Books

The Edge of Anarchy - The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labour Uprising in America by Jack Kelly

I picked this purely by title and it wasn’t quite what I had expected.

The book mostly centres around the last, great labour struggle in the US with the strike at the Pullman factory that ended up spreading across the country.

In the context of present day US it is a fascinating read, to see that really there was a time when workers were able to mobilize and try to drive towards a common goal. It also shows how industrialists back then managed to break it and laid the ground work to keep it that way to this day.

Most people may remember “Pullman” as a sign of luxury rail travel, I sure do, but this book has me reevaluate his legacy. Up until I read the book it would have never occurred to me that he was a pretty nasty piece of work.

I am wondering how he would have liked to be remembered.

Rating: 4/5 (Amazon Link)

Safehold - Book 6 - Midst Toil and Tribulation by David Weber

I started reading the series back in January and came back to it now over the summer. A quick summary (courtesy Wiki):

Safehold is a science fiction book series by David Weber, currently consisting of ten titles, the latest released in January 2019. The series is mostly set around the 31st century, on a distant world dubbed "Safehold" where a group of humans are in hiding from the Gbaba, an alien enemy responsible for the end of all other human civilization.
The humans on Safehold avoid detection by reverting to a pre-electrical, pre-industrial technology base. This status is enforced by a religious belief system discouraging scientific curiosity forbidding any higher technological innovation on penalty of death. The threat of the Gbaba is barely mentioned in the books so far; the main issue is the divergence of the official church from its original aims versus the outlying areas which deny the leadership of the corrupt vicars.

As an introduction to the series, this was really not what I expected when I started reading it. Weber was only known to me for the Honor Harrington series and this is… a bit different. Mostly in that it is not really Science Fiction. It starts with an advanced human civilization but then actually plays out on Safehold, a planet that on purpose is being held in roughly pre-enlightenment technology level to avoid the detection of the Gbaba.

The series itself also tends to move back and forth between “Grand Strategy” story telling and the nitty gritty of work, with books at times swapping the way they tell the story for long stretches.

As for book 6? This has gotten all in on the action side. Politics and machinations are pretty much just background noise and we spend much more time a the frontlines of the war.

Overall enjoyable and even though it is a long book, it does not feel that way.

Rating: 4/5 (Amazon Link)

The Fixer - Book 5 - Dead Man Dreaming by Andrew Vaillencourt

The Fixer Book 5 Cover

A series I started two years ago. A mixture of Science Fiction and a noir detective novel, though with much less “sleuthing” and much more shooting.

In book 5 Roland, our hero, finds himself in the strange situation of having to find an expert and ruthless killer, who, it turns out, is an attempt to improve upon his design and some old “friends” are back in the mix as well.

The book is quite fast paced, with action scenes and violence not being overly graphic (e.g. as in Altered Carbon for example). It’s not a Childs book, but there is a child like quality to the main protagonist.

Rating 4/5 (Amazon Link)

Drinking Water: A History by James Salzman

Drinking Water: A history cover
Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.

Water is one of the necessities of life. And yet, as most people should be aware, safe, drinkable water is not something we have in abundance in a lot of places. The idea of being able to turn on the tap and have safe, clean water is a rather new invention in the West, though the Romans already spent a lot of time getting water to where it was useful (think aqueducts).

In “Drinking Water” James Salzman traces the history of water as a commodity, from ancient times to the present. From our obsession these days with “clean” and “pure”, from “all natural” water to the water sommeliers that will pair a bottle of $50 water with your dinner.

I was aware of some of the modern marketing around water. From the notorious “Fiji Water” to Coca Cola’s “Dasaini” and PepsiCo’s “Aquafina” which are essentially tap water, the whole thing is a big business.

The book is US centric in a lot of ways, but in this day and age a lot of what happens in the US sooner or later also shows up in other parts of the world. And Water as a luxury product, although having its start somewhere in the 19th century, definitely has turned into a worldwide phenomenon. Sometimes due to lack of clean, accessible water, other times as a luxury product.

Rating 4/5 (Amazon Link)

Armor World — Undying Mercenaries Book 11 by B. V. Larson

Armor World Cover

The Undying Mercenaries series by B. V. Larson has been one of my guilty pleasures for the last few years.

The hook is simple yet intriguing: What if you could die and be resurrected shortly after and sent back into the fray? That is the starting point for the series and over the course of the last 10 books we followed the adventures of one James McGill across the galaxy, getting himself into trouble and killed regularly. All told with a nice sense of (dark) humour and characters that are entertaining.

After his trip to the core and his return at the end of the last book we are turning over a new page. A giant space ship, the size of the moon appears in the solar system and seems to be determined to conquer earth. The creatures inside it are essentially cyborgs, a mixture of flesh and machine. What initially appeared to be a random attack turns into the opening chapter of another story arc, where the makeup of this part of the Galactic Empire could be totally changed and humanities future is pretty uncertain.

