Patrick's Rants


The Lost Symbol – Final

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 9:01 am

I managed to finish up The Lost Symbol yesterday. Dan Brown keeps his fast paced style that sucks you along like a riptide. My earlier review of the computer characters might have seemed a touch harsh. The fact is Mr. Brown seems to have to have tried to create characters out of Google, search engines in general and lackluster computer nerds. These are all supporting cast members and might as well be part of the voiceless crowd of extras. He could have left out the cheese puff eating computer geek and no one would have noticed. The character is lightly developed and before you realize it the last page has been read and our IP cracking geek has disappeared like smoke wisps from a freshly extinguished candle.

Brown does spend time developing his main characters, a bizarre mix that does not easily lend itself to knowing who to trust. He maintains his fast paced romp through Washington DC, history, noetic science and a little religion – you might forget that this all occurs in only a twelve hour time frame. With each turn of the page there is the chance that the reader will think, “I didn’t see that coming,” and Brown does his absolute best to continue to surprise page after page.

He also seems to be making amends for the religious backlash to his prior works. I’m not sure if it was purposeful or if the Masons truly believe the concept of a “universal god”, but Brown lays it on thick through the character dialog.

In the end, the writing is fast-paced and engaging with more than a jolt or two on the psyche. Don’t read this book in bed, you won’t want to get to sleep.


The Lost Symbol

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 10:21 am

My wife pre-ordered The Lost Symbol and it showed up last week. I was slow to get started reading it, but have made it nearly halfway through now. It seems not quite as fast paced as The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons but it’s been a pretty good read so far. The only thing that has tripped me personally has been his description of computer tracing and searching techniques. For this reason, I’m not waiting until I finish the book to write about his insight into the minds of otherwise brilliant minded computer geeks… actually these guys will have to turn in their geek cards. On page 107, our intrepid meta/mega-search guru runs a traceroute command to find the location of a server showing only its IP address.

Trish typed the sequence of commands to ping all the “hops” between her control room’s machine…

Series of commands? Oh Dan. traceroute For those impaired with a Windows computer: tracert.exe
The next paragraph is rather computerly (is that even a word?) mundane, and then turn to 108 for this “gem”

Her ping, for some reason, had hit a network device that swallowed it rather than bouncing it back. “It looks like my traceroute got blocked,” Trish said. Is that even possible?

Possible? Yes. Trivial even. Turn off ICMP replies at the firewall, or router, or… you get my drift. They go on to discuss running whois, except it’s written ‘who is’, and our computer programmer, Trish, pops over to the web interface for the whois query. Really? The web interface? Turn in your pocket protector too. Right now. You are not a geek. Just skimming chapter one of Hacking Exposed: Network Security Secrets and Solutions, Sixth Edition will show that what they are doing is pretty simple stuff. And although Trish thinks of whois as “lowbrow” it does what the character Kathrine wants, tells you who this IP* number belongs to.

Except not in this case.

In this case, they have to place a phone call to a higher form of computer geek. One who sits home alone on a Sunday watching football while tapping away on his laptop. $2000.00 they offer to pay him to figure out who owns a particular server. Enter the next geek failing,

“Trish, this IP has a funky format. It’s written in a protocol that isn’t even publicly available yet.”

Which means that there is no way they accessed this server across the internet. Period, end of story. I know it’s supposed to add to the mystique of the story. In this case it threw me like a mechanical bull. A protocol that is not publicly released is like a blind person walking an incomplete bridge, there is no way to get across the big gap in the Golden Gate Bridge and there is no way to see across the other side to know where it ends.

Dan Brown, you could have called me to ask about this trivial computer networking stuff. I would have helped you for $1000.00, heck maybe even just lunch.

Despite this partial review, I’m picking the book up again today. I may finish this weekend unless I get a call from Dan. It’s probably too late on this since the book has already been printed and I have been swept much further along than this detour might let you believe.

*I’m sorry non-geeks, this is Internet Protocol.


The God Delusion

Filed under: Books,Religion,Reviews — site admin @ 7:35 pm

The God Delusion receives four stars

I (hopefully still) have a regular reader whose story mimics part of the preface,

“Chapter 9 quotes the comedian Julia Sweeney’s tragi-comic story of her parents’ discovery, through reading a newspaper, that she had become an atheist. Not believing in God they could just about take, but an atheist!”

