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Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" RSS Feed (London, Ontario, Canada)

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Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life
Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life
by J. Craig Venter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.70
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4.0 out of 5 stars Revealing the birth of a new era of science, one at the "nexus of biology and technology", April 12, 2014
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"[This book]...is intended to describe the incredible progress that we have made. In the span of a single lifetime, we have advanced...to an understanding...that DNA is the software of life.

This [book] builds on tremendous advances over the last half-century, made by a range of extraordinarily gifted individuals throughout the world. I will provide an overview of these developments in molecular and synthetic biology...

My aim is not to offer a comprehensive history of synthetic biology but to shed a little light on the power of that extraordinarily cooperative venture we call science."

The above comes from this very interesting book by J. Craig Venter. He is a biologist and entrepreneur. Venter is one of the first to sequence the human genome (all of the genetic information in humans). He is founder of Celera Genomics, the Institute for Genomic Research, and the J. Craig Venter Institute. Venter is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees, including the 2008 U.S. National Medal of Science.

Venter opens his book with the question "What is life?" He asserts that life is reducible to the "DNA machines" and "protein robots" that operates within cells and hopes to prove it by constructing synthetic organisms from scratch.

On May 20, 2010, headlines around the world announced one of the most extraordinary accomplishments in modern science: the creation of the world's first synthetic life form. In other words, Venter had achieved his goal.

("Synthetic life [is] self-replicating biology based on a synthetic genome, a synthetic code-script.")

In this book, Venter shares the dramatic account of how he led a team of scientists to this pioneering effort in synthetic genomics--and details how that work will have a profound impact of humanity in the future.

Venter does a good job in tracing the history of key discoveries in genetics along the way. The science described in this book is impeccable.

A major strength of this book is the portrayal of the scientific process, of the false starts, unexpected problems, and improvised solutions. Venter does not shy away from discussing the setbacks his team faced before his synthetic cell came to life.

Finally, there are a few problems with this book. There is too much technical detail that may scare off the casual reader. Thus, a good glossary would have been helpful. (The good news here is you don't have to understand all the scientific technicalities to appreciate this book.) As well, illustrations would have been beneficial, thereby reducing this book's wordiness.

Bottom-line: this book offers an insider's view of one of science's hottest new fields!!!

(First published 2013; 12 chapters; main narrative 185 pages; acknowledgements; notes; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry
DVD ~ Clint Eastwood
Offered by TOP Wholesalers
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5.0 out of 5 stars Do you know why they call Inspector Harry Callahan "Dirty Harry?" Well do you, punk? (**ANSWER BELOW), April 5, 2014
This review is from: Dirty Harry (DVD)
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"To the city of San Francisco: I will enjoy killing one person every day until you pay me 100,000 dollars. If you agree, say so tomorrow morning in personal column, "San Francisco Chronicle" and I will set up meeting. If I do not hear from you, it will be my next pleasure to kill a Catholic priest or a [black person]. Scorpio"

The above comes from this absorbing crime thriller This film, which introduced "Dirty Harry" to the world, was one of the major movies that shot Clint Eastwood into super-stardom.

The first scenes of this movie are especially good, what I call "signature Eastwood."

Andy Robinson gives a mesmerizing performance as serial killer, Scorpio.

The finale of this movie is unforgettable.

The background music adds to each scene.

There was considerable controversy when this movie was first released. This was over issues such as police brutality to victim's rights and the nature of law enforcement. Feminists did not like this movie.

However, this controversy hasn't hurt this film's bottom line. Its budget was four million dollars. Its box office take too date is almost thirty-six million dollars.

Eastwood's iconic portrayal of the blunt, cynical, unorthodox detective in perpetual trouble with his incompetent bosses, set the style for a genre of "loose-cannon" cop films.

Finally, the DVD itself (the deluxe edition released in 2008) has four extras. I found all of them interesting.

In conclusion, in my opinion, this was one of the best of the five Dirty Harry movies that was made.

