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STEPHEN PLETKO "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)

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A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance
A Cancer in the Family: Take Control of Your Genetic Inheritance
by Theodora Ross MD PhD
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.61
40 used & new from CDN$ 7.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Do you have a genetic predisposition to cancer? This book tells you how to find out and, if you do, what action to take, June 25 2016

“Some of you may already know that Theo [the author] was diagnosed with melanoma [a type of skin cancer] in the fall. She had surgery, we [the author and her husband] caught it early, and all indications are that she is cured. However, as a result of this, and the very strong history of cancer in Theo’s family, we recently sought genetic counseling.

We have been advised that there is a high probability that Theo could develop certain additional cancers. As a result, we have been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks meeting with doctors and surgeons to discuss ways of prophylactically [medical-speak for “preventatively”] reducing Theo’s cancer risk.

Theo has not been diagnosed with any new cancers, her life is not in danger, and we expect to be able to resolve all these issues over the next several months. However, the medical issues are complex and distressing. As a result, Theo and I are quite preoccupied as we work to resolve them.”

The above is part of a message that the author & her husband told their colleagues and is found in this very personal, very informative, important book by Theodora “Theo” Ross, M.D., Ph.D. She is professor of internal medicine and the director of the Cancer Genetics Program in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Ross is a researcher on cancer susceptibility genes as well as an oncologist (“cancer doctor”) not only for breast cancer but for all types of patients who have a family history of cancer.

As you may have deduced, this book is about cancer. Not cancer in general but a certain type of cancer.

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential of spreading to other parts of the body. At the molecular level, it is caused by a mutation (alteration) in DNA. Most of these mutations are acquired externally from the environment (carcinogens) and occur in cells of the body (excluding the reproductive cells). This is the type of cancer most people are familiar with.

However, some people inherit mutation(s) in the germline (refers to those reproductive cells that pass on genetic material to offspring). These mutations occur in certain genes (molecular units of heredity). This forms the basis of what is known as inherited or family cancer syndrome. This is the cancer this book is concerned with.

Putting it all together, inherited or family cancer syndrome is a genetic disorder in which inherited genetic mutations in one or more genes negatively affect people to the development of cancers (and may also cause the early onset of those cancers).

There is a more deeply personal reason of why this book was written: through genetic testing, Ross has discovered that she is a carrier of a cancer-causing mutation and, as well, has a strong family history of cancer. Thus, her predisposition of developing cancer is quite high. She has been living with this knowledge for over a decade and so has had to navigate a jungle of anxieties, losses, denial, judgement calls, and treatment options.

Ross passes the KNOWLEDGE she has gained to the reader. She blends together the science of DNA, personal stories, and perhaps, most importantly, practical suggestions. I found that because she inhabits the worlds of both doctor and patient simultaneously that this blending was quite effective. I also appreciated her rational, clear-thinking style that is evident throughout this book. And don’t worry! All scientific and medical terms are defined in the main narrative.

The fact is people need guidance in discovering their family histories, confronting those histories, and making the crucial decisions that will protect both them and their families. I can’t think of a better qualified (both professionally and personally) guide than Ross.

The first thing that I noticed about this book is that its table of contents is user-friendly with each chapter not only having its customary chapter title but the sections included in each chapter are included. This means you have everything inside this book before you. So, say you think that you may need help with the GENETICS. Then go to the chapter entitled “The Double Helix” and then to the section under this title entitled “A short (very short) tutorial in genetics.” Or perhaps you’re having problems with decision-making, then go to the chapter entitled “How to Manage your Cancer Risk when Information is Limited” and then go to the section “Tools for resolving decisional conflict.”

There are two informative pictures included. One is of a pedigree or “family tree” of Ross’ family that she created. Ross tells us that “If you have any questions at all about the cancer in your family, performing this exercise [of creating your pedigree] is a must.”

The two appendices are just excellent. They have a wealth of additional information on inherited cancer syndromes. There is also an extensive resource list of cancer websites.