He goes on to describe why we don’t hear so much about atheist groups,

“organizing atheists has been compared to herding cats, because they tend to think independently and will not conform to authority”.



Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 9:28 pm

Where Have All The Leaders Gone, by Lee Iacocca, Four start review
Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

After seeing Iacocca on a TV interview I decided to get this latest book for my library. Mr. Iacocca is bold and to the point.

Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff… But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.”
Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

And with that Iacocca starts his 263 page look at our so-called leaders. At 82 years old Lee is trying to inspire outrage at the status quo. He falls short of calling Bush a moron or imbecile but it is blindingly obvious that he has no love lost for the president. This is a no-holds barred call for sensibility, intelligence and a demand that we hold our leaders accountable. In the process he gives us a simple check list with which to judge our next leaders. Unless you are dead, this book will cause your blood to boil. If you are the least bit upset about where the country is headed you will be absolutely outraged once you reach the end. It is a call to arms, a challenge to apathy, a road map to righting the “ship of state” as he so eloquently puts it.
Buy it.


Moby and Ahab on a Plutonium Sea

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 2:08 pm

It is not everyday that an ordinary person such as myself discovers himself in the presence of a published author. Scott Douglas, who drives a school bus here in Flagstaff, is an unassuming character with tired, life beaten eyes. He is as public as a bus driver naturally is and yet there is a certain seclusion about the man as well. His book, Moby and Ahab on a Plutonium Sea: The Novel Which Ended the Cold War is a fictitious account of what might have happened leading up to or following a purported event in 1979.


The Sultan’s Seal

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 8:53 am

Jenny White brings us The Sultan’s Seal: A Novel. This is a book that must not be put down until finished – otherwise you lose track of what the heck is happening. The novel is not written from the classic “one style” approach. Jenny White jumps from first to third to omniscient viewpoints at the flip of the chapter. I found myself wanting to keep a score card of sorts to keep track of whose perspective I was reading and at which point in time. Ms. White jumps backward in time – writing in the present tense is a slightly jarring experience as dead characters are alive for a page before snapping back into the “current” state.

Set in the late Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 19th Century, it begins with the death of a young European woman. While the magistrate in charge, Kamil Pasha, works to solve the crime, he determines that the death of another European woman some years past might be related. The inability to solve the prior crime forced Kamil’s father out of the same position making this all the more important for Kamil to solve. Many of the characters turn out not to be who they first appear to be.

Ms. White writes about the countryside and scenery in a manner that expects them to become more than the two bit characters they really are. I’m not sure that she’s found her niche, she writes in whispers where whole stories could erupt. Her talent seems to be hiding as demurely as a woman’s face behind the veils of the harems she describes.

As I turned the final pages, I found that I was looking forward to the sequel. In proper literary license Jenny White leaves me thinking that I might know some of the answers, but I am less sure of myself than Kamil Pasha is.


24 Days

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 7:41 pm

Updated: 1/08/07 11:10 am

No, this is not the book that inspired the Sandra Bullock film with a similar title (“28 Days”). Instead 24 Days: How Two Wall Street Journal Reporters Uncovered the Lies that Destroyed Faith in Corporate America is a third person narrative written by Rebecca Smith and John R. Emshwiller that reminds me of Inside Job: The Looting of America’s Savings and Loans.

This is a facinating tale that follows the implosion of Enron from just before the collapse through the destruction of Arther Anderson. The authors painstakingly try to follow the complexities of off balance sheet financing and do a pretty good job. Through the course of the book we see Ken Lay, Andrew Fastow and Jeffrey Skilling, among others, as money-driven individuals who reaped millions from a company that inflated its earnings and hid its losses all while ripping off its employees and the citizens of California.
The authors could have enhanced their descriptions with diagrams that they stated they received in the course of their reporting, but chose not to, leaving the details just a little weaker for doing so. It is much harder to visualize the intricate web of inter-relationships without these visual aids.

With such bizarre sounding names as Chewco, JEDI and Raptor, it is only a small leap to realize that the financing and reporting methods used by Enron were as fanciful as the names of the companies they used to hide their losses and inflate their earnings. About the only thing that we didn’t hear from Enron was the Chewbacca Defense.

