Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The WarehouseThe Warehouse by Rob Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a disturbing book. A dystopian nightmare combining today's behemoth retail companies (Amazon being the main example) with a century+ ago company town where you were a worker who never went home, because home was right there where you worked, did your shopping, found your relaxation, and all with your money going right back to your employer.

Told from the points of view of a new employee, a corporate spy, and the dying CEO who founded the company, The Warehouse paints a picture of a badly damaged world dominated by pure capitalists willing to use people as nothing more than drones. Take the worst article you've read about working conditions in one of the giant corporations of today, then imagine another 50 years of lobbyists buying favorable regulations, those companies skewing things to crush out every little bit of competition, and employees becoming desperate beyond measure for any way to survive, and there you have the world of "Cloud," the beyond-measure behemoth dominating warehouse-based, online retail sales and crushing the soul out of the world.

I don't want to say too much here, for fear of giving away something I shouldn't. But this novel has elements that should be very recognizable to anyone staying on top of the current state of our world, particularly in comparable business models. It wouldn't be hard to see things heading this way, and that's very disturbing!

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Thinking, Fast and SlowThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thinking, Fast and Slow is an interesting book that explores the way our brains work and the way we make decisions. The information shared in its pages is worth knowing and considering. With that said, this is a book in desperate need of a strong editor. Any number of times, as the examples went on and on, I felt like begging the author to stop. The book could have been half its length and conveyed the concepts with sufficient examples to makes it points.

I went to an excellent university, and I had classes taught by people at the very top of their fields, including Nobel laureates like this author. A number weren't the best at conveying information in interesting ways. I'm afraid that's this author's affliction as well. A solid editor might have cleaned this up and made it a better book. As it is, Thinking, Fast and Slow has worthwhile information, but prepare for a long slog to get through it.

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Thursday, March 05, 2020

Artificial sweeteners are poison

Yes, I know. That headline is so shrill. I'm not a fan of people who make such pronouncements and think they have better knowledge than what many have told us (i.e., artificial sweeteners are safe). Bear with me!

First, I acknowledge that artificial sweeteners probably don't affect everyone the same way. Granted.

Now some background. Over 20 years ago, my doctor noted that, among my annual bloodwork, two liver enzymes were high. Not dangerously high, but still high. He ran tests, and we eliminated the various, scary possibilities, but we never nailed down a cause. Maybe it was because of my obesity, but it never really was nailed down. Still, I didn't worry because he--and subsequent doctors--said it wasn't a big deal. It just happens that way for some people.

Recently, I went to an endocrinologist, and I like her a lot. She's smart, clearly skillful, and she makes sense and respects what I have to say. (Some doctors are a bit condescending.) When we came to this issue, she had a different point of view. Yes, the numbers aren't very high, but having them a bit high for so long can start to do liver damage. In the end, I could wind up with cirrhosis in old age. Okay, so now she had my attention.

We talked about things that could cause this. Being heavy can be a problem, but, even though most people probably haven't noticed it because it's happened slowly, I've lost a lot of weight over the past several years. No change. So we talked about a lot of possible liver irritants, and nothing seemed to match up. Then I thought of something and asked, "Could artificial sweeteners be bothering my liver?"

She then said she wasn't sure, but it was possible. She added that, even if that isn't the cause, she would rather I stop using them, if I can manage it, or at least reduce the amount I use. But now I needed to know. Could 20+ years of my liver complaining be because of little packets of sweetener in my morning coffee and the stuff in soda?

So a couple of months ago, I stopped using them. No diet soda, no Sweet & Low, Equal or Splenda (the name of this blog notwithstanding), and I checked some of the products I consume (like FairLife protein drinks) and cut out those as well if they had artificial sweeteners.

Today, I went for follow-up blood tests. The one enzyme was down markedly and almost to the official "normal" range, while the other was fully down in the normal range. Neither number has looked this good in a very long time. Of course, that's just one round of tests. Hopefully this continues, but I'm convinced already--because nothing else changed (and the area of my liver that had been firm is now softer... yes, you can feel these things yourself), and suddenly a multi-decade problem has receded.

Please, if you can't completely cut out artificial sweeteners, cut back on them. I'm going to be one of those annoying people, because I'm convinced, they're poison!

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Empire of LiesEmpire of Lies by Raymond Khoury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book. Driven by a secret incantation, one man has managed to go back in time and change history. This has led to a world with firmly entrenched religious empires, including the modern version of the Ottoman Empire that rules Europe, now led by an autocratic religious ruler.

Some good people get caught up in bad events, and good people are hurt. But can these bad things be changed with the same incantation? If they are, then what? What becomes of the world? And what comes next?

This was a thought-provoking, interesting book. I liked it.

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Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was pretty disappointed in this book. Somehow, I never read Breakfast at Tiffany's. Since it's such a famous book, with the iconic movie based on it, I felt I should remedy this.

In short, I wish I liked this book more. I suspect it was considered very racy and revolutionary for its time. Since that was over 60 years ago, things have changed. Now that nothing in it is racy at all, based on today's standards, we're just left with the characters themselves, most importantly Holly Golightly. Ms. Golightly, whose wild life may have raised eyebrows back in the late '50s, is now just a selfish, annoying young lady. She really has few redeeming qualities.

