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Archive for March, 2013

A Review of The Other End of Time

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 31, 2013

The Other End of TimeThe Other End of Time by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Frederik Pohl’s The Other End of Time is a mediocre book with some promise, some potential, but it never seems to reach it. It’s like one long drawn out scene book-ended by the beginning and end of the book, and after awhile it gets boring.

Dan Dannerman, the main character, is a secret agent for some national organization, although the United States appears to have been broken up into individual countries. Florida is its own country now, for instance. However, Dannerman’s background and behavior certainly don’t indicate that he possesses any significant training to serve as a CIA-type. He’s always lost in thought about how to best do something. He seems to be a man of minimal action. Another character, Chinese astronaut Jimmy Lin, is an oversexed horn dog whose constant horniness gets old VERY quickly. Another primary character, Pat, is a rich cousin of Dan (by marriage) who ends up falling for him during the book. They make love toward the end of the book, and I tried not to be too grossed out by it.

Dan, Pat, Jimmy and several others go up to a deserted space station thinking some extraterrestrial presence has found its way aboard, and they’re hoping to make a ton of money from this discovery. Turns out they’re right, but they’re taken captive and the main part of the book then begins: their imprisonment. At first they’re all naked and they have to urinate and defecate in front of the others on the floor of their prison (which swallows it up and makes the stuff disappear). I couldn’t buy Pat just dropping her pants and taking a crap on the floor in front of a bunch of other people. I found it extremely hard to believe. They’re visited regularly by Dopey, an alien, and other speechless ETs, who work for some Beloved Leaders while warring with the “evil” Horch. But we’re never sure that the Horch are evil. Turns out the Beloved Leaders torch planets whose citizens don’t bend to their will. These lucky people are sent to a type of heaven where everyone and everything eventually ends up.

Toward the end of the book, Dan and the others escape their prison because the attacking Horch have torched the power and allowed them to leave. Dopey and the other aliens catch up to them bearing the humans’ weapons, asking them to fight the Horch because they can’t. I’m not going to give away the end of the book, but it reads like a plug for a sequel, and naturally, there is one. (I think this is part of a trilogy.) I have the next book, but I’m not going to read it right away because I fear it might be as boring as this one. One thing, however, that was interesting was that the aliens can copy each other and the humans, so horny Jimmy is presented with two copies of Pat for “breeding” purposes, the irony being that neither will have anything to do with him. That was moderately interesting, but not enough to save the book. Frankly, I tend to like Pohl and think he’s written some fine stuff. I particularly like his short stories, but this book was dull and I think he’s capable of better. I don’t think I would recommend this book.

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A Review of Stairway To Heaven

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 27, 2013

Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin UncensoredStairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored by Richard Cole

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a quick and easy read, and quite entertaining at times. But I’ve got one word to say: debauchery. I thought I had heard/read it all, but I was wrong. These hedonistic, narcissistic, thoroughly debauched drug addled alcoholics were disgusting human beings, and the author, their road manager for 12 years, is no better, and perhaps even worse. The book is told from his perspective, and I’ve heard that Robert Plant really hated the book, and the band denied most of what is written, so who knows how much of it is true, but the thing that annoyed me the most was Cole’s insinuation that he was virtually a part of the band, that John Bonham was practically his best friend (and apparently his roommate on the road, much of the time), and that Zeppelin couldn’t have done it without him. This from a man who basically confessed to kidnapping, drug trafficking, assault (sexual and otherwise — battery too), bribery, and willful destruction of property. I mean, this book should have been written from prison! Yes, it was fun to read about the hedonism at times, like when the band, Cole, and their manager consumed 260 drinks in four hours, or virtually anything they did, since it was so degrading to others, but Cole was a heroin addicted alcoholic who got prepubescent girls for the guys in the band to, you know, … bang. It was especially appalling to read about Jimmy Page falling for a nubile 14 year old, especially as he was 28 at the time. He apparently liked them very young.