(1971; 1 hr., 40 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 31 scenes)

**because he'll take any dirty job that comes along.

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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My Brief History
My Brief History
by Stephen Hawking
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.74
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3.0 out of 5 stars "Someone once said that scientists and prostitutes get paid for doing what they enjoy", March 29, 2014
This review is from: My Brief History (Hardcover)
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"When I was twenty-one and contracted ALS, I felt it was very unfair. Why should this happen to me? At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would not realize my potential I felt I had. But now, fifty years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life. I have been married twice and have three beautiful and accomplished children. I have been successful in my scientific career."

The above comes from this slim book by Stephen Hawking. Hawking is a disabled theoretical physicist and cosmologist who was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics (a post once held by Sir Isaac Newton) at the University of Cambridge for thirty years. He has been the recipient of numerous awards and honours. Hawking has written many books for the general reader including the classic "A Brief History of Time."

This is Hawking's autobiography. He recounts his improbable journey from his postwar London boyhood to his years of international acclaim and celebrity.

This book is aptly titled. This is a very brief book and in my opinion, far to brief. For somebody who "has been married twice" with "beautiful and accomplished children," and who has "been successful in [his] scientific career," it's hard to believe he hasn't more--much more--to mention.

For those who have followed Hawking throughout the years, you won't find much new here although I did find a bit of stuff that was new to me. Some of the almost forty-five black & white pictures that are peppered throughout this book were also new to me.

One of the chapters is entitled "A Brief History of Time." It tells us of the book that catapulted Hawking to fame. I was disappointed that Hawking did not even mention the late Dr. Carl Sagan who wrote an excellent introduction to this book.

Finally, there are two chapters tacked on to the end of this book that deal with time travel and imaginary time respectively. They detail the science behind these topics. Although interesting, I can't understand why they were added to this autobiography.

In conclusion, this is a brief--very brief--autobiography of Stephen Hawking that in my opinion should have been much more detailed.

(first published 2013; 13 chapters; main narrative 125 pages; illustration credits; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.69
144 used & new from $9.31

4.0 out of 5 stars "I came from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died, it was just after midday", March 23, 2014
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"My goal in writing this book was to raise my voice on behalf of the millions of girls around the world who are being denied the right to go to school and realize their potential. I hope my story will inspire girls to raise their voices and embrace the power within themselves."

The above comes from this tell-all book by Malala Yousafzai (with Christina Lamb). Malala came to public attention at the age of eleven by writing for the BBC about life under the Taliban. She often spoke about her family's fight for girl's education in her community.

In Oct 2012 (at age 15), she was targeted by the Taliban and shot in the head as she was returning from school on a bus. She survived and continues her campaign for education.

In recognition of her courage and advocacy, Malala has received numerous awards. She is the youngest person ever nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

(Cristina Lamb is one of the world's leading foreign correspondents who has reported on Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1987. She has authored five books and has won many awards for her work.)

This book is an autobiography of Malala's life up to the point that she was shot and slightly after. The epilogue gives us an indication of her and her family's new life in Birmingham, England as of Aug 2013.

In the first half of this book, she writes about what she knows, her family and her country, Pakistan--its culture, religion, politics, customs, etc. She goes into detail about the history and recent history of her country.

Some sections of this first half are gruesome. We're told about murders, suicide bombings, floggings, beheadings, etc. Some readers may be put off by this. I know I was initially. But I realized that this was an account of what was going on here as seen through a teenager's eyes. Thus, I came to appeciate what was written. My only complaint is that there was, perhaps, too much detail given and this made the book difficult for me to read.

Malala also talks extensively about her family, especially her father. This is only natural. But again, I felt too much information was given and the book seemed to drag during these sections.

This book seemed to be easier to read in its second half (or perhaps, I had just become desensitized).

Malala gives an excellent account of what happened to her during and after the shooting. The only thing I couldn't understand is how she could recall all of this if her memory was not intact and she was close to unconciousness.

Throughout both halves, she mentions the right to education.

Two sets of colour, glossy photos are included. The first set is composed of almost twenty photos while the second set consists of almost fifteen photos. I found all of them interesting.

