Happy Chinese New Year – The Year of Monkey

My favorite Monkey King Puppet on my desk
My favorite Monkey King Puppet on my desk

Today, February 8, 2016 is the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year. I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!

It’s been a while since I posted my last blog entry. I have read a few more books but have been procrastinating in writing book reviews for them. Stay tuned…

For the last few weeks, I have studied many network security issues and played with a couple of open-sourced network security software as part of my effort to boost my knowledge in the new network security industry I recently joined. What a huge learning curve to refresh my understanding of the TCP/IP stack and its subtleties! I will share some of my learning in the near future.

Monkey is an animal known for its intelligence and curiosity. May your new year is filled with your continued quest for more useful knowledge and intelligence that satisfy your curiosity.

Happy New Year!

Book Review: “Modern Romance” by Azziz Ansari

I came to recognize Azziz Ansari through Amy Poehler’s book, “Yes, Please” and the TV series “Park and Recreation” where he acted as conniving colleague of Amy and tried to sabotage whatever she was promoting – building a park. Turned out he’s a pretty funny Indian comedian, who even produced his own series “Master of None” in a Netflix TV series. In this book, Azziz went into the key differences in today’s romance/dating scene, mostly due to the mobile technology and how people are handling it internationally: Japan, France, and Brazil. It’s a fairly entertaining book for me who has passed through that stage and still find that stage of life challenging for those people old and young looking for love in all places. Hopefully, this book shed some light or provide some antidotes for those who face the difficulties. I know it does for me.

A quick summary of this book.

– Historically, people marry someone in their neighborhood or small circle of friends, friends’ friends. We now have more choices and supposedly have a better chance of finding our own soul mates.
– Texting to “hookup” or date and even break up is a norm. Making a phone call and handling face-to-face conversation seems to have taken a backseat.
– New tools on our cell phone like Tinder App with a simple swipe to connect or reject people. Neat! Of course, the downside is relying just on the looks.
– Men in Japan are less aggressive in asking women out, partially due to economic uncertainty and fear of rejection. The official label for such men (60~70% of all 20~30-year-old men) are call “herbivores” who lack interest in getting married and finding a girlfriend. At least, Azziz got to eat lots of Raman.
– People in Paris/France tend to be more tolerant of infidelity or open to “open” relationship, which doesn’t seem to work here in U.S.
– Women in Brazil were “harassed” more often by men due to the culture and probably lack of stigma against it – yet.
– It’s not just a “laugh-it-off” type of book but a reasonably-researched, coupled with some experts’ (sociologists’) findings and advises.
– If you read the audiobook version like I did, you would be picked on by Azziz like most comedians for being a “lazy fuck” and not wanting to read the book.
– In the conclusion, Azziz encourages people to take the time to know the real person behind the pictures and texts in the mobile. It may be worth the investment and enjoy it!

Book Review: “Agent Zigzag” by Ben Macintyre

Eddie Chapman is Agent Zigzag, the central character in this double-agent intrigues between the intelligence agencies of Germany and Britain during World War II; he’s a likable character, but a scoundrel nevertheless. This is a fine book and a fun read if you’re into spy novels especially around World War II.

Spoiler alert: don’t read below if you plan to read the book after all.

Key Takeaways:

– Eddie Chapman, in his 20’s, committed a crime (among his many offenses) and was put in Jersy Island (near France) prison. When the entire island was invaded by Germany, he offered to spy for Germany to get himself out of the prison. He was probably selected because of his charm and his ability in making and handling bombs. He then trained under this guy, Stephan von Groning, training him to become a spy to sabotage the Mosquito plane facility, a facility manufacturing the annoying wooden, undetectable planes. He parachuted in the farm fields and actually contacted MI5, the British secret agency during the war. The agency eventually and reluctantly hired him as a double agent to spy on the Germen. With the help of a magician, he and the MI5 faked an explosion of the “Mosquito” factory. This won Chapman some trust from the Germans and eventually with a great effort returned to Germany, then Oslo where the secret agency relocated. He reunited with von Groning and enjoyed a nice time off and hooked up with his new Norwegian girlfriend. At this time, Norway has fallen into German’s hand and his girlfriend was one of the underground rebel organization. Chapmen eventually came back to England as the World War II drew to a close.
– The intrigues of the story lie in how Chapman won the trust of both sides: Britain, his main loyalty and German, where his “friends” were. The conflicts within him must be hard to manage.
– Chapman seemed to fit the profile of a secret agent, intelligent with criminal history and little to lose and eager to please. To survive, he volunteered to become an agent for German when German invaded Jersy island where he was serving his sentence.
– Intricacy of wireless radio code transmission was described in good details. How he made a mistake in the beginning, forgot to code in the preemble of “FFFFFF” code to indicate he’s still on the German side, not captured by the British. This misstep did not cause any trouble for him.
– Chapman became financially successful after the war, probably through illegal means, as it’s probably the only way he knew how.
– There were many characters in the story including his 3 girlfriends and his “handlers” when he was spying for both sides. Characters were well developed considering the entire story happened more than 60 years ago.
– What would Eddie Chapman be if he were to live in today’s era instead of during World War II? The war turned a people like Chapman into a hero.

Book Review: “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

A French blind girl without her loving dad and an electronic wizard orphan boy without his supportive sister came together from two different background and met in one place in Saint Malo, France in the middle of World War II. For just a brief day, they met and shared a can of peaches, then they went their separate way never to see each other again. Until the last few chapter, two separate stories are being told of each character. Somehow, the readers know they will meet someday but I didn’t know it would take this long.

It’s a really long book and difficult to read in the beginning because of mix of French and German languages and the story took place so long ago during 1940’s. It takes a little while to get into the story but it’s all worthy it at the end.

Switching between the two stories of Werner and Marie-loure is an excellent technique to keep the readers interested like having two cameras back and forth between the two central characters.

The World War II did a lot of damage to the people of France and Germany, especially those of disadvantaged: the blind and orphans. People are crude to one another fighting for survival, when the best and the worst of human drama happened.

The Sea of Flame diamond and the myths surrounding it make the story rather interesting. And there are the supporting characters:
– the locksmith with skill in woodworking, turning an entire neighborhood into a a small model to get her blind daughter familiarized with neighborhood
– the great uncle, Etienne, with a phobia of public places but a renowned science broadcaster, turned out to be the link between the blind girl and the boy – who listened to his broadcast in Germany as a child.
– a friend, Frederic, with a passion for birds, turned into a brain-damaged boy because of the hatred and bullying of the military school classmates.
– At the end, the two girls of significance to the boy met long after the end of the war, when the boy (Werner) was declared dead, though I kept hoping that he would turn out alive. That would be truly good ending.
– Like a good novel, there were lots ironies. The most unfortunate ones and least likely to survive in a war turn out alive like the blind girl, Marie-Loure, Jutta, and Frederic.

The book is beautifully written and words so well crafted that it’s no surprise it won the Pulitzer price. Highly recommended if you have some curiosity in the war-torn France and believe, just so slightly, if the myths are being tested.

Book Review: “A Brief History of Time” by Steven Hawking

This is the second time I read this book, first time being more than 20 years ago. This time I am motivated by the movie, “Martian.” The underlying thesis of the book appears to be still valid, although it’s now in its 10th anniversary edition from its original 1988 edition. Many of the theories are still difficult to understand for me even with my years of engineering/physics study. Some of the topics are a refresh for me like Uncertainty Principle.

My key takeaways are:

1. The universe is still expanding.
2. No absolute time and space.
3. Grand unified theory is very difficult to prove (takes as much energy as the solar system).
4. Black holes are not so black.
5. No single theory on how the universe began.

This is quite an interesting book for those with some background in physics and curious about the universe and how it all started.

A summary:

1. Our Picture of the Universe: Some history of how humans come to the understanding of the universe since the Aristotle time and the two theories that describe them: Newton’s Gravity (large scale) and Quantum Mechanics (small scale).

