies as often as you’d like (and, in my case, lived in country that did not broadcast tv waves until 1985). As teenagers, back in Guyana, it was always common sight (back then) to see your mates gathered around an animated character as he basically told you the entire movie (sound effects and action included, Micheal Winslow would have been proud). Some kids were so really good at it, so much that it was the next best thing to being at the movies. And yes, you’ve been privy to another strange bit of my life.

For a country that has given the world yoga, Gandhi, herbal medicine, delicious spices (it is hard to fathom life without a decent curry) … and call centers that staff a lot of “Americans”, Beautiful paints a slightly less flattering image. Unlike America, where even the poor can afford to have lofty dreams and even achieve it, Beautiful shows a world where the poor can’t even see past their surroundings (e.g. Asha’s slumlord ambition). The poor preys on the poor and even worse, those that are supposed to protect the poor and the innocent are the biggest predators of all. In short, life is cheaper than cheap in Annawadi.If you’re looking for sunny, upbeat stories, that feels like Bollywood song and dance sequence, then I am afraid that this is not the book. The writing and story, is however, very riveting and grabs you but be forewarned that your emotions will cycle faster than the changing colours of a steroid-infused Aurora Borealis.

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Running Title: Bad Blood – Secrets And Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup

Several years ago I was sitting at home watching the telly and I came across this news flash about some woman named Elizabeth Holmes. Apparently, she was involved with some fraudulent behaviour involving some tech startup that got her into hot water. Sounds bang on and to the point. Little did I know, and thanks to members of my book club (yes, I run a book club in my branch and no it is NOT called the Evil Parrot Book club) and their recommendation of Bad Blood, I was made a bit wiser. And somewhat, troubled. But enough with the teasing, niceties, and other usual bollocks and let’s get on with the bloody review. Yeah?

The last thing I wanted to read was some boring blah-blah about some Silicon Valley tech startup, and about 20 pages into Bad Blood, it had dawned on me that Carreyrou’s tome was anything but boring. At some points I thought I was reading one of these creepy, conspiratorial Grisham novels, and to my dismal horror, it was not. Most importantly, it was based on something that was real and equally terrifying (don’t worry you’ll see the reason for such dramatic descriptions). Bad Blood introduces us to the interesting world of Elizabeth Holmes: blonde-haired, blue-eyed, super-intelligent AND a Stanford chemical engineering student. Or as my mum would say “wife material”, though my mum may be a bit biased since she is a retired chemist. Ah, we’ve detoured. When most of us at certain age were trying to figure out those labyrinthine first few years of college, Ms. Holmes was learning Chinese Mandarin and working at Singapore laboratory that performed tests for the SARS (remember that bit of craziness, oh … right we’re dealing with version 2.0 of that bollocks … coronavirus, they say). Then somewhere along the way Ms. Holmes had an Eureka moment and an LED bulb lit up in her mind: micro-sizing the world of blood testing. Instead of drawing vials of blood (as is currently done for blood testing) what if the same results could be achieved with blood droplets? Instead of scary needles, how about patches with micro-sized needles that could be applied to the skin to draw small amounts of blood? Best of all, instead of having to wait days or maybe more than a week, results can be sent back with hours? Now imagine if these testing devices were in everyone’s home and were beaming info back and forth through cellular and Wi-Fi technology. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It most certainly did in Ms. Holmes’ mind to the point that she dropped out of college and filed a patent for the futuristic vision of a blood testing patch. And with college tuition money being used as seed money the health-tech startup known as Theranos was born, and Silicon Valley had a new neighbour. And the slow hitting of shit on the fan. Though a marvelous theory, building the machinery that would deliver all this medical greatness proved quite the bugger. And then appeared the silent partner known as “Sunny”: Ramesh Balwani, a Hindi-Pakistani software developer that was apparently more than a “mentor” and “advisor” to Elizabeth. Let’s just say that their relationship may have been more than “professional”. Chunder factor: this bloke was twice her age. Like a siren, Ms. Holmes had good sales pitch that most could not resist and it drew in the likes of many high-caliber personalities such as Larry Ellison, Henry Kissinger (aye, that one), and retired Marine general, John Mattis. Even after being told, by very competent engineers, that her “contraption” was very flawed and, in subtle terms, an engineering clusterfunk waiting to happen, Ms. Holmes did the next best thing: cheated by buying and hacking commercially competent Siemens systems to perform blood tests and then past the stuff off as Theranos testing. I know what you’re saying: that was wrong on so MANY levels. That was the good news part. The bad news was that she and Sunny went even further as they hired a high-end pitbull of a lawyer and weaponized non-disclosure agreements for incoming employees for “protection of intellectual property” (that was useless). And then there were the harassing and stalking of employees/potential whistleblowers (including family members that dared to work with her). And tossed into the mix, an unusual (and possibly unhealthy) fixation on all things Steve Jobs. Though being called a female Steve Jobs by Forbes magazine only added to the egos and the misery of others. Yes, characters were assassinated, reputations ruined and there was one suicide … all based on a carefully crafted lie.
Bad Blood, most would find in a very short time, is not a very boring read. Unchecked, Theranos was a potential Pandora’s box for the medical industry where faulty testing would have lead to healthy people taking unnecessary treatments (like chemotherapy or paying over $3000 out of pocket to find out that you’re really fine) and unhealthy people would be given a false sense of security (such suffering a heart attack when you were assured that you were “fine”).
A cautionary tale for those that are pro-business and at the same time think that regulations are too “bothersome” or “in the way of progress”. Though started with noble and lofty intentions, somewhere along the way ego, image, delusions and yes, greed kicked in and a lot of really good folks got plowed under into a churning, crimson tide. And in a time when whistleblowers and diligent journalism is treated with disdain, Bad Blood unwittingly, sheds a bright shining light on these silent and unsung heroes that are scattered throughout this society who remain oblivious to the greater good that they do. And the cost they pay. Good show, Mr. Carreyrou. Jolly good show.

