God, No! by Penn Jillette

November 9, 2014
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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.

Moby Dick (by Herman Melville)

February 25, 2014
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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

April 22, 2013
1 comment Mathematics, Books

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.

"Frank Zappa: The Biography" by Barry Miles

October 30, 2009
7 comments Books

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.

The 4-hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris

July 29, 2009
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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.

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