There is also a glossary in this book. It consists of mainly translations of foreign words and foreign terms found in the main narrative. I found this tremendously helpful but I became frustrated when I could not find a foreign word or foreign term that was not listed.

There is also a map of Pakistan and surrounding areas (Afganistan, Iran, etc) at the very beginning of this book. I found this invaluable for following the action of the main narrative.

Finally, I think this book is of sufficient length that it warranted, at least, a brief index.

In conclusion, for a sixteen-year-old teenager, this is an exceptional autobiography with an important message. I leave you with Malala's final words:

"Peace in every home, every street, every village, every county--this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish.

I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not."

(first published 2013; prologue; 5 parts or 24 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 315 pages; glossary; important events in Pakistan and Swat [an area of Pakistan where Malala grew up]; acknowledgements; a note on the Malala Fund)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Sushi: The Global Catch
Sushi: The Global Catch
DVD ~ Mark Hall
Price: $16.34
37 used & new from $5.88

5.0 out of 5 stars "One thing I am sure of--we will run out of [Bluefin] tuna sooner than we will run out of oil", March 16, 2014
This review is from: Sushi: The Global Catch (DVD)
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"[This documentary] is both a love letter to the cuisine and an alarm bell to the [sushi] industry. If we are to save the art of sushi, we must adopt more environmmentally conscious and responsible practices throughout the industry.

The oceans are in crises and it is imperative that we find a way to rekindle the honor and reverance that first inspired the creation of this unique delicacy.

The importance of this [documentary] cannot be overstated."

The above comes from an extra to this very informative and visually-pleasing documentary about the sushi industry.

What is suchi? It is a Japanese dish consisting of small cakes of cold cooked rice flavored with vinegar and garnished with strips of raw or cooked fish (usually Bluefish tuna), vegetables, etc. Its popularity has exploded and it has become a popular dish around the world.

There is no narration. The comments (either spoken or in subtitles) supplied by the people in this film is what drives it.

This documntary looks at such things as:

(1) tuna (2) suchi a-go-go (a popular restaurant) (3) fishermen (4) sustainability (5) farmed fish (6) Bluefin problems and (7) ocean ecosystems.

Finally, this DVD (the one released in 2012) has three extras.

In conclusion, this is an eye-opening documentary which poses some important questions that all suchi lovers in particular and seafood lovers in general should give thought too before placing their next order!!

(2011; 1 hr, 10 min excluding end credits; 10 chapters; full screen)

<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Cujo
Cujo
DVD ~ Dee Wallace
Offered by Paint it Orange
Price: $11.04
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good Doggy, March 8, 2014
This review is from: Cujo (DVD)
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This movie shows what can happen when a lovable animal (in this case, a St. Bernard) becomes rabid.

It is a horror/thriller movie that's based on Stephen King's 1982 novel of the same name.

The movie starts off slow. In fact, I was getting somewhat bored with it and was going to exit.

However, in its last thirty minutes or so, it really gets interesting.

This movie definitely has its scary moments. Unfortuantely, it also becomes somewhat predictable.

It is not as menacing or frightening as other Stephen King adaptations especially when compared to 1976's "Carrie."

I did enjoy the acting of "screan queen" Dee Wallace. It is her acting that's critical to the success of this movie.

Finally, the DVD (the one released in 2013) has no subtitles or closed-captioning. It has one extra: an audio commentary.

In conclusion, this movie definitly makes you question the idea that a dog is "a man's best friend."

***1/2

(1983; 1 hr 30 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 8 scenes; rated 'R')

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters
Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream - and Why It Matters
by Helen Smith PhD
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.17
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why are men going "on strike?" Why does it matter?, February 28, 2014
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"My actual audience is the man who knows that something in today's twenty-first century is amiss. He can't put his finger on it exactly but feels deeply that modern society has turned its back on the average male. All around you, you hear the question, 'Where have all the good men gone?' But you know instinctively that it's the wrong question. The right one is 'Why have all the good men gone on strike?'

