Thursday, May 28, 2020

Review of "Melissa & Doug Dinosaur World Jigsaw Puzzle"

Review of

Melissa & Doug Dinosaur World Jigsaw Puzzle

Five out of five stars

 This is an excellent puzzle for young people, but those a bit older will also enjoy it. The pieces are large and colorful, the completed puzzle is over four feet long. It features many species of dinosaurs, most of which are ravenous predators with mouths open and teeth showing. Of course, modern science really does not know what the dinosaur coloration really was, so it is necessary to forgive the poetic license of various shades of blue, red, orange, and purple.

 This is a puzzle that many people would like to make into a poster once it is complete. If not, it would be a joy to put it together several times with suitable intervals between the constructions. 

Review of "John Deere: Little Farmhands" 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle

Review of

John Deere: Little Farmhands 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle

Five out of five stars

 This puzzle is particularly challenging, for the pieces are very irregular in both size and shape. There are also many cases where there is only a minor difference in shape. I am a long-term veteran in putting puzzles together and there were several times when I thought pieces went together only to have to disassemble when the addition of pieces proved otherwise. There were also several areas where there was little to no color differential between the pieces, finding the right piece was a case of trial and error.

 All this having been said, this was a fun and challenging puzzle to put together. It took some time and effort and the image is beautiful, especially if you are a Deere fan.

Review of "The Bedside Bachelor," edited by Paul Steiner

Review of

The Bedside Bachelor, edited by Paul Steiner

Four out of five stars

 Nothing demonstrates how the verbal characteristics of a society has changed over the years than what is acceptable in humor for public consumption. This book of jokes was published in 1957, when what was considered a blue joke was more innuendo than description. Yet, for the time, saying many of these in polite society would have been considered scandalous.  

 Many of the jokes would have been acceptable, despite the expression on the cover, “Gags, Gals and Wicked Wit.” With nary a swear word in sight, these jokes take you back to a time when humor did not require profanity to be effective. As is usually the case in a book of jokes, the caliber covers a wide range, some of which is the quality and the rest personal taste.

Review of "The How and Why of Chemistry," by Martin L. Keen

Review of

The How and Why of Chemistry, by Martin L. Keen 

Four out of five stars

 Most science books written in 1961 are hopelessly outdated, yet this one has aged rather well. For while the science of chemistry continues to advance, the basics have been known for centuries. While most of the early chemists operated on a trial and error basis with little theoretical understanding, the modern chemist knows why reactions and changes of state take place.

 This book provides a basic primer on the science of chemistry that will remain applicable as long as the physical laws of the universe do not change. It is a combination of a history of chemistry as well as explanations of the states of matter, the difference between a mixture and a reaction and the cycle of molecules through the water cycle and food chain.

 Written for the late elementary school child, there is no depth in this book. However, the surface is well skimmed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Review of "Silver Goldfish, Loud & Clear: The 10 Keys to Delivering Memorable Business Presentations," by Stan Phelps & Alan Hoffler

Review of

Silver Goldfish, Loud & Clear: The 10 Keys to Delivering Memorable Business Presentations, by Stan Phelps & Alan Hoffler ISBN 9781952234040

Five out of five stars

Help to spare your audience when you present

 If you have ever taken classes or attended presentations, then it is almost certain that you have been a victim of the presentation pits. This is where the presenter could bore the paint off the walls, causing the audience to lose interest and have little to no information transferal. The consequences are that all would have been better off daydreaming, for at least there, a good idea might have emerged.

 This book contains advice on how to make a presentation work, where the information is transferred, and no one enters the area of brain lock from inertia. The foremost point is that doing presentations right is an acquired skill that all can learn, it simply takes work, practice, and an overwhelming desire to succeed. Presenting well also takes courage, for it is necessary for you to set yourself up with a potential for failure if you are to succeed. Being dull is safe, but hardly helpful to you and your organization achieving your goals. The same advice for getting to Carnegie Hall also applies to delivering winning talks.

 This book is one in a series of “{Insert color here} Goldfish” books written by the authors, there is little in the way of color coding, the precious metal in the title should not be considered the pinnacle. Each of the books deals with a different subject matter. For example, there is “Yellow Goldfish – Nine Ways to Drive Happiness in Business For Growth, Productivity and Prosperity.”

 On a side note, on page 21 the authors talk about how the growth of goldfish is limited by the size of their confinement and that they can grow rather large when not confined to a fishbowl. I can personally attest to this. A friend of my father’s was an avid fisherman and he once caught a goldfish in Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids that was close to 20 inches long. He called us up and we went over to see it. Very impressive and memorable.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Review of "Free State of Jones," DVD version

Review of

Free State of Jones, DVD version

Five out of five stars

A dose of historic reality

 When the history of the American Civil War and the aftermath of white backlash in the south are covered, there is little to no mention of the opposition that some whites expressed to slavery and the subsequent segregation. Not all whites in the Confederate states were in favor of the war and like all other wars, it was the poor men that largely fought and died. No person was more in opposition to the Confederate cause than Newt Knight, a poor farmer that became a soldier in the Confederate army.

 After a battle, Newt engages in an act of desertion, returning to his native Jones County, Mississippi. There he forms a makeshift army of runaway slaves, white deserters from the Confederate Army and poor white farmers angered by the confiscatory actions of the Confederate government. For a short time, the Confederate forces are expelled from an area encompassing three counties in Mississippi and he declares it a free state loyal to the Union.