Finally, I said above that certain terms are defined in the main narrative. This is fine but I think a glossary to supplement this would have been helpful. In this way, a reader that forgets the meaning of a key word does not have to hunt through the main narrative (which can be frustrating) to find its definition.

In conclusion, this book will empower you to face your genetic heritage with COURAGE and to make decisions that will keep you and your family healthy. This book also demonstrates why Dr. Theodora Ross is one of the best, if not the best, in her field!!

(First published 2016; foreword, xiii to xv; 8 chapters; main narrative 195 pages; acknowledgements; 2 appendices; resources; notes; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


National Geographic Mysteries Of The Uns [Blu-ray]
National Geographic Mysteries Of The Uns [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ n/a
Price: CDN$ 29.98
14 used & new from CDN$ 26.21

5.0 out of 5 stars So, you think you've seen everything. I bet you haven't seen the things in this movie, June 19 2016

“[A city is shown.] Looks like an average city. We know what we will see on these streets, inside these walls, or so we think.

[Zooms into people in the building.] The people living in this apartment building are surrounded by things they can’t see. All of us are. Everywhere. Things too slow for our eyes to detect or too fast to follow. But things that can be seen only through light waves invisible to us.

A day in their lives [that is, the lives of the people in the building] will look a lot different if they could see all the light waves around them. Or see other worlds around us that are too small—microscopic-- or smaller yet, down to the heart of matter itself.

Imagine if for one day we could see what they [the people in the building] can’t. All that’s too slow, too fast, too small, or simply invisible. It would forever change our understanding of the planet we live on.”

The above is spoken by the narrator (actor Forest Whitaker) at the very beginning of this fascinating documentary.

This film reveals phenomena that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

First, we are transported to the INVISIBLE world of light (ultraviolet, X-rays, etc.). The more invisible light we can see, the more secrets we can uncover about the world around us.

Next, thanks to time-lapse photography, we experience events that occur TOO SLOWLY for human perception. We are shown the ultimate time-lapse image: the anatomy of the Earth brought to life.

Thirdly, we get to “see,” due to high-speed cameras, the beauty and drama of events that occur in the flash of a microsecond. That is, we experience phenomena that is TOO FAST for our vision. Here, we are shown “the greatest flyer in nature.”

Finally, we enter the TOO SMALL or microscopic world. The microscope allows us to see creatures in common pond water that we never knew existed.

The electron microscope allows us to magnify things even more, up to a million times to reveal things both bizarre and beautiful.

Then we get to experience the nanoworld, an incomprehensibly small world where we are allowed to actually see individual atoms. Incredible!!

If you’ve read this far, you can probably guess that everything in this documentary is visually stunning and, for me, unforgettable. As well, the narration is just excellent.

The disc itself (released in 2015) has two interesting extras: a “making of” (15 min) and a photo gallery.

Finally, there is a second disc that is a 3D version of this film. To watch this, you need (1) full HD 3D TV (2) compatible 3D glasses (3) Blu-ray 3D video player and (4) high speed HDMI cable.

In conclusion, this is an unforgettable documentary that shows you things that you have probably never seen before. I leave you with what the narrator says near the end:

“We’re on the threshold of extraordinary [scientific] advances born of our drive to see what’s hidden in the world around us.”

(2013; 36 min excluding end credits; 8 chapters; wide screen; 2 discs; no sub-titles; National Geographic)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Bilingual)
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Henry Cavill
Price: CDN$ 11.75
12 used & new from CDN$ 8.26

4.0 out of 5 stars The Man from C.O.O.L., June 12 2016

“Oh, and you have a new codename.
And rather a good one: U.N.C.L.E.”

The above dialogue comes from this action comedy adventure spy film directed by Guy Ritchie. It is based on the T.V. series of the same name which ran from 1964 to 1968. (“U.N.C.L.E.” stands for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.”)

Briefly, at the height of the Cold War (early 1960s), CIA agent Napoleon Solo (“Man of Steel’s” Henry Cavill) and KJB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) must put aside their hostilities to stop a mysterious international organization bent on threatening the delicate balance of world power. These two sworn enemies now find themselves having a common mission: finding a kidnapped German scientist who is the key to penetrating this organization.

