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A blog and website by Peter Bengtsson

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God, No! by Penn Jillette
A couple of months ago my wife went to see the Penn & Teller show in Las Vegas. Afterwards she stayed backstage to meet Penn, have a quick chat and sign a copy of his book. My wife said "My husband is going to be so jealous that I met you", to which Penn replied "Wanna make him really jealous? Grab my ass." Which she did. Haha!

I've been a long time fan of their show. I remember watching it when I was big enough to appreciate magic but had no idea what the jokes were and I thought they was just kinda dark and odd.

These guys do everything together but this book is all Penn. It's completely without a plot line other than, I guess, it goes through the 10 commandments in the bible and for each, tells a couple of stories that are somewhat related. Funny stories. Sexy stories. And very very personal stories.

Despite its title not that much of the book is about atheism. The prolog and the epilogue is though. In fact, the prolog was "mindblowingly" profound and well written. I was really impressed. There were so many interesting thoughts that I could quote the whole thing but instead I'm just going to quote this little piece:

Some will tell you "God is love" and then defy you not to believe in love. Bug, if X = Y, why have a fucking X? Just keep it at Y. Why call love god? Why not call love ... love? "Beauty is god." Okay. If you change what the word means, you can get me to say I believe in it. Say "God is bacon" or "God is tits" and I'll love and praise god, but you're just changing the word, not the idea.

Funny! And I'd never thought of that as a rebuttal.

I used to be an atheist and was almost militant about it meaning; I was prone to proclaim it loudly in hope of convincing people. I am no longer an atheist. Partly that's because I've come to understand two things: Preaching for the negative is a paradoxical oxymoron. Secondly, I have new-found respect and admiration for church as a community.

Which brings me to conclude with my final thought: After reading this atheism proclamation I and now even less atheist. The more arguments Penn makes the less I believe in atheism. Strange.

I guess I can say "God is leaving people to make up their own minds". Which means I can say: "Leaving people to make up their own minds is leaving people to make up their own minds.

But I did enjoy many of the stories in the book. You might too.

What a book!
I defend that it took months to finish it with; it's not easy reading, I only read on the short train commute 3 days a week and I'm a really really slow reader.

Moby Dick book cover
Even though it was hard going at times I generally enjoyed every page. Some passages were like reading Latin but with English words. Some pages where thrilling and some pages where beautiful as poetry. Some short passages were so amazing that you have to stop and just take a quick smile-break.

Unlike many people I actually didn't know how the book plays out or how it ends and I'm NOT going to spoil that here, in case you too want to read it too, not knowing how it ends. The only thing I regret is reading the editors introduction which revealed something crucial to the plot line without any warning.

It was not until afterwards when I read about the book on Wikipedia (link contains spoilers) that I appreciated the many sub-plots and sub-contexts. For example, the many metaphysical and theological undertones. For one thing (this is NOT a spoiler), if you're going to read it pay extra attention to peoples' names.

One thing I can reveal is that the book is basically three books but you don't really notice that when it goes from one to the other. I can not imagine a modern day publisher allowing that to happen to a contemporary book with contemporary readers who have less attention span than a gold fish. However, I am glad I've read it because not only is it an entertaining book it's also a good exercise in modern life that not everything has to be so perfect and lean.

And a final tip to you who now feel inspired to read the book for the first time; it's an old-English book with lots of words you won't know and that's fine, but do take the time to look up some of the nautical words related to the ship because they re-appear again and again when you're reading action filled passages. Like bulwark, masthead and starboard.

The Poincaré Conjecture
I just finished a wondeful book, The Poincare Conjecture: In Search of the Shape of the Universe by Donal O'Shea, and because I'm not very good at writing I'm just going to quote a good chunk:

Mathematics reminds us how much we depend on one another, both on the insight and imagination of those who have lived before us, and on those who comprise the social and cultural institutions, schools and universities, that give children an education that allows them to fully engage the ideas of their times. It is up to all of us to ensure that the legacy of our times is a society that stewards and develops our common mathematical inheritance. For mathematics is one of the quintessentially human activities that makes us more fully human and, in so doing, leads us to transcend ourselves.