It was interesting to read about the beginnings of the band, back in 1968, and their tours, mainly through America, and the terrible reviews they got even though they sold more records than virtually any other rock group in history. It was interesting to read about the music — how it was created, snippets of information about many of the songs, how it was performed, etc. But the books really is about sex, drugs, and rock and roll — meaning, mostly sex and drugs — and it gets redundant after awhile. I’ve read a lot of band bios over the years. Journey stayed clean. Rush stayed clean. Until now, I thought Queen threw the most debauched parties, but I think Zeppelin beats Queen in this area. Sadly, the band was steeped in moral degradation on the largest possible scale with their craziness, their nutso destruction of property, assaults on concert-goers, out of control spending and alcohol and drug use, and a sexual preference for girls barely into puberty, if even. I was prepared for some debauchery, but nothing like this. Sadly, I think I’ve really lost a lot of respect for the band, and I think it’s fair to say they should all be rotting in prison. I mean, they got away with everything, and they expected to. And Cole was instrumental in helping them get away with anything. He bribed cops, he beat up people, he got them drugs. What a slime ball.

Cole had a crush on John Bonham, clearly, and barely tolerated Robert Plant, which made me wonder how skewed events in the book were. Cole was crushed with Bonham’s death, which incidentally, a lot of people chalk up to Zeppelin’s “curse,” brought on by Jimmy Page’s dabbling in the occult, which Cole really tries to steer clear of. Why? I’m not sure. I wanted to read about Page’s occult fetishes, aside from his obsession with A Crowley, but Cole writes that Jimmy didn’t really introduce them to his occult practices and beliefs. That’s a little hard to believe, but oh well. Other things happened to the members of Zeppelin that helped this curse idea along. Bonham got in a car wreck, as did Plant. It took Plant a long time to recover. Plant’s five year old son died. $230,000 is stolen out of a safe box. There’s more. Cole goes to prison in Italy, accused of terrorism (which is how the book begins).

There’s a lot of craziness that goes on in this book. Televisions are thrown out of hotel windows, hotel rooms are trashed, cars are bought and crashed, girls are bartered like livestock, drugs flow freely, the alcoholic consumption would be enough to kill most people. There are transvestites and transsexuals, hookers and groupies (including the famous Plaster Casters). There’s one memorable moment that involves two groupies, a bathtub, and an octopus, and it’s truly disgusting. Then there’s the girl with the famous red snapper incident, which is also disgusting. The band members have got to be the most immature and spoiled men in the history of the universe, most especially Bonham. It’s rather disappointing.

This book is entertaining, if you can stomach the filth, and it’s a real page turner — I couldn’t put it down. If half the stuff in this book is true, everyone involved should be in prison, as I’ve already alluded to. I hope in their older years, the remaining members of the band have matured. Cole has apparently been sober and clean for over 15 years, so I guess that’s good. If you like reading about rock and roll excess or about Led Zeppelin, this is the book for you. If your stomach is easily turned, maybe you shouldn’t read it. Cautiously recommended.

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A Review of Paul McCartney: A Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 24, 2013

Paul McCartneyPaul McCartney by Peter Ames Carlin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book to read. The Beatles were a little before my time, and I grew up listening to Paul’s Wings, but I’ve always been interested in the Beatles and Paul McCartney, so I enjoyed this book. While the author is clearly a fan, he doesn’t hold back his critiques either, which balances the book out.

