hankrules2011

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Archive for January, 2015

A Review of Praying To The Aliens

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 27, 2015

Praying To The AliensPraying To The Aliens by Gary Numan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever since I heard “Cars” on the radio in 1979 at the age of 14, I’ve been a Gary Numan fan. He was different. He was strange. He made good music. I enjoyed his first few albums and then lost track of him. Well, recently, I’ve renewed my interest in Numan and have purchased quite a few of his albums, including some older ones I didn’t have and some newer ones that are quite different from his old sound. And I’ve really enjoyed listening to his music again. For a long time, I wondered what this unusual person was like. He obviously had been influenced by glam and Bowie. But how much? And the fascination with the synth? It’s like they were made for him.

I found out about this book last year and immediately wanted to get it. It’s Numan’s autobiography, but it’s from a British publisher and is apparently out of print because you can’t get new copies. It was also published in 1998, so it’s not brand new. Still, it sounded promising. A couple of months ago, I found a bookstore in England that had a good used copy they would sell me for an obscene price, but I bit the bullet and paid and it was for some reason shipped through Switzerland and arrived at my house last week. I was elated.

I dove into the book and couldn’t stop reading. It was everything I had hoped for and more. It’s an excellent autobiography, very personal, very telling, very detailed, very good.

Numan was born Gary Webb to doting parents who pretty much spoiled him. He was initially a good student, but as he approached his high school years, became rebellious and was kicked out of school. From an early age, he showed an appreciation of music and of airplanes.

He learned to play the guitar at a young age and played at being in a band with some friends. This was news to me, because I’d always thought of him as a keyboardist. I didn’t even know he played the guitar. He eventually formed a band as a late teen called Tubeway Army and they were signed to a small label, where they put out their first album sometime around 1977 or so. However, as Gary was the driving force in the band, they changed the name to Gary Numan and Tubeway Army and later just to his name. (He had come up with a more “interesting” surname than just Webb.)

His album Replicas came out in 1979 and was an immediate hit, much to everyone’s surprise. “Down in the Park” was a great song, and there were other good ones on it too. He then felt pressure from the music label to come up with something else, so later in the same year, he released the classic, The Pleasure Principle, which featured “Cars” and soon both the song and the album were number one on the charts. He was a star at the age of 20.

Now bear in mind, he was very much an introvert — except when he was on the stage. He was a loner, he felt uncomfortable with other people, he was socially awkward, and he liked technology more than he did people. When he discovered synthesizers in a studio, it not only changed his music forever, it changed his life. Now he was the front man, no longer playing guitars, and his band was synth heavy. In 1980, he released Telekon, which I believe also hit number one with great songs, such as “This Wreckage” and “We Are Glass.” His devoted parents were now part of his crew. His dad was his manager, his mother, his wardrobe designer and in charge of the new fan club. All of a sudden, he was rich and bought houses and cars and eventually even an airplane that he learned to fly. He went on tours of both Europe and America and even though he never played to big audiences, he usually connected with his fans in a big way. Except his tours lost money. A lot.

In 1981, Dance was released with the single, “She’s Got Claws,” and it too was a hit. His music company was putting pressure on him to become more dance-oriented, though, and his stuff, while it sometimes had a beat, was more tech-based. His lyrics were also strange, drawing on his love of Philip K. Dick and Williams Burroughs.

It was at this point he started to slip. In 1982, he released I, Assassin, but it didn’t do as well as his previous records and the press was absolutely just slaughtering him publicly, something he never understood and something that would never change in his career. The press hated him. As he continued to release albums, other New Wave, synth-heavy bands started competing with him and he couldn’t get any more radio airplay, which just killed his career. Soon, he split from his label, and finding little interest elsewhere, formed his own. However, instead of concentrating on his career, he stupidly signed insignificant indie acts and plowed money into them, which he subsequently lost. By the mid to late ’80s, he was no longer musically significant, even though he continued to produce records. And he went broke. In debt, even. He had to sell the houses, cars, airplane, etc.