P.S. I don’t think mum would approve too kindly of Ms. Holmes behaviour.

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Running title: Gray Day – My Undercover Mission To Expose America’s First Cyber Spy

This title appeared in one of our earlier monthly non-fiction book lists that we use to determine which books we should buy for our library branches. There is a good possibility that I may have selected this book but somehow forgot about its existence … until I came across it in the stacks. And then the memory floodgates opened and I remembered salivating like a Pavlovian dog on the synopsis. I need to get out more. And since I was “jonesing” for a book to read and simply grabbed this for my literary “fix”. But enough with the drug allegories and other such bollocks and on with the bloomin review. Yeah?

I do remember when this story broke back in the early 2000s, it was quite the shitstorm. Robert Hanssen, was one of the biggest moles, in American history, who sold secrets to the Russians and compromised much of America’s tactical strategies against our enemies. On the bad side of things (yes, you are reading right) he compromised the lives of many agents and Russian defectors. Needless to say, America was tremoring for months after this broke through and for that period I was curious about this.

Eric O’Neill was an FBI “ghost”, agents capable of efficiently hunting and capturing spies and intelligence traitors. He was also newly married to Julianna, a former citizen of (then) East Germany. Something that he did not disclose to his superiors and got him sidelined for about year. Apparently, having romantic dalliances with women from former Communist countries whilst working for the US government was frowned upon … compromised security and all that good stuff. Then one day, he was suddenly enlisted on a spy hunting mission. The target, one of their own: Robert Hanssen. Robert Hanssen, at the time, was selected (also off the sidelines) to start (get this) the FBI’s first cybercrime unit. In other words this was more than the fox guarding the henhouse; he was bloody building the henhouse, too. The mission, should he choose to accept it (and thankfully did) was to work as subordinate of Hanssen and observe him. Oh right, Hanssen is also a master spy that is very elusive (for more than a decade) and this might be the Bureau’s last chance to nail his sorry ass (no pressure). And there begins the intense cat and mouse game. The problem is that as you progress throughout the book you start to question who is the real cat or mouse and yes … this perspective will change a few times during your reading. Now if you are expecting to read a boring book about some bloke observing a traitorous tosser, you are in for a shocker. Despite the knowledge of how this story ended, Gray still retains that icy grip of a thrilling, suspense-riddled spy novel (Jason Bourne be damned) that makes every page hard to resist turning and sometimes waging a battle with insignificant things like eating, sleeping or using the bathroom. There are some jaw-dropping revelations that appear in this book and it does not favour the FBI about the numerous times the Bureau may have dropped the ball that could have easily ended Hanssen’s long spree. Much earlier. Thankfully the Bureau have learned and has evolved. And as O’Neill struggles with the task on one hand and his law studies on the other, his homefront begins to take a beating. Odd hours at work, mostly due to a “broken server”, being distant in conversation and strange phone calls are putting a strain on his new marriage. He is unable to discuss his work with a woman he is terminally in love with and this begins the slow unravelling on both sides. Robert Hanssen comes off as an arrogant, covertly-cocky, know-it-all that will solicit very little or no sympathy from most readers.
Gray Day is, subtly, a tribute to the folks that work at the FBI and what they do. Yes, apparently it is more than interviewing serial killers that have a penchant for Chianti and fava beans.Most of all it gives a snapshot of the toll and the cost that many of the agents have to pay for the sake of protecting this beautiful country despite some of the bollocks, concerning their abilities, that have been floating around on the airwaves during a certain investigation that involves a certain far east country (there I said it). Jolly good show, Mr. O’Neill, and thanks for your service.

