Random Stew It seemed like a good idea at the time.

15Jan/092

On The Bookshelf

It's been quite a while since I last posted my reading queue. Here's what I'm reading at the moment.

I've always been a fan of Asimov, especially his Foundation series. So, reading a collection of his very early short stories is interesting in that the stories give glimpses of his future storytelling prowess, but mostly reveal a smart and talented young man struggling to learn his storytelling craft and find his voice.

Pearlman's book is fascinating. He not only discusses generating power through the use of proper structural frames and body mechanics, but also about achieving more power by removing impediments to power. Improve the efficiency of your techniques -- instead of relying on muscular exertion -- to achieve more power. Pare away superfluous movements until the techniques are fluid, efficient, and powerful.

Blink is, at its core, about listening to your intuition. It's filled with anecdotal support of trusting your gut but also offers up examples of where 'gut feelings' lead people astray. The author examines how some people seem to consistently make good decisions. He postulates that the best decision makers are those who have learned to examine the information available at decision time and quickly winnow the chaff from the grain -- to filter the pertinent factors from the white noise.

I've just started reading O'Hara's Choice, but it is quickly becoming the dog of this list. I never thought I would say that about a book written by Leon Uris. This is Uris' last book, and I believe it was published posthumously. This book is disjointed and lacks the flow of his other works. It's sad that the storyteller that wrote such great books as Battle Cry, Mila-18, Trinity, Mitla Pass, and Exodus, finished his career with a dud like this. I rarely give up on a book, but I may make an exception in this case.

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13May/080

On The Bookshelf

It's been quite a while since I last posted my reading list. Here's what I'm reading at the moment.

Now that I look at the list, I find it to be an interesting combination. An observer might say that I'm determined to get my way and free my time to do things I truly enjoy. Of course, they might just say I'm whacked.

1Feb/080

The Quiet Pools

I'm reading a sci-fi novel titled The Quiet Pools by Michael P. Kube-McDowell. The story started a bit slow, but now has my complete attention; it's an extremely well-written story with multiple threads of conflict. And the story touches on many themes ranging from marital and parental relationships, to the psychology of mob violence, to humans as Von Neuman universal constructors.

The plot revolves around Project Diaspora, the building and staffing of a colonizing starship sent to seed the universe with mankind. Much of the conflict occurs between the two camps of humanity that support or oppose the project. However, the twist that has really grabbed my imagination is the selection process for the 10,000 colonists. The colonists are subjected to DNA testing and are secretly screened for the "Chi sequence", a genetic sequence of three genes A-B-C where A controls Ambition, B controls Breeding instinct, and C controls the Call. The three genes create 8 combinations that determine the type of person.

Chi Sequence
A B C Attributes
Y N N Adventurers. Restless explorers. Examples of Sir Edmund Hillary, Amelia Earhart.
N Y N Breeders and nestmakers. Resistant to change.
N N Y Dreamers. Pure faith, pure reason, pure art. Priests, physicists, philosophers.
Y Y N Ambition + nestmaking = kings and tycoons.
Y N Y Ambition + dreamer = a creator. An artist or inventor.
N Y Y Nestmaker + call = good citizens. The Call expresses itself as duty and allegiance so BC's make good workers and soldiers.
Y Y Y Statesmen, saints. Wise, altruistic leaders. The rarest combination.
N N N

To quote the book:

Why do you think there are so many meaningless lives? They're the people whose bodies give them no direction, no purpose. They don't burn. They don't want. They just are -- instant to instant, day to day, like some cruel joke of nature. The hollow-chested Tin Men. The empty people. The damned.

Of course, a reader's immediate thought is to stock the ship with people who have all the genes, the so-called Chi-positives. But no, the author argues that would be impossible, that Chi-positives are difficult. They are the glue, and have you ever tried to build something from glue alone? A large part of the project is dedicated to determining an optimal genetic mix on the ship; the only group completely excluded are the Chi-negatives -- the empty people. The population mix is described as:

[the ship] needs a core of stable, loyal, dedicated people who know their plac in the plan. It needs a leavening of creative types to keep the vision alive and deal with the unexpected. And it needs wise, unselfish leadership.

Playing God - Morgan Freeman has played God in two movies.From the table above, this equates to a mix of BCs, ACs and Chi-positives. But when the ship arrives at a world suitable for colonization, it will need kings and adventurers and nestmakers to build empires, explore, and make homes. Since these people will not be needed during the trip, they will be carried in gamete banks -- egg and sperm banks, to be "created" as needed.

As you can undoubtedly see, this is a cool and disturbing concept, fraught with promise and peril. What a great fulcrum for conflict.

I haven't finished this book and I already highly recommend it. I've already given away one of the big ideas/twists of the book, so I'll wind up this post before giving away any more.

12Dec/070

On The Bookshelf

About a month ago, I posted my reading list. Here's what is currently in my queue, in no particular order.

The last three books are remainders from my original list of a month ago. In the cases of Conceptual Blockbusting and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, these books are instructional texts and have regular exercises to perform.

Captivating, on the other hand, has concepts and thought patterns so foreign to me that it is requiring a great deal of pondering to digest; I always knew women were wired differently, but geez...

12Nov/070

Current Reading List

Stack of booksI'm a big reader but right now I think my reach has temporarily exceeded my grasp. I normally read books serially, one book at a time. However, all of sudden, I'm reading multiple books at the same time.

My current list in no particular order:

Hmmm...after reviewing the list, I have sudden yen for an escapist novel.