Looking up at the night sky, at the distant stars and galaxies and clusters of galaxies, it is inconceivable to me that there are not other intelligences out there, some far different then us. Hundreds of years hence, if we ever develop technologies that enable us to meet and to communicate, we will discover that they will know, or want to lknow, that the only compact three-dimensional manifold in which every loop can be shrunk to a point is a three-sphere. Count on it.

There were lots of mathematical concepts in this book that I didn't understand, but these two paragraphs I surely understood.

Available on Amazon.com I've just read Frank Zappa: The Biography by Barry Miles. It's a detailed book on 380 pages about virtually every year of Frank Zappa's life. From his parents to his death.

I'm a huge Frank Zappa fan and have been for more than a decade. It's probably the most listened to artist ever in my life in terms of number of listened to songs. Actually not probably; definitely. I adore his music and his personality and this is the second book I read about him. The other book I read was Real Frank Zappa Book written by Peter Occhiogrosso based on biography interviews with Frank for the purpose of writing this book. That book was much more bland and emphasized particularly his early political work and also very much emphasizes on his work as a orchestral conductor/business man.

The detail work in this book is really fantastic. It's thanks to Barry's in-depth understanding of music and the music industry that you get deep down to the nitty-gritty details of Zappa's work. As always with books like this, it's not till you read about the lyrics that you fully understand the lyrics even if you have listened to them many a times. Some of these lyrics I'm actually kind of sad to have understood now as of reading about them in this book. For example, I now understand that the song We're Turning Again which is an up-yours to his old band members Mothers of Invention.

If anything bad can be said about the book it's that it sort of ends on a bad note (no pun intended), as it ends on the sad last few years when Frank was really sick and up to the point of his death. And also, I would have liked to find out more about Barry's own personal relationship with Frank because he couldn't possibly have written this book had he not admired the guy too.

There is no doubt in my mind that Frank Zappa is one of the most innovative and inspirational characters in twentieth-century music history. And probably show-biz too for that matter. Even though the book reveals some truths about Frank as a bit of "douche bag" I'm still firmly one of his biggest fans. If you wanna find out more about Frank Zappa this is most like the book to get.

Following is an extract from a quoted interview by Gail Sloatman who later became Gail Zappa:

"And I remember thinking, Oh my God! Here's this guy, I think he's extraordinary, it's such a different sensation! I know he hasn't taken a bath in four months and his moustache smells like peanut butter..."

She sums it up nicely in her own very personal words so well. There is something amazing about this guy beyond the less appealing facade.

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor's orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
  "How long did it take you to catch them?" the American asked.
  "Only a little while," the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.
  "Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" the American then asked.
  "I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends," the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.
  "But... What do you do with the rest of your time?"
  The Mexican looked up and smiled. "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor."
  The American laughed and stool tall. "Sir, I'm a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats."
  He continued, "Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management."
  The Mexican fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will all this take?"
  To which the American replied, "15-20 years. 25 tops."
  "But what then, senor?"
  The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions."
  "Millions, senor? Then what?"
  "Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos..."
(The 4-hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss, page 231-232)

The 4-hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris This quote is ripped from a book called The 4-hour Work Week by nutty young entrepreneurial American man called Timothy Ferriss. Just finished the book I have to admit being quite hit by it. It says on the back "WARNING: Don't read this book if you don't want to change your life". I don't want to radically change my life but a bit wouldn't hurt.

If your an office guy working for the man (or as the Japanese call it "salary men") reading this book will probably leave a bad taste of guilt and trembling eager to take his advice on board.

My take is to not take the book on at either 100% (what the author wants) or 0% (what almost all readers will do) but instead do some cherry picking of ideas and concepts that I like. I've actually already started to change a few things in my life all thanks to inspiration in the book.

