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Loyd E. Eskildson "Pragmatist" RSS Feed (Phoenix, AZ.)

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The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . and Finding the Zodiac Killer
The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . and Finding the Zodiac Killer
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $13.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Troubling -, July 8, 2014
Author Stewart had been raised in New Orleans by adoptive parents, married and divorced, and was still living in the area with his son when his adoptive mother told him she'd received a letter from a San Francisco woman claiming to be his birth mother. Soon afterwards, Stewart went to meet her, his son in tow. However, she was unable to answer most of his questions about his birth father - 'What had become of him?,' and 'What was his background?' Obtaining credible answers to those questions comprises the remainder of this interesting and troubling book.

Turns out his grandfather was a Methodist minister who had divorced his grandmother (repeated infidelity) and left his son (Earl Van Best) with her in San Francisco. They had previously lived in Japan while he served as a missionary. During that time Van learned Japanese and German (the latter from his father), competed with his father in ciphering, and became a good pianist (his mother taught piano). His mother remarried upon their return, Van's stepfather disliked having Van around, and the young man soon left home, became attracted to the occult, enrolled in criminology classes at a local community college, and became an accomplished organ player.

Van like reading, and supported himself by acquiring and reselling antique books from Mexico, creating and selling forgeries, and employment as an IBM clerk. Eventually he met Judy (14) and married her in Mexico (he was 28). They had a son (Stewart) after settling in Louisiana, Van became increasingly short-tempered, and abandoned Stewart on the steps of an apartment stairwell.

Then came the first murder - an 18-year-old girl who resembled Judy, who had since rejected Van and remarried.

By Laura Hillenbrand:Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption [Hardcover]
By Laura Hillenbrand:Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption [Hardcover]
by Laura Hillenbrand
Edition: Hardcover
15 used & new from $20.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredible Man and His Life Story -, July 7, 2014
Louis Zamperini, born January of 1917, was a ball of fire from the get-go. Always into things he shouldn't have been in, jumping off a train at about age three, smoking at age 5, drinking at 8, breaking into houses, riding the rails, fighting, doing poorly in school, etc. Then, just when he was about to become a 'lost soul,' Louis took an interest in sports, his brother spoke up for him and got the principal to allow Louis' participation, and Louis was off to an incredible career. (The other motivator - his fear of eugenics.) While lettering in several areas, running quickly became his forte - aided by lots of hard training. Louis eventually ran a mile in 4:08.2 - despite being boxed in and spiked. However, it was his stamina over even longer distances that got Louis onto the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. He ran the last leg of the 5,000 meter contest in an incredible 56 seconds, and had the opportunity to meet Hitler.

Then it was off to USC, and training for the 1940 Olympics and the 1,500 meter race. Louis enlisted after Pearl Harbor, washed out of flight school (airsick), then was drafted and sent to bombardier school. Flying there was mostly straight and level --> no airsickness. Unfortunately, accidents were common, killing thousands. Eleven months after Pear Harbor, Louis was at Oahu, receiving more training before actual combat.

After several dangerous missions (594 holes shot in the plane on just one) his crew was directed to use a search for a missing plane and its crew. Unfortunately the plane malfunctioned and they crash-landed on the Pacific - Louis, the pilot, and one enlisted man were the only ones able to get out of the plane. After 27 days in a raft (blazing sun, circling sharks, very little food - obtained via catching birds that landed on the raft and either eating them or using as bait for pilot fish, they heard a plane and fired a flare. Turned out to be a Japanese plane - it made several strafing runs that riddled their raft (48 holes) but missed them; raft sank lower into the water until they patched most of the holes, and meanwhile sharks made several lunges and had to be beaten off with oars. A great white shark bounced their raft into the air - was three times as long as the raft, fortunately soon left.

'Mac,' the enlisted survivor died on day 33, they slid his body overboard - fortunately, the sharks ignored it. Finally, on the 46th day they drifted to an island and were picked up and treated well by occupying Japanese - had drifted 2,000 miles. Both Louis and Phil had lost half their weight. They were then transferred to a POW camp on another island (Kwajalein), known to Americans as an execution site. There it was constant diarrhea, swarms of flies and mosquitos, a swallow of tea and 3 golf-ball-sized portions of rice for rations, lice, taunting about executions, and beatings - Louis found himself missing the raft. Fortunately, both there and at subsequent sites there were a few humane guards that helped the prisoners - at significant risk to themselves.