This book will tell you why and tell you and society how to fix it. Because if we don't, our society will never be the same. Our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, and husbands will live in a world where they will not know due process, where a man can be jailed for no other reason than that a woman pointed a finger at him, or because he raised his voice to her, or where he can be placed into involuntary servitude to pay for eighteen years for a child that is not his. Oops! Too late. This is already happening in the United States of America [and Canada]."

The above comes from this eye-opening book by Helen Smith, PhD. She is a forensic psychologist. (Forensic psychology is the intersection between psychology and the justice system.) Smith is also an author and writer. She has had her own private practice for more than twenty years.

This book discusses several areas where men are affected. These areas include marriage, paternity rights and forced fatherhood; education; advertising and a culture that portrays men in a negative light; and the decline of male space.

The last chapter offers helpful suggestions to slow and perhaps stop this alarming trend for men and society.

Finally, I was impressed how Smith backs up everything she says. These back ups are in the form of interviews, quotations, statistics, graphs, and e-mails.

In conclusion, this slim book has taken a good look at why men are "on strike" in our society and tried to provide some possible solutions. It is a "wake-up call" about the need for change and advocacy in the area of men's rights and men's issues.

(first published 2013; prologue; introduction; 6 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 185 pages; acknowledgements; resources for men; about the author; notes; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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A Very Short Tour of the Mind: 21 Short Walks Around the Human Brain
A Very Short Tour of the Mind: 21 Short Walks Around the Human Brain
by Michael Corballis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.19
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5.0 out of 5 stars Addressing some of the most basic questions about the human mind!!, February 20, 2014
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"In these twenty-one short walks [or chapters], I have tried to convey something of the mosaic of the modern science of the mind. The topics were chosen as the whim seized me."

The above comes from this interesting and fun book by Michael Corballis. He's a cognitive psychologist and is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Auckland in Australia. Corballis is also a writer and author.

The author chose psychological subjects for each chapter that interested him and, as a result, this shows through in his writing.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that's clear, witty, free of jargon, easily accessible, and, in parts, funny. You don't have to worry about reading page after page of psychological theory as each chapter is "bite-sized" (that is, a few pages long.)

Corballis introduces the reader to what we've learned about the intricacies of the human brain over roughly the last fifty years by leading us through such topics as behavioural experiments, neuroscience, cognitive theory, and Darwinian evolution.

Finally, my only minor quibble is that this book is scarce on illustrations. The front flap boasts that there are "5 black-and-white illustrations" but I felt that there could have been more that could have enhanced the main narrative.

In conclusion, this book illuminates the following:

the human mind may be the most complex entity in the universe.

(first published 2013; 21 chapters; main narrative 100 pages; further reading; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy
A Piece of the Sun: The Quest for Fusion Energy
by Daniel Clery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.76
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The quest for the PERFECT energy source, February 13, 2014
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"We owe everything to [nuclear] fusion. Our own Sun and every star that shines in the night sky are powered by fusion. Without it, the Cosmos would be dark, cold, and lifeless. Fusion fills the Universe with light and heat, and allows life to happen on Earth and probably elsewhere. The Earth itself, the air we breathe, and the very stuff we are made of are the products of fusion."

The above comes is the first paragraph of this informative book by Daniel Clery. He studied theoretical physics at York University in the UK. For more than two decades, Clery has edited and written for some of the world's top science magazines such as "New Scientist" and "Science." He has covered many of the biggest science news stories of our time.

So, just what is nuclear fusion? The best way to answer this question is to compare nuclear fusion to nuclear fission (which is what occurs in the nuclear power plants of today). Nuclear fission occurs when a heavy atomic nucleus (such as that of the element Uranium) captures a neutron and then fragments into two lighter nuclei. Sustaining this process to other heavy nuclei, we are able to get a chain reaction which releases large amounts of energy.

Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, occurs when light nuclei reduce their energy by combining to form a heavier nucleus. Before they are able to unite, the light nuclei must travel at high speeds (that is, they must have large energies) in order to overcome the repulsion between their like charges. There is a net release of energy during the nuclear fusion process only when a dense mass of light nuclei is maintained at a very high temperature. The nuclei then acquire high speeds because of their thermal energy and consequently potentially enormous amounts of energy are released.

Nuclear power is a possible solution to the world's energy crisis, but at present we are able to control chain reactions in a nuclear fission process but there are a few problems, two of the main ones being thermal pollution and disposal of radioactive wastes.

One of the most promising energy sources of the future is a controlled nuclear fusion process. Why? Because its fuel in raw form (namely hydrogen or its isotopes) is abundant. An added bonus is that there is no radioactive wastes.

So, what's the problem? The biggest problem is that we are unable to maintain the light nuclei at the extremely high temperatures (that is, temperatures ten times those in the core of the Sun) that are required to sustain nuclear fusion. But we can try.

This is where this book comes in. It covers quite thoroughly the excitement and numerous frustrations (such as technical challenges, politics, funding, etc.) of the quest for fusion energy, a quest that has been going on for the last seven decades.

This book concentrates on nuclear fusion reactor design and we get a glimpse at how this design has changed or been modified throughout the years. The science and history of fusion research is also well-presented.

There are 25 black and white illustrations peppered throughout, some are pictures and some are schematics.

Finally, I had a few problems with this book:

(1) There are numerous abbreviations in this book that are only spelled out once in the main narrative. If you forget what one abbreviation stands for, I guess you're supposed to find the one time it was spelled out. This can be quite tedious and frustrating. I think it would have been beneficial to have these abbreviations listed and spelled out on a separate page perhaps at the end of the book so that the reader could easily refer to it when necessary.

(2) There are certain scientific terms and reactor design terms that are explained only once in the main narrative. As in the above problem, if you forget what a certain term means, you have to hunt for its definition. Thus a glossary would have been most helpful.

(3) I think more illustrations especially in the form of schematics would have aided this book considerably.

In conclusion, this book beautifully captures the excitement and frustrations of the quest for fusion energy. I leave you with the author's answer to the question: "What would a world powered by fusion be like?" Here is his answer:

"There will be no more mining for coal or digging up tar sands; no more pipelines scything across wildernesses; and no more oil tankers or oil spills. The geopolitics of energy--with all the accompanying corruption, coups, and wars of access--will disappear. Countries with booming economic growth...will no longer have to resort to helter-skelter building of coal-fired and nuclear power stations...Fusion power...won't damage the climate, it won't pollute, and it won't run out."

(first published 2013; 8 chapters; main narrative 305 pages; further reading, acknowledgements; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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The Terminator
The Terminator
DVD ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger
Price: $8.17
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I'LL BE BACK", February 6, 2014
This review is from: The Terminator (DVD)
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"The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future.

It would be fought here, in our present.

Tonight."

This is what appears on-screen at the beginning of this exhilarating sci-fi action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Bien, and Linda Hamilton. It was directed by James Cameron.

A cyborg assassin, a Terminator or a T-100, Model 101 (Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time from the year 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton). Kyle Reese (Bien) is the human soldier from the future who is sent back to protect Sarah from the T-100.

What makes this movie so appealing (to me at least) is the story. It's a well-executed science fiction movie with plenty of action. Bien and Hamilton actually make the story work with Schwarzenegger looking the part of a menacing human-shaped, indestructible robot.

Schwarzenegger speaks 76 words in this movie--many with an Austrian accent!

Schwarzenegger, as well, does not appear in this film's last 15 minutes.

However, the public was mesmerized with his part and, as they say, the rest is history,

Both the special effects and background music add to each scene.

This film was not expected to be either a commercial or critical success, but it topped the box office for two weeks and helped launch the career of Cameron and solidify that of Schwarzenegger.

Finally, the DVD (the one released in 2007) has only one extra: a theatrical trailer.

In conclusion, this is the movie to see if you appreciate good science fiction!!

(1984; 1 hr, 43 min excluding end credits; 28 scenes; wide screen, rated 'R')

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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