 Newt also takes as his wife a former house slave, they have a boy with very light skin. Once the war is over and the Union occupation grows weaker, the Klan begins to ride and implement their reign of terror. What is often lost in the history books is that the Klan terror was not only directed at the blacks, but also against any white that may rise in opposition to segregation.

 There is a second timeline in this movie, that of a descendent of Newt that was declared to have a fraction of black blood and therefore could not legally marry a white woman. There is a formal trial of the descendent, with all the accoutrements of a trial based on arbitrary racial assignments and hatred.

 Since there is historical dispute about the actions of Newt Knight, to one side he was a bandit and a traitor and to the other he is a hero, it is impossible to determine how historically accurate this movie is. However, from the aspect of presenting the cultural circumstances of a courageous act of opposition and what happened in Mississippi after the war when there was in fact de facto slavery, it is movingly accurate.

Review of "Red Stangland’s Ole & Lena Jokes 4"

Review of

Red Stangland’s Ole & Lena Jokes 4 ISBN 0961327480

Four out of five stars

 I live in Iowa and there are many people of Scandinavian descent in northeast Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, and southwestern Wisconsin. I was once told by an elderly person in Wisconsin that the solution to any problem starts with, “First you must cuss it in Norwegian.” Therefore, some of these jokes about the Scandinavian personality were not new to me.

 Most are of the type where a person of a specific ethnic extraction makes fun of comrades in descent. Many of the jokes are of the cookie cutter variety, where you can simply replace the names and some of the wording and it can be applied to any ethnic group. For example, on page 24 there is the joke:

“Ole and Lars were talking politics. Said Ole: ‘Yah, dat President Bush . . .  he’s doing da work of five men. Da tree Stooges . . . and Abbot and Costello.’”

 Like all collections of ethnic jokes, this book must be read with a suspension of the outrage feature. Overall, it is meant to be a joke and I have heard far nastier jokes told by Norwegians about their fellow Norwegians. No one likes a Norwegian joke more than a Norwegian.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Review of "Yours, Isaac Asimov," edited by Stanley Asimov

Review of

Yours, Isaac Asimov, edited by Stanley Asimov, ISBN 9780385476249

Five out of five stars

The true Asimov and how he felt about the world

 Since Isaac Asimov wrote about so many things and engaged in other literary activities such as preparing anthologies, the precise number of books that he wrote is open to interpretation. He may be the only person to have a book listed in every classification category in the Dewey Decimal system. At this time, the number of books is generally stated as “over 500.”

 Often lost in this is the fact that he wrote over 90,000 letters and postcards. These short items were to friends, colleagues, publishers and nearly everyone that wrote to him. He was so famous that he once received a letter from the Soviet Union addressed to, “Isaac Asimov, Famous author, United States.” Asimov was very diligent in personally reading and answering his mail.

 This book is an edited compilation of his letters, where the editing was done by his brother Stanley. In them, we see Asimov relatively unfiltered, expressing his true thoughts without an editor concerned about the level of sales and profits. Asimov was open about expressing his opinions in his other writings, but here you see him writing where there was no expectation of it being seen by anyone else other than the recipient.

 Many of Asimov’s letters have been lost, which is clearly unfortunate, for like all other items that emanated from his typewriter, they would have been a joy to read.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Review of "Into Space With the Astronauts," by Robert Scbarff

Review of

Into Space With the Astronauts, by Robert Scbarff

Four out of five stars

 Written in 1965, this book is dated to the time when the Mercury program in the United States was over and the Gemini program was in progress and the Apollo program was in the late planning stages. During the Mercury program, a single astronaut was launched into space and in the Gemini, there were two. Furthermore, it was in the Gemini program where the critical skills of rendezvous and docking in space were achieved.

 This book contains a set of explanations of what had happened so far, what the goals for space flight are and how they are expected to be achieved. Written at the level of the late elementary or middle school child, this book gives an accurate rendition of the U. S. space program at the time. Since most of the planning for the moon landings had been done, the artists renditions of the spacecraft and the other equipment are fairly accurate.

 The reader also learns some of the aspects of the training that the astronauts undergo, from simulated weightlessness to survival in a desert environment. It demonstrates how rigorous the selection and preparation process is in order to be considered worthy of being perched on top of the rocket. Although this book is dated, it is still an effective look back on what was truly one of the greatest achievements of the human species.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Review of "Space Flight: The Coming Exploration of the Universe," by Lester Del Rey

Review of

Space Flight: The Coming Exploration of the Universe, by Lester Del Rey

Four out of five stars

 It is always interesting to go back and read scientific books published when there was much less information concerning the subject. This book was written in 1959, so while it was after Sputnik and the first American satellite launches, it was two years before the incredible flight of Yuri Gagarin. Therefore, while this book contains intellectual speculation, it was still speculation.

 At the time of publication, there was no information regarding the effects of space on the human body. Space suits were not invented or used and even the rockets to push humans into space were still not developed. Lester del Rey is a legend in the science fiction community, so he had the credentials to engage in the speculation.

 Overall, del Rey did a commendable job in predicting how humans would launch themselves into space and what the technology would look like. He predicted global communication via satellites and the enormous advantage that satellites would give to weather forecasting. Most of the areas where he turned out to be wrong were in the shape and structure of the spacecraft.