2. Space and Time: Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light if the source is traveling – can’t add to the speed of the source. Unfortunately, Newton’s gravity theory goes against the idea because the gravitational effects is instantaneous or infinite speed. General Theory of Relativity gets rid of absolute time and Newton’s Laws of Motion puts an end to the absolute position. Everyone carries on his/her own clock measuring time depends on where he is and how he’s moving.

3. The Expanding Universe: By looking at the stars’ spectra (red-shifted due to the Doppler Effect), astronomers can tell the stars from other galaxies are mostly moving away from us. Otherwise, the gravity would cause the universe to collapse. This may explain why the universe looks similar in all directions or receives the same amount of radiation from all directions. This leads to the possibility of a singularity or the Big Bang as the origin of time, when general relativity breaks down.

4. The Uncertainty Principle: Heisenbger’s theory that the more accurately you try to measure the position of a particle, the less accurate you can measure its speed, the product of the two are the Plank’s constant. The quantum state is a combination of position and velocity. Electrons orbiting around the nucleus like a wave, with a wavelength that depended on its velocity number.

5. Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature: Four categories of force: 1) gravitational, 2) electromagnetic, 3) weak nuclear force (responsible for radioactivity), 4) strong nuclear force, which holds the quarks together in the proton and neutron. Lots of discussion about anti-matter or anti-quarks.

6. Black Holes: Lights have a duality of particles (bent by gravity) and waves of quantum mechanics. When a star loses its energy, it starts to cool off. But the Pauli exclusion principles keep particles away from one another, maintaining at a constant radius. If it’s less than Chandrasekhar limit, it would turn into a neutron star. If more, it may explode or break up to under the limit. Moving objects send out gravitational “waves” that eventually reaches a steady state as it loses energy like Earth around Sun and crushing into Sun in 10^27 years. Black holes can be deduced by observing a star orbit around on its own – most likely orbiting around a black hole.

7. Black Holes Ain’t So Black: Black holes can emit radiation because of conservation of energy. What goes in as particle mass due to gravitational force must come out as radiation or anti-particles.

8. The Origin and Fate of the Universe: The universe started out in a big bang and very hot. As it expanded, it cools. Lots of discussion about anthropic principle (we can explain it because we exist); it’s hard to explain why the universe is the way it is. The total energy of the universe is a big zero. Classic theory of gravity, the universe may have existed for an infinite time or begins in a singularity. By quantum mechanics, there may not be a boundary condition nor edge.

9. The Arrow of Time: The increase of disorder or entropy with time gives the direction of time – thermodynamic sense of time, different from cosmological sense of time (universe expanding) and psychological sense (we feels time passes).

10. Wormholes and Time Travel: Cosmic strings are discussed. Wormholes may be the way to warp space time to travel back in time. Lots of discussion about time traveling forward and backward using various theories. No conclusion.

11. The Unification of Physics: String theory can be used to unify the physics theories. Even we could find one, we may not be able to prove it.

The days after we discover the unify theory, we may be able to discuss why we and the universe exist – a true triumph to the human race.

Book Review: “You Can’t Make This Up” by Al Michaels

I only knew Al Michaels from his broadcasting days on Monday Night Football; I didn’t know much about his career. From this autobiography, I see a true professional broadcaster who knew what he wanted to be since 8 years old and he was never jaded in his more than fifty years of broadcasting career.

– Always count your blessings: Al considers himself so lucky that his next life may be a night-shift miner in Mongolia.
– It pays to know what you want to do as early stage and start modeling yourself to the best in the industry like he did with Vin Sculley.
– You get to be a pioneer in a growth industry like going from the radio medium to the TV and now the Internet medium.
– The book reads like his play-by-play. Audiobook sounds even better.
– As a parent, we need to be like Al’s parents, exposing the children to all things of interest to the kids so they can be better prepared/dedicated to a career they enjoy. Of course, good eating habits, like eating vegetables, would be good for Al.
– Picked a profession as early as possible and select your colleges accordingly to give you the maximum exposure and practices.
– Game announcers have to be careful in being impartial and yet subtly ruling for his home team. Also, there is a subtlety of matching/syncing the voice with the crowd – no shouting when the crowd is quiet and no whispering when the crowd is creaming. “The game is the melody and the announcer provides the lyrics.” Also, they need to be sensitive to tragedies that happened during the sports events, like car racing.
– So many sports figures, who I’m mostly not familiar with, are described in the book. But you may relate more to the book if you are.