Let me interject. He met other musicians along the way. At one point, he was elated to get to meet his hero, Bowie, to do a television concert. Well, Bowie blew him off and got him tossed off the show. That really hurt him. However, he also got to meet Queen, and writes that they were tremendously nice to him and he had a great time hanging out with them. That was cool, as I’m also a Queen fan.

During Numan’s down time, he decided to embark on a crazy journey — he flew around the world. It’s a really interesting tale in the book and it was a harrowing journey, including getting arrested in India on suspicion of being a spy! He got so good at flying, he eventually became an instructor and did air shows.

Back to the music. A couple of things happened in the mid ’90s to turn things around for Numan. First, popular bands started doing Numan covers in concerts and on their albums — groups like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Fear Factory, Hole, and many more. Many musicians cited him as being a major influence on their own career. And he came back out of the shadows and became sort of in fashion again. Also, he found a new sound. He moved to a heavier goth/industrial sound with more sobering lyrics and, as a result, gained a new audience. Since then, his albums have sounded this way and I have several and I just love them. They’re brilliant. Nothing like his early stuff, but that’s okay. Musicians have to grow and change or they’ll become stagnant.

It was around this time that he met his wife, Gemma, and they’re still together — I follow both on Twitter — and they have three daughters. He’s made back some of his money, although I don’t know how much, but things seems pretty good for him. And that makes me happy.

This book looks deep inside Gary Numan and it’s a real treat to read about his happiness, his insecurities, his victories and his defeats. It’s a very personal autobiography and I can’t endorse it strongly enough. Heavily recommended.

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A Review of iWoz

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 26, 2015

iWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing ItiWoz: Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It by Steve Wozniak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! I loved Woz! He seems like a really cool guy. So I was shocked — shocked — at the many instances of overt hostility toward this book by so many reviewers. Man, they hate it! They think the writing is terrible, even though it has a professional co-author. They think he’s arrogant and conceited. They think he over-inflates his worth. I couldn’t disagree more. I enjoyed the writing. I thought it was intentionally conversational and easy to read. What do people want — a damn textbook??? It makes tech easy for anyone to understand and I think that’s good. As to his arrogance, when you’ve done the things he has done — and very few people have — you have a right to be arrogant, in my opinion. He was the youngest HAM operator is the world, quite possibly. He very likely invented the personal computer and changed everyone’s lives forever. He built, solely, one of the greatest computers ever — the Apple II. He invented the universal remote. And he’s not entitled to be proud of his achievements? Give me a break! If I had done this, I’d sure to tooting my own horn, that’s for certain. And as for the few dissenters claiming he didn’t invent the personal computer, it’s plausible there were earlier personal computers, such as the Altair, but hobbyists had to put them together themselves, they didn’t have keyboards or screens — just lights and buttons. He really did create the personal computer as we know it. Of course, he didn’t get where he got without the help of Steve Jobs, but if anyone was ever an egomaniac, it was Jobs, not Woz. Jobs was the biggest narcissist ever seen, I believe. I don’t know how Woz could have worked with him for so long. I enjoyed reading about his upbringing, about his early phone phreaking, about constructing and selling blue boxes, about his educational efforts, about his reluctance to start a new company, about his desire to remain a geek forever and never go into management, his thoughts about other people both in and out of the Apple world. I loved this book! I again just don’t understand why so many people hate it. It makes no sense to me. This is what I want out of an autobiography — a reader-friendly, true life account of an interesting person’s life and exploits. Excellent. Strongly recommended.

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A Review of The Day After Tomorrow

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 15, 2015

The Day After TomorrowThe Day After Tomorrow by Allan Folsom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was crazy! It was a fun, fast read, but it was crazy. The plot is pretty inane and there’s so much gratuitous violence, it’s not even funny. I’ve never read of so many murders in my life. But it was still enjoyable to read and I think it’s worth a good four stars.