 While del Rey quite naturally made some errors, he was often right, and it is enjoyable to look back to a time when space and how to get there was all unexplored territory.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Review of "Bat Shit Crazy Review Requests," by Gisela Hausmann

Review of

Bat Shit Crazy Review Requests, by Gisela Hausmann ISBN 9781983551833

Four out of five stars

The lengths to which people will go to be wrong

 As someone that has done a great deal of reviewing and received many requests for the “assistance” of my writing a review, I have a great deal of experience in this subject matter. Therefore, while Hausmann states that all emails in the book are fictitious, it is most unlikely that is completely true. The names and other information that could be used to identify the sender has been deleted or modified, but the messages in the book all ring true to what I have experienced.

 Some requests will offer money for a review when it is known by all that Amazon and many other review sites expressly forbid it. Other messages offer a “you do one for me and I will do one for you,” arrangement, some will explicitly include the phrase “five star review” in both locations of the word “one.” This is also a forbidden transaction. What is just as galling is when a person you do not know considers it offering you a privilege to read and review their book and even expect your help in writing it.

 As Hausmann demonstrates, there are many ways to offend a potential reviewer and fewer ways to do it right. Politeness and humility are what will get a quality reviewer’s attention along with the explicit understanding that the reviewer is free to bluntly state their opinion of the work and will not edit/write it for them.

 Disclaimer: I have known and corresponded with Gisela Hausmann for over five years and consider her a friend and esteemed colleague. We have advised each other in our writing endeavors.  

Review of "Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction," by Michael White

Review of

Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction, by Michael White ISBN 0786715189

Five out of five stars

An independent perspective on the life of Asimov

 I have read at least 150 of the books written by Isaac Asimov (467 total), including his two-part autobiography “In Memory Yet Green” and “In Joy Still Felt” as well as the single volume “I. Asimov.” Furthermore, Asimov often included snippets about his life and experiences in many of the other items he wrote. Therefore, there was little in this book that I had not read before, in some cases several times.

 However, it was an enjoyable read because in this case there is the perspective of a person not closely tied to Asimov. For example, White is candid about Asimov’s relationship with his son David and that Asimov may have been more comfortable with the distance there was in their relationship. This is one case where the son could not have been more distant from the father. According to White, David did not attend his father’s funeral. David is unemployed, living off what he receives from a trust fund established by Asimov, while his father was a workaholic writer.

 Asimov was a towering intellect and arguably did more to get people interested in and knowledgeable of science than any other person. He was obsessed with writing to the point of neglecting almost everything else, a fact that Asimov never hesitated to admit. All life is a trade off of one thing for another. Asimov was a writer first and all else secondary. This book gives the reader a glance at what he was from the perspective of an outsider free to objectively comment on an action or event.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Review of "Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in the Mystery of the Nervous Lion," by Nick West

Review of

Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators in the Mystery of the Nervous Lion, by Nick West 

Four out of five stars

 I devoured the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books when I was in my teens and even though I am well past that, if I encounter an adolescent adventure book in another series, I often read it. Until I encountered this book in a used bookstore, I had never heard of the “The Three Investigators” series, so I had to acquire it and read it.

 The three male teen adventurers are Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw and they live in Rocky Beach, California. Their base is a mobile home hidden in The Jones Salvage Yard and when they are not working a case they help out in the scrapyard. In this book, they receive their next assignment directly from Alfred Hitchcock after he calls them.

 In this case, George the tame lion at the Jungle Land park is exhibiting atypical behavior. He lives in the house with the owners of the park, where there are many other animals. At this time, a movie is being shot on the grounds of the park and there are other mysterious events that could be an attempt to sabotage the making of the movie.

 The story moves along in a manner typical of such adventure stories, although in this one, the three main characters face genuine and immediate mortal danger. Which is atypical of most adolescent adventure stories written in the early seventies or sooner. It involves a real criminal conspiracy with large amounts of money at stake. It is a good story, albeit a bit dated in the sense that the only female character is the mother figure that makes them sandwiches.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Review of "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," DVD version

Review of

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, DVD version

Four out of five stars

The robots should have been a bit more human

 The first time I watched this movie I was unimpressed, considering the action overwhelming to the relationships. There is no question that the first chase scene goes on far too long and seems to have the sole purpose of simply smashing up cars, buildings and other collateral objects. What made the second movie so good was the dialog and the expanding relationship between the Schwarzenegger terminator and the young John Connor. It reached the point where the good terminator begins to take on some human characteristics and is considered a father figure.

 The evil terminator in this movie is powerful, far more than even the one in the second movie. The Schwarzenegger terminator is obsolete and in this movie is also almost exclusively robotic, showing no human-like intonation or facial expression. The evil terminator is also female, yet it also never expresses anything resembling emotions of any kind. The evil male terminator in the second movie occasionally had human-like facial expressions and did not always speak in monotone.

 There are some amusing sight gags, specifically regarding the vehicles and when Schwarzenegger rescues John Connor by carrying him in a coffin. Yet, it ends with the very depressing idea that the thermonuclear war known as judgement day was inevitable, something that contradicts the ending of the second movie. It is natural to want the human race to win, not face extinction at the hands of its own electronic creations.

Review of "The Southpaw," by Donal Hamilton Haines

Review of

The Southpaw, by Donal Hamilton Haines

Four out of five stars

 This story copyrighted in 1931 is a look back into how adolescent sports fiction was written at that time. From the title, it appears to be primarily a book about sports, but the main theme is about the development of strong cliques among adolescent boys and how it can become destructive of normal social development and structure.