In the end the greed that festered inside Enron engulfed their accounting and advising firm Arther Anderson whose fear of lost revenue kept them from advising against the increasingly outlandish schemes to make money out of thin air. It also lead to reforms in the accounting industry that forces companies to rotate the accounting firm that provides book auditing services presumably in an attempt to catch irregularities in financial accounting. And in the long run, it increased the fees that accounting firms will ultimately collect by requiring more and more auditing and disclosure1. If accounting firms were disallowed from offering advising services to clients whose books they also audited perhaps a fiasco could have been prevented. Firms of this type are often conflicted when they serve too many roles. The role of independent auditor is to scrutinize the transactions of a business to determine if they pass the smell test. That becomes difficult when they are reaping in large advisory fees for recommending the transactions in the first place.

Unfortunately for the book its 2003 publishing date means that recent events, such as the conviction and death of Ken Lay2 and Jeff Skilling’s cooperation and subsequent jail term are not included, and contribute to a lower rating on the recommended list. If one is making a collection of the exposé type books this is one to have on the shelf.

1 – This is a huge windfall for accounting firms, especially the “big four” but may cause smaller companies to remain private as well as encourage some businesses to “go private” instead of remain in the public sector.

2 – Allowing him and his estate to beat the rap on having to actually serve a jail sentence and pay restitution.



Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 12:01 pm

Although George Orwell’s “1984” has been out for some time I had not read it until recently. In junior high(1985), one of my elective classes worked on the radio play that was to be played on the PA system to the entire school. I don’t remember if it ever happened or not.
After having read “Animal Farm” a few years ago it seemed appropriate to go back and read “1984” for the first time. The basics of the novel were already in my psyche: telescreens that never turn off, shortage of essentials such as razor blades, helicopters that hover to get a closer look at what someone might be doing. The more sinister plot of the novel is not appreciated without a full reading, however. The government is in complete control, watching its citizens at all times, inspiring fear of foreigners, rewriting history to suit its needs, and running a war that will never end. It is at the same time a simple, yet tragic, love story.

Our protaganist, Winston Smith, finds himself questioning the very government that he works for. In his mental rebellion – illegal in itself as thought crime is punishable by death – he finds a beautiful co-conspirator, Julia, with whom he begins an illegal affair (for even non-procreational has been outlawed). One almost forgets that the threat of Big Brother looms over every moment as Winston and Julia pursue their illicit love, finding time to secretly spend time together despite the constant surveillance that permeates modern life.

1984 is a warning against Big Brother – a euphemism for Big Government. Revisionist history, listening in on every conversation of its citizens, creating fear of foreigners, keeping its citizens on edge constantly fearful of attacks to keep and maintain control is what 1984 warns us about. We were to heed these warnings in 1949 when Orwell first penned them. Instead it appears that 1984 has been used as a blueprint for modern times. I will leave it as an exercise for my readers to draw the obvious parallels to 2006.


When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 1:52 pm

It has taken me over a year to finish reading, George Carlin’s, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?. This is the first book by Carlin that I have purchased and read.

As a boy, I had a collection of Carlin stand up tapes that I listened to and I couldn’t help but hear his voice in my head as I read the words on the page. This was part of the reason that it has taken me so long to finally get all the way through to the end. Reading Carlin is like watching a stand up routine, it jumps from one topic to the next, the disjointedness is a little jarring when it’s not performed – something that is nearly seemless in conversation is noticeably unattached in the written word.


The End Of Faith

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 6:37 pm

I wrote about Sam Harris’, Letter to a Christian Nation
before I read his earlier book, “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Harris examines what he calls “faith-based religion” with a critical eye. And no religion is exempt. Muslim, Christian, Judaism all are reviewed with but a single requirement, show me the proof. All religions require a belief in the unproven – absolute faith in the books their religions are based upon without demanding proof. An example Harris uses is one where a man hears that his wife is having an affair. A reasonable man would search for proof of the allegation. The same man does not question a single word of the bible. Why is it reasonable and rational to question if one’s wife is having an affair, to look for evidence and proof while at the same time believing that Moses held up a stick and the entire Red Sea made way for him? These are the kinds of questions Harris asks.

Simply stated, Harris contends that we would all be better off if we slough off the dogma of religion and do right by others just to do right by others, not to be praised in an uproved afterlife. Such glory -seeking merely reeks of man made greed, not religous altruism.

A review of a book as in depth as Harris’ would take nearly as many pages as the book itself. Instead, I can only recommend you read this book with an open mind. Harris dedicates nearly a quarter of “Faith” to supporting documentation and research.

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