Review: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another Mary Roach classic. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal takes us through the body’s digestive tract. Like many books by Mary Roach, it’s sometimes gross, often hilarious, and always informative. Bonus points for beginning the story with the smell of beer and wine right here in Oakland at Beer Revolution.

She does a great job sharing relevant stories and interesting facts about each part of our digestive tract, among them:

* How smell influences what we taste
* Why we prefer crispy foods
* The history of scientific research into digestion through “fistulated holes”
* Fiber: the munchies, the myth, and the legend
* Did Elvis die from being constipated
* And lots and lots of stories related to the science of studying poo

Needless to say, this isn’t a book you want to read while eating lunch. But it did elicit a number of laughs and giggles from me while I took public transit to and from work each day. Overall, it was a pretty enjoyable and informative read. If you’ve enjoyed anything from Mary Roach before, I’d highly recommend this as well.

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Comet PanSTARRS!

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I was finally able to catch Comet PanSTARRS tonight from our roof in North Oakland. So hard to see, but awesome.

Caught it with my DSLR and a 200mm lens.

See you again in 110,000 years, PanSTARR!

No spoilers (of the geologic variety)

Hah, a year ago I was on my way to Florida for the STS-134 NASA Tweetup!

Anyway, I just had an update from Timehop emailed to me regarding an interesting Facebook post of mine from exactly a year ago (I don’t think I had publicly shared this otherwise):

British couple behind me is looking out the window and ask a nearby flight attendant if that’s the Grand Canyon below us and to our left.

She says yes, so I look out the window and see that it’s actually Valley of the Gods in Southern Utah (neeeeerd). I turn around to say something, right as the husband says, “Oh, that is so great! I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon!”

Alright then. Just smile and turn around, Dave. 🙂

Review: The Orphan Master’s Son

The Orphan Master's Son
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Orphan Master’s Son follows the life of Pak Jun Do, a young boy who lives in a North Korean orphanage with his father, the Orphan Master.

What ultimately transpires is a pretty gripping tale following the life of Jun Do as he grows up and lives life under the oppressive totalarian regime of Kim Jong Il. He ultimately joins to military and is assigned to tunnel duty — building tunnels for infiltration into South Korea. One day, he is visited by an officer and assigned a new task that will ultimately change his life, forever.

Some of my favorite chapters are written in an entertaining and light hearted manner — providing well timed, nice (almost comic) relief from some of the heavier parts of the book. They make you feel as if you’re listening to the latest daily propaganda dispatch from a nearby loudspeaker: “CITIZENS! Today is the Dear Leader’s birthday! Help us celebrate by DOUBLING your output quotas! Remember, it’s the only way to prevent a sneak attack by those imperialist aggressors!”

I don’t want to spoil much more of the story. There are twists and turns in the plot that will cause your jaw to drop. There are other parts that will potentially cause you to tear up. You really do feel as if someone peeled back a curtain, and you’re getting a genuine look inside North Korea.

This is a great book for any book club, as it has amazing potential for discussing fate versus free will, loyalty, love, fidelity, and courage. I often found myself laying awake at night, thinking about some of these central themes in the book.

My ultimate rating is 5 / 5 stars — I debated giving it 4 as I read along, but I think some of the deeper themes of the book, and the fact that it was so thought provoking, makes me belive it’s easily worth all 5 stars.

Forgive me for my hyperbole, but this was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read since The Kite Runner. I highly recommend it!

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Review: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I heard that Walter Isaacson was doing the Steve Jobs biography, I was quite excited about the potential. I loved his biographies on Albert Einstein and Ben Franklin (and his Henry Kissinger bio has been highly recommended). Needless to say, it was an instant pre-order.

The biography takes a look at the various parts of Steve’s life, from his upbringing as an adopted child, to his care free lifestyle and travels through India, to starting a company, getting kicked out, and then ultimately coming back.

Overall, the book was an interesting read and had some fascinating nuggets of information. But I found myself disappointed as I read further and further into the book. Isaacson had unprecedented access to Steve Jobs. I was really hoping that he could get inside his head, pick him apart, and come up with what made him tick, his thought processes, etc.

Unfortunately, he really didn’t. What we’re instead left with is a superficial look at Steve’s life in the first half of the book, and a look at Apple’s various product launches in the second half of the book. As I write this, news comes out today that Isaacson is planning an addendum to the Jobs biography in the future — adding more information and filling in some gaps.

Overall, the book was still an interesting read, and I think anyone who is a fan of technology will find it enjoyable. I just wish it was more fulfilling.

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