 Bob Griswold is a boy with a powerful left arm that makes him a quality baseball pitcher. His father is a civil engineer and wants his son to follow in his footsteps, which means that Bob needs to take many quality courses in math and science. Like most people in the country at that time, the Griswold’s are short of money, so when Bob is to attend high school, all they can afford is to send Bob to Hillton Academy. It is a school in a small isolated town, although the teachers are excellent.

 Greg Elliot is also a student there and he has a group of henchmen, including a muscle man. He will stop at little in order to maintain power and control over the other students and he takes an immediate dislike to Bob. Not being a coward, Bob fights back in the literal and figurative sense while trying to be the team’s ace pitcher.

 To modern readers, there are several things that will seem odd. The speech patterns, boys wearing a coat and tie to classes and dinner, no mention of females and some aspects of the social interaction. Yet, it is fundamentally a story about overcoming great and unfair opposition in order to be a success and win the almost incidental big game at the end.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Review of "Stealing Home," by Mary Stolz

Review of

Stealing Home, by Mary Stolz ISBN 0153143657

Four out of five stars

About family with incidental baseball references

Thomas lives with his grandfather near the ocean in Florida. He attends school like all other children his age and his grandfather is retired and enjoying himself fishing and following baseball. Thomas is a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team and they listen to games on the radio when teams are playing that they are interested in. The Pirates base for spring training is nearby so they attend a few games. Their television doesn’t work, and grandfather promises to get it fixed “someday.” Their small home is not cleaned on a regular basis, yet the two live there very happily with few cares in the world.

 Thomas’ Aunt Linzy, grandfather’s sister-in-law, has not left Chicago in forty years, but she has now sent letters informing them that she is coming to live with them. No reason for the move is given, she informs them when her train will arrive.

 The lives of Thomas and his grandfather change when Thomas is forced to vacate his room for Linzy and all her possessions. She embarks on a cleaning and beautification crusade that includes painting the outside of the house. After some initial reluctance and disturbances, Thomas and his grandfather learn to get along with Linzy and she proves useful and helpful in other ways.

 This is a story about family and working together. Grandfather never hesitates to accept Linzy into his home, she asks, and he says yes as it is clear, but not stated, that she has no other place to go. It is about adapting and seeing what is best in people and learning to tolerate what they do that riles you. Grandfather is a person for whom the Beatles song, “Let it be” was written. He has a very solid philosophical outlook towards life, and he will let nothing, not even a whirling dervish of a cleaning woman change that.

Review of "The Empty Land," by Louis L’Amour

Review of

The Empty Land, by Louis L’Amour ISBN 0553253069

Five out of five stars

The best of the L’Amour western

 This is the best western novel by L’Amour that I have ever read. Matt Coburn is the main character and while he is the best with a gun, he is most reluctant to use it. Yet, circumstances continue to force him to intervene and try to establish law in order in the gold boom town of Confusion. His first job is riding shotgun for the stage carrying the first shipment of gold ore and ends with his engaging in a series of gunfights with people that kill others for fun and profit.

 This book also has one of the most interesting beginnings of all western novels. The first three paragraphs describe events in Europe and Asia during the seventh century, where monarchs ruled and fought for dominion. Only after that does the flow move to a coyote trying to capture a meal on the move.

 The story is about a man with a destiny that he tries to avoid and cannot. Even though he could have rode away and left the town to likely destruction, he rides back because he fundamentally knows that he is the only one that can hold the barbarians at bay. He succeeds at great cost and at the end, he may have found peace and a real station in life.

 The story is great and engaging, the hero that uses his guns to tame the social forces of darkness should engage in thoughts of regret and doubt when it is necessary to kill those that want to destroy the sparks of civilization.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Review of "Asimov Laughs Again," by Isaac Asimov

Review of

Asimov Laughs Again, by Isaac Asimov ISBN 0060924489

Four out of five stars

Lighthearted with some seasoning of bitterness

 As a big fan of Isaac Asimov, I can honestly say that I have read over 150 of his books. For years, I bought every paperback collection of his essays I found and read every book that appeared in the libraries of Mount Mercy College and the cities of Hiawatha and Cedar Rapids. He has no peer in making science understandable and the knowledge I gleaned from his books has helped me greatly in my career as an educator and writer.

 This book is copyrighted in 1992, the year of his death. There are several points where he acknowledges his age and the toll it is taking on his body. Asimov is also very frank about his concerns about the world and his significant medical procedures. He confesses to his unrelenting flirtation with women, citing many actions that would clearly find him in legal jeopardy in the modern world.

 Like all books containing jokes, there is a wide range of topics and level of giggles that they will generate. Of course, there are many that would be much funnier when spoken live by Asimov. What is different about this book is that there is a trace of bitterness. While those passages are honestly stated, his discussions of his first wife Gertrude, her mother and brother are very uncomplimentary. He also mentions how he has held mild grudges against people that he considers to have slighted him. Some of which were valid, but others where he simply should have been told, “Let it go, Isaac.” These features reduce the level of quality of the book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Review of "Bill Stern’s Favorite Baseball Stories," by Bill Stern

Review of

Bill Stern’s Favorite Baseball Stories, by Bill Stern

Four out of five stars

Very much sports journalism of the forties

 Published in 1949, this collection of stories reflects the sports journalism of that time. While the stories are good and give some insight into the early struggles of baseball players that eventually did very well, there is little that is negative. What there is occurs only on the playing field. Baseball was a rough game in the early years, spikes often went high and fists flew and connected.

