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Archive for May, 2007

WSOP

bookrev: Positively Fifth Street by James McManus (just in time for the WSOP)

WSOP 5 stars: Well written trip through the 2000 WSOP and the Vegas trial of the century. And, yes, I filed it under Philosophy…cause it’s Poker!

James McManus (fiction author, sports journalist and sometime poker player) went to Vegas to cover the trial of the murder of Ted Binion (whose father started the World Series of Poker (WSOP)) and to cover the rise of women at the WSOP. He ends up taking part of the advance money, winning a play-in satellite tourney, and getting a seat at the 2000 WSOP.

He made it to the final table and fifth place.

He intertwines his own story (an amatuer amongst some of pokers greatest names) with stories of the trial (where Ted’s girlfriend and best friend are accused of murdering him), Jim’s own personal history, the history of poker and the WSOP and the parallels he sees between them all.

The insights into the game, the hands, the mannerisms, and particularly what Jim is thinking at the time (fold? call? raise? who’s that beautiful dealer named Red?) dividing the voices in his head (see? not just me!) into Good Jim and Bad Jim,  make the writing of the actual WSOP satellite and tournament the best part of the book. But the other stories are woven in intricately and smoothly (with only a few abstract jumps), mixing in Dante and Dostoyevsky to prove his point.

Since the book has been written, the number of players entered into the big Texas Hold-em WSOP tourney has climbed in from the $1.5 million Chris “Jesus” Ferguson won (and 512 entrants) in 2000 to 2006′s  $12million Jamie Gold won amongst the 8,773 entrants (and around 12,000 are expected this year).

Read it before the big one this July 6, and it will help you imagine the action.

essay: Democracy, Documentaries and Truth Be Tolled by William Molina

With the media trying desperately to draw our attention to a muddled presidential race and the war in Iraq, we Americans sometimes forget that democracy begins at home. Large issues, some in far away places, makes us forget that it is the grass roots efforts of non-politicians (vs. who raised more money than who multi-million dollar fundraisers for presidential campaigns) that make democracy truly the voice of the people.

Which brings us to my friend Bill Molina and his award winning documentary, Truth Be Tolled.

In the interests of full disclosure, I went to high school and college with Bill. I was even in one of his first movies (which hopefully will never make YouTube, but Bill had an evil glint in his eye about that when I last saw him).

At the recent WorldFest (also known as the Houston International Film Festival), Truth Be Tolled received the Platinum Award (highest award) in its category (feature documentary). Another of Bill’s entries, the short documentary Chichen Itza got the Gold Award for cinematography.

So Bill is talented, not a hack. You can lookup his other impressive credits.

The story of Truth Be Tolled is two-fold: the Texas Department of Transportation (and, I would speculate, other state highway departments) are trying to double tax citizens by putting tollways on existing, already-paid-for-by-our-taxes roads; and secondly, TxDOT is attempting to push the massive TransTexasCorridor, a quarter-mile wide set of tollways, rail and other conduits, through the Texas legislature with nary a citizen vote. The documentary also depicts how both of these activities are being done without or in some cases in spite of citizen feedback. The TTC project is especially scary, as it plans to use the concept of emminent domain to grab land for the massive Mexico to Oklahoma corridor.

Now my point is not that TxDOT and the Texas Governor’s office are doing something wrong or illegal (as some would claim) nor am I coming down on the side of the lobbyists and pundits pushing to eliminate the TTC. I have not had the time to research who is doing what, who is saying what.

My point is that Bill made this film to make a point, to get citizens like me interested, to educate. And it appears to have worked. Bill and his team gave copies of Truth Be Tolled to each and every member of the Texas legislature (for free, as in Bill paid for this himself, please send him money or travelers checks!).

On May 2, the Texas House approved a measure the Texas Senate had already approved,  to place a two year moratorium on TTC activities. Govenor Perry is expected to act on these bills within the next few days. He could veto, sending it back for a 2/3 majority override, assuming he does so while the Legislature is in session.

So Ultimate Kudos to Bill. His movie is excellent, beautifully photographed, obviously passionately done. He has gotten a lot of people talking and discussing and acting on an issue that normally would not have been on the radar screens. And that is ultimately what democracy is for.

bookrev: The Terminal Experiment by Robert J. Sawyer

4 stars: A decent story from one of the best SF writers

Robert J. Sawyer is a great science fiction writer, having won every major award in the US, UK, Canada, Japan, and would have won one in Antartica if they had a contest. This novel won the Nebula and was a Finalist for the Hugo.

Frankly, I do not see why.

The story is based on two scientific premises: detection of the soul leaving the body and computer based artificial intelligence. Detection of the soul leads to experiments in AI to determine what life after death might be like. Dr. Peter Hobson, the inventor of the “soulwave” detection, uses AI and nueral net scanning to create three versions of himself: a life after death sim, an immortality sim and a control sim that is just like him. Hobson has some issues to deal with in his personal life (I won’t play spoiler here), and those issues are duplicated into the three sims. One of them goes bad, and starts using the net to kill people.

Sawyer’s claim to fame is that he will take premises like this and wrap very real characters around them. The concept of science fiction is in making both the science and the fiction work for the reader. Many writers tend to forget this, either throwing out unbelievable science or getting the science right but forsaking the characters or the plot. Sawyer is normally magic in this.

The Terminal Experiment is a good read, with nice pacing. It bogs down at times in the explanations of the science, and some of the philisophical discussions of the AI’s. But the concept of killer AI computers has been hashed and re-hashed (remember HAL!), as has the concept of detecting something that proved life after death. And unlike other Sawyer novels, I had difficulty caring about the characters, esp. Cathy, Peter’s wife.

I’m glad I read it, but I’m gonna go now and read Hominids, Humans and Hybrids, his classic Neaderthal Parallax series.

bookrev: The Pixel Eye by Paul Levinson

bookrev: The Pixel Eye by Paul Levinson

Written by a New Yorker, in this day and age eyes and ears are everywhere

It’s obvious from reading this book (and a lot of Paul’s books) that he is a New Yorker. He describes the cityscape, sure, but he also details how Phil D’amato, his main character, feels about New York: the pride he takes in the skyscrapers, the way he knows the traffic and the subways, and what will get him faster where, and the particular city politics that is New York.

And from someone who has seen their city attacked, a novel about eyes and ears being everywhere, including the rodents that inhabit the city, isn’t paranoia, its just precautionary forward thinking. The explosions in the novel, though on a smaller scale that what we have witnessed, are strikingly real.

The book dives right in with a squirrels as spys theory, going through a high level scientific explanation of whether the hearing and sight of rodents could be mapped, recorded and replayed. The pace meanders somewhat in the beginning, but it seems to fit D’Amato’s character, as he meanders to put the pieces of the case he is solving together.

The ending, however, is wide open, with some conclusions reached, but no criminal apprehended. Maybe that is as it should be, depicting the war on terrorism as a battle that is hard to win, or even to determine if you are winning.

Another good D’Amato read.

Dusk Before the Dawn

Dusk Before the Dawn

Software By the Kilo

Software by the Kilo

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