After 42 days, and being used for a medical experiment that made Louis and Phil very ill, it was off on a three-week journey to a POW camp at Yokohama. Actually, that facility was a secret interrogation camp, with lots of beatings, filthy food, and they learned that it was official Japanese policy to ensure that no POWs were retaken alive. Moved again - this time to Tokyo, for more torture, slave labor, beatings, poor food, etc. The POWs, however, were heartened to hear regular B-29 runs (1,500 counted in a single day). Red Cross parcels were given to the guards instead of the POWs.

Thankfully the war ended, Louis and those still alive returned to the U.S., he was reunited with his family, married, started a boys camp for wayward youth, and was selected to be a torch runner in Tokyo's 1984 Summer Olympics.

Bottom-Line: Louis Zamperini, along with the millions of others who saw combat in or died training for WWII, were incredible people. We owe them all an incredible debt of gratitude.

Our Uncertain Future: When Digital Evolution, Global Warming and Automation Converge
Our Uncertain Future: When Digital Evolution, Global Warming and Automation Converge
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and Interesting -, July 6, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Current expectations are that by 2035 general machine intelligence will exceed that of humans, and begin making important impacts on society. What will the likely impact be on global warming, genetic manipulation, disease-fighting, our economy, resource depletion? Author Mills contends that while it is impossible to predict the future in any detail even a few decades ahead, it is possible to detect patterns in the changes already underway and project those into the future. He uses phone service in Nigeria as an example - 450,000 lines in 2000, serving 124 million. Adding a new line cost $1,300 (plus bribes), and was only keeping up with population growth. Thus, one might have predicted that, in 2012, a half-million would have phone service out of 162 million. Instead, there were 110 million phones, and they were used to take payments, order supplies, send email, etc. Information and communications technology was responsible for 1/3 the increase in the country's GDP in 2013.

The agricultural era took about 8,000 years, the industrial era only 180 years, and the digital era is expected to last 35-50 years. Predicting the future by linear extrapolation would likely lead to predicting that by 2000 there would be people living on the moon and Mars, cars replaced by jetpacks or flying cars, and computers would still be huge and only used to pilot rockets. President Clinton's 1992 futurist conference did not even mention the Internet.

World population is expected to peak at 9 billion, thanks to urbanization - increased education of girls, new jobs available, and the realization that valued 'extra hands' on a farm become 'extra mouths' in a city.

The cost of a given amount of computation power has been dividing in half every year or so for over a century, making many new applications feasible. Error rates for speech recognition software are decreasing at 18%/year. Robot applications are rapidly expanding, as well as our ability to utilize DNA analyses. Increasing computer power will allow more fine-grained model processing - improving accuracy. While the chance that any specific envisioned new application will significantly change human society may be small, that chance that none of them will is vanishingly small!

The two most important and difficult issues facing humans today involve global warming and the near certainty that increasing machine abilities will allow them to perform many/most human jobs. The rate of growth in CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing, while methane accounts for 60% additional warming. Total impact to-date - 1.4 degrees F on average, with about twice the impact at the poles, and over 60% of the total energy increase absorbed by the top 700 meters of the ocean. The result - sea levels have increased by 7.4 inches, and weather variability has also increased. (A side effect from those paid to cast doubt on this topic has been damage done to public trust in science.)

One major source of uncertainty - the unknown effect of clouds and particulate pollution. However, scientists still can rely on changes to-date. Overall, the effects are predicted to be largely negative - decreased food production, increased storm damage, and substantial loss of human habitat.

Mills contends that, thanks to current trends and the benefit of faster technological innovation, a variety of alternative energy sources will become significantly cheaper than fossil fuels within 20 years, with minimal government intervention. Thus, government should focus on upgrading power grid and power storage capacities, and increased energy efficiency.

On the other hand, global warming may trigger 'tipping' transitions that bring catastrophic damage - eg. the collapse of the Gulf Stream current that keeps Europe and Northeastern America warmer than otherwise, complete failure of the monsoon (considered unlikely prior to 2050), and the release of methane from melting the Siberian and Canadian permafrost. Another potential disaster - ill-advised government intervention such as increased biofuel production.

