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Profile for Nils Kelly > Reviews


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Don't Ever Get Old
Don't Ever Get Old
by Daniel Friedman
Edition: Hardcover
48 used & new from $1.63

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars plot in service to shtik, June 7, 2013
This review is from: Don't Ever Get Old (Hardcover)
Having the protagonist be 87 years old, still a wisenheimer, no matter what the plot or genre is, is by itself clever enough to warrant praise. If you still want to use those who directly observed WW II in a story these days you are limited to working with the extreme elderly, so plots tend to converge. Coincidentally I just saw "The Debt", a movie whose tone is different but that involves a similar search, and which concludes in a very similar way.

Once the novelty sinks in we are carried along by the plot, which is not as interesting as the main character. None of the other characters stood out. Even granted the inherent implausibility, the result is no surprise as suspect after suspect is ruled out.

The carnage of the murders was completely gratuitous. What was the point? The killer supposedly had special knowledge in this area, but why? The story would have been the same without it. Which is the meaning of "gratuitous", of course, so I guess I'm belaboring the point. Still, ugh, no need.

With only 20 or pages to go, the bad guy must be the only remaining character. Since the final scene was by necessity implausible anyway, Rose the wife might as well have saved the day with a cartoon bonk to the head with a frying pan.

All in all a clever idea, and a good feisty main character. It's funny to read the glowing editorial reviews. Of course logrolling is part of the business, but "laugh out loud" funny?

No Title Available

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars nice coffee table book, May 31, 2013
I'm not sure why I bought this book--it's a little pricey compared to some of the bike frame building books on Amazon. Maybe because I have just been getting back into tinkering with bikes after 40 years or so. It's a good overview, with clear color photos (probably explains the price diff), and has some useful task-based material in the later chapters.

I liked the section on p. 107 about the difference between number of speeds and range. I think a lot of casual riders are not clear on that. More gears can mean only finer, and not really useful, gradations within the same range as a humble 3-speed.

A couple of sentences on the previous page in the Drive Train section, attempt to explain front vs rear gears:

"The larger the gear is in front next to the pedals, the harder it is to pedal. It may be counterintuitive, because it's not the same for the gears attached to your pedals, but the larger the gear attached to your rear wheel, the harder it is to pedal."

What? Counterintuitive indeed!

Freedom Is My Religion
Freedom Is My Religion
Price: $6.99

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars powerful stuff, best in small doses, February 9, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a collection of the transcripts of Pat's Youtube videos. He is an extraordinarily talented speaker--never a fumble or mistake, or even a glance at the script.

His views on Europe--the EU, and cultural accommodation mostly, are compelling but I think he's on shakier ground about the US. Though he complains that Pres Obama accommodates Islam, he neglects to mention Obama's use of drones to take out more enemies who find their inspiration, as Pat might put it, from the Koran, more effectively, than anyone else has done, and with minimal collateral damage. In fact Obama finds himself under attack from the left about the drone policy--for being too aggressive in their use. Whether you agree with the policy or not, it is certainly the opposite of accommodation.

The influence of PC multi-culti accommodation doesn't (yet?) have the same power in the US as it seems to in Europe, in Britain and especially as Pat points out in such traditional havens of liberalism as Scandinavia and Holland. The encroachment of intolerance into these cultures and the resulting increase in anti-Semitism and incidence of rape as examples, by persons who the government of Sweden prohibits identification of by the press as a group (Muslim immigrants), is pretty alarming. He also gets off some great one-liners, as "Islamic nutcases take time out from beating their wives to show their sensitive side." Misogyny is a constant theme among his complaints, rightly so.

I feel a kinship with Pat being almost an exact contemporary--nearly the same age, family from Ireland, came to atheism similarly (early and complete), spent time in Israel, and dubious about the same things. His rants about Christianity though spot on and funny are not new to me, as I have come to the same conclusions after surviving Catholic schools.

Pat's writing is easy to read, funny, and devastating. Four stars instead of five because when you set out to read this right through the repetition stands out more and gets tiresome. Where was the editor? A little of this hard plain speaking goes a long way, so it took me a while to get through. Topics are circled back to and beaten on again. Granted these are just the transcripts, but if they had been edited into a narrative organized by topic it would have made for a better read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 29, 2015 7:24 AM PDT

The Hydrogen Sonata: A Culture Novel (Culture series)
The Hydrogen Sonata: A Culture Novel (Culture series)

4.0 out of 5 stars much ado about not much, in the end, November 22, 2012
This was the first time I have read Banks, so I wasn't familiar with the grand vision. His writing is brilliant--witty, and full of ideas. This is especially evident after just coming off reading the puerile "The Rook", in comparison. Daniel O'Malley should sit at Banks' knee for 20 years before trying another novel.