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Running title: The Angry Chef’s Guide To Spotting Bullshit In The World Of Food – Bad Science And The Truth About Healthy Eating.

There is something that is darkly appealing about a book with scatological epithets (bad words) in the title. Even more this was one of those books that beckoned to me with a Marilyn Monroe-ish voice … er,maybe I should not have said that out loud (and I really need to get out more). So I gave in …to a book about food and healthy eating (and it wasn’t a slow month). But enough with the bollocks and let’s be on with it. Yeah?
Anthony Warner is a professional chef, blogger … and oh yes, has a degree in biochemistry and has been known to write for the likes of New Scientist. That’s some serious cred.
In Spotting Bullshit, Mr. Warner sets out to pretty much hack away at the noise in the health food industry that is generated by mostly bloggers, Instagramers and celebrities. It is a literary bloodbath. I’ve never been too keen on diets and other such bunk, I’ve always been the type to eat anything … but in moderation (or at least I try to). And for awhile I’ve always felt like an odd duck. Sure I’d come across ton of books on detox diets and diet du jours and I’ve never felt inclined to try any of them. As a matter of fact I’ve looked at some smoothie books and after a quick calculation as to how much raw materials would cost to make ONE smoothie, I decided against it and those books never made it into my house. What makes Spotting Bullshit works is that it is not just some chap spouting opinionated, vague trendy info (as most health bloggers seemingly do). There is a lot of scientific facts presented along with some good old fashioned common sense discourse … with a bit of acidic language tossed in, which only adds to its character. It does gets a wee bit technical (on occasion) but it is kept to digestible amounts for most people. For those that are addicted to health blogging sites, this book just might be your literary detox (though ironically detox shows up as a very dirty word in this book … and for good reason). There are things that are excerpted, in this book, from some of these health blogging websites that are downright hilarious … and then you realize that this stuff might actually be hurting people too. Certain celebrity bloggers did not fare well in this book and for good reason due to some of the things they’ve put out there: such as claiming that coconut oil is so bloody healthy that not only can it be eaten by the spoonfuls but also serves as a great mouthwash and sexual lubricant (preferably separately, we all hope). Yes, I kid you not. The book even shows how rigid diet du jours such as the Atkins diet and the Paleo diet along with really bad pseudoscience can weave itself into people’s psyche where the need to stay “healthy” overwrites all logic and circumstance. One of the most stunning examples: a patient in a hospice refusing to help themselves to some buttered croissants for fear that the carbs would feed the cancer cell growth.Translation: someone in a terminal situation as in point of no return as in facing death in the immediate future … is still worrying about carbs instead of enjoying a bit of fleeting indulgence. Sad. Troubling.
For most people Spotting Bullshit would most likely be a confirmation of what they’ve all suspected all along but got so caught up with being “trending” that somewhere along the way they got sidetracked. Spotting Bullshit makes a harsh revelation about the so called health food industry (hint: has little to do with your health and more about your money). Most of all it is an encouragement to simply … enjoy food. Without all the strange rules. And in moderation. Period.