To tell you the truth, I did not have high hopes for this movie. The negative reviews I read for it seemed to confirm my view. However, I still watched it and found that it wasn’t all that bad, had intriguing twists and turns, and good action. Then the last 25 minutes for this movie came. I was blown away! (I conclude that the negative reviewers did not watch the entire movie.)

Everything came together nicely and I saw action sequences I had not seen before in the movies. I was impressed!

I was especially impressed with the last five minutes. There was no action during this time but the acting, in my opinion, was first-rate.

In my opinion, Henry Cavill as Solo absolutely nailed his part. He brought the “cool’ to this movie. Apparently others who wanted to play this part included Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Leo DiCaprio, and Russell Crowe.

Oh, I forgot to mention one other person in this movie: Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly. (Waverly is a high ranking MI6 operative and eventual head of U.N.C.L.E.) In this movie, Grant has few scenes but he’s an absolute delight in all of them. (He is the one that utters the first and third lines in the above dialogue.)

I should tell you one other thing (which you might have deduced from the dialogue above). This is NOT a U.N.C.L.E. movie!! The above dialogue contains the LAST lines of this movie. Thus, this is actually a pre-U.N.C.L.E movie where the U.N.C.L.E. team is assembled.

The U.N.C.L.E. team that’s assembled consists of Solo, Kuryakin, Waverly, and a woman named Gabriella “Gaby” Teller (Alicia Vikander). I don’t remember a women on the team in the original series but this may be a nod to “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E” which appeared on T.V. and lasted only one season (1966-1967). Anyway, I thought this was a nice touch.

Other people that appear in this movie are international football star David Beckham, Hitler, and JFK.

The background music for this movie is just fantastic. Listen for “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” theme song.

Languages spoken besides English are Russian, German, and Italian. These foreign languages are all sub-titled.

Film location were in London, England; the UK; and Italy.

When the end credits for this movie roll, DON’T EXIT. Why? Because you can read the dossiers of the U.N.C.L.E. team.

This movie, so far, has earned about 1.5 times its operating budget.

Now for the big question: “Would I watch a sequel to this movie?” You betcha. (According to Waverly, their new assignment will be in Istanbul.)

Finally, the DVD itself (the one released in 2015) has one extra. It lasts seven minutes and I found it to be quite good. It’s too bad that there were no snippets from the original T.V. series.

In conclusion, this is a respectable movie that resurrects The Man from U.N.C.L.E. What I learned from this movie: saving the world never goes out of style.

(2015; 1 hr, 50 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 12 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals
The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals
by Investigator Institute of Ecology Gerardo Ceballos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.16
31 used & new from CDN$ 29.09

5.0 out of 5 stars It's time that "we as a species dedicated ourselves to preserving--instead of destroying--nature", June 4 2016

“Humanity has unleashed a massive and escalating assault on all living things on this planet. The purpose of this book is to shine a spotlight on this onslaught, focussing on losses of animals that are most familiar to people: birds [warm-blooded, backboned animals that have feathers and wings] and mammals [warm-blooded, backboned animals].”

The above comes from the preface of this eye-opening and well-written book by Geraldo Ceballos and Anne & Paul Ehrlich. Ceballos is one of the world’s leading ecologists. He is professor at the Institute of Ecology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Anne Ehrlich is a senior scientist emeritus at Stanford University (in California). Paul Ehrlich is an award-winning professor of Population Studies and the president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford. He has authored more than forty books.

This book blends both words and pictures in a moving account of what the author’s call “the sixth mass extinction” of animals, specifically birds and mammals.

It discusses those birds and mammals that are now extinct, those that have been lost in more recent times, and those that we are close to losing.

Why does it matter? Who cares if some birds and mammals go extinct? These questions and more are adequately answered in a chapter entitled “Why it all matters.” And can we, the human species, do something and “permit adequate living room for our only known companions in the universe?” The answer to this questions is found in the last chapter entitled “Beyond mourning.”

This beautifully-designed book includes amazing nature colour photography that shows the diverse wildlife threatened with extinction including gorgeous two-page spreads at the end of each chapter. I counted almost 85 pictures (including drawings).

