Book Review: “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs

This book is a hilarious and yet sad account of one’s treacherous childhood by Augusten Burroughs. My first impression after listening to this audio book was that this whole thing was probably made up. What parents of a right mind would do such a thing to a child? But the author’s parents were not normal. The father is a alcoholic professor and the mother is just not well – a bit nutty that eventually became a lesbian and then turned against her own psychiatrist, accusing him of making sexual advance against her (probably true in my opinion). Growing up in a combative family (between the parents), the author described his childhood as a life of anarchy when he was abandoned to his mother’s psychiatrist. The life in this psychiatrist’s family was truly an adventure. He discovered his own homosexuality and encountered his first sexual experience with the guy, a patient of the psychiatric in the back house. His relationship with his “step” sister was very interesting – performing singing show in the prison, walking on the ledge under the waterfall, and etc. He was able to adjust quite well.

Once again I’m amazed by how resilient a child can be in reacting to upheavals in life. The author had to face the abandonment of his mother and his father and be left a in nut house – the psychiatrist’s family, consists of members of the oddest characters. At the same time, he was growing up discovering his own homosexuality and fending off advance from a sexual predictor in the back house.

After hearing this story, one cannot help to be cynical of the psychiatric profession. The practices sounds a bit like a snake medicine, if having the curing effect at all to be called medicine. The psychiatrist’s casual use of valium and other drug is rather unethical. I honestly don’t know how frequent this is happening or this is simply an isolated incidence.

The audio book has very graphic homosexual language/description but the narration overall was excellent. It’s like listening to a story being told by the author as if the events are taking place.

Of all the characters in the story, it’s very hard to tell who is really crazy. Is craziness a symptom of exhibiting an abnormal behavior or simply not appearing credible. Some of the most credible people (like the psychiatrist) may be crazy themselves. The gunman of the Virginia Tech massacre may have exhibited the “normal” behavior with a “craziness” hidden deep inside until it blows up.

I enjoyed this audio book. The title of the book says it all – running with scissors. Seeing others running with scissors is something to behold but not to experience yourself.

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How not to get ESD zapped while exiting your car

For some reasons, I’m a walking ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) zapper. I can accumulate substantial static just by walking around or standing up from my chair, especially exiting or walking out of my car. This problem has been bothering me for years, especially during the winter season when the air is dry due to the heater plus the cold weather. This may be due to the clothing I wear or my body composition that lacks conductive paths to properly ground myself (scientific explanation).

Whatever the reasons may be, I found a good way to prevent static accumulation. It’s simple. I touch the metal portion of the door while exiting the car. By the same token, I touch a large metal body (closet frame, table frame, and etc.) while standing up from my chair. By touching a large metal body, I basically drain the static charge into the large metal body, which is large enough to absorb the electron charges or provides a conductive path to the earth ground, so I don’t have to carry the electric charges and use them as a weapon.

Now, only if I can harvest the charges to generate power ….

Season 6 of “24” TV Show

The other night, my wife and I finished the season 6 of the hit TV show “24.” Like many of the thrill seeking TV audience, we have been following the 24 episodes of the entire season, thanks to our DVD recorder box. As usual, the season ended up with Jack Bauer saving the entire California (and the country) from a terrorist-induced nuclear disaster and ended with a hook planted in the last episode (Audrey’s being kidnapped by the revengeful Chinese government).

Looking back, my wife and I started watching ’24’ last year after hearing about the show from a friend during a house party. Asking around, I found that so many people have been following the show – creating a lot of buzz. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of watching 24 episodes for an entire season, as much as I hate the Asian soap opera that could last 40 to 50 episodes. The net effect is equivalent to a “pharmaceutical” torture that CTU used to get people to confess. Well, we took the plunge and rented from Netflix and gradually finished all five seasons within a few months. I must say that watching all 24 episodes in one shot is probably more palatable than watching one episode a week as I had to do this season, because it’s much easier to follow and it’s painful to wait to see the ending – delayed gratification for TV shows is not one of my virtues.

The common emphasis within the ’24’ show is on the power of IT (Information Technology) and the people working on them. They are being portrayed as if they are the magicians that can pull a rabbit out of a hat at whims. As an IT insider, I’m proud to see that my profession is being placed in such a high regard, though I know enough to tell that most of IT tricks (like uploading huge data from any PDA to CTU, downloading GPS information in a small RF insulated space, breaking anyone’s encrypted file within minutes through a remote link) are simply not possible (yet) or are being made conveniently to fit the script. Nevertheless, I still like the show; it has the creativity to show what’s possible. Perhaps, we in the computer industry can learn to imagine a bit more.

Book Review: “The ABC’s of Building a Business Team that Wins” by Blair Singer

Developing the “code of honor” for the team is the essence of the book.

A team must first establish first the code of honor, by which the team will operate. This is like a ground rules that sets the tone for the team. The author stresses the importance of having the team members develop the code themselves so they can abide by. A good set of code of honor will keep the team going at a time of crisis, much like the marines have been trained to support one another during combat.

A reasonable good book with good examples but did not go into details about building each function of the business team. The message is very simple; I guess the function/expertise is not as important as the cohesiveness and dynamic of a team. The audio book was narrated by the author himself. He’s a natural salesman; he delivers the message with force and conviction. I don’t think you would get as much reading the book.

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Book Review: “The Pleasure of My Company” – a novel by Steve Martin

Daniel Pecan Cambridge, the narrator and main character in this novel, is a rather interesting person, walks a fine line between being a paranoid and a genius – a bit autistic with lots of idiosyncrasies, some mathematic talent and a very good heart.