Rating 4/5 (Amazon Link)

Siege: Trump under Fire by Michael Wolff

Siege: Trump under Fire Cover

I generally try to avoid “Trump News”, mostly because I don’t like giving narcissists attention. I did read Wolff’s previous Trump book and found it a quick read with little new to contribute. Wolff himself has also been “accused” of being a bit creative with his story telling. I admit, I can’t really judge on this, but some of the things he wrote in the previous book seemed a bit “out there”, even by Trump standards.

So returning in “Siege” the theme continues. It shows a Whitehouse and an administration that seems to be out of its depth. Does the book provide any new insight? Not really, but Wolff does know how to write entertainingly and getting Trump in this kind of package is much more tolerable to me than having to dig through daily piles of outrage.

Would I recommend it? Somewhat. If you have some curiosity about Trump but don’t want to do the daily grind it is probably not a bad way to “keep up” If you’re obsessed with Trump you may get a kick out of it too (especially if you’re not one of his fans).

If, on the other hand, you have a lot of other books you want to read you can probably pass on it and not really miss anything of importance.

Rating: 3/5 (Amazon Link)

FKA USA by Reed King

FKA USA Cover

Continuing with the Trump theme. Reed King’s “FKA USA” is a rather dark satire of a future United States.

King mixes current political and cultural themes together with the idea of dystopian science and tells the story in the context of a historic document, with footnotes and appendices.

It is a fun read, though at times a bit dragging, with a talking goat as one of the main protagonists.

Rating: 4/5 (Amazon Link)

Star Wars: Thrawn (Book 1 of the Thrawn series) by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Thrawn Cover

Way way back in the ‘90s Timothy Zahn wrote two book series I absolutely adored.

The first one was the Dark Elf Trilogy in the AD&D realm and the second one was his Thrawn trilogy.

So it was with a bit of hesitation that picked up the new books he wrote. As the theme this month is all about “milking things to death” this definitely seemed to fall into the same category. The books back in the ‘90s were highly regarded and so having Zahn write a prequel has the smell of money grabbing to it.

May it as it be, the first book is actually quite enjoyable. It tells the rise of Thrawn through the ranks of the Imperial Navy. It’s a well told origin story with a memorable primary character and a support cast that also entertains.

A mixture of “strategic battles” and politics Zahn definitely had a good idea what story he wanted to tell. If the other two books in the series (published so far) are as enjoyable I forgive Disney, a little, for what they have done to Star Wars over the last few years.

Rating: 4.5/5 (Amazon Link)

TV

Whoops Apocalypse (1983)

I came across this the other in an article about BREXIT and it sounded like an “entertaining” evening. It was. It is one of these dark British comedies they no longer seem to make.

The six episodes tell the story how the world ends, and how utter incompetence is to blame for it.

It is cheaply made, the sets are cardboard, but the writing and the characters are totally worth a watch.

Movies

Shazam (2019)

DC does not really have the best track record when it comes to turning their comics into movies. So Shazam came as a bit of a surprise to me.

The best way to describe it is BIG but with a Superhero. The movie is wonderfully silly in a lot of places and definitely entertaining.

Is it the greatest movie ever? No, absolutely not. But in a world of “serious” Superhero movie this light hearted romp is actually refreshing.

Rating 4/5

Our Brand is Crisis (2015)

This movie had been on my pile to watch for a while. It tells the story of how to get someone elected that nobody really thinks has a chance. In a lot of ways the movie foreshadowed what happened in the US and Britain during 2016. Many of the characters and how they act have real life counter parts in the political realm.

Definitely worth a watch.

Rating 4/5

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

This was a movie I watched with some trepidation. Mostly because real life adaptation of Anime usually does not work well. I did decide to give the movie a shot anyway because Rodriguez has directed it.

To put one thing upfront, Alita’s eyes are freaky. It is weird to see it the first time and the weirdness does not go away during the course of the movie. Having said that, it does help with avoiding the uncanny valley kind of feeling you get when watching other CGI “humans”.

So what about the movie itself? It was surprisingly enjoyable. Similar to “Bumblebee”, the not Michael Bay Transformer movie.

By all rights, I should not have liked the movie, but I found myself enjoying it and actually would not mind if there would be a second one.

What helps with this is probably also the fact that it has been a long time since I watched the original anime, so I do not really have a strong emotional attachment to the source material.

So if you are a fan of the anime, this may or may not work for you. As a “non anime fan” though, I give it:

Rating: 4/5

Dumbo (2019)

Oh Disney, why? WHY?