I was somewhat disappointed in the conclusion however as it wasn't clear to me that knowing <that which was discovered>, while being interesting, would have any bearing on whether the Gzilt would decide to proceed. As I got closer to the end of the book, with only a few pages left and the characters still racing around shooting at each other, I thought uh oh, the resolution to all this is going to be treated in about five pages, as an afterthought. This seems to happen a lot unfortunately, with novels and TV shows too, as if the writer lost interest by the end. By contrast earlier in the novel we get many examples of authorial energy such as extensive and elaborate descriptions that though well done are not particularly on point. Pity some of that energy could not have been used for a more robust ending.

I thought the implication was that sufficiently evolved civilizations recognized that devotion to a particular holy book was a stage in their development that they typically transcended, similar to say, believing that your planet is the center of the universe. This evolved realization, that one's world is not in fact unique, and that your particular people are not in fact "chosen", and that instead you are typical in this belief, allows such civilizations to move beyond this parochial devotion. Recognizing that your holy book turns out to be simply yet another variation on the transparently self-serving affirmation that "you are special, you are chosen" would render the concern about the true origin of the book moot, I'd have thought.

Banks justifies the fact that the Gzilt maintained a devotion to their holy book longer than usual by making it be unusually accurate in its predictions. But that seems rather too obviously a plot device, designed to raise the stakes enough to justify all the racing around and shoot-em-ups. Yet this device undermines the novel's own explanation of the evolution of understanding that sublimation-ready species seem to typically go through. And the novel's own conclusion verifies that--the Ships decide that the knowledge didn't actually matter enough to tell the affected parties, after all.

I was hoping that the revelation would have more to do with the sublimation itself, like that it was a big hoax for example, or somehow otherwise not what the Gzilt expected. (Isn't it even a bit suspicious that there is no first-hand information about it? It's a lot to take on trust.) Then there would have been something actually at stake--a real reason to pause. As it is it seemed much ado about not much, ultimately.

Still, for sheer breadth of vision and literary skill, this novel is well worth it and motivates me to read some of Banks' other work.

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit
Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit
by Barry Estabrook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.06
127 used & new from $1.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars right book, right time, August 30, 2011
I don't think this book is particularly well organized, and as others have mentioned could have used tighter editing, but those amount to quibbles, as this book benefits from good timing. Public consciousness of the problem begins small--why do store-bought tomatoes taste so lousy, and is growing to dissatisfaction with the industrial food approach as a whole. The pesticides, the human misery, all just so people can have "something red to put on their salads."

I grow tomatoes in my garden and only eat fresh ones in the (short) season. But that's not an option for most people. I did see a segment on TV about chef Rick Bayless growing tomatoes on the rooftop of his restaurant in downtown Chicago. A great super-local example, but I'm not convinced that the better model of favoring local, in-season food is scalable to feed the world's burgeoning population now nearly 7 billion. Industrial-style food production is here to stay. But surely there must be improvements over abominations like the Florida tomato.

It's remarkable that even in season you can't buy locally-grown tomatoes in the supermarkets. Even in August the tomatoes are from Canada and Mexico instead of from just down the street. Chain supermarkets are where most people shop, and they're completely disconnected from/disinterested in local supply. Their priority of reliability of consistent supply no matter the source is a culprit too, as this is what the growers are responding to. Estabrook might have talked about this, but he keeps the focus on tomatoes in FL and doesn't really follow up on the broader picture. At least this makes the book short enough (barely 200 pp) so more people will read it, which is good.

Remote Control
Remote Control
by Koutarou Isaka
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.12
60 used & new from $1.25

3.0 out of 5 stars starts strong, devolves, April 11, 2011
This review is from: Remote Control (Hardcover)
As another reviewer mentioned it's hard to review this without giving away something of the plot. I try to stay general here, but be warned--it's perhaps not the kind of book you should read reviews of beforehand.

Having said that, I don't at all see how this can be termed a political thriller. Instead Isaka posits some sort of grand conspiracy that has managed to frame Aoyagi, but which is never explained, which seems to me rather a copout. It would have taken an enormous amount of coordination and resources to pull off such a misdirection. The more improbable the premise, the greater the obligation to explain it, I think.

