Monday, April 30, 2012

See a Little Light
(Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad, 12:42)
I am a punk rock fame ball. Even though this book's tone is a sustained downer, the self-gossip was too salaciously intriguing for me to stop until it was all done. Mould is one grim dude, spawned by a family with violent, abusive drunkenness. His account of the Husker Du years plods along, with mainly a peacock's pride in his workmanlike rigors. I was hoping to hear something about what it felt like to befriend Vic Chesnutt, but there were only slight nods: one, to the experience of helping Vic finish his About to Choke CD, and then much later, a confession that when Mould broke up with his 2nd boyfriend, he let the ex- inherit friends such as VC. The big man reads his own book, but he cannot possibly make his life sound appealing. I can't recommend this; seek instead, the brief and mindblowing book by Azerrad, Our Band Could be Your life. [Posted a week later, since I'm still thinking about BM: Probably one of the most off-putting aspects of his bio traces to a plausibly principled move BM appears to have taken, to minimize any reference to anyone other than himself. As I mentioned originally, I craved learning more about Vic Chesnutt, but the 2 mentions were so pared down that almost no information was accessible. The one area where I did learn much: how one particular gay sex life (BM's) differs pretty clearly from the hetero-normative. BM mentions opening his relationships up several times to include cruising for sex, while staying inside the couple; he's also non-chalant, non-judgmental, and non-private about hiring an escort to give himself a birthday blowjob.]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

(Jonah Lehrer, 8:02)
Read by the author, this is as interesting as the pieces he's written for WIRED, the New Yorker, and in guest spots on RadioLab. It's not quite as mind-expanding as his earlier book on How We Decide, but that's partially due to the difficulty in pinning down really essential research in the domain of creativity. I can't help but recall how Howard Gardner prefaced his lecture on the difference between (what he called) "big C" and "little c" creativity, by quoting a professor who wrote on one of his undergrad papers, "Why is it that only the most mediocre minds are interested in creativity?" Note added 7/30/2012- Mr Lehrer is busted by a Tablet reporter for making Dylan quotes up that appear in this book. This moral lapse gives rise to a wrenching tragedy; why oh why would he fudge quotes that aren't even that compelling?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Turing's Cathedral
(George Dyson, 15:51)
Lots of interesting material, about von Neumann, Turing, the Institute for Advanced Studies, and the origin of the computer. Dyson, perhaps like his sister Esther, is somehow permanently damaged by having grown up amidst Princeton's IAS, where his father was a gnomic genius. The book betrays a certain lack of taste, by including too much at many points in time. Nevertheless, the story is fascinating, and worth the slog.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's Eating You
(Eugene Kaplan, 8:23)
Superb discussion of parasitism. Strong stomachs only for such a voyage. The prose is perfectly crafted, perhaps from years of teaching undergrads about how to peer into the guts and excrement of animals. Although the concept of a parasite is evocatively captured by Ridley's film, Alien, the truth is even more bizarre; in spite of the grotesque implications of worms and other beings crawling inside our bodies, it's worth recalling that even parasites must treat their hosts with some consideration. More important to maintaining perspective is the fact that our immune systems have worked for millenia to help fight these beasts. While numerous people suffer horridly from the vectors of river blindness, etc, it's not as if every human is laden down with yucky hitch-hikers.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

(HD Thoreau, 1:30)
The last lecture of Henry David. As if any more need be said to self-recommend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Cosmic Blueprint
(Paul Davies, 9:15)
I've always had a fondness for Mr. PCW Davies, since I fell under the spell of Quantum Mechanics after reading, in my sophomore year, his popularized treatment, Other Worlds. This book is rather queer, since it ultimately tries to reject Darwinism, without suggesting a replacement that would have anything of similar power. It almost seems that Davies has fallen into a logical error, assuming that selection can only occur with living beings, so cannot explain the origin of life. The parts that discuss self-organization are interesting, and yet, the book as a whole seems to flounder.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Inside Apple
(Adam Lashinsky, 6:54)
This is a true gem, crafted and carefully composed, which far outshines the Microsoft-like shovelware of Isaacson's biography of Jobs. Far more insight is packed into this much shorter book, analyzing the company he built, with much more shrewd assessment of Jobs' narcissistic obsessive personality. Here's a great quote, representing the thoughtful way Lashinsky assesses Apple and demonstrates how it undercuts so many generalizations that are accepted as b-school platitudes: "what if it turns out that all that thinking is wrong? What if companies encouraged employees to be satisfied where they are, because they're good at what they do, not to mention because that might be what's best for shareholders?" Well, what if? The Peter Principle is hard to fight against; even more difficult to compete with are the ambitions of people. Adam mentions a saying that I've heard before, 'Everyone inside Apple is trying to get out, and everyone outside is trying to get in.'"

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Strangers to Ourselves
(Timothy Wilson, 8:36)
Solid review of the literature on priming, without advancing any crazy claims.