My favourite two-page spread is of the mountain gorilla. The last sentence of the caption for this picture says, “A world without wild populations of these close relatives of ours would be a sad place indeed.”

This book’s cover (shown above by Amazon) is quite interesting. It shows an array of four rows of animals and this array is fading to black. All the animals in the bottom row are either critically endangered or extinct.

The top row shows (scarlet macaws, a tiger, a chimpanzee, and Indian rhinos). The top middle row has a (gray whale, whooping crane, polar bears, and an indri). The bottom middle row shows a (giant panda, black rhino, chital, and orange hawk-eagle). The bottom row has a (kiwi, lowland gorilla, aya-aya, and baiji).

Finally, there is an appendix that has the common and scientific names of plants and animals mentioned in this book. I counted all of these names and found that there are just over 305 names!!

In conclusion, this beautiful book is both an accurate history of the problem of species extinction and a visual reminder of what the world still stands to lose if it doesn’t change its course!!!

(First published 2015; preface, ix - xi; acknowledgements; 10 chapters; main narrative 180 pages; appendix; recommended reading; index; photography & illustration credits)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Design Toscano Assyrian Winged Bull Wall Sculpture
Design Toscano Assyrian Winged Bull Wall Sculpture
Offered by Design Toscano-Canada
Price: CDN$ 44.95
10 used & new from CDN$ 44.95

5.0 out of 5 stars A museum-quality historic work of art!!, May 28 2016

'From an era where the kings of Assyria ruled a vast empire [Assyria was an Iron Age Mesopotamian empire that existed between 911 and 612 BC], this direct cast is part of the rich ornamentation of the palace of Khorsabad [a village in northern Iraq].

Cast in quality design resin and hand-painted in the Neoclassical tones of ebony and gold.'

The above description of this exceptional wall sculpture or plaque is found at the seller''s website. The seller, Design Toscano, is a good source for statues and other historical and antique replicas.

Human-headed winged bulls were protective genies that were placed as guardians at certain gates or doorways of the city and the palace. Symbols combining man, bull, and bird, they offered protection against enemies and evil spirits.

These winged bulls were motifs of Syrian inspiration and one of the characteristic features of the decoration of Assyrian palaces.

This particular plaque depiction may date back to 71 BC when Sargon the second founded his capital, now present-day Khorsabad. (Sargon the second was a king who ruled the Assyrian Empire from 722 to 705 BC.)

For this piece, I found the attention to detail quite astounding. This sculpture is precisely painted in black and gold. It appears to be well-made and durable. To tell you the truth, this wall sculpture exceeded my expectations and I can now understand why such a piece is found in the Louvre, Paris.

Note that the winged bull had five legs. The fifth leg is visible only when viewing from the front. Since we see this winged bull from the side or in profile, only four legs can be seen (since the fifth leg is parallel with the front leg that's shown).

Finally, here are this particular plaque's dimensions (inches): (width X depth X height) = (10 X 1 X 9). Its weight (pounds) = (3).

In conclusion, this is a beautiful sculpture, a museum-quality historic work of art!!

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Toward a Greener Future
The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Toward a Greener Future
by David R. Boyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.35
31 used & new from CDN$ 11.66

4.0 out of 5 stars "A new human right--to live in a healthy environment--has emerged and is now endorsed by 90% of the world's countries", May 21 2016

“Yes, the world faces substantial environmental challenges—climate change, pollution, [species] extinction. But the surprisingly good news is that a remarkable number of environmental problems have been solved, while substantial progress is ongoing on others.

[This book] chronicles these remarkable success stories and suggests a bright green future is not only possible, it’s within our grasp.”

The above comes from this extremely positive book by David Boyd. Boyd is an environmental lawyer, professor, and award-winning author.

Before reading this book, I read some of the endorsements for it. Endorsing it were people like Jane Goodall (primatologist, anthropologist, U.N. Messenger of Peace), David Suzuki (geneticist, professor, science broadcaster, environmentalist), and Elizabeth May (Canada’s first Green Party Member of Parliament, lawyer, author, environmentalist). I said to myself, “This book must be good.”