I thought of Kafka's The Trial, in which the protagonist is forever trying to clear his name to a faceless and impenetrable state bureaucracy, to no avail. There's a lot of talk about the Beatles, and Oswald, and security pods, none of which seem to me ultimately to be relevant. All they ever amount to are tangents. The pods for example are just devices to be avoided whenever the plot requires. Aoyagi implausibly has no shortage of people willing to help him at just the right moment. I was impressed with the cleverness of the premise but with about 30 pages remaining in the book, and Aoyagi still running around dodging his pursuers in typical thriller style, I realized that it had devolved into a standard chase, and the greater and more interesting question of how such an elaborate, even fanciful conspiracy could have been managed, is never really addressed.

Japanese Newspaper Compounds
Japanese Newspaper Compounds
by Tadashi Kikuoka
Edition: Paperback
31 used & new from $2.46

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great little book, and useful as a data set, March 26, 2011
I've had my copy of this for nearly thirty years. I assumed it would be updated yearly and am surprised to see it's out of print. I love this little book and whenever I get the urge to study kanji, or more usefully "words", I pick it up again. Which I did two weeks ago.

Our cable provider is showing TV Japan for free for a few weeks since the disaster in Japan. Japanese TV routinely puts up more graphics and closed captioning than you see in English broadcasting. Their news broadcasts are graphically rich compared to English-language TV (similar to the streets of Japan itself). It is really amazing how many of the words displayed, particularly in the news, you can find in Japanese Newspaper Compounds.

Spending time learning the words in this book is an extremely efficient way to get ahead with reading Japanese.

Another way to use this book is as data to input into a spreadsheet, which I am doing now. I'm interested in finding the same kanji used in different words throughout the 1000. In my text I've highlighted them and marked them with little numbers. Once input it will be easy to search for these in the spreadsheet and cross reference them. As a data set it's small enough to input and manipulate in a variety of interesting ways. All you need to do this is Excel and the Japanese IME (input method editor), which is included as part of recent Windows operating systems. A great memory aid I think.

Speaking of memory I've always enjoyed trying to memorize word lists and the like, so am surprised and disappointed at how memorization is belittled in US schools--dismissed as "rote" and mindless. In the US it is all about accommodating "different kinds of learners". I think the anti-memorization bias of western pedagogy theorists sneaks into this. They seem to think it's a zero-sum game--effort expended memorizing takes away from creativity? But all Japanese kids know their times table for example, because they memorize it, regardless of what "kind" of learner they are. Expectations of basic knowledge are higher. Ask an American kid what 9 X 7 is and see the response you get. Have you ever seen an American clerk stumble with the problem of providing exact change? It's embarrassing. But it's okay, because probably they're very creative.

SCJP Sun Certified Programmer for Java 6 Exam 310-065
SCJP Sun Certified Programmer for Java 6 Exam 310-065
by Kathy Sierra
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.84
106 used & new from $3.35

48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oracle now owns Sun--exam changes afoot?, February 18, 2010
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I bought this book several months ago and finally spent enough time plowing through it to be ready to take the exam. Which I took today and passed. Glad that's out of the way, as it's a really obnoxious exam. (I took the 1.4 version in 2006.)

Many of the test questions rely on misdirection/trickiness, as opposed to getting plainly at your understanding of Java itself. Several questions only test brute memorization of APIs. There are not enough questions, so the categorical results given to you afterwards have little meaning (50% in concurrency! Meaning probably 2 out of 4 questions--on a topic covered in 80 pp in the book!). You can get for example 3 possibilities correct out of 7, but miss a 4th, so get the whole question wrong. At least they have drag-and-drop now, which they didn't have in the 1.4 exam.

It is, in short, a poor design. Given that, this book does do a good job of preparing you for the mess. The book mentions "toughening you up" for the exam and I think that's accurate. One problem is that there is no published errata, and the errata, particularly in the mock exams will drive you crazy. The website Java Ranch is a good place to check when something seems like a typo.

There's really no short cut to 1.) reading the thing front to back 2.) going through the questions and answers at each chapter's end 3.) going through the provided mocks and 4.) writing dozens of little programs that mimic the points in the mocks.