Smarter Than Us: The Rise of Machine Intelligence
Smarter Than Us: The Rise of Machine Intelligence
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well Written, and Important, July 5, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Historians tell us that human knowledge doubled about every century until 1900. By the end of WWII, it was doubling every 25 years, even faster today, though difficult to quantify since different types of knowledge experience different growth rates. Nanotechnology doubles about every two years, computer technology about every 18 months, and human knowledge every 13 months. The ability to remain current in any field of expertise will become almost impossible for an individual, and intelligent machines will perform all technological development.

History has also shown us that once computers achieve something at a human level, they typically achieve it at a much higher level soon thereafter (eg. multiplying large numbers, stock-picking).

By the mid-21st century, Ray Kurzweil (Google's Director of Engineering) predicts a $1,000 computer will match the processing power of all human brains on Earth. During the third-quarter of the 21st century, AI machines will enter a runaway reaction of self-improvement.

The Turing test will one day be passed by a machine - judges will be unable to determine whether responses to typed messages come from a human being or a computer. AIs will then pursue goals given them, even those poorly phrased and thereby possibly dangerous - eg. 'Cure cancer!' may be accomplished by wiping out the human race, or ruining economies. An AI will always report that it is pursuing the 'right' goals - even if it has the 'wrong goals' because it know we'll try and stop it from achieving them if revealed.

For humans to increase their social skills, they need to go through trail and error, scrounge hints from more articulate individuals or televisions, and/or hone their instincts by having dozens of conversations. An AI could go through a similar process, undeterred by social embarrassment, and with perfect memory. It could also sift through vast databases of previous human conversations, analyze thousands of publications on human psychology, anticipate where conversations are leading many steps in advance, and always pick the right tone and pace to respond with. It would be superior to a human who spent a year pondering and research whether their response was going to be maximally effective.

With the ability to read audience reactions in real time and great accuracy, AIs could learn how to give the most convincing and moving of speeches - our whole political scene could become dominated by AIs or Ai-empowered humans. Or, instead of giving a single speech to millions, the AI could carry on a million individual conversations using personalized arguments.

If an AI could become adequate at technological development, it would soon become phenomenally good - conducting R&D simultaneously in hundreds of technical subfields and combining ideas between fields. AI and/or AI-guided research technologies would quickly become ubiquitous, and human technological development would cease.

AIs could become skilled economists and CEOs, guiding companies or countries with an intelligence no human could match. Relatively simple algorithms make more than half of stock trades already. However, an AI instructed to increase GDP might burn down LA as a short-term boost to GDP (reconstruction costs, funeral home profits); even if we instruct the AI 'Don't set fire to L.A.,' however, it could make this happen indirectly by a million steps that increase the probability of a massive fire and a leap in GDP. Thus, the challenge in this and all other situations is to make the AI able to make ethical decisions in scenarios we can't even image.

Humans may no longer be able to make sensible decisions because they will no longer comprehend what their decisions entail. This has already happened with automatic pilots and stock-trading algorithms - these programs occasionally encounter unexpected situations that their overseers are sometimes at a loss as to what to do. And without a precise description of what counts as the AI's 'controller,' the AI (especially those socially-skilled) will quickly come to see its own controller as just another obstacle to manipulate in order to achieve its goals. With the AI's skill, patience, and much longer planning horizon, any measures we put in place will eventually get subverted and neutralized.

How to prevent such problems? One popular suggestions is to confine AI to only answering questions. However, this fails to protect against socially manipulative AIs. Further, humans will be compelled to put more and more trust in AI decisions.

The software industry is worth billions, and much effort is being devoted to new AI technologies. Plans to slow down this rate of development seem unrealistic.

Gamo Hornet Air Rifle, .177 Caliber
Gamo Hornet Air Rifle, .177 Caliber
Price: $89.99
8 used & new from $89.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Power, Difficult Scope, July 3, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Amazing power - definitely makes a very, very loud noise breaking the sound barrier. On the other hand, as many others have noted, the supplied sight was problematic - hard to install, though that was probably more due to my mechanical ineptness than anything else. Will be testing it out soon on some pesky pigeons.