I learned a lot I didn’t know. For instance, I didn’t know that Paul was the musical genius in the group and taught Lennon how to play the guitar. I also didn’t know he was so controlling, and tried to direct everything the group did himself. He took that to extremes at times, but it shows he was driven, that he had a good work ethic (which he got from his father). The book focused a lot on the Lennon/McCartney relationship, both good and bad, and often left out George and Ringo, which I thought was a shame. I didn’t know Paul was responsible for so many of the Beatles classics, and it was sad to read about Lennon’s increasing disillusionment with the group, even before Yoko was on the scene. And yes, Yoko was evil. She really did drive the group apart. Tragedy. We learn a lot about the Beatles in this book, but the author keeps a lot out — too much. For instance, early on, the boys are broke and playing lots of concerts, trying to make it. Several pages later, they’re all driving a Rolls Royce. Huh? How did that happen? I’d have liked to learn about how their empire started and grew and how they adapted to their new financial situations. We were also told how the other three Beatles bought houses in the suburbs with their wives. I didn’t even know they were married, and we are never told when or how this happened. We’re not even told how John met Yoko, which I think would be critical to a book that has so much to say about Yoko. The breakup of the Beatles is tragic to read about though.

When Paul met Linda Eastman, he was already engaged. I didn’t know that. When he and Linda married, it was no big deal. They had kids — well adjusted, by all accounts — and grew their family. Linda was a photographer, which I didn’t know, so when Paul tried to make her a member of his new band, Wings, she was a little nervous. Here, I don’t think the book treats her very well. She sings off key, can’t play the keyboards that she’s just learning for the group. She’s basically in the band cause Paul wants his wife in it. She really doesn’t get any credit for the Wings success, which I think is a bit unfair.

Paul was a total whore before he married Linda. Apparently he liked the groupies. But as far as I can tell, he and Linda had a great marriage, so when she died of cancer in the ’90s, it was sad to read about and difficult to read about Paul’s attempts to adapt to his new life without her.

Paul was also into drinking and drugs, and he and Linda smoked pot til the end. I didn’t know that. I don’t know that that makes a difference to me, but I hadn’t realized that. Lennon was into harder stuff though.

Paul was cheap. He paid the members of Wings 70 pounds a week for years, which was less than they could have made as session musicians. He promised they’d share in the royalties when they started selling albums and touring, but he never did it. He’s treated pretty roughly here in the book, but apparently it’s deserved.

When Paul meets Heather Mills shortly after Linda’s death, you can just tell it’s a bad idea, especially with no pre-nup. His kids were opposed to it. Virtually everyone was. And while Heather was a model, she had apparently done some lying about her past. She’s not painted well in this book, and after they’re married a few years, she becomes a first class villain. She’s truly evil, and fortunately, she got away with less of Paul’s money than I had thought or remembered.

Paul’s solo works in the ’80s through the present are interesting to read about. I didn’t even know about most of them. I’d be interested in listening to a few now after reading about them. One thing that the author does is give a brief run down and comment on virtually every song on every album Paul’s involved with, including all of the Beatle’s, Wings’, and his solo efforts. I’m not sure how I feel about that, because they’re just snippets of words about these songs, but I guess they’re there for a reason, so I won’t complain. Carlin is a big fan of Paul’s music, that’s all I can say….

It was a good book to read, and quite easy to get through. I would give it five stars, but it leaves out too much that I would consider to be critical info, so I’m downgrading it to four. Still worth reading though. Good book.

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New Issue of Ray’s Road Review Is Out!

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2013

The new Spring 2013 issue of Ray’s Road Review is out today! If you want to read some good poetry, go to http://raysroadreview.com/ and check out Marina Rubin, Erren Kelly, Simon Perchik, William Wright Harris, Ted Jonathan, and Lyn Lifshin. Good stuff! Read and submit.

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A Review of American Sniper

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 15, 2013

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military HistoryAmerican Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have really mixed feelings about this book and its author. I had been wanting to read it for awhile, but my interest spiked after reading that Kyle was murdered at a gun range recently. I mean, he was a Navy sniper, the best ever in the US military, so the irony of his murder is beyond description.

The book is really interesting to read, I must admit. There are many tales of his battles in Fallujah and Ramadi, as well as other places. (He was deployed to Iraq four times.) The description of his SEAL training was pretty intense. And the book starts out with his first sniper kill, a woman with a grenade. All told, he killed some 160 insurgents while over there, which admittedly is quite a few.