 Some of the most interesting stories are about a few of the early umpires that did not hesitate to challenge a player or manager to a fight under the stands when the game was over. These were very tough men that never gave an inch that was not necessary. Many of the stories describe how a player was for years considered lacking in the necessary talent, only to be given another chance, one that led to a place in the baseball hall of fame.

 The legend of Ruth calling his shot is in here as it has been mythologized. Despite nearly every key witness stating that all he did was raise a finger and say that he had one strike remaining. That finger just happened to be pointing in the right direction. That sums up the theme of this book, keep the myths going “for the good of the game.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Review of "One-Man Massacre," by Jonas Ward

Review of

One-Man Massacre, by Jonas Ward

Three out of five stars

Not the best of Buchanan

 While this story conforms to the persona of the Buchanan character, it simply does not have the charm of others. This is largely due to the fact that there is more gun violence than usual and there is less deep interaction with the secondary characters. Furthermore, the premise of a renegade Texas Ranger with his gang of mercenaries being hired by a large rancher is simply implausible. The timeframe is before the American Civil War.

 Buchanan is on a mountain mining gold with his friend and partner Fargo when he sees the lights of the town of Scotstown and Buchanan would like to take a day off mining and engage in a little bit of recreation. Local rancher Malcolm Lord is in the process of hiring a man that insists on being called Captain Gibbons to roust out small ranchers along the Rio Grande and use the premise of invaders from Mexico as justification. Gibbons has brought along some hired guns and it is only a short time when one of his hardcases is threatening Buchanan.

 Since he did not take his gun with him, Buchanan is forced to borrow a gun from a bystander and he quickly dispatches the professional gunfighter. This makes him a target of the bad guys as well as  a hero to the threatened locals. Buchanan would much rather just go back to mining gold, but the evil forces cannot let him go unpunished for killing one of their best. There is a local woman named Rosemarie that serves drinks in a saloon and the initial incident takes place because Buchanan intervened when the gunman was annoying her.

 With a bad premise and too much gunplay and not enough of the witty dialog so characteristic of the Buchanan series, this is not one of the best of the adventures of Buchanan.

Review of "Superman: The Movie," DVD version

Review of

Superman: The Movie, DVD version

Five out of five stars

Reeve will always define the part of Superman

 Like Sean Connery’s first appearance as James Bond in “Dr. No,” Christopher Reeve’s first appearance as Superman will always be the standard for the recurring character. His humility and fumbling nature as Clark Kent contrasts in the right way with the strong assurance and confidence of Superman. Margot Kidder is also the perfect modern Lois Lane, the hard career woman with the strong personality that would contrast with a Superman. It is clear minutes into the first interaction between Reeve and Kidder onscreen that they were the perfect pair for Clark and Lois.

 The supporting players are also solid, Jackie Cooper as editor Perry White, Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen, Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent, Phyllis Thaxter as Martha Kent and Jeff East as the teenage Clark Kent all turn in Oscar-caliber performances. The only really bad performance is by the biggest star cast in the movie, Marlon Brando. There were valid reasons why he was removed from the sequel.

 While this is a great movie that started a film franchise, there is a significant weak point. Although Superman is forbidden to alter the course of human events, he does so by literally turning back the course of the Earth. This was unnecessary, for there were many ways in which this could have been handled. This is a movie that you can re-watch with great joy on a regular basis.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Review of "The Amazing Spider-Man and Human Torch," by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton

Review of

The Amazing Spider-Man and Human Torch, by Dan Slott and Ty Templeton ISBN 9780785140047

Five out of five stars

Teen rivalry becomes a bromance

 Johnny Storm is the Human Torch and has a fiery temperament to match, he also makes no secret regarding who is he. Peter Parker is secretly Spider-Man and Storm is unaware of this. The Human Torch is part of the Fantastic Four while Spider-Man acts alone. They sometimes battle against the same powerful villains, but they also have an intense personal rivalry in their normal human lives. Storm is jealous of Parker and Parker is jealous of Storm.

 The two young men compete for general attention, women, and essentially anything they consider of value. Sometimes it even reaches the point of light, at least for them, fisticuffs. At times, especially Storm, they act like adolescents far more than the super beings they are. After several embarrassing failures for both of them, their better natures win out and they become the best of friends.

 The plot of this story is based on teen angst more than on the power of the two super protagonists. The natural rivalry between teenage boys at times overwhelms them. A fact that all males in their teen years will understand. Even older males who retain their memory will understand and appreciate this story.

Review of "Resist: The Story of D-Day," by Alan Gratz

Review of

Resist: The Story of D-Day, by Alan Gratz ISBN 9781338621808

Five out of five stars

The D-Day invasion from a different perspective

 There have been many fiction and non-fiction books written about D-Day, from the perspective of commanders, soldiers on the ground and civilians in France. However, this one is written from a quite different perspective. Samira is a young girl living in Villers-Bocage France in early June of 1944. She is a spy for the French resistance and of Algerian descent. Her mother came to France to study law in the hope that she would have a high position in Algeria once the war was over and France granted Algerian independence.  Samira hates the Germans, but not as much as her dog Cyrano.