But be aware: Oracle now owns Sun, and has announced a new "Sun Java Programmer Plus Certification", which they call Sun's first "performance-based" Java certification exam. It's apparently in beta. It may make this version of the SCJP 6 obsolete. Good riddance I say!

So, if you haven't signed up with Sun to take the SCJP 6 yet, and haven't bought this book yet, it may be worth holding off until the dust settles. Currently they're saying they'll have a beta version of the new exam ready in March 1, 2010. That seems a bit too quick. The cost of this exam (SCJP) has doubled since 2006, to $300, so it may be worth waiting to take this "Plus" version instead. It's hard to find info about the beta on the Oracle site, though you can follow news at Java Ranch in the SCJP forum, under the topic Regarding SCJP Plus. Those guys are on it like rats on cheese.

Of course where would any certification exam be without its associated lucrative cottage industry of prep books! They may delay release of a new test, until they have big fat exam books like this one ready to publish.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2010 12:52 PM PDT

Eating Animals
Eating Animals
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.09
245 used & new from $2.98

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the "away from" more compelling than the "to...", January 13, 2010
This review is from: Eating Animals (Hardcover)
This book along with last year's documentary "Food, Inc." does a great job of beginning to expose the hidden world of factory farming. I've read some objections that it doesn't contain anything "new", but that seems to me irrelevant, since Foer doesn't present the book as groundbreaking. What he learned is merely new to him. And to many others, due to the secrecy of these horrific practices. Which are kept out of the public eye for good reason--public awareness would be bad for business.

The value of the book then isn't in its presentation of new material, but rather in its timeliness and accessibility. It's an easy, straightforward, and compelling read.

I have also seen objections that Foer doesn't talk about this or that--dairy and eggs for example. This doesn't matter I think--no book can cover all these topics. Having said that however I wish he had shined more light on the alternative. A final chapter containing specific advice about how, once having made the decision, his family was actually able to move to a plant-based diet, would have helped. Cold turkey as it were, gradually cutting down? Is there an addictive component? Did he experience meat "withdrawal"? What were the easiest and most difficult parts of the change for his family. How much effort did it take to expand their culinary repertoire to replace the meat. Or did they. I've seen some vegetarians, particularly teenagers, who have terrible diets--relying on mac and cheese etc. I presume Foers are doing better than that. Many people I think approve of the notion in the abstract, but lack signposts guiding them to the new path. And since he had readers in hand at book's end anyway, it was an opportunity, in addition to leading away "from", to point the way "to" the alternative.

A Street in Marrakech
A Street in Marrakech
by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea
Edition: Paperback
Price: $31.95
64 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars lots of detail, not enough context, December 27, 2009
This review is from: A Street in Marrakech (Paperback)
I spent six months in some Arabic-speaking countries many years ago, but missed the chance to visit Morocco. (Fernea would doubtless have described me as a clueless hippie.) I'm still trying to finagle a way to spend time there, so older and possibly wiser now, picked this up recently to gain some background.

Fernea's description of daily life is extremely detailed and informative so in that sense the book succeeds. But I was disappointed by the abruptness of the ending. After the family spends a year plus, slowly making friends and gaining entry to the closed society, they say their goodbyes and poof, the end.

I wish Fernea had provided some personal context, and described how their time in Morocco informed their lives afterwards, rather than treating the experience as an encapsulated event that simply ended with them going off to the airport. It was after all supposedly a "personal" encounter. I think the integration of such experience into whatever becomes your "normal" life afterwards is as interesting to read about as the details of the experiences itself. For example, did her children lose their language skills, or keep them up? Did she or her family keep in touch with any of the friends in Marrakech? Did they ever return for a visit? What became of these people?

Many travel books are like this--Danziger's Travels for example, in which the protagonist has astounding fantastic adventures, then when it's done he ends up back in England looking out the window of his mum's house, as if it all never happened. They reinforce the idea that living abroad is a discrete "adventure", with a fixed beginning and end, to be undertaken only by the foolhardy young or intrepid anthropologist-types who have studied the language.

I don't like to see such experiences described in this way--as that amazing exciting thing you did for a year, then just left, and didn't maintain any connection to. It reinforces the notion that living outside the US is exotic and unattainable for ordinary folk, when in fact it is not. In a similar vein, tourists and the hippies passing through were portrayed without exception as insensitive buffoons.

I realize of course Fernea was a real pioneer and made a terrific career out of her studies. I'm just talking about the internal structure of the book itself, and how other travel books do the same thing.

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