That being said, he seems to revel in the murder of other human beings, most of whom he refers to as “savages.” He was great at this job, but he loved to kill, and that made him rather unlikeable to me. He wanted to kill as many of the enemy as he could and was disappointed he couldn’t kill more. Not a very nice human being. He also struck me as woefully naive (and Republican) in defending the war, of invading a sovereign country to “liberate” its inhabitants (after asserting there were indeed chemical weapons there, which I don’t believe) and ending up shooting a ton of them who resented his presence in their country. Instead, he asserts this was to defend America and its freedoms. That’s BS, in my opinion. Iraq posed no threat to the US and played no role in terrorism — until we invaded. That’s a proven fact. So, his defense of the war rings hollow, and as I said, naive. (I wonder what he thought of Obama as commander in chief. I can pretty much guess….)

Another thing I didn’t like about the author is the number of fights he gets into and glorifies. He loves bar fights and brags about getting out of being arrested countless times. He brags about the SEALs beating up bar patrons in fights left and right. It’s really rather sickening. He also enjoys hazing new SEALs. The thing that truly sickens me is his countless assertions that God comes number one in his life, that he’s a born again Christian. Yet he uses the “F” word more than any Christian I’ve encountered and engages in many non-Christian acts. He seems like a total hypocrite to me. On page 431, he declares, “I am a strong Christian…. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation.” Yet on the same page, he said that while growing up, he wondered, “how would I feel about killing someone?” He answers he own question next by writing, “Now I know. It’s no big deal.” Seriously? Think God feels that way Chris? He ends the book by writing, “…when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.” Really? Seriously? And you’re a strong Christian??? Cause that’s not how I view Jesus as seeing things. I don’t think they all deserved to die. They’re children of God, just like everyone else. You invaded their country and came to kill them. If they shoot at you, that’s what you get. What a complete hypocrite.

So even though this book was moderately enjoyable, I can only give it three stars because the author is totally unlikeable and the book reeks of smugness. Also, his wife interjects repeatedly throughout the book, which might be interesting to some people, but which irritated me. She didn’t seem too likeable either, frankly. She’s a bitter woman. I wonder how she feels now that he’s dead at the hands of a deranged US gunman…? I cautiously recommend this book, but be prepared to read some ugliness.

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New Job!

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 11, 2013

I started a new job today! I’m very excited. I’ve been unemployed for a VERY long time, not counting some part time contract work I did out of the house for awhile last year. Didn’t bring in much money. I’ve been looking for awhile, but it’s been frustrating because in my small city of Chattanooga, there aren’t very many positions for which I’m qualified.

I have three degrees and years of experience as a writer and editor, mostly as a technical writer. I also have some experience as a project (and program) manager with several companies. Awhile back, I interviewed for a proposal writer job with a company that managed prisons, but for whatever reason, that was not meant to be. In November, I interviewed with a large government agency for a technical writer position and my first interview went very well, but the second one was a bust. Seems like they didn’t know what they were looking for. The main guy seemed to want a developer, which I’m not. Back in L.A., I could have gotten a tech writing job any day of the year, and in many places, there are project management jobs too. Chattanooga’s a different beast. Just not much to choose from. So, I’ve been using Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and others, but I found this job on Craigslist, of all places! It was for a technical writer/project manager position with a company based out of Atlanta that would allow telecommuting for the right person. I applied immediately.