Rumor has it's it's $thousands still if you can even buy one. The juicy thing about these is that they promise around 50 hours of battery life since it takes 0 power to show a screen. It only takes power to change the screen which makes it ideal for reading e-books.

More in this annoyingly narrated video

Aussies in London - What are you doing here? I've just finished Dylan Nichols book called "What Are You Doing Here" which is a funny little book about Australians in England (London especially), why they came, what they do here, what influences they bring with them and why they keep coming and last but not least what gets them to go back home.

Dylan is a good friend of mine and I book my signed copy at his book launch a couple of weeks ago. A lot of my friends here in London are aussies and reading this book will only help me understand them and possibly whats going on in their head. Reading this book has given me some profound understanding about Australians' feelings about coming here that I didn't understand before.

The only bad thing I can say about the book is that it wasn't meant for me. It's got a very strong Australian taste to it and I don't think Dylan and his aussie reviewers even noticed that it could be accepted as almost a bit condescending towards the britons.

The first couple of chapters are about the history of arriving aussies and the responses on that. I love the way Dylan has plenty of little facts about very small things such as quotes from old Australian prime ministers and certain celebrities and what they added to British culture.

As the story is told Dylan often pops back to himself and his feelings and actions when he came here and this happens throughout the book which gives it a nice personal touch to it and not just history lesson.

There were also some interesting sections about "brain-drain" and how it might not be a brain-drain since a lot of these brains actually come back enriched. This I think applies very much to Swedes too.

There's a good review/article also on theage.au on the same subject worth reading if you're too pennywise to part with £6.64

Martial Arts - A book about Kung fu films Got my copy today! I'm excited to read it.

Martial Arts is a book about martial arts films such as Enter the Dragon and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon etc. written by my "kung fu sister". Within the club you sometimes refer to other people in club as brothers and sisters. Pen and I train both train with Dave in Islington.

Have you seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? Do you understand it all or are you, like me, just watching for its fascinating effects, scenery and swordplay? Apparently, all the questions that you've always wanted to know is in the book. I remember asking Pen once: "Why does she jump off the bridge in the end?" To which Pen replied: "Buy my book and you'll find out". So I did. Can't wait!

FogGreek is putting together some sort of management training course and Joel has put up a reading list for the course. They're all either technical computer or modern management books that new-age web entrepreneurs should read.

Of all those books I've only read five but I recognize almost half of them.

Here are the ones I've read:

Don't Make Me Think Web Publishing The Inmates Are Running the Asylum Peopleware The Tipping Point

It's a shame they've missed out on Maverick! (or at least The Seven Day Weekend) by Ricardo Semler but it pleases me that he skipped the micro$oft propaganda book Joel on software

DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith I just finished reading DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith to learn more about how to use the DOM (Document Object Model) to manipulate web content with JavaScript. The book teaches you how to write JavaScripts to create, change and animate content with scripts using document.createElement and stuff. The book starts with refresher on JavaScript which I must confess to reading much faster than I'm able to. However, it did explain the importance of declaring variables with var and why it matters well.

After chapter 4, you've been taught more or less everything there is to know about the DOM and the rest of the book is just big and explained exercises that iterate the importance of separating Structure (XHTML), Presentation (CSS), Behaviour (JavaScript) with examples and code from all three disciplines. By the way, don't worry when I say "exercises". You can read the book in the bath tub without having to do step-by-step exercises; Jeremy does all of that for you in the book.

In retrospect the book was probably a few thousand words "too simple" for me. I'm not an expert at DOM scripting but the XHTML, CSS and stuff was a bit basic. For example, I've already used AJAX, I didn't need to know what it is. Did that sound too cocky? Sorry, I hope you see what I mean.

If you're quite new to web standards, DOM scripting and AJAX and stuff; get this book! Or, you're an old-school web developer still using Flash, tables and popup windows; get this book!