I was not disappointed. This book was not only good, it was fantastic.

This book does EXACTLY what it says it’s going to do. It provides kind of an antidote to the plague of ecological negativity we’re bombarded with by giving readers a sense of optimism that a greener, cleaner, healthier, and happy future IS possible.

This hopeful attitude isn’t based on cherry-picking some heart-warming, kumbaya anecdotes but is based on a sober and balanced examination of the FACTS about humanity’s past environmental successes (there’s an excellent chapter on how humanity saved the ozone layer), current trends (such as people demanding and using electric transport), and future possibilities (such as the future of buildings).

To be totally honest, the extent of the good news regarding progress to solving our environmental problems astonished me.

And what is the optimistic environmentalist’s message to the world? Answer: we can do better. The solutions to all our environmental problems are available NOW, and implementing then will make us wealthier not poorer. All over the world, this vision is becoming a reality.

Finally, the only problem I had was that this book had no index. This is truly a pity. A wealth of important information on a critical issue is presented but there is no easy access it.

In conclusion, David Boyd has given us all a great gift: a book to lift our spirits. We must all become optimistic environmentalists because, after all is said and done, the Earth is a beautiful place to call home.

(First published 2015; introduction; 3 parts or 10 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 205 pages; bibliography; acknowledgements; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Shakespeare: An Introduction: Ideas in Profile
Shakespeare: An Introduction: Ideas in Profile
by Paul Edmondson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.94
41 used & new from CDN$ 5.45

5.0 out of 5 stars I thinketh my friend William Shakespeare would enjoyeth this book. Dost thou agree?, May 14 2016

"'This book is not primarily 'about' performance or criticism though both relate closely to how I understand and enjoy Shakespeare. Nor will it tell you the stories of the plays (except a few, incidentally, in passing).

But it will, I hope, explain what kind of writer Shakespeare is, where his work came from, why it matters, what he means to me, and why I think he is worth spending time with (though there is never any moral obligation to like his work)."'

The above comes from this book by Rev Paul Edmondson. He is Head of Research and Knowledge as well as Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. He is also a trustee of The British Shakespeare Association.

(Stratford-upon-Avon is a town in Warwickshire, England, on the River Avon. It is the birthplace of playwright and poet William Shakespeare, 1564 to 1616.)

This book is touted as an 'introduction' to Shakespeare (but curiously not by the author himself) but it seems to me to be so much more. As this book tells us about Shakespeare, I found it to be informed, witty, up-to-date, and well-written. It seems to whet the reader's appetite for Shakespeare, not satiate it. This is good as Shakespeare should never be a duty.

The first chapter presents something of what Shakespeare's life and career were like, the places he spent time in, some of the people he knew, and the world in which he lived. It gives an historical overview of the FACTS about his life avoiding assumptions. The next chapter looks at his writing process in the theatre (which was the shaping force of his imagination). Chapter three considers what he wrote. Shakespeare was a poet and thinker who wrote enduring plays as well as a dramatist who wrote equally-enduring poetry.

The fourth chapter details Shakespeare's power as a dramatic poet through his depiction of thought and emotion by considering six topics: love, war, history, mortality, transgression, and forgiveness. The penultimate chapter considers performance as a way of encountering Shakespeare, the importance of theatre reviewing, and suggests how we might place ourselves as close as possible to his language by reading a Shakespeare sonnet aloud to ourselves. The final chapter answers to question 'Why Shakespeare?'

This book is illustrated with drawings throughout that enhance the narrative.

Though not stated explicitly, this book may have been written to commemorate the death of Shakespeare 400 years ago. (He died April 23, 1616.)

Finally, the very beginning of this book presents a forty-six entry chronological listing of Shakespeare's works with dates. While this is okay, I think it would have been more informative to divide this list into categories such as tragedies, comedies, histories, sonnets, lost plays, etc. Beside each entry in a particular category, important information could have been given.