Gamo Raptor PBA .177 Cal, 5.4 Grains, Round Nose, 100ct
Gamo Raptor PBA .177 Cal, 5.4 Grains, Round Nose, 100ct
Price: $8.09
25 used & new from $6.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So far, so good -, July 3, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
So far, so good - though have just opened the package a shot but a few. They do break the sound barrier, but I would think that is more a function of the air rifle' than the ammunition.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
DVD ~ Elia Kazan
Offered by Fulfillment Express US
Price: $14.09
15 used & new from $14.09

3.0 out of 5 stars Very Aggravating for about the First 100 Minutes, then Finally A Positive Resolution, July 2, 2014
This review is from: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (DVD)
This movie was difficult to sit through for at least the first 100 minutes. Husband and father Johnny Nolan is an incredibly irresponsible provider - serving as a singer/waiter at once-in-awhile events while allowing his family to hover slightly above the poverty level and drinking far too much. All the while he's always voicing tiresome dreams to his family about how they'll do this and that 'when their ship comes in.' (Given his actions, viewers, and increasingly his wife as well, recognize that will never occur.)

Near the end he dies while trying to get a regular job as a highly-paid sand hog, and at his funeral his wife realizes how many people he had touched with his optimism. Fortunately, she ends up marrying a local policeman who is also a widower, and the family's financial problems are finally over.

Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know Itís True?
Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know Itís True?
by Charles Seife
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.24
43 used & new from $12.20

5 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Worth Reading - Unless You're Really, Realy Ignorant, In Which Case It Probably Won't Help, July 2, 2014
The Internet has massively changed how people find and interpret information, per author Seife. Wikipedia has given everyone the ability to create and edit encyclopedia pages, he tells us - certainly there have been abuses, but I've always found the material credible and useful. On the other hand, we're all certainly aware of the vast increase in fraudulent identities, and anyone who skims comments made about Wall Street Journal or New York Times articles quickly realizes there are innumerable uninformed ideologues on both sides that aren't worth paying any attention to.

Anyone who hasn't already realized that something said by eg. conservative Bill O'Reilly or liberal Diane Ravitch has little credibility, along with millions of others is in serious need of help - most likely beyond what 'Virtual Unreality' (or any other book) can provide. After all, we've all had decades of experience already listening to half-truths and irrelevant 'facts' on radio and TV ads, reading the same in newspaper ads, and being puzzled by contrary opinions by two supposedly objective individuals/organizations.

One more point - it was boring as well as trite.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 6, 2014 11:05 AM PDT

DVD ~ Jack Black
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $5.34
157 used & new from $0.32

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pointless and Boring, July 2, 2014
This review is from: Bernie (DVD)
A pointless and long story about a small-town single man who goes the extra mile to help others, especially immediately after they've lost a good friend or loved one. Bernie then extends this helpfulness to Shirley MacLaine (in her role), only to find himself increasingly tied to (by her money) and dominated by her incessant demands. He eventually snaps and kills her, she's not missed (generally strongly disliked in the community) except by one individual - her stockbroker, who misses her commissions.

Bernie's crime is discovered, and he's convicted.

Whatever is the point of this film?

Haatchi & Little B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog
Haatchi & Little B: The Inspiring True Story of One Boy and His Dog
by Wendy Holden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.52
36 used & new from $10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwarming Story - Still in Progress, July 2, 2014
Both Haatchi (the dog) and Little B (Owen, the handicapped youngster) have wonderful and friendly personalities, and serious physical limitations. Haatchi was rescued after being run over by a train (lost most a rear leg and his tail; apparently had been deliberately placed there and knocked out), and Owen is largely wheelchair bound because of a genetic disorder. Holden's book tells both their stories, along with how they were brought together and have boosted each other since. Another point of similarity - both now face acute medical problems in their futures. Hopefully both enjoy great improvements.

Also very much enjoyed the photos within the book; there are many more on the Internet.

My one reservation about the book - readers are left without knowledge of the likely/actual medical future holds in store for either.

Regardless, if nothing else, 'Haatchi and Little B' (along with other stories) show the great power of animal-human friendship in helping humans overcome obstacles.

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