The book chronicles the journey of a man going from a hopeless man not capable of going outside and dependent on an intern psychiatric help, to a fully functional man enjoying a good career and a lovely partner (wife). The journey involved his admiration for his intern psychologist and her child – Teddy. The breakthrough happened during his adventure with his psychologist and Teddy to Texas, his hometown, where his grandma passed on a great deal of money to him. After this adventure, he rediscovered that he was able to overcome the constraints he sets upon himself and took significant risk and courage, which won him the girl that he has been secretly admiring – all because of his good heart towards others and innocence.

This novel has so much of the “wild and crazy” guy – the pubic persona of Steve Martin, himself. What stood up for me is how purely and innocent he interpreted the world around him, like through the lens of a child. One cannot help feeling sorry for him when he was rejected by so many women (the psychologist, the real estate lady) and cheering for him when he finally became “normal” and won the heart of the woman who’s most deserving of his affection.

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Book Review: “The Measure of a Man” by Sidney Poitier

Before reading this book, I had only heard of Sidney Poitier as a black actor that open a lot of doors for black actors who followed. He appears to be an intense guy, though I never saw his movies before. (I have queued up a bunch of his movies on my Netflix account.) He is a good looking guy with a good voice; I could see the great acting attributes in him.

After reading this book, I found him a very good critic of himself – able to look at things from a very high level – the God’s (nature’s) view. He is also very non-judgmental, despite all the difficulties he encountered. He carried with him great pride and integrity, instilled in him by his parents, as part of the upbringing in Cat Island, Bahamas. His unwillingness to sign the “loyalty” letter (due to the racism nature) at the risk of not getting a job and being poor showed his great courage and integrity. He also took a lot of risks while trying to survive, like moving out of Bahamas to Florida, and then from Florida to New York. He seemed to have the vision on what he’s capable of becoming – someone great. When the environment turned against him, like in Florida, he was willing and proactive enough to make a change instead of being a victim, not allowing the circumstances to dictate what he can become. This showed a great deal of courage and tenacity.

Poitier’s main legacy, according to him, was his six daughters, who he mentioned only briefly. His troubled daughter, at the end, also showed a lot of Poitier in her by going back to school and getting a degree after being “lost.” Poitier showed a great commitment to his family. I’m certain some of the black actors would give him a lot more credit than that. Not succumbing to the degrading treatment of blacks in the film industry definitely set the tone for the future generation and kick-started the careers of some black actors that followed.

The measure of a man, according to his father and supported by his mother, was to be able to support and bring up his family. The family was very poor by our standard but was rather “happy.” The book ended with the tragic death of his good friend Charley Blackwell, who helped him to write a solo play. How well a person contends with and overcomes human’s imperfections, through nature or circumstances, is perhaps the true measure of a man. As he put it, “we are all imperfect and life is an unending struggle against those imperfections.”

Book Cover for “The Measure of a Man”

Money saving tip: Stock up on AA and AAA Alkaline batteries

It’s a dirty little secret in the retail industry that lots of those items hanging around the check out register isle are often high margin items, i.e. relatively low cost with large mark up. The retailer makes lots of money from those merchandises because they tend to be low-price that people often buy on impulse, e.g. gums, magazines, candies, and batteries. Among all those things, I believe batteries are among the most “obscenely” priced. A typical name-brand (Duracell or Energizer) AA battery can cost as much as $1/each. And sometimes the AAA (smaller) battery can cost more, though they pack less power. Even when you buy them on sale, they can cost as much as $0.40 or even more. The fact is that you can easily stock up on generic brand batteries like Ultrablast and save lots of money. As long as they are Alkaline batteries, they last about the same time, according to Consumer Report and my experience. Even if they don’t last as long, you end up saving big money anyway. For example, I bought 2 cases (quantity of 100) of Ultralast AA batteries at Fry’s during a sale last year that cost me only $0.10/each. Just compare to the name brand that costs 4x or more but don’t last 4x longer. Even at $0.20/each, the regular price at Fry’s, they are still a good deal. For AAA batteries, you may want to go to eBay and buy them from the wholesaler by searching for “AAA wholesale.” Because AAA batteries are light weight (low shipment cost), they often are a good deal when shipment cost are included provided you buy them from the wholesaler. My recent eBay search turned up $0.16/ea at lot of 100 and $0.11/ea at lot of 300. Of course, you don’t want to buy too many as the stored charge gets depleted through time. But buying enough to last 2 years at one time should be just fine. I usually buy a batchof 100~200 since I have a toddler, whose toys need to be kept alive with lots of batteries!

Sometimes, it’s more cost effective to buy the rechargeable NiMh batteries depending on how long the battery would last. The recent development on NiMh has turned out very high-charged batteries (up to 2900mAH on AA size). A slow-drain remote control or small-size MP3 player may work better with Alkaline batteries, because it drains the batteries very slowly and you don’t need to contend with the self-discharge of the rechargeable batteries that require frequent re-charges, which is a nuisance and may not be too cost effective if you cannot and don’t plan to use the NiMh more than 20 times within 3 years, because of NiMh costs roughly 20x ~ 40x of an Alkaline battery and they usually don’t last more than 3~5 years, retaining less charge after each re-charge. I’ll have a separate tip on NiMh later.

I also recommend highly that you invest on a
DigiCam battery tester
. This thing will pay for itself within a year, allowing you to keep the good batteries and discard the bad ones. The beauty of this thing is that it’s a no brainer and it tells you what you need to know right away: 0% (dead), 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% or 100% charged.
DigiCam Battery Tester

Also, please make sure the dead batteries are recycled. They’re not easily digestible by our landfills due to its toxic contents. Most garbage companies would gladly take them back on a separate bag during garbage collection. I keep a bone pile of dead batteries in a drawer and recycle them when it’s full. It’s good for the environment and gives you a sense of accomplishment (due to the saving).

So my money saving tip: Stock up on Alkaline batteries and save!

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