Disney over the last decade really seems to be hellbent in milking every last penny out of the IP they own, even if it that means to destroy the brand in the process.

Case in point would be the over saturation of Star Wars and now of course their “remake” of classic animated movies as “Real Life” action.

So why did I watch Dumbo? Mostly because I was curious to see what Disney was going to do with it and Dumbo was a good candidate for three reasons:

  1. It’s the first one.
  2. It’s a Tim Burton movie
  3. I do not really have a huge emotional attachment to the original.

So what did Disney do? Well. If you have seen the last few Tim Burton movies then pretty much that. So in a short summary: If you like the Alice in Wonderland Tim Burton movies you will (probably) like Dumbo.

Personally? I still do not understand, outside of “money money money”, why Disney thinks this is a good idea.

As far as Tim Burton goes? It’s very far from “A Nightmare Before Christmas”. It’s through and through the new Tim Burton and like a few other film makers, CGI has ruined him and his film making.

Rating: 2/5

Spider-man - Homecoming (2017)

Another movie I had on my list for a while. I heard good things about it from a bunch of people and I admit Spider-man, together with Batman, were the only two superheroes I actually ever really enjoyed and connected with.

So Spider-man homecoming was a bit of a surprise. Mostly because much like Star Wars it seems that Sony has rebooted that series now more often than I can count.

Having said this, Homecoming is actually a solid Spider-man movie, even if a bit more on the “silly side” at times. It still, from the tone, is much more enjoyable to me than the latest Marvel or DC fare.

Rating: 3.5/5

General Magic (2019)

The most important tech company you have never heard of

General Magic was a technology company that started out as a spinoff from Apple in the early ‘90s and created technologies that now, almost 30 years later, we all have taken for granted. The documentary chronicles the rather short life of the company and its core engineers who all went on to expand on the technology we now all use.

For some reason back in the early 90s as the company started out they decided to have some film makers “follow the company” as it tried to make history. This gives us a bit of a “fly on the wall” look at the company and how it rose to prominence and failure. Ironically enough, it was the advent of the commercial internet that did the company in. As they designed their technology they were still thinking fax instead of email.

But core concepts and ideas that they developed would go on to become mainstream. They had an iPhone on the drawing board way before that was a thing and in a short clip John Sculley, of Apple “fame” gets a bit of vindication as he was ousted back in the ‘90s for “going mobile”. In hindsight though, seeing what has happened with General Magic, Jobs probably did rescue Apple from itself.

Right time, right place always applies.

Rating: 5/5

Apollo 11 (2019)

This is another fascinating documentary. All of the footage that NASA shot during the mission was remastered in 4K, received a new sound mix and…. It’s breathtaking.

There is no narration, its mission footage and audio (with some minor CGI to fill in some gaps) and it shows the first moon landing in a way I don’t think anybody has seen it before. Well, there are two guys who probably saw it even more brilliantly.

If you have any kind of interest in space and / or the moon missions, this is a must watch.

Rating: 5/5

Internet Videos

The unique 1960s Hi-Fi systems that became a time capsule

Techmoan is another one of those YouTubers who has a fascination with weird Audio and Video equipment and creates some really interesting videos, like with this one:

Catastrophe

When a little bird suddenly drops dead in it’s cage, all eyes are on the cat. Desperately he tries to make everything right again, but actually making everything worse in the progress.

Peter and the Wolf — For Jazz Ensemble

Best of the Worst: Hawk Jones, Winterbeast, and ROAR

Half in the Bag: Comic Con 2019, The Picard Trailer, Streaming Services, and Midsommar

Half in the Bag: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Small Arms of WWI Primer 104: S&W 1917

Othais and Mae delve into the story of this WWI classic. Complete with history, function, and live fire demonstration.

10 WEIRD Gaming Stories of JULY 2019

Interesting Reads

Elon Musk Wants to Read Your Brain

It was interesting to see the headlines around Musk’s next “project” and how, as usual, people are fawning over it.

So this is a refreshing reality check on what he talked about:

https://onezero.medium.com/elon-musk-wants-to-read-your-brain-f011b9aec3a5

Bellingcat: Ukrainian Far-Right Extremists Receive State Funds to Teach “Patriotism”

Ukraine, a few years ago, was “intersting” in the West because it fit the narrative of evil Russia trying to build an Empire. So this is an interesting “counter take” on what drives at least a part of Ukrainian Nationalism, and really the West™ should ask themselves if they want to get engaged with a State like this.

https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2019/07/16/ukrainian-far-right-extremists-receive-state-funds-to-teach-patriotism/

Music

Buddha-Bar XXI - Paris, the Origins

Late Night Tales: Floating Points

Fusion Festival 2019 - Sound Nomaden Set (Palast Stage)