A quick summary:

1. Brooklyn:
Growing up in Brooklyn in 1950, he still remembers Dodgers’ playing in Ebbets Field. And he watched a hockey game in Madison Square Garden. He was exposed to many different sports. He was born to teenager parents, who set good examples to the kids in improving themselves. In his early life, he likes all sports, collected and memorized all baseball cards. He was labeled by his brother as having “manic intensity” or by his own term, “passion with compulsion” about sports, even to the point of role playing with water hose as the microphone, play-by-playing calling his brother’s sports activities.

2. California Kid:
Because of his dad’s promotion, he moved to Los Angeles as a teenager in 1958. Turned out his home was very close to where I grew up as a teenager but different high school. He listened to Vince Sculley’s play-by-play of Dodgers games and became a fan of Kings (Hockey) and LA Rams. He picked ASU for its broadcasting/journalist program and the opportunity to do more than 200 baseball games and wrote his column on the school newspaper. Good preparations.

3. Rascal:
Al was a “rascal” when in ASU like making up a fictitious high-school baseball player and fooled the Phoenix newspaper into publishing it several time, each time more progressively ridiculous. He’s got a good break from Curt Gowdy on his first broadcast opportunity. Al married to his high-school sweetheart in his senior year and kept the marriage to this day. Amazing!

4. Cut by the Lakers:
Al started out recruiting contestants for the “Dating Game” show. Then he was hired to be the “color” man for Lakers next to Chick Hearn, who didn’t want him there. Al’s big break at announcer job for the Hawaii Islanders happened thanks to his father-in-law connection to the owner of the team. He dropped his game show gig and flew to Hawaii.

5. Aloha:
In Hawaii, he did the many play-by-play announcers for the Islanders and doing TV news. He was recommended by Tommy Lasorda, who was managing the minor league team, Spokane Indians. Tommy listened to Al’s work behind the scene after bring kicked out of the game. Al was getting lots of “reps” or experience in his hectic schedule. Then he was recruited to the Cincinnati Reds in 1971.

6. Rose, Bench, Sparky, and the Machine
In Cincinnati, he got to know Pete Rose and intimate in Pete’s gambling habit. Al felt “sad” about Pete’s betting on his own team – a serious conflict of interest. Lots of stories about Cincinnati Reds. Then SF Giants came knocking on Al’s door at the end of 1973.

7. The Giants of Candlestick, and the Wizard of Westwood
Early 1970’s were the transition time from radio broadcasting to TV broadcasting, Al had to change the way he announced the play by play – less is more. At the same time, the TV broadcasting right fee accelerated. At this time, he did both SF Giants and UCLA Basketball games and got to meet John Wooden, the greatest coach of all times. Wooden retired in 1975 after 10 national championships. Al despised Candlestick park like most people in the Bay Area, which he attributed to the poor attendance in those days.

8. Wide, Wide World
In 1976, Al worked between Giants and ABC’s Monday Night Baseball, spending lots of time in the air and eventually parted way with the SF Giants.

9. Do You Believe in Miracles?
One of the most memorable moments in Al’s career is his coverage of the 1980 Winter Olympics, when U.S. beats the Soviets, the favored championship team in Hockey and eventual won the gold medal. “Do you believe in Miracles? Yes!” his quote. The game was delayed broadcast to the U.S., quite a strange set up in today’s Internet era.

10. Saturdays in the Fall
There is these interesting predictions by Frank Broyles, Al’s co-announcer in one of the Stanford game, that Bill Walsh will be a great coach and this Arkansas attorney general, Bill Clinton may be a US President some day. Both came true.