6Nov/071

Peeling Onions

My partner was recently awarded his first degree black belt in Danzan Ryu Jujitsu. In order to achieve his shodan level, he had to demonstrate his knowledge and proficiency in 160-odd techniques (throws, chokes, joint locks, etc.). While I was congratulating him, he made the comment that now he can go back and explore those techniques in more depth; he feels he has achieved a breadth of knowledge and now wants to deepen that knowledge. As a middle-aged martial artist, I appreciate the mental and philosophical aspects of the martial arts as much as the physical aspect, and Scott's comment echoed an essay I had just read by Dave Lowry in his book Moving Toward Stillness. Lowry tells the story of when he was young judoka (judo practitioner) witnessing the award ceremony for 5 new shodan black belts. Acting as one of the proctors and attending the ceremony was an extremely high ranking judo practitioner. Each of the testers congratulated the new shodans and gave bits of wisdom. Lowry recalls how he listened intently to see what words of wisdom the master would impart to the new black belts.

"You have taken a big step forward. Now, I hope you will take a big step back."

Peeling an onionMany teaching systems use a "peel another layer" or cyclical approach to learning. Although a system may appear to be linear as students progress through a series of ranks such as belts in the martial arts or grades in school, in actuality most systems are layered and cyclical. Recall your grade school years; every year you studied the same basic subjects (the 3 R's plus history), but each year was another layer of depth and understanding. When you graduated college, you had a broad knowledge of your subject field. But you weren't an expert until you garnered a few years of real experience and had internalized the lessons learned in school. In fact, the practice of putting the lessons to work forces you to take a new view of the lessons, and provides a new perspective into their meanings and truths.

The martial arts are similar. A beginning student progresses through the ranks in a seemingly linear fashion, learning new techniques, katas, and movements. However, even though the student is eventually competent with advanced techniques, he/she is still expected to practice endless repetitions of kihon (basics). As they become more accomplished martial artists, the constant repetition of kihon leads to a deeper understanding and internalization of the art --peeling another layer.

Watch a class of beginning karateka practicing punches and you will see a group of students performing the gross motor movements necessary to perform a punch and, in fact, they may be able to throw an effective punch. Watch a group of first degree black belts performing the same techniques though and you will see a huge difference; there is no doubt that a shodan is able to throw an effective punch. While the beginner thinks at the surface layer of hitting a target with his fist, a shodan has discovered and internalized a number of layers of knowledge about the technique; solid stance, elbows in close, rotate your fist at impact, relax until the moment of impact, strongly chamber the non-striking hand, power flows up from the floor, snap the punch back, etc.

Even so, the shodan is not an expert. Achieving shodan rank is an important rite of passage but, in fact, a shodan is considered to have a thorough grounding in basic technique and ready to begin serious training. The gap between a shodan and second degree black belt (nidan) is as large as the difference between a white belt and shodan. And the difference is not so much one of breadth of knowledge as it is depth of understanding. The difference between shodans and nidans performing the same techniques is palpable, just like the difference between beginning karateka and shodans.

I suspect this pattern is prevalent in most endeavors. Most accomplished musicians probably warm up by practicing scales and basic exercises on their instruments. I imagine they compose songs in a layered fashion; revisiting the song and adding nuances with each iteration. Artists learn a breadth of techniques and mediums, and become true artists when they begin to weave their technical skill with an understanding of the interplay of light and composition. Magicians will eventually learn a huge library of tricks and will concentrate on the nuances of performance. Writers imagine a general plot, compose an outline, and develop a story through layers of drafts.

So, where am I going with this somewhat rambling post? I don't know, but I feel as if I've peeled a mental layer while writing this entry.

P.S. Congratulations, Scott.

10Oct/070

Leaning to the right

For the last 20+ years, I've made my living as a computer programmer primarily utilizing the logical left side of my brain. Oddly enough, I spent the first few years of my adult life working as an artist specializing in black and white illustrations. Although, in truth, I find a lot of similarities between developing software and creating a picture. In both professions, I've achieved the best results by "broad brushing" in a general layout and then working in progressively more detailed iterations over the entire project.

Despite the similarities, I'm finding myself chafing at the atrophy of the creative right side of my brain due to two decades of forced submission. I suddenly have a desire to re-awaken my creativity and break down those self-induced limitations. This desire is part of my motivation for keeping this blog; even though this blog is not creative writing, it is a form of personal expression that will hopefully evolve from a forced discipline into an easy and natural act.

25 year old doodle of an old fisherman.I've also picked up my sketchbook again. After two decades, my skills are naturally very rusty. By skills, I mean my ability to "see" what I'm drawing. I maintain that anyone who can write legibly has the technical competency to draw; in other words, they can manipulate a pencil to produce the line they want. After all, anyone can trace a picture right? Tracing lets you "see" your subject in a way that makes it easy for you to reproduce the image using your pencil manipulation skills. To draw from life, you merely need to learn to "see" objects in new ways.

This is the premise of the book Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, a classic book on the subject of learning to draw. I've unearthed my 30 year old copy of the book and am working through the exercises in it. While I haven't felt the scale and rust falling away yet, I can definitely see some improvement already. Drawing exercisesSo, I'm pushing out of my comfort zone into areas that I used to habitate but are new again. I have a dim memory of this landscape but am having to learn how to navigate it again. Look at the difference between an idle doodling of a fisherman at rest that I did 25 years ago versus my earnest efforts with some of the exercises from the aforementioned book.

It's like trying to ride a bike again after 30 years; you can still do it, but you sure are wobbly. It will be a while before I can do a wheelie again.