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Running Title: Touching The Dragon And Other Techniques For Surviving Life Wars,
Co-author: Christian D’ Andrea

This is one of those books that basically beckoned to me in the New Arrival section. I suspect one of my mates in Central Purchasing brought this knowing my taste in books. I was ready to take a break from the “Special Ops memoirs” but my curiosity got the best of me and that was that. Needless to say, this was a good read that I could not put down. Dragon is written in several parts but the book overall is really broken down into two stages: Hatch’s first battle during his tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and the second battle during his recovery from his battle wounds. It is a sobering and touching read. Mr. Hatch does not mind matters as he removes all the layers and puts it all out there … vulnerabilities and all. Some things stay with you such as the story with the woman and the shoelaces in Bosnia which basically shakes a rebuking finger at the current social atmosphere. And no, I’m not going to tell you the story for it is something to be read (and “experienced”). A lot of it was recapping his life and experiences during his 25 years in the SEALs. Bloody hell, twenty five years. But a significant part of the book chronicled his years recovering from his wounds and returning back to the civilized world (or something like it).
Like most military memoirs that seem to be centered around a certain person but always turns out to be a tribute to others, Dragon was no different and maybe this is why I am drawn to military memoirs. As Mr. Hatch goes through his journey of doubt, self-pity and anger during these early years of recovery, it took some strange “heroes” that came forward to put him back on the right path. And there are many of these stories littered throughout the book … all inspiring stories: a rape survivor, a machine gunner that survived a direct blast from an IED, some quilt makers from Montana, a 10 year old Girl Scout and Gabby Giffords. Dragon also introduces us to Mr. Hatch’s experience with military working dogs, four-legged heroes that don’t often make the news but put their lives on the line in service of this country and in some cases are probably responsible for a lot of our men and women returning home safely at a great sacrifice on their part. In his tribute to service dogs Hatch has started a foundation in memory of the dogs he served with in Afghanistan (www.spikesk9fund.org).
And then there is the Fly Fisherman, a fellow Navy SEAL. Throughout the book this individual’s name is never mentioned and is only referred to as the Fly Fisherman. And with great admiration. During the emotional rollercoaster of his recovery, the Fly Fisherman is seemingly a beacon and an anchor in Hatch’s life. I’ve never met this chap but I am envious of this friendship. In the end of the book, Hatch gets to pay tribute to the Fisherman in the most heartwarming and delightful way that would keep most readers feeling a bit fuzzy (and maybe misty eyed … or so I imagine). And probably wishing to meet the Fly Fisherman.
Truly touching, Hatch’s admiration for those military and non-military that brought him through his darkest hours is humbling, heartwarming, and somewhat enlightening. The fact that he still struggles with the “hero” title but willingly attaches this title to the people that he encountered, inspired him during his dark days is very noble of him (truly one of the best of us all). Or as I would say back home, good show Mr. Hatch, jolly good show.
And even though it has been said ad nauseum, I’ll never tire in saying it: thank you Mr. Hatch for your service and sharing a bit of your life with us.It is really inspiring stuff. God Bless you and yours, mate.

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Running title: Army of None – Autonomous Weapons And The Future of War.

Several years ago, I wrote a review for P.W. Singer’s Wired For War: a book that talked about the growing use of robots in the military. In the 80s, movies such as Short Circuit (Johnny 5 alive !!!) and the Terminator was among many factors that drove me in the arms of undergraduate engineering academia. And though I don’t work in the field, like a really great ex-wife, the interest still remains (just don’t mention that to my librarian career … she can be vicious). So, needless to say, when I discovered that this book was sitting on the (library) shelves, I homed in on it like a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone (yeah, I couldn’t help myself … and yes, I need to go out more). But enough of the bollocks and be on with it, yeah.