I usually wait to be contacted, but I hadn’t heard from this company in about a week, so I sent a follow up email and got an immediate response from the CEO, telling me he wanted to conduct a phone interview. I was elated. So it happened. And it went pretty well. I think we hit it off and we talked about a lot for a good long while, and then he told me he was going to forward my information on to the Director of Project Management, for whom the position would be working, and I would hope to hear from him. I heard from him that evening. He set up a phone interview for a couple of days away, and that worked out pretty well. We also seemed to hit it off and talked a lot about his company and his needs from this position, and he asked some tough questions, but I think I did OK in answering them. He asked me to send him some writing samples, and he especially was interested in anything I might have that was translating technology to a non-technical audience. Well, I have a lot of that sitting around! I emailed him four articles I wrote while at EarthLink that translated techie stuff into easy to read info for our non-techie customers. One was on TCP/IP and another was on secure file deletion utilities. In addition, I emailed two user guides I wrote for some products I worked on while in the engineering division of a company that manufactured specialized telephones. He must have liked them, because he wrote back and wanted another interview and wanted me to do a writing exercise for him. He emailed me some details that he wanted me to use to draft a project change order, fairly detailed. I spent three days on it before getting it back to him. I was pretty detailed. I had no idea whether he would like it or not, but I got a call from the CEO asking me when I could start, offering me the job!!! I told him I could start today (that was two weeks ago), and so I did.

Now, it’s not a perfect job. It’s a contract job, so no benefits, but it’s a long term contract, for something like three years and with the way this company creates its contracts with its clients, it’s quite possible I could be there for awhile longer, if they like me. It’s a very good situation. Last week, they asked me if I could participate in some conference calls with a new client of theirs, so I could get in at the very beginning and be a part of the process from start to finish, so I did. But today was my first official day and it went well. I mostly read tons of documents, mainly dealing with quality management from their perspective. It was highly enlightening. I’ve been preparing for this by catching up on reading some project management books. I especially have to dive into a book on Agile project management methodologies, which this company employs, and an area I’m sorely lacking in. It’s all the rage, but I’ve never worked for a company that used this method before, so I really need to get up to speed quickly. But the net result of all this is I’m very grateful to be employed again, and I think this will be a great company to work for and I think it’s a great opportunity and I couldn’t hold it in anymore — I had to spill. I have a new job! Awesome.

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Steelers won’t replace Harrison’s toughness

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 9, 2013

Steelers won’t replace Harrison’s toughness – AFC North Blog – ESPN.

This is a real tragedy. James Harrison is a great linebacker. I’m really annoyed by this, but I’m not surprised. The Steelers have always been ruthless when dealing with aging, costly veteran players. Remember Franco Harris didn’t retire as a Steeler? He spent his last year with the Seattle Seahawks. That was treason on the part of Steeler management. This is just the latest. Look at what they did to Hines Ward last year, the team’s all time leading wide receiver. Tragic. Sorry to see you go, James….

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50 million compromised in Evernote hack – CNN.com

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 4, 2013

50 million compromised in Evernote hack – CNN.com.

I use Evernote. Do you? Will you now that this security breach has happened?

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A Review of Radio Free Albemuth

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 2, 2013

Radio Free AlbemuthRadio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Radio Free Albemuth is another fine Philip K Dick novel, written in 1976, but published in 1985 after his death. It’s a precursor to VALIS, and as such, centers around VALIS, an alien God-like entity.

This book is certainly post-modern. One sure sign is Dick writes himself into the book as one of the characters. “Phil Dick” is a sci fi writer in Berkeley who has written Man In a High Castle and other “real” works of Dick, and yet while the author uses this pseudo-Dick as a character, he steps away far enough to make him seem three dimensional and real. The other main character in the book is Dick’s friend, Nicholas Brady, a record store clerk in Berkeley who starts dreaming odd dreams and hearing voices and seeing visions which seem to emanate from an alien satellite, later to be called VALIS by Nicholas. This satellite has an AI operator who is beaming things into Nick’s mind, convincing him that it is controlled by this alien entity with God-like powers originating from the planet Albemuth and that there is a minor “invasion” of earth by these alien beings — but they are the good guys. They’re trying to protect society from Ferris F. Fremont (666), the president of the US who killed his way to power after the Lyndon Johnson administration. He’s a not too thinly veiled marriage of McCarthy and Nixon. Fremont is forever going on about the evils of Aramcheck, a group of people sponsored by the USSR to overthrow the US. He’s also established a police state with the help of the “Friends of the American People” (FAPers). There are even rumored concentration camps in Nebraska!