It is before dawn on June 6 and the greatest sea-based invasion of all time is about to be launched. Samira’s mother has been taken by the Germans and Samira knows that the Germans execute their prisoners at dawn. She is desperate to find and rescue her mother and this is about her exploits in doing that. The invasion begins with planes flying overhead, gliders landing and parachutes in the sky, including some dummies named Rupert. Through all of this, Samira remains determined to complete her mission.

 Creating a story about the D-Day invasion and telling it from the perspective of a young person of Algerian extraction was an excellent choice of perspective. Generally lost in the stories about the war in Europe is the fact that there were many people in the German-occupied countries that were from other places. Having the Algerians being just as patriotic as the natives is a great plot device.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Review of "The Key-Lock Man," by Louis L’Amour

Review of

The Key-Lock Man, by Louis L’Amour ISBN 0553250981

Five out of five stars

Making law on the frontier not always done well

 Matt Keelock is a man in trouble through no fault of his own. He found his wife Kris under strange circumstances and he left her at camp to go into town for supplies. While there, he was forced into a gunfight where a man was killed, and it appeared that he shot him in the back. Even though the man was a known troublemaker with a hot temper, a group of local men set out to find Matt and hang him for murder.

 Matt is a man of the arid west, so he has no trouble dodging the men. However, he knows that he must get back to Kris, which means that he must become more visible. There is also the story of lost wagons of gold and how some of the men in the group were systematically murdered.  One of the men kept a journal that revealed incomplete information regarding the location.

 It is a game of cat-and-mouse between Matt and his pursuers, including one that has sworn deadly revenge because Kris refused to marry him. Matt proves to be a worthy opponent to all the forces aligned against him, although he does need help from Kris, and she proves to be a tough frontier woman.

 This is a great story about life in the west and how the law was a dubious thing, enforced by men not always right, but often sure of themselves.

Review of "Isaac Asimov: It’s Been A Good Life," by Janet Jeppson Asimov

Review of

Isaac Asimov: It’s Been A Good Life, by Janet Jeppson Asimov ISBN 1573929689

Five out of five stars

Some insight into the legend

 For many, Isaac Asimov is the secular humanist equivalent of a deity. Not to be worshiped, but to be highly admired. His output of writing material is extraordinary, (over 500 books written or edited), dwarfed only by the breadth of the topics. He was of course most widely known as a science fiction writer, but he also wrote extensively about science, social topics and even some of the greatest of written works, including the Christian bible and the works of Shakespeare.

 This book is a collection of short snippets of Asimov material taken from several different sources, letters to talks to books. Like his writings, there is a great deal of coverage, much of which is about Asimov the man. There is a significant amount of material regarding his personal life and he is very straightforward about the difficulties he had in dealing with people. He was very much a know-it-all that could back it up, which is the type of person that many find the most annoying.

 Edited by his second wife that was also a science fiction writer, this book will contain few insights for the dedicated Asimov fan. The most significant is the revelation that Asimov died from AIDS, having contracted the virus from a blood transfusion. That fact was kept secret for a long time, the revelation is a demonstration of how society has become educated regarding the HIV virus.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Review of "Dr. No," DVD version

Review of

Dr. No, DVD version

Five out of five stars

The original is in many ways the best

 This movie was original, both in introducing a new movie star, the Bond franchise and what was to become several staples in film. It of course made Sean Connery a star and developed the public secret agent persona. Even the opposition knew the name James Bond and that he was a British agent, yet that knowledge never made Bond’s job more difficult.

 It introduced the oversexed male lead and the first in the series of what was to become the list of “Bond Women.” We see Moneypenny for the first time, madly in love with Bond, yet forever relegated to the relationship sidelines. Bond flirted with her in ways he never used with his stable of women. It also introduced the massive criminal organization known as S. P. E. C. T. R. E. and the associated extremely well-funded master criminal bent on dominating the world.  

 However, the single most important line of dialog in all of the Bond movies occurred early in this one, where the camera goes to a man lighting a cigarette and he says, “My name is Bond, James Bond.” Understated, yet with immense power and consequences. Although other films introduced “Q” and many neat gadgets, this movie is in many ways the best of the Bond series.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Review of "Then & Now: Chicago’s Loop," by Janice A. Knox and Heather Olivia Belcher

Review of

Then & Now: Chicago’s Loop, by Janice A. Knox and Heather Olivia Belcher ISBN 9780738519685

Five out of five stars

The inevitable and necessary change documented

 Even if you know little about a city, it is always interesting to see how it has changed over time. Buildings are built that are state of the art at the time of construction, but businesses and societal needs alter over time. These changes necessitate either significant revisions or the complete destruction of buildings.

 Chicago’s first permanent settler was a black fur trader named Jean Baptiste Point DuSable that had a Native American wife and he established a trading post on the north bank of the Chicago River. This was the first commercial enterprise in what was to become Chicago and it was successful, leading others to settle in the area. With access to Lake Michigan, which meant all of the Great Lakes area was within reasonable reach and with the Chicago River flowing from the inland through the area, there was access deep into the interior. It was not long before there was a portage that allowed goods to travel from the Mississippi River basin fairly easily back-and-forth to Chicago. This linkage was completed in 1848, only 11 years after the city was incorporated.

 These photos demonstrate a city that is seemingly always in transition, where buildings go up, are functional for a long time and then are either dramatically altered or demolished and replaced. Due to its central location as a transit point for goods, the city grew extremely fast and you can see that in these before and after images.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Review of "Tom Swift and His Airline Express," by Victor Appleton

Review of

Tom Swift and His Airline Express, by Victor Appleton

Four out of five stars

 Published in 1926, this book can be considered part of the Tom Swift series 2.0. The early stories did not deviate much from the current levels of science and technology and neither does this one. Some of the early ones dealt with war machines, thankfully this one does not.