Drones have come a long way since their debut in the military. They’ve practically infiltrated many facets of society which, in some cases, seem odd but over the years have become one of those “what-would-we-do-without” moments. From aerial shots/videos in real estate listings and weddings to research to the occasional tosser out there that wants to watch female neighbours undress (yes, grade A wanks have been caught doing this … sad commentary there). Drones, love them or hate them, have become that the tool that we’ve always wanted but never knew. Written by Paul Scharre, a former Army ranger that served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, None is a well-researched and informative piece about what is quite active and what’s on the horizon in military automatons. And some of it is possibly , downright scary. Are we talking Skynet? Not quite, and as we speak there is still some reluctance in folks to commit Artifical Intelligence (AI) onto some decent and lethal weapons system (with no human interaction) and expect something “good” will happen. An even scary revelation about this is that America isn’t the only person with the cool “toys” on the battlefield, for there are now over 16 nations that employ robotic weaponry in their military. And to make you sleep even more soundly at night: they are finding themselves in hands of groups like ISIS and Hezbollah though not as sophisticated as those in the US military. But … still. Though based around military uses, the book explores the development of non-weaponized autonomous machines such as self-driving cars, etc. Apparently, we are in a sort of an AI development race. Interesting terms that’ll be added to your mental database: supervised autonomy and loitering munitions. Currently weapon systems that exist today and categorized as autonomous are actually a supervised autonomy (i.e. there is human that is still in the loop when using these systems). Unlike nuclear weapons, it is refreshing to see that there is a lot of thought going into developing and using fully automated, AI controlled systems and not usher in the age of SkyNet. Oh well, there goes my hopes of running off into the desert with Linda Hamilton. Of course it only takes one person to open that Pandora’s box and drink from that forbidden fount … and before you know it … SkyNet (and desert living with Linda, fingers crossed).
Like Wired For War, Army of None is informative and yes, a very cautionary about the use of autonomous military vehicles, but riveting and eye opening to the wonderful and promising non-military applications. Makes you wonder what the world would have been like if someone had spent the time writing about nuclear energy with the same passion of Singer or Scharre. BTW, as I always like to take the time and extend a bit of salutations to authors that have served in uniform and so I say to Mr. Scharre, thank you for your service and God Bless you and yours, mate.

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Running Title: Soonish – Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or RUIN Everything.
As the new year begins, and as we try to get over that year long hangover that was 2017, there is a need to find some hope in the future to come. Sure we’ll have to find a way to delete a significant portion of 2017 from our memory, but until they come up with Johnny Mnemonic type technology, we’ll just have to focus on the years ahead and try to ignore the braying of asses in the media. I was walking around my central branch after a training session (yes, librarians have to do training stuff) and for some reason I came across Soonish. One quick glance at the cover, led to hamster-like scanning of the chapters and before you can scream “Kelly Clarkson” I was bolting out the door with a checked out copy of Soonish. Even though I am a librarian, once in a while I always year to get back to my engineering roots (which will probably explain the Arduino kits scattered throughout my condo) and catch up on what’s going on in the scientific world. Bloody hell, I miss working in labs.
From space elevators/tethers, asteroid mining, programmable matter, robotic construction to augmented reality (AR), precision medicine, and bioprinting, the Weinersmiths paint a fascinating and intriguing futurescape of technology. To quote Timbuk3 (and I’ve always wanted to): “The future so bright, I gotta wear shades.” Well at least for those of you that grew up in or appreciate the 80s and its music. Being a big fan of robotics, I really latched on the chapters on programmable matter and robotic construction. Programmable matter is as cool as it sounds; think of a piece of paper that can fold itself into an origami piece like a swan or a fire breathing dragon carrying a white haired, gorgeous woman …er, sorry about that. But let’s face it, Emilia Clarke is the dog’s bullock, yeah? And yes, we’ve detoured (but such a good detour it is). Now imagine a house built with programmable matter systems where a kitchen can transform into a bathroom or bedroom. Fascinating stuff. Since we’re on the topic of robotics … robotic construction. Houses being built by robots. Cool (though many in the construction industry are going to be wearing their shitting pants and the art of female catcalling faces extinction). Yes, there is an actual roving robotic construction prototype out there. When they came out with 3D printers at some point, I heard myself say, “hey, won’t it be cool if they did this for human organs and tissues” and for a few weeks my head was swimming with visions of scanning tunneling microscopes, busy-body nanites immersed in a vat of amino acids and rigged to some strange elaborate (near-alien looking) printing apparatus. And then I went to binge watch the final season of Leverage. Thankfully, the science community isn’t as hamster-brained as I can be (sometimes) and … lo and behold … bioprinting. The future key to solve the organ donation crisis (just hoping it doesn’t turn into that remake of Repo Men with Jude Law).
Space elevators … what a concept … the ability to zip cargo from terra firma to low orbit stations that are tethered to the earth by miles upon miles of specially treated/enhanced cables … all without the costly NASA rocket blastoffs. Though I do worry about some twit or tosser terrorist walking by and deciding to “snip” the cable for pranks or disruption. I could go on and on about some of the things discussed in Soonish but I’ll be a downright wank for messing up your reading experience.
Zach and Kelly Weinersmith (both technological academics themselves) did something in Soonish very few technical writers can do: write about tech, make it entertaining … AND still manage to inform. Sure, Zach seems to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder about (and against) Windows 10 ( I already love this chap), but then again which thinking PC user doesn’t. If it were up to me, I’d nominate that the Weinersmiths write all the science textbooks (for both schools and universities) and I’m willing to bet that there will be a surge in science studies … and a declining interest in bullshit music reality shows like The Voice and it’s rip-off rival, The Four (yes, I apparently did go there).