For example, under the category '"Comedies,"' you might have this entry: "'The Tempest (1610-11, Tragicomic Romance),"' under "'Tragedies,"' you might have the entry '"Troilus and Cressida (1602, Problem Play, Minor Play),"' and under "'The Sonnets,"' you would have "'1582-1609, 154 written.'" (A sonnet is a type of poem of 14 lines.)

In conclusion, read this book to find out for yourself what all the fuss is about and if Shakespeare REALLY deserves his reputation. Or you can read this book to learn about the man who said we should:

'"Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say."'

(First published 2015; a chronology of Shakespeare's works; introduction; 6 chapters; main narrative 170 pages; further reading; notes; acknowledgements; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Offered by Random House Canada, Incorp.
Price: CDN$ 12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "I am now face to face with dying, but I am not finished with living", May 6 2016
This review is from: Gratitude (Kindle Edition)

“I cannot pretend I am without fear [of my diagnosis]. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written…

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

The above comes from the second essay in this slim book by Oliver Sacks (July, 1933 to August, 2015). He was a neurologist, professor, and author of thirteen books (most of them best-sellers). Sacks was called the “poet laureate of contemporary medicine” and “one of the great clinical minds of the twentieth century.” He was the recipient of many awards including honours from the National Science Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Royal College of Physicians.

(Note that the title of this review is found on the dedication page of this book.)

This book consists of four essays. All of them originally appeared in “The New York Times.” The first essay was published in July, 2013 while the last three were published in February, July, and August of 2015 respectively.

The first essay was published just days before Sacks’ eightieth birthday. The next one was published after he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The penultimate essay was published when Sacks was enjoying relatively good health while the final one was published just two weeks before his death.

What do these four essays reveal about Sacks? He faced aging, illness, and death with quite remarkable grace and clarity.

Of all the things you can learn from this book, here is my favourite in his own words:

“It is the fate…of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

Six black and white photographs permeate this little tome. I found that they gave this book an intimate feel.

Yes, this is a short book. The question is: “Is it worth buying?” In my opinion, yes! This is a unique book since it gives the final thoughts and the life-long wisdom of a learned dying man. For those unfamiliar with Sacks’ other books, this book may inspire you to check them out.

Finally, another book that is similar to this one is entitled “Mortality” by Christopher Hitchens (1949 to 2011).

In conclusion, this short and sweet book is Oliver Sacks’ posthumous gift—a fittingly lovely farewell. I leave you with the final paragraph from this book and perhaps Sacks’ final published words:

“And now, weak, short of breath, my once firm muscles melted away by [my illness], I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life—achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

(First published 2015; forward; 4 essays/chapters; main narrative 45 pages; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


American Experience - Edison
American Experience - Edison
DVD ~ Michael Murphy
Price: CDN$ 26.99
19 used & new from CDN$ 19.36

5.0 out of 5 stars Tells the story of a genius inventor who said that "genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration", April 30 2016
This review is from: American Experience - Edison (DVD)

“In mid-October, 1922, a film crew arrived in the small town of West Orange, New Jersey, to spend some time with one of the most famous men in the world: the phenomenally prolific American inventor Thomas Edison. Over the course of a few days, the cameras captured the great man at work…in his lab…and catching up on the latest advances in the [inventions] for which he was best known, the incandescent light, [the phonograph], and motion pictures.

For these and scores of other inventions, Edison has justly earned acclaim as the “Inventor of the Age.” But no mere machine could account for his metamorphosis from inventor to icon.

Poised at the starting line of the American rush into the modern world, Edison became a standard bearer. The impact of his native genius made infinitely more powerful by his timing, his canny knack for self-promotion, and his compulsive need to win. In the end, the intensity of Edison’s drive proved both blessing and curse, costing him the allegiance of a life-long friend and control of the industry to which he had given life, even as it guaranteed him a kind of immortality.”

The above is spoken by the narrator at the beginning of this extraordinarily informative documentary about the life of Thomas Edison (1847 to 1931). This is an episode of the television series entitled “American Experience.”

Besides the excellent narration, there are brief comments given throughout by historians, biographers, etc. What I especially enjoyed was the old black and white film footage where we get to hear Edison’s actual words. There is also extensive use of black and white still pictures.