 The main “invention” in this book is an airline where a passenger can travel from the east coast to the west coast in approximately 16 hours. In this story, two intermediate stops were required, the passenger compartment was detachable from the plane. Therefore, when the plane lands, the next one can be fueled and hot, all that needed to be done was to detach the compartment from the first plane and attach it to the next.

 While the premise was superseded by the larger airliners with multiple motors and bigger fuel tanks, at the time this book was written, the module structure made sense. The flight crew was not put under great stress and the passengers never had to disembark to make their connecting flight. In many ways, this idea was quickly rendered obsolete, much like what the telegraph did to the Pony Express.

 There are of course villains, which is the weakness of the story. The advent of new technology can be made interesting all by itself, sometimes the need to have human opponents to Tom weakens what could be an entertaining battle to tame and control the natural world. More about the new technology and the problems to be solved would have made this story more interesting.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Review of "How Sharper that A Serpent’s Tooth," episode 5 of season 2 of Star Trek: The Animated Series

Review of

How Sharper that A Serpent’s Tooth, episode 5 of season 2 of Star Trek: The Animated Series

Five out of five stars

Powerful point for diversity

 All evidence indicates that humans have an  instinctual desire to create gods. Many of these creations, such as the Greek gods, are based on humans with greater powers, yet still captive to human emotions. However, there are some that are not augmented humans.

 Some of the gods of the Natives of Central and South America were not derived from humans, many of them were essentially of animal form. One specific example is Kukulkan, worshiped by the Mayas and depicted as a feathered serpent. Another origin theory for the human development of gods is that they were space travelers that landed on Earth and interacted with humans.

 This episode uses a combination of the space traveling god along with the Mayan god Kukulkan. The Enterprise encounters a spaceship that has the shape of a serpent and it is recognized as Kukulkan by Native American bridge crew member Walking Bear. Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Walking Bear are transported onto the ship into what appears to be an ancient Mayan village. They are told that this is a test of their reasoning skills. It also becomes clear that the creature expects to be once again worshipped as a god.

 The Enterprise crew members solve the puzzle while Spock is able to break the containment field holding the Enterprise. This combination overwhelms Kukulkan and it is forced to release the Enterprise and drop the pretense of godhood.

 A Native American appearing on the bridge and being essential to the survival of the Enterprise is a powerful point in favor of diversity. Featuring a “god” that is not based on Greek-Roman mythology is another powerful point in favor of diversity. Finally, the “god” of the story has a non-human form, a cultural fact that is sorely neglected in western education.

Review of "The Counter-clock Incident," episode 6 of season 2 of Star Trek the animated series

Review of

The Counter-clock Incident, episode 6 of season 2 of Star Trek the animated series

Three out of five stars

Use of unreasonable gimmicks

When an alien vessel passes them going at over warp 30, the Enterprise crew realizes that it is heading directly for a supernova. After communication gains nothing, the Enterprise locks a tractor beam onto the ship. While the connection slows the ship down, it does nothing but drag the Enterprise into the supernova at an unreasonable warp factor.

 Once they pass through the exploded star, the crew of the Enterprise realizes that they have entered an alternate universe where time flows backward. People are born old and then regress to infancy when they die. This has the same effect on the Enterprise crew, as they begin the de-age. Fortunately, the aged Commodore Robert April, the first commander of the Enterprise and his wife are aboard the Enterprise.

 April and his wife get younger, but they retain their abilities to pilot the ship when all others return to infancy and no longer have the knowledge to carry out their duties. They bring the Enterprise back to their home universe and are able to restore them to their normal age using the transporter.

 The idea of time traveling backwards in this manner has been used in other contexts, but it always seems to take the appearance of a gimmick. The complexity of someone growing younger and smaller, with the need to shed mass, makes it absurd. Finally, the crew is restored using the stored transporter patterns, in this case the transporter would have to add significant mass, which would also be an exceedingly difficult operation. The transporters are designed to precisely duplicate mass, not add or subtract to it.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Review of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," DVD version

Review of

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, DVD version

Five out of five stars

S.H.I.E.L.D is a subsidiary of Hydra

 The world is rapidly changing, but the deepest changes are well hidden. S.H.I.E.L.D, the organization dedicated to protecting the United States and the world from the greatest of criminal threats, is compromised by Hydra, the most powerful criminal and terrorist organization in the world. In the Marvel universe, Hydra is the main opposition group to S.H.I.E.L.D.

 Nick Fury, the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D, becomes suspicious of factions in his organization and he engages in some questionable actions. One of the main ones involves the hijacking of a S.H.I.E.L.D ship, and Captain America is one of the operatives sent to regain control of it. While on the ship, fellow agent Natasha Romanoff takes the time to download some information, making Cap suspicious regarding the operation and he confronts Fury.

 With extremely high level Hydra agents within S.H.I.E.L.D, it is not long before Cap and Natasha become fugitives from S.H.I.E.L.D and Fury is apparently assassinated. Hydra has recruited a mercenary known as the Winter Soldier, a man captured by the Soviets and turned into an extremely deadly and efficient force.