It starts out with Osborne, an American doctor in Europe for a conference. His father was murdered 30 years ago and he witnessed it. It was traumatic and he remembered the killer’s face. Back to the present. He meets a female French doctor and they embark on a whirlwind romance that takes them to England and France. Meanwhile, a grizzled American detective from L.A., McVey, is in London helping to investigate a series of gruesome murders where they’re finding detached heads, as well as a body. The remains are not all English, however. They come from various countries, including France, so he heads to Paris to investigate. At the same time, Osborne sees his father’s killer in a cafe and attacks him, but the man gets away. And so begins a mysterious chase that leads to utter insanity. Think Nazi plot to regain world dominance, a secret organization with people who have infiltrated everywhere and everything, so no one is trustworthy. And everyone is trying to murder everyone else. Eventually, the plot takes you to Germany, where the top people in the country, and the richest, have gathered to hear a mysterious Swiss man who recently survived a stroke, give a rousing speech about who knows what. There are bad guys, of course, and maybe the worst is Von Holden, an Argentinian Nazi who was miraculously in both the Russian special forces and the East German special forces. Stretches believability, but then the whole plot, when unraveled at the end, is so damn silly as to make the book seem insane, or at least the author. Reviewers comment on the final sentence of the book and it is important, yes, and it explains all, but I thought it was somewhat predictable, so I wasn’t really too shocked when I read it. Nonetheless, it was a good mystery/thriller and it was nuts, so I liked it. Not the best I’ve ever read, but definitely recommended for those who enjoy bizarre thrillers and who can stand a little bloodshed.

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A Review of Steve Jobs

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 12, 2015

Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderfully written book on a very complex individual, Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple and of Pixar. Apparently, he’s one of the greatest geniuses in history, revolutionizing entire industries and changing billions of lives. Among his revolutions include the personal computer (Macs), graphic design, the music industry and how we get our music (iTunes and iPods), cell phones, and tablets, as well as computer animated films. I mean, he was an amazing genius, a once in a century person. However, at the same time, he was the most narcissistic, entitled, ASSHOLE in the history of the universe, with a monster temper, no filters for other people, and the greatest DICKWEED on the planet. I couldn’t believe what I read about him. He screwed countless people over, including Steve Wozniak, his partner at Apple and one of the nicest people around, his CEOs, his board members, tons of his employees, his enemies — everyone. He viewed himself as a counterculture revolutionary, yet become a monstrously rich multi-billionaire with his own jet plane and mansions. He got pulled over for doing 100 one day on the highway. The cop told him if he got pulled over again, he’d go to jail. As soon as the cop left, he resumed doing 100. He never had a license plate on his cars. He thought he was above that and that standard rules didn’t apply to him. Instead of parking in the CEO spot at Apple, he parked in not one, but two (straddling) disabled parking spaces, just to be a jerk. When he was getting his liver transplant at a hospital in Memphis, he ordered something like 18 smoothies for him to taste test before finding one that was decent and sending the rest back. He’d order fresh juice at a restaurant and send it back relentlessly because it wasn’t fresh enough. He screwed some of his original Apple employees over (and best friends) by giving some stock options and others none. He’d go to restaurants when they were closed and demand they open and serve him and then he’d order something that wasn’t even on the menu. He was a bulimic, lifelong vegan who made everyone cater to his tastes. He drank carrot juice for months and ate nothing but carrots and turned orange. He initially thought his fruit diet was good enough to ward off body odors and didn’t use deodorant or anything like it and stunk like crazy until Apple went public and the board forced him to start showering once a week. He thought in terms of black and white. Everything was either a winner or total shit. Most everything was total shit and he would tell you that to your face. No filter. He was envious of Woz and was responsible for him leaving the company. He fought with people all the time. He was given up for adoption as a baby and always felt abandoned, but when he and his girlfriend had a baby girl, he turned his back on them completely until the state of California forced him to take a paternity test which proved he was the father and then forced him to start paying alimony. He was an obsessive design freak who believed in completely closed and integrated systems, which made for great products, but hurt his market share and his company’s bottom line. He had to have the best of everything. He never did anything people told him, not even as a child. His educators gave up trying to force him to do his schoolwork and let him do whatever he wanted. He went ballistic when Bill Gates ripped Apple off with Windows and then with everything else (like the Zune — remember that?), yet he himself ripped off the geniuses at Xerox PARC, getting from them three things — the graphical user interface (GUI) look of the operating system, the mouse, and networking, which he put into the Mac, transforming personal computers forever. I could go on and on, but I don’t have to. Isaacson already did. Just read his book. Jobs was a fascinating person and he created amazing things, but at what cost? Burned, tortured lives, careers thrown away, people discarded, no rules observed. I felt sad upon reading of his early passing, but if there is a hell, he’s definitely in it now. And I don’t feel too badly about that. I, for one, won’t say “RIP” to Steve Jobs. I’m glad to have and use and enjoy his creations, but I’m also glad he’s no longer on earth. Highly recommended book.