At least the book is short. So it's a very quick read.

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We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse, #1)We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really loved this book. So much science fiction is either poorly thought out or very dark. Yes, there's a dark, dystopian future for humanity, followed by major calamity. Even so, there is hope and more importantly, since it's fiction, there's a lot to make the reader think and imagine what might be on other worlds.

I wasn't sure if this book was for me when I first read about it, but now I'm ready for the next in the series. Well done, Mr. Taylor!

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Thursday, January 09, 2020

The Night Fire (Harry Bosch #22; Renée Ballard, #3; Harry Bosch Universe, #32)The Night Fire by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Night Fire is another great book by Michael Connelly. His writing and stories are so good that I get mixed emotions as I approach the end of a book. On the one hand, I want to see how everything turns out. On the other, I don't want it to end! While this generally is the case with his books, this one was exceptionally good. He's managed to keep an aging Harry Bosch going while continuing to build his compelling new character, Renée Ballard. Bravo, Michael Connelly! And thanks for another great read!

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Monday, December 30, 2019

Funny how we touch lives along the way

Today, I grabbed lunch with an old friend from my government days. We worked in the county attorney's office together. Then I was promoted to head HR, and he moved on to work as an attorney in one of the other county departments.

We ran into each other a few weeks ago at the train station, and that's when we said we should get lunch and catch up. So today we did.

When the waiter brought the check, he grabbed it and said it was a thank you that was 20 years overdue. I said, "a thank you for what?"

Apparently, when he was looking at two different job possibilities, I looked into them and advised him on what I thought was the better choice, and my advice panned out well. That was nothing special. I'd do that--and did that--for anyone who wanted the advice. But it seems it helped him get on a great career path that has worked well for 20+ years now.

It's nice to know a small gesture made such a difference!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

What's that smell?

There's a part of Savannah about 8 miles from our house here where we do a lot of shopping. From supermarkets to department stores, there's a lot out there. But sometimes when we go out that way, we find ourselves wondering about a not-too-pleasant smell in the air.

I've never been able to figure it out, but it was quite noticeable when we went out there yesterday, so we started talking about it. Jeff and Marc have plenty of Midwest experience, where there are more plants, slaughterhouses, etc., that created some noteworthy smells.

So these two college buddies started kicking it around. Jeff landed on his best guess pretty quickly. "Smells like a paper mill to me."

As a suburban New York boy, I had no frame of reference, but Marc thought that seemed right. So I asked Google to tell me the nearest paper mill. It said,
"International Paper 1.6mi"

Well, whaddya know! Good call, Jeff!

They also discussed some old non-favorites, like slaughterhouses and sugar cane processing plants. Sugar cane? Really? But yes, apparently they're quite stinky, despite the sweetness of their product.

I actually enjoyed the whole discussion, as I learned new things.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Blue Moon (Jack Reacher, #24)Blue Moon by Lee Child
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I went back and forth about a rating for this book. On the one hand, Lee Child's Blue Moon is well written and moves quickly, but on the other hand, I feel like he's out of ideas. This certainly isn't the first Reacher book that doesn't hold up to critical thinking. Just starting with the odds of one man, even a very perceptive one, always wandering into these major criminal happenings is enough to make the stories ridiculous.

Add to that the fact that whatever compunction Reacher had about killing seems to have disappeared, and it's really too much. Yes, Reacher always was very dangerous when provoked, but now it feels like the killing is what he wants. Not an "I kill if I have no choice" hero but a "come on, give me an excuse to kill" vigilante. There's a big difference. In this book, he even kills an unarmed man who, while repulsive in his actions, isn't a violent criminal. He just executes him. Is this where we've wound up?

I didn't go with one star, because, as I said at the start, it moves quickly and is well written. But I can't go more than two stars, because we've gone from a thoughtful righter of wrongs to the Terminator, set loose in unnamed towns where he magically stumbles upon huge organized crime syndicates that he, with the help of a few friends, is going to annihilate.

Maybe Lee Child needs to do some prequel work. Go back and let a younger Reacher be an MP officer again and investigate military crimes. At least that wouldn't be so far-fetched.

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The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - CityThe Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book, because I love baking and love Paris. So what could be wrong?

Well, the author doesn't say much about his work as a pastry chef, except for keeping some Parisians happy with American-style brownies. (He does share recipes, but that's not the same.) Regarding Paris, wow, he loves to complain! More specifically, about Parisians.

My experience, over the course of all our trips to Paris, has been that the turnover of generations (my first trip there was 38 years ago) has mellowed the Parisian demeanor. In 1981, I found Parisians to be as unfriendly as they were reputed to be. During more recent visits, however, I found them to be much more friendly and helpful. You wouldn't know it from this book.

Perhaps it's the author's own approach to them, or perhaps it's the more nuanced perspective of someone who's there full-time, but his description of life in Paris wouldn't have encouraged me to visit the City of Light if I hadn't been there already.

Two fun subjects, baking and one of the world's greatest, most beautiful cities, and still this book was hard to get through.

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