Edison had over a thousand patents to his name. By the end of this program, I guarantee you’ll understand why he was called a “wizard.”

Finally, this documentary mentions that Henry Ford actually worked for Edison before he founded Ford Motor Company. It does not mention that Nikola Tesla also worked for Edison. Tesla is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. (I mention this because Edison was involved with direct current {DC} and, as this documentary explains, Edison saw AC as a major rival.)

In conclusion, this is just a fantastic documentary about a man, Thomas Edison, who single-handedly created the image of an inventor! I leave you with the first words that Edison uttered into his phonograph:

“Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.”

(2015; 1 hr, 50 min excluding end credits; 12 chapters; wide screen; PBS)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Brain: The Story of You
The Brain: The Story of You
by David Eagleman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.77
30 used & new from CDN$ 12.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to be a "brain" to understand the brain, April 23 2016

“In writing [this book], I wanted to get away from a textbook model in favor of illuminating a deeper level of enquiry: how we decide, how we perceive reality, who we are, how are lives are steered, why we need other people, and where we’re heading as a species that’s just beginning to grab its own reins.

This [book] attempts to bridge the gap between the academic literature and the lives we lead as brain owners. The approach I take here diverges from the academic journal articles I write and even from my other neuroscience books.

This [book] is meant for a different kind of audience. It doesn’t presuppose any specialized knowledge, only curiosity and an appetite for self-exploration.”

The above comes from the introduction of this well-written, easy-to-read book (a companion to the PBS series of the same name) by David Eagleman. He is a neuroscientist (or nervous system scientist) who specializes in brain plasticity, time perception, synesthesia, and the intersection of science with social policy. {Plasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt by creating new or modifying existing neural connections. Synesthesia is the condition in which a sensory experience normally associated with one sense modality (like vision) occurs when another sense modality (like hearing) is stimulated. For example, particular sounds producing particular colour sensations.}

We are given a tour of our brain or “inner cosmos” with Eagleman as our guide. Through our journey, we encounter such things as the world of extreme sports, criminal justice, facial expressions, genocide, brain surgery, gut feelings, robotics, and even the search for immortality.

Each chapter begins with an introduction that serves as a teaser for what is to come in that particular chapter. Here is the introduction to the first chapter:

“All the experiences in your life—from single conversations to your broader culture—shape the microscopic details of your brain. [Neurologically] speaking, who you are depends on where you’ve been. Your brain is a relentless shape-shifter, constantly rewriting its own circuitry—and because your experiences are unique, so are the vast, detailed patterns in your neural networks. Because they continue to change your whole life, your identity is a moving target, it never reaches an endpoint.”

And here is the introduction to the final chapter:

“The human body is a masterpiece of complexity and beauty—a symphony of forty trillion cells working in concert. However, it has its limitations. Your senses set boundaries on what you can experience. Your body sets limits on what you can do. But what if the brain could understand new kinds of inputs and control new kinds of limbs—expanding the reality we inhabit? We’re at a moment in human history when the marriage of our biology and our technology will transcend the brain’s limitations. We can hack our own hardware and steer a course into the future. This is poised to fundamentally change what it will mean to be a human.”

Throughout the book are pages with a blue background that zero-in on a particular topic. My favourite blue background page is entitled “The Vest.” This is an actual wearable vest that Eagleman and a graduate student built to provide sensory substitution for the deaf that allows them to “hear.” (Sensory substitution is an approach to compensate for an impaired sense in which sensory information is fed into the brain through unusual sensory channels.)

Also, throughout the book are illustrations (pictures, diagrams, etc.). I found these aided the narrative substantially. As well, there is a brief glossary at the end of the book.

Finally, I had some problems with this book. There is no index. A wealth of information (some of it cutting-edge) is presented but there is no easy access to it. As well, I feel that the glossary could have been expanded.

In conclusion, this is an excellent book on a difficult subject that gives you “a whistle-stop tour into the inner cosmos.”

(First published 2015; introduction; 6 chapters; acknowledgements; endnotes; glossary; image credits)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


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