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Running title: Rogue Heroes – The History Of The SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged The Nazis And Changed The Nature Of War.

It is no secret that I’m a big fan of the Special Operations community and the wonderful work that they do (God bless you, chaps), so when I came across this book, perched on my New Arrivals shelf, I pretty much salivated like a Pavlovian hound and couldn’t resist checking it out. Ah yes, the perks of being a librarian (aside from being in some folks naughty librarian fantasies …yes, no … maybe wishful thinking on my behalf). *Sigh* I have detoured already. Well so much for the bollocks, let’s get on with it. Yeah?

Most significant and major institutions are built on vision, blood, sweat and tears (not to mention a few broken bones in this context) of those daring few visionaries. The special operation community that are prevalent in our lives today would not have been had it not been for those daring few in World War II. The first time I ever became of the existence of the SAS was, during the 80s, when I watched a movie called The Final Option starring Lewis Collins. Interesting fact: Lewis Collins as actually passed the selection for 23SAS unit but was actually rejected because of his celebrity status. Yes, sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction. Rogue takes us from the very, very (rough and tumble … literally) humble beginnings with its founder, David Sterling. Often regarded as “irresponsible and unremarkable”, it was Sterling’s vision of unconventional warfare that caught a few minds in a time when Germany dominated North Africa with an ever-growing stranglehold that was extending outward toward Europe. The thing is that an unconventional unit will most likely attract unconventional personalities or as someone had put it bluntly: “the sweepings of public schools and prisons”. Eccentric, definitely, insane (and possibly psychotic), maybe. Needless to say, the SAS beginnings were littered with many strange, eccentric personalities. One such was Blair “Paddy” Mayne known for his violent temper and the occasional bouts of drunkenness, which some have rumoured that were due to closeted homosexuality (though there has been very little evidence to prove such), became a critical figure in the formation and the growth of the SAS. He was also known, in the later years, for driving into missions with a gramophone, playing music, in his jeep. He’s been also been known to find the time to dig into a paperback during some of the most hair-raising firefights. Yes, truly an odd bloke that one. There are other names such as Roy “Paddy McGinty” Farran and Randolph Churchill (yes, the son of THAT Churchill). It is said that Randolph home to his father about the SAS exploits in sabotage and assaults on the Germans that made Winston Churchill one of the SAS biggest fans, and (as the immortal Martha Stewart would say) this was a good thing. From earlier training methods (jumping out of 30mph vehicles to practice parachute landings) to incredible feats of survival (walking over 180 miles in the desert to get to a friendly unit whereas the “easier” options meant being captured) to encountering the barbarous nature of the German forces and their abominable conscription of children soldiers (yes, I’m afraid this started way before current day Africa). And then there are anecdotes that are delightful roguish and scandalous such as Stirling having dinner with Churchill and asking for Churchill’s signature on a blank piece of paper as “memento” which was then used to forge a letter to the SAS carte blanche access to equipment and personnel. Aye, truly scandalous, but Churchill was a good sport and yes, a big fan of the SAS, so that bit of dodgy roguishness got a pass.
Rogue is a superb eye-opener into the origins of Special Forces. Interesting note: the SAS during peace time served as a war crimes investigation unit that may have helped bring a lot of war criminals and the scope German monstrosity, during the war, to light. Quite gruesome on occasion, with some spots of levity, and filled with insanely daring exploits of the SAS during World War II, Rogue Heroes is a very riveting read (as in you’ll want to rivet your eyelids open and not sleep). A splendid tribute to those daring few that launched an evolutionary approach to war which in turn produced the Navy SEALs, the Green Berets (US Army Special Forces), the Polish GROM and even the Russian Spetsnaz. God bless these daring few that has taken up the mantle for the good fight downrange.