 S.H.I.E.L.D is about to deploy a system of three helicarriers that will be aligned with satellites to target people considered threats. Hydra has developed an algorithm that identifies all people considered threats to itself and the plan is to simply have the system kill them. It becomes a battle between S.H.I.E.L.D factions, with Cap, the Falcon and Natasha fighting desperately to reprogram the system so that it will not engage in mass killings.

 The battles are intense, there is a lot of gun and missile play, but the most significant is the hand-to-hand fighting between Cap and Hydra operatives including the Winter Soldier. It is extremely well choreographed as the opponents knock each other around a great deal. The action is intense, yet there are moments of human passion and compassion, where the heroes demonstrate that despite their considerable strengths, they remain human to the core.

Review of "The Blood Line," season 2 episode 15 of Bonanza

Review of

The Blood Line, season 2 episode 15 of Bonanza

Four out of five stars

Even a justified killing can be problematic

 When a man goes berserk in the local store and tries to kill Ben Cartwright, he draws and kills the man. Even though he knows that he had no choice, Ben feels deep remorse and wishes that there were something else he could have done.

Shortly after the shooting, 16-year-old Todd Grayson arrives by stage from Boston in order to be reunited with his dead father. Anguished and full of hero worship for his father, Todd can think of nothing but killing Ben in revenge. Ben takes responsibility for Todd, even taking him to the Ponderosa and giving him room and board.

 A gunman traveled the stage with Todd and befriended him. Seeing an opportunity to be paid well for killing Ben, the gunman talks the girlfriend of Todd’s father into paying him. It is only when the girlfriend finally comes clean with Todd that he realizes that his father was not the man he thought he was. It is at this point that Todd drops his vendetta.

 The essential goodness of Ben Cartwright is on display here. Even though he knows Todd is determined to kill him, be reaches out to Todd and does everything he can to try to make amends for an act not his fault.

Review of "Badge Without Honor," episode 3 of season 2 of Bonanza

Review of

Badge Without Honor, episode 3 of season 2 of Bonanza

Five out of five stars

A wolf in lawman’s clothing

 When two men attempt to gun down an unsuspecting Adam Cartwright, a man claiming to be a deputy U. S. Marshall kills them. He is a charming man, deft with words and a quality swordsman. A woman close to the Cartwright’s and considered equivalent to a sister to the Cartwright boys is married to a man that has a dark and unknown past.

 The Marshall states that he is there to escort the husband back to San Francisco in order to testify at a trial. However, uncertainties are developed as there are some inconsistencies in his story. Adam decides to accompany the two men to San Francisco, a development that the Marshall does not like. He is in fact a hired killer whose mission is to kill the husband. This forces am armed confrontation between Adam and the Marshall.

 This is an excellent episode, the supposed Marshall is many things, even a ladies man as he charms the woman, taking what would be scandalous liberties with her in the days being depicted.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Review of "The Family Circus Treasury," by Bil Keane

Review of

The Family Circus Treasury, by Bil Keane ISBN 0836207351

Five out of five stars

 The highest of family comic strips

 The Family Circus has long been the power strip for the nuclear family of two parents, four young children and three pets. The artist Bil Keane openly states that what appears in this strip is often just a slightly modified rendition of what has taken place in his life with his children and pets.

 The theme of the daily strip is generally confined to a single image, although there are a few with two or more related images. They revolve around the simple events in the lives of parents and children, from getting them off to school to family vacations to visits back and forth with grandparents. The father in this case is the only one working outside the home, generally speaking the mother can be considered the traditional, albeit now somewhat archaic homemaker. When the father is shown doing housework he is often depicted as being of marginal competence.

 Wholesome in the old sense is the best word to describe this strip. While it is good, it is unfortunate that it is in so many ways outdated.

Review of "Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport," by Victor Appleton

Review of

Tom Swift and His Ocean Airport, by Victor Appleton

Five out of five stars

 The first  books in the original Tom Swift series were published in the decade from 1910 to 1919, 22 books in all. It was a time of significant improvements in the motor car, airplane, and ways to deal out mass death in battle. Once World War I was over, which as far as the series is concerned, 1920 and later, the improvements were incorporated into the books and the subject matter went away from the tools of war. This book was first published in 1934, so it can be considered a member of the 2.0 series of Tom Swift books.

 The premise is a simple one, as the concept of trans-Atlantic air travel is being developed, there is a perceived need for refueling or emergency landing stops. In the northern Atlantic Greenland, Iceland and Ireland are not that far apart, so the planes of that time did not need the capability to fly long distances non-stop.

 However, in the tropical areas of the Atlantic, there is almost nothing between the Atlantic seaboard of the United States and the western islands of Portugal and Spain. Therefore, Tom Swift develops the concept of a floating landing strip in the middle of the Atlantic. It is composed of a series of high-buoyancy logs that are snapped together by magnets, so it is modular in structure. There is a great deal of elasticity built into the system so it can deal with the significant waves of Atlantic storms.

 The first military aircraft carriers were designed and built in the mid 1920’s, so the proof of concept was present when this book was written. Of course, the landing pad for commercial airliners would have to be much larger than the deck of a carrier. That is an implicit premise of this story.

 This is a Tom Swift book where the supporting characters are there, but other than Ned, only just. The focus is on the creation of the airport and the supposed need for an emergency landing strip. The self-assembling modular nature of the landing platform is a fascinating aspect that predates later self-assembling structures. This is a good book that I found to be a page-turner.