So Nicholas is experiencing odd things and telling everything to Phil. VALIS instructs Brady to move down to Orange County, where he gets a job as an executive at a major record label. Phil moves down shortly after just to keep up with things going on in Brady’s life, which seems somewhat hard to believe, but he is a sci fi writer, right? 😉

VALIS helps Nicholas out from time to time. In one instance, Nicholas is given information that his child is sick and needs to be hospitalized for surgery immediately. Without being able to explain why to his wife or doctor, he is proven right and the child’s life is saved. Another time, he expects to receive a mysterious letter, which he does, and he decodes a message in it. This is part of a FAP frame up and VALIS saved him in how he goes about handling it.

At times, though, the book gets confusing. It’s when Phil and Nicholas are theorizing about VALIS. Is is reincarnation? Is it God? Is it an alien satellite? Is it an alternate reality? Is it something else? Thoughts wander and you can get bogged down at places in the book, but not enough to throw you off.

One important development in the book is when VALIS gives Brady a dream that he would meet Sadassa Silvia, a character who claims that Ferris Fremont is actually a communist covert agent recruited by Sadassa’s mother when Fremont was still a teenager. Siliva is actually named Armachek, but changed her name to get away from Fremont. Apparently, she too is in contact with VALIS. The thing that made it hard for me to believe this sequence was believable is quite simple though. Brady was born in 1928. These events take place in 1974, after he’s been grown and a family man for years. Silvia is a college girl, quite young, but Brady falls for her and she ultimately seems to known all there is to know about VALIS and fills in the gaps for Brady (and the reader). But why would such a young girl know everything? And especially since Nicholas had been receiving messages for decades? That didn’t make sense to me.

Eventually, Nicholas and Silvia hatch a plot, engineered by VALIS, to produce records with subliminal political messages in them, alerting the public to the fact that Fremont was a “Red,” and therefore not to be trusted. This part of the plot seemed a little weak to me too, but I think the author backed himself into a corner here and this was the only way out.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!

Nicholas and Silvia are found out by the FAPers and are executed. Brady’s record label is destroyed. The VALIS satellite is blown up, after it was found in outer space by a Russian scientist. FAP confronts Dick and tells him that his books are going to be ghost written for him now with proper political messages about following benevolent leaders thrown in, and for his refusal to fall into line, he’s sent to a forced labor camp. The ending of the book can be read a couple of ways. In one sense, it’s rather sad, because Nicholas and Silvia are dead and the record’s been destroyed. Fremont is still in power and Dick’s life is ruined. However, while Dick is taking a work break one day, he hears a radio some kids are holding in a parking lot next door and it’s playing the subliminal song Brady was hoping to get out. Another record company produced it and it got played, so we’re left with a small hope that the future generation will see what’s going on in society and there will be a revolution, I guess? So I suppose you could say it ends on a slightly positive note.

In case you don’t know this, this book is highly autobiographical for Dick. He experienced a number of things both Dick and Brady experience in this book during the 1970s and went through many of the same theories, especially relating to Christianity. If you’ve read about his life at all, you’ll recognize many of these scenes are straight out of his life. Like I said, post-modern. It’s got to be hard to tie something like that up with a final type of ending, though, when you’re living it while you write about it. And I think that difficulty is displayed here, with Dick jumping around from theory theory, ultimately settling on a large bee-like alien God-like entity which seeks constant communication with everything in the universe. Was that ultimately Dick’s view of God? This book is not hard to read; it’s a quick read. It’s entertaining. It’s got intrigue and mystery and your typical Dickian themes of identity and reality (and alternate realities). I haven’t yet read VALIS and I suppose there’s a lot of overlap, but I do recommend this book for both Dick fans and just interested sci fi fans, as well as those who might enjoy speculative fiction.

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Wedding Plans | SouthernHon

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 1, 2013

Wedding Plans | SouthernHon.

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