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Running title: The Battle For Room 314 – My Year Of Hope And Despair In A New York City High School.
There was a time, prior to working in the public library system, that I actually (and seriously) considered becoming a teacher. At the time I was working in the IT department at a community college and often had the misfortune of travelling home with rowdy school kids. Seriously, what are kids doing at school till 8PM? Let’s just say that some of the thoughts that passed through my head I will not mention for I may end up on some bloody watchlist of sorts or might be paid an unwelcome visit by law enforcement. Needless to say, a career in education evapourated rather quickly from mind (somewhat). Still there is always that thought, throughout the years, of “what if” that occasionally creeps back into my mind.
So after having seen and read the synopsis of Battle, in our stacks, I was intrigued and, like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With The Vampire, I wanted more. And so began my (short) reading odyssey of “what could have been”. The books open with a very unflattering encounter with “Chantay” that makes a big scene in the classroom in which she instructs Mr. Boland to “suck her dick” (yes, I wish was making this up) … all this to impress a gangbanger boyfriend. This pretty much sets the tone of what is in store for the readers. And it is quite the ride. Sad to say, it didn’t take much in reading to realize that I had very, very little to regret. Yes, we’ve all seen To Sir With Love and Stand and Deliver, where there is that “hero teacher” that rolls into town with the dream of giving educationally disadvantaged youth a fighting chance in the world. What Battle reveals is more dire than I have suspected but is (sad to say) not quite shocking since I see remnants of this bollocks strolling through the library doors when school lets out. Sort of like that movie, Class of 2000 with the cyborg teachers. Battle reads more like cry of urgency, a literary flare launched into the social atmosphere of city whose good intentions seemingly allow the lunatics to run the asylum. For some strange reason, there is this compelling need to give everyone access to education even when some clearly don’t want to be educated and become a hindrance to those that really want to better themselves. And it is quite the sad spectrum. The good: Byron (the Jamaican prodigy that has great potential, but it constantly a victim to misinformed choices that robs him of many great educational opportunities), Yvette (the smart kid with a tawdry sexual pass … something about BJs to older guys ..for a dollar) and Mariah (the sullen, red-hoodie-wearing, insightful, seemingly-bright, angst-ridden teen). The bad: Kameron Shields (the rule breaking, extravagant, gangbanger), and Sameer Gherbe (Moroccan kid that coaxed another kid into shooting a kid with pellet gun … as sign of love). The ugly: Valentia (the young sociopath in training that used a trip to Six Flags to either fake a miscarriage or commit abortion by roller coaster …yes, bloody ponderous), and the shoddy treatment of Ni-Cole, who resides in a homeless shelter, by other classmates who themselves are probably a paycheck away from the same fate. Yes, not for the intellectually faint of heart, and would most likely drive most into the loving embrace of homeschooling. Battle is in fact, a tribute to teachers who rise everyday with the hope of giving some disadvantaged child out there a fighting chance whilst dealing the bureaucratic and social bollocks … and it is quite a big buggering pile of bollocks. As if the author did not have enough on his plate, Mr. Boland writes about his mother who often made disparaging remarks about his choice and the teaching profession in general. Having worked for college admissions, he talks about the unfair (in a few pages) selection process that is enough to make any overworked and ultra-studious student take to the nearest water tower with a high-powered rifle. I guess that finally explains why I (upper 90 percentile in graduating class) got the waiting list treatment for MIT and some bloke that could toss a ball through a hoop with a 65 (!!!) average gets a scholarship to Georgetown University (he actually dropped out after a year). But it is not all downright depressing. Oh no. There is that part of one of the chapters that I call it The Ballad of Father Tenner. A moment in Boland’s past about this pious, alpha-male, General Patton wannabe that basically bullied male parochial school kids … until he got caught in a prostitute sting.
Battle is an indictment of a crappy educational system run by clueless bureaucracy, twenty-first century parenting created by years of shitty pseudo-psychology and the way we treat our educators (hint: not so great). In consideration of how New Yorkers love to tout their intellectual superiority, it is downright fraudulent as Battle reveals the classroom has become a literal gladiatorial arena of sorts, where troublemakers are furloughed into classrooms of unsuspecting students. Students who are in turn victimized by the trouble makers and the system, thus robbing them of a decent educational experience. Progress. And in this version of To Sir With Love, Lulu does not step forward to sing a charming song … but instead throws a used tampon in Sid Poitier’s face and tells him to … sod off. Quite the eye-opener. And to those that use the phrase “those who can’t do … teach”: Wanks and tossers, the lot of you.