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A Review of The Innovators

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 9, 2015

The Innovators: How a Group of  Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a fascinating and entertaining history of the progression of the computer and related things, such as the Internet. I learned a lot and I’m glad I did.

Isaacson starts out with Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace. That’s right — in the age of the Romantics some 150 years ago or so! She’s generally credited with starting the computer revolution, as she envisioned a computing device based upon Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. Her writings on this “engine” show what appears to be the first algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine, and as a result, she’s often credited with being the world’s first computer programmer. Isn’t that fascinating?

The book tracks the progression of computing from the 19th century into the 20th and then into the 21st. Up comes Alan Turing, the ENIAC computer, which employed the first real programmers in history — all of them women! — the invention of the transistor and the microchip, Ethernet, and all of the wonderful inventions at Xerox PARC, where they invented the graphical user interface (GUI) for the computer screen, doing away with the command line prompt, the mouse, and networking, all of which was essentially stolen by Steve Jobs for the creation of the Mac. Of course, then Gates stole from him and Jobs was beside himself with the audacity. Ah, karma.

The book also introduces Gordon Moore, the originator of Moore’s Law, that states that technology will double in power and possibilities every 18 months. In addition, the author hits on Grace Hopper, Andy Groves, William Shockley, Gates, Jobs, Woz, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, Linus Trovalds, the inventor of LINUX, and the people who started Google. It’s an inspiring lineup of inventors and — key word here — collaborators. The author believes strongly that collaboration was the key to computing development and he might be right. He provides plenty of examples of people toiling away by themselves, only to be forgotten by history for missing the boat on what would have been a great product.

The reviews of this book are pretty good. However, I read one stunning one recently that said this was the worst history he’s ever read and that the biographies are mediocre. He even criticizes the author’s treatment of Ada as being insufficient. I thought he did her justice. I’ve never even seen her mentioned anywhere else before. He spends a lot of time on her here. This reviewer was on acid and I let him know what I thought of his lousy review. If you’re remotely interested in how PCs came to be, how the Internet was created and evolved, etc., et al, this is definitely a book for you to read. Recommended.

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A Review of 40 Years of Queen

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 1, 2015

40 Years of Queen40 Years of Queen by Harry Doherty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This happens to be the best book ever created. And I say “created” instead of “written” because it’s more than just a written book. It’s got tons of extras inside, like reproductions of tickets, posters, letters by the band members — it’s freaking AWESOME! Any Queen fan would love it and even people who aren’t fans would probably come away impressed.

The book starts out with the origins of the band as youngsters, where they grew up, how they got into music, their first bands and the formation of Queen. It covers each album, offering insights I haven’t seen elsewhere, has lots of beautiful color photos and even covers major tours. Queen probably performed before more people than any band in history. 250,000 South Americans at two shows. 350,000 Ukranians at one show. Millions in Europe, America, Japan, Australia. One of the most successful bands of all time. Of course, the book covers Freddy’s death and the subsequent formation of his trust set up to combat AIDS. That was a tragedy, but it didn’t kill the band, as the release of their album Forever last month shows. Thank God Brian and Roger are carrying on the tradition.

This book is well written. My only complaint, and this is minor, is small font. But otherwise, it’s a great book and I strongly, strongly recommend it!

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