11. The One and Only
This chapter is about his relationship with Howard Cosell, who drank heavily off camera and sometimes during the games. From Al’s perspective, Howard Cosell was not an easy person to work with.

12. Roone, the Olympics, and the Fight Game
Roone Arledge was Al’s boss during his ABC Sports days. Roone was known to be mysterious and difficult to find (Waldo), a strange leadership style. Al got the Monday Night Football announcer job in 1983, along with O.J. Simpson and Joe Namath.

13. Monday Nights
Al reminisced a few memorable Monday Night Football games. A story about Al Davis’ competitive nature: you’re a friend or enemy, based on his interview with Marcus Allen.

14. Two for the Ages
Here he talked about covering the World Series in 1989 between Aces and Giants when the big earthquake hit. I was in the Bay Area at that time and I remembered distinctive where I was at work.

15. O.J.
Al lived pretty close to the double murder scene in Brentwood on 6/11/1994. Funny that he was trying to get O.J. to play golf and even rang his house that day. O.J. never denied that he killed the two people. Instead, he kept saying, “How can anybody think I did this?” That’s the clue in retrospect. There was a Howard Stern prank played on Peter Jennings during the coverage of the “slow chase.”

16. Diversions
Al mentioned some of his hobbies of horse race including buying this horse called, Barraq. He also talked about his TV acting experience being short-changed in this movie called, BASEketball.

17. Monday Night Transformations
ABC got bought ESPN and placed more emphasis on ESPN so Monday Night Football got left on the waste side. Dennis Miller helped rejuvenated the game.

18. Partners
Al partnered with more than one hundred people over the years. He talked briefly about the memorable ones and the good ones that understand broadcasting and the art of communicating. They understand story lines and flow and perspective, develop a sense of timing and learn how to use their voices and the art of inflection. He talked about John Madden and his fear of flying in planes.

19. Links
He talked about his love for golf and his encounter with Donald Trump and Michael Jordan.

20. A New Home
Al Michaels moved from ABC to NBC and live happily ever after.

Book Review: “Life” by Keith Richards

Keith Richards is famous for being THE guitarist in the Rolling Stones. Keith told a very revealing story of his and his beloved Rolling Stones band. A very long story. There are three major themes: 1) music, the craft. 2) drug abuse and the battle, 3) split with Mick Jagar.

On the first part about music the craft. How the music came to Keith Richards was amazing like writing a hit song during his sleep. The 5-string guitar was another invention of his. I came to appreciate all the nuances about resonance and harmony when playing different chords, not that I understood any of it.

The story of this whole on-and-off drug scene during his addiction painted a picture of how difficult it was and is for an addict to quit. It was good that he kept himself to the “pharmaceutical” grade cocaine as possible but it didn’t make it any easier to quit and definitely kept him and his group on the wrong side of the law and having to defend himself against the prosecution.

After reading the book, I became a fan of the Rolling Stones as I researched the songs he mentioned and the intricacy of making the music, including Mick Jagar’s amazing ability to write the lyrics on a yellow pad. It’s almost poetic.

The mental split with Mick Jagar as Mick turned into a control freak and wanted to change, go solo and reinvented himself to a different genre. I can see where Mick is coming from and I also see Keith’s point of view of making the “best” music they know how. In a way, the Rolling Stones is already pretty versatile as their music cut across all different genres including country music, and blues.

Keith’s approach to women is a bit passive, according to him. And with his fame, he didn’t have to do much.

Overall, I have learned many things about the Rolling Stones, like getting their band’s name from Muddy Waters’ song “Rollin’ Stone” and his admiration for blues and jazz music. Keith has lived an amazing life. Given his drug abuse and many brushes with law, it’s amazing he could still clean himself up and kept up with a very productive life.

This is a good chronicle of the famous Rolling Stones band, the longest running band. If you’re a Rolling Stones fan or enjoy rock and roll music, this is a book for you. I definitely enjoy reading/listening to the audiobook and familiarized myself lots of Rolling Stones songs.

Hope Keith Richards continue to write music and bring joy to the world. Go Rolling Stones!

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