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Running title: Operation Thunderbolt – Flight 139 And The Raid On Entebbe Airport, The Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission In History.

As a librarian I get to do cool things such as going to conferences or meeting with publishers as they hawk their new wares (namely books). Sure it is sort of what the pharmaceuticals do when they court doctors with their latest “life-saving” drugs and coax the docs into pushing their stuff unto unsuspecting vict …er, patients. The good thing about my situation is that, for the most, I don’t have to do that much “pushing” when it comes to books. It practically “pushes” itself and, most of all, reading books don’t leave people with side effects (aside from the occasional eyestrain) such as … DEATH. Seriously, I’ve noticed that a bunch of drugs list “death” as a side effect. Um … no, itchiness and a case of the shits is a side effect. Death is complete bollocks up. And I have detoured greatly. So back to the review … shall we?

Now it was during one of those conferences, that I had received an advanced reader’s copy or arcs (as they are affectionately known) of Operation Thunderbolt. Only a few months ago, I came across it on my shelf and came to the conclusion that I must be losing my mind since this was sitting my shelf for more than year without being read. Thunderbolt chronicles the famous hijacking of Flight 139 (an Israeli airline) and the military operation that was involved in its resolution. The Raid on Entebbe was an actual movie that was based on this story. In the 80s, the movie Delta Force, starring the immortal Chuck Norris, had a plot line that mirrored the Entebbe crisis. Ah, the 80s, such a great decade for the coolest action movies. Pure action without the PC bollocks. Awesome days. Up until Thunderbolt was written, we’ve only seen and heard the military point of view of the operation. Several decades later, Thunderbolt gives the reader a very immersive, 360 degree point of view that not only features the military point of view but also the gathered stories from those that lived through the ordeal. And though some of the players are mixture of the obscure to the well-known, they create a spectrum of bravery, nobility, and downright viciousness. An interesting character to note is Michel Cojot, a French Jew that found himself unwittingly plucked from being simple passenger to being the liaison between hostages and hijackers. Though it was later determined that it was the information provided by Cojot, to the Israeli forces, that was critical to the operation. There are some famous names such as Ehud Barak and Yoni Netanyahu (the ill-fated brother of prime minister Bibi Netanyahu) that were part of this operation. And as disgusting as the Baader-Meinhoff terrorist group was to the passengers, no one can overlook the vileness of Idi Amin as he toys and tries to manipulate the governments of the hostage countries all for his own selfish needs (but then again, this is not exactly shocking when you’re dealing with a narcissistic and psychopathic wanker). Yes, this bloke made my blood boil on a few occasions. And despite all of this, there were still those whose humanity did not take a back seat to the bollocks such as Henry Kyemba, the Ugandan minister of health, who kept hostage Dora Bloch in the hospital for an extended period for the sake of her health. Unfortunately, his good intentions cost Bloch her life. And yes, there were some interesting moments about people still finding the time to engage in a bit of the old in-out, in-out with the threat of death hanging over them. I guess I could see how that is possible. Talk about going out with a bang. Aye, I know … naughty, naughty. I could go on citing more and more examples of this book … and end up spoiling it for most of readers, so I shall refrain from such and not be a tosser about it.

Thunderbolt gives the reader a fascinating journey into one of the most spectacular hostage rescues ever attempted: sitting through every crucially planned step of the military operations from paper to execution whilst simultaneously dealing with the fears and apprehensions of the hostages and the vileness of the terrorists and Idi Amin (bloody tosser, that one). Needless to say it is quite an emotional roller coaster that is unlike anything Six Flags could ever come up with: anger – rage – sadness – rage – joy – anger – sadness (you get the idea). Especially when you read about how Amin left this world. Let’s just say he left in better fare than most of his victims … with the help of the Saudi government (some friends we have). And even though we all know the outcome, to read Thunderbolt from beginning to end is to relive this anew. Be prepared to have your emotions tested. I had mentioned the movie Delta Force earlier. Truth be told was that this operation by the Israelis served as a springboard for the creation of the Delta Force detachment in the Special Forces. I take my hat off to these folks and others like them that do the daring stuff. Yoni Netanyahu, may you truly rest in peace.

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